Someday the robots will be coming for our jobs

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Bill Sniffin 

For NLJ

The smartest person I know was giving me his opinion about the future of jobs in Wyoming. It was a cautionary tale.

Jeff Wacker was the staff futurist for the huge Hewlett-Packard Company and its 320,000 employees before retiring a few years ago.

Our family was in north Dallas for Easter spending time with our daughter Amber, her husband Craig and three grandchildren. Wacker used to be a neighbor of theirs and still lives in the north Dallas area.

He grew up on a farm near Alliance, Nebraska but left the farm to be a computer programmer.

He worked his way up the ladder at EDS, a company founded by H. Ross Perot, where he became their futurist. When HP acquired that company, he became their futurist. When he tried to explain to HP that it needed to be a services company and not a hardware company, it was time to retire, he said. 

Wacker was the speaker at a conference I attended in Scottsdale 12 years ago when we all laughed when he held up his little cell phone and announced, “The future would revolve around this little box.” 

Of course he was right. Later I chatted with him and found out he lived in the same subdivision as my daughter. So we started meeting for lunch whenever I got to Dallas.

He loves Wyoming and our people. Perhaps being from western Nebraska helps, but he feels very comfortable with Cowboy State values. He voted for Donald Trump and even listens to conservative radio hosts occasionally. 

Wacker thinks Wyoming should be more aggressive in developing wind, solar and other alternative energy supplies. He thinks the coal, oil, and natural gas will still be viable sources of tax income to the Cowboy State for decades to come. 

But he really wanted to talk about the bigger picture, which he calls “the future without jobs.”  

He is working on a book that goes into great detail about nanobots (tiny, invisible robots), which will be everywhere in the near future. And these little buggers will eliminate a lot of work, as we know it.  

They will be in our bloodstreams keeping us healthy. They will monitor everything that runs and keep it all running. These tiny robots and lots of bigger ones, too, could pretty much eliminate 60 percent of the jobs, which begs the question: what are people going to do if there are no jobs?

Interestingly, as I write this, Fremont County, Wyoming, where I live, has the highest unemployment rate in the state and one of the highest in the country. 

But who needs jobs when you can get a guaranteed income?

Wacker is not a big fan of UBI (Universal Basic Income), which is a hot topic in California. But he sees it coming. And coming fast.

Some version of UBI used to be favored by about 10 percent of the population. Today, some 44 percent of the people in the USA favor some variation of it.

Essentially, it means everyone will get a monetary stipend whether they work or not. If you want more, then you take one of the scarce jobs that are left. Under a plan like this, every family in America will get paid about $40,000 per year just for being a citizen.

Wacker calls this future the Garden of Eden, where the individual has no worries. He also fears it could be like the Eloi and the Morlocks in the Orwell story “The Time Machine.”

If you recall from that historic movie, the Eloi lived a life of leisure but ended up being like cattle as the Morlocks ultimately ate them for dinner. 

He says A. I. (Artificial Intelligence) is coming fast, almost blindingly fast.  He says China is working on a quantum computer that, if developed, would make encryption impossible— and thus all things could be controlled. He worries about this development. 

Time will shrink, he says, to where change will come along so fast, human beings will not be able recognize or deal with the changes that are coming.  

He asks the question: What happens when intelligent machines make more intelligent machines?  How can humans control this?

As a futurist, these are the kinds of things that are worrisome.

So on the plus side, we might live a lot longer and be a lot healthier. On the minus side, we might be slaves to robots. 

Even out here in Wyoming, the future is rapidly heading our way.

Bill Sniffin is a retired newspaper publisher who has penned a number of books about Wyoming. Check out additional columns written by Bill at www.billsniffin.com. and find volumes from his coffee table book series, which have sold over 30,000 copies, for sale at the News Letter Journal.

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