Last January I wrote an article titled 'An inevitable response to the robot revolution?' In it, I linked to a Telegraph report about the rise of the 'gig economy', where workers were self-employed in the new 'sharing' economy with companies such as Uber, AirBnB, etc. I postulated that this might be one response to the automation of many lower-level jobs as robots and artificial intelligence became more widespread.
However, there's another view of the situation - one much less encouraging to workers in the 'gig economy'. CNBC reports:
The so-called gig economy will cease to exist in 20 years, according to a new report from venture-backed start-up Thumbtack, an online marketplace that helps skilled workers find customers.
The study predicts that logistics companies — from start-ups like Uber to tech giants like Amazon — will soon replace drivers and delivery workers with autonomous vehicles and drones. Highly skilled workers, such as lawyers and accountants — no longer guaranteed jobs at big firms — will be the new gig economy workers, the study finds.
. . .
Uber is upfront about its plans to replace drivers with robots over time. "Autonomous driving technology has the potential to drastically reduce deaths in cars and make transportation even more affordable," an Uber spokesperson told CNBC. "That's an exciting future and one Uber intends to be part of, but that transition for technical, regulatory and adoption reasons, at scale, will take some time."
. . .
In the meantime, the gig economy is creating invaluable data to feed Uber's algorithms and build artificial intelligence systems — the brains of those robots. For example, an Uber driver is sending back a lot of data on where customers are as well as traffic and road conditions.
"All these things might ultimately enable the autonomous vehicles that Uber is very actively pursuing to better complete those kinds of tasks," said Osborne.
"This gig economy — in that it is being pursued through digital platforms — is actually getting people to automate themselves out of a job through delivering data back to the platforms that can be used to provide an automated alternative," he said.
There's more at the link.
I've been warning for some time about the number of jobs likely to be automated in the near future. It's already happening, and is going to happen even faster as technology matures. Unfortunately, the economic, social and cultural support networks to help those automated out of a job have not kept pace with the speed of events. What's going to happen to welfare and unemployment benefits if another few million workers are automated out of their jobs next year? And more the next? And even more the year after that? It's a question we'd better be prepared to answer, before millions of unemployed ask it at the tops of their unhappy voices.
This also holds implications for the millions of people seeking refugee status in Europe, and the even more millions trying to sneak into the USA illegally. They're all relying on the existence and availability of jobs to support themselves. What happens if the supply of low-end jobs is cut in half, or worse? Many such people won't have registered for and/or be eligible for unemployment and welfare benefits. The possibility that they'll turn to crime and violent protest is very real. Are we prepared to cope with that? More and more, illegal aliens and alleged 'refugees' (who all too often are economic migrants rather than truly refugees) are becoming a multi-faceted problem. I think those who advocate blocking them at the border, and evicting those already inside the borders, will find growing support among citizens and legal residents for their policies.