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A robot apocalypse? Part 2 by @BloggersRUs

A robot apocalypse? Part 2

by Tom Sullivan


Interactive graphic at Axios

[Part 1 here.]

How long can we keep pretending to train people for the jobs of the future when the future will have fewer jobs?

It's not enough that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled "the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only protects current employees" and not job applicants. Companies rushing to automate may soon discriminate against flesh-and-blood people of any age, sex, race, ethnicity, or employment status by no longer employing humans.

We could be heading into to a new age of jobs disruption. Another wave of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence means we will be taking more jobs from humans and creating fewer jobs for humans while still creating more humans. There will, of course, be no shortage of humans to yell "Get a job!" at them.

A report from the Brookings Institution, "Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places" compares the job disruptions of the IT revolution of the 1980s to predict what effects widespread commercial introduction of "artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and other digital technologies" will have on American workers.

Axios summarizes some of the findings:

By the numbers:
• A quarter of all jobs across the U.S. have high chance of being wiped out by automation.

• The five states with the highest share of at-risk jobs are Indiana (29%), Kentucky (29%), South Dakota (28%), Arkansas (28%), and Iowa (28%) — all of which went for President Trump in 2016.

• Compare that to the bottom five: New York (20%), Maryland (20%), Massachusetts (21%), Connecticut (22%) and New Mexico (22%), all of which went for Hillary Clinton.

But the extent of the hit to middle America is even clearer when zooming in to the county level.
• For example, in Jerauld County, South Dakota, 53% of jobs are hanging in the balance.

• 48% of jobs are vulnerable in Scott County, Miss.; 48% in Dakota County, Neb.; and 46% in Colfax County, Neb.

Brooking finds that across occupations automation effects will vary, but lower-wage jobs assigned to lower-education workers engaged in rote work will feel the change the most. This is no surprise.

That there will be regional variation is not a surprise either, "but it will be most disruptive in Heartland states—the same region hit hardest by IT era changes (pg. 37):

Less than one-quarter of adults in Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi have a bachelor’s degree or more, ensuring that all four states face automation exposures of current tasks in excess of 47 percent. In keeping with that, roughly 40 percent of the employment in these states resides in the industry groups most at risk from automation—accommodation and food services, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, retail, and mining. Less than one-fifth of the workforce in these states labors in the sorts of jobs we have identified as using digital technologies most intensively.
Brookings finds smaller, less-educated (rural?) communities "will struggle relatively more with automation, while larger cities will experience less disruption, and that "men, young workers, and underrepresented groups" are at greatest risk from the next wave of automation and widespread implementation of technologies based on artificial intelligence.

A 2017 report indicates hundreds of thousands of jobs in low-wage metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas alone are at risk from automation:

By the numbers: Per a report from the University of Redlands' Institute of Spatial Economic Analysis, 65% of Vegas jobs have a high chance of being automated away. Compare that to 25% of all jobs in the U.S.
And then, of course, there are the effects of climate change — not considered in either study.

It will be increasingly difficult to sustain rhetoric about working hard and playing by the rules to get ahead in an era in which the old jobs are increasingly scarce and the old rules no longer apply. In fact, we have by now a couple of generations of Americans for which the old rules have not really applied (image below). We just keep speaking as if they do.


From "The Productivity–Pay Gap" by EPI, August 2018.

David Atkins wrote plenty here about the coming jobless future and how we adapt to it. Elsewhere economists speculate about the prospects for a "Star Trek economy" (however that's supposed to work). "Work hard and play by the rules," however well-intended, now sounds not like a Star Trek economy but like "your parents' economy," a lost past to be resurrected, not a better future to be imagined and built. "Work hard and play by the rules" is already beyond its use-by date. It does not address conditions in rural areas already left behind by the economy as it exists today. Nor will it energize new voters across the country looking to the future, and for leaders visionary enough and bold enough and with the emotional intelligence to get them there.

Seen any lately?