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Life After the Robot Apocalypse | @ThingsExpo #IoT #M2M #MachineLearning
Let’s expand the definition of robot to any autonomous system designed to do work that used to require humans to perform
By: Shelly Palmer
Jun. 22, 2017 11:00 AM
Two weeks ago, I compiled a list of the 5 jobs robots will take first. Last week, I compiled a list of the 5 jobs robots will take last. Both previous essays are about robots replacing human workers who do cognitive nonrepetitive work (such as middle managers, salespersons, tax accountants, and report writers) that most people do not believe robots will be able to do any time soon. For those essays, I defined robots as technologies, such as machine learning algorithms running on purpose-built computer platforms, that have been trained to perform tasks that currently require humans to perform.
For this writing, let’s expand the definition of robot to any autonomous system designed to do work that used to require humans to perform. And let’s expand our thought experiment to include all four major categories of human tasks: Manual repetitive (predictable), Manual nonrepetitive (not predictable), Cognitive repetitive (predictable), Cognitive nonrepetitive (not predictable). In other words, let’s look at some probable futures of the real world and see where our conclusions lead us.
Wait! Full Stop! Way Too Easy
For our thought experiment, let’s replace just 20 percent of taxi, car service and truck drivers with autonomous vehicles. Now, let’s think about the businesses that service these workers. The local deli where the drivers used to stop for coffee. The attached convenience store that enables the gas station owner to run a profitable business (because there’s not enough margin in selling gas alone). The quick-serve restaurants, the supermarkets, etc. Let’s try to imagine a world where just 20 percent of transportation industry workers were laid off. Could the businesses that rely on these transportation workers survive the commensurate permanent decline in revenue?
“This is nonsense,” you say. “These people will be retrained or find other jobs.” I don’t think so, but let’s assume you are right. The other jobs (whatever they may be) will have completely different traffic patterns (no pun intended). New behaviors will emerge and the impact of this massive behavior change will be about as pleasant as when the big box stores came to town and literally killed every mom-and-pop retail store on Main Street. Town survived, but it has never looked, felt or been the same.
In practice, this is just the soundbite version of Robot Apocalypse. Let’s go deeper.
FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out”
Which Leads Us to … Life After the Robot Apocalypse
The Tax Base of the United States of America
So, what would life be like if 20 percent of the one percent of Americans who pay 43.6 percent of all the federal individual income tax in the United States lost their jobs to robots?
The Spectrum of Probable Futures
On the other extreme end of the spectrum is “Robotopia,” a place where humans have more time to do leisure activities, be creative, live life to the fullest, eat gourmet food, drink exotic vintage wines and spirits, practice the arts, and live under the protection of a master artificial intelligence, free from disease, free from fear, free from war … heaven on earth. I don’t think this is where we’re headed either.
Somewhere in between these two extreme views of life after the Robot Apocalypse is where we are probably going find ourselves. It’s a world where the tax base has been severely impacted by the redistribution of workers. Wizened, experienced, lifelong professionals are going to find themselves in a new world that has no interest in them. New jobs will be created in industries that do not yet exist. And the physical world will be continuously adapted and optimized to favor autonomous systems that reduce cost, improve efficacy and increase productivity.
This Is Going to Be a Huge Struggle
That said, one friend of mine, who is a renowned public policy expert in D.C., told me that nothing was going to happen because we already have a nontaxpaying population explosion that is completely out of control. He opined that public assistance programs will simply continue to increase until no one except the top .05 percent of wage earners pays for anything.
The Time for Policy Innovation Is Now
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