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Automation Is Coming… For Your Job

Published January 2, 2017 in Culture , Economics , Philosophy - 0 Comments
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As I’ve been warning for some time, automation of everything is coming.

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.

One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.

Emphasis is mine.

We think of many white collar, knowledge tasks as being the kinds of tasks that computers aren’t good at. Historically that’s been true. That understanding is rapidly becoming obsolete. Computers are becoming very good at these kinds of tasks after all.

We’ve long since relegated blue collar, factory work to robots. The most menial of office tasks have already been delegated to computing hardware. Who has a real personal assistant anymore? Only the richest of the rich. Everyone else uses a electronic device to handle all of the work the human would have once done.

Even the term “computer” itself tells us of a white-collar job replaced by the machine. The word once described a human employee who crunched numbers all day – often for accountants or engineers who oversaw them and told them what math to do. The machines have long since destroyed those jobs in the name of productivity.

Your job isn’t safe, either. It’s only a matter of time. The software keep getting better and better. But the key point is how fast it’s getting better. In the next few years we’re going to see software replace humans in more and more jobs. Some are obvious. Fast food workers are going the way of the dodo – especially in an era of $15 an hour minimum wages. Truck drivers are going away, soon to be replaced by automated vehicles.

This will come much faster than critics like Megan McArdle predict. To be clear, she’s absolutely right about the hurdles the technology faces. What she misses is just how far along the tech already is – and how rapidly it’s advancing. There is one simple factor that will drive rapid adoption of self driving vehicles: deaths. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on our roads. It’s the fourth highest killer in modern America. Self driving vehicles will virtually eliminate those deaths. The public will clamor for them, with torches and pitchforks if they have to.

But I digress. We all know self driving cars are coming because Google, Apple, Tesla and BMW want to be sure that we know. Don’t think that your job is safe because you happen to do intellectual work. It’s not. Software programming other software? It’s coming. Computers teaching your kids? It’s coming. Programs writing books and scripting movies? They’re already here. The time is rapidly approaching when we can even eliminate the actors.

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