Unemployment in the age of Industry 4.0 – What would you want to become if you didn’t have to work?

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  • 3 years ago
  • Posted: August 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Over the course of this year two Facebook friends have tagged me on two articles that talk about Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Automation. In both scenarios, what my friends tend to fear is the armageddon future where humans will have no jobs as all the jobs will have been taken over by AI robots and AI Automation. This future is what I would like to call the age of Industry 4.0 – The problem is, this future is not far off.

In brief, Industry 4.0 is the age where every single imaginable job is performed by some form of artificial creation – be it software AI or hardware robotic AI. The factories themselves will not only be so smart that they’ll have only two workers – a man and a dog where the man feeds the dog and the dog ensures the man does not touch any machine, but they’ll also be smart enough to self replicate whenever necessary. Wikipedia define Industry 4.0 thus, “Industry 4.0, Industrie 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing”. I define it this way, “Industry 4.0 is the industrial revolution that utilizes the power of robotics, AI, IoT and big data such that any form of human labour is rendered redundant.”

Although many fear that robots in the age of Industry 4.0 will delete the meaning of life once robots have taken over all the jobs, I personally do not think it is the place of humans to work. I do not, for instance, think that it is the place of humans to pick up brooms to clean up dirty streets. It is not the place of certain humans to ensure that other humans do not break the damn laws (watchmen, police, army). Neither should it be the work of humans to sit all day in hot sun hitting up metals to create jua kali products. No, it shouldn’t be the place of humans to become technicians whose sole job is to follow steps 1 through to 7 to bring non-functioning machine back to life. If it is repetitive, monotonous, and boring, humans shouldn’t do it.

Good news is that in the next five to ten years, all repetitive and monotonous jobs will be taken up by robots and automation – meaning all those humans who derive livelihood from doing tasks that can easily be automated will be rendered jobless. In China, over 60,000 workers were rendered jobless earlier in May this year when Foxconn decided to replace them with robots – and in the coming months and years many Chinese will be jobless as more and more manufacturing firms are turning to automation and robotics to both reduce the cost of labour and make the workplace more efficient.

The idea of Industry 4.0, robotics and automation may seem to be threatening only the repetitive monotonous labour industry, but when AI is incorporated into the mix, there is no one on earth that’s safe. As many know, the Presidency of the United States is one of the most demanding jobs on the planet. Newsweek describes the office as “most impossible job in the world” whereas Kachwanya.com published an article that outlined the job description of many presidencies around the world – in which it was argued that a President ought to be someone with high enough IQ capable of performing in multiple sectors as a CEO, Cheif Economist, and High Level Diplomat among many others – simultenously. Despite these far reaching demands of the Presidency particularly the presidency of the United States, Zoltan Istvan, one of the third party candidates running to become 45th President of the United States, thinks that the world will be better of if the Presidency was taken over by a robot – check out the article COULD A ROBOT RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2020? by Newsweek.

The thought that a robot can take over the Presidency of the United States means that there is no job that’s safe. Already under development are software robots that can take over jobs as CEO of multinational companies and as this article in Venturebeat reports, top level management jobs including those of Financial Analysts are already up for grabs by robotic solutions that work better than counterpart humans.

And the dreams of many youngsters in Kenya must change too. Many class eight and form four leavers dream of becoming Pilots (already redundant), Engineers, Doctors and Architects when they grow up. These jobs, as much as over 80% of the tasks are already being simulated using computer simulations, the remaining creative bits that still require human inputs are being understood by Machine Learning algorithms faster than you and me can think.

The two safest jobs that tend to be discussed as safe in articles like this one are artistic and AI design jobs – That humans in the music, film production, graffiti, painting, AI invention/innovation, teaching and related careers are safer than those in manufacturing sectors. But recent developments where a Google powered AI was able to compose music, where IBM Watson is continually improving in areas of medical diagnosis and teaching professions, and where AI can actually paint colour onto black and white pictures, means that even the creative and innovation industries aren’t safe from robotic and AI intrusion. At the end of the day our world is changing from becoming human centric to a robot centric. Newsweek aptly puts it this, “The actual reality is that our world is becoming optimized by, and for, robots.”

In the future therefore, which is nearer than you can imagine, humans will be rendered useless as far as labour is concerned. Should the human race be scared? As long as money still plays part in the world’s economy, the answer should be no.

Foxconn for example could have replaced 60,000 workers with robots in order to lower production costs, but assuming these 60,000 workers were not absorbed elsewhere in the world’s economy, they became people who cannot demand for goods and services as they did when earning income from Foxconn. Assuming that every single manufacturing firm lays down workers in the next five years, then over 1 billion people employed by the manufacturing industry will become economically redundant – meaning they’ll not be able to demand for goods and services produced by the very manufacturing firms – which will mean the manufacturing firms will have no reason to remain in business – so they’ll have no option but to close shop.

The same argument will be applicable in all sectors. At one point almost every single human will have no source of income except the already wealthy who constitute less than 1% of the world’s population. This wealth will however be useless as it will not help them buy goods and services that are out of circulation – goods and services that the world stopped producing as majority of the population stopped demanding for them.

For progress in AI, robotics and Automation to have meaning, the humans counterparts must have a way of earning some form of income either in new jobs or from Universal Income. Many have postulated that the robots will create new jobs that only humans will be able to do, just as Industry 1.0 through to Industry 3.0 have continually created new forms of jobs, but what these postulates forget to account for is that Industry 4.0 is not only self sufficient, but that the robots in questions will be able to do everything else humans can do and do it thousands time better and faster – meaning there will be no reason for allowing humans to do anything.

If we agree to rule out the possibility of new jobs as a form of income avenues for humans, then Universal Basic Income sounds as the only viable option in the age of Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution (already in progress and in advance stages in Germany). Universal Basic Income proposal is where Governments will take care of their citizens basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, education and health) and in addition pay them for being citizens. The money the citizens will receive from the Governments e.g. at the rate of $200 per month per person will be what the citizens will use to demand for luxury goods and services created by the robots. This, in basic theory, should be able to work.

In a step to start implementing the Universal Basic Income plan, the Government of Switzerland took a proposal for Universal Basic Income to a vote , a proposal that that was rejected in June 5, 2016 through a national referendum. The proponents of Universal Basic Income had proposed that every Swiss adult should be paid a basic income of $2,555 (2,500 Swiss francs) per month and a child be paid a Universal Basic Income of 625 Swiss Francs per month arguing that by and large robots were taking over most of the jobs; but The Universal Basic Income was rejected on the basis that Switzerland is not a locked economy – meaning if Universal Basic Income was to be implemented, then its economy could face adverse consequences from global economic forces. Despite the rejection, the fact that the Swiss government even considered to take such an issue to the referendum signals where the world is headed.

The last question in this article is, when Industry 4.0 takes over the entire workforce, when AI, robots and Automation become the labourers in the world economy, and when all Governments implement the Universal Basic Income for humans to be able to afford the goods and services churned out through Industry 4.0, what will humans be left to do? The best way to ask you this question is, what would you do if you had the money and the time to do whatever it is you would want to do without ever going to work? Will your life still have meaning? Mine will.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Analytics Ltd
Film Director, Tech and Business Blogger, Chess Player, and Photographer. God is Science.
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