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.