A Stitch Fix warehouse in San Francisco. The company relies on algorithms to help personalize shipments to customers.Credit: Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Machines can Replace High Skilled White Collar Work

Michael K. Spencer
Jul 10, 2018 · 5 min read

There is this myth AI, algorithms and robots will mostly replace minimum wage workers. However, with each passing year — it’s becoming apparent white collar professionals may be some of the most impacted.

As we enter the data-age of society, algorithms have more influence and deep learning is being put to the test on the cutting-edge of many white collar professions. This is changing our conception of how AI will impact society and the future of work, in the long-term. We are seeing this in the legal profession, in finance/banking and the beginnings of it in healthcare.

However with the acceleration of industries investing in AI, the “long-term” is becoming more imminent, and while skill-gaps are expected in many sectors, there will also be skill-redundancy as AI catches up and overtakes humans in many tasks that white collar professionals undertake in their jobs.

Much of the leading edge of algorithms in society is also accelerating wealth-inequality. Every week it seems another billionaire tycoon is warning about changes to society that are upcoming and discussing UBI or how AI should be regulated. One quote recently stood out to me, from a rather unlikely source:

Is AI and Automation a National Emergency?

Billionaire hedge fund founder Ray Dalio says artificial intelligence and automation are improving productivity but also causing such a dramatic wealth gap that “a national emergency should be declared.”

Algorithms are impacting industries in ways that we might not have anticipated, for example recently there’s been some buzz about this use case. Clothing design is apparently on the leading edge edge of the way algorithms are transforming the fashion and retail industries.

We’ve known for quite some time automation would hit transportation, retail and finance like a ton of bricks. However as we approach the year 2020, we are starting to see it happen in real-time. From Waymo robo-taxis to new levels of cashierless innovations in convenience stores, cafes and even fast-food — we can see a reckoning is quickly approaching.

Ray Dalio is fairely prophetic when he states:

“My view is that algorithmic/automated decision making is a two edged sword that is improving total productivity but is also eliminating jobs, leading to big wealth and opportunity gaps and populism, and creating a national emergency.

“Largely as a result of it, capitalism is not working for the majority of Americans and is in jeopardy,” he writes. “Yet no one is seriously examining what to do about it.”

This is no visionary Elon Musk, this is a very mainstream financial figure saying this.

Automation will not just decimate the middle class, it could pull down many white collar professionals into the realm of commoners, and even peasants.

The shift will be quite radical, and we are seeing algorithms and sooner than later, robotics that will utterly transform industries that will make the “retail apocalypse” look like a joke.

While I find the cross posting between the NYTimes and CNBC and others fairly annoying, the articles come to the same conclusions futurists like myself have been writing about for years that are supported by the data of innumerable studies.

The Age of Automation Hits Full Stride circa 2023

Academics are warning us as well:

“A much broader set of tasks will be automated or augmented by machines over the coming years,” Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I would say we are about 5 years from the first plateau of acceleration with regards to widespread automation that will occur. We’ll see autonomous vehicles, automated logistics and delivery, and home robot sectors explode, as well as AI becoming more implicated in healthcare, finance and in particular the voice-AI interface becoming more prominent. A lot can change in just five years, when the entire world is entering the data age of artificial intelligence.

Fashion, Faces and the Algorithmic Predictive Society

While the fashion industry is an interesting case study, you just have to look at how the Chinese Government has partnered with some of the most flashy AI-startups on the planet to get a grip on the kind of world we’ll be experiencing in the 2030s.

The technology is futuristic, impressive, and unsettling — all at once. Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

As sophisticated as Microsoft, Faecbook and Amazon’s facial recognition systems have become, SenseTime and Megvii have in recent months shown just how quickly China’s input into the AI race will scale. China is creating one of the most impressive algorithmic nets in the world based on facial recognition, removing barriers between the digital and real world.

What Happens to Algorithms with More and More Data?

However facial recognition like voice search are universal applications of how AI and algorithms become more integrated into our human world. While national security, social credit enforcement and police and criminal investigations come to mind, the real applications of facial recognition are mainly in financial services, e-commerce, retail, and identity verification. That overlaps with a ton of apps, and hastens the advent of automation.

If you follow the advancements of what Google’s DeepMind and GoogleBrain are capable of doing — you get a picture of how Alphabet won’t just be an AI-company, but a transportation and smart city company. The race for the personal assistant of the future is real.

Inequality Will Become an Existential Threat to the Social Order

Billionaire serial entrepreneur Richard Branson told the New York Times in June that a universal basic income is an appropriate response to income inequality. It seems the 1% are getting their story straight and have decided upon the “appropriate response” to the advent of automation. Indeed Chris Hughes thinks giving everyone a $500 government stipend is a good idea.

But technology won’t wait for AI regulation or an implementation of UBI, it will simply continue to accelerate, especially in the 2020s when an AI boom is expected to occur, just as the web exploded or blockchain is becoming its own revolution. Artificial intelligence casts a far wider net for the future of work globally, and now we know white collar workers won’t be spared — in many senses the tasks they do will actually become more targeted by AI and automation systems.

We will continue to live in a world of algorithms, because it is algorithms who anticipate what consumers want, our preferences and behavior will be even more closely monitored. Content isn’t king, it’s not even monopolies, increasingly, it’s just AI. This will test the very tenets of what capitalism even means, and will also create a wealth-inequality explosion where white collar professionals themselves, risk being disrupted.

As the global economy will be impacted in the automation transition, the very fabric of our social order could be challenged.


Futurism articles bent on cultivating an awareness of exponential technologies while exploring the 4th industrial revolution.

Michael K. Spencer

Written by

Blockchain Mark Consultant, tech Futurist, a prolific writer. Always writing. 🌞 DM me on Twitter for quotes: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkspencer/



Futurism articles bent on cultivating an awareness of exponential technologies while exploring the 4th industrial revolution.

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