WITH THE ACCELERATING ADVANCE OF MACHINES INTO THE WORKPLACE, WHAT WILL THE JOB MARKET LOOK LIKE 10 YEARS FROM NOW? TWENTY YEARS?

Full disclosure:  I am neither a scientist nor a technologist; however, I have researched this topic quite extensively, and am also include somer economic, political and sociological considerations, which I believe are relevant to the topic..

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Fifty years ago, ATMs began to appear outside of banks, and “Bar” Codes appeared on most grocery items.  Although they quickened a customer’s ability to withdraw cash, or speed through the supermarket check-out line, those enhancements cost some bank tellers and grocery cashiers their jobs.

Around that same time, Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, suggested that silicon chip capacity would double every two years for the following ten years.  Well, fifty years later, Moore’s “Law” is still on target, ad widely-cited.  Just try to write the number “1,” and double that (compounded) over those 25 time frames.  There would not be enough room on the page to write those numbers toward the end.

To put it another way: the capacity of a recently outdated iPhone 4 has the same computing capability of a Cray 2 super computer, which was the world’s fastest computer in 1985.  Moore’s Law is an important concept to know in order to appreciate the acceleration of the computational speed, and the capacity of today’s machines.

By Machines, I’m including the total range of computers, from: automation; robotics; algorithm-reading machines; artificial intelligence, etc.  Presently, computers are not as “intelligent” as humans; however, as their speed and capacity grow exponentially, they will soon catch up.  Then what happens when their mental capacity surpasses ours, and they are able to re-program themselves to accomplish more and more-advanced chores?

In past transformations—from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, to the Industrial Age, to service industries, then the Digital Age–new jobs and industries arose. and now, to whatever increasing-advanced technology brings our way.  Will the computers of today be subservient, partner with us, or will they take over—making us their slaves?

Let’s just focus on the growing interest in autonomous, or self-driving, cars and trucks.  A few states have approved them for driving on their roads. What will happen to the 3.5 million truck drivers, and their 5.0 million support staff, who might lose their jobs?  And, what about the millions of taxi drivers?

Similarly, as the general population becomes comfortable with self-driving cars, the average ownership per household might drop from 2.1 cars, to 1.2.  Most autos spend 95% of the time sitting in the garage, or on a road somewhere.

Entrepreneurs would offer some sort of an annual contract that enables customers to call for a ride using an App.  Savings on the cost of the car, insurance, and maintenance could be significant.  But, just think of the many people in the auto industry, as dealerships close, millions more could lose their jobs—auto manufacturers, parts suppliers, dealerships, salespersons, mechanics, insurance companies, etc?

There have been various studies, which have projected which positions might be the first to succumb to the machines, and which might be among the last.  So, what is America’s game plan? The world at large?

Politicians and other leaders need to address this oncoming situation; but, no one seems willing to tackle it, since they don’t seem to think for the long-term.  But, it’s not really a long-term problem, and we should be planning for it immediately!

Even many scientists and engineers who are working within the technology industry seem to believe that, after a short disruption, new jobs and industries will magically appear.  But, what if that doesn’t happen?  Workers need assistance in learning new skills, even while they are still working on their old jobs.  Students need to be directed toward the jobs skills that will keep them employed in the years to come.  But, someone needs to provide that guidance!

In years past, job disruption generally arose within one major corporation or industry, and many people found that they could just take their skills to another company, or a similar industry.  This time, however, the machines will be everywhere.  And, don’t expect to take an interim job in a minimum wage job; because, even burger flipping now can be performed by robots.

Also, the technological impact of the machines that can perform many of the routine tasks that, fir instance, an associate attorney does.  In fact, machines have also shown that they can read medical charts more accurately, and faster, than most radiologists.

Every time a hurricane heads toward Florida, the locals stock-up on water, flashlight batteries, canned food, and prepare their homes, boarding-up windows, trimming hanging tree limbs.  So, why shouldn’t we prepare for whatever the Technological Age brings our way?

Community leaders—politicians, business, labor, educators, academics, economists and sociologists—should be called together to study the situation and recommend the various possible outcomes.  The local population of the various job classifications is most important.  Actuaries and financial analysts can than project the range of work force disruption—from worst case to best—with a probability for each.

Additionally, a greater awareness, and understanding, of Artificial Intelligence must eventually become pervasive throughout our society, at least to a basic extent.  Otherwise, we would be back to “square one”!  For instance: when computers were first introduced into elementary schools, many teachers didn’t know how to use them.  And, how can government, school administrators, business and labor leaders, have an appreciation of the potential impact of AI, if they do not understand labor force disruption?

This study should be performed over a period of months, and be assigned a reasonably high priority.

Over the past decade or two, educators have recommended that students focus on the STEM subjects.  That approach, however, would not be the magic salvation, since it would make workers more like the machines.  By adding some Arts and Humanities—shifting to STEAM—the worker would exhibit such skills as: creativity; intuition; relationship building; flexibility; coping; an ability to work comfortably with change, etc.

No one has all of the answers; but, if we devise a wide-ranging plan to deal with the potential impact of work force disruption, we will have alternative options already in our Game Plan!

NOTE:  For additional information, I have listed several books on the Books That I Recommend Tab. The two New Additions and the two listed under Technology, toward the bottom.

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  1. #1 by Doug (FPS/DougLite.com) on October 16, 2017 - 1:38 PM

    Those red state folks that voted for Trump on his promise that they would get their rural “high paying” factory jobs back.. or that the coal mines will re-open, yada, yada… are ignoring the fact that in many cases these businesses are not returning either due to changing market demands or those jobs went to automation. But somehow it’s a lot easier to blame their problems on just 8 years of Obama. Globalization is here to stay.
    That brings us to the reason for the next world war…. artificial intelligence. The idea of a “Skynet” taking over is not just fun sci-fy.. but only a few years away at best. As humans we are more concerned of some morality regarding stem cell research and we pass laws to try and control the applications. In the meantime A.I. is our far bigger threat to humanity, yet is the one area of aggressive research that is innevitable. There’s no way imaginable that simple laws will stop it. Just like Jobs and Gates and the others… some kids in a garage are likely going to crack into this field.

    • #2 by cheekos on October 16, 2017 - 2:08 PM

      Doug, thanks for commenting. The key point is that we do not know what will ultimately happen. And people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are called Luddites for suggesting that there will be risks. However, when we might expect a truly transforming disruption in the labor force, shouldn’t we review the possible outcomes, the probability of each occurring, and a response plan for each?

      This review should be comprehensive, and encourage input from all available parties. Additionally, as time goes by, and we might have additional information, the review and potential responses should be modified, as well.

      • #3 by Doug (FPS/DougLite.com) on October 16, 2017 - 4:24 PM

        Economic preparation has not been a strong point pretty much anywhere; we are very reactionary when it comes to meeting market changes. But, as you have pointed out… automation is the greatest challenge to the future labor force. It brings up the old adage, you either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Meaning, you take the initiative to anticipate change and make preparations now, or, you wait until others prep for you then jump on their bandwagon, or, you act like those red state folks who just prefer to sit tight and hope the good old days return.

      • #4 by cheekos on October 16, 2017 - 5:03 PM

        Doug, politicians snd other so-called leaders are primarily focused on the short-term. The next election, the quarterly earnings report, the current semester, etc. In order to review the potential impact of labor market disruption, this needs to be a greets deal more comprehensive.

        Skyrocketing unemployment reduces tax revenue, while increasing the demand for social services. It can also impact corporate earnings as the consumer demand for products and services erodes–permanently. Schools and colleges would see government-funding be greatly reduced, while the enhanced enrollment of students to learn new skills would spike. As I said, this review must be comprehensive, say for possibly three months, and on-going afterward.

      • #5 by Doug (FPS/DougLite.com) on October 16, 2017 - 5:39 PM

        I would fully agree, sir. Maybe this should be your election platform? 🙂

  2. #6 by Candice Uhlir on October 16, 2017 - 7:29 PM

    Cheekos, you have an uncanny ability to grasp the subtle aspect of the AI . In my conversations with fellow engineers I find that they fail to grasp the potential negative interactions such systems will have overall on society. Some have referred to me as a Luddite, however the technologies of the first industrial revolution did not have the capacity to reason or mine vast amounts of information, diagnose their own repair, or exceed the limits of their programming. We do not know what we do not know. As for STEM, especially learning how to code, I can see that our traditional methods of coding, virtually unchanged since the advent of Fortran, will be maintained. Perhaps we are educating a vast number of “buggy whip” makers on the edge of obsolecence. Smug techies beware.

    • #7 by cheekos on October 16, 2017 - 9:52 PM

      Eastman Kodak was the old guard–for perhaps approaching a century–when it was the unquestioned leader in photography. Although it had all the patents and technology for the changing technology, it was too committed to it cash cow–selling film in those yellow packets. EK employed 143,000 people, all in the Rochester, NY area.

      Today’s leader in photogrphy is Instagram, which Google acquired for $1 billion. It employees a mere 13 people. What’s Ap, valued at $19 billion, employs 55 people.

      Although the present value of money has to be factored in, today’s profit margins are significantly higher than in the traditional bricks-and-mortar business world. Additionally, the flexibility to change a business plan is instantaneous.

    • #8 by cheekos on October 16, 2017 - 10:28 PM

      Candice, next time that you speak with those engineers, run them through that analysis about autonomous cars and trucks. Is a 45 year old, who has been driving a truck for 20-25 years, going to get an occupational therapist license? That’s projected to be the very last job category in which machines can replace humans.

      • #9 by cheekos on October 18, 2017 - 5:44 PM

        Candice, in fact, I hope to publish a post that provides more detail on what could potentially happen to the entire auto industry today. Not will, but might. The technology for that is already here today, and several states have already authorized autonomous cars and trucks on their highways.

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