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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Understating The Problem

I have a few posts on the issue of technological changes and the impending problems it will pose for society as large swathes of the population becomes essentially unemployable. And in a capitalist society, unemployable means "useless". And in the current climate a useless man is one of societies easiest to dispose.

Here's a video of a PBS video on robotics. It contains a lot of problematic statements that a serious reporter should have pointed out either during the interview or within the narration.

I feel it's important to address some of the points.

What's going on right now in the second machine age, is overcoming the limitations of our individual minds
Keep this in mind. We know how the bell curves. There are people with exceptional intelligence and there are those with low intelligence with most of the population around the median. What is happening is that those at the far right side of the curve are creating drones to (or that will) take the place of the work done by those to the left of them. The people on the far right side of the curve are the most vulnerable and the danger creeps along. Also as anyone paying attention knows you don't simply put a low intelligence person into a high intelligence job. Furthermore the job market, in terms of skilled labour, particularly those skills needed to program and engineer are pyramid in shape. There are way fewer opportunities at the top of the pyramid than there are on the bottom.
Right now this 3D printing machine is just being used to generate a miniature, but other ones are being used to make things like dental implants....
Baxter which only costs about 20 thousand dollars
Baxter, the factory robot to do tedious jobs that people don't want to do costs a company $20k. Takes no sick days. Takes no vacation days. Works 24 hour shifts. Lets break that down to an hourly wage: That's 20,000 divided by 365 to get the daily rate of $54. Divide that by 24 hours and you get a whopping $2.28/hour. Well below minimum wage. NOw think of all those restaurant workers looking to get a "livable wage" of $10-$15 an hour for "only" 40 hours a week of work, plus health insurance. At the low end of $10/hour that 40 hour work week for 52 weeks comes out to 1 health insurance. That's only 40 hours, to Baxter's 168.

And consider this. After one year. Baxter is essentially free labour. Only costing the company electricity and whatever maintenance Baxter requires. And be certain that Baxter will NOT cost 20k in maintenance every year.

Moreover says Brook, Baxter is keeping plants and jobs state side by cutting costs
Get this logic? By using robots to replace humans, which is what we call unemployment, keeps jobs state side. Yes, I found that confusing too. I hear this faulty logic all the time. We're keeping jobs here because we're keeping factories here. No. You're losing jobs to either outsourcing OR automation. Outsourcing is immediate. Automation is slower.
Oxford researches predict that half of all US jobs will be automated away in the next few decades
Half of the working population replaced by automation of some sort in the next few decades? That's "keeping jobs state side"?
Even the flippers will need a fallback now that a machine can supposedly grind out 360 gourmet burgers an hour. And speaking of food.. *advert for pizza making machine* Italy the land that brought us hand made pizza, now brings us machine made (2.5 minutes).
So Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendys, McDonalds. All those employees. like the ones protesting...

No, actually you're not. You just don't know it yet.

$15/hour? When Baxter and Pizza Machine move into these establishments with their $2.20/hour costs which allows the establishments to operate 24-7 without employing 3 shifts of staff, but rather perhaps a contract cleaning company (assuming roomba doesn't do the job) and a service guy for the machine. Don't say you weren't warned.

...More Baxter's mean less factory jobs. "But getting more from less is good news overall"
Good for who?
It's good news for us as an economy, as consumers...
A little economics lesson. In order to be a consumer, one must have disposable income to spend on that consumption. Currently since US citizens are not handed a check from the government, such as is done in oil producing states, that income is from jobs. So if the jobs are gone, so are the consumers. This is not rocket science.
In the first machine age a lot of agricultural jobs that were eliminated but the country responded by providing wide spread education and as a consequence we were able to move to a new set of occupations, a new set of skills
I'm not a history expert but the above sounds like a whitewash of US history to me. This guy apparently knows nothing of the great migration north to factory towns to build the cars, railroads, buildings, etc. that came out of that machine age. What really happened for the Manual Working Class was that they traded farm labour for factory labour. Therefore I don't think this guy's argument that education suddenly changed the labour pool is accurate. There are at least 3 stages. Agriculture to manufacturing to intellectual property. The latter was indeed informed and the result of education and technologies that grew out of manufacturing, but it was not a re-education of the manual worker, it was the replacement and removal of him. and yes, mostly HIM.
As robots get more and more capable...we have to teach this generation of humans a new set of skills
Lets go back to my discussion of the intelligence and job pyramids. Most people are not cut out for certain work that a "knowledge economy" requires. So at some point you just cannot "teach new skills" to a large number of people. Furthermore automation makes it so that even if you have these skills it is likely that there will simply not be enough openings. In which case you might as well be untrained.
Education in America has been focused on getting people to follow instructions, but going forward we're going to need more creativity. Simply following rote instructions, software is pretty good at doing
Translation: Anything that is repetitive and does not vary [much] in execution is going to be done away with. Hear me longshoremen?
Lets keep in mind that there are still a lot of things that computers and artificaial intelligence and robots are still lousy at.
Your average 5 year old is lousy at Algeba. Won't be like that forever though.
Their very ineffective negotiators
Has anyone seen the classified ads for "effective negotiators"? Is that a profession? If so how many people does that industry currently employ? How much does it pay?
They can't lead a team of people
But if there are no people to lead.....
They can't communicate subtleties the same way
And that's important in what factory job? In what manufacturing job is that important? In what medical imaging job is that important? List the number of mass employment jobs that require subtlety.
Give me specific jobs that if young people are watching what do they do?

We've got Bridges and roads and ports that are crumbling. The physical plant in our schools are desperately in need of repair. There's no robot out there that can do any of those jobs yet.

Notice the "yet". And notice the Chinese 3D building houses
A Chinese construction company is building houses that can be mass-produced using a 3D printer. Using a mixture of cement and construction waste, the houses can be produced for under $5,000 (£2,970). The walls and structure of the house are printed layer by layer using a process that allows up to 10 complete houses to be printed in one day
This guy is lying and he knows it. Road construction is quite rote and is mostly mechanized. Next time you see road construction going on see how many men are standing around. Take note of all the machines in use. One removes the old road top. Another sprays some black stuff on the ground. Another pours asphalt. Another rolls over the asphalt and smoothes it out. Another machine is used to paint the lines. All of that can be automated. ALL of it. With technology available right now.

In the near future "construction worker" will be someone with a tablet watching a job site that used to employ 20 or so men. Yes, men. Continuing:

There's an explosion of opportunities in jobs that involve interacting with other people from sales people to nursing, elder care, kindergarten teachers

Firstly, does anyone other than me note that the vast majority of the jobs listed by this fellow are held by women? I have pointed out repeatedly that the first victims of automation will be men and this will have dire consequences for male-female relationships.

Secondly in terms of nursing and elder care. We are already seeing a movement to robots in those areas as well. The Japanese are very much at the forefront of robot care for their aging population.

Thirdly: Did this guy say salespersons? Seriously? Does this person really think a nation of 330 million people are going to become salespersons for a living? That's the future they see and they don't see a problem with that?

I'm not a technophobe but there is going to have to be a serious change in how society works for this oncoming automation. There will simply not be enough jobs to go around. People may end up being entrepreneurs to try and get by but I don't see that kind of work replacing the lost incomes and as said earlier no income = no consumption.