One of the popular topics among the curious minded is the coming robot revolution where, presumably, all work will be done by robots. A regular feature of the news is the story of how some function previously done by people is now being done by smart machines. The prevailing assumption is that the sort of manual labor jobs done by the working class will disappear over the next generations. That may be true, but it will not be the working man losing out initially. It’s going to be the office people who feel the pinch first.
One of the things everyone sort of knows is that a whole lot of what passes for office work is not all that important. Government is the most obvious example. Everyone is familiar with the image of the road crew standing around watching one guy work, but that pales in comparison to the government agency.Thousands hiding cubicles watching porn or gambling. The paleocons used to make the point that the expansion of government at all levels is primarily a jobs program. It keeps the troublesome busy.
Anyone who has worked in big corporations or large law firms knows there is plenty of busy work going on in those cubicles too. Some of it is defensive, like human resource departments and safety managers, but a lot of it just sort of happens. Make-work jobs grow on an organization like a fungus. The hospitality industry has always suffered from this more than most. In good times, they hire up, even though the need is not there, but then come the lean times, the extra is cut loose and no one really notices.
The robot came to mind when booking my last physical. I’ve been saying for years that a good chunk of health care could be automated today. Yet, the only growing segment of the labor market, outside of government, is health care. At my doctor’s office, I interact with probably a dozen people during a physical. I know what two of them do and one of them could be replaced by a kiosk. The rest are just women in purple scrubs milling around doing nothing I can identify as medical work or even clerical work.
What’s always been puzzling to me is that I never actually see a doctor. In fact, I have yet to meet my doctor in person. We have communicated by e-mail once or twice. Instead, I deal with a nurse practitioner. Once a year, she asks me the same questions and then types my answers into a laptop. She then gives me a physical examination, sticks her finger in my arse and that’s the end of it. If I was allowed to answer the questions in advance, the whole thing could be done as a drive-thru service.
I noticed when booking the last visit, on-line of course, that the time slot was now 30 minutes. In the past, I was told to be there for an hour. Some of that time was waiting for my turn, but most of the face time with the nurse was the question and answer stuff. The new on-line appointment process had me answering the questions during the booking, rather than in person. I even did the insurance work in advance. I just show up, get naked, get violated, give a blood sample and go on my way.
The truth of it is, most people could get along just fine with Doctor Google and a routing service to guide people in need of services to the correct providers. When I hurt my knee a while back, I met with a dozen people I had no reason to meet, just to get to the correct person. Frustratingly, I knew the service I needed because I knew the injury. I even looked up the possible ways to address the injury. But, I was forced by humans to see a dozen of them first. The robot doctor would never do this to me.
This is just one example of the millions of daily tasks now done by humans in offices that can easily be eliminated with current automation. The fact that it is happening so slowly speaks to how resistant work life is to change. Medical service providers are now being squeezed by insurance companies so the medical providers are looking for savings via automation. One day, reality will come crushing in on the insurance firms and most of those jobs will be automated in the blink of an eye.
The medical services business is a massive racket, that exists as it does primarily due to government. I’ve made the point for years that it would look something like veterinary medicine if not for government. As such, it should be more resistant to the robots than other fields. The fact that it is showing signs of disruption due to automation suggests we will get our first glimpse of the robot revolution in a white collar fields, rather than a blue collar one. The robots are coming for the office workers first.
That will be bring some interesting socio-political ramifications that our rulers seem incapable of pondering. Just look at how they struggle to make sense of the public reaction to wholesale migration. Democrats abandoned working class whites in favor or cheap foreign labor and they remained poleaxed over why these voters abandoned Team Clinton for Team Trump. Imagine what happens when suburban unemployment doubles due to automation. Signaling over trannies is probably not going to work too well.
In case anyone is wondering, Doctor Robot gave me a clean bill of health.