What happens to human jobs when robots arrive?

What's going on in robot worker times?


In recent months, anthropologists have been rummaging through the grassroots of America’s workforce jungle in search of an answer to one of the great questions of our time: what happens to human jobs when robots arrive?

You might expect the answer to be very depressing. If there is one thing on which almost all economists agree, it is that digital technologies are performing many jobs once done by humans.

制造业提供了一个尤为明显的例子。波尔州立大学(Ball State university)的一项研究显示,2000年至2010年,有560万个美国制造业岗位消失,几乎十分之九是因为自动化,而非贸易。情况还可能更糟:咨询公司麦肯锡(McKinsey)估计,随着自动化模式扩大到服务业,在目前由人类完成的工作中,有45%可能会实现自动化。这相当于数以百万计的就业岗位和2万亿美元的年薪。
Manufacturing offers a particularly stark example of this. A study by Ball State university suggests that 5.6m US manufacturing jobs were lost between 2000 and 2010 — almost nine in 10 thanks to automation, not trade. It could be worse: McKinsey, a consultancy, estimates that 45 per cent of the tasks currently done by humans could be automated as the pattern spreads into the service sector. This equates to $2tn in annual wages — and millions of jobs.

That sounds scary. There is, however, an intriguing twist. When anthropologists have conducted “participation observation” among American workers — that is, observing at what is actually happening in people’s everyday lives, rather than looking at top-down statistics — they discovered a more complex story than the raw numbers suggest.

确实,机器正消灭一些人类的工作,但人们还在新的岗位上与机器人合作。这种更乐观的情况往往不那么直观,但应获得更多关注,特别是美国当选总统唐纳德?特朗普(Donald Trump)下月上台之时。
Yes, machines are wiping out some human jobs but people are also working with robots in new roles. That more upbeat story tends to be obscured, yet it deserves a great deal more attention — particularly when president-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.

新型的社会保障、健康和养老体系是容纳临时工作者的必要举措。一些政策制定者明白这点。例如民主党人马克?沃纳(Mark Warner)等参议员正推动为临时工作者建立新的保障网络。然而,如果这场辩论要获得巨大支持的话,科技行业本身必须介入。到目前为止,硅谷在这些问题上并不特别积极,但特朗普似乎决心把他们推到聚光灯下:最近,他召集科技界领袖到特朗普大厦(Trump Tower),让他们对他的计划“放心”。
New types of social security, health and pension systems are necessary to accommodate contingent workers. Some policymakers understand this. Senators such as Mark Warner, a Democrat, for example, are pushing for new safety nets for contingent workers. But if this debate is to secure any serious traction, it is imperative that the technology sector itself steps in. Hitherto, Silicon Valley has not been particularly vocal on these questions, but Mr Trump seems intent on pulling them into the spotlight: last week he summoned tech leaders to Trump Tower to “reassure” them about his plans.

So Silicon Valley should seize this chance and start a dialogue about how to help humans deal with all those robots in the workforce. Otherwise, the day will come when Silicon Valley itself could find itself being blamed for American job losses.