What Do We Do After We Automate All The Knowledge Jobs?

from the gotta-do-something- dept

Last week, when talking about job outsourcing, someone wondered in the comment section if we would reach an age where we had automated enough that “no one needed to work”. This is a view that shows up every few years, but never seems to get anywhere, because for every new technology that automates some jobs, plenty of new jobs are created – though, there’s always a (very) painful period for those who need to adjust. When we automated plenty of manual labor jobs, many people moved on to service jobs. However, now that we’re automating (and outsourcing) many service jobs, people aren’t exactly sure what the “next” type of jobs to move onto will be. Here’s an interesting discussion of some predictions for jobs in a post-brain-power-automated world. The trick, apparently, is to focus on jobs that require things that make us uniquely human. That is, not jobs that are simply knowledge-based, but which require “aliveness”. The article doesn’t explain exactly what this means, but this makes sense to me. The way to stay away from being automated out of your job is to have a job that requires things like insight and more detailed pattern matching that can’t easily be automated. Anyway, the article goes in a few different directions (not entirely coherently), but I still agree with the premise that for all this automation, people will discover many more new jobs – and they may discover they’ll be even better than their old jobs.

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Comments on “What Do We Do After We Automate All The Knowledge Jobs?”

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dorpus says:

The True Dichotomy

In my opinion, the true digital divide is not so much about digital haves and have-nots, but about the rarity of middle management jobs.
Community college graduates today enjoy relatively secure and well-paying jobs as nurses, lab technicians, journeyman welders, mechanics, etc. All the propaganda posters we see for community colleges of happy middle-class people in high-tech jobs do seem to be true.
Then there are the high-powered jobs for executives, senior scientists, etc., for the crowd that has at least a master’s degree.
The people left out of this equation are the 4-year college graduates: they are considered too educated for skilled-labor jobs, but too uneducated for high-powered jobs. Historically, 4-year colleges were supposed to produce middle managers, school teachers, or other administrator types. Nowadays, middle managers/administrators are an endangered species, while school teachers are increasingly expected to have advanced degrees.
Perhaps what we need to see is a shifting of resources away from 4-year colleges toward either advanced vocational training or advanced degrees. We’re in a world where nurses with associate degrees are making $80k/yr, while college graduates struggle to get jobs in the $30-$40k range. The educational model of the late 20th century in which everyone was encouraged to become a 4-year college graduate is now an anachronism.

Warren says:

What Do We Do After We Automate All The Jobs?

When I was in kindergarten in the mid 1950’s in New York City, we had a teacher named Mrs. Green. This teacher predicted that eventually all the jobs would be replaced by machines that did all the work. Humans would no longer have to go to work or to work for each other. Exactly how we 5 year-olds were to deal with this, I cannot guess.
A few months later Mrs. Green was gone. I heard that she was replaced because she was a Communist. Naturally, I am not in a position to evaluate Mrs. Green’s ideological positions, since, at the time, I had no idea what a Communist was, except that it was a big deal. And you weren’t supposed to be one.
I also did not know what “Work” was, nor, exactly, what “Machines” were.

But I began to develop an understanding of McCarthyism.

cw says:

No Subject Given

The person who posted in the comment section about the possibility of a completely automated society would have been me. I recognize that *as of so far*, the automation of jobs has created new ones, given that savings in costs funnel investment elsewhere, causing new industries to form. However, I’m not sure that these new industries are necessarily going to continue to require labor inputs as great as that required by upstart industries during previous stages of industrial development. The article you link to speaks of “uniquely human” jobs as being the next frontier in employment. I don’t doubt that human creativity will always play a necessary role in development and innovation, but the majority of the human population isn’t required for that. The number of jobs that are creative in nature have always been proportionately small relative to the total number of jobs. Undoubtedly, the upstart biotech and nanotech industries will create many
research and development positions that require humans, but if most of their base-level processes are automated, will they create as many jobs as IT once did? Maybe it will — maybe the money saved due to automation will allow the number of creative jobs to expand in proportion to the total job base. I hadn’t considered the possibility, and my earlier comments were very speculative.

However, if you get to the point where people’s basic needs can be satisfied at no marginal cost due to automation (perhaps some sophisticated form of nanotechnology that can replicate food like in Star Trek or assemble apartments within the course of an hour), many people won’t need to work — and due to basic human laziness, will choose not to. Granted, that’s a long ways off — In the post you refer to, I was referring more to the far future than the near future.

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