A top futurist has warned the middle classes will soon become extinct as automation renders average people's skills unnecessary in a few short years.
Dr Roey Tzezana, a future studies researcher at Tel Aviv University, said millions of people will most likely exist on the breadline and a select few will become incredibly rich.
Despite arguments that while some jobs are being lost to machines, more are being created in this new emerging industry, Dr Tzezana said this won't stop technological changes edging humans out of the job market.
“The deeper and more interesting questions are not whether new jobs will be created, but what is the pace that old jobs disappear and new jobs open up, or what is the pace at which the tasks the jobs require change and create a demand for new expertise, specialisations and skills. The speed of closing tasks and opening new tasks is changing, and it is overwhelming,” he explained.
Citing an example of a factory opening in the United States, Dr Tzezana says that today this kind of workplace would need 10% of the employees it would have needed in the past due to automation.
The result, he predicts, is more and more people getting less well-paid work in service-orientated professions – such as, childcare and restaurant work.
He continued: “The salary of someone who moves into the service professions drops dramatically – sometimes a quarter of the previous salary, and this is not the problem of just one or two people.
“When a lot of people experience this drop, we are talking about an economic crisis: It is not just a problem only for those who can’t pay their mortgages. 60% of the sales of most companies are to the general public and if the public can’t afford to buy a new computer, the entire economy enters a crisis.
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“The level of unemployment in the United States is the lowest ever, but many of the new jobs only keep those filling them alive – so they don’t complain too much. In general, from the 1950s we have been seeing that the productivity compared to the effort invested has risen at a stupefying pace – that is how the world will become a better place. To produce more with less.
“But if until the 1970s the hourly pay for an employee rose at the same rate – a relationship existed between productivity and hourly wages – 40 to 50 years ago a dramatic change began. Productivity continued to grow, between 1973 and 2014 it rose by 74% – but the hourly pay rose only by 9%. It’s amazing. My explanation for this process is that at the same time the machines that were capable of being programmed came in, so did flexible work.
You needed the average worker from the middle class less and it was possible to switch to machines to close factories and move them to China, where wages are lower."
And Dr Tzezana says this trend will only continue, saying it will will mean "the end of the world for the average people".
He says that although the world and economies are advancing at tremendous speed, much of the workforce is being left behind and not reaping the rewards of this progress.
He believes we have only just begun on this "depressing" slide into what will eventually mean huge wealth inequality, saying that in a few years machines will do everything at the same level as humans.
One outcome of this he thinks will be that humans will still buy services from others – but primarily as a status symbol and not necessarily because they need to.
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For example, in medicine, poor people will be treated by robots, while wealthy individuals will have a human doctor who representing the machine. That is, they will say and do what the machine tells them with their role merely to act as a comforting presence for the rich person.
Dr Tzezana admits there also is not a solution to this problem, adding: "What is clear is that it will be a period of large and fast changes, and it is a bit like asking me: 'What is the solution in the Industrial Revolution for all the remaining farmers?' They will not stay farmers. In the short term, maybe it would be better to ask what is the solution that individuals can adopt so they have a better chance for work that will pay enough to support themselves respectably.”
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