Good Read: The War On Normal People by Andrew Yang
The Technorati have known for years that AI and robotics will replace somewhere between many and most of both white and blue-collar jobs in the coming years.
In it’s simplest form, entrepreneurs succeed when they make things people and companies want to buy. If nobody wants to buy whatever they’re making, their companies will fail. If customers want what they’re making, they’ll rake in profits.
Companies want to lower costs; replacing labor with tech is good business. Labor has long been one (if not the) most expensive ingredient in business. AI and robotics allow companies to operate with increasingly fewer people, making them more profitable. Entrepreneurs, as a result, are working tirelessly on projects that remove people from companies. Self-driving cars, robotic dishwashers, autonomous lawnmowers, mechanized burger flippers and a long-list of software applications that “streamline” workflows are all on their way to becoming mainstream.
It’s really not a new idea. People used to physically operate a switchboard routing phone calls. Now a computer does it. Receptionists used to direct calls to individuals. Now you can dial by name. Somebody used to drive the elevator…until they made buttons for that. Now there are tablets to order food from and self-serve checkout stations at your drug store. Each of those innovations is a robot — a machine that does the work of a human.
It’s an old idea, but what is new is the rate of change. Computers are finally smart enough to power increasingly sophisticated AI. And robots are becoming increasingly capable of elegantly operating everything from assembly lines to heart surgery. The list of white-collar jobs at risk of being displaced by AI and blue-collar jobs being given to robots is expanding faster than most imagine. The impact these machines have had to date has played a key role in our jobless rates (which are higher than advertised) and our scaling wealth gap (which leads to all sorts of social issues).
Jobs are being destroyed faster than they can be replaced. Way faster. And change is accelerating. The Obama administration warned that jobless could be widespread by 2030. That’s a dozen years from now. How old will you be? What job do you think you will be doing then? What happens when 30% of Americans can’t find a job?
Some folks in the tech community understand exponential change, know this trend is happening and whisper about it quietly so as not to startle folks. But the cat’s out of the bag. This topic has made its way into the tip of the social consciousness having been discussed on mainstream media like 60 Minutes.
I first became aware of this pattern about 6 years ago when I was visiting Singularity University, which was co-founded by Ray Kurzweil, the godfather of some of these predictions. Since then I’ve found myself having conversations with folks about this apocalyptic inevitability, but the fact pattern takes too long to explain, is met with skepticism by late-adopters and can lead to some depressing conversation. So, I stopped talking about it.
Thankfully, I don’t need to talk about it anymore. Andrew Yang’s new book pulls together all of the bits of this narrative and packages it in an easy to read manner. Yang, who has stated plans to run for President of the United States in 2020, did the legwork of pulling all the facts and figures together to help non-techies see what is happening in America (and abroad).
While Yang does share his social and political viewpoints in the book, it is designed (and educational) for readers of all political persuasions. The first two-thirds of the book focuses on explaining how automation is transforming the US labor market and why. The last third of the book dives into Andrew’s proposed solutions. Whether or not you agree with his suggestions, the world would be better off if everyone read the first chunk of the book and saw what the tech community already sees. If everyone understood what is happening, we’d have better odds of finding solutions.
If all of this seems crazy to you. Have a read.