Invasion of the Robots
We’ve heard it before. We’ve seen it in dozens of science fiction movies. Robots, replacing people, doing the job better and making humans irrelevant in the future. In Farhad Manjoo’s recent series of articles for “SLATE“, the future is now.
Robots are taking more and more jobs away from humans, but the paradigm shift isn’t happening in the way that Hollywood and many futurists and so called “experts” said it would.
In the past, robots were thought to replace the dirty work jobs and servitude positions occupied by the lower branches of the human family tree. Look at some examples in Hollywood movies. Wall-E, the little robot in the recent Pixar film of the same name, is a garbage collecting robot. Dozens of other Hollywood films traditionally show robots as servants and mechanical slaves. The higher intelligence humans ran things.
It’s 180 degrees different.
It’s much harder to create a robot to mechanically do those menial jobs, and besides, we don’t need the robots for them. We’ve got billions of humans for the cheapest paying work on the planet.
What computers are really good at is thinking. The thinking jobs are what the robots are going to replace by the millions. The first examples of this trend are taking place in what are called “middle skilled” jobs. These are the jobs that need some training, but not much.
Middle-skilled jobs consisted of secretaries, administrative workers, repairmen and manufacturing workers. The stats show that since the 1980s, across the board and across borders, these jobs have rapidly declined and won’t come back. Most job growth has been at two other extremes, either very highly skilled professions with very high pay or in the service sector requiring almost no skills and pay very little. Middle-skilled jobs traditionally made up a huge section of the middle class and as we’ve seen in recent years, that’s disappearing too.
The majority of economists disagree with this line of thinking and state that, in the past, technological advances always created new opportunities and jobs that grew economies. As an example they always point to the “Industrial Revolution”. They state that when agriculture declined, industry took up the slack.
The difference today is the fact that the businesses being created are not labor intensive and the tech boom has streamlined business so much they don’t hire as many people. If very physical labor is required there is an unlimited pool to pull from and this also helps to suppress income.
Since robots don’t need to replace the low end and have successfully decimated the middle, the only thing left is the top and they are already making massive inroads in that area as well. In the very near future they will be using high powered algorithms to diagnose diseases and fill prescriptions. They have programs now that can write articles and legal briefs. Online tutorials now teach our children and are getting more sophisticated every minute of every day.
The most recent example I can think of to demonstrate this new reality is “LegalZoom.com”. This website is decimating the legal profession by offering services at a fraction of the cost lawyers traditionally charged. High powered programs do legal research and business software has streamlined the work traditionally done by entry level lawyers, clerks and legal assistants.
If you are a recent law school graduate, good luck finding a law job.