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Jobs lost to automation: Doom and gloom? Maybe not, expert says
Dick Pelletier   Jun 15, 2014  

Although a study from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology suggests that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be at risk of computerization over the next two decades, this does not necessarily need to be bad news, says futurist Thomas Frey in a recent Futurist Magazine essay.

    Frey admits that by 2030, more than 2 billion jobs will disappear as computerized machines gain more proficiency, but he claims this does not need to be treated as doom and gloom, but instead, should make us become more aware of skills necessary for future work.

    Frey lists new industries created as our future unfolds, including Personal Rapid Transit Systems, costing literally trillions of dollars and employing hundreds of millions of people. Brought on by development of auto-drive vehicles, this new industry will need station designers and architects, traffic-flow analyzers, command center operators, and construction teams.

    Other examples in this fast-developing future time include Bio-Factories. Based on using living systems, bio-factories represent a new process for creating substances that are either too tricky or too expensive to grow in nature or to make with petrochemicals. The rush to develop bio-factories as a means for production promises not only to revolutionize the chemical industry, but also to transform the economy. Find more on Thomas Frey here.

    However, from assembly line robots, ATMs, and self-checkout terminals to voice-recognition telephone apps, each year intelligent systems will take over more jobs formerly held by humans; which is confirmed by this Global Trends 2025 report. Experts warn that even doctors and government officials could one day be replaced by increasingly ‘smarter' systems.

    In healthcare, intelligent programs already wield a positive impact. Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, describes in a YouTube video how patient-focused technology improves medicine. In other examples, the Artificial Neural Network helps Mayo Clinic doctors diagnose cardiac patients and many websites provide free medical advice; and even TV ads often disclose critical data.

    The ultimate tool to replace doctors though, could be the nanorobot, a tiny microscopic-size machine that can whiz through veins replacing aging and damaged cells with new youthful ones. This nanowonder with expected development time of mid-to-late 2030s could eliminate nearly all need for human doctors.

    Automatons that could replace politicians may be a welcome relief. The U.S. Congress debate over finances exposed the inadequacies of human governing when members stubbornly refused to consider opponent's views. Experts believe that A/I systems, circa 2040s, would have averted these debacles.

    Naysayers, though, see allowing machines to make choices for humans as a threat to our dignity. They argue that we should not let computers replace positions such as law makers, judges, or police officers. However, in her book, "Machines Who Think", Pamela McCorduck argues, "I'd rather take my chances with an impartial computer." Experts estimate that by 2050, 50 million jobs could be lost to automation.

    So, how do we solve this dilemma? As machines take over occupations, there is still much that humans can do to stay employed. Futurist Richard Samson, in his essay, "Highly Human Jobs", suggests that human knowledge will continue to be needed for some time. AI falls short in areas that are too quirky, emotional, or intuitive to program. Humans still outperform machines in these types of jobs.

    However, experts predict by the end of the century; or possibly much sooner, all jobs will disappear. Some believe the final solution will take the form of a Basic Income Guarantee, made available as a fundamental right for everyone. Futurist Marshall Brain in his Robotic Freedom Blog agrees with the idea.

    America should create a $25,000 annual stipend for every U.S. adult, Brain says, which would be phased in over two-to-three decades.

    Arrival of human level automated systems marks a transformative time in history. Automatons promise a utopian future in a world filled with leisure and adventure for everyone.


Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


While I’m all for the basic income. I would like to know where the authors think the 8.75 trillion dollars are going to come from that it would take to cover the 25k stipend that and estimaed 350 million Americans would get?

Like I said, I’m just asking.

I expect that these technologies will arrive around the world at generally the same time so its hard to expect we will produce profit through exporting our high tech. If anything I see a balance in imports and exports concerning high tech although we are not seeing such an equal exchange at the moment.

Basic income is fine if the capitalistic system can survive and I’m not sure that it can under these circumstances. I also do not feel that the current government or any in the near future would allow such changes to occur and also see no benefit to TPB to actually allow a basic income.

I was thinking about this stuff in 2007 when the transhumanism movement was in in infancy and I still don’t have any real answers to these problems.

I’m not a professor, nor a person with a degree, just a thinking man who has a rather high IQ and a love for futurist topics.

Any ideas that are realistic in nature would love to be heard.

Dick, I agree with you and Thomas that new jobs will be created and demand for some specialized skills will be greater in the future, but I am not optimistic that our current workforce, even the one being trained today (the next generation), will be able to make the transition fast enough.

We see that today with the shortage of technology workers while we also have massive un/under employment.

Competition will be greater for those sweet jobs that pay a decent living, which means higher and higher levels of education will be required. A person with a lower mental capacity or lacking the resources for an advanced degree is just going to be SOL. End of story. Your just not going to get that taxi driver to train to be a molecular biologist, electrical engineer or AI developer.

In addition to my last comment, change is happening now at such a fast pace, that colleges are training kids today for skills that will not be needed in 10 or 20 years.

How long does it take to pay off the cost of that advanced degree with higher wages. What are the odds that you will end up back in school to retrain again before you have even paid off the cost of your last education?

A BIG and free higher education is a good start.

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