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The End of Work?

  1. Sep 23, 2016 #1

    Jeremy Rifkin's book is still being discussed 20 years after it was it was first published. The book has had its critics but there's no denying the nature of employment is changing and new marketable skills will be required of the future work force. I understand in the near term the building out of infrastructure for the internet of things (IoT) will require a lot of skilled labor and infrastructure in general also needs a lot of work, at least in the US.

    Beyond that I'm interested in what kinds of jobs people here in PF think will survive robotic automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and related technology in the coming years. Suggestions and reasons why?
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2016
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  3. Sep 24, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    The definition of "work" keeps changing ... but there will always be force times distance.
    I suspect that lawyer's jobs will survive - because lawyers can make the laws that protect their jobs.
    The job of "human thrall to the artificial overlord" cannot be done by a non-human.

    The thing is, the question has built into it that every possible human activity in, in principle, reproduced by some artificial machine, so it contains it's own answer and is probably a deepity. I mean - if that is not bult in, then the answer is "whatever job cannot be done by a machine at the time" like it always is. An answer that is always changing.

    Mind you, the definition of "human" (or, at least "person") kinda also keeps changing ... so maybe the machines capable of everything humans can do and achieve will just call themselves human and the discussion has got recursive. Shall I point out that humans are a kind of machine in the first place? Now we are thinking of machines building machines - a process that has been ongoing for millenia... so how is the question meaningful again?

    ie. How is this not abstract philosophy?
  4. Sep 24, 2016 #3


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    There is a lot of unemployment, but from my experience, the people in work are working longer hours than 30 years ago. When I started work in 1985, the future was thought to be about a 35-hour or even a 4-day week. When I finished in 2014, 60-80 hour weeks were common and more and more people seemed to have little life outside work: answering emails and taking part in teleconferences while on holiday.

    Where is this end of work?
  5. Sep 24, 2016 #4


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    ...asks the guy that climbed 293 Scottish mountains out of free will :wink:
  6. Sep 24, 2016 #5


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    And in 20 years, clearly what he said was already happening hasn't started, right?
    That has been true since the first day of the industrial revolution. But his prediction is totally different from that. But at least you are trying to move the discussion away from his silly apocalyptic theory to something more useful...
    I think that's the wrong question. You'd be hard pressed to find a single field that hasn't been impacted by technology. The question is how to adapt in your current or similar job (like the previous quote says).

    Take my field of construction engineering for example. 30 years ago, the majority of workers in the field were draftsmen. A single engineer would oversee a room full of guys who did nothing but draw. Today, that's gone, because you can do it faster on a computer. So how do you adapt? You learn CAD or better yet, get an engineering degree. So those jobs aren't "gone" per se, they have been replaced or upgraded to higher skill and pay jobs.

    The primary difficulty caused by this is what happens to pigeonhole older workers who's jobs change into something they don't have the skills for. The requirement of continuing training or re-training doesn't change, but seems to become more difficult or less desirable for older folks.
  7. Sep 24, 2016 #6


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    Actually, most point to lawyer as a profession that is already in decline and will see further declines due to automation:

    Though when lawyers start complaining about losing their jobs is when politicians will start paying attention to the issue.
  8. Sep 24, 2016 #7
    Manufacturing and retail have already been hit pretty hard in the US and it likely won't get better in these sectors , but there are also sectors where there are plenty of jobs. In many cases they're going unfilled because there aren't enough people with the necessary skills. As I said. the building out of the IoT to every home and business will require a lot of workers with special skills. These skills won't require a 4 year degree.
  9. Sep 24, 2016 #8


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    I'm not sure I've heard automation being of primary blame for the US's manufaturing troubles: for the most part we've just been exporting the jobs to other countries, not replacing them with robots in the US.

    For retail, are you referring to online shopping taking over for brick-and-mortar? I guess that kind of counts, but I'm not sure that is really primarily an issue of automation. It's more an innovation in the shopping experience; an improvement over the mail-order shopping experience. Also, it has increased business for shipping companies and of course IT and warehouse jobs, so there is some shift. Overall, I'm not sure if there is a net gain or loss...
    Agreed, and my industry is one of them (though employment is cyclical in construction).
  10. Sep 24, 2016 #9


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    ...hmm....actually, according to this, retail is one of the fastest growing jobs in the US (by quantity);

    So you might be reacting to a perception that isn't necessarily true.

    This talks about the top 10 disappearing jobs in the USA:

    About half of the 10 look like they were hit by the recession, while the other half are likely more permanent. Most of those look like jobs that just aren't completely gone following the computer resolution of the 1980s.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2016
  11. Sep 24, 2016 #10


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    Here's a good article on the types of jobs that have been lost and are likely to be:

    A key point:
  12. Sep 24, 2016 #11
    That's a good list ( http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_104.htm). Retail trade has long been the largest category of jobs according federal classification. However, it's easy to see how on line shopping would coordinate with automated manufacturing so that goods could be assembled on order. Inventories for finished goods would become a thing of the past for many items. People. with some training could use apps to design their own clothes and other items and have them shipped. It's not clear to me where retail workers would fit into this picture except maybe as customer service workers. In general I think there will always be a demand for human services.

    You also gave an earlier example of draftsmen being phased out. While new jobs became available, did they compensate for jobs lost?
  13. Sep 24, 2016 #12


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    I don't have a good answer for that. For one thing, it happened before my [professional] time and for another, trying to measure it quantitatively means comparing losses from one job to gains in multiple others. I can say this though:

    CAD software isn't particularly difficult to learn, especially if you already know how to draw (you know what the finished product is supposed to look like). So there were a lot of draftsmen who were able to transition seamlessly to the new skillset. Today, the ratio of draftsmen/designers to engineers has swung so much that skilled draftsmen/designers are in some demand. Rather than a stand-alone, do-it-your-whole-life job, it has become a step on a career path: draftsman->designer->engineer. The problem is that an entry-level engineer is not the equivalent of a skilled designer or even draftsman, so the model has some faults and the 50 year old do-it-your-whole-life draftsman/designer is still needed.

    That's a long way to say "I don't know", but at least I can say that today there are more jobs of all types available in the inudstry than there are skilled people to fill them.
  14. Sep 24, 2016 #13
    Yes, and that trend will continue for a while for the reasons I already stated. However, after the infrastructure buildout, who knows? I do a agree we will always need managers and engineers to oversee and direct the systems involved in producing goods and services. They will need to rely on AI, but not be subordinated to AI. Nevertheless for the longer term, it's hard for me to see how there will be enough good jobs even for a stable population, let alone an increasing population. Service jobs have always been low paying and I'm thinking about the structure of society at this point. Germany is already experimenting with job sharing. With high productivity, the number of good jobs could be doubled quickly with a 2 to 1 across the board split once people are qualified
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