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Max Roytenberg: Lost Jobs And The Pace of Change

by Max Roytenberg June 1, 2016

My head is spinning with the pace of change!. I’m an old guy, so I can remember when we had horses being used to deliver stuff to our houses every day. Today horses are a romantic memory in Westerns, or are being used by the RCMP in their Musical Ride. The really big thing for horses these days are the high profile races where we can bet on how fast they run against each other instead of gambling on the Lottery. Most of us didn’t worry about the disappearance of horses as a daily sight, unless we felt nostalgic about the smell of manure. But how many horses were put out to pasture or ended up as pet food? What are we going to do when most humans become obsolete?

 

I have to tell you I am downright frightened out of my wits. Not for myself. We old guys are reaping the benefits of galloping technology, life expectancies improving every year. The average is now eighty. Someone has estimated that by 2036 life expectancy will increase by a year every year. Right now it improves by three months every year. Our worry will be that we will outlive our money in the bank.

 

No, my worry is not even for my kids. My worry is for my grandkids. We all know what happened to Kodak. About twenty years ago they had about 200,000 employees. In just a few years the market for photo paper almost disappeared. It happened so fast. Even though digital cameras were invented twenty-five years before, improvements hit a tipping point and Bam! A whole industry disappeared.

 

Aren’t we seeing that happen all over the lot. What is it that is happening? It’s software and the devices that they make operational that is changing the face of our societies. This is happening not only in the developed world, but everywhere. Didn’t it take close to a hundred years to wire our cities? Now, all over the world we are leapfrogging all that wiring work through the use of wireless connections. A whole area of work, high-paid work, has just disappeared. Can you guess how many jobs that will eliminate?

What will be the implications of driverless cars? No accidents? Won’t that whole aspect of insurance for automobiles be gone? Auto-parts and repair shops? Gone! 3-D printing is now being used to make substantial portions of airplane parts, and even now, auto parts.  Industrial robots have already made inroads. There will be much more to come. All those jobs that Sanders and Trump shout about lost through trade. They are all gone and they are never coming back because we no longer need that work done.

 

Software and artificial intelligence transmitted through the devices now coming on the market will get all that work done, better, cleaner and safer than they can be done by humans. And those devices will be assembled by other devices. Like with photo paper, it won’t happen tomorrow. But the process is beginning, and as these techniques become more and more advanced, they will affect us like an avalanche coming down the mountainside.

 

What will happen as the falling cost of alternative sources of energy overtakes the falling cost of  oil and natural gas, and then, even coal? Given all that is happening, it is no longer an impossible dream. A whole range of high-paying jobs will be gone with the wind. We already have so many jobs in Finance being done by computers. The people we see on television manning the stock exchanges handle only a small fraction of the total number of transactions. Most of the share volume is handled by computers talking to computers. As for the people who advise us about these matters? If computers can beat humans at chess, isn’t it obvious that a computer can do the research and advise us on stocks better and faster than any human?

 

And how about our people who create the coding that feeds the computers their instructions? We now have devices that can learn. How long will it be before we have computers creating and feeding computers the instructions they need to do all the work that we need doing. Those were all those high-paying jobs that advancing technology was going to create for the best and the brightest to do.

 

How do we operate our current economic system when there are no jobs, no pay checks to support the system?

 

I remember when I was a youngster, I was into the new genre of science fiction stories that for a time was all the rage. One of the stories by one of those famous pioneers that really impacted me described the post-apocalyptic world like that we may be now approaching. In this world there was a regime that governed the whole globe. All the young people were streamed from an early age. The educational system was designed to identify the best persons to carry out the tasks necessary to maintain the world’s systems. Most of the population did not have tasks assigned to them. The society was rich enough, with most necessary activities carried out by the functioning of artificial intelligence devices, so that all the population’s needs were provided freely by the society. Food, clothing, shelter, health care, entertainment, everything was free in this world. Most people lived lives of leisure. Only a very few, those who won out in the streaming system, had the privilege of entering a higher education track and ultimately, of being assigned a task. The ultimate accolade in this society, to which everyone aspired, was earning the privilege of having a job. These were the ones who received the maximum re

 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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