The future of work: How much human? How much machine?

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Will machines be doing 52% of the work by 2025?

The idea is as old as the industrial revolution: The fear of machines replacing human labor. And the concept of how to prevent this from happening seem to be evergreen as well: Machine Tax. Nothing is more shocking than the image of a robotic nurse, combined with the prediction that this will be the future, not a real human being.

So, how realistic are the headlines that 47% of all US jobs might be threatened by AI?

Three observations from the 30,000 feet perspective: First, all fearmongering predictions from automated textile production to desktop computing eliminating jobs have been wrong. Second, investment and job growth continue to be aligned. Last but not least, starting in 2020 the whole Western world will enter a Japanese demographic era. The working population in the US and France will stagnate, while the rest of the developed world will see a shrinking workforce. The biggest decline will occur in China starting in 2030, based on their “One-Child-Policy”.

Japan is a good example of how hard it is to grow an economy while the working population shrinks. Important to note, this doesn’t impact a growing standard of living. The per-capita income of Japan is in line with developed countries. Based on this data, it might be desirable to experiment with a new, unknown scenario. Comrade Robot could replace humans, humans that don’t exist anymore. As long as the process is aligned with the shrinking of the working population.

No job killer. No salvation.

An important perspective from the ground level: Technology in the past has not replaced human labor at scale. Still, we have experienced over time the process of creative destruction. A beautiful term for massive, individual tragedies. Old jobs disappear, new evolve, those that can’t adjust will be thrown under the bus. They will lose jobs, income, and their living standard. In the end, automation and digital transformation will not transform our world into a universe without jobs or a landscape of unknown wealth. Japan, as one of the leaders in civilized automation, shows us the way. On an individual basis, we are talking a different game. Change will be massive, dramatic and tragic. Politics better be ready to ease the pain.

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