The future of jobs: will we be replaced or freed?

Artificial Intelligence is going to replace workers, doctors, teachers, and eventually even their creators – programmers. Many respected figures from the technological world, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, have called for universal basic income. Can that actually work?

Robotization is currently ready to take over a third of all tasks from 60% of all jobs. It’s estimated that by 2030, up to 14% of the global workforce will have to change their field of employment.

We can’t compete with robots. They are more accurate, faster, better mathematicians, and they never sleep. As we can see from intricate games of strategy like chess and Civilization, fighting AIs is a losing battle. We, therefore, have to adapt. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be negative.

What if the opposite were true? It’s emotional intelligence that gives humans the ability to manage emotions and to identify those others are experiencing. Even though we can teach robots how to learn and how to be innovative, they will hardly ever be able to replace human creativity, empathy, and the ability to understand causality relationships. AIs can better predict heart disease, but they don’t know the causes. And that’s where the opportunity lies: the close cooperation between humans and robots.

Many people fear to lose their jobs, which is understandable. But the most probable outcome is that they will only change what they do. Even with automation, the demand for labor and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fueled by the productivity growth enabled by technological progress. For each human replaced, there may be up to 3 new job opportunities. Many smart companies are already re-training their employees. The development and growth of exponential technologies also create new jobs every day. Rising incomes and consumption especially in developing countries; growing demand for healthcare in aging societies; investments into infrastructure and energy; and similar trends will create demand for work that could help offset the displacement of workers.

Disrupting the Disruptors

Many may still find it difficult to adapt to and completely change their profession. Therefore, observers say that countries will need universal basic income to ameliorate some of the negative effects of automation. Elon Musk has even said: “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice”. AIs have defeated human experts in their own fields and continue to improve even after that, getting better every day, disrupting the very people that developed them. If creators can come under threat from their own AIs, then anyone can. Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems and owner of Khosla Ventures, predicted in 2016 that 80% of all IT jobs will be replaced by AI systems.

Universal Basic Income as a Crutch

Some countries have already begun experimenting with universal basic income and taxation of robots. Jane Kim from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was inspired by Bill Gates and started the Jobs of the Future Fund. A study from the group should yield data about “job-stealing” robots and their impact on employment. The fund has also proposed taxing robots to use the receipts for retraining programs, colleges, and universal basic income (UBI).

Finland recently concluded its universal basic income experiment. Beginning in 2017, a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people were given a monthly stipend of €560 with no obligation to seek or accept employment for the duration of the trial. The results of the pilot will be available by the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020, while other experiments continue concurrently.

Economically speaking, any state that paid €500/month to each and every citizen would soon collapse, while taxing robots defeats their very purpose. So are these measures necessary? Throughout mankind’s history, innovation has never led to a situation where people cannot find jobs. Quite the contrary. The car brought more jobs and opportunities than the horse-drawn carriage and same is now expected with the digital revolution. There will always be jobs in services where humans are irreplaceable, while demand for new jobs and skills always grows faster than the capacity to hand off routine manual labor to machines. It is predicted that in the next 20 years, 30% – 50% of all jobs will be done by robots. But that’s 30% – 50% of TODAY’S jobs! And that is something we have to keep in mind.

Even though the idea of universal basic income is backed by some of the most respected personalities of today, we should remain level-headed. Just imagine the competitive disadvantage a country would have if it taxed robots.

The future of jobs might be brighter than most people think. Robots and AIs may yet set us free: Free from difficult, monotonous, dangerous work as they enable us to do be creative, plan, strategize, perform services, and undertake the myriad of activities that have yet to be created.

Author: Martin Kysilka,