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3 solutions to stay afloat when the robots come for your job

On the back of two major speeches and papers by leading economists 3 solutions are outlined to head off the threat of being displaced as a result of advances in robotics and automation.

Larry Summers recently wrote: “Looking to the future, my guess is that the main story connecting capital accumulation and inequality will not be Piketty’s tale of amassing fortunes. It will be the devastating consequences of robots, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and the like for those who perform routine tasks. Already there are more American men on disability insurance than doing production work in manufacturing. And the trends are all in the wrong direction, particularly for the less skilled, as the capacity of capital embodying artificial intelligence to replace white-collar as well as blue-collar work will increase rapidly in the years ahead.

One of Larry Summers Harvard colleagues, the economist Professor Richard Freeman, a leading labor economist who also directs the National Bureau of Economic Research, presented a paper in early May with the title: Who owns the robots rules the world.


  1. Seek opportunities where capital will also provide an income. Citing the fact that CEO’s and executives receive a large portion of payment in equity, Freeman offers the following solution: “There is only one solution to the challenge posed by computerizing skill through machines. That is for you, me, all of us to have a substantial ownership stake in the robot machines that will compete with us for our jobs and be the vehicle for capital’s share of production. We must earn a substantial part of our incomes from capital ownership rather than from working.”
  1. At a recent conference on AI/Robotics and Employability, executives from IBM proposed people need to develop T Shaped Skills – “Occupations that will see an increase in demand are so-called T-shaped (requiring both depth and breadth) with deep expertise and complex communications skills.”
  1. Social Jobs, improving humanity – The so called Not for Profit sector, many corporations and owners of the wealth are increasingly building their philanthropic arms to help diverse sectors of the population – people with skills in these sectors will likely increasingly benefit as more and more wealth streams into this $2.3 trillion sector. (This was also to a large extent the proposed solution of Jeremy Rifkin’s 1995 bestseller The End of Work).


  1. Gerald Huff says:

    Well, the most common proposed solution is an Unconditional Basic Income

    • Colin Lewis says:

      That’s a good point Gerald, thanks – I’m a believer in UBI and was hoping Seattle and Switzerland would prove to be good test cases. Another test case – “In the mid-1970s, the tiny Canadian town of Dauphin ( the “garden capital of Manitoba” ) acted as guinea pig for a grand experiment in social policy called “Mincome.” For a short period of time, all the residents of the town received a guaranteed minimum income. About 1,000 poor families got monthly checks to supplement their earnings.

      Evelyn Forget, a health economist at the University of Manitoba, has done some of the best research on the results. Some of her findings were obvious: Poverty disappeared. But others were more surprising: High-school completion rates went up; hospitalization rates went down. “If you have a social program like this, community values themselves start to change,” Forget said.”


      I think UBI is a long way off. Pf course Freeman’s suggestion is the best but not everyone has the means to acquire income from capital. This is why I think T Skills and NfP are the way forward in the near term.

  2. Colin Lewis says:

    That’s a fascinating summary – I’ll look for more of the study, thanks for pointing it out. I saw the video, Humans Need Not Apply – we posted it at Robohub. Next week I’ll post a follow up article – one factor that also needs to be considered is the aging population – an aging society may in-fact ‘need’ robots to fulfill productivity tasks. See this FT article: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f356f8a0-1d8c-11e4-8f0c-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz39V7yO89c

    “The world will have 13 “super-aged” societies by 2020, up from just three today, according to a report that warns of ageing populations becoming a drag on global economic growth.

    Most of the countries set to join the “super-aged” club by 2020 are in Europe and include the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia and Croatia. But by 2030 they will be joined by a more diverse group including Hong Kong, Korea, the US, the UK and New Zealand. In the meantime, more than 60 per cent of the countries rated by Moody’s will be “ageing” next year, where 7 per cent of the population is 65 or older.”

    It’s another factor to consider… certainly UBI would seem the best solution overall.

  3. […] Who Owns the Robots Rules The World (PDF) — interesting finding: As companies substitute machines and computers for human activity, workers need to own part of the capital stock that substitutes for them to benefit from these new “robot” technologies. Workers could own shares of the firm, hold stock options, or be paid in part from the profits. Without ownership stakes, workers will become serfs working on behalf of the robots’ overlords. Governments could tax the wealthy capital owners and redistribute income to workers, but that is not the direction societies are moving in. Workers need to own capital rather than rely on government income redistribution policies. (via Robotenomics) […]

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