WASHINGTON – It is no longer in question whether all jobs will be automated, the head of the Institute for New Economic Thinking said Tuesday. The real question rests in when that automation will occur and which sectors of society will be affected sooner than others.
“Today, it would be possible to automate 50% of all work activities and by about 2060 we’ll definitely be capable in physical possibility have reached a 100%,” said Adair Turner.
Adair Turner, who is also the author of “Between Debt and the Devil,” said that researchers will soon develop artificial intelligence as smart as humans and eventually create “super intelligent” technology that will outperform human beings.
According to Turner, occupations that are currently highly automatable include those in the sector of accommodation and food services, as well as manufacturing such as sewing machine operators and sorters of agricultural products. Meanwhile, those in the education service or professional sectors such as legislators and doctors cannot yet be automated with the current technology.
To offset the phenomenon where increased automation will largely benefit the wealthy, Turner proposed a few policy regulations that could improve the welfare of people’s lives overall.
He suggested instituting redistributive taxation on real property wealth, designing more cities as attractive places to live and enforcing universal basic income to ensure adequate pay for basic services.
“Although we’ve solved the problem of [technological] productivity, we have a lot of tricky challenges ahead,” he said.
Turner also noted the paradox in capitalist societies that despite rapid growth in technology and its potential to replace work activities more effectively, productivity growth remains stagnant.
This paradox occurs where technological advancement is not reflected in overall productivity partly due to the inequality in income distribution and consumption choices of the winners of the productivity surge.
“A large part of the increased income from productivity accrues to already rich people…you may get a proliferation of low-income service jobs rather than a further increase in productivity,” said Turner.
An example of this effect is the British online food delivery company Deliveroo where, as a result of improved technology, minimum-wage jobs of delivering food on a bicycle have proliferated, he said.
This phenomenon is also evident in the United States, as the jobs expected to grow the most from 2014 to 2024 are personal care aides, food serving workers, and operation managers, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“These low-paying service jobs are growing because they for now cannot be automated and because wages are low enough to make automation uneconomic,” Turner explained.
Already today’s U.S. technology and information industries demonstrate effects of inequality in income distribution because increases in wages are concentrated at the top-end of the economy.
“With companies like Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, there is an extraordinary disconnect between the companies’ equity value and the unbelievably small amount of people they employ,” he said.