back to article Automation won’t take your job until the next recession threatens it

Good news! Automation capable of erasing white collar jobs is coming, but not for a decade or more. And that’s also the bad news because interest in automation accelerates during economic downturns, so once tech that can take your job arrives you’ll already have lived through another period of economic turmoil that may already …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    AI: The new fusion?

    > the world is currently in “an era of investment and experimentation” with technology. The effects of such eras, he said, generally emerge ten to fifteen years in the future.

    Where have we heard that phrase before? Oh yes. In answer to the question When will nuclear fusion be ready for use?"

    And that has been the answer for at least the past 40 ... 50 years.

    Is AI going the same way. It is possible. There is a big difference between demonstrating something in the lab and ironing out all the flaws necessary to make the leap into a mainstream world. One with all the complexities, unknowns and unknown-unknowns that have a nasty habit of only becoming apparent after the smoke clears.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: AI: The new fusion?

      Read the SAIL archives from the mid 1960s, and I'm pretty certain you'll find that it's been 10-15 years away for at least 50 years already.

  2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Economists can't predict economies. Why on earth would we trust them to predict technologies?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      shhhhh! You'll upset the communists dismissing their dream not having to do any work with your talk of facts and reason.

      1. Arctic fox
        Headmaster

        RE "shhhhh! You'll upset the communists dismissing their dream....."

        I have rarely seen a more clumsy and politically ignorant piece of trolling. This whole AI and jobs schtick is the ultimate wet dream of the Managerati and the owners of capital that employ them.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: RE "shhhhh! You'll upset the communists dismissing their dream....."

          It's my dream too. The sooner we can offload the graft on to the machines and get on with our lives of leisure the better

          1. LucreLout

            Re: RE "shhhhh! You'll upset the communists dismissing their dream....."

            It's my dream too. The sooner we can offload the graft on to the machines and get on with our lives of leisure the better

            Sadly, that day will never come. Unless, of course, you mean "The sooner we can offload the graft on to the millennials and get on with our retirements the better", in which case I hope you have a stonking pension accrued, otherwise that too ain't ever going to happen.

            Any transition away from work requires a transition away from wealth (people will not be paid to do nothing - who would do the paying?). You can bet your bottom dollar that the transition will be bloody, and that things will get worse (properly worse) before they get better. The end game looks appealing, but the transition will be horrific for all involved. I personally don't want to be around when the transition begins....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You'd think interest in automation would peak

    During economic booms, when wages are rising and it becomes harder to find employees and they keep asking for raises...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You'd think interest in automation would peak

      ...and presumably then there is some surplus to invest in R&D and take some innovation risks.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: You'd think interest in automation would peak

        When things are going fine, nobody wants to rock the boat. And spending on R&D to "stay still" is robbing shareholders and executives of their just deserts.

        But in a recession, you've gotta find savings or the CEO salary might take a hit. Or, worse, the company may even fail and the CEO be forced to find another job. So you fire someone, and if the machine can do 70% of their job, you're onto a winner. (Or you don't hire someone and put in a machine in instead.)

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: You'd think interest in automation would peak

      @ DougS

      Apparently there is a push to roll out further automation in the US fast food industry thanks to the demands for higher minimum wage. The BBC also had an article (and video) of an automated strawberry picker. When people are too expensive the business fails or alternatives are applied.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You'd think interest in automation would peak

        Saved me some typing, thank you. Add insurance claims processing to that list as well. Automate almost all of that and kick exceptions to the few survivors left. I expect to see more of that going forward.

        Addendum, picking strawberries is one of the toughest agricultural processes around. Get this one right, apply it to other agricultural goods, and the cost/lack of migrant labor isn't as much of a problem here in the Central Valley, Calif.

  4. SVV

    AI proof job

    The most secure job would appear to be "journalist who churns out endless stories about how AI is going to take away all our jobs", judging by how often I read it in most news sources I regularly peruse. Unless of course, somebody's already written the rather trivial program that can churn out endless varieties of story on the same theme, using current dates, made up researcher and research insitute names, etc.

    Now, where's my robot maid with my lunch got to?

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: AI proof job

      > The most secure job would appear to be "journalist who churns out endless stories about how AI is going to take away all our jobs"

      Actually it could be one of the first to go.

      Google have a Digital News Initiative scheme to replace hacks with AIs. They have been investing in the UK for a year or so already.

  5. Aynon Yuser

    Automation does take away jobs and does put more profits into the pockets of the corporations. The government also loses money because of the income tax collection loss from the human worker. The loss of income for a human affects the entire chain of support offered to their families, therefore affecting the entire local economy as a whole.

    I've read somewhere (I'm too lazy to find the source) that the government was looking into charging an extra tax to each machine to offset the income tax loss that a human worker would have paid. I'd like to see that money go towards schools, hospitals, drug addiction clinics, fitness and health recreation facilities, etc lowering or elimninating their costs. An entire community should benefit from automation, and not just to completely line the pockets of the wealthiest corporations.

    The corporations are sneaky. I'm sure they'll lobby hard to ensure that they get everything and the people get nothing.

    1. LucreLout

      The corporations are sneaky. I'm sure they'll lobby hard to ensure that they get everything and the people get nothing.

      Which is why the peoples best defence is a good offence - buy shares in the sneaky corporations to ensure the people do see the benefit. All shares somewhere down the line are owned by real people, thus all fiscal benefit a company produces accrues to real people.

      Its completely illogical to choose to live in a capitalist country (even France still qualifies, just) and not take the opportunity to buy a stake in its prosperity.

  6. StuntMisanthrope

    Boo!

    #thatisall #makeortakewouldbeabettertitle

  7. Hans 1
    WTF?

    Late to the game ?

    Good news! Automation capable of erasing white collar jobs is coming, but not for a decade or more..

    We have been selling software capable or replacing white collars for years, mind, afaik, no one got fired because of it at our customers, customers did cancel some outsourcing contracts, though ;-).

    Customers use it to free time of those experienced white collars so they can concentrate on quality, or so I am told ...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Modern Toss...

    I liked a cartoon in a recent issue of Private Eye, where a manager was reassuring a worker not to worry about automation.

    "We offered your job to a robot. He didn't want it".

  9. katrinab Silver badge

    One big difference

    The things you can do with a PC today, you could do in the 1990s with a Unix workstation that cost about £20,000+. Now the gap between what you can pick up in PC World and more expensive kit isn’t so big, and looking at the more expensive kit doesn’t really tell you what you will be able to get in PC World in 20/30 years time.

    1. Christian Berger

      another difference

      While your 1990s Unix workstation had simple interfaces making it simple to automatically process, for example e-mails into commands for a database, we now neither have people with basic computer skills, nor have simple interfaces for office automation.

      So now instead dictating a text and handing it over to the printing department, people spend hours looking for cliparts and fonts to put into their printed documents.

  10. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Isn't it that the time to viable fusion technology advances by five years every decade?

  11. oxfordmale78

    AI can't handle managers

    The problem is that AI will never be clever enough to handle fuzzy requests from white collar managers and translate them into a real product. This article also ignores the human need for (psychopath) CEO's to surround themselves with an human audience they can play and mess with. There is no fun in threatening to fire an AI bot.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: AI can't handle managers

      While unlikely to be smart enough to fully understand fuzzy requests, I am sure AI will develop the wherewithal to be able to defenestrate fuzzy managers.

      It occurs to me that although automation may not be about to take your job in the near future, it may well run you over with one of it's developmental models.

  12. LucreLout

    Article is missing the obvious....

    “Our current era of mobile tech doesn’t measure up to the radical 1990s,” he said, as shown by the fact that productivity gains appear to have stalled for a decade or more.

    I'm not sure that's technologys fault. For reasons that remain unclear, whenever the productivity problem is discussed, it gets pinned onto the financial crisis, when its far more likely caused by the Millennials entering the workforce and not being robust or skilled enough to perform.

    “Even with the most generous assessment of mis-measurement we cannot explain the slowdown in productivity since the mid-2000s.”

    Again, the clue is in the skinny jeans, comedy hair, and excessive sensitivity & emotion.

    Anyway, the article misses the point - there will be a 10-15 year lead time for white collar roles to be replaced with AI, AFTER we can produce an AI that can handle the tasks; We're not there yet. Cutting code is only one part of being a developer, the main part, sure, but there's the other stuff such as interpreting vague requirements, knowing what the spec doesn't state, etc etc. The same applies for other roles - accountants and solicitors both attempt to interpret the law in ways their principle finds most beneficial, rather than simply follow rules.

    Once we have the tech working properly, there comes the cost of scale issue - spending billions developing the AI will make it initially very expensive to use, meaning its cheaper to stick with fleshy staff. Eventually that cost comes down and role decimation follows, but we're at leats decades away from any threat there.

    Boomers and Gen X will be retired, and the Millennials will have to figure out how to respond to it, but that's no different to the role evolution previous generations have adapted to and overcome - 25 years ago many roles that seem ubiquitous today didn't exist and were not readily forseeable.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

      Re: Article is missing the obvious....

      Much though it's tempting to blame Millennials (I'm gen X, but have a lot of Millennial friends), I doubt that is the case.

      I think it is more probable that increased regulation, globalisation, complexity, and a little consideration for the rest of the world is likely to result in a slowdown in productivity gains, not to mention that at some point productivity probably will plateau. There are human limits in terms of effective communication.

      It's also very difficult to counter the established set of operating systems and social media, particularly given the increasingly widespread refusal to pay for social media, applications, and entertainment (mostly thinking about the horrid scourge of free to play games here).

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