I wish he were right. But with the technology advances that are presently on the horizon, not only low-skilled jobs are at risk; so are the jobs of knowledge workers. Too much is happening too fast. It will shake up entire industries and eliminate professions. Some new jobs will surely be created, but they will be few. The jobs that will be created will require very specialised skills and higher levels of education -which most people don’t have.
I am largely optimistic about the future and know that technology will provide society with many benefits. I also realise that millions will face permanent unemployment. I worry that if we keep brushing this issue under the rug, social upheaval will result. We must make the transition easier by providing for those worst affected. In the short term, we will create many new jobs in the US to build robots and factories and program new computer systems.
Within 10 years, we will see Uber laying off most of its drivers as it switches to self-driving cars; manufacturers will start replacing workers with robots; artificial intelligencebased systems will start doing the jobs of most office workers in accounting, finance, and administration. The same will go for professionals such as paralegals, pharmacists, and customer-support representatives.
Andreessen agrees that there will be disruption and that professions will disappear because of the productivity improvements that technology will enable. Another technologist I hold in high regard, Vinod Khosla, worries as I do about the effect of increasing income disparity . Discussing the revolution in progress in machinelearning technology, Khosla wrote: “In an era of abundance and increasing income disparity, we may need a version of cap italism that is focussed on more than just efficient production and also places greater prioritisation on the less desirable side effects of capitalism.“
So the real debate is about the new version of capitalism: Do we design this or pretend that everything will be okay as the tech elite get richer and people who lose their jobs get poorer?
The impact of advancing technologies will be different in every country . China will be the biggest global loser because of the rapid disappearance of its manufacturing jobs. But developing economies will be big winners.
In his office in Mexico City last month, I had a discussion about the global impact with Mexican industrialist Carlos Slim Domit. He had a surprisingly good understanding of the advances in technologies such as computing, sensors, networks, robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printingHe predicted the emergence of tens of millions of new service jobs in Mexico through meeting the Mexican people’s basic needs and enabling them to spend time on leisure and learning.
Countries such as India and Peru and all of Africa will see the same benefits -for at least two or three decades, until the infrastructure has been built and necessities of the populations have been met. Then there will not be enough work even there to employ the masses.
Slim’s solution to this is to in stitute a three-day work week so that everyone can find employment and earn the money necessary for leisure and entertainment. This is not a bad idea. In the future we are heading into, the cost of basic necessities, energy , and even luxury goods such as electronics will fall low enough to seem almost free -just as cell-phone minutes and information cost practically nothing now. It is a matter of sharing the few jobs that will exist in an equitable way .
The concept of a universal basic income is also gaining popularity worldwide as it becomes increasingly apparent that declining costs and the elimination of bureaucracies make it possible for governments to provide citizens with income enough for the basic necessities. The idea is to give everyone a stipend covering living costs and to get government out of the business of selecting what social benefits people should have.
Another opportunity is for governments to direct labour to rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of cities. With sensors, new nanomaterials and composites, and 3D-printing technologies, we could be building massive smart cities that use energy more efficiently and provide a better quality of life for their inhabitants. The problems and possibilities are endless in the future we are headed into. We need to be prepared and to develop a new version of capitalism that benefits all.
(Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University , director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University) For the full version of Vivek Wadhwa’s column please visit http:www.ettech.com