The Jobless Future

This post doesn’t have a great deal to do specifically with elder orphans other than to reinforce the notion that a lot of us will be comforted by the fact that we don’t have children and/or grandchildren to worry about. (See my earlier post Behind Closed Doors.) Since I have the keys to elderorphan.org be forewarned that I will likely stray off on a tangent from time to time.

I tend to rely a great deal on the Internet for my daily dose of politics, social issues and technology and recently came across this article on bigthink.com entitled “Here’s When Machines Will Take Your Job, as Predicted by AI (Artificial Intelligence) Gurus”. It suggests that many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. For example, we should get Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven machines in retail by 2031. By 2049, AI should be writing New York Times bestsellers and performing surgeries by 2053. And if you think that there will still be plenty of jobs in the service industry that will be isolated from this effect, the essay suggests that an unlikely task such as folding laundry should be a breeze for AI by 2022.

There is no shortage of stories on this topic. This morning’s local newspaper featured an a article suggesting that a 3D printer will soon be able to create a small house in 10 hours, for $10,000 and that you’ll be able to speak English into a specially designed cell phone and the person you’re speaking to in Tokyo will hear you in perfect Japanese.

There are of course naysayers who refuse to accept these ideas. I recall about 30 years ago I enrolled in an evening class in digital electronics at the local community college. The instructor related a story of how as a young man he was part of a team at IBM who were tasked with the challenge of building a factory that would operate entirely without humans. The project was successful and achieved the goal of producing telephones. When it was proven that it could be done, the entire operation was dismantled. Few would argue that AI could replace most workers, but the question is whether it will happen. For an argument on the other side see “Robo-AI jobs doomsday may, er… not actually happen.”

I can’t imagine a life without a job. I confess that I was one of the early adopters of the idea that the average non-professional would have several different careers throughout out working years. I was a technician, a sales rep, a teacher, an entrepreneur and held senior management positions in diverse industries, just to present a partial snapshot of my life. All of these positions engaged me and challenged me, but it was always exciting to move on to something new. It occurs to me that a life without a job and without the opportunity to advance in experience and income, it would have been a boring existence. I enjoyed working, and I enjoyed being rewarded for my efforts.

This brings me to wondering what the sociologists will predict about how our world will function without jobs. Will this become like permanent vacation? Will people spend their time playing golf, strumming a guitar and creating works of art? It sounds grand until one ponders where these people will find the income to pursue these pastimes. Certainly a few of the very wealthy do share their fortunes with those who have little income but there are many more who resent the idea of paying people not to work. Will there be a massive shift in the way the tax system works. Will we tax the robots for taking our jobs? Or there will be anarchy and chaos in our society!

I feel compassion for those people in the coal industry and in manufacturing who struggle today, but when these predictions come to pass, could we witness a social/political revolution? And as an early baby boomer, it is possible that this could transpire in my lifetime.

Do you sometimes wish that after you have passed from this earth that in a hundred years you would be able to peek into the workings of our world to witness what happened? But then again, I doubt that in our super-consciousness that we would want to spend a lot of time reflecting on how humans managed to mess up the world. We may just want to spend our time in heaven, playing golf and strumming a guitar.

Further reading:

The Economist – Automation and anxiety

The Guardian – Robots will destroy our jobs – and we’re not ready for it

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