No More Jobs – Are We All About to Lose Our Jobs?

Brace Yourselves...The Sky is Falling Again!

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I’m not going to try to predict exactly when your job will disappear.  People have said for a long time that robots will take everyone’s jobs now and they’ve always been wrong thus far.  I know why.  Instead, I’ll list some things that I think will be signs that robots are about to take everyone’s jobs, and leave you to come to your own conclusion.

How to Tell if We’re Almost There

First, why have the naysayers been wrong before?  Is it unreasonable to believe that as robots get more capable, they’ll eventually become more capable than us?  Of course not.  Is it reasonable to believe that if robots do your job cheaper and better than you, that they’ll take your job?  Of course.  But those who believe that all of us are about to become unemployable usually make this mistake: they underestimate human ingenuity.

They typically assume that the future will be like the past, that current trends will continue, and that nobody will think outside the box.  Then when someone does, they’re taken by surprise, and they look like fools.  As an example, consider the microchip.  It was a huge leap forward that allowed manufacturers to mass-produce entire computers on a single circuit board.  It transformed computers from million-dollar niche products to consumer products.  Odds are that nobody predicted that such things would ever exist.  From flash drives to laptops, it allowed inventors to make things that were the stuff of science fiction.  Today the semiconductor industry employs almost 250,000 people (PDF).

Here are some things that I think will be signs that most humans are about to become unemployable:

  1. Machines will be able to do most individual tasks that an average human can do
    This doesn’t necessarily mean:

    • A single machine will be able to everything we can
    • Machines will be able to do everything that the most gifted humans can do
    • Such a machine will be practical or economical (at first)
  2. There will be a long, stubborn drought of jobs
    As I said in my previous post, I don’t expect that everyone’s going to lose their jobs overnight.  Some jobs are simply harder to automate than others.  Therefore, the first sign that most of us will lose our jobs permanently is that employers won’t need very many employees
  3. There will be plenty of qualified workers who can’t find work
    Any recession or depression causes this symptom, but this time it’ll have a different cause.  Depressions are usually caused by bad economic decisions, or then end of a war.  This one will persist despite all reforms and economic practices.  If the government tries to mandate a minimum employee-to-income ratio, it’ll just hurt its own economy.
  4. Lots of people will get college degrees, and still won’t be able to find work
    This can also be caused by students getting worthless degrees, or not knowing their talents.  The difference is that there will be a strong correlation between industries that benefit the most from automation, and industries where even college degrees don’t help you get a job.  This correlation will probably be at least as strong as the correlation between total income and number of employees.
  5. The cost of products will come mainly from the cost of human workers and robot workers
    The cost of raw materials and parts will become almost insignificant in most industries.
    I’m not sure if this applies to the highest-volume industries, like food, paper, and fuel.

Is this happening now?  And does it mean that most of us will soon?  Possibly.  But I refuse to become another chicken little saying that the sky is falling now.  Perhaps an economist would know enough to be able to answer this question conclusively.

 

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