Job Automation And Universal Basic Income
Elon Musk thinks a universal basic income is inevitable. Musk doesn't see plausible alternatives. I hope not. So here's the optimistic scenario: On the one hand, manual and low skilled work will mostly get automated out of existence. So one could imagine why demand for people at lower skill levels and lower levels of cognitive ability could just evaporate. On the other hand, automation will cut costs and boost the wealth of those still employed. Even if the pay of manual laborers is low the goods a manual laborer will need to survive should become very cheap. So any upper class people who can find a use for them might pay them enough to survive.
But I see a stronger case against continued demand for lower skilled workers. Consider the Industrial Revolution's impact on horse employment. In America "Peak Horse" happened somewhere around 2015 or 2020. After that cars, trucks, and farm tractors rather quickly replaced horses for almost all uses. Horses survive today primarily for sports and as pets. The same has happened with most working dog breeds. City dwellers do not use them for hunting and rarely for guarding. Most herding dogs are pets, not animal herders.
Similarly, in America routine human work peaked around 2001. Also, chart 4 shows that since year 2000 in manufacturing employment has increased for advanced degree holders while going down for everyone else. So manufacturing is phasing out manual laborers and this trend will continue in the decades to come.
The employment-population ratio by education level is the most astounding ignored set of social indicators in America today. The less educated are increasingly not working. So maybe we've already hit peak high school drop-out employment.
McDonald's is joining the list of fast food companies installing self serve ordering kiosks and they'll also let you order by mobile app. Start-ups are working on automated chefs. Imagine restaurants with a quarter of the current number of employees. On the bright side, ordering will be much faster with everyone doing it on their phones rather than waiting in line.. ordering before arriving will become a widespread practice. Waiting times will be slashed due to earlier ordering also due to robotic food prep.
Trucking and logistics look set for a revolution too. Automated truck loading systems and driverless trucks are coming. A few million truck drivers will be replaced with autonomous vehicles in the next 20 years. Cab drivers will similarly be replaced.
Moshe Vardi, a professor of computational engineering at Rice University, thinks by 2045 the unemployment rate could be 50%. Says Vardi:
"We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task," Vardi said. "I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?"
A highly effective human will pair with computers to guide them to combine ideas and designs to produce highly innovative creations. But I do not think most humans will be able to work with computers to make the computers more productive.