Rise of the Robots Reminds Us of the Question of the Era – Where Will the Jobs Be?


Rise of the RobotsThat shift will ultimately challenge one of our most basic assumptions about technology: that machines are tools that increase the productivity of workers. Instead, machines themselves are turning into workers, and the line between the capability of labor and capital is blurring as never before.
Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

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I’m reading Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. I will present my synopsis of this book at the February 5 First Friday Book Synopsis. And, this book was chosen as the best business book of 2015 by The Financial Times.

It is a thorough treatment of a now common and oft-repeated theme. One way to put it is this: many, many, many jobs will be replaced by robots and software.

Last night, I talked to a man who teaches welding at a local community college. I asked him if robots were taking over welding. He described what robots cannot do, and why we still need humans in the midst of any welding endeavor. But, the deeper we probed, he acknowledged that robots are encroaching, more each year, on the humans jobs in welding.

And, that is the point of Moore’s Law. It is “more each year,” and that is not going to stop, not is it going to slow down or stay the same pace as now. The pace of job take-over will accelerate.

And, in Rise of the Robots, we are learning that it is not just physical tasks that robots will do. It is increasingly also “white collar” tasks.

Have you seen the new Turbo Tax app commercials? The ones where a true “genius” instructs an everyman to “tap the screen?” Moore’’s Law at work!

Here’s a reminder (again from Rise of the Robots):

The mechanization of agriculture vaporized millions of jobs and drove crowds of unemployed farmhands into cities in search of factory work. Later, automation and globalization pushed workers out of the manufacturing sector and into new service jobs. Short-term unemployment was often a problem during these transitions, but it never became systemic or permanent. New jobs were created and dispossessed workers found new opportunities.

We lost the farm jobs to machines. And, so, people migrated, and found other work. New kinds of work.

But, in the coming era, there simply may not be enough new kinds of work. This is the problem that Rise of the Robots describes so clearly.

Yes, our employment picture in the U.S. looks better than it did a few years ago. Unemployment is down. New job numbers are up. But, if you look closely at the numbers, you know that the new jobs do not pay what the old jobs did in many instances. People are “employed,” but in many cases they are “underemployed,” working at jobs that are “less” than they were educated or trained to do. And, thus, the wages have not kept up over the long haul of the last few decades.

So, what is the long-term outlook? With the rise of the robots and software, more and more lobs are in jeopardy, and the ones that are created are increasingly lower paying jobs that in the past.

Truly challenging!

And so, we ask again, where will the jobs be? The threat is right there in the subtitle: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

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