Everyone in the house is asleep and you’re watching a late night talk show host, roast Donald Trump for his latest tweet. The house is silent except for the TV’s rhythm of a hot take, then a clever quip followed by the perfectly cued Pavlovian response from the pre-screened audience. You too chuckle, at the occasional jest delivered with the much practised ease of the presenter.
And as the TV drones on, you know that the world is full of issues and problems, wars and important pressing matters that need to be discussed and planned for. But the circus showman on your TV, with his disarming smile and well practised rhetoric, manages to make it all seem a little less important. A little less serious.
And anyway you have more immediate things to worry about for God’s sake. Some might think that the rumble last week in your engine was just some mundane matter and getting it fixed for a reasonable price hardly has an impact. But you know the calamitous chain of events that could unfold if that car doesn’t start in the morning.
You are going to be the one paying over the odds for a tow truck and repairs. You are the one who has to call your boss to explain. Then face the slow walk past co-workers and take their jibes with good grace. Car trouble would have an effect on that holiday you were planning. The lost time with the kids and change to their schedule. These things matter too.
But while the tv lulles you toward the AM. One pressing matter, one important issue is stealing into your home and very, very quietly, stealing your future and nobody on TV is talking about it.
This is not some far off problem but one here, right now and changing things forever. Automation is going to change the commercial and industrial landscapes forever, replacing jobs across the board, from the factory you work at, to the bus you take, to the local shop. Automation has the capacity to stretch the divide in inequality more than ever before with the possibility of disastrous consequences.
“Robots will take a third of British jobs by 2030, report says” cnbc.com
“McDonalds Is Replacing 2,500 Human Cashiers With Digital Kiosks” zerohedge.com
“Automation will affect one in five jobs across the UK, says study” theguardian.com
The first industries to be effected will be those that are most easily automated. This includes all of the transportation industry. This may not seem biblical till you break down the numbers.
Truckers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and delivery people make up a significant number of jobs in the US. In fact, there are about 3.5 million truckers across America and a total of 8.7 million people employed by the industry. In 2014, NPR found that it was the most common job across large numbers of middle America states.
Atop of these truckers, are a quarter million cab drivers and the nearly 700,000 bus drivers. And all the support services and enterprises that facilitate the industry. Below that are all the local businesses that rely on the custom of the transportation industry.
Loosing this one industry could have dire consequences for communities across the US. But this is only one example.
Surprisingly it’s not just blue-collar workers who will feel the brunt of this but long established respectable jobs across the board. Lawyers will increasingly see their work dry up as more and more individuals choose the cheaper automated services for legal work. The fact that the majority of work in law profession is procedural means that it is wide open for automation, once the egg-head’s algos reach a certain level of sophistication.
The medical profession is also at risk as a diagnosis is really just a knowledge of a patient and a series of yes or no answers. Add on to this the much heralded ‘robot surgeon’ and the much respected occupation begins to look a bit more in danger.
White collar professions that have stood the test of time are also at risk.
In Flesh-Cutting Task, Autonomous Robot Surgeon Beats Human Surgeons ieee.org
The Robot Lawyers Are Here – And They’re Winning bbc.co.uk
Robots Will Soon Do Your Taxes. Bye-Bye, Accounting Jobs wired.com
As the owner of a busy SEO company, my work relies on SME’s. Is my business directly in line for the chop? Maybe, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter as if my clients aren’t doing well, then I’m not doing well.
We can’t stop change but perhaps we can pressure our politicians into slowing change down. If we are not ready for the loss to the economy we ought to minimise the impact by stretching the period of change out, allowing us to evolve with it.
So what happens when all these jobs disappear?
What happens when immense societal change forces people out of the work force in large numbers. How do people react? We do have some clues without going back to the industrial revolution.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell marking the end of an era and the demise of the soviet union. As the USSR opened up it’s economy, the working population had to traverse a new path, one with a completely different set of rules and that rewarded a different skill set.
The result was a spike in suicides largely put down to alcohol abuse. Or in other words, large numbers of men lost their jobs, were unable to cope, took to the drink and cashed out with suicides peaking in 1994-95 at double what is considered a high suicide rate.
And this is not the only example of societal confusion manifesting itself in suicide. Japan, during the 90’s and in the midst of it’s change to an American ‘hire-n-fire’ style economy saw suicide rates far above acceptable levels. Some commentators believe that the when head of the household got made redundant, he was unable to live with the stigma that accompanied being unemployed. This view is born out by some evidence.
Researchers have shown that there is a correlation between the high number of middle american suicide rates and a loss of employment. Large numbers of working class white Americans are falling victim to what they have termed ‘deaths of despair‘, with the actual cause of death often alcohol or drug related.
Should ‘flyover country’ loose one of it’s biggest sectors, this epidemic of drug abuse and ‘deaths of despair’ will be compounded destroying communities.
But our civic and tech leaders must be getting ahead of this right? Wrong.
Steve Mnuchin in a recent interview showed how the government seem to be wilfully ignorant of the topic. This seems particularly disturbing in light of the study done by Ball State University. It found that 90 percent of all jobs since 2000, were lost to automation. This echoes former president Obama’s words when he stated that future economic shocks “will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete”.
What has been called the fourth industrial revolution poses enormous problems for our communities. To begin planning for this huge shift in society, we need our leaders to begin address the situation. A good start would be to look at the educational system. The new labour market will require a different type of worker and it’s essential we begin to prepare students for the workplace of the future.