Posts Tagged Labor

STEAM, NOT STEM!

Over the past 50 years, automation and the machines (robots, machine-reading, big data, artificial intelligence, etc.) have been creeping into our workplace, replacing workers in performing various routine job functions.  And, unlike other historical labor disruptions, the advance of machines—performing the tasks they have been programmed to do—is being felt throughout the entire industrialized world.

To better understand the advance of the machines, both in memory and speed, let’s review “Moore’s Law”.  Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, 50 years ago remarked that the capacity and speed of silicon chips will double every two years, over the next ten.  Well, fifty years later, that hypothesis is still on target, and it is often used to describe the exponential advances of computers as their capabilities accelerate over time.

For instance, the computer that took the astronauts to the Moon in 1969 was merely comparable to the Nintendo of that era.  The capacity of today’s iPhone, however, is considerably faster, and can perform more functions, than the fastest super computers of even 30 years ago.  So, how are schools preparing our children for the labor market of the future?

It seems that that many school systems, over the past ten to fifteen years, have emphasized the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while de-emphasizing the Arts and Humanities for college bound students.  Such a focus can make the job skills of such employees similar to those of the machines, and thus easier for the machines to displace.

Skills that reflect the humanity of the worker—such as intuition, relationship building, good writing skills, an ability to cope with adversity, creative thinking–may set him or her apart from their co-workers, in similar jobs.  “This is Money” provides a fairly in-depth list of job occupations that are most, and least, likely to be replaced by automation.

For the most part, school curricula, through the 12th Grade, appear to have changed little over the years.  As the advance of the machines continues at an ever-increasing speed, school administrators and teachers need to be honing their skills, and begin to plan for the challenges of the Twenty-First Century, which has already arrived.  Business, government and labor also need to be part of the planning process.

Many computer engineer jobs have already been outsourced to India.  And, this time, many white collar jobs, requiring college and advanced degrees—such as associate attorneys and some radiologists (yes, M. D. s), who perform many routine functions, may also be at risk.  That’s why it would be important for the employee to set him or herself apart from their colleagues.

Since automation will impact the entire labor market, to one degree or another, the number of displaced workers could easily outnumber the available jobs, and probably drive the pay scales.  That’s where the Arts and Humanities skills may set some employees apart from the crowd, and help them keep their jobs!

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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS ALREADY HERE! THE OVERALL DISRUPTION COULD BE WORSE THAN THE GREAT RECESSION (4Q07-1Q09)!

NOTE:  This is a follow-on to my prior post, as well as a response to most scientists, engineers and technologists, who believe that the machines will only be advantageous to humanity.

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In 2010, the Federal Government bailed-out GM, Chrysler and their parts suppliers, saving 1.5 million jobs.  That action enabled the employees to stay current on their mortgages, pay taxes, and continue contributing to the economy by spending money in national and local stores.  Also, let’s not forget the added impact of auto dealership closures and lay-offs, finance companies, insurance companies, etc.

Several states have already authorized self-driving, or autonomous, cars and trucks for usage on their highways, with other states sure to follow.  The impact of human drivers being replaced by computers, as they gain acceptance, will eventually have an even greater impact on our economy than the failure of two major employers.

Remember, also, that similar forms of machines are replacing workers in numerous industries throughout the economy.  But, let’s look at some potential numbers for just the automotive industry.

There are currently 3.5 million truck drivers on the road, as well as another 5.0 million support staff.  For trucking companies, it would be more cost-effective to replace drivers with computers, since the machines can drive 24 hours per day, and they do not receive pay or benefits.  Thus the direct impact of autonomous trucks would be approximately six times as great as if two of the Big Three were not bailed-out by the Federal Government.

Now, let’s look at personally owned automobiles and small trucks.  American households own, on average 2.1 autos, which spend 95% of the time sitting in garages or parked in driveways, or on the street.  As people become more comfortable riding in self-driving cars, entrepreneurial companies will offer year-to-year plans, enabling members to use an App to call for a ride when needed.

Consumers would pocket the difference, between enrolling in a plan, and the expense of personal auto ownership—the purchase price, and maintenance and insurance expenses. It has been projected that family auto ownership would plummet, from 2.1 per household, to 1.2.  Over a gradual period, say five or ten years, think of the potential impact on the automotive industry.  Oh, and don’t forget the taxi drivers, and their support staffs, who would probably be laid-off, as well.

While scientists, engineers and technologists debate over the pros and cons—of whether artificial intelligence might be beneficial or harmful to mankind—at some indeterminate time it the future, AI is already here!  The technicians are missing the point, at least for the present!  The overall disruption of the American labor market could be even worse than during The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09)!

Machines have already taken over many low and high-paying jobs throughout the American labor market, and their march is accelerating at an ever quickening pace.  The artificial intelligence community needs to set the potential outcomes of the future aside, and work with community groups to respond to any near-term risks, both to society and the economy.  Forget the long-term, will we be ready for tomorrow, next month, next year?

NOTE:  The linked Pew Research Report describes how many Americans view Labor Market Disruption.

ALSO:  In today’s (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, there was an article about Auto Nation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, forming a partnership with Google’s autonomous driving subsidiary, Waymo Corp.  In time, they expect to offer as-needed access to a fleet of self-driving autos.  Also, as car buyers become more comfortable with autonomous vehicles, Auto Nation will offer them in its showrooms.  Auto Nation’s stock skyrocketed, partially on the news.

 

 

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