future.jpg

How Do You Destroy 2 Billion Jobs in 20 Years?

Answer: you innovate. That, anyway, is the supposition of the prominent futurist Thomas Frey, who operates out of the Colorado-based DaVinci Institute. Speaking at a TED conference in Istanbul last week, Frey casually threw out (as an aside in a conversation about higher education) his belief that about two billion jobs (approximately half of the world’s stock) would disappear by 2030 (he’s referring to the gross loss of 2 billion jobs through creative destruction, not an economically devastating net loss of that amount.)

Of course, this isn’t the sort of thing one can footnote in a conversation and expect to go unnoticed, so now Frey has posted a breakdown on his website of some of the industries that he thinks will be driving the change. He mentions five in particular as on the cusp of radical overhauls:

1. The energy industry

2. Automobile transporation (because of the rise of driverless cars)

3. Education (because of the promise of digital courses on the model of Apple’s iTunesU)

4. Manufacturing (because of the advent of 3-D printing)

5. Various forms of physical labor that will be replaced by robots.

Frey’s analysis is interesting and worth reading, though I think he succumbs to a typical weakness of publicity-hungry futurists (he’s got to lock down those speaking fees, after all) by leading with a projection that’s on the far end of plausibility.

He’s probably most accurate about driverless cars, which are already being developed at a rapid pace in Silicon Valley and which could have profound implications for highway safety, traffic management and personal scheduling (two hours of commuting each day looks much different when that’s time you can use to work in the car). I suspect he’s pretty close to the mark with education too, which will cause chaos in a field that has traditionally been so insulated from affordable competition (just wait for the response from the teachers’ unions).

I’m a little less persuaded about the virtues of 3-D printing, which seems equally innovative and inconvenient. Robotics is a field that perpetually progresses slower than its most ardent defenders imagine (the high-water mark thus far is the Roomba, for crying out loud), so I suspect it won’t make gains quite on the scale that Frey imagines either.

Energy is the most interesting projection and the one with the greatest political implications. I’m more pessimistic than Frey precisely because the government has taken such an active role in the energy sector over the last few decades, which has inevitably led to the widespread misallocation of research capital. That’s a fact that we conservatives too often ignore in our enthusiasm for mocking publicly-funded green energy boondoggles. We actually should be enthusiastic about the development of fuel sources that could outperform conventional resources like gasoline or coal. But that concept — performance — is the key. Any viable replacements would have to be affordable, efficient, convenient, and scalable. The federal fetish for subsidizing alternatives that don’t meet this criteria only delays the day when we’ll have such genuine breakthroughs come to market.

  1. DrewInWisconsin

    My instant reaction is that he’s not considering the number of jobs that will be created by the development of technology we haven’t yet realized.Technological advancement doesn’t necessarily mean that jobs will be lost. In fact, probably just the opposite. At the very least, the job market changes and adapts.

    Jump back 20 years to 1992. Internet? What’s that? Now how many jobs exist today because of the rise of the internet?

  2. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Drew,

    Read his analysis and that is factored in. As I mentioned, he’s not predicting an apocalypse. He’s actually an enthusiast for this change. His point instead is that a huge swath of our current jobs are going to disappear, being replaced by positions that either don’t exist or are lightly populated today.

    DrewInWisconsin: My instant reaction is that he’s not considering the number of jobs that will be created by the development of technology we haven’t yet realized.

    Jump back 20 years to 1992. Internet? What’s that? Now how many jobs exist today because of the rise of the internet? · 1 minute ago

  3. Tom Lindholtz

    As one who spent his career in higher ed, I expect higher ed to be the first and most radical exemplar of that trend. It’s already happening on a fairly large scal and the changes in traditional higher ed in the last few years will accelerate the pace. The only real obstacle at this point is acceptance. The “elites” still look down their aquiline noses at these alternatives. And that may always remain, much as family bloodline matters in upper European society. But at the business end of things, it will be “what can you do for me” that will count.

  4. LowcountryJoe
    Troy Senik, Ed.

    He’s probably most accurate about driverless cars,

    I think he’s most accurate about education,  Distance learning is also already occuring.  And, with the push toward standardized education and measuring of learned results of the education, it will only be natural to have the brightest and most engaging teachers teach on subjects, digitize this instruction, and replay it for students at their homes.  The costs of education drastically get reduced.  Teacher will complain loudly.  But the Leftist selling point will be in all the enegry costs and fuel savings– not having to heat, cool, and light classrooms or operate buses.

    There’s no way around proctoring tests where students cannot have references so, from time-to-time, students will have to come into some type of classroom setting to take tests. 

  5. DocJay

    Whether his time lines are correct is one issue but I do not doubt the veracity of his suppositions.   How exciting to live in interesting times.

  6. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Joe,

    I agree with everything you say here. The only reason I suspect that transportation gets the jump on education is that there will be a rent-seeking resistance from the education community that will slow the process down.

    LowcountryJoe

    Troy Senik, Ed.

    He’s probably most accurate about driverless cars,

    I think he’s most accurate about education,  Distance learning is also already occuring.  And, with the push toward standardized education and measuring of learned results of the education, it will only be natural to have the brightest and most engaging teachers teach on subjects, digitize this instruction, and replay it for students at their homes.  The costs of education drastically get reduced.  Teacher will complain loudly.  But the Leftist selling point will be in all the enegry costs and fuel savings– not having to heat, cool, and light classrooms or operate buses.

    There’s no way around proctoring tests where students cannot have references so, from time-to-time, students will have to come into some type of classroom setting to take tests.  · 8 minutes ago

  7. Steven Zoraster

    If anything the energy industry should add jobs.  New technology.  New plays all around the world to use that new technology.   Shale gas and oil here in North America, and predicted in England, continental Europe, and China. 

    Gas hydrates offshore Japan and in Alaska.

    More workers directly in the energy industry and more worker taking advantage of a long term decline in the price of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and electricity.

  8. Misthiocracy
    Troy Senik, Ed. I’m a little less persuaded about the virtues of 3-D printing, which seems equally innovative and inconvenient. Robotics is a field that perpetually progresses slower than its most ardent defenders imagine (the high-water mark thus far is the Roomba, for crying out loud).

    I think you underestimate the current growth in robotics, thanks to the development of low-cost robotics for hobbyists.

    In the past, robotics was the domain of MIT engineering students.

    Nowadays, thanks to products like Arduino microprocessors, it’s cheaper and easier to get into robotics than it is to get into radio-controlled airplanes.

    With so many young people getting into DIY robotics, the prospects for growth as they grow up become pretty huge.

    Also, as the cost of 3D printing drops, its impact also grows.

    It was only a couple of years ago that 3D printing existed only in an MIT lab. 

    Now, you can buy one for yourself for only $1099.  That’s less than half what my dad paid for my first Macintosh Classic.

    There are also instructions online on how to build your own 3D printer.

    The revolution will be home-made.

  9. Yeah...ok.

    If John can tie a bow tie with one hand…

  10. Misthiocracy

    <devil’s advocate mode = on>

    On the other hand, does that necessarily mean that jobs will be “destroyed” by these&nbsp;technologies?

    One could look at a 3D printer in the same way that one looks at a bread-making machine.

    Are bakeries closing down because bread machines make it cheap and easy to bake bread at home? &nbsp;No, they aren’t.

    Or, think about color printers. I still sometimes send print jobs to a&nbsp;photo finisher&nbsp;or a print shop, because they can often print something cheaper than I can do with my ink jet printer.

    With a 3D printer, it still isn’t cost-effective to create your own plastic fork, for example. For that sort of low-value item, it’s way cheaper to buy them from a Chinese factory.

    <devil’s advocate mode = off>

  11. EJHill

    Senik-Pack.jpgAll I want to know is if this future will finally come with the Senik 3000 JetPack we’ve all been promised?

    Fuel range is expected to last longer than an average Richard Epstein answer on the Establishment Clause.

  12. Troy Senik, Ed.

    There are going to be some folks at DARPA very unhappy with me about the fact that this picture leaked.

    EJHill

    All I want to know is if this future will finally come with the Senik 3000 JetPack we’ve all been promised?

    Fuel range is expected to last longer than an average Richard Epstein answer on the Establishment Clause. · 0 minutes ago

  13. Misthiocracy

    I doubt that jet packs will ever be mainstream, because they simply aren’t practical.

    5 Awesome Sci-Fi Inventions That Would Actually Suck

  14. Misthiocracy
    LowcountryJoe: The technology that the speaker supposedly could not talk about — the technology that would make traditional&nbsp;energy generation and its distribution go by the wayside&nbsp;– is probably this.&nbsp;Other media sources discuss micro reactors which power several thousand home.&nbsp; Pressumably the nuclear processes that could take place can be made to an even smaler scale.&nbsp; The only holdback is the scare-mongering and the intense regulation that would surely be a barrier to its adoption.

    Toshiba’s marketing department sure was dumb for using the word “nuclear” in the title. Find another, more consumer-friendly word and the technology would be adopted in a flash.

    It’s sorta like how Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors still haven’t been adopted, because too many people think all “nuclear” power generation is the same.

  15. CandE

    This is awesome in so many ways.&nbsp; I fear, though, that you are right about regulations killing this before it takes off.&nbsp; For all the hue and cry about conservatives being anti-science, it’s amazing how many well engineered solutions are tossed out the window by libs’ fear-mongering.

    -E

    LowcountryJoe: The technology that the speaker supposedly could not talk about — the technology that would make traditional&nbsp;energy generation and its distribution go by the wayside&nbsp;– is probably this.&nbsp;Other media sources discuss micro reactors which power several thousand home.&nbsp; Pressumably the nuclear processes that could take place can be made to an even smaler scale.&nbsp; The only holdback is the scare-mongering and the intense regulation that would surely be a barrier to its adoption. · 23 minutes ago

  16. Misthiocracy
    CandE: This is awesome in so many ways.&nbsp; I fear, though, that you are right about regulations killing this before it takes off.&nbsp; For all the hue and cry about conservatives being anti-science, it’s amazing how many well engineered solutions are tossed out the window by libs’ fear-mongering.

    It’s little wonder that it’s being developed by Toshiba instead of a North American or European company.

  17. CandE

    His insights on the power industry make a lot of sense.&nbsp; The real changes there will come from deemphasizing coal and decentralizing power generation.&nbsp; Both of these trends have already been steadily growing for several years, but they have been overlooked by a media that is still falling over itself loving on “green energy”.&nbsp;

    Also, the fact that he didn’t predict a shift away from liquid fuels enhances his credibility.&nbsp; No alternative technology has shown itself superior — or even equivalent — to oil based fuels and products.

    -E

  18. CandE
    Misthiocracy

    CandE: This is awesome in so many ways.&nbsp; I fear, though, that you are right about regulations killing this before it takes off.&nbsp; For all the hue and cry about conservatives being anti-science, it’s amazing how many well engineered solutions are tossed out the window by libs’ fear-mongering.

    It’s little wonder that it’s being developed by Toshiba instead of a North American or European company. · 9 minutes ago

    Heck, even the French have more advanced nuclear technology than we do.

    -E

  19. Hang On
    CandE: His insights on the power industry make a lot of sense.&nbsp; The real changes there will come from deemphasizing coal and decentralizing power generation.&nbsp; Both of these trends have already been steadily growing for several years, but they have been overlooked by a media that is still falling over itself loving on “green energy”.&nbsp;

    Also, the fact that he didn’t predict a shift away from liquid fuels enhances his credibility.&nbsp; No alternative technology has shown itself superior — or even equivalent — to oil based fuels and products.

    -E · 1 hour ago

    Decentralized power generation is one of those fads that has been talked about for decades and is about as believable as “too cheap to meter”. It goes back to a 1976 article in Foreign Affairs: “Energy Strategy: The Road not Taken”. Been waiting. Hasn’t happened. Unlikely to happen. Chinese forced to use the approach during the Great Leap Forward, and it was a disaster. Think about it, the proponents are saying there are negative scales of economy for it to work. It’s just not very likely.

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