Your job is automated away. What's next?

“What do people do after their jobs are automated away?”

This was the question posed by my good friend Asher on a chilly Saturday night at Soma StrEat Food Park in San Francisco.

Asher had just been to a new restaurant called Eatsa, where there are no waiters — everyone orders from an iPad and the food comes up through a circular enclosure on a table. A generously portioned food bowl costs $7 dollars, a steal by SF prices. There are winners: consumers pay lower prices and companies increase profits with lower operation costs. But as with everything capitalism, there are also losers: waiters and waitresses who are out of work.

What do these former waiters and waitresses do next? We brainstormed rapid fire: perhaps find another entry-level job (retail, truck driving [1]) or temp job (substitute teacher), become part time in the sharing economy (only relevant in major cities like SF or NY), move to another city where they have a friend / relative, become homeless, hustle, commit crime, join the army, start a small business, do drugs, go back to school. How do they search for another job? Perhaps use the Internet, ask friends and relatives [2], walk down the street looking for the first “we’re hiring” sign that they can on a window. How can we help?

I was struck by how many conversations I have about the topic of automation, and how few of them consider the individual people involved. In Silicon Valley, there is a lot of talk about technological disruption of traditionally labor-intensive industries (e.g. self-driving cars), and some talk about grandiose policy ideas like universal basic income for the unemployed in a post-work economy. Both ideas treat people the same — as one single mass of “humanity" in the indefinite long run. There is very little thinking about individual human beings and their day-to-day struggles, hopes, thoughts, and feelings after their job is replaced by a machine.

As more and more of the most common jobs in the US (waitressing, driving) become automated, we need to listen to and empathize with these individual stories, and work with them to create new training and employment pathways. It’s one thing to make “society better with technology”; it’s another to empower all individuals to have the opportunity to live the life they want to lead.


[1] Truck driving is the most common job in the United States, with more than 3 million total. I recently met a former transit operator in SF who is now starting a truck driving small business with his cousin to haul dirt away from all of the construction happening in the city.

[2] I remember a conversation I had with an Ethiopian taxi driver in Seattle two years ago. He said the reason he moved to Seattle as opposed to anywhere else in the US was because he knew one friend in the US who was in the towing business in Seattle and said that business was good.


This micro-blog post is inspired by the Tim Ferriss podcast episode with Seth Godin, who blogs every single day, and advocates for blogging in order to “putting yourself in public behind an idea.” I tend to be skeptical of business writers (especially ones as popular as Seth), but I was inspired by Seth’s principled approach to life and no bullshit critical thinking. It remains to be seen whether I keep this up for more than one day...but this is a start.