Unlike the past when technology eliminated some jobs but created others, the trend today is toward job elimination, according to writer Geoff Colvin. (“In the Future, Will There be Any Work Left for People to do?” by Geoff Colvin, Fortune, June 16, 2014, pgs. 193-200.) The change has been subtle and has developed over 4 stages. The first came with the industrial age when machines replaced skilled craftsmen. They were replaced by unskilled laborers who performed repetitive tasks on an assembly line. In stage 2, robots took over most of these repetitive tasks while the demand for an educated workforce grew, one that could design and maintain computers systems, for example. Stage 3 began in the 1980s when computers took over medium-skilled functions like record filing, accounting and bookkeeping. During this period, jobs for high skilled workers remained secure as did those for unskilled worker in jobs demanding the manual dexterity robots lacked.
Stage 4, the era of information technology, however, is about to affect all skill levels. The need for lawyers will decline because big data will replace the need for armies of attorneys to do discovery. Doctors increasingly will rely on robots to perform delicate surgeries. Even taxi drivers will disappear when cars learn to drive themselves.
Jobs that require the human touch will survive, according to Colvin. Mediation, the judiciary, hospice and medical services are prime examples. They employ right brain functions which are beyond the range of a robot. What’s more, no matter how well a robot could be designed to mimic human emotions, those displays would never be accepted as genuine.
Colvin is not alone in his concern about the jobs outlook. A conservative economists like Larry Summers who championed bank bailouts as Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush admits he is nervous. (Ibid, pg. 196-7) Without some formula for the future, a few will own the world’s assets while the majority will live in poverty. (See blog 10/28/13) Waiting for the economic Tsunami is not an option. A national discussion on wealth distribution is needed now.