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45% of U.S. Jobs Vulnerable To Automation 625

Posted by Soulskill
from the introvert-utopia dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new report out of Oxford has found that the next 20 years will see 45% of America's workforce replaced by computerized automation. 'The authors believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such engineering. This "technological plateau" will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science and engineering, and the arts at risk.' 45% is a big number. Politicians have been yelling themselves hoarse over the jobs issue in this country for the past few years, and the current situation isn't anywhere near as bad. At what point will we start seeing legislation forbidding the automation of certain industries?"
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45% of U.S. Jobs Vulnerable To Automation

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  • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Saturday September 14, 2013 @10:56AM (#44849161) Homepage

    The problem right now is that the current political mantra thinks that jobs are the most important thing, and if you don't have a job you're worthless and a problem that must be taken care of. It will be a painful period for jobless and workers alike until this discrepancy between current reality and ancient politics is gone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 14, 2013 @10:59AM (#44849181)

    My father, an early pioneer of automated teaching (and a teacher himself) once told me that computers would soon replace teachers and, he added, not long after that they would replace the students too.

    Aren't books suppose to replace the teacher (aka, "wise man") too?

    When jobs become unnecessary, perhaps that will be when we will need to find some better economic system than capitalism. Capital will be obsolete, hence capitalism will be useless.

    A lot of science fiction deals with this scenario. People work to keep busy, not because they need to work. Some people today already do that.

    captcha: DEPOSED

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @10:59AM (#44849185)

    Quick, break all the spinning frames and power looms before they steal our jobs!

    Except that never happens. New jobs are created; someone has to innovate, someone has to maintain.

  • by peragrin (659227) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:07AM (#44849235)

    What would people do without jobs?

    A small percentage would improve themselves by learning new things exploring new concepts, etc. The majority however would do nothing but become restless, and that would lead slowly to fighting each other. Humans need to do something that keeps there minds and bodies occupied.

    However robots can't do engineering. Robots can't think. AI is a pipe dream for at least the next century. We don't really understand how our own minds work. Computers are binary. Humans brains are at least trinary. Until a computer can do maybe then true ai is impossible.

  • by jacobsm (661831) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:11AM (#44849263)

    As soon as they automate politics. That's when politicians will ban it.

  • Using it wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brxndxn (461473) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:11AM (#44849265)

    I absolutely hate how people talk about the negatives of automation like somehow things are better when humans did all the menial tasks. I remember an old Russian video where a worker was winding a ball of yarn by hand. That is degrading. What is even more degrading is paying a bunch of foreign people a lot less to do manual (and meaningless) tasks to make cheap products and then ship them across the world. Even further degrading is the layers of bullshit we have decided to surround ourselves with in other professions that waste the hours in our days.

    The problem is not that 'there will be fewer jobs.' The problem is not that 'there are not enough resources.' The problem is that the jobs and the resources are all allocated wrong. We could (at least in America) have 20-30 hour work weeks, plenty of family time, decent pay, and a low unemployment rate.. if a certain select few did not make ALL the money and take control of ALL the resources.

    I am an automation programmer. I work to automate any task I can possibly automate. I do not feel bad about it. Any automation I create has to be maintained.

    As far as legislation forbidding the automation of certain industries.. Since the US Government fucks up everything it touches, I believe it will work to create laws to forbid the jobs that should be automated and laws to automate the jobs that should be manual. For example, the NSA said it will fire 90% of sysadmins and replace them with automation. Anyone in IT knows that idea is 100% stupid. Another example is the rise of red light cameras everywhere. As subjective as it is to enforce the law, our wonderful government has decided to make it legal for robots to do that for us. And, since the US military is having trouble finding new hires that have zero morality, they are working to automate drone warfare also. Great..

    So, anyway, what I mean to say is.. Automation itself is not bad. It's the way we're using it that will be bad. Instead of using it to free ourselves, we are using it to enslave ourselves.

  • by Chalnoth (1334923) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:13AM (#44849277)

    The thing is, automation makes peoples' lives easier. It means that less work has to be performed to get the same results.

    A sensible response to the promise of automation is not to be a luddite and ban the practice, but to ensure the benefits of automation are widely-distributed. In short, the answer is to prevent the concentration of wealth (a problem we need to focus on right now whether or not the fears of automation are realized).

  • Re:oblig (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:16AM (#44849313)

    The author of that makes some amazingly bad mistakes, like assuming that progress means people lose work (see the luddites, or any transformative technology), or that people would blithely accept being micromanaged (they wont), or that we have no economy other than "making stuff". He also completely discounts human nature.

    If the future is a dystopia, its not gonna be because of some marvelous new technology.

  • by DarkTempes (822722) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:26AM (#44849403)
    Yes, because all of the retired people in the world are always so busy murdering each other.

    It's truly tragic.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:28AM (#44849415)

    The economy is doing fine. GNP has been growing at a 2% rate for the past 5 years.

    The problem is that this doesn't require the entire working age population to have jobs, only 60% or so.

    In 10 years it may be 50%.

    The result of this process is continual concentration of wealth. Recent published statistics show 95% of the economic growth in the past 3 year was garnered by the top 1% of the population.

    The idea that everyone needs to have a full time job is just not practical any more. The concentration of wealth at the top we have is a threat to democracy.

    It seems to me we are at a real watershed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:32AM (#44849439)

    Quick, break all the spinning frames and power looms before they steal our jobs!

    Ah yes, 19th century dumb machines are equivalent to 21st century AI robots.

    Back in the 19th century, automation improved worker productivity. Today, automation replaces workers.

    BIG difference.

    Except that never happens.

    Actually, it has. The labor numbers prove it.

    There's no stopping it - and we shouldn't .

    But what we REALLY need to do, is examine how to deal with it because what IS CURRENTLY happening is we creating an ever increasing class of jobless.

    Jobless people have a bad habit of partaking in social upheaval. And it usually means the rich get their asses chopped off.

  • Framing Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gznork26 (1195943) <gznork26@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:39AM (#44849495) Homepage

    This entire discussion is based on a premise that is no longer true. Once upon a time, wealth was created solely by the performance of labor, the users of the means of production, by people, under the control of capital, the owners of the means of production. But now, wealth is mostly created by capital, either by manipulating the rules of society and of the economy, which is what banks and other financial institutions do, or by the performance of labor by automation. The relationship between the human laborer and the creation of wealth no longer matches the economic model in which people can pay for their living expenses solely through the wages paid to them for that labor.

    The solutions that are being offered by governments in the thrall of capital are inappropriate to the reality in which people now live. Wealth derived without the participation of labor is being hoarded by capital. This is the core of the problem. Until and unless that wealth is used to enable people to purchase the products created without their participation, this situation cannot be resolved.

    Capital has used the for-profit banking system to control governments and people to their own benefit. Debt money loaded to nations at compounded interest can never pay that debt, because the value of the interest demanded was never introduced into the economy. It's a broken system. Technical people who understand logic ought to be able to work through the math of this, and the network of interactions, to satisfy themselves that this is so. We should also be able to design a better system, rather than argue over how to kludge a fix that can only hide the real problem for a short time.

  • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:41AM (#44849523) Homepage Journal

    Humans brains are at least trinary.

    Citation please, and exactly how would "not being trinary" prevent effective AI?

  • by Myu (823582) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:42AM (#44849531)

    However robots can't do engineering. Robots can't think. AI is a pipe dream for at least the next century. We don't really understand how our own minds work. Computers are binary. Humans brains are at least trinary. Until a computer can do maybe then true ai is impossible.

    Both Philosophically and Neuropsychologically, the idea that the mind is foundationally more complicated than some kind of Turing machine network is very much in dispute. We're getting loads done by treating the human mind mechanically and exploring its heuristics and biases or its structures and protocols in a mathematically classical background framework. The human brain is a massively complex device, and has techniques for understanding that there are some vaguenesses and gaps in the way we semantically process the world, but to suggest that this is something beyond the reach of any classically constructed system is a powerful thesis that, we might think, there is a certain amount of optimistic inductive reason to doubt.

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:46AM (#44849557) Homepage Journal

    How will I pay for my material things? Why would someone invest money into building and operate a factory of robots only to give away free snorkles and swimfins?

    You imply some kind of utopia on the horizon, but I fail to see a path leading there.

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:47AM (#44849569) Homepage Journal

    However robots can't do engineering. Robots can't think.

    s/robots/most humans/

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:48AM (#44849581) Homepage Journal

    They're too old and tired to becom restless and troublesome. They just want to see their grandkids and have dinner at four in the afternoon.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:54AM (#44849629)

    Ah the same decade AI people have been telling us about for nearly 50 years. Frankly, I'm not sure we are really any closer today than we were in the 60s. When you look at the biology side of things we are still like cave men staring at the innards of an animal. Crap tons of theories, either unproven or unable to be proven. When you look at computer projects like the blue brain, you have to ask why they think they are going to create something human like rather than a common animal.

    Something unique happens in human children around age 2-3, that is basically a complete mystery, and it happens a couple more times on the way to adulthood. I don't think we are going to stumble on what that is by building a bigger computer. It seems more likely a chimp/whatever crosses that threshold first due to expermentation.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:58AM (#44849663)

    there's no shortage of stuff out there to engage in - from the social, family and exploratory (travel the world, anyone?) to the intellectual (learning, research and the arts).

    Call me elitist, but there are just too many people who are so dull and stupid as to only be suitable for bottom rung activities. Without a job, they're good for nothing more than 2 minutes of "fame" on an episode of Cops.

    There's enough oil money in some gulf states that no citizen really needs to do much useful work...

    And if you look at those countries, the mass of chronically-unemployed citizens who want jobs but feel that menial labor is beneath their dignity is causing serious social problems.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @12:02PM (#44849705) Homepage

    Or he could be describing the obvious:

    Guaranteed minimum wage. Get a job if you want more.(and note, this would be a livable wage, not our current BS minimum)

    Please explain how that solution is unworkable, given it's a VERY slight expansion from traditional welfare/SS/etc. The only change is now robots are doing all the menial tasks instead of humans, who are paid anyway.

    Please explain how this is workable when a very modest move in this direction would head off much of the social unrest in this country. Imagine, for example, if everyone in Detroit were to be given a living wage simply for existing. The blight and destruction of the city and the people inside it would vanish. Buildings could be rebuilt just for the fun of it. The costs would likely be less than the daily rate for keeping an aircraft carrier battle group afloat.

    If it were that easy, it would have been done by now.

    "Slight" - I don't think that word means what you think it means.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @12:54PM (#44850089)

    What would people do without jobs?

    A small percentage would improve themselves by learning new things exploring new concepts, etc. The majority however would do nothing but become restless, and that would lead slowly to fighting each other. Humans need to do something that keeps there minds and bodies occupied.

    Yes, because all of the retired people in the world are always so busy murdering each other.

    Exactly. Or, for even a better example... before the feminist movement put most women in the workforce in the past 30-40 years, a lot of women tended to not "have jobs." Individual salaries were often high enough for families to be supported by one (typically male) income.

    I don't recall reports of hoards of homemaker housewives fighting in the streets. Does anyone?

    Women had more time for their families, more time for their homes, etc. I recall visiting my grandparents when I was a kid: the house was always immaculately kept, food was always prepared from scratch every day, etc.

    I'm not saying everyone would enjoy obsessing over such things today: many people today view cooking and cleaning as chores, rather than a point of pride. To each his/her own. Other women I knew in previous generations just tended to watch soap operas all day, particularly once the kids were grown.

    There are plenty of things one can find to fill the hours of the day, if you have a good attitude about it. If you don't like working around your home, go read some books. Visit a museum. Take up art or music. Join a social club. Surf the internet, or even watch TV.

    The problem isn't that humans can't fill that time, or even don't have useful activities that could fill that time. Rather, the past half-century or so has trained us to think of most of the common everyday activities of previous generations as "chores," rather than simply "everyday life."

    I'd love to be able to spend more time at home experimenting with cooking and baking, doing yardwork and gardening around the house, growing my own food and preserving/fermenting/canning it, doing various upkeep and projects around the house (painting, repointing the brickwork, random home maintenance), perhaps even building furniture or doing some of my own remodeling. There are some "chores" I don't particularly look forward to (like washing dishes), but many others are incredibly satisfying when you get to say, "I made this" or "I did that."

    I think back to most of the people in my grandparents' generation that I knew, and they took a similar pride in what they did around their homes. Today, you use the microwave instead of the stove, get the crappy store-bought pastry instead of baking your own with real ingredients, buy the frozen dinner and the cans instead of cooking fresh food and canning your own produce. You just buy the leaf blower instead of the rake, the rototiller instead of the spade, the weed wacker instead of the hand edger. And then after you finish all your yardwork in 1/4 of the time, you spend 45 minutes working out or jogging or whatever, when you could have already had your work-out doing the yardwork in the fresh air.

    I feel a sense of accomplishment when I do my own tasks for my own family or around my own home. Lots of people in previous generations did too. In fact, go back a century or a little more, and most people were farmers: their only "job" was growing food to keep themselves and their own families alive. They didn't need external "work" to make their lives interesting enough so that they weren't sitting around idle and getting into random brawls.

    I'm NOT a luddite or hopeless nostalgic person arguing for a return to an agrarian world or something, where lifespans were a lot shorter, life was a lot harder, and crime rates were admittedly higher.

    I AM saying that there are a lot of everyday things people could take pleasure in doing, while simultaneously making their lives better (e.g., cooking your

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @01:14PM (#44850249) Homepage

    No, it wouldn't. We have too many people in power who can only feel rich if others cannot. They are like a raccoon 'trapped' because they can't bring themselves to let go of the shiney so their paw can slide out of the hole.

    We need the maturity as a society to tell the greediest among us that their behavior is no longer acceptable. Then we can make some magic happen.

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @01:16PM (#44850263) Homepage

    Same reason someone would sit down and write a Unix clone and then give it away?

  • by RespekMyAthorati (798091) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @02:01PM (#44850585)
    Over the last 10,000 years, in all but a few hundred have people been living under feudalism, where big shots become ever richer and more powerful while everybody else suffers.
    Current trends are leading to a return to this "normal" state, and not to any kind of utopia.
  • by Luckyo (1726890) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @03:03PM (#44851003)

    The answers to all questions you ask, including the last one, lie in history. Read it as I suggested. History shows very well that no belief and no system is monolithic and eternal.

    On the other hand, human nature is largely just that. As a result, while levels of technology, and cultural changes may change the expression of the human nature, the base human nature remains the same and it will likely be satisfied in the same way. Before they gave plebs just enough to eat reasonably well, be able to go to the gladiator arena and brothel every once in a while. If you wanted more - you had to learn a trade. When this balance was broken, the riots occurred that almost broke Rome. We still inherit a lot of things from those times, including the concept of power of "veto" - latin for "I forbid". This was the only word that plebeian representative was allowed to say in Roman Senate. Because the higher classes understood the need for curbs on their legislative powers after bloody riots when reins of power were tightened too much.

    We're leaning towards the same end today in the Western countries. Some allow for more socialist system, some for less. But in general, the direction is the same. Masses are given food, shelter and base level entertainment even without working. Those who implement less of this typically pay with far more violence on the streets, just as it happened in Rome as pendulum of patricians vs plebeians balance swung back and forth.

    As for your last real question (before the inane and self evident "but current short term rhetoric doesn't allow for this"), elite will always have too much power. There is rarely any social cohesion based on equality in real sense rather then for the show in advanced societies - that is a thing of basic ones. As society advances, throughout humans history a class-based society of some sort is produced. This would suggest that it's a human nature to assign such classes and that social cohesion doesn't require equality in the long run, just reasonable levels of both predictability and most importantly hope for social mobility. In Rome, even a slave could, through mastery of notable trade or possessing another valuable skill, free themselves from slavery and even end up as patrons of their town if they became wealthy. Similar path has also been taken in the Western societies to varying degrees.

  • by gd2shoe (747932) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @03:07PM (#44851045) Journal

    That's only half the problem. The other half are the Utopians.

    You know, the ones that are killing businesses in their infancy because the bathroom mirrors are half an inch too high? Or require managers to spend hours a day filling out paperwork that will never be read to "ensure compliance" with various government mandates? Or require each and every business to keep a lawyer on retainer to make sure they don't trip over the inevitable arcane fine or lawsuit? Or how about the ones that wind up paying tons of money to a union, even if they had already been treating their workers well, and even if the workers don't want to unionize? (Unions often demand that worker pay drop to meet "industry standards" when this happens, by the way.)

    These nimrods are true believers, though. There is no convincing them to focus on waste and abuse, because they see it absolutely everywhere they haven't caused it... and then proceed to introduce it everywhere in the name of whatever-makes-them-feel-self-righteous-today.

    Remember, on the most fundamental level, economics is: people producing goods and services that other people are willing to trade for. There are a lot of very important ancillary bits, but it is production relative to desire that forms the backbone of economy.

    You pointed out the greedy rich that take far more than their share off the top. These people need to be stopped. This pales in comparison, though, to the destruction of production that idealists without brains have caused, and are causing.

    As I heard this week: In many things, including government, perfect is the enemy of good-enough. It is both unattainable, and will actively prevent that which is.

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @03:16PM (#44851127) Homepage

    Make it more economically feasible to just quit and a lot of the compliance stuff can just go away. Most of it exists because people can be trapped in a job.

    Dig deeper into the union rules. For every arcane rule there is an equal and opposite attempt by management to exploit a loophole that necessitated the rule.

  • by real-modo (1460457) on Saturday September 14, 2013 @11:54PM (#44853899)

    The union whores with an ever spiraling "living wage" are why Detroit is a third world shithole. Economics, motherfucker, do you speak it?

    Yes I do.

    Your explanation cannot explain Koeln, Germany. It has strong unions and strong social suppport spending, but it's a better place to live than Montgomery, Alabama (as an example of a city in an anti-union state and therefore a contrast to Detroit).

    It also cannot explain Liberia. That country has no union power and no living wage, but it's a worse place to live than Detroit.

    The real reasons for Detroit's situation are more to do with racism.

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