What politicians aren't saying about declining manufacturing jobs
Posted August 9, 2016
Jobs are a major platform plank for both political parties this election, but neither side has addressed how automation has and will eliminate working-class jobs, observers have noted.
“Job losses due to automation and robotics are often overlooked in discussions about the unexpected rise of outside political candidates like (Donald) Trump and Bernie Sanders,” Moshe Vardi, an artificial-intelligence expert at Rice University, noted in a press release before the parties’ conventions.
Manufacturing in the U.S. has already been hit by the effects of automation, with its output at an “all-time high” even as its employment has been falling for longer than 30 years, Vardi stated.
And automation leads not just to job loss but widens class differences as well, Vardi stated. There’s evidence the declining middle class is tied to the rise of automation, and it's this “subsequent undercurrent of misery" from class differences "that is driving support of Trump,” Vardi continued.
However, GOP nominee Trump has attributed the loss of American manufacturing jobs to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, not the growing trend of automation in factories, Vox noted in an article highlighting the unawareness of politicians that robotics has had on jobs.
As much as 45 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated with technology, estimated McKinsey & Company in November.
The transportation field is likely to be the next impacted by automation, as self-driving cars catch on, GeekWire noted. Vardi told GeekWire in an email such automated transport could kill millions of jobs.
Vox dove deeper into this in another article, saying about 1.8 million truckers would be put out of a job once automated trucks were available. The technology is still years of software development and tests away, addressing how trucks would get on and off freeways and safely navigate city streets.
So far, automation has upset mainly jobs with routines based around “a narrow set of rule-based and repetitive tasks,” GeekWire noted. In the years to come, artificial intelligence is likely to disrupt less routine and more complex jobs, like journalism and medicine, it continued.
The Financial Times columnist Robin Harding, however, pointed out a disconnect between what people think robots are capable of and what roboticists know they’re capable of. Roboticists, he wrote, have a habit of being honest and even humble about the field.
“The robot brain is developing incredibly fast. The biggest problem is the hands that do the work,” Junji Tsuda, former president of Yaskawa Electric Corporation, told the Financial Times last year. “They’re not going to develop on an exponential curve, like computers. It’s going to be linear, steady growth.”
Computing-linked technology, such as artificial intelligence, is what has the highest potential for rapid advancement, Harding said.
“It is easier to imagine driverless cars routinely on the roads in the near future — largely a computing challenge — than it is to imagine robots on the pavement next to them,” Harding wrote. “Computers may displace a lot of drivers but it will be harder for robots to displace the postal workers.”
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