Fast Forward 2030: Large Scale Job, Fiscal and Social Disruption

David Barnhizer

Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace concludes: “The next 15 years will see a revolution in how we work, and a corresponding revolution will necessarily take place on how we plan and think about workplaces.” [1]  Fast Forward adds:

“Artificial intelligence will transform businesses and the work that people do. Process work, customer work and vast swathes of middle management will simply disappear. [One key conclusion of the Report is that][n]early 50 percent of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. New jobs will require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and ability to leverage artificial intelligence.” [2] 

The researchers behind Fast Forward 2030 are far from alone in their predictions.[3] Something is happening that is transforming the world of work and destroying human jobs across a wide and diverse spectrum while shrinking the middle class on which strong democracies depend. One recent prediction states a “disruptive tidal wave” in the workplace will begin by 2021.  Brian Hopkins of the market research company Forrester warns: “Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services.”[4]

The Forrester analysis adds: “These robots, or intelligent agents, represent a set of AI-powered systems that can understand human behavior and make decisions on our behalf. … For now, they are quite simple, but over the next five years they will become much better at making decisions on our behalf in more complex scenarios.”[5]

Although the seminal 2013 report by Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, The Future of Employment, focuses on the loss of repetitive low-skilled jobs, no area of work is sacrosanct.[6] Work opportunities are being eliminated from the most “intellectual” activities down to the basic areas of services and labor.  Some analysts predict that fifty percent of jobs currently done by humans could disappear in the next ten years.[7] One US-based study predicts the loss of 12,000,000 American jobs in less than ten years.  Another projects a six percent permanent US job loss just within the next half-decade.[8]   The 2016 World Economic Forum projected that 5,000,000 jobs could be lost in major developed nation economies by as soon as 2020 due to automation.[9]

The Frey and Osborne report includes the almost de rigeur claim that other jobs will be created to replace what is lost.  To a limited extent that is true and the issue of what jobs will remain, which will have the highest priority, and what new forms of work will be created is discussed in the final chapters of Contagion.  But the critical point is that far fewer jobs for humans will exist, regardless of what they are. Of course some new jobs will come into being such as “robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators” but they won’t fill the emerging job and skill competencies gaps. [10]

The problem with The Future of Employment’s optimistic assessment is that the future is coming sooner than anticipated.  Some of those “higher level” or “customer-oriented” roles are already being filled by AI/robotic systems, with more to come. An almost amusing example is found in an Italian hotel that is testing Softbank’s Pepper robot as a concierge and receiving good reviews. Pepper, a visually unthreatening humanoid robotic model, is also being incorporated into customer work with insurance clients in Japan. 

One report indicates: “SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which is currently available in Japan costing 198,000 yen (£1,220), is close to what Asus is looking to offer, with articulated arms, cameras and sensors in a head and a screen on its chest….” [11] Use of robots as nursing home assistants and assisted living and home care workers is close enough that the claims that such jobs will be secure for future human employment are a delusional mirage.  Softbank is also deploying its Pepper robot in insurance work, using it to explain relatively simple options to consumers.[12]  Not stopping there, an Associated Press report describes how an Italian resort is experimenting with “Robby Pepper” as a concierge.  Initial reactions are positive.  The AP report relates:

“Robby Pepper can answer questions in Italian, English and German. Billed as Italy’s first robot concierge, the humanoid will be deployed all season at a hotel on the popular Lake Garda to help relieve the desk staff of simple, repetitive questions.  During one of Robby’s first shifts, Mihail Slanina, a guest from Moldova, congratulated the robot on his skills.  “He’s like a real person, he’s really good,” she enthused. “He talks, he shook my hand.” ” [i]

The Japanese appear to be more comfortable with robots than other cultures and a diverse variety are being used to assist Japan’s large elderly population in assisted living facilities.  China has reportedly developed a child-friendly babysitter robot currently for sale for $1400.  A consequence of China’s “one child” per family limit is that children generally lack brothers or sisters and this robot is designed to fill the “companionship gap”.  The report indicates:

“It speaks two languages, gives math lessons, tells jokes and interacts with children through the tablet screen in its chest—China’s latest robot is the babysitter every parent needs.  … The humanoid device stands as tall as a five-year-old, moves and dances on wheels and its eyes keep track of its charges through facial recognition technology. Parents can also remotely talk to and monitor the children through the iPal, which is linked to a smartphone app that allows them to see and hear everything. “The idea for this robot is to be a companion for children,” said Tingyu Huang, co-founder of AvatarMind Robot Technology. “When a child sees it, he or she will think of the robot as a friend, as another child in the family.” …  AvatarMind will soon launch another robot that can talk to seniors, remind them to take their pills and call the hospital when they fall.  Beijing has invested money and manpower in developing AI as part of its “Made in China 2025″ plan.” [14]

The development of “friendly” humanoid robotic aides and companions is just one sign that millions of jobs thought to be reserved for human workers will be taken by increasingly sophisticated AI/robotics systems. While some new types of jobs for humans will be created and others preserved, there is only so much “room in the tent”.  Far too many people will be left out in the cold because the new AI/robotic technologies are “force multipliers” that allow us to do much more with less while other AI/robotics systems replace human services altogether. There simply will not be the same need for human workers that we would wish or need if we are to maintain a healthy society.

We have already seen a shift away from agriculture and manufacturing jobs previously filled by human workers and, as more jobs become automated, many repetitive and low-skilled jobs will vanish or shrink to occupy specialized niches.[15]  The expanding development of robotic farming systems has particular implications not only for US immigration policy and what to do with several million migrants who enter the nation to work in agricultural employment, but for developing economies heavily dependent on agriculture for their economic development. [16]

Given that we are in a society where many people are mainly or solely qualified to work in those “repetitive, low-skilled” jobs and are unlikely to suddenly develop the ability to do higher end innovative, technical, scientific and conceptual work, the inevitability of massive job loss on the basic levels of work poses an extreme challenge.[17]  A fundamental issue is what do we do with millions of people who have lost the opportunity to engage in the only types of work for which they are qualified or capable? 


[1] “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace”,CBRE.http://www.cbre.com/o/international/AssetLibrary/Genesis%20Report_Exec%20Summary_1029.pdf. And http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/50-of-occupations-today-will-no-longer-exist-in-2025-report-114110701279_1.html.

[2] “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace”,CBRE.id.

[3] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/10/12/administrations-report-future-artificial-intelligence. “The [Obama] Administration’s Report on the Future of Artificial Intelligence”, 10/12/16, Ed Felten and Terah Lyons.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/13/artificial-intelligence-robots-threat-jobs-forrester-report.  “Robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021, report says:  Employees in fields such as customer service and transportation face a ‘disruptive tidal wave’ of automation in the not-too-distant future”, Olivia Solon, 9/13/16.

[5] Solon, “Robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021,” id.

[6]http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” 9/13/13.  

[7] http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/.  “2 Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030”, 2/3/12:  Date Modified:  9/4/16.

[8] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/07/the-robots-set-to-disrupt-white-collar-work.html.  “The robots set to disrupt white collar work”, Luke Graham, 7/7/16.

[9] https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/32240/10000-jobs-could-be-lost-to-robots-says-citi.  “10,000 jobs could be lost to robots says Citi”, 6/12/18..”

[10] Graham, “Robots Set to Disrupt”, id.

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/20/robocop-robot-mall-security-guard-palo-alto-californiahttps://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/31/asus-zenbo-robot-price-smartphone-voice-face. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/baig/2016/05/08/personal-digital-assistants-rise-and-they-want-talk/83715794/

[12] http://www.standard.net/World/2016/07/21/Pepper-robot-gets-new-job-selling-insurance. “Pepper robot gets new job selling insurance”, 7/21/16.  “Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. has announced plans to deploy 100 Pepper robots, made by SoftBank Group Corp., at its 80 branches in October. Pepper will explain insurance products and services, and accompany sales people on their rounds.  … Pepper will explain comparatively simple, reasonably priced insurance products in customer service areas at branch offices.”

[13] https://apnews.com/2d0c6beaa290430fbf2dce2e69bb49b2.  “Italy’s robot concierge a novelty on the way to better AI”,

Colleen Barry and Charlene Pele, 4/2/18. 

[14] https://phys.org/news/2018-06-ipal-robot-companion-china-lonely.html.  “ ‘iPal’ robot companion for China’s lonely children”, Kelly Wang, 6/14/18.

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/may/11/robot-jobs-automated-work. Charlotte Seager, “After the robot revolution, what will be left for our children to do?” 5/11/16.

[16] https://www.wsj.com/articles/now-cropping-up-robo-farming-1527854402. “Now Cropping Up: Robo-Farming: Agricultural-equipment makers gear up driverless tractors, combines in quest to produce more food, more sustainably”. Vibhuti Agarwal, 6/1/18.

[17]For one example, see, https://www.wsj.com/articles/next-leap-for-robots-picking-out-and-boxing-your-online-order-1500807601. “Next Leap for Robots: Picking Out and Boxing Your Online Order: Developers close in on systems to move products off shelves and into boxes, as retailers aim to automate labor-intensive process”, Brian Baskin, 7/23/17.

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