And that absolutely seems worth panicking about. Unemployment crept above 20 percent during the worst part of the Great Depression. 47 percent unemployment would spell the end of our civilization. If these headlines are correct, we're 20 years away from unimaginable change. But those headlines -- and the study contained in them -- don't tell the whole story.
First off, those researchers are only claiming that 47 percent of all current jobs will be automatable within 20 years. But that automation doesn't happen in a vacuum. For example, the authors of that study make a point about how computer algorithms are increasingly doing the work of lawyers and patent attorneys:
Frey & Osborne, 2013
But rather than leading to a vast unemployment crisis for paralegals, the field is expected to grow by 8 percent through 2024. Computers are capable of doing a lot of the work paralegals used to do, which means their employers are able to offer more services, for less, to more customers than ever before. For the foreseeable future, paralegals will get to keep paralegalin'.
"What happens when you automate something? You make it cheaper, you make it better-quality, and that drives up consumer demand." That's Professor Jim Bessen, a lecturer at Boston University who studies the "economics of innovation." He authored a comprehensive study on how automation impacts jobs. He argues that computers tend to increase employment in most fields, and I am almost 75 percent certain he's not an agent of Skynet. Professor Bessen doesn't think much of the 47 percent study: "It's just complete bullshit. They identified jobs like accountant and bank loan officer. There's just too many things that humans do."