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Robotics Businesses

Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers 289

HughPickens.com writes: Zeynep Tufekci writes in an op-ed at the NY Times that machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who's in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. It turns out most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data. "Machines aren't used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a "good enough" job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans," writes Tufekci. "Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency."

According to Tufekci technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers' dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. Tufekci points out that one historical example is no guarantee of future events. "Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities," concludes Tufekci. "This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another."
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Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers

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  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:17AM (#49518277)

    He may well believe that past results are no indication of future results, there's one overwhelmingly important fact that comes to mind: noone will be able to buy the stuff made in the robot factories if we're all unemployed or minimum wage serfs.

    And if noone can buy the stuff, the owners aren't going to get rich selling the stuff. Which means THEY won't be able to buy stuff either....

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:39AM (#49518413)

      noone will be able to buy the stuff made in the robot factories if we're all unemployed or minimum wage serfs.

      We'll just export it all to the counties where the unions and government actually protect their workers and put the long-term common good of the people ahead of powerful corporations' profits for the next quarter.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        We'll just export it all to the counties where the unions and government actually protect their workers and put the long-term common good of the people ahead of powerful corporations' profits for the next quarter.

        Which'll put all those people in other countries out of work, when what they sell costs way more than what you sell. Again, they won't be able to buy your stuff, and you won't be able to sell your stuff.

        • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @10:11AM (#49519203)
          This is the end result of the current path we're on. But those profiting from this change now don't care about the next decade, nor even next year, if they can cash out theirs this year.
          • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @11:44AM (#49520113) Homepage

            It's called an aristocracy, and it's gell-ing together. Call it "Techno Feudalism". Most of us will be serfs indeed.

            The Middle Class will be viewed as an oddity of human history. But a simple and brief blip on the radar. A have/ have not society has ALWAYS been the norm; and for much of the world, still is.

            • Let's suppose for sake of argument that after some number of years things have been automated to the extent that all of human necessities can be taken care of by robots and that people no longer hold these jobs. Essentially, robots can grow and distribute food (or we have some other system that's advanced beyond raising crops) build infrastructure, and provide rudimentary healthcare.

              Does it really matter if we're serfs if the standard of living is better than what you can expect for a middle class family
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by DigiShaman ( 671371 )

                Excellent questions and underlaying premise. On the face of it logically, yeah, I would tend to agree. But, the issue here is psychological in human nature. The ultra wealthy tend to be decadent, arrogant, condescending, and overall live in a warped reality from the rest of us. Often when they feel guilty under fear of shame, they will propose changes in lifestyles for everyone else except for themselves (see carbon trading, and other environmental movements along with public health). They truly live with d

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by alvinrod ( 889928 )
                  Let's put you in such a position where you are one of these powerful elite who owns or controls a large amount of robotic power, enough that you can provide comfortably for some arbitrarily large (even all of humanity if you'd like) number of people.

                  Let's further suppose that only about 3% of these people will ever be capable of providing some service that's materially beneficial to you or that your robots are currently incapable of doing. Further suppose another 3% can produce something that has no mate
      • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @11:46AM (#49520129)

        As part of the past not being an indication of future results, I think people need to stop looking at the mid-20th century as the only model for an economy.

        The 20th century saw the creation of the middle class as we think of it today. The wealthy needed a more skilled workforce to produce the products new technologies had made possible. The middle class was simply a byproduct of this need. Industrious people found a way to benefit from this more affluent working class and an entire new class of consumer was born.

        The late 20th century saw the creation of the upper middle class. Additional advances in technology now meant the wealthy needed an even more skilled workforce. The upper middle class was simply a byproduct of this need. This upper middle class has much more disposable income than the middle class, so you start to see a shift in the type of products that exist in the economy. Instead of bargain food and bargain products, you see more fancy restaurants, Whole Foods, iPads, etc. It appears that an entire new class of consumer has been born again.

        I see no reason why the economy cannot keep humming along selling its products to the upper middle class. The most profitable company in the world (Apple) sells almost exclusively to the upper middle class. The buzz created by selling to this market also makes the middle class stretch their dollars more to buy these expensive goods and services to "keep up with the Jones-es" (households with $60k income probably shouldn't spend money on iPhones, but they still do). The shrinking of the middle class hasn't seemed to hurt companies at all because they have this new more affluent market to sell to.

        Over the next 20 years I expect the top 10% of households to have even more wealth than they do today, and the range of luxury products sold to them will be remarkable even by today's standards. The rest of the population will likely take on service related jobs for very low pay relative to the upper middle class, and will probably be very dependent on society for covering basic living expenses. I don't see this as a utopian world by any means, but it is what I expect to happen.

    • by khasim ( 1285 )

      She's wrong on a few points.

      1. It has ALWAYS been about "Reducing Dependence on Human Workers". A person with years of hand-crafting skill is replaced by someone with months of machine-operating skill. And so forth.

      2. Machines are NOT as good as she claims at predicting HUMAN behaviour. They're just getting to be better than the average human (who sucks at it).

      3.

      Now machines at call centers can be used to seamlessly generate spoken responses to customer inquiries, so that a single operator can handle multip

      • LMOL none of that stops businesses from using them and those flaws can be fixed.
      • No. HUMANS can be forced to read off a script but MACHINES suck at anything more complex than "Did you say "yes"".

        Tell that to Watson in 2020.

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

        Now machines at call centers can be used to seamlessly generate spoken responses to customer inquiries, so that a single operator can handle multiple customers all at once.

        No. HUMANS can be forced to read off a script but MACHINES suck at anything more complex than "Did you say "yes"".

        Well, they're already better than merely "Did you say 'yes'?" way better. And honestly, I'd rather have a machine than a barely english speaking call center bozo in India reading off a script they know nothing about. At least with the machine, I know the script, and in some cases can significantly cut the time by knowing the response sequence. I don't have to wait for the "question" to finish before putting in the next response. The latest encounter was with my ISP, where the machine knew my previous calls

        • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

          Machine call centers are only better if they can respond to keypresses before finishing playing the tape.
          For some call centers I used to have little charts of the menu. If I needed department 3 for issue 4 for module 2 of product 5, I'd just dial in and immediately press 5243.
          Most automated call centers, however, don't allow you to do this. You have to listen through a horrendously slow voice listing out all the possible options even though you already know exactly which button you should press. At the very

          • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

            Anything a machine call center can handle, a web site could handle more quickly and reliably. An automated call center is like having someone read you a web page's text over the phone, and then ask you to tell them which link to click on.

    • if the ultimate capitalist pursuit of removing all human workers results in production without any cost, then they have delivered the ultimate socialist utopia: everything costs $0, no one having to work

      all that has to be removed is the mendacity that will still seek rent for the existing machinery

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by GLMDesigns ( 2044134 )
        The goal of capitalism has nothing to do with removing human workers. The fact that sometimes efficiencies lead to fewer workers does not mean that is a goal. Cranes and pumps replaces having hundreds of people passing buckets of concrete or lugging steel beams around on their back. I think those efficiencies are good.

        The problem will come because people still want to retire at 65 and live to 165; problems will come because people will keep breeding when there is no work and then expect others to pay for
        • capitalism is about increasing profits by any means possible

          if people could be worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for no pay, capitalism would be very happy. just look at the cruelties of the gilded age before the labor movement shut down most of the viciousness

          the ideal society is capitalism with social safety nets and market protections. otherwise capitalism will lead to worker abuse and monopolies/ oligopolies where consumers are ripped off and smaller competitors squashed

          you need to protect society from capitalism's extremes. if some of those protections and regulations have problems, those problems are tiny compared to no protections or regulations. protections and regulations can be cleaned up and refined, but never removed. to not understand why less protections and regulations is far worse is to not understand the topic

          capitalism is like a great beast. properly harnessed and controlled it can plow your fields and give you great riches. allowed to run roughshod, it will knock down your barn and eat your crops. and what capitalism is most certainly not is some sort of fundamentalist religion, the end-all be-all of existence as some assholes conceive it to be. such fools represent our destruction

          • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
            I think capitalism and government could both be improved by introducing some randomness into things. We should draw lots for some offices, like Athens did. I wonder if people would avoid congress like they avoid jury duty?
            Could the worst incompetent do worse then the guys we have now?
            • I think William Buckley once said he would rather have politicians chosen at random from the phone book than come exclusively from the Harvard faculty.
              • i would love to see a return of intelligent conservatism like Buckley. the idea of having an intelligent rational exchange with a conservative is an exciting prospect

                unfortunately, in the USA at least, the right seems to have been taken over by its idiots. there are of course many, many morons on the left. the difference being the right seems to have put their morons in charge

                in today's cllimate Buckley would quickly be labeled a RINO, a moderate, a flip flopper (to be intellectually honest and be able to change your mind is considered wrong), or even socialist

                not because Buckley ever espoused socialism, but because since the end of the cold war 25 years ago, the insult "socialist" has degenerated to mean nothing more than "bad word to call scary person i don't like"

                • And right wing means nothing either. It means "not-left" but lumps together Buckley with Buchanan with Bush with Murray Rothbard with Ayn Rand (and of course Hitler)
            • by gtall ( 79522 )

              I think you are close to my own view, many systems need a bit of hysteresis to function properly. Currently, the bean counters running companies have taken over. They understand little about what the company does and hence tend to run it at what they think is maximum efficiency...until the wheels fall off because they didn't properly invest for future growth, or created customer hate that built over time, or soiled the environment to the point government had to step in reel them back, caused a Great Recessi

          • 1. Capitalism is not anarchy.
            2. Capitalism did not cause the inequality and the plight of the common man. That existed pre-capitalism.
            3. Capitalism and unions are not antithetical. (Bring gov't into the mix and it often is.)
            4. A government controlled economy is like having huge corporations with armies, police forces and courts with little or no recourse for whatever plight you may have.
            • 1. no, capitalism is not anarchy. the endpoint is plutocracy: high corruption, a few ultrarich, and a sea of poor

              2. that abuse exists independent of capitalism doesn't say anything for or against capitalism. that's a pretty dumb red herring. capitalism of course creates certain kinds of abuse. many other abuses exist outside capitalism. duh

              3. capitalism created unions in the late 1800s. people were becoming slaves (charged more for the company food and housing than the money they made, in essence paying to work). no holidays, no time off, child slavery, no worker safety, etc. unions exist simply because without anyone advocating for workers, companies would happily abuse workers. uinions themselves have many abuses. as if those abuses are worse than a slave holding corporation

              4. a government is controlled by its people. it's called democracy. a *corrupt* government is controlled by corporations. so you want to remove the *corruption* not the *government. get it? if you weaken the government, who fills the power vacuum? corporations do. the ones corrupting your government. hello?

              never in a million years do i understand this deranged notion:

              "corporations corrupt my democracy, so government is evil"

              wtf? it's like:

              "someone robbed the bank by bribing the security guard. so from now on we will have no security at banks. that way our money will be safe from robbers... what did you ask? go after the robbers? nah, forget about them. just fire the bad guard and hire a new good guard? that's crazy talk"

              why are so many people so deranged on this point? corporations are your enemy, not government. they are the ones corrupting your government. plenty of countries have laws against corruption that works. you can't remove all corruption but you can do far, far better than the USA's legalized corruption

              A government controlled economy is like having huge corporations with armies, police forces and courts with little or no recourse for whatever plight you may have.

              (facepalm)

              how the fuck can you have it exactly backwards from the truth?

              weak government means corporations control the army, police force, and courts with little or no recourse. with your government, you're arrested, tried, and freed/ jailed. there's a process to protect you. the process can fuck up, but why is NO process somehow better? what recourse do you have against an army controlled by corporations?

              is that science fiction i'm talking about? consider dickface plutocrat cheney and his blackwater crew and then consider this real american history:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

              Pinkerton's agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[3] By the early 1890s, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the United States of America.

              During the labor strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, businessmen hired the Pinkerton Agency to infiltrate unions, supply guards, keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories, as well as recruiting goon squads to intimidate workers. One such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to reinforce the strikebreaking measures of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie. The ensuing battle between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to the deaths of seven Pinkerton agents and nine steelworkers.[4] The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. The organization was pejoratively called the "Pinks" by its opponents.

              • This is a Republic - not a Democracy. Corporations don't corrupt it. What corrupts it are politicians who use laws to help one entity over another. Whenever you increase the power of government (Do this, "Let's make a law to do that") you give one more area for the government to be "corrupted" as you say by corporations.

                Don't give tax incentives. At all. The only way to do that is to have a flat tax. But no. That's not good enough. You need to go out of your way to try to force equality of outcome; you p
                • This is a Republic - not a Democracy

                  i'm sorry, i stopped reading there

                  this comment causes me instant rage and instantly makes me disrespect the person. i can't interact with you any further

                  it's a constant comment, you see it all the time on the topic of government

                  it's like "correlation is not causation"

                  a phrase originally meant to be about keeping an open mind, but now a phrase constantly kneejerk parroted by morons to close their mind against proof that contradicts their prejudices. correlation is actually the first step in establishing causation. correlation does not mean causation does not exists. but that's how people use the phrase! it's incredibly stupid

                  likewise, "the usa is a republic not a democracy" is similar. a constant comment by low effort low iq people who want to seem discerning and knowledgeable but only reveal themselves to be fucking dumb

                  it's like saying "the usa is a mode of transportation, not an automobile"

                  we're a republic that elects our representatives democratically you dumb fuck

                  we're BOTH

                  it is completely accurate to call the USA a democracy. it doesn't mean we are not a republic. these are different descriptors for different aspects of our government structure you stupid shit

                  to not understand that, and to think saying this kneejerk dumb comment is important or wise, instantly makes you completely not worth any further interaction

                  please mod this comment +500 insightful and burn it across the front page of slashdot

                  still won't save us from the steady rain of "the usa is a republic not a democracy, the usa is a republic not a democracy, the usa is a republic not a democracy" from dumb assholes for years

                  • There is a major difference between a Republic and a Democracy - namely the source of the power of the government. Does the power come from the Constitution or is it majority rule?

                    Yes a democracy can also have a constitution but that's not the meaning of the words. You may argue that Positive and Negative Rights are poor words to describe the concept - nonetheless those are the accepted terms. The same as here.

                    Going back to the original point - the constitution limits the authority of where and how th
        • The thing is that the profit is made at the margin. When the marginal cost of production is $0 (for anybody), from whence comes the profit?

          • If the marginal cost of production is 0 for items which or necessary (food, clothing, lodging) and wanted (books, movies, video games, restaurants, travel,art supplies, etc) then the game will have changed.



            Until then ...
            • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @10:56AM (#49519727) Journal

              Getting there. I could see a robot farm, a 3D printer that can build a not-uncomfortable dwelling, power from solar and batteries...entertainment can already be achieved for free. Might not be the lap of luxury, but I think within 10-15 years, one could build a community wherein zero work (or an extremely small number of maintenance hours) could be required, and humans sustainably live. It won't be super comfy. But the options would no longer be limited to work, die, or burden the community.

        • The goal of capitalism has nothing to do with removing human workers. The fact that sometimes efficiencies lead to fewer workers does not mean that is a goal.

          It's mostly just a handy side effect.

      • Even complete elimination of labor costs would not result in the situation you're describing. Raw materials and land, at the very least, will still have value.
    • by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @09:38AM (#49518849)
      That was the authors point: "Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. Tufekci points out that one historical example is no guarantee of future events. "

      In the past, machines replaced "manual labor." Today, machines are replacing "white collared labor." Getting more education won't help you anymore.
      • In the past, machines replaced "manual labor." Today, machines are replacing "white collared labor." Getting more education won't help you anymore.

        It's even worse than that - machines are replacing skilled white collar labor, professionals with degrees like engineers and accountants. Not only will more education not help you anymore, neither necessarily will experience.

      • It's never been about getting "more" education; it's always been about getting "different" education. You may have a college degree, but you probably can't do any ironsmithing or glass-blowing either.

        I'm also not sure what white collar jobs, specifically, you think are being automated away. Analysis and accountants? Maybe. But it seems more the case of analysts having more powerful tools than being obsoleted. Machine learning and neural networks can be great at analysis, but not at defining what to ana

      • It's also that we're eliminating low-skill jobs entirely, not just replacing them with a job operating a machine that does their old job better. Even if there are high skill/education jobs available, not everyone is going to be able to retrain for that.
    • He may well believe that past results are no indication of future results, there's one overwhelmingly important fact that comes to mind: noone will be able to buy the stuff made in the robot factories if we're all unemployed or minimum wage serfs.

      And if noone can buy the stuff, the owners aren't going to get rich selling the stuff. Which means THEY won't be able to buy stuff either....

      We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the capitalistic model. It breaks down if people can't sell their labor. It would be nice if we could use this transition to develop an economic model that would be more widely equitable than Capitalism has turned out to be. And maybe get rid of debt-backed money as well, as it also serves to concentrate wealth. I know who has control and makes the rules, so I'm not overly optimistic, but it would be nice.

      • It would be nice if we could use this transition to develop an economic model that would be more widely equitable than Capitalism has turned out to be.

        Figure out one that doesn't suck or run on pipe dreams and you can count me in, for the moment there is no alternative.

    • First, the headline is a "duh" headline. Of course the lure of robots is the ability to do without humans. That's the whole point -- the very defining characteristic -- of a robot. To automate complicated work.

      Second, you assume an all-or-nothing future. That will not be the case. If you have a few more robots and a few more workers, you can drive unit prices down and pick up a few more customers, even without the recently dismissed human workers that can no longer afford to be those customers. That's true

    • by The_Noid ( 28819 )

      Why would they need to sell stuff? Those that own the production facilities can just produce anything they need or want in their own factories. They become self contained in their factory mansions with no need to interact with the 99.999%

      What we, the 99.999%, do with our life is up to us. My suggestion would be along the lines of taking over those automated factories, making them state-owned (or taxing the 0.001% with a 99.9% tax rate), and giving everyone a base income.

      If everything can be made by robots,

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      He may well believe that past results are no indication of future results, there's one overwhelmingly important fact that comes to mind: noone will be able to buy the stuff made in the robot factories if we're all unemployed or minimum wage serfs.

      And if noone can buy the stuff, the owners aren't going to get rich selling the stuff. Which means THEY won't be able to buy stuff either....

      No, but the rich folks will just own it all.

      See Manna [marshallbrain.com] where robots take over. If you don't have a job, you get shuffled off

  • And upping the Dependence on welfare / medicaid as well for some more Dependence on jail for a place to sleep / get food / get a doctor.

    We need to work on basic income and universal health care be for removing even more jobs. Also do something about student loans / some kind of badges systems that makes so you don't have to go back to school for years at high cost to get a piece a paper so you can get a new job.

    • I don't think social programs like basic income and universal health will happen in the US until the unemployment rate gets much higher than it is now. Once enough voters are unemployed, the political power of that group will be formidable. It's going to be a rough transition, but we'll get there.

    • I think education will be solved organically as young people move into management positions. For the 40+ crowd, "everybody knows" you have to have a degree to prove you know how to do something, and the only way to get an education is to go to college. For the 20-30 crowd, "everybody knows" a piece of paper doesn't mean shit and if you're really interested in something you can learn more off the Internet than you will in class. Also, saddling yourself with massive debt is dumb. So when the generation burned

  • Forward thinking... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJ ( 13711 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:22AM (#49518309)

    So... who exactly is going to buy all of these things when no one has any money because all the jobs have been replaced by robots?

  • by fche ( 36607 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:23AM (#49518319)

    We can help the automation industry by providing more incentives for business to use their widgets! March for a "living wage"!

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:27AM (#49518341) Homepage
    As an automotive engineer, we "employ" hundreds of robots at different points of assembly to replace people but the cost of anything hasnt really gone down. A car used to take 12 years to design from scratch, then 7, now 5, because we simulate most of what we're doing and machines are just so much faster than humans when it comes to manufacturing things. We use palletizer robots to stack things, transport bots to send parts from one department to another, painter bots that simulate their own paint path and are self-optimizing, and of course armies of welders that never get tired, or sick, or bored, or angry. the result is a better product and our average vehicle can routinely last 500k or more miles without any problems that would constitute buying a new car. Heck, our door lock motors will outlast the owner.

    so for me, robots mean the death of not just work, but commerce and capitalism as well. our rework and repair department is one guy. What is there left to buy? who is buying it? if endless consumption just leaves peole feeling hollow and everything we have works just fine, then gains from efficiency aside you're still faced with rampant unemployment and a nonexistent place to sell a product that isnt needed. Sure, we sex up our products all the time with girls in skirts and some deadpan guy mumbling neurotic platitudes in the rain, but does anyone really buy into the idea that a sixty grand car is going to get them laid? We've become desparately predatory such that selling an SUV pushes so many unconscious buttons for ones safety and security that we're practically insisting anything less is suicide when all our vehicles are nearly identical in crash ratings.
    • So close to utopia. So close to dystopia.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:28AM (#49518343) Journal

    Everyone has this odd fantasy where robots replace all our jobs, so we all learn to be machine workers and maintain the robots. 10,000 jobs lost to robots means 10,000 new machine worker jobs; or, even better, 20,000 new engineering, machinist, and so forth jobs.

    That would be expensive. Cheap, unskilled labor replaced by robot labor requiring the input of twice as much expensive, skilled labor? The whole premise is that you're replacing 10,000 $8/hr sandwich makers with 10,000 robots each supplying $25/hr to engineers, maintenance people, and so forth. 10,000 x $8/hr = $80,000/hr; 10,000 x $25/hr = $250,000/hr. We're imagining robots will cost less than humans, so obviously there must be less human labor involved in the building, operating, maintaining, and fueling of these robots.

    The truth is robots will take our jobs, just like in the Industrial Revolution. 10,000 workers will become 10 robots supported by 100 workers who each make twice as much: 10,000 workers become 100 workers at the cost of 200 workers. Of course, that means your goods and services suddenly carry 1/500 of the human labor cost. Now, let's assume food becomes 20% cheaper--this is a poor assumption, based on fast food service labor being rated at 14% (at McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, and so forth, 14% is a common number: if the wages of your floor staff exceed 14% of your revenue for the hour, you start sending people home early), which is wholly unrelated to most food purchase. Still, let's use that for a base assumption and see what happens.

    Well, first off, the average middle-class person may spend $300/month on food; it's possible, with discipline, to get down as low as $35/month, and in fact $100/mo is a good target, and I've personally eaten lots of sushi and chicken and bacon and eggs and mushrooms at $120/mo (dry beans and ramen diet be damned). Let's use $300 and $100. a poor person suddenly spends $80, and a middle-class person spends $240 on food. Food being 20% cheaper, there's $60 more in each middle-class pocket every month, and $20 more in the pockets of the poor.

    Propagate this out to other goods and services. If, on average, you save even 10%, that's a good $800 billion extra in people's pockets. There's room for another $800 billion luxury industry--video games or smart phones, for example. These industries may or may not automate well, and so you will find new jobs to create, and possibly a lot of new jobs where automation hasn't caught up. These jobs only require some cheap human labor that's difficult to automate, and so your basis of unemployed McDonalds sandwich makers becomes your new basis for the next new product or service.

    • It is true there is a couple of spots where the worker tradeoff is closer to 1-1, such as how computers used to be the domain of "revenge of the nerds" (is there ever a movie that captures a changing mood better than that one!?) and now everyone wants "good computer skills", but I do agree you can't just replace workers at even 10-1 ratios forever like free lunch.

      A big problem as I see it is that the entire science of economics (no snark jokes, please! It *is* a science, just one stuck with dealing with the

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @10:27AM (#49519397)

      But who's making money off those smartphone games at $1 a pop? All we hear about is how nobody makes money on them.

      I've heard more than a few serious economists (ie, real academics who aren't mass-media brand names) sound kind of nervous about automation's role in shrinking the number of jobs. Few of them seem ready to entirely disown the notion that automating one set of tasks frees up labor for new economic expansions where the tasks can't be easily automated.

      Where they seem to get nervous is over the fact that the jobs increasingly eliminated by automation are jobs that previously required a lot of education and were high wage, white collar jobs. And they're not being replaced by new jobs of the same type, they're being replaced by low-wage jobs that require hard to automate manual skills -- when they're being replaced at all.

      The new high wage white collar jobs being produced often require the kind of extensive training and experience extremely difficult for mid-career professionals to obtain, which is compounded by the rate of jobs being automated.

      I'm increasingly of the opinion that the notion of a broad middle class is a kind of historical accident caused by the confluence of growth in technology, wide and cheap resource availability and high labor demand. We may be nearing the end of the middle class as we've known it and mostly like it, and returning to a more historical pattern of broad poverty and narrow wealth.

      • I'm increasingly of the opinion that the notion of a broad middle class is a kind of historical accident caused by the confluence of growth in technology, wide and cheap resource availability and high labor demand. We may be nearing the end of the middle class as we've known it and mostly like it, and returning to a more historical pattern of broad poverty and narrow wealth.

        I've been saying that for a decade now - the middle class as we know it today essentially didn't exist within living memory. (That's c

      • Where they seem to get nervous is over the fact that the jobs increasingly eliminated by automation are jobs that previously required a lot of education and were high wage, white collar jobs. And they're not being replaced by new jobs of the same type, they're being replaced by low-wage jobs that require hard to automate manual skills -- when they're being replaced at all.

        This paragraph is a mess, but yeah. Economic considerations are of broad numbers, not individuals. This sits fine with me, as I don't cry too much about saving 100,000 starving people at the expense of throwing 1,000 well-off people into the gutter. Many people balk at this: they either want to save some of the 100,000 without impacting anyone else (not trade 2:1 or 1,000:1, but do no trade), or they want to tax the shit out of the rich for malicious reasons. All I want is a more efficient system.

        The new high wage white collar jobs being produced often require the kind of extensive training and experience extremely difficult for mid-career professionals to obtain, which is compounded by the rate of jobs being automated.

        A m

  • No shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:35AM (#49518387)

    Also in headlines "Tech Worker Shortage Just Ruse to Get More Indentured-Servant H1B's"

  • Post-labor economics (Score:4, Informative)

    by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:43AM (#49518439)
    We will have to rethink how our economy works. Present consumer spending-driven 9-5 5 days a week until 65 system won't work when there is no need for that much human labor. History showed us that at around 20% unemployment systemic societal unrest starts, and at around 30% unemployment radicalization and regime changes happen.

    Maybe unwanted labor will establish new markets for creative process. I see this as very unlikely scenario, since average person isn't that creative. Plus whole 'starving artist' does not scale up to population levels. Alternatively, we can go down to 4 days a week or 10-4 days or all have 3 month per year vacations.
    • I'm sure the "think tanks" out there have been mulling over this for the last few years. I know they are thinking about a "dole" system, similar to what Switzerland has been thinking about. Problem is, where will the government get the money to support millions of unemployed? You think corporations(who will eventually takeover) are going to do it?

      The reality is, in the not too distant future, those 20-30% thresholds of unemployed will be met.
      What happens then?

      What happens when the millions of une
  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:54AM (#49518515)
    This has long been one of my predictions with robots; that when they are actually good at something they will be awesome. So many of our manufactured goods are becoming fantastically reliable because of the reduced reliance on humans. When you buy stuff it just rarely comes broken anymore. Also if you look at the failure graphs on many goods the graph is becoming less and less a bell curve and just a giant spike at the point where some critical part will just wear out due to physics rather than sloppy manufacturing.

    But where I see them really kicking ass and taking names is in agriculture where you could have a robot sweep down a field of fruit and only harvest that fruit that is perfectly ripe, then to come back hours later and harvest the now ripe fruit, and so on for the entire harvest. The same with earlier phases of growing, such as diligently picking the weeds every day, or watering and fertilizing only those plants that exactly need it. Can you imagine some working walking along taking soil samples by each plant and then making the correct adjustments. Or picking the bugs off each plant and crushing them?

    Then there will be things like road construction, landscaping, building construction, road maintenance, etc. With these I can see a situation where not only are the robots cheaper at doing these things but they do them with such perfection that people would take any suggestion to use people as just foolish. For instance right now my city is filled with potholes and cracks in the road that will pretty much certainly become potholes. I would love a robot that went around filling these in to perfection. 50-100 of these robots could probably keep the streets in my city basically perfect. The same with sidewalk/park/road cleaning robots as the streets in my city are filthy. The occasional large sweeping machine is just not enough. Again 50-100 machines could make my city Truman show perfect.
  • Money Talks (Score:4, Informative)

    by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @08:55AM (#49518519)
    The problem is the people with money are only concerned with making more money and having more power. Jobs will go away, and rather than innovate we'll have a very painful growth period in which some people will fall through the massive cracks in the system and be left there.

    If we actually care about one another (or more cynically want to avoid the potentially violent unrest that can accompany mass unemployment) we need to do at a minimum make sure everyone is taken care of. I'd say we need to find a way to make everyone feel useful and productive. To do that, we need to rethink how we spend human effort and to what end. If we evolve technologically to the point that jobs aren't about catering the whims of the wealthy or subsistence - why not explore creating an economy of exploration and human evolution? Why not pour our wealth into educating people and increase the number of people who can play a part in helping us live longer, explore the universe, and enjoy life more? Let's replace menial jobs with scientists and artists.

    Because left to their own devices, the kings of capital will let the workers replaced by robots starve and rot.
    • I'm kind of curious when somebody will start a utopia experiment. A Robert Owen for the 21st century. When the robots get good and cheap enough, in maybe the next 10 years, somebody will start a collaborative project online to build a self-sufficient town in the real world. Find some cheap land someplace. Start working the figures. How much will the 3D printers needed to build all the homes cost? The robots to work the farm? The solar panels and Tesla batteries (or maybe Lockheed's fusion-on-a-flatbed deal.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @09:04AM (#49518591) Journal
    The view that industrial revolution destroyed cheap labor intensive jobs while creating more value added higher paying jobs and more high paying jobs were created than destroyed is a very Euro-centric view. Industrial revolution in Europe was an unmitigated disaster for India, China and other places. Before industrial revolution, Europe, India and China each had about 20 to 25% of the world GDP. Arab traders and other countries made up for the rest.

    India and China were devastated, they had no clue of what was hitting them, they were reduced abject poverty and penury, to less than 5% of the GDP. The high paying jobs were created in Europe, and the number of higher paying jobs created were far less than the number destroyed if you take a global view. Only if you limit yourself to Europe you would see comparable number of new jobs being created. The Luddites were right.

    Now finally it is lapping up the shores of the so called developed countries too. Finally it is affecting the upper middle class. Upper middle class are the real henchmen for the super rich. Without the upper middle class professionals siding up with the super rich, they could not stack the system in their favor. The super rich got too greedy and now they are taking from the 99% to 99.5% too. As long as they took from the bottom 95% and left enough for the 95% to 99.5% they could continue to grow. But when the life time earnings of a surgeon or a dentist or a CPA or midlevel MBA does not put them in the top 1% by net worth, they are going to rebel. And they are the ones who would succeed in such revolution without destroying everything else in the process.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      Just wait until life-extension treatments become available under this new system. You will have 0.1% living for 300+ years while everyone else croaking at 60 with no access to healthcare.
    • Yeah, who needed the industrial revolution. F*** progress! Lets all go back to back breaking work in an agrarian society.
    • by dabadab ( 126782 )

      India and China were devastated, they had no clue of what was hitting them, they were reduced abject poverty and penury, to less than 5% of the GDP.

      That smells fishy.
      Was their GDP really reduced or all that happened was that the European GDP made such a huge jump but India's and China's stayed on the level before?
      Do you have any solid data to support this claim?

  • Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @09:10AM (#49518639)

    "Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency."

    It's sounding more like oppression to me.

  • Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills.

    Reminds me of the bit about horses in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Big_Breaker ( 190457 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @09:48AM (#49518953)

    Companies have gotten really good a simplifying human jobs so that new hires with few skills can be quickly trained up to replace underperforming or otherwise problematic workers. There are high paying management jobs (a few of them) for producing and optimizing employment manuals, procedures, performance targets and input kiosks so that the absolute lowest common denominator hire can quickly fill a void.

    As an example McDonalds "upgraded" their order taking turrets from using words for each food item to pictures for each food item. That meant they could employ people who couldn't read, because I guess literacy was a limiting requirement in their hiring process. McDonalds employs over 400,000 people. Just a small "savings" across that employment base is worth millions. That millions of savings get's split between shareholders and the top tier of management who designs and implements these "process enhancements".

    And the new thing is to order online from your smartphone and pick it up at the counter. That gets rid of the order taker entirely and you can staff with mostly "behind the scenes" worker bees that don't even have to speak English. That is until you can get a robot to make the food too.

    Call centers have been doing this for years with average call time metrics, flow charts for addressing caller needs, etc... It's happening in lots and lots of industries now.

    • With fast food workers in cities protesting and demanding that they should making $15 an hour, I'm surprised that more fast food places aren't trying to replace their cashiers with self order kiosks.

  • because of all the robots. The nice thing is, we needn't be concerned about robot overlords. Our machines will make better slaves.
  • Wouldn't these robots be heavily dependent on wireless communications of various sorts? Would jamming the communications disable them?

  • We don't want to be human-dependent for designing, producing, selling and delivering stuff.
    We don't want to be human-dependent for stuff to be sold/bought.
    And in the end we don't need to be human-dependent for company profits.
    Lay all humans all the way off and replace them with robots. That's it.
  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @12:04PM (#49520367)

    A high-level call came in from London. Nikolai, surprised and intrigued, took the call himself. A young mans’s face appeared on the screen. “I’m a headhunter and have your first manager ready to jump ship and come work for you,” he said.

    Nikolai frowned. “What?”

    “The person who you worked for at your first job. You liked her and said she was a great boss. You told her so. I have it on tape.”

    “You must be joking,” Nikolai said. “That manager was just a cybernetic interface. You can’t headhunt a data system.”

    “Yes, I can,” the young man said truculently. “The old expert system’s been scrapped in favor of a new one with a sounder ideology. Look.” A second face appeared on the screen: it was a superhumanly smooth and faintly glowing image of his old manager. “Please hire me, Nikolai,” the image said woodenly.”I hate it here.”

    The young man’s face reappeared. Nikolai laugh in credulously. “So you’ve saved the old tapes?” Nikolai said. “I don’t know what your game is, but I supposed the data has a certain value. I’m prepared to be generous.” He named a price. The young man shook his head. Nikolai grew impatient. “Look,” he said. “What makes you think a mere expert system has any objective worth?”

    “I know it does, “ the young man said. “I’m one myself.”

    (Apologies to Bruce Sterling.)

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