As someone who has spent years covering technology, I’ve gotten a pretty decent glimpse into the future. Sadly for lots of people, that future increasingly looks like they’ll be out of work because Silicon Valley is investing heavily in lots of technologies that will destroy well-paying jobs across multiple industries.
None of this is to say that we should be Luddites and reject all this coming technological innovation, but it does show how ideas like having a basic universal income could go from being fringe concepts to mainstream policy proposals in the coming decades as more and more people may simply be unable to find work no matter how hard they try.
Below I’ll go through three key ways tech companies are working to kill a bunch of middle-class jobs.
1.) Self-driving cars
There are still a lot of hurdles that need to be crossed before self-driving cars become a reality, but they’re probably the hottest thing being tested in Silicon Valley right now. The advantages of self-driving cars are obvious: They will be much less accident prone than cars with human drivers, and thus they’ll save thousands of lives every year.
But think of all the people right now who have jobs that involve driving cars: Truckers, cabbies, public transportation drivers and so forth. MIT Technology Review reported this week that a group of former Google employees has founded a company called Otto that will produce self-driving trucks that will be used to ship goods across the country. Uber has started experimenting with driverless cars that may mean it never has to conduct another half-assed criminal background check again. And Google, which has been playing around with driverless cars for years, continues to make leaps and bounds with the development of its driving software.
If you have a job driving a vehicle right now, then, you may want to start researching new career options.
Remember the old days when you had to talk to an actual human to get your customer service questions answered? Well those days will soon rapidly come to a close thanks to the rise of AI chat bots being produced by Microsoft, Facebook and other companies. The idea behind chatbots is that you will be able to ask companies questions about products and make orders entirely through an instant messaging service that’s powered by artificial intelligence that can properly interpret and continuously learn from your messages.
This video shows a good example of the kinds of things a Facebook Messenger-powered chatbot can answer on behalf of a nearby train station:
Of course, we still will need to have human customer service reps to handle customer issues in the future, but companies won’t need nearly as many of them as they have today, as chatbots will handle a lot of the simpler queries. And in the long term, even those remaining customer service jobs might not be safe because AI is constantly improving.
Of course, like driverless cars, chat bots still have quite a ways to go — for instance, Microsoft last month found that it doesn’t take a lot of effort from internet trolls to transform an otherwise innocent chatbot into a bloodthirsty Nazi.
3.) Actual robots
Robotics is another area where Google has heavily invested resources, and the company bought eight different robotics firms over a six-month period back in 2013. The craziest of these firms is a company called Boston Dynamics that has scared the crap out of the internet multiple times with its advanced humanoid robots that are capable of walking over rough terrain and maintaining balance when you try to push them over.
This robot, called Atlas, is able to lift and place boxes on shelves, which suggests it could be used in warehouses and in commercial retail centers to replace human labor:
This robot, meanwhile, was designed by engineers at the University of Tokyo to act as an emergency first responder. The advantage of using a robot for emergency rescue operations is that it will be able to go into areas that are too dangerous for humans to enter, such as raging forest fires:
While it’s unlikely that these robots will be ready to take over human jobs over the next decade, it’s definitely something that companies will look into to reduce labor costs if they ever become commercially viable. And when that happens, we’d all better hope that they don’t come programmed with Microsoft’s Hitler-loving AI, or we’re all in a lot of trouble.