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Fear of Robots Taking Jobs in the Short Term is Overblown, Says General Electric CEO (qz.com) 99

An anonymous reader shares a report: "I think before we go to the phase where it's only robots at every bench, we are going to go through a phase of smarter workers," General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt told reporters on March 30. GE has been investing heavily in futuristic manufacturing techniques. Immelt said that in Lafayette, Indiana -- where GE Aviation is ramping up production for portions of its new fuel-efficient LEAP aircraft engine -- "we're going to add workers, but probably not as many as we would have twenty years ago" and each worker will be "higher value, smarter, more productive." [...] So if phase one is smart workers, what's the next? "I'm not that smart," Immelt said. "I don't know exactly how many phases that we're going to go through. But I think we're going to be in phase 'smart worker' for a fair amount of time. I really do. I think we're better off as a country focusing on the smart-worker phase than going right to 'robots are evil.'"
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Fear of Robots Taking Jobs in the Short Term is Overblown, Says General Electric CEO

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    How short term is short term to this guy? I expect robots to take over 99% of the workplace within my lifetime. That makes it very relevant and not overblown in the slightest.

    • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @03:33PM (#54154183)

      Well, he's a modern business executive, so about a month. "Long term" is next quarter.

    • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @03:34PM (#54154199) Homepage
      It's not just short term. He just doesn't get it.

      "I think before we go to the phase where it's only robots at every bench, we are going to go through a phase of smarter workers," General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt told reporters

      Imagine a guy who was a coal miner. Then the coal mine closed.
      So he became an auto assembly line worker. Then was replaced by a GE robot.
      So he became a truck driver, because those trucks aren't going to drive themselves.

      The GE guy is saying that we're going to go through a phase of smarter workers. Okay, the mythical guy I just described might not be that smart. And it's not his fault. And he made rational choices. What's he going to do?

      Free clue: if only the smart people will be employed, there are going to be a bunch of angry dumb people with torches and pitch forks. Something to consider. It will be a lot worse than angry ignorant Trump voters who uncritically believe whatever their dear leader promises. A lot worse. When it's over there may not be any operational robots left. Or high tech workers.

      • And, of course, trucks could be driving themselves under certain circumstances over the next several years.

        When I was young, it was possible for most white men of low skill but good work ethic to make a decent living for their families. That's pretty much over. Now that I'm old, I work in manufacturing, and when I'm on the shop floor the odds are I can't see another human being. One will pop by from time to time to do something with the computer-controlled machinery.

      • The good news is that those people already voted for Trump, so not much else can go wrong at this point.
        • The good news is that those people already voted for Trump, so not much else can go wrong at this point.

          I am saying this as a Finn watching the situation in the USA from afar: to me it seems pretty evident that Hillary voters were/are both dumb and exceedingly aggressive.

          • People are tired of 'the institution' and they saw a saw a way out in Trump. I see the same attitude in the support of Uber despite the fact that people are gutting the taxi industry, which is really a market that supports many hard workers and is supposed to be what America is about. I can understand the frustration, because 'the institution' is way out of touch. But people have to find a way to fight it that is actually productive. They are letting in leaders and corporations that appeal to their want
      • Imagine a guy who was a coal miner. Then the coal mine closed.
        So he became an auto assembly line worker. Then was replaced by a GE robot.
        So he became a truck driver, because those trucks aren't going to drive themselves.

        Good scenario, but let's change it up a little with two alternate paths.

        Scenario #1:
        Guy writes CGI backends for websites in Perl. LAMP stacks are invented and this becomes where all of the jobs are.
        So, he learns PHP and MySQL, and works as a contractor building dynamic websites for businesses. But India rapidly trains up its workforce and floods the market with people with these skills.
        Guy tries to find another niche, and learns NodeJS. New trendy language, nobod

        • The problem with efficiency is that more work is not created but lost to the system. Do you really think there will be as many software jobs as truck drivers etc. You can have plenty of people with skills, and no work for them to do; There are many examples of just this thing happening all over the world.
      • Blackmail should not be the thing that opens doors for some to live off of others.

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      I'm pretty sure Jeffrey Immelt isn't afraid of being replaced by a robot.
  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @02:31PM (#54153661)

    ...says company that makes robots for assembly lines [gereports.com].

    What's next, an article by Wall Street about how regulation is not needed in the banking industry?

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      I was wondering how his claims made any sense.

      We've basically always looked for ways to make achieving results easier. The migration from cottage-industry to the Industrial Revolution that led to massive factories was spurred by the desire to make more things with less labor, and to sell those things to more people for more total money, even if the per-unit cost came down in order to reach those new markets of poorer and poorer people.

      The point of the assembly line was to make it efficient to build. Once

      • 'those jobs that involve doing the exact same series of steps repeatedly are the most vulnerable.' - not quite.

        Those jobs that involve a large number of people in the same facility, doing the same steps are extraordinarily more vulnerable.

        Any new factory setup wil be reducing employees to the bare minimum.
        If you're building a new factory in the USA, and contemplating employing workers at $10/hr for 5 years (three shifts), that's $500K per station or so (probably more costing all costs of employees.

        If you ha

  • What a lot of people don't seem to get is that if a substantial fraction of labor gets displaced, market forces will tend to devalue *all* labor.

    Yes, maybe *my* job is safe, but my pay doesn't have to stay high.

    Suppose all truck drivers are replaced with automation. That's 1M more people on the job market. Yes, maybe they can't do MY job, but, with no alternative, they'll try to get educated and move up the labor food chain.

    And with more people in general chasing ever fewer jobs, there'll always be someone willing to do any given job for cheaper--including mine.

    Arguably this has already happened significantly. Do you realize that the share of corporate productivity that goes to labor has shrunk in half compared to 1973?

    That if labor got the same share of productivity today that it had in 1973, that we'd all have 2x the purchasing power? I'd love to be paid 2x the purchasing power. I'd be done with my mortgage, be completely unworried about retirement and paying for medical care, etc.

    I welcome automation replacing labor, but we have to find a way to distribute the resulting wealth such that the people who own things have don't have ALL the wealth and so that the people who can no longer make ends meet in a depressed labor market can live decent lives.

    --PeterM

    • now say 20 hail Laffers and repent ye sinner!
    • how do you distribute that wealth from automation without making it feel like stealing?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        how do you distribute that wealth from automation without making it feel like stealing?

        Same way capitalism has redistributed the output of individuals to the wealthy oligarchy without it feeling like stealing.

      • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @03:11PM (#54153997)

        Umm, I don't know may be adjust your world view? And realize no person is better than another and everyone is entitled to basic food, shelter and healthcare.

        • by nasch ( 598556 )

          And realize no person is better than another

          Unfortunately I think that might be counter to the modern Republican philosophy.

          and everyone is entitled to basic food, shelter and healthcare.

          And that definitely is.

      • I think you have to distribute shares in the robot owning companies, so everyone owns the robots and is entitled to a share of the profits. It gets a bit tricky how exactly that works though, and I haven't quite thought out all the ramifications of doing that.
      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        how do you distribute that wealth from automation without making it feel like stealing?

        Education. Progressive taxation is clearly not theft, but it could certainly feel that way to someone is simply doesn't understand the benefits of a more equitable society.

        I would say it is analogous to the stroboscopic effect which can make tires appear to be spinning backwards. The only way to help someone understand why the tire seems to be moving backwards is to educate them about this optical illusion. The same goes for educating the populace about the benefits to society of having wealth better distri

      • By realizing you either distribute a portion of it willingly, or the people with nothing left to lose will distribute all of it.

    • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

      What a lot of people don't seem to get is that if a substantial fraction of labor gets displaced, market forces will tend to devalue *all* labor.

      Yes, maybe *my* job is safe, but my pay doesn't have to stay high.

      Suppose all truck drivers are replaced with automation. That's 1M more people on the job market. Yes, maybe they can't do MY job, but, with no alternative, they'll try to get educated and move up the labor food chain.

      And with more people in general chasing ever fewer jobs, there'll always be someone willing to do any given job for cheaper--including mine.

      Arguably this has already happened significantly. Do you realize that the share of corporate productivity that goes to labor has shrunk in half compared to 1973?

      That if labor got the same share of productivity today that it had in 1973, that we'd all have 2x the purchasing power? I'd love to be paid 2x the purchasing power. I'd be done with my mortgage, be completely unworried about retirement and paying for medical care, etc.

      I welcome automation replacing labor, but we have to find a way to distribute the resulting wealth such that the people who own things have don't have ALL the wealth and so that the people who can no longer make ends meet in a depressed labor market can live decent lives.

      --PeterM

      You're telling me I have to worry about robotically-replaced truck drivers that's going to suppress my wage on top of the following things I already worry about suppressing my wages:

      • kids being taught to code
      • H1Bs
      • New college graduates
      • Engineers in India and China
      • boomers not retiring

      Goodness, programmers are so super-scared that someone somewhere is going to "suppress" their wages.

    • Fallacy of economics (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @03:18PM (#54154063) Homepage Journal

      What a lot of people don't seem to get is that if a substantial fraction of labor gets displaced, market forces will tend to devalue *all* labor.

      Yes, maybe *my* job is safe, but my pay doesn't have to stay high.

      To be fair, Jeff Immelt is simply speaking from one of the basic fallacies. He probably learned it at management school, and hasn't spent even a moment in critical thought about it.

      Specifically, modern economics assumes infinite consumption which implies infinite need for work. "Infinite consumption" comes from either the Malthus'ian idea that human population will grow exponentially until resources run out, or the idea of "always wanting more", as in bigger house, more cars, more land, more toys, etc.

      Personal consumption has limits [wikipedia.org], and industrialized nation population *doesn't* grow without bounds, and productivity keeps going up [bls.gov], and you start to realize that the job pool is finite, and any reduction in jobs puts stress on the people who need to find jobs to live.

      The US is at about $50,000 per person [visualizingeconomics.com] in production, and that's a huge amount. Note that this is per person, and not per working person. We have enough wealth in this country to let everyone live comfortably with only half our workforce - and productivity keeps going up.

      It's a fallacy of modern economics, it's unsustainable (labor versus shrinking job market) and something has to give eventually.

      Whether we transition to a different system that lets people enjoy our production, or whether civilization crashes and burns, depends on people like Jeff Immelt.

      Specifically, whether Jeff Immelt, and other like him, can unlearn modern economics and help transition us to a different model.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      So somehow we have all lost over the past hundred years? Our quality of life is worse? You don't like the fact that you can go out by cheap toilet paper?

      There are things that are worse. Due to the much lower standard of living, when I go out of the country I buy wool, handmade on a loom, handmade into all sorts of cool stuff. Again, this is possible, because of a low standard of living, where not everyone even has a video game console. True, the food better, the product are better, the air is better,

  • I work with a group of people who are all "smart enough" to automate most of their work, but they don't do it. Instead, they procrastinate, drag things out, and then when the deadline approaches, it's "too late" to employ automated techniques and they just hand-craft a solution and ship it. Someday, the company will lose out to competitors who do automate their work more effectively, but that will take decades before the competition can both manufacture a better, cheaper product and shift the customer bas

    • Someday, the company will lose out to competitors who do automate their work more effectively,

      Or the other companies will lose out to someone that makes automation work for them.

  • He should tell that to the people being laid off at GE Power Systems in Schenectady (home of the zip code 12345)
    • by cirby ( 2599 )

      They're laying off researchers and engineers, not manufacturing workers. A lot of their engineering staff is overseas now.

      Robots and automation? Not a factor.

  • by computational super ( 740265 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @02:40PM (#54153739)
    That's exactly what a robot would say if it had killed the CEO of general electric and taken his place.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I suspect that more jobs are lost to (and will be lost to) off-shoring than robots.

    • The end result is the same. It doesn't matter whether robots or off shoring put people out of work. Once there are too many people out of work, things are going to turn ugly. Very ugly. Don't feel safe just because you still have a job. (Or if you are in the top 1%.)
      • Off-shored manufacturing jobs are also falling to robots - just ask Foxconn. [bbc.com]

        26 May 2016: Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has reportedly replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.

        One factory has "reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots", a government official told the South China Morning Post. Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: "More companies are likely to follow suit."

        • So really, what you're saying is that it is robots. And I wouldn't disagree. It is robots, robots, everywhere that will put everyone out of work. And, as I conclude . . . things will turn very ugly. "Let them eat cake!" The torches and pitchforks will come out. The 1% will be the first against the wall. History will repeat itself.
  • don't raise our taxes to offset the job losses from our automation.

    Fun fact: GM shut down production at factories for 3 months because they'd flooded the market with too many vehicles. That was due to productivity increases from automation/robotics.
    • The OTHER factor that idled the factories for 3 months was lack of demand.

      D'you think the market would have been "flooded" if laborers had 2x the purchasing power?

      And 2x the purchasing power is *exactly* what labor would have if labor had the same share of corporate productivity that labor had in 1973.

      Instead, GM would be looking to build more factories instead of idling their capacity.

      "Virtuous cycle: productivity increases leads to more pay in wages which leads to more demand which leads to more investme

  • Future labels (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CHK6 ( 583097 ) on Friday March 31, 2017 @02:57PM (#54153865)
    The mantra "Made in the USA" might be replaced with "Made by humans" in the not so distant future.
    • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday March 31, 2017 @03:01PM (#54153891) Homepage Journal
      The word you are looking for is "artisinal", as in "hand crafted locally sourced organic free range gluten free artisinal 3mm x 16mm screw"
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You laugh, but people within industrial centers do buy fasteners made locally. People know the factory names and know that their local economy is dependent on the people, not the machines.

        I suppose it is not so laughable when you actually get to drive by the factory every day and are asked "how's the kids?" when filling your gas tank by someone that works in the plating department.

    • Trump doesn't know it, but he's Made Robots Great Again!

      (Before you complain about "again", T never defined the first time in MAGA either. He deflected the question in the debates.)

    • Not only "Made By Humans". But "Buy Human" and "Hire Humans".

      Of course, we could all end up fully employed by the robots, who would own everything, in order to service the robots. Because only humans would be willing to do servicing jobs that robots feel is beneath them.
  • Even if the total job count isn't shrinking any further, we're seeing a bifurcation of manufacturing labor into a small cadre highly skilled, highly paid specialists and a pool of low wage positions that only exist because it is not yet cost effective to automate their positions [theatlantic.com]. Great if you're one of the new factory elite but sucks if you're the middle aged blue collar worker no longer relevant in the modern manufacturing landscape.
  • Left unsaid is where those smarter workers will come from. The current answers are: a) Trained by somebody else's company, b) From a body shop which told me the worker was smart so I am not liable for his/her actual deficiencies. The answer we need is: Trained and retained by the hiring company from decent candidates which will be admitted through revisions to profoundly poor HR and Management filters.

  • So first he says that each worker will be "higher value, smarter, more productive" with phase one being "smart workers" and then he says, "I'm not that smart," doesn't that imply that his own job is right at the top of the list of jobs to be replaced?
  • In the long term, you're fsck'd
    • In the long term, you're fsck'd

      Just another example of "be careful what you ask for - you might get it." Remember everyone clamoring for sex robots. Well, get ready because robots are going to give you the f*cking over of your life.

  • If he wanted people to trust the direction of advanced automation (robotics, AI, ML), he failed at that objective.

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