Automation vs. Jobs: The Long and the Short of It.

This chapter appears concurrently in Age of Robots and includes content and quotes garnered from interviews with James J. Hughes, Jerome Glenn, Ian Pearson, Richard Yonck, John C. Havens and Alexandra Whittington on the Seeking Delphi™ podcast between April of 2017 and November of 2018. **

 “There are no right answers to wrong questions.”—Ursula K. LeGuin

Will automation kill jobs?  That’s not exactly the wrong question, but it is an incomplete one.  Which automation—robots, computers, A.I.?  Which industries?  And most important, in what time frame? The next five years are particularly fuzzy; things are simply changing too fast to tell.

Some History

On the eve of the iconic year of 1984, Isaac Asimov published an article envisioning the society of 2019.1 He foresaw a world where computerization and robots would change the world of work, and computer literacy would be vital for the jobs of the future.  He was right.

On the other hand, he conjectured that the transition to a more automated workplace would be largely complete by 2019.  He was clearly wrong.  The extent of the uncertainty and the varied nature of the many feasible scenarios indicate that the transition, if anything, is far from over.  We still don’t know the outcome;  but the next five years may bring us closer to knowing some answers.  Even then, though, we still might find much uncertainty.  Rapid change and disruption could become a permanent state.

Technological change has become so rapid—and to some extent chaotic–that even futurists feel challenged in ways they never have before.  Consider these words from James J. Hughes, executive director and co-founder of The Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology:

“We’ve had the general experience over the past ten years that It’s hard to be a futurist nowadays.  You think up something that you think is going to be, for five or ten years, an issue that you’ll be able to be the only person talking about it.  Two weeks later it’s in the White House or in the European parliament being debated.” **

If futurists can’t keep up with it, how can the rest of us?

The Hype

The popular media, in its never-ending quest for click bait, greatly oversimplifies the questions.  This is particularly true of artificial intelligence and job loss.

“What we hear about [it] is mainly hype,” says Alexandra Whittington, Foresight Director of Fast Future Publishing. **

Jerome Glenn, chair of The Millennium Project and lead author on their State of The Future publications, points out that it is important to distinguish between types of A.I.  The narrow A.I. we currently have generally is focused on a single task, like playing chess or arranging airline schedules.  Human-like artificial general intelligence could be a much broader threat, but we have no idea when, or even if it will ever be achieved.  So, near term, he sees the less disruptive narrow A.I. as all that is on the table. **

The current flap over automation job reduction probably started with a 2013 report by the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, entitled The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization.2 Supported by mountains of statistics and advanced mathematical formulas, they came up with the assertion that 47% of all U.S. jobs are highly susceptible to being automated, and therefore eliminated.  That was only the beginning.

Following a 2017 report by McKinsey that 800 million jobs globally could be affected by automation by 2030, a torrent of gloom and doom articles appeared in the mass media.  Just consider some of these:

  • Automation could destroy millions of jobsThe Guardian, August 2018
  • America is unprepared for the job apocalypse automation will bringCBS News, June 2018
  • Will robots take your job? Humans ignore the coming A.I. revolution at their peril—NBC News, February 2018
  • One million jobs will disappear by 2026. How to prepare for an automation future—CNBC, February 2018.

Emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the headlines has led to what could be characterized as a kind of neo-Luddism.

Like the early 18th century efforts to by weavers destroy automated weaving looms and by horse breeders to block the proliferation of steam powered “horseless carriages,” there have sprung up various efforts to block technology today.  Consider, then, these headlines:

  • Professional Taxi Drivers In New York Want Self-Driving Cars Banned for 50 Years—com, January 2017
  • The Beef Industry is Desperately Fighting Lab-Grown Meats Over Labeling—Uproxx.com, February 2018

But there have also appeared many rebuttals to the doom and gloom scenarios, and one does have to drill down in these reports to fully in understand what might be going on.   The devil is most certainly in the details.

So, what exactly did McKinsey say?  It’s less stark than immediately meets the eye.  While over half of all existing workers could have up to a third of their functions automated, they also said only 5% of current jobs are fully replaceable by automation.  At least for now.  They further made projections of millions of jobs created by A.I. and robotics and suggested that only between 3 and 14% of all workers will need to find new occupations by 2030.3

Clearly, it is only certain jobs in certain industries that are likely to disappear in the near term.  And while cattle breeder and taxi driver are two occupations eventually in peril, it may already be too late to save the latter.  Uber and Lyft are seeing to that.

Historically, the ultimate technological demise of many industries has simply resulted in job creation in new industries; often many more jobs then were lost.  The loss of most jobs for horse breeding in the early 20th century led to creation of many more in automotive manufacturing, maintenance,  professional driving, and the petroleum industry.

But people have short memeories, and the speed and pervasiveness threatened currently by multiple disruptive technologies will likely dwarf anything seen in the past.

Hughes sees the push back against technology in these terms:

“Trump says he is going to bring back all these jobs, but he has never dealt with the impact of automation in the erosion of industrial jobs.  Luddism makes sense if there is no vision of how everyone gets fed and how we can have a good society without traditional jobs”. **

 

The Optimist

One optimist is noted British futurist and author Ian Pearson.  Writing in his Futurizen blog in March of 2017, Pearson states:

AI has been getting a lot of bad press the last few months from doom-mongers predicting mass unemployment. Together with robotics, AI will certainly help automate a lot of jobs, but it will also create many more and will greatly increase quality of life for most people.4

How can he be so sanguine in opposition to the torrent of doom and gloom saying in the popular press?  He asserts that there is a lot of counterbalance that is being ignored in the press and sees three main areas of robotic and A.I. job creation. **

These include, first, the need to program and maintain robots and A.I “Even with industrial robots you need a skilled workman on the factory floor showing them what to do,” he says.  But industrial robots are a lot easier to program than more general-purpose artificial intelligence, which he compares to the complexities of teaching children.  He believes that, though this won’t last forever, it will get us quite a few decades of extra jobs.

A second area is in jobs where what he terms “emotional repertoire” is required.  In things like interacting with patients and maintaining customer relationships, A.I. can only do so much.  “It can’t pick up body language or facial expressions and can’t tell whether you’re lying or exaggerating. Having a nurse or a technician between you and the AI can allow you to give far more detail to that program.”  He also suggests that people won’t open up to a computer program or robot in the same manner that they might to another human being. “The human forces you to be more open and honest about whatever it is you are doing.”

Third, he believes A.I. and other forms of automation will aide entrepreneurship.

“I think a lot of us would be an entrepreneur if it wasn’t so difficult,” he says.  He sees setting up a small company as a daunting task with tons of red tape, which can easily be farmed out to A.I., as long with handling logistics of manufacturing and shipping.  Adding artificial intelligence to a green employee, and you “upskill” them as he says, and makes them a more useful employee.

The fly in all this ointment is the emergence of emotional A.I., or affective computing.  Richard Yonck is a futurist author who has written on the subject, and to some extent warns that A.I. that can read, and react appropriately, to human emotion, might threaten even the jobs that Pearson described.

Pearson does not entirely disagree with him. He thinks that Yonck is talking about a different time horizen than he is.   He sees A.I. able to do just about everything humans can do, and then some, by around 2050.  But in the near term of just a few years, he still sees it as a more stimulative technology.

The Skeptic—

Richard Yonck (author, Heart of the Machine)  puts himself somewhere in between Pearson and the more pessimistic doomsayers in the foresight and economics communities.

In a 2017 interview he stated:

I think it will have a strong impact but probably not as severe as some of the prognostications. Automation, computerization A.I. and so forth.  But we saw from the great recession we don’t need to have 46 per cent of jobs to go away to have an enormous impact.  It’s true there are going to be new jobs and new value, and additional value placed on human emotional capabilities.  I half agree there will be a number of new jobs that arise out of qualities that are distinctly human in whatever role. Nursing, teaching, psychotherapy, roles where we have a level of emotional connection that machines simply cannot or will not have for a good few decades.  But I question whether that could offset all of the losses. **

Conclusions

So where do we go from here? It’s complicated.

Almost to a person, the pundits quoted above look at Universal Basic Income as a solution to mass technological unemployment.

Hughes puts it this way:

“We have been advocating for the importance of grappling with technological unemployment and advocating for universal basic income guarantee.  That’s now become mainstream. We need to be able to make that deal with the public. Yes, lots of people are going to lose their jobs, but we’re going to get all this cool stuff and we’re going to make sure that everyone gets fed and everyone’s going to have an income. Folks don’t really believe it yet, they don’t see the politics. “**

Another possible solution—attitudinal, rather than socialistic—comes from Heartificial Intelligence author John C. Havens.  He sees that the currently dominant economic model in the West as a roadblock to preventing automation job. He thinks that it makes no sense to have all these fantastic, disruptive technologies but still be living in an economic system based on GDP developed in 1944.

”It’s absurd not to bring societal infrastructure up to the level of technology.” He says and cites a possible solution in adopting what is called the triple bottom line, emphasizing not only growth and profitability, but also human and environmental well being. **

But again, one must ask oneself, is there any likelihood of the politics and economics being there for either of these solutions—at least in the short term?

The silver lining in the cloud, at least for the next few years, is that only a few select professions in a few industries are in danger of disappearing entirely.  While taxi drivers are under assault from ride sharing, the autonomous-driving demise of all professional taxi and truck drivers appears much farther out.

The stark fact, as of this writing, is that much of the West is experiencing labor shortages.  Even China is facing a shortfall of over 20 million skilled tech workers in the next few years.5    In the near term, labor shortages, rather than profits, may drive the proliferation of automation.

The verdict, then, is that we have not achieved the new equilibrium that Asimov envisioned by now.  Change has accelerated but is nowhere near complete.  We don’t now know for sure where it all will lead; we might have a better idea in five years.

Questions:

Which jobs in which industries and in what timeframe are most likely to be transformed or completely displaced by technology?

Will automation deployment be accelerated as a short-term solution to skilled labor shortages?

How should society deal with job loss due to automation?

**Sackler, M. (2017-2018). Seeking Delphi™.  from https://seekingdelphi.com/podcasts/

  1. Asimov, I. (2019). 35 years ago, Isaac Asimov was asked by the Star to predict the world of 2019 Here is what he wrote.   https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2018/12/27/35-years-ago-isaac-asimov-was-asked-by-the-star-to-predict-the-world-of-2019-here-is-what-he-wrote.html
  2. (2019). Oxacuk.   https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
  3. Mckinsey, . (2017). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages.  https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages
  4. Pearson, I.D. (2017). The more accurate guide to the future.   https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/ai-is-mainly-a-stimulative-technology-that-will-create-jobs/
  5. People’s daily. (2019). China to see shortage of 22 million high-end technical workers by 2020.  http://en.people.cn/n3/2019/0115/c90000-9537759.html

 

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After Shock, Podcast #12 redux: Artificial Emotional Intelligence with Richard Yonck

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”–Roger Ebert

The upcoming volume, After Shock, features 50 of the world’s most renowned futurists reflecting on the 50-year legacy of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, and looking ahead to the next 50 years.  Seven of the contributors have been guests on Seeking Delphi™  This is the first in a series of repeats of these podcasts, which will lead up to panel discussion with some of the authors, on the book and the Toffler legacy.

Richard Yonck is an author and futurist based in Seattle Washington.

The day I read Futre Shock, just a couple of years after it came out, was the day that started me on the course to becoming a futurist.  Here’s what I wrote on this blog when Toffler died in July of 2016.

Links to relevant stories appear after the audio file and embedded YouTube video below.  A reminder that Seeking Delphi is available on iTunes and PlayerFM,  and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Podcast #12: Artificial Emotional Intelligence

 

OrigintalYouTube slide show of episode #12

Richard Yonck’s background on Intelligent-Future.com

Heart of The Machine on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Ray Kurzweil’s review of Heart of The Machine in the New York Times.

News items:

Atlanta sets goal to run on 100% renewable energy by 2035.

SpaceX plans to begin launch of global network of internet providing satellites in 2019

University of Houston Master of Science in Foresight web page

Subscribe to Seeking Delphi on iTunes 

Subscribe on YouTube

Follow Seeking Delphi on Facebook @SeekingDelphi

Follow me on twitter @MarkSackler

 

 

 

 

Podcast #37: The Future of Nursing and Caregiving, Part Two, with Oriana Beaudet and Dan Pesut

“The day healthcare can fully embrace AI is the day we have a revolution in terms of cutting costs and improving care.”–Fei-Fei Li

 

Image: Shutterstock

In part two of this 2-part series, Oriana Beaudet and Dan Pesut discuss a healthcare future that includes automation, artificial intelligence and robots.  And what about potential disruptive futures that change everything?

 

You can subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ on Apple podcasts , PlayerFM, MyTuner,  Listen Notes, and YouTube

 

 

Oriana Beaudet, DNP–click image for bio

Dan Pesut, Ph.D.–click image for bio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode #37, The Future of Nursing and Caregiving, Part 2

YouTube Slide Show for episode #37

Links:

University of Minnesota School of Nursing

University of Minnesota Health Innovation and Leadership

 

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Podcast #31: Ethically Aligned Design in Autonomous Systems with John C. Havens

“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”–Elon Musk

 

Our thoughts–or theirs?

One might easily say about the notion of the ethics of disruptive technology–much like Mark Twain’s misattributed missive about the weather–that “everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything.”  But IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, is doing something.   Freshly minted from their Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems,  is the 290-page first edition of Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-Being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.  If that title sounds like a mouthful, it ought to.  The issues that need to be addressed, to prevent the summoning of the demon that Elon Musk warns of,  are complex.

In Seeking Delphi podcast #31, host Mark Sackler talks at length with John C. Havens,  executive director of the initiative, about the massive effort, with hundreds of volunteers, that went into this volume.  Havens previously was a guest on  Seeking Delphi™ episode #17, to discuss the challenges of ethics in A.I. design and implementation.  He is also the author of Heartificial Intelligence on Emotion A.I.

You can download Ethically Aligned Design from the link below.

You can subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ on iTunes , PlayerFM,  or YouTube

 

Click image for document download page

Click for bio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 #31 Ethically Aligned Design with John C. Havens

YouTube slide show of episode #31

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News of the Future This Week, April 13, 2018

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of congress; but I repeat myself.”–Mark Twain

Happy Friday the 13th.  With that cheerful note, we go straight to the foibles of the U.S. Congress.  Did you really think that Senators that look and sound more like stuffed dinosaurs than live human beings could really extract anything meaningful from hearings with Mark Zuckerberg?  Really?  I didn’t think so.  My audience is more with it than that.

While you’re reading the future news of the week, don’t forget that  the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunesPlayerFM, blubrry , and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us onTwitter and Facebook.

Social Media/Future of Privacy–In a scathing opinion piece on Futurism.com,  Victor Tangermann said that congress is ill-equiped to regulate Facebook.  He says they simply don’t  understand it.

Man or machine?

–Zuckerberg wasn’t exactly stellar in his performance, either.  CNBC’s Jim Cramer speculated that he might not be able to pass a Turing Test.

–Is privacy dead?  Speaking on the Seeking Delphi™ podcast, noted futurist Gray Scott says it has simply become irrelevant. (Scroll all the way down for the YouTube link).

Artificial Intelligence–The military is pursuing AI that mimics the human brain.  But one DARPA scientist thinks that’s the wrong approach.

Biotechnology–It isn’t just for–well, you know–any more.  Viagra might be effective against some cancers.    That’s what I call a pick me up.

NASA/Space–NASA has begun construction and testing on the next Mars rover, due for launch in 2020.

image credit: BMW

Autonomous Driving-Whatever the problems and perceptions, self-driving cars are not going away.  BMW became the latest major player, launching an autonomous vehicle research center.

Automation/Future of Work–What’s billed as the world’s first “unmanned” bank has opened in Shanghai.  It’s complete with a robot bank manager.

 

A reminder that the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunesPlayerFM, blubrry , and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us onTwitter and Facebook.

News of the Future This Week, March 8, 2018

“Life is a DNA software system.”–Craig Ventner

You’ve heard it all, and lately you’re hearing it more.  The singularity is near.  Robots are going to take our jobs.  Robots are going to take over altogether.  Robots are even going to take over our sex lives.  Yadda yadda yadda.

I’m not saying it won’t happen;  I just think it’s farther away than the impression most people are getting from all the news.  What’s here right now is genetic editing, and with it, the possibility of directing human evolution. The very real and very near possibility of changing what it means to be human.  Read all the artificial intelligence and future of work articles–yes.  But keep your eye on the gene editing ball–it’s here right now.

Seeking Delphi™ will be at SXSW 2018 in Austin, TX through Wednesday of next week.  Stay tuned for updates on the Intelligent Future track.

While you’re reading about all this week’s future-related  news, don’t forget that you can subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ podcasts on iTunes, PlayerFM, or YouTube (audio with slide show) and you can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook 

Gene editing/synthetic biology–A Japanese team has created a new genetic editing process so precise it can edit a single letter of DNA.  Called MhAX, it works by combining the gene editing tool CRISPR with a DNA repair technique.

–If you thought IBM was only about information technology and business processes, think again.  Researchers at the compnay  are making headway in the development of synthetic molecules that might be able to replace antibiotics in the fight against drug resistant infectious organisms.

The Future of Work–Speaking of artificial intelligence, maybe it is coming to take jobs.  But a new Gallup survey suggests that most Americans think it will take somebody else’s job–not theirs.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Autonomous Vehicles/Advanced Transportation–If job disruptive technology is at hand, can Luddism be far behind?  Apparently not, as recent attacks on self-driving vehicles in San Franscisco demonstrate.

–If cars are ever going to be fully autonomous, every aspect of the operation needs to be designed to be human-free.  Even headlights.  Engineers at Mercedes Benz have now done just that, they’ve designed smart, autonomous headlights.

Energy–Elon Musk has been rather quiet lately–for him–as far as these weekly reports go.  Not to worry; his latest idea is to equip 50,000 Australian homes with his Tesla solar roofing tiles and lithium ion batteries, to create a virtual power plant.

Tesla solar roofing tiles look like…well…roofing tiles.

Chinese Space Station–China’s failing space station is due to come crashing back into the atmosphere within the next few weeks.  Fear not, though.  Your own future probably doesn’t include getting conked on the head by the falling debris.  Experts have calculated your chances of being hit as a million times more remote than winning Powerball.   That equates to about one in three hundered trillion.

A reminder that the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunesPlayerFM, blubrry , and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.