Sweeping changes are upon us
The Wife and I are not particularly neat people. While our personal hygiene is beyond reproach, we have a habit of stacking things in piles around the house and forgetting about them.
Dry cleaning has been known to hang on doorknobs for days (weeks) at a time. Old copies of this newspaper tend to collect on my side of the bed, and The Wife hasn’t actually seen the surface of her desk since the first round of the 2014 NBA finals.
Throw in two shedding cats and a warren of dust bunnies living under the sofa and I think you get the picture.
But all that has changed thanks to the forward march of technology. Quietly, effortlessly, our home has become an antiseptic clean space thanks to the superior brains of Silicon Valley.
Last Christmas one of the kids gifted The Wife with a Roomba. If you are unfamiliar with the Roomba, it’s a small plastic circular miracle, a disc-shaped robot that roams around the house sweeping up the flotsam and jetsam we leave in our wake. Not as personable as Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons” TV series, our Roomba has the advantage of silently going about its business without comment or judgment.
For all I know Roombas have been sent here to secretly compile a database on the living habits of humans for the eventual day when the machines finally take over and turn us into their carbon-based slave/servants. Frankly, I don’t care as long it sweeps up the kitty litter particles the cats track in from the garage.
Last week the Beverly Hills City Council passed a resolution to develop a fleet of driverless vehicles that will roam the streets of America’s most prestigious city providing transportation for the chaufferless while erasing the stigma of down-and-out 1%-ers who currently drive their Maybachs or Bentleys on their own.
The idea of an armada of autonomous vehicles cruising the streets is certainly attractive to those of us sentenced to twenty-five to life stuck in Southern California gridlock. But before we jump at the chance to wallow in the splendor of hands-free commuting let’s consider where this trend is actually taking us.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of the top-ten fastest growing jobs in America pay less than 25k per year. Three-quarters pay less than $35,500.
Food prep and service workers earn on average $18,410 per year, personal care aides average $20,440 while home health aides, retail salespeople and restaurant cooks round out the top five fastest growing jobs at $22,490.
While the shrinking middle-class and mushrooming numbers of poor have been touched on by both sides during Campaign 2016, mostly with nonsensical pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, cities, counties and some states have taken to hiking the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, consequences be damned.
And the consequences are profound. Businesses are investing in automation that will eliminate entire categories of work.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates told the American Enterprise Institute back in 2014, “Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower.” Gates warned, “I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”
While its undoubtedly true millions of us freed from the drudgery of everyday labor will produce a new generation of artists and humanitarians it’s also undoubtedly true the devil’s workshop will be adding a third shift. Not all those idle hands will end up making documentaries or framing houses with Jimmy Carter. People need a purpose in life. Technology is moving faster than evolution.
Bill Gates is not the only tech pioneer concerned about where the digital revolution is headed; the noted theoretical physicist Steven Hawking told the BBC “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk was greeted with nervous laughter when he told an MIT audience, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”
This isn’t an argument against a higher minimum wage. I couldn’t live on $15 bucks an hour, could you? Rather it’s a wakeup call to our political leaders, entrepreneurs and captains of industry of all stripes. When the future frightens the futurists its time to take notice.
Meanwhile our Roombas will continue to sweep up the detritus of our lives guided by electronic eyes to navigate past the pair of running shoes that slid under the recliner and the huge pile of laundry we promised we’d fold back in March. But we’d better keep our eyes on the Roomba as well.
Someday it may be coming for us.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 on AM 790. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.