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United Kingdom AI Businesses Robotics Technology

Bank of England's Andy Haldane Warns Smart Machines Could Take 15M UK Jobs (robotenomics.com) 291

New submitter Colin Robotenomics writes In an important new paper based on a speech at the trade union congress in London, Andy Haldane Chief Economist at the Bank of England and Executive Director of Monetary Analysis and Statistics has examined the history of technological unemployment and has given a thorough review of the literature and implications for public policy. The media will likely focus on the number of jobs that can be displaced and not necessarily Haldane's points on new jobs being created – both of which are highly important as is 'skilling-up'. His report reads in part: "...Taking the probabilities of automation, and multiplying them by the numbers employed, gives a broad brush estimate of the number of jobs potentially automatable. For the UK, that would suggest up to 15 million jobs could be at risk of automation. In the US, the corresponding figure would be 80 million jobs."
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Bank of England's Andy Haldane Warns Smart Machines Could Take 15M UK Jobs

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  • 15M (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday November 13, 2015 @06:48AM (#50920497) Journal

    They've been saying this since the 1970s, with all sorts of forecasts of 15 hour weeks. Yet there are many millions now in work compared to the 1970s and everyone's working longer hours than ever.

    • Re:15M (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @06:59AM (#50920521)

      They've been saying this since the 1970s, with all sorts of forecasts of 15 hour weeks. Yet there are many millions now in work compared to the 1970s and everyone's working longer hours than ever.

      In the 1970s they assumed that everyone would work less. What happened is that some work more than ever and others don't work at all.

      • Re:15M (Score:5, Informative)

        by Random_Goblin ( 781985 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @07:27AM (#50920573)
        This is not a new problem, and is well covered in Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness [zpub.com] written in 1932.

        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 whole essay is well worth reading, and remains just as true as ever it was..

        • by gtall ( 79522 )

          I guess being a world renown logician don't mean you can reason. For how long are the now half idled pinmakers to be kept on the company payroll? Is the total number of pinmakers static over time neglecting that economies shift over time? Suppose a new company is formed to make pins and starts producing pins with half the workforce, so their pins are cheaper and the first company goes out of business.

          This reminds me of the philosophers and Deep Thought when Deep Thought tells them they could have the lifest

        • by khallow ( 566160 )
          Sounds like Russell never heard of Jevons paradox [wikipedia.org]. When you increase the efficiency of using or consuming a resource like labor, you increase the demand for that resource.

          And Russell never thought about the overhead of employing people (for example, training costs). It is not sensible to employ two people to do the work of one person.

          Finally, what happens to the unemployed half? They find new work that exists merely because there were people available to do it.
          • Finally, what happens to the unemployed half? They find new work that exists merely because there were people available to do it.

            If you're suddenly made redundant, a new job does not magically pop up elsewhere to accomodate you. The vast majority of people can not create jobs for themselves.

      • This is because you can't just hand off knowledge from one person to another in zero time. If you're assembling widgets according to a set of instructions, then you can work 3 hours day, then the next person can take over basically instantly where you left off. Or you can work 2 days a week and you don't lose any productivity by having other people working the other days of the week.

        If you're doing something that requires more high level thinking, like computer programming, designing a skyscraper, or tryin

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      It's infinite greed. The capitalists are pocketing all the profits from technological innovations. The workers get the same cost-of-living wages + bonus based on skill scarcity/education.

      A simple example: Amazon uses cheap, massive warehouses instead of small, expensive bookstores in downtown. Amazon replaces tens of thousands of salespeople with a website that costs millions of times less. Yet your BN brick-n-mortar bookstore sells a book at the same price as amazon.com. Don't you think Amazon is making a

      • by stdarg ( 456557 )

        Yet your BN brick-n-mortar bookstore sells a book at the same price as amazon.com.

        Not to take away from the rest of your post, but have you been to a Barnes and Noble in the last few years? They do not sell books at the same price as Amazon. They do not even sell books at the same price as their own website! If you go to bn.com, you will find that they match amazon.com or get close. But if you go into a store, you will find a much higher price.

        I actually go to Barnes and Noble a lot (magazines, cafe, kids section with my toddler) and check on this sort of thing once in a while since I ra

    • They've been saying this since the origin of the Luddites in the early 1800's!

      Technology is a force multiplier. It allows one person to perform the work of many. Historically, instead of increasing unemployment, it's done the opposite - creating larger numbers of jobs, especially in positions that can't exist without a large-scale economy technology provides. The ability to make a shirt via a machine, thousands of times faster than by hand necessitates buildings for the machines, a distributed sales forc

  • by Avarist ( 2453728 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @06:55AM (#50920505)
    That's what a lot of people don't understand. 15 million people not having to do tedious mindnumbing work that can be replaced by a machine is a GOOD thing. The fact that this is seen as bad news is proof of our disfunctional society and economical model. The day basic income comes in together with a reform of our economy, is the day automation will truely be embraced as it should.
    • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @07:17AM (#50920551)

      I doubt basic income will ever be instituted, except via close range threat of shotgun blast. (and then only a maybe.)

      What most ideologues of the basic income seem unable (or unwilling) to grasp, is that service and goods providers do not service or provide from the goodness of their hearts. They do it for profit. In order for a basic income to work, then a very large tax must be levied against these agencies, as they are going to be the ones with all the capital. (It makes precisely zero sense to bill the general public, since a good portion will be getting said basic income-- That would just be absurd. At best, the money just moves around, and in the real world, money will be lost from the system over time. To make this workable, the bill has to come from outside the pool being subsidized. That just leaves banks (who create money at will using the fractional reserve system) and for profit businesses who engage in for profit enterprise; especially those that conduct business internationally.) This means that the tax system has to be seriously overhauled for anything like this to work, and the people who would need to be on board to make it happen would be openly opposed to it (because they would be voting against their own profiteering.)

      The only way I see this ever gaining traction, is when there is simply no alternative-- The economy is so unhealthy from the loss of liquidity in the general public's financial engine, that there is simply no hope for future business growth without it. That wont happen unless the entire planet suffers such a financial crisis, since as-is, large actors can leverage different local economies and give a big fat "fuck you" to others, and thus continue being profitable. (See for instance, the H1B fiasco, or just outsourcing IT to India in general.)

      If you think the word "Wellfare" is tainted now in conservative political circles, just wait until something like THAT comes to bear. I would expect tax dodging to take on epic new extremes, even greater than the infamous "Double Irish" trick, as these actors all scramble to avoid being the ones having to finance the growth of all other actors. (Since the one that finances the least, gains all the benefits of the revitalized economy, without as much of the cost, and thus is most poised for market dominance. As such, NONE of them will be willing benefactors.)

      Given the degree that big business already controls world government (Shit, just look at how fucked up the MPAA and RIAA make things, just by themselves.), I think a functional basic income is about as realistic a prospect as expecting Jesus/God to suddenly appear tomorrow.

      It would definitely be nice; the problem is, when you are dealing with greedy fuckholes, you cant have nice things.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Milton Friedman advocated for a form of basic income, the negative income tax.

        I think such a systems sounds interesting. One argument in favor of it is that it would replace the complex bureaucracies collectively called "welfare" and the inefficiencies surrounding them (complex means tests, restrictive, inefficient markets in which benefits can be used, such as "low income" housing, food stamps, etc).

        Most seem to posit a progressive tax on income that doesn't negate all earned income below the basic income

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        And what said greedy fuckholes don't understand is that they are outnumbered and out gunned. Once they force enough people into a shadow society (we have them now, they're called "gangs"), they will be invaded from the inside.

        The people advocating for the Basic Income or other potential solutions are just trying to head off what could be a very ugly period in our future history.

        • On some level, basic income is an attempt to maintain the current market driven setup of the economy beyond the point where general human labor has any appreciable value. Right now, your income (ability to consume) is dependent on the value of the work you do (or the property/etc you own, if you are so privileged). As that breaks down, so do the markets that your demand drives. Could Walmart/etc survive losing 20% of its current customers? At best, it would be a massive economic contraction, of that sort th
      • As much as I like the idea of a basic income, you're analysis is spot on.
        With the caustic political situation in the US especially, it will never happen, unless something(as you point out) catastrophic happens to the financial system.
        Even then though I still doubt it.

        I really think where we are going as a civilization is a sort of "culling the herd" as it were. Those that control the vast majority of wealth see the writing on the wall regarding human population, the environment, climate change and t
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 )

      That's what a lot of people don't understand. 15 million people not having to do tedious mindnumbing work that can be replaced by a machine is a GOOD thing. The fact that this is seen as bad news is proof of our disfunctional society and economical model. The day basic income comes in together with a reform of our economy, is the day automation will truely be embraced as it should.

      Here's the problem though; to pay for basic income, everyon e has to earn less. Are you willing to settle with getting nothing but a 4th of your salary? Are you willing to forfeit all profits you could ever make in a business so that you could feed someone else? That's exactly what it would take to maintain basic income, to redistribute wealth evenly. I like the idea of everyone earning a set amount and then working for more, but then the system breaks down, because nobody wants to contribute back. The tru

      • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @08:22AM (#50920747)

        to pay for basic income, everyone has to earn less

        I don't think that's accurate. Productivity since the 70s has doubled [pinimg.com], but real-terms wages have been stagnant. In the last 3 decades, the top 0.1% of Americans have doubled their wealth. It's obvious that improved technology can maintain the same lifestyle for the same number of people but with the labour of fewer people - the maintenance of employment levels has mostly been due to the improvement of that basic lifestyle (smartphones, better medical technology, etc) providing jobs for displaced farm workers etc. The system we have encourages spending the extra productivity of technology and economic growth on an expanded lifestyle, but it could be diverted instead to providing a basic lifestyle without requiring extra labour.

        I like the idea of everyone earning a set amount and then working for more, but then the system breaks down, because nobody wants to contribute back.

        In the trials of Basic Income that have been done so far, the total amount of work drops about 4%, mostly accounted for by teenage students studying instead of working to support their family, and mothers looking after their kids. The local economy grows.

        The truth is that the majority of people want to keep their own success

        Is it entirely their own?

        "forget all that rhetoric about how America is great because of people like you and me and Steve Jobs. You know the truth even if you won’t admit it: If any of us had been born in Somalia or the Congo, all we’d be is some guy standing barefoot next to a dirt road selling fruit"

        - Nick Hanauer [politico.com] (self-described billionaire plutocrat)

        The wealth that a few accumulate is based on the labour, and custom, of the many. It depends on a working society. If your society collapses because people can't afford to eat, then you're just a guy with a nice house fending off the starving hordes with a shotgun. And your delivery of fresh organic produce isn't coming this week.

        Basic Income isn't about redistributing wealth evenly ; it's about making sure that no-one starves, and yes, it's also about making sure that the businesses of today have customers tomorrow. The Citigroup Plutonomy Report aside, not everyone can make a living making gold-plated iPhones and giant yachts.

        • by coastwalker ( 307620 ) <acoastwalker@hot ... .com minus punct> on Friday November 13, 2015 @09:33AM (#50921059) Homepage

          If the US had the same income distribution it had in 1979, each family in the bottom 80% of the income distribution would have $11,000 more per year in income on average, or $916 per month. Half of the U.S. population lives in poverty or is low-income, according to U.S. Census data.

          Sadly the 0.1% have taken all the wealth generated by economic growth since 1970 and fooled the rest of the population into believing that this is what they deserve. Remember all that relentless Fox News propaganda is paid for by those who think that this is justified.

          If 80 million US jobs are destroyed by automation then they will all starve according to the current socioeconomic model of the U.S. You may want to remember that the next time you engage in a political debate.

          • If 80 million US jobs are destroyed by automation then they will all starve

            Now you're catching on.
            There is an advantage in how this will play out towards the 1%. This erosion of employment and the gradual thinning of the middle class is really to their benefit. If it happened all at once then there would be more of an outcry.

            As long as there are even a few crumbs falling off the table, the millions will fight over them while those sitting at the table get fatter by the day.

        • by stdarg ( 456557 )

          If your society collapses because people can't afford to eat, then you're just a guy with a nice house fending off the starving hordes with a shotgun. And your delivery of fresh organic produce isn't coming this week.

          Well now that depends. Fresh organic produce can be delivered by drone. Can the starving hordes take out a drone? Not at altitude, and especially not if there have been a few more decades of encroaching gun/weapon control. As for the lonely homeowner with a shotgun, keep in mind guns can and will be automated (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com])

          That said, I think that dystopian vision is pretty unlikely. The reality is that people are social creatures and therefore other people have innate value to us.

        • I don't think that's accurate. Productivity since the 70s has doubled [pinimg.com], but real-terms wages have been stagnant. In the last 3 decades, the top 0.1% of Americans have ...

          The implication of this juxtaposition is that somehow real-term wages have stagnated because the money has gone to top income earners. That is patently false. To the degree that real-term wages have grown slower than they should, it's because of massive redistribution and regulation within the bottom 80% of income earners. Take

      • by Ozoner ( 1406169 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @08:35AM (#50920797)

        > Here's the problem though; to pay for basic income, everyone has to earn less.

        Actually, no.

        Up to now the increase profits from automation have gone to the Super Rich. There has been massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class.

        To fund "basic income", taxation has to be made fairer so that more profits stay with the people.

        Probably won't happen in America though. Not till after the mass riots.

    • by gsslay ( 807818 )

      15 million people are free to do the more interesting, or entirely new, jobs that don't get done currently! This is no different from any change through history. For example, because we don't need an army of agricultural workers harvesting the crops, people can earn a living doing things undreamed of 150 years ago.

      Undoubtedly, as with all change, there will be a period while things readjust. It's just up to us to ensure the adjustment is for the better. If we go into this fixed on the negatives, with n

      • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @07:41AM (#50920609)

        The thing is-- Machines are getting to be better at *ALL* human endeavors, including theoretical future ones.

        Already, machines are getting to be quite good at "creative" tasks, for instance.

        This opinion bases itself on the (faulty) notion that there will always be a valid career path in the future for humans to grab on too. Eventually, in the face of perfect automation, there will simply be no task where employing humans is either efficient or profitable.

        • by delt0r ( 999393 )
          Yea why just the other day i was laid off because well they have this new machine that programs itself to do what ever you want it to do. Err but you do have to lern a formal problem specification language to use it.

          Sheesh, its the god dam luddites all over again.
    • It's also a good thing that billions of people aren't needed in the work-force, but you can't deny them an opportunity for a high standard of living if the majority of people are outclassed by machines. So I see a few scenarios that will play out. 1; Those that aren't needed will be deemed no longer relevant and thus perpetually live in poverty. 2; War erupts and the "undesirables" are directed to kill each other off. 3;purposeful genocide of the "undesirable" (aka Nazi like movement). 4; Everyone enjoys a

    • It isn't always necessarily tedious and mind-numbing work that can be easily automated.

      I can think of two obvious examples of high-skill jobs that are being automated as we speak. One is document discovery in the law profession, formerly done by lawyers and paralegals and now much more often done by software. Another is interpretation of X-rays and other medical images done by doctors.

      On the other side, it will be a very long time before we have a robot who can clean an occupied hotel room.

      The challenge is

      • It isn't always necessarily tedious and mind-numbing work that can be easily automated.

        I can think of two obvious examples of high-skill jobs that are being automated as we speak. One is document discovery in the law profession, formerly done by lawyers and paralegals and now much more often done by software. Another is interpretation of X-rays and other medical images done by doctors.

        Everything I've heard from lawyers and paralegals about document discovery is that it is tedious and mind-numbing: the mistake you are making here is thinking that 'tedious and mind-numbing' and 'high-skill jobs' are somehow mutually exclusive. It also doesn't necessarily mean that those who are having parts of their tasks taken over by machines will not welcome it as it provides more complete results than a human is capable of doing on their own and frees up time for other activities even if it does cut i

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Agreed. We must stop snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. If our economic model doesn't server our entire society, it must be changed. If instead we void the social contract and toss "surplus" workers out of our society, they have no choice but to form their own and take over (by force if necessary). The latter seems like a bad choice.

  • UK population is 64M.
    The UK workforce is 30M[1]
    You're trying to tell us that half of all jobs in the UK can be replaced by "smart machines"?

    Somehow I don't believe that number.

    [1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new... [dailymail.co.uk]
    • Re:15M jobs is 50% (Score:4, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday November 13, 2015 @08:14AM (#50920725) Homepage Journal

      You're trying to tell us that half of all jobs in the UK can be replaced by "smart machines"?

      Just think about how many jobs you could automate away with a very simple shell script. Now think about how many jobs could be automated away with a very simple shell script and some basic robotics. The mind boggles. Also, a lot of jobs are just lost because the need for them goes away. For example, if we shift from internal combustion to electric motors, it's a fact that you won't need as many people to work on them because they are so much simpler to produce and so many of the steps can be completely automated, like motor winding — and they don't break down as much to begin with. It's simply a fact that you need less people to produce and maintain them. That's progress eliminating jobs, and not replacing them with anything.

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @07:53AM (#50920643)
    The article is definitely correct on one point. It says "The media will likely focus on the number of jobs that can be displaced and not necessarily Haldane's points on new jobs being created." And the /. headline? "Bank of England's Andy Haldane Warns Smart Machines Could Take 15M UK Jobs."
  • $15/hr movement isn't moving fast enough for my robots to take over and make my order right 100% of the time, every time.

    • You won't have too long to wait.

      Momentum Machines [zerohedge.com] burger maker.

      Want a patty custom ground out of 1/3 pork, 2/3 bison? No problems. The price of a burger is already set by the market. This thing eliminates the labour, the savings can be spent on high-end ingredients, gourmet burgers for McD's prices.

      The graph in this article is also a great illustration of why all the "oh, but tech makes new job opportunities" guys are wrong this time around ; the food-service industry already absorbed more than the unemploy

    • Noodle robots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • For economists and planners, the world of tomorrow is always the world of today, plus a little bit of what's already going on today. Forecasts of doom because of the 'machines take over' have been around since a long, long time.

  • In other news, the invention of the modern light bulb will put thousands of whale hunters, butchers and ship owners out of work, endangering their retirements and family healthcare plans.

  • should be enough for any planet

How many weeks are there in a light year?

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