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Robots Help Manufacturing Recover Without Adding Jobs

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the john-henry dept.

Businesses 559

kkleiner writes "For the last 30 years, automation has enabled U.S. manufacturing output to increase and lift profits without having to add any traditional jobs. Now, in the last decade, nearly a third of manufacturing jobs are gone. As manufacturing goes the way of agriculture, the job market must shift into new types of work lest mass technological unemployment and civil unrest overtake these beneficial gains."

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What year is this? (4, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#43581859)

These exact same fears were written about in 1980. There was a famous BBC TV programme about how robots and microprocessors would replace everyone.

We already know the outcome.

Re:What year is this? (5, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43581913)

These exact same fears were written about in 1880. Every wave of automation works the same way - as costs fall, people can buy stuff (or services) they couldn't before, and different industries need more workers.

I suspect semi-skilled work will still be around for my lifetime, just more personal services and less manufacturing or paper-shuffling.

Re:What year is this? (2)

geoffrobinson (109879) | about a year ago | (#43582133)

That's important to keep in mind and I agree. But it still stinks for the people who have trouble making the adjustment.

Re:What year is this? (4, Insightful)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#43582195)

My advise for adjustment in this case; get good at fixing industrial robots.

Re:What year is this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582281)

That sounds like a good idea except that robots will be repairing themselves.

Re:What year is this? (2, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43582187)

These exact same fears were written about in 1880.

Even earlier: The Luddites [wikipedia.org] were most active in the 1810s.

Every wave of automation works the same way

And every wave of automation creates the same fears from people that don't understand economics. If you believe the lump of labor fallacy [wikipedia.org] , as most people do, then it is obvious that robots will displace humans. Of course, real economies don't work that way, but neo-Luddites and economic illiterates will continue to believe that poverty is caused by improvements in productivity.

Re:What year is this? (5, Insightful)

Teckla (630646) | about a year ago | (#43581927)

We already know the outcome.

Are you sure about that? I'm not advocating doom-and-gloom, but at the same time, the "don't bother worrying about it, it's always worked out in the past" optimism doesn't seem appropriate, either. I'd sure like something more solid than "past performance does predict future performance," which I think is just plain wrong in this context.

Re:What year is this? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43582235)

I'm not advocating doom-and-gloom, but at the same time, the "don't bother worrying about it, it's always worked out in the past" optimism doesn't seem appropriate, either.

Why not? If you think that "this time is different", can you explain why? We are already a mostly service economy, so improvements in manufacturing should have less of an impact than in the past.

Re:What year is this? (4, Interesting)

TheCRAIGGERS (909877) | about a year ago | (#43582335)

Why not? If you think that "this time is different", can you explain why? We are already a mostly service economy, so improvements in manufacturing should have less of an impact than in the past.

Well, one difference I see is automation of service jobs. You already see those robotic carousel soft drink machines in fast food joints. It's not hard at all to imagine a machine that takes your order via terminal, cooks your "meat" patty, places it on the bun with the various toppings you've selected and wraps it up in paper before ejecting it out of some chute. I would be extremely surprised if I didn't see this scenario in my lifetime. In fact, I'm kinda surprised it's not happening already. When the low-level service jobs start drying up, I'm not sure what will be the new foundation of that pyramid.

Granted, that's only an example concerning the fast food labor market, but I can see other places going the same way. Janitors, stocking crews, etc.

Re:What year is this? (3, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#43582377)

Yes, I can.

Moving from agricultural jobs to industrial jobs that take no skill or can be easily learned is a much different transition that moving from mid-skilled industrial jobs to those that take a very special skill or talent.

"Entrepreneurship" is a word that is getting flung about, but not everyone has the skill to be an entrepreneur. Also not every person has the skill to go into some sort of creative trade or become a corporate exec.

To be flip about it, you have to have jobs for the people on the lower part of the IQ scale to do. There are all type that have to survive in the economy. This particular transition is feeding those people (as well as a good deal of the smart people too) to the wolves.

Re:What year is this? (5, Insightful)

sottitron (923868) | about a year ago | (#43582247)

I think a natural equilibrium will be reached. The only reason to manufacture things is for people to buy them. If nobody has money because nobody has a job, then they won't bother to make robots to manufacture things. At some point the 'haves' need the 'have nots' to have money. Filthy rich people don't continue to get filthy rich off of one another.

Re:What year is this? (3, Insightful)

blue trane (110704) | about a year ago | (#43582319)

Solution: guarantee everyone a basic income, and hold challenges to stimulate individuals to innovate on their own or through collaborations across the unprecedented communication tool of the internet.

Re:What year is this? (1)

lance_of_the_apes (2300548) | about a year ago | (#43582275)

Agreed. I always find it funny when people assume that a prediction that fails to happen right on schedule will therefore never happen.

Society will adapt, but at what cost? Stay tuned...

Re:What year is this? (1)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about a year ago | (#43582367)

Work smarter, not harder. That's the way it has been going for thousands of years of civilization and social advancement. We still need low-skilled work, but those will be fewer and lower paying the more people compete for those jobs. And skilled jobs will grow and wages will increase as employers compete for those skills. The intelligence and education required to stay in the middle class will continue to increase.

There will be incentive to create tools and technology to use those lower-skilled, less expensive workers just as there are today. You don't need a comp sci degree to work on an automotive computer system to repair cars. The same gear-heads (I use that term affectionately) that worked on cars in the '70s do so today. Tools will make today's high-tech jobs require less skill to do more advanced work.

Who would have thought in 1970 that, 40 years later, functional literacy would require understanding of how to use computers? Or that we would all carry those computers in our pockets. In 40 years, who knows what "functional literacy" will look like? Everyone able to program a computer? Probably, but "programming" won't look much like it does today. The only thing that matters in the end is how fast an individual can learn and adapt to a changing world.

Re:What year is this? (3, Insightful)

k6mfw (1182893) | about a year ago | (#43581963)

These exact same fears were written about in 1980. There was a famous BBC TV programme about how robots and microprocessors would replace everyone.

We already know the outcome.

Also back in 1980, middle class income people were able to purchase houses in places which nowadays they cannot.

Re:What year is this? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581977)

We already know the outcome.

Which one is it, the Matrix or Skynet?

Re:What year is this? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43581979)

Yeah, this is bound to happen sooner or later. Your best insurance is to be skilled in an area that isn't easily replaced by a robot. So obviously programming robots is safe for a little while, but there's lot of other things. Even low level jobs like hair stylist, plumber, or car mechanic probably won't be replaced by robots in the near future. Basically stay away from any jobs that have gone to foreign workers over the last decade. All those foreign workers were really just a stop-gap while they got the robotics figured out.

Re:What year is this? (4, Insightful)

blue trane (110704) | about a year ago | (#43582333)

So your concern is only about the social status of "having a job"? Isn't leisure a good thing? Why do we have to serve an obsolete, feudal economic theory that postulates only people with jobs can have money? A better solution is to use economics as a tool to serve us instead of the other way around: guarantee each individual a basic income.

Re:What year is this? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581997)

We already know the outcome.

Yeah, Skynet.

Re:What year is this? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582155)

FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE.

You too, caps filter.

Re:What year is this? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582019)

Yes and those fears were justified. The median worker's income has stagnated or declined in the US over the past 30 years. It's been hidden by the rise of the two income household and technological improvements in some classes of goods, so it's not obvious, but it's true. People are being driven into the few industries where automation hasn't yet been a major factor healthcare and education, but there's no reason to believe those fields will be immune forever.

Re:What year is this? (2, Informative)

jcr (53032) | about a year ago | (#43582175)

The median worker's income has stagnated or declined in the US over the past 30 years.

That's not because of rising productivity. It's because of financial shenanigans.

-jcr

do we? (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43582057)

I see automation doing more and more work that used to be done by "unskilled" labour. Given that not everyone can do "skilled" labour, what do we do with the people that used to do the "unskilled" labour?

Also, the stuff that can be automated is moving up the chain...so what are you going to do when *your* job gets automated?

As someone else pointed out, increased productivity led us from the 100+ hr work week to the 40-hr work week...but then we stayed at that level of work while automation continued to increase. The workers didn't get the benefits of the extra productivity, the owners did.

Re:What year is this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582151)

We are all going to work in MMORPGs as NPCs [amazon.com] .

Re:What year is this? (2)

jcr (53032) | about a year ago | (#43582161)

Yeah, and back during the FDR regime, there were regulations against installing new machine tools in factories for the same brain-dead Luddite reasons.

-jcr

Re:What year is this? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582279)

These exact same fears were written about in 1980.

The difference now is that the jobs that automation and self-service have been cutting have been non-labor, middle class jobs. In 1980, there were 225,000 bank tellers in the US, with a median of 10 years experience. Now there are only 28,000 with a median of 3 years on the job. Travel agencies got gutted. The back office in real estate agencies has vanished. Small-business clerical work is evaporating.

These were career jobs. These were jobs retirees could still work part-time. The jobs that are being created in their stead are either manual labor or require more education. The pink-collar job that stabilized the middle class has disappeared.

why (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581879)

why does the job market have to switch into new areas to avoid unrest? why can't we just accept that 10x productivity means that only 10% of the people actually need to do something to maintain our civilization's standard of living?

work is not virtuous. work sucks and it's something we've been doing our best to eliminate for hundreds of years. why are we so afraid of that actually happening?

Other than trading (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43581941)

why are we so afraid of that actually happening?

Because people still need to obtain food and shelter somehow in order to survive. How do you recommend that people obtain necessities without trading for them?

Re:Other than trading (4, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year ago | (#43582047)

Socialism.

Rush and Glenn (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43582189)

Socialism won't happen while the public continues to listen to right-wing entertainers with names like Rush and Glenn and pretend that their characters' opinions represent a good direction for economic policy.

Re:Other than trading (0, Flamebait)

atriusofbricia (686672) | about a year ago | (#43582197)

Socialism.

And when those who provide, create and actually work refuse to give those who are lazy and do nothing the fruits of their efforts what then?

There's a word for those who work solely for the benefit of others with little to no practical choice but to do so. Slaves.

Re:Other than trading (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43582223)

And when those who provide, create and actually work refuse to give those who are lazy and do nothing the fruits of their efforts what then?

You're suggesting that as we're able to produce an increasing proportion of humans' needs through mechanical rather than human labor, we'll run a risk that the robots will go on strike and refuse to keep providing us with the fruits of their labor?

Re:Other than trading (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#43582251)

We're talking about a hypothetical future where all (or nearly all) manual labor is done by automated systems. Give the people who need to work 10x more than everyone else gets and I doubt they'll complain. Oh, by "those who provide, create and actually work" you meant the people who own the factories... well... screw em. The world is changing, letting a handful of people control 90% of the wealth is a bad idea.

Re:Other than trading (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#43582331)

This, most developed countries are at a stage where they can provide the basics for all of their citizens, the trick will be to allow everyone the opportunity to make more if they want it. The humanity and compassion of socialism mixed with the vitality and competition of capitalism, what a world that would be.

Re:Other than trading (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43582375)

We're talking about a hypothetical future where all (or nearly all) manual labor is done by automated systems. Give the people who need to work 10x more than everyone else gets and I doubt they'll complain.

So most people will sit at home doing nothing, and when they get bored they'll have babies. So the population will explode and use up resources faster and faster. What do you do when they run out?

Oh, by "those who provide, create and actually work" you meant the people who own the factories... well... screw em.

So you seize all the factories from the EVIL factory owners who built them. What do you do when you need new factories and there's no-one left to build them so you can seize more?

The world is changing, letting a handful of people control 90% of the wealth is a bad idea.

Uh, Pareto's Principle. A small minority have always controlled most of the wealth. It's the natural result of rewarding people for being better at what they do than others are.

The idea that most of the work can be done by a small number of people while the rest do nothing but suck up vast amounts of resources is laughable to anyone who spends more than two minutes thinking about the real world consequences. Those resources are limited and the productive will always have much better things to do with them.

Re:Other than trading (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43582365)

And when those who provide, create and actually work refuse to give those who are lazy and do nothing the fruits of their efforts what then?

I don't know. What do you think productive laborers should do about parasitic capitalists?

There's a word for those who work solely for the benefit of others with little to no practical choice but to do so. Slaves.

There's another word for that, employees. The choice in most cases is to sell your labor to someone for less than it is worth, or starve. The only other option is to become the exploiter and make a profit off of the labor of others.

Re:Other than trading (4, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | about a year ago | (#43582257)

Socialism.

Maybe. Or Something like it. The interesting question is "What happens to people we just don't need anymore?" What do they do? McDonalds has a robot that flips burgers, but hasn't rolled it out because customers find the burger less appealing if it's entirely cooked by machine. What happens to people who work fast food and similar McJobs when the public accepts it and those jobs go away? It really isn't practical to say that they should build burger making robots. If they could do that, they wouldn't be flipping burgers.

Capitalism works when nearly everyone has a place that they can fit in the economy. There used to be a phrase "The world needs ditch-diggers, too". But now we don't. We need one guy operating a backhoe that does the work of 20 men with shovels. And the backhoe may not always need that one guy in the future.

This will really hit home in 10 to 15 years when Long-Haul trucks (not local deliveries, that's harder) are automated. The technology for driving coast-to-coast on I-70 isn't that demanding. Infinity has an SUV that can already stay in it's lane, and fully stop the car to avoid hitting stopped traffic ahead of it. It's not hard to see a truck pulled into a truck-stop by a human, it's dropped off and reconnected to an automated rig which is piloted by remote by a human until it gets on the interstate. Then it self-pilots for days until it ends up at another such stop in california.

If this comes true, thousands of middle class families will be destroyed, because there isn't an obvious place for those blue-collar drivers to go and make similar income. Society simply won't need them anymore. And whomever owns the automated trucks will increase their profit.

Eventually, either wealth redistribution or revolt will happen.

Re:Other than trading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582277)

Socialism.

I can't believe this was modded insightful by anyone. So do I get (or forced) to be the one that stays home because I'm not needed. When do we tell people they can't have kids because they are not needed.

Re:Other than trading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582325)

It worked so much better than capitalism every time so far. Oh wait...no it hasn't. Wait! I know. That wasn't real Socialism. We've never had real Socialism...yet we somehow know it's a superior solution. Besides, any attempt to compare a socialist state and a capitalist state is always going to be an apples to oranges comparison due to differences in culture, climate, language, etc. Well, except for east and west Germany. That was pretty clear cut. But still I like Socialism because...reasons.

Re:Other than trading (1)

lance_of_the_apes (2300548) | about a year ago | (#43582329)

Perhaps, with a bit of re-branding.

Plenty of options (0)

sjbe (173966) | about a year ago | (#43582157)

Because people still need to obtain food and shelter somehow in order to survive. How do you recommend that people obtain necessities without trading for them?

There are plenty of valuable tasks that can be performed that do not involve making widgets. Pick one.

Re:why (5, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43581943)

why does the job market have to switch into new areas to avoid unrest?

Because the silly engineers forgot to invent riot police robots before they invented factory manufacturing robots.

why can't we just accept that 10x productivity means that only 10% of the people actually need to do something to maintain our civilization's standard of living?

That would be un-American. Clearly, you can't have people living off someone else's work, even though that someone else is a machine, because...quick, help me someone here!

Robots have dreams too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581987)

And it would be cruel to crush the dreams of those precious robots just because they're soulless automatons.

Much better to crush actual human dreams. That's only fair.

Re:why (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year ago | (#43582213)

Robots need energy. Energy isn't free (yet?).

Re:why (1)

Jhon (241832) | about a year ago | (#43582405)

"That would be un-American. Clearly, you can't have people living off someone else's work, even though that someone else is a machine, because...quick, help me someone here!"

Cute. How about we eliminate a huge mass of government workers and unions? If you get a check from the state and you have the ability to work, let the state FIND you work.

Example: Kill the bulk of street cleaners. Designate on person per block (or two or three or 5 blocks) who's daily job is to clean trash off sidewalks/streets and to clean leaves out of storm drains. Do that 40 hours a week, you get your state check. If they're getting a check ANYWAY, it doesn't matter that street cleaners would be cheaper or more efficient.

I've got broken sidewalks, cracked roads and modest flooding due to clogged storm drains -- all within a 5 mins walk of my house (never mind all around town). This poor infrastructure management -- one of the PRIMARY jobs of my local government -- is primarily caused by the money drain of social programs. It makes ZERO sense for the government to pay people who cannot find work AND not adequately fund and perform infrastructure maintenance. It takes zero skill to pick up trash and leaves. It also takes zero skill to wear an orange vest and direct traffic around construction vehicles.

Another example: Cant get out of the house because of kids? Get rid of all the envelope stuffing machines (and maintenance contracts for them). Ship bulk generic paperwork requests to stuck at home moms/dads. Have them stuff envelopes. Again, why pay for the "more efficient and cheaper" machines if we already have a potential work force getting paid while not working?

Re:why (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582217)

We know that socialist capitalist democracy works pretty well so far - the capitalism part makes people do productive things, the socialist part counteracts many of the problems with capitalism and the democratic part prevents revolutions. All the first world countries run on that model (they might call it something else). If you make it so that 90% of people don't do anything productive, then you've got to mess with the capitalist part of the equation so much that it won't be easily recognizable as capitalism any more. That's scary, because most huge political experiments like that don't go so well. You're right we're going to have to go there at some point, but don't be surprised if there's pushback right up until the point where there's obviously no other alternative - probably a bit beyond that too. We're not nearly there yet, not even in first world countries. It'll be a long time.

Re:why (3, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#43582291)

The United States is actively in a revolution of sorts to end all the (small-s) socialist efforts of the past 100 years. This is simply because the rich don't think they should have to pay any taxes or contribute any money to the system that has allowed them to prosper.

The fact is this: there is a capitalist/socialist balance. When it gets too far out of whack you have popular movements of some sort because it creates huge unfairness. EITHER WAY it creates a situation where you have a small elite pushing their agenda on the majority of people.

Re:why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582301)

why does the job market have to switch into new areas to avoid unrest? why can't we just accept that 10x productivity means that only 10% of the people actually need to do something to maintain our civilization's standard of living?

work is not virtuous. work sucks and it's something we've been doing our best to eliminate for hundreds of years. why are we so afraid of that actually happening?

Because capitalism. If it can't find a way to make more money with you, it certainly won't want to feed your worthless ass. What will actually happen is that "work" will become less and less remunerative for the worker as his value compared to automation declines. Money, on the other hand, never needs to be retrained or to go back to school. It can pack up and move in less than a moment's notice. It has no family to care for. Money will do just fine.

I guess you were right. Work really isn't virtuous.

Re:why (4, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#43582303)

work is not virtuous.

I am no philosopher wise man (and judging by your post neither are you) but I have experienced periods in my work where I sat around doing nothing, just surfing the internet. I have also done extremely useful work writing code that went into production. Even though I made the exact same money "working" exactly same hours, I can tell you that my mood and mental health during the two periods were drastically different, like night and day.

There is something to be said about meaningful work. The writers of old knew more than you think.

Re:why (1)

seebs (15766) | about a year ago | (#43582409)

Because we haven't come up with a way to induce people to do jobs which need doing but aren't pleasant without a general policy that you have to work to get money, and have money to get food. If you don't have to work to eat, the theory is, a lot of people will just not-work, and we won't have people willing to do some of the jobs which need to get done. And if nearly everyone can find work, that can be tolerable up to a point, but if we only had 10% of people working, we'd need a radically different way to organize and structure things.

Have you guys heard of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581903)

The Venus Project?

*snicker*

What difference does it make? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43581921)

The way I figure it, most factory work will either be done be robots, outsourced, or done by immigrants. There's not much way around that.

Re:What difference does it make? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43582059)

The way I figure it, most factory work will either be done be robots, outsourced, or done by immigrants.

Consequently, you'd save the most money if you outsource your factory work to robots built by immigrants in other countries.

"factory work" changes (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43582087)

As we get better at technology, we will be able to automate more and more tasks....so what is the end result? Presumably we should start planning for it now so we don't get caught by surprise.

What can we do in expensive places (North America, Europe, Japan, etc.) that can't be outsourced/insourced/automated?

Re:"factory work" changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582199)

What can we do in expensive places (North America, Europe, Japan, etc.) that can't be outsourced/insourced/automated?

Wait until it's too damned late and there's no jobs left, then rise up.

Don't wait until it's too damned late, and rise up.

Wait until it's too late, don't rise up.

These are your options. Currently, loss of all jobs to either outsourcing or automation is the natural conclusion of the idea of corporate profits above all else. As long as the stock market keeps going up and executive bonuses get paid, who cares about the rest of you?

Capitalism, in its apparent ideal form, will only be happy when it's destroyed the very environment in which it thrives.

mass unemployment due to policies, not automation (5, Insightful)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#43581923)

Assume you have an economy consisting entirely of factory workers. Now, half the work gets automated. What happens? Everybody can continue to live at the same standard of living but work only half as much, or half of the people can be unemployed while the other half work full time and pay half their salary to support the unemployed. Which future we get depends entirely on the policies we adopt. Unfortunately, policies intended to help workers and help the unemployed are increasingly looking like they are bringing about the second of these futures.

Cost of training each employee (2)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43581959)

Unfortunately, policies intended to help workers and help the unemployed are increasingly looking like they are bringing about the second of these futures.

There's a cost of training each employee. Fewer workers working full time is cheaper in some ways than more workers working part time.

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (1)

schn (1795404) | about a year ago | (#43581983)

needs a shift to 6 hour days or 4 day weeks

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43582053)

There's a third option.The half of the population that was in factory jobs gets trained to do a job that can't be replaced by a robot. However, this may become problematic, because it's my opinion that most people lack the intelligence to do anything that can't be done by a robot, or the jobs they can do, are not in high enough demand that we can give everyone a job. This is also the problem with everybody working part time. The people working in the factories lack the ability to fill the remaining jobs. If this option is for those people to go un-employed, those who are working will want some major kickbacks for being the ones holding everybody else afloat.

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43582061)

Assume you have an economy consisting entirely of factory workers. Now, half the work gets automated. What happens? Everybody can continue to live at the same standard of living but work only half as much, or half of the people can be unemployed while the other half work full time and pay half their salary to support the unemployed. Which future we get depends entirely on the policies we adopt.

Productivity improvements are nothing new. They have been happening regularly since agriculture was invented 10,000 years ago. In the past the neither of the two scenarios you listed has happened. What happens is a third scenario that you overlooked: Everyone continues to work, but standards of living go up.

Please read up on the Lump of Labor Fallacy [wikipedia.org] . The idea that an economy has some fixed amount of work to do, and therefore robots displace humans, is nonsense. Economies expand in proportion to the resources available.

 

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (5, Informative)

invid (163714) | about a year ago | (#43582083)

Capitalism does not guarantee low unemployment. It doesn't guarantee a meritocracy. We are fortunate that new technology has previously created new jobs for people to apply skills that gave them value to the rich. But as automation approaches human capabilities in more areas, there will be fewer opportunities available for humans. For those who don't already own capital, eventually the only jobs available to humans will be in the entertainment industry.

Emily Howell (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43582177)

For those who don't already own capital, eventually the only jobs available to humans will be in the entertainment industry.

And even those are threatened by programs such as Emily Howell [slashdot.org] .

you missed an option (4, Insightful)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43582105)

In real life, I see most of the benefit of automation going to the owners/shareholders of the companies, and that money doesn't necessarily stay in the community where the factory is (or even in the same country).

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582119)

Import tariffs, if done intelligently could have saved the top % of US manufacturing for each sector. The problem is that the politicians do what is in the best interest of the corporations, and the corporations want maximum profits by outsourcing production. The current state of affairs is by design. Union busting has been achieved.

more than 40 hours while others are unemployed (1)

mx+b (2078162) | about a year ago | (#43582181)

The overwhelming attitude of technical jobs I have interviewed for lately has been "We expect you to work overtime because we do not want to hire too many people even though we are short-staffed [with a vague implication of we need to increase our profits and satisfy shareholders]". I still cannot understand why the insistence on one person for 60 hrs per week when we could have two working 30 hrs per week. Happier more productive employees and we double the number of available jobs overnight (I know, many people would require some technical training but I'm sure that could be fixed quickly as well with sound educational policies, or maybe simply extra tax breaks for internships).

Re:more than 40 hours while others are unemployed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582307)

I still cannot understand why the insistence on one person for 60 hrs per week when we could have two working 30 hrs per week.

Well, here's the logic. Overtime used to be the deterrent to this kind of behavior. If I need someone to work 60 hours a week more than just a few days a year, it can be expensive. However, I don't pay anymore in benefits which might offset the 1/2 in time and 1/2 and I know the worker is already productive.

What's a better solution is to simply make everyone salaried where there is no incentive to not require overtime or hire new workers until people quit.

Happier more productive employees and we double the number of available jobs overnight (I know, many people would require some technical training but I'm sure that could be fixed quickly as well with sound educational policies, or maybe simply extra tax breaks for internships).

Who cares? [with a vague implication of we need to increase our profits and satisfy shareholders]

Re:mass unemployment due to policies, not automati (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43582231)

Bertrand Russell used almost exactly that same thought experiment in a 1932 article [zpub.com] , fwiw:

Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

The cheapest robots are slaves... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581925)

One of the problems with Global Free Trade is that we are now indirectly supporting slavery, which is really the heart of this problem.

We do not condone slavery here, but Foxconn does. And for the $1.65 per hour in maintenance costs for a robot arm, I can have 1.65 humans, with TWO arms EACH doing more complicated work than the best robot arms that can be had for less than the cost of my house.

The economics are simple, the jobs will move to wherever slavery is legal until they can't. Then the economics of mechanizing manual labor can take over, and the: iYardbot, will pay for itself, the iAssembleBot and the iKitchenBots, and the industries that come up around them can thrive and add to the economy. But they can never flourish while the human versions are cheaply available.

Re:The cheapest robots are slaves... (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | about a year ago | (#43582003)

Now you see the real reason for banning the slavery. Not because it is a-moral, or bad, but because it will cost you your job and your little house on the hill.

Wage slavery, cost of living, and export sector (2)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#43582089)

And for the $1.65 per hour in maintenance costs for a robot arm, I can have 1.65 humans, with TWO arms EACH doing more complicated work

Part of that is because in countries that allow wage "slavery", the cost of living is so much lower. This causes the equivalent of 1 USD in a "poor" country to have far more purchasing power than 1 USD in USA or 0.65 GBP in Great Britain. This tendency for exchange rates to exaggerate apparent differences in wages is called the Penn effect. The Balassa-Samuelson model [wikipedia.org] explains it through the difference between tradable goods and services ("widgets") and non-tradable goods and services ("haircuts"). If an economy exports few goods, there won't be much demand for its currency, and the exchange rate of its currency with those of industrialized economies will be unfavorable. But as companies invest in factories in such a "poor" country, it'll have to pay higher wages to attract workers, and employers in non-tradable industries will have to raise their prices to keep employees from flocking to industries that produce goods for export. This inflates wages across the board, and over time, the cost of living in the "poor" country increases.

Re:The cheapest robots are slaves... (3, Interesting)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43582141)

What a load of crap.

You neglect to mention that those Foxconn employees are not only volunteers, but compete intensely for those positions. Why? Because the alternative of subsistence farming is significantly, brutally worse.

Why would it be morally superior to double the wages of the Asian factory workers, as opposed to keeping the wages the same and doubling the number of workers? The net benefit to those WITHOUT the factory jobs who get them would be much greater than those WITH them, but who get a raise.

The reality is that even on the meager pay from Foxconn (as an example), those workers manage to save and send money home. Those jobs give hope that the next generation can afford to get an education and break the millennium-old cycle of poverty. Without those factories, those born into poverty will always be there, generation after generation.

Re:The cheapest robots are slaves... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582347)

And in the Hunger Games, certain Districts train their tributes in order to reap the benefits of a victory.

This does not make it a good system.

Tonight on Slashdot: the blindingly obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581933)

Machines save labor. Don't lose your job or you'll be out of work!

Increased leisure time (5, Interesting)

biodata (1981610) | about a year ago | (#43581945)

Isn't this good news? Back in the 1970s we were all promised that increased automation would lead to us all needing to do less work, and having increased leisure time. It all seemed like a rosy future at the time. The only problem seems to be that the owners of the robots don't want to share the benefits. If they don't share then they deserve the unrest they get.

Re:Increased leisure time (4, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43582169)

It happened. We all do less work. And we do have more money. The problem is that we spend our extra free time at our place of employment. And we spend all the extra money on the stuff that didn't exist in the 1970s. It really doesn't take so much time to wash the dishes now that we have a dish washer. You can mow the lawn much faster with a self propelled lawnmower (they even have robot ones). Almost nobody on my block shovels their driveway in the winter. They either have a snow-blower or they have the plow come around and do it. Most people don't fix their own car, they don't even change their own oil. They get the guy at the shop to do it. All that extra money we have goes to cell phones, internet, cable TV, dish washers ,cars with every accessory ever thought up (none of which existed in the 70s).

Living to see a science fiction plot. (2)

invid (163714) | about a year ago | (#43581953)

The robots are taking our jobs. So what happens? Do we have 3 day work weeks with the same pay? Do we wear capes and tights and ponder the higher arts and philosophy while robot servants take care of our physical needs?

Or was the last century a fluke where a large middle class had power, which will soon revert to the more common system in human history where a tiny few live in splendor and the rest live under their heel?

No, this is reality. (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#43582259)

Was the last century a fluke where a large middle class had power, which will soon revert to the more common system in human history where a tiny few live in splendor and the rest live under their heel?

Probably. When capitalism functions as designed, the price of labor drops to just above survival level. This is the "iron law of wages", and held for most of history. For much of the 20th century, in the developed world, it was different. When productivity went up, so did wages. That was driven by two factors - unions, and fear of communism.

Nobody has taken communism seriously in decades, even the remaining communists. But from the 1930s to the 1970s, it was seen as a serious threat to capitalism. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, capitalism failed, while communism in the USSR was on the way up. There was real fear that communism might win economically. Fear of nationalization forced companies to increase wages and treat their workers better.

When the USSR started building atomic bombs, space satellites, and ICBMs, there was fear in the US that the USSR might pull ahead in technology. This fear drove the "space race", and is why the US set up NASA and funded the space program so heavily.

This all ended in the 1970s. The best year ever for blue collar workers in the US was 1973. The USSR no longer seemed to be an economic threat. So things gradually went back to normal, and real wages in the US went down for several decades thereafter.

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." - Orwell.

Things will even out eventually (2)

RevDisk (740008) | about a year ago | (#43581961)

As someone will point out, early automation (think looms) displaced workers. Things shifted around, and they did find jobs. "Things will work out" is a nice long term solution, but not something folks want to hear in the short term. I hear a lot of folks (here in the US, but also in Europe) say "We're shipping our industrial base to Asia!" While true to an extent, I remind folks that a LOT of things are manufactured here in America.

Thanks to automation, more and more is being created by fewer and fewer folks. This will cause social upheaval. I have enough faith in humanity that we'll work through it. We always do. But it will be a bumpy ride, with no perfect answers.

not always going to find jobs (2)

Chirs (87576) | about a year ago | (#43582139)

As blue collar jobs get automated, there will be blue collar workers that are not suited to white collar jobs.

Heck, now white collar jobs are being automated or offshored. Royal Bank just got in the media up here in Canada for offshoring IT services for back-end financial teams.

I'm all for it but .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581965)

What do those people do?

It's nice to just blow it off and say "They just need to retrain in something else."

But like what? Nursing?

So many people in the last few years wanting job security have jumped on that band wagon and now nurses are having a hard time getting jobs. Sure, part of that is the economy but then again.

And do we want an economy based upon half of the population cleaning the bed pans of the other half?

And what else? There's only so much room up the food chain, so everyone can't move up - contrary to what the economists say.

Of course, I'm not saying there should be some government edict creating jobs doing nothing - dig a ditch and fill it back in type of things. But, we are achieving "surplus" labor and that does not bide well for social stability or people's well being - and that's assuming that they somehow get money to live. We need concrete solutions. Not wishful thinking like "someday new technology will develop where all these people will be hired like in the past". In the past, when new industries formed, they were also labor intensive. Now, new industries form and they don't need much labor and even if they do, there are so many people in the World, labor can be considered an inexhaustible resource.

We are headed for some serious social problems in the not so distant future.

Re:I'm all for it but .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582249)

These days the argument *always* overlooks the fact that people have different sets of skills. It is one thing to go from farm labor to unskilled manual industrial labor and quite another for that unskilled industrial labor to go to administration, design, creative, etc.. jobs. Not everyone is going to have the ability to do special skilled jobs. Our policies basically lead to an endgame where the only job that will pay a living wage are high-level administration jobs. Not everyone has the skill or the desire to do work like that. An economy that doesn't take into account that there are differences in people is going to fail because it's completely unrealistic.

Our political climate is promoting this attitude right now. If we were governing for the people as a whole we wouldn't be doing the things we are doing.

Yeah... there's problem in the summary (1)

sesshomaru (173381) | about a year ago | (#43581981)

"As manufacturing goes the way of agriculture, the job market must shift into new types of work lest mass technological unemployment and civil unrest overtake these beneficial gains."

Yeah, the job market can't do that. That's the problem right there. People who were doing skilled or unskilled labor and were replaced by machines aren't suddenly going to be able to become successful in a "creative class" job. If they could have, they'd probably have done that instead of the manufacturing job.

On the plus side, with so many manufacturing jobs having been shipped overseas, if they actually build the automated factories here in the US then that might make some number of jobs come back. (However, they'll probably build them in one of the Labor Hell countries anyway, which only sucks for the people in those countries.)

Re:Yeah... there's problem in the summary (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582111)

The other nitpicky problem in the summary is that agriculture hasn't "[gone] the way of agriculture". At least not in the way the summary believes. There aren't robots picking ripe fruits; that's being done by migrant workers (illegal aliens).

Re:Yeah... there's problem in the summary (1)

rajanala83 (813645) | about a year ago | (#43582219)

But automation and machines do have changed the structure and efficiency of agriculture and landscape. And greatly reduced the percentage of people working in this sector.

Re:Yeah... there's problem in the summary (4, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#43582205)

aren't suddenly going to be able to become successful in a "creative class" job

And what's more, there is a massive surplus of people in the "creative class" jobs: The number of reasonably competent musicians, authors, artists, poets, etc far outnumbers the market for the arts. For every Brian May there are dozens if not hundreds of really talented and skilled guitarists that you've never heard of. For every Jackson Pollack there are many many good painters that you've never heard of. For every JK Rowling there are many many good authors toiling away in obscurity.

The completely fraudulent idea that has been pushed for the last 20 years is that if you give everyone in America a PhD, everyone will earn what a tenured professor makes. What actually happens is that if you give everyone in America a PhD, you have PhDs mopping floors for a living.

Economic disruption is never comfortable (1)

sjbe (173966) | about a year ago | (#43582399)

People who were doing skilled or unskilled labor and were replaced by machines aren't suddenly going to be able to become successful in a "creative class" job.

It may not be easy but they certainly can do something else and most demonstrably do. If your job gets automated it might be economically uncomfortable for you for a while. However people are pretty resilient and most find some new way to make a living. Industries are getting disrupted constantly. It only becomes a macro-economic problem if it is too much disruption all at once without short term viable alternatives. 150 years ago, well over half the US work force was in agriculture. Now it is less than 3% by most counts. While getting there wasn't always easy people did manage and will continue to manage. Just because manufacturing has been a source of jobs for a lot of people historically doesn't mean it can or should always remain so.

On the plus side, with so many manufacturing jobs having been shipped overseas, if they actually build the automated factories here in the US then that might make some number of jobs come back.

What do you mean "if they actually build"? Automated factories are already here in the US. US labor costs are too high to compete in a lot of labor intensive work but there is plenty of manufacturing that is capital intensive and the US is second to none in that sort of manufacturing. If you go into a US factory you'll generally notice a high level of automation. That is how you compete when you have expensive labor. Europe and Japan do the same thing.

Robot unemployment (2)

nxcho (754392) | about a year ago | (#43582001)

Just wait until the robots get unemployed... Then we'll see true unrest and uprising.

Not Stupid (4, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#43582013)

Blue Collar workers are not stupid.

They are not bolting doors onto cars or running forklifts because they can't do anything else. When they joined the work force, these jobs were available and were jobs a person could raise a family with. A smart option for most, but the side effect is that you get stuck in a rut. The same way a guy who only known COBOL gets stuck.

But things change and Blue Collar manufacturing is less and less a job market that someone want's to join. New workers, who in the past would have gone into this job market, are capable of more. They can be the guys designing the robots, programming them, maintaining them, manufacturing them.

The knowledge of manufacturing is just as essential now as it was in the past and a robot has to put the nuts and bolts in pretty much the same order, as a human did. There is a lot of Tribal Knowledge about manufacturing that you don't learn at college and can pretty much only be found on the factory floor.

The Trades are not going away, just changing.

Kurt Vonnegut's 1952 novel Player Piano (1)

db_indy (762717) | about a year ago | (#43582015)

Wikipedia has a good overview. No movie planned.

Progress of automation (1)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | about a year ago | (#43582055)

Once again we can expect a discussion of how displaced workers always move onto other jobs. Que over used examples of buggy whip makes...

So, one question: Isn't the long term goal of automation the elimination of human labor? The only jobs that would remain do so because people want to do them. And only so long as they don't also demand pay - because paying workers to do what can be automated cuts into profit.

So far, the expansion of the economy combined with our inability to automate everything has created enough new jobs to allow a high level of employment. And maybe this will continue to be the case. But I can not find anything guaranteeing it. It is more of an assumption that because things have been that way since the industrial revolution then they will probably remain that way. While a good way to predict what will happen in a few years, I don't think it is a good way to predict what will happen in the long term.

Technology was supposed to... (1)

Dripdry (1062282) | about a year ago | (#43582121)

It wasn't always like this. Keynes, for instance, believed (along with others) that advances in technology would allow people to work much less and enjoy life more.
We've said it here so many times it's worn through, but technology was supposed to spread out the benefits, allow less work and more enjoyment of life, not widening gap of fear and grasping where neither the rich NOR the poor seem happy with what they have.

There are some great books to kickstart the brain on this, I find Tom Hodgkinson's "How to Be Idle" and "The Idler's Companion" are good places to pause and ponder, a good launching point.

We need a major shift in the way people think about work, running themselves into the ground. A major cultural shift. What I fear is that mankind will keep on the way it has: Letting millions starve when there's more than enough to go around, competing and making various ***ocracies.

On the other hand, one might consider reading that "Rat Race and Why You Need It" book (or whatever it's called) for some counterpoint.

Advance in technology is good, I don't want to come across as a luddite here, but can't there be a middle ground? Isn't it supposed to be a social net to catch those displaced but a rapidly advancing society?

Yup (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43582127)

The meme of capitalism is based on the idea that technological progress and investment of capital drives increasing productivity, and that increase in productivity drives increased wages and improved standards of living.

It's been as successful as heck.

Now that about 5% of the population is employed in agriculture and 8% in manufacturing, the question becomes what do you when all the material needs of a civilization can be supplied by 13% of the work force?

Or maybe 10%, or even less as time goes on.

Then there is the question of sustainability. I don't think what we have is sustainable. There is a set of giant externalities in place right now, the biggest being consumption of limited resources.

It's going to be a bit gut wrenching but these externalities have to be resolved.

Original Industrial Revolution (1)

InterGuru (50986) | about a year ago | (#43582153)

All of us benefit from being the heirs of the industrial revolution. Even the poorest of us have better health and nutrition than before. We all have better health care than the mightiest king did 300 years ago. Yet for the average person who lived during the industrial revolution life was poor hell. Craftsmen and herders were sent into Dickensian factories and mines. I hope we can live long enough for the majority of citizens to see a benefit from our present computer revolution.

Posted previously Jan 23, 2013 [slashdot.org]

Luddites revisited (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582191)

This has been a problem for centuries. Let's update it from looms to something more modern.

Oh no, COBOL isn't popular now and it's all I know. Whatever will I do? I know, let's eliminate all these fancy new programming languages to protect my job.

Entertainment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582209)

Before people start screaming about losing jobs and what people will do, think for a second about how and why the entertainment industry exists (pro sports, Hollywood, etc...).

Not so simple, TTM is important too. (1)

goruka (1721094) | about a year ago | (#43582271)

Manufacturing using robots is very efficient and can easily drive down the costs of hiring humans to do the job.
However, teaching humans how to assemble a new device is, in many cases, faster and cheaper than designing an automated assembly line, this reduces the time to market (TTM) of new product cycles.
China is still by far the most competitive country for this, not only in terms of price but available workforce too.

Markup cartel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43582345)

Manufacturing costs go down, so product price goes down, right?

It now costs very little for robots to make that coffee table, so it'll be sold for a lower number of hours' wage, right? An hour tops? ...right?

CRAZY IDEA HERE.... (1)

arfonrg (81735) | about a year ago | (#43582381)

If you want manufacturing and jobs to 'come back' to the US, how about we stop penalizing US operations AND stop rewarding off-shore manufacturing (e.g. China = 'Most favored trading partner')???

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