Will Automation Screw Men Over More?

We hear often in the news about the rise of automation and how millions of people will be replaced by robots and machines in the coming few years. While I don’t share the sentiment that there will be macroeconomic shifts so drastic that measures such as Universal Basic Income will be the only way to provide a means of spending for the average person in such an automated society, I did wonder about what kinds of jobs automation will replace and how it may disproportionally affect men.

Generally speaking, automation and robots will have the largest immediate impact on jobs that are repeatable and physically demanding. Work such as manufacturing and farming has already been largely automated and similar types of work may be next on the way. Let’s take a look at the jobs listed on Kiplinger, a D.C. based business journal, regarding “8 Jobs That Will be Replaced by Robots Soon” and look at them on a gender based lens.

1. Store Clerk

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 3,200,000 cashiers in the U.S. of which 73.8% are Female.

The Kiplinger article discusses the Amazon Go Store which has eliminated the checkout line using advanced cameras and additional sensors and Tally from Simbe Robotics which audits retail shelves for out-of-stock items. While Tally doesn’t equate to a cashier position, because the numbers in retail spaces heavily skew towards women, in this case it seems like women may be affected by automation more.

2. Data Analyst

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 1,929,000 accountants and auditors in the U.S. of which 60.6% are Female.

While not exactly the shame, the job function between accountants and auditors are similar enough to draw a comparison. Largely, positions where data is transcribed and or analyzed for reports are getting automated via software.

3. Fast-Food Worker

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 322,000 food preparation and serving workers, including fast food in the U.S. of which 63.0% are Female. There are 2,067,000 cooks of which 58.2% are Male.

Startups around Silicon Valley and elsewhere are trying to tackle the fast food industry by bringing down the cost of fast food even lower by eliminating the cost of labor. Cooking robots such as the “Flippy” are able to flip burgers without rest.

4. Truck Drivers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 3,549,000 driver workers and truck drivers in the U.S. of which 93.4% are Male. There are 631,000 industrial truck and tractor operators in the U.S. of which 91.9% are Male.

Automated trucks have been a breeding ground for autonomous vehicles as long hours and relatively simple driving routes along highways have made the opportunity irresistible with even large players such as Tesla developing trucks to help automate this industry.

5. Livery Drivers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 777,000 taxi drivers in the U.S. of which 82.0% are Male. This number may not include gig economy drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft as it may not be counted as a full-time economic activity.

Google’s Waymo has been developing self-driving cars for several years now and companies such as GM-Cruise and Uber are also spending considerable resources to automate everyday cars with concentrated effort and bringing down cost of the taxi service.

6. Deliverymen

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 302,000 postal service mail carriers in the U.S. of which 60.2% are Male.

Companies such as Grubhub and Marble are leveraging self-driving technologies for the delivery of food.

7. Security Guard

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 958,000 security guards and surveillance officers in the U.S. of which 77.6% are Male.

8. Front-line Soldiers

According to Pew Research, there are 1,340,533 active military personnel of which 83.0% are Male.

Conclusion:

The 8 jobs discussed by Kiplinger account for roughly 15 million jobs in the U.S. of which 9.5 million belong to men. Thus, it seems that automation may indeed affect men about 1.6 times more than it will women.

*Bureau of Labor Statics

Fiction is Innovation

There’s a sense of elitism amongst the tech crowd. Perhaps it’s due to the celebration and separation of “STEM” as this special set of disciplines that is constantly talked about. If one has been around higher education or even lower level education, there’s a persistent hum – there is a shortage of STEM students, educators need to encourage greater engagement in the sciences, science is the future.

Technology, at first glance, is an obvious extension of STEM – applied science; products of engineering.

As I often find myself, this post is inspired by an episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour – “How Things Spread.” One of the speakers mentioned was Yuval Harari, Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The remark that really stayed with me was this notion that homo sapiens were exceptional to all other animals due to our capacity to imagine. Most animals spend their days finding food, digesting food, and sleeping. Meanwhile, humans have been able to engineer our ways around these aspects and find time and ability to imagine beyond these day to day needs.

According to Prof. Harari, the human ability to come up with and share these fictional ideas is unique to humans and allowed us to grow into beings that do not loiter under fruit trees all day, but send people to space, create supercomputers, and imagine much more.

Which brings me back to the idea and focus on STEM. I generally agree with the notion that the world needs more scientists. In large part, compared to our imagination, our growth as a species may be hampered by our inability to create the appropriate amount of human resources. That being said, I dislike the connotation that STEM or even the more modern, and cleverly reworded adaptation, STEAM bring to education.

In order for innovation to continue, humanity needs to continue to cultivate our fictions. These fictions drive the innovations of the future. It was science fiction, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so much more  that have brought us the tablet computer, A.I. assistant computers, and space travel. Perhaps certain people may understand this to be a calling towards science fiction. In some ways that may be true, we are at a moment in human history where the technological and societal maturity is generally more in-line the need for technological advancements rather than moral quandaries. However, even to that point, when we see the great divide seen not just in the U.S., but in many developed countries around the world, we see that there’s still so much work to be done that is not STEM, but in the humanities, to bring people together.

Having said that, this is all rather ironic coming from me. In the past several years, I had stepped away from reading fiction in favor of non-fiction. I had found the exposition and steps away from reality to be suboptimal use of time. Although I’d been telling myself that other forms of media such as movies provided ample aspects of that in my life, perhaps it’s a good time to read a fiction novel.

The Role of Tech and the Environment

As soon as Trump announced that the United States will exit the Paris Agreements on climate change, there was a flood of Tweets, letters, and public announcements not only from the public sector but also the private sector.

Here are some examples:

Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement is bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and it puts our children’s…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, June 1, 2017

So why do these leaders stand up for climate change? Why does it matter to the tech industry? And what is the role that tech should play in the global climate change movement?

Well, to put it simply, I think these leaders respond because they personally lean as environmentalists, globalists, and and as progressives. And it’s become a lot more possible and important that leaders present themselves not only as business leaders, but also as moral leaders – guiding their company with profiting business decisions, but also use that capital power towards shaping the world as they’d like to see it. Google’s famous (and now dropped) motto is “Don’t be evil” and Tim Cook often cites Apple’s commitment to “leave the world better than we found it.”

Essentially, tech leaders are embracing the philosophy of greater corporate responsibility. If the industries of the last half century and Wall St. was one of a man’s success is a man’s own to keep – the recent progressive thought puts pressures on the rich to share the wealth.

For a 5-10 year period, the focus on reducing energy use has been in the home. Replacing incandescent light bulbs, turning off lights, adjusting the thermostat. But the relative lack of market appeal for products such as the Nest Thermostat has made it abundantly clear that the greatest impact comes from corporate responsibility. So tech companies have been making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint at places of high energy use, offsetting their footprint by purchasing cleaner electricity, investing in solar farms, making clean energy run offices and server farms.

So what is the moral imperative – if any – for tech companies to tackle climate change?

It’s becoming clearer that the responsibility rises, broadly to all corporations and some aspects especially for tech companies. If one accepts that the responsibility of a corporation is only to their investors and customers, these investors and customers can only thrive in a global environment that sustains as many people as possible. Classic economic theory says the majority of global value comes from wealth created by populations, the healthier and more abundant a population, the more wealth can be cultivated and spent in the marketplace.

In tech – with it’s premise as a future oriented and science based industry – combatting climate change is a big deal. It threatens the very future technology promises to solve, tech companies thrive on the premise that their products and offerings are an improvement to the human condition, and is subtly marketed with the context that the products offered by tech companies are the products of the “future.” Thus in order to maintain their image and brand power as a tech firm and future oriented future, tech companies have collectively decided that climate change is a problem they will address publicly.

It will be interesting to see how much investment the companies put into saving the planet. Will any of them take it up as a core part of their business? Or continuing using it as a pseudo feel-good mechanic? Aside from Tesla – none of the tech giants are greatly focused on environmental issues. Time will tell whether the narrative of climate change becomes urgent enough that focus will shift from the shiniest gadgets and faster web services to a greener world.