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Technology Invading Nearly All US Jobs, Even Lower Skilled, Study Finds (reuters.com) 139

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: Forget robots. The real transformation taking place in nearly every workplace is the invasion of digital tools. The use of digital tools has increased, often dramatically, in 517 of 545 occupations since 2002, with a striking uptick in many lower-skilled occupations, according to a study released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. The report underscores the growing need for workers of all types to gain digital skills and explains why many employers say they struggle to fill jobs, including many that in the past required few digital skills. There is anxiety about automation displacing workers and in many cases, new digital tools allow one worker to do work previously done by several. Those 545 occupations reflect 90 percent of all jobs in the economy. The report found that jobs with greater digital content tend to pay more and are increasingly concentrated in traditional high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Austin, Texas.
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Technology Invading Nearly All US Jobs, Even Lower Skilled, Study Finds

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  • That's the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:18PM (#55555789) Homepage Journal

    Around 1920, wooden shipping pallets cut down about 83% of the labor involved in shipping: what took a crew three 16-hour days to load and unload now took four hours. It became efficient to stack goods, wrap them, then transfer them on the truck to go to a port, then the ship, destination dock, back onto truck, warehouse, truck, distribution center, truck, retail center. They might unpalletize, rearrange, and palletize to go to retail so as to tailor from bulk stock to store-specific need.

    A piece of wood.

    Ikea has changed the shape of one of their mugs twice so as to nearly triple the number they can ship on a truck--cutting out 2/3 of the labor of shipping them.

    This is what technology is. When someone says "automation", imagine a wooden shipping pallet. When they say, "It's coming for unskilled jobs!", imagine a dock worker. When they say, "It's coming for smart people's jobs this time!", imagine being a charge authorizor in American Express in 1988 (Authorizor's Assistant), or an accountant, or a market trader (look at all the automatic charting software). When they say, "It's coming for everyone's jobs this time!", look at pneumatic power tools and digital computers.

    That's right: it's always coming for everyone's jobs.

    • Well stated.

      Moreover, as soon as you can do the work in half the time, you get handed double the workload. People see work as going away and becoming scarce but in reality there is more work being undertaken as we become more efficient at it. To expand on the parent post, once we figure out how to ship packages more efficiently, we now have time to track each package as it travels, something that would have been impossible 100 years ago. Once that is fully automated with zero human involvement, there wi
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        People see work as going away and becoming scarce but in reality there is more work being undertaken as we become more efficient at it.

        As we are operating today, that is not a feature. As long as we are using extractive and/or polluting methods to feed, clothe, transport, and entertain ourselves, the more work we do, the more rapidly we usher on our demise.

      • Yeah, and look at what happens. Cars today contain the expensive, high-end, luxury features of 1990s cars. Computing technology has improved ridiculously, and new applications have come with it. Phones aren't tethered to the walls. We eat food out of home much more because food is cheaper and cooking takes too damned long (not really: it takes too long if you don't have a dishwasher and don't know how to cook). Clothing is cheaper, utilities are cheaper. Our paychecks are bigger, and the median inco

        • We eat food out of home much more because food is cheaper

          Food prices have jumped significantly in the last decade.

          Clothing is cheaper, utilities are cheaper.

          What? They aren't, either. Energy costs have gone up and we have reached peak cotton and clothing costs have gone up as well, unless you have switched to inferior nasty plastic crap.

          Our paychecks are bigger, and the median income has grown faster than expenditure on the same necessities

          Wait, what? The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation in decades.

          I want to move toward a 32-hour work week by taking some of that productivity and converting it to free time. As we grow our efficiency, we trim the work week down a bit.

          Well, the people who own everything think that's a shitty idea. They'd rather pocket the money, and you can go fuck yourself, and so can I, and everyone else too. And in fact, this is precisely what's ha

          • Wait, what? The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation in decades.

            Use the median income. The minimum-wage is a red-herring: it's a policy set to ensure that the person at the bottom has a livable income--and, as a policy, it exists because certain classes of labor naturally balance out to have too little power to reflect the growth of wealth (or anything else). The median income tells you whether wage raises are actually happening--unless your country is so broken that everyone makes minimum wage because the employers are your slavemasters.

            Food prices have jumped significantly in the last decade.

            Not as a percentage of the

            • Use the median income. The minimum-wage is a red-herring:

              No, it isn't, and I'll tell you why in just a moment.

              The median income tells you whether wage raises are actually happening--unless your country is so broken that everyone makes minimum wage because the employers are your slavemasters.

              Not everyone, but enough to make a significant difference [nytimes.com].

              • Oh it's enough to matter, for sure--that's why there's a giant minimum-wage debate. We didn't raise the minimum wage for over a decade, so it became smaller (due to inflation). Now we've pinned it to CPI inflation. I want to create a Universal Dividend [johnmoserforcongress.com] pinned to productivity using income as a proxy: everyone (adult, planned to eventually be 16+) gets a share of a fixed portion of the income (15%, planned to eventually reach 10%), which grows faster than CPI inflation.

                The narrative has always been tha

      • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @03:04PM (#55556717)
        That get created as a result of automation and technological improvement. Yes, that happens, but the last time it did was after the industrial revolution. 80 years after it. It took that long for tech to catch up and employ the people put out of work. We had 80 years of social strife and rampant poverty in the meantime. They called it the guilded age. It lead to to world wars.
    • Re:That's the point (Score:4, Informative)

      by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:54PM (#55556091) Journal

      That's right: it's always coming for everyone's jobs.

      Thanks for injecting some common sense into the typical "Technology is replacing workers!" hysteria. Technology introduces efficiency, and helps to reduce cost. Reduced cost usually translates to reduces prices as well, and increased demand. The classic example is the straight pin [madehow.com]. A pin factory used to be able to make 5,000 pins a day. When automation was introduced, they were able to create about 70,000 pins per day. Prices dropped, demand increased and the net effect was more people working in the pin industry.

      • It won't always be the pin industry. Sometimes, you don't need that many pins, people become unemployed, and then jobs are created in the button industry. Things get shaken up and it's bad for the worker, but good for the economy. This is why we need policies to protect labor while not halting progress--a challenging problem.
        • It won't always be the pin industry. Sometimes, you don't need that many pins, people become unemployed, and then jobs are created in the button industry. Things get shaken up and it's bad for the worker, but good for the economy. This is why we need policies to protect labor while not halting progress--a challenging problem.

          That's true, but the point I was trying to make is that introducing technology might be disruptive, but it's not doom and gloom--though it might seem that way for a little while.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekmux ( 1040042 )

      That's right: it's always coming for everyone's jobs.

      No, not quite.

      A piece of wood did not displace 90% of the workforce.

      All of the Authorizors Assistants, Accountants, and Market Traders in the world do not affect 90% of all jobs in the economy.

      THAT is the key difference when trying to compare the disruptors of yesteryear to what lies ahead.

      Next-gent automation is not just targeting the lowly unskilled worker we dismissed with the 100-year old "go get an education" mantra. Automation and good-enough AI is looking to replace highly-skilled and educated jobs.

      • These things are always happening in every industry. That's what technology is. There are hundreds of new processes everywhere, new tools, everything, coming out for every job you can think of.

        Take manufacture. Artisan manufacture--one person making one thing--takes forever. The assembly line makes workers more-efficient by giving them one redundant job for which they become highly-skilled and, thus, efficient. Then: cellular manufacture brings the tools used to make similar parts together, such tha

        • Might add that the job industry can become specialized and segmented ad-infinitum. Right now there are people who specialize, who dedicate their career to drawing fire, or cutting fingernails. There are people who spend their lives making timer circuits. The programmer industry is divided between front-end and back-end, and could easily segment even more.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        A piece of wood did not displace 90% of the workforce.

        Neither will this, it's a load of hyperbole. I bet that in the 80s you'd make the case that 90% of all occupations were somehow affected by PCs. And in the dotcom boom that 90% of the economy was affected by the Internet. Computers are great for solving problems, but a vast numbers of jobs involve a lot of figuring out what the problem actually is. I've no doubt that you can build an electrician-bot to do to the actual wiring, can it talk to the customer and figure out what he wants and needs? Why do peopl

        • A piece of wood did not displace 90% of the workforce.

          Neither will this, it's a load of hyperbole. I bet that in the 80s you'd make the case that 90% of all occupations were somehow affected by PCs. And in the dotcom boom that 90% of the economy was affected by the Internet. Computers are great for solving problems, but a vast numbers of jobs involve a lot of figuring out what the problem actually is. I've no doubt that you can build an electrician-bot to do to the actual wiring, can it talk to the customer and figure out what he wants and needs?

          Since when does the electrician talk to the customer? They're told what to install, by the foreman or GC. Much like an electrician-bot will, thus replacing thousands of human workers. And soon, the foreman or GC will be replaced in favor of click-to-order designs, with no need for a human to be involved.

          Why do people hire interior decorators when they got a zillion choices on Amazon? I'd love to see an AI try to figure out what my business users want, it'd probably short circuit and they'd ask if there's not some cheap Indian outsourcing company we could use instead.

          If you're running a business on the internet and not using analytics at this point, you're probably doing it wrong. You're probably already using Google. Or Amazon. Or some other data miner that provide

    • Very true.

      I look at it this way. 30 years ago running a company with 5-6 people was difficult and you could reach a few thousand customers.

      Or a company of 20 people had an office staff of 5 for accounting, billing and invoicing.

      Now you can run a multi millio. Dollar company well products across the globe.

      Now that office staff can be 2-3 people and still be effective.

      Computers are great at doing the same task endlessly. Which drives humans crazy.

      At work there is one report. 6 years ago it took an hour to a

    • Re:That's the point (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @02:40PM (#55556507) Journal
      *nodding* The whole point of tools is to be useful and helpful to humans doing work. All of these things of which you speak are tools, and for the most part all of the things they're talking about under the general heading of "it's coming to take our jobs!" are also just tools. Unfortunately, 'feel-good fluff pieces' don't get ratings for news programs, or hits to news websites (I'd say 'doesn't sell newspapers' but we apparently don't have enough of those anymore to matter), so it's always the extreme, the shocking, and the awful; as a general mnemonic, let's just all all the above (and whatever else fits in the category) $CLICKBAIT, shall we? That's right, we've all been baited, and too many people are falling for it.
    • You should see the efficiency the pipe introduced over carrying clay pots of water.
    • Thank you, well stated. This "comin' to take our jerbs!" mantra we're hearing these days is bordering on the absurd. Technology is *always* making some jobs obsolete or reducing labor costs. I'd bet the same thing happened in the shipping industry with standardized intermodal containers.

      My parents owned a light manufacturing company for many years. They lived through the age of computerization, and some specific jobs certainly became obsolete. They never fired anyone because of this, though. Instead,

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Republicans are convinced that slashing the US corporate tax rate to 20 percent will be a veritable engine of job creation.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Obviously! The corporations are going to take those extra tax savings and reinvest it domestically to create new jobs instead of dividing it up to the corporate bobble heads in the form of massive bonuses! /s

    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )

      And, sadly, most people don't understand that corporate taxes are taxes on YOU, not the companies. The CBO says corporate taxes mostly affect the employees of that company; but corporate taxes are part of doing business, and thus passed onto their customers. Even if the customers are other businesses, those costs all eventually get passed down to retail. Period. But if it makes you feel better, keep complaining.

      I wouldn't argue that cutting it necessarily helps job creation, only time will tell if that

      • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

        The same bullshit logic can apply to personal taxes. I don't pay taxes, they cause me to adjust my salary requirements upwards as I pass them on to my employer. So personal taxes are taxes on corporations.

        Now we can get back to reality, where prices are not infinitely flexible and passing onto consumers is not an actual thing. By artifically attempting to pass on the prices they slide down on the supply curve to and sell fewer items. Who bares the brunt of that difference? The company. Or they don't c

        • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
          As I said, even the CBO stated the primary loser in corporate income taxes are the employees. Taxes are an expense of running business; companies get their money from their customers. Q.E.D.
  • This story would have been blindingly obvious were it published 10 years ago. Today it's more like stating the sky is blue. Water is wet.

    Guess someone's getting paid by the word, eh?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gtall ( 79522 )

      Congress and the Administration are getting paid not to get the word. Let's make those coal jobs great again....oh, those are being automated away. Let's devalue science and scientists because experts don't know nothin'.

      • Friend, we're talking about Republicans, here; it's not that 'science and scientists don't know nothing', it's that 'science and scientists are evil minions of Satan, trying to deceiving the Faithful to sway them from the True Path of Righteousness with their LIES'. Then there's the Dominionists, whose general agenda includes accelerating the onset of the Apocalypse, because they think that'll bring Zombie Jesus back from the dead sooner; to them, the Earth is only 'temporary', and therefore expendable, so
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:25PM (#55555851)

    There is anxiety about automation displacing workers and in many cases, new digital tools allow one worker to do work previously done by several.

    We are a species of tool makers. That is what tools do - they multiply our productivity. It's what tools have ALWAYS done. This is nothing new, especially since the industrial revolution. You WANT tools that multiply the productivity of people especially in a place like America which has 1/4 the population of China. Those tools (even for low skill workers) are what allow us to enjoy the high wages and standard of living we have. Don't like it? Too bad. The status quo is not an option and you don't want it to be either. If we go backwards that would be a problem FAR worse than any displacement of portions of the workforce that have been made redundant by technology.

  • "high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Austin, Texas"

    So, is that Seattle and Austin, both in Texas or are they being inconsistent with their usage of states attached to the city? (that's a rhetorical question)

  • Unfortunately (in my opinion as an IT professional) it is scary how much we rely on computer based systems for virtually every job, even manual labor (voice and written communications, status updates, measurement, automation, the list is pretty big .Some schools won't even teach handwriting in favor of "typing" with tablets (?!?). (Why not real computers to give a real education rather than limited, weak, "toy" that is not use in the work place as much as some want to think, because you can't really type we
    • Some schools won't even teach handwriting in favor of "typing" with tablets (?!?).

      And they don't teach proper calligraphy anymore at all.

      And they expect you to be able to read silently! Can you believe that? Reading without saying the words out loud?!

      Yes, once upon a time, writing included calligraphy, and reading wasn't something that was done without pronouncing the words aloud.

      In other words, why should they teach handwriting? Makes about as much sense as teaching modern students how often to dip t

  • by Kohath ( 38547 )

    This (plus AI, Uber, and less regulation) are how we’re going to get the economy out of the decades-long productivity slump. More economic output per hour worked is always good.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good news, peon. Productivity has improved to the point where the economy doesn't need you. Have fun trying to earn a living when you own zero capital and you work zero hours. You die now.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:51PM (#55556059)

    Forget about the automation itself -- if there is a sudden massive drop in employment then the economy as a whole is toast. In the developed world, the entire economy is based around the idea that people sell their labor for money, which is then used to buy goods produced by people working for money. Even the Great Depression had unemployment numbers in the 25% range -- that was a mess and automation is poised to put way more people out of work. Deindustrialization has been devastating to parts of the US and Europe, but it's been slow-ish. The next wave of job removal is not just multiple times faster, but affects more of the economy as well. And this time, it doesn't matter how educated you are...doctors and lawyers will only be able to keep their jobs because they have professional organizations that will never allow them to be unemployed. What about everyone else?

    I think that if you want to keep the status quo, you're going to have to figure out a way to keep giving money to people via a variety of means. Either you go the basic income route and make work an add-on to the essentials, or you establish a New Deal era program to provide an employer of last resort, or a combination of the two.

    A personal example I would like to cite is drawn from my experience doing IT work in large organizations. Even with companies pushing to offshore and outsource everything, there are still tons of full time employees drawing decent salaries doing work that is basically a shell script plus knowledge of organizational politics. What worries me is that we're still pumping out tons of college graduates every year who are going to be expecting a job like this. I got a science degree, but hung out with tons of people in various soft subject degrees in college. Those people did the bare minimum level of work and just showed up to group interviews for large companies their senior year. Those big companies gave them some kind of random entry level job with a career path that might make them managers, directors and VPs someday. If companies don't need tons of C-student psychology or business majors, then the educational system breaks down too.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Henry George provided the solution to this over a century ago. Land Value Tax + Citizen's Dividend.

      An economy based on trading labor for capital while ignoring the role of land is unsustainable when labor is just an abstraction for energy.

  • is a digital tool
  • I saw an interview with Dr. Jordan Peterson discussing the employment of people based on their intelligence and personality. Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, university professor and researcher, and more recently a speaker on social norms because of his stance on some Canadian "hate speech" laws. I suspect many readers of Slashdot has heard of this man.

    The interview went into some detail on that there is a portion of the population that have been finding harder and harder to get a job. This 16% of the population have an IQ of 85 or lower. By definition we will always have 16% of the population below 85 because we define an IQ of 100 as average, but what an IQ means in intellectual capacity can shift in time as the average of the intelligence of the population shifts.

    The reason these people find getting, and keeping, a job difficult is that the jobs we have rely more and more on being able to handle complex information. People don't pick cotton by hand any more, for example. Even flipping burgers means being able to read orders, manage numbers, and interface with electronic timers and intercoms. Dr. Petersen related his experience with trying to get people with an IQ of 85 to manage living on their own. Just being able to manage a budget, pay bills, and so forth, can be a problem for such people. Will increasing automation make life easier for these people or more difficult in time?

    Shortly after seeing that interview I was listening to the radio where there was some group, a government office of some sort I recall, wanted to see more people get education beyond high school. They said that there was about 10% of the adult population of this city, state, or region (I'm not sure which) that did not have a high school education, or equivalent. I did a quick Google search and people with an IQ of 85 have a 50/50 chance of graduating high school. If there are 10% of the people that did not have the equivalent of a high school education then that seems to be doing pretty well, perhaps better than the statistics might lead. Or, alternatively, the graduation rate was marginally higher than statistics might lead because the high school education was sub-standard.

    Trying to get better than 90% of people with a certification or degree beyond high school may simply be an impossible task. Doing that would mean a shift in human genetics where an IQ of 85 is now intelligent enough to get a post-high school education, or lowering the standards of what these certifications mean. I'm pretty sure that lowering the standards of what a high school education entails is not where they want to go. If we hand out certifications for welding or forklift driving to people that cannot actually perform those tasks helps no one. Giving out certifications for being able to tie shoelaces helps no one either.

    Perhaps automation means this 16% of the population will be able to find work due to much of the thinking being removed from what they need to do. This will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @01:31AM (#55560249) Homepage

      Perhaps automation means this 16% of the population will be able to find work due to much of the thinking being removed from what they need to do.

      Seems to me it would be just the opposite -- this 16% will be permanently unemployable, because any task they are capable of learning how to do, a robot is also capable of doing better, faster, and cheaper.

      And as automation/AI improves, the "minimum intelligence to be employable" threshold steadily rises; so that e.g. at some point (hopefully after I retire), only people with IQs of 140 or higher will be employable, and then shortly after that, no people will be employable at all :/

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @05:42PM (#55557849)
    Anyone that has had to do a lot of driving and address hunting knows how much waste and error occupy your days. Now a simple GPS system in a car makes a driver so much more efficient that it clearly would allow companies to lay off staff members. It is such a shock to see how well these systems can work in high density, urban environments.
  • American tax policy gives an advantage to automation over labor. An employer must pay payroll taxes, maintain unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, and might have to offer health insurance. Employees are also protected by very strict rules on overtime. Meanwhile, machines are not subject to any of these taxes, rules, and regulations.

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