Automation may cripple us

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Let’s run through this quickly.

Automation is already here and coming even stronger.

It’s probably going to take about 47–54% of all jobs, including some “low-education but high-paying” deals like truck driving.

Some have called automation akin to putting the Industrial Revolution “into the lifespan of a beagle.”

We’ve also got this:

“Long periods of unemployment can devastate communities. We’re seeing that now with the opioid crisis,” he says. “But no single business has an incentive to take these costs into account when investing in labor-saving technologies. This is why there is a role for government in helping deal with the costs of labor displacement.”

OK. So … what are we gonna do here?

We need to pull our heads out of our asses about two things

The first thing would be this: tech is playing chess and we’re playing checkers. Tech way outpaced the personnel side of work, probably 12 years ago. It’s only gotten worse. AI and all that will be the key to the next world powers. Putin, Musk, others have said this. I think we all know it. We’re just kind of avoiding it because it’s a difficult topic.

The second thing would be training. The attitude on training for decades has been “Pfft, seems like an unnecessary cost.” Or the ever-popular: “I don’t want to train people so they’ll leave for a competitor!”

Corporate training usually sucks donkey. So maybe it’s up to people to get trained themselves. I see that. But however it works, we need more training. 1 in 5 people don’t even Internet access in the U.S. (Whaaaaaaaaa?). If you lack Internet access in 2017, it’s probably hard to advance professionally. Or if all you know is how to make motorcycles, and those jobs move to Japan or get automated? Yea. I think I just explained the Presidential election in a few sentences.

Government’s potential role

Figure out a way to make training and re-training cheaper. Turn truck drivers into data scientists.

The other thing we’re gonna need to change

The whole idea of higher education.

Higher education is an arms race right now. It’s just offering programs to kids so the university can make money and hire more support staff.

I get that “a college degree” means a lot. I have one.

Fact, though: while I made friends there and am proud of it, it means very little.

The skills I use for work I already had before college. For me at least, college was a social process. That’s important. But it shouldn’t cost $200,000 and put people into decades of debt.

This is our current system, though.

That’s something we need to think on if we want to beat back automation. $200K in debt and there’s no job waiting on the back-end? No bueno.

One mo’ thing

Be scared of this statement:

“Automation won’t replace jobs. It will just move humans to more value-add jobs.”

This statement is bullshit at most companies.

At a functional, well-run company — it’s true.

Most companies aren’t that.

The guys who come to run companies are often guided to compete on cost.

Removing humans from the equation is a huge cost play.

Many executives are going to embrace that.

The entire way coders think is in “friction-less experiences,” which often means removing the human element entirely.

If you don’t understand or realize this, you are lying to yourself.

Universal basic income?

Maybe. I have no idea how that might work. Seems reasonable if we could figure it out. I’m not that smart.

A new Renaissance?

This is everyone’s seeming best-case scenario for what happens after high levels of automation. We could definitely get there if we have a plan. But are we going to have a plan? We largely live in a world that values “busy” over “productive,” so I’m not sure.

I’d focus on cheaper efforts to train people around tech and new skills. That seems like the lowest-hanging fruit. Other stuff we could do:

  • Actually define legitimate job roles
  • Change the whole way we think about work
  • Bury our heads in the sand and tell everyone how important we are to wherever we work

(1) and (2) are hard as hell for people, and (3) is what we mostly do. Doesn’t seem like this will end well, but here’s hoping.


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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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