Technology has had a major impact on human labor for centuries. For example, Pony Express Rider doesn’t exactly have a bullet next to it on the list of “hot jobs”.
Robotics is one of the more recent technological “revolutions” that has impacted the American workforce. Some suggest that the stagnation in middle class wages is at least in part due to technology reducing the demand for labor, particularly certain unskilled and semi-skilled labor. We know for example that while manufacturing output in the United States is growing, the manufacturing workforce continues its long term decline. Industrial robots have taken on more and more repetitive, exacting tasks.Today, robotics enhanced with artificial intelligence are promising the robot invasion will continue into other areas of previously human-only endeavor.
So, what are the warning signs that a robot may be your replacement?
One, is a significant amount of your job made up of repetitive tasks? This is a no brainer. If you’re putting tab A into slot B, or collecting products X, Y and Z to pack and ship, you may want to think about how you can add more value to your labor. Or at least get some compromising photos of the boss.
Two, is most of what you work with in digital form? Once information is digitized it can be organized and managed by artificial intelligence, or at the very least distributed to those who add value to it to manage. Does anyone remember there was once a job called “word processing clerk”?
Three, can “you” be replaced by a “digital you”? There are no jobs for Orcs or goblins anymore, because they can be digitized in highly realistic 3-D.
Four, are many other people doing exactly the same job as you? The more of “you” there are the greater the incentive to find a way to automate what you do. Just 15 jobs account for 25% of the U.S. workforce. The top 3 are retail sales clerks, cashiers, and office clerks.
Five, do you drive a vehicle for pay? Well, Google has an automated vehicle that can drive in traffic. I’m not sure they have tested it in Manhattan’s traffic yet, but you can see where this is going.
Finally, is your job extremely dangerous or risky? The most dangerous jobs are fisherman, logger, pilots, refuse collectors, roofers, steel workers, farmers and (see number five) drivers. As automation continues to improve organizations are incentivized to robotize these hazardous jobs where possible. Doing so will eliminate the high insurance costs of employing people in these industries.
The debate continues about robots and their role on the labor force and the economy, good and bad. Some economists believe we will have to design a whole new economic system to deal with the changeover from human labor to robot labor. Others believe robots will usher in a new era of greater employment and higher wages. But what doesn’t seem to be much of a matter for debate is the inevitability of more automation and the growth of robots in the workforce.