Dennis Howlett posted this weekend “The robots are coming and we are royally screwed”. In contrast, ZDNet ran my column “Automation is coming, but it'll take longer than you'll think (and won't take your job)”
The timing of the columns was coincidental, but leads to the question - why do we have such divergent views and emotions on the matter? Dennis wrote his after listening to a presentation by Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots. Martin is one of many pessimists on the topic, joined by many others I had written about in this post – Sum of all Fears.
My view on the other hand is conditioned by my research for he book, Silicon Collar. By researching a century of automation, I was taken aback that tens of millions of grocery, secretarial, postal and other jobs continue to survive decades after we would have predicted they would be gone. That led me to write a chapter in the book on 5 “circuit breakers to over automation” that societies have to slow down job destruction. So, my data points show a trend line of “evolution, not revolution” when it comes to jobs evolving as machines become more prevalent in the work place. I am not panicked.
The other learning from my book was the millions of “next-gen” jobs our economy has created in the last decade or so. There are nearly 10 million jobs in the franchise sector. There are as many in new service sectors such as alternative health care (acupuncturists, herbalists etc), ethnic food stores and others. And there are even more, certainly part time ones in the platform economy – in the Apple apps ecosystem, in the eBay work at home model, in the Uber model. Additionally, I see a next gen of energy, space, transportation , technology and new job categories emerge as STEM disciplines change every aspect of our economy.
Finally, and most importantly, I saw a remarkably pragmatic approach in most businesses I interviewed for the book (in over 50 work settings across industries) about the need for both man and machine compared to wildly pessimistic viewpoints from academics, analysts and economists.
People are going to believe what they want to believe. I shudder to think if the pessimistic camp can lead someone as seasoned as Dennis to such a panicky conclusion and to radical proposals like Universal Basic Income, what they are doing to to lay person and the general mood out there.
I will do my part to combat the irrational pessimism but it sure feels like a tsunami out there.