robot.jpgOnce upon a time, I thought most jobs would never be automated, but today I wouldn’t be surprised if any gig ended up on the robot trash heap.

Case in point. Last night I was watching Reno 911 and Lieutenant Dangle was doing a roll call briefing and informed his deputies that the suicide hotline would now be automated.

“And, uh, we’re automating our suicide hotline, by the way. We’re going to an automated system,” Dangle said.

And the deputies’ responses:

“Working that line was a real bummer.”

“So depressing.”

I laughed for a second, then thought, “hey, it could happen.”

Dire predictions are being made about a host of different jobs, and it’s not good news for the stubbornly high unemployment rate that many of us are still waiting to decline.

An economic forecast by Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, was quite unsettling because it predicted economic growth this year but continued high unemployment, in part because of an increase in automation during the recession.

Leamer said in a Los Angeles Times article late last year that:

“If you have nothing to offer the job market that cannot be supplied better and cheaper by Robots, Far-away Foreigners, Recent Immigrants or Microprocessors, expect it to be exceedingly difficult to find the job to which you aspire, and plan on doing low-wage service work at the end of a long and painful road of diminished aspirations, no matter what your diploma may suggest.”

And this month, the most recent forecast from UCLA didn’t get him feeling any more positive:

A robust job recovery is prevented by permanent displacements of millions of workers whose jobs are now performed by a combination of technological advances and low-wage foreign workers, along with construction and retail jobs that are not likely to return. “It is likely to take a very long time for those 5.5 million displaced workers to find jobs again, and in the meantime the economy will grow, but not as robustly as in traditional recoveries when the recalls were almost 100 percent,” he said.

And the distant future doesn’t even look good either. In a book by computer engineer Martin Ford titled “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” he points out that automation will creep into almost every industry.

“As I have pointed out several times in this book, the primary danger to the U.S. economy will be when labor-intensive industries, especially in the service sector, become susceptible to automation. In areas such as retail and fast food where wages are low, automation may be held at bay for a time by the high capital costs of automation equipment. However, as technology advances and costs fall, I think it is inevitable that at some point, the tradeoff will begin to make sense and competitive pressures will push businesses and industries toward automation.”

Is there a way to fight this? I try to do my part by not using the self checkout line at the supermarket. And I hate automated phone trees, which have gotten a lot smarter lately and harder to outsmart.

Now they have voice recognition so you can’t pretend you don’t have a touch tone phone and wait until a worker comes on the line. But I’ve found a way around this. I now speak gibberish into the phone and sooner or later the systems gives up and sends me to a living, breathing customers service rep.

I got a sweet woman at Sprint last night who helped get my daughter’s cell phone reconnected.

Or at least I thought she was living and breathing. DOH!

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