Home > Uncategorized > Robots, Jobs and our Assumptions

Robots, Jobs and our Assumptions

I’ve been blogging here extensively about the likelihood that various forms of automation will eventually create significant technological unemployment. Advanced robotics will certainly play an important role in that once it becomes cost-effective to replace even low wage service workers with machines.

I find it interesting that very few other people seem to be particularly concerned about this issue. Here are two recent articles that seem quite enthusiastic about the robotic future, but give no thought at all to the possibility that robots might someday contribute significantly to unemployment:

Scientific American: “Robot be Good” assumes we’ll soon have autonomous robots interacting directly with humans in environments like nursing homes for the elderly. The article concerns itself with the problem of ethical behaviour among robots.

Technology Review: “Why Japanese Love Robots” looks at how Japanese culture tends to favor robots and see them as helpful and friendly, while Americans are more likely to see them as menacing.

A Google search will bring up plenty of other articles on the coming robotics revolution, and you’ll find quite a few similarities:

  • Unless you’ve happened upon one of the relatively few articles that deal specifically with robots creating unemployment, you’ll find little or no mention of this issue. The negative side of robotics nearly always involves physical threats: robots that will hurt people, take over, get out of control, etc.
  • Personal robots will eventually do all kinds of useful things around the house. Someday, we’ll all have robotic personal assistants. This is often touted as a huge new consumer market.
  • Robots will do some jobs but they will invariably be dangerous jobs (police and military) or jobs that no one wants or where there are worker shortages due to low wages (caring for the elderly).

The thing is that for a robot to autonomously run around the house doing a variety of tasks requires a very sophisticated level of technology. If that technology is developed and becomes affordable then it will certainly make its way into a variety of commercial applications—in fact, it may well be deployed there first.

It seems to me that if we have affordable personal robots that are actually capable of doing anything useful, then that technology implies that millions of jobs will be at risk in areas like:

  • stocking shelves in supermarkets and other retail stores
  • moving materials in stores and warehouses
  • providing security in a variety of settings

If the technology is there and if it is cost-effective, then businesses are not going to pass up the opportunity to deploy it.  The standard response from economists is that we don’t need to worry because new jobs will be created in other areas. I really wonder what kinds of jobs the economy would create for these workers.

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  1. October 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

    The issue is broader than just robotics and other automation, as I mention here:

    http://knol.google.com/k/paul-d-fernhout/beyond-a-jobless-recovery

    In brief, a combination of robotics and other automation, better design, and voluntary social networks are decreasing the value of most paid human labor (by the law of supply and demand). At the same time, demand for stuff and services is limited for a variety of reasons — some classical, like a cyclical credit crunch or a concentration of wealth (aided by automation and intellectual monopolies) and some novel like people finally getting too much stuff as they move up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or a growing environmental consciousness. In order to move past this, our society needs to emphasize a gift economy (like Wikipedia or Debian GNU/Linux or blogging), a basic income (social security for all regardless of age), democratic resource-based planning (with taxes, subsidies, investments, and regulation), and stronger local economies that can produce more of their own stuff (with organic gardens, solar panels, green homes, and 3D printers). There are some bad “make work” alternatives too that are best avoided, like endless war, endless schooling, endless bureaucracy, endless sickness, and endless prisons.

    Simple attempts to prop things up, like requiring higher wages in the face of declining demand for human labor and more competition for jobs, will only accelerate the replacement process for jobs as higher wage requirements would just be more incentive to automate, redesign, and push more work to volunteer social networks. We are seeing the death spiral of current mainstream economics based primarily on a link between the right to consume and the need to have a job (even as there may remain some link for higher-than-typical consumption rates in some situations, even with a basic income, a gift economy, etc).

    So, that’s the broader picture as I see it right now.

    But with that said, you are right that people are not making the obvious connections, because they still believe in an essentially a “religious dogma” of an economic ideology of endless growth that will produce endless paid employment for endless people (on a finite planet — even if a space program could help with that). This fundamentally ignores that the value of most new services is that they reduce the need for labor in industry or at home (once we are satiated for basic needs and even fairly high wants). So, we get, say, the recent push for government grants to push along more robotics in the USA as a White House priority without much though presumably given to the socio-economic implications of more automation.

    I think more automation of the right sorts can be a good thing, but our society needs to move beyond a scarcity economics paradigm to an abundance paradigm for that to work out well for most people.

    But, beyond the economics side, it is the military side of all this that is really problematical and ironic. People have long been using all these advanced technologies of abundance (robotics, biotech, advanced materials, advanced energy sources) from a scarcity perspective of creating weapons to fight over the very scarcity that, ironically, these technologies could alleviate if created and used differently. So, we ironically get, say, military robots (drones) whose primary role is essentially to enforce a social order based on people working and acting like robots, rather that engineers just building robots to do the robot-like work and let people be people. The same is true for the misuse of nuclear energy, nanotech, rockets, and biotech all from a scarcity paradigm to make terrible weapons rather than using them to produce energy, produce stuff, produce space habitats, and produce health, and so on. We get, say, an internet that could inform us all and help us design “Blue Zones” of health and abundance for all, but instead people talk about using it for cyberattacks to destroy other country’s infrastructure and spammers working from an old economic paradigm clog it up so it has more trouble functioning.

    So, we need a paradigm shift and I’m glad your blog is part of encouraging that. :-)

  2. Sebastian
    October 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Ask the restroom attendant. When he was around, I left the room with cheer and dry hands. The robot that replaced him reels towels insufficiently. And hasn’t much personality. And my day is dimmer because of it.

    • Samir Tulebaev
      October 27, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      Yes, but would you like to be that restroom attendant. I doubt that very much.

  3. stephen
    October 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Marshall Brain, in his “Robotic Nation” has a similar perspective and like you he tries to tweak capitalism to conform to the new technological productive forces.

    capitalism can’t be tweaked because the capitalists won’t allow it. The current movement of defecit reduction and austerity measures in Europe and here in the US testifies to my assertion. Rather than share the tremendous gains in productivity the rich are trying their utmost to keep it all for themselves.

    the big gorilla in the room is that production without wages cannot distribute the results of that production with money. The circuit of capital is being broken by the capitalists themselves. Further the very concept of private property is being attacked..not by wide eyed radicals..but by the bastion of private property, Wall Street. The current foreclosuregate is an example.

    So, if your premise is correct, there is but one solution. The distribution of the necessities of life based on need rather than upon one’s ability to pay.

    • October 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

      “So, if your premise is correct, there is but one solution. The distribution of the necessities of life based on need rather than upon one’s ability to pay.”

      While I in general agree with what you wrote, as I mention in a comment above, there are four interwoven good ways forward (basic income, gift economy, democratic resource-based planning, and local subsistence) and at least five bad ways to go backward (endless war, prisons, schooling, sickness, and bureaucracy). Here are some more details on these choices.

      One way forward is a “basic income” where some percentage of the GDP (half?) is distributed equally to every citizen with no requirements related to age, disability, or willingness to work. That is not entirely about “need” (even as that is true for the reasons you mention that people need access to the fruits of industry — see “The Triple Revolution Memorandum” from 1964 that makes a similar point as you do). A basic income is IMHO mostly about the fact that every citizen has some moral claim on the industrial commons as a human right. This claim is for all sorts of reasons. Part of it is the same as people having some claim on breathing air by right of existence (and depriving people of air would be considered murder). And people have some claim in a democracy on the government to consider their interests through government programs, regulations, and taxation. And, there is the fact that any system of private property still has to begin with the arbitrariness of the original land distribution, which generally comes down to “finders keepers” or “might makes right” which are both problematical morally (like in the dispossession of any natives from the land, or in the slavery often used to work it — whether chattel slavery or wage slavery). The USA already has aspects of a basic income with “Social Security” for the old or disabled (though it is age or needs based), and the USA has school taxes and college aid that pay a lot of money for young people (but not directly, only through a problematical public works jobs program called school).

      A second positive solution is stronger local economies with local currencies and more local compassion and improved local subsistence (like using advanced robotics and advanced materials science to have cheap 3D printers that can print most of what people want, or cheap agricultural robots that allow people to easily produce food locally, or cheap solar panels printed in those 3D printers that make for cheap local power, or cheap recycling and resource extraction using nanotech). The town of Ithaca, with Ithaca HOURs and a town-wide focus on environmentalism has aspects of this.

      Marshall Brain’s Manna, at the end, had a solution that had aspects of both a basic income and stronger local economies (although the economy he had in Australia was still much larger than a local economy focused on a street or a village).

      A third positive solution is democratic resource-based planning which is essentially some form of central planning either about producing needs and wants directly (like the Soviets did or the Technocracy movement suggests), or about using taxes, subsidies, and regulation within a market system (like the USA does through the complex tax code). This kind of resource-based planning can be done at the country-wide level, but it can also be done on lower levels like home, town, and county. Such planning will generally look at much more long-term than most planning done in the market.

      A fourth good solution is a gift economy based on volunteerism and gift giving (like volunteers in hospitals, or people who blog for “free”). If you look at pre-capitalist societies, like many Native American tribes, gift giving was a very important part of such economies. Freecycle is an example of gift giving in the material world. Wikipedia, Debian GNU/Linux, and lots of great free independent music are examples of gift giving in the digital world.

      Likely we will see a mix of all four of those solutions, and each is based on something that we already do now. Each solution has its pros and cons and appeals to a different mix of people. You can find more details on all four of those alternatives and a chart mapping them onto two axes (exchange based vs. values based, and individualistic vs. communal) at this knol I put together:

      http://knol.google.com/k/paul-d-fernhout/beyond-a-jobless-recovery#Four_long%282D%29term_heterodox_alternatives

      The big problem is that there are also several bad solutions to the problems posed by abundance and a loss of paid employment that all essentially entail either destroying prosperity through war or in creating pointless makework that keeps people chained in the old paradigm. These include endless war, endless schooling, endless bureaucracy, endless sickness, or endless prison, as well as other intentional inefficencies. We need to watch out for those kind of “solutions”, but, sadly, those are also in the USA what we already do now. For example, rather than have our society promote whole foods and exercise in the sunshine etc. to keep people healthy, vast amounts of advertising dollars and government funds are spent to get people to eat factory-farmed meat, growth-hormone-laden dairy, and nutrient-free processed foods and spend time indoors on their couches.

      So, we need to move away from those problematical backwards-trending “solutions” in order to get social transcendence to a post-scarcity society. But it is hard because war, school, bureaucracy, sickness, and prisons (as well as the inefficiencies of fossil fuel use and planned obsolescence etc.) are major job creators in the USA at this point. So there is vast resistance, not just by the wealthy, to any form of social change that might put a person’s job at risk — even if that job is mostly about guarding people who want to be free or hurting people who want to be left alone or dispensing advice on how to exist with sickness instead of how to be healthy. Jane Jacobs has this phrasing of “transactions of decline” that describe these sorts of things (and all these negative transactions add to the GDP, making it a problematical indicator of social well-being). So, it is hard to make that transition away from those negative alternatives (as they entail job loss) without at the same time building up those four positive alternatives (which entail moving beyond needing a job).

      So, anyway, there are a mix of possible “solutions” (good and bad). To understand the future of economics, we need to see how they all interact, not just focus on only one of them (like, say, resource-based planning, as useful as that might be). But in order to understand why we must change, we need to accept what Martin Ford (and others) are saying about these trends related to robotics and other automation, better design, and voluntary social networks, in the context of limited demand. And then, as you suggest, we need to see how we can move beyond mainstream capitalism that is built on dogmatic assumptions (essentially as a secular religion, see “The Market as God”).

      These assumptions are less and less valid as time goes by. So, we are seeing the end of a presumable moral necessity of an income-through-jobs link built on some notion of a 17th century Protestant work-ethic valued in the face of perceived scarcity and difficulty. But that work ethic ignores the potential of 21st century technology or the harm of artificial scarcity that so much modern intellectual paid labor is based on.

      As a society, we need to accept that the “work” we choose to do, including raising children and being a good neighbor and informed citizen, more-and-more needs to be independent of a right to draw needs and some wants from the industrial commons. And further, as Bob Black suggests (in “The Abolition of Work”), whenever possible, we need to transform “work” into “play”. The fact is, hard “work” (including raising children) can be a lot of “hard fun” or have other intrinsic rewards, if we get more choice in what we work at and feel less anxiety about the connection of that work to our daily vegetables, fruits, and legumes. :-)

      • October 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

        Interesting. We seem to think along somewhat similar lines, though not identical.

        In my views, the purpose of government (any government, from the animal modes of pack and herd up through human tribalism and our present “nations”) is to provide five basic needs to all individuals.

        Those needs are:

        Shelter (from the environment in the form of clothes and housing)

        Food (to sustain life and health)

        Health care (from the simple pack behaviors of grooming up to modern medicine)

        Education (to enable the individual to cope with and deal with the environment effectively)

        Security (to help insure the safety of the individual from external threats)

        These are the benefits an individual gains from a collective, in exchange for contributing to the collective a “share” of their “labor”

        In our modern world, this simple relationship has been muddled and made so complex that very few people even understand the purpose of collectives. We have “governments” that only provide small parts of our needs, and “jobs” that provide for others, and yet more sub collectives that provide one subset of needs or another.

        We’ve also forgotten that we humans have instincts, and that much of the “problems” of the modern world exist because we’ve let our instincts run rampant and uncontrolled.

        I’ve discussed this in my blog post here:http://valkyrieice.blogspot.com/2010/07/on-government.html

        Now, the point to that explanation is that we share some similar views on how to “ease the pain” as we make a transition between our current economy of scarcity and the one of abundance that I see inevitably resulting from the continuing advances in automation and AI that are happening. I don’t see any way to prevent a “jobless future” but I also do not see that fact as necessarily “a bad thing”

        Basic provision of Food, Shelter, Medical care, Education and Security are vital, and must be universal. I’m not advocating a “welfare” economy, simply ensuring that every person has the minimal basic needs and the ongoing education that will be needed to remain competitive as we move from a “human physical labor” based job model to a “human mental labor” based job model.

        Every job that relies on human muscle, learned skill, or rote use of knowledge will be automated sooner or later. Teaching the entirety of society how to actively use their minds to create NEW Knowledge is going to be the primary hurdle between a material resource based economy, and a non-material resource based one.

      • stephen
        October 23, 2010 at 8:59 am

        I agree with what you wrote, too bad the rest of the world doesn’t. I think there are two forces at work when civilizations change paradigms:the objective and subjective. In our case the objective would be that technology advances have created something new in human history. In the past machines have been labor enhancing. Automation, AI, Robotics are labor replacing. The move to labor replacing technologies advance due to competition between capitalists..they HAVE to automate to remain competitive. Once this move to total or almost total automation occurs it will create total havoc around the world. Mainstream economists deny this trend. Paul Krugman denies there is such a thing as structual unemployment. we can see glimmers of acceptance when Obama says in a speech to Michigan workers something to the effect of “your jobs are never coming back” or the numerous articles in the NYT about whole industries renedered obsolete due to automation. However the fact remains that structual unemployment due to automation is not a mainstream concept.To complicate matters the new structual unemployment is blamed on China or outsourcing. Although there is some truth in this the new emerging economies are embracing automation with a fervor. the percentage of manufacturing jobs to the general Chinese population is decreasing even as their economy grows.So, first we need to get people to acknowledge the objective facts. Now the subjective comes into play and that is a whole other subject.

      • TCG
        October 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm

        The UK is toying with the idea of a universal citizen’s credit regardless of how much you earn or not….

        It’s already being attacked though as money for nothing though.

  4. TCG
    October 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I actually think the structutal unemployment problem is becoming more widely accepted. Over at HPC there were many who would shout luddite to stifle debates. but quite recently more and more people have been going against this.

    Even suggesting things such as a citizens income type arrangement. I suppose it is a consequence of the recent UK government (fake) cuts annoucements. In that there simply aren’t enough vacancies for the people out there. Who will be made unemployed by the cuts.

    Also a few nasty robots came about this week. A pharmacy robot, something which takes the best part of 5 years at university to study to do….

    It seems pretty obvious, i.e. the doctor prints out a ticket with a barcode or scanner you let the pharmacy robot thing scan it and then it comes out like a vending machine type arrangement..

    Hell taking it to an even greater degree the doctor is obsolete as one of those self help radio button things you find for tech support could be used in place of the doctor even!

  5. James
    October 24, 2010 at 2:32 am

    People have been worrying about this type of thing for over 200 years, and so far they’ve always been wrong.

    • TCG
      October 24, 2010 at 9:10 am

      So is that all you’ve got? Name calling?

      Have a read of the host’s book as to why old theories may not apply now or in the near term future.

      Just because something always worked in the past does not mean it will work indefinately does it? War for instance used to be a favorite past time to destroy production and keep population in check. It worked for 10,000 years. Then nuclear bombs came along and spoilt big conflicts.

    • Eosthelion
      June 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      Well, yes. But then again, dinosaurs once walked the earth. And saber tooth tigers too. And also, it is good to note, there is a beginning and an end to all things, I don’t know why people always forget that. Even our Sun will die one day, so our days on this planet are definitely numbered. Granted, it’s a rather large number, but they are numbered nevertheless ;)
      200 years ago, the technological progress was just beginning, so there was room for new job types to open. And so they have. And people switched jobs, and all was well with the world. But then computers were invented. And robotics too. Once you “teach” a computer/robot to do something, it will do it better than a human can, for longer, without pay, vacation time, sick days, maternity leave, bathroom breaks…. And you can make 10000000 more just like it, to do the same job (if you need them, of course) without the need to teach each one of them individually the skills needed to do the job.
      Also note, if you can create a robot to replace a worker on one job, creating a robot to replace a worker on another job gets easier. So any “new” jobs that are created are likely going to be automated as well, if not right away, then in the near future..

  6. stephen
    October 24, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Here is a link to a collection of essays from a Marxist perspective. the book speaks exclusively to the premise of this blog http://www.gocatgo.com/ce/cuttingedge.html.pretty interesting reading if you can get past some of the economic theories i.e.why machines cannot produce value.

    • October 24, 2010 at 5:20 am

      That link did not work for me (the .pretty part may be a problem)?

      For anyone looking into a Marxist explanation, Murry Bookchin has some elaborations here:
      “From Post Scarcity Anarchism, 1971: Listen, Marxist!”

      http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bookchin/listenm.html

      “The worker becomes a revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but by undoing his “workerness.” And in this he is not alone; the same applies to the farmer, the student, the clerk, the soldier, the bureaucrat, the professional–and the Marxist. The worker is no less a “bourgeois” than the farmer, student, clerk, soldier, bureaucrat, professional–and Marxist. His “workerness” is the disease he is suffering from, the social affliction telescoped to individual dimensions. Lenin understood this in What Is to Be Done? but he smuggled in the old hierarchy under a red flag and some revolutionary verbiage.”

      Related, one can also see “The Abolition of Work” by Bob Black.

      • stephen
        October 24, 2010 at 10:39 am

        Sorry about the bad link, it didn’t work for me either. If you’re interestedthe book is available on Amazon for as little as a few dollars used. Google “Jim Davis + Cutting Edge, Technology, Information Capitalism and Social Revolution”

  7. kurt9
    October 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Robots are still not good at stuff that requires visual identification and dexterity, although dexterity is slowing improving. Machine vision is a issue that will take a long time to resolve.

    Usually automation is implemented in manners that are totally different than employing people. Examples are self-checkout at the stores and the way warehouses are automated.

    A tell-tale sign that robots are really moving into society is when they start to take the place of workers at restaurants and fast-food places. I expect this to happen first in Japan. I have yet to see this.

    Nevertheless, the blog owner is correct that this is will be the most significant effect of robotics and automation in the next few decades.

  8. October 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    The usual SF dream is for the robots to do all the work for us and generate fabulous wealth – so the humans can enjoy doing what they like – drinking, eating and having sex. For example see Wall-E.

    • October 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      A reference to Wall-E and automation raises deep issues about the meaning of life that are not going to be fully explored on answered in a thousand blog comments. :-)

      Bob Black talks in “The Abolition of Work”, as does Theodore Sturgeon in “The Skills of Xanadu” about the idea of making work into play. Certainly children find a lot of reason to play, even though what they are playing at may have been done by many children before, and the end results are usually not intended to have practical value. Play is part of their own development, like a seed growing into a plant, and it is part of who they are. But such “play” may actually be “hard fun” as Seymour Papert says. “Play” at the adult level can include things like continuing self-education, research in science and math, and various forms of creativity in the arts and drama, and so on. See the book “Homo Ludens”, written by a Dutch scholar later killed by the Nazis (who he thought were too serious and unplayful), as discussed by Chris Mercogliano in his book “In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids’ Inner Wildness”.

      Still, for “adults”, especially adults shaped by schooling or circumstance to be industrialized worker-bees, sure, things may be different. If you look at a Star Trek:TOS episode like “I, Mudd”, yes, that conniving entrepreneur did find it a hellish experience to be on a planet with just him and thousands of Androids who wanted to serve his every whim. And Iain Banks’ Culture-series Novella “The State of the Art” also explores this issue contrasting 1970s Earth and “suffering creating meaning” with the advanced post-scarcity culture (where suffering, pain, and compulsion had been mostly eliminated). And in passing the first Matrix movie mentions people were adapted to a degree of difficulty and creating a Matrix nirvana led to lots of problems. And the old Twilight Zone has a story called “A Nice Place To Visit” about a thug who finds out that his “hell” is getting everything he wants.

      As I see it right now, a human desire to do things (and to live in general) links both to overall physical and mental health as well as connections to roots in life like family, friends, community, humor, creativity, spirituality, nature, causes, and so on. Unfortunately, our current consumerist culture emphasizes creating conformists and external approval seekers through compulsory schooling and then endless option shaping consumerist advertising, and such people often become alienated when at first they try to reach for something more in our broken social paradigm (because they are quickly out of step with their neighbors, friends, and family living who are still caught up in the old paradigm).

      Also, our agro-medical-business consumerist profit-driven system has created nutrient-free processed foods and a sunlight-free environments. The lack of whole foods and vitamin D is causing a lot of physical and mental dysfunction, that in part manifests itself in lack of motivation and engagement with life (like an obese person does not want to get up and move around because it is too hard or because they are depressed). See the “AARP/Blue Zones” project for some alternatives to remake towns to promote community, health, and exercise.

      So, as we get more real abundance from robotics and other automation, better design, and voluntary social networks, we can change how education happens (to help people become more self-actualizing). And we can learn more about medical science and economics and agriculture and help people eat more whole foods (especially vegetables, fruits, and beans) and help people get the right amount of Vitamin D, and get various essential nutrients (like DHA or phytochemicals) from what they eat. Both of those changes will give people more existential energy.

      If you look at the life of the hunter/gatherers (who mostly lived without money, even barter, having mostly a gift economy), like Marshall Sahlins talks about, such people actually did very little “work”, and spent much time socializing, dancing, doing art, and raising families. Note that in Wall-E, onboard the Axiom a robot was raising children, not the parents. But parenting well can take about as much time as a parent can put into it, and parenting can very much be an issue about connection and caring. Also, Wall-E is unrealistic because of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which suggests as people become fulfilled at a material level they progress to higher levels of self-actualization. I think we will see much the same with a lot of abundance.

      This is not to deny the existential question that you indirectly raise, but just to say I think it can be addressed outside of the notion of compulsory labor. Exploring the creation of meaning in life will remain a complex issue, but, forcing people to work at jobs they hate so they have a reason to live just seems like a problematical existential paradigm.

      Anyway, like I said, a thousand blog post comments will not do this topic justice. But, at least there is the beginnings of an alternative perspective on this, trying to reconsider some current socioeconomic assumptions.

  9. November 8, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Wow, I just started reading Martin’s book today at 41,000 feet, the kindle version on my ipad. I guess this version takes advantage of the exponential growth of computing power… How many people are out of work because of that? Hmmm. Anyways, I read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near and almost couldn’t finish it – it was depressing. Martin’s book (I’m 47% in according to my kindle app), is more acceptable than Ray’s view but no less disturbing. I’ve got 3 sons, 22, 21, and 18. The eldest is thinking of a management role in tourism, the second is training to be an automotive technician (note they’re not mechanics anymore), and the youngest wants to be a missionary. Missionaries fortunately can’t (well hopefully never) be automated away. Automtive technicians, perhaps one day but then there’s the increasing competition for scarce jobs problem there… My eldest I think will be okay as it’s the people side of that business that interests him and I suspect for many decades to come, people will continue to relate better to people in people-orientated businesses. I myself began way back in 1982 in computer science (have a degree in it). I began my career as a programmer/analyst but moved on as a manager / leader in K12 education (in the technology portfolio) for nearly 20 years. My role is nearly 100% people oriented but I worry about most of my staff… I’ve started to hint at the need to retool, restructure but in a union environment, it’s a tricky road to walk…

    I have 10 more years to go then retirement – I want to consult and do voluntourism. Right now it looks fantastic – my wife and I will be very well off. But, with the scenarios proposed in Martin’s book, I wonder what retirement will hold in 10 years. Will the money disappear? I’ve got my head in the sand a bit on this one… what to do?

    A question for Martin or others… assuming automation leads to the scenario Martin outlines as the Lights in the Tunnel, wouldn’t automation (the machines) eventually be out of work as well? IE, no jobs, no consumers, no production?

    BTW, have a read of http://www.amazon.com/End-Work-Jeremy-Rifkin/dp/1585423130 – it was written in 1995 but is along the same lines as Martin’s work. The social sector is likely the answer.

  10. December 17, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    stephen :
    Marshall Brain, in his “Robotic Nation” has a similar perspective and like you he tries to tweak capitalism to conform to the new technological productive forces.
    capitalism can’t be tweaked because the capitalists won’t allow it. The current movement of deficit reduction and austerity measures in Europe and here in the US testifies to my assertion. Rather than share the tremendous gains in productivity the rich are trying their utmost to keep it all for themselves.
    the big gorilla in the room is that production without wages cannot distribute the results of that production with money. The circuit of capital is being broken by the capitalists themselves. Further the very concept of private property is being attacked..not by wide eyed radicals..but by the bastion of private property, Wall Street. The current foreclosuregate is an example.
    So, if your premise is correct, there is but one solution. The distribution of the necessities of life based on need rather than upon one’s ability to pay.

    I completely agree with you. Recently I read that although China is hardly suffering from the global economic crises, they had just fired 11% of their workforce in the past 5 years due to technological unemployment.

    A lot of people quickly dismiss the technological unemployment by either two ways.
    1) “people have been saying these things for decades, yet there is still a worker at McDonalds.
    This is the same argument that involves “where is my flying car” and it stems from the people who overexcagerate the future are often quoted more than the masses who undervalue technological progress. This argument is completely invalid and once they see that McDonald’s automated and they have flying cars, will be the same people who will say “well why isn’t there teleportation yet”.
    2) “people like human contact so jobs won’t be automated”. First this relies on the assumption that consumers (and not the corporate brass whose primary concern is to cut costs) that will determine if jobs will be automated or not. Second it also relies on the assumption that we won’t prefer robots to rude waiters, IT help that takes forever, doctors who can be wrong sometimes, and so on.

    So in the end, as the previous author hinted to. Something will have to give first. Capitalism will not run as normal when everyone is unemployed through technology (since the advances in automation are much faster than anyone can be retrained), so will there be an attempt to slow automation (think Luddites) or a major restructuring of our economic system?

    Follow my blog at tp2tp.wordpress.com

  11. stephen
    December 18, 2010 at 3:44 am

    . Recently I read that although China is hardly suffering from the global economic crises, they had just fired 11% of their workforce in the past 5 years due to technological unemployment.

    Yes, I read the same thing. the percentage of Chinese workers involved in production is decreasing. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese gov’t addresses this issue.

    <So in the end, as the previous author hinted to. Something will have to give first. Capitalism will not run as normal when everyone is unemployed through technology (since the advances in automation are much faster than anyone can be retrained), so will there be an attempt to slow automation (think Luddites) or a major restructuring of our economic system?
    Follow my blog at tp2tp.wordpress.com

    i agree, something will have to give. Unfortunately as capitalist economies scramble for market share or market expansion the threat of world war becomes inevitable. The US is NOT going to allow China to become the major economic force in the world. After all it has been US foreign policy for quite awhile to militarily encircle China..WW11, Korea, Vietnam now Afghanastan..sooner or later the unthinkable is going to happen. The NYT just had an article about “surviving” a nuclear exchange. This article was not written by accident..it is the beginning salvo in preparing the American people to accept the use of nuclear weapons.

  12. May 23, 2012 at 5:15 am

    The argument that new technology creates new opportunities ignores the qualitative difference of this coming technological revolution as against the other revolutions where work evolved rather than disappeared. The difference is that all prior industrial revolutions replaced physical work of some kind or made a difference in materials used. This time what is being replaced is the quintessential essences unique to humans: skills, knowledge, flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness. If robots and other automated processes replace these attributes then there is no work required of humans because anything a human can do can be done more efficiently 365x24x7 by a machine. Essentially if “Rosie” from the Jetsons can fully replace “Alice” from the Brady Bunch, then why can’t she also replace George Jetson and Mike Brady at their workplace? You could argue that an architect requires creativity, but there are also examples of neural nets writing novel music: who’s to say that novel architecture cannot also be produced by automation? I hope I’m wrong, and I think it will take decades as opposed to years (but it won’t take centuries), but I believe this revolution will be the “end of work” and our economic systems are not able to handle the disappearance of labor and expertise as valuable commodites. What will the individual have of value to sell in this automated future in order to obtain purchasing power to fulfill their role as a customer?

  13. May 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Superb site you have here but I was curious if you knew
    of any forums that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get comments from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Bless you!

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