Here’s an interesting modern question: a worker with a dull-as-dishwater data entry job found a way to automate it so it’s effectively gone from days worth of effort to mere hours. Now they’re wondering if they have an ethical obligation to tell their employer.
Quite aside from the “AIs are coming for our jobs!” aspect, this one boils down to whether you think a “full time” job is paying you for your results for or your time spent on tasks.
What I think’s not really considered in most of the answers is that you can ask this question in reverse. I’ve mentioned before, but there are a lot of jobs that, in reality, both shouldn’t exist and wouldn’t exist if they happened to be looked at by a few budding automation engineers.1 So the reverse question is: if you see a job you know could be automated, but isn’t… do you have a moral responsibility to tell your employer? Or even just implement the automation? Even if it means someone else will be out of work? What about if you deeply disliked the “unnecessary” person, or felt very loyal to your employer? What about if you knew the “unnecessary” person would be retrained and redeployed rather than fired? What if you knew that would happen… and you also know the person in the position intentionally hasn’t been automating their system because they like the way it’s currently running?
That one’s not theoretical, incidentally: it happens a lot when you’ve got “old guard” sysadmins used to doing things like manual software deployments, VM management, or network configuration, and Some Young Thing comes in with things like Puppet, or Orchestrator, or software-defined networking, or whatever. And if you read that sentence and thought, “Ah! Obviously productivity-driven capitalist enterprises would favor the innovation of the Some Young Thing!” then… oh boy, do I have some news about enterprise IT for you!
- Sometimes intentionally. I remember Once Upon a Time I was given the mundane job of manually adding DNS entries to multiple servers, with the expectation I was “low skill” enough that it would take me hours or days. The assumption of a twenty-something woman with a Computer Science degree as being technically “low skill”, is a completely separate issue but, needless to say, rather than doing everything manually I spent about an hour Googling how to automate the task with batch files. The person who’d assigned me the task was “very impressed”, in that patronizing way old neckbeards can sometimes get when you manage not to live down to their expectations. Which, again, is a different story… [↩]