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Jobs, Artificial Intelligence, and the Coming Robot Apocalypse

Here we go again. Robots. AI. ChatGPT. I decided it was time to talk again about how technology will destroy jobs and we will all be out of work. Again. Or not.

One can look back at literally centuries of such fears and predictions about the future. While each doomsayer's fear is of a different technology relevant to their day, they have at least two things in common – they all say, "but this time is different", and then they have a 100% track record of turning out to be wrong and it not being different at all.

Why? Some experts will say it is because humans are good at seeing the downside of current technologies and the destruction of jobs – but bad at seeing how new technologies, as yet not invented, will open vast new opportunities. Here we are today, at least in the United States, with near-record-low unemployment. And people are talking about potential massive job losses! They say things like "Learn a Craft to Survive the Coming Robot Apocalypse". Here is an excerpt:

Software Can Narrate an Audiobook But It Can't Tailor a Suit

Apple Inc. recently added audiobook narration to the growing list of occupations where algorithms are poised to replace humans alongside graphic designers, college essayists and limerick writers. Luckily, the fine art of newslettering remains (ahem) far beyond the capabilities of even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence software. Still, hope is at hand for those not fortunate enough to toil in the newsletter mines but still seeking gainful employment that won't disappear as robots take control.

Looking back at previous blogs I have written on this topic, it is amusing to see I appear to be on a five-year cycle. The first one I wrote was ten years ago this month: Are Technology and Automation Really Destroying Jobs? (2013). The second one I wrote in 2018 Where the Jobs Are(n't).

Last week I was honored to be invited back to CU Boulder to speak on fluid mechanics to a class of undergraduate engineering students. This class was in Architectural Engineering which was a new one for me. What I emphasized to them (to the great delight of the professor) is the importance of getting a solid grounding in fundamental principles – such as conservation of mass, momentum and energy. With that grounding, they can better adapt their careers to the changing and new technologies of the future. I told them about how myself and how I have spent the last 30 years working in a field that did not really exist when I was in engineering school – creating commercial engineering software tools.

On a related note, an interesting article a few days ago talked about AI applied to search engines and whether Microsoft may have an opportunity to dislodge the venerable Google in search: Bard is going to destroy online search: Sure, Google's answer to ChatGPT will save you time. But it'll also lie to you.

With all that said, it is worth thinking about job security in this changing landscape. There are definitely some jobs that are more susceptible to automation than others. It would seem one of two directions is wise – either seek jobs that cannot be easily automated (e.g., providing home healthcare to seniors) or seek better technical skills so you are comfortable with automation and can manage or fix the automated systems (e.g., robot operation or repair).


Don’t Repeat Yourself with Libraries
Predicting the Future is Hard


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Tuesday, 26 September 2023
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