Yes, the robots are coming — but take a breath.
- While automation and robots will displace millions of jobs, they're poised to create millions more.
- Our current round of technological unemployment might just be a transitionary phase.
- The fear of automation has been around for decades.
Technological unemployment<p>The past two decades has seen its fair share of technological induced unemployment. No one is denying that fact. Over 2 percent of Americans, that is around 7 million people, <a href="https://hbr.org/product/layoffs-effects-on-key-stakeholders/611028-PDF-ENG" target="_blank">lost their jobs in mass layoffs</a> from 2004 to 2009. Many of these job losses were due to automation and manufacturing positions being moved overseas. While the larger mass of the populace enjoyed cheaper products, a good deal of American workers, mostly without college degrees, lost their careers. </p><p>Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and coauthor Andrew McAfee have dug into these statistics over the years and come to the conclusion that advances in computer technology are behind the sluggish employment growth rates we've seen since the turn of the century. </p><p>Their most recent book covering the topic is: <em>The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. </em>During their earlier investigations they found that employment charts showed an upward trajectory that tracked evenly alongside productivity — starting a few years after World War II. The pattern continued, as an increase in jobs correlated to increases in productivity. That is, until the year 2000 when the lines started to diverge. Productivity was rising with greater economic growth, but there wasn't an equivalency in job creation. </p><p>Brynjolfsson and McAfee have termed this phenomenon "The Great Decoupling." </p><p>We're at an impasse right now where our culture and employment force can't keep up with this unprecedented technological growth. </p><p>"It's the great paradox of our era. Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet, at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren't keeping up," Brynjolfsson says.</p><p>McAfee also stated in an interview with <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/06/the-great-decoupling" target="_blank"><em>Harvard Business Review</em>: </a></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There's no economic law ensuring that as technological progress makes the pie bigger, it benefits everyone equally. Digital technologies can replicate valuable ideas, processes, and innovations at very low cost. This creates abundance for society and wealth for innovators, but it diminishes the demand for some kinds of labor."</p><p>Same old story of worker obsolescence from past industrial eras, only this time it's clothed in chrome and processors.</p>
Predictions of an automated future<div id="87388" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83D8OC1567182735"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="946365140642889728" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#OnThisDay 1966: Children predicted what life would be like in the year 2000 on Tomorrow's World. https://t.co/ow44Rw4frH</div> — BBC Archive (@BBC Archive)<a href="https://twitter.com/BBCArchive/statuses/946365140642889728">1514466006.0</a></blockquote></div><p>We've always oscillated between the dour and dark visions of a future turned upside down by automation or a near paradise tended to by our benevolent bots. As evidenced by the BBC video above, even children in the '60s were thinking about the mind-boggling realities of a future dominated by robotics.</p><p>While we don't have robot courts yet, or fully-autonomous fleets shuttling us anywhere we'd like, the things that robots may be able to do are staggering. This <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/05/21/408234543/will-your-job-be-done-by-a-machine" target="_blank">interactive NPR guide</a> let's you figure out how likely it is your job will be affected in the next 20 years. The usual suspects for disruption are all there — truck drivers, service workers, and so on. </p><p>Although, the current statistics paint a different picture. It's nearly 2020 and the unemployment rate in the United States, <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/national-employment-monthly-update.aspx" target="_blank">as of June 2019, is 3.8 percent</a>.</p><p>While some jobs are being lost to automation and other technologies, as it stands, we're not seeing a huge percentage of Americans without some kind of work — as feared by many for decades. Perhaps our fears are unfounded and this transitionary period will turn out to be just that.</p>
Future of employment<p>Alarmed like many others by the University of Oxford study that predicted a 47 percent job loss due to automation, journalist Andrés Oppenheimer traveled around the world to discover the truth for what beheld the future of work. In <a href="https://bigthink.com/big-think-books/the-robots-are-coming" target="_self"><em>The Robots Are Coming! The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation</em></a>, Oppenheimer comes to the conclusion that we should be able to weather through this change just as we have in the past. </p><p>It's going to require a lot of ingenuity coupled with the inevitable loss of countless professions becoming obsolete. We have already seen certain rote manual labor jobs either cease to exist or transition into new roles. This will become increasingly more commonplace within the next few decades.</p><p>A 2018 report from the World Economic Forum even suggested that, while we may displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022, we'll <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf" target="_blank">create a net positive of 133 million new ones.</a> The organization believes — with the current data in mind — that robots and algorithms will improve the productivity of existing jobs and create a number of new ones in the future.</p>
Power of innovation<p>Some of the jobs we have today would be unthinkable to those living just 10 to 20 years ago. Technicians working in the cloud, full-stack developers, Instagram influencers, and so many more both technical and creative alike. These examples are just a mere handful of the novel positions being created almost every day.</p><p>Everyone needs to get in on this action somehow. We're not all going to become programmers or engineers, but we can all start to think about the dynamics of work and employment in a much freer and future-oriented way.</p><blockquote>Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come — Victor Hugo</blockquote><p>Universities are already getting in on the action. Recently, I interviewed the new <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/berkeley-innovation" target="_self">Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer</a> at UC Berkeley. The university's foresight is helping them stay ahead of the technological disruption curve. They're also focusing on imparting an innovator mindset to the student body at large. Institutions like this are indicative of the things to come. </p><p>Perhaps future workers won't get a job — they'll create their own.</p>No amount of angry hand waving or puerile legislation can stop this. We cannot even begin to fathom some of the <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/inventions-space-colonization" target="_self">otherworldly technologies</a> and new career fields that'll one day arise.
Our clean energy needs to be sourced responsibly right from the get-go.
- Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from unsustainable mining.
- Mineral extraction damages local communities and environments, destroying cultures and biodiversity in the process.
- Human rights and conservationist efforts are put at risk due to mining.
Renewable energy transition<p>Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and other minerals, mostly including cobalt, nickel, lithium, aluminum, and silver. Batteries for electric cars makeup the biggest driver of mineral acquisition.</p><p>Study co-author, Elsa Dominish, remarks that, "A rapid increase in demand for metals for renewable energy. . . could lead to mining of marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote or biodiverse places."</p><p>Many of these areas rich in minerals are remote wilderness, which have yet to be touched by any commercial endeavor.</p><p>"The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system requires a complex mix of metals — such as copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, lithium, and silver — many of which have only previously been mined in small amounts," states Earthworks' report, in reference to the supply chains of the 14 most important minerals used in renewable energy production.<br></p><p>Payal Sampat, director of Earthworks' Mining Program, sees this as a crucial time to focus on the core aspects of what an environmental movement should be focusing on. </p><p>"We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging clean energy economy is truly clean–as well as just and equitable–and not dependent on dirty mining. As we scale up clean energy technologies in pursuit of our necessarily ambitious climate goals, we must protect community health, water, human rights, and the environment."</p><p>Under the supposition that all of human society would use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, researchers charted out what other aspects of the environment would be affected as we attempted to reach this goal. </p><p>The study explores the impacts that mining has on human society and culture, as well as the potential for even greater losses of biodiversity. </p><p>With a world running completely on renewables, the metal requirements would be astronomical. The only way you're going to feed this need is by opening up more mines worldwide. Combined with our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than good.</p><p>Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current "green dream."</p>
Industrialism is the problem<p>Mineral extraction levies an incredible cost on the communities and ecological landscape of a place. Material mined for renewable energy fuels the violation of human rights, pollutes local water sources, and often destroys wildlife.</p><p>Cobalt, which is the most important component of rechargeable batteries, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo; often by children in <a href="https://fortune.com/longform/blood-sweat-and-batteries/" target="_blank">dangerous working conditions.</a> The authors of the report found that cobalt is the "metal of most concern for supply risks," as 60 percent of its production occurs in Congo, a country with an abysmal record of human and environmental catastrophes. </p><p>In 2016, Amnesty International found that more than two dozen major electronics and automotive companies were failing to ensure that their supply chains of cobalt didn't include child labor. Amnesty blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain. Irresponsible and dangerous cobalt mining is a global problem. <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr62/3183/2016/en/" target="_blank">According to the report,</a> China's Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) owns exclusive rights to one quarter of the cobalt ore, of which the mines it flows from all employ child labor. </p><p>"The renewable energy transition will only be sustainable if it ensures human rights for the communities where the mining to supply renewable energy and battery technologies takes place," said Dominish.</p>
Sustainability and conservation<p>At present, write the authors, "Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry. In order for there to be a potential solution to all of this, there must be a convergence of different industries within the environmentalist movement. The recognition of renewable energy companies with conservationists, in <span style="font-size: 14px;">particular</span>, needs to be at the forefront.<br></p><p>"If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification. There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are recovered, so only what is necessary is mined," states the report. </p><p>Recycling sources will be one way to mitigate demand, but this won't stop new mining developments from popping up in fragile wildlife areas. This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.</p>
Foundational business books for success.
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, by Tim Harford
- Explore the 50 inventions that made the modern world.
- There is rich advice in the literature of start-up development.
- Learn about the interconnectedness of innovation and business development.
Methane gases from livestock production is contributing to the acceleration of global warming. Is a plant-based diet a smart way for individuals to curb the effects of climate change?
Make all the jokes you want, says Bill Nye, but methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and as Earth's population increases so too does the size of the meat industry that caters to it. Demand for meat is growing steeply in developing nations, according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the methane emitted by livestock is undoubtedly contributing atmospheric gases and accelerating global warming. So is a plant-based diet the answer, slashing the demand placed on the meat and dairy industries? Nye finds himself choosing to eat more and more vegetarian dishes, so while he hasn't gone 'full vegan' yet, his awareness of the problem has sparked a reductionist diet. Nye also mentions that agricultural scientists may soon find themselves under public pressure to reduce methane output. One way they might do that? Changing the bacteria in livestock's stomachs so they metabolize food with less methane byproduct. So we could bio-engineer the stomachs of other animals, or we could simply reduce the amount of animal products that go into our own.