Most jobs could be lost to automation in near future

August 25 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Although it may sound puzzling, there is a logical reason for the economy to maintain a respectable national GDP, even though unemployment is on the rise – businesses are becoming more profitable by installing robotic and other automation equipment which performs work that eliminates many jobs.

The first automation systems that replaced jobs in a big way arrived about 30 years ago, when gas stations began using new electronic pumps that enabled drivers to dispense their own gas. Employees were no longer needed to “fill her up” and wash the windows. Those jobs had just been “outsourced” to the customer.

More customer-outsourcing was soon to follow. People began using the Internet to access account information from their banks, credit card companies, department stores, and other businesses. Thousands of customer service jobs were now “outsourced” to the customer. Unemployment was on the rise.

Although there are a multitude of nice grocery stores in Las Vegas, I shop mostly at Smith’s and Albertsons. Why? Well sure, they have an adequate selection and decent prices, but the main reason I prefer these stores is self-checkout. After gathering my groceries, I head to one of the self-checkout machines, which are almost always empty, and scan and punch my way quickly out the door. Several cashiers have been eliminated.

The next big wave of automation promises to come from radio frequency identification tags. RFID tags will soon be used in most stores at point-of-sale checkout replacing all cashiers. Sensors detect purchases and automatically charge your ATM or credit card – or direct you to a cash machine. Customers save time and merchants expand their price competitiveness by eliminating more employees.

Wall-Mart, Target, The Home Depot, Kroger, Safeway, and most other stores are expected to jump on the RFID bandwagon in the next decade.

And more automation is coming. According to the Robotics Industry Association, robot purchases increased 27 percent during the first quarter of 2008. Robotics, experts say, provide a cost-effective way to keep “made in America” products at home rather than sending them to India and China.

Today, it’s mostly industrial robots, but by 2010, service robots that clean floors, mow lawns, guard homes, and assist people will begin taking over millions of more jobs.

We are entering into a robotic world, with automation slowly nibbling away at lower-skilled jobs before moving on to the main course. No job will be safe, and no age or class will be immune in the future. As higher profit demands continue, everyone, from janitors to executives is at risk.

But rather than panicking, maybe we should focus on solutions. Our government should create a national program to re-train employees who have lost their jobs to automation. Creative thinking and strong intelligence will become increasingly important in a future where machines perform so many of our jobs.

Futurists predict that by 2030, our nation will need to subsidize incomes. As automated systems and robots take more of our jobs, a basic income should be considered a human right – enjoyed by all. What do you think? Comments welcome.

When do you think the US might start a basic income program?

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Comment Thread (6 Responses)

  1. As more and more jobs are lost to automation in the future, the only people who will benefit from this are, you guessed it, the rich business owners and the corporate CEOs. Very soon, America and the rest of the Western world will fall into a serfdom which will make the feudal system of medieval times look like a libetarian paradise. The “Bilderbergers” and members of the Council on Foreign Relations will control – and have access to – these productive automatons and 100% of the wealth, while the rest of us with the misfortune of not being born into the elite class will have to grab our tents and make ourselves at home on the crumbling streets of what once was suburbia.

    Posted by: adbatstone80   August 26, 2008
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  2. That’s an extremely bleak view, abastone80. Are you serious? Even in the scenario you describe, I think there would be a revolution of some sort before we all descend into serfdom. More likely, however, we will see some kind of correction in the economy, similar to, but more profound than the “no charge for the user” system now used by Google and other online companies.

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   August 26, 2008
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  3. I tend to think that that correction would be rooted in the steadily rising value of human attention/processing power and systems quantification that shows where broader economic value is generated. My guess is that as processes get automated, human controllers at key points become more and more necessary in order to permit steady growth.

    That being said, there could well be a temporary and serious economic downturn exacerbated by rampant automation.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   August 26, 2008
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  4. So, if we all lose jobs to robots, who will be consuming all that abundance of products made by them?

    Posted by: johnfrink   August 27, 2008
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  5. Not mentioned in the article, but a huge segment of jobs that this automation threatens is the phone associate. The dreaded automated phone systems with the endless lists relayed by nasally recorded voices to assist in the locating account balances and process payments have recently improved to a point to where they are not so annoying. With continued improvements in voice recognition and greater system intelligence the option to speak with a customer services representative will be permanently removed.

    Posted by: Kristof   August 27, 2008
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  6. Kristoff, some forward-thinkers believe that communicating with tomorrow’s advanced artificial general intelligence systems will be preferable to talking with a human who may be influenced by their emotions. We would receive far more rewarding responses from a machine that cannot make a mistake. What think?

    Posted by: futuretalk   August 28, 2008
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