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Will smart machines create a world without work?
That was then.
Six years later, Google developed a car that could drive itself, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, circling Lake Tahoe and cruising down Hollywood Boulevard. The gee-whiz driverless car could soon claim victims in the job market.
“Twice a week, a truck comes near my house, and two guys get out and pick up the garbage,” says Vardi, the Rice computer scientist. “This will disappear. There will still be a truck coming, but it will be driven autonomously, and the garbage will be picked up autonomously, and those jobs will be gone.”
In the United States alone, 92,000 people are employed as sanitation workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add all other driving occupations, from long-haul truckers to taxi cab drivers, and the total exceeds 4 million. All those jobs may be in danger.
And that’s the future: Other occupations already are disappearing. Add up the jobs that technology can take across dozens of occupations and the result, Vardi and others warn, is unemployment on a scale we haven’t begun to imagine.
“The vast majority of people do routine work. The human economy has always demanded routine work,” says software entrepreneur Martin Ford. He worries that machines will take all those routine jobs, leaving few opportunities for ordinary workers.
In his book “The Lights in the Tunnel,” Ford foresees a computer-dominated economy with 75 percent unemployment before the end of this century; the vast majority of workers, he predicts, won’t be able to develop the skills necessary to outrun job-killing computers and robots.
“People talk about the future, creating new industries and new businesses,” Ford says. “But there’s every indication that these are not going to be in labor-intensive industries. … Right from the get-go, they’re going to be digital.”
Consider the great business successes of the Internet age: Apple employs 80,000 people worldwide; Google, 54,000; Facebook, 4,300. Combined, those three superstar companies employ less than a quarter of the 600,000 people General Motors had in the 1970s. And today, GM employs just 202,000 people, while making more cars than ever.
As far back as 1958, American union leader Walter Reuther recalled going through a Ford Motor plant that was already automated. A company manager goaded him: “Aren’t you worried about how you are going to collect union dues from all these machines?”
“The thought that occurred to me,” Reuther replied, “was how are you going to sell cars to these machines?”
An AP interactive that accompanies the Great Reset series explores job growth in recent economic recoveries and includes an in-depth video analysis: http://bigstory.ap.org/interactive/interactive-great-reset/
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