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Technological unemployment

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Will Work For Free is a program on technological change that is leading to unemployment in the UK. Sam Vallely believes “all industries will be affected” and goes through them one by one, starting with High Street retail. Retail is the largest employment sector, but is going away, getting replaced by websites and smartphone apps, leaving a small number of specialist stores. Only things like tattooing (maybe) and hairdressing appear to be immune.

The photography company Kodak once employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. But today Kodak is bankrupt. As is Jessop’s the store where we used to go to print the films where our photos were stored on.

So many jobs have disappeared. And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created? Questions like these will only become more common as robotics and automation hollows out every industry, from media to medicine to manufacturing.

In manufacturing, robots are becoming more adaptive, less pre-programmed and brittle, and more flexible, able to produce new products with less re-programming.

In the agriculture industry, what jobs are left are being replaced by robotic cow milking, automation of crop cultivation, vertical farming and hydroponics.

Automation is starting to enter the health care industry. Smartphone apps can send your heart rate directly to your cardiologist. A 15-year-old from Maryland discovers a way of detecting cancer that looks like it is 99% accurate, 168x faster, 26,000x cheaper than existing methods. Hospitals are getting robot couriers and telepresence robots. And of course IBM’s Watson is helping to diagnose illnesses.

In the food industry, McDonald’s is rolling out kiosks in Europe, and in the US, McDonalds has started replacing drive-thrus with voice recognition systems. Momentum Machines has invented a burger-making machine that can make burgers to order, and FuA-Men Noodles is working on machines to replace chefs completely at restaurants like Panda Express.

But its not all bad news, Vallely also shows the positive side as he points out the benefits to the environment of buying online. And isn’t being forewarned our opportunity to create our own future? Those that don’t may be left on the side…

H/T to Wayne Radinsky


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