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The Tiny Technical Elite vs. The Androids

The Tiny Technical Elite is a term that was used by the author Kurt Vonnegut in his futuristic book, Player Piano in 1952. Yes, as early as that, futurists were predicting the strain that automation will have on the global workforce. In his recent book, The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurtzweil predicts the imminent integration of humans and technologies (hence the Androids). With the recent buzz around the rise of robots & AI, I thought it would be pertinent to discuss the pace of disruption that automation will have and more importantly, the predicted impact it might have on our daily lives and the security of our jobs.

First, let’s understand the Tiny Technical Elite (TTE). Vonnegut explained that the lucky few who will technically adapt to the changing automation and technological environment will be the group who survives in terms of jobs and will see their wages grow while most of us will become unemployed. Technical skills are therefore imperative for the survival of our species or at least for the survival of our jobs market. However, what technical skills are necessary? I say that we really don’t have a clue yet!

Why can’t we tell which skills are going to make us automation sickness immune? The reason is, in my opinion, is that we can’t accurately forecast what the evolution of automation is going to be. We know it will happen fast and if we look at the evolution of technology, we know it will be fairly soon. However, we also have an opposing force which is stagnation in the generational leap of technology, meaning that we have seen improvements to existing technologies but have yet to see a rise in brand new sectors. For example, we have dreamed about flying cars for a century now, but we have not seen one until recently.

On another front, we are seeing a very rapid pace of technological advancements that are bringing us closer to incorporating technology into our bodies and hopefully making us live longer. Is this a good thing when you present it in the context of the labor market? No! If we live longer but have no jobs, the quality of our lives might deteriorate below current levels.

Can we take these two predictions and make an educated guess as to when we will need to worry about automation and at what level will the automation have a negative impact on our jobs? Should we listen to executives such as Mark Zuckerberg who argues that in order to sustain our daily lives in the future we should create universal income standards to pay people regardless of their contribution to society? I would argue that it’s not necessary.

The effects of automation will hit some jobs hard, not only blue-collar jobs (this might actually have a bright future) but also remedial white-collar jobs. However, what we aren’t accounting for are the completely new areas that would create huge sectors of employment. First, the new partial androids and the technology they are symbiotic with might have capabilities we had not considered and thus will create new types of jobs. Examples of these could range from tiny satellite technicians and driverless car fleet management to medical robot operators and nanotechnology operations engineers. The TTEs might not actually turn out to be as tiny as predicted in my opinion, but rather grow to include the middle class of today. Innovative and exciting fields of knowledge and data, even including new mundane jobs, will fill the gaps as needed in the new age of automation.  

Fairness and equality have never been the corner stones of the new era of capitalism and globalization, nor should they be. However, we still need to stress to our children that the world is changing and they need to be proactive about their own future. This way, universal employment won’t be necessary, just a bit of adjustment.


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