Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
AI Government The Almighty Buck Technology Science

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs ( 468

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs

Comments Filter:
  • Curing Greed. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:07PM (#53411567)

    "Hawking warns...Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges..."

    So, in other words, you must cure humanity of the pure unadulterated, narcissistic greed that has created the chasm between the elitists and the rest of the human race.

    Fat fucking chance of that shit happening.

    • Re:Curing Greed. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by penandpaper ( 2463226 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @07:03PM (#53411981) Journal

      Uh, created a middle class too. Say what you want about greed but it is a primary motivator of capitalism that has done more for the poor person around the world than any other economic model without an archipelago of gulags. Sure, the disparity between rich and poor is great but the standard of living of the poor today, especially in the west, rivals that of royalty of old. Disparity is not the whole story to understand the standard of living of members of that society nor does it address the mobility those members may have.

      Greed, just like any human trait can be used for good or ill. Spewing platitudes does not undermine the good things that has come about directly or indirectly because of some ass holes greed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 )

        Actually it was the curtailing of greed from the New Deal until just before Reagan was elected that created the middle class. Before and after that the middle class has always been wasting away as inequality was left unchecked to maximize itself, as it naturally does. The greed was curtailed due to political pressure from a credible communist rival. We need to learn to curtail greed once more to restore the middle class.

  • huh (Score:2, Insightful)

    If people don't work, they can't afford to buy things. So who is going to buy the things that get created? Robots?

    • If people don't work, they can't afford to buy things. So who is going to buy the things that get created? Robots?

      The 0.01% have more money than they can spend in a lifetime. What makes you think they need people to buy their stuff? If a robot provides your food and a robot cleans your house and a robot provides your entertainment and a robot hauls you from place to place why do you need people?

      There will likely still be a few hundred thousand craftsmen that create the luxury lifestyle for the 0.01% but the other 98% of the population will be useless.

      • by Touvan ( 868256 )

        All that money they own only has value when society agrees it does - who are they going to spend that with, if the value of whatever currency they hold collapses? The 0.01% are in the same system with the rest of us, whether they like it or not.

        • If the currency collapses they still have robots to do everything for them, including the elimination of people who would like to take and repurpose the robots for themselves.
    • Re:huh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Touvan ( 868256 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:29PM (#53411751) Homepage

      Why? Are capitalism (which can basically only be defined by your relationship with an employer) and markets the only way we can think of to distribute goods and services? Are our imaginations so limited?

  • "Secretary" used to be the most common job according to some interpretations of BLS reports. The Word Processor made that role largely obsolete and now self-service: []

    So nowadays it's "Truck Driver"... wait a bit longer until autonomous vehicles make those delivery jobs go away. Wouldn't call those middle-class jobs, though.

    Counterpoint: Sales and Services are the most common job in the US today, along with maybe some form of Educator: []


    • by slew ( 2918 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:18PM (#53411645)

      Counterpoint: Sales and Services are the most common job in the US today, along with maybe some form of Educator:
      It'll still be a while before those social jobs are automated away.

      That's cute, you think that the on-line sales/help agent you are chatting with isn't already a chatbot... Be sure to send her programmer a +1...

    • by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:34PM (#53411791) Homepage

      Counterpoint: Sales and Services are the most common job in the US today, along with maybe some form of Educator:

      It'll still be a while before those social jobs are automated away.

      The problem is that the current trend is replacing good jobs with crap jobs. Even worse, many of the crap jobs exist not because they can't be automated but because it is cheaper to pay $8 per hour to a person than it is to automate the job. This means that automation has put a ceiling on all those jobs so they will never be middle class jobs. Take a job at mcdonalds and figure out how much it would cost to automate it and depreciate that over 20 years and you can easily calculate the point where raising minimum wage would cause that job to disappear. Likewise, you can calculate what the price of the robot needs to drop to before that job vanishes.

  • I'll chalk this up as a poor interpretation of what constitutes 'middle class.' Most of the jobs automation would impact might creep into the low end of that range, but not very many.

    However, as the wealth disparity widens and more automation in general comes into common use we will eventually have to find a solution. Guaranteed Income and the like may not be the right answer, though it's certainly the common thought right now. We definitely have to look into the issue further.

    • Re:"Middle class" (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:43PM (#53411853) Homepage

      Guaranteed Income and the like may not be the right answer, though it's certainly the common thought right now. We definitely have to look into the issue further.

      I think a better solution that Guaranteed Income would be reduced work hours and mandatory vacation. If people were forced to work less hours then those hours could be given to other people. This works as long as middle class jobs that can't be automated continue to exists. It reduces the supply of labor which should increase the demand for labor and therefore the pay. It doesn't work for jobs that can just be automated away though because if labor cost goes above the automation cost then those jobs just vanish. The only thing that is currently keeping unemployment from spiralling out of control is that it's currently cheaper to pay someone $8 per hour than it is to automate that job away. Increase minimum wage to $15 per hour like many are suggesting and you will likely see any job that can be automated or eliminated like cashier, waitress, stocker, drive thru worker, etc... automated away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2016 @06:20PM (#53411655)

    Not being able to live, is.

    In a perfect world, no one would HAVE to work if there was a minimum support for everyone. There's absolutely nothing wrong with machines doing more and more mundane work. The problem is that the increased profit goes to the wrong people.

  • I will only use technology from the 20teens. No more than 8 cores. 4g is enough gs. No robots more complex than a roomba. We are but a simple people. Now excuse me, I am late to a McMansion raising. Tis a gift to be simple.
  • ....That Started Several Decades Ago" for five-hundred, Alex!
  • We've been there before. Every time there is an innovation in infrastructure, it brings about those who profit from it and those who lose the work of supporting the obsolete (or less essential) infrastructure. It also decimates those who were doing hard work which was trivialized by the new infrastructure.
    • Sure, but past innovations displaced specific sets of workers, from specific fields. (pun intended) I think what he is worrying over is the potential to displace many different workers very quickly, from many different industries.

      Automation is all awesome, and displacing specific sets of workers in steps is progress.

      Displacing MANY different workers from MANY different fields, as automation looks to be about to do, is very painful progress, and will force many tough decisions. At least, that's what I took

  • I disagree. Companies will do what they need to do to profit.

    For example, software companies have moved to monthly fee models where you rent their software instead of buying it. The AI software of the future will likely move in this direction. I expect that the hardware will also evolve in the same way. For example, companies will either be allowed to rent the automation hardware or will be forced to buy "maintenance contracts" that generate the necessary level of income to support the companies that de

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2016 @07:49PM (#53412243)

    Productivity keeps going up, demand is going up less. Of course we're not going to be able to maintain full employment if there's just not enough work to be done with workers working 40 hours a week.

    If people would work, say, 36 or even just 32 hours a week, we could maintain our standard of living, and at the same time get rid of this nightmare where some people are working themselves to death while others are desperate to find jobs.

    Share the burdens more fairly, and share the rewards more fairly. It's totally possible, but of course you do have to let go of the business-knows-best, regulation-is-evil, government-is-always-the-problem-never-the-solution kind of orthodoxy.

  • by nuckfuts ( 690967 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @08:37PM (#53412459)

    I don't profess to have any crystal ball into the future, or even deep understanding of the ever-evolving world of economics, but I do understand that people need jobs. Despite the increasing capabilities of today's machines, we're a long way of from sitting back and letting technology take care of our needs.

    I believe in trying to help in little ways. For example, I don't use self-checkout machines at the supermarket, even if it means I have to stand in line. I don't want to help eliminate someone's job. I have similar feelings about self-serve gas pumps, bank machines, and cleaning up my own table when leaving a fast-food restaurant.

    Are my efforts misguided and futile? Perhaps. Nevertheless, I believe that just because a thing CAN be done, that doesn't mean it SHOULD be done. I don't want to see wider replacement of human workers unless something else develops to mitigate further impoverishment of the working class.

  • by irrational_design ( 1895848 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @08:39PM (#53412467)

    10% doesn't seem too bad.

  • by matbury ( 3458347 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @08:40PM (#53412469) Homepage

    ...our robot overlords but, in the last few decades, how many jobs were lost to them and how many were lost to lower-paid workers with no rights, healthcare, social safety net, etc. in developing countries? I wonder how Stephen Hawking would feel about being replaced by a small team of underpaid but very smart guys in India or China?

  • by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @08:52PM (#53412523) Homepage
    Why just middle class jobs?
    We've reached a point where AI in medical diagnosis is more accurate then human doctors. Why just wipe out manufacturing when you can also wipe out "higher" and "knowledge" jobs as well? If AI doctors are can out perform human doctors, why not AI lawyers? No human can memorize every single trial case, let alone know about it as it happens thus being able to argue precedence in real time. This seems simple to automation.
    Doctors, Lawyers, drivers, manufacturing.... what's left?
  • AI and Capitalism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2016 @09:01PM (#53412573)

    Isn't it strange that the very thing invented to enhance human productivity, AI, is going to make a large section of people non-productive. The problem is not AI but that the fruits of productivity is limited to a small section of people. The world will need to evolve to accept concepts like Universal Basic Income to share the fruits of AI with all.

  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Friday December 02, 2016 @11:57PM (#53413205)

    Hawking is wrong about which class of jobs are threatened, and wrong about the consequences. Lower class jobs are set to be wiped out AND the results of that will be far worse than Hawking estimates, but he is right to be concerned about overpopulation and so forth.

    Take an average youth looking for their starter job. Today, they might flip burgers or work a cash register or some other similar entry level job. But in the near future, a lot of fast food jobs are going to be automated. And self-checkout continues to spread.

    What will the average youth do for work? There won't be a lot of options. And kids who have no jobs and no hope of getting one often fall into crime and other habits that impact society. We could easily have mobs of kids roaming cities because they have nothing else to do, and if they end up irate or angry, it could result in riots, looting, fires, etc.

    It gets worse.

    As we automate cars and trucks, we won't need a whole slew of other jobs. Automated cars won't crash as much so we won't need body shops and mechanics, insurance agents and related workers (this goes right into white collar workers too). Police won't write as many tickets which will directly impact many towns that depend on that revenue. Likewise lawyers and courts will suffer reduced case load from car accidents and personal injuries that don't happen, so clinics and doctors geared toward that kind of care will have fewer patients paying them.

    Meanwhile, automated cars will make it far less likely for people to make impulse stops such as for fast food or snacks at gas stations. And automated cars might go refuel themselves in the middle of night to take advantage of down time or empty roads. Or they might be plug-in. In all these cases, there will be far less need for people to work at places where drivers make those stops. You won't need gas station clerks. And yes automated refueling is possible. There have been prototype robot gas stations in the works for 20 years. Only the fact that labor was cheap has kept it from becoming an option.

    The net result of all these changes are a LOT of lower class people who will have no job options. And nobody is slowing down having babies. Populations are soaring. There won't be jobs for all.

    Does society owe anyone a job? Probably not. But we have to realize society will demand something be done about mass unemployment and youths running rampant in the cities and towns. We'll want it fixed. Jobs are one way to try to do that. Of course there needs to be some kind of job to do. I don't see anything on the horizon that promises to employ the number of people we have now much less in 20 years.

    Hawking is absolutely right that this is the biggest threat humanity has faced. It is itself a huge, dangerous issue. And one way societies have solved over population and unemployment problems is by having wars. Which is not going to be fun for anyone.

    • via birth control if we let it. Look at Japan and the Netherlands. If anything under population will be a problem (not enough youngins to take care of the old farts).

      That''s all solvable too, but I'm not sure we can keep a lid on the Christians and their Anti-Birth Control crusades. We just put a certifiable nutter into the VP slot. Basically, what happens next is entirely dependent on whether we can keep our religious minority from throwing human civilization under a bus like they did for a thousand ye

"It's my cookie file and if I come up with something that's lame and I like it, it goes in." -- karl (Karl Lehenbauer)