Since the debate didn’t ‘give economics to people,’ I will; Robots are coming to take your jobs, soon

Click to read my story at Grow
Click to read my story at Grow

Let’s talk about a real issue facing America, shall we?

Donald Trump said in the debate last night that he “will give economics to people.”  I wish he did; we could all use some economics.  So I’m going to give you some.  Robots are coming for our jobs, and gaining on us — fast.  Those who find their jobs boring are at highest risk of being automated into poverty.  But — and I hate to break it to you — plenty of well-paid, white-collar workers like lawyers have “boring” jobs that machines will gladly do.  AI and machines are a far, far greater risk than immigrants.

Recently, the folks at Grow asked me to examine the robot issue further:  You can read my story here; a bit of it is pasted below.

But one point I’d like to emphasize.  This Sunday, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria aired an interview with IBM’s Ginni Rometty about “Watson” and the risk that artificial intelligence will soon hurt humans. She brushed off the notion, using an old economics argument that machines will merely help humans, and give them the chance to learn and excel and new, more meaningful tasks. This is the old, “Machines do our farming, and labor adjusted,” argument.  Here’s the problem: Humans had decades, if not centuries, to deal with such revolutions in the past. Today, these changes are coming in years, if not months. There will not be time to retrain workers.  Another solution, like the universal income, must be developed. 

Because this topic is so dense, and important, I’m breaking this story up into two parts. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about a fantastic list produced by Oxford researchers of jobs that are most and least robot proof.  It also introduces a concept that I love:  the power of the understanding the “engineering bottleneck.” Soon, humans’ chief role on the planet will be merely to overcome engineering bottlenecks, and your economic prospects will be entirely controlled by your ability to do things machines *can’t* do.   So, start thinking like a hacker, and you’ll get a renewed sense of hope.

Here’s part of my Grow story:  Please read the rest at their site. 

Robots are coming for our jobs, and they are gaining on us fast. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick summary of where things stand.  Analyst firm Forrester Research said recently that machines will eliminate 6 percent of U.S. jobs by 2021.  That doesn’t sound so bad, actually, compared to an earlier study by Oxford researchers who found 47% of U.S. jobs were at high risk of “computerization.”

Perhaps you haven’t been living under a rock, but other studies suggest you might very well be living with your head in the sand. A Pew study this year found that one in five U.S. adults believe their jobs will exist in current form in 50 years (the right answer might be closer to zero.) A survey found 63 percent think their jobs are safe from automation.  And only 11% in the Pew poll said they were unconcerned their employer might replace humans with machines (the right answer should be 100 percent).

Intelligent folks can disagree about the extent of disruption and havoc that artificial intelligence will wreak on workers, and we’ll get to that in a moment.  But anyone who’s used self-checkout at a grocery store or grabbed cash from an ATM should realize change is coming to work, and those who fail to prepare for it will be in big trouble. How much trouble? Yuval Noah Harari, a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, warns of the rise of a “useless class” of humans who will literally have nothing to do, as they can’t do anything as well or as cheap as a machine can.

Some of this change is obvious.  Assembly line workers can easily be replaced by machines building other machines. It’s easy to imagine robots flipping burgers. Repetitive tasks are ripe for automation.  But receptive tasks aren’t limited to the factory or the kitchen. Many knowledge workers today — even highly-paid workers, like lawyers — find themselves doing similar tasks over and over. If that’s you, there’s a target on your back with an automated laser pointed at you.

Plenty of folks believe these dire predictions are overblown. After all, America was an agricultural economy in the 19th Century, with some 80 percent of the population working on farms.  It’s less than 2 percent now. Not only did the American economy survive, it thrived.  One school of economics and labor history holds that mechanization actually frees up humans from rote tasks, giving them more time and energy to be entrepreneurial and creative.  The elimination of poor-paying fast-food worker jobs will be a good thing, this argument suggests, as those workers will be pushed into better jobs.

While that might hold true in the long term, in the short term, there’s going to be a lot of pain and struggle. The main difference between earlier labor disruptions and what’s happening today is time. Americans had generations to adjust to the shift away from agriculture. Today, they might have a decade, or less, to adjust to the robot age. It took nearly fifty years after the introduction of the production automobile for half of Americans to own one. It took only six years after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 for half of Americans to own a smartphone.  Things change fast now.

In other words, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to retrain American’s workforce so fast to take on robot-proof jobs.

Continue reading at Grow.

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About Bob Sullivan 1637 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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