I See Dead People – Jobs Free Future

When I’m walking around I play a mental game trying to guess which people I see know that their profession could be replaced by machines within a few years. As Cole said in the movie Sixth Sense “I see dead people … They don’t know they’re dead.”


In 1930 famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren in which he mentioned “technological unemployment … due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour”. Keynes thought that this was a temporary phase which wouldn’t be a problem in the long run.

Since Australian federation in 1901 there has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of Australians employed in agriculture, from 14% to 3%. We are at a phase now similar to when agriculture began being to be disrupted at the beginning of the last century, except this time people whose industry disappears may not be able to find a new career.

Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator Andrew McAfee co-author of books “Race Against The Machine” and The Second Machine Age believe that increased productivity has decoupled from creating more jobs and the current rate of rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the USA”.

Noted American entrepreneur and thinker John Robb visited Australia earlier this year and spoke at a Social Innovation Sydney event. John told us that the US government spent a lot of time and money training him to become an elite pilot but today’s military is training far fewer humans to do that:

“I was a US Military Special Operations pilot on missions such as getting Delta and Seal Team 6 across borders to get bad guys. These days drones have eaten away at the whole military pilot profession. You can do it better with a drone and they are becoming cheaper and more effective every day”.

Robb said that a lot of people have a cognitive barrier that prevents them from thinking about their economic future as being anything else than getting secondary/tertiary education credentials and then a job in a bureaucracy.

Many people think that investing in studying to get credentials that allow entry into specialist jobs in industries like healthcare or law will ensure that they’ll be able to have a career in those fields for life. This is a dangerous assumption to make.

Technological utopians are of the belief that it doesn’t matter if full time jobs are replaced by the need for people to bid for juggle a portfolio of tasks but the reality of life as a Taskrabbit or trying to earn a living solely via the gig economy is not rosy.

Similarly it should be a warning sign that many of the more recently created most valuable companies in the world don’t create many jobs and even when they do such as in the transport industry, these will eventually be fully automated.

Speaking at an event run by the pro-business right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute earlier this year Bill Gates commented that:

“Software substitution [bots], whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing … Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set … 20 years from now, labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model”.

Economist and author Tyler Cowan believes that Average is Over.

Cowan predicts that in the future workers will be split into 2 categories depending on how they answer these key questions:

“Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you? Worst of all, are you competing against the computer? Are computers helping people in China and India compete against you? If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch”.

Working age Australians young and old should carefully consider these questions in light of the recent 2014 Federal Budget’s proposed savage cuts to unemployment benefits, deregulation of university fees and delayed access to the aged pension. People will have to learn to fend for themselves in a jobs free future.

This is the original unedited version of an article was written by me for SBS World News Online

2 thoughts on “I See Dead People – Jobs Free Future”

  1. Well researched (as always). I think the Keynes argument holds true…instead of decreasing our output, we instead chose to increase our consumption! Seriously though – when you look at the innovations that are occurring, it’s hard to be pessimistic about the future.

  2. I know this is an old post but it does have a lot of quality information. My career is already being threatened by computers taking it over and I’m actually pretty scared about that.

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