Monday, August 29, 2005

What does the future of work look like? Part 2

Here is another view into the work of the future. It is fairly bleak.


We have no way to understand what is coming or how it will affect us. Keep this fact in mind: the workplace of today is not really that much different from the workplace of 100 years ago. Humans do almost all of the work today, just like they did in 1900. A restaurant today is nearly identical to a restaurant in 1900. An airport, hotel or amusement park today is nearly identical to any airport, hotel or amusement park seen decades ago. Humans do nearly everything today in the workplace, just like they always have. That's because humans, unlike robots, can see, hear and understand language.
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When you look at this chart, it is easy to understand that there will be huge job losses by 2040 or 2050 as robots move into the workplace. For example:

Nearly every construction job will go to a robot. That's about 6 million jobs lost.
Nearly every manufacturing job will go to a robot. That's 16 million jobs lost.
Nearly every transportation job will go to a robot. That's 3 million jobs lost.
Many wholesale and retail jobs will go to robots. That's at least 15 million lost jobs.
Nearly every hotel and restaurant job will go to a robot. That's 10 million jobs lost.

If you add that all up, it's over 50 million jobs lost to robots. That is a conservative estimate. By 2050 or so, it is very likely that over half the jobs in the United States will be held by robots.

All the people who are holding jobs like those today will be unemployed.


I am an Electronics Engineer I have made several devices that do thing for a human so the human has more time to do something else. Any labor saving device: dishwasher, clothes washer/dryer and the rest are all robots by his definition.

There are already car manufacturing plants that are all robotic. I see houses on the road that were assembled in a factory and are being towed to their foundations. It would not be all that hard to turn those factories into all robot facilities as well.

Several supermarkets and other stores have added self-checkout lanes. So far I find them best for just a few items but it is only a matter of time before we do our shopping ourselves, from pushing the cart to selecting the food to checking out. Not all that long ago you went into a store with your list and everything was behind the counter and you had to ask the clerk to get everything for you, buying tobacco products will probably stay that way for a while longer, now you can do everything yourself. At some point someone is going to figure out how to do remote grocery shopping, where you just order everything on line and it gets delivered, correctly (there have been companies that have done that but I don't know of any that survived the dot bust) and then supermarkets may just go away except for locally produced farmers market type places.

Companies used to have secretaries now everyone writes their own memos and mail. We have become a self-serve nation.

Is that scary? Not really, or rather I am scared that the education that we are providing our children today in the public schools is totally unprepared for that kind of future.

Henry Ford was smart enough to pay his workers enough to afford his product, most CEOs today don't seem to be that smart. They are getting rid of as many workers as possible, and pay the remainder as little as possible.

What our children need to be able to do is to think creatively and to see opportunities where others don't. We cannot afford to let them get trapped in groupthink and "going along to get along" ruts.

Computers and robots will never have a soul that can be inspired in totally new and different ways. They will never be able to take a weak glue and make Post-It notes, or to take the stuff that coated the inside of a test chamber by accident and put it on a frying pan to make non-stick pans. Computers would just have tossed the weak glue as unsuitable in the search for a strong glue, and Teflon would have been tossed as a useless blob of junk.

It takes a broad base of learning to hook wildly disparate things together to make something new. I remember watching a PBS show on earthquakes and the engineers were having a hard time dealing with liquefaction or how soil reacts almost like a liquid during an earthquake and the worst problems existed in gravelly soils, well the next show was all about farming and grain handling and they talked about how it almost acts like a liquid under the right conditions. I thought, "They should get together since they are talking about the same problem," gravel and grain are very similar. But this was long before the internet and email and there was no way for me to contact each group.

Can you teach your children to think outside the box? sure, don't put them in a box in the first place, and teach them a little about everything and get them thinking about how it is all related.

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