The age of the robotic worker will soon be nigh, reports Jeffrey Kaplan in The Atlantic, and it doesn’t look good for man. Note that I said “man”, not mankind. This isn’t a rant about a post-singularity Battlestar Galactica-style revolt of machines against their masters, but rather a look at what will happen to the many who may soon find themselves unemployed thanks to automation. According to a 2013 report by Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osborne titled “The Future of Employment”, the jobs that are most susceptible to being replaced due to automation are those that men — not women — are most likely to do. Kaplan writes . . .

[M]achines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.

This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.

[M]any common professions exhibit a high degree of gender bias. For instance, of the 3 million truck drivers in the U.S., more than 95 percent are men; of the nearly 3 million secretaries and administrative assistants, more than 95 percent are women. Autonomous vehicles are a not-too-distant possibility, and when they arrive, those drivers’ jobs will evaporate; office-support workers suffer no such imminent threat.

This pattern holds for many of the most gender-biased occupations. Men hold 97 percent of the 2.5 million U.S. construction and carpentry jobs. The Oxford study estimates that these male workers stand more than a 70 percent chance of being replaced by robotic workers. By contrast, women hold 93 percent of the registered nurse positions. Their risk of obsolescence is vanishingly small: .009 percent.

What is causing this pattern? The skills exhibited by the coming wave of intelligent machines are better suited to occupations currently dominated by men. Many of the jobs held by men involve perception and manipulation, often in conjunction with physical exertion, such as swinging a hammer or trimming trees. The latest mobile robots combine advanced-sensory systems with dexterous manipulators to successfully perform these sorts of tasks.

Other, more cerebral male-dominated professions[-]such as commodity traders-are being outdone by increasingly sophisticated machine-learning programs capable of quickly teasing subtle patterns out of large volumes of data.

By contrast, women typically work in more chaotic, unstructured environments, where the ability to read people’s emotions and intentions are critical to success. If your job involves distracting a patient while delivering an injection, guessing whether a crying baby wants a bottle or a diaper change, or expressing sympathy to calm an irate customer, you needn’t worry that a robot will take your job, at least for the foreseeable future….

In short, today’s typical women’s work is what will predominate in future. On a mass scale, this pattern may result in an involuntary shift in the division of labor, with husbands tending to household duties after dropping their wives off at the office. Superficially, that may sound cheery, but the reality will be much grimmer, as families struggle to make ends meet on one income, and men struggle with the emotional upheaval of no longer having a place in the world of work.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. As an aside, while the study assumes that traditionally pink-collar office work is less susceptible to automation, the steady automation of secretarial and administrative work undermines that assumption a bit.

Okay, fine, but how does this relate to guns and violence?

One doesn’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find studies connecting the male unemployment rate to high rates of violence. For example:

Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime. (“[A] closer analysis of the violent crime of rape yields some evidence that the employment prospects of males are weakly related to state rape rates.”)

Violence Against Women in Families and Relationships. (“Being unemployed and underemployed is associated with high levels of stress among men because one’s work and income from employment are measures of masculine success in our society. Unemployed and underemployed men…cannot draw on the breadwinner role as a measure of masculine success. They can assert dominance, however, through violence–against one another, against those who disrespect them…in some way, or against women.”)

Urban Black Violence: The Effect of Male Joblessness and Family Disruption“. (“[P]ersistently high rates of black crime appear to stem from the structural linkages among unemployment, economic deprivation, and family disruption in urban black communities.”

When Male Unemployment Rises, Domestic Violence Falls (This counterintuitive claim is actually based on the fact that divorce/separation is so easy in Western society – it says nothing about the overall rate of violence due to unemployment or the concomitant societal disruption.)

I’m not necessarily endorsing the conclusions of those articles (I’ve not studied them in detail, and they may be wrong in any number of particulars,) but one constant in human history appears to be that having a bunch of unemployed men with nothing to do all day long, and — worse — no apparent role for them in society, results an upswing in crime and violence.

Col. Jeff Cooper, the renowned firearms trainer and student of history, agreed with that assessment.  “[Y]oung men, in groups, without women, staying in one place and not talking…should set off a first-stage alarm in anyone….” Principles of Personal Defense, ch. 1. (Sure, the context was self-defense tactics here, but I doubt he’d disagree with the larger point.) When tenured professors in the cloistered halls of academe agree with Col. Cooper, it’s probably a sign that we can all work with the assumption going forward.

If the authors of the Oxford study are even close in their prediction of 47% of today’s jobs being automated out of existence — heck, even if the real number is half what they predict — then in the next few decades these technological changes are going to cause major societial disruption: social, political, financial, religious. Perhaps we’ve already been living through some of it. I’ve seen firsthand (and as part of my job, actively encouraged,) automation in the legal profession. The practice of law, a field that one might assume is somewhat insulated from automation, has proven itself to be quite amenable to it. There’ve been some winners, and a lot of losers.

The profession of truck driving is an example of a field that high school graduates with skill and responsibility could do that has been traditionally insulated from outsourcing pressures; for deliveries, businesses need people physically on the scene, after all. What happens to those men and society when self-driving trucks start automating those jobs out of existence?

It isn’t the ‘winners’ in society that resort to violence to settle disputes, acquire money and property, or generally solve problems. If present trends continue, I suspect we’re going to be creating quite a few more ‘losers’ in the near future. Hopefully, most will recover from these sorts of disruptions and land on their feet one way or another. But the interim period could be one of great disruption, danger, and…violence.

When you add all of that to the deep political, class, and economic cleavages that already exist in our society — which, sadly, seem to be getting bigger by the day — we’re in for some pretty turbulent times. Whenever I need motivation to make sure that our right to keep and bear arms is protected, I think about that, and how important it is to me to make sure that my daughter’s ability to legally exercise that right endures into that uncertain future.

DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.

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63 Responses to More Robots, More Violence?

  1. It’s a good thing I fix machines for a living. That’s a prediction of my future job security.

    • Short term, you have nothing to worry about. But the long term trend will be more machines that manufacture and fix other machines, with no need for human intervention except for engineers and programmers. That is one thing I keep reminding people when they say things like “they made the same doom and gloom predictions about cars, and tractors, etc, when they came out.” Yes, they did. But cars don’t manufacture and repair other cars. Robots will.

      They will be fighting our wars, policing our streets, delivering our mail, picking up our trash, and fixing our cars in another generation or two. Some of the videos I have seen of the most advanced stuff on YouTube are both amazing and disconcerting. The military is already developing 4-legged robot pack mules to take to the battlefield to carry ammo and supplies.

      How long before they start putting mounted guns on their robot backs and armoring them up?

      It’s not the big, easily-targetable ones that make my hairs stand up though. It is the tiny ones, like self-folding origami robots that could be manufactured by the millions and dropped like a cloud of automated death machines on the battlefield, to scurry up to the enemies position like a tide of mobile razor blades, digging under walls and scurrying through any crack in defenses. Sounds like sic-fi? Watch what they can already do:

      • That first robot pack mule video of ‘Big Dog’ is seven years old. Here is a recent video of a more agile model called “Spot”.

  2. Let’s replace cops with robots. Just make sure they are programmed not to be hyper-violent thieves and killers.

  3. Lets worry about the illegal labor flooding the country first, then we can worry about the robots later.

    • Actually robots would fix that problem too. Illegal labor gravitates towards available jobs – increase automation and you get less jobs, and less illegal (and legal) labor is needed.

      I chalk this up to yet another progressive policy leading to an increase of the problems it purports to solve. Raise minimum wage —> make automation cheaper —> evaporate jobs —-> increase desperation —-> increase violence….rinse, repeat.

      • And the best part is machines can not and will never vote.

        They will never vote from some leftist promising everything under the sun at the cost of our Liberty.

        They will never get drunk or high and drive and then kill people,

        They will never have kids that are a burden on the tax payers,

        They will never rob, rape, or murder Americans…Can never say that about illegals….That is why I support automation of farm labor and if need be have the government pay for it..Its cheaper in the long run.

    • Also, who would buy a (probably) hugely expensive machine when you can hire an illegal for sub minimum wage, tax free?

    • Illegals flood the country because there is a huge demand for their skills in jobs the average American will not take, such as farm labor and meet processing plants. The migrant farm workers are low paid, work long hours in the blazing heat to plant and harvest hand crops (grapes, fruits, vegetables), many live in tents or in their vehicles as they travel frequently as the season moves north. This is common not only in California, but in Georgia, Nebraska, and so on. Ask the farmers–they will tell you that if they didn’t have migrant workers, legal or illegal, their crops would rot in the fields because the average American will show for one day of work and quit.

      • meet processing plants. Is this where you meet people? Americans would take the jobs that Mexicans perform if the employers actually paid their workers a decent wage. Many employers like the cheeeeep Mexican manual labor.

      • Ask the farmers–they will tell you that if they didn’t have migrant workers, legal or illegal, their crops would rot in the fields because the average American will show for one day of work and quit.
        Gee…how many years did I work on our family farms doing the work. How did we ever get along without Mexicans?

        • Harvesting fruits and vegetables is exponentially more labor intensive, and time-sensitive, than harvesting corn and soybeans.

  4. …and only the lowest of the low will survive. It’s a pressure trend that has already asserted itself. In a society of filthy animals, I already have no place.

    • “Lowest of the low”,
      They have special cars now for the illegals (and a few legals). The frames and body have been modified so the drivers and passenger seat, is only 4″ off the ground!
      Their planting the crop in rows just the right width, so a team of Mexicans can just ride down the rows, reach down and pick the crop, from both sides of the car, without even getting out of their seat.

  5. People have been saying that all our jobs will be automated in the near future since the 50s. I won’t believe it till I see it. Will some of them become automated? Sure. Will 47%? No way in hell.

    Even if they did, there would be new jobs opening up in the robot repair industry, the robot selling industry, the energy industry would need massive expansion, those extra power lines would need to be built and maintained…

    • I remember IBM saying that computers would be so efficient, we would “soon” be working only 20 hours a week and accomplish the same level of productivity. But instead, of fewer hours, employers have simply demanded more productivity in the same work period, at least double, and sometimes many more times than that, at wages that generally only increase at the rate of inflation. So today, many workers are actually being paid less (accounting for inflation) than workers were being paid 50 years ago.

  6. I don’t find the robots who answer phone calls these days to be particularly sympathetic. And if I tell Siri to “Play ‘True Faith’ by Anberlin,” she doesn’t do a particularly good job, either. So right off the bat I don’t agree with the analysis that men’s job will get taken over by technology at a rate higher than women’s.

    And the same electronic bugs that crash your server, your cell phone, or infect your computer are also perfectly capable of crashing 3 tons of SUV going 60 mph.

    • The mistake you make is assuming what happens if the system on a driverless truck fails, it’s not relevant.

      All the matters is will it on average happen less then a human driver f***s up

      • In Los Angeles, yes. Totally agree. Unlicensed drivers, in particular, are about as good as you’d expect them to be. Going someplace like WI where most drivers have licenses, the weather varies, and potholes abound and you may have a different story. My Weimaraner could drive better than some Angelinos even if a bacon-covered squirrel popped out of the glove box.

  7. The heirs of whoever gets obliterated when a autonomous semi drives too close to a convenience store microwave will never have to work again.

    • This is a pretty interesting article, and we should at least be mindful of the cultural and economic changes that are coming. Every change creates new opportunities, for those that see them.

      However, it seems to have little to nothing to do with the subject of GUNS. This is a GUN blog!

      By the way, the word MAN has long been used to refer to all mankind as well as to the male half of our species.

      “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 EVS) Biblically speaking, the man and the woman are part of the species man.

      Even those who do not accept the Genesis account, still recognize the fact that the word MAN has long been used to describe all mankind.

  8. “One doesn’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find studies purporting to connect the male unemployment rate to violence.”

    I figured that’s where you were going… down the same erroneous progressive path of correlation equaling causation. What we need to reduce violence is jobs, right? It’s the liberal’s classic deflection away from the true cause of both problems.

    Here’s a news flash for ya. If you were raised in such a way that you made it to adolescence without a moral compass, let alone any sense of personal responsibility, you might turn into a heartless, violent thug. And you also will have trouble finding or keeping gainful employment. Yes, the two are related, just not in the way the left would have us believe.

    • Why is it hard to believe that some people, who managed to make it to adulthood without a ‘moral compass’ as you put it, may be content to play by the rules of society (at least with regard to criminal violence) as long as they’re doing okay…but would be quite willing to resort to violence or other criminal activity if they suddenly find themselves to be financial losers?

  9. I’m not sure I agree with his analysis of the report. For example, in the Conclusions section-
    “Our model predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk.”
    I haven’t had a chance to do more than skim, but looking at the charts at the bottom, I see a lot of jobs that are not traditionally male being readily computerisable- especially legal administrivia, food prep, waiter/waitressing and retail. One overlooked factor is education- the ability to deliver material online to a large number of students also threatens another largely female-dominated area of employment.

    Conversely, I disagree with several of the analyses. For example, cabinetmakers and masons, along with tour guides and escorts. There is a certain human touch appreciated in those fields that people are willing to pay more for versus automation.

    That we will see disruption due to ongoing automation is undoubted. That it will fall primarily on one gender or the other is not readily evident from the data collated. Assuming the appropriate level of automation or artificial intelligence is genuinely achievable in a reasonable amount of time.

    Finally, I find his base concept distressing- this ongoing denigration of men, particularly younger ones who will live in the described era. It presupposes no ability to change or accommodate this new world by those men, and instead views them as a growing threat to be fearful of.

    • My dad, a marketing executive, told me once how people in the late 70s and early 80s thought computers and technology would make work easier and work days shorter. In reality, they just made work more efficient and increased output was expected.

  10. [M]achines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.

    Maybe we can accelerate the process by increasing the minimum wage to an unsustainable rate. Like, maybe, $15 bucks an hour.

  11. There are many jobs and tasks that require “thought”, Selecting a particular piece of wood, depending on the grain etc. would be one example.
    A machine, regardless of how complicated it is, will never be able to “think’ for it’s self. A machine does not have a “mind”, nor a conscious. A machine can only do what it is programmed to do.
    It can only make decisions based on the programming it has received.
    Maybe in a few hundred years we be able to transplant a human brain into a machine, unlikely. Until then, most of your jobs that require human thought, are safe.

    • A machine can only do what it is programmed to do.

      Ah, so they would do very well as journalists on MSNBC.

  12. I don’t buy it. Government regulation kills jobs, not robots. If it were true then every new invention would cause waves of mass unimployment- but it never happens.

    • Indeed. I recall that back in the 70s and 80s “computers” were going to make most jobs obsolete by the year 2010. Funny how those prognosticators never foresaw that there would be a trillion-dollar-a-year industry that would grow up to build, service, program, and operate all those computers.

      Somebody’s got to fix the robot when Captain Kirk gives it an unsolvable logic problem, is all I’m saying.

  13. This sounds like a bunch of academics wetting themselves with anticipation at how they can finally make men obsolete.

    And people wonder why I distrust academics, and most “modern” technology.

  14. Iwho is building the robots? It should create jobs to build and design new robots unless we’re making robots build robots which seems like it might end badly for the human race

    • The building them thing will happen first and then comes the designing them thing….
      Then comes skynet

  15. Robots and the surrounding work stations are very expensive and the premise that robots will eliminate manual labor is a wet dream.

    • Someone has already designed a brick laying robot and as I recall it could do all the brick for a medium size house in 2 days….expensive for the first few units, but the payoff in efficiency comes quickly and the price comes down quickly.

      • Several years ago, I read about a design for what amounted to a 3D printer to build houses.

        Tesla set up a few service bays where the battery could be replaced in just a few minutes. It was an alternative to the better part of an hour for an 80% recharge. (It was practical but not enough owners were interested to make it economically viable.) Imagine your self-driving, electric car detouring through such a facility, in the middle of a long trip, so that a robot could replace the battery.

  16. I’m already obsolete-OFWG…however I know how to buy and sell for a living,manipulate opinions(way better face to face) and live on almost literally nothing. Good luck on the highway filled with driverless trucks too(who are the po-leece gonna’ ticket for revenue?) I do agree on violence increasing in the unemployed male-especially those raised in a father-free/morality free zone…

  17. Tax the robots!

    For every hour a robot performs work that was previously performed by humans, a tax equal to the national average hourly wage shall be paid. The national average hourly wage shall be adjusted for inflation quarterly.

    This is how you ceate a welfare state using robotic slave labor.

  18. Science fiction authors explored this scenario decades ago. They usually expected it to be a happy, prosperous time. Machines, instead of people, would produce the basic necessities of life. Without the need to work, people would be free to pursue personal interests which could be arts, scientific research, hobbies or nothing at all. Everyone would be able to live like a southern plantation owner except that the slaves that made it possible would be machines instead of other human beings kidnapped from a far continent.

    At present, society isn’t structured for that and neither are social attitudes. Those who work for a living are respected. Those who don’t are despised. (There is an exception for the handicapped but even they are expected to do as much as they are able.) This is understandable. Since humans were hunter-gatherers, survival has required work. Working harder and/or smarter resulted in a better life. That correlation is breaking down. Fifty years ago, a high school diploma got you into the middle class and a college degree got you into the upper middle class. Now, a high school diploma without additional job training gets you a life of poverty in a minimum wage job. Non-technical college degrees aren’t much better. As machines become more and more capable, humans will need higher and higher skills to compete. A greater and greater proportion of the population won’t make the cut regardless of personal ambition and energy.

    I don’t have a solution. (In my opinion, anyone who claims to have one is either a fool or a liar.) What should be obvious is that, without a solution, we can expect more social unrest. More and more of the population will be too poor to afford life outside impoverished, crime-ridden ghettos. The science fiction authors envisioned a world sufficiently productive that a comfortable life no longer required personal work. In 1972, George McGovern proposed replacing our elaborate social welfare system with direct cash payments to everyone. That would be a hard sell to the workers who would be expected to give up much of their salaries to support non-workers. I think it might work if the burden is shifted to machines.

    • This is not a direct answer to you question, but perhaps it is a corollary response. In theory all those people currently sitting at home unemployed, or stuck in a dead-end job, can easily access enough free information on the internet today to educate themselves, in almost any language, on virtually every subject known to man. Yet the stats still show the single largest use of the internet is for pornography. Imagine what these folks will do when the machines start to look and act like their favorite centerfold or stud muffin. On the bright side, if they don’t carelessly reproduce, then the problem may solve itself.

  19. I call bs. A robot that can put up drywall could most certainly answer phones, file papers, tell when a baby is crying, probably even cook dinner. A robot that could pick strawberries one by one could certainly change a bandage, or administer anasthesia, and with a calm, reassuring voice. This is just fantasy from feminists and their symps. Think about this; who fixes the ladies car fixing robot? In the hot sun? It will be us, guys. It will always be us.

    • You are assuming a stick-built house. It’s like a late nineteenth century inventor assuming that an automobile would be a horse-drawn carriage with the horse replaced by some sort of engine. You don’t need a robot to put up drywall if something else replaces drywall.

      It may be cheaper to replace malfunctioning robots that to repair them. Years ago, you took your television to a repairman when it broke. Now, a brand new one costs little more than the minimum charge at a repair shop. When replacement costs no more than repair, replacement isn’t wasteful. It’s good judgment.

  20. New robot friendly building techniques could be adopted. Sure. Sounds like a great idea. The. Housing costs could plummet. Then people could afford a four bedroom house with a pool and game room even if they are the only human at a McDonald’s making 15 bucks an hour.

  21. Robotics in the work force fall into a single category; just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

  22. Might as well be a 1950’s article about robotics. Be advised when academics write articles about the work force, they haven’t a clue.

    They are only two types of workers, task complete or observation & correction. The former more available than the latter. Robots require observation & correction along with code writers. The limiting factor in robotics is cost vs. throughput rate. Big corporations can afford them, not small & medium companies with time limited contracts.

    As for cheap immigrant labor, what business doesn’t talk about is the high turnover rate. Only 20% can be relied upon to manage the daily work schedule.

    I design and sell equipment for the food industry and found good success with equipment that makes workers more effective than replacing them.

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