AI and automation are the two horns of a perplexing dilemma which faces every capitalist economy.
A second Industrial Revolution is already underway and, just like the 18th century, a huge social upheaval will be prompted by changes in work, the lack of well paid, full-time employment and the argument about who gets the lion’s share of the consumer cake.
Let’s start with a snapshot of where AI and its soulless sister Automation are right now. How many jobs are being lost forever, how many are being created? Which sectors will be affected first, and what kind of jobs will be do in the future? Finally, where will AI take us a human beings in the long term future, once the shock of mass unemployment and enforced leisure time has been absorbed over the next two decades or so?
THE ROBOTS AREN’T COMING, THEY’RE HERE AND WORKING. NOW.
Recently US publishing giant Hachette announced the closure of its UK book distribution centre in the South of England. Some 230 jobs will go as a new digital POD (Print On Demand) and computerised book packing/shipping centre will be constructed at Didcot. No word on how many new jobs will replace those old ones, but I can tell you it won’t even be half the 230 jobs lost. Probably closer to around 30 positions, than 230. Many of those roles will be zero hours, casual, machine-minding jobs, or cleaning/maintenance roles.
Small fry you say, 200 jobs is nothing. OK, try around 30,000 jobs in the UK car manufacturing industry.
Aston Martin plan to start making a 4X4 SUV, (for elitists who need to negotiate London’s busy traffic) and the brand new factory in Wales will get by with just 1000 employees. Compare that to 6700 currently paid at Nissan Sunderland making the Qashqai, or 2500 at Honda Swindon, 3500 at Toyota Deeside. What those figures tell you is that a brand new car factory is heavily automated, it needs far fewer actual people to fix bits onto a chassis rolling along a production line, than an old one – like Toyota’s 1990s facilities in Derby and Deeside. The world is moving forwards and the business of car production is dispensing with human labour, slowly but surely.
Now compound that rate of job loss across the global car industry and its supply chain. All those packers and part pickers; gone. The exhaust, engine block, valve etc parts factories will also switch to robot CAD/CAM systems. That is why VW are cutting 30,000 jobs globally. Not because of emissions rigging, but automated systems technology is simply making people irrelevant, as far as the car making is concerned. In fact, ALL manufacturing; design, supply procurement, finished products and testing for compliance, will be automated within 20 years.
There’s no going back, no re-inventing factories staffed by people. Brexit makes NO difference to this massive structural change in how we live, how we make things and ship them worldwide.
BLUE COLLAR FIRST, THEN WHITE COLLAR JOBS
Think you’re safe in a white collar or professional role? Dream on.
We already have AI algorithms that are writing blogs and articles, just like this one.
Journalists and PR Gemmas and Emmas will soon be replaced by software which churns and recycles news, research and previously published op-ed pieces. All you will need are a handful of original reporters or spin merchants – the machines can handle the global village dissemination of stories.
AI is already being used to predict share price or commodity movements, although the rate of learning and deployment is arguably being held back by nervous banks, governments and hedge funds. Humans are afraid of letting software control the markets – for one thing, automation would prevent the obvious rigging that is going on in say gold, or oil.
But it will come and when it does, thousands – tens of thousands – of jobs in finance will vanish. Forever.
Insurance companies are also trying to use more data to assess risk, and spot fraud when a claim is submitted. Driverless vehicles will have cameras and data recorders to capture evidence of road accidents, so AI software will be able to apportion blame more rapidly, and scan the web for the best outsourced repair job, or medical assessment of injuries. That processing of claims is currently immensely expensive, and one by one, the big insurance companies will cut jobs as software replaces human beings who require time off for childcare, holidays, pension plans, sick pay, lunch hours etc.
Robots are already performing major surgery, with one surgeon controlling the robot arms. Here’s a video link; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ_3GJNz4fg
It’s easy to see that the step from human supervision by a surgeon, to a cheaper, less expensive `medical specialist’ will be accomplished within the next decade or so. Jobs will be downgraded, reduced to part-time roles and many will simply vanish, because the robot can do the cutting, fixing and stitching up so much better than a very, very expensive human surgeon. Why would you spend five years training a doctor, another five training them to be a brilliant surgeon, when a robot can do it better, error-free, and cheaper?
The big question facing humanity with regards to health is a deeper, more complex one; who gets the chance to have life-saving surgery, when your `usefulness’ as an employee is increasingly hard to justify in an age when robots and AI software do all the work?
WELCOME TO THE LEISURE AGE, PLEASE DON’T FIND RELIGION
The new age of enforced leisure will soon be upon us. No more taxi, bus or train drivers. No distribution jobs for migrants, as warehouses switch to robot pickers and packers. Far fewer box tickers in the public sector and service sector as AI deals with the electronic data trail of our daily lives. Online benefits, banking, shopping – all processed by software systems. Not people.
Does anyone imagine that physical banks will exist in 25 years time? Who will use them, as governments – and large companies – are determined to abolish cash payments? For therein lies REAL population control – no personal money, no exchangeable assets, no true independence. You are beholden to the state, or the corporation, who pays your `wages’ or Universal Basic Income.
For that is the future for many of us. A basic allowance; credited online by the state, on condition that we don’t cause trouble. In this brave new utopia, we will have the `option’ of doing useful work, like teaching, social care, spying on our criminal neighbours, fixing up knackered old bicycles etc. Anything to keep us busy. But the really well paid jobs will be reserved for the wealthy elite, who – like now – will live virtually tax free, in enclaves free of social unrest, overcrowding and failing healthcare resources.
How we deal with this profoundly unsettling shift from full employment, to mass unemployment, will define our humanity. Or the lack of it.
But the great danger in our collective future is not a revival of the Luddites, hell-bent on smashing the new electronic machinery that causes unemployment, and taking us back in time to an era where everyone magically has a job, but religion.
You can see already that an ideological clash between Salafist/Wahhabi Islam vs The Rest is the very engine of ISIS, the siren song that draws in young men with no interest in a Western consumer society. In an AI future, the one thing that computer intelligence will ultimately fail to grasp is the illogical, utterly unreasoning power of religiously inspired hatred.
The Devil makes work for idle hands.