There’s a rising chorus of concern about how quickly robots are taking away human jobs.
Here’s Elon Musk on Thursday at the the World Government Summit in Dubai:
“What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human]. These are not things that I wish will happen. These are simply things that I think probably will happen.” — Elon Musk
And today Bill Gates proposed that governments start taxing robot workersthe same way we tax human workers:
“You cross the threshold of job-replacement of certain activities all sort of at once. So, you know, warehouse work, driving, room cleanup, there’s quite a few things that are meaningful job categories that, certainly in the next 20 years [will go away].” — Bill Gates
Jobs are vanishing much faster than anyone ever imagined.
In 2013, policy makers largely ignored two Oxford economists who suggested that 45% of all US jobs could be automated away within the next 20 years. But today that sounds all but inevitable.
Transportation and warehousing employ 5 million Americans
Those self-driving cars you keep hearing about are about to replace a lot of human workers.
Currently in the US, there are:
As self driving cars become legal in more states, we’ll see a rapid automation of all of these driving jobs. If a one-time $30,000 truck retrofit can replace a $40,000 per year human trucker, there will soon be a million truckers out of work.
And it’s not just the drivers being replaced. Soon entire warehouses will be fully automated.
I strongly recommend you invest 3 minutes in watching this video. It shows how a fleet of small robots can replace a huge number of human warehouse workers.
There are still some humans working in those warehouses, but it’s only a matter of time before some sort of automated system replaces them, too.
8 million Americans work as retail salespeople and cashiers.
Many of these jobs will soon be automated away.
Amazon is testing a type of store with virtually no employees. You just walk in, grab what you want, and walk out.
A big part of sales is figuring out — or even predicting — what a customer will want. Well, Amazon grossed $136 billion last year, and its “salespeople” are its algorithm-powered recommendation engines. Imagine the impact that Amazon will have on retail when they release all of that artificial intelligence into brick-and-mortar stores.
US restaurants employ 14 million people.
Japan has been automating aspects of its restaurants for decades — taking orders, serving food, washing dishes, and even food preparation itself.
And America is now getting some automated restaurants as well.
There’s even a company that makes delivery trucks that drive around and start baking pizzas in real time as orders come in.
Automation is inevitable. But we still have time to take action and help displaced workers.
Automation is accelerating. The software powering these robots becomes more powerful every day. We can’t stop it. But we can adapt to it.
Bill Gates recommends we tax robotic workers so that we can recapture some of the money displaced workers would have paid as income tax.
And I recommend we take some of the taxpayer money we’re using to subsidize industries that are now mostly automated, and instead invest it in training workers for emerging engineering jobs.
The answer to the automation challenge may involve some combination of these three approaches. But we need to take action now, before we face the worst unemployment disaster since the Great Depression.
I strongly encourage you to do 3 things:
- Educate yourself on the automation and its economics effects. This is the best book on the subject.
- Talk with your friends and family about automation. We can’t ignore it just because it’s scary and unpredictable. We need a public discourse on this so we can decide as a country what to do about it — before the corporations and their bottom lines decide for us.
- Contact your representatives and ask them what they’re doing about automation and unemployment. Tell them we need a robot tax, universal basic income, or more money invested into technology education — whichever of these best aligns with your political views.
If we act now, we can still rise to the automation challenge and save millions of Americans from hardship.
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