Tom Cruise in that Top Gun movie, Han Solo, and that U.S. Airways pilot who landed a busted passenger jet in the Hudson River are some of the many dashing heroes we think of when we consider the heroic American pilot. But human pilots just aren't necessary anymore.
Now we've learned that Boeing has been secretly testing old fighter jets flown without a human pilot aboard, which means F-16s are now drones. And these are very fast drones that can successfully perform crazy aeronautic maneuvers such as the evasive combat technique called the Split-S—"a move in which the aircraft turns upside down before making a half loop so that it flies the right-way-up in the opposite direction."
The robotic F-16s do all the things fighter jets are supposed to do: take off, land, attack, evade attack, and zoom back and forth over Florida making horrible noise without crashing into a housing tract too often. They can also do more than a human-piloted fighter jet, because robots don't black out due to heavy gravitational forces.
For now, the retrofitted fighters are remotely controlled by a human on the ground. But this isn't required, because the F-16 could be flown just as well by a series of self-correcting routines stored on the plane's own computer navigation system. As with the Google employees who ride along with that company's driverless cars, the earthbound humans controlling the F-16 drones are a safety measure until there's enough testing to have confidence with entirely automated fighter jets.
These F-16s aren't even new planes. They're old garbage, and the ones retrofitted by Boeing and its subsidiary the U.S. Air Force had been mothballed in Arizona for 15 years.
Meanwhile in China, where the availability of extremely cheap human factory workers led to the end of most manufacturing in the United States, the factory workers are now too expensive—it costs manufacturers more than $10,000 a year per human laborer. That's why the creation of a $10,000 factory robot is so exciting for the rich people who will soon eliminate the remaining occupations.
You will not be surprised to learn that Foxconn, which assembles high-end electronics including the iPhone, is leading the race to build low-cost factory robots. There's nothing like a human rights campaign to make a company focus on getting rid of the humans. It was a similar story when Amazon's contract warehouse workers went public with their complaints—we were quickly introduced to an incredible army of packing robots that zoom around a warehouse all day and all night, never hurting their backs and never picking the wrong item. These labor trouble/robotics narratives are real, but they're also intended to frighten low-paid humans out of complaining about their terrible jobs. The robots are the answer to these complaints, and companies with troublesome people are the quickest to invest in machinery that permanently eliminates people.
At the $10,000 price point, a Chinese factory has a 24-hour-a-day employee that will never commit suicide, all for less than the annual cost of a Chinese factory laborer who needs to sleep and eat and weep during her required 14 hours of rest.
Think of all the job categories that disappeared in the past decade. There used to be travel agents in every strip mall. Everybody in any kind of management position had a secretary. Do you know any travel agents or secretaries today? Those occupations were computerized, all those millions of jobs were forever eliminated, and you had to figure out how to interact with the computers in order to book a flight or send a business letter.
The MIT Technology Review predicts that 45% of the remaining jobs will vanish over the next two decades, because of computerization and robotics. Only 63% of working-age Americans have work in 2013. If this guesstimate is correct—and it's probably too conservative—in 20 years only 35% of the American labor force will have work to do. It is safe to assume the richest people will continue to have both wealth and employment earnings, and that the current mix of impoverished Americans including jobseekers, "discouraged workers" and the disabled will make up two-thirds of the U.S. population.
What will they do? With the world's western governments engaged in deliberate economic and social warfare against all but the wealthiest people, we are seeing a rapid collapse of home ownership, salaried employment, marriage and even childbirth among the former middle class and swelling ranks of the working poor. Go to a poor town or crumbling suburb and you'll see multiple generations of people who have never had full-time employment, where existence has depended for decades on an unreliable and constantly attacked "safety net" of food stamps, food banks, emergency room visits, and minimal disability and social security payments.
And this population is going to double in 20 years, meaning the community college dropout with no job today will only be pushing 40, and will have twice as many desperate people to compete against for the scraps.