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Martin Wolf Sounds Cautionary Note on Rise of Robots

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Martin Wolf, the highly regarded chief economics editor at the Financial Times, has roused himself to take up the topic of whether robots represent a threat to the economic and social order. Recall that Davos Men seemed decidedly rattled by this possibility (have the ones not in tech been unaware of the Singularity?). Wolf takes the case for concern seriously and lays out a set of potential dangers.

Note that the term “robots” is used in a broad sense, and refers not to the sort of robots that replaced repetitive manual labor, like Japanese automobile factory robots or or the floor-cleaning cat transportation devices known as Roombas, but includes the use of artificial intelligence or as Wolf calls it, “machine intelligence”.

Wolf’s point of departure is what sounds like an insistently cheery book by by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age. Wolf proceeds to cut its chipper forecasts down to size:

Yet, to paraphrase a celebrated 1987 quip about computers by Robert Solow, a Nobel-laureate MIT economist, we see information technology everywhere except in the productivity statistics. Trends in output per hour in the US are quite mediocre. Indeed, after an encouraging surge in the 1990s and early 2000s, growth has subsided again. Recent performance in other big high-income economies is worse.

One possible explanation is that the impact of these technologies is overhyped. Not surprisingly, the authors disagree. Indeed, they argue that far from being exhausted, the possibilities are boundless: “digitisation makes available massive bodies of data relevant to almost any situation, and this information can be infinitely reproduced and reused”.

Whoa. There are several obvious problems with this point of view:

The focus on cutting and recutting the data you can readily collect and/or is amenable to quantification is subject to “drunk under the streetlight” behavior and garbage in, garbage out analysis (forgive the cliche overdose). As we wrote in 2006, the most useful information is often qualitative and costly to obtain.

Analyzing information, like any activity, is subject to decreasing marginal returns. We see this in the realm of white collar work. The ease of generating more Excel model runs, or the ease of revising computerized text, often leads to less aforethought about how work will be undertaken, as well as a willingness of the adminisphere to call for more (often low/no value added) revisions and reworkings. I grew up doing financial analysis in the pre-PC days, and I noticed that I built more compact, but no less to the point, models than my younger colleagues who grew up doing spreadsheets on computers. And managers didn’t ask for a zillion runs to study. They were also more deliberate in structuring the work and in asking for redos. Time didn’t allow for casualness in initiating analysis and limited the amount of rework that could be done.

Related to the point above, the idea that “more is better” in the realm of a meta activity like data compilation and analysis seems analogous to the view that more financial innovation and more forms of derivatives are better. Yet all they do is suck talent out of productive real world jobs into speculation. Will the machine intelligence analogue to be to deploy more smart young people on less and less valuable data gamesmanship?

Back to Wolf:

It seems quite plausible that the proliferation of new gadgets, and the rise of the digital economy with its uniquely low marginal costs, have had a far bigger effect on welfare and even GDP than current measures indicate.

Are we sure that the social welfare effects are positive? Interacting with devices is overstimulating and is producing children who have poor social skills. The most extreme young device users appear to have trouble forming social bonds. And weak social bonds are strongly correlated with lower longevity.

Wolf again:

The information age has coincided with – and must, to some extent, have caused – adverse economic trends: stagnation of median real incomes; rising inequality of labour income and of the distribution of income between labour and capital; and growing long-term unemployment.

Among the explanations are: fast-rising productivity in manufacturing; skills-biased technical change; the rise of global winners-take-all markets; and the role of rental income, particularly from intellectual property. Think of the difference between the cost of developing Google’s search algorithm and its value. Globalisation and financial liberalisation are also at work, both also boosted by new technologies.

Above all, insists the book, this is just the beginning. Much routine brain-work will be computerised, as happened to clerical skills. Middle-income jobs could hollow out far further. The outcome could be still more polarised incomes, with a tiny group of winners at the top and a vastly larger group struggling below. In 2012, for example, the top 1 per cent of Americans earned 22 per cent of all incomes, more than double their share in the 1980s.

There are good reasons why people should be disturbed by this. First, the lives of those at the bottom might get worse: the authors note that the life expectancy of an American white woman without a high school diploma fell five years between 1990 and 2008. Second, if income becomes too unequal, opportunities for young people dwindle. Third, the wealthy become indifferent to the fate of the rest. Finally, a vast inequality of power emerges, making a mockery of the ideal of democratic citizenship.

Yves here. I’ve been slow to connect the dots, but the 1990s productivity gains in the US up to the dot-com era were to a very large degree the result of Walmart’s innovations in retailing (such as making vendors package and put price tags on goods so they could be put directly on the sales floor) which were copied throughout the industry. Walmart stores are still disproprtionately in rural areas. The white women who’ve exhibited falling lifespans are also in rural locations. Are these women the canaries in the coal-mine of Walmart-induced wage stresses (this isn’t as implausible as you think if you visit a Walmart and see the women at the checkout counters. The ones I saw in West Virginia were a downtrodden, desperate-looking bunch).

In terms of who is most at risk in the current wave of automation, I’d posit it is the young. Look at how new college grads are suffering unheard-of unemployment rates, when historically, employers were happy to dump older workers and replace them with fresh faced, high energy, malleable, and cheap new hires. The hollowing out Wolf mentions is acute in entry level jobs. Many of the old yeoman roles, like legal research or routine coding, have been offshored. Some of those tasks are now being automated (such as document search and information extraction). So Wolf is right to anticipate even more social fragmentation, unemployment, and distress among the have-nots. Indeed, Wolf’s headline is a soft call for a union-like response: “If robots divide, they will conquer”. But the threat is not the robots per se, but the members of the managerial and technological elite who simply see yet another opportunity to weaken the bargaining power of workers and miss the cost in terms of societal, and eventually political, instability.

If so, why are measured increases in output so modest? The answers offered are: the plethora of cheap or free services (Skype or Wikipedia); the scale of do-it-yourself entertainment (Facebook); and the failure to account fully for all the new products or services. Before June 2007, an iPhone was out of the reach of even the richest man on earth. Its price was infinite. The fall from an infinite to a definite price is not reflected in the price indices. Again, the “consumer surplus” in digital products and services – the difference between the price and the value to consumers – is often huge. Finally, measures of gross domestic product also underestimate investment in intangible assets.
It seems quite plausible that the proliferation of new gadgets, and the rise of the digital economy with its uniquely low marginal costs, have had a far bigger effect on welfare and even GDP than current measures indicate.

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62 comments

  1. Alex

    It would appear that productivity gains are being understated to some extent, in as much new technology is coming out and being used more quickly and cheaply than before. I think the key here is technology has not been displacing workers outside of manufacturing yet, and with manufacturing being only a small portion of the economy, obviously productivity gains have hit a wall in the meantime. For instance, productivity in health care has declined over the past decade at least, and health care not coincidently accounts for an outsized portion of job growth. Once we begin seeing automation hit the service sector, this should show up as an acceleration in productivity. The main areas this would appear to be feasible are parts of the retail sector, low level business services, and administrative work. Now, this has already been happening, one must assume the pace would have to accelerate for productivity to benefit.

    1. hunkerdown

      On health care, there has been a lot of friction and flux in the sector, with many valuable oxen owned by important people and a need to gore carefully, as well as regulatory mandates such as “meaningful use” of electronic medical records systems distracting some portion of attention and money. And where there is information asymmetry and flux, there is opportunity.

    1. Lyle

      All be it the story is further in the future, see The City and The Stars by Arthur C Clarke. It is a billion years in the future and the city is all there is, folks don’t work, and the machines run everything. The folks are given the modern equivalent of bread and circuses, break and full immersion video games. Again no one leaves the city. (Until after the story gets started). The point as with the story above is almost all don’t want to.

  2. Gabriel

    Yes, robots will change our economy. However, the effects, outcomes will be both positive and negative.

    The positive is that the economy will become more productive, higher gdp per worker, and for their part, workers will be spared dirty, undesirable, and dangerous jobs – both very welcome eventualities .

    The negative effects will be that fewer workers will be needed. GDP will rise with fewer workers, perhaps even gdp per worker . A smaller number of people in firms will design and supervise robots while most workers won’t be needed. Income inequality, measured by income and assets held as a proportion of the population, will greatly worsen.

    However, robots are part of a larger economic and social problem – developed economies need fewer and fewer workers to increase productivity and economic output. Our economy is perhaps at that point. We’ve seen gdp rise despite the recession.

    The above condition will create a conundrum for, in our case, the US – what do we do with persons who are trained but can’t get jobs? Further, what about those who don’t have advanced job skills – do we train them for jobs that aren’t there? We may be disappointed to find that the “more education” formula doesn’t work well any more.

    So our society has a tough question that’s slowly forming and coming to public awareness – what do we do about the mass of workers who aren’t needed in our economy? I’m anxious to see the solutions that will be offered in the next few years. Clearly, the good solutions won’t be technological – they’ll be political.

    1. GDC707

      You’d better be anxious to see the solutions. The idled millions will be seen by the elites as an annoyance at best and a dangerous threat at worst. Therefore they will be propagandized into doing their responsible, patriotic duty. They will be Soylent Greened. Problem solved.

      1. NotoriousJ

        Nice try.

        Unfortunately, those jobs surviving the immediate robot onslaught will be only those requiring “judgement” / intuition i.e.decision making & experimentation which implies a thought process exceeding the simple application of rules (something closer to “intelligence”, whatever that it is) and those which require the “human touch”, or at least a feel for the politics of human decision-making such as sales. I suppose there will also be opportunities for those whose selfishness and opportunistic greed is beyond any codifiable logic, so hedgies will be safe. Fools (such as economists and politicians) will remain employed in order to maintain our fanciful but necessary delusions, and all manner of entertainers will be needed to placate the underemployed masses.

        What’s common among those who, in the medium-term, will escape is that their value springs from either cultivated talent or “personality” (which is difficult to reproduce at any cost), or a from a significant investment in the form of formal training or informal experience resulting in a body of domain-specific knowledge. These resources will be (as they are today) rare and therefore expensive. And one doesn’t let expensive resources go idle. Nor does one make 3 times the investment in 3 times as many resources simply for the joy of spreading the work around. (and BTW, le trente-cinq heures has not done a thing to create jobs as far as I can tell, though spreading the work around was the principal reasoning for the law).

        No, I’m afraid economic and social bifurcation is where things are going; in the future, we’ll all either be Eloi or Morlocks, That’s it. And it is our fear of – being one and not the other – by which we shall be ruled. Or maybe I’m just really jet-lagged.

  3. Gabriel

    It’s worthwhile noting that some firms will lead the charge into serious automation. Google is the most prominent example of a firm involved in various parts of artificial intelligence – computer vision in self-guided cars, text processing in internet search, management of house functions through their purchase of a new small firm, natural language processing through translation services, etc.

    If automation is in our future – and I expect that’s the case – then firms like Google will lead. Their use of artificial intelligence goes back to use of machine learning when they first wrote the algorithms for internet search.

    I write the above to note some of the probable winners in our automated future.

  4. joecostello

    More importantly, info tech does not measure well with industrial economic value, either Good or bad, just as agrarian value was not a measure for industrialism. Economics now totally insolvent

  5. David Lentini

    A couple of points:

    1. Terms like “data” and “information” hide a lot of sins in the computer world. Words like data and information, which really refer to statements accepted generally as true, only make sense to humans, who make meaning out of patterns and symbols. Computers don’t understand anything, they only manipulate signals. So, the whole idea of “computerizing” human activities is entirely dependent on the assumption that what’s encoded into a computer’s memory represents true statements, and that the software that the computer executes can reliably identify patterns that humans find meaningful. This means that some human can devise an effective algorithm that is reliably programmed into the computer, which operates on inputs that faithfully represent accurate statements and observations. That’s a tall order even under highly controlled conditions. How that works for jobs that require judgement is very uncertain.

    2. Related to 1. above, the fear is that we will subtly define jobs and tasks, and ultimately intelligence, downward to the level of a machine. This is a sort of corollary to the “drunk under the streetlight” problem. Instead of defining the source of information to what is easily visible, we now also define the drunk in terms of the limits of a machine.

    1. duffolonious

      Hasn’t this been gone over before as analogous to the first industrial revolution: the complex work of craftsmen being converted into many simple repetitive tasks.

      And, by the way (btw), the people that do these jobs are also very keen on this sort of thing. I remember at a job going over to a woman who did a pretty specific task and her flat out saying “Is this going to be automated? I don’t want to get layed off.” I didn’t answer. She was exactly correct, and that was even what was going through my head as I saw what she did.

      This sort of scenario isn’t uncommon. Much like someone can see they are the “worst” at their job (compared to others). This breeds high turnover. Such a person will have a good idea their days are numbered and constantly be looking for an exit. So isn’t the better way to deal with this how I thought the Japanese did this: see if you can dissolve your position, and we’ll have another for you somewhere else (and help me, the asshole that is already in the process of dissolving the position).

  6. Joeshump

    I work in infotech for one of the big 4. The reason there hasn’t been much productivity gain is because the systems in place have grown in complexity past the point of human control. Period. Diminishing marginal returns to complexity — look it up!

    1. Fiver

      I think a very substantial % of effort goes into “improvements” that destroy what made the original product popular – because it was simple to use and did the job reliably to a high standard. I recall an author who called all the bells and whistles in cars, kitchens, home entertainment, computers, whatever, pseudo-technology – little or no value added, but costs as much or more to develop than the truly good idea.

    1. Tamara Glenny

      The original use of “robot” was in the Czech writer Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R.—Wikipedia says this: “Karel Čapek himself did not coin the word. He wrote a short letter in reference to an etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary in which he named his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual originator.” It comes from the Czech “robota,” which has a more specific meaning—”serf labor” or “hard work”—than the same root word does in most other Slav languages—”rabota” in Russian, for instance, is simply the ordinary word for “work.”

  7. OMF

    I’m seeing this Robot argument crop up in a few places recently. Unemployment is up, wages are poor, and jobs are stressful.

    Conclusion: Technology is killing jobs!!

    Counterargument: Whatever.

    Technology does not determine the type of quality of employment. Neither does “the market”. Jobs, who performs them, and how they are compensated, are governed by the Law, and more importantly by those who control the law. The steady deterioration of jobs in the west has more to do with concentration of wealth in value-less industries and other general mis-allocations of wealth and capital than it has to do with robots or software. Our legal system promotes the siphoning of wealth from productive industries to parasite classes, and that, not technology, is the root cause of our economic malaise.

    But sure, ban all software and computers with more than 64K of memory. I guarantee you still won’t get your jobs back. And you won’t until wealth is taken back from those who have stolen it.

  8. Paul Niemi

    And so the CEO took delivery of Big Yellow, the Robo Mid-level Manager. “How do you start him?” he asked. “You flick the on-switch, push this button three times, then pull the cord,” said the technician. “OK! Yellow! First things first. Go break the union, then stop contributions to employee pensions. Next, fire all the smokers and people who limp. You’ll find a way. Then move production to a state that will give us free land, thirty years tax forgiveness, pay for the facility, and free worker training — we’ll still need some humans! Finally, notify the board of directors that I’ll be doubling my salary. Any questions?” “Will you take cream and sugar with your coffee, sir?” “Yes! Big Yellow, you’re my kind of guy!”

      1. Paul Niemi

        Big Yellow already thought of that, of course, using his superior number-crunching algorithms. That is why he bought a movie studio within minutes. He is on his way to produce the documentary right now.

  9. The Dork of Cork

    I think people are mixing up cause and effect.
    The present Industrial ecosystem is a result of the extreme hard money / soft credit system.

    Deflation created the demand for Apple of the 80s
    Deflation has created the demand for Facebook and twittering on Twitter.

    People given a choice will go down for a few pints in the pub or join a hobby or social club But they simply do not have the cashflow for such activities as all energy is being consumed by credit centric capital intensive goods and the costs of this free credit activities can be seen in wage deflation . tax rises and local basic goods inflation………..these are all aspects of inflation which drive people to do stuff to fill their time when they would prefer to do other things.
    The computer is essentially the 21rst century version of the satanic mill.
    It serves no purpose other then extraction of your life force.

  10. A Real Black Person

    “ve? Interacting with devices is overstimulating and is producing children who have poor social skills. The most extreme young device users appear to have trouble forming social bonds. And weak social bonds are strongly correlated with lower longevity.”
    Longevity is not a worthwhile goal if that person is not employed for over a longer period of their life or is otherwise unhappy. Economically, every country with a longer lifespan seem to be running into problems of how to take care of all those senior citizens who are regressing into children. Some of them seem to have eroding social cohesion. “Well, at least you’re alive” isn’t enough. It’s how one lives that matters–and no, not everyone wants the same thing.

  11. cnchal

    When almost everything becomes automated, where will the money come from to buy the stuff that is produced?

    In an earlier time, those scruffy women and men that are on the front lines at Walmart would most likely have worked at a small manufacturer making things, ie:creating wealth. Those jobs are now in China, and the output of the Chinese is now on the shelves at Walmart, which was the first mover in the rush to China.

    Now China creates wealth, and that wealth is absorbed by the managerial class, with the trickle down sieve meshed so fine that a significant portion of Walmart workers are on food stamps.

    I think a big factor in productivity increases in the 90′s was due to the growing adoption of computerized machine tools, CAD design and CAM machining software. This technology barely existed in the 70′s, only the biggest companies could justify it in the 80′s, but by the early to mid 90′s the prices were coming down as capability was going up.

    Looking at the history of manufacturing, people have been figuring out how to make things more efficiently since the start. Ford analyzed the motions of his workers and broke it down to such an extent, that many operations needed just an arm or a wrist. Clearly an early version of a robot, but with a pulse, paycheck and a desire to spend.

    1. pebird

      Absolutely … I guess the rest of us will be required to use our time in non-value added ways, standing in lines, traffic jams, filling out incomprehensible forms, “participating” in community events (making our neighborhoods safer!).

      Anything to keep us from having free time, if we did we might be able to figure out another way to live.

    2. jfleni

      Correction: It wasn’t Ford, but an engineer called Taylor, and the results (ridiculously exaggerated efficiency) are often called Taylorism.

  12. Hugh

    I agree with OMF. We have seen a string of specious arguments: jobs-skills mismatches, robotics/automation, and demographics, which seek to justify or explain away permanently high levels of unemployment. Their purpose is to get us to ascribe what is, in fact, looting by the rich and elites to agentless and inevitable technological and/or natural processes.

    The robotics argument is empty. Why, for instance, should robotics necessarily lead to higher unemployment and lower wages? Why couldn’t it just as easily result in higher wages and more leisure time? That is if robotics leads to greater productivity, why can not the gains of that increased productivity be shared out throughout our society? And as others here have pointed out, there is a lot of work that can not be robotized or does not need to be robotized. The question as always is not robotics or whatever but what kind of a society we want to live in. It is this which should determine the use of robotics. It is a strange kind of insanity, a propaganda line in the class war waged against us, that this is turned around and robotics is “allowed” to determine the contours of our society.

    1. fresno dan

      Robot technician
      “In 2012, for example, the top 1 per cent of Americans earned 22 per cent of all incomes, more than double their share in the 1980s.”
      Thats your problem right there.

    2. Expat

      In fact, as a person whose quality of life is immeasurably improved by machines that do some of the tedious work, I would welcome machines that did all of the work. Historically, our ancestors worked because they had to. And, if you study the annals of Rome and other advanced societies, they had much more leisure time than modern mortals.

      As Keynes pointed out a hundred years ago, we’ve solved the productivity problem. And the more we develop machines to do the work, the higher the quality of life could be.

      Unless. Unless, in the meantime, you had traded in your majority-rule democracy for a propaganda-based corporate kleptocracy. Now with police-state capabilities.

      Our rich scoop up all the available wealth and the NSA scoops up everything else. Machines that are developed under this social formation will only accelerate this process.

      1. GDC707

        Exactly. And Hugh, there is the answer to all your questions.
        Sure, in a compassionate and enlightened society, advanced automation could be an unqualified blessing. But this order is neither compassionate nor enlightened. And the machines owned and operated by it’s rapacious elites will be used to advance the kleptocracy. This is difficult to see?

        1. jonboinAR

          Hugh’s point is it’s the social/ political order that needs adjusting, not the rate of automation which should be a good thing. I think I would agree.

          1. GDC707

            Hugh’s overarching point is that those who argue robotics will result in a loss of employment for humans are “explaining away permanently high levels of employment.” I don’t see that argument within the piece at all. Net job loss through automation is as plain as day to anyone who can look inside any factory. In virtually every field jobs are being lost to automation. Sure, some are being created through it but not nearly the equal of what is being lost.

    3. jonboinAR

      Exactly. If you were to reduce my work week to 25 hours but keep my take-home the same or increase it, I’m sure I’d get used to that somehow.

  13. JLCG

    The material can only vary as quantity, but accumulating wealth is not essentially concerned with quantity but with power, the power to command, and in a sense the desire to command has like quantity the possibility of being limitless. Accumulated wealth enables the rich to command palaces and yachts but the pleasure rests on the possibility of flexing another willl, to possess that mind, to eliminate that will, to make of Homo sapiens an instrumentum vocale., a slave.
    A society based upon robots will eliminate the pleasure of commanding. What pleasure is there in pushing some button? The drive for accumulation will end totally. There is nothing that terrifies the powerful more than the elimination of command. Finally this possibility is perceived and the matter has surfaced.

    1. F. Beard

      What pleasure is there in pushing some button?

      Or in the self-employed for would-be Job Guarantee tyrants?

    2. fajensen

      The researchers are working on that. Those robots will have personalities and some degree of free will (so they can properly experience the boot on their face).

      The problem is that we do not really understand intelligence at all – nobody can tell if “we” are the smartest things possible, our brains barely eeking out a limited consciousness using quantum computing or if our brains are one of those terrible kludges that evolution comes up with and now we are stuck with(in) it and – as soon as someone comes up with a proper implementation on decent hardware we have a Machine God – that we will immediately grovel in front of in return for favours. I sort-of suspect that the main cognitive difference between dogs and humans is that humans can make imagined things real which a dog cannot, but both are just as easily trained. We assume it is harder to condition a person than a dog, because we cannot entirely predict them, us being on the same order of intelligence. But if we go up against a factor 10 higher intelligence, then we will not even know that we are being controlled and conditioned.

      PS:
      I am maybe strange, but I know that I would find pleasure in my ever-faithful robot commando’s asking me for a place to destroy in my name ;-)

    1. casino implosion

      Guaranteed Income is the same conclusion reached by Martin Ford in his “Lights In The Tunnel”. It would seem that we’re moving in that direction in a sort of haphazard, half-assed way with the endless unemployment insurance extensions etc. The concept of guaranteed income crashes headlong into at least two factors though. 1. basic hardwired human moral-economic intuitions (No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, He Who Does Not Work Shall Not Eat) and 2. American ideological hatred of welfare. I’m very much looking forwards to observing the wreckage fly as the juggernaut of automation collides with TANSTAAFL.

      Ford’s website also has good stuff about the so called “lump of labor fallacy”.

      1. F. Beard

        Bankers eat free lunches everyday – or rather lunches they steal from the rest of us – since bankers create what the rest of us must EARN – purchasing power.

      2. Gabriel

        Bonds,

        If I’m a Republican, what am I to think of a guaranteed income? Isn’t that against my “religion”? Does the US need a Republican party that acquiesces to a guaranteed income given freely to “welfare queens” and kings?

        Further, won’t the guaranteed income rot all motivation and morals? Won’t it produce a nation of pleasure seekers?

        I, Republican, beg to know.

        1. hunkerdown

          Show ‘em The Graph. If they’re unswayed, tell them that this would replace means-tested programs and allow them to gain from their increased productivity. If that doesn’t sway them, tell them it keeps talk of general strikes down when people are fed.

          And if that doesn’t work, they probably achieve personal profit from misery and should be treated as traitors to humanity and collaborators with evil, as even the role of enemy is too gracious to protect against their insidious influence, and the particular brand of apostate comes with some serious baggage.

      3. hunkerdown

        If it were truly hardwired, the rentiers and other idle rich would be dealt with more severely. Might they instead be the product of concentration of control over the means of production and the resultant capacity to normalize and compel forms of relationships favorable to those who can credibly exclude others from that control?

        If Hippo, or Rome for that matter, had gone the way of Pompeii rather earlier, would we even be having this conversation?

  14. F. Beard

    Ideally, robots should do ALL necessary work leaving humanity to a life of leisure and voluntary work. Kinda of like the ancient Greeks but without human slaves.

    But robots are doomed since those humans who are deemed worthy will receive a major upgrade from God (including immortality) and shall be able to literally move mountains (or have them moved) with no need for robots. As for computers, the upgraded brains will be vastly superior to any computers, I’d bet.

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    There is no need to fear robots if

    1. they are quality robots that do not break down often
    2. they are owned by all of us to benefit all of us.

    I say this even though I am the only member of S.O.U.L (Society Of United Luddites)

  16. JohnB

    Won’t workers just switch to technological and intellectual development?

    Robots aren’t going to approach anywhere near human intellectual intelligence for a long time, even if they can be trained to undertake enough roles to make many jobs obsolete.

    So the profit margin of companies is going to depend more and more upon intellectual and technological development past that point, and that will also have the effect of shifting towards long-term R&D goals rather than short-term goals.

    Basic research and development is literally an infinite field of development – it will never end so long as thinking beings exist – so I don’t see why all of the work humans do, will not just move towards that.

    Once robots become sufficiently advanced enough to almost perfectly emulate humans and take on even that work, technological development is probably going to hit such an extremely quickly advancing point then, with humans supplementing their own abilities (cognitive and physical) with robotics, that it’s gradually going to blur the lines between what’s human and robotic – maybe there won’t even be any humans left after a while (just specimens in a zoo or museum, perhaps :p).

  17. F. Beard

    so I don’t see why all of the work humans do, will not just move towards that.

    Will bankers be required to evolve/retrain/relearn in less than a single lifetime too? Or should we aim for justice, not a never ending rat race for everyone except the rich and bankers?

    But justice is coming with or without would-be cyborgs.

    1. JohnB

      Okey, that’s a good practical point regarding switching to an economy focused on knowledge/intellectual development, but that will only be a temporary problem for those caught up in the transition – and I think a good portion of them will be able to re-enter education for working within the newly focused knowledge/intellectual economy.

      1. F. Beard

        Ah, so you think injustice is sustainable? How about instead God reduces the arrogant and evil doers to ashes (See Malachi 4) and tries again with the non-arrogant non-evildoers? And gives them abilities that dwarf your proposed cyborgs?

        Man’s problem is not lack of intelligence but lack of righteousness, wisdom and humility.

        1. F. Beard

          And some reasons for the reduction to ashes:

          “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. Malachi 3:5-6 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

          1. Skippy

            So you think injustice is sustainable – beardo

            Absoulutly[!!!]…. its worked for ummmm… 5000 years at least.

            Skippy… the machinations of the upper tier can be a drag, but, the bipolar pontification doxology from the assorted fruits and nuts – is – the real killer.

            1. F. Beard

              Oh, name me an empire or dynasty that has lasted 5000 years.

              A few hundred years seems typical and then the oppressors are replaced by the oppressed until they become oppressors as nauseum.

              Nut? You’re the “person” with no exit strategy from this life. I put “person” in quotes because can anyone that stupid really be human?

              1. Cheyenne

                if someone’s view of reality and/or spirituality does not line up with my own they are uhhhhhh stupid. Let me produce a couple bible quotes to back that up.

            2. F. Beard

              – the real killer. skippy

              Man lives 120 years tops. You, otoh, would kill saving faith if you could and nip someone’s eternal life?

              You’re the real killer, you bastard (whether or not you’d kill Kenny too.)

  18. Richard Burr

    Machine intelligence will also eliminate a lot of human labor by reducing the friction of everyday life. For instance, USDOT estimates that universal adoption of its V2V communication system will reduce non-distracted vehicle collisions by 75%.
    http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/2014/USDOT+to+Move+Forward+with+Vehicle-to-Vehicle+Communication+Technology+for+Light+Vehicles
    At $100 per vehicle for a retrofit, this will happen in the next couple of years. GDP will be reduced while the general welfare will be increased. Maybe we need a new definition of productivity.

    1. fajensen

      Ahh – Yes, Seeing that our “friends” at the NSA would have built in weak spots and general hackability into all IT infrastructure I can imagine that one could have some fun with that!

      Besides, once those pesky neo-puritans get their requirements into the systems, it will not be what we need and want – a smart, friendly car that drives itself when we are drunk, stoned, shaving or bored to sleep. Not at all, it will be a vehicle that requires breath- and pee- sampling to even start. If it finds anything it logs into police databases and rat out the driver – it also fingers you for that gun you legally own and tips off the news networks so they can get footage of the latest police shooting. If it does not find anything incriminating, it will spy on the driver until it does.

  19. bob smith

    if the robots don’t take your job, offshoring will.
    the US worker has been hammered by this double whammy.

    here are two examples:
    the roomba won’t just clean the floor, soon they will clean skyscraper windows. window cleaners WERE good paying union jobs.

    front end tax prep might be done online but the back end data entry is performed in India- how many accountants have lost jobs to this combination of tech and offshore Indian labor?

  20. impermanence

    The problem is massive counterfeiting and massive stealing [what humans can't resist doing].

    Blaming [technology] is simply another way to disguise the ruse.

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