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Robots and Jobs: What will happen when work is automated

For a long time, the prediction of futurists and philosophers, the lived reality of technology that replaces human labor has been a constant feature since the cotton gin, the conveyor belt and, more recently, the computer.

We are deeply into what they represent, but the conversation about robots and work is increasingly linked to the debate on how to tackle increasing income inequality – a key issue in the democratic presidential principle in 2020.

The workplace is changing. How should Americans cope?

"There is no easy answer," said Stuart Russell, informant at UC Berkeley, assistant professor of neurological surgery at UC San Francisco and author of an upcoming book, "Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Control Problem." almost all current jobs will disappear, so we need fairly radical political changes to prepare for a very different future economy. "

In his book, Russell writes, "A rapidly emerging image is that of an economy where far fewer people work because work is unnecessary."

It is either a very daunting or a tempting perspective, depending very much on whether and how much you (and / or society) think people should have to work and how society will value human labor.

There will be less work on production, less work in call centers, less work on trucks, and more work in health care and home nursing and construction.

MIT Technology Review tried to track all the different reports on the impact that automation will have on the workforce. There are many of them. And they suggest anywhere from moderate displacement to a total workforce overhaul with varying degrees of alarm.
One of the reports, from the McKinsey Global Institute, includes a review of how receptive to automation different jobs can be, and finds that hundreds of millions of people around the world will have to find new jobs or learn new skills. Learning new skills can be more difficult than it sounds, as CNN found on car systems like the one that closed in Lordstown, Ohio.

More robots mean more inequality

Almost everyone who has seriously thought about this has said that more automation will probably lead to more inequality.

It is indisputable that businesses have become more and more productive, but workers' wages have not kept pace.

"Our analysis shows that most job growth in the United States and other advanced economies will be in occupations that are currently at the high end of the payroll distribution," according to McKinsey. "Some jobs that are currently low-wage, such as nursing assistants and teaching assistants, will also increase, while a wide range of middle-income professions will have the largest employment declines."

"The likely challenge for the future lies in addressing increasing inequality and ensuring adequate (re-) training especially for low-skilled workers," according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A Democratic presidential candidate ̵

1; Andrew Yang, the rebellious non-politician – has built his campaign around solving this problem. Yang blames job automation more than outsourcing to China for the decline of US industry and draws a direct line between the shrinking manufacturing sector and the rise of Donald Trump.

"We must wake people," Yang recently told The Atlantic. "This is the reality that Donald Trump is our president today because we have already blown away millions of American jobs and people feel they have lost a way to come."

If Automation Takes Jobs, Should All People Get a Government Salary?

Yang's answer to the problem is to give everyone in the United States, regardless of need, an income – he calls it a "liberty yield" – of $ 1,000 a month. It will address inequalities, both financially and racially, he argues, and allow people to work for work that adds value to the community.

It's not a new idea. Congress and President Richard Nixon nearly adopted such a proposal in the early 1970s as part of the war on poverty. But now, after decades of GOP distancing itself from social programs, the idea of ​​a universal basic income seems about as sci-fi as the new "Terminator" movie (yes, they're making a new one) coming out this year.

"Ninety-four percent of the new jobs created in the United States are gambling jobs, temporary jobs, or contractors at this time, and we still pretend to be the '70s, where it's like," You're going to work for a company, you're going to get benefits, you're going to be able to retire, even though we have totally obtained some retirement benefits, but somehow you are going to retire, that will work out, "Yang said the Atlantic interview. "Young people look at this and become like & # 39; This doesn't seem to work. & # 39; And we're like, "Oh, that's fine." It is not good. We have to grow up. "

He specifically points to trucking as a profession that is key to the American economy today, but which can and can be fully automated in the very near future. Truck automation will help the environment, save money and help productivity "But it will not help truck drivers.

On the other hand, trucking, though it is an honorable job, may not be the lifeblood of many people. In this way, robots would take jobs that humans may not want unless they have to do them, which they are currently doing.

"When you accept these circumstances, that we are going to compete with technologies that have a marginal cost of almost zero, then you must quickly say OK, then, how do we begin to value our time? What does a 21st century economy look like in a way that serves our interests and not the capital efficiency machine? "he says. And that's how he, and many liberal economists and capitalists like Elon Musk, come to the idea of ​​a basic income.

Yang argued at a CNN City Hall this year that it's not enough for people to organize themselves as workers in unions to protect jobs.

"I don't think we have time to recreate the workforce that way," he said. "We should start distributing value directly to Americans."

Creating a population which may consist of a basic income, without work, would end up reshaping how society functions completely.

"For some, UBI represents a version of paradise. To others, it represents an admission of failure – an assertion that most people don't want anything of economic value to contribute to society, "writes Russell." They can be fed and housed – mostly by machines – but otherwise left to their own devices . "

Yang is more focused on the immediate threat he says automation constitutes American jobs. And politicians don't talk about it honestly because they are too focused on being optimistic.

" You are a politician, your incentives are to say we can do this, we can do it, we can do the other thing and then society falls apart. "

What do we do with our time?

Not everyone thinks that society would fall apart, and there has actually been a lot of serious concern about what people will do when productivity increases to a point where they don't need to work that much.

In an important article in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that people would have to throw up their spare time for generations to come.

"For those who sweat on their daily bread-free time is a long-awaited sweet – until they get it, "he wrote, later adding that" the man will be faced with his real, his fixed problem – how he can use his freedom from pressing financial care, how to take his spare time , what science and compound interest will have w on him, to live wisely and comfortably and well. "

Instead of tackling the leisure problem, automation can often lead to unforeseen problems. The cotton gin meant that slaves in the American South did not have to remove seeds from cotton, but it also led to an explosion of slavery as cotton was more easily produced. [19659016] And while it makes life easier for individual workers, the transition from one type of economy to the next (farmer to producer, to information specialist and beyond) has been a key long-term reality for the American worker.

Is the rate of change different This time?

Nobody has thought about this more than unions AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler agrees with Yang that automation is one of the biggest challenges we face as a country and that it does not but she is not yet worried about dystopia.

"The scare tactics are a little extreme," she said in an interview, arguing that Reports of tens of millions of American jobs lost by 2030 are likely to be exaggerated.

"Every time there has been a technological shift in this country, there have been these doomsday scenarios," she said in an interview.

It was already a question in the 1950s, Shuler pointed out. "You (former United Auto Workers President) Walter Reuther testified before Congress and talked about how automation was going to change jobs, and people came up with the wild predictions that if you brought robots to car systems that there would be massive unemployment," she said .
By the way, Reuther's testimony is very interesting to read. Check it out. "The revolutionary change produced by automation is its tendency to displace the worker completely from the machine's direct operation," he said. He argued that unions were not opposed to automation, but that they wanted more help from companies and from the authorities for workers working with a changing workplace.

"What ended up happening is what they call negotiated acquittal," Shuler said, "where the unions went to the table and said & # 39; Okay, we get it, this technology is coming, but how do we manage? to change "How should we have a working voice at the table? How should we make sure that the working people benefit from this and that the company can be more efficient and successful? ""

Yang counts this argument by noting that automation has increased, which has made it more difficult for workers, employers and government to adapt. "Unlike with previous waves of automation, this time, new jobs will not appear fast enough in large enough numbers to make up for it," he said on his website.

Somewhere in the middle is where we will end up

Shuler said that American workers had to make the conversation about future work more urgent today.

"We all have a choice to make," she said. "Do we want technology to benefit working people and our country, as a result, is doing better? Or will we follow a path from this dark, dystopian view that work is going to disappear and that people will not have Anything to do does that, and are we really going to work on the whim of a bunch of robots? "

Somewhere in the middle, she argued, was where we ended up.

"We will work alongside technology as it evolves. New work will emerge. We want to make sure that working people can adjust themselves fairly and fairly and responsibly, and we can only do that if working people have a place at the table. "

The long-term future

Shuler has an interest in workers and their rights today, but Russell writes that in the long term, as work automation becomes more tangible, the country will have to change its entire outlook on work and what we teach children and people to strive for.

"We need a radical rethinking of our education system and our scientific enterprise to focus more on the human rather than the physical world," he writes. "It sounds strange to say that happiness should be an engineering discipline, but it seems to be the inevitable conclusion."

In other words: We have to figure out how to be happy with the robots and the automation, because they are coming.

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