We don’t do the same work today that our great-grandparents did. A study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 1910 farmers and other manual laborers dominated the workforce. Today, professional and technical workers, along with clerical staff, dominate the occupations.
What should we expect from changes coming from Artificial Intelligence? Is there going to be a huge economic dislocation? I don’t think so.
Self-driving cars are almost here. Google’s Deep Mind program beat a human champion Go player (not Pokemon Go player) – an achievement many in the AI field felt was out-of-reach. It seems machine learning and similar technologies are ready to explode out of the lab and into the real world.
“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid A.I. can’t do that.”
Yes, they will. But the explosion will be a controlled one.
As with industrial power and the internal combustion engine, jobs will be augmented before they are replaced. AI programs have very narrow skills, and your job would have to be similarly narrow in focus for you to be threatened by a computer program.
Long haul trucking might be one of those jobs. Driving rigs from one logistics center to another is the kind of job that is one step up from the self-driving cars being tested today. A program could drive through the night, relieving congestion on the roads and speeding up the delivery of that next Amazon Prime purchase (or its return).
Displacing the long-haul driver still leaves the rest of the trucking occupational web in place, including short-haul trucking. Truckers will have job categories to move to.
White collar jobs can also be challenged early. The traditional stockbroker, for example, is at risk from systems that aggregate information and tailor recommendations to individuals and their life-stages, allowing a more self-service investing experience. This is no different than the bookseller or pharmacist, but the change will happen slowly enough that people will have the chance to retrain, retire, or otherwise avoid the most painful dislocations.
Of course, there will be some people who don’t find other work but from the high-level view of the entire economy over decades we will make this transition the same way we made the previous ones. The changes will benefit us all, and we should no wish for the jobs of the past.