I think it may be the most commonly asked question of societies throughout the ages: What kind of future are we headed toward?
Every age feels particularly aggrieved by the circumstances in which they find themselves, and believe themselves to be particularly justified in asking the question.
Our age is certainly no exception. We are in the midst of a confusing societal flux brought about by advanced technology, and the promise/threat of automation and artificial intelligence.
How will it all shake out? No one knows, but one thing is almost certain: it won’t shake out the way we expect. History has proven that we are poor predictors of the effects of human development.
I first learned in the early 1980s, that economist John Maynard Keynes had long ago predicted that we are headed for a future of increased leisure. He believe that by 2030, developed societies would be wealthy enough that leisure time, rather than work, would characterize national lifestyles. It hasn’t happened yet, but I suppose he still has another 10 years on the clock.
It is timely, however, to reconsider the future of labour. Artificial intelligence appears to be on the verge of eliminating a good number of important and fulfilling jobs – including our own in the automotive aftermarket.
We can’t help but wonder if tomorrow’s vehicles simply won’t need us like yesterday’s did. Are we headed for massive layoffs as we transition to autonomous vehicles that essentially fix themselves, and electric cars that require almost no maintenance?
If these are your fears, you can take heart in a recent report offered by The Fraser Institute. Technology, Automation, and Employment: Will this Time be Different? offers three reassuring essays by a trio of economists who believe we are not, in fact, headed toward runaway unemployment. Quite the opposite.
They argue that on balance, technological innovation increases overall demand for labour while contributing to higher living standards for most segments of society. Efficiency gains actually lead to wealthier societies that can afford more goods and services, leading to increased demand, which requires more labour. And so the cycle goes.
Innovation tends to create new occupational classifications. As existing occupations fade away, new ones emerge. As economist Art Carden points out in his essay, “Automatic elevators displaced elevator operators, and yet the elevator operators did not starve.”
Some technologists, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, believe the development of artificial intelligence will upend the historical effect of new technology. Rather than simply shift the labour mix around, it will destroy the job market. But studies suggest A.I. automation is a direct replacement for very little human work. Rather, it increases the need for the things that humans do well.
Will you be doing in 20 years what you’re doing today? Likely not, but despite the pessimism rampant in our industry, you could very well be in the aftermarket, still dealing with vehicles, parts, and drivers.
These points and more are well researched and clearly presented. I recommend the Fraser Institute study as good nighttime reading for those who need some reassurance about the future.
Worried about your future employment? I’d like to hear what you think. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.