In this week’s Mind Matters.ai podcast, we bring you banker Larry L. Linenschmidt and business prof Jay Richards, author of The Human Advantage to discuss the “Greatly Exaggerated Death of Human Jobs”—Part I. (originally aired by the Hill Country Institute)
09:50 | Examples from history of jobs that became obsolete
Larry L. Linenschmidt: In your book, The Human Advantage: The Future of American Work in an Age of Smart Machines, one of your key ideas is, going back to farming, how we have technologically improved how we do things. And in farming, we’ve made tools better from an early stage. We invented fire, we had a printing press, so technology has changed many, many times and it’s generally helped to create jobs. How does this technological change, and adaptation of jobs and creating fit into your thinking?
Jay Richards: The book is, in part, written in response to this theory that we are going to have “permanent technological unemployment.” In other words, artificial intelligence and robotics are not only going to enhance our labor but replace not only our labor but replace us. There are, essentially,. Lots of experts saying that humans are going to be obsolete in the future because machines are going to do everything. And I think they’re deeply misguided. I think it’s a misinterpretation of technology.
Of course, I can’t prove what the future jobs are going to be because they don’t exist yet. So that’s why I spend a lot of time on the history saying, look, you could make this argument for permanent technological unemployment at any stage in technological history. The first time someone figured out how to hit two flint blocks together to start a controlled fire, they were, in a sense, commandeering the forces of nature to do something they wouldn’t do on their own, for a purpose. The first time somebody used a shovel, they made an old way of digging obsolete. So any time we develop a technology that enhances our labor, we are making an old way of working obsolete but it doesn’t mean it leaves us with nothing to do. What it does is, it changes the market.
I think the strongest example of this is the shift from the agrarian stage of the economy and actually the American Dream to the industrial stage. At the time of the American founding in 1776, 95% of the population was living and working on farms. Today it’s way less than 2%. In fact, it’s almost 1% of the population.
Now, if you were told that ahead of time, you might think, “Oh my word, 94% of the American population is going to be unemployed in the future.” Well, first, that’s not all that happened. Yes, there was disruption in which people’s ways of life changed but new, and actually better, jobs emerged. As the price of food and the cost of producing food goes way down, suddenly people’s labor was freed up for doing other things and people’s constant ingenuity found new things to do and new ways to create value.
So I just think, yes, artificial intelligence and robotics are going to be hugely disruptive but there is no reason to think that the future can’t also be bright.
Note: According to some analysts, anti-technology backlashes tend to occur mainly when only a few people are benefiting from new technology and others are comparatively disadvantaged. Or, as one of them put it, the Luddites, who started it all, were smarter than many people think.
13:26 | The importance of courage in the face of disruption
In the book, I asked, what are the key features of the new economy that are now emerging and what would be the virtue that would enable us to adapt and to prosper and to flourish in that economy. So in the book, I identified five features of the information economy:
One of which I’ve already mentioned, it is highly disruptive. Things change very quickly, certain ways of doing things become obsolete very quickly. And the corresponding virtue to that is courage. Courage is the virtue in which you are willing to act, even in the context of possible failure. And that’s a crucial virtue because things change so quickly and you can’t know the future directly…
Larry L. Linenschmidt: One of the things I like that C. S. Lewis said is, “Courage is where all the virtues come together.”
Note: Despite the continued march of technological change in recent years, the American employment picture has been bright. Concerns expressed tend to be about wages, mobility, and the risks of outsourcing and future technological change. In essence, most people who want a job have one but many remain dissatisfied with their prospects. The disruption is real but slower than we might have expected.
Here are some pro tips from Jay Richards on AI-proofing your job:
Students, don’t let smart machines disrupt your future Three ways you can avoid life in Mom’s basement and the job pouring coffee.
Creative freedom, not robots, is the future of work. In an information economy, there will be a place where the human person is at the very center
Maybe the robot will do you a favor and snatch your job. The historical pattern is that drudgery gets automated, not creativity