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Don't Fear Automation

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted August 5, 2019

The continued automation of society through the future deployment of AI and advanced robotics will deeply impact your future.

But the narrative that your job will be replaced by a robot — or you won't be able to find a job in the future because of automation — is so over-exaggerated that it's mostly false.

The Robots Are Coming! The Robots Are Coming!

Fears of a large-scale robo-replacement have become policy builders for political brands across the entire spectrum and clickbait fodder for everyone from The Wall Street Journal to two-bit bloggers.

Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang is building his main platform on the message that automation is the single greatest threat to the future of employment and that a universal basic income would help ease the negative effects caused by automation.

Meanwhile, Google is littered with headlines proclaiming, “Robots Are Stealing Our Jobs” and “Ten Jobs That Are Being Taken Over by Robots.”

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, AI expert Kai-Fu Lee said he believes 40% of the world’s jobs will be replaced by robots capable of automating tasks. Lee told 60 Minutes, “Chauffeurs, truck drivers, anyone who does driving for a living – their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15-25 year time frame. Many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated.”

No doubt: Robophobia is everywhere.

There's even a website: www.WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com.

It's true that robotics have already had an impact on employment. And there's not doubt that some positions will, in fact, be replaced by robots. But the negative impacts of automation on employment have been broadly distorted by media and politics to paint an overly grim depiction of the future.

They're exaggerating.

Let's take an example of one specific job. It's the most common job in America: retail salesperson.

If you asked WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com, there's a 92% chance robots will replace retail salespeople. But let's consider the reality of that.

Replacing retail salespeople with AI-driven robots will save companies money. That's true. But cutting costs to a bare minimum isn't always the objective.

Retail stores that sell clothing, electronics, furniture, or whatever want their businesses to have a welcoming and comfortable environment. They spend billions of dollars on building, decorating, landscaping, etc. — all so it looks nice when you show up.

Of course, warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club spend less on appearance. But the majority of retail stores spend a lot of money creating a friendly and welcoming ambiance.

Human salespeople are part of that welcoming ambiance. Retail stores will be willing to continue to pay for that ambiance.

I know it's kind of a hard sell right now, but the truth is the human being is a social creature. People like/want/need to be around and engage with other people. It's unlikely retail companies will really want to deny their customers that engagement.

I mean, since retail stores are currently willing to shell out billions for even the most aristocratic of luxuries like landscaping, I really can't see them replacing humans with robots just to cut costs.

It will be possible for retail stores to replace their salespeople with robots. But they're probably not going to want to cut out the human element of sales because that's not what the customer wants.

High-end retail is certainly always going to want a human element to their businesses. You don't go to Tiffany's to buy a ring from a vending machine. You go there for bespoke service.

Retail salespeople could be replaced by AI-powered robots in some cases. They might be best used to complete tasks without customer engagement, like stocking shelves, or little customer engagement required, like store returns.

But for the most part, the human element to retail sales will remain a desired element.

And that's true with many of the other most common jobs in America: registered nurses, restaurant wait staff, customer service representatives... all of these could be replaced.

But it's unlikely they will be because again, that's not what the customer really wants.

Do you really want to order your food from I, Robot at a restaurant?

How about having a robo-nurse in the hospital?

Don't you just want to talk to a real freaking person when you call customer service?!?!?!

Bottom line: There are millions of different job positions that could be performed by robots. But that's not going to be what people want.

Of course, I'm not discounting the fact that some positions will be replaced. Jobs like drivers, janitors, cleaners, and material movers may be replaced over time as new technologies like 5G help rush in the deployment of AI and advanced robotics. But automation will certainly not render society jobless.

Truth is, AI and advanced robotics will most likely help you do your job better.

So relax. You probably won't be replaced by robots.

Until next time,

Luke Burgess Signature

Luke Burgess

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As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bubble and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.

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