As I get deeper and deep into my writing career, I have realized that there are a lot less cocktail parties than I had thought there would be. And there is a lot of work, meaning research and study—I thought I left the books behind long ago. Recently, while researching automation and employment for a story, I came to the realization that the apocalypse is coming. Where’s the T-800 when you need it?
With the increased development and implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), many people fear an Armageddon-like scenario of the machines taking over the world. Many dread a scarcity of manufacturing jobs, the bleeding away of employment opportunities to developing countries where production costs are significantly lower than in the U.S. and that are more attractive to companies. All this because they grew up with the illusion that there will always be a pathway to the middle-class and a home with a white picket fence, two-point-two children, and a dog through union-protected manufacturing employment.
In 1953, manufacturing jobs accounted for a massive 32.1% of U.S. employment; today, it is only 8.5%. but the loss of those important routes to middle-class prosperity, started even before the free-trade agreements of the 1990s. Manufacturing jobs, after peaking in 1979 at 19.4 million (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), fell to just 17.6 million in 1987. The machines started taking over in the last third of the 20th century. Manufacturing jobs were not lost to foreign countries; they were lost to automation.
This isn’t something to fear. Rather, we should adapt to it. How many weaver jobs were lost to the invention of the power loom? We do not bemoan them now. We adapted to the Industrial Age. Now, we must adapt to the service economy.
The misconception is that manufacturing has left the U.S. Yet the reality is far different. With the implementation of different Fair Trade agreements and perceived loss of jobs to other countries, the majority of Americans assume manufacturing has been shipped to foreign lands, leaving the middle-class dream a scene of industrial decay. However, a look at the actual data reveals that though manufacturing employment has declined (and that has actually been growing year-over-year for the last eight years, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data), actual output from US manufacturers has continued to grow to unprecedented numbers. The BLS reported in the first quarter of 2017 that manufacturing output was more than 80% higher than it was 30 years ago.
The machine takeover of the world is not some future possibility. It has already begun.