‘Humans Need Not Apply’ is the name of a YouTube video by a CGP Grey, who publishes on various topics related to history and human events. In it, he predicts the elimination of tens of millions of jobs due to the robotic revolution. And it’s not one that’s coming, it’s one that’s here, now. Some examples:
A new robot called Baxter that can load and sort products or flip burgers. Currently on sale for $25,000, he’s cheaper than a minimum wage employee.
How about a robot barista? “Robobarista” has been developed at Cornell. What’s unique about this robot is that it can learn, so for example can operate an espresso machine it has never seen before. With over 20,000 coffee shops across North America, the introduction of Robobaristas could replace a lot of entry-level jobs over the next few years.
Self-driving cars and trucks exist today and will be on the road tomorrow. What will happen to all the taxi and truck drivers? And it’s not just blue-collar jobs that are in jeopardy; this dynamic also applies to robotic pharmacists and paralegals that can research law issues. And did you know that you’ve probably already read business and sports reports written by robots?
What does this mean for our future workforce? Overall it’s good news, because any kind of automation raises productivity, which is good for the economy as we’ve seen with the advances produced by industrial mechanization over the last century. While some people predicted back then that employees would be replaced by machines, that didn’t happen. In fact, U.S. employment today is at an all-time high with 140 million full-time jobs.
New technology doesn’t destroy jobs, it only changes the type of jobs. For example, a growing grocery store chain can save money by using automated checkouts, and use those savings to open more stores more quickly, ultimately employing more people.
For companies, the trick is to figure out where the new types of employees will come from and how to train them properly. For employees, it will be important to know how to become one. Education and critical thinking skills are keys to their future, as thinking up a new product or streamlined business process are skills that robots don’t have. Yet.