Today I read an article about how the United States Post Office may close up to 1,000 of its offices, putting thousands of its employees out of work. It’s quite interesting that the primary cause of this is, unsurprisingly, the Internet:
The local post office long has been the center of many American communities, but with people turning increasingly to the Internet to send messages and pay bills, financial losses are forcing the Postal Service to consider consolidating or closing hundreds of local facilities. [emphasis mine]
This is directly what will happen in the next few decades for nearly every business. Automation doesn’t necessary entail humanoid robots (though that will be a large segment of it), it could be something as simple as a piece of software. The automated ordering system I suggested to my company is just that: a piece of software that does the job of hundreds of human workers at a tiny fraction of the cost while doing a far better job than any human can possibly do.
Of course, there’s still need for postal employees currently because there still are pieces of mail which have to be hand delivered (like packages). I myself am currently expecting a couple of packages (though thinking about it, everything I am expecting is a form of digital media, and could theoretically just be streamed over the Internet. In the next ten to twenty years, physical media like CDs and DVDs will likely completely vanish and we’ll be able to stream whatever we want instantly.)
Of course, what are the employees laid off going to do? They may be able to get jobs elsewhere, eventually, but where. You see the thing that took their jobs (the Internet), doesn’t require as many people to operate. When you send an email, the delivery is handled completely autonomously. When you send a letter, a number of people have to sort it, deliver it, sort it again, etc. The only need for people when dealing with the Internet, is for maintenance, troubleshooting, and designing new sites.
And, of course, you might think, “we’ll customers prefer interacting with people than machines.” but that isn’t what we’re seeing. If it was, this wouldn’t be happening. Eventually, machines will be able to do all jobs, and do them much better than flesh-and-blood people.