Is there a “Moore’s Law” for technology-related job losses? If not yet, then someday soon, there should be..

Just as decades ago what came to be known as Moore’s law forecast ever-increases in computer chip processing power, a new “law” is emerging: The faster technology develops, the more traditional jobs are lost.

How pervasive future job loss will be in the coming years is the focus of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) forum “Future Work,” which takes place today and Tuesday in Raleigh.

A new “Disruption Index” from the IEI offers data breaking down the threat of robotics, technology, artificial technology and more to the state’s labor force.

In a Q&A, NCSU Economist Mike Walden, whose data on which the index is based, talks about the “jobless future” and how workers can avoid becoming obsolete.

  • Is the speed of change being accelerated by technology and the looming of AI (artificial intelligence)/cognitive computing? Sort of like a Moore’s Law for labor?

Yes, occupational change appears to be accelerating.

The big question is whether this will eventually mean an “end to work” for humans.

Herein lies a big debate.

Pessimists say “yes”; optimists say new occupations will be developed to employ humans.

I am not smart enough to know who is correct!

  • Given NC’s reliance on traditional manufacturing and farming, is this state at more risk in terms of job loss than other states? Please explain.

The numbers I estimated showed NC potentially losing around 50% of its employment – near the same as for the nation.

The reason is that technological unemployment will extent well beyond manufacturing and impact many professional as well as service jobs.

  • How can NC best prepare its workforce to meet forthcoming changes? How can the federal government help?

NC needs to consider a two-pronged approach.

First, make education – from high school to community college to four-year college – flexible to accommodate rapid changes in training needs as some occupations are eliminated and new occupations arise.

Second, revamp the unemployment compensation system to more of a re-training system – by providing funds and support to displaced workers for training in new occupations.

  • As a recent Department of Commerce report and a similar one from the North Carolina Technology Association both point out, North Carolina faces shortcomings in R&D and private investment. As an economist who studies such data, do you concur? How can NC thought-leaders create a more attractive investment climate in order to generate more dollars to deal with the change that is coming?

The R&D shortfall occurs mainly outside of the growing metro areas.

Rural small town regions need a different economic development strategy than metro areas, centered around potential growth sectors for rural and small town regions.

I see three:

1. Agribusiness (mainly meat) development to serve growing world demand for meat (this will require a solution to the meat waste issue)

2. World tourism (this will require better access for world tourists)

3. Attraction of retirees from the rest of the country to rural/small town areas as permanent residents.

  • If you are a person working in one of the 39 categories projected to lose 70 percent of jobs, how does one prepare for a transition other than wait for retirement and/or severance?

Think about career alternatives, and expect that re-training may be in their future.

  • The report pointed to substantial losses in other job categories as well. Should, in fact, most people now working and students not be concerned/worried about the increasing threat of automation and robots? How can they prepare themselves for a future in which so much of what we know today will change?

Ditto above answer.

Awareness that massive occupational change and re-education and re-training may be required can better prepare individuals faced with technological unemployment for that possibility.

  • Off the top of your head, what are job categories that appear at least this point to be most immune to the robots and automation?

Highly cognitive occupations (surgeons, CEOs, designers) as well as lower-skilled occupations performing tasks that can’t be predicted or routinized (health care aides, public safety workers).