ROMNEY WORDSWORTH – The next industry to fall to automation?  The car insurance industry.  Automobile insurance agents are about to meet the same fate as Travel Agents.  For those of you too young to remember, there was once a service industry in America that employed thousands.  When you wanted to take a vacation, you would go to Main Street, or the mall, and stop in at your local travel agency.  Your travel agent would walk you through a plethora of hotel and car rental options, and more like group tours and restaurant recommendations, and local points of interest.  In the pre-web universe, you needed a human being who had spent a lifetime building up contacts and a database in the industry to put together your travel plans.  It paid a good living for those agents with their own businesses.  That’s all gone now.  In its place is Travelocity and Expedia and other .com websites.  That’s automation.  There are no careers as a travel agent anymore, (except for the White House, because government takes decades to catch up with the private sector) those jobs were replaced by software and websites.

Now the same is coming to the auto insurance industry.  Meet Insurify.  Insurify is a website startup from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It uses smart software called Evia that acts as an “Expert Virtual Insurance Agent” that will sort through the plethora of competing companies and policy options.  Insurify plans to put Jake from State Farm and Flo from Progressive onto the ash heap of history, and all the other little Jakes and Flos into the unemployment line.

Evia will work just like your old insurance agent, except it’s faster, smarter, cheaper, won’t make you leave your house, and won’t keep you on the phone holding for hours.  It’s not hard to imagine this “Travelocity of Insurance” spreading to all the other insurance sectors like property & casualty, professional liability, and home insurance.  The government intrusion into health care probably will delay automation until Obamacare is dumped.  If it is dumped for a single payer system, then automation won’t be needed, because you’ll have no choices.

Silicon Valley has an agenda.  Virtual reality is one and the marketing and sale of your metadata is another. But the real threat to your livelihood is having your job replaced by a smart machine, or computer programs that can sort through vast stores of data, make sense of patterns and even understand and mimic human language and interaction. 

think bot

Technologic progress has made jobs obsolete before, from whaling to barrel making to horse drawn carriages.  The difference this time is that the progress is only occurring narrowly, to replace humans in existing industries.  Automation isn’t creating new industries as such, nor is it making new jobs for humans in quantity. 

“It’s taking us to a jobless future,” says Vivek Wadhwa, who oversees research in fields including robotics and artificial intelligence at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank. “Over the next 10 to 15 years, I see major parts of the economy being wiped out.”

Want another example of white collar professionals being replaced by software?  Turbo Tax.  Turbo Tax has created an enormous dislocation in the tax accounting industry, doing what your neighborhood accountant used to do by knowledge and experience.  Now Turbo Tax does it cheaper and more conveniently, and the incomes of the lowest rung accountants, servicing families and small businesses, show it.

I’ve talked about the imminent automation of the trucking industry before, and how virtually every driving job will be human free in a few years.  Today, Monday, February 01, 2016, New York City Uber drivers went on strike.  Why?  Uber has slashed its rates 15%.  That’s great for fare riders, but not so great for the drivers.  Uber’s avowed agenda is to make Uber cheaper than owning your own car.  While Uber may be losing drivers today, their internal timetable must be saying that they can deploy self driving cars come sooner than their system will unravel due to a loss of human drivers.

The loss of all driving jobs, alone, is enough to destroy the middle class in every state of the Union.  There is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, in the pipeline to replace these jobs.

D.A.R.P.A. is working at a break neck pace to replace human soldiers with robots.  From bipedal terminators, to quadraped gun platforms, to flying drones and tiny bots that mimic spiders and flies, the days of humans fighting their own wars is rapidly drawing to a close.

   Robot from The Terminator

Even lawyers can’t avoid the changes. Law firms have already begun using algorithms to vet electronic documents like email messages for their relevance to a case.  Voice dictation software, after decades of not delivering as promised, is finally closing in to the long promised goal of being able to replacing manual typing.  How many secretarial jobs will that eliminate?  It will be in the millions.

Even creative professions are not immune.  A new piece of software called Ipsy can  pick out makeup it feels you should be wearing. Another startup, Le Tote, chooses clothes for you. Stylyze, from a Seattle-based startup, says it can be your personal interior designer.

In the mundane area of agriculture, a new farming technique developed in Japan called Spread has created the world’s first 100% automated, robot manned lettuce farm.  Robots in this system can harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce per day.  I guess that takes away one reason for unrestricted Mexican immigration.

The BBC created a site last fall that lets you find out how soon your job will get taken over by a robot. Jobs like drivers, cell phone sales people, typists, bookkeepers, bank and post office clerks are among the most likely to be automated out of existence.  The question no one wants to touch is, what happens to humanity when the economy doesn’t need to employ humans?