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This article was published on July 28, 2016

Scoble: VR will create a ton of jobs, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride

Scoble: VR will create a ton of jobs, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Robert Scoble is no longer worried about job creation. And that’s good, right? I mean… one less thing.

‘Scobleizer,’ the Entrepreneur in Residence at Upload VR and noted futurist, took some today time to tell me all about it.

Like it or not, automation is coming here

While most of us are already aware that automation is coming, I think those outside the tech community are blissfully unaware at how close they are to getting the axe in favor of cool, efficient steel — or binary code.

According to Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, 47 percent of the jobs in the US could be automated by 2033. In a 2013 paper titled: ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation‘ the pair estimated the probability of some 702 detailed occupations shifting to automation.

Using a Gaussian process classifier — also called a machine learning algorithm — to estimate the impact of future computerisation (automation), the primary focus was analyzing the number of jobs at risk and the “relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and education attainment” — put simply, the risk of automation for those based on their skill level, experience and difficulty of their job.

It’s happening already — self-checkout kiosks, travel agents, agricultural workers, reporters, law firm associates, taxi drivers, financial analysts and countless others have all been replaced — or are in the process of being replaced — by machines or code.

And it’s not stopping. If anything, the uptake accelerates each time we find a new way to replace humans with machines.

Scoble isn’t worried.

“Unless you’ve had a Hololens on your face, or a Magic Leap, you just can’t really even conceive of the demand you’re going to have for all sorts of things — watching Skrillex from your front yard in concert, watching Hillary Clinton give a speech in three dimensions, or even being on the podium with her is going to change everything.”

Are virtual or augmented reality the solutions to the coming job gap?

Credit: Michael O'Donnel / Robert Scoble

There’s really no way to know for sure, but Scoble is compelling in his point: we can’t even begin to fathom the jobs the virtual reality segment is set to create.

The first thing that leaps out at you — or the first thing that leapt out at me, at least — are the jobs in programming. Those are a given. We know that software is going to require programming, huge video files are going to require better algorithms, and web applications are going to need… well, you get the picture.

While pondering the need to go back to school for a computer science degree, it’s worth considering the lesser-known jobs that stand to benefit the most from this new world. Someone needs to create the content, dream up the concepts, market it to an audience hungry for more new age entertainment and even blast it on TNW when it’s awful.

“There will be an insatiable demand for new content,” Scoble says.

We also don’t tend to talk about virtual reality creating new economies entirely, those in the virtual world.

In-game economies and virtual job creation

Some games, like Second Life, have entire in-game economies. The game allows players to use “Linden” to buy and sell goods in a virtual environment. The game is still around — and gearing up for a run at the VR space — and has an estimated GDP of $500 million, all fueled from in-game person-to-person transactions (the game is free to play).

Dubbed ‘The Virtual Rockefeller‘ Anshe Chung pocketed a cool $150,000 a year (in real cash) by buying large plots of virtual land in-game, and then selling them off in smaller chunks for $100 up-front and then $20 a month in land tax. That’s $112 a year for each of her customers, of which she has many.

“I’m like Wal-Mart,” Shung says, “the margins are small, but the volume isn’t.”

World of Warcraft has a similar economy, with its “gold farmers” that earn gold through in-game skills  — such as mining, skinning or harbalism — before selling it others for real cash. In-game gold reserves are used to buy new gear, weapons or to otherwise level up a character and earning the gold to do it is rather time-consuming. As such, we’ve seen entire marketplaces pop up online that facilitate the age-old deal of trading dollars (buyer) for hours (seller).

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 4.11.09 PM
Credit: 6K Gold

It’s not limited to those two games, either. The aforementioned marketplaces pay host to hundreds of other games from FIFA to Runescape and facilitates transactions for in-game items and currency for cold, hard cash.

We’ve even seen the beginnings of this in the VR/AR world as Pokémon trainers are cashing on the craze by selling high-level accounts for thousands of dollars on auction sites like eBay.

The revolution will be televised

The coming onslaught of tech jobs, or creative jobs with a tech focus, will bring about a shift unseen in the workforce since the industrial revolution. In fact, this revolution is going to be bigger than that, and it will be televised — in VR goggles, most likely.

The problem, Scoble points out, is that there’s going to be a noticeable skills gap in the time between our our brave new (mostly virtual) world and the cast-offs from the previous one. These cast-offs will mostly be unskilled workers, or those that are nearing the point of retirement without much hope for learning an entirely new career, a move Scoble predicts we could start to see sooner than you think.

“In seven years they’re going to start going away in noticeable numbers. In 20 years, they’ll be gone.”

It gets worse.

This type of automation is going to happen en masse, making the remaining few jobs available to these types of workers an all-out land grab in order to secure them. It’s going to be brutal, and could speed the talks of a guaranteed living wage while we transition. Then again, some countries seem more open to guaranteeing a minimum income than others.

Once complete though, the revolution will change everything, again. Industrialization lessened the need for manual labor but the pending shift to automation could eliminate it completely. From there, we’re left with jobs we couldn’t even fathom 25 years ago, many of which haven’t even been created yet.