Our mindset towards individual entrepreneurial proprietorship no longer includes a storefront in our neighborhood or local shopping hotspot as it did in the past. Today, nearly anywhere one travels in the U.S.; one is sure to find the same stores at any business center, mall, or tourist destination. Most business startups begin virtually on the internet in virtual marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, Facebook, or a personal business website. All-in-one software packages and cloud services can provide a single person with everything they need to do and operate a business. A business owner can potentially handle operations from their mobile phone without ever taking a package to the post office or stepping foot in a warehouse. It feels as if the service and product industry is a one-fits-all modality.
Lobbyists rally “Artificial Intelligence” to revolutionize the job creation market in many ways they did during the industrial revolution promoting “Automation.” Many fast-food restaurants now have a touchscreen ordering system for individuals to place their order, eliminating a cashier. At a local QFC grocery store, there are 20 self-checkout machines with two attendants and only two in-person cashier attendant stations. Since automation revolutionized the industrial age in the 1940s, the job creation rate has drastically decreased (Rotman, 2016). In the U.S., forecasters predict that by 2055 Artificial Intelligence will take most low-skill positions.
Before discussing where Artificial Intelligence is going, we must discuss how we came to this point. The industrial revolution began about 1733 and has rapidly changed how we live, work and conduct business. Still, it has not changed much of how we have disposed of waste, located drinking water, or acquired clothing. For 15,000 years, humans never owned anything purchased outside their country or township.
Before the industrial revolution, 80% of the world’s population was engaged in farming. Today less than 4% of the world’s population lists itself in the occupation of farming. In Europe, the industrial revolution began to increase output by fewer people because of their small population at the time.
To date, all electricity is created by some derivative of the steam engine like coal or nuclear power. The industrial revolution was about using different forms of energy to automate production. England had more significant amounts of coal and therefore was able to lead their industrialization in the world over China and India due to their resources replacing wood. Because wages were high, and energy was cheap, the historian Robert Allan wrote, ‘this lead to an incentive of innovation among the population to substitute capital and coal for labor.”
India, during the industrial revolution, was the largest producer of the world’s cotton. They also had a high population unaffected by the plague and paid the lowest wages(Crash Course World History: The Industrial Revolution, n.d.). Agriculture was productive, and laborers could be supported at a low cost and did not need automation. Britain’s desire to compete with India’s cotton production lead to this industrial age of automation.
Coal led to the creation of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. The highest peak employment coal mining has ever had was in 1923, with 883,000 jobs. In 1985 the coal industry employed 178,000, and in 2016 only 56,000. The U.S. lags fifth on solar and wind production, yet the industry produces six times more jobs. With demand falling and production automated, coal industry leaders move their products to overseas buyers in Asia.
In 2017, the White House released information that it would be creating 45,000 more jobs in the coal industry. However, reports showed that only 1,200 jobs would be created. The country would begin increasing coal production to a potential 100,000 tons a year to be shipped to Asian Pacific countries.
Cyrus McCormick hated sweaty fieldwork. In the early 1830s, McCormick took an idea his father had been working on at the family farm in Virginia and produced a mechanical reaper. (Economist, 2009) One can say that automation has not only reaped the land but also reaped jobs from workers. In 1900, farming accounted for 38% of the labor force.
Today the U.S. produces the most significant amount of agricultural products. As a result, it also produces the most considerable amounts of carbon and waste from pesticides and other waste products. Farming now only accounts for 4% of the labor force in the U.S. (Debra Spielmaker, 2018).
The increase of jobless rates and the industrialization of the farming industry drove most farmers into the cities and towns to find new jobs as low-skilled laborers, manufacturers, or miners.
The car industry is one of the industrial sectors last to begin the evolution of becoming fully automated. Last year, 56% of all industrial robot orders in North America were manufactured for the automotive industry. This huge automotive market is by far the largest consumer of robots in China, accounting for about 40% of China’s total robot supply. (Nowak, 2015) Once, machines served as tools for the many manufacturing workers. Today one worker supervises many of the machines manufacturing products for the worker to consume.
In addition, the car industry is moving towards automating driving and removing the driver altogether from a vehicle in the commercial transportation industry. It might remain too difficult to automate all professional driving jobs, experts caution. However, the trendline seems obvious. As many as 5 million part and full-time jobs could vanish over the next decade or two. (Eisenstein, 2017)
Machine automation has replaced many types of manufacturing jobs. The reduction of labor costs and increased revenue has prompted companies to invest in the innovation and evolution of these machines with artificial computer intelligence.
An example of a relatively simple application of artificial intelligence is a product like the Roomba Vacuum. A user inputs instruction into a computer to tell the Roomba the space area it will vacuum. The user places the dock the robot will return to for recharging somewhere on the floor. That is all that is needed for the vacuum to operate. Its built-in sensors will communicate wirelessly with the software in the cloud and map the floor of obstacles. The only time a human needs to interact with the device is when it receives an email notification that the Roomba needs to be emptied or malfunction. Now housekeepers have one less job to do.
Multiply the application of the Roomba Vacuum to a warehouse manufacturing application like an Amazon distribution center. Robots are programmed to sort, shelf, pick up and deliver products to humans who package the products for delivery to customers. Delicate sensors feed information to its programming software, allowing the robots to make decisions, inventory products, work around other robots, and more. The only thing left for amazon to fully automate its warehouse is an autonomous robot that can package multiple items in one order.
Robots work tirelessly around the clock. Robots do not consume: any food, need health insurance, get paid, collect unemployment, question authority, file workers’ compensation claims or complain about their rights for being overworked.
Jobs at Stake:
Seattle is one city suffering from the inequality of automation and technology. Homelessness exceeds 10,000 (Niall McCarthy, 2018), and has the city has the third-highest rate of homelessness nationally. Youth and adults sleep in pop-up tent cities, parks, sidewalks, and storefronts. Sanitation and health under these conditions are poor. Despite the cities highest rate of per capita income in taxes, it does nothing to alleviate the problem. Seattle also rates number 6 on a list of the most educated cities in the country (Dill, 2015). However, most low-skilled jobs at groceries, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars employ overly educated, skilled residents.
Any job is at stake that has a business owner with enough capital to invest in automation. Corporations only serve their stakeholder. Technology innovation in the workplace has only been used to replace humans with capital. The new low-skilled jobs of the future are in the STEM fields. These will be future maintenance workers of the robots that replaced their past jobs.
Today’s artificial intelligence is a product of our society’s impatience; “to have what one wants when one wants it.” Businesses are capitalizing on little or no interaction with consumers. As a result, tomorrow’s artificial intelligence will find people inconvenient and as easily replaceable, just like we are replacing each other.
Crash Course World History: The Industrial Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved from Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/acceleration/bhp-acceleration/v/bhp-industrial-revolution-crashcourse
Debra Spielmaker, Y. M. (2018, 05 28). Historical Timeline – Farmers & the Land. Retrieved from New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom: https://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/farmers_land.htm
Dill, K. (2015, 10 23). No. 6 Most Educated City: Seattle, Washington – pg.8. Retrieved from www.forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/pictures/fjle45iglg/no-6-most-educated-city-/#166cf8a91c65
Economist. (2009, 12 12). Agricultural robots Fields of Automation. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/node/15048711
Eisenstein, P. A. (2017, 11 05). Millions of Professional Drivers Will Be Replaced by Self-Driving Vehicles. Retrieved from www.nbcnews.com: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/millions-professional-drivers-will-be-replaced-self-driving-vehicles-n817356
Niall McCarthy, F. R. (2018, 01 26). Infographic: The U.S. Cities With The Most Homeless People. Retrieved from www.statista.com: https://www.statista.com/chart/6949/the-us-cities-with-the-most-homeless-people/
Nowak, J. (2015, 09 17). Industrial Robotics in the Automotive Industry. Retrieved from www.bastiansolutions.com: https://www.bastiansolutions.com/blog/index.php/2015/09/17/industrial-robotics-automotive-industry/#.WGRPGFMrIjK
Rotman, D. (2016, September 01). How Technology Is Destroying Jobs. Retrieved from http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Nuffield%20-%20Industrial%20Agriculture.htm