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Robots Help Manufacturing Recover Without Adding Jobs

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  • What year is this? (Score:5, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:48PM (#43581859) Homepage

    These exact same fears were written about in 1980. There was a famous BBC TV programme about how robots and microprocessors would replace everyone.

    We already know the outcome.

    • by lgw (121541) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:53PM (#43581913) Journal

      These exact same fears were written about in 1880. Every wave of automation works the same way - as costs fall, people can buy stuff (or services) they couldn't before, and different industries need more workers.

      I suspect semi-skilled work will still be around for my lifetime, just more personal services and less manufacturing or paper-shuffling.

      • That's important to keep in mind and I agree. But it still stinks for the people who have trouble making the adjustment.

        • by flyneye (84093) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:17PM (#43582195) Homepage

          My advise for adjustment in this case; get good at fixing industrial robots.

        • But it still stinks for the people who have trouble making the adjustment.

          The world is a horrible place for people who can't adjust. That is probably the #1 requirement for living in the modern world: learn to adjust.

        • by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday April 29, 2013 @03:59PM (#43584271)

          Further, I think it's really srange in the subject line to say that manufacturing is recovering, because if you stopped there and didn't read further the average person would assume that manufacturing jobs were also recovering. Is this being touted as a good thing or a bad thing? Is it good for the economy that a few people still get their profits, or is it a bad thing because we have lots of workers unemployed still?

          Productivity is way up, wages are flat, jobs are declining. Three things listed there, and one can treat the group as net positive, net neutral, or net negative, and the answer probably says a lot about the person.

      • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:56PM (#43582717)

        Things are always the same... until they're different.

        Here's just a few consideration on why this automated future becomes more problematic than before.

        1. For most of the industrial revolution, people wanted good/services just to make life tolerable. The result was that people were willing to work really hard to achieve those good/services. We're talking things like running water, electricity, roads, rail, food at the super market. You can see this phenomenon today in Asia where the Chinese, typically from rural areas, work like crazy just get here. Western people did this in previous times too. But once you have a achieved such a standard of living, people aren't willing to work for that next level of 'stuff'. Don't get me wrong... we all *want* that next level of stuff. But we're not willing to really work for it. I want a Ferarri, but I'm not willing to work for it. I want clean drinking water, and I am willing to work for it.

        2. Deflation. Deflation is many things. Many are bad... especially if you view the growth economy. But one way to look at it is as a sign that people's needs as an aggregate are satisfied. Consider for example a world where everyone owns their own home. A utopia for many. Homelessness ended. Shelter solved. Now take a step back and look at how our society would handle such a utopia. The collapse of the entire housing and mortgage market. It would be seen as one of the most horrific events. And well... the recent housing crisis basically shows this. Instead of seeing cheaper housing as a good thing... it has been painted as a bad thing.

        3. 'people services' are increasingly public services. Just what 'people services' do you think people are actually willing to pay for? Healthcare? Education? Those are the two main big ones. And in most countries... even the US, they are heavily if not totally government run. This was not the case in previous changes. Both the horse buggy and the automobile were private ventures. So with government services now, they are heavily paid for via taxation or mandates. To replace the demand of physical goods, governments are going to have to replace it with higher taxation and redistribution. Not just on the rich, but think of it as a forced service. A poor person working at mcdonalds is going to face higher taxes as he is 'forced' to purchase (via taxation or mandates) expensive healthcare services. Don't think for a second there are enough 'rich' people to provide this... the math doesn't work. This is not just a simple change in the economy from horse and buggy to car... it's a major social and political challenge.
        If the government is basically going to run the future economy, then it must treat all workers fairly. Guaranteeing them equal access to work... It's a very complicated problem.

        Again, this goes back 1 where what are people willing to work for to get. One can imagine world where I sit around paying for yoga classes. But if I had the choice to work hard and get yoga classes versus work less and not get yoga classes... most people will choose to work less. Again... rephrase that around the older industrial revolution. Work hard and get clean drinking water, or work less and suffer disease and poor health... Notice the difference. People services are really overrated... as is the general service economy.

        4. The new industries require less and less work. The previous changes still required loads of people to operate. The change from horse and buggy to car still required many auto workers. The introduction of the telephone initially requires lots of switch operators. Increasingly new industries need a few highly skilled people to roll out. Some high quality engineers and technicians. The rest is automated. So while there are new jobs... there are not enough new jobs in the new industries for the masses. A small populations might be okay... but a large country like the US with 300 million people... there's enough jobs for everyone.

        5. Women in the workforce. Not a problem... but a reality that we've basically doubled the number of jobs required to be created at at time when automation is getting rid of jobs.

        • by lgw (121541) on Monday April 29, 2013 @03:05PM (#43583717) Journal

          Just what 'people services' do you think people are actually willing to pay for?

          You'll notice I said "personal services" - as opposed to "impersonal services". Each automation wave brings stuff that was previously only found among the wealthy into the hands of the common man. I expect this time to see a boom in personal shoppers, wedding planners, interior decorators, home theater consultants, car shopping assistants, and a bunch of services I've never heard of because they're still only for the rich (all the ones I listed are already taking off).

          Any service that requires that you get to know the person you're proving it for "doesn't scale", and so will provide jobs in proportion to the number of consumers. While I can imagine all those jobs eventually being replaced by AI, I don't see that happening in my lifetime.

          Women in the workforce. Not a problem... but a reality that we've basically doubled the number of jobs required to be created at at time when automation is getting rid of jobs.

          I think we've failed hard as a society in spending the time needed with our children, raising them to be good people, as a result of both parents working full-time-plus, and of too many single-parent families. Women have proven they can do stuff just like men now - great - lets move on and have both parents working fewer hours and between them spending a lot more time with the little brats in the formative years. Also, as we live longer I expect the worker-to-retiree ratio to continue falling, and so the per-capita need for job creation should gradually fall.

          I don't know how we get there, but I could certainly see a society working where people work full time in their 20s to learn their trade and get started financially, then part time for another 20 years or so while raising a family, then retire.

          • by ultranova (717540) on Monday April 29, 2013 @04:34PM (#43584649)

            Each automation wave brings stuff that was previously only found among the wealthy into the hands of the common man. I expect this time to see a boom in personal shoppers, wedding planners, interior decorators, home theater consultants, car shopping assistants, and a bunch of services I've never heard of because they're still only for the rich (all the ones I listed are already taking off).

            How will the common man pay for these, if the common man doesn't have a job? That's the real problem: at some point the service industry has to connect to manufacturing industry for manufactured goods to flow. And the less manufacturing jobs are left, the less weddings or home theaters the people working them require.

            I suppose the absolute best outcome of this would be a huge upsurge of cultural production (entertainment), but that would require a huge cultural change and lots of re-education as well.

        • by nebosuke (1012041) on Monday April 29, 2013 @03:41PM (#43584041)

          I don't mean this as a personal attack, but what you've basically done is run down a list of fallacies that are covered in econ 100-level classes.

          RE: 1) The 'want' of things beyond what you can afford is a central driver of economic development. Technology--including automation--constantly lowers the bar with respect to affordability of goods and services. To paraphrase the claim of many popular software frameworks, economic development and technological progress make expensive things affordable and impossible things expensive. Also, just because you are not willing to work for luxury goods and services does not mean that no one is.

          RE: 2) Ignoring the incorrect usage of 'deflation', this is a classic expression of the fallacy of overproduction. Cheaper housing is not a bad thing at all, and cheaper housing did not cause any financial crisis. If housing became cheaper in general, people would either spend more money on other things or upgrade to larger/more elaborate houses (or some combination of the two). The root of the recent housing market collapse was simply that people overextended themselves based on terrible judgment. If your ability to keep making your mortgage payments depends on the value of your house increasing indefinitely so that you can leverage that increased equity via re-mortgaging, you will go bankrupt sooner or later. Not only that, but you are likely to do so at the same time as everyone else because your (or your neighbor's) default puts downward pressure on the price of housing in your area, which increases the risk of others defaulting, which puts downward pressure on the price of housing, etc. ad infinitum. Do this on the scale of meaningful %s of US GDP due to federal legislation ostensibly intended to "make housing affordable" and you have a massive blowup on your hands that is completely unrelated to the real cost (as opposed to price) of housing.

          RE: 3) There is no causal relationship between technological progress in general (or increased use of automation in particular) that drives growth in 'public services' as a percent of GDP. There is likewise no rationale for technology forcing nationalization of greater percentages of the economy as a whole. If a car costs less due to more efficient production technology, people will buy more cars or other goods and services with the money they would have otherwise spent on the car. People who choose to save the money instead provide capital (via the banking system) that funds entrepreneurs who develop new businesses or new ventures within existing businesses to adapt to/take advantage of the new economic environment.

          RE: 4) Setting aside the unfounded claim that 'new industries require less and less work' and that 'previous changes still required loads of people to operate', the fundamental flaw in this line of reasoning is that it ignores the downstream effects of the efficiencies gained, which inevitably result in new economic developments. Cheaper and more reliable automobiles, for example, have allowed for the incredible growth in US economy by increasing mobility of labor and expertise. Whereas you previously had to find employment within walking/horseriding distance of your house (or live in on-site housing) and employers had essentially monopoly access to your labor, automobiles allowed people to force every employer within driving distance of their house to compete for their labor. This also fueled growth in the housing market as suburbs became feasible as maximum distance between work, house, and other facilities relied upon by the average household increased. The transportation industry--first for bulk goods and services and later to small-scale bespoke delivery services like UPS and FedEx was also made possible by further developments in the auto industry. Making autos even cheaper will open access to broader markets (e.g., in developing nations) and allow access to higher-end features in mid-level models.

          Taking a step back, unless every 'want' of every individual is completely satisfie

      • And earlier.
        "The steam engine and the other associated technologies of the Industrial Revolution changed the world and influenced human history so much that in the words of the historian Ian Morris, they made mockery out of all that had come before. "
        TED Radio Hour on NRP just did a cool interview on this [npr.org]
      • by Macman408 (1308925) on Monday April 29, 2013 @02:01PM (#43582821)

        To add to this, I would also argue that robots and automation have often saved the jobs that remain, rather than replacing the jobs that have been lost. Without automation, many businesses would have moved manufacturing overseas (or contracted it out, or gone out of business), because they simply couldn't afford to compete with other companies (including foreign ones) that have taken steps to reduce their production costs.

        Not that the people involved will see it this way, of course. When your plant is struggling and the managers replace half the workers with robots, those workers will see the robots as replacing the half that were laid off, not saving the half that could be kept.

      • by pitchpipe (708843) on Monday April 29, 2013 @02:15PM (#43583081)

        These exact same fears were written about in 1880.

        So this must be exactly the same then.

        Every wave of automation works the same way...

        Except when they don't.

        One of these automation revolutions is going to be qualitatively different from the ones in the past. I don't know if this one is the one, but it is coming. At some point when a machine can do any job better, faster, and more cheaply than any human, what's left for the human to do? Beg for food I guess... or something.

    • by Teckla (630646) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:55PM (#43581927)

      We already know the outcome.

      Are you sure about that? I'm not advocating doom-and-gloom, but at the same time, the "don't bother worrying about it, it's always worked out in the past" optimism doesn't seem appropriate, either. I'd sure like something more solid than "past performance does predict future performance," which I think is just plain wrong in this context.

      • by sottitron (923868) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:22PM (#43582247)
        I think a natural equilibrium will be reached. The only reason to manufacture things is for people to buy them. If nobody has money because nobody has a job, then they won't bother to make robots to manufacture things. At some point the 'haves' need the 'have nots' to have money. Filthy rich people don't continue to get filthy rich off of one another.
        • by blue trane (110704) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:28PM (#43582319) Homepage Journal

          Solution: guarantee everyone a basic income, and hold challenges to stimulate individuals to innovate on their own or through collaborations across the unprecedented communication tool of the internet.

        • by localman57 (1340533) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:52PM (#43582663)

          At some point the 'haves' need the 'have nots' to have money. Filthy rich people don't continue to get filthy rich off of one another.

          But not all the 'haves' see things this way. People tend to measure their wealth by comparing against others - typically their peers, rather than against an absolute standard. An american with a small house, a used car, and only one TV will tend to tell you that they're not very well off, despite the fact that as a percentile of the world population, they're very well off.

          The economy is a game. But it's a funny game that is meant to be played forever. But the problem is that we're approaching having people "win" the game. And they want to win it. Have you ever badly beaten a child at the game "Monopoly"? It's much the same thing. And you run the risk of the losing player becoming so frustrated that they simply toss the board from the table. And they destroy your hard earned houses and hotels in the process. This metaphore scares the hell out of me.

      • by gl4ss (559668) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:40PM (#43582481) Homepage Journal

        look.

        the IDEAL end result is that the work output of just few guys will feed the entire nation and the rest can just fuck off with their social security doing arts & etc to get the social security extra bucks from the other guys on social security if they want extra hookers&blow. of course the ten individuals who manage to do the actual work would be pretty rich.

        we're already way further that road than people would imagine, but really, think about how few jobs are actually connected to the basic human needs of medical care, food supply, shelter and clothing.

        it used to be that the vast majority had to toil on farms just to keep the nations from starving.

        • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Monday April 29, 2013 @02:00PM (#43582805)

          look.

          the IDEAL end result is that the work output of just few guys will feed the entire nation and the rest can just fuck off with their social security doing arts & etc to get the social security extra bucks from the other guys on social security if they want extra hookers&blow. of course the ten individuals who manage to do the actual work would be pretty rich.

          we're already way further that road than people would imagine, but really, think about how few jobs are actually connected to the basic human needs of medical care, food supply, shelter and clothing.

          it used to be that the vast majority had to toil on farms just to keep the nations from starving.

          I wouldn't be surprised. However, as current discourse goes, a large number of people will be arguing for (and voting for) the removal of any sort of taxes for those 10 people, thus also eliminating the source of the social security bucks to keep the other 300+ million people fed.

          We may just end up having to revive the virtually-extinct trades of shoe-shine boys, gas station attendants, bank tellers and so forth, just to have something to do.

    • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:58PM (#43581963)

      These exact same fears were written about in 1980. There was a famous BBC TV programme about how robots and microprocessors would replace everyone.

      We already know the outcome.

      Also back in 1980, middle class income people were able to purchase houses in places which nowadays they cannot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We already know the outcome.

      Which one is it, the Matrix or Skynet?

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Yeah, this is bound to happen sooner or later. Your best insurance is to be skilled in an area that isn't easily replaced by a robot. So obviously programming robots is safe for a little while, but there's lot of other things. Even low level jobs like hair stylist, plumber, or car mechanic probably won't be replaced by robots in the near future. Basically stay away from any jobs that have gone to foreign workers over the last decade. All those foreign workers were really just a stop-gap while they got t
      • by blue trane (110704) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:30PM (#43582333) Homepage Journal

        So your concern is only about the social status of "having a job"? Isn't leisure a good thing? Why do we have to serve an obsolete, feudal economic theory that postulates only people with jobs can have money? A better solution is to use economics as a tool to serve us instead of the other way around: guarantee each individual a basic income.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Because humans (at least a subset of them) overvalue social status. Social status is always a scarce, zero-sum commodity, regardless of material abundance. If you sleep on a flat rock and your rival sleeps on the ground, you win. If you have a starship and your rival has ten, you lose.

          • Social status is not a function of material wealth alone.
            In fact, material wealth is a factor ONLY when the status in that particular SOCIAL GROUP is based on material wealth.
            In reality, social status is far more often based on immaterial things like "popularity" than on wealth.

            Nor is the social status an absolute standard.
            Again, as a kid your social status may be sky high cause you can spit really far, but if you end up doing research at CERN for living some other qualities may determine your social status

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:03PM (#43582019)

      Yes and those fears were justified. The median worker's income has stagnated or declined in the US over the past 30 years. It's been hidden by the rise of the two income household and technological improvements in some classes of goods, so it's not obvious, but it's true. People are being driven into the few industries where automation hasn't yet been a major factor healthcare and education, but there's no reason to believe those fields will be immune forever.

    • by Chirs (87576)

      I see automation doing more and more work that used to be done by "unskilled" labour. Given that not everyone can do "skilled" labour, what do we do with the people that used to do the "unskilled" labour?

      Also, the stuff that can be automated is moving up the chain...so what are you going to do when *your* job gets automated?

      As someone else pointed out, increased productivity led us from the 100+ hr work week to the 40-hr work week...but then we stayed at that level of work while automation continued to inc

    • by jcr (53032)

      Yeah, and back during the FDR regime, there were regulations against installing new machine tools in factories for the same brain-dead Luddite reasons.

      -jcr

      • during the FDR regime, there were regulations against installing new machine tools in factories

        Cite? This sounds like the kind of urban legend that's popular amongst those who think FDR was Lenin without the facial hair.

  • why (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:49PM (#43581879)

    why does the job market have to switch into new areas to avoid unrest? why can't we just accept that 10x productivity means that only 10% of the people actually need to do something to maintain our civilization's standard of living?

    work is not virtuous. work sucks and it's something we've been doing our best to eliminate for hundreds of years. why are we so afraid of that actually happening?

    • Other than trading (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:56PM (#43581941) Homepage Journal

      why are we so afraid of that actually happening?

      Because people still need to obtain food and shelter somehow in order to survive. How do you recommend that people obtain necessities without trading for them?

      • by Nadaka (224565) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:06PM (#43582047)

        Socialism.

        • by localman57 (1340533) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:23PM (#43582257)

          Socialism.

          Maybe. Or Something like it. The interesting question is "What happens to people we just don't need anymore?" What do they do? McDonalds has a robot that flips burgers, but hasn't rolled it out because customers find the burger less appealing if it's entirely cooked by machine. What happens to people who work fast food and similar McJobs when the public accepts it and those jobs go away? It really isn't practical to say that they should build burger making robots. If they could do that, they wouldn't be flipping burgers.

          Capitalism works when nearly everyone has a place that they can fit in the economy. There used to be a phrase "The world needs ditch-diggers, too". But now we don't. We need one guy operating a backhoe that does the work of 20 men with shovels. And the backhoe may not always need that one guy in the future.

          This will really hit home in 10 to 15 years when Long-Haul trucks (not local deliveries, that's harder) are automated. The technology for driving coast-to-coast on I-70 isn't that demanding. Infinity has an SUV that can already stay in it's lane, and fully stop the car to avoid hitting stopped traffic ahead of it. It's not hard to see a truck pulled into a truck-stop by a human, it's dropped off and reconnected to an automated rig which is piloted by remote by a human until it gets on the interstate. Then it self-pilots for days until it ends up at another such stop in california.

          If this comes true, thousands of middle class families will be destroyed, because there isn't an obvious place for those blue-collar drivers to go and make similar income. Society simply won't need them anymore. And whomever owns the automated trucks will increase their profit.

          Eventually, either wealth redistribution or revolt will happen.

          • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday April 29, 2013 @02:36PM (#43583361) Homepage

            The interesting question is "What happens to people we just don't need anymore?" What do they do?

            Unfortunately, the answer, at least from some quarters in the US, seems to be really simple: let them die of neglect. For instance, the obvious effect of drastically cutting Social Security and Medicare (which is a major goal of the current Republican Party) is to kill old and disabled people through starvation, neglect, lack of medical care, etc. After all, they can't work, so they're economically useless, so why bother keeping them alive?

            I should mention that as far as your trucking scenario goes, having a whole bunch of automated trucks travel coast-to-coast is far less efficient than having a single (potentially automated) freight train travel coast-to-coast.

          • Socialism.

            Maybe. Or Something like it. The interesting question is "What happens to people we just don't need anymore?" What do they do? McDonalds has a robot that flips burgers, but hasn't rolled it out because customers find the burger less appealing if it's entirely cooked by machine.

            Really? The cooking part? I find that hard to believe, since we don't interact with the cooks. I go in to McD's, order a hamburger, fries, and milkshake. Yes, it's comforting to tell the person making miminum wage what I want and it would make sense that removing that person would cause psychological issues. However, all they do is go and get the hamburger from the slot. Yeah, I can kind of see that there appears to be people back there, but if they were suddenly not there, or if a little wall was th

    • Re:why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:56PM (#43581943)

      why does the job market have to switch into new areas to avoid unrest?

      Because the silly engineers forgot to invent riot police robots before they invented factory manufacturing robots.

      why can't we just accept that 10x productivity means that only 10% of the people actually need to do something to maintain our civilization's standard of living?

      That would be un-American. Clearly, you can't have people living off someone else's work, even though that someone else is a machine, because...quick, help me someone here!

    • Re:why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:27PM (#43582303) Homepage Journal

      work is not virtuous.

      I am no philosopher wise man (and judging by your post neither are you) but I have experienced periods in my work where I sat around doing nothing, just surfing the internet. I have also done extremely useful work writing code that went into production. Even though I made the exact same money "working" exactly same hours, I can tell you that my mood and mental health during the two periods were drastically different, like night and day.

      There is something to be said about meaningful work. The writers of old knew more than you think.

  • The way I figure it, most factory work will either be done be robots, outsourced, or done by immigrants. There's not much way around that.
    • The way I figure it, most factory work will either be done be robots, outsourced, or done by immigrants.

      Consequently, you'd save the most money if you outsource your factory work to robots built by immigrants in other countries.

    • As we get better at technology, we will be able to automate more and more tasks....so what is the end result? Presumably we should start planning for it now so we don't get caught by surprise.

      What can we do in expensive places (North America, Europe, Japan, etc.) that can't be outsourced/insourced/automated?

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:55PM (#43581923)

    Assume you have an economy consisting entirely of factory workers. Now, half the work gets automated. What happens? Everybody can continue to live at the same standard of living but work only half as much, or half of the people can be unemployed while the other half work full time and pay half their salary to support the unemployed. Which future we get depends entirely on the policies we adopt. Unfortunately, policies intended to help workers and help the unemployed are increasingly looking like they are bringing about the second of these futures.

    • Unfortunately, policies intended to help workers and help the unemployed are increasingly looking like they are bringing about the second of these futures.

      There's a cost of training each employee. Fewer workers working full time is cheaper in some ways than more workers working part time.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      There's a third option.The half of the population that was in factory jobs gets trained to do a job that can't be replaced by a robot. However, this may become problematic, because it's my opinion that most people lack the intelligence to do anything that can't be done by a robot, or the jobs they can do, are not in high enough demand that we can give everyone a job. This is also the problem with everybody working part time. The people working in the factories lack the ability to fill the remaining jobs.
    • Assume you have an economy consisting entirely of factory workers. Now, half the work gets automated. What happens? Everybody can continue to live at the same standard of living but work only half as much, or half of the people can be unemployed while the other half work full time and pay half their salary to support the unemployed. Which future we get depends entirely on the policies we adopt.

      Productivity improvements are nothing new. They have been happening regularly since agriculture was invented 10,000 years ago. In the past the neither of the two scenarios you listed has happened. What happens is a third scenario that you overlooked: Everyone continues to work, but standards of living go up.

      Please read up on the Lump of Labor Fallacy [wikipedia.org]. The idea that an economy has some fixed amount of work to do, and therefore robots displace humans, is nonsense. Economies expand in proportion to the r

      • Shorter work weeks (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Comboman (895500) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:44PM (#43582537)

        Productivity improvements are nothing new. They have been happening regularly since agriculture was invented 10,000 years ago. In the past the neither of the two scenarios you listed has happened.

        Actually, productivity improvements in the past did result in shorter work weeks. In the late 19th century, most people worked 12 or more hours per day, 6 days a week. Henry Ford standardized on a five day work week in 1926 (unheard of at the time). FDR established a 40 hour work week as standard in 1938. Increased productivity used to mean shorter working hours, however from about 1980 onward, average working hours have actually increased, despite continual productivity increases. The gains from those productivity increases have been captured by the top 1% instead of being spread evenly through the population.

    • by invid (163714) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:08PM (#43582083) Homepage
      Capitalism does not guarantee low unemployment. It doesn't guarantee a meritocracy. We are fortunate that new technology has previously created new jobs for people to apply skills that gave them value to the rich. But as automation approaches human capabilities in more areas, there will be fewer opportunities available for humans. For those who don't already own capital, eventually the only jobs available to humans will be in the entertainment industry.
    • by Chirs (87576) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:09PM (#43582105)

      In real life, I see most of the benefit of automation going to the owners/shareholders of the companies, and that money doesn't necessarily stay in the community where the factory is (or even in the same country).

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Bertrand Russell used almost exactly that same thought experiment in a 1932 article [zpub.com], fwiw:

      Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would ta

  • by biodata (1981610) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:56PM (#43581945)
    Isn't this good news? Back in the 1970s we were all promised that increased automation would lead to us all needing to do less work, and having increased leisure time. It all seemed like a rosy future at the time. The only problem seems to be that the owners of the robots don't want to share the benefits. If they don't share then they deserve the unrest they get.
    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:14PM (#43582169) Homepage
      It happened. We all do less work. And we do have more money. The problem is that we spend our extra free time at our place of employment. And we spend all the extra money on the stuff that didn't exist in the 1970s. It really doesn't take so much time to wash the dishes now that we have a dish washer. You can mow the lawn much faster with a self propelled lawnmower (they even have robot ones). Almost nobody on my block shovels their driveway in the winter. They either have a snow-blower or they have the plow come around and do it. Most people don't fix their own car, they don't even change their own oil. They get the guy at the shop to do it. All that extra money we have goes to cell phones, internet, cable TV, dish washers ,cars with every accessory ever thought up (none of which existed in the 70s).
      • by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday April 29, 2013 @04:18PM (#43584477)

        Most people spend their extra money on basic essentials: rent and food and health care, things that existed in the 1970s. Get outside of the sheltered bubble and look around at all the poor people in other neighborhoods. Sure they may have cell phones (usually not smart ones) but those are often a necessity of life also if you want to find and keep a job.

  • by invid (163714) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:57PM (#43581953) Homepage

    The robots are taking our jobs. So what happens? Do we have 3 day work weeks with the same pay? Do we wear capes and tights and ponder the higher arts and philosophy while robot servants take care of our physical needs?

    Or was the last century a fluke where a large middle class had power, which will soon revert to the more common system in human history where a tiny few live in splendor and the rest live under their heel?

    • No, this is reality. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Animats (122034) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:23PM (#43582259) Homepage

      Was the last century a fluke where a large middle class had power, which will soon revert to the more common system in human history where a tiny few live in splendor and the rest live under their heel?

      Probably. When capitalism functions as designed, the price of labor drops to just above survival level. This is the "iron law of wages", and held for most of history. For much of the 20th century, in the developed world, it was different. When productivity went up, so did wages. That was driven by two factors - unions, and fear of communism.

      Nobody has taken communism seriously in decades, even the remaining communists. But from the 1930s to the 1970s, it was seen as a serious threat to capitalism. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, capitalism failed, while communism in the USSR was on the way up. There was real fear that communism might win economically. Fear of nationalization forced companies to increase wages and treat their workers better.

      When the USSR started building atomic bombs, space satellites, and ICBMs, there was fear in the US that the USSR might pull ahead in technology. This fear drove the "space race", and is why the US set up NASA and funded the space program so heavily.

      This all ended in the 1970s. The best year ever for blue collar workers in the US was 1973. The USSR no longer seemed to be an economic threat. So things gradually went back to normal, and real wages in the US went down for several decades thereafter.

      "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." - Orwell.

  • by RevDisk (740008) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:58PM (#43581961) Journal
    As someone will point out, early automation (think looms) displaced workers. Things shifted around, and they did find jobs. "Things will work out" is a nice long term solution, but not something folks want to hear in the short term. I hear a lot of folks (here in the US, but also in Europe) say "We're shipping our industrial base to Asia!" While true to an extent, I remind folks that a LOT of things are manufactured here in America.

    Thanks to automation, more and more is being created by fewer and fewer folks. This will cause social upheaval. I have enough faith in humanity that we'll work through it. We always do. But it will be a bumpy ride, with no perfect answers.
    • As blue collar jobs get automated, there will be blue collar workers that are not suited to white collar jobs.

      Heck, now white collar jobs are being automated or offshored. Royal Bank just got in the media up here in Canada for offshoring IT services for back-end financial teams.

  • "As manufacturing goes the way of agriculture, the job market must shift into new types of work lest mass technological unemployment and civil unrest overtake these beneficial gains."

    Yeah, the job market can't do that. That's the problem right there. People who were doing skilled or unskilled labor and were replaced by machines aren't suddenly going to be able to become successful in a "creative class" job. If they could have, they'd probably have done that instead of the manufacturing job.

    On the plus si

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:17PM (#43582205) Homepage

      aren't suddenly going to be able to become successful in a "creative class" job

      And what's more, there is a massive surplus of people in the "creative class" jobs: The number of reasonably competent musicians, authors, artists, poets, etc far outnumbers the market for the arts. For every Brian May there are dozens if not hundreds of really talented and skilled guitarists that you've never heard of. For every Jackson Pollack there are many many good painters that you've never heard of. For every JK Rowling there are many many good authors toiling away in obscurity.

      The completely fraudulent idea that has been pushed for the last 20 years is that if you give everyone in America a PhD, everyone will earn what a tenured professor makes. What actually happens is that if you give everyone in America a PhD, you have PhDs mopping floors for a living.

      • by Idou (572394)
        >you have PhDs mopping floors for a living

        Actually, I think there already is a robot for that . . .
  • Just wait until the robots get unemployed... Then we'll see true unrest and uprising.
  • Not Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sycodon (149926) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:02PM (#43582013)

    Blue Collar workers are not stupid.

    They are not bolting doors onto cars or running forklifts because they can't do anything else. When they joined the work force, these jobs were available and were jobs a person could raise a family with. A smart option for most, but the side effect is that you get stuck in a rut. The same way a guy who only known COBOL gets stuck.

    But things change and Blue Collar manufacturing is less and less a job market that someone want's to join. New workers, who in the past would have gone into this job market, are capable of more. They can be the guys designing the robots, programming them, maintaining them, manufacturing them.

    The knowledge of manufacturing is just as essential now as it was in the past and a robot has to put the nuts and bolts in pretty much the same order, as a human did. There is a lot of Tribal Knowledge about manufacturing that you don't learn at college and can pretty much only be found on the factory floor.

    The Trades are not going away, just changing.

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      They can be the guys designing the robots, programming them, maintaining them, manufacturing them.

      Yes, but only if you are H1B or live in a third world country. The US manufacturing industry has no intention on re-training the forklift driver to program the robotic gizmo.

  • Once again we can expect a discussion of how displaced workers always move onto other jobs. Que over used examples of buggy whip makes...

    So, one question: Isn't the long term goal of automation the elimination of human labor? The only jobs that would remain do so because people want to do them. And only so long as they don't also demand pay - because paying workers to do what can be automated cuts into profit.

    So far, the expansion of the economy combined with our inability to automate everything has cre
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:11PM (#43582127)

    The meme of capitalism is based on the idea that technological progress and investment of capital drives increasing productivity, and that increase in productivity drives increased wages and improved standards of living.

    It's been as successful as heck.

    Now that about 5% of the population is employed in agriculture and 8% in manufacturing, the question becomes what do you when all the material needs of a civilization can be supplied by 13% of the work force?

    Or maybe 10%, or even less as time goes on.

    Then there is the question of sustainability. I don't think what we have is sustainable. There is a set of giant externalities in place right now, the biggest being consumption of limited resources.

    It's going to be a bit gut wrenching but these externalities have to be resolved.

  • All of us benefit from being the heirs of the industrial revolution. Even the poorest of us have better health and nutrition than before. We all have better health care than the mightiest king did 300 years ago. Yet for the average person who lived during the industrial revolution life was poor hell. Craftsmen and herders were sent into Dickensian factories and mines. I hope we can live long enough for the majority of citizens to see a benefit from our present computer revolution.

    Posted previously Jan 23, [slashdot.org]

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