Don’t Worry, robots won’t take “all” the jobs …

I love dystopian fiction, but…

First of all, consider that the human body and human mind are exquisite machines that can be leveraged for a fairly low price. If I hire someone to help me move a couch into my apartment, the amount of judgement, dexterity and strength to finagle it around staircases and through hallways, is significant. It would cost a pretty penny to build and replicate a robot that could do that task reliably across diverse conditions. And if the robot were created, I suspect that it would be so valuable to hack that the insurance and maintenance costs of such a machine could become even greater than the development costs. In a world filled with expensive, hackable robots <aka, the Titanic>, the human body is still a much better value for certain tasks.

On another point, if I commission a piece of art, knowing the personal or political history of the artist, there is a mind behind the art that is special to me as the buyer and unique from what software can replicate. An AI could probably extrapolate similar art based on patterns from the human artist, or generate somewhat original art based on perspectives as an AI, but this would be a new kind of art, not a replacement for the original. I could appreciate it for its uniqueness as an AI generated art piece, certainly. But as long as humans value the original art because it is created by another human, it cannot be replaced my machine generated art. I use the term art loosely here because I think there is a wide range of creative work that will be valued long after we transition to fully autonomous vehicles, and autonomous vehicles seem to be the alligator closest to the boat.

“But drivers account for tens of thousands of jobs!”

This is a legitimate concern, since one could deduce (perhaps prematurely) that a lot of drivers make money that way because they don’t have better options. I ride with Uber drivers all the time who do it as a side hustle, and many who do it full time hoping that they can transition out of driving to another type of career. The market for human drivers will see massive change in the next 10 years. It’s true. And it would be a good idea to direct our AIs to solve this problem for us as it emerges. We don’t need to go into this situation wringing our hands. Meanwhile, a worthwhile follow on question is:

“If the economy is no longer spending money on drivers, where is that money being spent?”

I guess the worst case scenario is that the money goes into savings accounts and sits there without creating new jobs. However, if the money becomes useful to make the company more productive in other ways, and those ways are beyond capacity of existing autonomous systems (and beyond the ROI of developing and maintaining new systems), then we could see job growth in new areas. Money could be redirected into more complex service oriented and creative industries, and into philanthropy which could create new jobs in the nonprofit space. When your Uber bill drops from $10 for a ride down to $2, you might choose to spend the remainder on a premium podcast or mobile app (as entertainment during your ride) that would be beyond the capability of a machine to produce. You might choose to spend the remainder on education for enrichment. You might choose to spend the remainder on consumables (more Starbucks anyone?). “But my barista will be a robot too!” – No, I think this type of service industry would receive a major backlash if automation were attempted. In certain industries, for a long time to come, there will be an expectation for human to human interaction.

“Who is most vulnerable and who is least vulnerable?”

Job sectors will need to engage in that classic humanities question – “what does it mean to be human?” Jobs that require a human touch, human creativity and innovation, human empathy and love, will be the Helm’s Deep of the human job market decades from now. As the culture becomes more accepting of automation for everything, some of these types of jobs could be done by machines, but there is a coda.

As information increases and the population expands, there is always more work to do. The concept of job markets as limiting factors is somewhat false. Job markets can expand with the population as long as people continue to create new value through ingenuity. Between now and when robots rule the world (tongue in cheek), we have time to innovate new job markets that are uniquely human. And, we have an opportunity to use our robots to think about the problem with us to make sure the future isn’t a bunch of unemployed revolutionaries warring against the synth elites.

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