The Mass Extinction of Jobs

How we’ll not only survive in a jobless world
but profit from disruptive change in the new economy.



Job Creation/Destruction from Tech Progress

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Bill Gross, Larry Fink, Sam Altman, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Aubrey de Grey, and many more top scientists, investors, and tech heavyweights are voicing a common warning.

These men believe that we have passed a critical tipping point. Technology is now destroying more jobs than it is creating and that trend is accelerating.

While technologies of the past displaced human physical labor, current technologies are displacing human intelligence.

Early machines like the power loom and the cotton gin of the late 1700s, the internal combustion engine of the late 1800s, and the vehicles and equipment it powered in the 1900s, transformed our agricultural economy into an industrial powerhouse.

The new economy needed less farmers and more industrial workers and professional service providers such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants - which lead to the rise of the middle class. Then, with the advent of integrated circuits in the 1950s and modern computing in the 1970s, we witnessed the industrial age give way to the information age.

Robotic automation and global outsourcing cut domestic manufacturing jobs by more than half.

Each of these major transitions opened up new categories of work and more jobs. The new jobs required consistently less physical work and ever more intelligence as well as years of education and specialization.

Throughout these 250 years of technological transition and upheaval, there remained one constant that guaranteed a market for human work. Our technology was dumb. Human intelligence remained unchallenged by machines. In fact, human intelligence was the only game in town.

That intelligence gap is now closing, rapidly.


“Software is eating the world.”
–Marc Andreesson, Netscape Founder and Venture Capitalist



In 2017, advanced computing is within 5-10 years of exceeding human intelligence.1


Click to Enlarge

And while that prospect is in many ways scary and potentially dangerous, it can be a blessing rather than a curse… for those who prepare.

The current transition will produce winners and losers, as change always does. Trillions of dollars of wealth will transfer from those unprepared to those positioned to benefit.

First, we must be prepared for the workforce to shrink dramatically as one industry after another automates. We are already seeing the beginning of this looming crisis, today.


Today is the age of TurboTax.

2006: Of taxpayers who sought assistance with their filing, 33% used a software program while 66% hired a human accountant.

2016: Of taxpayers who sought assistance, 55% used software, while 45% hired a human accountant.2

Each year, the software sold to everyday taxpayers becomes easier to use and can handle increasingly complex returns.

On a basic level, working with numbers and rules is what software does best. And for that reason, accounting is one of the fastest dying industries. And that decline is not linear; it is accelerating exponentially.


Retail is the biggest employer in the country, accounting for 10% of the workforce and it is in rapid descent.

People are no longer shopping in physical locations as they once did. Retail visits since 2010 have decreased by 49%.3

This phenomenon can be summed up in one word: Amazon.

Amazon's Kiva Robots

Online selection is wider and prices are cheaper.

And face-to-face retail workers are not the only workers being displaced. Inventory managers and laborers at local distribution centers and warehouses are being displaced at an even faster rate as Amazon moves towards fully automated fulfillment centers using Kiva robots.

And what about the delivery people? According to CEO Jeff Bezos, in 2018 Amazon will begin making deliveries by autonomous vehicles, whether shipped by air or by ground.

 

This year, an IBM partner company began selling an AI called ROSS. In their own words:

“Built on top of Watson, IBM's cognitive computer, ROSS is a digital legal expert that helps you power through your legal research.

You ask your questions in plain English, as you would a colleague, and ROSS then reads through the entire body of law and returns a cited answer and topical readings from legislation, case law and secondary sources to get you up-to-speed quickly.

In addition, ROSS monitors the law around the clock to notify you of new court decisions that can affect your case.”4

IBM and their partners do not market their AI technologies as human replacements, but rather as human “helpers” or “assistants.” They are not here to compete with us but rather to collaborate, we are told. Clearly, ROSS 1.0 is not capable of replacing human attorneys at the high end of the pay scale, but what about the lower end: the paralegals, research assistants, and clerks?

And what about ROSS 2.0 and beyond? IBM has no intention of slowing the progress of Watson or ROSS or limiting the scope of their abilities.

When ROSS can communicate as well as humans and can address legal questions with the same expertise as top attorneys across all specialties, what will stop IBM from putting ROSS in the cloud and giving everyone access for $5 per hour, or per consultation?

In other words, will ROSS become one attorney to replace them all?

If the history of technological displacement is any guide, the answer is a definitive "yes".

Of course, courtrooms may still require human trial attorneys to present cases in front of human judges and juries, but that will not save the industry. Trial law employs less than 10% of active attorneys.

In short, the legal profession is on a collision course.

 

Eight percent of Americans workers are employed by the transportation industry, making it the third largest employer behind retail and health care.

Autonomous vehicles are on the verge of ending their livelihoods.

Spearheaded by tech giant Google, self-driving cars have already logged over one and a half million miles driving the roads of California, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida over the past 4 years.

Google's Self-Driving Car

Initial public adoption of self-driving cars began last year in towns across the United Kingdom.

Similar programs have been launched in cities across the US, including Austin, Texas; Mountain View, California; and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Nearly a year ago, Uber began offering self-driving rides in Pittsburgh.

According to CEO Travis Kalanick at the time: "We've got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it's not a side project for us," he said. "This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber."

Without drivers, the cost of hailing a ride will be cheaper than owning a car, changing the way we all get around, Kalanick has said.5

In recent months, Uber's relationship with the city has "soured" according to CNBC. One of the prime reasons: Uber has not created the number of local jobs that were expected!

Truckers, delivery men, taxi and Uber drivers are just the obvious casualties of autonomous vehicles.

As fewer people drive themselves, the auto insurance industry will disappear. Product liability insurance will take its place, which employs a negligible number of people.

As fewer people rent cars off traditional rental lots, but rather hire self-driving Ubers, the car rental industry will likewise disappear.

 

If you have read breaking news in any major online publication recently, chances are high that story was written by software. These articles are typically published within a few minutes of a breaking news event and are indistinguishable from human writing.

The Associated Press already publishes over 1,400 AI produced articles every month and that number is growing exponentially.6

Likewise, if you read social media for your news, then you have undoubtedly read the work of small AIs called "chatbots" or just "bots."

Bots function in an exploding array of applications, from ordering fast food via your smart phone to making your online travel reservations.

More significantly, and perhaps more ominously, bots write social media posts and tweets in support of the corporations and political interests that hire them. As a result, bots are now affecting political outcomes.

Last year’s “Brexit” referendum, in which citizens of the United Kingdom voted on whether to leave or remain within the European Union, was a prime example:

Although TwitterBots are estimated to account for only 1%
of all Twitter accounts…

They posted their "opinions” about the Brexit 30 times more
than their human counterparts did...

And they favored the Leave campaign 3-to-1 over the
Remain campaign...

And, while the bookies and pollsters had predicted a win for the
Remain campaign prior to the vote, the Leave campaign
ended up winning by a narrow 2% margin.7

Of course no one knows for sure exactly how much influence the bots had on the Leave campaign victory, but considering that almost two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media and that bot traffic is now estimated to make up over 60 percent of all online traffic, American politicians have taken note.

It is estimated that, during the 2016 US presidential election cycle, a quarter of both Clinton and Trump Twitter followers (which include many of their most active followers) were actually TwitterBots.8

These bots have the potential to impact elections if journalists (whether human or other bots) and voters are swayed by what they perceive as "the mood of the nation" on social media. Did bots elect Donald Trump?

Of course it’s understandable that software could reasonably report facts if given the necessary language skills and perhaps could compose short 140 character opinion tweets, but surely, one might expect, the creativity needed to write a full work of fiction would remain solidly in the domain of the human mind.

However, just last year, an appropriately titled book, The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, was entered into a Japanese literary competition and it passed the first round without the judges knowing the author was a machine.9

Given the blistering pace of advancement of AI in natural language learning, how much longer will it take for AI written novels to begin winning awards?

 

The medical field employs 8% of the American workforce, making it the second largest employer by industry.

Law and medicine are often spoken of together as prestigious top-end professions.

While law is largely a system of defined rules and judgments, with inputs and outputs that come in the two dimensional form of paper and ink, the practice of medicine involves the significantly greater complexity of human biology, chemistry, and psychology.

Doctors and nurses work with wounds, infections, clots and blockages, genetic disease, cancers, and mental illness. They perform surgery, prescribe drugs, and operate life saving devices. By its very complexity and often physical nature, medicine is one of the professions most resistant to artificial intelligence and automation.

Even so, AI and big data are making big inroads.

Diagnosing a patient’s condition is step one in medicine and it requires an estimated 50% of all working hours spent by medical professionals today.

IBM Watson and other AI diagnosticians are poised to take over this role. Watson analyzes a patient’s symptoms and records, reads thousands of relevant studies, diagnoses the patient's most likely condition, and recommends a specific course of treatment.

Watson has access to vastly greater knowledge, faster and more efficient processes than humans do, and consequently has a more accurate diagnosis rate. As IBM Watson references in its promotional video: “Less than 50% of medical decisions meet evidence-based standards.” And they mean to change that.

Of course this is great news for patients, but not necessarily so great for human general practitioners.

The encroachment of AI and robotics is not stopping at the diagnosis step either. They are quickly moving into treatment, including surgery.

The first robot-assisted surgery was performed in 1985. In 2007, over 100,000 robotic surgeries were performed. Today, robotic surgeries have grown to over half a million annually. That’s exponential growth.

Robotic Surgery

Up to this point, surgical robots have required a human operator, just as some AI-assisted cars still require a driver, but more and more functions are becoming fully automated.

And as with cars, robotic surgeons are close to becoming fully autonomous.

With much lower error rates, these advances will be great for patients but, again, not so great for human surgeons.

   

The fact is that all industries are automating. What early machines and robotics did to agriculture and manufacturing, AI is doing to today’s "thought" jobs and professions.

The six industries in the list above account for over 30% of all jobs, but that is only the beginning.

Teaching is being threatened by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS)...

Finance is being shredded by trading algorithms and AI-based money management...

Travel and hospitality are being upended by AirBnB and will be further disrupted by VR meetings (rather than business travel)...

No profession is safe; they are all on the chopping block.

Even poor foreign workers that are still willing to work below the poverty line are being displaced by technology.

More than a year ago, Foxconn, the largest contract electronics manufacturer in the world and primary producer of Apple iPhones, cut 60,000 factory jobs and replaced them with robots.

Robots do not require a livable wage and thus wage workers are being cut, and those cuts are not isolated abroad.

With a rising minimum wage, US corporations are likewise looking for alternatives to humans in entry level positions. This year, private San Francisco startups have already demonstrated the first fully automated fast food kitchens. Pizza? Yes. Burgers and fries? Yes. Your favorite espresso with hundreds of different permutations? Of course.


“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient making $15 an hour bagging french fries.”
-Former McDonald's USA CEO, Ed Rensi


Right or wrong, the trend is fundamentally unavoidable due to the overwhelming economics. In a globalized world, companies that do not automate will be put out of business by competitors who do.

   

Question: Who benefits from a jobless society?

Answer: Those who own the companies and technologies of the future – i.e. shareholders - will reap the bulk of the rewards. As companies lay off workers and replace them with software, company productivity and profits increase.

Of course, if technology puts everyone out of work, personal incomes fall to zero and only the few can afford the products and services that those same companies sell.

This problem is recognized both in Silicon Valley and by government. "Universal Basic Income" or UBI for short, has become the new catch phrase to address the problem. It is a form of social security to maintain reasonable living standards for those made jobless due to structural technological unemployment.

In regard to broad living standards, it is also worth noting that because of technological advancement, our lives are vastly better today than they were a century ago or just a decade ago.

On the whole, nearly every aspect of our lives has improved: food, clothing, transportation, communications, and energy are cheaper and more abundant. Our access to information and knowledge is unprecedented and ever-expanding.

Perhaps most importantly, our medical care is far more effective as once fatal diseases become curable, such as Hepatitis C and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia to name just two recent examples.

We believe that despite mass technological displacement and unemployment, our broad standard of living will continue to improve over time.

Really, the key individual issue of work and access to employment is about controlling one's own destiny - it's an issue of social and economic mobility.

Fortunately, for those who recognize the disruptive shift in today's economy caused by exponential technologies, there is a rare opportunity to earn more wealth than from a lifetime of 9-to-5 work.


Today, wealth is being transferred at an incredible pace.

Economic rewards are moving to the best ideas and to the shareholders in those ideas faster than ever. Billion dollar companies are being created (and destroyed) in exponentially faster time-frames.

The life cycle of startups to billion dollar market value is shortening drastically. Just look at the following chart:

It used to take an average Fortune 500 company 20 years to be worth $1 billion in market value.

Google took 8 years.

Facebook took 6 years.

Uber took 4 years.

Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset maker, did it in just over 2 years.

These companies are growing much faster than the rest. What do they have in common?

Each of the companies above are developing AI-driven technologies. Essentially, each found a better way to do things using advanced software.

This technological revolution is growing exponentially, as is the market for AI.10

AI is undergoing an exponential boom.

Similar advances are taking place in genomics and biotechnology.

DNA is code. It is quaternary code rather than the binary code used in computers, but it is much the same in that it can be read, written, and digitized.

Anything that can be digitized, has seen exponential growth.

We see this every year in the plummeting cost of genomic sequencing, from $5 million per genome in 2007 to less than $1000 today (i.e. 5000x), a cost-to-performance curve even faster than Moore's Law!

As a result, a genomics and synthetic biology boom is now underway and early investors are making fortunes.

Just take a look at Thermo Fisher Scientific...

Or Illumina...

Or NeoGenomics.

The point is that as technology advances exponentially, so does the speed of wealth transfer.

And savvy investors, who understand the powerful implications of exponential change, can earn wealth at the same pace.

The bigger point we’re making is:

Investors in innovation itself, and the downstream assets that benefit, will survive and profit in the new economy.

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