What the average person needs to know about automation (in 2014)

I’ve had many discussion over the past weeks about this with many people. In particular, the people who don’t work in IT were blown away at current state of automation. They had no idea things have progressed this far. So, let’s take a look this in just a minute.

One of the main reasons I bring this up though, is for employment. For just about any job that exists, automation will significantly impact you in your lifetime. Yes, even creative jobs; yes, even people-oriented jobs. We’ll cover that in a minute.

Most of all though, think about what this means for the next generation of kids. College costs are skyrocketing, the population is still growing (for now), and automation is coming to every profession – in a big way. These are all going to collide in our lifetimes!

Going to college in the future:
An 8-year old kid in 2014 is going to face some really hard decisions in 10 years when they are done with high school. University and college tuition is soaring. The very best-case-scenario is that college costs will be 43% higher than they are right now – which is already ridiculously high. The worst case scenario is that college costs could increase by 230% in that same 10-year period.

Here is a graphical representation of how MassMutual projects college costs for the coming 15 years:




Source data: http://www.massmutual.com/planningtools/educationalarticles/articledisplay?mmcom_articleid=df94531cb3a4a110VgnVCM100000ee6d06aaRCRD

Think about what this means. Already today, in 2014, many people question the value proposition of a college degree. About the cheapest you can go nowadays is $18K per year. So, a 4-year degree will cost at a very, very minimum $72,000 not including books, residence, living expenses, etc. You are taking on a big risk with that – you are potentially taking $72K of debt before working the first day of your career.

In Florida, you can buy a 3 bedroom house for that kind of money – cash! What a way to start your career; starting $72,000 in the hole, on a hedge that this is going to be worth it. It better be worth it, right? That must mean that I will make at least $72K over my career, to return that investment.

In the past, this has been a no-brainer. Getting a college degree always meant the world of difference in your income. Nowadays, not so much. With college costs skyrocketing though, that lessens the value proposition even more.

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I do know that online academies like Kahn, Cousera, Udacity, etc – which offer education for free, have been taking off. So has the idea of getting specialized degrees or doing certificate programs. Meaning, instead of taking the time get a full bachelors degree, you can just take classes that contribute directly to your trade or profession.

Maybe there will be some other new trend, I don’t know. But college and universities as they are structured now, seem like they are going to collapse under their own weight. They can’t operate for lower cost – and what they charge simply isn’t worth it. That spells, to me, the end of that industry – as it’s currently structured.

Current state of automation:
I wanted to cover at least the basics of the education problem, and show it’s importance because of this:

It doesn’t take a rocket-surgeon to figure out where this is headed. At some point it’s going to be cheaper to retrofit the restaurant with an automated food prep kitchen, and fire the humans!

The perfect storm: rising population + fewer jobs
This post is just covering the big, obvious ones – but automation is coming to every profession. The scary part is what is going to happen when these concepts collide? We have a growing population, and fewer jobs – with organizations actively looking to automate even more, further reducing the number of jobs!

SOMEthing is going to happen! We might be on the verge of witnessing what, for the first time.

I think if the minimum wage gets raised, that changes the value proposition of automation – and over the course of a couple of months, you are going to see McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s pull the trigger on automation. They are going to shutdown on a Friday, and on Monday morning the ordering and kitchen is going to be fully-automated.

Imagine for a moment, a McDonalds where you can’t see into the back anymore (there is no counter. Instead, you have a wall with a  touch screen. You order and pay. Behind the wall, the machines prepare and package the food, and a little delivery door opens. Imagine the same thing in the drive-through, except it’s a voice system which can transcribe what you say too. All of this technology exists – and has existed for MANY years.

For a McDonalds like this, what do you need for staff? Maybe someone in the backroom to fix the machine and re-stock it with food – and perhaps a cleaning crew to clean the dining area and the automation area. That’s all possible right now. it’s just not in place because minimum wage workers are cheaper. If all of a sudden, everyone must get twice their normal pay, I can definitely see that being a tipping point. So, we might see the first mass-switch to automation if this minimum wage thing goes through.

As a society, we’ll also get to see what happens. What happens when it’s literally cheaper for them to buy machines than hire humans – on a mass-scale like this? It’s not that these people don’t have value or aren’t good – they just aren’t the best alternative anymore.

Consider too that food service employees make up almost 13 million jobs, in the U.S..

Bottom Line:
What I want to highlight, particularly to a non-IT person who may not be exposed to this stuff – four things:

  1. If you have school-aged children, understand that college and university – as you knew them – are no more. The value proposition even right now is questionable. How one gets educated in the future will likely be different. My guess is that the university model is going to collapse under it’s own weight. Just be prepared for change.
  2. If you have school-aged children, understand that the job market – as you knew it after high school, will be different. In 10 years (or MUCH sooner), there will be no such thing as a fast food job. In the same way that there already has been a loss of jobs at grocery stores – with automated checkouts.
  3. Every occupation will face automation and in the near-future. This even includes creative/artsy professions. It is my strong recommendation to transition to, and/or help expose your kids to computer science. Those career paths have a good future for the foreseeable future.
  4. Just be aware that automation, machine learning, and neural networks are here and will continue to impact every facet of our lives. Just because it’s not making news at the moment, don’t forget that there are huge swaths of our industry who are feverishly trying to automate everything and anything.
Posted in Computers and Internet, New Technology, Uncategorized
One comment on “What the average person needs to know about automation (in 2014)
  1. […] card). Everything else you might do with it (or you might do with it, with your kids – see here, here, and here) – is limited only by your imagination! This is why I think every kid should have […]


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