Transformational power of tech threatens many jobs

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Guest columnist

On Jan. 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at the Macworld convention. On June 29, 2007, the first iPhone was released. Six percent of the U.S. population owned smartphones by the end of 2007.

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Today, 81 percent of the U.S. population own smartphones. Adults check their phones every 22 minutes on average. Millennials check them every 14 minutes. There has been a 7,500-percent increase in texting since 2008.

We are bombarded with four to eight commercials per second online, which has decreased our attention span to about eight seconds. Not too alarming, until you realize that the attention span of goldfish is nine seconds. Ever try to get the attention of a goldfish?

Americans watch YouTube six times as much as we watch television. The rate at which we adopt technology is increasing exponentially. It took 16 years for the personal computer to capture 25 percent of the population. The cell phone took 13 years. The Internet captured 25 percent in seven years and social media did it in five years.

The video game developer, Zynga, took 35 months to achieve $1 billion in revenue. Groupon did the same in 18 months. In 2017, a new company achieved the $1 billion mark every 10 days.

At JP Morgan, a software program called COINS interprets commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June 2017, consumed 360,000 hours of lawyers’ and accountants’ time annually. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation.

Deloitte estimates that 39 percent of jobs in the legal sector could be automated in the next 10 years. Separate research has concluded that accountants have a 95-percent chance of losing their jobs to automation in the future.

The analysis, by accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that more than a third of U.S. jobs could be at “high risk” of automation by the early 2030s, a percentage that’s greater than in Britain, Germany and Japan.

The primary cause of the varying impacts by country is the level of education required.  Other industries that could be at high risk include hospitality, food service, transportation and storage.

Analysts have said truck driving probably will be the first form of driving in the U.S. to be fully automated, as long-range big rigs travel primarily on highways — the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention. Truck driving is the number one job in 29 of the 52 states.  

Within the next 20 years, it is likely that telemarketing, accounting, retail sales and real estate agents will disappear. Amazon recently demonstrated that three people can run an entire grocery store. Since Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, with 450 grocery stores, that capability threatens 90,000 jobs.

While it is troubling to think about the economic impact of all the lost jobs, as all of us in Danville-Boyle County are aware, that is not the purpose of this article. Rather than the lost tax revenue, the larger issue is, “where will those of us who have lost their primary source of income turn?” Does anyone really believe the federal or Kentucky state government is a reliable source of support for all the displaced workers, or for the time required to learn new skills?

Certainly neither federal nor state aid will be available to support the estimated large increase in unemployed workers for the long term. And with our already high percentage of people not participating in the workforce, does anyone believe most of the unemployed will take advantage of retaining programs if they are available?

The most frightening aspect of this quite likely scenario is the almost certain loss of self-esteem. Hamid Reza Alavi, Ph.D., wrote in a 2011 article in Addiction and Health that self-esteem is one of the most important variables that influence individuals’ tendency to addiction, theft and prostitution.

So we are facing a compounding effect from the escalating pattern of lost jobs: downward trending tax revenue with increased demand for unemployment compensation, on top of severely increased addiction and its consequential increase in crime.  

Is there any good news? Yes, a little. People are placing less value on cars, houses and other material things. Instead, they are seeking fulfilling experiences. They want to make memories. As a consequence, travel will likely be a growth industry.

Dave Fairchild is president of Fairchild Associates. He lives in Danville. This is the first of three columns on the transformational power of technology.