Watch and read the full transcript of Federico Pistono’s TEDx Talk: Robots Will Steal Your Job, but That’s OK at TEDxVienna Conference. This event occurred on November 3, 2012.
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Federico Pistono – Founder and CEO at Konoz
Hello everyone. Hi, welcome. So how are you doing today? Good? Yeah? It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it? Well, let me fix that for you. I will talk about jobs.
Can I have please a quick show of hands? Raise your hand if you either worked or if you know somebody close to you who works in any of these areas: How about driving; that’s trucks, delivery, buses, taxis, anything… Raise your hand. How about janitors? Housecleaning, cashiers or — No one? No one knows anyone who works — OK, good. Secretaries, real estate, accounting, retail, manufacturing, journalism, OK, let’s say it’s about 70% of you. Good. Robots will steal your job.
Laughter, ridicule, contempt. This is how it was greeted by the establishment of economists about four years ago, when I first started thinking about these issues. At that time I helped start an organization called the Zeitgeist Movement and we were thinking of ways on how to build a better society. At that time nobody took it seriously but things have changed now.
What changed? Well, very few people are laughing. 2009 — Martin Ford comes up with ‘The Lights in the Tunnel’ where he paints a picture of an increasingly automated economy, lots of jobs are being replaced by machines and very few new jobs are being created. 2011 — two MIT economists, they have pretty much the same thesis.
So, let’s look at the evidence for this, shall we? Kodak, the once undisputed giant of the photography industry they had 90% market share in the US in 1976. By the year 1984 they were employing 145,000 people and in 2012 they had a net worth of negative $1 billion when they went bankrupt. Why? Because they failed to predict the importance of exponential trends when it comes to technology.
On the other hand, Instagram, the digital photography company the same year, 2012, they had 13 employees and they were sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Now this is kind of ironic because Kodak pioneered digital photography, they actually invented the first digital camera when they came out in 1975 with a 0.01 megapixel digital camera. But they thought it was a toy and they didn’t pay attention so that’s what happens with exponentials: we don’t pay attention.
So let’s play a little game with you, let’s be more interactive school: 30 steps. Now imagine I take 30 steps linear: that’s one, two, three… where do I get if I get to 30? About the end of the stage right there, OK. How about if I take 30 steps exponentially? 2, 4, 8, 16… where do I get? Where? Outside? Actually I get to the Moon. By the way, this is not the scale, the Moon is much further away and back and I still have enough steps to circle the Earth 8x. That’s what exponential means. How do I know this? I just asked WolframAlpha.
Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic components, they make pretty much anything. So if you’ve got something on your lap or in your pocket, that makes noises and it’s blinking and bright and it’s probably tweeting right now, they made it. Not just Apple, they make anything. It’s a multinational corporation worth $100 billion which employs 1.2 million people. What are they doing? They are automating, of course. In fact, they are about to deploy an army of 1 million robots to cut rising labor expenses and improve efficiency. Canon is doing the same, going fully automated very soon, lots of other companies are following.
Now what if Walmart follows? Biggest multinational corporations in the world, employs 2.1 million people, what if they automate? Well, they can’t, right? They don’t have the technology to do that, most certainly they do, Amazon knows this very well. So this is a graph made by a fellow-author Andrew McAfee from MIT, we pretty much agree on the analysis. As you can see: profits, investments are all going up and up and up for corporate investments and multinational corporations but the red line, which is the employment to population ratio is going down and down and down. And we both agree that when it comes to automation we ain’t seeing nothing yet.
This is the Google autonomous car. You know, the futuristic car that drives itself without a human driver. By the way, it’s as cool as it sounds. I was inside, this is me at NASA a few months ago and it’s a pretty neat piece of technology, they have all sorts of sensors and lasers, and GPS and machine learning algorithms, drives itself, it’s safer, better than any human driver, doesn’t get tired, never crashes, never breaks any rule whatsoever. Basically it just works and it’s better than humans.
Problem is 3.6 million people in the US alone work driving, meaning they drive for a living. That’s 2.6% of the population. Austria and Europe they have very similar numbers. I think these people might be affected by this kind of technology, don’t you? So accounting, retail, manufacturing, translations, no one is safe. Journalism — as the Wall Street Journal puts it software is eating the world.
So what do we do? Should we despair? How about putting taxes on technology? Or impose more regulation? Or maybe do some education reforms? Basically find any clever ways to get everyone a damn job. That’s what these guys are proposing, that’s what the presidential campaign is all about and it sounds reasonable enough, after all famously said by Voltaire: “Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” He said that in 1759. Is that really the case today in this society? I think we might be missing a big opportunity.
It was Confucius who said that if you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. Brilliant, I agree. Problem: getting a job you love, one that is fulfilling and that allows you to follow your moral code today, I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty damn hard. In fact, according to Deloitte’s Shift Index that says as much as 80% of the people hate their job. 80%, that’s 4 out of 5 spending most of their useful lifetime doing something they don’t particularly enjoy.
Now in 2012 with this kind of technology at our fingertips, guys! But doesn’t that make you little mad? Little bit? So we are in kind of work paradox. Because we work long and hard hours on jobs we hate to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. Genius! And so we have to adjust what the economy allows us to perform and the sad reality is that most jobs unfortunately are neither fulfilling nor do they create any value for society and I don’t think I have to name which jobs. I think you know which ones.
By the way they are going to be automated very soon and I suspect within our lifetime. So we are screwed. That’s the end of my talk, bye. No, I think there’s light in the tunnel, because I spent a year researching this problem and I think I might have cracked it. I might have discovered what the purpose of life is. And I’m going to give it to you. Right now, TEDxVienna. Would you like to know?
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