It’s official. Us millennials are going to have all of our jobs taken over by robots within our lifetimes. In their new book, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne predict that up to 47% of the USA’s employable population is at risk of losing their jobs to automation. And that’s not all. There have been articles on how to robot-proof your job, reports that companies are going to automate some jobs in the next few years, and a bunch of films about robots doing scary things like experiencing human emotions, outsmarting people and even falling in love. As if dating wasn’t complicated enough already.
Here’s the scary part: robots are beginning to take some jobs which have, till now, seemed unable to be automated. Robots can now make your decaf, skinny, no-foam vanilla latte, do boring legal work, and even perform surgery on your brain. Low-skilled work, like jobs in warehouses and welding, are already being automated by companies like Amazon, and we’ve all seen these nifty new cars which can drive and park themselves along with doing a whole host of other clever things. And they do it all without moaning, without asking for a cheeky pay rise, and in most cases, without cocking it up.
If this all sounds a little too The Terminator for you, don’t fear. The good news is that this could actually be a really great thing for us living, breathing humans. Robots taking care of all the boring, low-skilled work frees us up to work higher-paid, higher-skilled and, in theory, more rewarding jobs. Those legal robots might do all the admin, but they can’t successfully fight a nuanced courtroom argument. Surgical robots might be able to help with illnesses which are tricky to deal with as a human (like epilepsy), but they can’t offer the same emotional connection with patients as your doctor can. And remember, we’re going to need humans to design and build all these robots, too (until we build a robot which can do that, of course).
There’s the potential for full automation to be both good and bad for society. If dealt with badly, full automation means unemployment. If looked at in a positive light, it could free us up to do, well, whatever the hell we want. Everyone wants more chill time, right? But how would we make money? The solution could be introducing a universal basic income, a concept which Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, have stressed as an essential step in ensuring automation works for the good of humanity. This means the government would give everyone enough money to eat, buy clothes, live in a house, order pizza during a Sunday afternoon hangover and generally have enough to get by. The idea of a universal basic income has been around since at least the 1940s, and Srnicek and Williams argue that it means humans can choose to have no job at all if they want. Hold on – no job?!
All seem a bit fluffy? Maybe. But universal basic income also means that people wouldn’t be forced into working demeaning, boring or dangerous jobs, so the pay for those jobs would increase. Jobs would be measured on their nature, rather than just their profitability. And while that means that more attractive, easier jobs wouldn’t be paid as well, we’d all be able to afford to do them if we wanted. Hurray!
Me when the government pays me to live
It all sounds a bit complicated, and it is. What’s certain is that our generation will see automation increase exponentially during our lifetimes. Hopefully, it’ll be a good thing for all of us, resulting in lower hours, better jobs, and less boring work. This means we’ll be free to do more interesting and exciting things, like watch Netflix, look at funny dog videos on Facebook, worship Kylie Jenner etc. On the other hand – well, let’s just say Will Smith might have to come and save us from the machines. (You know, I, Robot style.)