How long do you think it takes before machines do your job better than you do? Automation earlier meant big stupid machines who do repetitive work in factories. Today, they can land aircraft, diagnose cancer and trade stocks.
We are entering to a new era of automation unlike anything that has come earlier. It is estimated that almost half of the jobs are likely to be automated in the next two decades. But wait, Hasn't automation already been around for decades now?
What's different now?
Earlier, things used to be simple. Innovations has made human work much easier. And, then productivity started to rise. This means that more staffs or services could be produced per hour using the same amount of human workers. This eliminated many jobs. But, it also created other jobs that were better and important because the growing population needed work/jobs.
There is a clear progression in terms of what humans do for a living. For the longest time, we worked in agriculture. With the industrial revolution, this shift into production jobs. And, as automation has become more widespread, humans shifted into service jobs.
And, then only a few moments ago in human history, the Information age happened. Suddenly, the rules were different. Our jobs are now being taken over by machines much faster than they were in the past. That might have scared you. But, don't worry, innovation is still there for you.
While new information age industries is in, they are creating fewer and fewer new jobs. In 1979, General Motors employed more than 800,000 workers and made about $11 billion US dollars. In 2012, Google made about $14 billion US dollars while employing 58, 000 people.
Human progress is based on the division of labor. As we advanced over thousands of years, our jobs are becoming more and more specialized. While even our smartest machines are bad at doing complicated jobs. they are extremely good at doing narrowly defined and predictable tasks. This is what destroyed factory jobs. But, look at a complex job long and hard enough, and you'll find that it's really just many narrowly defined and predictable tasks one after another.
Machines are on the brink of becoming so good at breaking down complex jobs into many predictable ones, that for a lot of people, there will be no further room to specialize. We are on the verge of being outcompeted. Digital machines do this via machine learning, which enables them to acquire information and skills by analyzing data. This makes them become better at something through the relationships they discover.
Machines teach themselves. We make this possible by giving a computer a lot of data about the thing we wanted to become better at. If you show a machine all the things you bought online, and it will slowly learn what to recommend to you, so you end up buying more things.
Machine learning has now been able to meet more of its potential because humans have started to gather data about everything in some recent years. The data includes human behavior, weather patterns, medical records, communication systems, travel data, and what not.
What we have created by accident is a huge library machines can use to learn how humans do things and learn to do them better. These digital machines might be the best job killer of all. They can be replicated instantly and for free. When they improve, you don't need to invest in big metal things. You can just use the new code. And, they have the ability to get better fast.
If work involves complex work on a computer today, you might be out of work even sooner than the people who still have jobs in factories. There are real-world scenarios of how the transition is going on. There are machines and programs getting improved more than humans in all sectors, right from pharmacists to analysts, journalists to radiologists, cashiers to bank tellers, and what not. All of these jobs won't disappear overnight, but fewer and fewer humans will be doing them in the future. It is not enough to substitute old jobs with the new ones. We need to be able to generate new jobs constantly because the population is continuously growing.
Productivity is separating from human labor. The nature of innovation in the Information Age is different from everything we've encountered before. Even without new disruptions like self-driving cars, or robot accountants, it looks like automation is different this time. This time the machines might really take our jobs.
Our economies are based on the premise that people consume. But if fewer and fewer people have decent work, who will be doing all the consuming? Will the future see a tiny minority of the super rich who owns the machines dominating all of us? And, does our future really have to be that grim? The Age of Information and modern automation is a huge opportunity to change human society, and reduce poverty and inequality drastically.