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Robotics Businesses United States

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' (qz.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

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'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress'

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  • Fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:03AM (#56175179)

    Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families.

    I'd love to work on my little projects all day long, but nobody's going to pay me for that - at least not enough and not long enough to earn a living from it.

    • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by coofercat ( 719737 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:16AM (#56175217) Homepage Journal

      I don't think people 'strive to create value' at all - we just go to work to get paid, and while we're at work we basically do what we're told. If we're told "strive to create value", then we'll work like normal and call it "striving to create value". If the boss says "ensure not one of these shell casings can be used to make a bomb, but make sure we make enough of them to fulfil our orders" (a la Schindler), then we'll do that, and we'll still call it 'striving to create value' when the customers come around.

      In my spare time I like to be 'productive' by getting tasks off my to-do list (eg. mow the lawn, fix the fence, paint the spare room, etc) - crucially none of these pay any money, although they do 'add value' to me. If I had more spare time, I probably wouldn't be so keen to get those jobs done because I could just put them off until tomorrow in a lot of cases. That's not an option because soon enough I have to go to work.

      I don't think that anyone's yet worked out how to keep a certain sense of urgency in people's lives when there's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, yet not pay them and still have a functioning society. With that in mind, TFA doesn't offer anything new that we haven't heard already.

      • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:42AM (#56175301)
        I think we do strive to create value. As you point out, even when you aren't working you're doing chores to create value for your own life. If we plunked you down somewhere with absolutely nothing, you'd be striving to create some clothing, shelter, and food. All of those things are quite valuable to you. In the past, you might have had to do all of those things on your own and either learn yourself or perhaps have been taught how to do so by your tribe.

        However, today if you want some clothing, a house, or some food you can just give others some funny little slips of paper. Creating value for yourself is a matter of finding someone who will give you those slips of paper in exchange for some of your labor. That they also might derive some value from the transaction is really inconsequential to you as long as you feel as though you're getting more value out of the transaction than you feel you put into it with your labor.

        If you thought you could make your own clothes, build your own home, and grow your own food for less than you could pay others to do it, you'd do it yourself and create value that way. On the other hand, you probably can't as all of those are specialized skills that themselves require several specialized skills to contribute to the process of producing the end product so it's much easier to create value in other ways. You could probably pay someone else to mow your lawn as well, but you don't think what you'd have to pay is worth the value created.

        I don't think it's as easy as breaking it down into go to work and do what you're told. Value is only created if someone else wants to purchase your labor, otherwise we could just give people jobs fashioning cow manure into giant busts of David Hasselhoff and there would never be unemployment. If you were to start your own lawn mowing business you would be your own boss and it would be hard to argue that you're not creating value. You'd only be doing the labor that plenty of other people value doing, but simply don't do themselves because they value their own labor and time more dearly. The same goes for building houses, growing food, etc.
        • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:55AM (#56175711)
          All well and good to say "horse and buggy" jobs disappeared 100 years ago, you will be fine.

          There are two key differences that will make a stark impact:
          1. Lowered standard of education
          2. Faster pace of technological advancement - demanding constant upskilling

          The problem here is that our edumacation factories have been designed to create good factory drones, and to help some rise above and get the tools to lead. We are all becoming leaders in our own right with automation. Delegation is a challenge where by the time everything has been explained, you are faster to have done it yourself, unless of course, if you have seen the movie before.

          Every 5 years, the reset button is pressed, and everything starts from scratch again. Although the educational frameworks are changing, it will take at least another 30-40 years for that change to realistically bear fruit.

          So factory workers and manual laborers will be left with a problem. They need to re-skill, or become entirely irrelevant. The results of this can be seen in rural England's factory towns. Factory closes, 3 generations are left unemployed and unemployable. There is no framework that currently exists to funnel and change that culture and to help and assist to re-educate.

          The only realistic incentive to drive this, is drag and headwinds on the high end skillsets - i.e. you can't find enough skilled people, to the point that someone does something about it. Unlikely, as we are all geared to be opportunists these days, and that's "the governments problem."

          The other one is that education becomes so cheap through automation itself, that bored individuals who want to do something better can get an entry level education, and hope that the previous statement holds enough so that they can get on the job training.
          • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

            by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @12:30PM (#56176333)

            All well and good to say "horse and buggy" jobs disappeared 100 years ago, you will be fine. There are two key differences that will make a stark impact: 1. Lowered standard of education 2. Faster pace of technological advancement - demanding constant upskilling

            I would argue that there is a third difference - concentration of wealth. Yes, that has also happened before. But now, the most common and most powerful corrective mechanism - revolution - is ever more unlikely and ever less possible. It's more unlikely because all those 'factory drones' you mention below are so thoroughly distracted and mollified by 'bread-and-circuses' so omnipresent that they might as well be the air we breathe. It's less possible because of the concentration of wealth, which is another way of saying 'concentration of power'. Today, any attempt at revolution that truly threatens the oligarchy, will be discovered and disarmed before it gets anywhere near to being executed.

            The problem here is that our edumacation factories have been designed to create good factory drones, and to help some rise above and get the tools to lead. We are all becoming leaders in our own right with automation. Delegation is a challenge where by the time everything has been explained, you are faster to have done it yourself, unless of course, if you have seen the movie before.

            That 'problem' you mention was in fact put in place as a solution, on this continent by the industrialists, and in earlier times in other places by various entities that strove for power and worked hard to enforce their own visions of social order. Look up John Taylor Gatto's 'The Underground History of American Education' - it's now available as a free PDF download. I'm quite sure the current 'powers that be' still consider the education system as their own personal mechanism for continuing to subjugate the populace and justifying it as noblesse oblige.

            Every 5 years, the reset button is pressed, and everything starts from scratch again. Although the educational frameworks are changing, it will take at least another 30-40 years for that change to realistically bear fruit.

            I also think those optimists who expect our system to magically evolve ever more job opportunities are missing a key point. Our current economy assumes an open system with limitless room and resources for growth. It's not, and we're slowly being forced to admit that in the face of global warming, resource scarcity, ocean pollution that we may never be able to reverse, and increasing extinction of both plants and animals. The physical realities of the world over the next century will make mere survival the top priority; everyone will be too busy just surviving to think about 'jobs', perhaps even the point-one-percenters.

          • Good to hear people criticizing the Educational Monopoly.

            How do we break it and make it more useful?

            My solution is vouchers and let parents find teachers and schools that provide value.

            I'm constantly told by kids (and then their parents) - why aren't you teaching. BECAUSE.

            I would have to take education classes and be stuck in a mind numbing bureaucracy.

            Bullet Points

            High School should be then end of the educational process and not preparation for college.
            We need to stress more apprentic
          • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Insightful)

            by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @02:12PM (#56176995)

            1. Lowered standard of education

            Lowered standard of education???

            I beg to differ.

            Drop back a century, and look at what was expected in the way of education - high school was a luxury for the working class, college was only available to the best and the brightest and the wealthy.

            Now, high school is considered not enough education for many jobs, college is more the norm than the exception, and a graduate degree is rather more common than "the best and the brightest and the wealthy"....

          • Re:Fantasy (Score:4, Interesting)

            by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @02:26PM (#56177105) Journal
            Sorry I just don't think is very realistic. People are talking about factory work and manual labor... most of that was automated in the 80's and 90's. The automation wave coming are the skilled and educated jobs, specifically very expensive and increasingly impossible to find (due to needing a resource with a nearly unique and non-existent combination of already existing skills from day one).

            The jobs being most heavily targeted are technical jobs. Artificial neural networks are becoming extremely effective as the new class of computing architecture which is self-programming and improving. What is being worked on is training the neural nets that efficiently train other neural networks including themselves, and producing a new generation of hardware to host them.

            Why bother spending billions to eliminate low paid menial jobs when you can automate the expensive jobs related to advancing automation and have the machines do most of the work for eliminating the low paid menial jobs? Actually those jobs are more difficult to automate anyway... you have to interface these new self-programming logical systems physical systems whereas the technical work IS entirely in the logic space.
      • I don't think that anyone's yet worked out how to keep a certain sense of urgency in people's lives when there's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, yet not pay them and still have a functioning society.

        That's the point of automation. It will function even if most people don't want to work.

        • "That's the point of automation. It will function even if most people don't want to work."

          Yes but every spec of it is being licensed and controlled and will be metered out bit by bit, only enough to keep progressing it until those at the top don't actually need those below anymore. At that point it is a utopia... but only for the wealthy and the rest will starve. The wealthy generally don't mind, because wealth is intended as a merit scoring system and they have high scores they've ignored that the scores s
      • I don't think people 'strive to create value' at all - we just go to work to get paid, and while we're at work we basically do what we're told.

        I wholeheartedly disagree. It's basically how Freud put it: We want to feel competent and loved. Which are two sides of the same coin. To feel competent means to do work you yourself deem useful and makes you feel that you deserve the love you get or at least expect from society and the people around you. And it means creating value or at least feeling that way.

        This

        • No, you have not talked to enough Gas station attendants, or people working at burger king. How many janitors are there to 'contribute' . That type of thought might be more prevalent among college educated people who have some choice in their work. Blue collar workers are generally doing whatever they can to feed their families and would rather do something more fulfilling but for various reasons don't have the opportunity.

          That not to say that people don't 'WANT' to feel they are doing something useful, b

          • There are only three states left in the USA that have gas station attendants. The rest are what are called "C-store" employees. Burger King isn't a good example either.

            You can divide people into categories that include, self-determining, sheep, and "other". Labels for these three categories are: successful, not successful, and don't care/have challenges/co-dependent dysfunctionals.

            Of these, there are wage slaves, contractors, independently financed, and complete dependents.

            Automation serves each of these ca

    • I'd love to work on my little projects all day long, but nobody's going to pay me for that - at least not enough and not long enough to earn a living from it.

      Then perhaps you are doing it wrong. Lots of people figure out how to make a living from what they otherwise consider hobbies or projects. But it requires a lot of work and you have to figure out the business model to go with it. If you aren't willing to take the risk I understand but let's not pretend it is impossible. People do it all the time.

      • Re:Figure it out (Score:5, Insightful)

        by plague911 ( 1292006 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:30AM (#56175269)
        It is not impossible, it is impossible for many. The world only needs soo many dead house-pet taxidermists. Yes the world will adjust. Society dosen't have a choice. But these periods of adjustment are historically rife with massive swings in wealth disparity, human suffering, and civil war. Being flippant to the chances that, we could all be eating out of dumpsters in 5 years or killing each-other in a massive rich/vs poor conflict, isn't proportional promotional to the urgency the issue deserves.
      • That assumes you're good enough at what you enjoy, doesn't it? A stoner might really enjoy StarCraft but he's not going to "go pro." He could stop being a stoner and try harder but then maybe it isn't fun anymore and why wouldn't he just go be an accountant anyway then?
      • The problem is two fold:
        1) not all things that entertain you can be monetized.
        2) often times the risk of failure is high enough that the individual is logically better served by the less fulfilling Job that is much more likely to pay more over the long term.

        The math might looks something like this:
        Choice 1: Follow your dreams invest 1 - 5 years of time with a 90% chance of meaning $12,000 a year then failing. A 9% chance of earning $20,000 a year that becomes $300,000 and is sustainable and a less then 1%

      • Re:Figure it out (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nealric ( 3647765 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @12:08PM (#56176181)

        For many people, attempting to make a living off a hobby ruins the hobby. For example, I love working on my vintage car. Solving mechanical problems and upgrading its performance it is very satisfying for me. However, if I tried to open a shop, it wouldn't be fun any more. I'd be dealing with deadlines, customer complaints, and jobs I don't find fun or interesting. Better to keep my hobby a hobby.

    • Re:Fantasy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:43AM (#56175307)
      Pre-industrial revolution, the 40 hour work week was an absurd fantasy. A lazy slacker would only work 100 hours a week, and that was minimal subsistence living. And ever after the tech was there it took a lot of fighting on the part of early unions to 'convince' the employers not to drastically reduce the workforce and keep a small number of people working 100+ hours a week

      Even on the Jetsons, people had a 3 hour work day (and complained about how long it was).

      It's only in the past couple of decades society got it so ingrained that this 40 hour work week was so mandatory.

      Is it so hard for you to picture a world where if machines can do 80% of the work currently done by humans, we double our productivity and standard of living and still reduce the work week 60%? Because that's exactly what happened last time. France tried it the other way where the 1% take everything and leave the 99% unemployed and in poverty. I don't think the French 1% liked where it ended up.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:20AM (#56175497)

        This is an utterly ahistorical argument. Economists have long argued, on mere speculation, that pre-industrial revolution everyone worked like a dog. Anthropologists and historians have shown that this is not true--there are certainly times in the crop calendar (in temperate zones) when everyone has to work long days for weeks at a time. But these are the exception, and most of the year was spent with lots of free time (see Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life), much of it devoted (in Europe and elsewhere) to ritual and celebrations. The Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism fundamentally changed our conceptions of time and work (see, e.g., E.P.Thompson, "Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism"), effectively ending the autonomy of workers and tethering them to the boss's time-clock. This was and always has been a contested process.

        The larger argument made in the original post is also utterly ahistorical: there is no essential "progress" that we are working towards, and the notion that some tasks are "higher" (or worse, marks of an evolution of the species) have been used for centuries to prop up illegitimate hierarchies of power and compensation. The notion that automation has made people "liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways" ignores all the many ways that our advanced capitalist society is DEEPLY UNFREE, and an increasing amount of our labor is deeply unfulfilling. Efficiency for me the worker is not fulfilling for my own purposes--it's only fulfilling to the capitalist who profits from my labor. I don't give a damn how many widgets I sell. Social psychology has time and again reaffirmed that a sense of fulfillment is gained by healthy personal interactions, not by mere productivity--as shown by studies that find people in jobs with more (conversational, not power-laden) human contact are generally happier than those with less.

        Note that Per Bylund is a professor of entrepreneurship, not a discipline known for being aware of its place in history or society so much as its ability to extract value from others' labor.

      • Re:Fantasy (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki.gmail@com> on Friday February 23, 2018 @11:51AM (#56176095) Homepage

        Pre-industrial revolution, the 40 hour work week was an absurd fantasy. A lazy slacker would only work 100 hours a week, and that was minimal subsistence living.

        Not true on that. [mit.edu] A lazy slacker might only work 60 hours/week when harvest/etc came up. Generally that minimal subsistence living most people worked 20-30hrs/week or less as there were other things that were required. Even people who were in highly skilled jobs could work less then 10hrs/week.

        A 40hr work week was common even ~80 years ago, that's not really the last few decades by any stretch. If it wasn't for the fact there was basically a giant pissing match between workers, businesses and government it likely never would have happened anyway. On top of that the entire history of the 40hr work week stretches back to the 1860's, prior to that people simply worked the required hours for the job for the given day. That might be a 10hr day today, it might only be 2hrs tomorrow. A flat 40hr/week didn't exist.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Not true on that. A lazy slacker might only work 60 hours/week when harvest/etc came up. Generally that minimal subsistence living most people worked 20-30hrs/week or less as there were other things that were required. Even people who were in highly skilled jobs could work less then 10hrs/week.

          It assumes all their work was recorded, paid for work. I suspect that for example when it comes to artisans what you've really got is much closer to the "billable hours". That you only count the time the fisherman is out fishing and not the maintenance and repair of boat and nets or that they had smaller side-jobs for off-season nobody bothered to record. If you took an ax and made firewood and traded with your neighbor for a chicken I doubt that would be recorded anywhere. But maybe most importantly, their

      • Pre-industrial revolution, the 40 hour work week was an absurd fantasy. A lazy slacker would only work 100 hours a week, and that was minimal subsistence living.

        No. You're making the eronious assumption that Victorian working conditions were an improvement on what came before. The average pre-industrial worked less hours than we do now.

        http://groups.csail.mit.edu/ma... [mit.edu]

        • That depends:

          Is washing your clothes by hand "work"?

          It may not be in a study, since you are doing it for yourself, but you are still far better off when you can pay someone else to do it (and it is now counted in the study).

    • There is a lot to this statement.
      First: How much do we need to make a living? Healthy Food, Clean Water, Shelter suited for the environment you live fuel to adjust to the environment. And I would dare to add Health Care to fix any unforeseen problems. However this is an important question that we as a society will need to figure out. As it will give us a baseline measure on how much is needed to function in society.

      Second: Are your little projects creating value to society? If so you probably can get a bu

    • Sounds like working to create value.
    • by Falos ( 2905315 )

      That was a beautifully euphemised line.

      https://www.smbc-comics.com/?i... [smbc-comics.com]
      People only work for the sake of calories and shelter.

      Employers only hire for the sake of more money in than out. A hire happens because it's gainful over not.

      These are hard facts, our lord and savior The Bottom Line isn't subject to navel-gazing. "People work for the sake of work" wasn't far from the truth.

      An employee only exists when s/he has something to sell upwards. And young Billy, the healthy 18yo hoping to pay for the absurdly g

  • by DrTJ ( 4014489 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:14AM (#56175213)
    .. we either we end up automate everything and become the ultimate slackers, or we fail to stay on top of the automation so that we eventually will be replaced by machines altogether. I wish I could say that I prefer the former scenario, but after seeing Wall-E I'm not so sure...
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      .. we either we end up automate everything and become the ultimate slackers

      Except that we do lots of things we don't get paid to do and take on responsibilities we don't need to have. You could have a perfectly active and meaningful life without work, for example are all retirees you know "total slackers"? Yeah some would probably zone out and become almost vegetative but that'd be by choice. Heck with office work we already have morbidly obese people who can barely walk yet pull off a meaningful job. If on top of that you work from home you can pretty much survive if you can get

    • by RobinH ( 124750 )

      .. we either we end up automate everything and become the ultimate slackers, or we fail to stay on top of the automation so that we eventually will be replaced by machines altogether.

      You can only become the ultimate slacker if you own the means of production. If not, then you have no money, no power, and you're just taking up resources that someone has to give you. So far automation has only worked in the realm of mass production, and mass production only works if you have a lot of people producing a decent amount of value to trade with the mass producer. Either the status quo stays the same and people just have to do the non-mass-production stuff, or automation will become more cap

    • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:51AM (#56175677) Journal

      .. we either we end up automate everything and become the ultimate slackers

      On the contrary.

      Just like in the first 18th century (the 20th is so similar I like to call it the 2nd 18th century), easier jobs do not bring more time. Oh they bring more time for a very limited happy few who will show off their happiness (by sending their car to Mars, for example), but for the most of society the pressure to produce just gets harder. Just like with the mechanical revolution, we want handmade quality, but refuse to pay craftsmen.

      Their is very little difference between having your products made by a steam-powered machine (that has to be kept going by human operators) or by electric autonomous robots (which have to be maintained by human operators).

      That this signifies progress is only partly true. Off course this signifies technical progress, but we can only have human progress if the structure of society evolves with it.

      • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @12:12PM (#56176205) Homepage Journal

        Just like in the first 18th century (the 20th is so similar I like to call it the 2nd 18th century), easier jobs do not bring more time

        Actually, we get wealthier. In 1900, 40% of the median household's income went to food; it was 33% in 1950; rapid agricultural productivity increases have this at about 12% to day, although that's a lot of food out of home: you can get by on around 3%-5% if you eat like people in the 1950s (i.e. plan meals, cook at home, thrifty shit).

        We funnel all that back into buying more with more working-hours. Sometimes we don't notice: a car from 1970 has a lot less stuff in it than an equivalent income-level car from 2018. I was around to see anti-lock brakes, drive-by-wire, and multi-changer radio in what today is a $50,000 car, while the $20,000 car had a tape deck and standard brakes; now all that high-end luxury stuff--even heated seats!--is showing up in cars that poor people on barely more than minimum-wage might buy (you know, with a $150-$200 car payment). A "car" you might buy at a given income still costs about the same percentage of your income, but has a lot more stuff--things that would have taken more labor, but now take less.

        We also buy a bunch of stuff, not just clothes and food. Bigger houses, automatic washing machines, Roombas. Whenever I win the argument about middle-class median income buying these things, the other party starts talking minimum-wage--even though they also use the "cost-of-living" argument (minimum wage raises by cost-of-living will keep that bottom worker just-as-poor as ever forever, so it's a dumb argument unless you want to talk about a growth-based wage instead of a COLA wage).

        We could instead work less and enjoy a better, but not as much better, standard-of-living, where that standard is measured by material wealth--both produced per-capita (fewer working hours per-capita means less consumer purchasing power, which means fewer jobs) and actually in the hands of the worker (who works less and so can't purchase as much as otherwise).

        The working-hours decision isn't up to a person, but rather up to society. In theory, this means everyone deciding to work 32 hours (4 days) would work (laissez-faire); in practice, nobody individually can get traction, so you can only reduce it by law. Union labor agreements seem like another path, but that doesn't work: unions would also likely argue for the same weekly wages (which is rational), which means those products become more-expensive. They could, in theory, take the 20% pay cut for 20% working-hours cut; but do you really think the 400 unionized workers in your shop are going to bargain for smaller paychecks?

        Off course this signifies technical progress, but we can only have human progress if the structure of society evolves with it.

        Actually, it's the same structure; it's a matter of modal response. We still behave as if it's 1920; it's just a little tweaking of the knobs, but it's necessary to achieve the gains in leisure time.

        We're also at a point where we can provide a universal dividend [google.com] and a growth-based minimum wage without creating high taxes. The Dividend itself actually doesn't increase taxes in the US, mainly due to the poor structuring of Social Security's retirement and disability benefits: restructuring these and our taxes to make retirement and disability permanently-solvent at their CPI-adjusted levels from now until the end of time can actually achieve an additional benefit that in total produces lower taxes even on the rich. Weird, right?

    • It all depends of how we define innovation and progress. Perhaps this highlights the fact that the current system, which is geared towards making the maximum profit and giving the maximum power to a tiny number of individuals, privileged from birth, is more likely the main issue when we're concerned about losing our jobs and/or the vast majority of our jobs becoming more precarious, low-skilled, and low-waged. Rather than our concerns being about robot overlords, AI machines taking over control, etc., what
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:15AM (#56175215)

    Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

    Automation is NOT going to result in the Apocalypse. It is NOT going to take everyone's job away. It is NOT going to result in a global financial meltdown. There is NOT going to be a singularity.

    Yes, some people will be displaced out of some jobs and have to find something else to do. No this will not be easy for some of them but it will be good for society overall. This is nothing new and has been happening continually for the entirety of the industrial revolution. The more things get automated the more we can accomplish. A lot of progress is held back simply because humans are stuck doing work that we don't yet have a machine for. A lot of dangerous, tedious, wasteful jobs will disappear. A lot of extra capability will be available for jobs that don't. New jobs will emerge that nobody even considered before. (How many web developers did you know circa 1985?) If automation progresses faster than we can handle it then we will pass laws to slow it down or in extreme circumstances revolt (possibly violently).

    All this sturm und drang about robots taking all the jobs and killing us all is mostly about as realistic as the latest zombie movie. It makes for good entertainment but it doesn't have much to do with reality.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yawn. Sing your song while on unemployment. Your tone will change.

    • Exactly. Also, don't forget that higher productivity means lower prices and thus less need to work. Our notion of what constitutes a 'job' is going to keep on changing. Two hours a week might be enough for most people, given how low the prices will be for all the robot-made goods and services. It's just a continuation of the process that's been eliminating poverty for the last couple centuries. The transition is going to be painful, though. And more so if the doomsayers get their way and the government "hel
    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:14AM (#56175471)

      Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

      Automation is NOT going to result in the Apocalypse. It is NOT going to take everyone's job away. It is NOT going to result in a global financial meltdown. There is NOT going to be a singularity.

      Naturally, everyone wants to look at the solutions of yesteryear, back when we just told the unemployed masses to "go get an education!". That bullshit isn't going to work in the future. Automation and good-enough AI is targeting educated jobs, so please STOP with the ignorant assumptions that this change is anything like the previous ones. Put simply, it's not.

      Yes, some people will be displaced out of some jobs and have to find something else to do. No this will not be easy for some of them but it will be good for society overall...A lot of progress is held back simply because humans are stuck doing work that we don't yet have a machine for.

      Uh, some people? Just replacing cashiers with automated checkout stations (which is happening everywhere) targets 3 million jobs just in the US. Forget AI, automation will make a LOT of people unemployable. Mental capacity is often the reason a LOT of humans are employed in tedious, boring, easily automated jobs. Put simply, not everyone can be valued in future jobs. In fact, the vast majority cannot. And "go get an education!" isn't the answer.

      ...If automation progresses faster than we can handle it then we will pass laws to slow it down or in extreme circumstances revolt (possibly violently).

      Because we've been so successful in managing the balance of wealth and power in the world so far? That gap between the world's billionaires and their insatiable greed and the other 99.9999% of the population isn't shrinking. You will have as much chance of slowing down insatiable greed tomorrow as you have today. A violent revolt will likely be the solution as our economy starts to die as millions join the global welfare state.

      • by orlanz ( 882574 )

        Automation and good-enough AI is targeting educated jobs

        This was _always_ true. You think relative-to-then-society speaking cotton/corn pickers, textile workers, horse buggy drivers, train drivers, etc were uneducated? Relatively speaking, they were probably as educated as the average Facebook user is to today's society's level of education.

        ignorant assumptions

        "Ignorant: lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated". On one side we have people looking in terms of historical context and the knowledge gathered over multiple examples and millennia... an

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @11:00AM (#56175745)
      there were decades of unemployment, social strife and wars following the industrial revolutions. They don't teach this in school unless you get to the 200+ level history courses in college. They kinda just gloss over it.

      It takes a long time for other tech to catch up and replace the jobs automated by an industrial revolution. That shouldn't come as a surprise. It's much easier to automate an existing process than to create entirely new lines of work.

      It's also _hard_ to retrain existing workers. Those workers are older, so they learn slower, they're typically working full time to support the families they had before their better paying jobs were automated and above all nobody wants to pay high taxes so somebody can get a free ride to college in their 30s or 40s

      Automation fueled unemployment is a complex problem. To suggest otherwise is childishly naive. Let me put it this way: When in your life has the best (or even a good) solution to a complex problem been to ignore it and hope it sorts itself out?
      • by thomn8r ( 635504 )

        there were decades of unemployment, social strife and wars following the industrial revolutions.

        The WWI and WWII took literally tens of millions of people out of the labor pool; people seem to forget that little anecdote.

        • first, what the *bleep* is wrong with you. Second, I don't think it'll happen this time. A while ago Pakistan ignored an impending terrorist attack on India and pretty much let it go forward. The attack was against a major building in their capital city. The attack went off as planned. Normally this kind of stuff starts wars, but unlike an America/Iraq war this one (India/Pakistan) would be bad for business. The mega corps said no, and so there was no war.

          You'll see brush fires here and there to keep th
    • Yes, some people will be displaced out of some jobs and have to find something else to do. No this will not be easy for some of them but it will be good for society overall. This is nothing new and has been happening continually for the entirety of the industrial revolution.

      You assume you will not be one of those who will be displaced. Implicitly you see the people displaced as "them" not "me" not "us' not "my son/daughter". That makes me think you are WASP American used to being on top of the heap. There is no such guarantee. Most likely you will be of the displaced. Think about your skill set suddenly made obsolete and you need to go back to school to get some new skill and start at the entry level again. That is what going to happen.

      India and China are each three times b

    • We can also increase the rapidity at which society can recover, and reduce the impact of transitional unemployment. These are generally called "welfare", although there are interesting considerations about what is and isn't welfare depending on who you ask.

      I've been pushing a Universal Dividend as a countermeasure for most of this. Without raising taxes, creating deficits, or cutting services, you can actually restructure the Federal welfare system (notably Social Security's retirement and disability be [google.com]

    • by thomn8r ( 635504 )

      but it will be good for society overall.

      If by "society" you mean "Capital" then yes; for "Labor" not so much.

    • by nasch ( 598556 )

      It is NOT going to take everyone's job away.

      Why, because it didn't last time? Do you think this time is going to be just like last time? If so, why?

      There is NOT going to be a singularity.

      You seem very sure. How do you know this?

  • For companies to compete, they have to keep their costs down. Iow, they need to keep total labor $ down. Things can be done with more hrs, but then u have to pay less per hr., OR, we can cut hr. While increasing pay rate.
  • While the general trend of automation has been to make life easier for people, it hasn't always been easy. The reason luddites came about in the first place was that industrialization led to dangerous and degrading employment that benefitted those who owned the means of production at the expense of those who worked in the factories. For over a century industrialization benefitted the few at the expense of the many. While we may look back and think it's worth it because of how it all worked out for our benef

  • Well ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:49AM (#56175343)
    Since "social media specialist" is an actual thing, I do have a lot of faith in our ability to invent new jobs, lol
  • bloody revolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @09:56AM (#56175361) Homepage
    Of course automation has increased productivity – but, in the US, ALL of those productivity benefits have ONLY benefited the top 1%. Workers wages have stagnated since the 1980’s, benefits have been slashed, infrastructure crumbles , pensions are the thing of the past, yet at a time of record corporate profits, CEO wages have shot up from 55x an average worker’s salary in the 1980’s to 350x an average worker’s salary. Multiply the inequitable distribution by orders of magnitude so yes, automation on and unprecedented scale will bring about massive societal change. There will be a few who live lives in wealth beyond imagination – and there will be starving masses barely scraping by. Unless you think that the oligarchy will be willing to share. Has that EVER happened without a bloody revolution?
    • Is inequalty by itself a problem? If you have a decent income that can pay for most of your needs why do you care if someone else is living larger? It seems more like jealousy and envy.

      Now if your argument was that people donâ(TM)t have enough money for their needs .. then we can talk about it being a problem. But if people have enough money for their needs, why does it matter how much better someone else is doing .. especially if thwy got their money by contributing a product that added value to soci

  • cut full time to 32 hours now and add X2 OT at 80 and down the road slowly move the full time mark down. Maybe after some time full time 20 X2 OT at 40 X3 OT at 60 and X4 OT at 80

    • Add to that the abolishment of the concept of "exempt" vs. "non-exempt". An hour worked must be an hour compensated. NO EXCEPTIONS.

  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:07AM (#56175425)

    Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will blah blah blah blah

    The US workforce has been on a downward trajectory for the last four decades. Not just because of automation, but it sure hasn't helped. The auto worker that loses his job to a robot isn't moving to a higher plane of enlightenment designing self-driving cars for Uber, he's going to be an Uber driver for far less money than he was making before.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday February 23, 2018 @10:15AM (#56175473) Journal
    The industrial revolution and the automation it spawned is mainly seen as good things, that increased standard of life and people who disagreed were generally laughed at as Luddites.

    As productivity soared, production met all domestic demand very quickly. At that point it would have resulted in enormous unemployment and social unrest. The Luddites and the Saboteurs (sabots are wooden shoes, people who threw it into weaving mills were the original saboteurs) would have won and the industrial revolution would have been snuffed out in infancy. But...

    ... there were colonies. Ruled by weak and incompetent rulers, who did not know how to fight back against the well organized armies of Europe, who had been fighting for 1500 years of dark ages honing their weaponry, strategy and tactics. Quickly subjugated they provided the demand for the goods and absorbed all the increased production. Transferring accumulated wealth from these countries to the industrial economies of Europe.

    When they ran out of colonies, they fought for 40 years, from 1900 to 1940 all the wars including the world wars were fight for exclusive rights to drain the last remaining wealth from the colonies.

    The destruction of ways of life, cultures, livelihoods, pre industrial technical knowledge were incalculable. And actual deaths, by millions and millions. So many died.

    So yeah, Automating things is how societies make progress if you carefully exclude the devastated societies from your sample space.

  • ... is that it isn't removing humans from the risk of injuries while performing dangerous jobs. Everyone is thrilled that we no longer have to have people--or as many people--risking their lives swinging a pick in a mine. Those people were now free to pursue jobs that weren't life threatening. You could work in a store or an office--where the risk of being killed was minimal--and come home at night.

    The problem now is that automation is taking those retail and office jobs away--hell, soon you won't even hav

  • We cannot look to history and predict all will be well again. The advent of steam power replaced human muscle but led to many new jobs which required human skill. Automation replaced human skill but led to many jobs which required human intelligence. AI will replace human intelligence but now we have got very little left to offer.
  • Automate all the work you want... just socialize all the profits. The problem with increased economic efficiency is that it leads to exponentially greater concentration of wealth.

    • Automate all the work you want... just socialize all the profits. The problem with increased economic efficiency is that it leads to exponentially greater concentration of wealth.

      You planning on using prayer or your magic wand to socialize all those profits?

      Mankind has never found a cure for the disease of insatiable greed, and that chasm between the worlds multi-billionaires and the other 99.9999% of the human population isn't shrinking.

      • Mankind has never found a cure for the disease of insatiable greed, and that chasm between the worlds multi-billionaires and the other 99.9999% of the human population isn't shrinking.

        Hmm. I suppose we haven't found a permanent cure for insatiable greed yet, but we have applied some temporary cures. Unfortunately, the temporary cure always seems to be bloody revolution. It kind of seems that with the fall of the communist states, the capitalist owners are starting to feel like they have nothing to fear. It seems they have forgotten or never learned the lessons of the communist revolutions. They no longer understand that if they choose to treat their workers poorly enough, the worker

  • however, society needs to find a way to properly care for all those that are rendered redundant, by either managing to retrain into other occupations, or propose properly financed early retirement. none of that is currently properly implemented, as companies basically drop those people to the streets.

  • In the last week or so I've noticed a surge in what could broadly be categorized as pro-inequality propaganda, not only on Slashdot but also on YouTube. Recently on Slashdot there have been a couple of articles suggesting that automation won't cause mass unemployment and will actually be beneficial to most of society. In the context of the current economic climate and known history, this is absurdly wrong.

    First let's look at the industrial revolution, the supposed best-case scenario for automation which the

  • The world needs ditch diggers too. Uh, wait- maybe it won't need ditch diggers anymore?

  • I'm fine with biohacking onesself. One can hardly sue anyone for malpractice.

    Sure people will get hurt. They also die from car accidents, and we let cars exist. People also die from diabetes melitis, HIV, bathtubs, and occasionally peanuts.

    Freedom means many things; it can mean not being subject to fussbudgets who want to save people from themselves.

    Human experimentation is broken, especially in the US where everyone is completely focused on reducing risk to the experimenter and subjects. We can't move. Eve

  • I think this article neglects a very simple fact that as we've automated our production over history (through the use of machines) our resource demands have shot up through the roof. Cars for example use tremendously more resources (to the point that we've had to tap into oil reserves that nature has stored for millions of years) compared to horses. We've been able to keep economics in check because we're in an age of consumerism. As technology advances we're able to produce more stuff at higher efficien

    • That is a nice estimate. A liberal estimate would broadly include underemployed putting the number over half the world.

      We blame people for their poor situation as if it is their own fault and just as people are quick to cite somebody who deserves it, they fail to realize that it is more complex and their own position of blaming the poor is more flawed. (It's psychology, being argumentative can be a form of low-thought rationalization which is why a smart argument can be made while being blind to the hypocri

  • If you want income even though you canâ(TM)t add value, forcing companies to hire you and have you on their payroll thereby preventing them from automating is the worst way to get it.

    Its better to get your income by taxing the company. Forcing them to hire you is the same as a tax, except its worse because it reduces their production output â" which in turn increases the price of their product. The cheaper a company can be productive, the more income they have that can be taxed. Also, more goods a

  • Sometimes forces combine to create situations that are menacing. One such issue is a total lack of choice. Modern nations survive on trade. Those that offer the most for the least tend to prosper. That means that if China or Japan replace human workers with machines that they can compete in the modern world. In the past the argument was over the price of labor in foreign lands compared to workers in the US who earned far higher wages. But that is becoming an invalid point. Now the question is whet
  • I know I know, the green energy revolution will save us, BUT green energy will never be as plentiful or cheap as fossil energy. As the total energy available to society is reduced, regardless of the fossil renewable mix, we will have to continuously re-prioritize its uses. At some point the energy needed to automate a process will be greater than that required to do it by hand, given that we have to feed all those hands anyway. For example, think of the energy required to build and then run electric hair d
    • BUT green energy will never be as plentiful or cheap as fossil energy. As the total energy available to society is reduced [..]

      LOL why the hell won't green energy be as plentiful or cheap as fossil energy? It's already cheaper in some places and is set to be the cheapest worldwide within a few years. Solar panels are only getting cheaper and more efficient and they last a long time. Same with wind turbines. And nuclear power is held back mainly by NIMBYism. The idea of suffering a reduction in Earth's overall energy budget as we transition away from fossil fuels is utterly ridiculous.

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