What happens when intelligent robots do all future jobs?

What happens when intelligent robots do all future jobs?

What if artificial intelligence take over all future jobs? First of all, let me say this is just an exercise. I see artificial intelligence as a tool complementing humans rather than replacing them. To be more precise, when I speak about artificial intelligence I’m also including automation and robotics. I’ve been challenged to answer the question, so let me say how I proceed:

  • Evaluate the impact of AI on different society stakeholders (on a stand-alone basis)
  • Add time and space to the equation
  • Mix all together, shake and check correlations and dependencies

I will guide you to 4 possible scenarios on future jobs and I invite you to comment them.

Evaluate the impact of AI on different society stakeholders

What happens when intelligent robots do all future jobs? When I say “stand-alone”, I mean what is the impact of robots on future jobs without taking into consideration any interaction with other stakeholders and not considering time and space that will be added later on. This static exercise is useful to clarify some points since the beginning. Then I will make it more realistic.

Employees. In principle if artificial intelligence takes over all the existing jobs performed by humans, all employees will be unemployed. In this case I won’t have money to pay for all the products and services I need. But it will be the same for all the people around me, including the butcher, the baker, the fireman or the banker. I will still have my time (to do what robots cannot do or what humans prefer is done by other humans), my material properties (if any, like land, buildings, vehicles etc…) and eventually my savings.

Employers. On the production side, they are going to have their products manufactured by robots which are less expensive and more performing than humans. It will be difficult to adopt a strategy based on differentiation, because artificial intelligence will perform every at task at the very best and it will be best for every competitor. Companies will move to cost based strategies and brands will begin to lose their appeal, because there will be less “human” values attached to the products. On the sales side, companies are going to have artificial intelligences targeting their offers to the right people, at the right moment, in the right place. In a nut, more revenues and lower costs.

Government. It exists to provide services to citizens, through work provided by other citizens acting as public employees. Machines will provide services and public employment will disappear. Producing an identity card, repairing a road or patrolling a street will be done by robots. Public education will probably remain the only “human based” activity provided by governments. As robots are less expensive and more efficient than people, the service quality and availability should improve while the public debt should decrease.

Banks and financial institutions. They will have in principle the same benefits of the employers. But their “raw material” is mainly made of money, so their fate will depend upon the existence of cash or value to exchange. If there’s money, banks will continue to exist, if not they will be replaced by something else or disappear.

Fiscal Agency: artificial intelligence algorithms and cross check among databases should help to collect taxes more efficiently. In a digital world, evade taxes or hide from controls will become difficult if not impossible. In a similar way, moving or hiding capitals abroad would become harder than now, assuming countries cooperate.

Healthcare services. Artificial intelligence at home should partially replace the services provided today by doctors and hospitals. Diseases prevention will be so effective that a small colony of tumoral cells will be detected at home and attacked by nanotechnology vectors correcting the issue before it becomes a real problem.

Add time and space to the equation of future jobs

What happens when intelligent robots do all future jobs?It’s not realistic to imagine that tomorrow morning, artificial intelligence and robots will suddenly and completely replace humans. Future jobs will be reshaped by technology and innovation and the impact will be different depending upon place and time.

Employees will fit into four clusters. I labelled them, so feel free to change the names according to your preferences, but keep the underlying concept.

I call the first group, the Superseded. Those who will be replaced first: the majority of jobs based on repetitive and some simple non-routine manual actions will be the first casualties of robots. Examples are drivers, bookkeeping clerks, insurance appraisers, loan officers, telephone operators and many others. According to Forrester, new automation will cause a net loss of only 9.1 million U.S. jobs by 2025.

Some of them will find new professional opportunities that will be cancelled again by robots later on. Part of them, instead, will smartly move to jobs that will remain human based longer, even not forever. This is because some tasks are based upon a cognitive content, that machine will take longer to learn. I call them the Escapers. If you want to read a list of the risk of “computerisation” (which I consider here a proxy of the risk of being replaced by a machine) of more than 700 jobs, you can have a look at this paper of the Oxford University.

A third group is made of those already performing jobs that will “resist” longer. They are those executing, in principle, non-routine cognitive tasks and I named them the Survivors. Jobs based upon creativity, strong social interactions, agility and physical dexterity fit in this category. Teachers, people managing emergencies, therapists, choreographers and artists, sportsmen and trainers, designers are just examples to name a few.

Last but not least, there will be people executing jobs that do not exist yet. The Bloomed. Like data scientists did not exist before the explosion of analytics and big data, new professions will have to create, build and train artificial intelligences. But there’s much more than AI, technology will shape new jobs or transform existing one, so we will see drone traffic optimizers, genetic modification designers, bio-waste managers, 3D printer ink developers, augmented reality architects or crypto currencies experts. The Futurist Thomas Frey provides an exciting list in his blog.

The dimension of the groups and the speed of moving individuals between clusters will determine the impact of all stakeholders. When magazines and articles speak just about the Superseded, I believe the miss the point and just feed alarmistic speculations.

Space is also crucial. In my post Demography explains why robots won’t take our jobs, I said there will be regions with chronic labor shortages and other areas with big labor surpluses. Those having labor shortages have basically two options: open to immigration and / or allow robots to fill the gaps. There will be regions in the world in need of robots. It’s then acceptable to have future jobs performed by robots.

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Mix all together, shake and check correlations and dependencies

What happens when intelligent robots do all future jobs?Private companies are the starting point of this domino. They are pushing on automation, robots and artificial intelligence to lower their costs and differentiate their offer. It’s not a surprise that today the giants of economy are companies having a solid track record in innovation and a technology DNA: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Ebay, Facebook, Amazon. For them it’s not true that robots are replacing employees because the Bloomers are more than the Superseded. Unfortunately it’s not the same in other sectors. Where future jobs are cancelled by new technologies, employees are on the market. Some of them reconvert to freelancers or startuppers, accepting work solutions that are not steady like in the past, the majority simply change job or even country. Despite the alarmistic view of some newsreaders, there are no real evidences that this is happening at a faster rate than the past. Entire sectors disappear and others show up. New companies are created, old companies default.

Scenario 1: Equilibrium. In this post we assume that more and more people will be replaced by intelligent robots. Their spending power will drop. Countries with a welfare state will find more difficulties to subsidize them, pay pensions and maintain the public machine. The Fiscal Agency will collect less taxes from citizens, because of their lower income, but will try to get more resources back from companies that increase their profits thanks to automation, robots and artificial intelligence. Today the fiscal machine usually supports the investments in technology, because they are seen as good practice to gain productivity and competitiveness in the international scenario. We might enter in a phase where it will be important to differentiate taxes by type of production mean, helping those companies relying more on humans than machines. If the public machine reduces employees and costs as well (the majority of services are automated and optimized), taxes might globally decrease. We can expect public clerks will disappear and the government will allocate more resources on education and / or healthcare. Banks and financial institutions will continue to operate basically as they do now, but more efficiently and with less risk. In other words the system finds an equilibrium and tax efficiency is a leading principle.

Scenario 2: Lobbies make resistance. I’m honestly convinced that lobbies in the end disappear when the position they defend become obsolete, but in the meantime they can be useful or make damages, depending on the content. Lobbies can break the equilibrium in scenario 1: innovative companies resist to increase of taxation or relocate production abroad to punish non cooperative governments, unions make the labor market more rigid to defend private and public employees. That would determine an increase of public costs and expenses, private companies crisis and increase costs and risks for banks as well. The wealthy few who invested in robots will own a big portion of society’s resources and influence governments to take decisions favorable to them.

Scenario 3: The system is broken. Employees exit from the labor market. As they have no more spending power they sell their properties, erode savings or invest money in the financial market to make a living. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a rich oligarchy. Governments fail to support the weak portion of the population and collect not enough taxes to provide services. Welfare state collapses. Companies experience difficulties in selling their product and services because demand withers. Banks cannot support private companies as they don’t collect anymore savings from privates. Some say money would disappear at that point. I think the system would simply go back to equilibrium due to the intervention of financial institutions putting liquidity in the market. Which is not very different from what happened with the recent crisis. The difference is this scenario would bring a massive change in values: people would begin to spend their time not in labor, but in other activities now considered more valuable (relationships, personal care, humor and arts, sport etc…).

Scenario 4: Utopia. Those who predict cash will disappear in scenario 3 are right. Labor is no more a mean of exchange to earn money. Time is spent for self-actualization (to use a Maslow terminology) and robots perform all the tasks humans don’t want to do. Machines are not our overlords, but our servants. There are no more private companies looking for profit. Governments exchange natural resources and talented human brains, to design and build robots and machines that can assist humans in all their activities. Money is banned to avoid concentration in the hands of few and people live in a society where goods are shared. It’s not very clear how people will spend their free time but travelling, sports, art, music and reading might be a positive solution.

So what’s your view on future jobs? Are robots going to replace us or not? I’d be happy if you comment below.


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