Five reasons robots will steal your job

At least 50% of jobs will be eliminated in the next 10–20 years. Here’s why.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding technological unemployment. Many articles, YouTube videos, and books talk extensively about robots stealing all our jobs.

So why add to the noise? Isn’t there already enough information out there?

You’re right, there is, but all of the discussion regarding technological unemployment seems to focus on only one factor: Artificial intelligence. Things like self-driving cars and IBM’s Watson.

While that discussion is certainly a good start, I believe there are many more factors that will drive mass technological unemployment. In fact, as the title of this article suggests, I believe there are at least five factors that will lead to the elimination of human labor.

Factor #1: Everything becomes one thing

Remember back in the day when you had…

A TV, radio, cassette tape player, CD player, VCR, camcorder, camera, DVD player, desktop computer, recipe books, a collection of DVDs and CDs, dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, PlayStation, Xbox, physical road maps, notebook for people’s contact details, landline phone, mobile phone, and so on?

Literally an entire house full of random gadgets that all did their own things?

Now all you need is a smartphone. The more than 20 things I listed all turned into one thing.

Everything is turning into one thing. We’re seeing a trend that goes something like this:

∞ → 1

Furthermore, many futurists — including Ray Kurzweil — predict that ‘utility fogs’ will become the building blocks of which everything is made of by 2049.

Utility fogs are basically a collection of collaborative nanobots that can form into any object imaginable. A coffee table, car, house, smartphone, prosthetic limb — anything. Additionally, because these things would be a mere arrangement of nanobots, they can rapidly rearrange themselves to form something else. One could, for example, have a different car every day.

And yes, they predict that these utility fogs will be commonplace, if not ubiquitous, in less than 33 years.

Everything will turn into one thing.

So what does this mean for us humans? Well, what it means is that more and more jobs are being lost due to advances in technology.

Do you know anybody who works at a printing press that prints encyclopedias or roadmaps? Or whose job it is to design cassette tape players? Of course you don’t, they’re out of a job. All of those encyclopedias and cassette tape players have morphed into a single item.

Likewise, Finland’s prime minister made news a little while ago by complaining that Apple ruined their economy by eliminating the need for paper and stand-alone mobile phones. Finland used to be the home of Nokia, and Finland’s paper industry accounted for 20% of their exports.

All of those industries that amounted to a good portion of Finland’s economy have turned into a single device.

Factor #2: Increased efficiency

In another one of my articles, I gave an example of an efficiency-loving neighbourhood that eliminated the need for lawnmower ownership.

In this example, an efficiency-loving neighborhood decides that is is astonishingly inefficient for every single one of them to have a lawn mower that they only use 0.149% of the time. For the other 99.961% of the time, their lawn mowers are just sitting in the garden shed.

Initially, this inefficiency-hating neighborhood decided to each chip in 10 cents and buy a communal lawn mower (or two). It would save them all hundreds of dollars, and the lawn mower would get used maybe 50% of the time, as opposed to 0.149% of the time.

In the end, however, this neighborhood remembered that they’re living in the future, and so they all have 3D printers in their homes. One of them decides to go to https://thepiratebay.se/, torrent Apple’s latest autonomous solar powered iMower, and print it out. (Or if you’re more ethically inclined, let’s say they downloaded a freely available crowdsourced lawn mower design.).

As I said in that article:

Now, instead of the thousands of households in that neighbourhood all having spent hundreds of dollars each to buy thousands of lawn mowers that they all only use 0.149% of the time, they simply have one lawnmower.
One!
Furthermore, that lone lawn mower cost nothing. It’s design was crowdsourced, and its production required no factories, assembly lines, warehouses, trucks, ships, retail stores, supply chains, distribution networks. Nothing.

Overall, consider all of the jobs lost in this lawnmower example due to increased efficiency. Here are just some of the jobs I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Lawnmower designers.
  • The person renting the office to the lawn mower designers.
  • People who work in the lawnmower factory.
  • People who sell equipment for lawnmower factories.
  • The crew of the cargo ship carrying the lawn mowers across the Pacific.
  • Dock workers at the port where the ship will pull in.
  • Truck drivers driving the lawn mowers to the shop.
  • The people who made the truck (basically repeat all of above jobs, but replace the word ‘lawnmower’ with ‘truck’).
  • People working in the lawn mower retail store.
  • The person renting the store to the lawnmower retailer.
  • And more.

All of those jobs lost just due to lawnmowers becoming more efficient.

Okay, but this lawnmower example is pretty futuristic — surely there’s a little while yet before technological efficiency eliminates all our jobs?

Nope. Think again. We’re already well on our way. Here’s a headline published only recently: “Meet the Ardumower: a 3D-printed robotic lawn mower you can build for under $300.

Also, it’s not just lawn mowers. Uber recently declared its intention to eliminate the need for car ownership. Yep, just like that efficiency-loving neighbourhood eliminated lawnmower ownership.

Not only will taxi drivers lose their jobs, but people working at car manufacturers, too. Rather than only using our cars a small fraction of the time (when we drive them), cars will instead be used 100% of the time. As a result, there will way less cars that need to be bought — by no means an exciting prospect for the car industry.

An article on Business Insider put it this way: “Uber’s autonomous cars will will destroy 10 million jobs … by 2025.”

By 2025. In less than nine years. Ten million jobs. Just think about that.

Factor #3: More power at less cost

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably well aware of the fact that the internet allows anybody to instantly communicate with the entire globe… for free.

Well, it wasn’t always that way. In the past, monks were used to write books by hand and then horses were used to distribute those books. Even with the advent of the printing press and motorized vehicles, mass communication remained expensive.

Now, let’s consider Kodak. Oh yeah! Remember them? It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Anyway, in 1996 Kodak had a $28 billion market cap and had 95,000 employees. However, in 2012, Kodak went bankrupt. In that same year, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.

Now, none of that is a particular shocker. Just old jobs being replaced by new jobs, right? From film to digital. Nothing to worry about. Surely Instagram has lots of employees, too.

Well, let’s take a closer look.

In 1996, Kodak had 3,392 employees for every $1 billion in market capitalization. In other words, each of their employees was worth a comfortable $294,737.

Here’s the shocker: Instagram, at a valuation of $1 billion, had only 13 employees. Not 3,392 employees, but 13! Only one employee for every 261 employees Kodak had. Instagram’s employees were each worth an astonishing $77,000,000.

In other words, technology has afforded companies more power at less cost.

In the past, Instagram would have had to have hired thousands of people to work at massive printing presses, thousands more to drive trucks and distribute photos everywhere, hundreds of cleaners to clean the offices and the factory housing the printing presses, and many thousands more to coordinate all of these employees.

However, thanks to the internet, Instragram didn’t need 95,000 employees, like Kodak. They only needed 13 employees to achieve the exact same result.

Factor #4: Democratized power

Back in the day, the only mass communication technology was the printing press. In order to share knowledge and ideas, they had to be converted into words, printed a whole bunch of times, and then distributed (by horse, or more recently, motorized vehicles).

Even then, after all that expense and effort, communication remained limited. One could not, for example, instantly communicate a video or article to the entire globe, no matter how many people they hired or how millions of dollars they poured into it. But, now one can. Furthermore, it doesn’t cost millions of dollars or tens of thousands of employees. It’s free.

The power of mass communication has become universally accessible. Power has been democratized.

While all of this sounds pretty good — everyone having access to global mass communications technologies and all — it also resulted in the loss of countless jobs. Remember Tower Records, Polaroid Corporation, RadioShack, Kodak, Blockbuster, and countless others like them? Democratized communications killed them all off.

Just one example of this is commuters having replaced newspapers with the likes of Facebook and Reddit.

Newspapers employed tens of thousands of people, from the people who managed the printing press, to the journalists, to the truck drivers that delivered the papers.

Sites like Facebook and Reddit, however, don’t need any of that.

Why?

Because they don’t produce anything. Instead, they enable their users to produce things. Does Facebook, the world’s most popular media company, produce any content? Nope. They produce nothing. The same goes for Reddit, and all those other services.

In this way, the democratization of power eliminates jobs.

Democratized power eliminates the need for people who’s job it is to produce and distribute things — because anybody can create and share content.

Moreover, as we already discussed, 3D printers look poised to democratize manufacturing, while will likewise eradicate tens (if not hundreds) of millions of jobs. No need for companies that produce and distribute products if everybody can do it themselves.

Factor #5: Artificial intelligence

Last, but by no means least, is artificial intelligence (A.I.).

Here is just a small selection of jobs threatened by A.I.:

Anybody who drives for a living. Pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers, and of course, taxi drivers — self-driving cars are coming for you.

Factory workers. If you’re still working in a factory, well, the least I can say is congratulations on making it this far. Even before the so-called 3D printing revolution takes place, you’re job is at risk. Ever heard of lights out manufacturing? Basically it’s where a factory literally has zero human workers, and so they just turn off the lighting, heating, and air conditioning, and let the robots do their work. One such factory can remain unsupervised for 30 days at a time, all while working 24/7.

Journalists. Yep, even you too. As an article on The Guardian reported, it’s agreed that by 2030, 90% of journalism will be written by computers. In fact, computers already do sports and business reporting.

But surely jobs that require creativity are safe, right? Like musicians! Well, there are actually already computer programs writing music good enough to fool unsuspecting musicologists, as the BBC reported.

Even jobs on Wall Street aren’t safe. Already, wealth management firm Charles Schwab has “Schwab Intelligent Portfolios.” That’s right, computer software deciding where to invest your money.

Also, you know how almost every kid’s parent tells them they should study hard and become a doctor? Well, guess what. Doctors, too, are already being outperformed by A.I. Human doctors successfully diagnose lung cancer 50% of the time, compared to IBM Watson’s 90%.

All in all

All in all, when you combine these five factors, it’s clear that almost all (if not all) jobs face extinction within the next few decades.

Last year, former Cisco CEO John Chambers said the following:

Soon you’ll see huge companies with just two employees — the CEO and the CIO.

It seems he’ll be proven right.

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