100's of M2M / IoT blog posts.

What do we do with the 'Technologically Unemployed'?

by Larry Bellehumeur   |  Feb 26, 2016  

I was watching the original Star Wars (Episode 4 for the nerds that read my blog) with my kids the other day.  Having seen the most recent Star Wars in the theatre (in 3D, no less), my 11 year old son commented that the special effects were not that spectacular.  As a fan of the original, I was a bit shocked, but maybe I shouldn't have been.....what was amazing for the mid-70s (in terms of technology) truly does pale when compared today.  We simply have much more "technology horsepower" than what George Lucas did back then, as well as more financial backing from Disney. 

What does not change quite as fast as technology is some of the great thinking about technology itself.  One such idea was the idea behind the term "technologically unemployed".  Basically, it refers to the "discovery of means of economizing the use of labour being able to out run the pace at which we can find new uses for labour". 


This sounds like a term from a modern day economist, does it not?  Actually, the term is closing in on 100 years old!  It was invented by the well-known economist John Keynes way back in 1930.  Back in his day, Keynes was likely talking about how the advances in Industrial production had replaced much of the manual labour that was used for centuries before.  However, the term also is uncomfortably accurate in describing what is happening by the advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence today. 

This problem is much harder to solve this time... 

In Keynes time, the level and depth of work that was being replaced by machines was pervasive, but not nearly to the same extent.  It mostly affected Industrial fields such as agriculture and manufacturing.  While that was bad enough for many works, it pales to what can be replaced by today's technology, and this may make this problem way worse than any other time in recent history. 

Sure, a big number of the roles that are going to be replaced have a similar angle to what was replaced in Keynes days....jobs such as entry level cooks, cashiers and basic manufacturing do seem like obvious candidates to be replaced by today's robotics technology.  This is not any different than the manual labour roles that were replaced by the modern engine.  What is different is best described by the term "Machine learning"... 

For the most part, jobs that were automated involved roles that were quite repetitive and predictable.  The idea of replacing a role that involved a higher level of cognitive thinking and decision making was never possible...until now. Machine learning refers to a particular sub-section of the Artificial Intelligence realm and refers to how computers/software are able to gather information, digest it and learn to use similar behaviour for future decisions.  This is similar to how Pandora knows your songs and how Siri knows how to tell me the weather forecast. 

It is also how many activities (such as legal research, driver-less cars and data analysis) can be deemed to be jobs that may be done by AI in the near future.  The idea is not that these jobs will be fully eliminated, but one has to expect that the number of people needed to do these roles will not be increasing in the future. 

The Bottom Line

Is it all doom and gloom?  No, there will always be new jobs created in fields that do not exist today (I mean, when I was 10, the idea of having a career based on IoT would have been Star-Trek like).  However, we may need to re-think the idea that having your kids go to a good college and get a degree was enough to ensure their future success....