It has been about five years since the publication of my 2009 book The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, which argued that we are on the brink of a revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence that would put millions of jobs at risk—and quite possibly threaten our overall economic prosperity. Over the next few years, I followed up with a series of posts both here and at Huffington Post, warning of a future unemployment crisis, the potential automation of low-wage fast food jobs as well as the higher-skill white collar jobs sought by college graduates, and the negative economic consequences of widespread automation.
For most of the five years that I have been writing on this subject, I’ve been a relatively lonely voice; the attention of both the public and economists has been focused elsewhere. Over the the past year or so, however, things have changed quite dramatically: deep concern about the robot revolution—and its impact on jobs—is going mainstream.
In September 2013, researchers at Oxford University conducted a study of over 700 occupations and found that jobs representing about 47 percent of total U.S. employment (or over 60 million jobs) are likely to be susceptible to automation within the next decade or two. A separate study by a think tank in Brussels found that between 50 and 60 percent of jobs in most European nations could eventually be taken over by robots or algorithms. More recently, a survey of experts by Pew Research found that the vast majority expect that “robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025,” and about half of those surveyed expected a significantly negative impact on jobs.
Many of these concerns are captured in the extremely well-produced video, “Humans Need Not Apply,” just released by C.G.P. Grey. Grey has become well-known for short, high quality videos that clarify a variety of complicated topics, but this is his first full-fledged documentary and offers one of the best explanations I’ve seen as to why we should worry about the coming robot invasion. I’d strongly recommend taking 15 minutes to watch this great video.
Update: I’ve added a second good video called “Transitions for Society.” The first the video does a great job of explaining technological unemployment, but doesn’t focus on solutions. The second video offers some possible policy prescriptions.
Humans Need Not Apply
Transitions for Society