It might actually suck more to NOT lose your job to automation

It might be worse if a robot doesn't steal your job

Work automation is coming, baby! The highest numbers you’ll see in various articles are close to 50 percent — meaning 1 in 2 jobs could be automated someday. That’s a whole thing, no? Today, Fast Company has an article about “What Work Will Look Like In 2025” — people always write those kinds of articles, and they’re almost never right — but even they note this:

Janna Quitney Anderson is a communication professor at Elon University, director of its Imagining The Internet Center, and the co-author of the Pew Center research report, AI, Robotics And The Future Of Jobs. She says that while self-driving vehicles, smartphones, drones, and new types of work robots are getting attention now, smarter ’bots, sensors, embedded systems, and other connectivity drivers will take over many of our work and personal tasks over the next decade.

Earlier this week, as part of the same package, they wrote an article about how robots will take our jobs.

In short/sum: automation, baby!

So, there are two arguments here:

  1. It would be very bad to have your job replaced by a bot, especially if your skill set is such that any other job you tried to find would be occupied by a bot as well.
  2. It might actually be worse to stick around at a job.

Why would I say the latter?

I only half-mean it, but here’s the basic deal, right?

Work, as a concept, is essentially about relationships — and within those relationships, people are always attempting to justify exactly what they do, the value they bring, and how necessary to the whole fabric of that organization they really are. I’ve literally sat in meetings throughout the last decade that were primarily based on one team or manager explaining their role/worth. It’s a waste of time to everyone except the person speaking.

So could you imagine a workplace post-50 percent automation? 1 in every 2 people is left there.

How insane would people be about justifying their work and existence in such a world?

The “OMG I’m So Busy” drug would be out in full, for sure.

Work is such a mess of competing priorities and ideas and everyone trying to prove their worth — that I just think a workforce where automation has already taken hold would be an equivalent mess.

There are two potential caveats to this discussion:

1. The grand hope of the world is that people have to work less because of automation, and that will result in this new age of people being able to pursue what they want, the lives they want, their passions, their interests, etc … it will be like a Modern Enlightenment driven by Technology and Robots. I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s more likely that the richest people would just keep their money and try to get more.

2. Some people say “Automation will never replace humans because managers/bosses/corporations want/need humans to have jobs!” Um, no they don’t. Everyone chases the bottom line, and most people do so with no reference at all back to social norms or moral norms. That’s life. If you can be replaced cheaply with a robot or a program, you will be — because the act of that happening will make someone else richer.


Ted Bauer