MarketWatch’s opinion peice Two-thirds of jobs in this city could be automated by 2035 paints a frightening picture of the future. Let’s see what author Jess Chen is claiming.
About 65% of all jobs in Vegas are susceptible to automation by 2035 — a bigger share than in any other part of the country. Across the U.S., 55% (or more) of jobs in almost all metropolitan areas face this same scenario.
What does “susceptible to automation” mean? If you dig in to the source in the link, you come to this paper: The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? In it, economists from Oxford University estimate the probability of automating 702 different occupations based on 9 subjective elements ranging from Originality on the negative to Finger Dexterity on the positive. This is a very long paper (72 pages). Like most work in social science, I wouldn’t put a whole lot of faith in its quantitative value. Yet that is exactly what Chen is doing in this article.
Scientists are heatedly debating whether robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will appear as colossally in our lives as some studies predict. Will we really see mass adoption of robots and AI gadgets?
Given the adoption of AI in search and many other business applications, this feels like a straw man.
The reality is both technologies already have seen mass adoption and it is foolish not to expect it to accelerate. Every smartphone already is essentially an AI device, and 1.5 billion of those were shipped in 2016. Some 1.6 million industrial robots operated worldwide in 2015, a total that’s expected to increase to 2.6 million by 2019.
Research shows that if all these 1 million additional robots worldwide are merely as productive as those that already exist, each robot would on average replace the work done by 5.7 U.S. workers, or 5.7 million workers in all.
The research cited is behind a paywall. Based on the abstract, the 5.7 figure seems to be an average based on existing robots, many of which are operating in heavy manufacturing. Extrapolating this to all future robots seems reckless.
More worrisome is that if robot adoption continued to grow at the same pace beyond 2019, about 18 million industrial robots would be installed worldwide in 2035 and would perform the work equivalent to about 100 million U.S. workers. Put another way, this robotic workforce would be capable of producing the equivalent of the current manufacturing output on the entire planet.
Why is this “worrisome”? We have been improving our manufacturing efficiency since the dawn of time. Look at the wealth and luxury we have produced so far.
How quickly this transition can happen can most easily be seen in household services, where robots can substitute for hired services.
This is complete bullshit. How many Roomba’s are displacing a maid service? I’d put money on it being a very low percentage.
Some 54% of all automatable jobs belong to food preparation and serving, office and sales occupations. Where the robots will really make a difference is mostly in jobs at the lower end of the pay scale. Given the uneven distribution of education and jobs across racial and ethnic groups, hispanics are 25% and African-Americans 13% more at risk to lose their job to automation than whites. Twice as many women than men work in occupations that are at an especially high risk of automation, such as tellers and cashiers.
Here, Chen’s politics are revealed. Capitalism is color blind. It doesn’t care about your gender or your race. It only cares about the value you are adding. If a business can save money through automation, they will. Businesses that fail to do so will fail. Countries that seek to prevent automation will lose even more to those who adopt it.
Our political leaders are remarkably silent about this issue, despite its explosive potential for the labor market and beyond. By comparison, the historical effects of trade policies are mere ripples on the water. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the U.S. can scale education and job creation as quickly as international competition for the robotics market can scale the production of robots and AI devices.
Our leaders work for the corporations. They are paid by their donors to support whatever allows them to maximize their profits. Adaptation to automation won’t come from government run indoctrination institutions. It will come from individuals striving to survive in the changing environment. Due to the rapid rate of change, there will be massive upheaval, social unrest, and likely political chaos as a result; I think we are seeing the dawn of this now.
And this prospect sends cold shivers down our spines.
Amen to that.