In the next decade or two, driverless cars could put many of the more than three million licensed professional drivers around the country out of work. While automation long ago revolutionized the assembly line, advances in big data computing power could soon downsize the traditional white collar workforce as well.
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“Even what you think of as advanced professions that require a great deal of specialization and expertise, the vast majority of the work is routine, and it’s those routine tasks which can be now taken over by computers, so that what used to take the work of 20 lawyers may be done by five lawyers, or 20 doctors may be done by five doctors,” Kaplan said.
Most Americans think Robots will take all the jobs, just not theirs. Some two-thirds of the Americans believe that in fifty years, robots and computers will “probably” or “definitely” be performing most of the work currently carried out by humans.
While we might believe automation is a threat to the workforce at large, individually, we seem mostly confident that we’re irreplaceable. This kind of narcissism could create a blind spot, enabling workforce automation to take us by surprise.
Younger people (ages 18-29) and people who work in the public sector (including educators and government employees) were both slightly more likely to believe their job is secure. Both groups were also slightly more skeptical of workforce automation in general.
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Maybe even journalists. Now computers are creeping into the reporting field. At The Associated Press, approximately 4,000 corporate earning stories are being written by computers.
The AP uses a program called Wordsmith, created by Automated Insights. “We can generate millions of stories in a matter of minutes or hours,” Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen said. But Allen downplays the doomsday scenario.
“I believe that our future is going to be much more of a humans and software working together, and to our knowledge nobody’s ever lost a job due to an implementation of Wordsmith,” Allen said. “In fact, most of the time we’re implementing things that previously didn’t exist before.”
“We haven’t eliminated any jobs, and what it’s really done for us is it’s allowed us to give reporters and editors time to do more meaningful work,” said Patterson.
We are in for a great disruption and those most disrupted will be the middle and working classes
Jobs have been created — but many, in the service sector, are both insecure or what the academic-activist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs” — jobs which give neither pleasure to their holders nor benefit to society. More, the service jobs are often wearying, and don’t provide a decent living — especially for those who live in expensive cities like New York, London or Paris. Gone is the era of the lifetime career, let alone the lifelong job and the economic security that came with it, having been replaced by a new economy intent on recasting full-time employees into contractors, vendors, and temporary workers.
Work — making sure it’s there, making it meaningful, giving it the dignity of being part-constructed by the worker — will be the largest domestic issue in our economies.
If computers continue to infringe on humans’ territory, what would a mostly jobless population look like?