Hicks on biz: Innovation means fewer jobs BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, JANUARY 19, 2017
The Old Guys’ Drinking Club had gathered, as usual, in a neighbourhood pub.
The conversation turned, as usual, to incoming American President Donald Trump.
At least give him a chance, I ventured to opine into a sea of scorn for the new American president. Let’s see if Trump can deliver on his promise to bring back jobs exported by American companies to lower-cost countries like China, Mexico and India.
“No way,” said the high-tech business man sipping on his scotch. “The man is not only a sexist, racist buffoon, but any new jobs in America, repatriated or not, will be automated.
“Trump isn’t going to create jobs – those jobs are gone. They are being done by robots or AI (artificial intelligence).”
Therein lies the rub.
Alberta has been focused on the job losses in the oil patch, which, the New Democrat government assures us, will be offset by government-encouraged new jobs in a new, diverse economy.
Our challenge is more than simple job losses in the all-important energy sector.
It’s automation itself!
At major mines in Australia, trains hauling the raw product are being automated. Everybody working in the oil sands knows the era of human-driven huge trucks carrying bitumen ore will draw to a close. The trucks will drive themselves. One technician at a central control panel will replace multiple drivers.
Automation is replacing humans at every turn. Self check-outs replace grocery cashiers. Automated banking machines replace bank tellers. As self-driving vehicles become a reality, the driving profession will fade away. Even at McDonald’s, automated ordering systems will lead to fewer counter staff.
Automation is NOT off-set by new jobs created in what’s being called “The fourth industrial revolution.”
At international think tanks like the 2016 World Economic Forum, experts suggested two million IT jobs will be created, but seven million jobs lost due to automation — this in the world’s 15 leading economies over the next five years.
One new IT job will be created for every 3.75 less-skilled/lower paying jobs lost.
Nobody has an answer.
Japan, arguably the most automated country on Earth, has long coped with a declining labour force and rising unemployment, from 1% of working-age citizens 30 years ago to 3-4% unemployment today.
The Japanese have good quality of life, but their country is stagnant and deeply in debt. Its GDP (gross domestic product) has flat-lined at 0% growth for the past 25 years.
It’s easy enough to see this thing coming. Nobody has a solution.
All corporations, governments, agencies, etc., have to use technological improvements to stay in business.
But such “improvements” inevitably lead to job losses. In Alberta’s most successful companies, like Airdrie’s Alta Injection Molding, former labour-intensive processes have been replaced by state-of-the-art automation run by small technology teams.
Every CEO and deputy minister knows society can’t keep cutting jobs without economic consequence. If previously employable people cannot find jobs, who will have the disposable cash to purchase their products and services? But it’s not their problem. At least, not in their working lives.
Artists have long thought about these notions: Well-known Edmonton playwright/composer/director Jonathan Christenson explores the spiritual/societal issues of a factory being closed in a small town in his latest show Fortune Falls, now playing at the Citadel Theatre.
Movies like Her or Ex Machina explore relationships between AI machine personalities and human beings. The brilliant animated WALL-E envisions a space ship full of super-fat, aimless human beings, their every need met by intelligent machines.
Even the futurists scratch their heads – if nobody works, and self-learning machines take care of us, how will necessities and luxuries be distributed? All our current notions of income as a reflection of societal value – capitalist, socialist, you name it — go out the window!
Good luck to Trump, Notley, Trudeau and all the current political crews, with their promises of more jobs in the current economic and technology environments.
If wishes were horses, they all could ride.