The fear that machines might replace us is nothing new. Since the movie “Modern Times” by Charlie Chaplin, it haunts novels, essays and movies. It even goes back to Antiquity, when we wondered if an oxen pulling a plow meant our work force was obsolete.
Now that the robotization of tasks is becoming the norm, we’ve never been so afraid of losing our positions. We ask : Will these mf robots steal our jobs? and specialists give us the most alarmist answers. But let’s pause for five minutes and take a look at the situation… starting with number.
(TW : mention of suicide and drug abuse)
According to McKinsey & Cie, 800 million jobs will be automated by 2030. Gartner Inc.’s report about the impact of artificial intelligence on the labor market indicates that in 2020, AI will create 2.3 million jobs, while cutting “only” 1.8 million of them.
By 2021, AI will generate $ 2.9 billion in profit and “replace” 6.2 billion hours of human labor. We hardly apprehend these vertiginous figures.
Historically, economic transitions have always started with a phase of job loss, before other jobs were actually created. The “pivot”, according to estimates, will be 2020. This refers to the switch between the time when AI cuts more jobs than it creates, and the one when more jobs will be created than lost.
By 2025, we should end up with 2 million new jobs.
Will the low-skilled jobs disappear first ?
I’ve been ask this question many times. The answer is not so obvious.
Most certainly, the “white-collar workers” will be the first to be replaced : accountants, legal experts, secretaries, etc. Artificial intelligence can easily perform their tasks, faster and more efficiently. This is a productivity gain (in terms of working hours) and a financial one (salaries of qualified employees, social security charges etc.)
The investment in AI’s services will be quickly profitable. In new technologies, the cost always drops after a while. As a second step, this reservoir of productivity and capital will be used to replace the low-skilled workforce, in other words, the least expensive for employers.
What if automation made our tasks more human?
Let’s right away put a cat among the pigeons of unionism : how many of these “manpower” positions are dehumanizing, precisely?
The industrial revolution was built on the use of men as if they were robots
Workers are assigned purely mechanical and repetitive tasks, without reflection, and their bodies (arms, hands etc.) are used as disposable tools. The impact on physical and mental health at work is well known. Recently, the most shocking example is Foxconn’s regular suicides scandal. A former employee explains: “I take a circuit board on the chain, I scan the logo, put the circuit board in an antistatic bag, stick a label on it and put it on the chain. Each step takes two seconds, I do five operations in ten seconds. Foxconn engineers are constantly rationalizing … down to the smallest gestures of employees. “(In “La machine est ton seigneur et maître” ed. Agone)
Humans are not made for that.
What if the massive robotization of factories was a way to bring back robots and men in their righteous place?
It would also preserve the bodies on dangerous tasks, avoiding work accidents that ruin human lives (and induce social security costs, by the way.)
We will create better jobs, for a better customer service
Let’s take a look at American Stitch Fix, the company that specialises in personal shopping services. Their AI targets clothes that might suit you from a huge database (virtually all items available on the web), a task impossible for a human employee. It would take us days, the algorithm does it in a split second. It then leaves the final appreciation to the employees, in charge of personally advising you through your makeover. As a customer, you feel beautiful and pampered, while Stitch Fix has created 65 data scientists positions and thousands of fashion designers jobs. The company made a $ 730 million profit in 2016, and its 2017 IPO was estimated between $3 and 4 billion …
In retail, the prospects are huge: it is now AI that will advise you and automatically manage the stocks. The robots will bring you the Nikes you want from the backstore and pack everything, you will check out at the automatic pay station or it will be shipped to you directly at home.
Want some pizza on Friday night? The Pizza Honk Honk autonomous truck is already a thing in the US. The company Zoom Pizza cooks at an industrial pace of 360 pieces per hour. Robots have their own little names : Georgio puts the spicy tomato sauce, Marta the regular one. It’s food without soul, it doesn’t have the flavor of an italian mamma’s love, but it’s an unbeatable gain of productivity.
We must always focus on improving the customer experience.
If we replace a human and make an AI operate directly with the public, it must make sense. It’s not about automating for automating.
If, instead of talking to your banker, you end up chatting with a bot that doesn’t understand anything to your problem, you will lose your time and patience.
We can be smarter than that. In malls, why not moving the cashiers to the sections? Instead of beeping your potatoes, they could advise you : is it for cooking fries or gratin?
Before fearing a robot might take your job, ask yourself first if it will hire you
One of the jobs to be soon replaced is recruiter, isn’t it ironic? Or let’s say, artificial intelligence is a great help to head hunters. It already does the most tedious tasks : writing ads, sourcing, answering the instant messages. AI allows recruiters to save valuable time: in a large database like Linkedin, it checks the most suitable profiles, targets the required skills, estimates experience etc.
From now on, your resume must be readable by a software and SEO-friendly. First, you will probably fill in a form, then chat with a bot, which will check your suitability for the position (diplomas, hourly availability, geographical position) and set an interview.
Science fiction? Nope. Vera is a virtual HRD who works with 300 companies, including l’Oréal and Pepsi. She conducts the job interviews via Skype. She understands your emotions by the tone of your voice, analyzes your choice of words, and determines if your profile is what the company wants.
In the same way, young talents applying at Google had to undergo this recruitment process. There is a sense of frustration, because while AI is a valuable tool for HR, it does not help you understand why you haven’t been selected or how to do better next time.
Not sure if artificial intelligences will be more objective while hiring someone, even if we wish them to be. Unfortunately, they could reproduce human biases
If they learn that a certain profile (age, gender, origin) is statistically more often found in higher positions, they could interpret it as: “These profiles are the best, let’s look for similar ones”. Once again, pure logic : the machine thinks with zeros and ones, it’s not socially ahead of us.
Beyond the recruitment process, AI might as well accompany us throughout our career, as personal coaches. We will change positions twelve times in our lives, on average. We will acquire so many skills and agility along the way. In our generation, no one sees themselves in the same job forever.
However, not everyone has the right cards to play. Not everyone lives in a major urban center that centralizes most of the jobs. If the school system has taught you for years skills that are now “useless”, who is to blame? Not everyone is able to professionally reinvent themselves throughout life.
Here we are : what about the million people left behind?
Yes, the shifts in the job market will have devastating social impacts
One must be unconscious to deny it, and stay unprepared for this turning point.
According to McKinsey & Company, in the US, 73 million people will lose their jobs during this industrial revolution 4.0.
For example, 3% of the US workers are in a vehicles driving related position. Not to mention all the jobs that come with it (mechanics, staff in the countless motels and roadside restaurants, etc.). The total pay for truck drivers is $ 300 billion a year, which gives you an idea of how much money will be “saved” if companies replace them by autonomous trucks. No wonder Uber and Tesla are getting fast and furiously into the race. Elon Musk’s brand is better known for its sexy powerful cars than for being the #1 autonomous freight company. Whether we want it or not, It’s happening.
The other weapon of (jobs) mass destruction in the US has a cute name : Waymo, the autonomous car by Google-Alphabet. Say goodbye to Uber drivers. In their daily toil to earn peanuts, they are massively (and against their will) providing data to train the AI that will take their job.
Toyota and Uber do not wish to publicly speak about that issue, do they even have a real policy on that matter?
Through each employee, a whole community is impacted. So many families survive on one salary.
What is the point of impoverishing already precarious populations, of widening inequalities and starving citizens who, let us not forget, are armed? No profit will be drawn from this situation, absolutely none. If there’s blood in the streets, no one wins.
According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate in the US has done nothing but increase (+30% since 1999 according to the BBC), mainly in rural areas, hardly hit by unemployment and impoverishment. In the same vein, the country has never recorded so many deaths by overdose, to the point that paramedics do this all day. American society might look already ill, therefore technology must be at the service of life, and the good life.
There’s a sense of social emergency to reposition people whose jobs will be automated.
We need to feel useful : work is not just a way to make a living, it’s about dignity.
The USA is just an example. In what we call the “developing” countries, the impact on the transport professions alone is even more massive.
The industry 4.0 : how to negotiate a social turn in maximum speed without hitting a wall
Let’s take a step back : radical changes in the labor market have already occured in History. In the early 20th century, New York is literally congested with horse crap. Cars arrive : drivers of carriage and farriers lose their jobs but dozens of trades are born, related to automobile, such as driver, manufacturer, insurer, driving school etc.
In “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, the economist Joseph Schumpeter elaborates the “creative destruction theory”. According to him, capitalism, in its DNA, is in constant transition and reinvention. Old elements are destroyed to make room for new ones. Any innovation, any progress necessarily implies the destruction of the structures that existed until then.
According to Joseph Schumpeter, politicians are not aware of this because their goal is first of all to win votes, thus to reassure the working class by preserving the economic structures in their current functioning. On the contrary, businesses are agile by nature, it’s a matter of life and death to them.
This theory is relevant but it doesn’t take into account the time variable. The transitions mentioned above have taken decades: today, we estimate it at 5 years.
For the first time, we are in a paradigm where technology evolves faster than our ability to understand it and to measure its social impacts.
We simply do not have the tools or the structures to apprehend it.
The political decision-making process is aberrantly slow. While elected officials are having a meeting to decide the color of bus shelters, the time of technological innovation is exponentially accelerating. If parliamentarians do not take the measure of it, they will become public threats, an open door for populism. We would like statesmen with a true vision, rather than puppets who serve their own agenda.
Companies directors also have a leading responsibility. Few of them consider it a part of their job to take care of human issues. But we would like to see a new generation of leaders changing the rules and creating other models.
The advent of robots will create more jobs than it will destroy, but they won’t be the same.
A mother of three with no degree who worked on an assembly line, or the low-skilled worker who was driving a forklift, won’t turn into data architects overnight. Those are the challenges business leaders will face in repositioning their staff.
We can go slow, but we can’t go back
If we do not innovate in Europe, competitors will do it for us and sell us their robots. We may slow down the pace a little bit, but it’s unthinkable to back down.
The man and machine cooperation produces unbeatable results. Man alone can never be as efficient and quick as with the help of the machine, and the machine alone would work stupidly (artificial intelligence is stupid in itself, it doesn’t understand what it does).
It’s about training your staff to get along with artificial intelligences. We have to learn to work with them (to be honest, it’s more baby-sitting them than anything else).
Tomorrow, capital will be in the hands of those who own technologies, algorithms, robots and data.
We are already witnessing the fragmentation of society : the very rich on one side, the very poor on the other, no more middle class.
To save the day, some say (for example, Elon Musk) that universal income is inevitable. Others believe that it’s necessary to tax the robots in order to compensate the reduction of public money income (the “lost” jobs are lost salaries that won’t pay taxes). Some are outraged at this idea : why taxing entrepreneurs in robotics, when they are the ones who create jobs?
It’s not that eccentric to imagine, for example, reinvesting a portion of the capital saved through the automation of tasks, in training and redeploying staff.
Automation is not bad in itself, except when it takes place in a context of very low-economic growth and becomes the tool of wild capitalism.
Who is wrong, who is right, who am I to decide? However, the immense transition we are experiencing with the advent of AI might be an opportunity to go from deadly capitalism to a new economic model, more viable and livable.