Technological unemployment is most often recognized as technology that directly replaces the work of humans because those losses are directly observable. Drive down any toll road in the world and you almost forget that just 10 years ago most people stopped to pay a human toll collector.
What about the displaced jobs that are not as directly associated? Manufacturing and customer service jobs in the United States didn’t disappear because labor was cheaper in Asia as most people initially assume. Outsourcing actually occurred because transportation and communication costs dropped low enough to make the already available cheap labor accessible.
While connections like this are not as simple to recognize, understand or predict, Vivek Wadhwa of Singularity University recently made some predictions that are more likely than not to come true. Wadhwa Talks Tech Disruptions on the Horizon via Big Think and paints an optimistic future for the human race that simultaneously lays waste to our current economic system.
With robotics and 3-D printing, as of this year, it is cheaper to manufacture in the United States than it is in China. It is cheaper to manufacture in Europe than it is in China.
What will the future look like when over the next 20 years we globally lose hundreds of millions of manufacturing and driving jobs on the labor side and millions of other jobs in medicine, finance, and business administration?
How will we transition to this new economy no longer tied to the valuation of labor?
What about legacy industries like electric companies? Wadhw predicts that by 2020 solar will allow us to achieve grid parody freeing most homes from buying electric from a utility.
Grid parity means it’s cheaper to produce energy at home on your solar cells then buy it from the grid. Move forward another ten years. It costs you 100th as much to produce your own energy then to buy it from the grid, which means that we have these grid companies now in serious trouble. This is why you have the utilities fighting solar.
However, once you look past the economic Armageddon of mass unemployment and bankrupt industries our future as a species looks great. Nearly unlimited solar power will allow for the easy sterilization of water solving our world-wide clean water crisis. The cost of mapping the human genome dropping to nearly zero will change healthcare in dramatic ways as preventative medicine expands significantly and requires few doctors. Crowdfunding and alternative transaction methods will change the economy in ways not seen since the Spartans and Romans began to trade using precious metals.
The future is bright but the economic uncertainty we face along the way is going to create some difficult challenges.
Watch Vivek Wadhwa: