Friday, October 21, 2022

What happens when we replace jobs with automation

Depending on how we control the roll-out of new systems everybody will live incredibly interesting, healthy, happy lives of adventure and leisure, or scary lives of misery. We should be working on the restructuring of things, so we avoid the latter scenario. 

Others have been skeptical that we will replace most jobs. I am sure we will replace them, and I think it will happen faster than most of us are prepared to deal with.

One of my rules of thumb is that ‘things that are different are not the same’. You must be wary of conflation and false analogies/equivalencies. 

People are looking at the current progress with AI/ML/DL and automation as if this is not something poised to go into a positive feedback loop and change exponentially. This is something whose nature is different than things we have seen before. 

As someone who has watched this unfold for half a century, I am amazed at the progress we have made. The prior stabs at AI that led to AI winters were different than what is happening now. Back then, those systems did not work. Today’s systems work. It is almost spooky the way that cameras can now recognize and categorize images. I did one of the first voice recognition things in Toronto back in the early 1980s. In a carefully controlled demo, I could get my program to recognize enough speech to navigate a menu, but only if we kept the room dead quiet. Voice recognition is now astonishingly good. It is an entirely different thing. For many things like games, and image recognition, modern systems already exceed the abilities of human beings. 

Over the next couple of decades, automation will replace most jobs. We see it happening all around now. When we first introduced ATMs in the 1980s, there was a lot of resistance to using them. Now, if you are just going to get cash, you go to an ATM. For most other things, I do them from my phone. It is still weird to me that you can deposit a check by phone. 

People do not seem to have noticed much, but we have already replaced all kinds of jobs. Self-checkouts now outnumber cashiers at a couple of our stores. Well paid factory work has given way increasingly to poorly paid service jobs and we are systematically replacing those. 

Lots of people drive for a living and easily half of those jobs will be gone. It may even happen before the decade is out. 

We are already at the point where we need a Universal Basic Income (UBI). People do not need ‘jobs. They need an income. It is time we saw necessary evils (like laborious jobs) for the evil they are and made them unnecessary. We should not make people dependent upon doing things they do not want to do because they need an income. We have enough wealth; we just have not distributed it well. UBI is the way to fix that.

 

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