Automation, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology will change what we know as work forever. Millions of jobs will be lost. Millions of jobs will also be created. Some types of jobs will not exist anymore while many other new types of jobs will be invented. But everything will change in the next 5-10 years. The greatest challenges that our economy will face will be how do we retrain everyone into these new jobs.
Impact of Automation
Automation is the most common disruption that people expect to happen. It is already happening in manufacturing. Highly automated factories that require 90% less labor than before. Car manufacturers once required thousands of people welding, assembling, painting and other task are now largely gone. More detailed task still remain but with much more sensitive, smarter and accurate robotics, those task will also go away. The economics behind automation is simple. There are no worker injuries, no sick days, no need for health benefits, no need for shifts changes, no employees taxes to pay and no need for human resources or any support services. For all manufacturers to be competitive, they will need to become vastly automated. The trend is toward extremely automated factories. But this will move into distribution, retail, construction, and many other industries as well. Those companies who automate will increase profits and will be able to lower prices against competition. Game theory will predict that all companies will move toward automation in as many departments as possible.
“I work at a disposable razor factory. We used to have seven hundred workers. There were lines of people down conveyor belts. Now there’s only four hundred left, and most of those are just temporary. Machines do everything now. Anything that required hands, at least. We used to look at the razors through microscopes-- trying to find imperfections. Now the computer just takes a picture. Even the forklifts drive themselves. Soon there will be nobody left. People are just too expensive. You can’t stop it. I tried my own little protest for a while. I told myself that I wasn’t going to buy any of the cheap stuff from Wal-Mart. But that didn’t last long. I couldn’t afford anything else.”
Impact of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence will be the first major disruption to the majority of white color jobs. Many software updates using artificial intelligence will do many tedious processes such as categorizing items, detecting errors, writing short form articles, and translating text. This removes the need for workers to do redundant and boring computer task. AI is already writing sports summaries and news articles. AI will take over many marketing tasks and customer services task. Chat bots and smarter kiosk will be able to solve more customer service problems as well as service customers from initial contact to product delivery. We are just in the beginning stages of AI revolution.
Combining artificial intelligence with hardware will further the job losses. This will create smarter machines giving them brains and eyes. Instead of just separating products, they can inspect and analyze while performing their normal task. They will be able to learn and become more efficient. Robotic arms will be able to do multiple task instead of just one. Cameras will now be eyes where they can identify objects and people. They can automatically let in approved cars into parking lots and tell us if all the spots are full. They will allow us to do better quality control and create customized products. AI will make our hardware and robots smarter thus able to do task that were reserved for low skilled workers.
Impact of Blockchain
Blockchain is more than just the technology behind Bitcoin but it is another revolutionary technology that will create more transparency and data automation in many industries. It can become an objective cheaper third party in many types transactions from securities to gambling to banking. It can help retailers like Walmart track products from supply chain to store. It can making auditing obsolete with distributed ledgers. It will make fraud less frequent. It will change finance and lower cost of banking. At the same time, all the jobs related to auditing, fraud, transactions, tracking and documentation will be in less demand as blockchain software will automate the processes.
Overall Impact to Work
While these three technologies will force many jobs to become obsolete, they will also create millions of other jobs. The problem is many people will need to relocate and learn new skills in order to survive in the new economy. In fact, employers have already a difficult time to find workers now. It will only get more challenging as workers will need to learn new skills to fill the current and future needs. To less the pain of this transition, we need to do something now. I will be working on a little project called Career Tree to raise awareness of the need for people to get prepared and retrained for this great change to the economy and work.