It’s one of those heady predictions that sounds shocking, yet really plausible; the same way that the predictions of how climate change is going to completely and irrevocably mess us up within a couple of decades is sadly plausible. We all know it’s coming—robots and computers are going to take up a significant number of the jobs now held by human beings. Information technology research/advisory firm Gartner forecasts that in ten years, 30% of our human workforce will be replaced by “smart robots”:
Gartner predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025…New digital businesses require less labor; machines will make sense of data faster than humans can.
This will create a literal “Second Machine Age” akin to that of the Industrial Revolution—the difference being in this new machine age, jobs for humans are projected to decrease rather than increase.
While the PBS article I’ve linked to relates this most to jobs involving cognitive tasks, of course this job displacement will impact what’s left of the “blue collar”/service jobs as well. Just for the airlines industry alone: couldn’t a robot take over the job of baggage handler and skycap, TSA worker and even steward/ess (think about it: you could send a robot along on a track up and down the airplane aisle to deliver drinks and blankets and whatnot; there would be one human supervisor to manage everything).
At some point, artificial intelligence and robotics will be able to do a huge amount of the tasks currently performed by humans. So what jobs will these humans get instead? Honestly? I think they’re going to send more and more desperate humans to expeditions to Mars and the moon as “pioneers.” Certainly, robots will be able to perform the necessary off-world tasks and whatnot better than humans…but there will still be a need to have colonies of people on the planets themselves.
So what I think will happen within 20 years is that there will be a movement to ship a lot of these unemployed people into space…people fleeing poverty, oppression, jail sentences, and etc. will take a chance (and in the beginning of Mars colonization, this most certainly will be a one-way trip) off-world.
So what you will have, of course, is a type of “replay” of the colonization that happened on Earth in the last 500 years or so. Bonus if there are actually other lifeforms on the planets already which we can displace or “utilize.”
Again…the idea that robots and AI would replace human jobs to the point that there will be a massive unemployment crisis seems obvious. If you had a global economic system that gave human lives the same weight as profit, this upcoming crisis could possibly be averted…even maybe turned-around as a new golden age with abundance for all. But instead, you’ll inevitably have companies chucking out human workers for more cost-effective (read: not in need of health insurance) artificial ones, with no bigger game-plan as to what will happen to the economy when all those people are out-of-work.
Which is where the mass-exodus of humanity to an uncertain future will come in. As it always has.
And I see it already, just in the microcosm, in the little passive-aggressive “war” I have with my local bank. After many years of mindlessly using the ATM for most of my banking needs, I opted to use a teller in-person. I decided this, in part, because I just didn’t feel “connected” to my money…to the ebb and flow of what I was putting in and taking out. Books on getting your financial shit together will recommend you do exactly this. But after about 6 months of using my bank in this fashion, I started to see “push-back.” There would actually be a bank worker paid to stand by the line, see if you had a task that could be done with an ATM, and strongly advise you to do so. Another time, the teller asked if I wanted a receipt, I said yes, and she made a point of circling the ATM information on the receipt in front of me.
So I get it—don’t use the tellers to make deposits or withdrawals.
And what is going to happen to the jobs for these bank workers, once nobody uses them anymore for deposits, withdrawals, and so on? Let’s say at least one job at each bank will be made redundant via this campaign to move customers to the ATMs…we’re talking megabanks with thousands of branches across the United States. How many people with the skill-set of “bank teller” are out of a job? And what new skill-sets will they learn instead that will not be replaced by computers/smart robots?
In closing, think about the job you have now, and your skill-set. How much of your duties could theoretically be done by a robot or computer algorithm? I know, I know…that sounds insulting. And I know: only a human touch could possibly render your job something truly effective and meaningful.
But let’s say a company feels they can get away with having a computer/robot do your job. Can you picture that? If you can, try to visualize what new skill-set you could learn to make up for your lost job opportunity. Now, can a computer/robot replicate that skill-set?
And that’s kind of how you have to look at things moving forward, in the big picture. What human occupations will still be valued/needed during the 2nd Machine Age?
(Do you know they can program a computer to generate basic news articles for websites? I’m pretty sure there is only a small jump from that to generating Buzzfeed-type listicles and whatnot.)
So I know this all may sound a little ridiculous from our current vantage point in the timestream, but it’s something to keep in mind.