What does the fourth industrial revolution mean to you?
The fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution not in mechanical muscles like the first three, but one of mechanical minds. This revolution will bring great economic growth, as well as faster development, at the cost of the employability of a large majority of the workforce. This revolution will not only affect low skill jobs, but white collar and professions as well. People will become unemployable by no mean of their own.
The fourth industrial revolution is bringing us robots and software that are capable of doing jobs that were originally thought as to be jobs only people could do. We think of technological advancement as new technology being created. Real technological advancement, however, comes from previous technology getting cheaper and more effective. That’s what’s happening to robots. Robots have been here for decades, but their efficiency has only reached a point to be widely used in recent times. The technology to make said robots was not the issue, the issue was that they were expensive and required skilled technicians to handle them, as well as only being useful in very limited situations. In the near future, robots will be capable of independent decision making, and when this moment will come, they will outcompete humans for jobs like no other mechanical muscle ever could. Self-driving cars are already here, only waiting to be approved for the road. But self-driving cars, or autos, are not only useful for driving in. Many warehouses and shipping docks use autos to increase the efficiency. Jobs that were once for people are already being handed down to robots. If you think that your job is not at risk, know that all-purpose robots are already here. They might currently be very slow and ineffective, the insignificant cost means that they are extremely cost-efficient. What costs a company minimal wage could cost them cents in electricity. Whilst a workers needs housing, food and sleep, a robot only needs electricity to stay working. Moreover, what makes these all-purpose robots such a revolutionary technology is the new software that allows them to learn and be trained, instead of programmed to do the same repetitive task. Although right now these robots work mostly in easy jobs in warehouses or assembly lines, they can also work with people, especially children.
You might now say that such technological advancements have been happening throughout history, and that people have created new jobs when old ones became obsolete. In the US, however, most of the higher employment sectors existed one hundred years ago, and are easy targets to be replaced by robots. The largest employer in the US is the retail, followed by cashiers. These sectors are already being transformed to suit robots and machines. If you enter a McDonalds, you are likely to see a machine from which you take orders. In the future, that robot could send the order to a cooking robot, which then delivers it to you, without the use of a single human employee. The newest sector that employs the most people, programmers, is ranked 33rd, and even it is at risk to be replaced by software. The current goal for many programmers is to write a piece of software that can teach itself how to do different tasks by analyzing different software. When such a piece of software will become optimized, it could code other software, making programmers jobs useless. So let’s put it into perspective, during the Great Depression in 1929, the unemployment in the US reached a peak at almost 25% of the workforce, or 11 million people. If the current low-skilled jobs get mechanized, this will create an unemployment of around 45%. These jobs are low-skill, usually for people without higher education. Just like many jobs in first world countries were transferred out into Asia or Africa to save money for businesses, robots will take those jobs for themselves. These people do not have many options, especially when the available options will be taken over by robots. Even if costs of goods will decrease, due to a reduction in costs of production, many people will not have jobs to be able to earn a living, and as history has shown us, economic benefit comes before the need of people.
All this is not to say that you should fear this fourth revolution, but to say that it is inevitable, that we should prepare ourselves for a future that will see robots dominate jobs. The incentives to automate and mechanize jobs far out way the need of the worker. Just as unions failed to stop businesses exporting their workforce to cheaper countries, so they will fail to stop the arrival of robots. The goal for the fourth revolution is not to make people unemployable, but to help improve the quality of life. Our goal is to manage this revolution in a way that harms the least number of people, and benefits humanity the most, may that be by improving living qualities or by boosting the economy, as long as we as a people progress without endangering the livelihood of some people.