Have you had the “AI talk” with your kids?

The jobs are going away…and this time it’s different

The problem, in a word, is specialization, or rather the dearth of it with respect to most humans and what they do for a living. You have a lot of folks tip-toeing around this right now, and rehashing that tired trope about how old jobs that got displaced by new technologies eventually were replaced with new, but different jobs we couldn’t fathom at the time.

That’s not the case this time. This time it’s different.

There still will be jobs for the most determined, imaginative, intelligent, and resourceful among us, but for everyone else (especially in emerging economies) it’s going to be a bloodbath. We’re talking about billions of people.

Machines obviously will grab the low-hanging fruit (quite literally in many cases), especially as they become more dextrous and generally intelligent; think digging ditches, construction, laying concrete, cooking, transportation…the list goes on and on. Much of this is already happening.

The bigger issue though is that in the long run machines will take the specialized jobs as well; think investment and portfolio management, surgery, accounting, loan officers, mortgage brokers, coders, many aspects of law…the list goes on and on. The last of these to fall may be the people-facing professions that require heavy doses of education, experience, and empathy to really excel (e.g., therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.)…but they too will fall.

For some this seems unfathomable now (despite the fact that a lot of it already is in motion), but it is coming and there’s no stopping it. Like us (eventually), the machines will converge on the most efficient paths, and most of those paths won’t involve humans…they can’t.

At what point does it become unfair to ask a human to compete with a machine that always performs perfectly? Are we going to create jobs that don’t really have a reason for being other than to provide humans with incomes? If machines are performing most of our jobs and not getting paid, where does that money go instead? And what does that unpaid money no longer buy?

Something will have to be done to immunize the effects of automation, but I’m not sure yet what that will look like. No one is. Is universal basic income unavoidable? Can we even decouple income from work? Is there another option for a compassionate society that cares for its less capable?

No nation — least of all the US, and especially emerging economies — is ready for the coming labor displacement; the explosion of potential energy (what will humans do all day?), plus the future lack of consumers will lead inexorably to social instability.

Where does all of this end? I’m not sure. Machines can or soon will be able to do your job, which leaves us with these inevitable questions: is work for suckers (/machines) and everything else for humans?

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