Technology is a wonderful thing. From modern medicine to the Internet to virtual reality, technological advancements during the past century have truly been a wonder to behold. After all, without a computer, smartphone or tablet and the Internet, you wouldn’t be reading wonderful and insightful investing advice from Banyan Hill online right now. And my colleague Paul Mampilly has made new developments in the Internet of Things mega trend a strong focus of his service, Profits Unlimited, which is one of the fastest-growing newsletters in the financial industry.
Given the pace of advancement in recent years with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), we are left with the question: Can too much technology be a bad thing? Many popular television shows, movies and novels often detail the downfall of society after technology gets out of hand.
From the robot and AI global takeovers of The Matrix and Terminator to the rampant carnage of Jurassic Park, we are inundated with tales of how potentially pear-shaped our situation on this planet can become.
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But this is all just science fiction: modern-day allegories like the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun. Self-driving cars aren’t the prelude to Maximum Overdrive, and robots aren’t going to revolt à la I, Robot. Stories like that can’t actually happen … right?
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Rise of the Machines
Robots have been around for decades, prized for having the strength and endurance to complete tasks too dangerous or strenuous for humans. In the U.S., they dominate manufacturing assembly lines and, contrary to the current political narrative, have been the main culprit in the decline of American manufacturing.
Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. lost about 5.6 million manufacturing jobs. While President Donald Trump likes to blame immigrants and bad trade deals for the losses, a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University reports that 85% of those jobs were lost to automation, robots and technological advances.
Additional evidence of job losses to automation and robots can be found in the U.S. steel industry. Between 1962 and 2005, U.S. steel jobs declined by 75%, yet shipments failed to decline. The culprit was the proliferation of the automated minimill, according to a study published in the American Economic Review.
Ghost in the Shell
The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.? — Stephen Hawking
Hawking’s vision isn’t far from becoming reality. White-collar jobs — such as writing for an investment newsletter, like yours truly — were once thought to be immune to such threats. But auto-generated news copy is gaining ground online to fill expanding content needs at lower costs, and it’s getting harder to distinguish auto-generated copy from the real thing.
That’s not all. At the start of the year, Japanese insurance company Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance replaced 34 human insurance-claim workers with IBM’s Watson Explorer, while Point72 Asset Management’s Steven A. Cohen is attempting to teach AI how to trade the stock market. We’re far beyond computerized day trading at this point. Even the programmers coding the AI aren’t safe, as computers are now learning how to program themselves.
Then there’s a recent U.K. survey that found that 1 in 4 thought that AI robots would make for better politicians. Though it’s hard to argue against that last point, the bottom line is that, essentially, no job is safe from the AI revolution.
To paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm: “Scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Yes, I’m mixing movie metaphors here, but the fact remains that robots and AI are a rising danger not only to global employment, but also human life if left unchecked.
Take, for instance, the case of Wanda Holbrook. In July 2015, Wanda, a maintenance technician at an auto parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, was killed when a robot unexpectedly activated and loaded a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood.
“The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly,” a lawsuit filed by Holbrook’s husband alleges.
While this unfortunate accident was limited, likely, to a flaw in the AI controlling the robot, such flaws can become an even greater threat when imagined on a greater scale. In fact, the risk is so considerable that Stephen Hawking has called for some form of “world government” to deal with the threat of rogue AI. “We need to be quicker to identify such threats and act before they get out of control,” he said.
Overcoming AI Tyranny
While it is impossible to completely protect yourself and your wealth from a theoretical AI doomsday situation, there are steps you can take now to provide yourself with a relatively sound safety net. Job losses from advancing AI and robot technology are only going to escalate, especially here in the U.S. What you need is a Plan B escape route and a wealth protection strategy, such as those offered by my colleague Ted Bauman, to help you secure your wealth and lifestyle before the AI revolution takes hold.