What happens when robots do ALL the work?

Everyone is complaining about China and how all of our jobs are going overseas, But the real concern may not be China or any other Asian country, it’s likely to be the inevitable march of technology , automation and how modern civilization in  making the world a “better” place is going to bring a lot of pain through displacement. The coming Robotic revolution or more precisely the continuing automation revolution will definitely impact the future workforce, make no mistake about it.

While functional humanoid robots are still likely 100+ years away. From now till then we’ll see automation do many more jobs that people once performed, and this is going to be a real challenge for our future generations. Hundreds of students toil in universities and schools int eh hopes of being prepared for gainful employment in the world of tomorrow, what if that world simply doesn’t need them?  Im not sure what the current percentage of jobs done by machines that once were done by people, but its pretty obvious, that many more folks have lost employment to automation and technological advancement, then were sent overseas.

What happens when there are no jobs?

In 200,300 years from now, we may be so technologically advanced that machines do everything for us. Its sounds far fetched, we look around and we see machines doing things, but still , people feel supremely confident that we’re still relevant. I have a wake-up call, everyone reading this blog post will likely have their job performed by a machine of some kind in the far future. The first to go will be those jobs that used to be so highly coveted, jobs that you went to school for, jobs that you used your mind for.  If your still feeling confident that you can out-think and out-create a machine let me introduce you to  IBM Watson and its eventual descendant , they  will have a pretty good handle on how to answer and deal with virtually any kind of question. While true Artificial intelligence is still centuries away, the day when near AI and very powerful expert systems will begin displacing all sorts of professionas from accountants to radiologists to chemists etc.

Once the thinking jobs are mostly displaced, robotics and automation will develop enough to begin to replace more route professions such as bus drivers and pilots.  Even some day farmhands will no longer be needed and the farm automation of the future will render their puny human productivity worthless.

Jobs that will soon be eliminated by automation

Here’s my prediction of what jobs will be likely eliminated in the coming decades..

Next 10-20 years

  • travel agents  the classic middle-man, are they still around? The internet and software has pretty much made them obsolete. This is actually true for most middle-man (broker) jobs. Just ask floor stock brokers..
  • plant manager  Automation, coupled with high speed telecommunications, will allow future factories and plants to be run and controlled from a central NoC (networks operations center) .
  • Floor traders: The guys you see on the floor of the stock exchange waving their hands wildly to make trades are the floor traders. They’re actually members of the NYSE who trade exclusively for their own accounts. This is a hold out from the old days, most modern exchanges are 100% electronic and digital, while you may still need brokers and specialists, that day is too coming to an end with the advent of technologies like Algorithmic trading.
  • librarians  If there’s one job that surprises me that’s still around it’s librarians. When I was a kid their purpose was to help you find books or research materials, but in the day and age of Google, this job seems most tenuous. After all most future reading material and media  will be digital and moving around paper stacks in a library is already looking passe.

Next 50-100 years

  • airline pilots: Yes, in probably  75-100 years, we will have planes that can take off and land by themselves. Seems far fetched? We already have autonomous drones mostly in the military that can take offf, fly a missin and land, completey without the control of people. Future aircraft will likely be manufactured like this and offer the possibility of remote control if an emergency arises.
  • chaffeaurs and bus drivers and truck drivers: in a similar vein, automatted ground transport will be revolutionized. Google self-driving car-like technology will make highways and byways safely navigable by automated cars and other vehicles.

Next 150-200 years

  • surgeons: Sounds crazy right, would you trust a machine to fix you? You may in 200 years from now where descendants of the  DaVinici Surgical  automated surgical systems will be tending to your needs.
  • lawyers:  Lawyers will likely persist for a while since they make the laws and are not likely to legislate themselves out of a job, but eventually they economics  will make their roles minimally important.
  • baseball, football players: Bet you didn’t see that coming, but yes in the future variants of Reel Steel like robots will provide us entertainment.

Robots and computers can’t do everything.. they’re not creative..

That is short-sighted thinking. creativity and creation while it seems that people have a lock on this there are many examples of machines coming up with novel new things… machines can be made to act creatively, sufficiently to a point where they will be creative.


Where does that leave us? then…

That’s an interesting question? and one that I in this blog post really can’t answer. If I knew that, I would also have known the powerball lucky numbers, but alas I don’t. While it may appear that I paint a pretty bleak future for employment and people, there is also a possible silver lining. Perhaps people will simply work a lot less, but still retain a comfortable lifestyle. Perhaps all this automation in the future will allow the state to better provide for its citizenry .

Much like in the sci-fi of my youth, perhaps these automated systems will provide a utopian world where machines do all the work for us and we gain all the reward. I admit its hard to see that, since ultimately its people that control the machines and people tend to be greedy and controlling. But then again people can be generous and forward thinking. I guess we’ll just  have to wait and see.

UPDATE  1/15/2013

60 Minutes recently did a story on this topic you can see it here:  Are Robots hurting job growth.


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