Automation has been taking jobs since the first mechanical loom was constructed. It replaced many small workshops where women wove fabric with big factories where minors ran under weaving machines to replace spindles. You could say it improved life because it made fabric cheaper while it reduced happyness by stealing the bread from the artisans. Since then our economy has adopted automation wherever it made economic sense and this trend is not stopping, in fact it seems to be accelerating. It does lead to better products at lower prices in large volumes, it allows more people to share in the western lifestyle, more dreams and desires can come true, and this is a good thing.
AI is adding a new aspect to this trend, and this will be a challenge to the economy. The economy needs consumers, people that buy the products and services it produces, and for that to happen people need jobs. Its obvious that if the production machine cuts jobs it reduces the demand for products and services or at least pushes demand down to the level of the “basic income” (also named social security). We have written before that to see the dillema we can ask ourselves the following question:
If we had a machine that made everyting everyone needed, would that mean nobody has a job, so nobody has money to buy anything and everyone would strave, or would that mean everything the machine produces is free?
We wrote before that in a fossil fuel powered economy humans compete with machines for the -same- fossil fuels. Because we distribute fossil fuels to anyone with money, money is the distributing medium for fossil fuels, and so machines compete with humans for money. Machines win because they require less money themselves, while generating profit, than humans in most cases. In short, producers will replace humans with machines whenever they can.
“I profit therefore I exist” (the primary economistic directive)
In an economy based on renewables one can facilitate human consumption with renewables, as well as running the machine, so both don’t compete. A factory with solar panels on the roof may be able to run its machines so cheap its products don’t need to be expensive, and as a result the humans have more to spend and can live wealthier lives. This was also the case in parts of the west during the oil glut. Being wealthy was easy, now it is getting harder.
Now we are facing a new variant of machine vs consumer, and this is RPA or Robotic Process Automation. This is about the tedious jobs, but soon it will be about every job. If you sit behind a desk staring at a screen, or you interview people and then process the information, chances are RPA will get your job. This is because RPA uses next generation classification and detection systems of the kind produced from soo called deep learning AI. This kind of AI can do advanced recognition at the level and speed (sometimes higher) humans can, which includes reading texts, classifying items, recognizing items, dealing with variations in form input etc. etc.
RPA is like robotics but more geared to services, not products. So for example a company recieves invoices from different suppliers, these need to be scanned and entered into the accounting books. The lady that did that is replaced by a digital system that takes documents from an inbox, reads them, fills in the necessary fields in the accounting application, sends an email to request additional data etc. etc. Many many jobs are like this, just keeping things working administratively.
So small companies are being competed against by large ones more able to automate (and lose jobs), and both small and big companies will automate administrative tasks and will lose jobs. And these jobs will not be replaced! Today some AI based companies advertise drones that fly autonomously through factories to check machines, reading the gages into the digital system. This would require perhaps serveral workers before. Artificial intelligence is still developing, in terms of language processing and process modelling, so we are just at the beginning of a profound reduction in the need for skilled people.
The way our economy deals with this is the same it as it deals with anything : As long as profits are being made, nobody should worry. So we are told people will do other things and find other jobs, this was always the case. The flaw in this argument is that this expectation is baseless. If you make people that do basic paper shoving redundant you lose a lot of jobs while no new ones are created, except perhaps that of RPA system consultants. So it is possible that the economy will suffer because the new jobless can’t spend anymore. The incentives in the economic system are causing it to eat itself. The machine that makes everything anyone needs is growing, but the number of people that can share in this wealth is dropping.
It is quite clear the economy does not listen to public outcry. Right now politics is so pro economy that you can see it making every effort to keep polluting and destroying nature even though the public wants this to stop. Humans are not setting the limits to what is done in industry, industry still behaves as if it ist working on the moon or some dystopian wasteland. With surveillance anyone with to little credit can even be kept away from places where they can demonstrate, they certainly can be discouraged from it and manipulated based on social media behaviour. This is without the obvious attempt to divide people in harmless camps by the media and politics.
It seems that if you care about all people, you need to start handing out cash to ensure consumption. If you don’t care about all people, you can keep going the way it is, and hope the people that become poor die early. The reason this seems to be the approach is because we use fossil fuels, and fossil fuels are finite. Because the allocation of fossil fuels can only be optimized by competition (including between human and machine) humans are not protected. The way to make this all work is thus to increase renewable energy use in automated production chains, so that the product costs can drop and the machine does not compete for the same energy as the human (of course the energy allocated per human is used to grow food, provide healthcare and education etc. the cost of of which can also be reduced by using renewables). That is the way towards what we call the Roboeconomy, which is the economy in which robots make most of what we need, using renewables and are used to restore the ecology and fight climate change. In this economy the basic income is a renewable energy credit that can be allocated to the products and services of choice.