The Future of Work by Darrell M. West || A Review

The Future of Work|| Robots, AI, and Automation
Author Darrell M. West

A Review by Scott Dennis

If you have never considered the impact of automation on the workplace, this quote from a top technology CEO provides an opening salvo from Darrell West’s “The future of work” and should get your attention. “We will soon launch a robot that can perform tasks currently done by people with a high school education or less. The robot will only cost $20,000.00”. Throughout the reading of this important book I refer back to this quote and meditate on my trepidation for friends and fellow citizens that fall into this category.
The future of work is an insightful analysis of the precarious state that our society finds itself in. West describes industries’ heedless adoption of automation technology balanced by everyday workers that find themselves with little or no voice about change impacting their livelihoods. At the fulcrum are policy makers that are under informed about the impact of technology on their constituents. Politicians are also faced with the conundrum of accepting corporate funding from companies that will eventually pressure social programs by putting their citizens out of work.

The chapters of the book are intuitively ordered into the categories of “accelerating innovation”, “economic and social impact” and “an action plan” so that a logical and nuanced understanding of the technological challenge to society can be understood by any reader. Importantly possible strategies to avoid social catastrophe are offered for policy makers and activists alike to consider. In “accelerating innovation” West takes the reader on a tour of the technological advances that have infiltrated our daily lives. These advances have made our lives easier in many ways, robots that can perform dangerous or monotonous tasks, machine learning breakthroughs that have evolved into our faithful personal assistants or even something more intimate. Imagine an autonomous vehicle that could safely drive you and your children to appointed destinations in the morning and perhaps make some money for you as a driverless taxi when you are not using it. Autonomous driving and many other innovations discussed in the book are only possible through a chain of technologies being controlled by artificial technology or “AI”. Advances in AI are akin to a modern day space race with enormous corporate and national budgets employed to keep ahead of the curve. West quotes a 2017 statement from China’s state council to “build a domestic AI industry worth almost $150 billion by 2030”. The key take away from this discussion of deep learning machines is what kind of data sets are we providing AI and can ethics truly be programmed into what are essentially electronic brains? The author wisely advocates for a policy of transparency and a vigilance regarding the decisions humans are making during this nascent moment in the history of robotics.

“We will soon launch a robot that can perform tasks currently done by people with a high school education or less..”

The section on Economic and Social Impact opens with the utopic musings of author Edward Bellamy, in his vision of the 21st century automation has led to shortened work weeks and happy citizens who can spend their leisure time mentoring the young. The betterment of themselves and their community has become their focal point in life because their basic needs of housing, food and health care have been met. Here West takes the positive view suggesting that despite the fact that we are in a time where health benefits and secure careers are a more distant reality for workers that it takes a societal change about the very nature of work to shift to a more equitable economy. The shared or collaborative economy is defined by services exchanged peer-to peer, usually through an electronic platform, the major example being Uber drivers. Employees enjoy time flexibility and a certain amount of autonomy but give up the certainty of the health care support system. In order for these models to be sustainable West argues there will have to be unionization or at the very least agreed upon minimums in remunerations for these “new collar workers”. There are now millions of Americans joining in this type of work, popularly known as the “gig” economy. The future of work does a good job of introducing the reader to a host of models that could help restore the traditional benefits arrangement of full employment, the key concept to all of them being the notion of portability of benefits. The idea is laid out this way, since corporations are moving towards limited contracts workers then benefits such as medical leave and retirement should move with the employee instead of the employer; this creates a new social contract between company and worker. Regardless of which scheme is adopted the most heated area of debate is who will pay to support this shift in the economy? Assorted tax proposals are discussed within this book with one common conclusion, namely that the wealthy will have to give up something to help those displaced. Reading between the lines here the reader must ask themselves, who is actually benefiting from cutting back workers and technological efficiencies? In our lifetimes have we not seen the focus of business move from rank and file workers to the shareholder? Whatever the outcome it is clear that working citizens will have to leverage the power of democratic and educational institutions to regain their seat at the table of our shifting economy.

In the section “Action Plan” West asks if our political system is up to the challenge of structural change, even a casual observer of the present state of deadlock in the beltway the answer seems dubious. Unlike political struggles in the past however inaction concerning displacement of workers due to automation will increase the distrust of democratic institutions West agues. Anyone experiencing the tumults of the twenty four hour news cycle would have to agree. The book draws on some of the best economic historians to outline a fascinating new legal structure referred to as “Republic 2.0” where the various initiatives for change could have a chance to flourish. The basic understanding is that politics cannot be separated from economy and that even the amending of the U.S. constitution to reflect a people first attitude in the new economy must be considered. The future of work is required reading for anyone concerned about their place in the future labor force, once read it should serve as a guide for equitable change for activists and policy makers alike.

Mr. Darrell M. West is Vice President of the governance program at the Brooking Institute

Scott Dennis is the Executive Director of the Blue Collar Think Tank @bcthinktank

 

Optomistic Perspective on Automation

The Robots Are Coming To The Workplace. What you need to know.
John Hawthorne guest contributor

In the history of business and manufacturing, automation has become commonplace. In many ways, people have been replaced by machines in the manufacturing, retail, restaurant, and corporate settings.

At the same time, opportunities have arisen for employees who specialize in programming, engineering, and maintenance of machines in all areas of commerce and industry.

So here’s the crucial question: Will automation kill or create jobs?

Will the robot uprising be a good thing or take our livelihoods?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Jobs Lost to Automation In the United States

 

Before we start panicking and declaring robots to be evil, let’s look at the statistics. While it’s clear that robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have displaced some workers in the past, the effect on the US economy is relatively minimal. There are currently between 1.5 and 1.75 million industrial robots operating around the globe, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

The auto industry accounts for 39% of such robots, followed by the electronics industry at 19%, metal product manufacturing at 9%, and the plastics and chemicals industry at 9%, according to MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo.

This translates into “one more robot per thousand workers” reducing the aggregate employment to population ratio by about 0.34%. In other words, every new robot added to a given commuting zone reduces employment by 5.6 workers. And the researchers project that the number of industrial robots will reach between 4 and 6 million by 2025.

If the total number of industrial robots quadruples by 2025, the researchers expect 0.94 to 1.76% lower employment-to-population ratio and 1.3 to 2.6% lower wage growth between 2015 and 2025. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic automation will erase 16% of US jobs by 2025.

So while the current numbers aren’t staggering, the future is a bit concerning. If sixteen percent of US jobs are eliminated by robots, that’s quite a few people on unemployment.

Jobs Lost to Automation vs Outsourcing
Automation is not the only factor in unemployment in the United States. Job outsourcing helps US companies be more competitive in the global marketplace. They lower labor costs by hiring in emerging markets with lower wages. That lowers prices on the goods shipped back to the United States.

The main negative effect of outsourcing is it increases US unemployment. Currently, 14 million outsourced jobs are almost double the 7.5 million unemployed Americans. In other words, outsourcing is just as destructive to the economy as automation.

Automation Can Create More Jobs

Getty Images

However, automation can create more jobs as well. For example, when the industrial revolution replaced work that was normally done in a long, drawn out, and tedious ways (such as weaving machines replacing individual seamstresses), those who were displaced learned how to operate the machines. Textile workers were most often those displaced seamstresses.

The industrial revolution taught the world that as traditional jobs disappear, we need to ensure that people of all ages are sufficiently educated to work in the emerging roles in the immediate future.

The changing times demand new skills, new mindsets, new competencies, and new institutions. While there are certainly soft and hard skills from the past that should remain staples in education (like personal communication, collaboration, basic mathematics, writing skills, etc.), it would benefit the country to also consider adding curriculum in robotics, computer science, and engineering.

Though many school systems have these capabilities and are implementing such programs, not all have the funding or resources to make such changes.

Just as with every new industrial age, the age of robots will lead to more jobs. Kallum Pickering, analyst with Berenberg, has pointed out a large hole in the argument that artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to vast numbers of workers joining the ranks of the unemployed:

“Producers will only automate if doing so is profitable. For profit to occur, producers need a market to sell to in the first place. Keeping this in mind helps to highlight the critical flaw of the argument: if robots replaced all workers, thereby creating mass unemployment, to whom would the producers sell? Because demand is infinite whereas supply is scarce, the displaced workers always have the opportunity to find fresh employment to produce something that satisfies demand elsewhere.”

Most employers and analysts generally agree that there should be measures in place to reduce the impact of jobs lost to automation, like education programs for re-skilling workers who will lose their jobs.

So does automation cost jobs? Sure. Every industrial revolution initially displaces a portion of workers. But automation will also create many new jobs as displaced workers adapt to the changing economy.

What Jobs Will Automation Create?

A Deloitte study of automation in the U.K. found that 800,000 low-skilled jobs were replaced by AI and other automation technologies. But, 3.5 million new jobs were created as well, and those jobs paid on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were lost.

Positive, worker-friendly outcomes like this illustrate a more complete range of possibilities for automation. Technology is changing the way we work — this is undeniable. These changes can improve people’s lives and lead to a more creative, intellectually engaged workforce. AI is most often used to perform mindless, repetitive tasks, which means that employees can spend more time on complex tasks for which they are suited, such as interacting with customers or brainstorming innovative new ideas.

Creativity is what distinguishes humans from machines. And not just the capacity for creative work, but the ability to reimagine what jobs might look like in the near future and beyond.

Here are three examples of companies using automation to create jobs and help their leaders develop better businesses:

Panera Bread

Panera Bread announced in April of 2017 that it would create 10,000 delivery driver and in-café jobs in response to the popularity of its delivery service. High customer demand for ordering soups and sandwiches through the chain’s AI-powered digital platform led the company to decide to expand the service to 40 percent of its stores. The company said that its drivers would enjoy “daytime hours and competitive wages”.

The Marlin Steel Factory

The Marlin Steel factory in Baltimore is a classic case of automation driving innovation. When Chinese manufacturers undercut Marlin Steel’s prices for its core wire basket product line, the company was forced to pivot. Marlin Steel purchased robotic wire-forming machines and began focusing on making high-quality precision products for companies such as Boeing and General Motors. It also hired more people and increased wages, attracting workers whose diverse backgrounds complemented the computer-aided production processes around which the factory now revolves.

Boxed

When AI and robotics replaced the need for 100 fulfillment workers at Boxed’s New Jersey facility, the online grocery startup retrained and promoted them into different departments. Some of the workers became trainers teaching coworkers how to use the new fulfillment systems, while others transitioned into customer service roles. A number of former temporary workers became full-time employees and enjoyed a 13% pay increase.

These companies have made the choice to embrace technology and make it work for them and their employees. The fear of automation should not be a driving factor in the decision-making process of any company. Careful study and understanding of how to best utilize resources, including human resources, are the lifeblood of a successful business.

Are There Other Benefits of Automation?

There are multiple impacts in the use of automation across many industries.

The first is that production costs are reduced, which allows more consumers to purchase a company’s products.

The second will be the demand for skilled labor. As more robots and AI apparatuses are integrated into business, the demand for skilled workers who can operate, repair, and maintain such devices will increase.

The third is the possibility that wages will increase for the workers. If companies can make more money with the same number of workers, they can pay those workers better.

The fourth is that automation allows humans to become more innovative and spend more time being creative. If humans aren’t bogged down by routine tasks, they will find something better to do.

Finally, we may need automation.

QZ notes:

As the birthrate in many countries declines, the share of the working age population will shrink. To maintain today’s GDP, those workers will each need to be more productive than workers today, and they’ll need to improve at a faster rate than they have in the past. Even if productivity continued to improve at the same rate that it has throughout the last 50 years—within which the computer and the internet both became mainstream tools—it wouldn’t be enough of an improvement to sustain GDP. Automation technology could be the answer. According to a McKinsey analysis, it could raise global productivity by as much as 0.8% to 1.4% annually—but only if humans keep working, as well

Should We Fear A Robot Apocalypse?

While automation is becoming more commonplace, so are the opportunities for the worker to learn new skills and possibly earn a higher wage. Mundane, routine tasks will be taken over by robots, AI, and other forms of automation; this will allow workers to expand their innovation and creativity. Such opportunities will allow the job market to change and grow to fit ever changing technology.

So while the idea of increased automation may seem frightening on the surface, it actually heralds great things for the future. So bring on the bots!

How to get a billion people to work for free

How to get a billion people to work for you for free-Technology and private property.

Scott Dennis March 13, 2018

We have all heard the axiom that “knowledge is power”, when a clear view of how power is being wielded today emerges it is perhaps far more accurate to say that “data is power”. There are multi-million dollar businesses that provide data protection services, but what about the data that we freely hand over or that we are unaware that we are providing? An informed citizen needs to understand how this data is being retrieved, by whom and for what purposes. Let me start to lay out the concept of how data is retrieved with a personal story. In 2007 I was part of a group of managers who had the responsibility of hardening the security of a port facility. At regular intervals we would invite stakeholders such as the fire department, police and the local military representatives to stage a drill that introduced possible scenarios that could affect the port and we responded based on our particular role. One year we had a special group of guests from the labs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to observe the exercises. They explained that they were there to monitor our decisions in response to the ever worsening artificial scenarios playing out during the exercises. These Naval Intelligence researchers were early adopters to the theory that artificial intelligence was never going to reach its potential without useful data sets.

AI is dumb unless we teach it about ourselves

The kind of work that DARPA was doing that afternoon falls under a thirty year old application of technology called a decision support system (DSS). Over the decades government and the corporate world has applied these technological structures more for the facilitation of organizational processes than actual decision making. However the revolutionary scaling of how organizations can now collect data into so called knowledge warehouses has made actual decision making possible. Look at it this way, if you wanted your Artificial Intelligence to help you make decisions ten years ago then you were doing field work or surveys and keying  in the data. Now imagine that information pipeline scaled to the level of the global internet with billions of people offering information about themselves and their behaviors.

What We Share

Recently January 28th has been named data privacy day; this is an effort to raise awareness on how to protect your private data. In my opinion it is a holiday similar to Valentine’s Day, asking you to think about security but actually a commercial for the vendors supplying protection measures. It is far more important for individuals to have a sense that their information is private property and act accordingly when interacting with their own data cloud. Even when we interact with our social media we are doing some of our most vigorous sharing of data.

Researchers have been suggesting that every Facebook user (now numbering one billion people) can be seen as digital workers inputting an estimated 20 minutes a day of their own private information, liking, commenting and clicking on ads. That is more than 300 million working hours of free digital labor per day.

The take away here is that free data sets are flowing to private AI, which will compete directly with workers in the near future. Some improved measures of protection will be enacted on May 25, 2018 with the enactment of the GDPR in Europe which mission is according to their website.

“The aim of the GDPR is to protect all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in an increasingly data-driven world that is vastly different from the time in which the 1995 directive was established.”

So far there are no equivalent measures being considered in the U.S. as of yet, but it is important to get the word out on digital privacy so that we can move toward protecting citizens from zealous technological applications.

Scott Dennis Writes for Blue Collar Think Tank
www.bluecollarthinktank.com
@bcthinktank