Skip to main content

Artificial Intelligence and Robots Will Cause Massive Unemployment

I am fascinated by rapidly developing technology and what the world will be like in the future. I hope you enjoy this peek into the future.

Robots have already taken over millions of jobs that require repetitive movement such as manufacturing and packaging.

Robots have already taken over millions of jobs that require repetitive movement such as manufacturing and packaging.

Will Artificial Intelligence Increase Unemployment?

Humans have benefited greatly from the rapid development of technology since the dawn of the computer era, including the introduction of artificial intelligence and robotics. However, rapidly developing artificial intelligence and robotic technologies have started to impact human jobs, and this trend will accelerate as these technologies become more sophisticated and refined. These developments will lead to a very real and troubling future in which a large portion of jobs performed by humans will be replaced by artificial intelligence, automated processes, and robots.

While this new age of artificial intelligence and robotics has exciting implications for relieving humans of the burden of toiling at jobs, it will also cause massive unemployment; leaving many humans permanently unemployed. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with proactively since massive permanent unemployment can lead to a major societal upheaval and a significant increase in crime rates as permanently unemployed humans grapple with a loss of income and a bleak future with no employment prospects. A look into the not-too-distant future features a world in which many jobs will be taken over by robots and artificial intelligence, leaving a high percentage of people permanently unemployed.

The Trend

Rapidly improving artificial intelligence and robotic technologies are likely to continue to replace workers in the manufacturing sector. This is a trend that started many decades ago and has only accelerated over time. What has changed recently is the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotic technologies to the point at which artificial intelligence and robots will replace humans in many job functions across a wide swath of education and skill levels. In other words, it is no longer just factory workers that have to worry about being replaced by super-smart computers or robots.

Blue-collar professions such as truck driving and car/taxi services could be wiped out en mass as automated self-driving vehicles become a reality on the roads. White-collar professions such as writers and investment advisers could be largely replaced by sophisticated self-learning artificial intelligence programs that provide written materials and investment advice; something that has already begun and will accelerate over time. Even professionals such as medical doctors and nurses could see their employment opportunities disappear as robots continue their inroads in the field of medicine. The bottom line is many professions, despite educational requirements or skill levels needed, will be replaced by artificial intelligence and robots over time. Many jobs people assume are safe from this trend, are in fact not safe and will no longer require humans.

Human societies need to come up with solutions to this dilemma that will ensure that the trend of increasing reliance on artificial intelligence and robots to perform jobs does not cause major social unrest or damage to displaced humans.

The Problem

While artificial intelligence, automation, and robots are not something new, the ability of these technologies to take over jobs in a wide variety of vocations is something that is just getting started. Extrapolating current trends in the development of these technological fields, it is realistic to assume that in future decades many millions, perhaps even billions, of jobs around the world will be replaced by artificial intelligence and robots. While this may be good for corporations’ bottom lines since they will no longer have to pay humans to perform jobs, it will be devastating to the huge number of people who can no longer find jobs.

If you work a desk job, there is still reason to be concerned that your job may some day be replaced by artificial intelligence or a robot.

If you work a desk job, there is still reason to be concerned that your job may some day be replaced by artificial intelligence or a robot.

Possible Solutions

There are various solutions to the problem many countries will face of massive unemployment caused by the replacement of jobs with artificial intelligence and robots. The following is a high-level assessment of three solutions.

  • Rely upon the free market to solve the massive unemployment crisis. The problem with this “solution” is that the free market will naturally push the economy towards increasing the deployment of artificial intelligence and robots since these “artificial employees” don’t need to be paid or provided for and will inherently increase an owner’s profits. This will make the human unemployment problem worse. The free market will play an important role in continuing innovation, creating new jobs in new fields of employment, and finding more efficient ways to deliver goods and services. However, there appears to be no mechanism for the free market to create new jobs in sufficient quantities to replace jobs increasingly lost to technological developments. This approach will likely lead to massive unrest, as a large number of humans (even in wealthy developed countries) will have no work, will not be employable, and will not be able to meet their basic needs.
  • Accept high levels of unemployment and pursue new approaches to deal with the unemployed. Given the reality that a large majority of jobs in the future will be done by artificial intelligence and robots rather than humans, new approaches will be needed to deal with the permanently unemployed. These approaches could involve such things as a government-mandated universal basic income for all adults and ensuring that the artificial intelligence and robotic resources are utilized for the betterment of all members of a society, rather than the select few owners of the technology. This approach will be hard to accept in some strongly market-based societies. Envision it this way: artificial intelligence and robots are so plentiful and so efficient in their ability to learn, adapt, and perform their jobs that everyone within a society can have their basic needs met by these high-tech artificial workers without costing others since these artificial workers are not being paid. There would be an initial cost to develop and build artificial intelligence and worker robots, as well as costs associated with maintaining them; these costs would be incurred by a wealthier segment of society that ultimately profits off their development and deployment. However, the benefits from the work performed by artificial intelligence and robots would be shared across all economic levels of society in the interest of societal stability.
  • Take a hybrid approach that incorporates the free market and new approaches. A hybrid approach might ultimately be the best way to deal with a future world in which many humans are put out of work by artificial intelligence and robots. While most tasks will likely be able to be performed by artificial intelligence and robots for the betterment of all within a society, there will still likely be a need for many individuals to work. Humans that work need to have an incentive to work, so they would be paid and make money as they would in a free market economy. They will get ahead financially versus the permanently unemployed. However, the unemployable members of society will have their basic needs met by robots and artificial intelligence. If the unemployed have an idea to create a new job only humans can do or a way to make some extra money, then they would be free to do so.

Of course, some will argue that the unemployed will find other occupations since that is what happened in the past when whole industries or professions were rendered obsolete. However, in the new age of robot workers, there will likely not be that many new types of jobs created that humans can do better than robots. Even robot repair could eventually be done by other robots.

Robots will work for free. How will societies take care of displaced human workers who lose jobs to robots?

Robots will work for free. How will societies take care of displaced human workers who lose jobs to robots?

Can Governments React Quickly Enough to Address Looming Mass Unemployment?

A serious concern is whether governments around the world can react quickly enough to address a draconian future in which a huge percentage of the workforce is unemployed and in many cases unemployable because artificial intelligence and robots have taken over many jobs. Some of the solutions to this predicament involve a radical change in thinking about how economies should be structured and the role of government. Will countries that pride themselves on the concept of free enterprise actually embrace ideas such as universal basic income or using the force of government to ensure that the artificial intelligence and robot-based economy benefits all citizens, not just a wealthy upper segment of society that owns much of the physical aspects of society?

Obviously, such radical changes in thinking and government policy are going to be easier to undertake in some countries versus others. Countries that are already oriented towards using their resources for the betterment of all will likely be able to make this transition to a future economic model without too much trouble. Others that are more private market-oriented may resist making changes, but may eventually be forced to make such changes due to social strife, protests, and crime that is likely to rise as the ranks of the permanently unemployed swell. In other words, placate the masses or face a bleak future of constant violence and security threats.

There actually are some precedents in history in which the wealthy agreed to trade-offs for the betterment of the broader society in exchange for some of their wealth. For example, concepts such as public education and public sanitation grew out of popular movements in the 19th century in which the masses demanded better educational opportunities and healthier living conditions; both of which the wealthy eventually agreed to since they saw a self-benefit to having a well-educated population and healthy societies. Given this historical perspective, it is not hard to imagine a future where currently fringe ideas such as a guaranteed income for all adults or laws that ensure that artificial intelligence and robots benefit an entire society become reality.

Regardless of how societies around the world eventually deal with the emerging world of mass unemployment caused by advances in robotic technologies and artificial intelligence, one thing is for sure, there are some rough times ahead that will require strong leadership and compromise to develop solutions to this emerging reality.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 John Coviello