Yes, robots are coming for our current jobs, and that’s an issue. But what’s especially interesting is the place where Ford says we really need to get some robots — health care.
Ford outlines the explosion in health-care costs. In 1960, health care was less than 6 percent of the U.S. economy. That tripled by 2013. The United States spends about double what most industrialized countries spend on health care.
“The danger, in a sense, is not too many health care robots but too few,” Ford writes. “If technology has only a muted impact on health care costs even as it disrupts other employment sectors, the economic risks we face will be amplified. In that scenario, the burden of soaring health care costs will become even more unsustainable as advancing technology continues to produce unemployment and ever-increasing inequality, as well as stagnant, or even falling, incomes for most workers in other industries.”
Ford highlights areas such as pharmacies, which would seem to easily lend themselves to automation yet haven’t been automated.
“There’s little doubt that health care professionals enjoy an extraordinary degree of employment security as a result of factors completely unrelated to the technical challenges associated with automating their jobs,” Ford says.
Take a global look at this issue and it becomes more palatable to embrace the machines, and to accept that some jobs should disappear. If machines make health care cheaper, then more humans around the world will be able to afford it. The health of humans worldwide would benefit. Isn’t it selfish to sacrifice the health of billions to protect the jobs of thousands?
Plus, we’ve seen workers transfer to other jobs in the past. As Ford notes, nearly half of U.S. workers were employed on farms in the late 1800s. When those jobs disappeared, new ones were found.
Ford isn’t alone in highlighting our dilemma here. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently touched on it with Fortune’s Dan Primack.
“Everybody complains, ‘Oh, my God, robots are going to kill all the jobs and this is going to be terrible and we need less innovation because of that.’ But then simultaneously everybody complains, ‘Oh, my God, look at the rising cost of health care,’ ” Andreessen told Primack. “If you want to bring down the prices of health care and education, the answer will be more innovation, more technology, which will then have the effect of freaking everybody out and saying, ‘Oh, my God, you’re going to kill all the jobs.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, what do you want? Do you want cheap health care or lots of health care workers?’ ”