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February 2024



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My taxi driver in San Diego had a plan. He was moving to Laredo to get back into long-distance trucking. He’d work hard for 10 years, save a couple of hundred grand, and retire to Mexico. I did the math: that put him around 2028. He might just make it before all the trucking jobs go away.

At Qualcomm last week, Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, extolled the virtues of the upcoming “5G economy,” painting a picture of autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and ubiquitous augmented and virtual reality.

“It’s going to be as significant as the change caused by electricity and automobiles. There’s a number of industries that can change: manufacturing first, information and communications second, and wholesale and retail is number three,” he said.

Retail, for example, will be transformed by augmented and virtual reality, removing the need to try things on—or try them out—in person.

“There’s always going to be a transformation of business models,” Amon said. “It’s difficult for us to predict every single business model that will be on top of 5G.” But according to an IHS study, high-speed, low-latency ubiquitous networks will create $12 trillion of related goods and services by 2035, he said.

5G the Job Killer

All of those new business models, to me, signal old ones that are going away. Autonomous vehicles will eliminate truck and taxi drivers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts 1.8 million trucking jobs, at $40,000 per year. Gone. Taxi drivers: 233,700 jobs at $23,510 per year, gone. That’s just from autonomous vehicles.

Amazon’s Go grocery-store concept promises cashier-less stores. That’s 3.4 million jobs gone, probably offset by a smaller increase in security guards. And if we’re shopping by augmented and virtual reality, we may not even need those guards, as storefronts go dark across the nation.

Bill Gates says warehouses are going to get a big hit from automation in the near future; that’s up to 200,000 “freight, stock and material movers” out of work, according to BLS, and those folks probably don’t have the education to become app developers.

Even before 5G takes hold, we’re going to see bots replace many of the 2.5 million customer service representatives in this country. Those jobs don’t require much education, but more highly educated workforces will get hit, too.

Telemedicine and VR tele-education will allow insurance companies and educational firms to reap greater profits by cutting staff. We’ll still need doctors and teachers, but we’ll have fewer as new technology lets each worker serve more people. There are maybe 3 million teachers, 1.5 million college professors, and probably about a million doctors and physicians’ assistants out there. These jobs can be replaced by lower-skilled, lower-paid machine handlers.

Automation-driven increases in productivity have already devastated manufacturing jobs. According to a report from Ball State University in Indiana, “Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth …Had we kept 2000-levels of productivity and applied them to 2010-levels of production, we would have required 20.9 million manufacturing workers. Instead, we employed only 12.1 million,” the study says.

So what does a society thrown out of work by robots look like? If you look at our former steel towns, it’s depressed, drug-addicted, and begging for a return to the past. But greater efficiency means those past jobs will never return. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, it takes about a fifth of the manpower to produce a ton of steel now as compared to the early 1980s. Those kinds of automation-driven job cuts are now hitting the oil patch.

End of quote.

Most people have no clue this is just around the corner, if we continue down the current path.


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