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Is Technology Eroding Employment?

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the ban-farm-equipment-ask-me-why dept.

The Almighty Buck 544

First time accepted submitter Idontpostmuch writes "The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics. Lately, some economists have been changing their tune. MIT research scientist Andrew Mcaffee writes, 'As computers and robots get more and more powerful while simultaneously getting cheaper and more widespread this phenomenon spreads, to the point where economically rational employers prefer buying more technology over hiring more workers. In other words, they prefer capital over labor. This preference affects both wages and job volumes. And the situation will only accelerate as robots and computers learn to do more and more, and to take over jobs that we currently think of not as "routine," but as requiring a lot of skill and/or education.'" Note: Certainly not all economists agree "that technology cannot cause unemployment," especially in the short term. From a certain perspective, displacing labor is a, if not the, central advantage of technology in general.

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And what about our feudal overlords? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279031)

Can we displace THEM with technology too? If yes, maybe we're doing ok.

Managers will be replaces (2, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | about 2 years ago | (#42279611)

Until today, corporations are ruled by managers who are good at manipulating people. The CEO is the guy who has the ability to get a lot of people working together to reach a goal.

In the future, when more and more things are done by machines, people skills will not matter.

The rulers of the future will be people who are good at manipulating machines, they will be programmers.

Re:Managers will be replaces (5, Insightful)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | about 2 years ago | (#42279653)

The rulers of the future will be people who are good at manipulating machines, they will be programmers.

No. It will still be the managers who manipulate the people who manipulate the machines.

Re:Managers will be replaces (3, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | about 2 years ago | (#42279819)

Exactly. In fact, having fewer people to manage may well make management skills even more valuable. It's one thing to annoy one out of 13,000 employees, and risk losing key skills or exprience. When the pool is smaller, then annoying one out of 3,000 makes the risk greater. And every one of those fewer employees may well be much more valuable than the math indicates.

The sane option... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279037)

...pick a job in which you can't be replaced by a computer.

Re:The sane option... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42279121)

...pick a job in which you can't be replaced by a computer.

Sure. I mean, why wouldn't the country need 360,000,000 coders? I can see no possible negative outcome...

Re:The sane option... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279219)

Author, play writer, actor, hooker, circus performer, archaeologist, and any anything else that requires creativity would be a safe bet for a career for the foreseeable future.

Re:The sane option... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279415)

Those jobs sound very precarious. How many authors/creative types can actually live off their work vs those who hold on to a day job.

Re:The sane option... (1)

Jetra (2622687) | about 2 years ago | (#42279453)

Uh....don't count on that. Maybe the archaeologist, but everything else can be made into robotics. The first three I think they're working on now using randomizers and grammar coding. The fourth Real Dolls. The circus performer, we have robots that dance and feed animals. Wouldn't be hard to make a toreador with the right parts.

I'm not trying to be extremist, but I think the robot overlords are coming and there's little we can do to stop them. Once someone makes a self-replicating robot, we're dead.

Re:The sane option... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279231)

I've had other things in mind; in my case, it's translation and language services, which are unlikely to be computerized until someone fabricates a human-level AI machine, but, well, to each his own...

Re:The sane option... (2)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 2 years ago | (#42279183)

>pick a job in which you can't be replaced by a computer.
Like designing computers.

Re:The sane option... (1)

Cutting_Crew (708624) | about 2 years ago | (#42279249)

pretty soon youll have a robot designing and building computers - but of course you will have to have programmers to write the code for those robots to do such a thing.

Re:The sane option... (1)

jdray (645332) | about 2 years ago | (#42279265)

Well, then, flipping burgers is out: []

Re:The sane option... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279351)

Wake me up when they make a Chinese-food-making machine!

Re:The sane option... (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42279451)

Factory worker... what could possibly go wrong there?

Re:The sane option... (2)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42279627)

Factory worker... what could possibly go wrong there?

I guess we'll find out soon enough [] ...

Pay Us more! (3, Funny)

Tobenisstinky (853306) | about 2 years ago | (#42279069)

Pay those whom support the technology exorbitantly , and we'll buy big houses and hire gardeners, maids, butlers etc. Problem solved.

Re:Pay Us more! (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#42279137)

we'll buy big houses and hire gardeners, maids, butlers etc.

Robot maids, butlers, gardeners, etc.

OTOH, my wife refuses to replace the pool boy.

Re:Pay Us more! (3, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 2 years ago | (#42279635)

Robot maids, butlers, gardeners, etc.

OTOH, my wife refuses to replace the pool boy.

She just hasn't seen all of the attachments new robotic pool boys can have.

Re:Pay Us more! (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#42279205)

You are a cost center! You do not generate the profit as those brilliant CEOs who sit around all day and think on the golf course. Nor are you as important as those middle managers who just sit on meeting and send 100 emails a day to interrupt workers so they can talk about what they are going to do rather than producing.

Now get back to work slacker

Re:Pay Us more! (2, Insightful)

jdray (645332) | about 2 years ago | (#42279429)

Frankly, technology is a much safer bet than human capital. Capital tends to have a fixed investment base with a relatively well-known maintenance schedule. Labor, on the other hand, is fraught with pitfalls: changing laws, rising insurance costs, performance variances. Not to mention, it's rare that machinery gets poached by your competition.

Creativity is the area that machines will suck at for the foreseeable future. Anyone in manufacturing should start looking toward a career in process design instead.

I may sound callous with this, but those with the money (certainly not me) only care about growing the money with as much guarantee as they can. The rest is annoying details. Given their position, it's unlikely you can say with certainty that you'd act any differently.

Re:Pay Us more! (2)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#42279549)

I was being sarcastic as I am annoyed at the attitude of cost center if it is an investment central to the business. That is dumb and while it looks good on spreadsheets which do not measure opportunity costs and other things unmeasurable, they have consequences long term.

Not everyone is an engineer. 10 years ago I had a choice to be an engineer and people on slashdot advised me to persue something else as Indians would have all these jobs by now. BIG MISTAKE.

People can't see the future.

I think being a business owner is the only way to make money in this new economy. There is the few owners who are rich and a few middle who got in earlier before 2001. AND A TON scrapping and waging wars with each other and who can work for the cheapest and cost accountants gleaming at the lower costs each year. I was looking for a 2nd job at a FED EX center for the holidays.

In 1991 they paid $20/hr. Today they pay $8/hr. What the hell?! But why charge that? There are so many college grads working these jobs today and people who are desperate they can simply pay less.

I guess find a niche and try to do everything yourself. You never win working for someone else.

Modern Luddites (4, Insightful)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#42279071)

This debate occurred in the 19th century [] . It's over. The answer is a resounding no. As in not at at all. Forget it. Give it up.

The only rational questions in the foreseeable future are whether or not we should reduce the work week's duration and increase paid vacation time.

Re:Modern Luddites (4, Insightful)

codepigeon (1202896) | about 2 years ago | (#42279203)

"whether or not we should reduce the work week's duration and increase paid vacation time"

That is such a ridiculous statement. Oh yes, my work week will be shortened; along with my paycheck.

What fantasy land do you live in where corporations value the happiness of their employees? Or to be more blunt, openly willing to spend more on paid vacation time? It took unions to get fair pay for workers and look what is happening to them. Do you honestly think a company will waste profits on its employees without being forced to?

Re:Modern Luddites (5, Interesting)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42279409)

Consider the fact that your government confiscates ever greater amounts of your pay and savings via inflation. There is a reason that real income peaked while hours worked per family bottomed in 1971.

The sad truth is that you are competing for scarce goods with money that has been stolen from you and given to mostly non-productive workers (think bankers, politicians, and their cronies).

Re:Modern Luddites (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279551)

What fantasy land do you live in where corporations value the happiness of their employees? Or to be more blunt, openly willing to spend more on paid vacation time?


Re:Modern Luddites (4, Interesting)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42279625)

I've said before, it would be a great experiment to force a state or two in the US to switch to 5 work hours a day (or 3 days a week instead of 5). I bet the overall happiness of the people in that state would multiply, without much detriment if any to their economy.

Re:Modern Luddites (1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279675)

Yeah, so ridiculous, it's what happened for the last 6 decades and still happens in Europe.

Compleeetely impossible... riiiiight!

Ameritards, you are so brainwashed into extremist capitalism (= in essence, raping yourselves, and *liking* it, and even defending it against your saviors), you don't even realize you're brainwashed!

Re:Modern Luddites (1)

ph0rk (118461) | about 2 years ago | (#42279291)

I don't see why Luddism is the necessary conclusion.

It could just as easily be: Sky-high unemployment, and to hell with the workers anyway. Human input isn't really necessary for a variety of tasks. When machines become cheap enough for a short-term profit, why hire humans to flip burgers, push mops, write tickets?

Jobless recovery and all that.

Re:Modern Luddites (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about 2 years ago | (#42279729)

Who is going to pay for the goods and services at the burger flipping place?

Re:Modern Luddites (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42279301)

Sure, it didn't happen with the first significant efficiency gain, but what of future gains? Yes, if the labor of one man can support the lives of 10 men, we can find something for the 9 other men to do. What happens when that ratio changes to 1 in 100? 1,000? Do you really think we can extrapolate from the industrial revolution to future where the vast majority of economic activity is automated?

Re:Modern Luddites (5, Interesting)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42279439)

Funny thing is, the industrial revolution created most of the jobs we're now trying to automate.

Re:Modern Luddites (2)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42279603)

Yes, people who operate machines would not have jobs without the machines. But when the machines are replaced by robots that do not need operators, what are they to do? If you re-employ all of them to maintain the robots you haven't really gained anything.

Re:Modern Luddites (1)

readin (838620) | about 2 years ago | (#42279761)

The industrial revolution replaced jobs that were pure manual labor. But jobs that required both manual labor and intelligence were hard to automate. Jobs that required manual labor and artistry were hard to automate.

What happens when computers become intelligent than a large part of the population?

Re:Modern Luddites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279589)

everyone owns a robot.

Then instead of selling you own labor to a company you sell the labor of your robot to the company. Thus making unemployment meaningless (so long as your robot is employed on your behalf.) Instead of starting a "college fund" or buying an apprenticeship parents buy their children a robot when they're teenagers.

Now I hear you asking "what about economics of scale? how can individual robot owners compete against a large cooperation which owns many robots?. Simple, use the stock market!

Normal people can buy shares in one of the large robot labor companies. They then receive a dividend on the wages earned by the robots owned by that corporation, what more money? reinvest your dividend into buying more shares. Don't like the policies of the robot labor corps? Get backing from venture capitalists and start your own robot labor corp.

Re:Modern Luddites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279331)

How can we reduce the work week's duration and increase paid vacation time if we, as you claim, are NOT eroding employment?
Wouldn't that result in a shortage of labor, since you say technology isn't increasing productivity more than it's creating new sectors of employment?

Re:Modern Luddites (2)

lgw (121541) | about 2 years ago | (#42279349)

That's pretty much it.

Already a very small percentage of people in developed nations are what Marx considered the working class: farmers, manufacturing workers, and soldiers. In my lifetime I expect those specific jobs to have all-but-vanished. That's not a bad thing! Technology is what makes it more efficient to produce a good or service: less labor, less energy, etc. All good stuff.

Why does anyone need employment in the first place? Both to produce all the good and services needed and wanted by society, and to give the all-important feeling of earning what we have (seriously, society collapses without that). So the solution is as Kergan mentioned above: we just need to be OK with working fewer hours.

The culture of working 60 hours to out-status-symbol your neighbor is the cause of unemployment in the high-tech world. No one should get a free ride either (except the truely diabled, whose ride I somehow can't think of as free). When the problem is half the people working annoyingly long hours and the other half unemployed, the solution is pretty plain.

Re:Modern Luddites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279585)

Why does anyone need employment in the first place?

Because without a job you will have no food or shelter, will be unable to afford transportation, medical bills, etc. That is the real reason why 99% of people have jobs. Not the fantasy land bullshit you made up.

So the solution is as Kergan mentioned above: we just need to be OK with working fewer hours.

And getting paid substantially less. Have fun when you can't afford your health insurance anymore due to paycuts and your employer no longer paying for it since you're not fulltume anymore and getting saddled with 100s of thousands in debt.

Re:Modern Luddites (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279685)

And the solution is, of course, called socialism. Which, admittedly, will be terribly hard to implement in your neurotic and inefficient american society but that's a problem with the U.S. and not with socialist policies in general.

Re:Modern Luddites (3, Interesting)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#42279771)

I dont work for the feeling of earning what I have.
I work for money. Because I need money. To buy things like clothes, food, pay rent.
If I didnt I would have to spend all my time creating all those things myself.

I dont know who taught you that rubbish, but he needs slapped.
I dont know if you noticed or not, but subsistance living is hard, and sucks by and large compared to modern society.

Re:Modern Luddites (2)

demonlapin (527802) | about 2 years ago | (#42279779)

The problem is that the bottom of the barrel can't do much that's useful, and those who are capable of being useful are so darned useful that they get paid - a lot. And they aren't going to resist the temptation to add 50% to their income by working longer hours.

You see this all over the place in health care (my industry), although there the licensure requirements help limit the supply. Plenty of healthcare workers work two or even three jobs, entirely voluntarily, and not just because they can't get enough hours at one of them (though that sometimes happens too).

Re:Modern Luddites (4, Insightful)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#42279689)

A Resounding No?

Depending on the machine you can replace between 1 and 20 (lets say) workers. So those 1 to 20 people at Company A are now without job. They now have to find new employment in some fashion, which means learning a new job, something that not everyone is able (age, competency) or willing to do (lazy, screw them). That new job could be the caretaker for the new machines. Either way, Company A now has fewer workers. Another option for the workers is to go work for Company B, the maker of the machines. They need salesmen, engineers, and factory workers, sure. And some of the workers can go there.

But it's still generally a sloping plot trending to smaller numbers.

If there are 20 displaced workers in one place from the new technology, not all 20 of them will find new work revolving around the new tech. And it's a viscious or self-enforcing cycle. Sometimes the tech is made because there arent enough workers or the workers are limited in capability (cant work 24 hours a day, etc). Sometimes the tech works in place with workers, symbiotically, sometimes it totally replaces them.

It's not a given that technology has no effect on unemployment, but it's not a given that it does either.
It depends on the industry, on the tech, and on the workers.

Re:Modern Luddites (4, Interesting)

readin (838620) | about 2 years ago | (#42279731)

In the 19 century, much manual work was replaced, but the human mind was still required for many tasks - including much factory and farm labor. But is every single human being employable? Is every single human being capable of contributing more to the economy than they demand in food, clothing, housing, waste disposal, etc.?

There are some people who clearly aren't. A comatose patient of course does not contribute. What about paralyzed person who isn't smart enough to do any mental work (at least not any that couldn't be performed more cheaply by a computer)? As computers become more and more sophisticated, we'll be able to move more and more people into the "can't pull their own weight when compared to a computer" category.

We already know machines can outperform humans at most jobs that require strength. If the process is repetitive then the machines don't even need operators. For delicate work we also find that machines outperform humans. Basically physical labor is no longer needed from humans except when combined with a need for human intelligence or artistry What happens when computers are able to out-think humans? I haven't an artistic bone in my body and mass media has made it so we don't need many artists anyway. What happens when even artistry is done better by computers?

Re:Modern Luddites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279817)

Technology has greatly eroded employment for manual labor. Very few people work in agriculture these days yet that used to be what most people did. Today we have jobs in three categories: mainly manual labor with a bit of human thinking required, creative jobs and service jobs. The first category will disappear as robots get better. That will leave creative jobs and service jobs. Many people are unsuited for both of those kinds of jobs. Those people won't have jobs. Not to mention that the robots and computers are going to make serious inroads on the service jobs too. The creative jobs will be made more productive through technology. Where is it that you see all these new jobs appearing, that normal not-particularly-smart-or-motivated people can do?

No, the government's Cthulhu-esque devouring. . . (2)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 2 years ago | (#42279075)

. . .is what's eroding employment.

What an anti- Luddite mentality (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279079)

"The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics.

This has never been taken as fact. Industrial technology has consistently been resisted by laborers for over 100 years for exactly this reason.

read that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279089)

And away we go.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279093)

Slashdotters discussing economics. LOL

Human beings are not special... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279109)

... sooner or later we're going to have to deal with the fact that humans are just machines made of meat that were designed for no specific purpose besides propagate genes/have kids. Whereas robots/AI can be specialized to a particular task and all the energy/resources dedicated to full specialization and be safely chucked/destroyed/replaced when new models come online. This will easily make huge swaths of humanity redundant/unemployable and everyone who believes that humans have an infinite employment landscape are idiots. We already have technological unemployment NOW we just haven't noticed it because we moved on to other "low hanging fruit" of work that only humans could perform, but that low hanging fruit is going to be gone sooner or later.

It's cuasing labor to have to be higher-qualified (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279115)

Instead of putting something in a bottle on an assembly line, a worker is now needed to set up the machine and probably another to maintain/fix it, engineers to design the machine, and a whole bunch of people to put that machine together, deliver, sell, and handle back-end stuff for that machine.

Just because a job doesn't exist anymore doesn't mean a job was lost, it just went elsewhere. Adjust with the times, or sit on the sidelines complaining that those machines derk er jrbs!!

Re:It's cuasing labor to have to be higher-qualifi (4, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | about 2 years ago | (#42279189)

You're assuming a whole bunch of things in that.
Primarily that the number of people needed to service the machine is equal to the number of staff replaced.
This seems at best extremely questionable.

Secondly - half of people are not as smart as the average.
They are unlikely to be able to get employment designing robots, or ...

Re:It's cuasing labor to have to be higher-qualifi (1)

santiagoanders (1357681) | about 2 years ago | (#42279255)

Too true. It used to be that more people had to grow food. Now that one person with huge machinery can do the farming of 70 peasants, the other 69 people have found other useful things to do. Peasants didn't have smartphones, YouTube, or fine art. A lot of people are employed in creating different things that people value.

If you only have the skills to do what a robot can do, and the robot costs less than you, then you are obsolete. I don't have pity on you. Fortunately, there are very few people who fit that description.

I imagine that people will spend most of their time in the automated utopia trying to entertain each other. Whoever entertains the most effectively can buy the best entertainment for themselves. LOL

Re:It's cuasing labor to have to be higher-qualifi (1)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#42279601)

yep, not to long ago entertainment was reading the Bible for the 20th time and singing old songs with your family for the 30 minutes of the day you weren't working. not too long ago taking care of babies meant daily laundry and washing dishes by hand into the late hours of the night

But HR will want a theory based engineer degree to (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#42279365)

But HR will want a theory based engineer degree to do install / maintain/fix it part and pass over people who went to a very hands on tech school.

Re:It's cuasing labor to have to be higher-qualifi (5, Insightful)

jaweekes (938376) | about 2 years ago | (#42279447)

The problem is that those people are only employed for a short time in respect to each machine.

For example: 2 assembly line workera are employed for 40 hrs / 50 wks a year at $6/hr = $12,000 / yr * 2 = $24,000. A robot can be built for $48,000 with $6,000 / yr maintenance. Over 3 years the robot has paid for itself. It only employed a design engineer for 4 weeks to design it, a crew of 2 for 1 week to build it and on average one tech for at most 1 week to maintain it.

The robot company needs to sell 50 robots to keep everyone working all the time, so that's 100 line workers it can replace while only employing 4 people plus a few support staff.

I call that a net loss.

I've been in manufacturing for years and have seen it happen too many times. It's not new but a fact of life. As an IT guy I've personally created systems that have replaced 10 people without spending anything other then 3 months of my time, simply by automating data entry. Doing that saved a company from going under, but that's 10 people that will not be rehired.

Employment is down because of technology. Systems are getting better, more complex and more reliable, so the trend will only increase.

Is Technology Eroding Employment? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 years ago | (#42279127)


Re:Is Technology Eroding Employment? (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#42279177)


[Posted by the Betteridge autobot.]

Player Piano (3, Informative)

schneidafunk (795759) | about 2 years ago | (#42279143)

This reminds of 'player piano' by Kurt Vonnegut. It was his first book published and one of the best.

Re:Player Piano (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279491)

100% agree. His vision of the future is coming to fruition. What was the name of the giant computer in the mountain again?

okay... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279147)

So... who builds this "technology"?

I'm no economist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279163)

But it seems pretty obvious to me that the drive towards robotic labour will displace millions, perhaps even billions of workers. Modern day capitalism will not survive a future with robotics. I only hope that whatever will replace modern day capitalism will be more humanistic than the current system is!

Re:I'm no economist (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42279479)

I see you aren't thinking about marginal costs. Sort of typical for those who decry capitalism.

When employment drops to zero while goods and services remain static or increase, the price of those goods and services also drop to zero. This is why almost everything on the Internet is free. If robotics do for physical reality what the internet has done for the mind, the future is bright indeed.

What Moron Thinks That? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279167)

What utter moron thinks that technology can't cause unemployment. Throughout history, technology has repeatedly caused unemployment. Fortunately, in the past, other positions opened and there was some balance. However, as this article is showing, the imbalance is growing as it is tipping towards more rapid technology growth and other positions not opening fast enough to compensate for the losses.

What we are seeing today is technology creating permanent unemployment. Cue the experts stating how clueless I am.

Re:What Moron Thinks That? - some economists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279487)

Economists will believe anything.

Historians will tell you that technology has often disrupted society. Having said that though, the net effect of advancing technology has been to put us in a golden age. Things have never been so good. We no longer have to huddle in our caves in fear that some sabre toothed tiger will devour us if we venture out.

What's coming up? Terminator? Road Warrior? Star Trek? It could be good ... or not. Getting better is one of the possible options.

Re:What Moron Thinks That? (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42279511)

You are clueless ;)

But seriously, there are a lot more causes for unemployment than just "advanced technology". If it was technology, then unemployment would increase evenly everywhere it was adopted. This is not happening. Spain does not have the same unemployment rate as Poland, despite similar levels of technology and economic development.

So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279191)

The situation will resolve itself eventually and doesn't seem like anything to worry about. You have less people working? Well, people who aren't in that situation for other reasons aren't going to sit around on their asses collecting social security - they'll do *something*, probably something productive like re-educating themselves or start some crazy cultural movements or whatever. These will be reasonably culturally and socially connected people, lower-middle class and working class, not some fiendish dickensian underclass starting a bloody revolution or starving to death.

Politicians have it wrong.... (4, Interesting)

mcnster (2043720) | about 2 years ago | (#42279233)

Instead of facilitating full employment with calls of "jobs, jobs, jobs!", the goal should be 100% total UNemployment using technology (specifically self-repairing robots or "cybermation"). A very low percentage of humans (say, 1% of the world population) can act as overseers on rotating teams of volunteers who do the remaining creative and design work that AI-guided machines cannot. The rest of the population can take the day off to pursue their own interests....

Re:Politicians have it wrong.... (3, Interesting)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#42279539)

Many science fiction authors has said "If this continues..." and studied what would happen if automation took all the jobs. Some are utopian and some are distopian.

Interestingly, the economist Paul Krugman was influenced by an early Heinlein story about a goverment that had to actually destroy wealth in order to keep the economy flowing.

The trick for individuals is to survive the transition from a work based economy to an automated economy. I suspect that wealth will flow to people who own land and things, as there is less and less oportunity to create.

Alternately, the RIAA, MPAA, and **AA, will take over, buy the elections, and we'll all be slaves to the managers that control the creative class.

Re:Politicians have it wrong.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279885)

Baka wow wacka chacka

YES! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279253)

OF COURSE!!! The idea is so logical and natural I have no idea why any of these "experts" would think otherwise. Must be the reason everything is in the crapper, because we keep trying to prop up a system based of these idiot experts. For decades we have had the knowledge that technology makes work easier and quicker. Follow that to the logical conclusion that fewer people can do more with less. Meaning each individual becomes more effective with the proper use of technology, meaning fewer people needed for a specific task, meaning were people need to be employed for the same result. We keep getting into problems because we want to ignore this. The flip side is, what do you do with those who aren't needed. This paradigm has allready come to pass, we need to wake up and figure out what we are going to do about it. Canot keep people employed for the sake of saving employment We need to find better ways to be (and use) productivity.

Yes, In Some Industries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279263)

Once, the automobile was new technology. In the decades since it was invented, it has seriously eroded employment in the buggy whip industry.

Of course, the automobile introduced many other supporting industries that employ many more workers.
Still no help for those who refuse to do anything but make buggy whips though.

scorched the sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279277)

"We don't know who struck first - us, or them. But. we know it was us that scorched the sky"

Sigh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279297)

This has got to be one of the worst posts I've ever seen here. The submitter is citing someone who's not an economist on economics and then appends a note saying they're wrong? If you want to quote the relevant Acemoglu/Autor paper which Mcafee is somewhat-incorrectly paraphrasing, fine, but right now there's almost zero useful content here.

Not tech, regulation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279303)

Many technologies are only economical because the cost of labour is driven up by regulation and in some cases, unions. As the price of labour increases, or rather, the marginal returns on labour decrease, firms substitute away from it to robots.

A good example is not necessarily in the manufacturing sector either. Look at the use of orchestras in popular music after the invention of synthesizers, sampling, and other music tech. Much of the music produced today is essentially "curated" from existing recordings, since nobody can afford the time or labour of real musicians.

Where is this new technology? (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#42279315)

All the employers I see still use IE 6 and XP and refuse to classify anything IT related as anything, but a cost center that adds no value?

10 years ago this was the thinking but not know. It is about cost accounting and getting ahead by staying behind and putting all your eggs in one basket like what we saw in Thailand.

Employers mostly are pennywise, but dollar dumb. Not all of them are like this, but the vast majority are today. Maybe I am wrong as the pendulum may swing in the other direction soon. However, right now I do not see that. What has happened is many public companies get a surge in the share price over 30 years and investors want to see this every quarter!

There is no room for investment nor expansion. Only cost cutting to keep the shareprice rising higher and higher. The problem is since 2008 it never has recovered share price wise. Investors know they have more cash on hand by firing people and keeping ancient systems running, but it is not enough. They want growth, but will fire the CEO for any investment do this. IN essence they are turning to us and asking for more results for less money and less people.

Of course it is ... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#42279319)

We have an article still on the front page [] in which Eric Schmidt of Google is saying we're going to have to compete with robots for our jobs.

Globalization is trying to move everything to the cheapest possible labor source, and robots and technology is next in line. Sure, your startup costs are high, but your robot won't need to take the day off because its kid is home sick.

Re:Of course it is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279547)

A balance will be struck. It is self destructive of businesses to automate everything. While the short term gains in capital would be great, creating products for people who dont make money because they have be displaced from the workforce is futile.

Re:Of course it is ... (2)

Zeromous (668365) | about 2 years ago | (#42279577)

One has to admit, it makes sense- to a point. At some point the robots burn out too, whether by burn-out or by arson. It really doesn't matter. There is always a tipping point.

Life the universe and everything is riding a pendulum.

Re:Of course it is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279677)

the next step in the evolution of society will hopefully include sustainable community agraculture. In places like the USA that "have the money" to get the ball rolling with this...I think that is the next step. Maybe grandpa joe shouldnt have to work maybe he should be able to eat and live frugally.

Of course currently granpa joe needs to work at age 70 because there is no one to take care of him and buy his groceries

Re:Of course it is ... (1)

radmege (1109385) | about 2 years ago | (#42279711)

Robots are great at carrying out well defined tasks in controlled environments, but they are still severely lacking in most of the skills that are valued in today's society (creativity, problem solving, teaching, influence, etc)

Re:Of course it is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279809)

I think you are wrong. Robots are not the cheapest labor source. Robots need constant power, educated technical support and can only do the job that someone has painstakingly programmed (and optimized). They are only good for one or two jobs at a time.

3rd world countries on the other hand don't even need constant power. And about the kids being sick? - well no worries, your kid is probably working on the line with you, or has just lost their job because they are sick.

The cheapest workforce is simply that. The people that demand the least wages and conditions.

I've always found it galling that when USA and Australia did a free trade agreement the U.S. insisted on Digital Millenuim provisions. However no one is talking to 3rd world countries about human rights when they talk about free trade. - we just want our cheap shit and at the heart of it don't care who gets stood on so we can get it. - shame on us.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279343)


And the situation will only accelerate as robots and computers learn to do more and more, and to take over jobs that we currently think of not as "routine," but as requiring a lot of skill and/or education.'"

Simply fear mongering, imo.

Wait What? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#42279367)

What economist says that "technology cannot cause unemployment", instead saying that on average technology transfers jobs from low to high skilled?

Any economist at all will at least give lip service to the fact that local changes can cause temporary disruptions in economies. It's the long term forecast that they argue over.

It's like the difference between weather and climate change.

The problem is that a local job change, like a tornado, can kill you before conditions normalize.

I'm with the economists who disagree ... (4, Insightful)

King_TJ (85913) | about 2 years ago | (#42279379)

I can't help but notice that as of late, MIT has a *load* of content coming out of the place revolving around the general concept of automation displacing humans. I think they're, perhaps, a little too fixated on it to look at the big picture clearly? (Don't get me wrong. I think MIT is doing a lot of excellent research work - and they're on the cutting edge month after month with interesting tech. developments. I just see how they'd get sucked into the "robots will displace us" idea in the midst of all of that.)

The bottom line is, humans are social creatures. There's WAY too much that gets lost when you get close to full automation of any business. The workplace isn't only about the work that's done. You're still selling your services or products to other human beings on the opposite end of the chain, and they want to interact with other people. At best, artificial intelligence is still just that; "faking it". Maybe, *maybe* we'll eventually reach a point where a robot can think, reason and interact with humans to the point where it's effectively the same as another person. But it's far too early to suggest that will be the case in any of our lifetimes.

What you do (and will continue) to see is automation replacing any workplace roles where humans act like "artificial robots", performing repetitive manual tasks that don't require any real thought. That still amounts to only a certain percentage of the work at hand in any given factory, and if it helps make production more profitable, it leads to more factories being built, who employ humans in all of the roles that aren't just assembly-related on the production floor. (And yes, it also creates a few more jobs for people who do repair, sales of and setup of those robots and machines.)

it's already happened... (5, Informative)

DrEasy (559739) | about 2 years ago | (#42279427)

Look no further than in agriculture. Just a century ago, what percentage of people used to work in the farms? What's that percentage now? People then moved into the manufacturing industries, but work there has also been replaced by machines to a great extent, and cheaper labor in other countries.

It doesn't take a lot of human labor to fulfill our basic needs anymore, and so people have been trying to create needs we didn't think we had. This is why so much rides on advertisement these days. Is there a point where the incremental improvement in our comfort is no longer worth the money we'd spend to get it? That's when we'll probably face major unemployment issues...

Depending on how things turn out... (2)

one eyed kangaroo (215202) | about 2 years ago | (#42279459)

...this is either the start of the post-scarcity future so cleverly portrayed by Ian M Banks in his Culture novels. In this future we are freed from the need to work and instead choose to work, and play.

...or it's the start of a dystopian future forshadowed in Kevin Warick's "In the Mind of the Machine". Chapter 2 of that book is still the most horrible account of our near-term future I have read anywhere. In it humans are bred in conditions like contemporary chicken farms, kept for their labour, and are lucky to live past 30. Very unpleasant.

I'm hoping for the Banksian future ;-)

Jobs for humans (1)

ozduo (2043408) | about 2 years ago | (#42279467)

will include domestic duties for our robot overlords

where will all the money go? (1)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#42279509)

the money that we have created cannot just be destroyed. you can put it in the bank,but the bank will find someone to lend it to who has a plan to make more money with it.

most likely it will be put to use on something to do with leisure. the trend of the last hundred some years is the cost of living dropping and more money being spent on leisure and entertainment. in the 1800's people used to give oranges as gifts. They were expensive, hard to find during the holiday season and good for you. hard to believe that not too long ago housing and food used up almost an entire paycheck

People are just *too fuckin' stupid*! That's all! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279525)

If technology improves, people are supposed to have free time to do *better* things. Instead of gluing together boxes, now they can be engineers. Instead of engineers they now can be scientists! That's what was meant!

But as it is now, the whole industry is hell-bent on dumbing down and simplifying things, destroying efficiency, destroying the power technology gives us, and thereby creating braindead drooling blobs of mere meat with eyes, instead of expecting people to *grow*!

So that's what you fuckin' get from it! I told you, and I told you for more than a decade! You wouldn't listen!
Now you've got the problem: There's nearly nobody left to even develop the next generation of technology, because everybody has gotten too fuckin' stupid!
It's your own damn fault! Because you were too greedy!

And I wish you a great going under, you greedy fuckers! Because of course you won't go "Oh, I didn't realize that. I'm sorry. I'll fix it!". Nooo. You're too fuckin' retarded *yourselves*. So, typical for a retard, you'll think you are "attacked" and would have to "defend" yourself. You can't think rationally anymore! So you will *completely* ignore this and live in denial to the *very end*! That's why you won't be able to prevent your own demise!

And that' why people like me, who still have working brains, will rule you farms of braindead will-less meat blobs!

Wasn't that supposed to be the *point*? (4, Interesting)

AdamWill (604569) | about 2 years ago | (#42279527)

Wasn't eroding employment supposed to be the *point* of technology? The biggest problem with this debate seems to be that everyone is assuming a lack of employment is a _bad_ thing.

If we can, at a relatively trivial cost, build machines to replace all menial drudgery, why is this a problem? Isn't it The Glorious Future?

We need to adjust our social, economic and political systems for the new reality, of course, but that's hardly impossible. It's not like we haven't changed them before. 150 years ago domestic service was one of the largest employment categories and only those who employed the domestics got the vote, after all. (Thinking of the U.K. here).

Hell, looked at from a certain perspective, we're already halfway *through* this change. 150 years ago a large majority of the population of any 'civilized' country had to work - whether actual paid employment, or some form of domestic labour - probably 72+ hours a week to give the country as a whole a standard of living quite a long way below what we enjoy today. I know there are still substantial numbers of people in some 'civilized' countries who have to work two jobs to keep the wolf from the door, but still, there's a hell of a lot more people who get by perfectly well on 40 hour working weeks and then don't have to hand wash their clothes or dishes when they get home.

Look at it that way and technology has _already_ reduced the amount of actual labour humans have to do by, say, 50%, and the world does not appear to have ended. What's terrible about getting rid of the other 50%?

Shovel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279529)

It's been downhill ever since the invention of the shovel. We're doomed!

Yes, No, Maybe (1)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#42279541)

Yes because it's true that employers sometimes see increased technology spending as an alternative to hiring more staff. ("We'll just buy you a laptop and cell phone and you can work from home in the evenings, too! That way we won't need to hire someone else to help you get everything done during the 8-5 workday.")

No because there will come a point where businesses and their managers will realize that you can't just buy a magic box from Best Buy, plug it into the wall, and generate profit from your hindquarters. You'll need staff that know how to manipulate the Hot New Thing(TM) and make it do what you want. And so, wherever there is a new and complex technology that someone can use to make money but doesn't quite know how, there will always be an opportunity for someone who knows about this new and complex technology to make money managing it for other people.

And finally, I say "Maybe" because it's a given that some technology makes things easier on technical employees, so some burden is lifted, but at the same time that burden is replaced with additional responsibility, usually coming from a position that has just been "permanently vacated"... It's an endless cycle. "This technology makes managing our infrastructure easier, so we don't need as many people to manage our infrastructure. But now we need people to manage the technology that manages our infrastructure. And now we need middleware so it plays nicely with our accounting software..." and on, and on, and on.

Labour is a liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279599)

From the perspective of someone who was laid off, I've come to regard labour as a liability. It is expensive to get rid of labour if you have to, so it is like an investment that I think can be treated like a debt. I think that the laws have been set up to protect employed people so much, that it discourages hiring, because to hire means you better be certain that you're going to need this person long term. Economic uncertainty makes hiring risky. I side with the 99%, but I must admit that simple solutions often have unintended consequences.

Conversely, technology is often accepted as a throwaway.

understanding what economists mean (1)

LulzAndOrder (2667597) | about 2 years ago | (#42279643)

in hunter gatherer society, the invention of the bow and arrow dramatically reduced how much time had to be spent hunting. I.E. the invention of the bow and arrow created unemployment of club hunters. However, society as a whole got wealthier, because a small number of people could provide the protein needs of the tribe, and the unemployed club hunters retrained as sweater knitters, creating sweater wealth that did not exist before. If you look at a small version of an economy (i.e. a tribe) and consider all the people in the economy as members of the same family (i.e. a tribe) you will stop seeing unemployment, and start seeing technology increase productivity and wealth, and freeing up scarce labor resources to take on more productive tasks, for the family, i.e. for the general good. So, one more economic example, it was just one or two hundred years ago that most of America and Western Europe worked as farmers. Technology unemployed most of them. This was a good thing, because society still got enough food, but now we had a large number of people available to stop working at subsistence and start working for the betterment (and wealthierment) of mankind. Is anybody arguing against this view? Seriously? and short run long run... the benefits in the long run are quite simply worth the short run. Would my fellow slashdotters prefer to live 10% behind where we are now technologically? 10% starting 1000 years ago? 10,000 years ago?

Bullshit (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#42279693)

The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics.

Er, there's some guy called Ned Ludd on line one...

Technology Change and Values (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279797)

From an economic perspective, technology does not directly erode employment, it just changes the relative "value add" of capital (higher) vs. labor (lower). "Theoretically" long-term labor would become cheaper to compete and we would significantly reduce unemployment. Unfortunately, "cheaper" labor means lower standards of living, unthinkable working conditions, and a fundamental lack of human dignity. We have a choice as a society about what to do with the real, tangible value created by technological change (see GDP growth). That value is increasingly centralized (see income inequality and declining median real wages). Public policy is not keeping pace with technology change, at least in terms of effectively building skills that can't be automated away.

Thinking Jobs will be all that remain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42279829)

I think it is fairly obvious that eventually almost all manual labor will be done entirely by robotic (or similar) technology. The end result will be that all available jobs will be "thinking" types of jobs (writing, art based, theoretical math / physics, engineering, etc). For those that cannot participate in such a market, they won't work. Even manual carpentry or metalwork will be done solely for its artisan value.

Society will be post scarcity. How will our land resources and artisan resources be split up in such a society? Who knows. But all basic needs will be provided for free (shelter, food, healthcare). Go read "Piano Player" by Vonnegut for an interesting take on it.

This time really is different. (5, Insightful)

j. andrew rogers (774820) | about 2 years ago | (#42279831)

Once upon a time, people generated most of their value with their muscles. When machines replaced muscles, people could still generate value with their brains because machines could not replace brains. So the original Luddite scenario never materialized.

Now that machines are starting to replace brains, a growing portion of the population has a rapidly dwindling ability to generate significant economic value relative to the machines. As time passes, machines can effectively replace both the muscles and brains of more of the population.

This is also why forcing people to work fewer hours will not help. The problem is not the number of jobs available; it is the number of people who can generate more positive value in that position relative to a machine. Eventually we will all be in the position of no longer being able to be a productive member of a modern economy; everyone believes their contribution to be indispensable until the technology catches up and it isn't.

OK, maybe we can still employ everyone. Should we? (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 2 years ago | (#42279833)

If one person can feed ten, and one can house ten, and one can cloth ten, then we find something for the other seven to do.

Like making SUVs, reality TV, porn sites, weapons, CFCs, Pop music, CO2, High Fructose Corn Syrup, TPS reports, e-mail spam, brand name bottled water, high frequency trading...

Clearly we are much better off, and everyone is happier than when we all had to work just to sustain ourselves; and we need to raise the retirement age to 70 to ensure that all these vital things continue to be created.

Tech CAN Errode Employment, but not all tech... (2)

eepok (545733) | about 2 years ago | (#42279867)

Some tech actually erodes employment. There's no question about there. In fact, nearly any kind of system that decreases human input or actions has the specific INTENT of incurring savings through reduced human employment and increased process precision:

--Manufacturing automation
--Community Self-Assistance (Forums, FAQs, etc.)
--Self-driving taxi cabs

Some tech on the other hand creates employment need. This tech usually involved the addition of a product or service to a market.

--Cellular Telephones
--New websites that offer services in new niches

The problem comes when business, entrepreneurs, and economic theory suggests that the first grouping is more important than the second. With that scenario, tech has a net-negative effect on employment.

The question then arises, "What do we do when the machines are capable of doing our work?". The answer is simple, but not easy: move the general global philosophy from working for the ability to survive and progress financially to a socialistic and humanistic expectations on how one receives what s/he needs to live and how s/he spends her/his time. Yes, the "Start Trek" switch.

Unfortunately, tech advances by the day and hour while philosophy changes by the generation... and even then only slightly.

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