Do you like your job? Good for you. Do you want to keep your job?
Easy there, chief; not so fast. Chances are, a robot can do your job better, faster, and cheaper. And without complaining.
Are you a taxi driver? Soon we’ll have driverless cars. Do you work on an assembly line? You’re slow and outdated, and you make mistakes. Do you work at a fast food place? Robots can ask “Would you like fries with that?” too.
And they don’t complain about minimum wage laws.
Wendy’s showed us how that’s done. Given all of the”Fight for $15″ agitation and the general rising costs of American labor, why wouldn’t they? And “because it looks bad” is an awful reason. Businesses only care about looking good to the extent that it increases profits. The second that “Department of Corporate Responsibility” becomes a money-losing liability, it’s gone, right along with everyone else who can be replaced by robots.
I mean, Wendy’s could just hire cheap foreign, or even illegal, labor. But it wants to stay in business. It also does not want to pay $15 an hour. So there’s nothing left to do but replace workers with robots.
The above scenario is inevitable if you’re a staunch believer in the Austrian school of economics, which posit that the diktats of the purely voluntary marketplace rule all, all actors are rational who do what is best to maximize profit, and anything resembling altruism is dangerous, destructive, and the province of fools.
This is opposed to socialism, which posits, like, why not pay everybody $20 an hour? $40? $100? Why even have money at all, man?!
So yeah, the way we do things now, there’s no middle-ground between paying less-than dirt and exorbitant sums that would actually make it difficult for small businesses to stay in business. Surely Wendy’s could throw its workers a bone, couldn’t it?
Ah, but there’s the rub. If you believe in freedom, they shouldn’t be forced to do so by the government. Not that big business does much out of the goodness of its own heart, but I digress.
Back to automation: at the end of the day, doesn’t it benefit us, the consumers?
Yes it does. I’m a capitalist. I know how the system works. We love innovation almost as much as we like cheap stuff. Just ask the companies replacing us with cheaper foreign versions of ourselves. And don’t complain, because at least you’re not paying too much for that iPhone of yours, you ungrateful plebe. Somewhere, somebody’s stock price isn’t going up because you insist on keeping jobs here.
But of course, there are some classes of jobs that will be immune from the automation revolution. A class of jobs which require such skill and such intellect, such judgment and such poise, such education and such experience, that they require the human touch.
Doctors? Nope, they’re expendable too.
I’m talking about the truly indispensable, the truly elite. If you’re lucky enough to be one of these, then your job is safe for all time.
Who are these wonderful human beings to really make the world go round, these drivers of our economic engine? Let’s create a hypothetical profile:
Say you went to Harvard or Stanford, majored in political science or government, interned for a Senator or at a think tank, got a nice job because a friend of your dad’s thinks you look cute in that dress and/or suit. If this is you, you’ll be in a position where you make the decisions that shape our lives (but don’t have to live with the consequences). You are indispensable. You are an integral part of the American fabric. And you the only kind of job worth saving. Congratulations! You’re more American than mom, baseball, and apple pie!
You’re an elite, and you’ll never be replaced by a robot!
The rest of us? In between training our cheap foreign replacements, we’ll have to learn to repair the machines, so they say (“Learn to code, dude!”) that replaced us once they ultimately replace our cheap foreign replacements. More accurately, we’ll have to train our cheap foreign replacements to repair the machines that replaced us (that were probably built overseas).
This is not a paean for protectionism. I understand that technology has always necessitated a change in the workforce and its skills so don’t yell “MUH FREE TRADE!” at me, thank you very much. I just think it’s a shame that certain types of jobs are immune.
The kind of jobs that never seem to get replaced by machines are the kinds of jobs where those who hold them would be the first to die should civilization break down.
But hope seems to be on the horizon: There is so much development in the world of artificial intelligence that it boggles the mind. Algorithms are being written so that machines to seem capable of nearly indistinguishable thought from that of a human. We are rapidly approaching the singularity, and computers are getting better at passing the Turing test, making a lot of machines seem just as lifelike as us humans. Maybe even more lifelike, in the case of lawyers.
Lawyers? They’re safe from the AI boom, aren’t they?
Doesn’t the thought of a robot lawyer sound scary? Imagine, a race of undying, relentless, electronic attorneys tracking your every move, chasing your every ambulance, and writing all of your laws. “They don’t eat . . . they don’t sleep . . . they just want to get paid!”
But robots, in addition to being better looking and more fun at parties than most lawyers, would have access to every single law, case, and regulation at their disposal quicker than the blink of an eye. No more $2,000 attorneys’ bills for “legal research.” Just your answer when you’ve finished plugging your question into the system.
And why stop at attorneys? Why not robot judges? I’m getting into Star Trek territory, but a judge’s job is to apply the law to the facts in an impartial, unbiased, and fair manner. Anybody who has been within sniffing distance of a courtroom knows that this is total bullshit. I say replace them all.
I know I’ll be out of a job, but you know what? I’m willing to take one for the team.
Now if only they can get cracking on robot journalists . . .
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