Globally, we consume films that show us dystopian life after some apocalypse. Yet we never want to ask the question: How did this happen? The assumption is always some sort of nuclear madness, alien invasions, or global epidemics.
The reality? More than a billion people globally will lose not only their jobs, but connections to ways of life, and places that they live. Not in some distant time, but within the next five to ten years. It affects you. It affects your children and grandchildren NOW.
So why are all but a handful of the world’s politicians ignoring this societal tsunami far bigger to mankind than even the threat of global warming? Technodisplacement by robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are great for the people who pay the bills.
In my last HuffPo blog ”Trump And Republicans Expect You To Die, Joe Public ,” came the sobering and revelatory statistic:
45% of working-age Americans are permanently unemployed. CNBC estimates 94.7M people are permanently out of work. Adjusted for seasonal teen employment, approximately 91.2M people, either physically can’t work, stay at home to take care of others, or have given up any hope of finding a job. That’s equivalent to the entire populations of the states of California, Texas, New York, and Washington.
It hasn’t been a front-burner issue because most “highly educated” Americans think it only affects factory workers and the cubicle crowd. Don’t think you’re impacted? Think again.
A sampling of the change:
- Non-Degree Jobs - Secretaries, clerks, laborers, customer service reps, auto mechanics, retail sales clerks, kitchen staff, wait staff, all will see reductions in job opportunities - 18.6M could be unemployed;
- Professional Drivers - Trucks, Taxis/Share Services, Buses, Trains, Ferries, Water Taxis - 6.9M people likely out of work before 2025;
- Financial Services & Insurance - Much of the work, from the calculations to sales, can be done by machines. Potentially lose 7.2M jobs;
- Construction - More than 500,000 jobs may be lost to AI and robotics by 2020.
- Physicians - Through program’s like IBM’s AI, WATSON and surgical robotics will improve outcomes and slash jobs by 80%.
- Lawyers - With only a few thousand trial lawyers, and companies and individuals pushing for mediation, artificial intelligence may slash jobs for nearly 1M of the 1.22M holding a law degree. Legal support staff, paralegals, and secretaries, could lose another 300-400K jobs;
- Pharmacists - Pill-dispensing robots will replace most pharmacy staff. The American Journal of Pharmacy Education has warned of a potential glut of 40,000 pharmacy school grads by 2022. Lose 139,000+ jobs;
- Military - Not only will many of the support jobs in the US Military be gone, but, increasingly, combat jobs as well.
Estimates of technology-related job loss vary from 47% to 80% of the existing workforce in the next two decades, not counting the already permanently unemployed, or the collateral job loss by people working in support of other people. So another 58M full-time workers, and 13M part-time workers, or more, will become technologically unemployed.
Up to 165M people, or about 75% of the American workforce, could be out of their traditional jobs before 2025.
This is a global crisis. Displacement, particularly in fragile economies of parts of Africa and Asia, could be profound. With 1.36B people, China, potentially, could face more than 600M people in search of new ways to work and live if it keeps up with the West and automates at or above our levels.
What are the nations of the world going to DO with all of the people displaced by technology?
Economists say that we should not fear this change. Losing a current career doesn’t mean that all of us will be permanently unemployed. Humans will adapt to other forms of work that engage them in areas where machines will not be able to do the job for a long time, if at all.
Many experts project that technology will create as many jobs as it destroys. What kind, how much they pay, and what they offer humans in terms of career fulfillment are far less clear.
So how do we approach this brave new world?
Avinash Meetoo’s TED talk provides some enlightened ideas:
We see two potential tracks of the future forming:
Social Darwinist Route - The billionaires funding the “Freedom Caucus” of the Republican Party aim to:
- Use the technologically unemployed politically for as long as they can help reshape government to their purposes;
- Build both cultural and physical walls to keep immigrants out of their “new” America.
- Maximize profit from businesses where AIs and robots work 24/7 tirelessly, without need for vacations, sick leave, maternity leave, etc.
- Cut social safety nets and healthcare to let a large number of them die quietly without being too obvious about the democide, reducing competition for resources like education, healthcare, jobs, food, useable land and water which they have impacted during the Industrial Era.
Progressive Route - Those who believe in the fundamental equality of humans and that human rights are not doled out by misuse of Darwin’s theories on natural selection want to:
- Hold global summits of a scope greater than the ones held for global warming to develop a comprehensive, international set of laws and policies covering both human rights and the rights and responsibilities of the mechanically-sentient artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that interact with humans.
- Develop global rules for minimum standards of living of all humans.
- Develop sensible migration schemes. If machines used by businesses will replace the majority of the workforce, should there be some sort of compensation to governments to aid in the retraining and/or the care of whose lives will be in search of new purpose after machines take their jobs in the next two decades?
- Adopt an international ban on the use of computers, AI, and robotics in global warfare (Ending “The Terminator” scenario).
A future without most of the types of jobs humans have been doing in organized societies for thousands of years presents major challenges:
- Higher Educational Failure - Colleges and universities are still educating the majority of its students for the last century, not this one. Students graduating from medical school, law school, education, journalism, and dozens of other majors have no training in how robotics or AI will impact them. Higher education needs to rethink curriculum for the future.
- Massive, Permanent Underclass - More than 26m people in the US perform some form of manual labor as their sole source of income. Older Americans are, because of the high costs of health insurance and benefits, with no long-term loyalty by a company, much harder to reemploy.
- Mental Health - Without job pathways or skills, an NIH study suggests a twofold risk of mental health issues, and a 1.6x chance of mortality. The dark streets and opioid dens of the post-apocalyptic film noir may become a reality.
- The rich will get richer, tapping the computer algorithms that will dominate a rising stock market. They will own businesses that will profit from the labors of the machines. The stock market’s behavior, largely free of the irrationality of human trading, will change, and probably react in price more to surpluses and shortages than to fear, greed, mismanagement, theft or labor disputes, depending on programming.
- Opportunism & Resistance: If the rich try to hoard money from displacing workers, the whole fabric of the world’s economy might unravel.
Technology, we are told, can bring prosperity, peace and better health. Yet, without any public policy or global agreements on its implementation, the automation tsunami is about to hit both blue-collar and white-collar jobs worldwide. Too bad there isn’t an Al Gore to wake people up to the danger.