Is Google's Eric Scmidt a robot 'job elimination denier'? Not really.



The financial press is excited today because Eric Schmidt described himself as a robotic 'job elimination denyer'. However, a closer look at what Schmidt actually said shows that he holds no illusions about the changes that are coming.

First of all there is the phrase 'job elimination denyer' by itself. In its modern use, the term 'denyer' refers to someone who refuses to acknowledge something that is obviously true (ie 'climate change denyer' or 'Holocaust denyer) and Schmidt is very aware of this.

Next, there are Scmidt's actual statements, which suggests that it is something of a tongue-in-cheek position. Schmidt is quoted as saying 
“I’ve just decided I’m going to be contrarian, because the data supports me, and it’s more fun to be in opposition anyway. There’s no question that there’s job dislocation. But there [are] always new solutions. The economic folks would say that you can see the job that’s lost, but you very seldom can see the job that’s created.”
So first he's saying that he's being contrarian, in part, because it's more fun. No one can see the future with certainty so why not take a more optimistic position?

It is not exactly clear what 'data' he's referring to but based on the second part of the statement, the 'job that's created' it's a good guess that he's referring to the outcome of previous industrial revolutions - when jobs were created in unexpected areas.

That has been the position of many economic optimists when looking at the possible outcome of automation. The problem is that job losses due to automation are starting to happen now and it remains unclear where the tens of millions of jobs that will take their place might come from.

Automation is currently replacing jobs, or on a path to replacing jobs in manufacturing, call centers, retail, customer service, driving (really operating any type of vehicle from forklifts to cars, trucks, ships and passenger planes), mining, agriculture, delivery/courier services, food prep and dozens of other fields. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the fastest growing occupations currently are in health care, personal services (such as personal care aids), retail and fast food - all areas that are specifically vulnerable to automation.

So when it comes to the 'data backing him up', Schmidt may have historical examples on his side, but not current data.

From Business Insider:
A recent study published by PwC estimated that as many as 38% of jobs in the US could be "susceptible to automation by robots and AI" by the early 2030s — with 30% in the UK at risk, 35% in Germany, and 21% in Japan — although it believes jobs will be created elsewhere in the economy to help offset this. And the World Economic Forum has warned that the "fourth industrial revolution" will cost more than 5 million jobs by 2020, just as jobs were lost as a result of automation in previous periods of rapid industrial progress.
That is all in addition to the well known Oxford study and the report released by Brarak Obama's White House.

Regardless of how serious he was, or wasn't. It's fine to be a 'job elimination denyer' when you are Eric Schmidt. The 62 year old billionaire and executive chairman of Alphabet (Google) is not personally in any danger of experiencing much disruption due to automation. His audience, at MIT's Computer Science and Automation Lab, will make their fortunes designing the automated systems that will replace millions of jobs - so in that setting, with that audience, it's fine to be a contrarian because it's 'more fun'.

Everyone else might want to give some thought to what comes next.



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