How to Survive the Future of Work in the AI Inequality Economy
How to Survive in Today’s Robotic, AI Inequality Economy
There is too much month at the end of the money for middle class Americans. They are worried about outsourcing, robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation taking their jobs — and further increasing economic inequality. What can you do to survive in the new age of AI and digital work?
Too Much Month at the End of the Money
There once was a time when Americans had more money at the end of the month. They could save this money for a family vacation, send a child to college or put away funds for retirement. However, today’s data shows that “nearly 60 percent of the [U.S.] population stays afloat through deficit spending.”
Simply put, the majority of Americans do not have enough money to feed their families and pay their monthly bills.
“…nearly 60 percent of the [U.S.] population stays afloat through deficit spending.” - Peter Georgescu, Author and Former CEO of Young and Rubicon
In his new book, Capitalists Arise!, Peter Georgescu reports that the top 5 percent receive almost 25 percent of all personal income in the USA and the lower 40% “of the population earn only 17 percent of all personal income in America.” However, Georgescu, the former chief executive officer of Young and Rubicon, does not recommend class warfare. He also is not for abandoning our free market system in response. Rather, he suggests that we should broaden its scope to benefit our society as a whole. We agree with Georgescu and below provide a summary of ideas that have been proven to work for others — and can help you too:
- Don’t Fight AI. AI is not a fad. It is a fundamental shift. AI is inescapable and will change the nature of work and how we generate wealth.
- Don’t Be a Robot. The less robotic your job is, the less likely that a robot can replace you. You will have to get more in touch with your human side to outperform the robots and bots — your new frenemies.
- Up-Skill & Embrace the Algorithms. Nearly every job will fundamentally change in some way as robotics, AI, RPA, and digital transformation initiatives sweep across all America and the globe. Your current skills will be insufficient and you will have to augment these skills with algorithms to earn a decent living.
We will elaborate further on these three recommendations but let’s first take a moment to understand the underlying long term trends and how they are impacting the future of work.
Wage Growth No Longer Follows Productivity Gains for Most Americans
Dr. W. Edwards Deming is known as the American who taught the Japanese quality. We saw the powerful impact of his ideas when the Japanese improved the quality of their automobiles and started to take market-share from American automakers in the 1970s. Additionally, Deming was largely responsible for the scale-up of the US industrial production machine that helped the USA and our allies win WWII. Until his death at 93 years old, he continued to preach five profound words: “It all starts with Quality.”
Deming developed what he referred to as the Chain Reaction of Quality.
- If you improve Quality, errors fall and Productivity rises.
- Higher Productivity leads to lower cost per unit, which in turn allows you to capture more Market-share with high quality low cost goods.
- With more Market-share you can invest in your People and raise the standard of living for society (higher Wages).
Dr. Deming was born in 1900 and for 74 years his chain reaction theory worked. But as the chart below indicates, this started to change in the mid 1970s when we see a growing gap between productivity and wages.
Over time, the gap between productivity and wages continued to expand even as Americans shifted from single earner households to dual earner households when more women entered the workforce. Today, even with two paychecks coming in, this is not enough money for most families to make ends meet. So hard working Americans have turned to a second or third job, freelance work and moonlighting. These trends have given rise to startups that help you make a few extra bucks each month as part of what Silicon Valley calls the sharing economy (umm…sound kinda Marx-Engels?):
Despite all of these efforts (dual incomes, moonlighting, working extra jobs and parents choosing to have less children than previous generations), most Americans still do not have enough money to pay their basic monthly bills — let alone to keep up with the rising cost of healthcare.
According to the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, the distribution of income based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census do not take into account the full impact of taxes and non cash benefits on income distribution. Also, when income classes are split into five quintiles, we find that each quintile does not represent an equal 20 percent of the population, which can distort some of these the figures. When adjusting income distribution by total number of persons (vs. households) in each quintile, the Heritage Foundation reports that the top 20 percent of incomes make up nearly 40 percent of the population. These are fair criticisms and we acknowledge such limitations in the data. However, we should not let perfect become an enemy of the good. For example, if we look at the top 20 percent of those incomes accounting for nearly 40 percent of the population according to the Heritage Foundation, this means there is a big 60 percent of the US population leftover. And we find this 60 percent of the US population matches Georgescu’s data on personal income which finds them in deficit spending each month. In other words, no matter how you play around with the figures, you ultimately come to the same conclusion — the American middle class is being hollowed out. The recent 2016 US election bears this out.
While on the campaign trail, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tapped into a similar sentiment voiced by the voters: the middle class is getting screwed! Intuitively, these millions of voters understand that a democratic free market system cannot survive without a middle class.
Productivity is Still Rising. So Who’s Getting all of the Money?
As the old quip goes, “follow the money.” When we look at the steady climb in productivity decade after decade, starting in the 1970’s up until 2015, we find that only the top earners have seen a commensurate rise in their income. Indeed, most of the economic gains are going to those in the top 1 to 10 percent of the income distribution.
A study of productivity and wage data from 1968 to 2015 by economists Wojciech Kopczuk, Emmanuel Saez and Jae Song found that wage growth for the top 1% mirrored overall US productivity growth during that period. However, when looking at wage growth for typical Americans in the middle part of the income distribution, wages have remained flat since 1973. More specifically, from 1973–2015, productivity rose 73 percent while hourly compensation for the middle class gained only 11 percent.
So what can you do? We believe that you must first understand the current dynamics and long term economic job trends. Next, you should take action and constantly adapt.
Robots and Outsourcing and AI, Oh My!
American workers justifiably fear job loss to overseas outsourcing, robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and other hi-tech automation. Workforce anxiety of losing jobs to hi-tech is palpable. Workers have seen the outflow of high-paying jobs and the breakdown of families and communities across the nation. They have witnessed increased automation through robots in factories and warehouses that have reduced the need for human labor and led to unemployment or underemployment for themselves, families and friends. Last week, while getting my hair cut, my barber told me of a new law enforcement robot that was now patrolling his neighborhood.
Despite all the doom and gloom, insightful and intrepid business leaders and entrepreneurs have not given up:
- Vickers Engineering, located in Troy, Michigan is led by President and CEO, Matt Tyler. The manufacturer, working closely with workers, decided to automate its factory with robots augmenting humans to improve safety, quality and productivity. They now compete against rivals from Mexico, China and Japan. The next step is “digital transformation” of factory floor operations, which includes cloud-based ERP and MES software.
- Veteran-owned Oscar Mike is a 100% American-made lifestyle apparel brand. The non-profit apparel maker which designs, manufacturers, prints and ships each item in the USA, notes that in 1960, Americans purchased 95% of their clothing from USA companies. By 2014, than number had plummeted to just 3%. Located in Marengo, Illinois, OM seeks to play a small role in reversing this trend.
- Lucy Beard is the CEO & Founder of Feetz, which manufacturers sustainable, custom 3D printed shoes from San Diego, California. Feetz recently showcased “The world’s first runway collection of 3D printed shoes at FashionNXT.”
American engineering and manufacturing companies like Vickers Engineering, Oscar Mike, Feetz, Universal Robots and others are among the hundreds of small, medium and large companies seeking to leverage technology to create more good-paying American jobs.
Another class of companies in the the technology and consulting industries are run by small business owners that help small and medium sized owners and their organizations adapt to these tumultuous changes. A short list might include Shopify, Qualityze, SmarterSolutions and Analytics AI-ML (our sister company). Setting up business online for a small business owner (SBO) has become a daunting task. The SBO must understand online marketing and SEO; know how to manage dozens of social media and other marketing channels; be able set up a website that integrates with order management, payment and logistics systems; must keep up with ongoing changes to Google, Bing and Facebook algorithms and advertising options; and integrate all of these systems and analyze the data in order to make informed business decisions and adapt to changing market conditions. Shopify simplifies many of these activities, making it affordable and manageable for the masses to conduct business online.
Qualityze performs a similar service for any small business manufacturer or life science company that must keep up with the FDA’s or other regulatory body’s compliance and quality standards. Qualityze makes previously very expensive Enterprise Compliance and Quality and Management systems affordable to the little guy through cloud-based technology leveraging the Salesforce.com platform.
Smarter Solutions provides coaching, training, and software to help business adapt to change by improving their business processes. As organizations from mom and pop shops to multinational enterprises seek to implement digital transformation initiatives, use robotic process automation or take advantage of machine learning AI, they will have to understand process flow. Processes are the fundamental building blocks of any organization and they control the customer journey and user experience. Forrest Breyfogle and his team at Smarter Solutions leverages data and performance metrics to help organizations improve their high value-add business processes and adapt to change.
Finally, our sister company Analytics AI-ML helps small and medium sized business owners grow their company. We do this by leveraging AI-Powered Customer Analytics within the prospect to payment process to help SBOs attract qualified sales leads, fulfill orders and receive payment. We have found ways to bring the benefits of AI machine learning to SMEs in a manner that is practical and affordable. Most SMEs do not have the deep pockets of large enterprises to bring in top talent, keep up with the Big Data explosion, or pay for expensive ERP, MES, SCM and BI technology systems. However, without the ability to integrate the data from these types of systems it is difficult to compete in today’s hypercompetitive, global market. Worse yet, it will be impossible for an SME to compete in the coming years as AI and machine learning transforms the landscape.
There is no promise that we will be able to fully offset previous job losses that plagued the nation ever since the mid 1970’s or help every SME to adapt to tech change but every little bit we do today can help another American family tomorrow.
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It’s the Robot, Stupid!
It’s no longer factory workers in Mexico or China nor call center reps or accountants sitting in India or the Philippines that will take American jobs. In the coming months and years, robots will be doing more of our work. This means that you will have to up-skill to handle more complex work that a robot cannot yet handle. Additionally, you will have to learn to work alongside a robot or bot — heck, even think like a robot in order to manage these new virtual workers and to troubleshoot them when they go off track.
The new robots are software, not just hardware. These “bots” are often referred to as cognitive chatbots and robotic process automation systems. You are familiar with the AI technology used by these bots from your experience with Google Voice, Siri, Alexa, Google Home, Amelia and IBM Watson Conversation.
These new software bots do routine and tedious desktop jobs in place of or in support of real people. For example, robotic process automation (RPA) can:
- Manage and clean up your email inbox
- Transfer data from online webforms to spreadsheets and vise versa
- Copy and paste data from one system to another
- Screen-scrape text or images from a website and update them into a spreadsheet or other document
- Check files from ftp location and download to a folder
- And a growing number of even more complex activities usually done by people
As shown in the video below, software robots can now do the repetitive tasks of human beings. These bots enter information information into an Excel spreadsheet, send email, transfer data from one system to another and so much more.
Hollywood Hype of the Future is NOW!
The new CBS TV show, Wisdom of the Crowd, is just the latest in Hollywood movies that showcase Artificial intelligence (AI) at work in our daily lives. Real people online log into an app or the website and work with a team of machine learning AI techies to solve crimes such as murders and kidnappings. When humans work alongside computers and their algorithms crime-solving can be dramatically improved — that’s the premise of the show. Watch upcoming episodes on CBS Sunday evenings and you decide.
You have heard of A.I. films such as The Matrix, RoboCop, Bladerunner, Ex-Machina and I-Robot. Many of these films are set in the future, but for American workers and job seekers today, the future is now — it has arrived.
We have entered the Age of AI and there is no looking back. You will have to learn fast and adapt quickly to survive.
Learn to Earn in the Age of Inequality
- Don’t Fight AI. AI is not a fad it is a fundamental shift. There once was a time when we roamed the savannahs of Africa as nomads foraging and hunting for our food. Then we discovered seeds and seasons and along came the Agricultural Era, allowed us to settle down into communities. Then in the 19th century, the discovery of the steam engine and electrification pushed us headlong into the Industrial Age. By the 1960s more American workers were processing symbols than were “making stuff,” which led to the first phase of the Information Age. We are now in the midst of another historical shift in how we create wealth. We call this the Phygital AI Era. AI will power both physical stuff (people and tangible things) of the past and digital tech of today and tomorrow. But this time the change is more jarring, more unforgiving. AI is inescapable and will change the nature of work. The change is already underway and no person or industry will be untouched by artificial intelligence (AI), robots, software bots and automation. Millionaire Andy Rubin, founder and creator of the Android mobile operating system, says that AI will be bigger than the Internet. We think Andy’s spot-on!
- Don’t Be a Robot. The less robotic your job is the less likely that a robot can fully replace you. You will have to identify your market niche. Look for the intersection where your innate talents lie, there is growing market demand and where AI and robotic automation cannot compete with you. For example, musicians, dancers, plumbers and athletes have amazing body control and manual dexterity that most robots and automated software cannot replicate. It may take decades for the robots to catch up with you. AI and robots can’t beat humans when it comes to emotion, creativity, empathy, human touch, inspiration, leadership or physical movement and dexterity. But don’t stop there! You must up-skill and augment your talent with algorithms.
- Up-Skill & Embrace the Algorithms. Nearly every job will fundamentally change in some way as robotics, AI and digital transformation initiatives sweep across the nation and the globe. Your current skills of will be insufficient to compete in the coming months and years. Additionally, you will have to augment those new skills with algorithms to earn a decent living and care for your family and loved ones. Take the example of the artist, plumber, athlete or musician we mentioned earlier. In addition to not being robotic, they must learn how to market and brand themselves online since that is how they will be found by hiring managers, recruiters, agents or customers. This is an example of up-skilling. Next, they will have to educate themselves on how data and algorithms work. They need not become an imminent authority in data analytics or algorithms but they will need to understand the basics, the fundamental principles. Without this knowledge they will be unable to leverage algorithms to “scale their talent,” which they must do in order to make a living wage. An example of how they may leverage algorithms to augment their talent is by using an low cost RPA tool like WinAutomation to handle many of their tedious online marketing, file management, and accounting tasks, freeing them up to focus on higher value-added activities that make them money.
We find ourselves in the midst of historical change at an unprecedented rate. Unfortunately, many will not make it. Don’t let that be you. The pace of change is leading to economic inequality across all races, genders, industries and nations. There is no promise that free market capitalism in its current form will be our savior just as communism and its centralized planning did not save the former Soviet Union.
At the macro level we must implore our civic leaders and business leaders to effect change and invest in our citizens or we will truly create what calls a “useless class” of Americans that are both unemployed and unemployable.
At the micro — personal — level, we must take personal responsibility for our futures and that of our families by making the change now:
- Understand that the robots, automation and AI are here to stay and they WILL take your job if you do not change. Failure to adapt can be fatal.
- Next, when they zig, you zag. Don’t try to compete against robots; instead become less robotic and more human
- Finally, “up your game” through upskilling and embrace the algorithms. Algos are your friends.