The Job-pocalypse

I work in IT, the field that specializes in making things redundant.  I have made a career out of making my current position redundant, then moving onto another problem area and repeating the process.  What’s left is automated processes for “mundane” activities, allowing people to apply skill to their tasks.  This has impacted jobs, fully conscious, though in most cases they were able to find something else to do.  Always more resistance than not, but human nature isn’t a big fan of change.

If you’ve been paying attention the past 20 odd years, the general theme is that automation has taken over most manufacturing jobs.  Even the overseas companies which were veritable gold mines of cheap labor (compared to robots) are losing out now due to price scales.

There is a single driving factor – money.  It’s cheaper to pay a robot, it’s cheaper in insurance, it’s faster, there’s less defects, and it can work 24/7.  The upfront cost is larger, granted, but the price point for robots and their abilities make them more attractive every day.  How many people have “smart something” in their houses to automate things?  That’s what an Instant Pot does, or Alexa.

Optimization

Society has always aimed for optimization.  Farmers have modified their techniques for generations to get more yield.  Houses are built with more solidity.  Travel paths avoid hazards.  Food last longer.  People are living so much longer.

Always striving to be better.

Industry Change

The trucking industry is 5 years away from being gutted with autonomous vehicles, shipping as we know it will be turned over in 20 years.  Hand made tools and parts are a rarity, and society as a whole isn’t willing to pay $60 for a wrench when they can get 3 for $5.  The energy and natural resources sectors are not coming back to what they were before, no matter what anyone tries to sell as an idea.  Coal is dead – solar is in nearly every single case cheaper to produce and maintain, and even if a mine stayed open, it would be robots running it to save money.

The majority of society has not accepted this.  Global society.  There are still plenty of people who have trouble getting water and light, so this all seems like magic.  That I can talk into my phone and order shoes, which will be delivered to my door tomorrow…hell, even my parents have trouble grasping that.

These are mundane jobs, in that the skill required is generally minimal, and transferable to another individual with minimal investment.  e.g. someone with minimal education, and a small amount of time being shown a task, can then do that task nearly as well as the teacher.  This is the job that “does”.  The advantage here is that individual typically can find another mundane job, though often at lesser pay.

Artificial Intelligence

This is the bigger one.  AI makes decisions on many factors, and executes at a rapid pace, far outstripping human ability.  This has changed the stock market, where nearly all the money exchanged is done through coded algorithms. People used to study piles of data, use their experience and knowledge, them recommend a way forward.   Now you let a computer do all the work.

There’s more an more of it too.  Analytical tools to monitor video feeds, to spot minor changes and alert a human for action.  I mentioned Alexa, or Siri, or Google “butler” services that listen to everything you say and follow on the task.   Computers are being taught to build art, and “deepfakes” is just an exploration of that idea.

Humanity’s ability to think rationally is the largest factor for our success on this planet.  Analysts, trades, masters… in each case we greatly value the unique ability of an individual to do more than another.  To take a complex set of data, rationalize it, and come up with a way forward.  We have rewarded the best of the breed that have that skill…every time someone has a success where another has failed, there was a decision made along the way that made the difference.  These are the jobs that “think”.  If a computer can do a better job than a CEO, then why have a CEO?

That’s a large paradigm shift.  One that most people don’t even realize has happened, since it’s been gradual, and for the most part, positive.  Who drives anywhere now without a GPS giving you the clearest way?  The even more interesting part is that we are directly influencing its learning.  Every click, like, share, interaction…it shows human preference and statistical probability.  We’re on the border of psychohistory – and some may say we’ve passed it with the recent US elections and aftermath.

Side note – BBC has an interesting article on AI used for these purposes.

Last Bastion

There is one trait left that has not had as much success as doing and thinking, and that’s creating.  While it’s an arguable point that every pop star is propelled through algorithmic decisions, true artists are still celebrated.  Sports, music, dance, visual art… all things that robotics can certainly emulate and enhance, but to spawn creativity is a different matter.

It’s not so much to paint a gloomy picture but to just point out that we’ve created something that is generally better at “doing”, getting better at “thinking” every day, and is on the border of “creating” in the next few years.  Those 3 done… well it makes for a good sci-fi story.

2 thoughts on “The Job-pocalypse

  1. As always with these thoughts, the only stressful thing is me wondering what my son can do in the future. What will he love? Will there be work in any meaningful way? Will he turn into an asshole entitled millenial? (that last one was a joke…). I’m fine, and will be fine, but the future will be so different that I can’t even imagine how our kids will work and live.

    And then I suspect that my dad thought the same things. And his.

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    • The answer I give to my wife and kids is that if you do something you love, you’ll find a way to make money from it. Does take time to figure out what you love, if you’re not exposed to much. So I’m putting my kids into a pile of activities so they can figure out what clicks more than another (and I’m lucky enough to have the finances to do so).

      Focusing on taking risks, accepting failure and growth…that builds the confidence to chase passions. Sounds corny, but people really need to learn to make mistakes and recover for them on their own.. otherwise they will always take the easy route.

      Like

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