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The Real Job Threat

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the semi-intelligent-potatoes dept.

AI 990

NicknamesAreStupid writes "The NYTimes reports on a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew P. McAfee (MIT director-level staffers), Race Against the Machine, which suggests that the true threat to jobs is not outsourcing — it's the machine! Imagine the Terminator flipping burgers, cleaning your house, approving your loan, handling your IT questions, and doing your job faster, better, and more cheaply. Now that's an apocalypse with a twist — The Job Terminator." Reader wjousts points out another of the authors' arguments: that IT advances have cost more jobs than they've created.

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FIRST (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834510)


Re:FIRST (1)

dmacleod808 (729707) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834568)

Too bad AC get's no credit for his "accomplishment."

Re:FIRST (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 2 years ago | (#37835014)

One day, we'll have robots to post "first", taking yet another job away from the humans.

Maintenance? (1)

wzinc (612701) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834520)

Someone has to maintain those terminators...until they can maintain themselves.

Re:Maintenance? (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834594)

Yes, you might need one person to maintain 100-1000 robots, so that is still a lot of people out of work

Re:Maintenance? (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834780)

True, but I believe the ratio is significantly greater, a support/maintenance team of 5 can take care of a system that replaces 100+ workers. Though I do say outsourcing is a larger threat then robots depending on your level and expertise. If you are a coder, customer relations etc... outsourcing is a bigger threat, if you are a laborer, manufacturing person etc... robots are a bigger threat.

Re:Maintenance? (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834854)

If there were more people needed to maintain them than the amount they replaced, there would be no economic drive for automatization. A company will only choose robots when it can fire people in return.

Re:Maintenance? (1)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 2 years ago | (#37835022)

If someone has to maintain the terminators, then sabotage would become a possibility if the machines begin to undermine the status quo. Imagine what would happen if a disgruntled technician loaded malware that made the units seek out and destroy each other.

There's also more direct sabotage... lots of unemployed humans with buckets of water (or fire hoses) to short out the circuits and sledgehammers to destroy the chassis could do lots of damage since the units (early ones at least) would likely not be exceptionally durable or programmed for combat.

Under New Management (2)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834524)

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Err ... (0)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834544)

And they've only just figured this out now?

Re:Err ... (5, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834620)

No, it's been known since at least sometime in the 30s that there would be less and less need for labor in the future. What wasn't foreseen was the willingness of the working class to allow wealth to collect at the top and the increased consumption of things that people don't particularly want or need.

Back then it was expected that in the future the normal work day would shrink from 8 hours to something more like 3 hours as workers got more done in less time. Basically failing to account for robber barons that tend to screw up such things and assuming that people would continue to support their own best interests.

Obviously, they were quite wrong in that regard.

Re:Err ... (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834976)

No, it's been known since at least sometime in the 30s that there would be less and less need for labor in the future. What wasn't foreseen was the willingness of the working class to allow wealth to collect at the top and the increased consumption of things that people don't particularly want or need.

If people don't want things, why are they consuming them? It's not like this stuff rains from the sky, they have to go to the store and buy it.

Re:Err ... (1)

Ferzerp (83619) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834676)

Seriously... Who was under the assumption that our jobs were to make things cost more and require more people? It's pretty cut and dry that the role of technology is 3 fold.

1. Create better outcomes
2. Cost less (in capital, opex, or both)
3. Take less time (this ties in with part 2 heavily, but I split it out anyway).

None of these factors beyond number 1 could ever result in more jobs. If you begin a project and at the end all you've done is created jobs, you are wasting money. Sometimes a massive increase in the first role can lead to an increase in jobs, but for that to be the case, you typically need a massively better outcome than before (which means likely that the prior function was not adequately staffed anyway).

not a twist... (2)

MichaelKristopeit420 (2018880) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834548)

an analogous corollary.

If you don't like it, join the Amish (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834550)

If you use and like the amenities that become possible with technology, then calling technology a "job terminator" is at best hypocrisy.

What we need... (4, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834838) a new version of the Amish where they shun all technology developed after, say, 2010. That way I can keep my job as a software developer, but I don't have to learn any of these newfangled technologies.

brain fart (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834866)

If you use and like the amenities that become possible with technology, then calling technology a "job terminator" is at best hypocrisy.

What a major fail in logic you have displayed there pal. What sort of logic system or formal model do you use where liking the amenities of technology is mutually exclusive/contradictory to calling such things a job terminator?

Seriously, what major brain fart. I like the amenities provided by technology. That doesn't prevent me from pointing out what is f* obvious, that automation in its current form has lead to a certain number of people not being employed (and not being able to find employment) anymore. Where is the contradiction?

More importantly, where is the hypocrisy? Oh wait, you are commingling ethics (and a twisted form of ethics at that) with inference. Kudos for you, here have a cookie for winning the "dumbass logic" competition.

Re:If you don't like it, join the Amish (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834920)

If you use and like the amenities that become possible with technology, then calling technology a "job terminator" is at best hypocrisy.

Also, a lot of the stuff we do with technology simply wouldn't be feasible with manual labor - we'd just do without a lot of stuff because it would be too expensive to do. So it's really hard to calculate how many people would be working if we didn't have technology vs how many actually are working; you can't just subtract out all our machines and figure out how many people it would take to do the same amount of work.

It's too late! (1)

socz (1057222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834552)

When you fill out on-line lines of credit applications robots decide on a variety of factors if you qualify or not! They can decide to approve or deny them, OR send them for human (I assume human) revision to approve or deny. So lets get rid of these robots! Except the ones that drive you, that would be pretty sweeet!

I don't do any of those jobs... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834562)

I'm a programmer working on process automation... when computers can do that themselves I'll start to worry.

Re:I don't do any of those jobs... (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834684)

I still believe that P NP.

If they get powerfull enough to think, we can either rest in a grave or all rest, living the high life.

Re:I don't do any of those jobs... (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834704)

P does not equal NP (stupid filter/me).

Re:I don't do any of those jobs... (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834744)

I'm a programmer working on process automation

Job killer!

I'm a programmer also, and I just don't see computers able to take a software specification or design and end up producing what the customer wants. At least, not in my lifetime.

Then again, most human programmers are also unable to take a spec and produce what the customer wants.

Re:I don't do any of those jobs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834880)

Bah, last week about 20 people were "made redundant" after some automation stuff I did. This includes my date (she held a data entry job that now being done by some clever image processing and OCR). The code was very clever but I'm still felling bad 'cause of that.

Re:I don't do any of those jobs... (2, Interesting)

trainman (6872) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834792)

What are you talking about, we enabled them to program themselves years ago!

But in all seriousness, I think computers and robots taking on more jobs is a GOOD thing, something we should encourage more. The debate at that point needs to shift, less jobs, more people unemployed, why would we have fewer and fewer people toiling away (harder and harder the way companies are pushing employees) with so many free bodies available? A more fundamental economic and societal shift will be needed, even the French 30 hour work week looks a little long at that point.

I would hope by spreading the work out (which yes will mean the current economic model will require a LOT of re-tuning, Occupy Wall Street, anyone?) it will give everyone more leisure time, more time to enjoy life. Our finite existence on this planet should not be tied to a lifetime of labour, our job should not definite us. Let's make a better society for ALL through this automation, like the old 50s and 60s cartoons envisions. George Jetson button pusher, anyone?

Neoludite (1)

maken (12497) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834570)

We need a tax on production of labor saving devices!!!

There is Always More Work to Do (5, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834588)

Why didn't combines and massive tractors ruin agriculture jobs in the United States? I mean, they clearly replaced the work of many men and the same could be said then: "Many farm hands, in short, are losing the race against the machine." The combines got bigger and faster and more efficient and suddenly you even needed fewer operators!

Well, the fact is that at first there were people that lost their jobs (the generation undergoing restructuring in their trade) ... I thought in economics they called this restructuralization unemployment or some such term that wasn't necessarily bad unemployment. But they found work elsewhere -- all four of my grandparents were dirt farmers and I sure the hell am not. Sure, I grew up working on farms but picking rock and bailing hay are chump jobs. I herald the man that does away with that work. I think this statement is universally true: You could provide someone the means to complete all the work they want and -- given they are industrious enough -- you can come back the next day and they will be ready to pay you for more work done in new and different ways.

People have asked me if I'm afraid about open source ruining my software job. I couldn't be more diametrically opposed to that position. Open source basically makes me better at my job and ensures my future by empowering me to do my job better. I could give someone all the software they ask for one day and come back the next day only to have them asking me for more software.

There will always be more work to be done and I think there will always be more software to write for a very very very long time. I'm more worried that people have forgotten how to clean a chicken or simply grow enough vegetables and plants to survive (should we ever be thrust backwards).

Re:There is Always More Work to Do (2, Insightful)

chill (34294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834794)

The issue is machine are moving up the spectrum from unskilled labor to skilled labor. Yes, picking rock and baling hay are chump jobs but think of where things are going.

For example, look at the advances Google has capitalized on for autonomous driving. I can easily envision the jobs of taxi driver, chauffeur, airline pilot and bus driver going away in a reasonable amounts of time. And just look at the skill gamut there. Commercial airline pilot is a bit more up the ladder than taxi driver. But with GPS and other advances, combined with the realization that the bulk of reported incidents are the result of human error, I can see even that job disappearing in a couple decades.

I can also envision advanced expert systems, combined with ultra cheap sensors and improved computer vision replacing most -- if not ALL -- medical professionals.

Ditto lawyers, accountants and auto mechanics.

The only reason it will go as slow as it does is the comfort level of older people. They'll have to die off, but as their kids grow up with RoboDoc, things will rapidly change.

Re:There is Always More Work to Do (1)

socz (1057222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834806)

Although there is always more work to do, that doesn't mean there's always people who want to do it. Interestingly enough, I think part of the reason for advancement in technology (on farms) was not only for greater profit, but also to replace the hard to find work. Sure, "anyone" could work the farm, but that doesn't mean they were any good at it OR they wanted to do it. Having read books about migrant workers, they were very poorly treated and extremely underpaid - both because they were "undocumented workers."

  Now adays you can't get "documented" workers to break their backs on farms, so technology plays a great role in that sense. Unfortunately the same people who don't want to break their backs, I would argue, probably don't want to take the time learn anything demanding because in the end, the people who are willing to break their backs, we could say are willing to do anything for work including learning things for better opportunities in life.

Re:There is Always More Work to Do (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834832)

Because combines are specialized machines that can only replace one category of work and at a fairly high cost.

Robots are generalized machines which are cheap ($15k per year to lease and can "work" 2.5 shifts per day with 99% uptime- no benefits, no sick time- no vacation time- no lawsuits).

Any expensive thinking job can be offshored now.
Any "no brainer" work can be done by a machine.
A large number of medium skill jobs have been turned into applicaitons like Microsoft Office.
Recepitionists have been replaced by machines.

Any time a new job is created- the first thing which happens is finding out how to automate it. The automation has to be done one time by a small number of people.

I have the same worry- only it's much uglier than that.
In about 50 years max. Hope 50 years and not 30 years.

Re:There is Always More Work to Do (2)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834898)

I for one support automation of everything that can be automated, but to play devil's advocate, agricultural automation has ruined that sector as a source of jobs. In case you hadn't noticed, economies everywhere used to be agrarian first, urban second. The agriculture industry can no longer support so large a percentage of the population financially, and what's left is more efficient as a conglomerate than a family operation. Both of which are as likely as not to hire people below minimum wage where more people are needed. Your example is a terrible one by such measurements.

I think I've heard this before. . . (3, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834592)

The problem with this absurd argument is that people want stuff, not jobs. The only reason you work a job is so you can buy the things you want/need. And if you don't have to work as much to get them, that's hardly a problem.

Re:I think I've heard this before. . . (5, Interesting)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834742)

The problem with this absurd argument is that people want stuff, not jobs. The only reason you work a job is so you can buy the things you want/need. And if you don't have to work as much to get them, that's hardly a problem.

The problem is that we're not willing to accept an economic system that's more in tune with the realities of modern life. If there's less work to do, we need to improve the quality of life per unit of work ratio to keep people from falling into poverty simply because there's no work for them to do.

Re:I think I've heard this before. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834822)

Most employers aren't going to pay their employees more because they know most of the work is from the machines they use.

Employers pay more to employees who help grow the business, through creativity and innovation, but only if that equates to more money.

I guess you can say a machine can only do what it is told to do, while a human can find a new way to do it and more.

Why is it bad ? (4, Insightful)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834600)

So, instead of working, you can now play while a machine does the work. Seems like an improvement to me.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834652)

How are you going to pay for medical costs, food, housing etc, if you have almost no income.

Re:Why is it bad ? (4, Insightful)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834762)

If the machines do the work, things get cheaper, so you don't need as much income to buy them. The rest is a matter of distribution.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

dskzero (960168) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834876)

You know that's not how the real world operates.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834996)

It does. Middle class people now have a better life than a king a few centuries ago. Of course, it's easy to take all the modern things for granted, and find something to complain about.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

sapgau (413511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834840)

It will be the new robotic socialism, every thing will be provided... you would just swear allegiance and adoration to those in power, sort of like North Korea but production will be done with robots instead of prisoners...

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834734)

Only the person who owns the machine gets the profits of it.

It is highly unlikely that the person who is loosing the job owns the robot that replaces him.

Re:Why is it bad ? (3, Interesting)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834802)

....and now we can clearly show: taxes from the government help redistribute wealth accumulated through automation. Automation will DEMAND redistribution, or we will all starve in the midst of plenty.. which is a pretty stupid thing to do just to make one person obscenely rich.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834858)

You don't have to own the machines. Because of all the automation on the farms, and industry, I can now buy a loaf of bread for a dollar. The profits of the machines are passed on to everybody.

Re:Why is it bad ? (1)

tylersoze (789256) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834908)

God forbid we should adapt our economic system to these new realities. I mean capitalism is the be all and end all, right?

Hold On ... (2)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834604)

If everyone's job is done by a machine, how does anyone buy the stuff that they make – they'll be unemployed!

Re:Hold On ... (1)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834724)

Because, in the real world, everyone's job won't be done by a machine for that exact reason.

Re:Hold On ... (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834886)

The short story "Manna" gives out two possible outcomes. []

One possibility is that only the rich owns the machines and everyone else is in government housing living on welfare with no possibility of improving ones life.

The other possibility that is presented is that everyone collectively owns the robots that manufacture everything therefor everyone is rich.

what a novel idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834614)

people have been predicting doom and gloom over this idea since the industrial revolution began in the 19th century.

It's inevitable (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834624)

Any job that can be automated will be automated. Machines don't get sick, they don't take holidays, and they don't complain. Most important to business is the fact that they're cheaper.

The current system of economy and government will eventually have to change for the simple reason that a world where the only people with money are the owners of the machines isn't feasible. People need jobs to survive. I've spent time between jobs and on welfare, and it was boring as hell. I can't understand people who are content to live on welfare for year after year after year. It's such a waste of time!

The whole concept of work-for-pay will have to be re-evaluated at some point. There just won't be enough jobs for the people. We're already starting to experience some of the social breakdown that comes from high unemployment and low pay for the average worker.

The logical endpoint of automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834628)

Service jobs are going to be the only ones left. Management jobs, that is. What, you think they'd put themselves out of work if they had any say in it?

Post-scarcity at last.

John Henry, please answer the white courtesy phone (5, Interesting)

Scareduck (177470) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834642)

Your steam drill is calling on line one.

Seriously, this is the kind of discussion we get from the economically illiterate. There is a story, frequently attributed to Milton Friedman [] , regarding this sort of nonsense:

"At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: 'You don't understand. This is a jobs program.' To which Milton replied: 'Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.'"

Re:John Henry, please answer the white courtesy ph (1)

dskzero (960168) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834912)

Milton Friedman was quite a sarcastical jackass. (I have, of course, no idea who he was. This is also my cue to google his name)

good sound-bite, lousy argument (2)

fish waffle (179067) | more than 2 years ago | (#37835018)

'Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.'

The spoons/shovels thing is just a reductionist argument. In the end we want both 'canals' and jobs don't we---both products, productivity, and the means to distribute the resulting goods, services in a way that scales to the contribution given in creating them. Too much in either direction is silly.

It's only a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834644)

if your economy is based on people working for their living.

Not surprising, and basically true (5, Insightful)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834646)

I've had similar thoughts myself. The problem isn't that machines are going to do jobs people now do, it's that people have been misled to believe their function is to do jobs. Your "job" is to live. Go outside. Have fun. Play with your kids. If we're lucky, someday all these mundane things we have to do now will not need to be done in the future. Your lawnba will cut your grass. Something will crawl up and down your house to paint it.

That said, there's really not a lack of useful work to be done. There's tons to be done in the sciences, for example. Medical research is wide open. There's so much we don't know yet.

Re:Not surprising, and basically true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834934)

The problem is in in the meantime between now and when robots can do absolutely everything. As they get better at doing menial and manual labor they're going to displace a growing percentage of the workforce. Some of whom may not actually be smart enough to do anything that robots can't be made to do. So how do you have a population where half the people don't work and are virtually unemployable but half are still vitally needed to do the highly skilled jobs that robots can't be made smart enough to do. You can't just not care for such a large part of the population and you can't leave that many in poverty conditions but if you take care of them too well how do you encourage the remaining necessary workers to keep working?

Re:Not surprising, and basically true (1)

raygundan (16760) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834964)

We'll have to deal with this someday, but probably not in our lifetimes. At some point, there simply won't be jobs for most people. This sounds great, except that our society is set up fundamentally around the idea of nearly everyone (or at least someone in every family group) having a job. In a future where there's only jobs for 10% of people, but without any changes to how we view work, 90% of everybody won't have any money with which to participate in all the amazing awesomeness of an automated future. We're not all cut out for research, design, or art... and even some of that will be automated eventually.

Problem is, that's where it looks like we'd be headed. Big companies will be the ones that build most of the automation, and will want to profit from it. And that's what they should do, because it's the only rational option in the way we've designed our corporations. So to gain access to all this automation, we'll need to work. Except the automation will be doing the jobs.

Manna? (3, Informative)

nine932038 (1934132) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834662)

There was a story about this involving some sort of super AI called Manna. It ended up essentially destroying the economy, I believe, and relegating everyone below the highest classes to concentration camps for poor people.

I don't know that their solution was ideal, but I do suspect that a post-scarce economy is what we need to investigate.

Re:Manna? (2)

Bos20k (444115) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834790)

Marshall Brain's Manna:

Definitely worth reading.

Re:Manna? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834918)

Marshall Brain wrote it. (Yeah, it's really his name,,,,)

Re:Manna? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834954)

Why Work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834672)

Robert Anton Wilson demolishes the argument:

Double the Staff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834674)

I have no idea where they get the idea that IT decrease jobs.

Our County is building a new Municipal building. It has provision for double the number of staff of the old building since the County staff has doubled in this time. Notably, a huge space is dedicated to IT. I don't think that any of the former typists have been let go - they're still someone's secretary.

Job Threat = Innovation (2)

sapgau (413511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834682)

Sometimes is this kick in the pants that forces people to innovate. It's not the first time it happens and people are forced to adapt. Sort of what is happening in the us economy right now...

Solution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834706)

So how about we create an extra tax on robotics and rule engines?

Where's our futuristic paradise? (5, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834708)

There used to be this sci-fi notion that one day, we'd have robots do all of our work, and it would free humanity to live fulfilling lives without toiling on stupid shit. Now we have robots doing all the work, but instead we've used this as an opportunity to impoverish the people who have been put out of work.

Can we change course? Where is our sci-fi paradise?

and? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834710)

Good. Most IT monkeys deserve to lose their jobs. Nothing of value was lost.

Take away their shovels! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834714)

and give them spoons.

Isn't advancement getting more done? Why does it matter how many people you use?

What's the problem?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834738)

If machines could do everything we could do (and even better) then what's the problem?? We'd all be out of our jobs but we wouldn't care! We wouldn't *have* to work!
As Jean Luc Picard once said, "We work to better ourselves" when he tells a 21st century woman about how they have a much more evolved economic system. We wouldn't need a job or money because everything would be done FOR us.

Let me add to this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834882)

Let me add to this (I'm the parent poster)....

I guess the big scare is, what happens in the interim?? Between now and when machines are actually milking cows, flipping burgers, and transporting good for us, we still need to pay for everything. So, as people start to lose their jobs to machines, they're up shit's creek! It wouldn't be until machines are literally doing *everything* for us, including repairing and making more machines, that everything could be free for us! As long as humans are still working, they're going to want to get paid for their goods and services.

Re:Let me add to this... (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834956)

Look at the industrial revolution.

Lots of problems, but it all turns out in a generation or three.

I do think policy should start to look towards that future, with slow reduction of intellectual property, and a ramping up of a basic income guarantee (in the form of a refundable tax credit against a VAT).

Baby steps that could help now (VAT being the least destructive tax on the economy according to many, and more taxes are needed in the US it seems), and make the transition easier.

Damn that Henry Ford! (1)

Lost+Found (844289) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834752)

He's putting the buggy whip manufacturers out of business!

Re:Damn that Henry Ford! (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834944)

He's putting the buggy whip manufacturers out of business!

By letting robots make the buggy whips?

Of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834768)

As less and less population is needed to maintain and advance the civilization (like only a few people are needed to tend large fields of food), there will be jobs overall that cover our needs (required jobs). What's left are imaginary/misc jobs like entertainment but even these have limits. Where the former has all the resources, they must trade with the latter but they only need so much non-necessity stuff leading to a guaranteed lack of jobs. Capitalism is awesome for a growing market but it's doom days for an extremely efficient one. It encourages hoarding of resources which continuously expands the gaps between those who have the resources and those who don't. It's only with the concept of borrowing that those who don't still are able to live (which becomes a downward spiral). After all, those who have resources have no *REAL* use for their extra resources so they lend them out which in the end gets them even more useless resource.

There are only 3 options if you don't want a market crash.
1) Make the market inefficient (but then we lose out quality of life for most people)
2) Change from a capitalistic market to something else (generally impossible without a new government or revolutionary change)
3) Keep creating new job fields at the same pace as we reduce jobs in the other fields

Anyways, most likely, we are screwed currently as those with resources will naturally keep getting more and those without will naturally have to borrow to keep up.

Luddites continue to sing the same old song (2)

flibbidyfloo (451053) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834804)

on a related topic - maybe the author needs to read Bertrand Russell's "In Praise of Idleness" and relax a bit: []

that used to be us (1)

Augmento (725540) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834808)

friedman and forgothisname suggested in their book that there are basically 4 classes work creative creators, routine creators, routine servers, and creative servers routines will be automated so if your job is one of those categories then you need to be more creative there was a sci-fi story where you place in society was based on your ability to wear out the stuff that robots made, the protaganist found a way to turn his robots into consumers, been so long that i forgot author and title another comment is that according to some singularity proponents we don't have to figure it out we just have to task the robots and super computers to figure it out. let's just remember to include paramaters like exterminating humans is bad, using us as a power source while trapping us in the 90s is also bad

Not me (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834814)

I'm an intelligence analyst. We're not going to outsource anything that requires a security clearance, and there's no automated software or hardware that can synthesize multiple disparate pieces of evidence into a coherent picture of the battlespace and an assessment of future friendly and enemy courses of action. Yet.

service jobs (1)

sckeener (137243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834820)

I don't care how good machines get there are certain 'service' jobs for humans that will always be in demand. ;)

Seriously though, I was thinking of MMOs recently and the market for them. For the most part the target market is people who've had their lives made easier by machines. I can't see a machine coming up with all that World of Warcraft is.

The day that machines can come up with Facebook or World of Warcraft or the iPad or a best selling novel is when we have to worry. Machines that invent or create art are problem

What if we automatize all production ? (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834824)

Then ?

google 'venus project'.

The greatest thing we can do for society (1)

smbell (974184) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834828)

The greatest thing we can do for society would be to eliminate the need for jobs. While it may sound cruel (and probably would have some transitional issues) striving to put everybody out of a job is a vastly noble endeavor.

It would be amazing what we could do if we were free to do anything or nothing at all.

terminators ...ok (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834830)

>> Imagine the Terminator flipping burgers,

no need to look for a job because the burgers they make will be made out of you.

Minimum wage (1)

AmazinglySmooth (1668735) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834850)

I think minimum wage keeps more people out of work than technology. By setting a minimum, people are forced to have a minimum set of skills. Unless you work at a job you hate, why would you ever try to improve yourself? High school students need crappy jobs to kick themselves out of the crappy jobs.

heard it before... but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834852)

it hasn't materialized yet. The same argument was made against the tractor, industrial automation, etc., and yet, the trend has been more and more jobs (yes I know the last few years have gone down, but take a bigger view point - we had amazingly low unemployment). Jobs moved from more labor intensive to more creative or more customer driven. Sure eventually we may come up with AIs that are capable of doing creative work better than humans and robots that are flexible enough to do custom jobs on the fly, but I think we have a few years yet before we really have to worry.

jobs... (1)

alienzed (732782) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834856)

they won't be back.

"Job" is a Buzzword (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834872)

"Jobs" is the new political/economic buzzword, and I hate it. This is a "jobs bill", that guy is a "jobs creator", those folks are protesting for "more jobs". It doesn't even make sense half the time.

What some people call a "job threat", I call an optimization.
What some people call "job creators", I call entrepreneurs.
A "jobs bill" is code for stimulus-type legislation.

The thinking is: "people like jobs, so let's associate our ideas with that". I find it insulting and simplistic. Would it be appropriate to call a bill that wanted to regulate the pork industry a "bacon killer" bill? "This is a real bacon killer, we might see the bacon rate decline below 90%!".

Not white color jobs, at least not yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834888)

Nope. We're seeing a loss of Engineering and Science jobs not to automation but to low-cost counterparts in Asia. Chemistry employment, for example, has been falling in the US since 1983 or so... Computers ain't doing medchem yet, merely running combichem.

Not for Me... (0)

SwedishChef (69313) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834896)


The largest difference (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834906)

Is that if you happen to live in a 1st world country, you still have a place in the economy, babysitting the machines which do everything else.

Outsourcing on the other hand means that regarldess of your skills or choices, you won't have a job.

Same song, 500th verse (1)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834916)

Since the Industrial Revolution, people have been worrying about machines replacing them. People rioted in the streets because machines were cheaply producing the products they had been handcrafting for centuries.

In the 70's people were predicting that the computer would do so much of our work for us that in a few years, we would all have a 10-hour work-week. What a joke!

I for one am not quite ready to go live off the land. Besides, if I did that, I might run into one of those Y2K nuts that still doesn't know the world survived that apocalypse!

Player Piano (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834922)

Kurt Vonnegut's first published article re: technodisplacement and protest is very prescient (#ows especially

My Concerns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834930)

As technology has made enormous leaps forward, especially since World War II, I've wondered if the wonderful things we're creating combined with the overexploited natural resources of Earth must necessarily destroy the middle class and lead to permanent social inequality.

First, as the authors say, technology is able to replace people in manufacturing, food service, cleaning, and other industries where human labor was the product instead of human creations. Google is even working on replacing the transportation industry with machines! So far, it appears that there simply aren't enough "creative" jobs to go around and a relatively small number of very talented and productive people are sufficient to replace large groups of industrial workers with devices. Of course, the efficiency of the machine reflects lower use of resources. In the last 50 years, we've seen peak coal, peak oil, peak helium, the collapse of most major fisheries, and automation is essential in light of the fact that we can't afford to burn through natural resources like we used to. So, this problem is likely to get worse as machines are able to take on ever more complex tasks.

Second, suppose that some government program were instituted to correct this problem whereby more and more of the population is rendered unemployable due to automation. Suppose that the most extreme possible program were implemented which would take all of the money made by everyone and divide it equally among all people. What would the impact on resource usage look like? Naturally, there would be more competition for everything, and net consumption would go up. As consumption went up, the need for automation would be further exaggerated, and even fewer people would be employable. Further, this would strain Earth's natural resources even harder than a system where few rich people could have all of there needs satisfied and everyone else would live on a budget.

So, I fear two things: First, that the current unemployment crisis is a permanent feature resulting from the need to economise what resources are left on Earth. Second, that this same lack of resources spells the end of social equality simply because an uneven wealth distribution leads to less resource use. Poor will economise and scrape by, while the wealthy making 100x more will find themselves not using 100x more resources because of marginal utility.

Not a new argument (3, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834940)

It's really not even close to a new argument. The basic idea, put forward by the Luddites was that new technology makes workers more and more superfluous, ruining the lives of workers.

Karl Marx even took it a step further: He argued that while the new technology leads to lower prices of goods and services, which would appear to benefit workers, he pointed out that employers would then adjust to the lower cost of living by lowering real wages, which meant that the lowest-level workers don't benefit at all from the technology.

Real problem with the minimum wage (1)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834960)

The real problem with the minimum wage is that it drives up the cost of labor and encourages people and companies to develop these kinds of inventions. It's not a coincidence that McDonald's has started introducing more automation as well-intentioned, but economics-challenged, legislators have raised the minimum wage nationwide. Obamacare also isn't going to make things any better for low-skilled workers.

Congratulations (4, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834962)

Congratulations to them, they've discovered something Karl Marx talked about when he published Capital in 1867.

What this means is a question of social relations. What it could mean is less working hours for everyone, more vacation time, more time for studying and learning, more time for out-there R&D projects, all the while with ever-increasing wealth. But that would be if social relations were in one parameter. Currently it means mass unemployment, chronic debt crises, and IP patent lawsuits. It means bust and boom cycles where in the late 1990s, Silicon Valley pulled in any kid with a high school diploma interested in IT and had them working 60-70-80 hours for years, before casting them off into long-term unemployment.

Ever-increasing productivity could be something people looked forward to, instead of being something that was a real threat to putting food on their table, as the Luddites who smashed mechanized looms realized. That better productivity winds up harming the majority of people is a contradiction within the current system of production we live under. At some point, these contradictions become too great and the system breaks down, then it needs some major reconfiguring. We already see one thought of how this will be done in the US, with all this talk about privatizing Social Security and privatizing education into charter schools. Of course, there's little discussion of why the US spends so much on military bases in Cuba, or Italy, or Kyrgyzstan. Or why it needs 11 aircraft carriers, when there are only 20 aircraft carriers in the world, and only two countries with more than 1 (Spain and Italy). Aside from minor cuts that's not even a question, it's easier politically to cut money to the majority of old Americans or young Americans than the military empire.

Not a Real Problem Unless Vacations Are Evil (3, Insightful)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834966)

All of these ways in which people are losing work wouldn't be a problem if we let go of one fundamental idiocy in American job policy: the idea that more time worked is better.

Americans, in general, seem to think you're only worthy of a respectable income and worthy of overall economic security if you work at least 32 - 40 hours a week, and we're perfectly happy to see doctors, lawyers, programmers, and entrepreneurs pump out 80+ hours per week.

We're just about the only country dumb enough to do this. As automation and industrialization took a firm hold through Europe in the 20th century most of them allowed people more leisure time, effectively spreading the shrinking pool of necessary work across the population.

America, on the other hand, converted all or nearly all of the gains into standard of living increases, most of them not even measured in infrastructure or public works (much of which is in disasterously bad shape at the moment), but in personal possessions like luxury goods and larger homes.

So we watch the pool of strictly necessary jobs, that is to say those that deal directly with food, sanitation, manufacturing, etc. and haven't yet been replaced by robots, shrink by the day, but we still absolutely demand that people work 40 hours a week and take less vacation time than any of their European counterparts.

Less work, more people, absolutely no reduction in hours worked. Where did we think that was going to get us? The invention of entirely new fields and the expansion of academia, research, new bullshit financial positions, etc. isn't enough to replace all of the lost work that simply isn't needed anymore.

So we let people go without. And then we send even more jobs overseas.

Seriously, we had it coming.

re: Social Credit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37834972)

If this is true and I strongly believe it is, it would make more sense to have some kind of social credit if only to prevent a demand collapse and possible social implosion.

To scareducks points

The last time this labor surplus happened, back in the 30's we put in a 40 hour work week, pushed women away from paid work (which was more common in the past for the lower classes) put in a 65 retirement age (sometimes lower and mandatory), pensions, food subsidies and more and still had unemployment and low pay issues. heck Kellogg corporation flirted with a 30 hour work week (The greed-heads won that one) and later of course we kicked youth out of the markets and gutted mens wages (to hire women basically)

Most of the options and reversals save a lower work week are untenable but we can build a system to give people the ability to participate easily enough. Cut everyone a check and let them figure the rest out.

Also if modern societies want to exist in the future, they must do something like this. Best case scenario with massive perpetual youth unemployment and wage pressures like Europe and Japan and other nations have now is permanent sub-replacement fertility. This means basically your society is over in a surprisingly short amount of time. Worst case, people blow it up or force it to change destroying a lot of fairly fragile stuff in the process.

Worse likely replacement societies won't be interested or able to maintain the infrastructure and unlike say a Roman road, the stuff we built is far from robust.

I like having modernity and if we can fix this mess we are decently close to life extension, an asteroid shield and better power, the things that would give us a future.

Move to services or research (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834980)

That's the obvious solution.


roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#37834990)



No, they have to once again go Karel Capek on us here - RUR.

Do you believe that it is a bad thing that people have modernized the agriculture industry and allowed 5% of population to feed 100% of it? (By the way, if you are unsure about your career, still thinking what to do with yourself, I think it's a worthwhile pursuit at this point to think of farming / mining, average age of farmer in USA is 58 years and supplies are the lowest ever, thanks gov't subsidies).

This is nonsense. We want production, we don't want to work. We want more and more production and machines allow us to be more and more productive. We want as much leisure as possible, and we want as little work as possible.

The problem in our way is NOT the machine, the problem is government! Gov't is standing on our way, destroying free market capitalism and causing major job displacement, but in reality there are plenty of jobs, it's just artificial prices that gov't sets for labor are unsustainable in USA and rest of Western world.

With the machines we would still have jobs, but we would be much more productive. Also without gov't setting prices, in many cases humans would actually be more preferable and less expensive than the alternatives - machines, but gov't steps in, sets prices, causes massive imbalances in the economy and we end up with stories like this one.

Normally in bad economies people blame foreigners, bankers and journalists. Since the industrial revolution and the free market capitalism that allowed it, we are also blaming the machines.

This is completely misplaced and shortsighted.

Lets stagnate! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37835008)

The future of humanity depends on technological advances, not providing jobs. Want to ensure our society, our entire species, stagnates and then slowly declines into nothingness? Redesign the system so that the priority is making sure everyone has a job, no matter what.

Not so fast.... (1)

WaterDamage (719017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37835024)

While possibly true that the human race may live like the Jetsons one day...the biggest issue today and for the next foreseeable decade or more is still outsourcing and loss of employment to cheaper countries. Once true globalization equalizes itself then and only then will innovation/technology truly start outsourcing jobs from humans. Again this will probably never happen in our lifetime or gen Y generations lifetime. I'm more worried about getting outsourced by big corporations due to H1B Indians taking my job than Mr Robato.
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