The future of jobs

Paul Rinker made a string of misstatements about my letter on the future of jobs: “Tim Mannello gave a vision of a dystopian future where machines steal all the jobs from us poor helpless humans.” To the contrary, I referenced research that estimates that, around 2030, “38% of jobs will be at high risk because of automation.” Nowhere did I suggest automation would eliminate all jobs done by humans today.

Mr. Rinker also said: “To support this view, Mr. Mannello used a joke once told by Warren Buffet.” The name “Warren Buffet” doesn’t appear in my letter. Rather, my views were supported by expert economists’ work at MIT as reported by Axios Future of Work Editor Steve LeVine. By contrast, without a single citation, Mr. Rinker relies exclusively on his own personal economic omniscience.

Further, Mr. Rinker states that automation doesn’t eliminate the need for human employees,” and that “machines aren’t a threat to humans or human employment.” Nonsense, and to make my point, I gave a detailed list of the kinds of jobs already taken over by automation and other jobs that will be eliminated or reduced by future automation.

Jobs at risk aren’t restricted to manufacturing where studies show that automation has already increased output and decreased employment and contributed to wage stagnation over the last forty years. Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that 61% of financial sector jobs will be replaced by robots. Others include those requiring information analytics, many of which can be done better by computers than humans, including some work now done by physicians, lawyers, accountants, and stock brokers.

Finally, Mr. Rinker states “there are jobs that no machine can do or will ever be able to do.” True enough, but my point is that this particular category of work is dramatically diminishing.

Mr. Rinker also stressed the need to invest more in worker training and education. Yes, but without first identifying what jobs will remain human-only, that investment won’t achieve the desired outcomes.

Humans maintain superiority in three skill areas: high-end creativity, interpersonal skills and flexibility/mobility. We’re at our own peril, however, if we refuse to heed the warnings of experts that “machines are making inroads even into each of them.”

According the McKinsey Global Institute, about “49% of worker activities can be turned over to some sort of machine or robot, increasingly helped along by artificial-intelligence software.” Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that “58% of CEOs plan to cut jobs over the next five years because of robotics, while 16% say they plan to hire more people because of robotics.”

We would be mistaken if we don’t heed what several experts call the dirty little secret of economics: “There is no economic law that says everyone, or even most people, automatically benefit from technological progress.” Machine-initiated job destruction is not a fantasy. It will be the most frequent reason for pink slips in tomorrow’s workplace.

Tim Mannello


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