Did you hear that the Pittsburgh Steelers are using robots? Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin calls a robotic tackling dummy that can simulate an NFL running back “an awesome piece of technology.” In Major League Baseball everything on the playing field from where the fielders position themselves to the batting order is dictated by algorithms and computers. The Major League Baseball manager’s days as a strategist are over, as his primary function has been shrunk to motivating the players.
I didn’t exactly begin working in professional sports in the dark ages, but I never would have predicted, nor did I hear anyone else predict, that professional athletics, an occupation based solely on world class physicality, would become subservient to technology, math, and yes, robotics. But if in the modern age technology and automation can take over professional sports, chances are it can disrupt any workplace. So if Democratic politicians want to give away other people’s money by jacking up the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the marketplace will respond like Wendy’s by installing self-service kiosks. Goodbye hamburger flipping jobs.
Nor is this disruption aimed at just low skilled jobs. Georgia Tech professor Ashok Goel employed a teaching assistant named Jill Watson for his popular on-line computer science class. Jill was nothing more than an artificial intelligence system a.k.a. IBM Watson. At the end of the semester many of the students didn’t realize Jill wasn’t flesh and blood. Add to the fact that some of the world’s richest men, like Jeff Bezos, are betting big on artificial intelligence and that the aforementioned IBM has over 500 patents on artificial intelligence alone, and you begin to see a future workplace discomforting for many in today’s workforce.
I’m not a Luddite, nor Chicken Little predicting the sky is going to fall due to technology. If the past is any indicator, technology will provide more good than bad. But add into the mix unchecked immigration, which now accounts for 16.7% of the American workforce, globalization, and over a generation of stagnant wages, and the American worker has that sinking feeling that his future is being outsourced to foreign born workers and to modern technology.
Nor can we be reassured in the Western World that our elected officials and experts have any grasp of what’s to be done about the slow strangulation of job creation. So far their grand plan is to toy with an idea to give away a monthly subsistent stipend to anyone who can breathe to make up for lost work. This month there was a referendum in Switzerland to give a monthly paycheck to every adult regardless of their financial circumstances. The voters in Switzerland were wise enough to reject it with a whopping 77% no vote, understanding it would be a substantial blow to individual responsibility as well as lead to massive immigration that would make the migration crisis that now plagues the Continent seem like child’s play in comparison.
On this side of the Atlantic famed political scientist Charles Murray argued in a June op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal for a Universal Basic Income to all Americans. To be fair to Mr. Murray he clearly states that “A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them.” To which I respond, are you kidding me? Does he not understand how Washington, D.C. works? If a Universal Basic Income ever got established, it would quickly become a mere addition to other welfare payments.
We really can’t control nor predict the impact of future technology, and I believe the average American isn’t looking for a “free money” handout that would keep him just above the poverty line. What the American worker wants and needs is an opportunity to have a career which, if they work hard, gives them a fighting chance of a brighter future.
Last year a minor league baseball team in San Rafael, California, used a robotic umpire to call balls and strikes in a game, perhaps foreshadowing the beginning of the end of umpires. Major League Umpires have already been emasculated to the point that after every close call we humans sit breathlessly and wait for technology to tell us if the call will stand. Even spectators can be outsourced, as proven in South Korea where they currently use Fanbots (robots) who cheer and do the wave at the appropriate moment.
These changes in the sports world are just a microcosm of what is happening worldwide with the workforce. Are we prepared for the displacement of millions of jobs that will come with technology? I doubt it, but perhaps we can just ask the robots what to do. After all, our current leadership hasn’t a clue.