This topic falls in the realm of finance in a very obtuse way: it falls in the realm of making money. Since I’m always interested in how people make money or how businesses get and stay profitable, this topic hits my radar.
A week or so ago, there was a flurry of articles concerning how within 30 years, robots will take over the majority of the jobs (I think they said 50%), even waitressing, lawyering (not court room work) and such people related jobs. Bill Gates talked about it and Larry Page brought it up in his interviews. They say AI will do a better job than a real human being.
It is distressing because if most jobs are done by robots or AI, what will people do? How will they earn a living, especially if we are still purchasing things using money? Will this produce a permanent unemployment or a permanent underclass? Folks say that this will greatly expand our leisure time and make our life better with such expanded leisure time. Well, unemployment is a form of expanded leisure time and I don’t see people being very happy about it.
I believe man was born to constantly struggle and be productive. If they don’t have anything to do, then they turn toward trouble which is why people talk about keeping teens and young adults occupied with productive endeavors. Expanded leisure time could produce a lot of unrest and trouble.
We, as a society, need to come to grips on: what it means to be working and productive; what is the purpose of money, jobs and businesses; what is the equitable distribution of income and goods. If AI will take over a lot of jobs, our value system will need to change to be able to incorporate such dislocations to make it bearable. We can’t continue to think that CEOs deserve to make 300+ times more than the lowest paid person. We can’t continue to think that the financiers really earned those big bucks and that they provide value. Even the shareholder mantra will need revising (it needs revising now). In a world where the vast majority of the populace are unemployed or working in poor jobs, the current value system and business thinking will be insupportable.
Now there is something that robots can’t do and that is create improvements in products or processes. There have been a few instances where manufacturers have found that in highly automated environments, employees can no longer make creative improvements because they no longer make things. They are distanced from the activity of making things and so cannot gain a good feel for how such things work. A few people, here and there, are coming to the realization that you do need people if you want creativity. That is the single shining light in this fearsome future. Let’s hope there are enough people smart enough to realize we still need people to perform the work!
Meanwhile, for the rest of us, we need to work on our creativity. If I could automate activities in my past jobs, which I did all the time with Excel, then finance and accounting jobs will be taken over by AI. It will probably happen within 10 to 15 years, not 30 – within our lifetime! Things are happening a lot faster than people are expecting.