Automation

Technology and humanity have become so knotted together that we might not ever be able to untangle them. It was inevitable when you stop to think about it. Technology was created to perform tasks, tasks that until the creation of said technology were done by humans. Man created computers not in his own image, but in his own service. And now, the computers are only getting smarter.

If you’ve been paying any attention to politics this year, you’ll likely have heard the name Andrew Yang. The Democratic presidential candidate ran on a platform of establishing a universal basic income for every American.

While this aspect of Yang’s platform was often over-reported to the point it became the sole talking point whenever a political pundit was discussing him, the roots of the program never seemed to be explored too deeply.

So, why was this tech millionaire pushing for $1,000 a year for every American? Well, in a word, automation.

Yang founded the organization Venture for America with the goal of retraining displaced workers in cities like Detroit and Chicago. Cities where large factories have seen massive layoffs in the last decade.

It didn’t take long for Yang to come to the conclusion that, no matter how many workers his organization was able to help, they would never outpace jobs lost to automation.

Essentially, computers were replacing people at a rate that seemed insurmountable. Which led Yang to his candidacy and the Universal Basic Income proposal which formed the crux of his platform.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), which researches global business and economics predicts that nearly 15 percent of the world’s workforce will be displaced by automation over the next ten years.

Yang believed it couldn’t be avoided, and that we should be prepared for it by guaranteeing everyone living in the United States $1,000 a month in income. In this way, Yang hoped to stem the tide of income inequality that would only widen as more and more jobs are automated.

It’s all a bit cosmically ironic when you think about it. We created technology to make our day to day lives easier, but then that technology kept getting smarter and more efficient until it eventually started replacing us.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. That same MGI report concluded that automation did not equal a one-to-one job loss ratio. By their calculations, automation will account for 8-9 percent of newly created jobs in ten years. And those are brand new jobs that wouldn’t have existed without automation.

One thing that automation might create, interestingly enough, is a resurgent interest in the arts and humanities. This is just speculation on my part, but displaced factory workers might find safe harbor in the arts — a career path that requires a human touch.

Ultimately, the future is never certain. Automation might plateau, new laws might be created to limit its spread, or it might simply not be as job-ending as the models have predicted.

Should you be worried about it—maybe. But no more than you worry about other existential threats like planet-killing asteroids or global pandemics. There is nothing an individual can do to stop automation, something Andrew Yang seemed to figure out. All we can do is prepare for it. If it does come, at least we will be ready.

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