Section Two - No more jobs
A story about the rise of the machines and trapping self-driving cars (10 minutes)
Maybe you are a student. Maybe you have it all figured out. You will work hard, you will get good grades, you will get a nice job, you will work hard at your job, you will earn more money, you will work even harder, you will buy nice things, you will do great things, you will support a great family, you will become happy.
On the other hand, maybe not. Remove ‘get a job’ from your plans and it all comes tumbling down. Suppose that the job market is changes drastically. Suppose that getting a job becomes harder or even almost impossible. Suppose that there are just no more jobs.
What about your plans then?No more jobs
In the additional materials we have included a link to the famous video "Humans Need Not Apply" that paints a very dystopian picture. The main message, in 1915, there were a lot of horses. They never thought that they would become obsolete so fast because of new technology (the car). Some horses might have hoped that new technology would create better and new jobs for them, but it did not happen. The same goes for humans. New technology will make them obsolete. There will be no more jobs. We, humans, will be like horses.
Just there for fun.
Let's list some reasons why there will be no more jobs in the future.
Argument one. The bots are coming
When we talk about bots we do not mean the men and women made of steel. The chances that a robot plumber will soon come and fix your leaky tap is not that great. This is because of Moravec's Paradox.
Moravec's Paradox: the idea that reasoning requires very little computation and sensorimotor skills require enormous computational services.
Check out these robots playing football (2 minutes):
Or, if you have 1.5 minutes to spare, watch this video of the queen of the shitty robots.
Of course, there are also impressive robots.
- Companies like Boston Dynamics (see additional materials) are building amazing robots;
- Robots like the late Baxter are a first generation of general purpose robots. These robots can do a lot of things. The beauty is, you don't have to program robots like Baxter. You just have to demonstrate what you expect from them. Robots like Baxter can do simple things on the conveyor belt, behind the bar, in the kitchen and so on. Maybe they are the future.
However, for now, it is still incredibly expensive to make robots and it is still incredibly hard to have a robot do things that are a bit more complicated. If you are a plumber, or a welder or a carpenter, because of Moravec's Paradox, things are looking good for you in the near future.
If you work with your head, there is trouble.
If we think of bots, we also have to think in terms of software bots. And then we see enormous progress in artificial intelligence. We talked about AI in crash course five. We stated that strong AI (AI that can do a lot of things) is probably still very far away, but developments in Weak AI (AI that is really good at one thing) are moving very quickly.
A few years ago, there was a computer called Watson (IBM) that was able to win a game show called Jeopardy. This was, in computer years, a very long time ago. There are already a lot improved versions of ‘Watson’ that have more power and are a lot cheaper. The important thing is that Jeopardy is a complicated American game show. So, if you can design a computer that can win that show, you can imagine that in a few years such a computer could also work as a call centre employee. Or as a doctor's assistant. Or as an accountant's secretary. Insurance advisor. And so on. In the additional materials we included a tool where you can look for the chance that your job will be automated.
Here we have Google's Duplex calling the hairdresser for an appointment (1 minute video):
Everywhere there is software that can do cognitive tasks. The scary thing, of course, is that once we have the software for a – let's say – perfect interpreter/translator, it’s a matter of copying the software and you will have millions of them and – poof – all the jobs are gone. You can already get doctor's assistants from the cloud.
And then there are the Generative Adversarial Networks, we talked about in crash course eight. Computers with imagination. Computers that can imagine people, animations, songs, designs, landscapes and so on.
In both cases, for now, it is mainly the low-level jobs that are at risk.
- The translator who translates sensitive diplomatic conversations is safe, the translator who translates brochures has a problem.
- The lead architect is safe, the people who make the models have a problem.
- The income of the famous pop artist is not in danger, the future of the people who compose the music for advertising or instructional videos is less secure.
The smarter the AI becomes, the more jobs are at risk.
The big question for the future is, how many people are talented enough to outrun the AI?
Argument two. Autonomous vehicles
The developments with self-driving cars are still a bit disappointing. Some companies like Google and Uber are downplaying expectations or changing strategies. Maybe that is smart. After all, how smart are they when you can catch them so easily?
See this video from artist, and hero, James Bridle (1.30 minutes):
And yes, before you send emails: we do know that it is not really a self-driving car and that it is a scam. But it's an art project and it's the idea that counts. And we thought it was fun!
A self-driving car is, of course, just a robot on wheels. Uber, for example, has a vision of the future in which one day you won’t call a human driver with their app but a self-driving car (that’s one of the reasons why they are worth so much). At the moment, 4.1 million people work in road transport in America alone, and you also have trains, ships and aeroplanes. Or, vehicles driving around factory sites. Those numbers are, of course, much larger worldwide. Autonomous vehicles will terminate millions of jobs. And you will also have fewer traffic accidents. This, in turn, decreases jobs for doctors, ambulance personnel, people who repair guardrails, ambulance chasers, and so on.
Argument three. A combination of one and two
Supermarkets and fast food chains are being automated at a rapid pace. In China (admittedly, not exactly the land of privacy) you can walk into a mini-supermarket, grab a can of Coke, get recognised, and your bill will be automatically taxed. McDonalds has automatic order stations everywhere, there are more and more self-scanning opportunities in the grocery stores, and soon a robot will be filling the compartments or baking the burgers.
That is argument three, a combination of robots and software making traditional jobs superfluous. Ok, we admit it, this is very similar to argument 1 and 2, but it is a nice prelude to argument 4.
Argument four. Large webshops
Large webshops are taking over everything (especially since COVID-19).
Players such as Alibaba, Amazon and local players like Bol.com and Zalando are taking an increasing share of the market. Let's look at Zalando. This is basically a large webshop that sells shoes. Zalandoo has a lot of staff and ,of course, more and more people driving around in minivans to make deliveries. But this is nothing in comparison to the number of people that worked in all those small shoe stores. And those people were in more locations, had lunch in the city, drank coffee, etc.
Large web shops, like Zalando, have a lot of turnover, but they do not add the same amount of value to the economy. They also have the resources and mindset to automate their own processes. Amazon has a lot of robots in its warehouses (maybe that is a good thing, because they are notorious for treating their personnel badly) and would prefer to deliver with autonomous drones (argument three).
In short, webshops have more turnover but employ far fewer people than “real” stores.
Argument five. 3D printing
What if these webshops become obsolete too? What if you no longer had to buy products?
After all, in a few years, it might be possible to simply 3D print products. You download software and print the product yourself or have it printed and assembled nearby. Now, when we say 3D printing, you may still be thinking of those amateurish cubes that “print” layer-by-layer, but that will soon be something from the past. We have some great examples in the additional materials.
Vocativ, for example, ‘prints’ the soles of the Adidas shoe from liquid.
Soon, we might 3D print a lot of things ourselves. This means that an industry will be created for designers, and print shops, and assemblers, and printer producers. Sure, but that industry will be much smaller then one of the largest industries today: logistics.
Argument six. Products become services
That is, if we still 3D print in the future, because products will become more and more services.
- You don’t buy DVDs, you use Netflix;
- You don’t buy CDs, you use Spotify;
- You are not going to develop your photos, you use Instagram.
All these large technology companies provide wonderful services, but relatively few people work at them.
Physical products may also become services. You no longer pay for your washing machine, but per wash. You do not pay for your electric drill, but per hole. In crash course seven we saw how people can work for those services through decentralized autonomous organisations. You no longer pay for your lawn mower, but to have your lawn mowed by someone with a mower and an app.
In section one, we learned that future literacy means reframing our assumptions. If we want to become better at imagining the future, we need more information, facts and opinions to help us broaden our horizons and eradicate some blind spots.
In this section we listed some arguments about why jobs will disappear. We could have listed many more. Maybe you found this depressing. Maybe you are a student wondering why you are still at school. Do not despair. In the next section we will reframe your assumptions again by giving you a lot of arguments to convince you that our jobs will never disappear.
Take aways from section two:
- Robots will do our cognitive jobs;
- Robots will drive our vehicles;
- Robots will work with software to automate our jobs:
- Webshops with few personnel are taking over:
- Products will be 3D printed:
- Products will become services.