I worry. I worry about the future. it’s a long story, but I really do. And the thing is, I tend to worry not so much about me, but about everyone else. Frankly I live in a wealthy part of a wealthy country with a good job. I’m ok. I am also a pretty experienced computer programmer. Like I say…I’m ok.
I read the old futurist books now and then. I also watch videos of robots like these.
If you know a friend who works in a warehouse and is NOT currently studying part-time to develop some technical skill in some area, show them that video. Then ask them what they will be doing for a living in ten years time. Or maybe in just five. They already wiped out the need to walk around the warehouse, how long will the ‘pick worker’ be human? Not long that’s for sure. Robots work 24/7, never strike, never get ill, never argue, never sue you, don’t need lighting, heating, toilets, car parking space… If you can replace a human with a robot, it’s an absolute no-brainer. If you were building a new factory now, would you assume a need for *any* human input?
Now look at the date on that video…Yup, this is OLD technology. REALLY OLD. Imagine how much better it is now, in the warehouses we don’t get to see because they don’t want competitors to know about it. I think we can safely kiss goodbye to every warehouse job in a decade or two. What’s next? Well why pay people to stack shelves in a supermarket when robots could do it when the store shuts? How long till that happens? they already replaced a lot of checkout staff, the shelf stackers will be next. Even the security guard is likely to be replaced by some sort of drone in the next twenty years.
Twenty years will probably see mass market acceptance of driverless vehicles in at least some countries. Kiss goodbye to every taxi driver, every delivery driver, every bus driver, every train driver, every chauffeur. Digital cameras basically put kodak out of business. They employed 145,000 people worldwide. That business no longer exists. That was relatively unskilled work too, gone. We have tens of thousands employed in call centers. For how long? isn’t AI getting better at that sort of thing than call center staff? How many people will the mass-deployment of ‘siri’ style tech put out of work? A million? ten million? I’m drinking coffee as good as any I’ve tasted as I type this. It wasn’t made by an expert barista. It was a £200 machine you can buy. Yup, robot baristas are already a mass-market thing. Those jobs are gone too.
So where are the unskilled jobs going to be? Maybe some will exist in the developed world with appalling labor conditions and wages digging in mines or sorting trash, but where is someone living in London with no skills going to work in 2035? I’m guessing nowhere. I don’t think any such job is going to exist.
And this is what worries me, because nobody I meet who does such work has any clue how doomed it is. No politician really discusses it. We worry about short-term 1 or 2% ups and downs in consumer spending, as if that really matters when it comes to employment and wages. All the commentators and economists out there seem to be ‘surprised’ that the economy is doing well but wages are low. Really? you didn’t predict that millions of unskilled people fighting over the same dwindling supply of jobs was going to depress wages?
Whether you are left wing or right wing, no sensible debate on unemployment, wages and inequality can be taken seriously unless the topic of unskilled labour is put front and center. It is just *not an option* to have unskilled people in a modern society. We should stop arguing about which company will, or will not bring unskilled labour jobs to our country, or what wage they will pay those people. It is a false debate. Those jobs are going very soon regardless who people elect the govern the country.