Immigration Vs Automation

Last week’s executive order to build a wall on the US’s southern border and charge a 20% import tax on Mexican goods entering the States in order to protect American jobs is a charade.

It is wage inequality that’s breaking the backs of American workers far more than cheap imports. Until 1975, real wages rose in tandem with productivity, but since then productivity has continued to increase while real wages have fallen. The more automation, the more inequality.

At least since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s, improvements in technology have changed the nature of work and destroyed some types of jobs in the process. In 1900, 41 percent of Americans worked in agriculture; by 2000, it was only 2 percent. This progress can be seen as either good or bad, depending on your point of view. One thing that is certain: it’s inevitable.

No wall, no tearing up trade agreements, no embargoes with China will save the American worker from automation and the revolution wrought by Artificial Intelligence. AI won’t just replace production-line manual labor, but millions of white collar jobs too. Intelligent machines will enter every aspect of the workforce — from legal services, to finance, to nursing. According to a new report from research giant McKinsey, 140 million jobs are predicted to be lost to robots, or artificial intelligence systems (to use a less apocalyptical term), by the year 2025.

And by that year, researchers forecast that machines will be able to learn, adjust, exercise judgment and reprogram themselves.

AI now outperforming humans at everything from chess and Go, to car navigation and astrophysics. Last month, Amazon pushed an update to its Echo lineup of devices which will allow Alexa to respond to some follow up questions without the need of rephrasing the question altogether.

There’s no holding back this tide. Despite the rhetoric from the politicians, productivity in the US has never been higher. We’re already living in era of the Autonomous Economy.

It is why the Time’s technology reporter John Markoff warns of these advances soothing the middle class: “Technology will not be a fount of economic growth, but will instead pose a risk to all routinized and skill-based jobs.”

This rapid technological is already removing jobs faster than it’s creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States.

Yet forcing companies to use people rather than machines will consign those companies to irrelevance, creating more impressive version of buggy whip as Model Ts drive off the production line.

The economics of customer convenience will always win. No one wants people to lose their jobs, but if an Intelligent Agent can relieve us of the hell of customer service hold music, then bring on the bots!

We need to stop worrying about lost jobs and start thinking about what our place in the future workplace will be.

This is why the notion of “saving” jobs so often used on the campaign trail is a bankrupt strategy. Jobs will mutate and people will have to look after and improve the code that runs the robots and the bots. Employers should be actively promoting training for this new age now so their workforces can evolve. The workers who will prosper are those who are adaptable and who embrace technology, the workers who will be coveted are those who can run these new machines. High-paying, highly-skilled jobs will explode.

Mining and old manufacture is not the future. If U.S. economic policy is focused on coal rather than code, the US worker will be consigned to obsolescence.

As no wall is going to keep the AI-powered software out, the only logical way for the American worker to share in any of the spoils of automation is for the US to continue to be the center for AI excellence. This future AI development won’t just be divided three ways by Google, Facebook and Amazon. In the last 12 months, there has been an explosion in American-based start-ups leading Enterprise automation: Pullstring, Conversable, Abot and Viv (recently acquired by Samsung) are all US-based companies, designing Intelligent Agents that are American made and will need to be American run.