It’s not that I don’t see the business benefits from automation or artificial intelligence. For example, the Weather Channel app has become infinitely more accurate with the help of IBM’s Watson. And now Watson will do my tax returns, too, courtesy of H&R Block.
McKinsey released a report last month outlining a number of jobs set to be hit by the upcoming wave of AI automation. And yes, your job and mine is likely included.
A Guardian article lists a range of professions “under attack,” like lawyers and paralegals, journalists, teachers, actors, most professional driving services (from cars to trucks to delivery vans), hotel and hospital staff. There are systems out there that can decide very quickly whether a lawsuit has merit, listing a number of related cases as examples and predicting a probable outcome. The current crop of chat bots can easily evolve into fully matured journalist bots (they are already out there but in small and embryonic numbers). Fake news? How about synthetic news? And who needs an actor of flesh and blood when you can artificially create one? A 1976 version of Carrie Fisher as well as Peter Cushing (who actually died in 1994) ”played” in the most recent “Star Wars” movie.
McKinsey also includes “middle management” in its list of endangered job categories, although for now at the lower end of the automation threat (34%). There are systems in development that will eliminate most of the HR department’s job. And equally, there are business simulation software models that, with the use of smart algorithms, can compute various business outcomes based on different marketing strategies, budgets and plans. And programmatic is endangering media planning and buying jobs.
Meanwhile, in a Wired piece, Cade Metz writes that the biggest threat from AI is the death of the middle class. And that conclusion is especially meaningful in light of who won the most recent presidential election. Donald Trump masterfully played to a group of disillusioned lower-middle-class and blue-collar voters. Workers were hurt not only by movement overseas, but perhaps more so by a wave of automation that over the last 20 or so years permanently eliminated many of their jobs.
There are those who say, “but there will be a need for new services and technologists to create and support our automated future.” It's certainly true that automation, coding and engineering are growth sectors. Sadly, our education system is many, many years away from catering to these new realities.
And regardless: Go visit any large manufacturing plant today (cars, soda, beer, ice cream, it doesn’t matter). The number of people necessary to build and run such a facility today versus 10, 20 or 50 years ago is dramatically lower. Now think of your own current job — and be afraid. Very afraid!