back to article Robots. Machine learnin', 3D-printin' AI robots: They'll take our jobs – Davos

Robot overlords will cause a net loss of over five million human jobs by 2020, according to analysis by the World Economic Forum (WEF) from Switzerland's Davos ski resort. Dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a mixture of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology and 3D printing – when combined …

  1. Big_Ted
    Facepalm

    DAVOS

    Dam I read that as Davros . . . .

    1. Graham Marsden
      Terminator

      Re: DAVOS

      Just beat me to it...!

      1. Richard Wharram

        Re: DAVOS

        Me too. Spooky.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: DAVOS

      Me too. I was expecting to get my speech ready to welcome our Dalek overloads. Never mind. Maybe next year.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: DAVOS

        Nah. There will always be a need for the trades. I mean, who's ever heard of a robot plumber, eh? I don't think we'll ever see the day when a robot turns up at your door armed with a sink plunger.

        1. nilfs2
          Joke

          Re: DAVOS

          Also, asscracks are pointless on robots

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: DAVOS

            "Also, asscracks are pointless on robots"

            My hoover has a crevice tool and a crevice on the ass end to hold the crevice tool.

        2. Fungus Bob Silver badge

          Re: DAVOS

          "I don't think we'll ever see the day when a robot turns up at your door armed with a sink plunger."

          But if it does show up, it'll be shouting "EXTERMINATE!"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The point that this misses is that people don't actually need jobs to survive. When we have an abundance of stuff people need because AI and robots are making it all, the only thing required is a new method of dividing it up. Because what this does break is capitalism.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Thank you.

      You concisely expressed what I was trying to say in my vague and meandering post below. Cheers!

    2. BoldMan

      So how do people pay for the energy they use to operate all this miraculous stuff?

      Utopian nonsense!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        "So how do people pay for the energy they use to operate all this miraculous stuff?"

        Cheap fusion power. So cheap it's not worth metering it.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Less than 5 Years

      Steady as she goes for the next 60 months and I can step off this hamster wheel.

      And what a relief it will be.

    4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      There will always be things that are excludable; for example we can't all live in Buckingham Palace or have our patches accepted into the Linux kernel or have our band's album at number one in the charts. The rights to these scarce but desirable resources can form the basis of a currency. (After all, gold was just a scarce but desirable resource.)

      So currency ain't going away, even if the cost of goods approaches zero.

      1. nilfs2
        Childcatcher

        The need to show off social status...

        ...is the thing that has to go away, that's the base of all evils we live on right now, machines won't fix that.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: The need to show off social status...

          Unfortunately, it's also a basic instinct. Showing off is just one way of making sure you get the girl (or whatever) and the other guy doesn't. Frankly, showing off may be seen as preferable to a fistfight.

          Bottom line, showing off won't be going away.

    5. John Sanders
      Holmes

      You'd be surprised.

      It will not break capitalism.

      What will happen with the next robotic wave is the same that already happened when all the manufacturing was moved to Asia, lots of more unemployment.

      If anything it will break those who are at the bottom of the job market, even more people will become dependent on the state. Which means probably you'll subsidize their entire living with even more taxes, Individuals on a payslip have no defence against state confiscation.

      Nothing more, nothing less.

      1. Naselus

        Re: You'd be surprised.

        "It will not break capitalism.

        What will happen with the next robotic wave is the same that already happened when all the manufacturing was moved to Asia, lots of more unemployment.

        If anything it will break those who are at the bottom of the job market, even more people will become dependent on the state. Which means probably you'll subsidize their entire living with even more taxes, Individuals on a payslip have no defence against state confiscation."

        Sounds like a broken economic system to me.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, yeah, yeah....

    ..just like washing machines, microwave ovens, dishwashers,telephones,cars, computers, email and so many other things were supposed to allow us to only work 5 hours a week.

    5 million jobs lost, millions of other ones created dealing with the shit they create.

    1. Ironclad

      Re: Yeah, yeah, yeah....

      Yep, spot on.

      I predict a huge upswing in 'smart' appliance maintenance. Jobs fixing fridges that keep automatically ordering 13 Kg of bean sprouts every 6 minutes and 3D Printers that have been hacked and reprogrammed to only churn out replica penises.

      1. Thecowking

        Re: Yeah, yeah, yeah....

        Hacked?

        Is that what they're saying now?

    2. John Sanders
      Meh

      Re: Yeah, yeah, yeah....

      >> 5 million jobs lost, millions of other ones created dealing with the shit they create.

      Nope, you do not need 5 million jobs to maintain expensive machinery running closed down firmwares.

      Most of the stuff putting people in the street in the last 20 years destroys way more jobs than it creates.

      Wealth is created by human work, if you take humans away from work no wealth is generated.

      I'm not saying the industry should not automate or do further automation, what I say is that it will have consequences, and sometimes consequences that are not foreseeable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah, yeah, yeah....

        So you're saying an automated mining machine doesn't generate (or as I prefer to put it, FIND) wealth?

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Ah well.

    So, what jobs are necessary for our comfort and well-being? Primarily, those in food production, shelter construction, and healthcare. Then there are the jobs that can support the above, so tractor manufacturers, and teachers as examples.

    However, people seem to have a knack for creating jobs for themselves that seem inefficient. Indeed, owning objects that have been made in inefficiently labour-intensive ways is one way very rich people display their status. They are nopt the only ones, though.

    Less affluent people will also make a point of using local goods and services, even if carries a cost premium, since they have a desire of keeping money in their area, supporting the livelihoods of people who might in turn be their own customers or clients.

    We don't just go to work for the money. We go to work so we have experience of cock-ups and triumphs to talk about when we get to the pub in the evening. And yeah, that is a relatively privileged position.

    So, how can we rejig this global system so everybody has enough (but not too much) to do, and no one is fearfully close to the breadline?

    1. BoldMan

      Don't forget that entire industries have been created around people with stupid qualifications telling other people with stupid qualifications something they already knew, but because they are payins stupid amounts of money instead of using their own intelligence it sounds more authoritative, but is actually entirely unproductive in the great scheme of things.

      I believe its called consultancy...

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Facepalm

        To those who have never read it, I can commend Rip-off!: The Scandalous Inside Story of the Management Consulting Money Machine by David Craig. It was true when I put my little piggy wiggles into the (hot) water 30 years ago as a recent graduate who knew very little (although I could code and do sophisticated arithmetic), and as I make a living by sorting out some of the problems created by their kind today, still true. A good if mind boggling crazy read. Icon, cos that's what you will be doing when you read it.

      2. Graham Marsden

        @BoldMan

        > I believe its called consultancy...

        You are correct.

        That will be £5000, please.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    investing in reskilling current employees

    yes, investing in reskilling, just like reskilling, is THE way to make money! As to those being reskilled - fuck them! I mean, who cares when the reskilling business is a-booming, eh?

  6. Nosher

    So, we appear to have come full circle: back in 1979, white-collar/technical union head honcho Clive Jenkins stated "the days when fears of unemployment caused by computing could be discounted have definitely vanished", with his union - the ASTMS - going on to predict an extra 3 million unemployed by 1991, attributable to computers and robots. Jenkins went on to call the whole process a "jobs holocaust" and, together with co-author Barrie Sherman, forecast an imminent "leisure society" with most people being unemployed most of the time. Adam Osborne, he of the Osborne 1 computer, was also in to predictions of gloom in his book "Running Wild", also published in 1979, in which he predicted 50% of all jobs disappearing with 50 million job losses in the US alone, thanks to technology. Even the Socialist Workers Party pitched in with a book published in 1980 called "Is a Machine After Your Job?".

    Maybe we should just be more like Dr. Christopher "Mighty Micro" Evans who was far more sanguine, saying in 1979 (not long before he died at the age of 48) "Like it or not, the technology is going to overwhelm us. So, as for some of the eerie futures that seem possible, I don't think we've got much option. Take the case of machine intelligence. It's going to be just too useful for us not to develop it".

    Plus ça change!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's going to be just too useful for us not to develop it

      And thus the Fermi Paradox is perpetuated on another planet.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      As I've said before: there were 3 million horses in the UK in the 19th century; there are now only about a million.

      So far computers have been pretty dumb and we've been able to employ people in jobs no machine can do. But the machines are getting smarter. We've just had a story about Skype doing real time translation. I'm sure it can't replace a human being. But in ten years? Twenty years? Fifty years?

      And wherever you look, you find the machines are now able to do jobs that need a degree of creativity. It can't be long before phone systems move from "Press 1 for.." to ones that can interpret and answer simple questions or chuck you to an operator. So there goes a swathe of front-line helpline operators. And that's on top of advances like internet shopping that reduce the need for sales assistants.

      At some point, we're going to find the jobs we're creating can all be done by computer, and we don't need as many horses people.

  7. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Terminator

    Robots making lots of cash...

    Robots making lots of cash and all they eat is instant mash

    Oh wouldn't you just love to be that way?

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Robots making lots of cash...

      all together now, 'for Mash give Cash'

  8. W Donelson

    Who owns the A.I. ?

    A.I. could free humanity...

    ... but when the super-rich and corporations own all the A.I. and robots (already), and replace almost all jobs (more and more), what will you do?

    The rich are NOT going to feed and care for you....

    Bet on it.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

      It makes Asimov's novels in which humanity was divided in two parts, the 'Spacers' and the Earthers seem likely - even if it is just played put on a dying earth in our version.

    2. John Sanders
      Meh

      Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

      Do not be that catastrophic, "the rich" as you call them need customers.

      One thing is saying that the oncoming wave of automation will have consequences on the employment and another very different is saying that the end of the world is night.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

        The rich can just cater to each other, closing off the walled garden.

        1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

          Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

          "The rich can just cater to each other, closing off the walled garden."

          Then they become irrelevant to the rest of the world.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

            Or rather, the rest of the world becomes irrelevant to them. By the time they're finished, the rest of the world will be literally crumbs. Picture if you will an isolated island. One guy manages to vanish with all but one of the coconuts, leaving just one for all the rest to fight over.

            1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

              Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

              Native American proverb: When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.

              The rich won't take coconuts, they'll only take money.

    3. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

      Furthermore, AI/robotics will forevermore solve the "servant problem." Unless, of course, human servants becomes the penultimate status symbol.

    4. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Who owns the A.I. ?

      "when the super-rich and corporations own all the A.I. and robots"

      Keep in mind that while the super-rich own a disproportionate amount of corporate shares, the vast majority of corporations are actually owned by pension funds, mutual funds etc for whom the ultimate beneficiaries are middle-class workers with some savings*. The real problem isn't ownership 'per se', it's ownership structure whereby the super-rich can own 5% of a company and be able to take all the decisions, while the other 95% is owned by hundreds of thousands of individuals through several layers of funds and money managers such that they have no say in the running of the company, while the multiple in-between layers extract most of the value.

      *ie, us, probably valid for 90%+ of El Reg members

  9. Elmer Phud Silver badge
    Flame

    That Jaquard bloke was a right bastard!

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      That Jaquard bloke was a right bastard!

      His legacy certainly looms over us, but I think a lot of the sociological research into its effects is a bit woolly.

      1. Hero Protagonist

        Re: That Jaquard bloke was a right bastard!

        I applaud how you have warped this thread.

    2. Alister Silver badge

      Woof!

      That was looming!

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        What a card!

  10. Graham Bartlett

    Gender imbalance

    The crucial qualifier on that: "Women are set to be hit hardest by the developments *if women and men continue to only do the same jobs in 20 years time as they're doing today*".

    This in a context where there's been no action on boys failing in disproportionate numbers at schools for decades, with the inevitable result that young men are much less likely to go on to higher education. (You might wonder too about men being much a minority in teaching, and that the overwhelming majority of primary schools don't have a single male member of staff outside site maintenance. Role models are supposed to be important for kids, aren't they?) And years of training for skilled manual work being seriously underfunded, as well as East European immigrants taking the bottom out of the market on those jobs for the last decade.

    It's a generational thing. Sure, the old guys at the top are still guys - they started their careers in the 60s and 70s. But look at the people on the management tiers below them and you're looking at much more like 50:50, for a generation with more like 50:50 academic achievement. Now we've got a generation where girls outperform boys in every academic subject at school, and are way more likely to be going to uni. It really shouldn't take much thought to work out the results.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Gender imbalance

      One of the results is already happening; whether it is worrying or not is for you to decide.

      In the past when more men than women went to university, a lot of male graduates married women non-graduates. But nowadays in a lot of Western countries we have more women graduates than men, yet women graduates expect to marry male graduates (and indeed all the women graduates in my family have done precisely this; anecdotal but understandable since it is easy to perceive - not necessarily correctly - that non-graduate men are likely to have more backward ideas about the role of women.)

      The result could be a future with a reversion to a world in which a lot of women are competing for "suitable" men. Perhaps nice for the men, but the potential social effects are unpredictable and perhaps negative.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Gender imbalance

        Much of what history tells us is that large numbers of disenfranchised young men in unbalanced societies do not bode well for the stability of said societies. You send them away to fight or you let them stay and fight.

        1. JimC Silver badge

          Re: Gender imbalance/disenfranchised young men

          Yep.In the short term I see the executive class getting richer and richer whilst relying on the machines to hand out the old panem et circusem. In the medium term I fear it may be À la lanterne, À la lanterne...

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Gender imbalance

          Who needs history? Just look at China.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Gender imbalance @ Graham Bartlett

      Anecdotal evidence that reflects what you are saying. I've recently been involved in university selection interviews for potential medical students. All the sessions I did had many more female than male candidates (70:30, approximately). The cohorts in the years already in the medical school tend to go from about 50:50 in the fifth year to 60:40 in the current first year. This will translate in many more female doctors graduating from our medical school at least, and the pattern does not seem to be any different at the others I know of. The medical profession is undergoing a huge a change of demographic, and I am not sure it is ready for it.

  11. naive

    Interesting combination with existing wealth imbalance

    Coincidence or not, recently some studies were published concerning the rather disturbing imbalance in assets between rich people and the rest: The top 62 of richest people own more than the poorest 3.000.000.000 people, https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2016-01-18/62-people-own-same-half-world-reveals-oxfam-davos-report.

    Smart robots will enable the rich to replace many existing jobs in the next 25 years.

    It will just mean the rich will even become richer on short term, since they have to pay out less wages to workers, while the costs for the robots will count as assets on their balance. Believers in Darwin would argue there will be more robots and less humans in future, since many humans would be denied access to resources to stay alive, since robots can do all better. It is hard to swallow that the workforce needed to maintain the robot is larger as the workforce they replace.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting combination with existing wealth imbalance

      And then they develop the robot that can maintain any other robot, including another of itself. Keep a tag team of these guys and the amount of human work needed to keep them going will become extremely small.

  12. Triboolean
    Pint

    Still waiting for no work

    With every decade comes the promise that we will no longer have to work, real soon now.

    With every decade that dream is further and further away. The cost of living increases faster than wages. We work as many hours as in the 1960s. The so-called middle class is shrinking in many countries. It now seems to require two incomes to maintain a decent life. Some people even invite the kids to live back home to add their income to the pile to meet ever increasing costs and rising taxes.

    Its not going well, this quest for robots to do it all while we sit back to a life of leisure. All those promised robots, promised by every decade's futurists, are no more here than the promised flying cars of the 1950s, 60s, 70s,...

    Education may not help, only drive down incomes as there becomes 2, 3, ... 10 people available to spin up your servers (which is more automated than ever). Or pretty much any other job. Change is certain, but its certainly not looking like the endless glowing promises of the starry eyed futurists,

    For many, the life of leisure will be sitting curbside, with a hat open to a few coins.

    Beer icon - while beer is still affordable.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Still waiting for no work

      The utopian vision overlooks one key element: someone's going to OWN these robots, and "the State" is just another owner in this regard. Whoever controls the robots gets to dictate terms, and if it's the State owning them, then it's whoever controls the State that has all the power.

      As for the beer, they could always keep the beer cheap for the "bread and circuses" effect. Plus drunk people tend to be more pliable.

    2. GFK1

      Re: Still waiting for no work

      " All those promised robots, promised by every decade's futurists, are no more here than the promised flying cars of the 1950s, 60s, 70s,..."

      You've not been in a modern factory lately, then...

      Damn near everything you own was made by a robot, at least in part.

  13. Anonymous (Noel) Coward

    Fight back!

    Buy a 3D printer, use it to create a clone of itself, then send the first one back for a refund.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    now we'll see the "popular" opinion shift.

    when it was the jobs where people had to get dirty or work hard, when those jobs are under any sort of strain whether to automation or "undocumented" and slave-wage underclasses, the Popular Opinion steps up with "hur hur theyre takin our jerbs!" and the kids and office people laugh.

    When the H1Bs started going after a bit of the Millenial's clean jobs, we started hearing some dissatisfaction.

    When automation knocks out the rest of the low-effort, low-barrier-of-entry, low-ambition jobs, then suddenly these same "comedians" will have nothing nice to say about getting their "jerbs" taken away.

    Thing is, it's no different than before. Sad how whether anything is "done" or if there is any concern, is only about the "who" is affected, since no one can or dares look beyond their nose to their smartphone screen and whatever they choose to stream to it.

    Those who appease the crocodile, or who laugh it off when told to, still get eaten.

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