What Would The World Look Like If Half Of All Jobs Were Held By Robots?

What Would the World Look Like If Half of All Jobs Were Held by Robots?

Numerous intelligent people have now claimed that within the next few decades, robots will automate half of all existing jobs. Whether or not that will pan out — or whether you're in the luckless 50 per cent — will only be determined by time. But either way, what would that world look like? The latest robotic prophecy comes from Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi. At a presentation yesterday, Vardi delivered his prediction that by 2045, computers may be able to do almost any human task and unemployment will sit close to 50 per cent.

The greatest unknowns in that scenario wouldn't be scientific or robotic; they would be economic and sociological. Conventional economics would have you believe that as technology increases, so does productivity, wages and total output. It's a theory that has held true since the industrial revolution, and seen the standard of living in developed countries go from mud hut to iPhones for all.

But that theory is designed for technology complementing human labour, not replacing it altogether. What Vardi (and hundreds of other scientists and economists) are questioning is how the rise of robotics will affect our economy.

The questions are big, and the answers radical. In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford argues that the answer lies in a full-on worker revolt: rather than letting the benefits of automation be captured by the Ubers and Amazons of the world, workers will band together to push for significant wealth redistribution, and ultimately a universal basic income guaranteed by the proceeds of machine labour.

Other people disagree: the underlying assumption with technology is that as machines automate jobs, those displaced workers will retrain, adapt and shift to a field that hasn't been taken over by robots yet, or a field that hadn't even existed before — horseshoe making isn't a big industry any more, but neither was IT in the 1930s.

Vardi doesn't claim to have all the answers to how society will adapt to automation, but his questions are worth thinking about. He asks:

Does the technology we are developing ultimately benefit mankind? A typical answer is that if machines will do all our work, we will be free to pursue leisure activities...[but] I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing. I believe that work is essential to human well-being.

At the moment, a robot takeover is mostly the topic of movie reboots, thinkpieces and the occasional gag reel. But more than just thinking about what jobs robots are going to take over, it's increasingly clear that people need to think about what an automated society will look like, how a political system will function and the number of people who might starve on the streets. It's a lot less fun than a Terminator marathon, but then again, Skynet isn't the only apocalyptic future out there.


Comments

    I can't think of a job that couldn't be automated. Even managers and CEO's could be replaced by AI. Machines are more efficient and AI would be more intelligent. We are the weak link and hence machines would find us obsolete and terminate us. Yah !

    The whole premise of being worried about automation replacing your job seems weird to me. I don't want a job at all and especially not a repetitive, menial type that automation is perfect for. I have a job to provide income, and ultimately the income is support a way of life. For some people that may be their job, but for many I think a job is a means to an end. I think it's the way of life that we need to be concerned about, finding ways to support that without being reliant on a specific job (or any job at all). Retraining is one option but I feel like we should explore many others.

    Perhaps we will (sometime in the future, after whatever apocalyptic event decimates humanity) return to subsistence farming. We won't live as long but neither will be tied to a desk doing stuff we hate, for people we don't like, to get money we don't need so we can waste our life binge watching 'house of cards" or drink ourselves into oblivion.

    Imagine you are told in 1816 that in the next 200 years, 95% of all jobs will disappear. Will you expect 95% unemployment and widespread poverty. Well it didn't happen.

    I can quite understand 50% of all current jobs disappearing in the next 30 years, even given today's technology but applied more widely. But this releases labour, expertise and energy for other work. This doesn't automatically translate to 50% unemployment.

    The industrial and post-industrial revolutions made large demands on the workforce. People's skill levels had to increase. People had to move from where they were socially comfortable to new locations and culture - most specifically from the country to the cities. Yes - a lot of the transition was exploitative and traumatic, but subsequent generations benefited greatly from that transition.

    I agree that work is an essential part of most people's lives. However, that work doesn't need to be arduous, dangerous or mind destroying. Have a look at Etsy - no robot can make such fine, hand crafted felt mice from Bulgaria or stained glass cockatoo from the UK that I recently purchased. I didn't exist as a market for these people ten years ago.

    My generation went from "job for life" to serial careers. The current generation will move from employment to self employment (even if formally working for a company). There will be winners and losers. But there are also winners and losers in just standing still.

    PS It won't be robots that take your job - it will be computers, some of which will have robotic components.

    People have always worried about new machines stealing jobs and making people redundant; that’s why luddites wrecked automated looms back in the day. What they fail to take into account is that as we save hours in work, and become more efficient at doing things, people inevitably find somewhere else to direct their efforts, or spend their dollars.
    Keynes promised us a utopia brought on by advanced technology back in the 60’s but I would argue that the average time people spend working a week hasn’t changed that much since then. Unfortunately the market always finds a way to keep us all working…

    I couldn't give my job away quick enough. Providing that whomever was administering ( or overseeing, overlording, whathaveyou) the computers still ensured I was paid/cared for and hence was able to pursue my passions, benefit of human race, or some other altruistic pursuit.

    One thing such articles always ignore, is that some people are NOT smart. There will always be individuals who are suited only to labouring jobs.

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