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The Robots Are Coming, Eventually. Will Automation Displace Half The World’s Workforce?

  • Roughly half of tech experts believe that artificial intelligence will displace half of the world’s workforce within the next five to 50 years.  
  • Many people lose jobs during times of technological advancement; however, this is outweighed by how many people obtain work. 
  • History tells us it is not likely that we will see apocalyptic levels of unemployment and job displacement. 

Since the industrial revolution, technological advancements have accelerated at a dramatically increasing rate. Most of these advances automate jobs, and will do so indefinitely.  

Could the ever-increasing rate of innovative automations also accelerate and exacerbate job losses? Within Silicon Valley and among tech experts in general, there is a good sense of what is technologically possible regarding job automation in the coming years.  

General Artificial Intelligence 

The effect job automation will have on future employment prospects is often discussed in dystopian terms. This fear, however, is usually a worry about general artificial intelligence — i.e., robots that are almost no different from humans in terms of intelligence and consciousness.  

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General artificial intelligence would take away most jobs because AI devices would likely be more efficient than humans, and for a lower cost. Who needs human workers when you have a robot that can learn essentially anything? General AI is the conceptual gold standard for profit maximization.  

Some have said that artificial intelligence will displace half of the world’s workforce within the next five to fifty years. Roughly half of tech experts believe this, while the other half believe artificial intelligence will not have that effect, but will actually benefit humanity.  

General Artificial Intelligence is Unlikely  

However, it is improbable that widely used general artificial intelligence will be developed anytime in any of our lifetimes — if ever.  

As technology continues to progress towards more sophisticated AI, though, we will see radical changes in the workforce because of automation. However, this does not mean that AI will displace half or even a significant percentage of the American workforce.  

Of the career paths that will be most severely affected by workforce automation soon, the vast majority of them will not experience any worker displacement. Moreover, history tells us that if they do, it will be minimal.  

During each technological revolution since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, worries about mass worker displacement have arisen. Still, they have never proven true long-term because technological advancement typically creates more jobs than it takes.  

Job displacement will come, but it will be minimal 

Many people lose jobs during times of technological advancement; however, this is outweighed by how many people obtain work. While there is no guarantee, this trend may continue as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and can do more jobs in the future.  

If we take history as a lesson, which we should, it is not likely that we will see the apocalyptic levels of unemployment and job displacement that some in Silicon Valley are expecting and advertising. 

Instead, what is more likely is that the jobs nobody wants now, such as service and retail jobs, will be automated, whereas the jobs that people do want will either be enhanced through automation or will require new skills to operate with computerized processes during work hours.  

Job loss reaching 99 percent is an absurd estimate that conflates all artificial intelligence with general artificial intelligence. The fact that few in the tech world are willing to say outright is that we will not have artificial human duplicates in the form of robots taking our jobs.  

Instead, narrow artificial intelligence — automation that is very good at only specific tasks, as opposed to an endless array of functions like general artificial intelligence — will likely be implemented at all levels of work in the future.  

According to The Brookings Institution, worker displacement will likely occur in the highest concentrations among low-wage, entry-level jobs. It is here where worry about widespread job displacement is warranted, as there is no guarantee that anyone will help these workers acquire the needed skills to find new jobs.   

This is why companies investing in education are essential for preparing the workforce for the future of work and continued rapid technological changes. 

In preparation for job loss through the implementation of automation, employers could offer employees some form of recompense through genuine opportunities to learn to get a new, higher-skill, and overall better job.  

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