Before there was automation, humans used to have to hunt to survive. But, humans are lazy, so we started developing machines to do jobs for us. As time progressed and we evolved, our job-doing machines evolved with us.
Jobs are now being taken over by machines much faster than they were in the past, but will innovation save us again? While new information age industries are booming, they are creating fewer and fewer new jobs.
A massive company in 1979 employed more than 800 000 workers and made about 11 billion – in 2012, Google made 14 billion while employing only 58 000 people.
Human progress is based in the division of labour. As we advanced, jobs became more and more specialized. Machines were created to do narrowly defined and predictable tasks, so humans were considered safe in some jobs that were more complicated.
However, if one looks at complex jobs hard enough, they turn into a bunch of narrowly defined and predictable tasks one after another. Because of that, there will be no further room for specialization.
A key example of this is Baxter – Baxter has his own sight and can learn what someone wants him to do. Baxter is trained by demonstration using existing workers, cutting on time and costs by not having to be programmed for different jobs. Baxter is seen as a general-purpose robot and he costs less than the annual salary of a human worker.
This all leads to machines taking over more and more jobs, and humans being able to find fewer and fewer jobs. Our economies are based on the premise that people consume, but if fewer and fewer people have decent work, who will be doing all the consuming?