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(Salon)   Robots don't destroy jobs, though they do steal pills from senior citizens   ( salon.com) divider line
    More: PSA, government investments, advanced economies, sufficiently large, account of profits, shareholder value, labor force  
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4964 clicks; posted to Main » on 02 Jan 2013 at 12:31 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2013-01-02 12:44:03 PM  
2 votes:
The number of people who think that creating inefficiency is good for the economy is astounding. It's sad that after the industrial revolution and the computer fueled economic boom of the 90s that we still have to have this conversation.
2013-01-02 12:36:31 PM  
2 votes:
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2013-01-02 02:36:16 PM  
1 vote:

detroitdoesntsuckthatbad: They're even disappearing in the third world. I spent a year in middle-of-nowhere Mexico a while back automating Juan and Jose's jobs out of existence too.

Of that I have no doubt.  Mexico's problem is that they're not the cheapest labour on the block anymore.

Gaseous Anomaly: That's the standard economic wisdom, and I agree. But there's a wrinkle - if automation gets good enough we could violate a core assumption of economics: local nonsatiation.

To unpack that for non-wonks: It's assumed that human want is much greater than productive capacity, so there will always be enough work to go around, doing *something*. E.g. as factory jobs disappear (robots have largely taken those already) we get more yoga instructors. But what happens once we have good enough automation for not only yoga instruction, but, say, surgery? Programming? Robot design?

An interesting theoretical discussion, but the trend doesn't bear it out.

In all of human history, in all of the post-industrial automation, this has yet to be a problem.  Less than 150 years ago, 9 out of 10 jobs were agrarian.  Now that number is a sliver of a percent.  Those jobs were also very long hours, and every day.  That shift away from the farm and away from agrarian rural life represents the largest shift in human productivity since we shifted to it 10,000 years ago.

Not only has the type of job changed, but our commitment to that productivity on a time basis has changed.    How we define 'work' and 'productivity' is an equally important part of that discussion.

A pre-industrial person couldn't begin to imagine the jobs that would be available post-revolution.  Similarly, you and I (and Krugman, and Lazonik) are like those 1890's farmers lamenting the loss of agricultural work, but without the benefit of having even imagined a car (or a tractor!).  Is it possible for us to arrive at a day where no jobs are left?  Sure.  But humans don't seem to have a problem with leisure, either.  Lions have become such efficient hunters that they now spend 95% of their lives laying in the grass having a nap.  That sort of efficiency doesn't strike me so much as a bug as a feature.

So apart from us not being particularly good predictors of future wants, needs, and possibilities (in your economic terms I guess that would be satiation), you'd also have to be able to define productivity in more strict terms.  It's fair to say that westerners 'do less' than they have at any time in history, but never have we made more (assumed productivity) or consumed more.  You're right that that curve isn't infinite- there is  a non-theoretical limit to available resources, but we've not hit those yet.  Even when we do, they'll just make the goods we've now deemed desirable to become more scarce.

I'm also not sure what to make of things like the artisanal movement- clearly, people are prepared to spend enormous effort to make things of higher perceived quality, and there also appears to be an unsatisfied market for those goods.  Given that consumers are easily manipulated, even when we don't necessarily have scarcity, humans find ways to create scarcity.  100 years ago, there wasn't a market for deodorant or mouthwash, even though there was B.O. and bad breath.   Post-scarcity assumes that we are post-consumer.  I don't see humans being wired that way, at all.

Then there is the wallmartification effect- goods that are cheap and plentiful and of low quality, but are forcing incredible efficiencies in the production, shipping, distribution, and tracking of goods.

Does this end up with the wealth solely concentrated at the top, like in your Manna example?  It certainly doesn't hurt to be a Walmart shareholder.  But for others, does it merely create the free time, capital, and space in the economy for other sorts of activity to occur that were previously unfeasible?

I'm a pretty big fan of an organic model.  The canopy of towering trees in the rainforest might appear to be blocking out all of the sunlight on the forest floor.  But they are a big part of establishing the habitat for a wealth of other activity.  Dinosaurs got big and unwieldy and created room for small, nimble mammals.  I see the overgrowth of massive corporations and upward wealth consolidation having the similar effects economically.  The world, and the economy, is changing too quickly for these large behemoths to be able to respond properly to crises.  The fact that this article illustrates that the investments in innovation isn't happening at the top is a pretty good example.

The buyback trend, like the consolidation trend, is indicative of an unsustainable growth model.  We're not seeing a brave new world, we're seeing the first death throes.
2013-01-02 01:17:21 PM  
1 vote:
Step 1. Automation replaces assembly jobs as robots churn out product X 24/7.
Step 2. Every competitor in the market segment completes upgrading their lines to use robots to churn out product X.
Step 3. No-one wants to have a price-war and watch their profit margin evaporate, so everyone researches and develops specializations and customizations.
Step 4. Customization, complexity and specialization *becomes* the market.

Look at Detroit. Automation killed some wrech-turning jobs, sure. But it spawned thousands more cad/cam/cnc type jobs-- to design, build and service specialized parts that were economically infeasible before automation made it cheap and easy to bang out the base unit.

That's the real reason cars became so computer-controlled and optimized that an old school mechanic can hardly fix anything anymore.
It's because they *could*. Robots can consistently achieve the tolerances necessary. Robots can deliver more-complex parts at almost no additional cost. Robots can work with materials that people can't even safely be *around* for an eight hour shift.

And, ultimately, because there's no profit in turning out a car with an old-school engine design when everyone else has a smaller, lighter, cheaper, smarter computer-controlled engine that gets better mileage, more horsepower, superior longevity, lower TCO, etc.
2013-01-02 01:08:09 PM  
1 vote:

Incontinent_dog_and_monkey_rodeo: Soon we'll have electricity with no fuel inputs from wind and solar, and robots to make anything we need. Good times, unless you're dead set on everyone having a job of some sort.

Sounds like a recipe for a post-scarcity culture. Why would we need jobs?
2013-01-02 01:05:29 PM  
1 vote:

CaptSS: Actually just the opposite. Recently got a script for a strong narcotic and counted the pills the next day. It was short one pill. Since this is kept in the safe the Pharmacist manually filled it. An auto counter wouldn't have shorted me.

Your "pharmacist" thinks you're a little punk-ass biatch, and is shorting you intentionally to see how far he can push you. This is not something you can fix, because dealers never respect their clients--it's just a question of how much disrespect they have. Go back to him for a refill, and you'll be short two pills, and half of the rest will say "Advil" on them.

Find another dealer, and make a big show of being strung out and crazy paranoid. Count the pills seventeen times while muttering to yourself in gibberish. The idea is to make it more of a hassle to cheat you than it's worth.
2013-01-02 01:02:33 PM  
1 vote:

Incontinent_dog_and_monkey_rodeo: Soon we'll have electricity with no fuel inputs from wind and solar, and robots to make anything we need. Good times, unless you're dead set on everyone having a job of some sort.

That doesn't mean that people won't have jobs.  It just changes the types of jobs that people have.  Frankly, automation typically replaces the jobs that are the most repetitive and least rewarding anyways.  Few people lament the loss of office steno pools.  Or floors of accountants with adding machines.

Besides, even where these jobs still do exist, they're entirely outsourced to cheap labour countries anyways.
2013-01-02 12:51:53 PM  
1 vote:
For when the metal ones come for your job....and they will.
2013-01-02 12:50:11 PM  
1 vote:
Soon we'll have electricity with no fuel inputs from wind and solar, and robots to make anything we need. Good times, unless you're dead set on everyone having a job of some sort.
2013-01-02 12:46:53 PM  
1 vote:
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2013-01-02 12:41:31 PM  
1 vote:
I don't even know why the scientists make them
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