Automation a bigger deal than offshoring?

Coining "offpeopling," consultant's blog says technology displacing workers is more dramatically affecting the economy.

Ed Frauenheim Former Staff Writer, News
Ed Frauenheim covers employment trends, specializing in outsourcing, training and pay issues.
Ed Frauenheim
2 min read
"Offpeopling" may be the latest turn of phrase to describe job trends, and it's the focus of a blog launched Friday.

Consultant Richard Samson argues that the replacement of human workers by technology is a bigger deal than the much-publicized offshore trend. And he's turned to the increasingly popular Web log, or blog, medium to share his views.

Dubbed "Automatic Abundance," the blog is slated to provide alerts on topics such as tasks that are shifting to machines, income opportunities that are relatively safe from automation and emerging business ideas consistent with the trend.

"It's happening every day, right before our eyes, but few notice," Samson said in a statement Friday. "A child born today will find very few of today's jobs in the want ads when graduating from college. Most work tasks done now by people will be done by smart technology within 20 or 30 years."

According to the EraNova Institute consulting organization Samson directs, he coined the term "offpeopling" several months ago. But he's not the first to predict the end of work as we know it. Such concerns surfaced during the Industrial Revolution as factory machinery replaced workers, and more recently, authors have published books with titles such as "The Jobless Future."

In the information technology world in particular, the argument has been making the rounds. Last year, an analyst at research firm Gartner predicted that over the next 20 years, changes in computing technology will erase the need for much of the work that employs IT workers today.

By comparison, more attention has been paid in the past few years to offshoring--the shift of high-skilled work such as computer programming from the United States to lower-wage nations like India. The scope and effects of the offshoring trend, however, have been hard to pin down.

Samson is confident that technology is the larger issue. He argues that automatic systems have eliminated most jobs in farming, helped cut manufacturing to less than 17 percent of the nonagricultural work force and are now displacing white-collar workers such as bank tellers. "Offpeopling has much more impact than offshoring or outsourcing," he said. "Yet it's not in the headlines or on TV."

Computers and the like elbowing humans aside isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to Mountain Lakes, N.J.-based EraNova. In fact, it imagines such a change resulting in people shifting to new kinds of work based on their interests rather than on economic necessity.

But if people don't pay attention to the trend, offpeopling could be bad for individuals and the public, Samson suggests. "Those who listen in will avoid huge mistakes and ride the trend to opportunities others will miss," he said in an inaugural blog posting. "Stay tuned."