Unemployment and Rise of the Robot

I’ve noticed a few articles trending this week that talk about the future of our jobs with the rise of robots on the horizon. There’s no median it seems. The outlook is either good or bad, the writers say. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I remember my first job. I started as a cashier at a burger joint. Then I advanced to the burger assembly line, and finally, burger flipping on the grill. High five. I did this for two years, and for two years I also dreamed of all the other things I could be doing instead of flipping burgers for hours each week. I wouldn’t be too concerned if a robot took my burger flipping job, because there’d be something else to do in lieu of this, and much more interesting than flipping burgers, I’d hope.

Now, the burger flipping robot is here. Technology like this has been available for years, but only now is it becoming  more cost efficient than minimum wage employees. Is it possible that all minimum wage jobs will soon be replaced? Yes.

The starting point is in the hands of the employer, or the company, that chooses to replace their current work force with robots. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a logical decision;  24/7 shifts, no vacation days or benefit payments, no HR related legal suits or lazy workers… etc. A robot workforce is a streamlined process with more pros than cons. The cost of goods produced by these robots should go down too, benefiting the consumer. From this side, it all looks nice and dandy.

But what about employees who are laid off? I’ve read stats that say anywhere from 40 to 75% of jobs will be replaced by robots. The current economy is driven by the sale of goods and services, but what happens when suddenly 40 to 70% of the population no longer has disposable income for these goods and services? The demand for services will rise, but there will be no wages to back the cost of providing these services.

So, at first it may benefit companies to replace employees with robots, but this is a short term solution by itself. I can only see a continuation of the current economy in a future where companies or government play a greater role in caring for former employees of today’s workforce and future generations who would otherwise have employment in the modern ‘robot workforce’. There are a few ideas out there to how this can work.

How about a universal basic income? Where would it come from? Employees have to pay tax on income, so why not a robot tax for the income they generate? In turn, this cash can be fueled back into the social care system to provide support for the unemployed.

How about a MOOC? This I learned is a massive open online course, the details of which will not fit in a blog post, but it’s the concept that’s important here, and an opportunity for your brainpower to kick in. There will likely have to be a longer ‘care’ period for youth, which includes the MOOC along with other extended education or entrepreneurial opportunities. What do you think will be important here?

But, if there is a basic universal income, there must also be an incentive for continued participation in the economy. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty tempted to go travel the world and settle in some far off place and just live life to the fullest, but that doesn’t benefit those with deep pockets. A basic universal income must come with an incentive, such as completing the MOOC to certain standards, and becoming competent to pursue a role in a higher education position with the potential for greater earnings.

Overall, I say don’t fret. Leaving behind 40% or more of the worlds currently employed population won’t help the world go round. Change such as this won’t be without its hiccups, but remember, there are new ideas and technologies to discover as we develop our knowledge and understanding, of everything. We can’t predict all that will happen. I say live in the moment with an eye to the future instead of jumping ahead without thought to the growth that will happen in between now and then.

Just the other day as I was catching up with a friend, he rattled off three fantastic inventions that are simple, practical, relatively low cost in design, and marketable. It’s just about taking that step one. Imagine a future where all these ideas we think of and dream of creating in a lifetime can be accomplished day by day. I hope that the dreams of a previous burger flipper can one day happen like this, and they can put that flipper to rest.

Sad Robot The Other End of the Spectrum

*Insert your own cartoon drawings

Bubble One: “Uh, Siri, I’m so sorry, seriously, but I don’t need you anymore, you’ve been replaced,” says Thing One, looking at his phone.

Bubble Two, later: Siri, collecting dust and stuffed into a drawer, now a long forgotten relic of the past

Bubble Three: “Ugh, Google Home, there’s no goo between us, but you’re not needed anymore, I have this new thing to work on,” says Thing Two.

Bubble Four, Later: Google Home waiting in a line with other devices for disassembly.

Bubble Five: Thing One and Thing Two (while Siri and Google Home are being disposed of) brainstorming, relaxing on the sofa, interacting with a home holographic device, and 3D printing off prototypes of new inventions. Happy as can be!


Cartoon series Welcome to the future, by scifi.anne.marie. 

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