Robot workforce: Turbulent times

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Today the second of five articles.

The first countries to notice the shift in employment are of course the third world countries. The least educated are always the first to suffer and the least educated can be found in third world countries. This will mean the income divide between rich and poor countries will once again grow and that any progress made in the recent years will become undone. Food shortages will lead to riots and revolts. Third world countries do have an advantage to other countries because a relatively high percentage of the population is still employed in the agricultural sector and those people can, in effect, feed themselves. For people in cities the economic downfall might be harder.

In the typical European welfare state we won’t see all that much at first. The jobless will get benefits from the state. Businesses might pay a higher income tax helping the state deal with the higher unemployment. Unfortunately this cannot last and eventually the welfare state collapses. In several years at best or in several days in a worst case scenario many people will be without income of any kind. Countries without this support system will find more and more people roaming the streets. Welfare organizations will be overwhelmed. When the support system collapses protests and even riots may be prone in many cities. It is not unthinkable wars for resources will break out.

We will see a rise in anti technology parties similar to the extreme right fascist parties. They will not target foreigners (as much) but will orchestrate terrorist attacks against companies they feel are responsible for their misfortune. As unemployment rises the fascist parties might even gather a considerable following. Some countries might even get fascist governments distrusting other countries which seemingly embrace these new technologies. This will potentially destabilize the area in which such a country is situated creating tension in the region.

Fascist government or not all governments will initially react by suppressing the advancement of robotics in the workplace. It is human nature to shun new things and try to hold on to what you had, especially when you were in the lead. We have seen this for instance with the entertainment industry trying to fight a losing battle against internet piracy. This is a temporary measure and cannot work in the long run. Countries embracing the new technologies will eventually find themselves in the lead. Their increased production will help to undercut prices in other countries helping them recover from the recession. When others get in on it we will see a new global economic boom and a new society structure will emerge.

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Robot workforce: The robots are coming

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In the coming months I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Today the first of five articles.

As computers get smaller and more powerful and robots get more sophisticated more and more jobs will be replaced by technology. Eventually there won’t be enough jobs left to keep the entire population working. We have seen a steady increase in automation for years and it is likely that it will continue into the future. Jobs like the telephone operator are a thing of the past. Nowadays we see bank tellers being replaced by ATM’s and internet banking; factory workers are being replaced with an ever increasing automated production line and the first automated vehicles are on the road today threatening to put every professional driver out of work eventually.

We won’t have much of a problem for years to come seen as the increase in technology will create jobs we haven’t even thought of today. The workers which are unnecessary in one field will find work in another. Eventually, however, there just won’t be enough jobs any more to go round. An ever increasing number of people will never have a job in their life. The single reason we still have to work today in production plants is because robots cannot replace us yet. We are more nimble than a robot and thus can complete tasks way beyond a robots dexterity. Robots however are getting more nimble all the time.

In the services industry we still are ahead in thinking creatively and in understanding one another. But with a computer winning Jeopardy it is only a matter of time before they will beat us in that department as well. You can even see it happening as automated costumer services are starting to replace human interaction for larger companies. Some websites allow you to ask the computer a question which it will try to answer as best it can.

You might feel irreplaceable right now and think this is a long way off.  You might reason that a computer is a long way off from a human and cannot do what humans can. The trouble is that they don’t need to. A computer only needs to be good at the task that it is designed to do. It doesn’t need to be good at darts if we want it to do the weather forecasting.

Of course the first to suffer here will be the least educated workers. Their work is usually easiest to replace. But eventually more and more highly educated workers will find themselves obsolete. Even the boardrooms of the major corporations will not be filled with humans eventually. Everyone will be laid off from a cost and efficiency perspective.

You might think about becoming a scientist or a programmer in the hope of not being replaced. However when  artificial intelligence become sophisticated enough they can start designing themselves and at a pace that will be far to fast for humans to keep up. Some will say that computers cannot be creative and thus cannot design themselves. However creativity in the end is just a algorithm in our heads. In a recent competition programmers designed a program to let the computer make a painting like the Victory Boogie Woogie by Mondriaan. It ain’t much yet but it’s a first step towards true creativity.