Technology And The Jobless Future

Vivek Wadhwa believes we are headed toward a jobless future and he says so in the following two articles ((All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are drawn from the two articles of Vivek Wadhwa)):

Sorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy.

We need a new version of capitalism for the jobless future

Within 10 years, we will see Uber laying off most of its drivers as it switches to self-driving cars; manufacturers will start replacing workers with robots; fast-food restaurants will install fully automated food-preparation systems; artificial intelligence–based systems will start doing the jobs of most office workers in accounting, finance and administration. The same will go for professionals such as paralegals, pharmacists, and customer-support representatives. All of this will occur simultaneously, and the pace will accelerate in the late 2020s.

What Types Of Jobs Will Be Disappearing?

The arrival of self-driving cars is terrible news for anyone who makes a living driving. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

I could equally well argue the arrival of the bulldozer was terrible news for anyone who made a living digging ditches too but I would never actually make such an argument, because I seriously doubt very many people actually want to return to the days when they had to dig ditches in order to make a living.

While it always has been — and always will be — true that technology will replace jobs, the first two questions we should be asking ourselves are 1) What kinds of jobs are being replaced and 2) Do we actually want to do those kinds of jobs anyway? The Industrial Age ended physical labor for many and the Information Age ended tedious labor for many more.

Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob. ~ OFFICE SPACE

Few people want to go back to the days when we had to dig ditches; when we had to dig through card catalogs to find books; when we had to have an army of switchboard operators to manually connect individual phone calls; and I sincerely doubt we’ll look back forty years from now and pine for the good old days when we had the privilege of working as truck and taxi cab drivers either.

Self-driving cars, widely implemented, would save more American lives than curing AIDS, stopping murder and eliminating war combined. ~ Austen Allred

Jobs Will Be Few

Some new jobs will surely be created, but they will be few.

Hmm. That is an exceptionally strong claim and it is the foundation upon which Vivek Wadhwa builds his argument we are headed for a jobless future.

Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence. ~ Christopher Hitchens

And yet, Vivek Wadhwa not only fails to provide exceptional evidence in support of his exceptional claim, he provides us with virtually no evidence at all. On the contrary, all the available evidence argues against Vivek Wadhwa’s assertion many jobs will be lost but few new jobs will be created.

There are more net jobs in the world today than ever before, after hundreds of years of technological innovation and hundreds of years of people predicting the death of work. The logic on this topic is crystal clear. ~ Marc Andreessen

Time after time, technology has eliminated jobs and, time after time, new, and mostly better, jobs have sprung up to replace them. But this time, Vivek Wadhwa assures us, this time, things will be different.

(The jobless future), like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophesies. ~ paraphrasing H. L. Mencken

The Jobless Will Be Unqualified And Under-Qualified

(W)e won’t be able to retrain the people who lose their jobs, because, as I said to Andreessen, you can train an Andreessen to drive a cab, but you can’t retrain a laid-off cab driver to become an Andreessen. The jobs that will be created will require very specialized skills and higher levels of education — which most people don’t have.

In 1900, 97% of the people in the United States worked on farms. In 2000, 3% of the people in the United States worked on farms.

I strongly suspect if Vivek Wadhwa had been writing in the year 1900, he would have argued one could train the non-farming 3% to take on the job of farmer but one could not possibly retrain 94% of farmers to take on manufacturing and service jobs that required “very specialized skills and higher levels of education.” He would have been wrong then and the existing evidence strongly suggests he is wrong now, too.

There Will Be No Time To Retrain

Vivek Wadhwa counters the future will not be like the past because, while we had three centuries to transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, we will only have one or two decades in which to transition from the current age to the Age of Joblessness.

The technology elite who are leading this revolution will reassure you that there is nothing to worry about because we will create new jobs just as we did in previous centuries when the economy transitioned from agrarian to industrial to knowledge-based. Tech mogul Marc Andreessen has called the notion of a jobless future a “Luddite fallacy,” referring to past fears that machines would take human jobs away. Those fears turned out to be unfounded because we created newer and better jobs and were much better off.

(W)hat is missing from these arguments is the timeframe over which the transitions occurred. The industrial revolution unfolded over centuries. Today’s technology revolutions are happening within years. We will surely create a few intellectually-challenging jobs, but we won’t be able to retrain the workers who lose today’s jobs. They will experience the same unemployment and despair that their forefathers did. It is they who we need to worry about.

Is Vivek Wadhwa right? Is it different this time because there will be no time to adjust?


The Destroyer Is The Creator Too

Vivek Wadhwa fails to recognize the contradiction inherent in his argument. While he insists jobs may go away at an ever faster pace due to technology, he completely ignores the fact retraining will also occur at an ever faster pace due to that very same technology.

If anything, the future looks even brighter than the past, because we are even more prepared for rapid retraining today than we have ever been before. The rise of the automobile destroyed the livelihood of those who made horse drawn carriages and it did nothing to help retrain those unemployed workers. But the rise of the personal computer — and in particular the smartphone — is both destroying existing jobs and simultaneously providing us with the ideal tool for retraining. Vivek Wadhwa has it exactly backwards. The rapid retraining he says can’t possibly occur in time has already begun and begun in earnest ((Oh sure, some will fall through the cracks and be reduced to writing articles for tech blogs…but that is the price we pay for progress.)).


In the 1970s, W. Karl Kapp, a professor of economics at Switzerland’s Basel University, attempted to capture the hazards of making predictions by relying solely upon straight line projections:

If there had been a computer in 1872, it would have predicted that by now there would be so many horse-drawn carriages that the entire surface of the earth would be ten feet deep in horse manure.

The problem with doomsday projections is they are always full of metaphorical horse manure. They can foresee the problem, based upon current trends, but they can’t envision solutions based upon the adjustments that will be made in response to those self-same trends. Malthus predicted mass starvation due to overpopulation but he didn’t foresee birth control or the green revolution in farming. Environmentalists in the 1970s predicted we would run out of fossil fuels by the first quarter of the twenty-first century but they didn’t foresee increased conservation efforts, or the creation of more efficient ways to wring oil from shale or energy from solar panels.

Experience tells us that tomorrow there will be ever more and ever better jobs than there are today. Belief in the jobless future is the triumph of despair over experience. Belief in a better future is the triumph of reason over fear.

Interactive TV Trends – How the TV Experience is Changing, Part III

This is the third article in a three part series discussing key trends in TV. The first article looked at how new interface technologies are enabling new ways to control our TVs. The second article focused on the multi-screen TV experience. This article focuses on how interactive TV trends are driving the need for improvements in TV image quality.

Full HD is not enough for Future TV
Some might believe our latest flat panel televisions represent the zenith of picture quality. This is not surprising given we often hear that 1080P resolution or “Full HD” are “future proof” technologies. The oft-cited reasoning is that for a given screen size, viewed from a normal watching distance, the acuity of the eye cannot discern resolutions beyond Full HD. Another reason why Full HD is considered future proof is because actually a very small percentage of video content is even broadcast at this resolution. Most digital pay TV broadcasting systems transmit in lower resolution formats – the industry is still catching up.

Certainly, for those looking to buy their next TV set – no one should be concerned that 1080P is not good enough. Considering the horizon of time people buy and keep a TV set which is about 8 years– a consumer cannot go wrong with “Full HD”. But for people interested in where the industry is going in the long term –looking out over the next ten years, our image quality is going to see massive improvements making today’s TV technology look primitive.

Part of the reason why we can expect big improvements in TV video quality has to do with our superior eyesight. Our capacity to see is many multiple orders of magnitude greater than what our TVs can display. For example, a Full HD TV displays about 2 million pixels of video information. In real life, one of our eyes processes about 250 million pixels – but since we have two eyes channeling vision to our brains – our effective vision makes use of greater than 500 million pixels of video information. And while it is true that we can only discern a limited resolution from a given distance – our eyesight is also sensitive to contrast, color saturation, color accuracy and especially movement. All these areas are where TV systems can improve.

Detractors may argue TVs do not have to be perfect – just a reasonable representation. Others may argue that consumers only care about TV size and price that TV quality is not a selling point. But I argue TV image quality does matter – quality has always had to keep pace with the growing size of TV screens. TVs will continue to get larger – requiring improvements in resolution as our room sizes will start to limit viewing distance. Also, the nature of interactive TV and future 3D systems will make us want to sit closer to the TV set – again mandating video quality improvements.

Interactive TV’s Make You Sit Closer
Interactive TVs will bring games, virtual worlds and new video applications drawing us physically closer to the TV screen. Gaming is a huge industry- with almost $50B spent on gaming consoles, software and accessories. Virtual world games are increasingly popular. “World of Warcraft” is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with over 10 million subscribers. All kinds of social virtual worlds such as the Sims, Second Life, IMVU and Club Penguin are attracting millions of players. IMVU, with over 50 million registered users, is a social game where people can develop personal avatars and spend time in virtual worlds chatting and interacting. While many of these games are still played on PCs – migration to the living room TV is inevitable. Console games have already shown the way – the size and immersive nature of the large screen TV will draw others into the living room as well.

3D display will also drive the need for improving display resolution and image quality. Sure, everyone hates 3D glasses – but technology will continue to evolve and glassless 3D displays will continue to improve and come down in price. There will be applications that consumers will demand in 3D such as sports – people will see the advantages of watching close up sports games on the large screen display in vivid, artifact free video.

OEMs and broadcast equipment companies are investing heavily in supplying the infrastructure to make this happen. 3D advertising will take on more importance – imagine having the option to tour a car or a house in extremely vivid 3D. On the entertainment side, movie and video directors will become much better at using 3D perspectives in such a way to take advantage of image quality improvement. Today 3D effects are more like a gimmick – watch the arrow fly into the room for example. But going forward directors will make more subtle use of 3D adeptly drawing viewers into to the film or the show. On a beautiful large screen display with ultra high resolution and image quality, viewers will practically feel like they are part of a movie or scene.

3D also opens up a world that we could only dream about when matched with the power of the internet. For example, the evolutions of virtual worlds and their capabilities becomes much more compelling with large screen displays. A simple example is virtual tourism and world exploration. Just as Google has taken a picture of all the street views of the world, there is no reason we cannot build a 3D model of the whole terrestrial experience on earth in a few years. Imagine then the capability to walk around the world as a virtual tourist and view the world from the comfort of your 3D television.

As virtual worlds improve and evolve, new immersive ways to interact with large screen TVs will continue to evolve. Many social activities come to mind as well as the concept of participating or viewing in e-sports. E-sports are virtual sports games that can also be viewed by others. The prospects for e-sports are boundless and limited only by imagination. Virtual bullfights, gladiator battles, racing events will be watched on-line the same way we watch football games today.

The display-use model will also change over time. Today our concept of a display is a TV set that sits in the living room – a piece of functional furniture. With the advent of new display materials like OLED, display will transform from furniture to architectural material. In fact there is no reason why the wall in your den cannot become a display. In fact, why stop with the wall? Imagine the immersive feeling of the ceiling, floor, and walls all around built of display – it’s the video equivalent of surround sound. In fact, the architectural use of display could add interesting use cases beyond entertainment.

For example, inlaid architectural materials can appear in almost in any room around the house. Touch screen uses in the kitchen, can provide not only control but also interactive recipe applications and videos on cooking instructions. Bathroom walls can provide wallpaper backgrounds or any kind of networked information that we already see on our PCs. Inlaid display technologies will appear on appliances as well as anywhere people need information or help with controls. The point of all this is that again there will be many reasons in the future of us needed to get close to the screen – and all this near proximity will demand increases in display quality.

TV Development Underway
Already major TV OEMs are working on the next step up in resolution over Full HD. There are multiple propositions in development for higher order resolution TV systems. TV OEMS are already demonstrating “4KX2K” systems that provide 4096 X 2160 pixel arrays. Even beyond “4KX2K” is Ultra High Definition (UHD) which provides 7,680X4320 pixels resolution which equals 33 million pixels or about 16 times the number of pixels used by Full HD systems. UHD was first introduced by Japan’s national TV broadcaster NHK in 2003. NHK, marketing the resolution as “Super Hi-Vision” had to build the cameras and display technology from scratch to be able to create a UHD demonstration system. Since then NHK has displayed the system at numerous broadcasting shows. Toshiba, LG and Panasonic showed UHD systems at CES 2011 – likely more UHD sets will be shown in 2012. UK’s BBC also is interested in this format. The BBC announced plans to provide UHD coverage of the 2012 London games.

In addition to higher resolution, OEMs continue to invest in superior display technologies like organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays. OLEDs have several advantages over LCD and plasma display technologies. For example, OLED do not make use of a backlight and emit light directly. Direct emission results in a much more vivid display of color, contrast and viewing angle over LCDs. Since there is no backplane in OLED TVs, OLEDS are a much more power efficient and lower in weight. OLED displays are also flexible – opening up new opportunities to use displays in various new applications in architectural display and even clothing.

OLEDs also have a very high response time over LCD. In fact, the relative low response time of LCD, required the industry to introduce all kinds of approaches to compensate by introducing frame rate conversion techniques. OLEDs response time increases response time by a factor of 1000 over LCD allowing for a much better display motion performance.

Improvements will also need to continue on the broadcast side. Higher resolution TVs consume bits at an alarming rate. For example, uncompressed ultra high HD would demand 24Gbps a major jump over ~1.5Gbps required for Full HD. Any increases in resolution will demand major improvements in data compression as well as networking, storage and broadcasting capacity.

But the march of improvements will continue. As TV screens get larger and the way we use these screens draw us in closer – the need for improved image quality will also continue to improve.

Our TV experience will change dramatically over the next ten years. As these series of articles have discussed the whole TV experience will continue to morph the way we spend our time watching large screen displays. 2012 will bring some interesting signs about how all this will play out. 2012 we will see OEMs developing much better ways to interact with TVs – our ability to control the TV through new remote technologies and improvements in finding and sharing content will make major advances. We can expect more use of our hand held tablets and smart phone devices joining us in front of our TV sets. Interactive TV will bring, not only more sources of content, but also new tools to help recommend as well as share content and media that we really want to see. Finally, the way we use TV will be much more immersive demanding major improvements in the video quality in TVs over what we have today.