Technological progress has frequently resulted in changes in the nature of work, sometimes affecting skilled workers more and sometimes affecting unskilled workers more. But whichever categories of worker were affected, such changes have almost universally been to the benefit of workers of all skill levels. Let’s consider two or three professions of the past.
Take the “tanner”. Before technology transformed the nature of such work, Wikipedia tells us that tanning “was considered a noxious or ‘odoriferous trade’ and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor… The ancient tanner might use his bare feet to knead the skins in dung water, and the kneading could last two or three hours.”
Let’s take another example: Mining. Traditional mining was a terrible job, involving pick axes and clambering through tunnels and working at uncomfortable angles whilst breathing in noxious fumes. But one of the most unpleasant parts of the job was simpler: dying. That has changed drastically. According to a paper on the subject, “coal mine fatality rates… have dropped almost a thousand fold since their peak in 1908.” Let’s say that again: “almost a thousand fold”.
A third: the computer. Originally the word “computer” meant a person who did rapid mathematical calculations by hand, through a combination of brute force and clever mathematical tricks. Such methods were even central to much of the early space programme.