Automation and Artificial Intelligence: An Overview

Kevin Damato | @KevinCDamato

Automation and artificial intelligence may be two of the most intriguing and frightening words in the dictionary. Simply speaking these terms stirs up a lot of varying emotions. To a computer programmer, excitement might ensue, and for a truck driver, pure anger. How could two words create such strong feelings? The simple answer is that with automation and AI comes the controversial concept of change.

The change enacted by these ideas will be massive. The use of robots in the workplace will become normal, and society will look different. In the new 21st century economy, comfort with the status quo will not be acceptable. Despite the dark, surface level picture that is painted, the innovations associated with this technology should be embraced. We just need to make sure America is ready to make the jump towards progress.

The History of Automation

Many briefly analyze our current situation and assume that this is the first time that societies have dealt with systemic economic shifts. We are living in the most technologically advanced age in all of human history. This is not a new development, and history shows the pattern that is occurring today.

For instance, the Luddite movement in Britain was started by the hand weaving textile workers in the 19th century. After the introduction of power looms, many of these workers began to lose their jobs. In reaction to the changing times, Luddites began riots. Through these riots, Luddites destroyed machinery, attacked factory workers, and engaged in fights with government soldiers.

To find another example of automation affecting jobs, we need to look no further than the American agricultural industry. In 1900, more than 2/5 of workers were involved in agriculture as opposed to today with less than 2/100 workers being involved. This was, in part, due to more jobs being created in other working sectors but also due to many innovations in equipment and efficiency, from gasoline tractors to cheaper fertilizer.

From the violent outrage of the Luddites to the surprisingly smooth transition of American farmers, we see how societies have dealt with job automation in the past. Watching the two sides of this coin will be important in understanding how to create a healthy transfer of jobs as society progresses.

The Good and The Bad

Moreover, will these innovations be good or bad for Americans? There are many positive and also many negative outcomes stemming from the increased use of robots and machine learning.

Starting with the bad, we begin to see some very startling numbers. Over the last few years, study’s began popping up that estimate the US could lose between 39-73 million jobs by 2030. These numbers are staggering and very concerning. It’s especially scary when looking at jobs in trucking, logging, food service, etc, which are expected to lose practically all jobs.

Another major bad aspect is what to do with these mostly lower class workers who will be abruptly losing their jobs. Career options are limited. This is an obstacle that only preparation can mitigate.

On the other side of things, benefits of automation are often overlooked due to the focus on major job loss. However, the more you look into them, the more optimistic you become.

For instance, a Deloitte study in the UK found that where 800,000 jobs were displaced from AI, 3.5 million new, higher paid jobs were created as a result. Also, in those 39-73 million jobs estimated to be lost in the US that I mentioned earlier, 20 million are expected to find jobs in related fields with relative ease. Some even claim that automation will ultimately create even more jobs! Unfortunately, since the best information we can find on the future can only be anecdotal or estimates, only time will tell the true numbers behind future job creation.

The significant cut in price for products and services through automation is a huge net benefit to the general public. Basic economics tells us when the cost of production goes down, the market rate will go down as well. These cheaper prices give great power to the consumer, either allowing them to spend their money on other things, or to save it for another occasion.

How to Prepare for this New Economy

Although there are plenty of things to be excited about when it comes to automation, we can only reap these benefits when we know America will be prepared. Steps need to be taken to prepare for these future economic situations.

One potential solution is the spreading of training and skills through new online teaching sources like SkillShare, Lynda and Khan Academy. This system is typically embraced for its affordability and lack of government intervention.

A safe bet in any sort of economy is building skills and increasing your human capital. The importance is amplified in a changing economy such as ours. With time, websites like these will build up even greater public perception and trust. As a result, companies will begin to take learners from these platforms as serious, viable candidates for new jobs.

Another potential solution that has particularly caught steam in the last several years is the Universal Basic Income or UBI. A UBI is generally seen as a government subsidized, guaranteed sum of money which is granted to the working class of a country every month.

UBI’s are interesting because their lump sum status gives the receiver multitudes of options on how to use their money; they could save it, use it to pay their bills, to invest, or even to start their own business. It’s not difficult to see why UBI’s are so alluring to economists who often see the benefits as numerous. In fact, even economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek argued that some sort of a UBI would be necessary to holding society up.

You may have heard of the UBI proposal from 2020 Democrat Candidate Andrew Yang, whose “Freedom Dividend” would provide every citizen over 18 a stipend of $1000 a month with no strings attached.

As you can see, the prospects associated with the future development of technology are great if prepared for correctly. We as a people have not been escalating this incredibly important topic to the place it needs to be, and as a result, have fallen behind on our groundwork for anticipation.

There’s so much to dive into when it comes to this topic and while specific numbers may be partially theoretical, we are certain change is coming. Great things are to come, we just need to be able to step up and reach for them.


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