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Humans Need Not Apply: a Video About the Robot Revolution and Jobs 304

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-away-or-i-will-replace-you-with-a-very-large-robot-that-breaks-things dept.
Paul Fernhout writes: This explanatory compilation video by CGP Grey called "Humans Need Not Apply" on structural unemployment caused by robotics and AI (and other automation) is like the imagery playing in my mind when I think about the topic based on previous videos and charts I've seen. I saw it first on the econfuture site by Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel. It is being discussed on Reddit, and people there have started mentioning a "basic income" as one possible response. While I like the basic income idea, I also collect other approaches in an essay called Beyond A Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics. Beyond a basic income for the exchange economy, those possible approaches include gift economy, subsistence production, planned economy, and more — including many unpleasant alternatives like expanding prisons or fighting wars as we are currently doing.

Marshall Brain's writings like Robotic Nation and Manna have inspired my own work. I made my own video version of the concept around 2010, as a parable called "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income." (I also pulled together a lot of links to robot videos in 2009.) It's great to see more informative videos on this topic. CGP Grey's video is awesome in the way he puts it all together.

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Humans Need Not Apply: a Video About the Robot Revolution and Jobs

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  • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:24PM (#47678599)

    If you have an all-robotic workforce, who's going to buy the products they produce?

    • Nobody needs to work? Well then I guess all the products would be free at that point.
      • by zAPPzAPP (1207370)

        There are still other resources needed to produce other than work.
        Such as raw materials and energy.
        But work is the only resource most humans have to offer in exchange.

      • Nobody needs to work? Well then I guess all the products would be free at that point.

        Right, but the "getting there" part is what you pro-robo-job proponents aren't explaining or getting.

        So far, your argument goes like this:

        - Robots replace all workers
        - ????
        - Work-and-cost-free utopia!

        The trouble, by which I mean extreme poverty, social unrest, war, etc, comes in the ???? time period.

        • by jythie (914043)
          You would think that the existing real world examples would give them pause. In industries that have replaced workers with robots, owners and customers of the direct company benefited, but the companies that catered to the workforce as customers went under and you end up with blighted towns.
          • You would think that the existing real world examples would give them pause.

            If they weren't so busy furiously masturbating over their fantasy of a work-free, lay-zee-boy economy, maybe they'd actually see the train barreling towards them.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Those who still have utility value to the economy. In most cases either the very talented/creative or the rich. We are already seeing this in the way that large swathes of population have been effectively excluded from the economy since the recession, while highly skilled sectors are in huge shortage.

      Automation is allowing us to abandon people out of the economy with alarming speed.

      • by lgw (121541) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:41PM (#47679299) Journal

        Those who still have utility value to the economy. In most cases either the very talented/creative or the rich.

        With every industrial revolution new kinds of jobs come to exist. It won't just be engineers and creative geniuses with jobs. Robots can make things, and perform menial labor. They don't provide entertainment, and can't do any sort of work requiring any creativity.

        As "things and menial labor" become fully automated, they simply become a small part of a very large economy, an economy that has shifted farther up the hierarchy of needs. We'll all be employed still, helping one another solve our "first world problems".

        Don't like the way your apartment is decorated? You'll be able to afford to pay someone for that, since "things and menial labor" are so cheap. Confused by all your choices for wall screens and theater-quality sound systems, and don't know how to hook them up? You'll be able to afford to pay someone for that, since "things and menial labor" are so cheap. All the spa/beauty services that are luxuries today? You'll be able to afford to pay someone for that, since "things and menial labor" are so cheap.

        There's already a very broad array of non-menial services available to the rich. As with every previous tech revolution, stuff available only to the rich becomes available to everyone. A century or so ago automation didn't destroy the world, because everyone could suddenly afford shoes and tableware and chairs and all sorts of stuff that used to be luxuries. After this revolution we'll all be keeping each other busy providing non-menial services to one another, not as servants but peer-to-peer (much as the culture of Lyft/Uber is different from traditional Taxis, though that particular job's life is limited by coming automation).

        • by mysidia (191772)

          They don't provide entertainment, and can't do any sort of work requiring any creativity.

          If you watched the last part of the video, you would understand that creative robots can be made.

          However.... the technological singularity approaches.

          By the time the robots take over the economy We will be the robots; the essence of what makes us us will have been stored on computer media.

          The robotic and cybernetic forms of humans takes over. Cybernetic in the form of: robots, with a small amount of biological

          • I will be impressed when you can show me a robot write an original, funny joke. But can you run an economy on jokes and poems and songs? Maybe.

            Then again, how original is most anything? There was a story on slashdot a year or two ago about a guy who wrote a book describing the exact formula that 90% of Hollywood movies follow. Like, page for page. I wonder if one could train a neural network with scripts to every sitcom, every movie, identifying humor, tension, the range of emotions each scene is designed t

            • Execubot 1: It will play in Peoria
              Execubot 2: (rolls dice) More Game Shows!
              Execubot 3: It's funny, but will it get them off their tractors?

            • by jythie (914043)
              One thing to consider though is that even if a robot can not handle parts of the creative process, it can significantly reduce the number of people needed to produce and distribute content. This is partly a good thing since it opens up opportunities for people who could not have afforded to strike out on their own before. However, media gets saturated pretty quickly. If you take a team of 10 people and reduce the labor required to only 1, you might end up with 10 people producing entire chains, ,but cons
            • by mysidia (191772)

              Could a computer write an entertaining movie? A sitcom? I wonder.

              No real reason to believe it cannot be done or that it won't be done eventually.

              However, one sitcom entertains millions of people. There is only a limited appetite the population as a whole has for entertaining content.

              The demand certainly isn't sufficient for the jobs needed by this one sector of the business arts/entertainment to gainfully employ a significant percentage of the population.

        • I agree it seems we should be seeing the rise of more "indulgence" and customization, but for some reason that is relatively stagnant. The middle class is too pressed to start that trend. We need some kind of force to kickstart both salaries and consumption.

          • by lgw (121541)

            agree it seems we should be seeing the rise of more "indulgence" and customization, but for some reason that is relatively stagnant.

            How else would you describe all the 3D-printing hype?

            The economy is crawling out of the worst recession in most /.ers' lifetimes. Give it a bit.

        • "new kinds of jobs come to exist", but they are middlemen financial jobs that don't produce any real value, instead simply moving money around and profiting from arbitrage conditions that game the system, like borrowing from the Fed at 0% and buying T-bills at 3%.

          • "new kinds of jobs come to exist", but they are middlemen financial jobs that don't produce any real value,

            That, and low wage service jobs created to cater to the middlemen financial types.

            • by lgw (121541)

              Maybe you guys haven't been paying attention, but there was a vast layoff of "middlemen financial types" at the end of the financial bubble.

              You might also not realize that there are plenty of service jobs that pay quite nicely. I used to work with a guy who switched from well-paid developer to home theater installer, and was making considerably more last I heard. Low wage service jobs are the unskilled sort that will also be done by robots soon enough. Skilled service jobs are exactly the sort of thing p

        • Maybe, just maybe, the universe doesn't need quite so many people.
        • by jythie (914043) on Friday August 15, 2014 @03:19PM (#47680407)
          We have not had 'industrial revolution' for all that long, so assuming that everything will work out and new jobs will be created is not that safe. The whole point of the argument was that as robots improve they will displace more and more jobs without creating sufficient new ones. It also pointed out that the 'new economy' jobs that have been created over the last few decades make up a small percentage of the workforce while the largest job types right now are ones that people are trying to develop automatic systems to replace them.

          It should also be noted that historical cases did not go very well. They tended to produce a certain number of middle class benefits and significant upper class benefits, but with each leap forward poverty becomes a bigger and bigger problem. While the middle class dominates forums like this, we are not the whole population and stuff that benefits us can have consequences elsewhere... and every year there are fewer and fewer people in the middle class. So in the next big leap, a non-trivial percentage of us middle class people will end up dropping below the poverty line. A few will move up into upper middle class or even upper class, and they will look around and talk about how wonderful things have gotten, but others will not be so fortunate.
          • by lgw (121541)

            The whole point of the argument was that as robots improve they will displace more and more jobs without creating sufficient new ones

            People have been saying that about automation for centuries now, and they just keep being wrong. People don't want some fixed amount of goods and services. People want more. No matter how much is provided cheaply by automation, people will keep wanting more and different goods, services, entertainment, education, whatever. How much we each have is only a function of how much we each create. There will always be demand for everything made by robots plus everything made by people - at least, until fundam

    • Robots would need things too such as a refined fuel source and....well, more robots.
    • by Kjella (173770)

      That there's tribes living in the Amazon that aren't part of the economy aren't a drag on anyone else. If you fall out of the economy, that's more your problem than the economy's. In reality it won't come to that though, because the rich will want to have personal assistants, luxury housing, goods and services. They'll get a dress from a famous dress designer no matter what computers and robots could do. Those servants will again put money into a worker's economy. It might be severely diluted by the time it

      • You're implying the means of production must by some economic law be owned by enough rich people to hire everyone else, or that the rich who own the means of production must want enough personal service to support everyone else. There's no reason to believe either of these things.
      • by jythie (914043)
        Problem is if it is too diluted you end up with a 3rd world shithole. In actual capitalistic countries we tend to see this, a small number of massively (by local standard) wealthy families and wide spread poverty elsewhere with a high unemployment rate. Wealth continues to concentrate, good land and trade opportunities end up in the hands of a few and things stagnate. Generally the only way to break the cycle ends up being violent revolution, it really is not pretty.

        So yes, there will still be some sort
    • by iONiUM (530420)

      Other robots?

    • Good question, of course there will be nobody to do it, and when this question hits the economy that will be the point when capitalism suddenly implodes.

      In the meantime we're trying to fill the gap by producing more products for the 1% who can still afford to buy things, but even their consumption has limits - when this realization hits the economy, the question you posed will soon after.

    • by jythie (914043)
      That is the general problem with a lot of 'do it cheaper' moves, they work best when your company does them but others continue to provide good wages. In the medium term profits sore, but the economy collapses around them.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Robots increase productivity. We've had massive increases in productivity since the 70s. Yet people work more hours now than before all these productivity improvements. All the gains from the increased output has gone to the top.

    It's been time for a basic income for decades!

  • We're stuffed. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:30PM (#47678643)

    The main issue with robots, is that they effectively replace human utility with a capital asset. Up until now capitalism has sort of worked because every human was born with a valuable asset that could not be owned or controlled. That is changing fast and our political system is not set up to handle this. It is very sad but capitalism only made it this far because it allowed individual self interest to slightly benefit everyone. This will change that equation and return us to a time where self-interest serves the needs of those who control the wealth.

    • This has been the case since the Industrial Revolution. The solution back then was to ban child labor and reduce work hours. Today they are doing the opposite because they could care less about how the "poor people" live.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Up until now capitalism has sort of worked because every human was born with a valuable asset that could not be owned or controlled.

      I hate to break it to you, but capitalism thrived on slavery. The slaves were largely replaced by machines, which mechanization and the industrial revolution, steam engine, etc. facilitated.

      Right now, without the robots.... much of the population are essentially "wage slaves". Free in name, but bound by the need to work in exchange for $$$.

      Further mechanization will put a

      • Paraphrasing Tom Morello, "Freedom is the freedom to starve."

        • Paraphrasing Tom Morello, "Freedom is the freedom to starve."

          A very interesting Sci-fi book "By Light Alone" by Adam roberts takes this concept to the extreme... Basically, the invention of photosynthetizing hair that makes it mostly unnecessary to eat, quite unexpectedly needs to a pretty scary inequality dystopia, and part of the issue is exactly that people no longer need to work to not starve. Also a really good book in my opinion driven by some interesting characters.

  • We need to push full time hours down with forced OT pay or say a 80k-100k + COL to have where you don't have to pay OT.

    Start by makeing full time 32 hours a week and maybe X2 OT at 60-80 hours

    • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:02PM (#47678935)
      While I'd love the extra time off, reducing human employee's productivity & increasing their cost will only re-enforce the case for replacing them.
      • But do you real want bob to be working 0 hours and have jack working 60-80 all the time?
        when you can have both bob and jack working 30 hours?

        and lets say they are in job that you can't make into an robotic workers or that is a long way down the road.

        • My comment wasn't based on what I want, just the impact of taking that approach. 70 hour weeks, on a consistent basis, are a waste no matter what. Few people can stay productive for that time. Some businesses have figured that out.
        • But do you really want bob to be working 0 hours and have jack working 60-80 all the time?

          Well . . . if bob is incompetent and turns out shoddy work, and jack is excellent at what he does, I'd rather hire jack. Certainly any /.er has seen the debates about the 10x programmer; we all know people who can't cook and people who can, or people who can make music and people who you would pay to stay silent. I used to carpool with a woman engineer who bought inexpensive clothing and re-tailored it so that she looked 1000% couture; I, on the other hand, can just about fix a button on my shirt. There'

      • by mysidia (191772)

        reducing human employee's productivity & increasing their cost will only re-enforce the case for replacing them.

        How about a "fine" for reducing the number of workers doing any particular job?

        For every X workers you have doing job Y, no matter who you fire or hire, regardless of reason, you are expected to at least meet or exceed worker count for the job; if the 12 month rolling average of workers doing this job TIMES median salary OR total number of workers doing a certain job decreases by 10

        • Resorting to fines is not a solution, its battling a symptom that won't change the fundamental trend. Some people enjoy working their asses off, they should reap the rewards. Controls and incentives have their place, but they are more often tools to manage, not to solve problems.

          France has tried the reduced workhour thing, its not working.

          One thing you can do is allow part of people's social security to move to ownership of companies (stocks) and so they can reap the benefits of high profit margins cr
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe it's time for the human race to stop working, and start playing.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      And how do you suggest that they pay for the things that they want to play with? They would be jobless, after all. Or do you seriously think that a basic income would actually give people enough to do things that interest them beyond just the ability to merely exist.
      • by KingTank (631646)
        The whole point (ultimately) of robots is that they do things for free. I mean totally free (ultimately). If they can collect energy, dig raw materials out of the ground, and build things themselves, then there's no costs involved.
        • by mark-t (151149)
          That's all very well and good if a person has their own personal robot that can make everything that they might want.... of course, the reality is that only very rich people would have such robots, and use them to cheaply manufacture absolutely everything that the poor would still have to pay for. The "basic income" would probably not give those people any more than they need to simply continue exist, assuming it is even feasible (I suspect not, because the numbers of jobless would be too high... and with
          • You are still thinking inside of the box that's forced onto you by the existing socioeconomic arrangements. That won't last.

            For example, you say "rich people". What does this mean? Well, generally it means people who own significant amount of assets. It's not just cash in the bank, but usually it's stakes in various companies that produce wealth. Now what does "own" means? You own a shirt on your back, you own your car and your house - that much most people won't dispute. But when it comes to owning capital

        • And at what point do they realize, like offshore workers, that they don't really need the managers?
        • If they can collect energy, dig raw materials out of the ground, and build things themselves, then there's no costs involved.

          There will be costs involved. Getting the energy won't be magically free, materials come from a finite source (sure you can lasso an asteroid but space travel has significant costs), and there's costs due to entropy -- spoilage, maintenance, storm damage, etc. Land will be finite and defending the use of the land (security) has costs. Costs may plummet significantly but I don't thi
      • Or do you seriously think that a basic income would actually give people enough to do things that interest them beyond just the ability to merely exist.

        Why not?

        You should also consider that much of the money made working goes into continuing to work. The costs of commuting and paying others to do things you don't have time for are nothing to scoff at if you're making anywhere near minimum wage.

        • by mark-t (151149)
          Why do you think it would? Recall here that we are talking about what is realistically going to be about a 45% unemployment rate. Why would any government give people who cannot work, however much it may be because of no fault of their own, any more money than what they need to simply survive? Bear in mind that with fewer people working, the government will not be pulling as much tax revenue, making it that much harder for a government to continue to even support all of the jobless.
          • To start paying mincome in amounts well over minimum wage, a government will have to start competing with private companies, producing cheap goods with robotic labor essentially for free and selling them at market-competitive prices until all private competition is put out of business. Then they could be sold at-cost - in other words, those items can be part of your mincome. Tax revenue becomes less important as the government transitions to paying mincome in goods rather than dollars - eventually the goal

        • Or do you seriously think that a basic income would actually give people enough to do things that interest them beyond just the ability to merely exist.

          Why not?

          Look at the way people balk at welfare. Now, tell those people that you want to put everyone on welfare, and gauge their reactions.

          Might want to be out of arms' reach when you do.

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:37PM (#47678705) Journal

    For once that meme is actually on topic!

    I think something like basic income is inevitable. We have it now, it's called Section 8 and food stamps. And as joblessness increases those programs will steadily expand until, well fuck it, just give everybody enough money to buy basic food and housing and be done with it. There's no reason for anybody to go homeless or hungry in America. We pay farmers not to grow food and we have more empty foreclosed-on houses than we have homeless people. There's got to be a way to match that up.

    "But teh socialisms!!11!one!1!!" Well, the alternative is teh riotz!!!1!!

    The transition is going to be ugly but it's bound to happen. In the meantime, we computer programmer types will be fine until the singularity, and it'll still be quite awhile before robots can fix a busted water pipe so the trades can still provide a living. But transportation? Gone. Manufacturing? Gone. Knowledge work? Gone.

    The future will be awesome or terrible.

    • by stms (1132653)

      The future will be awesome and terrible.

      FTFY

  • The sky is falling and there isn't a damn thing anybody is going to do to change it... if you have one of the top 45% kinds of jobs, too bad so sad... you're just going to have to starve, because unemployment insurance will not be able to support the massive numbers of people that will be jobless.

    Granted, he doesn't come out and actually *say* that... but I honestly believe that may as well have.

    The video would have been served well by spending a few minutes at the end of it making practical suggestion

    • CGP Grey is all about presenting factual well-researched information about a topic, going so far as to speculate which jobs might be replaced by bots is in and of itself a substantial step beyond what he typically presents in his videos. I think proposing his own solutions to a problem that hasn't happened yet would turn an interesting presentation of information into something with an agenda.

      I find it interesting that people see the video as fear-mongering since it's presented very neutral as to the goo
    • So just because someone doesn't have a solution, they shouldn't attempt to raise awareness about a problem? I bet you're a manager.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        When the problem doesn't even pretend have a solution that doesn't involve mass death, effective slavery of the poor, or anything else in between, what good does raising awareness now do? Where would the motivation for young people come from to even *TRY* to learn more than what they know right now if they feel that absolutely anything that they might try to do will only inevitably result in them being unemployable? Recall that we are talking about a 45% unemployment rate here.
  • Whores. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hsthompson69 (1674722)

    No, really, whores. As bad as it might be to stick your pink bits into a complete stranger's body rather than some sex-bot, that'll pretty much be the last profession as well as the oldest.

    Now, one might imagine that automation eventually makes sex bots so cheap as to compete with the 20 dollar half and half, but simply on material costs alone I think you hit a constraint.

  • It was Automation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fustakrakich (1673220)

    I know [youtube.com]...

    Prices should have been going down all these years, but we let the financial markets drive the economy. It's like a rain forest canopy of money, all flowing over our heads with barely a trickle down

  • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:58PM (#47678909)
    In the view of CEOs and super-richs:

    The world will be populated by a hundred (or slightly less) of super-rich people, surrounded by thousands and thousands of robots. Around them you will see billions of bones of those who failed to buy private robotic armies to protect them.

    But this will be temporary, because shortly after that hundred will turn against each other, after all greed has no limits . They will kill each other as greed commands, and when the last survivor die of old age will be left only the robots.
    • Bones everywhere? That's ridiculous!

      They'll be collected by the robots and made into elaborate thrones.

      • Bones everywhere? That's ridiculous!

        They'll be collected by the robots and made into elaborate thrones.

        See? Robots can be creative!

  • by sstamps (39313) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:02PM (#47678933) Homepage

    As with many overly-optimistic/pessimistic navel-gazes, there are numerous factors which were excluded from consideration in the video.

    Beyond the simple fact that we're still quite far away from this post-human productivity apocalypse, considering the current state of the technology, the simple fact of the matter is that it will take a LOT of human physical and mental labor to bring it about. Even then, there will still be a need for humans to plan and make decisions, as well as deal with the exceptions that the machines still won't be able to cope with as yet.

    So, while the video may be an interesting take on the subject matter, and it is something that we /should/ be mindful of going forward, I do not believe it is quite the existential threat the video makes it out to be.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:04PM (#47678955)

    At the end of the day, it is humans that control the bots. So unlike the cited example of horses, we are not going to be replaced. All of our jobs may be replaced, and a great many jobs have already been replaced. That is my main concern.

    Now this isn't a concern about people having a place in society. We can do that without defining ourselves by our work. Rather my concern is about what we do.

    A great many people will find constructive things to do. Think of our hobbies. Many will find neutral things to do. Think of passive consumption. Yet there will also be people who find destructive things to do. There always have been, and always will be, that type of person. The problem is that the bots will free up time for those destructive self-indulgers. How are we going to control that? Then again, maybe that's a job for robocop.

    • At the end of the day, it is humans that control the bots.

      I'm picturing you delivering this speech from a lectern in a 1950s sci-fi movie, and right at the end of this sentence the music gets really foreboding. And maybe even some heckler asks: "Yes, but for how long?"

  • Anyone think that perhaps the most recent spates of unemployment have more to do with bad forsight, planning, and some theft rather than the fact that we've made ourselves obsolete? When's the last time you went out to eat at a sit-down restaurant? Just how many of the staff there had been replaced by technology?

    (Maybe an accountant, if that)

  • by hughbar (579555) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:56PM (#47679481) Homepage
    This comes up nearly every year on slashdot. And very year I post this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] Like all Vonnegut, this is a great read BTW.

    Perhaps next year a robot can post this for me? Or maybe just a plain bot would be simpler without the 'ro'?
  • A really BIG world-war, with die-offs in the millions. Once that's done, we won't need to worry about a post-human economy. Everything will be right-sized... whether we like it or not.
  • That distinction reminded me of the Butlerian Jihad from Dune. The backlash against thinking machines caused humanity to destroy them and forbid their creation.

    I always wondered how you draw the line between the two. Seems like the video is no advocating drawing a line at all, but instead just accepting that this will happen and planning for it, because "economics always wins".

    Hard to argue with the prediction that most humans will be unemployable at some point in the future.

  • I rant frequently about the issue of automation-robotics. The elimination of human labor is not a bad thing. But the shock we are about to go through must be moderated. The depth of the changes about to take place is too deep to be understood. Do not assume that their are tasks that machines can not do. Obviously current investments tend to cause development in areas where huge savings can be seen. Fast food workers are a serious target for a robotic wipe out. Imagine keeping one or two very pretty
  • It's good to see this discussion becoming mainstream. Back in 2009, Alan Cox wrote in the Atlantic [theatlantic.com], "One sometimes wonders, in this era of Market religion, where the skeptics and freethinkers have gone". There's been an assumption in recent decades, since the USSR went down, that capitalism is the only possible system of economic organization. That's starting, cautiously, to be questioned.

    In the Great Depression of the 1930s, all sorts of "isms" were proposed. Communism, socialism, technocracy, and othe

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