The Millenials had the misfortune to hit their initial job hunting years in the face of the 2007 recession. Since we have had eight years of high unemployment in the US, this has hit younger people particularly hard, as this graph from of Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows: A lot of ink has been spilled in the last few years on how MIllenials are struggling, still living in their mom’s basement, hunting for jobs, and struggling to pay off their student loans. The other generations in the workforce (X, Boomers, and Silents) have much lower unemployment rates and are at fairly stable points in their careers. But thinking about the future of jobs, I have been wondering if, due to the incredible rise in automation and computerization in the last twenty years, if Generation X might not be the last generation to see full employment. This thought was further crystallized for me this week with the crash of the Germanwings Airbus in Europe.
If the crash was indeed a deliberate act by the pilot, as it seems to be as of today, are we better off with complete computer control of the airplane? Crashes due to mechanical problems seem to be rarer and rarer, with the root cause of many more crashes seeming to be pilot error, or in this and a few other cases, “pilot terror“.
While the replacement of people by machines in many repetitive or lower skill jobs is expected, people are still afraid to replace pilots, drivers, and other jobs in which some judgment is required. But with driverless cars, unmanned drones, and more sophisticated artificial intelligence and advanced sensors, is human judgment in these cases better than machine control? I think that ultimately, these jobs, along with lower skill jobs will all be candidates where humans-in-the-loop will be phased out.
So, the question is, what will we all do? I guess we will all be free to be artists, poets, mathematicians, or carpenter’s wives. But I don’t see everyone getting paid for their poetry. I would certainly starve. Ultimately, if large corporations are churning out consumer goods, all made by machines, they still need consumers to buy them, which implies a large middle class. So, if we don’t find something useful for people to do in the face of automation, what happens? Will corporations each support some portion of the population? Have their own armies? We might truly be Microserfs or hold McJobs then.
Or, we may have to consider a guaranteed minimum income or some other version or Social Credit. But I don’t think we get to that point within the Generation X or Millennial working lifetime. But perhaps “Generation Z” might have to grapple with these issues.