Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Businesses The Almighty Buck Technology

Workers: Fear Not the Robot Apocalypse (wsj.com) 236

An anonymous reader shares a report: For retailers, the robot apocalypse isn't a science-fiction movie. As digital giants swallow a growing share of shoppers' spending, thousands of stores have closed and tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. The brick-and-mortar retail swoon has been accompanied by a less headline-grabbing e-commerce boom that has created more jobs in the U.S. than traditional stores have cut. Those jobs, in turn, pay better, because its workers are so much more productive. This demonstrates something routinely overlooked in the anxiety about the job-destroying potential of robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation. Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys. The reason: Companies don't use automation simply to produce the same thing more cheaply. Instead, they find ways to offer entirely new, improved products. As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Workers: Fear Not the Robot Apocalypse

Comments Filter:
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:20PM (#55143385)
    productivity gains result in job losses. They have in every industrial revolution. Then in 50-80 years tech caught up elsewhere and there were new jobs. In the meantime there were two or three lost generations living in abject poverty because in America if you don't work you don't eat. And it wasn't the New Deal that fixed that (it helped, but wasn't nearly enough) it was a global war, 80 million dying and basically the whole world getting blowed up and needed to be rebuilt.

    History is basically the working class trying and failing to pry money out of the hands of the ruling class. Why the hell people don't see this is beyond me.
    • by harrkev ( 623093 ) <kfmsd AT harrelsonfamily DOT org> on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:31PM (#55143481) Homepage

      One thing that you forget. Robots churn out a lot of products at a low cost. If everybody is poor and can't afford those goods, the robots are churning out products for nobody, and the robot owners make no money.

      America has a fairly low unemployment rate. I guess that steel, the steam engine, the electric motor, and computers have so far failed to put everybody out of work.

      Should we go back to hand-crafting a computer with skilled artisans hand-painting transistors, wielding a chunk of silicon and paintbrushes with arsenic and boron, just like our forefathers made computers 200 years ago?

      • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:49PM (#55143637)

        If everybody is poor and can't afford those goods, the robots are churning out products for nobody, and the robot owners make no money.

        One only needs to look at the financial crash in 2008 to see just how forward-thinking the economic elite are.

      • You're not allowed to mine arsenic and boron, because somebody in the bubble city on the horizon owns all the land.

        If you try to build a factory, drones will bomb it.

        It is not at all obvious that the problems lead to self-correction, or that the poor can simply wait for the manna to trickle down. What if somebody programs a robot to receive a paycheck and spend it? Everything can be automated, including demand, at least until the Masters have agreed on a new economic system that doesn't even require that sh

        • Otherwise you just get bubble cities, and almost everything outside it is a private park.

          And unless you get magic electricity generation, they're vulnerable to outside attack. Even a nuke needs water. There's always some resource that can be interfered with.

      • America has a fairly low unemployment rate.

        Even the U-6 is unmitigated horseshit. Take the inverse of the labor participation rate and see what that looks like. Hint: Like shit.

        I guess that steel, the steam engine, the electric motor, and computers have so far failed to put everybody out of work.

        If you are basing your opinion on the unemployment rate, which is crap, it might look that way. But then your opinion is also crap.

        Should we go back to hand-crafting a computer with skilled artisans hand-painting transistors, wielding a chunk of silicon and paintbrushes with arsenic and boron, just like our forefathers made computers 200 years ago?

        No, we should have a meaningful safety net so that people don't get crushed by the transition process.

      • If I already own everything I really don't give two shits whether there's anyone to buy it from me. That's how ruling classes work.
      • If everybody is poor and can't afford those goods, the robots are churning out products for nobody, and the robot owners make no money.

        So they should give people money, so they can get back more money? Why even run the robots then?

        I mean, they'll be run enough to keep the peons from revolting, but only until robot soldiers can keep the starving masses from taking their stuff.

    • by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:38PM (#55143541) Homepage

      History is basically the working class trying and failing to pry money out of the hands of the ruling class. Why the hell people don't see this is beyond me.

      Just because people can see something doesn't mean there's jack-shit they can do about it. I think most Americans can see what's been going on, but they're powerless to change anything, so they just keep getting screwed over and over and over.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Normally this is not one of my issues, but I felt compelled to offer a different interpretation. People in the United States are not powerless, they just THINK they are. When the electorate makes their wishes known to the leaders and then consistently punishes those leaders that will not attend them, the leaders soon start paying meaningful attention.
        As long as American voters believe they have no power, however, they do not act, and the leaders get whatever they want.
        This is important because the only c

    • Econ 101 refresher (Score:5, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:10PM (#55143821) Homepage Journal

      Workers are hired until the marginal value of their labor equals the marginal cost of that labor. You hire Alice at $50,000 salary because she'll bring in $100,000. Bob, because of diminishing returns, will only bring in $75,000, but at $50K hiring him is still a no-brainer. But if Carol will only bring in $50,000, you won't hire her unless you can get her for less than that.

      What this means is there is no general economic law that connects changes in worker productivity to a particular kind of change in employment levels. It depends on what you do with that productivity.

      Imagine a world in which computers were laboriously assembled by workers on breadboards using prototyping techniques. Let's say it costs you $10,000 to assemble a computer this way. In that case you'd only sell a small number of computers because they'd be highly specialized machines. Now suppose you introduce modern assembly techniques, with printed circuit boards and wave soldering. Now the computer which cost you ten thousand dollars to assemble can be made for well under $100.

      If you continue to sell a very small number of computers at high prices, you'll lay off most of your workforce. On the other hand if you start selling your computers for $180, you'll end up adding to your workforce. Both scenarios turn increased worker productivity into increased profit, but in different ways.

      Now let's imagine an entirely different scenario: a fast food restaurant. It's hard to imagine selling a lot more Big Macs because you drop the price. Nonetheless the same principle applies. If you can find a way to make money off the newly surplus labor, employment wont' go down. If you can't, you'll let people go.

      • Econ 201 refresher (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Forget everything we taught you in 101. In the real world, business owners barely know what they are doing and will instead do whatever they think will meet their personal goals. There is no economic law that connects business behavior and rationality or forethought. You can generally bet though that productivity gains will be more likely funneled into owner profit while employment grows as slowly as possible.

        • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @05:16PM (#55144339) Homepage Journal

          Having been a business owner myself, with an excitable and somewhat undisciplined partner, I have no illusions about economic models predicated on perfectly rational choices. However, most people know not to hire someone if they won't generate the revenue to cover their salary.

          The flip side is often problematic: people who refuse to hire the help they need and so limit their profits. That's very common.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        I think you're missing the key issue here which is that even without labor things cost money, that Big Mac isn't conjured out of thin air. With higher automation more of money flows to the corporate owners and less back to the labor force through wages. The purchasing power gained by paying less isn't enough to offset the purchasing power lost to unemployment. It's essentially the same argument some make about cheap goods from Amazon/Wal-Mart/China, it kills the local economy. Except in this case we're payi

    • You're saying that things were just rosy during the Dark Ages when there were no productivity gains for hundreds of years? I don't think so.

      The Great Depression wasn't caused by productivity gains, and the Soviet Union collapsed because productivity was too low, not too high.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      History is basically the working class trying and failing to pry money out of the hands of the ruling class. Why the hell people don't see this is beyond me.

      Probably because you have to take an interest in history to see it. But it's true.

    • Consider the source, "anonymous reader shares a report." And the garbage of the report's introduction is beyond psychotic. At this point, one should be asking for numbers, and sources other than a A/C's next wet dream.
  • Here's an unencumbered link to the article:

    http://www.cetusnews.com/busin... [cetusnews.com]

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:21PM (#55143395)
    >> Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys

    The aggregate job count is rarely the complaint of existing workers and their families. It's that the new jobs get created somewhere else and often require skills that the original workers don't have, and that the workers don't feel like moving, don't want to retrain and/or are considered too old to retrain or hire. See "West Virginia" or most of America's near-inner cities for examples...
    • e terris ad astra via non mollis est
  • by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:24PM (#55143415) Homepage

    When we have burger flipping and order taking, shelf stocking, part picking robots, where do the people who do not, can not, or will not get an education work?

    • When we have burger flipping and order taking, shelf stocking, part picking robots, where do the people who do not, can not, or will not get an education work?

      There are plenty of jobs that will never be automated. We may have burger flipping robots, but waiters will be human because customers want, and are willing to pay for, human interaction. Likewise with barbers, manicurists, masseuses, hairdressers, concierges, etc. These fields already employ millions, and will employ even more in the future as more people can afford them due to productivity advances in other areas of the economy.

      In the 19th century many people felt there was no where for displaced farme

      • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:16PM (#55143883)
        It's hardly a paradox, it's just an observation of supply and demand in price-based market economies in that as something becomes less expensive more of it is consumed. People have always wanted more consumer goods and services, it's simply that they weren't as willing to pay for more of them at the previous higher prices.

        However, this doesn't really address the original point. Automation is slowly eating away at the edges of unskilled labor. Couple this with a minimum wage and you have a situation where there are going to be a large number of people who are incapable of selling their labor because no one considers what they can offer a fair trade in exchange for their money. Removing the minimum wage probably means that there's always something that (almost) anyone could do for pay, but even that is going to be eroded slowly as well.

        I suspect that over the long run the issue solves itself. People who are incapable of getting work are likely to end up less likely to reproduce as they make less attractive mates, so any genetic factors reducing the ability to provide valuable labor in a modern economy are going to be selected against. To some degree I think this has been slowly happening over time and may be a partial explanation for the Flynn effect. The only real question is what to do with the people who have nothing to contribute to society in the meanwhile. I suppose you can go full-blown Randian objectivist and let people starve on the streets, but I don't see that ending well. I'm personally in favor of a UBI because it's probably less expensive than dealing with people turning to crime.
        • People who are incapable of getting work are likely to end up less likely to reproduce as they make less attractive mates

          No, they're bored more often and have accidents more often as a consequence.

        • "it's just an observation of supply and demand in price-based market economies"

          Just a tangential comment: Supply and demand does not set price. Most prices are 'mark up' prices and set by static tranches cost of the manufacturing process plus the markup amount and hence actually inflexible to change in demand.

          [link to all the data] http://socialdemocracy21stcent... [blogspot.fr]

        • People who are incapable of getting work are far more likely to reproduce.
        • People who are incapable of getting work are likely to end up less likely to reproduce as they make less attractive mates

          If only thinking made it so. Out here in Bumfuck NY / PA, just saunter into any Walmart or Sheetz and you'll be plenty disappointed by the "humanity" that can reproduce at any level.

          • I've long been an advocate for total darkness. But it's a rare trip to walmart that doesn't involve the thought: 'My god, someone had sex with THAT? And was sober enough to function?'

        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          The problem will correct itself because poor people will make less babies? That sounds great until it bumps up against the reality that poor people typically have more kids https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik... [wikipedia.org]
          https://economix.blogs.nytimes... [nytimes.com]

      • but waiters will be human because customers want, and are willing to pay for, human interaction.

        The most annoying part of restaurants are the human waiters. Sitting around doing nothing, waiting for someone to show up so I can progress with my day sucks. When deciding on a restaurant I always prioritize the least human interaction as possible.

        • When deciding on a restaurant I always prioritize the least human interaction as possible.

          Greetings fellow Aspie! I also try to minimize human interaction. But I understand that neuro-typicals don't share my preferences. Automated and semi-automated restaurants have been tried many times, and they have either failed because of poor customer reception, or succeeded only by offering significantly lower prices.

      • There are plenty of jobs that will never be automated. We may have burger flipping robots, but waiters will be human because customers want, and are willing to pay for, human interaction. Likewise with barbers, manicurists, masseuses, hairdressers, concierges, etc.

        All of those jobs are also going to fall to automation sooner or later. Why would you want a barber when a machine can come down over your head and complete a quality haircut in a small fraction of the time? Why would you want a massage which comes without a happy ending from a human when you could get it from a machine which will never judge you, and never get tired, and whose "hands" can be IR emitters? Etc etc.

        In the 19th century many people felt there was no where for displaced farmers to go. Factories were "obviously" not the answer since they were automating as well, so needed fewer workers per unit of production. Yet rather than dropping, incomes soared.

        That's because there were more profitable things for them to be doing. Now, there aren't. We pl

    • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:47PM (#55144119) Homepage Journal

      The 'burger-flippers' are always the first threatened by advocates of automation, but in reality they'll be the last jobs to go.

      Think about the last 40 years of automation; which jobs were replaced? The low-wage, part-time, menial jobs like sweeping up and serving food? Or the higher paying, more-skill-required positions such as machinists and equipment operators?

      It may be fun to pick on the low-skilled worker, but realistically, those aren't the jobs the owners of production want to get rid of. They want to automate you out of a job. Me too.

      • Production machinists were never super high skilled (or all that well paid).

        I am old enough to have seen the rows of ex-cons running manual lathes, making the same part over and over.

        Mold, tool and die makers on the other hand were and are super high skilled. Their skills include CNC programming these days.

    • The will nots, shall receive basic, or die. The can nots shall be enabled, receive basic, or die.
  • by gb7djk ( 857694 ) * on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:24PM (#55143421) Homepage
    The fact that it all seems to be going in the right way - for now - does not mean it will continue. Many e-commerce jobs for humans will be destroyed in the next few years as e-commerce gets more and more automated. Yes there will be jobs, but for far fewer and better qualified/skilled people. If you are a relatively unskilled worker - in my view - your prospects are not going to be good. And, what is worse, it will be people like us that are facilitating this.

    Don't even start me on what robotics are going to do to the trucking industry...
    • trucking industry

      Didn't you hear that everyone's old buddies, the Teamsters [thenextweb.com] have that covered?

    • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

      I agree. The robots haven't even begun to touch most job categories. So far, they're only doing some of the heavy lifting and detail work in manufacturing. They're not flipping burgers or fulfilling Amazon orders... yet.

      Of course, bank tellers are long gone, and some fast food chains (e.g. Panera) have started replacing cashiers with self-service touchscreens - we'll see how popular that is. CVS has automated self check-out kiosks that, so far, are so cumbersome they need an employee to hover to show cu

    • Believing media hype, spreading FUD

    • That is why unskilled workers need to be enabled, that is, provided the ability to equip themselves. When you live hand to mouth, it's pretty hard to climb the ladder. The alternatives are inhumane, or squander human capital in favor of basic income.
  • Has led to less overall jobs in the auto industry. I'm pretty sure that the jobs created with supplying and maintaining these automation tools did not completely offset the jobs lost...
  • Jobs don't matter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:29PM (#55143459)

    Jobs don't matter. Jobs have never mattered. There are, and will always be, a means to an end. That end being not starving to death. In the past, jobs were a means of divvying up the limited resources for that goal, but as the resources become less limited, something like a UBI will become necessary.

    This should be a good thing, but we've got such pig-headed ideas about economics that we're taking the blessing of not needing labor and turning it into a curse.

    • Food, shelter, entertainment, personal projects. Fill all of those and you won't get revolts from the general population.

    • UBI is a poor solution. A job guarantee is better.

      There is more work NOW than at any point in human history.

      Best to not conflate capitalisms profit crisis with what needs to be done. Id be a melting ice cap on it.

      • Why is a job guarantee better? If there is not enough useful work, then it's just busy work, which is wasteful and insulting.
      • UBI is the best answer I've heard to the problem of the "will nots," that is, those people who refuse to invest in their employability. The "can nots" however, should not be dismissed. A nation squanders their human capital at their own peril. If they can't reach the next rung on the ladder due to circumstance we need to be pulling them up.
    • We haven't yet reached the age of no scarcity. I agree that when the production function goes from y = f(k,l), y = f(k), that we'll certainly need a UBI (or the horror counter scenario, where the rich holders of capital exterminate everyone else with their robot armies), but it's a ways away from being viable.
    • unless you can convince Americans and people in general that taxation without a direct benefit to yourself isn't theft. Note I said 'direct'. Not getting threatened with violence from poor people doesn't count. Most folks would prefer to counter those threats with greater violence if history is any indication.
  • Not similar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <[tukaro] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:29PM (#55143461) Homepage Journal

    As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.

    Only if the new offerings are not produced by robots. That's where the breakdown happens, why the advent and adoption of general-use robotics and algorithms isn't another example of historical automation.

    Buggy whips went out of demand, so the people went to build cars. Cars started to get automated, so people went to build the increasingly-intricate car parts. But now car parts can crafted wholly by robots (or, for a continuously-expanding class of parts in general, "printed"). Automation in the past was about very specific processes for very specific outputs; you couldn't take a line used to make cars and easily change it to one that makes bicycles (or soup.) But soon we'll have a robot chef [iflscience.com] that works mostly by mimicking human actions, so if it can cook it can assemble.

    The "creative" jobs will hold out longer, but algorithms will replace many of these, too: IBM's Watson has made a movie trailer [wired.co.uk]. A lot of marketing these days are applying set rules to things (certain colors evoke certain responses in certain demographics, etc.) A lot of music is based around similar setups [wikipedia.org]. Hell, Japan has a popular singer who's not even a real person [wikipedia.org].

    The only question I see is: how fast will this happen? If it's extremely slow then make-busy work might fill in the gap as robots and "AI" take over most regular production. If it's very fast then we'll have a lot of robots producing things that most people can't afford to purchase, and "things" will eventually include food.

    • Miku is probably a poor example of loss of jobs and revenue, she may be virtual but it's still people designing the 3D models, making that 3D model move in music videos. It's still people composing songs and music and it's people paying those people for the media they create. It's a total loss of one job, generating dozens if not hundreds of jobs in order to make the idea appear alive.

      • by RyoShin ( 610051 )

        Very true, but my intention was to present Miku (along with my other examples) as something bleeding-edge that can become increasingly applicable as the technology matures and costs drop. The 3D models used for it can be re-used for other facsimiles, so Miku Hatsune can become e.g. Trisha Johnson.

        It's the exact same setup as manufactured pop stars already prevalent in American culture, they've just taken the star out of the equation. For example, one person [wikipedia.org] wrote many of the hits for Brittany Spears, NSYNC

      • Miku is probably a poor example of loss of jobs and revenue, she may be virtual but it's still people designing the 3D models, making that 3D model move in music videos.

        Today, that's true. But look at game engine cinematics. Less and less of the motion needs to be done by hand, because it's filled in by the engine.

        It's still people composing songs and music and it's people paying those people for the media they create.

        Computers are getting better at creating unique compositions. So when they're writing the songs, who's going to pay for the media?

        It's a total loss of one job, generating dozens if not hundreds of jobs in order to make the idea appear alive.

        The whole point of this discussion is that the number of jobs generated is diminishing, and will soon taper off to basically nothing. Using a virtual artist does eliminate whole classes of job, even if it creates new ones right now

  • You may lose your truck driving job today, but many more jobs will be created in Elbonia, for future, far more educated generations of robotruck engineers.

    I.e. NET jobs are NOT necessarily your jobs.

    • You may lose your truck driving job today, but many more jobs will be created in Elbonia, for future, far more educated generations of robotruck engineers.

      That's not true, though. That's the thing about software; you only need to reinvent the wheel enough times to satisfy business cases, and you can copy it all the rest of the times. We will end up with only a small handful of firms worldwide working on the actual nuts and bolts of self-driving simply because of the way corporations work.

  • Not buying it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:33PM (#55143507) Homepage

    Let's just take a look at Amazon for a moment. I watched some news articles about them. Their warehouses already feature a lot of automation.

    The only thing they need humans for is to take stuff off shelves (that robots bring to them) and put in boxes to fulfill orders. And you can bet your wallet as soon as Amazon figures out how to automate that, those jobs are gone. Poof. And yes, they definitely do intend to automate that, they're working on prototypes and ideas as I write this.

    Automation is going to be a very huge disruptive force, and as it starts to happen, it will accelerate ever faster, just like computers did from 1980's to now.

    Right now, we haven't reached that critical point where automation is going to displace workers. There's enough 'other' jobs to offset what automation replaces. But you're kidding yourself if you think that's going to hold. It's going to flip to the other side very soon.

    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:46PM (#55143613) Journal
      Soon Amazon will sell me a robot that buys things for itself off of Amazon...
      • Soon Amazon will sell me a robot that buys things for itself off of Amazon...

        Soon? They already do. It's called Echo [amazon.com] and it already orders stuff when little kids make wishes [theverge.com] in its presence. You have to go out of your way to add a confirmation code if you don't want it to just order stuff at the drop of a hat. It's just a "plugin" away from ordering whatever it determines you need.

    • It's interesting to look at the details of the job shift due to e-commerce and then automation.

      The shift to e-commerce causes a few changes related labor:
      1 - Shifts the labor related to the final sale transaction from the retail store to the packing operation - this becomes somewhat of a wash for labor

      2 - Removes the DC distribution labor supporting the stores - which is non-trivial but operated typically at the pallet and case level

      3 - Added the piece pick labor to the DC (previously performed by t
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:38PM (#55143537) Journal

    Jobs and technology are mostly independent issues in the big picture. An economy is basically systematic bartering: you want stuff I have/produce, and I want stuff you have/produce. We trade to get what we want. Money, banks, etc. are simply tools to make such trades easier and scale-able.

    The problem is that politics, geopolitical complexities, and herd mentality create boom and bust cycles, and inequality where the winner takes all and the losers get tossed. These boom and bust cycles are probably as natural as the spiral arms in the Milky Way galaxy. Capitalism bubbles have been occurring for at least 400 years, long before the USA and the Federal Reserve existed (since many blame the FR).

    And capitalism does NOT guarantee reasonable equality. For the past the 40 years or so, the rich have got much richer while the rest mostly stagnated. E-commerce hasn't reversed this trend. The economy produces much more, but it's not trickling down. There seems to be a feedback cycle where the owner of machines and real-estate get yet more machines and real-estate, creating a winner-take-all economy. (It's similar to Marx's prediction.) Automation may be part of that, but it's also because the rich can buy up land and companies during slumps. The middle class is usually trying to make ends meet during slumps and so don't have enough spare cash to play that game nearly as much.

    The article is paywalled so I cannot see it, but I am skeptical of claims made by the WSJ. They are often biased.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      And capitalism does NOT guarantee reasonable equality.

      Of course it doesn't, nor does socialism or anarchy. The strong, smart, and ambitious will collect resources and live comfortably under any system you can name.

    • And capitalism does NOT guarantee reasonable equality. For the past the 40 years or so, the rich have got much richer while the rest mostly stagnated.

      "Guarantee" is a very strong word, and I'm not sure I'd want to try to defend it. But I think it's clear that capitalism does tend to flatten out inequality over time. During periods of rapid technological change the social upheaval created provides great opportunities to create massive new wealth, and it ends up concentrated at first among the people best positioned to grab it. But as the new technologies settle in and it becomes about optimizing production rather than doing incredible new things, commodit

      • But I think it's clear that capitalism does tend to flatten out inequality over time.

        I don't think it is. I think the tail just keeps getting longer, and it makes the graph look flat, but only if you ignore just how tall it gets. The tail is getting longer, and the head is also getting taller.

    • > I am skeptical of claims made by the WSJ. They are often biased.

      LOL. EVERYONE is biased.
  • All those workers have to live close to the shipping warehouse, meaning the workers have to move in order to work for the big corporations and/or the death of stores in small towns.

  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @03:47PM (#55143617)

    Not exactly surprising that the WSJ is not thinking terribly far ahead on this.

    The issue is not what has happened up until now. It is what happens in the decades to come. Because we do not have general-purpose AI yet, nor do we have sufficiently advanced robotics yet.

    The agricultural revolution displaced massive numbers of workers, but they could be employed by the industrial revolution.

    Now, let's try to apply that to a post-general purpose AI and advanced robotics world. You're a farmworker, and your family has been farmworkers for generations. Someone builds a new device, and you are now redundant. So you move to the cities....and there's no industrial revolution work to be done because its being done by general purpose AI and robotics.

    "You could get a job building the robots!!" No, why would you use a human to build the robots? You'd use another robot.

    Getting through this is going to require a lot of rethinking how society works. Since the dawn of civilization, we have defined and supported ourselves via work. Work will no longer be possible for a very, very, very large portion of the population. We need to start talking about this massive transition now if we want to make that transition without massive bloodshed.

    People to not peacefully starve to death.

    • When you posit a false premise (strong AI and advanced robots will do everything) you get a false conclusion. Duh.

      What we have on the ground isn't AI except in a very loose definition. 'Advanced robots' are CNC machines with brushless motors/pure electric injection molding machines etc. Driverless cars is marketing hype for lane following assists.

      • *facepalm*

        This time, try actually reading the post. You'll quickly find it is not referring to our current situation, but the oncoming changes over the next few decades. If we're going to get through those changes without massive slaughter, we're going to have to start figuring out a plan.

    • Complete automation in the near future is a fantasy advocated by people, I suspect, who don't have a broad experience with blue-collar jobs. That is, their imagination is limited to factory workers or a few other common tropes. There are many, many blue collar jobs for which there's no prospect of complete automation occurring within the next century, maybe longer. A lot of jobs require mental flexibility and / or physical dexterity which are far beyond the capabilities of any machine or AI.

      There also ex

      • We're not anywhere near the point of manufacturing drop-in replacement machines for human workers, and so it's rather premature to start "transforming our society"

        Try reading the post again. The point is to start the conversation about it, because rushing this will cause massive violence. Not to start transforming this instant.

        We're talking about re-doing about 8000 years of how society has functioned. We can't do that peacefully if we start figuring it out when the AIs and robots have already started displacing lots of workers.

    • Now, let's try to apply that to a post-general purpose AI and advanced robotics world. You're a farmworker, and your family has been farmworkers for generations. Someone builds a new device, and you are now redundant. So you move to the cities....and there's no industrial revolution work to be done because its being done by general purpose AI and robotics.

      In short, the last possible use for humans in the future was to spread out through space and supervise a bunch of robots. But we decided that space wasn't that important, and now we are still barely dabblers compared to where we could have been due to decades of dicking around instead of really pushing the state of the art. Now some of us are finally getting serious about space development, but it's probably too late. Even if you had someplace for them to go, you couldn't get enough humans off this mudball

  • Fireman rescues kitten, film at 11

    You can't sensationalize a headline like that. It fades into the background noise.

    Fireman indicted in string of arson fires causing $100,000,000 in damages, film at 11

    That gets peoples attention. This is why people need to learn to IGNORE MEDIA HYPE.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:00PM (#55143729)

    I think we hit the peak usefulness of the "retrain for a better job" advice back in the early 90s when large corporations got around to destroying their "legacy" white-collar workforces. This was driven by computerization of clerical office work finally reaching a point where permanently fewer humans were needed. Back when I first graduated from college (around 1998), one of my first IT jobs was with a huge life insurance company. According to some of the old-timers I was working under, the then-sparsely populated headquarters was jammed wall-to-wall with various clerical workers up until the 80s or so. The HQ took up two Manhattan city blocks, plus a huge tower uptown, plus they had tons of large regional offices around the country. It was apparently so full that the company staggered start times so that crowds didn't overwhelm the elevators and escalators in the building. Maybe some of those clerical workers got better jobs, but I don't think that's going to happen this time around.

    The fundamental problem that needs to be solved is this: If you want to continue with a consumer-based society, you must find some way to allow everyone to sell their labor for a price that allows them to continue consuming and keeping businesses alive. This includes everyone -- not just STEM graduates, CS people, programmers, data scientists, etc. The economy only works when the majority of people can afford to participate at a level appropriate to their skills. Large fully automated cloud data centers employ 20 security guards, HVAC techs, disk-pullers and rack-and-stackers...not 5000 system administrators. Automated warehouses employ a couple of robot-minders. Automated trucks employ zero truck drivers.

    If we still have to cling to the idea that everyone has to have a job and earn money to be worth anything in society, how do we avoid nasty problems that crop up when the majority of people are unemployed and desperate? Technology people tend not to understand this, but look outside the tech bubble and see what kind of work the vast majority of people do all day. It's repetitive, automatable and may go away very soon.

  • USA has high retraining costs with loans that can't be easy gotten rid in bankruptcy and most college credits don't transfer
    https://www.usnews.com/news/na... [usnews.com]

    • Hint: If you can't get into a college with credits that transfer, you don't belong in college, at all.

  • The "robot apocalypse" has been threatened for a long time, but deploying robots increase complexity, which usually means they need trained people to keep them going. This is not necessarily what TFA is talking about, but to me the reason not to fear the robot apocalypse is, robots don't fix themselves.

    At least, not yet.

  • As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.

    s/hire more people/buy more robots/g

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:34PM (#55144017) Journal

    The ATM graph doesn't appear to show what the author claims it shows. It looks like ATM's greatly delayed the growth of bank teller employment. Without ATM's, it looks like the total tellers would be roughly more than double the current quantity (although the chart doesn't cover enough years to get a good feel for the pre-ATM rate). The rate of teller growth may be finally going up again, but that's probably despite ATM's if we look at the pre-ATM rate. Using that chart, it appears ATM's indeed did take a big bite out of overall teller jobs.

  • Imagine you are a Roman in the Second Century BC; over the past 500 years Rome has grown from a village to the dominant force on the peninsula, to a pan-Mediterranean power. It would seem to you to be a kind of iron law of history: expansion is always good for Rome.

    What you don't know is that you are approaching a kind of inflection point -- several inflection points actually. Despite the enormous wealth expansion is bringing into the city, you are reaching the point where Rome can't pay for expansion by

  • Bull plops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @04:55PM (#55144169)
    Throughout history technology and innovations have solved specific labor problems and opened the way for more relatively unskilled labor to be done. The wheel meant it was possible to carry heavier things and people were free to work on other things. The cotton gin required less work to process cotton, opening more jobs for relatively unskilled work. Same with the printing press, etc.

    What we have here is different. Cheap automation, over the next 100 years, will be able to do any work a human can do, but far more cheaply and 24-7-365 (366 on leap years). AI will be able to replace every white collar job, from help desks to engineers to lawyers - and do it far cheaper and 24-7-365.25. They will be able to be trained quickly and efficiently should a new task be desired and the way it's going only a few people will reap thier rewards. Please explain to me how even skilled workers are going to be able to compete with this because soon we will have AI and generic robotic automation, deployed rapidly to novel situations and its like nothing this world has seen before.
  • by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @06:09PM (#55144641)
    It is unwise to apply historical precedent when the difference may be qualitatively profoundly different.

    Robots with AI are not mere machinery, they are much more like slaves. And there were serious problems economically for non-slaves because of competition from slave labor. This was a big deal in the Roman empire.

    As usual, the elites owned almost all the slaves---and one reason Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated by the oligarchy was because he favored restrictions on slavery in order to benefit the wages of free Romans.

    Now robot AI slaves are unlikely to spontaneously revolt, and a major category of these will of course be armed guards, Unsullied Machines, who will prevent democracy from imposing restrictions on the elite's slavery.
  • Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys. The reason: companies don't use automation simply to produce the same thing more cheaply; instead, they find ways to offer entirely new, improved products.

    Yes, a lovely chestnut, this history thing.

    For example, throughout history, the American housing market never went down. (2007 just called: they want their barm back.)

    Like Moore's "law" (not so much in evidence lately), these are not laws but inductive extrapo

    • In The Big Short the two young guys explicitly state that their business model is based on the observation that people prefer sunny thoughts, so they bet on big payoffs when sunny thoughts mushroom cloud (while loosing small when daisies reign).

      The movie doesn't have a collar wad at Goldman swivel-face toward the camera to make the same statement, so let me do it here:

      Our business model is based on the observation that no matter times badly burned, people never just never learn to sufficiently fear developm

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2017 @07:43PM (#55145167)
    No ! Companies do not have to hire more employees due to more products being sold. They simply need more automation and also need to get rid of employees as human workers are cost negative. Further, when the company makes more money that have no reason at all to spend or invest it in the US.. In other words the notion of trickle down economics is a sick joke.

"Being against torture ought to be sort of a multipartisan thing." -- Karl Lehenbauer, as amended by Jeff Daiell, a Libertarian

Working...