If you read articles about the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution you’ll often hear how it will make our lives a lot better and that though there will be a loss of jobs there will be new types of jobs will offset the losses. What no one admits is that those new jobs will be data intensive and will require a certain amount of technical expertise. It’s fair to assume that people will need to be retrained for this new job economy. There is also the argument, like all creative destruction arguments, that in the wreckage comes a phoenix of creativity that will create industries and careers that we can’t possibly imagine in the present because only when we are there will we create them.
This makes a lot of sense, certainly the pioneers of the 19th century would’ve never imagined people would’ve been employed blogging, serving drinks on a plane or writing operations codes for computers. Our ancestors could never have imagined a computer.
I can’t help but wonder though, after going through such a brutal election season, how it is that already we’ve forgotten, the forgotten men and women of Red States and Rust Belt. We’ve also forgotten the rest of us schlubs who are supposedly East Coast elites who have also been abused by a system that rewards the upper echelons while taking more and more from the lower classes.
During the elections, what stands out is the claim that so many manufacturing jobs were lost to poor trade policies like the TPP and NAFTA. About 88% of those manufacturing jobs disappeared due to automation, not trade deals. So it stands to reason, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, and more automation, there will be even more jobs lost. This coming AI age will not just eliminate manufacturing jobs, it will also eliminate almost every other kind of job. Self-driving vehicles will eliminate every job that involves delivery and livery services. Bus drivers, cab drivers, long-haul truckers. This means millions of jobs. Then there are retail establishments and self-checkouts, we already have machines making food, order your food at the kiosk, the back room builds your burrito, who needs service staff? That is 10’s of millions of jobs.
In the throes of the 2008 financial debacle approximately 6,000 retail establishments closed their doors. That was the the whole year of 2008. Right now, in the first quarter of 2017, approximately 2,880 stores have closed. Thank you Amazon. They have almost totally automated the shopping experience. The last pesky link, the poor schlubs that run around packing boxes get paid barely over minimum wage while working 14 hour days in Dante’s Inferno. So what remains? Certainly not a lot of low-education requirement positions. Everything in the future is going to need a college degree. That’s not the worst part. Artificial intelligence isn’t just getting better, it’s writing it’s own code. This means, it learns what works best, and then creates it faster than humans. So even if you go to school to learn coding, you Lean In (by Sheryl Sandberg) on this new phenomenon and improve yourself doing that, the machines are going to be better coders than you. So those engineers writing all the code at Google, Facebook and other money printing enterprises, they too, will soon be worried about their jobs.
Why are these super smart people spending their energy making people obsolete? Why the race to supplant people with machines? Aren’t we dysfunctional enough as a society? As it is people come home and everyone is on their own phone, watching T.V., playing video games, otherwise electronically tethered. We don’t practice getting along with other people, talking, communicating face to face, somehow no one understands why people are so desperately angry, sad and shooting things up like crazy.
The answer? We need to start getting really creative. We need to use our imaginations, give ourselves permission to try things and sometimes fail. I put on an event in the East Side of Buffalo. My goal, to turn Buffalo’s concept of cycling upside down. To invite the kind of people I wasn’t seeing at the Slow Roll ride, the kinds of people who may not have bikes or who have bikes that aren’t very good. I wanted them to come and have a fun day, on bikes. My ulterior motive, help create an environment where people could start imagining the possibilities in themselves and then trying them out.
It was a financial failure. We didn’t get nearly enough participants to cover costs. The thing is though, it moved the dial hard. Slow Roll organizers realized they were missing the boat on recruiting riders from the East Side. Now, after a successful 2016 season including a whole new demographic slice Slow Roll is turning Buffalo into a bike-centric town. It has inspired a few bike-centric micro businesses. Bike share has expanded into the East Side and the motivation to create a new bike friendly paradigm is gaining momentum. People are standing up for human solutions to very real problems.
The Termin8er may have lost money, but we broke a paradigm about the Central Terminal, an abandoned train station forgotten for decades. After the event, it coincidentally was considered for a total overhaul and there was serious talk about bringing the trains back. If they’d invited my event back and helped me make it sustainable, it might’ve helped them make the case to rebuild during an official project analysis process because they would’ve been able to show proof of life.
We all need to recognize that the “experts” don’t have a plan for us. I remember when businesses were automating their factories in the 80’s. They claimed it was going to create more jobs even though the assembly line was being designed to eliminate jobs by the millions. We all need to start thinking about what it is about being human that we can’t live without. Then we need to create jobs to do that. Good luck, I’ll be over here searching for some answers and putting my crazy ideas up here for my readers to comment on, steal or maybe do better.
In the 90’s my messenger friends and I imagined people riding their bikes to work. We imagined people getting so frustrated with their cars that they starting joining us in huge numbers. We imagined cycling in cities would get less and less dangerous. Remaining motorists would have not choice but to deal with us. We never thought it would come true. Wrenching at the Capital Bike Share (Washington, D.C.) in 2013 me and my fellow mechanics, several of them ex-messengers, would laugh at how it actually all happened.