This morning I read this article http://computerworld.com/article/3120413/robotics/ai-and-robotics-could-replace-6-of-us-jobs-by-2021.html about how robots and artificial intelligence will put 6% of the American workforce out of work by 2021, which I thought made somewhat sobering news.
The research by Forrester Research focusses on how the invention of driverless cars will lead to many drivers being put out of work, and that as chatbots and the like become more advanced, that many call centre jobs will also be phased out to be replaced by machines.
But this has been a realisation of mine for the past 5 years or so, that the use of machines will grow and grow, mechanical engines have replaced biological muscles long ago, we phased out use of the horse and replaced it with the petrol engine, and machines and robots replaced humans in factories, now thinking engines will replace biological minds, firstly in routine tasks then later in more complex tasks.
Because this isn’t just low waged work, why would you need to employ a human doctor to diagnose someone, if a system can talk to the patient and have access to the entire worlds medical databases of the latest research.
There is a robot you can buy, for just over the average annual salary called Baxter. Baxter is a machine which can be shown almost any repetitive activity that a human can do, and repeat that activity 24 hours a day, for pennies of electricity. Why would an employer want to employ a human again, no holiday pay, no sickness, it probably even comes with a guarantee.
And while at the moment it may seem a little laughable that driverless cars will replace all the long distance truckers and taxi drivers out there, but all it will take is for them to become 1% safer than humans, and insurance will start penalising humans for driving at all. While thinking jobs may appear safe, I’ve been told that around 5% of all the text in newspapers is already written by machines, and that figure will only go up. Just think how many self operated checkouts you’ve seen lately replacing human cashiers, and how many automated sales calls you’ve received in the past year, yes they’re already replacing the call centres which had already been moved off-shore.
The stock market is almost exclusively run by machines these days, the fluctuations in the market (buy low, sell high if I remember my “Wall Street” correctly) happen in microseconds, Machines noticing a momentary drop in the price to buy the shares/currencies to sell again as the fluctuation corrects less than a second later to make millions. By the time a human could had noticed the same thing, the computer routines have completed and profited off it, and by the time he thought about it the systems are already working on their next deal. Humans are just too slow.
The article tries to put a positive spin on it, by saying that the industry of making these robots, driverless cars and artificial intelligences will create 2 million new jobs. But the math is still against us, the US job market last month stood at 253,854,000 , six per cent of which is 15,231,240, so we’re still 13 million jobs down. And the jobs of building these machines and systems aren’t going to go to the drivers and cashiers and call centre workers who are put out of work, they’re going to go to people with qualifications and experience working with these types of systems. Which leaves us with a problem.
So what do the people do?
Well personally I see the future as craft. If machines are doing all the big jobs, running the stock market, driving the trucks, working the factories, what do we mere fleshy mortals do? We do the opposite of mass produced. The machines can mass-produce products, but humans can make unique and interesting things. The same reason you wouldn’t buy your wedding cake from a supermarket, you want it unique and special, not mass produced. The same reason craft beer is so successful, when you can buy far cheaper mass produced products from the big breweries, many prefer something a bit unique and bit special. And the same reason that while you can buy a suit in a chain store, many prefer something handmade which fits them perfectly.
But that’s just my opinion, what do you think, let us know below.