The Hot Topic The Candidates Are Not Talking About

Hey look, I’m going to put this very straight to you: within 10-15 years (conservative estimate), there is going to be MASSIVE unemployment due to AI/robotics replacing human jobs. I know, I know…this sounds a lot like a South Park meme–

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–but really, truly, absolutely, this is going to happen.

Yes, we all had this picture in our minds from the 60s through the 80s of robots being integrated in our daily lives in the near-future—a picture planted into our skulls by popular culture. Robots were in everything from Short Circuit to The Jetsons to even Rocky IV. And what was KITT from Knight Rider but the forerunner of the self-driving car of today?

But we were “promised” this automated near-future full of worker robots doing our laundry and engaging in friendly banter with us. And when it never quite materialized by the 1990s (Teddy Ruxpin notwithstanding), we felt it was just a bunch of hype.

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What robots might look like, according to like thirty years ago

That “Jetsons” future just wasn’t coming. That hysteria that robots and artificial intelligence might make human jobs obsolete was just that—hysteria. Certainly, we had borders and immigrants and outsourcing and all sorts of other more pressing things to be concerned about.

Well, I’m telling you, that “future” is now just around the corner. It is imminent.

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Actual freakin’ robot “baby” being marketed to childless women in Japan right now

For example, millions of Americans make their living through driving. There is now a massive push, supported by the U.S. government, to mainstream self-driving cars. That might sound like “news” to you, but it is happening and there are self-driving taxis picking up passengers in several locations worldwide— including Uber’s robot fleet in Pittsburgh, and NuTonomy’s cars in Singapore.

Granted, those self-driving taxis are currently in “test” mode. But the intention is clear.

Sounds like I’m getting my news from Crazy Sauce News Central? Nope, I just read scores of mainstream news/tech/science sites every day. The stories just stream through my feed constantly.

According to the SF Chronicle, one of the biggest sectors that will be “hit” by the self-driving vehicle boom is the trucking industry. They recently quoted Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, as saying:

Commercial truck driving is going to be the leading edge of a tsunami of labor displacement. It’s not something the next generation is going to have to deal with— it’s going to happen in the next decade.

Now let’s turn to the construction industry. We have 3D printers that can make 10 houses in 24 hours, and house-building robots who can lay 1,000 bricks in an hour. We also have alternative construction methods being mainstreamed and taken seriously by world governments and esteemed builders alike.

Do you think adopting these new methods is going to cut down on human personnel and work-time? Of course it is.

And I could go on about how AI is poised to take jobs in the finance industry, or about the creation of “robot bodyguards,” the rise of “sewing robots” that can make sweatshops obsolete, and so on and so on.

But I am not here to “bash” technology. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, on all this.

I’m just saying: we are not prepared for this. 

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We are not prepared, and part of the reason we are not prepared is that the media and the government are not making it a priority for us to know. The mainstream media covers these topics, yes…but most often as a “third tier” speciality article in the Science or Technology sections. And if you’ve been listening to the rhetoric the U.S. presidential candidates and their surrogates have been spouting for the last year-and-a-half, you wouldn’t know that we are on the edge of a so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Per The World Economic Forum:

The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

So what are these governments doing to prepare for the masses of unemployed people, especially (though certainly not limited to) blue-collar workers? What programs are in place to teach these people new skills that they can apply to a vastly changed occupational landscape?

A Fox News opinion piece that ran last month, “Clinton, Trump and Obama aren’t telling American workers the truth,” put all the cards out on the table (emphasis mine):

What neither Clinton, Trump, Obama, or any other public official is likely to do on Labor Day, however, is to level with the American worker. None of them are likely to confess the hard truth: the jobs they keep talking about bringing back to the United States are not coming back. None of them are likely to have the guts and foresight to tell the public that instead of making empty promises they will focus their energy on helping the American worker prepare for a time, in the next decade or so, in which many of the tasks they perform at their current job are increasingly automated. None of them are likely to acknowledge what is the reality: that we need to prepare collectively for “new” types of work and learn to co-exist in an economy alongside artificial intelligence and robotics.

Yes, yes…I’m quoting a Fox News article. That might be dubious for some. But that quote is accurate, in my opinion. We’re not being prepared. The public is not being prepared.

It’s not a partisan issue. It’s reality.

Last week, the White House spotlighted a number of “futuristic” topics, including Mars colonization & artificial intelligence. Was this all in response to the increasingly retrograde campaign being played out by Donald Trump? Or does the White House feel it’s “time” to start integrating these concepts into the lives of the American people?

Whatever the reasoning, it’s a good sign. We need to keep moving forward. We need to be ready.