Artificial intelligence could take your job. My grandmother taught me a few things
She lived in a tiny wooden hut with a chicken coop and fields behind it. She and her siblings would help plough the fields until sunset with a horse-drawn plough when they returned home from school.
She had no idea that this life was soon to disappear. The “Second Industrial Revolution” (of mass production and standardization) created machines that could replace the horse and human power. A tractor pulling a plow could accomplish in a few hours what it took Grandma, her siblings, and their mother a whole week to do.
Bradley Hastings provided the following: Grandma’s brother John working the plow, c1929
She was no longer needed at the farm by the time she finished school. She went to college and became a teacher. She married, had a child, and started a family. She is now 93 and lives in a comfortable suburban home with four bedrooms. She loves to go out to restaurants and enjoys going on cruises and theatres.
Her story is not unique. Industrialization has led to a massive reduction in farm employment around the world. In 1920, in the United States, for instance, 40% of workers worked on farms; today, it is only about 2%
It is important to remember the loss of these jobs and the replacement of them as we face the “fourth Industrial Revolution,” where robots and artificial intelligence are expected to take 40% of jobs currently performed by humans in the next two decades.
Read more: Behind those headlines. Why not to rely on claims robots threaten half our jobs
The hit list is long , from drivers and call-centre workers to computer programmers and university lecturers like myself (we face being replaced by AI avatars, delivering animated content online).
We shouldn’t be afraid of this new stage in technological development, just as the disappearance of farm jobs did not lead to mass unemployment.
Improve your quality of life
Industrial farming has not been universally accepted as progress. However, the massive reduction in farm labour during the 20th century was key to improving the lives of most people.
In Australia, the average life expectancy was 60 years when my grandmother was born. It’s now more than 80.
Two forces are at work behind such advancements.
The first was the mechanisation in farming. US data show that the price of a basket of common groceries is about 80% less than it was a century ago. Similar trends are evident for almost every other product.
Spending less on food allowed people to spend more money on other things. Automobiles, holidays, and health care were among the new industries that grew. In the 1920s, industries that were virtually unknown now employ more than half the population.
These new industries have both underpinned improvements in our quality of life and, crucially, created new jobs.
Services such as banking and insurance will be cheaper with the development of artificial intelligence and robots. We will be able to spend more on other things, such as health and fitness, leisure, and travel.
Jobs will continue to evolve as the quality of life for everyone improves, regardless of what industries expand or are new.
Read more: Artificial intelligence can deepen social inequality. Here are 5 ways to help prevent this
Two lessons from my grandmother
This will not make you feel any better if your job is threatened by automation.
You can learn from the life of my grandmother.
She didn’t take it personally. She knew that the times were changing, and she had to adapt. She accepted the challenge and did not let it defeat her.