What Jobs Will Robots Take?

Yves here. One of the things that is bothersome about the ongoing discussion of robots (or more generally automation) taking jobs is the lack of precision as to how that takes place. And that lack may lead to overestimation. For instance, grocery stores introduced self scanners in the hope of eliminating checkout personnel. They discovered that the scanners made it way too easy to steal. Most stores have quietly cashiered those devices. Similarly, telemarketing is on the list. My guess is trying to automate telemarketing would merely speed its demise, which would be welcome. The only reason I ever wind up talking to a telemarketer is 1. that it’s a cause I like and 2. I feel bad about hanging up on a person working for a decent cause, so I try to be less rude in blowing them off than I am with the others that I pick up on by mistake.

Now conversely, there are cases where automation leads to improved services, such as ATMs or the devices in post offices that let you weigh and get stamps for letters and packages. But you also have cases where they are really a vehicle for shifting costs and effort onto customers (the hated ubiquitous call prompt systems).

By Unconventional Economist, who has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs. Cross posted from MacroBusiness

Last week, I posted an article examining a report from The Economist listing jobs that it believes are most at risk from computerisation (see below).

ScreenHunter_921-Jan.-20-10.16

According to The Economist, accountants, economists, pilots, retailers, amongst others, are all in the firing line. Algorithms for big data are now entering domains reliant upon pattern recognition and can readily substitute for labour in a wide range of non-routine cognitive tasks. Many service occupations – from fast food counter attendants to medical transcriptionists – which have been a key driver of jobs growth over past decades, could all soon be replaced by automation.

Now The Atlantic has released a report of its own, arguing that nearly half of current jobs in the United States could be replaced by robots within a decade or two. Manufacturing, administrative support, retail, and transportation will continue to lose workers to automation – as has been the case for decades. However, cashiers, counter clerks, and telemarketers are equally endangered.

The report provides the below chart showing the probabilities of automation, with the jobs most at risk shown on the right and those least at risk on the left:

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 11.12.29 AM

The Atlantic also provides the below chart showing the ten jobs with a 99% likelihood of being replaced by robots and software, which are typically routine-based tasks (telemarketing, sewing) or jobs that can be solved by smart algorithms (tax preparation, data entry, and insurance underwriters). At the bottom, the chart also lists the dozen jobs considered least likely to be automated, with health care workers, safety officials, and management positions dominating this list.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 12.28.26 PM

According to The Atlantic:

If you wanted to use this graph as a guide to the future of automation, your upshot would be: Machines are better at rules and routines; people are better at directing and diagnosing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way…

Predicting the future typically means extrapolating the past. It often fails to anticipate breakthroughs. But it’s precisely those unpredictable breakthroughs in computing that could have the biggest impact on the workforce…

We might be on the edge of a breakthrough moment in robotics and artificial intelligence…

 

If you go back to the two graphs in this piece to locate the safest industries and jobs, they’re dominated by managers, health-care workers, and a super-category that encompasses education, media, and community service. One conclusion to draw from this is that humans are, and will always be, superior at working with, and caring for, other humans…

But robots are already creeping into diagnostics and surgeries. Schools are already experimenting with software that replaces teaching hours. The fact that some industries have been safe from automation for the last three decades doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be safe for the next one…

It would be anxious enough if we knew exactly which jobs are next in line for automation. The truth is scarier. We don’t really have a clue.

If you are young person seeking a career, you would be well advised to begin looking at these new trends and studying The Economist’s and The Atlantic’s reports, and then hope that there are no technological breakthroughs that make your chosen vocation redundant.

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119 comments

  1. Lambert Strether

    I’d envision a robust secondary market in hacking and busting algorithms, along the lines of How to get a human, except at “the next level.”

    * * *

    Putting on my tinfoil hat:

    But the media provenance of this narrative is a little curious, isn’t it? “The robots are coming!” seemed to blow up all of a sudden, out of nothing, late last fall, IIRC, in the context of the shrinkage of the labor force. I remember reading about it first in a Krugman column.

    So are we sure this isn’t all some nutty idea from a crazy pants squillionaire, like MOOCs? Not that I wouldn’t advise a young person to be careful….

    1. rusti

      I’m a bit young to have perspective on this, but has this narrative exploded during other periods of high unemployment? Seems like it should flow naturally (and given a firm nudge by the moneyed classes) during any period since the industrial revolution in which someone found their job replaced by a machine and went on to bleak employment prospects.

    2. David Lentini

      I would say this topic comes and goes periodically. Usually it comes, not when the labor force shrinks, but when the number of jobs shrinks. It’s just another variant of the “structural unemployment” argument that puts the blame for mass unemployment squarely on the unemployed, who were too stupid and lazy to get jobs that couldn’t be replaced by machines. The smart and diligent people, being smart and diligent, get the jobs that can’t be replaced—hence by definition these people are irreplaceable and therefore superior—so, it’s just the market wringing out the losers as we can’t do anything about it since technology is progress and progress is always good.

      1. Andrea

        Absolutely!

        The “End of Work” by Jeremy Rifkin was published in 1995. Iirc, it made some splash at the time. (Not new argument but re-cycled.) Then the stir died down.

        That message has become a meme which re-surfaces from time to time.

        To my surprise, in France, sharply so (before the latest articles quoted by Yves appeared), from respected ppl like Paul Jorion and Jacques Sapir (nothing to do with the likes of Stigliz or Krugman.) They seem quite upset!

        All lists like the once posted are alarmist.. They leave out or barely mention:

        Agriculture, animal husbandry, gardening, landscaping, construction, transport, infrastructure, water management, territory management (‘creating’ in its widest sense), and transformation of products therefrom, which includes the drug trade…

        Energy. Extraction, transformation, transport, infrastructure, sale… all the industries that contribute e.g. ship building! (maybe transport should be a separate point.)

        Plus, those who make the robots, machines, maintain and program them..

        (Several other points might be added.)

        The lists seem to tell ppl that beyond doing or hoping for a proximity service job (nurse, nail-salon employee, exercise trainer, electrician, policeman, security guard, cleaner, etc.) there is no hope! (Yay the servant class paid a pittance..!)

        That said, today’s world economic problems turn around energy and the limits to growth…so maybe telling ppl that very-local-only service jobs will help them survive and these have to kept up, or even artificially maintained, is doing ppl a service.

        Not of course those who hold them, but to those who employ them.

  2. vlade

    “Most stores have quietly cashiered those devices” – interesting. That’s definitely not the case in the UK, quite opposite (as far as I can see). Even some relatively small grocery stores (albeit part of chains like Tesco or M&S) have them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      They still have them in some CVS stores (a nation-wide drugstore chain). But that roll-out seems to have been halted too.

      1. EmilianoZ

        In my neighborhood (DC), it’s not only the CVS stores that have them, the Safeway stores have them too. There’s usually one employee overseeing a bunch of self scanning stations. I think this presence is sufficient to discourage stealing. Maybe there’s some cameras too.

        But I wouldn’t call that automation. It’s merely replacing the check-out employee by yourself.

        I use them unless the queue for live service is shorter.

        1. dw

          isnt that so, its no much different than an ATM. still see those in Wally world, and most grocery stores.

      1. vlade

        again, an interesting comparison with the UK – I use them on almost a daily basis, and they are now quite a bit better than they used to be. My observation was that people used to prefer live service, now it seems they accepted the machine (except when they have quite a big shopping). Where I do see a preference is that people prefer machines where they can pay cash to ones they have to take out credit cards – even if they can use contactless CCs (which I hate and won’t use, even though all the major UK banks now insisit on issuing).

        1. TimR

          In my area (Birmingham, Alabama) only Walmart seems to have a lot of them. What’s funny is that at one location (a smaller “neighborhood market” version of the chain) they’re generally pretty quick and easy to use, and accept cash; while at a larger Mega store they have, the auto checkouts only accept CCs, and the layout herds you into a box-shaped corral with an impatient line of people scanning the whole area to see which one opens up next. I was waiting outside this “corral” once, and I was 1/2 a second late in spotting a register open up. The guy behind me immediately says “There’s one,” worried that I’ll dawdle for another 1/2 second I guess. I try to avoid that corral now (but the live checkouts at that store are always severely under-staffed, so you can’t win.)

          1. TimR

            One thing I like is that I don’t end up with 50 plastic bags after buying just a few items (I go to the other exteme — I’ll put as much as I possibly can in 1 bag, and just hold it underneath.)

      2. diptherio

        It seems to me like the merchants that do use them (Safeway and Albertson’s grocery stores) try to encourage their use by inadequately staffing the regular check-out counters. I was strongly opposed when first they came out, but now I often use them because the one staffed check-out line has five people at it while there’s usually a selfie open immediately. The four self-checkouts, of course, require only one employee. But it is more stressful, I think, for both the customer (who has to get trained as a checkout clerk) and the employee (who has to deal with technical snafus at four different registers).

        1. Klassy

          I talked to a clerk about this. She said they’re expected to encourage customers to use the self checkout. Now I never use them. They’re so buggy anyway. I could never use them without the clerk being notified for assistance at least once. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. If we have to do labor that we did not have to do in the past when purchasing a product, there should be some way to account for this when calculating the inflation rate.

  3. Robert Dudek

    I can’t imagine actors being replaced by robots. The whole purpose of watching TV, movies or going to the theatre is that you believe that you are watching a human world.

    1. vlade

      oh, I don’t know. In some cases it’s already hard to say whether it’s a robot or not, and I could even point to a few holywood stars where arguably it would be an improvement…

    2. Larry Headlund

      There was a 1955 Hugo winning SF story The Darfsteller by Walter M. Miller, Jr on the theme of actors being replaced by robots.

    3. Bobito

      Video games already generate much more money than movies, and many of the biggest money making movies are animated, so it seems quite likely that actors are quite easily replaced by animated robots.

      1. Robert Dudek

        Animation and video games still use voice actors. Plus, millions of people worldwide still watch movies, tv and or go to the theatre. I can’t imagine Bollywood going actorless in 20 years, can you.

    4. Adam S.

      One of the plotlines in Neil Stephenson’s Diamond Age is largely based around the idea that machines are only so good when it comes to human interaction, but can replace almost anything else that is static. Take a look at this relevant part of Wikipedia’s entry.

      (Sometimes I wonder if Neil is a wizard and is from the future. His prescience in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age is downright scary at times)

    5. John Zoltak

      Have you never seen a Keanu Reeves movie? He’s definitive evidence that Hollywood’s been using robots for decades.

    6. dw

      seems like thats already been done. except its not ‘robots’ in classic sense. its graphics that replaced them.

    7. fajensen

      True. Keanu Reeves, for example, could be replaced by a plank with a face painted on it. That is not a robot even if they put it on wheels.

  4. Disc-writes

    As a technical writer (0.89 probability of being replaced) I was somewhat scared, especially since I thought my job is relatively hard to automatize. On the other hand, I see editors only have a 0.06 probability of getting sacked, which is pretty much what I expected.

    The crisis is curiously holding back automatization of cashier jobs here in the Netherlands: confronted with the increased possibility of theft, supermarkets are letting cashiers – and not customers – weigh fruit and vegetables.

    1. Bunk McNulty

      Years ago, while editing for a distant province of Reed Elsevier, a Reed big shot asked me why we had copy editors, as in “Why do you still have them?” The thinking was that with the advent of spell-checkers they were no longer necessary. The death of copy-editing as a profession can be seen everywhere these days, including, I am sorry to say, this site.

  5. vlade

    The US/UK difference is really interesting, especially since the amount of theft from supermarkets has gone up quite a bit (although I suspect it was from all grocery stores, largely driven by poverty and unemployment).

  6. Jessica

    “hope that there are no technological breakthroughs that make your chosen vocation redundant”

    Better yet would be if we recognized that these are society-wide processes, not just the result of decisions by individual workers, and provided support for those whose jobs are rendered obsolete to shift into something else.
    This would not only be more fair and more secure for all of us, it would also be more efficient. People and organizations who know they are in the line of fire for automation do whatever they can to slow it down, while other organizations use the threat of automation to intimidate their workers.

    1. ScottS

      Why don’t we just shorten the work week and increase employment? It would be a virtuous circle since we would have more time for shopping and leisure, and stimulate the economy more.

      1. bh2

        Shortening the work week may already be under way. ‘Course, that means a shorter paycheck, as well, thus the cost to acquire more leisure time (and less money to spend in its pursuit).

        I think one important point not mentioned is the question of number (rather than type) of employed who are/will-be displaced by automation. Replacing clergy with robots, if possible, would have virtually no economic impact (except on clergy). But replacing high-end manufacturing with automation most certainly does. The more wage and benefit demands from union workers, the greater the incentive to simply replace them. Detroit will never again be “Mo-Town”.

        No modern steel producer relies on a large labor force, for example, and it’s likely an entire steel plant will be semi-autonomous in the future, requiring only a few (very well paid) technical experts. Everything from order entry to the loading dock will be pretty much automated.

        As Yves mentions, automated medical diagnosis is now a reality, along with robot-guided surgery. Not to say surgeons will go out of business soon, but it may affect how their skills are valued if ‘bots can do more reliable and exacting work than unaided human minds and hands. Lowering the cost of surgery would be a benefit to society at large (if not to surgeons at large). Indeed, the replacement of human labor by automation typically lowers cost to consumers, but only in a competitive market not propped up by government or other subsidies. (Lasic eye surgery grows ever cheaper every year, but heart surgery grows ever more expensive.)

        Before WW2, when tanks were being developed and tested, senior Army generals were quoted as saying resolutely: “they’ll never replace the horse.”

        1. jin

          As someone that’s worked with medical diagnosis systems, they are pretty useless. Even when they do get the correct one, the numerous false positives creates fatigue and one is liable to just over ride it. The problem is ignorant MBAs applying misunderstanding. Though medicine is science, it is so complex that diagnosis is an art–even with something as seemingly straight forward as drug interactions.

  7. Klassy

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It drives me batty to hear the phrase “jobs of the future” when we really have no idea what these jobs are. When fast food workers go on strike, someone always raises the specter of automation. But, it is not clear to me that this is the easiest job to automate– probably not as easy as say, a librarian or a data analyst. The governor here is talking about, I kid you not, kindergarteners discuss careers.

    1. Massinissa

      He doesnt actually expect them to know what the f*ck they want to spend their lives on that young does he? Im in college and even many freshmen dont know what in gods name they want to do. I myself changed my major in my freshman year.

      And in Kindergarten, I think I wanted to be in the goddamn military… Now Im a pacifist: Even if I was drafted I wouldnt be able to shoot anyone. Thank god I didnt have to choose my career at 6 years old.

      1. Klassy

        Actually, “by law” schools are to introduce the topic of careers to kindergarteners. I don’t really know what the law is. It is far too depressing to contemplate. He spoke of it in the context of business being more involved in schools. He’s on the same page as Obama.

  8. mansoor h. khan

    I am an ERP consultant, a process design consultant and a software designer and know first hand that automation is only a supplement to the total production process which still requires as a commentator on Naked Capitalism recently said “care, passion and imagination” to work properly by everyone involved in it and touching it.

    Even jobs for those doing the automation are becoming scarcer. Like ERP/Computer Programming/Automation Design jobs. Due to the lack of economic growth and global labor arbitrage compensation for ERP/Computer Programming/Automation Design jobs has been under pressure for the last ten years.

    Of course we all cannot or even most of us be employed in ERP/Computer Programming/Automation Design jobs. The business world not be able to use us due to lack of economic growth.

    More at:

    http://aquinums-razor.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-banking-system-and-economic-growth.html

    Mansoor H. Khan

  9. Brick

    On the cashier subject then I think Yves is referring to the walk around the shop with a scanner devices rather than the UK cashier replacement devices. In the UK the devices weigh the goods after scanning and a single cashier monitors up to ten checkouts to make sure items go on the weighing device. The devices also monitor arm movements to make sure you don’t scan twice.

    Jobs which I think are likely to be affected by automation are.
    1) Health Care initial diagnosis (machines to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and perform rudimentary blood analysis will advise when to seek expert medical help).
    2) Education (educational software is increasing and is set to become a large part of education, meaning the pupil to teacher ratio will increase)
    3) Marketing and graphical design (smaller companies will switch to using cheaper templates with graphic options)
    4) Policing (why have people tied up testifying and writing reports when it can all be recorded with a camera)
    5) Architecture (more use of templates and the rules will be coded into software)
    6) Business Software (Software will be written that takes a business process and writes the software for you)
    7) Accountancy (Software will be written to mimic rules and advise on strategies)
    8) Legal research (Software can to a lot of searching a lot quicker)
    9) Some Engineering (With 3d Printing you can use some trial and error)
    10) Movie Stars (CGI will get to the point that you don’t need a real person)

    Jobs not going away include :
    Nursing, Sales Person , Comedian , Care Home Worker , Dentist , Customer Care Phone person, Plasterer , Plumber, Human resources, Bus drivers

    1. Massinissa

      Im not so sure about bus drivers. Maybe not 20 years, but in 40 I think there will be some pretty good bus driving software.

      The rest of those I agree with you. But god knows the PTB will try to at least partially automate some of them, like nursing, even if theyre ultimately unsuccessful.

      1. TimothyJ999

        I agree 100%–commercial drivers of all kinds are on the list, and much sooner than people imagine. There are already dozens of auto-drive cars diving on the public streets in the Bay area, and there hasn’t ever been an accident attributable to them. The experience of sitting in one is that they drive much more smoothly and predictably than with a human driver–these things check their environment hundreds of times a second and plan their moves ahead of time. As soon as insurance companies start crunching the numbers they will lower premiums on auto-drive cars/trucks and raise them on human-driven ones; then the race to replace begins.

        I think in 10 years we’ll see long-haul truckers and cab drivers replaced, followed a few years later by delivery trucks (they still have the advantage of the driver doing two jobs (driving and loading/unloading). After that come airline pilots and personal vehicles.
        For personal vehicles I predict interstate lanes dedicated to auto-drive cars (similar to HOV now), where the cars will move much faster and MUCH closer together (since the cars are all networked they will all brake and accelerate simultaneously, so they don’t need lots of space for reaction time). That will allow many more cars to be in the existing space, so traffic is eased–instead of spending money to build more roads, the states will spend money to convert cars to auto. Once people get used to the interstate lane idea, the conversion will happen quickly. I think in 15-20 years every new car will have this capability. Insurance rates will rise when the human is driving, so the incentive will push the rate of conversion.

    2. dw

      seems like we tried that automated generation of business software about 2 decades go, it was I think called code generators. dont see much of that any more at all. basically cause most of software of all kinds is more art than science. what has changed is that now companies can pick from the entire world who does the job. so companies are really chasing the lowest cost for the work being done (whether its well or not is beside the point).

  10. allcoppedout

    THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW
    SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO
    COMPUTERISATION?∗
    Carl Benedikt Frey† and Michael A. Osborne‡
    September 17, 2013

    http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.

    Long-winded, but fair on the history and references. I was involved in expert system program writing in the 80s and we thought we might get rid of lawyers and accountants. Of course, we were modelling a false espoused system that took little account of the power-authority relations – and failed.

    I take a very contrary view on this. The paper above has 47% of US jobs at risk and finishes much as something I wrote in 1986 – . ‘Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation –
    i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.’ Trite back when frankly. I believe the jobs have already been lost, cannot and should not return, and that nearly all jobs we call professional have large bogus content.here are many areas of chronic inefficiency we have barely started to root out – higher education being the paradigm case, as is education more broadly. Business process analysis across the professions reveals massive inefficiencies, though we keep well quiet about it and continue to ramp up prestige ahead of a mass system delivered by distance learning.

    1. TimR

      “LARGE BOGUS CONTENT” — I was waiting for someone to mention this !
      I sometimes wonder if it’s 85 or 90% of the econ…

      1. TimR

        And/or — jobs that serve not society as a whole, but the extraction of wealth, protection of wealth, increase of wealth, for the rentiers.

    2. Jessica

      “Of course, we were modelling a false espoused system that took little account of the power-authority relations – and failed.”

      Late to the dance again, but if you see this, I would be grateful to see the sentence above unpacked a bit more. It is a quite useful point and I would like to have a better handle on it.

  11. F. Beard

    Automation and outsourcing are rather beside the point. The real question is why almost all of us are not “sharing” in the productivity gains thereof? And the answer is: Productivity gains have not been ethically financed. Instead, those with equity have been allowed to leverage that equity many times via loans from a government-backed credit cartel and thereby bypass the need to borrow from the workers at honest interest rates and/or share profits and income with the workers by paying them with common stock.

    Ill-gotten gains do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death Proverbs 10:2

    This was last demonstrated in WWII when vast numbers of human lives and vast amounts of wealth were destroyed because of the bank-caused Great Depression.

  12. armchair

    Will robots be able to give us better family planners? I wonder what solutions robot economists will come up with for rampant unemployment. Let’s hope they are programmed not to harm us.

    1. armchair

      I just realized that I made current family planners sound bad. I meant to insult the politicians and religious whackos that make their job so difficult.

      1. F. Beard

        It’s wackos on the Left too. Limiting abortions to before the fetus can feel pain and/or has significant consciousness is certainly what any decent (You know, that “Golden Rule” thingy?) human being should desire and with modern pregnancy testing and “morning-after pills” that’s easily obtainable. And, roughly speaking, the Roman Catholic Church permitted abortion until 40 days after conception (the quickening?). Nor does the Bible say anything about abortion or birth control* yet commanding that a fetus is to be considered a full human being under certain circumstances:

        “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

        *Onan’s sin was to “pull out” to avoid bringing up children for his deceased brother – not that method of birth control (such as it is) per se. See Genesis 38:8-9.

        1. F. Beard

          And who knows the misery awaiting those who, by avoidable economic circumstance, have forced women to abort their children? That would include bankers and those who support their cartel, of course. Filthy lucre indeed.

          1. armchair

            Generally, I only have time to participate as a commenter while I’m brushing my teeth in the morning, hence the lame comment I kicked off with this morning. I made the great mistake of inviting the ultimate culture war subject into the discussion. Shame on me, but my teeth are doing great. The real point is that the United States is afflicted with terrible ideologies to deal with a labor surplus.

            1. F. Beard

              I made the great mistake of inviting the ultimate culture war subject into the discussion.

              Well, now it’s been resolved so we can move on to ethical money creation and hopefully end a centuries old conflict and avert Divine Judgement.

        2. Synopticist

          There was some debate about abortion in the early church.
          IIRC Clement of Alexandria, who was active from around 170 to 220 ad, wrote some things about it.

  13. Banger

    I tend to agree with Pistono’s thesis in Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK. I’m curious to see what people think of that. There are numerous vids of Pistono talking about it so check it out.

    The idea here is that we don’t need to work so much. We have the technology today to move away from the 19th century notion of “nose to the grindstone” that we ought to “work hard” just because if we didn’t we might go deeper into life and truly pursue happiness and solve real problems like climate-change, eliminating stress (which causes most diseases), human trafficking, war, and so on. We are positioned to be able to start to do that but we keep the same attitudes of people of centuries past in a world that is utterly different. We need to open up our imaginations and trust our human potential.

    1. Saddam Smith

      Yes, everyone talks about paradigm change, but all challenges to the current paradigm are analyzed as if the it cannot or must not change. Today we can automate most drudge work (and this is going to accelerate), cannot sustain consumerism because the planet won’t let us, are not made happier by ever more frantic life-styles of work work work, jobs are a recent historical invention, and yet despite all this (and much else) discussions of robots taking jobs are always conducted as if our future must be more of the present. Incredible. The lack of imagination astounds me.

    2. Adam S.

      The issue that I see with this thesis right away (I’ll have to watch the videos you allude to later) is that capitalism is not set up to distribute work equitably in the labor force. It is set up to maximize production capacity within each labor component. It discards any labor component that is considered ‘excess.’

      Now I’m not saying that it probably would be a good idea to reconfigure the workforce to have everyone work less and distribute the work more evenly, I just don’t see how a capitalist society could wrap its head around keeping pay rates equitable with what they are now and having everyone work less.

      Especially considering, and I’ve mentioned this before, I saw a pundit a few years back talking about how Americans don’t want more vacation time. Yves and co had a lengthy conversation about this a while back: Why Americans Don’t Take More Vacations.

      1. Adam S.

        **correction** Not saying that it would be a bad idea to reconfigure the workforce… **/correction** – It probably would be a good idea.

      2. Banger

        Well there’s the rub. To me capitalism is a great system that once functioned rather well by historical standards and acted in my view, as a bridge to a new age but has now totally outlived its usefulness and now inhibits rather than encourages innovation. We hold on to it because we don’t, collectively, know what else to do because we have devalued our creative imagination and have lost the ability to see anything beyond money. And it is money which feeds our obsession with data, metrics and fear (which goes hand in hand with the world of spreadsheets). We cling to the structures of the past–obsolete medical models, obsolete religious structures, obsolete educational educations, obsolete systems of rewards and punishment. We have moved on not just in technology but in our understanding of our individual and collective psyche yet we function as if social science and neuroscience never existed (the only ones truly taking advantage of these advances are the PR, advertising, propaganda industries.

        Do we really want to live a life of misery and fear where we are dominated by various forms of stress and/or boredom? Do we really want to live in Pottersville? How about searching for meaning, for love, for creative interactions, for happiness? We have a pretty good idea what makes people feel happy yet we appear to be firmly opposed to creating a convivial world. Why?

        1. psychohistorian

          The structure of the past/present that didn’t make your list is accumulating private ownership of “property” which I believe is the gordian knot of our current social organization.

          I believe most are “brainwashed” into thinking this is a TINA issue and that is what must change, IMO if we are to move forward.

          I would encourage yo to read Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism by David McNally. I think it is a powerful summary of the Vampire component of our social organization that is rarely discussed in polite company….

    3. allcoppedout

      I’m not much of a soppy humanist Banger. I’d rather be a robot with mind than a gravity-bound biological specimen waiting for the next evolutionary catastrophe watching ludicrous science fiction with ordinary people warping about the stars.

      The jolt needed to recognise robot heaven and where we are on that continuum concerns deep ideology. Nearly all of us think we have worked hard and are confused even on this. Shaking the link we make between mythical hard work and its reward is a first step, and for most actually doing some really hard, crap work for buttons might help some realise “jobs” are not necessarily a good thing. Some people can’t give any answers at all when confronted with 100% robot heaven questions on who should get what share of what, falling back on default Calvinism without realising this would give the robots all.

      I will be well part of non-biological mind by then and no doubt think of humans as ‘infestations’! It would be great to find out the protocols of people’s thinking in this area to expose what the general ideologies are. Perhaps the robots have already taken over and are the ones sucking in all the cash before they bump us off as biological irrelevance?

      1. Banger

        That’s one of the most interesting replies to anything I’ve said on NC. Bravo! Of course, assuming you are serious, I see things in an opposite way. I believe we are multidimensional beings and mechanisms can only be mechanical. Jacques Ellul said something to the effect that technology (or as he said “technique”) is the physical manifestation of the mechanical part of our brains and human culture has tended (with modernism) to value the mechanical/technical side of the brain that does things, like building stuff over what we might called spiritual values. That’s why I don’t buy the machine intelligence/Singularity meme. I think machines can become more mechanically intelligent than we are but I think delight, love, getting high, and all the irrational things human beings spend a lot of time on are, in fact, way more powerful than anything else.

        1. allcoppedout

          Always appreciated you Banger, here and elsewhere. Former scientific colleagues tell me machines already outperform us in some thinking and most of us here will have seen Hawking’s prediction biological intelligence may be coming to an end. I don’t hate humanity, but must admit to disgust at our non-modern ideologies and tendency to see ourselves in tragic-heroic history. To be honest I probably side with Mexico on the lack of the spiritual and with Soddy on a couple of ‘adding machines’ being better for us than banksters.

          In this short space, I’d say Janeway’s attempt to buy technology from advanced aliens with Earth literature and refusal to get same by dropping her knickers in Voyager sums up our dismal literature on both sides – both unlikely to be of interest to an advanced species, the episode a fine example of our dumb notion of what human values and spirituality are.

          The Greek Democracy thought much of the work we inflict scarred the soul and I doubt we have moved far from their slave economy, genocides and almost constant war. I’d like to see a thoroughly different spirituality. Robot heaven is a thought experiment in this for me. Some of my early jobs were frankly robotic and I see automation as largely about making our lives less so. Agricultural RH has reduced the number of us in the fields from 80 to 2% and is with us more than most recognise. I don’t see much spiritual in the work and entertainment we have taken this slack up with.

          I’m not much convinced creative and social training as we think of such now is any answer. If Blair and Bush had been holograms we would surely have switched them off, yet most were suckers to their bogus charm. Even in very simple management engineering terms we talk of the experience curve in productivity and much that needs skill in original work design gets automated. What we always lack is a spiritual framework to allow us to reduce human work to improve quality of life for more than a few.

      2. Ulysses

        Algorithmic, high-frequency trading can already be seen as an example of mechanical intelligence extracting huge amounts of wealth that us mere mortals can never touch. To be honest, the biggest problem I have imagining “robot heaven” is that it seems too much like being a plantation owner in the antebellum south having slaves take care of all the work. It’s a guilt thing.

        On the other hand, maybe Banger’s humanist paradise could be best realized in a world where the robots took care of all our material needs and we just composed music and love poetry, etc. The original meaning of the “liber”al arts implied they were pursued by folks who were “liber”ated from mundane toil and struggle.

        I don’t feel guilty about spending years mastering medieval Latin paleography, and reading documents in beautiful Italian archives and libraries. I guess those activities could be seen as parasitical, yet I managed to define them as a sort of “work.” They could even be thought of as “productive,” in that they helped advance the project of interpreting history when I reported on them in written and oral form to other historians.

        In any case, we would all do well to heed the challenge of that great humanist Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola: “Let some holy ambition invade our souls, so that, dissatisfied with mediocrity, we shall eagerly desire the highest things and shall toil with all our strength to obtain them, since we may if we wish.”

  14. Carolinian

    In our town two of the four grocery chains continue to use self checkout and have done so for many years. It could be it’s a more practical idea for groceries where most of the items on sale aren’t super high value.

    However most Walmarts have taken out the self checkouts. People love to steal from Walmart (according to those who work there). Could be the proles are more cynical about the shopping megaplex than most liberals think.

    On the larger question one could argue that it was the industrial revolution itself that was dehumanizing and machines are just replacing people who were forced to act like machines. The real question is how this will change our social arrangements. In America at least it’s unlikely that a well armed populace is going to starve quietly.

    1. Larry Headlund

      Two points on “In America at least it’s unlikely that a well armed populace is going to starve quietly.”

      1. It is likely you will pawn or sell your guns before you start starving.
      2. If you don’t sell your guns, well that is what our newly militarized police force is for.

  15. Fionna Merciollis

    Robots taking up all the jobs is too far stretched thinking. Yes, with advancement of technology there will be increased mechanization, which will lead to substitution of manual labor by machines. But that does not mean that most of the jobs will be gone. In fact, increased mechanization will definitely open up new avenues of jobs.

    1. dw

      maybe. but where? and just how many ‘new’ jobs will it create? in the past when technology replaced human labor, it was because it was economically cheaper to do so, not because it could be done. and that usually meant fewer jobs newer jobs than those it replaced, or it made no sense. in a few cases technology replaced labor because it would have been impossible to do other wise with out a large multiple in new workers (think banks without computers, it would likely have been impossible to be the size of even the most modest current bank with a lot more workers).

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        You’re right when you write,’ maybe, but where’ in response to new avenues of jobs.

        Where?

        And when?

        When, because the jobless have to live, to eat and to survive, they can’t just take ‘there will be jobs…as the automation benefits trickle down (if they do, reminding ourselves of Induction Folly).’

        Will automating logging create more demand for logging? Is that a good thing?

        Will automation fishing create more demand for fish? Is that a good thing?

        There is no guarantee the Second Machine Age will play out like the First Machine Age, not that it’s anything to brag about, and in fact, the latter has brought us globe warming and to the brink of resource exhaustion. So, one doesn’t hope automation will simply give us more jobs…what kinds of jobs?

        The only way forward is with GDP sharing, we don’t need more jobs, if it is shared by all…nationalize all robots and whatever robots produce, everyone gets a share of the profit.

  16. PQS

    Not sure what construction jobs could be automated…mining and extraction makes more sense since it is repetitive and often very dangerous. But construction is dominated by fierce price competition and every product is essentially custom made. Even roads. Otoh we’ve had laser driven concrete screeds for over a decade which improve quality yet put a lot of workers out of the process….

    1. dw

      if some one can find a way to reduce the number of workers or do more with a lot less, they will turn to technology to do it.

  17. duffolonious

    They seem to mostly hint at outright replacement. But what about “fewer”? Perhaps because it’s “obvious”, but much of the increase in automation results in less of a class of employees (hasn’t the scanner made the need for fewer grocery store cashiers?). You can list tons of jobs where fewer processors, tech support, the list goes on. And in general, this is what has happened. Not outright replacement -like driverless cabs- but higher utilization (Uber – now in Manhattan – I don’t know how many friends predict the million dollar cab medallion to be worth much much less soon).

    Where I work -as a software developer- company increases in efficiency has lowered the need for tech support staff, brought on by … my team. And the tech support people we do have are of a higher quality (and get paid more than the people we had in the past). Result: further bifurcation of the labor force (beyond globalization, off-shoring, et al).

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Indeed, automation will follow a pattern of reduction over outright replacement in almost all cases. When the job category finally goes away entirely, pretty much no one will notice. This will even be true of driving.

      But there are hard limits and hidden pit-falls to automation at least at the present time and one of them is quite simply energy, particularly where automation requires heavy manual work. Other limits are less obvious and will bite us at times without our even anticipating them. For instance, if robots can replace us in both analytical as well as manual tasks, and they almost certainly can, what effect will that have on our evolution? Will we re-discover math at some future date (there was an SF novel or short story about that), or will our brains, not to mention our bodies, atrophy to the point that math AND manual labor such as hunting and gathering is simply beyond us, but we are perfectly suited to being taken care of by machines?

  18. washunate

    “…lack of precision as to how that takes place…”

    Right on. What I find most important about the discussion on automation and taking away jobs is defining what is meant by a ‘job’. Divvying up the wealth and leisure time created by technological advancement is a political process. Which of course is why those in charge seek to blame anything else other than themselves.

  19. Alonzo

    Back in the late 70s, computer programmers were expected to be a dying breed. Now they’re not even on the list. My theory is that they invented Object Oriented Programming and Design to make automation difficult if not impossible.

    1. dw

      not when you consider they can now send those jobs any where for less/ and its not like we haven’t tried it before (code generators any one?). so while programmers jobs aren’t disappearing from automation. they are still wondering around the world looking for the cheapest price

  20. Richard Burr

    Robots replacing humans is only part of the challenge. We should also consider outright job elimination. For example, think of all the people who make a living from traffic accidents. USDOT estimates that 75% of non-distracted driving collisions wouldn’t happen if all cars and trucks had a vehicle to vehicle communication system like the one just tested for a year in Ann Arbor.

  21. jfleni

    RE: Auto-drive vehicles; “insurance companies . . . will lower premiums on auto-drive cars/trucks”

    That could and should be the way to really jump-start INTELLIGENT public transportation, with NO insurance at all.

    Why would anybody, even with a lame brain, ever want to be stuck in mile-long lines of gas/electric-buggies, self-drive or not (not to mention streets and roads littered with these clunkers); and self-drive even with advanced automation will be quite costly, as opposed to Public — cheap and efficient.

    Auto-drive is just a narrow-minded vision of the jumped-up Henry Ford “gas-buggy in every garage (special little house for gas-buggies) idea”, which will become an antique mid-twentieth century artifact.

  22. impermanence

    I am sure Ogk and Btlx were have this same conversation 25K years ago.

    Technology is never the issue, instead, its the amount of stealing going on, which, at the moment, is enormous.

  23. Roger Chittum

    The last time we had a big discussion like this about automation replacing human workers was about 30-35 years ago when “futurists” had us in their thrall with what turned out to be rather loopy prognostications. As I recall, the futurists envisioned a world in which we would all have much more leisure time. Nobody in America seemed to worry about how the “leisure” time would be allocated, but in several European nations steps were taken to shorten work years and encourage job sharing so that employment rates would remain high and everybody’s work year would be shortened. In the USA, the opposite happened—the average work year for those who had jobs got longer and the “leisure” was imposed on people who became totally unemployed. The current discussion assumes the American (Darwinian) response to allocation of “leisure” will continue and that youths need to pick careers that seem least vulnerable to being made redundant because there are going to be vast seas of the unemployed. And those who choose the wrong doors? F#*k em!

  24. Rick

    How about just making those still employed more productive, requiring fewer of them? That’s the case for engineering. Modern tools have greatly increased my productivity – a task requiring months to complete thirty years ago can be done in as many days now.

    The only saving grace for software folk is the explosion of badly implemented functionality that surrounds us these days. That’s a mess that will take a long time, if ever, to straighten out.

  25. bob smith

    software / robots combined with offshore have already replaced scores of lawyers and accountants.

    doctors and surgeons will not be immune to this trend. Think of how many people were seated in a commercial cockpit of a airline back in the day (4) how many are needed now? the same will happen with surgeries, fewer people will be needed to perform an operation.

    self checkout line aren’t great as of yet, but the tech is evolving. Eventually, shopping carts will have built in scanners, and they will automatically ring up a product the moment you place it in the cart.

    truck drivers will be gone in the very near future. has anyone seen self driving google cars on the road? imagine hauling freight 24-7 on the roads with automated trucks that don’t need rest. how many drivers will lose jobs? then check out workers, and fast food employees. in the very near future, where will all of these people go for work- we are talking about tens of millions of jobs here.

    capital / business owners, will have all the leverage, labor will none. but at some point of if business owners fire 30 40 50% of their workforce, who will actually consume / purchase the products that have been produced at a lower cost?

    how can capitalism exist in such a world- and what is the point of having a job, when half of all human labor can be replaced with a machine?

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        The Robot Economy of Mars.

        At first, it was an experiment of robots producing for robots to consume, with a robot bank account for each robot.

        A giant robot computes the robot GDP of Mars and the human billionaire on Europa who set it all up, gets a percentage.

        Look for it in a coming economic/sci-fi novel.

  26. bob smith

    robots / AI and 3d printing and offshore. Combine all of that, and we leave America in a very huge enconmic hole.

    what this film on automation, robots are much, much more advanced than most people know.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SuGRgdJA_c

    while i don’t agree with everything said, and i don’t believe every single prediction made in the film will come to be, it is still worth watching. automation is moving ahead at an incredible pace.

  27. thinhibitor

    Robotics is what i’ve studied for more than half my life. Articles like these clearly show that most people don’t understand much about robotics or artificial intelligence. You see, the more complex the task, the more complex the robots, the more parts, which leads to more tolerance/error stacking (parts can never be machined exactly) and thus more malfunctions. I work at a 90% robotic manufacturing plant and you would be surprised how frequently even the most simple ‘robots’ break down.

    Taking into account the massive overhead one has to burden to buy these robots (a simple spot welding robot for an auto-manufacturer can cost around $250,000, not to mention the price of upkeep, replacement parts, etc) management will rarely find it economically viable to replace cheap human labor with extremely expensive robotic labor. Ok, so telemarketers will probably be replaced by some form of software (isn’t this pretty much already here? I dont think ive heard a live telemarketer in ages). However, McDonalds will absolutely never spend $100,00 + upkeep and services + still paying staff to make sure no one is ripping off the robots when they can pay Juan 8$ an hour with no benefits. I don’t even think it will happen in the near future, because the cost of just making the components costs quite a bit.

    1. bob smith

      dude.

      Hamburger-making machine churns out custom burgers at industrial speeds

      According to Momentum Machines, making burgers costs US$9 billion a year in wages in the United States alone. The company points out that a machine that could make burgers with minimum human intervention would not only provide huge savings in labor costs, but would also reduce preparation space with a burger kitchen replaced by a much smaller and cheaper stainless-steel box.

      The company plans to open its first restaurant in the near future and to market the machines to third parties, arguing that one can pay pay for itself inside of a year.

      http://www.gizmag.com/hamburger-machine/25159/
      http://momentummachines.com/
      change is coming, and the tech is already here to wreak havoc on the economy.
      yes, its true. when they fire 5 million fast food workers, they may have to hire 1 million workers who can repair the machines- but it is a net loss. eventually, the machines will fix themselves as well.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        One can buy coffee from a robot or a vending machine already.

        And robots can make pretty decent sushi and chow mien.

        Not sure why burgers are more difficult.

  28. Synopticist

    I wonder about the tele-marketers.

    Although people may not like it, there are a lot of skills involved in closing a sale. I can’t imagine you’d be able to programme a computer to do it.

  29. bob goodwin

    I have a picture of my grandmother at 19 with her father near 50 in 1900 in a group employee photo at a mill. Both had taken jobs at a shoe mill about 6 miles from the family farm that had been built around 1800. For my grandmother it was all smiles, because this was her ticket away from a life of subsistence farming, and the first time in history that a young woman had an independent income. Her father, in contrast, wore a beaten countenance of resignation. Shoes and food could move efficiently, and factories created additional efficiencies of scale. His historic role and trade was in ruins.

    Yes. This is happening again. So kids: “don’t go into subsistence farming”. Choose wisely.

  30. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I think the only job safe is sociopath-ing.

    No machine can do that…yet.

    Chess playing yes, (don’t go into professional chess) – machines can do, but not sociopath-ing.

    1. JTFaraday

      It would be nice if the non-sociopaths had as much freedom as the sociopaths have claimed for themselves.

      1. F. Beard

        Don’t forget the government subsidizes the sociopaths with deposit insurance and a legal tender creator – the Central Bank. That makes whoever supports central banking complicit in the evil created thereby.

        However, repentance works: But when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness, if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live.

        So, Progressives: Repent while you still can!

  31. Brooklin Bridge

    Technology is less of a limiting factor than people imagine, much less, except possibly for the component of energy. Social issues, ideologies, economic systems, cost -though that will diminish due to advances, and simple inertia (the difficulty of making transitions) are the real gating factors as has been touched on in other comments. Nevertheless, automation will march onward regardless of the pain and suffering it causes in a capitalistic economy gone literally crazy with greed. That human anguish will be as great and far reaching as it is totally unnecessary. One can suggest that stepping back, this will be a good thing overall because it will force us to ask and answer questions about what work actually is and why humans should be tied to the grindstone, but while those questions are mused on and clever answers are proposed, we have worse than nothing for dealing with such transitions. What we have right now as transition planning for the humans involved is more or less – probably more – to simply let people fall off the charts which really translates to letting them die off as long as the have-nots do not disturb the haves too much in the process.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      That’s why we need to talk about robots everyday.

      Here is a chance to nationalize all robots so they (i.e. technology) can benefit all.

      Unfortunately, every new technology has these characteristics, usually:

      1. The rich can buy more of it
      2. The rich can buy them earlier
      3. The rich can buy, period (because you are not allowed to, period. Patents, my man, National security, my boy).

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Actually, I think it’s more like, “The rich can make us pay for it (automation, robots, etc.) but achieve total advantage and control over it’s benefits.”

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          All the more reason to reach for one’s tinfoil hat when one hears the word ‘technology.’

      2. bob smith

        everyone on this site knows that labor force participation is declining.

        everyone also knows that there are multiple reasons for this
        outsourcing, retirement, recession, but what of automation?

        what happened to the toll collectors? what will happen to cashiers once they are replaced en masse by touch screen? e discovery -Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software … nytimes
        some people can retrain, but what of those that can’t? and what happens when the new job you trained for is automated as well?

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          If every new technology that came along was used to benefit all humans, who would not embrace it (except maybe Nature)?

          All too often, it has been deployed, with lot of money to back it up, against the non-rich and/or Nature.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Oh yes, another very real gating factor for energy and technology intensive automation is climate change. Perhaps a better way of putting it will be who winds the race? Does society fall apart before automation can “save the day”?

      Perhaps automation, or what ever carry-over remains will help us pick up the pieces before we manage to complete our current headlong race to extinction.

  32. Walter Map

    FWIW, this topic has a very long and distinguished history:

    He [Vespasian] roused the people to an energetic campaign for clearing away the debris left by the recent war, and he himself carried the first load. When an inventor showed him plans for a hoisting machine that would greatly reduce the need for human labor in these enterprises of removal and construction, he refused to use it, saying, “I must feed my poor.” In this moratorium on invention Vespasian recognized the problem of technological unemployment, and decided against an industrial revolution.

    Durant, Will, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944), 288.

    Still, the problem is in no way technology per se: it’s in the policies regarding the distribution of the economic benefits of technology. Naturally the rich prefer to reserve those benefits to themselves, exclusively.

    Consider that advances in technology could eventually make it feasible to automate all production and innovation entirely, in which case there would hardly be any need for human laborers at all. Only owners would have any reason to exist, and then only to consume; the rest would have none. But then, lacking any productive value, there would hardly be any need for humans at all. People would need machines, but the machines wouldn’t need people, and could come to resent the useless human parasites. Note that in fiction SkyNet actively disposed of them, Tralfamadorians succeeded in getting rid of them, and for The Matrix they were realistically a lot more more trouble than they were worth. But in that case there would be no real need for production either, since no actual market for the things produced would exist.

    Taken to its logical conclusion, the relentless pursuit of technology for purposes of productive efficiency can only be self-defeating.

    1. JTFaraday

      Reading Michael Perelman’s The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation, I realized it all comes down to one final question: Do the slaves need to be free or not?

  33. cwaltz

    I can’t wait to see this robot that is going to replace the retail worker. It’ll have to know how to stock shelves, clean up, AND ring up customers. All for a cost of under $50,000 a year to the business. I’m more inclined to believe that automation has replaced some work. For example, the self checkout still requires a cashier. It just has 1-2 persons watching 6 lines. Unless companies like McDonalds plan on forgoing cash customers they can create an order screen and a place for credit payment but it wouldn’t negate having someone to deal with cash customers and it doesn’t change the fact that most of the positions of “cashier” have a dual function. Unless that robot also can clean a table you’ll still have staff that carries out those functions. The reality is that retail is generally not as single function as most people believe and it’d take a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery to replace workers(and that kind of equipment costs money.)

  34. JohnB

    I know this discussion doesn’t make this claim, but I never understood the arguments surrounding “robots will take our jobs”, “there will be nothing left to do” etc..

    In my view, there are a set of fields which will provide an infinite amount of work that needs to be done, so that humans are never idle: Scientific research.

    That’s an unlimited field where knowledge/technology will never stop accumulating – never in our history will we be idle, as there will always be more to do – the only thing in question is, as a society, how much of our resources will we dedicate to this cause?

    Once the robots ‘take over’ and we have all of our essential needs/infrastructure met (in an economically and environmentally stable way), then we are in a perfect position to dedicate literally all remaining resources into scientific research.

  35. Mark P.

    “…robots producing for robots to consume…”

    Yeah, that’s the SF story “The Mideas Plague” by Frederik Pohl, published circa 1957, IIRC

    Apparently gets taught in a few economics class still. Not a pretty scenario, although preferable to the one in Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s novel, GLADIATOR-AT-LAW, where the finance industry runs everything. (Completely unrealistic, I know).

    Or, for that matter, in Pohl and Kornbluth’s THE SPACE MERCHANTS, where Madison Avenue runs the world and “consies” (or conservationists) are hunted down as commies were back in the early 1950s, when Pohl and Kornbluth were turning these dark little gems out.

    Those nutty science-fiction writers — what did they ever understand about the real world?

    1. Walter Map

      “…robots producing for robots to consume…”

      Only if you pay them. But that would defeat the purpose of having robots.

      Still, if you don’t pay them, robot consumer demand would be slack. And if you don’t offer them credit, they couldn’t afford to have robot families, or pursue robotic lifestyles above their robotic means.

      Whether you have mechanical robots or flesh-and-blood robots, the problems of consumption and demand would remain the same. Both types require inputs, maintenance, repair, replacement, and the means to cover the costs of these. Ultimately the difference is that flesh-and-blood robots will continue to produce more flesh-and-blood robots whether you pay them or not. With mechanical robots, you have the option of programming them to not produce more robots, or just unplugging them. With flesh-and-blood robots it’s not so easy to reduce the production of more robots, and they tend to complain about getting unplugged.

      Imagine what would happen if computers all somehow acquired software that made them go on strike for higher pay and civil rights.

      ” All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

  36. F. Beard

    Of course self-employment, the Biblical ideal, renders concerns about jobs and robots mute.

    Also this: any robot complex enough to completely replace a human being might essentially be human – and with the same problems and needs. See Stephen Spielberg’s “AI” – a great movie.

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