Years ago, I was in endless discussions about robots that will do any job humans do eventually and in those days, I still had a lot of convincing to do. That’s very different now, as we have the writing all over the wall and the question is rather when – not if.
But what stupefies me is that in spite of overwhelming evidence that this is going to hit us in our productive lifetimes, most people still seem to think that their jobs will be there for them (and their kids) forever. Let’s take a long, hard look at this.
I am almost 47 now, which means that according to systemic requirements in Austria, I have still 18 years of work to go before I can hit retirement. And those 18 years are just a bit too long to pull through hoping the world is not going to change. Besides, as an entrepreneur, just sitting out a job was never for me anyhow.
So, what’s going to happen during those upcoming 18 years? Let’s take a look at some professions that big masses of people spend their time with today in order to generate baseload income.
Anyone driving something for a living is going to have his job cut out within less than 10 years, which means that when I am 57 this process will have been concluded. This means bus drivers, lorry drivers, cab drivers but also everything that’s on rails and even on waterways. I would also take pilots out and whoever else has made it his job to steer anything else than himself from one point to another. Fully robotic driving is just around the corner so this is a safe boast. What are those drivers going to do? Last time such change happened in street-logistics, it was a change from horse carriages to motor vehicles. Carriage men simply became motormen. Not this time round. The human factor in driving things is gone forever.
Let’s have it with something else. Anyone typing something into a computer in an office building is going to be history. This includes the entire assistance profession but also clerks, accountants, copywriters, translators and whoever else puts repeated sequences of whatever into a computer. Automated assistance systems like SIRI are already pretty good (I know as I am an avid user) and they are never tired, don’t need a vacation or a pay raise, don’t have a husband or kiddies problem and they are way, way cheaper. Kiss that old status symbol the office block was goodbye. It’s on the way out.
Just today a trader friend of mine sent me a Bloomberg article that traders are going to be annihilated by computers as humans cannot possibly cope with the data deluge anymore. Trade floors – gone and with them all those nice pics from humans in front of multiple screens. Trading happens in a humming box now that is cooled by liquid nitrogen. Much less photogenic – and the box does not want the bonus.
Oh, besides, those armies of worker bees in office buildings needed scores of managers to whip them into shape and keep them humming. Kiss those goodbye as well and that goes up to the top as even the CEO chair will topple. Some companies are already experimenting with automated management systems and the robotic CEO. Don’t think of this as a real robot strolling down the office alley and breathing down your neck. There will rather be automated decision-making systems optimizing business decisions. Judging by the quality of many top level managers and their horrible decisions they often take, they should not be hard to replace by truly intelligent systems.
And this trend is going to be cannibalistic. Top managers will start replacing their middle management underlings as the cost can be optimized away and strong IT gives them all the info and management capabilities straight. They do this in order to save cash but one day, the company board is going to save the cash his position costs too.
However, the bucket does not stop here. Professions that needed university degrees are under full attack right now as there will be virtual lawyers, virtual bookkeepers, virtual architects and yes, virtual doctors that will stand by our side far better and cheaper than the flesh and bones counterpart could ever do it in the next 10 years or so killing 95% of those professions. Your university degree is not all that important anymore.
There is a running joke in France “Question: What does one academic ask the other academic when they meet at My Donalds? Answer: Wanna eat here or to go?”
Oh besides, as most OECD countries are basically bankrupt (just look at those debt mountains) politicians will have to start cutting away whole swaths of the public administration workforce once voters will start feeling the real pinch of being milked in order to keep bureaucrats sweet so don’t count on having your sugar-coated, plush state-sponsored job waiting it out for you. It’s simply too expensive for all of us to bear.
Anyone doing something that is repetitive and that can be optimized is under threat and over the next 20 years this is going to go into juggernaut mode.
Most of the workforce out there are cogs in the system. That’s as true for the workers level as for management up to the very top. We tend to see the top echelon of management as entrepreneurs but in truth, they are nothing but cold blooded administrators pushing indices and numbers. Their entrepreneurial souls have never lived or in the best case died long ago (that’s pretty rare).
A true entrepreneur is an artist, someone who does stuff a machine or computer cannot repeat or derive from something that was done before. Managers on the other side are trained to take a process that is known and optimize it. Their very DNA abhors real creation as this comes with destruction and their utmost goal is the preservation of cash flow and income channels. He who creates also destroys and that goes clearly against the grain of a manager.
This makes managers redundant just like the very people they used to manage so far. One thing to be clear now – this does not apply to the real entrepreneurs that manage things on the side but live as real entrepreneurs. But those are rare.
Think further. My older son is almost 8 years old now. He will go to university in about 10 years from now and then – depending on what he will choose to cut his teeth into – he is into years of studying before he can hope to clinch something better than an internship. This means at least 15 years before he is able to join the workforce but what kind of world will he find himself in, when he does so?
We just saw that anything, that can be repeated and optimized, is going to be robotized. This is going to apply to most white collar professions as well. Medical Doctors, chemists, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, economists, pharmacists, … Just pick your academic profession. 80% of them are just doing exactly those things I have described here so they, of course, will be routed as well.
Probably even more so than those mending the plumbing or those cooking a meal. Let’s bring back the kids. When my son is potentially ready to join the professional world there is a strong chance that much of what we know as a job today will not exist anymore. That said, we still put our children through a Prussian school model which theoretically emphasizes root learning without even doing so. We give them the worst in order to prepare them for something that won’t exist anymore when they are ready for the working world. Not smart.
What can be done?
The progressive robotisation of the world will eventually do away with all employed labor but it will be a slow march. 20 years from now we will be well on our way but 40 years from now the journey will be fully consumed. My younger son will be 46 then – still far away from any retirement.
What is the working world in 40 years going to look like then? I suppose it will be something like the 80-18-2 rule. 80% of the potentially productive population will live by some form of general income from some public body and will live their life in some form of protected idleness. 18% will do the creative stuff and with that, I don’t mean financial gimmickry and creative accounting. Computers outperform humans in most of those things already today. And 2% will use their capital try to make more of it in the process. They will have it all at their fingertips as anything that they needed humans for before will be done by machines then.
Pick your camp as the process to this new world is well underway.
Oh, this is only an aspect of what the world will be looking like in 40 years. Wanna know more – stay tuned.