Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.

imageI don’t like sounding like chicken little. Nevertheless, the sky is falling.

For those of you who don’t know me, I run one of the oldest independent software companies in the world. My specialty for the past 20 years has been in AI. It is my job to research, evaluate trends and invest accordingly to stay ahead of the curve. And I am here to tell you that the sky is falling.

It is automation. It is inevitable. It is irresistible. And if you think that automation always creates new opportunities look back to horses. Technology made them more useful too…for a time. Now it’s our turn and in this Facebook post I’m going to walk you through, in plain terms, why I think the sky is falling.

I’m not going to try to persuade you. I’m just going to put out the data. I suspect anyone reading this is intelligent enough to reach their own conclusions whether they agree with my assessment or not.

Before I begin, I want you to refer to this page: This is the Bureau of Labor statistics. It’s the government’s site that tracks what people are employed in.

To summarize we Americans work primarily in these areas:

1. Factory work (8%)

2. Construction (4%)

3. Retail (10%)

4. Transportation (3%)

5. Business Services (13%)

6. Healthcare (12%)

Next, I would like to quote you this statistic: “The maximum unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25%.”

The sum of the percentages I give above is 50%. You be the judge on what percentage of the areas I am going to discuss below will likely be out of a job in the near future.

Like I said, my day job is to evaluate technology and try to predict where it’s going to go next. And with that, I am telling you the automation revolution isn’t happening soon. It’s happening right now.

Amazon Prime

Do you use Amazon Prime? It’s pretty great right? How are they able to do it so cheaply? It’s because it’s largely automated now. Over the past few years, Amazon has been quietly laying off thousands of employees and replacing them with machines.

Amazon currently employs over 200,000 people, most of whom will be out of a job in less than five years. Right now, you go to their website, you order something. That signals a AGV to go over and pick it up in the warehouse which then takes it over to another AGV (automated guided vehicle) that in turn takes it over to the auto packager which in turn sends it to be sorted and packaged.

I’m not talking about some future technology either. Did you get something from Amazon Prime recently? Look at the box you received. You will see an MSI code and a Code-128 code (very similar) along with a Datamatrix code (a box with graphical blotches). Right now, some of this is still handled by a person. But this will soon be completely automated.

Right now, the Code 128 code is used by UPS or Fed Ex staff (people) to load trucks and get them to you. But this is not going to last much longer. The transportation industry is already in process of being automated. You don’t hear much on this publicly because no one wants to talk about it. But this isn’t a 10 or 20 year away thing. This transformation is happening right now.

Products and goods will soon be transported to you through autonomous vehicles. I’m not talking about drones. That’ll happen too but that’s a distraction. I mean that UPS trucks and Fed Ex trucks will soon be autonomous. Loaded at the warehouse by machines and transported to you by AFVs (autonomous freight vehicles).

And even if you think “how will they get up to my doorstep” remember most shipments occur from business to business who have their own loading docks and warehouses. Moving stuff from point A to point B is a huge part of our employment.


Retail, where a lot of people now work, is going to be hit soonest, hardest and most obviously. We are familiar with self-checkouts but that’s really not that big of a deal. It’s the stocking that is going to go away and you won’t even notice. Walmart, Target, you name it, will quietly and not-so-gradually replace their stock people with machines. Read a bar code, go to the proper location in the store and place it. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chain restaurants? The only reason why McDonalds and Burger King haven’t automated already is the relatively low minimum wage. But that’s going away. Kiosks will replace the order taking and the food preparation will be handled by machines. And machines in 2016, already do voice recognition better than most humans for the drive through (that’s something I never would have thought possible even 5 years ago). And people will be happy for this because it’ll be more convenient and the results more consistent. They’ll never “fuck you at the drive through” because the order will be perfect every time.

What about office jobs? They’re safe right? No. Again, I want to emphasize that I am not talking about some “20 years from now” thing. I am telling you that this automation revolution is happening as you read this. It’s not something to prepare for in the future. It’s already upon us. And with that in mind, Walmart just announced that it is cutting 7,000 office jobs.

This was a week ago.

These are administrative jobs. Accounting jobs. All those jobs that involve paperwork, inventory management, producing invoices, handling payroll. Do these jobs sound familiar? They’re not going away in the future. They’re going away right now. And it’s accelerating.

Today, you walk into a Walmart and pick up a can of soup off the shelf. That soup was placed there by a person. You probably still go to a person to check it out because you have a bunch of stuff and it’s still a pain to do self-checkout. Nevertheless, everything you bought is automatically deducted from Walmart’s inventory. The acquisition of that item and its purchase doesn’t require people anymore so it was automated.

But relatively soon, every item, from food to your clothes, will have a tiny passive RFID tag in it. You’ll simply walk through a checkout and everything will be deducted automatically (for those with a NFC device like an iPhone or an Android phone). There will still be a person handling stuff for old people. But most people will naturally prefer to take their cart full of stuff through the RFID scanner and have it handled automatically.

Ironically, the service is likely to get better because they’ll probably soon have auto-baggers so you won’t even have to bag your own stuff anymore. But that’s probably around 7 (2023) years away from becoming mainstream. You’ll have RFID tagging sooner than that.

If you’re feeling stressed and want to go to the doctor, well, they’re going to be automated away too soon. And this will be a good thing for everyone. Today’s doctors will become more focused on dealing with patients’ needs while the machines handle the diagnosing and prescription writing.

You, reading this right now, when was the last time you went to the doctor not knowing what you already had? You probably just needed the prescription and had to wait. The machines, networked with each other across the world and able to sample billions of people’s anonymous data will make Dr. House look like an amateur and prescribe you with what you need vastly faster than having to wait for the doctor.

However, this won’t be good news for a lot of people in the health industry. Your doctor today with the thriving practice will be fine. He or she will save up and buy these diagnostic machines that will handle the vast majority of cases he or she currently handles. But those next generation doctors? They’re in for a rough time. Those in the medical profession can comment below and explain the problem a lot better than I can.

What about lawyers? They’re screwed. As someone who routinely gets sued (intellectual property is a mine field), I have a lot of experience with lawyers. The most expensive part, by far, is discovery. This is the part where each party sifts through the other’s sides stuff to determine what bullshit to put into their motions to convince a jury that their narrative of the case is the correct one. 99% of that time is wasted. Machines could handle that 99%.

It is unlikely that there will be such a thing as a paralegal in 20 years. They’ll go the way of the gas station attendant.

Now, I’m not suggesting all these jobs are going to be gone in 5 years or even 20 years. Not all of them. But a lot of them. And unlike in the past, there’s no job for these people to go to. There’s no “training” for a new job because this time, the machines aren’t creating a new type of job in their wake, they are simply replacing the existing jobs without creating a new one.

We are not ready

We are not ready for this. We are oblivious now and we will remain oblivious until it’s far too late for our society to adapt carefully.

People will continue to be oblivious even as they watch their malls close down just like people shrugged when their bookstores went away.

They’ll continue to be oblivious when their neighbor’s kid loses their job at the coffee shop because there’s a machine that makes the perfect Mocha Latte every single time.

They’ll still ignore it even as their sister’s husband loses his job at DHL (the world’s largest logistic company).

They’ll only notice when their job at the local dentist’s office handling appointments and other office duties suddenly, without notice, disappears because Dr. Benning, such a great guy, has bought a Wavenet Office bot that can call patients to make appointments, reschedule, and handle all the tasks they previously did.

And what about the unemployed? Think that they’ll just raise up a mob and take on the 5% of the population who owns the means of production now? Think again. The one area automation is already doing very well is security.

The new uber class (calling them rich isn’t even the right term at that stage) will be way ahead of the mob. They’ll have machines to protect their holdings, homes and families from the rabble. So those who think “they’ll have to do something for everyone else or they’ll be a revolution” think again. Don’t assume a universal basic income is a definite.


What we do as a civilization, will define my generation. I pray we figure it out. Nothing scares me more than a future of split between the Gods and the Useless.

Further reading:

Economic Singularity

Comments (Page 1)
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on Sep 12, 2016

Honestly, what you've laid out there is precisely the only reason that I keep thinking we need to try a minimum basic income. I'm not sold on the idea really, but it may be the least bureaucratic way to transition to the automation future.

on Sep 12, 2016

We've already chased most of our economy out with regulation and taxation, and we still persist in adding more of them every year, we're doomed regardless of automation.


I just can't get excited over how automation will end civilization when it already killed itself decades ago, and only limped along until now because of the innovations, like robotics, that made the country stay rich enough to keep itself afloat.

on Sep 12, 2016

Freefall, such a good comic.

But yes, the revolution and the basic minimum income isn't a guarantee. 

But one thing to remember with prior changes in employment, such as the one from agriculture to textiles. The improvements in agriculture were not what lead to the textiles, but rather the sudden availability of cheap labor that was underutilized. Here, the minimum wage is our enemy though. The regulations are the enemy as well. 

But, if you have 50% of the laborforce at home, they're going to find something to do with their time, and that something may be the new thing that absorbs the labor. Ticky tacky little knickknacks sold on etsy? Youtube videos? who knows.

on Sep 13, 2016

Again with the horses example.

Just take a look at how horses live in develop countries. They have the best possible life ever. They do not work, they are the focus of rich people who love them and care them to degrees most people would ever dream of. All of that is exactly the result that horses don't have to work anymore. Same thing with dogs, just a fraction of them work right now.

Just take a look at how cheap leisure is right now. Games are cheap or free, Netflix is only 10 dollars. Those are hours and hours of fun. Social networks are fun for some people, and those are 100% free. Some economists even argue that cheap gaming and porn is the primary reason some men are out of the work force!

 The tractor killed most farming jobs, people just moved to other industries. Same thing would happen with this revolution. Always remember that it's easy to see which jobs are going to be destroyed, but it's really hard to predict which ones are going to be created.

on Sep 13, 2016

The "what" of my job can, and for the most part has been replaced by a computer. However, it will require a Commander Data level AI to replace the "why" part...

I agree that certain jobs can and are being replaced fairly easily (factory/warehouse), but there is a big obstacle in the way in other industries.

Upfront capital expenditure.

Not every company is going to risk implementing AI, especially in jobs that require specialized education and training. Large companies usually operate like a large ship, taking a very long time to make a turn. There will be countless cost/benefit analysis done over many years before companies are willing to stick their toes in the water. Heck, my company has an antiquated Accounting system, and won't even "risk" spending  the money to get one that will make the process more efficient and effective, and could allow them to lay off a number of heads as the result of the increased efficiencies.

Further AI is far from being perfect. Look at recent incidents with driverless cars... I seriously doubt that it's "just around the corner". Companies are risk adverse, and there is still plenty of risk.

on Sep 13, 2016

You can add this to all the other reasons I'am glad I'am old.

One of your best posts, I agree 100%.

on Sep 13, 2016

You can add this to all the other reasons I'am glad I'am old.


Same here!

on Sep 13, 2016

rewatch star trek. apply. except the unimited energy bit. oh dear.

on Sep 13, 2016

Honestly, what you've laid out there is precisely the only reason that I keep thinking we need to try a minimum basic income. I'm not sold on the idea really, but it may be the least bureaucratic way to transition to the automation future.

We have a minimum wage here in Portugal. Doesn't really help having one if it's 500 Euros (about $560) *per month*. You can't live on that, you merely scrap by (well, at least you *might* not starve to death). And even though it's pretty obvious how ridiculous this amount is, the EU is totally against the Portuguese government raising it any further.

Seems the current trend is to completely destroy the middle class (so people can be controlled better?), while at the same time making the richer even richer. What scares me the most is that all the tools required for a George Orwell's 1984 society are already in place (CCTV cameras everywhere, everybody's whereabouts can be tracked through the GPS in their cell phones, what they do and like via their bank accounts and social media, civil liberties and rights have been incredibly eroded through the use of scare tactics like the threat of terrorist attacks, etc, etc...).

All its needed now is for someone to actually press that button.

on Sep 13, 2016

"What about lawyers? They’re screwed."

Yay! Not everything is as dark!!

on Sep 13, 2016

Yeah, they're not...


The politicians are mostly lawyers, with lawyer kids and grandkids, and they'll write and pass legislation to make it illegal to use AI for such things with less argument than they'd need to declare war on a country that had already nuked us.

on Sep 13, 2016


Honestly, what you've laid out there is precisely the only reason that I keep thinking we need to try a minimum basic income. I'm not sold on the idea really, but it may be the least bureaucratic way to transition to the automation future.


Agree. Additionally, we need a way to guarentee every citizen a fair share of the fruits of the natural resources used by 'enterprises.'  Sarah Palin's Alaska grants all state citizens a share of the oil revenue from Alaska. (Requires one year resedency, I think?)  This model points to a basic truth: natural resources are the birthright of all the people, not just the people who are born into inherited wealth, nor the very few of us who are gifted with the temperment to be entrepreneurs, nor the gangs of people who form corporations and use this advantage to abscond with the fruits of those natural resources (skull and bones, the modern pirates.). Most of us are none of these - but we have a basic human right to a decent life, a decent standard of living, health care, etc.  I know most will disagree with me on this.  The elites have been hard at work, since their failed military coup against President Franklin D Rosevelt, to manipulate the instruments of society in such a manner to strengthen their interests.  This really is the heart of the issue.  The interests of the common person don't coincide with that of the elites.  Thus sayeth human nature.  Elites want a new guilded age - and they are getting it.  The cycle repeats.  When will we, as a society, a civilization, finally embrace the better angels of our nature: set aside committment to outdated ideologies; bridle the sociopathic tendencies of top leaders CEOs/ COOs / CFOs / politicians; dynasty-power based on inherited wealth.  When will we finally put a serious brake on the seemingly endless cycle of technology fueled innovations, (often via via neocon machinations) from dispossessing entire cadres of people from meaningful, self respecting work, over and over again?  Many futureologists discuss the near future as an age when scarity becomes itself scarce.  Wonderful.  But if the current political and economic model is allowed to continue down its current path, only the servants of the 1% will have decent earned income.  The hoi polloi, the rest of us will, at best, be surfs.  Again. 

on Sep 13, 2016
Am one of the few that like that woman(Sarah Palin). And no I'am not trying to make this a political thread.
on Sep 13, 2016

It's hard to take posts seriously when they contain hoax material as fact...


Simple logic easily disproves the existence of a coup against FDR, the powers that be would never allow even the beginnings of an attempt to overthrow them to go unpunished, let alone the farce of a full blown attempt that was claimed.  As there were never even warrants issued, let alone actual prosecutions, they took it to be the obvious fabrication that it was.  Only a successful coup would put the "criminals" in the position of victor, and thus allow them to escape punishment and write history to suit themselves.


The total revenue to Alaska from oil companies, of which only a portion goes towards PFD's, was less than 5 billion last year, and the population a little under 750k.  This is an ideal state for "sharing resources" with the population being minimal, and the resources massive.  If the entire revenue went towards the population, that would still be radically insufficient income next to the cost of living.  Taxes are already so high that most of the oil companies have pulled back or pulled out entirely, and exploration has plummeted.


You might as well pull it out of your ass, it's more practical than getting it from natural resource shares.

on Sep 13, 2016


Just take a look at how horses live in develop countries. They have the best possible life ever. They do not work, they are the focus of rich people who love them and care them to degrees most people would ever dream of. All of that is exactly the result that horses don't have to work anymore. Same thing with dogs, just a fraction of them work right now.

And how does the horse population compare between now and 100 years ago?

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