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Five industries where 2 billion jobs will be lost

February 6, 2012

Thomas Frey

Most people have understood that the music and the movie industries have been profoundly changed by the internet. Fewer realize that this was just the beginning.

Futurist Thomas Frey recently talked on how 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 and also outlined five areas in which this will happen:

1. Power Industry
2. Automobile transportation
3. Education
4. Manufacturing
5. Manual labor

And here are his arguments:

The Power Industry with centralized power networks and big power plants will disappear as new disruptive energy technologies, enabling small scale and clean energy production emerge. Energy will be produced locally and distributed to communities in micro grids.

Automobile transportation will gradually shift over to autonomous vehicles, starting with delivery transportation and autonomous driving as luxury features in high end cars.

Education will be done via the internet through recorded courses. Focus will shift from teaching to learning. This will have a huge impact on jobs as teaching requires experts whereas learning only requires coaches.

Manufacturing will become dramatically different through the emergence and development of 3D printing, allowing local and specific manufacturing on demand.

Manual labor will be done by robots.

Basically I agree with Frey, although I believe that this shift might happen sooner than he thinks.

However, some of these areas might not be transformed dramatically in a short term. The power of 3D printing has been extensively debated lately. Critics don’t believe that it will ever be a very powerful force.

Certainly 3D printing is at its infancy but we also know how industrial development can take a concept from niche applications to mass market applications. There’s no reason to believe that this will not happen to 3D printing.

Education on the other hand is a sector which will probably be hit hard in the next few years, leading to a dramatic transformation which will go on for a long time.

Looking in a longer perspective, all the way to 2030, Frey most probably underestimates or even forgets the power of AI. He points out that “nearly every physical task can conceivably be done by a robot” but fails to acknowledge that also a large number of intellectual tasks can be done without humans by then, performed by AI.

In that perspective far more than 2 billion jobs done by humans today will disappear by 2030, but as Frey notes, several new completely different jobs will be created.

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3 Comments
  1. Mathew Koshy permalink

    Great Article, in fact this hypothesis could be extended to almost every sector of the society. Maybe if http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person-to-person_lending and digital cash like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin get their critical mass, banking too will never be the same again. I think every technology that targets people at the bottom of the pyramid will be the economic driver for the 2030. The current institutions ( and the 2 billion working in them) only help, grow and protect the rich and the influential. they are bound to break, thanks to internet. the future would be bright as the next 5 billion would work more efficiently, creatively and productively.

  2. I would add agriculture as sixth industry where there will occur major job losses. This is because highly automated vertical farming will start substituting traditional agriculture in 2020’s.

    Imagine a world where this map is fully green!

    However, I think that organic cattle ranching and milk and egg production will somewhat mitigate job losses due to vertical farming. But I cannot estimate how much this may substitute job losses in agriculture. This depends lots how in vitro meat production is advancing. If it advances.

    * * *

    It is however important to understand that job losses is not bad thing, because they increase leisure time. Although median income will drop drastically, we can create demand into market with basic income. Namely, we can tax the productivity of capital and distribute the wealth to the people. This kind of redistributing of purchasing power to the middle class should have been started in USA already 30 years ago, when the growth of productivity did not increase anymore the demand in the market. (see the graph)

    As there was no growth in purchasing power of median people, market economy starts coughing as the chronic lack of citizen purchasing power must be compensated with borrowed money.

  3. Well researched, provided a good insight to me!

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