Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?
IT’s HARD TO BELIEVE you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that- in slow motion-is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today auto- mation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replac- ing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who
KEviN KELLY was a founding member of Wired and served as its execu- tive editor for six years. He is now “senior maverick” at Wired and
the editor of the Cool Tools website. His books include Cool Tools:
A Catalog of Possibilities (2013), What Technology Wants (2010), and
New Rules for the New Economy (1998). TI1is essay first appeared on the Wired website on December 24, 2012.
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once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial prod- ucts. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived-appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer-each building on previous auto- mation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no
farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.
For more on It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this ways to address century 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be
a skeptical ‘ d d ·n reader, see replaced by automation. Yes, ear rea er, even you WI Chapter 6. have your job taken away by machines. In other words,
robot replacement is just a matter ofiirne. This upheaval is bein.g led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on arti- ficial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. TI1 is deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual
( labor to knowledge work. First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-
aut~ated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long ~ill retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and veg- etable picking will continue to be robotized until no hlll~ans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will fea~ure a smgle pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots,
starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and even~ually get- ting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul truckmg routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.
All tl while robots will nmtinue their migration into 1e , ~ ~ork. We already ha~e artif~cial intel~igence in many of our machines; we just don t call1t that. W1tness one