The title above is freely rendered from the title of the book “Robots will steal your job, but that is ok” by Frederico Pistono. Frederico was the opening keynote speaker at the 2013 IT innovation congress hosted by IDG / Webwereld. The essence of his plea is that there are many jobs that are about to become obsolete. People might think that they are special, unique, and that whatever they do, is impossible to replace. He says, that as we speak, millions of algorithms created by computer scientists are frantically running on servers all over the world, with one purpose only: do whatever humans can do, but better. In fact, there are already a lot of jobs in daily life that have been replaced by machines. The classic example is the cashier at a bank being replaced by an ATM. In his speech the writer takes it a step further and brings forward the evidence that 45% of the existing jobs will be automated in the next 20 years. This vision is backed up by a report of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology. The authors of the report believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such as engineering. This “technological plateau” will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science, engineering and the arts at risk.
But what about the car industry? According to Pistino engineering in automotive is at stake. In the US automotive industry 3.838.700 people are employed in engineering and they put out innovations at a moderate pace. The highly innovative Google car project which brought us the self-driving or autonomous car was conceived by as little as 100 engineers. Although a lot can be said against this comparison, it takes nothing but common sense to see that autonomous driving cars can fulfill tasks that currently require a vehicle and a driver. Taxi cabs, shuttle busses, garbage collection, public transportation in general, traffic police. The list of jobs that involve drivers and the number of people that might be affected by autonomous car technology is definitely a long one. The social scientific expression for this phenomenon is technological unemployment. Or by quoting Pistino “Software is eating the world.”
It leaves us with the question what the consequences will be and what we can do to prevent a catastrophic collapse of all these jobs involving cars and drivers? Or in other words, as the title of this article says: ”Autonomous vehicles will steal your job, but that is ok”. Why is that ok?
Pistino’s answer to that is innovation. He says, the fact that repetitive tasks such as driving are taken over by robots, leaves room for people to really think about innovation. To think about finding solutions for the world’s biggest issues such as poverty, hunger, climate change, terrorism, health care and so on. It leaves us wondering how individual drivers can transform their job into participants in a think tank for the world’s problems. That might be a little drastic and may take a generation.