Automation and the Future of Human Employment

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote Robotics and Your Job to consider the role that robots will play in human society in the near future. Of course, robots are already doing mundane chores and those list of chores will increase as robot capabilities increase. The question of what sorts of work humans will do in the future has crossed my mind quite a lot as I’ve written Build Your Own PC on a Budget, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. In fact, both Luca and I have discussed the topic at depth. It isn’t just robotics, but the whole issue of automation that is important. Robots actually fill an incredibly small niche in the much larger topic of automation. Although articles like The end of humans working in service industry? seem to say that robots are the main issue, automation comes in all sorts of guises. When writing A Fuller Understanding of the Internet of Things I came to the conclusion that the services provided by technologies such as Smart TVs actually take jobs away from someone. In this case, a Smart TV rids us of the need to visit a video store, such as Blockbuster (assuming you were even around to remember these stores). Imagine all the jobs that were lost when Blockbuster closed its doors.

My vision for the future is that people will be able to work in occupations with lower risks, higher rewards, and greater interest. Unfortunately, not everyone wants a job like that. Some people really do want to go to work, clock in, place a tiny cog in a somewhat large wheel all day, clock out, and go home. They want something mindless that doesn’t require much effort, so losing service and assembly line type jobs to automation is a problem for them. In Robots are coming for your job the author states outright that most Americans think their job will still exist in 50 years, but the reality is that any job that currently pays under $20.00 an hour is likely to become a victim of automation. Many people insist that they’re irreplaceable, but the fact is that automation can easily take their job and employers are looking forward to the change because automation doesn’t require healthcare, pensions, vacation days, sick days, or salaries. Most importantly, automation does as its told. In the story The rise of greedy robots, the author lays out the basis for an increase in automation that maximizes business profit at the expense of workers. Articles such as On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs tell why people are still working a 40 hour work week when it truly isn’t necessary to do so. In short, if you really do insist on performing a task that is essentially pointless, the government and industry is perfectly willing to let you do so until a time when technology is so entrenched that it’s no longer possible to do anything about it (no, I’m not making this up). Even some relatively essential jobs, such as security, have a short life expectancy with the way things are changing (see How much security can you turn over to AI? and The eerie math that could predict terrorist attacks for details).

The question of how automation will affect human employment in the future remains. Theoretically, people could work a 15 hour work week even now, but then we’d have to give up some of our consumerism—the purchase of gadgets we really don’t need. In the previous paragraph, I talked about jobs that are safer, more interesting, and more fulfilling. There are also those pointless jobs that the government will doubtless prop up at some point to keep people from rioting. However, there is another occupation that will likely become a major source of employment, but only for the nit-picky, detail person. In The thin line between good and bad automation the author explores the problem of scripts calling scripts. Even though algorithms will eventually create and maintain other algorithms, which in turn means that automation will eventually build itself, someone will still have to monitor the outcomes of all that automation. In addition, the search for better algorithms continues (as described in The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World and More data or better models?). Of course, these occupations still require someone with a great education and a strong desire to do something significant as part of their occupation.

The point of all this speculation is that it isn’t possible to know precisely how the world will change due to the effects of automation, but it will most definitely change. Even though automation currently has limits, scientists are currently working on methods to extend automation even further so that the world science fiction authors have written about for years will finally come into being (perhaps not quite in the way they had envisioned, however). Your current occupation may not exist 10 years from now, much less 50 years from now. The smart thing to do is to assume your job is going to be gone and that you really do need a Plan B in place—a Plan B that may call for an increase in flexibility, training, and desire to do something interesting, rather than the same mundane task you’ve plodded along doing for the last ten years. Let me know your thoughts on the effects of automation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Robotics and Your Job

Now that word has gotten around that I’ve been working with both data science projects (Python for Data Science for Dummies) and machine learning projects (Machine Learning for Dummies), people have begun asking me hard questions, such as whether a Terminator style robot is possible (it isn’t, Ex Machina and The Terminator notwithstanding) or whether they’ll be without work sometime soon (the topic of this post). (As an aside, deus ex machina is a literary plot device that has been around for a long time before the movie came out.)

Whether your job is secure depends on the kind of job you have, whether robotics will actually save money, what you believe as a person, and how your boss interprets all the hype currently out there. For example, if your claim to fame is flipping burgers, then you’d better be ready to get another job soon. McDonald’s is currently opening a store that uses robots in Phoenix and plans to have 25,000 more moved to robotics by the end of 2016. Some jobs are simply going to go away, no doubt about it.

However, robots aren’t always the answer to the question. Many experts see three scenarios: humans working for robots (as in a doctor collaborating with a robot to perform surgery more accurately and with greater efficiency), humans servicing robots (those McDonald’s jobs may be going away, but someone will have to maintain the robots), and robots working for humans (such as that Roomba that’s currently keeping your house clean). The point is that robots will actually create new jobs, but that means humans will need new skills. Instead of boring jobs that pay little, someone with the proper training can have an interesting job that pays moderately well.

An interesting backlash against automation has occurred in several areas. So, what you believe as a person does matter when it comes to the question of jobs. The story that tells the tale most succinctly appears in ComputerWorld, Taxpayer demand for human help soars, despite IRS automation. Sometimes people want a human to help them. This backlash could actually thwart strategies like the one McDonald’s plans to implement. If McDonald’s finds that the robots cost too much to run or that people are going to the competition to obtain food from other humans, it might need to reevaluate what appears to be a winning strategy. However, the backlash would need to involve a significant part of the population of people who buy food at McDonald’s to induce the company to make the change.

There is also the boss’ perspective to consider. A boss is only a boss as long as there is someone or something to manage. Even though your boss will begrudgingly give up your job to automation, you can be sure that giving up a job personally isn’t on the list of things to do. Some members of the press have resorted to viewing the future as a time when robots do everything and humans don’t work, but really, this viewpoint is a fantasy. However, it’s not a fantasy that companies such as Hitachi are experimenting with robot managers. Some employees actually prefer the consistent interaction of a robot boss. It’s unlikely that managers will take this invasion of their domain sitting down and do something to make using robots untenable.

It really is too soon to tell where robots will go for one simple reason. The algorithms used to make robots functional are still works in progress. In addition, society must decide the place that robots will take. The interaction between business and the people that businesses serve will play a distinct role in how things play out. However, all this said, your job will likely be different in the future due to the influences of robots. For the most part, I feel that life will be better for everyone after the adjustment, but that the adjustment will be quite hard. Let me know your thoughts on robots at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Effects of Automation

After recently watching Disney’s new movie, Tomorrowland, I started thinking about the world that really could come about tomorrow. Of course, it will have many of the same problems we have today, but I’m sure it will also have a few new problems and hopefully, some of the old problems will see some sort of resolution. My recent forays into advanced math have given me a new perspective of just what it will take to create tomorrow. In writing both Python for Data Science for Dummies and MATLAB for Dummies I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the role that both math and science will play in creating this new world—not that there was any lack of appreciation before I wrote the books, but the vision now is clearer.

The fact of the matter is that people will require more education. Even plumbers and electricians will need to know more in order to deal with new technologies coming on the scene (think about performing tasks such as installing solar panels). It will come to a point where advanced schooling after high school (whether trade or technical) is going to become a necessity. Yes, people can still get jobs today without a college education, but those days are coming to an end with the advances in robotics I keep reading about. For example, a recent New York Times article, As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up, says quite a lot about the future of low paying jobs—they simply won’t exist. Articles such as the one found in MIT Technology Review, Robots That Learn Through Repetition, Not Programming, tell the story of why this is the case. In the future, robots will learn to perform new tasks as needed. The tone of some of these articles is a bit negative because we’re viewing the future through today’s eyes.

What I see in the future are opportunities for people to create, but in a safer environment than in the past. Just as it’s difficult to see the past as it actually was (the way the people viewed things at that time), trying to view the future, even if you have some inkling of what that future might contain, is difficult. For example, imagine having to saddle your horse before you can go anywhere—people today are used to simply climbing into the car and turning the key. However, if you lived in the early 1900s, a car was a really loud, obnoxious device that would spell the ruination of society—horses were far more practical and comfortable (interestingly enough, about 40 percent of those cars were steam powered). There is a difference in viewpoint that is hard to overcome (or even imagine for that matter). A ComputerWorld article, How enterprises can use artificial intelligence, describes how technology in the movies doesn’t quite match reality. In fact, you might find some of the ways in which advanced technologies and automation are used somewhat boring. Fraud detection hardly ranks as a highly exciting way to use technology, but it reflects the practical nature of how technology sees use today.

When I see kids today doing absolutely everything on a smartphone, I come to realize that they already live in a world far different from the one I knew as a child. There is no going back. Children today have different problems than I had simply because the technology is different. If I encountered a problem, I first had to find a phone to call someone for help—children today carry their phone with them (almost as another body part). Then again, children when I grew up didn’t have the problems with obesity that children do today.

A lot of the readers I talk with every day express various feelings about automation and all it entails—some are scared, others elated. The fact is that the future has always been different. Change is a part of the human condition. We’ll live through the changes that automation will create too. Let me know your thoughts on the changes that automation will bring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Viability of Java Programming as a Job

I get a lot of e-mail from readers asking whether I can tell them about their chances of getting a job using a particular programming language or skill that I write about. There are so many factors to consider in answering that question that it really is impossible to answer correctly or with any accuracy. Books, such as Java eLearning Kit for Dummies, provide you with a marketable skill that can potentially land you a job. In fact, The Importance of Finding Work post provides you with some ideas on just where you can find an interesting job writing Java code. I can also tell you that Java is both popular and important as far as programming languages are concerned. A recent InfoWorld article, Good news, Java developers: Everyone wants you, literally screams opportunity in the title. You can find further confirmation in the recent TIOBE index that places Java as the second most popular language in the world. All these indicators tell you that Java is a good selection for success.

Whether you can get a job programming with Java is an entirely different story. For example, there isn’t any way I can judge your skill at using Java, so there is no way I even know if you’re able to write applications. Being able to use Java to write applications is a prerequisite to getting the job, so only you know what your chances are in this area. If you’re honest with yourself, you know your skill level and whether you really do need more time practicing your skills before you go in for a job interview. Being realistic about your chances of getting a particular job is also important. If you try to get a leadership position with beginner skills, be prepared for disappointment.

If I could limit the criteria to issues such as job availability and your personal skills, I might be able to answer your question with some degree of success. However, the question is far more complex than that. A glut in people with basic skills could affect your chances of getting a job in a particular area. Likewise, if employers are looking for someone, anyone, to fill a position, you might get into a really good position with lackluster skills.

How you present yourself to a potential employer also affects the potential for success. Many highly skilled developers lack the kind of self-confidence required to get a job. The person in HR will see your interpersonal skills, not your ability to write code. Unless you have an in with the department you want to work with, trying to convince someone in HR to let the interview process go further could be quite hard.

I really do want you to succeed. So, I’ll continue to provide you with ideas of where to find work and the popularity of the skills that I’m helping you obtain. Unfortunately, my ability to provide help beyond these two areas is limited. In most cases, the rest is up to you. In keeping with the idea of preparing you as fully as I can to get that job of your dreams, I’m always open to answering your book-specific questions. Always feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Importance of Finding Work

Readers sometimes show patterns in the questions they ask and, in some cases, the pattern shows across a number of my books. When I started to note that readers were interested in discovering just how to earn a living once they have developed a new skill and that they were interested in me providing that information, I started adding a new section to many of my books, such as MATLAB for Dummies, that describes what sort of industries could use the skills the reader has learned. However, I don’t want anyone to be bored to tears either, so I made a point of listing interesting vocations. It’s my feeling that readers want to be engaged in their work. Of course, jobs with less pizzazz are always available and you might have to accept one of them—at least in the short term.

I didn’t provide such a listing for Java eLearning Kit for Dummies. My thought was that Java jobs are so plentiful that readers could probably find a job they liked without too much trouble. However, even with this book, I’ve received more than a few queries about the issue. That’s why I wrote 10 Surprisingly Interesting Ways to Earn a Living Using Java recently for New Relic. As with all my other job listings, this article focuses on jobs that could be really interesting and most definitely rewarding. Of course, not every job is for every person out there—you need to read the article to find the kind of job you like best.

One reader actually did ask why I focused my efforts on interesting (or at least, unusual) jobs. It all comes down to my personal vision of work. I get up every morning with all kinds of cool ideas to try for my books. I actually like opening my office door, starting up my systems, and getting down to writing. For me, work is an enjoyable experience—so much so, that I often forget that it’s work. I’d like other people to have that experience—to have the joy of enjoying their work so much that they really hate to leave at the end of the day.

Of course, there are other languages out there and I have other books that lack lists of jobs. If you find that one of my books is lacking this sort of information, and you really would like me to research the kinds of jobs that are available, let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I’d like to hear which book should receive a listing of associated jobs next. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy the Java job listing. You might see your dream job listed, you know, the one you didn’t think existed.

 

Profession Versus Job

I often find inspiration for posts in places that you wouldn’t think to look. Today’s post comes courtesy of Bill Bridges from his Green Market Press blog. The post in question is the Taipei Journal entry for today—there are many of these journal entries, all entertaining and educational about the human condition. Bill is a professional journalist and a good friend who has often inspired me to excel with his seemingly simple posts. The reason that today’s post struck a chord with me is that it answers part of the question of how to become a programmer. My initial post discussed the mechanics, the precursors that someone might pursue to become a programmer, but that post didn’t answer the question of how to make programming a profession.

Today’s journal entry answers the question of profession versus job rather succinctly. Susan writes an article that constantly mentions “the French system of government” without ever explaining what the term means. Bill asks her about it and her response is, “I did sort of wonder about that.” Susan has a job, Bill has a profession. Education, no matter how complete, is only a precursor to a profession. In order to turn a job into a profession, one must also become involved, learn to think for oneself, and have a desire to excel. An aspiring programmer must have integrity as well and be willing to devote long hours toward the goal of delivering the best possible code. Mind you, the code a particular individual delivers is unlikely to be perfect and it’s always possibly that someone else will write better codeI’m talking here about excellence within the individual’s ability to deliver it.

Anyone can perform a job. Only a few people have a profession. However, I’m not talking about a particular sort of profession. When Rebecca and I lived in San Diego, we’d go to a particular restaurant (the name escapes me at the moment, but the restaurant is no longer there anyway). There was a man named Kevin there who waited tablesit was his profession. You could see it in the way he performed the tasks of his tradewith enthusiasm, vigor, and more than a little subtle humor. You felt honored to be served by him and the lines were often long with people who specifically asked for him. Application development is a trade that requires no small amount of education, but I’ve seen more than a few people obtain the required skills by simply reading a book. The difference between a job and a profession remains the samethe professional takes responsibility for successful completion of the task and delights in seeing the task well-done.

While my previous post described a job, this one describes a profession. Many people have questioned why America has been losing it’s place in many different technology areas. First of all, I submit that statistics lie and often tell the story that they’re designed to tell. Don’t believe the lies that you readthink for yourself. Americans still have what it takes to create some of the most amazing technologies ever and I’ve discussed more than a few of these technologies in previous posts. If America has truly lost its edge, then where do these technologies come from? Second, far too many Americans are focused on getting a job, rather than a profession. When you view America of the past, you discover that we have had an array of professionals that delivered new technology is all sorts of waysmany never thought about before.

The bottom line is that you need to consider what sort of programmer you’re going to be as part of your journey. Education isn’t enough. If you really want to become a good programmer, then you must be willing to do what it takes to become a professional. As a professional, you’ll have a higher quality of life, discover the benefits of job satisfaction, and contribute to society in ways that you can scarcely imagine. So what do you havea job or a profession? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.