AI and automation are changing how we work, but at what cost?

With automation and artificial intelligence rapidly on the rise within the industry. We have to seriously think about the impact this fundamental shift is about to have on workforces across the globe, and ultimately individual jobs. It is proven that a job to each of us is far more than money, it provides purpose and stability. As a society, we are currently on the verge of a technological revolution that could change the way we work and live.

The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a study entitled “Technology, Jobs, and the Future of Work”. The study forecasts that the adoption and use of current automotive technologies could affect the global workforce to a tune of 1.2 billion employees and $14.6 trillion in wages. It’s a colossal number, that we have to put some serious thought into.

All revolutions take away jobs and simultaneously create jobs. One of my favorite examples to illustrate this is the technological progress of the elevator. In the early 1870s, elevators were yet to be invented, there was simply no industry that surrounded them, yet by 1950 just eighty years later there were a just under 115,000 elevator operators. By the 1990s due to the self-service nature of elevators, through technological progress, there were essentially zero, with a few still around today in luxury buildings.

It’s an example that shows that this notion of ‘technological unemployment’ is not new. The same issue arose with bank clerks and the ATM.

Governments and economic experts are starting to explore Guaranteed Minimum Income or even Universal Basic Income as a solution. GMI is the notion of Governments paying citizens a minimum income so long as they meet certain criteria. This may be as simple as citizenship or age, or more complex with a range of conditions. Universal basic income (UBI) applies when there are no longer certain criteria, for example, simply citizenship.

With such a capital extensive scheme, there needs to be a large amount of cash to pay for it. But the more corporations that switch to automation, the fewer revenue Governments will receive. Fewer human workers, simply mean fewer government tax contributions. To show the scale of this problem, corporate taxation is currently represented as less than 9% of the overall tax base in the US. If automation and artificial intelligence continue to replace workers at the rate that experts expect, this could amount to hundreds of billions of lost tax dollars per year.

The solution may come in the form of a ‘robot tax’ on corporations. My personal theory would create a formula for the corporation’s total spend on automation, collated to the size of the business. For example, if Amazon shifts their workforce to robotic automation up to 50%, they are taxed far greater than a startup with less than 10+ employees who use robotic automation of 70%. It has to be relative to the number of jobs lost and the size of reduction in employee spending.

The cost to government from corporate automation and the personal cost to individuals needs to be rebalanced. It’s a question we need to be addressed now before we have progressed down a path which is hard to return.

Entrepreneurs are now approaching a much more symbiotic relationship between automation, robotics, and humans. This has been illustrated recently by the Ekso Bionics and Ford Motor Company partnership. In which exoskeletons are being trialed with assembly line workers, assisting their repetitive tasks, often up to 4,600 times a day. Creating artificial intelligence or automotive robotics to assist us in our work and individual lives would be a path that allows us to walk the line of purpose and automotive efficiency.

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