AI and Future of Work

“Since when did AI Stand for artificial insanity?” – Andromeda

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A machine for making Pez!  Or the back side of an Airline Departure board.  I forget.

The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!  The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!

Today is Wealthy Wednesday, so this post is about Wealth, and the future patterns associated with wealth and work based on the trends we can all see today.  On Monday, the Weekly Wisdom post talked about significance and the importance of work, and that post is here.

I’ll give you the TL;DR version – Work is important for health and well-being.  A great job has certain attributes that tie to the significance of the work, which lead directly to health and well-being.  Humans were made to work.  We actually like working when it makes a difference, when we make a difference to the world.

But what about that Apocalypse thing you mentioned up above?  It seems like that just might be important?

The economy is changing now at the most rapid pace, well, ever.  What we’ve seen over the past few years has been an economic recovery that’s been rough, especially for the middle class.  Most jobs that have been created appear to not be as good, not pay as much as the ones that have disappeared.

This trend is not over.  It’s actually just starting.

And, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens®, it has all happened before, though Han Solo didn’t die the first time they blew up the Death Star.  Or the second time.  Third time was the charm.

Four hundred years ago on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabots into the machines to stop them.
Hence the word sabotage. – Star Trek, The Undiscovered Country

Not the last use of Sabotage in Star Trek

The Last Time We Were Here

The industrial revolution was an extraordinary dislocation among the working class in the Western world.  Extraordinary advances in power (steam engines) and mechanical devices (looms, tools) made standardized manufacturing of a consistent product on a grand scale possible.  Spoiler alert!  In the long run, this led to much greater prosperity and a constantly rising standard of living that created the greatest wealth machine in the history of mankind – Europe and the USA.

But along the way?  Lots of people were displaced.  If you were a knitter, you now no longer need knit knickers neatly, because a machine was massively manufacturing many muumuus.  To put it gently, you no longer had a knitting job.  Take your needles and shove off.  And the machine is better at knitting than you.  And you suck at running knitting machines because you have ADHD.

Being faced with this type of situation, the average person in at the time reacted calmly and happily watched as the trade or craft that they had engaged in their entire lives was extinguished like M&Ms® at a Weight Watcher® relapse?  No.  Inspired by (potentially fictional) leader Ned Ludd (the origin of the term “Luddite”) they rioted.  They raided the countryside, molested the cattle, and inspired really bad art:

Ned Ludd

Via Wikipedia – This image is in the public domain in the United States. 

Oh, my!  When I go down in history, I’d like to have a much better picture of me, not one where I’m wearing a polka-dotted Muumuu while my gigantic form looms over my tiny minions as the Alamo burns in the background.  And what AM I wearing on my head.  Is that a beaver??

I guess it’s an understatement to say that the change was difficult, but it did lead to mass producing important things, like nails, sewing machines, scarves, and, eventually, Pez®.

And it led, finally, to the creation of the middle class.  The factories had to have managers.  Engineers.  Equipment manufacturers.  HR.  Accountants.  Payroll clerks . . . and these factories finally allowed the concentrated application of experience and knowledge to the problems of industry.  Some owners of factories became extraordinarily wealthy.  Some geniuses, like Lord Kelvin?  He basically invented thermodynamics and spent his summers on his massive yacht wandering around the Mediterranean with the Kardashians.  Not the ancestors of the Kardashians, but the same ones we see on magazines all of the time.  I am convinced that the Kardashians are:

  1. Evil, and
  2. Immortal.

But I digress.  The middle class is stunningly important to economic and governmental stability.  It’s a place for middling to high IQ people to go and strive, to go and find meaning in their work and in creating civic organizations and clubs and golf.  All that brainpower tends to go toward helping people in all of society get wealthier over time, and makes society better as they get wealthier – a truly virtuous cycle.

If they weren’t doing this?

Well, if smart, capable people aren’t doing great stuff to make society better?  They get all Emo and Occupy.

Imagine if Rage Against The Machine actually had a job down at Dad’s hardware store? Would they be singing barbershop quartet instead?

Michael Lewis has written several books, like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.  He’s talented.  But his first degree was in Art History.  Admittedly it was from Princeton, but it was . . . ART . . . HISTORY.  He ended up being a bond trader after getting a degree in economics from the London School of Economics before landing the bond trading gig, but, really, these sorts of opportunities don’t exist for current liberal arts grads.  And, like Ned Ludd, current liberal arts majors all dress up in polka-dotted muumuus and put a beaver in their dreadlocks and protest.

They’re protesting against a global labor market.  They might have the best degree that you can get, but legal aides are now competing against actual lawyers (and smart ones, too) in India who’ll do 250 hours of legal and case research for some pita bread and half of a Coke®.  The first part of this wave of globalization was the outsourcing of labor that went into manufacturing.  For the last 15-20 years mid-level engineering and legal research has joined the globalization push.  It’s had the effect of making the world more average, and if you’re talking pay, I assure you that you don’t want to work for the world’s average wage, which for some types of work is a cot and a promise not to play any music by Bob Segar®.  If you’re bad?  You have to listen to “Turn the Page.” Again and again.

A significant trend in jobs is to make them so anyone can do them.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m certain that your IQ is much higher than the average, and you’ve probably got bones made out of titanium, and might be able to bend steel bars with your mind.  Many jobs that remain are standardized by procedures to the point that very little IQ is needed.  The job is made to suit the lowest common denominator that might show up to be hired.  And these jobs will actively discriminate against your middle class employee template – they don’t want smart people in these jobs.  Smart people think, and if you think?  You might be wrong.  And in this world of hyper litigation?  They might have to settle a lawsuit because you started thinking that cooking oil was a lot like floor wax, and fifty old people slipped and fell on Crisco© oil in the produce section.  Many employers don’t want thinking.  Bad for business.

New forms of work are showing up as well – the “Gig” economy, where people get paid for doing things like hanging your pictures or walking your dog or by driving you around in their own car for Uber©.  The job market is fundamentally changing now, and we all can’t support ourselves by just Ubering® each other around.  Nor will we be able to – Artificialish Intelligence will eventually replace all the Uber™ drivers.

And that’s the big kahuna.  The large enchilada.  The massive Pez®.  Global low wages, procedural jobs that kill the soul?  Those are nothing compared to Artificialish Intelligence.

(According to Google, I, John Wilder, am the one who has coined this term!  Huzzah, me!)

What is Artificialish Intelligence?  My definition is that, really you don’t need a full-blown sentient intelligence for the vast majority of tasks you’ll automate, you just need the bare minimum of subroutines, rules, and algorithms to get the job done.  For most things, that isn’t really all that much.  We’ve had cars that can drive themselves for a while.  And soon, they’ll be everywhere.  Who needs truck drivers when the trucks drive themselves?  Who needs Uber© drivers when Uber™ has a fleet of cars that don’t complain, and, more importantly, don’t get paid?  As soon as competent Artificialish Intelligence appears in a field, there’s no point in a human ever doing that task again, unless they like doing it.  Unfortunately, if you’re one of the 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people who drive for a living?  Yeah, 90% of them will lose their jobs.  Not an if.  A “will.”

If you count the sheer number of accountants and tax preparers that have lost work due to TurboTax®?  Yeah, lots, and TurboTax™ probably does a better job than many tax preparers, with a lower error rate.  This trend of Artificialish Intelligence destroying jobs is not new.

Ever feel like your job is to pass the butter?  And it’s actually not at all required to add too much intelligence to most of our devices.  Who needs an automatic vacuum or smart cell phone that has a mood?

I’m not sure of the new jobs that will be created due to the changes I’ve noted above, but I do have suggestions if you’re starting out in your career that might help . . .

  1. Be born rich.
  2. Be a friend to billionaires.

Really, the jobs that are very hard to automate or turn global are things that have a barrier, like the following categories:

  1. Government Jobs. The barrier is pretty obvious to this one – Congressmen don’t have to go home to their constituents and explain that they’ve outsourced the Department of Commerce to Uzbekistan.
  2. Distance Barriers. Some things have to be done locally – most construction, plumbing, tree services, and these are jobs that will be a bit harder to automate, though they will change significantly.
  3. Regulatory Barriers. Plumber, Electrician, Pharmacist, Doctor, Lawyer . . . each of these have barriers that are require credentials and licensing.  I would add Teacher to this list, but distance learning won’t be kind to that profession after a decade or so.
  4. Extreme Knowledge. It can be done, being a specialist in a very narrow field.
  5. Be a Creator. You can’t outsource a Steve Jobs from Sebastopol, nor a Bill Gates from Bratislava.  Nor a Scott Adams from Albania.  These are unique talents due to their ability to create.  Can everyone be a Creator?    But the good news is that there are still Government Jobs!

I have only a limited understanding of what the world of work will look like in twenty years, but the changes will be very drastic, and I’ll be posting more about this in the future.  In the past, if you were making copper pots by hand, when the machine took your job and started pressing them out of sheet copper, you had no real way to see that a world of thermodynamics, engineering, and advanced wealthy complex society could form out that stupid job-stealing machine.

But you could see the beaver clearly.  That’s why you kept it in your hair.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.