Programmers, you are next.
Updated: May 18, 2020
First, they took the phone operators. But I didn’t care because I wasn’t a phone operator. Then, they came for bank tellers. But I didn’t mind, because ATM’s were ridiculously more convenient. Next, they eliminated the taxi drivers, hotel workers, translators, logo makers, and the lawyers. But it was perfectly ok, because I was working for them as a developer. When they told me that programmers weren’t needed anymore, there was no one left to speak out for me. Or, none of this happened because in 2020 I became aware and made my elected officials act.
It is fair to assume that it won’t be long before the profession of programming, as we currently know it, will be irrelevant. There might be something that will be called programming, but it will take a completely different shape. And surely there will be entirely new and exciting fields in computer science, but the craft of code-writing as we currently learn it will be gone. Think about it; Programming is just another “production” step between the product and its owners. One of the fundamental laws of economics is that in market competition, with each wave of innovation that spurs new markets with multiple competitors, it is accompanied by a race of “operational effectiveness.” This race is intended to bring down operational costs, increase margins, and gain a lead over competitors by automating production steps. Thus making these steps cheaper and more effective. Even if internet-based products are not here for that long so we could experience the trend, they are also a product of another form of production. In the production of physical products and technologies, we see clearly how human-packed assembly lines turned into much less crowded machine-based factories, which eventually will be replaced by giant 3D printers.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that the entire process will be automated. There is a consensus forming between “AI philosophists” that although RPA and AI will be very effective at executing technical tasks, there will be no real replacement for deep rule-breaking creativity, which reconstructs paradigms. And naturally, all form of computer science requires creativity to some extent. Current innovation already recognizes this. But the directions in which ongoing AI efforts are directed are clear, and it means that sooner or later, we’ll have a mass of middle-aged programmers that will have a face a significant shift in the employment market without the appropriate tools to adapt.
I’m not a professional programmer. And candidly, this is not a cry to preserve this craft. I’m just using that to highlight a much bigger and more urgent problem that will affect our parents, our loved ones, and maybe even us.
It is time to accept what Heraclitus already understood 2500 years ago; “The only constant is change.”
Our collective knowledge as a society is an immensely exponential ever-evolving material, which operates on a kind of Moor’s law. We, as a human race, want it that way. Knowledge is what drives all forms of progress; Ideological, scientific, and technological. Knowledge, with capital K, is what allows us to understand the universe around us better while steadily increasing our prosperity. Knowledge is the most prominent eliminator of suffering, which is life’s primary objective in both Western and Eastern mainstream philosophy. And for the individual, gaining knowledge brings wisdom, which is the strongest driver of social mobility.
But accumulating knowledge doesn’t come without a price. The pace of technological advancement doesn’t allow most individuals the time and effort needed to gain the new knowledge, skills, and expertise that are in demand. This is rapidly throwing large groups of people to low-income jobs or out of the workforce entirely. At the same time, those of us who are privileged enough to have access to the relevant knowledge and resources adapt. This is the real driver of the continually increasing inequality, which in turn causes all the political instability we are suffering worldwide in the past decade. And this political instability is something we all suffer from, no matter how much money you have in your bank account.
Yes, e-learning platforms and embracing lifelong learning habits are a solid solution for the adaptive individual. And the need for governments to adopt and subsidize these masseurs is long overdue, as the OECD recommended already two years ago. This should be the immediate focus of policymakers because the more deep-rooted inequality grows, the faster the cry for a solution turns into a battle-cry for a revolution.
But I’m afraid this solution is not efficient and scalable enough in the long run, as the speed of change continues to increase. This line of thought rebirthed the idea of universal basic income. This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, but is very lacking and raises more questions than answers.
I believe that eventually, three types of working-class heroes will be formed;
Between 40% to 50% of the future workforce will be freelancing independently, which is expected to happen already by 2027. This type of employment will be mostly reserved for more entrepreneurial individuals prone to a growth-mindset. They will be able to supply services and goods to a global demand through freelancing and e-commerce online platforms while managing their career and knowledge-gaining on their own. The only thing missing to allow a sustainable independent career is the appropriate safety net to protect freelance workers from personal or global force-majeure events, like the one we are currently experiencing. Freelancers are paying the same taxes and play the same part of the economy as corporate employees; It’s ridiculous that in most countries, they don’t receive the same financial security and social benefits. Meanwhile, a small percentage of the workforce will be directly employed by businesses; Mainly in leadership and highly-creative professions, or positions that require deep expertise that serves as a competitive advantage for the business.
The remainder, which will be the majority, will be employed directly by a type of HR mega-agency. This HR entity will provide a meaningful value proposition; it will always track the industries’ future needs and continuously re-train its members according to the upcoming skill gaps in the worker’s chosen field of expertise. These entities will serve as a staffing company for those businesses and provide social benefits to its members. I believe this will be the only effective mechanism to keep the unemployment rate from rising. But, the question of whether this solution will provide low income, basic income, or desired income will be answered by the type of entity this mega-HR agency will be. Again, three options I currently see:
This space will be filled by a few for-profit organizations which will treat its member-employees like a resource. The same way Rockefeller and his friends had a monopoly on railroads. Basically, it will be a radicalization of the current way our workforce operates. These HR monster companies will serve as a middleman that both boosts prices for productive businesses and will put the lowest emphasis possible for the employees’ interests. Lose-lose all around, but this is the most likely scenario.
A preferred option, in my opinion, is that this human resource entity will be partially government-owned, or at least regulated. This way, the HR mechanism will serve as the government’s way to distribute the above mentioned basic income, while ensuring that the wheels of the economy keep turning. This might allow countries to effectively use their most valuable natural resource — human talent . Thus, bringing economic and political stability. As a bonus, this will put a hard stop to the absurd mechanism that governments currently use to protect their workforce, the ineffective custom of government bailouts from taxpayer money. If the majority of the workforce is not directly dependent on these misconducted companies, we can let them fall when they fail.
In my view, there is an unlikely utopian solution which will serve the best interest of both employees and businesses while keeping the government from deepening their involvement in citizens’ life. This HR organization can be owned by its members as a form of a cooperative union. This will ensure that the organization operates in its members’ interests while directing revenues to the skill training program and operation of the organization’s elected leadership. This type of organization will have its flaws. Historically, some worker unions became toxic. But this is more due to the fact that these unions became internally corrupted. I think this can be solved by outside regulation and democratization of the cooperative.
Before you start calling me names like a Marxist or communist, you need to know that I’m as capitalist as the iPhone owning, Netflix consuming, next guy. But I do believe that extreme hyper-capitalism will cause the deepening of inequality and farther political instability. I believe that once we strip-down all the political and historical connotations of past social movements, we may find effective and practical mechanisms that tried to solve then, the same problems we are facing now. And I believe that there are more elegant and intelligent ways to incorporate those in our current social structures than a proletariat revolution. And most of all, I believe it is time for us as a society to take the reins back from obscure economic forces over our mutual and interconnected future. It is time for us to start talking about the type of world we want to live in, one which is governed by the interest of 1% of the world’s population, or by the 99%.
This article was originally published on my blog: www.natanbm.com. You are welcome to contact me if you would like to join the discussion.
Fiverr seller Vickyweber proofread and edited this article. If you are using an online freelancer for publicly distributed work, please help support the freelancer community and credit their work.