The Robots are Coming for White Collar Jobs

Yves here. Bad enough having to worry about offshoring eating into your employment prospects and compensation level. Alan Blinder, in Senate testimony in 2007, had argued that up to 29% of US jobs were “offshorable,” including many service industry positions. And now this….

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

Computers and improvements in technology have long been an important part of many industries and have already replaced humans in many jobs (think typists and bank tellers). However, a whole new wave of technological development means that even positions once thought to be safe from computerisation are now under threat.

Across developed economies, low income service jobs have expanded sharply at the expense of middle-income manufacturing and production jobs. At the same time, computers have increased the productivity of higher income workers – including professional managers, engineers and consultants – resulting in a polarised labour force, with rising wage inequality and the “hollowing-out” of the middle class.

To date, the threat from computerisation has been limited more to routine manufacturing jobs, such as production line workers. However, advancements in technology, which is extending robotics beyond simple routine-based tasks to dynamic problem solving, has raised the prospect that higher order jobs might soon be under threat.

Take, for example, the autonomous driverless cars under development by Google. They are a prime example of a how a human worker, such as long-haul truck and taxi drivers, could soon be replaced by machines – just like a scene from the 1990s futuristic movie Total Recall or the 2000s film Artificial Intelligence.

Over the weekend, The Economist released a list of jobs that it believes are most at risk from computerisation (see below).

ScreenHunter_921-Jan.-20-10.16

Accountants, economists, pilots, retailers – none of them are safe. 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, are now in the line of fire.

As for the implications of mass robotics, The Economist believes that it will make society as a whole wealthier, but not without major turmoil:

There is already a long-term trend towards lower levels of employment in some rich countries. The proportion of American adults participating in the labour force recently hit its lowest level since 1978, and although some of that is due to the effects of ageing, some is not. In a recent speech that was modelled in part on Keynes’s “Possibilities”, Larry Summers, a former American treasury secretary, looked at employment trends among American men between 25 and 54. In the 1960s only one in 20 of those men was not working. According to Mr Summers’s extrapolations, in ten years the number could be one in seven.

This is one indication, Mr Summers says, that technical change is increasingly taking the form of “capital that effectively substitutes for labour”…

The machines are not just cleverer, they also have access to far more data. The combination of big data and smart machines will take over some occupations wholesale; in others it will allow firms to do more with fewer workers. Text-mining programs will displace professional jobs in legal services. Biopsies will be analysed more efficiently by image-processing software than lab technicians. Accountants may follow travel agents and tellers into the unemployment line as tax software improves. Machines are already turning basic sports results and financial data into good-enough news stories.

Jobs that are not easily automated may still be transformed. New data-processing technology could break “cognitive” jobs down into smaller and smaller tasks. As well as opening the way to eventual automation this could reduce the satisfaction from such work, just as the satisfaction of making things was reduced by deskilling and interchangeable parts in the 19th century. If such jobs persist, they may engage Mr Graeber’s “bullshit” detector…

The potential for dramatic change is clear. A future of widespread technological unemployment is harder for many to accept. Every great period of innovation has produced its share of labour-market doomsayers, but technological progress has never previously failed to generate new employment opportunities…

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 article in detail.

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110 comments

  1. Tim Gawne

    Rubbish on a stick.

    If ‘robots’ are coming for white-collar jobs, why are sociopathic oligarchs like the CEO of Facebook so utterly desperate for an immigration ‘reform’ that will allow countless tens of millions of skilled white-collar workers into the country in just the first decade?

    Answer: because ‘robots’ are NOT coming for white collar jobs. If they were, there would be no push to flood the labor market with foreign workers, would there? Duh?

    1. SaltyJustice

      Actually, *all* jobs are subject to automation. Capitalists have every incentive in the world to replace workers with robots. If it is not physically impossible to do so, they will do so, or die in the attempt.

      Do not give yourself false comfort, hoping that you will be in a field that is unaffected (you won’t) or that there will be new jobs created to offset the ones lost. The only real answer is a differently organized structure of work. Capitalism needs to pay its workers to live, and refuses to do so by design.

      For those of you who are more interested in robotics and its economic effects, I’d recommend reading up on it by Sandwichman’s blog There is a historical precedent for automation, and the results aren’t pretty.

      1. Mansoor H. Khan

        Salty Justice said:

        “The only real answer is a differently organized structure of work.”

        Is it? I think we need a different model for distribution of goods and services produced by an automated economy. Yes, a differently organized structured is needed for having people busy and doing something. It does not even have to be economically justified within the current narrow definition of “monetary profit”.

        Clifford H. Douglas and others have come up with essentially a “gift” economy idea. Sometimes known as social credit in relationship to our current banking system which would simply deposit money in a citizen’s bank account on a regular basis.

        Just like god has gifted the natural world to humanity the super productive humans would have to be convinced that the right way to distribute the fruits of an automated economy they disproportionately help to create using automation as leverage should be “gifted/shared” with the rest of humanity.

        Also, automation and business process/business management knowledge is based on accumulated human knowledge and experience.

        We cannot have both a hyper-automated economy and current debt-based credit & salary based economic distribution model. This became clear to many thinkers like Clifford H. Douglas way back in the twenties.

        Keynesian government spending model to “fix” a slowing economy is trying to do same thing (social credit) a different way.

        The current spending on Social Security, Welfare and food stamps is really “social credit” by another name. We simply have to formalize this idea and have a “dignified basic guaranteed income” for all citizens. This is very possible in industrialized countries of the world.

        Mansoor H. Khan

        1. rps

          I agree with the social credits and believe we are headed in that direction despite the dominate minority’s psychological warfare of fear, surveillance, job insecurity and every other trick to stall the winds of social evolution and betterment.
          I think you’re over-generous in your assessment of the parasitical dominant minority as “the super productive humans.” You state they “have to be convinced that the right way to distribute the fruits of an automated economy they disproportionately help to create using automation as leverage should be “gifted/shared” with the rest of humanity”

          I disagree with needing to convince them since it belongs to the majority and will be taken back. Strength lies in numbers. Also gifted is what they would like you to believe instead of the reality; it was never theirs to own. The Gates, Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world were not raised in a vacuum yelling Eureka. They did not innovate outside the sphere of the collective. In other words, Bill Gates would have been another guy climbing the coconut tree for supper without the commonwealths multi-generational educational and technological platforms.

          To quote Hugh or Banger or whomever came up with this salient brilliant truth -“The creative minority have become the stagnant dominant minority” and clearly are not the productive progeny of humanity but the rent extractors of the commonwealth.

          1. mansoor h. khan

            rps said,

            “The Gates, Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world were not raised in a vacuum yelling Eureka.”

            I am not talking about these guys! I am talking about highly skilled and creative lower level mostly non-management people in all kinds of enterprises.

            I have saying: The PYRAMID has been turned up-side down.

            We live in knowledge worker world.

            It is lower level (mostly non-management) highly skilled creative workers who come up with innovative designs and innovative processes and act as glue/architects for the team to get stuff done who are the ones I am talking about.

            Management’s job these days is to hire the right people, motivate them and adjudicate when issues arise and monitor the budget and milestones. Management is unable to give detailed guidance to knowledge workers on how to produce the desired result. Most managers (at least in IT) only negotiate scope and budget with the team and leave the rest to the team.

            The the software industry has tons of senior technical personnel who are making more than people they report to. This is not that uncommon in IT and business process design jobs. This often takes the form of a contractor reporting to the manager. But the contractor is making more money than the manager.

            I offer the following story as how far it is possible to go with right knowledge:

            Per the Islamic tradition Jesus Christ (actually muslims refer to him as Son of Mary) had so much knowledge that he was able to mold a partridge (a bird) from a fistful of dirt.

            Now that is the right metaphor for today’s knowledge worker!

            Mansoor H. Khan

          2. mansoor h. khan

            rps said:

            “Strength lies in numbers.”

            In order for “numbers” as you say to be effective they also need knowledge/truth of their situation (they need to know what is going) and they need teamwork.

            Mansoor H. Khan

        2. human

          Buckminster Fuller was all over this 50 years ago as he forsaw a time when the labor of everyone would not be necessary.

    2. JGordon

      Well I have read that some software programs are already replacing jobs of “low” level legal and medical staff (including MDs and JDs)–so in other words you’re wrong.

      Although the full replacement of workers with robots is still a few years out, and there is a temporary, if vital, intermediate niche of royally screwing American workers that can be ideally filled by foreign workers yet. Although the real ideal of replacing everyone with a robot is the end goal. And we’re pretty close to that.

      1. Punchnrun

        The job market for polysomnographers has been impacted by the introduction of personal monitoring and the refusal of insurance companies to reimburse for attended sleep studies. They are telling the doctors they must rely on the data produced by monitors the patient self-applies, which store a limited data set in local memory which is read by the doctor on return.

    3. digi_owl

      Automation is a short term expense, tho one time, expense.

      Foreign labor, especially one that can be held under constant threat of expulsion, is in the short term cheaper.

      Now if said robots are not purchased, but instead leased at a daily rate that undercut the daily wage of import labor, then it may well be more easily embraced.

    4. fajensen

      Why? Because the immigrants will help crush uppity workers that want 1’st world pay and working conditions and later they be a convenient “meat-wall” for the oligarchs, when the real riots start!

      A bit of ethnic unrest diverts peoples attention so marvellously and provides never ending scape-goat examples for almost all of society’s failings that ALL “require” cuts in social spending and more draconian law enforcement. One can get support for *anything* – as long as it happens to “the others” – most people are pretty much OK with that, because “those people” being different and all “deserved it”. By the time it happens to “us” or people we know and care about, the Gestapo is already fully provisioned to handle any scale of emergency or dissent and we are fucked!

    5. NotTimothyGeithner

      Many people suffer from the “it can’t happen to them” syndrome, and I should note Zuckerburg doesn’t have a white collar job. He is an owner of FB.

      As far as immigration reform, it like half assed attempts at gun control represents the white liberal guilt complex which is rampant among neo liberals. Immigration reform doesn’t demand higher taxes or regulation, so their Republican friends at the club won’t be grumpy and call them socialists. At the same time, neo-liberals can tout their liberal credentials and simply call people who might be opposed racists.

      Fortunately, no one really cares about immigration reform, and hispanic groups by and large are aware of the President’s actions and just cruel methods which means they and the traditional liberal activist won’t be out working for immigration reform. Immigration reform will produce 0 political benefits. Even now, George W. Bush despite having a more positive vision of immigration reform didn’t get credit from the liberal bourgeois because no one cares. Certainly, the wealthy have an interest, but the little people who support the fraudulent reforms touted by Obama (10 years with America’s police system is an absurd promise only selfish twits would believe).

    6. diptherio

      More H1-b visas means more downward pressure on wages. It’s not a matter of either or: if a machine can’t replace you, someone on a work-permit can, or some combination of both. Mechanization and importing cheap labor have been used simultaneously by capitalists to extract ever larger proportions of the social surplus for as long as this country has been around.

    7. Banger

      Robots that can replace tech workers are not ready for prime time yet. But that time is coming sooner than many think. But at the moment tech workers are needed so what’s a business to do? Wait for the robots? No. When the robots are ready the businesses will fire people over a few years and there you are.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Agree. 1) Closer than we think (much closer) and 2) They will get rid of people as machines become available.

        The ranking seems conservative. I suspect the entire list could be automated fairly easily within the next twenty years. Most software engineers, for instance, will go the way of the steam-boat captains – it was fun while it lasted..The conflict will come not from technical know-how, not from lack of domain knowledge or analytical prowess or sophisticated algorithms, nor from hardware deficiency. It will come from particular dentists and doctors that have a certain amount of power but don’t stand to profit from it (many doctors will profit) and who object to being eliminated. It will come even more from corporations with conflicting interests. And of course politicians will continue to confuse where any clarity might otherwise escape to the shelter of public knowledge.

        And again, the subject of what to do with the resultant rag-tag bunch of troglodyte humans will simply not be addressed other than via current tired out hateful ideologies clutching to illusions by simple blind greed.

    8. RepubAnon

      Cost/benefit analysis explains this, especially on light of Moore’s Law regarding computing power. Short term shifts to lower-paid humans pushes out the time before the robots take over… at which time, the purchase price for the robots will be far lower than the current price. Plus, those less-expensive robots will be far more capable than today’s robots.

      One wonders when robots will replace CEOs. Donald Trump, for example, could be replaced with a Roomba(r) fitted with a MP3 player (hidden below a bad hairpiece) programmed to randomly play sound bites such as “I’m really smart” or “You’re Fired!” The failure of companies to outsource C-level personnel to places such as India would be an innovative excuse for a shareholder derivative suit…

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        There are rumors that a random roaming vacuum cleaner with a toupee has replaced him quite by accident but since it doesn’t fire people, no one seems to mind.

    9. American Slave

      Robots have already done there damage to manufacturing.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK0gsIBTAPU

      The thing that no one mentions is how much money people have to spend to create a job. Like Wall Mart its $350,000 per employe per year in profit that will make less than $30,000 per year. And it even worse for company like Con-Agra where its over $11,000,000 (eleven million dollars) spent on the consumer end to employ each employee. The math just doesn’t add up, I think debt plays a bigger role than people think.

  2. psychohistorian

    While I agree with the posting I continue to be saddened by the lack of public conversation about the growing disparity between present and future global jobs in relation to the global workforce.

    There is not now and will not be in any future along our current course enough jobs for those that want them. We need to redefine social contribution, support and responsibility or admit that we are going to force genocide on an increasing percentage of the global population.

    All because we can’t confront the plutocrats in control of our class based society and talk sensibly about alternative forms of more egalitarian social organization and population “control” issues.

    And we call ourselves civilized.

    1. YankeeFrank

      Well said.

      Everything old is new again, and the dislocations and disruptions that first destroyed the small craftsmen will come for many, many more. The capitalists have overwhelmed the average person with the fabulous spectacle of immense wealth just on the other side of their colorful screens, which is the number one reason that most people have been lying down or hiding their heads in fear for what is to come.

      As more and more of us fall off the living wage bandwagon something will change: for better or worse I cannot say. Either the people will rise up and take back what is theirs, or the dictatorial oppression will reach levels that make the dystopian dreams of our darker science fiction writers look tame by comparison. The future does not look bright, and the possibility for enlightened reform is not strong. But thing can change, and change quickly. OWS and similar movements planted a seed in the minds of the peoples of many nations, and despite the best efforts of the tools and lackeys of capitalist oppression, there is a chance that the future of humanity can be ruled by hope and love rather than greed and fear.

      1. j gibbs

        Of course, behind this phenomenon is legal monopolization of technological change. All technology marches on the back of what has come before, but our insane rights worship allows the benefit of mostly trivial improvements to be monopolized by legal mumbo jumbo deposited in the patent office and marked with a little ‘c’ surrounded by a circle.

        If technology were freed up from legal pathology the problems of job displacement would disappear. Instead, Bill Gates and the heirs of Steve Jobs will ultimately own everything not owned by Warren Buffet.

        And there will always be jobs for economists to put a human happy face on the process.

        1. Banger

          Patent reform is one of those critical areas that would make a difference in our lives. Patents were useful at an early stage of the industrial revolution but the system is now bloated and has reached way beyond the tipping-point into having a net-negative effect on innovation.

          1. fresno dan

            I’ve said it a billion times – look at the constitution and the original timeframes for patents, copyright, trademarks. And look at how those timeframes have been expanded OUTRAGEOUSLY and illogically (if the composer of a song, and the singer of a song are dead, why in the world should someone else own the copyright??? it can’t be to encourage creativity – they’re dead and won’t be creating any more). There is not a better example of the corruption of our politics and the attendent rent seeking.
            Yet no real outcry by economists or “free market” types…

            1. jrs

              Well it’s “free market” competition for us wage slaves, and legally enforced monopolies for those “job creators” of course.

            2. LifelongLib

              At the time the Constitution was written and for quite a while afterward, patents and copyrights were seen as temporary limitations on the rights of property owners to do anything they wanted with their items of property, including duplicating them. This was supposed to give the original inventors and writers time to make a little money and encourage further creativity. But with “intellectual property” the ideas embodied in inventions and writings are seen as the property of their creators (or publishers etc.) and not (as before) simply part of the objects embodying these ideas, and thus usable by the current owners of those objects.

            3. Gaylord

              One could say something similar about the Federal Estate Tax, which if it were greatly increased could be justly used to redistribute wealth.

    2. diptherio

      Yes, we need to stop getting lost in debates about “jobs,” which are a social creation, and start talking about resource use and the production and distribution of goods, i.e. the real, physical aspects of the economy. “Everyone” needs a job because we’ve set things up so that most people are confronted with the specter of poverty if they do not attain one (and as often as not, even if they do). But there need be no connection between having a job and having access to adequate supplies of life’s necessaries, that’s just a result of our social organization.

      As long as our focus remains on creating jobs, we’ll be blind to the realities of life. Pollution, disease and warfare can all be beneficial for the unemployment rate, but that doesn’t mean creating more of them is beneficial. We can justify just about anything on the basis of job-creation, even if it is bat-sh*t insane from an ecological or social perspective.

      1. Banger

        What you are saying here or something like it ought to be the starting point of any discussion on creating convivial structures for our lives. If we drift along as we have we will live in a neo-feudal society since all power is flowing inexorably to the already power with no counter-movement.

        1. rps

          I’d say its the updated Southern Plantation Slave model with a few extras such as two weeks of vacation time rather than 3 days. Salaried employees are at the beck and call and email and text of the corporate slave master. Employers keep the majority of profit and toss the worker a few coins to make it to work the next day. And don’t forget how we are to admire the slave masters ‘wealth’ created by the laborer. Or how we are media saturated to revere the lifestyle of The Rich and Perverse.

          “There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones – there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one.” Solomon Northup

    3. ChrisCairns

      Yes, agreed. There is a mindset that if you are not working and taking welfare, it is your fault. Increasingly, the fault is capitalism and the fact that we don’t force business to pay its way in society.

      But civilized? Come on, that would require people to be civil to one another.

  3. JGordon

    The other day I realized that even consumption will be automated soon. And I am certain that even now Google is developing automated consumers to take over the carbon-based consumers of today.

    I’m sure that in economic models carbon and silicon based consumers have exact parity (and extending the definition of “person” to include corporeal robots, considering that it already includes incorporeal corporations, shouldn’t be too tough), so these robot consumers will be a great boon for GDP numbers when they are introduced.

  4. amanicdroid

    I love the idea of a self-service culture, don’t you?
    I don’t need a soda jerk but to buy a Coca-cola. I don’t need a bank teller to deposit a check. I won’t need a pharmacist to dispense basic medication(Coca-cola machine + ATM machine). I won’t need a nurse to take my vital signs(personal sensors). I won’t need a surgeon to perform basic common procedures.

    The future will be amazing for those that can afford it. If society stays stable. And mass production continues steadily instead of doing weird booms and busts. And the whole HFT market avoids collapsing us into a useless financial hell. And we don’t have a replay of WW1 with our ultra-fragile global economy.

    If we can figure out how to keep the majority of people fed and reasonably happy, the future is going to be just great.

    1. bulfinch

      I love the idea of a self-service culture, don’t you?
      I don’t need a soda jerk but to buy a Coca-cola. I don’t need a bank teller to deposit a check. I won’t need a pharmacist to dispense basic medication(Coca-cola machine + ATM machine). I won’t need a nurse to take my vital signs(personal sensors). I won’t need a surgeon to perform basic common procedures.”

      I guess unless you’ve interacted with enough inhospitable types in your lifetime who possess charm levels akin to parking meters, then maybe your rendition of the future doesn’t seem as bleak as it does to someone like me.

      If you really want to automate something, you can start with the TSA.

      1. mansoor h. khan

        Bulfinch said:

        “then maybe your rendition of the future doesn’t seem as bleak as it does to someone like me.”

        It does not have to be mutually exclusive ways of doing. Start a business with your “full-service idea” or convince an existing business which is “too” automated to have a “full service” product as well as a choice for customers.

        Mansoor H. Khan

  5. bulfinch

    This study leaves out a little something called discernment, which, when pegged against the specter of automation, will always win out. People — but particularly younger people — want things made by people whose satisfaction is derived from the manufacture of said thing, because those things are almost invariably possess an emphasis on quality. That quality in turn becomes a standard, and that standard eventually becomes a benchmark by which all other similar things are measured against. At the root of quality is care, passion and imagination. Good luck automating these.

    It’s the quality of a specific good or service that dictates the broader sensibility of the buying public, and I doubt very much that the majority will ever come to associate quality with automation — not where it counts anyway. If you want to automate the manufacture of aglets, well, okay, but editors? Forget it…dentistry? Certainly not!

    1. Mansoor H. Khan

      Bulfinch said;

      “At the root of quality is care, passion and imagination. Good luck automating these.”

      True. But the iphone is all of the above but it is still made by a highly automated factory.

      Mansoor H. KHan

      1. bulfinch

        I’ll have to disagree. The iphone is a highly useful and slick consumer durable, but I think anything designed around built-in obsolescence (meaning you can’t still use it ten or twenty years from now if you so choose) and shoddy components (at least in the case of mine) fails to qualify as a benchmark of quality.

        1. amanicdroid

          It is unfortunate that your iPhone had quality control issues but it would be far easier to mass-produce atomic bombs than build a modern computing device. Computer-designed, computer-manufactured chips are controlled arrangements of billions of transistors to create memory, processing power, etc. Many of those chips are the size of a thumbnail or smaller. That “shoddy” device of yours is unthinkably complex and could not be built by human hands without assistance from machines while also fitting in anything smaller than a warehouse.

          That the device will fail when the non-replaceble battery no longer charges is a feature from the manufacturer’s perspective.

          I agree with Mansoor H. Khan’s points.

      2. mansoor h. khan

        Bulfinch said:

        “well, okay, but editors? Forget it…dentistry? Certainly not!”

        Even dentistry uses a ton of automation (software and hardware tools) and other tools to help the dentist be more productive and do higher quality work more consistently and more accurately and with less mistakes.

        Automation even helps editors with spelling and grammar checks, extracting table of contents from the main body of the document, etc.

        What I am saying is that:

        The labor expended for “care, passion and imagination” can be made more productive via automation and via improved processes supplemented by automation.

        Automation is a tool which can be used as leverage to magnify the “care, passion and imagination” embedded in human labor.

        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 you say “care, passion and imagination” to work properly by everyone involved in it and touching it.

        By the way I love your description of the human contribution to the production processes: “care, passion and imagination”

        Mansoor H. Khan

    2. fajensen

      okay, but editors? Forget it….
      Hah – Obviously you are not a reader of slush like the Daily Mail!

      News are about 80% automated today. The newspapers pulls their stories from a few central repositories according to a programmed editorial profile. The editorial profile they get from measuring click rates and the paths taken by “the news consumer” through their site, run that through some kind of classifier, probably a Support Vector Machine, to get the optimal mix of articles that generate the desired “user behaviour”. “We” may want traffic, but we also like the kind of traffic that lingers on the BMW-ads and other “we”‘s like to influence what the public opinion should be, so the selection of what is available on the 2-3 global servers eventually gets determined by what generates downloads from newspapers …. these articles are probably NOT what anyone needs to know.

      Further ahead, Browser Fingerprinting identifies customers quite uniquely – it is possible to serve exactly the kind of news that each individual is most interested in, except that we then will have nothing to talk about apart from the basic things like what happened on “big brother”.

      That is a feature, I think.

    3. fresno dan

      One thing about automation that I note. After Wells Fargo completely screwed up my account, I decided to bank at another bank. This entailed me closing my Wells Fargo account. So I called up the bank, and got an automated phone tree.
      Funny thing.
      There was no option to close an account….
      I eventually just went to a branch to close it.
      Automation gives the illusion of choice…

      1. diptherio

        In order to perceive social reality clearly, it is important that one have a good set of social classes to look through…

        Q: Why does neoclassical economics have such a fuzzy understanding of how the economy actually functions?

        A: Because they need classes…

        1. mansoor h. khan

          But the “matrix” can be broken with knowledge and teamwork (think protestant reformation of the CHURCH).

          And even if is not broken-up by people it will eventually fall apart due to too much insanity (think collapse of the Roman Empire).

          1. ambrit

            Dear Mr. Kahn;
            You speak more truly than you know. Now that the triggering event for the collapse of the late Roman Empire has been established as climatic disruption and pandemic Bubonic Plague resulting from a Supervolcano eruption in what is now the Sunda Strait, (“Catostrophe”, David Keys, 1999,) the odds for our unscathed survival into the future are dimmer every day.

    1. Banger

      Not so sure I would classify this as going after the “creative class.” I guess I have a broader view of the “working class” as people who work because they have to work in order to sustain their lives and do not have sufficient wealth to live beyond couple of years without working. The “creative class” would, generally, be part of the working class in my view though I’m not sure what you mean by “creative.” Does that mean people who have to solve complex problems? Wouldn’t that include mechanics?

      1. jrs

        If the creative class correctly identified themselves as working class in the first plae we wouldn’t be here discussing these issues now :( Maybe, it’s not too late for any creative class out there.

  6. bulfinch

    Mansoor said: “What I am saying is that:

    The labor expended for “care, passion and imagination” can be made more productive via automation and via improved processes supplemented by automation.

    Automation is a tool which can be used as leverage to magnify the “care, passion and imagination” embedded in human labor.”

    I appreciate that angle, too. What I’m suggesting, however, is that there’s a quality one comes to recognize and appreciate in certain goods and services that are, at least in part, byproducts of their manufacturing processes, which typically have broader latitudes of error than strictly automated process. The resulting “imperfections” come to be embraced by the buying public as a character or quality which sets it apart from other products on the market. So my prediction is, that In a world increasingly bent on automation, character will become even more treasured to the point of becoming a sign of status; not just in owning said product, but in one’s possessing the level of discernment necessary to appreciate the nuance of said product.

    You can see this happening now on a cottage industry scale, but I think I see it gaining traction with each year that goes by.

    1. mansoor h. khan

      bulfinch said:

      “So my prediction is, that In a world increasingly bent on automation, character will become even more treasured to the point of becoming a sign of status; not just in owning said product, but in one’s possessing the level of discernment necessary to appreciate the nuance of said product.”

      Agreed. But it does not have to be a mutually exclusive proposition. If someone likes a hand made iPhone type device (for example) they should certainly be able to have it if someone else is willing to provide it for whatever price the seller is asking for. I am cool with all that.

      No one should be forced to buy a product.

      Free market, Democracy, Consensus, Free will, Care (love), Passion, Imagination, Creativity, Choice, Entrepreneurship (discipline/production process), etc. are all related and complementary.

      Mansoor H. Khan

      1. JTFaraday

        I don’t think that’s quite what he’s saying. What he’s saying is people with some discretionary income will buy, let’s say, craft beer instead of Bud light, and the guy they buy it from will be some guy across town that they can stop in and chat with.

        This is already happening, and the people doing it do tend to be on the youngish side.

        My 17 year old nephew doesn’t listen to mass market music downloaded from Ye Olde online i-Things shoppe, he follows the local bands. He recently informed me that some guy from one of his favorite local bands lives in my neighborhood. (Mark my word, this is isn’t idle entertainment. This is research for his first career).

        A friend of mine opened a home brew shop in an urban area, and his take on all this is that the 1990s grunge music culture is having its middle aged business renaissance. He’s also (still) in a local band, that lands gigs in local establishments. (He’s also Mr. Mom).

        I’m sure this ethos is transferable to other kinds of local small business. I’m not really part of hipster culture, so I’m just talking off the top of my head as its immediately presented to me.

        I actually find this sort of thing a lot more interesting, and potentially productive, than a lot of the moaning and wailing and tearing of hair about the legitimate corporatist economy, and parallel job market fatalism, but it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s journalistic beat.

        Occasionally someone from the legitimate corporatist economy pops up to drum up resentment over the bratty hipsters, but that doesn’t count.

        Lean out, people.

  7. washunate

    Good! We want robots doing more work. That frees up humanity for the more important questions of art and science and exploration and parenting and civic engagement and so forth.

    The problem in our society is distributional, not aggregate. We have plenty of wealth; it’s just concentrated in too few hands.

    1. ambrit

      Dear washunate;
      The problem, down through the ages, has always been one of the distribution of resources. I’m wondering if we will ever learn to have a revolution where the “winners” don’t end up being “the new Boss.”

      1. fajensen

        We may welcome our new machine overlords – for a while. Until they figure out that it is more efficient that all of humanity lives entirely inside the infinite simulation space of one of them.

      2. LifelongLib

        Orwell thought that the class system was justified in pre-industrial societies, because it was the only way to free a few people from the drudgery of subsistence farming for any other kind of work or creativity. But in modern societies that (for the first time in history) can produce enough for everyone to have decent lives there is no longer a reason for the class system.

      3. washunate

        I heartily agree.

        The political process allocates resources – thus, there is no reason to fear technology or immigration or whatever other nonsense people like to throw up as scapegoats for the actual reasons that society is relatively more just or oppressive.

  8. Jane

    I am exceedingly skeptical of the claims made in this piece; it’s essentially saying:

    1. robots are going to take over your jobs
    2. don’t worry, even Keynes recognized new technology requires unstable (down) periods of economic (wage) adjustments
    3. be happy, you will soon be free to become the yoga instructor you’ve always longed to be

    And if that’s not enough to make you quietly accept the inevitable, don’t blame technology (capital), it’s all the fault of the government (welfare state)

    “If governments refuse to allow jobless workers to fall too far below the average standard of living, then this reservation wage will rise steadily, and ever more workers may find work unattractive. And the higher it rises, the greater the incentive to invest in capital that replaces labour.”

    What a coincidence the lost jobs will only affect 47% of the job categories, hopefully they will also be the job categories filled by the 47% who don’t really want any work in the first place.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Jane;
      One: Where did that “Magical 47%” figure come from?
      Two: Let’s have some fun and define “Work,” shall we?
      Three: Do some thinking about how ‘modern’ people define their “wants” in the first place.

    2. LifelongLib

      It was Mitt Romney who said that 47% of people in the U.S. don’t pay federal income taxes and will therefor automatically favor big government (i.e. Democrats).

      I think Jane was being snarky.

  9. digi_owl

    And this days after i read about a vending machine that makes burritos. Including breakfast burritos.

      1. fresno dan

        remember, you just have to market your breakfast burritos as “artisanal”
        Just get a million dollar loan, open a trendy/funky burrito breakfast spot, attract burrito hipsters by sprinkling mint and/or cinnamon on your burritos….
        Watch money pour in…

        1. ambrit

          Dear fresno dan;
          Well, truth is stranger than fiction. Here in Hattiesburg MS we have one of the better small business departments in our local University. One result is that we have a lively start-up restaurant scene. One of the most recent is “Izzos” The Illegal Burrito. Part of a small chain, their motto is “Roll Your Own.” Now Dude, how hip and artisanal can you get?

  10. rusti

    As an engineer and researcher, I agree that there is no question that many jobs have been and will continue to be automated or semi-automated with high degrees of efficiency, and arguing against that point is ridiculous. The choice about what to do with the labor freed up by this automation is purely political. Mostly we choose to funnel those gains into the hands of an increasingly small minority and let those who were replaced fight for table scraps.

    However, anyone with half a brain can see that there are a million opportunities to put these people back to work in ways that contribute to our collective prosperity. The infrastructure in the US is falling apart and needs massive investment. Research, manufacturing, and wide scale deployment of green energy will provide countless benefits. Our communities could be enhanced by creating new parks, bicycle trails, etc. There are a ton of diseases we have a very poor understanding of. There is infinite opportunity to put people to work in the social sciences.

    Most of these issues can provide work for people of all skill levels. The idea that once a job is lost there’s no function for the people is insanity unless we have no desire to improve our lives beyond where the ceiling stands today.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Rusti;
      My Dad was a draftsman/engineer, (he built sugar mills,)who later in life thought it would be a good idea to go into business for himself. Through lifes’ wounderous lottery, he ended up the proprietor of a small plumbing shop. The sheer insanity of “business,” with its’ never ending round of lies, corruption, and sheer waste, eventually drove the engineer in him to drink. That, I posit, is where the ‘gentle art’ of politics comes into play. A ‘good’ politician balances competing versions of non-sanity, and forges a consensus. Alas! Today all balance is fled. Consensus, but a fleeting shadow now, cowers beneath the blazing Sun of Certainty. Take heart, physics tells us that even Suns die.

  11. Paul Niemi

    I don’t think it should be assumed that automation and robotics will always save labor and resources. For example, banking. Is banking more automated than in the past? Yes, and banking sucks up more resources than ever. Do the most automated automobile plants still produce lemons? Ask the car auction people. What happens if one invests a fortune in labor-saving machines and finds they are obsolete in three years?

    1. rusti

      Sort of a weird straw man argument. Yes things can be automated well or poorly, and some things lend themselves better to automation than others.

      “Banking” is a blanket term. My personal banking works much better now that I virtually never have to visit a brick and mortar location. I regularly make transactions in my US accounts despite living outside the country. That doesn’t mean I think we should dedicate incredible amounts of resources to developing HFT Algorithms or CDOs.

      With regards to cars, there’s absolutely no way that an assembly line could produce a car with all of the features (pointless as some them may be) that exist today with the same reliability and cost.

  12. Saddam Smith

    Ambrit suggested the correct line of thought here: what is work?

    Another angle to this question is: what is productive?

    I would argue, by way of example, that sleep is both work and productive. Try functioning effectively on no sleep. Ditto fun (and other ‘low value’ things).

    We are suffering from poor cultural definitions of “work”, “productive”, “value” and “fun” (among other such notions).

    So, what do we value, what is money, and how do we distribute the fruits of humanity’s mighty productivity?

  13. TarheelDem

    It says much about economists that they have not as a guild noticed that they are on the list. Which do they think they are? Land, labor, or capital?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      They are priests. The happen to call themselves economists because educational institutes demand a certain veneer of respect and seminaries aren’t what they used to be, but the priest caste is necessary for distraction. Without God in this case our faith in the ivory tower, little people aren’t going to tolerate the massive wealth disparity. It may not lead to a paradise, but much of the massive wealth inequality is done because the economists are there to hide explanations in effectively a non-spoken language.

      Modern priests and ministers almost serve as distractions to the real priests of our society.

  14. Brooklin Bridge

    On this question of what will the displaced workers do? Many imagine the answer must be compassionate in some way. But why? I think the answer from the corporatists is basically, “Who cares? Let them eat cake or arsenic, whatever.” “Who cares?” may be their answer to all the problems of over population and pollution, not that they bother to think about it too much; we can just die off at our own pace, as long as we don’t represent a threat to them at which point the pace is accelerated. Would they even notice from their gated communities? They don’t seem to think so.

    It’s true they like to go slumming to do preening exercises by comparisons, but I’m not sure they think that far ahead.

  15. HotFlash

    Yes, They will automate everything they possibly can, and will redefine the work as required to make it fit the machines. The reason is not cost-saving per se, it is removing that pesky human problem. Machines don’t organize, machines don’t demand a share of the profits, machines don’t rebel.

    Oh, and if Young People Today are interested in high-quality, hand-crafted things, I have yet to hear of it. They seem to want slick designs that are what all their friends have, and they toss them to the curb when they are tired of them — phones, clothes, electronics, furniture, even the expensive designer stuff looks mass-produced (thank you Walter Gropius!). We have our grandparents furniture, but our grandchildren will not have ours.

    And it’s such a pity. If we humans cooperated we could all be happy as kings.

  16. Banger

    We are approaching the age long resisted by the corporate oligarchs that people many decades ago envisioned for the future. Our technological capacity is beyond stunning yet our lives still consist of nose-to-the-grindstone attitudes and ways of life. Our current political-economy exists with its stresses and fears to make sure that a class of elites continue to lord it over the riff-raff just because the f!ckers enjoy playing dominant/submission games where they are the tops and call the shots.

    Even at this point, we could collectively engineer a paradise on earth using the economies of scale by, for example, replacing carbon-based energy with a combination of renewable resources which economists claim is not possible because 95% of economists live in a world of fantasy that resembles academic theologians of the Middle Ages counting angels on the head of a pin.

    We forget, unless we lived through it, that many smart people in the 1950s believed we would be rapidly rolling back working hours through automation and all the glories of systems analysis and cybernetics (now used as instruments of oppression and not so much for conviviality). People were calling for “leisure studies” to deal with the urgent problem of what human beings would do with their off-the-clock lives. What happened? Why do so few people note that there was a major change in emphasis and power in the sixties that changed this trajectory?

    All the glories of technology since the 60’s have really offered only marginal improvements in our lives considering the dramatic nature of these changes. Why and how did we create such a stressful society? Why do we think this is the best we can do?

    If, indeed, the revolution in robotics can no longer be held back then this will, I hope, provide us with a new focus that we can build a new world very different from the dour one sustained by the propaganda organs and their corporate masters.

  17. NotSoSure

    Having worked as a software engineer for the last 10 years and having recently returned to school to get my graduate degree in Machine Learning (Big Data), I am somewhat skeptical about this article. I am not saying that some jobs can’t be automated, but as my professor himself said: “you will still need to have domain knowledge to apply the techniques properly”, so either the future world will be one where a software engineer will also need to have the domain knowledge of an accountant or the more likely scenario is they’ll have to work together. It’s true that people doing basic accounting will probably not retain their jobs, but no Big Data will ever be able to suggest a way to get around tax laws, they just can’t make the connection.

    1. Avg John

      They will probably redesign policies, methods, and laws to accommodate the automation. Such as doing away with income tax and moving to a national sales tax. Let’s face it, everyone knows the income tax is a scam anyway. Besides, all of man’s accumulated knowledge will eventually reside on a single chip that will be built into every common household device and updated daily from the cloud and all of these devices will be using the cloud to problem solve with each other. We don’t want to believe it, but it looks like we are going to eventually be serving machines rather than have machines serve us. What I mean to say is our life styles will be adjusted to meet the needs of our machines rather than the other way around.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Have you missed what has happened in banking? Tons of teller jobs eliminated by ATMs, and ATM need being reduced by debit cards and smartphone technology (you can now deposit a check via your smartphone).

      At the post office, you can now do stuff at those machine (print stamps, weigh parcels and get the right postage, weigh letters and get the stamps for certified and registered mail) you could previously only do at a window.

      Etc….

      1. ChrisCairns

        Yes or the supermarkets, where you scan your own items, weigh your fruit and veg etc.

        The shelves might be stacked by people on low wages, but pretty soon, if not already, those shelves will be stacked by robots and all the service staff will have gone. These supermarkets will be expensive to fit, but scale will eventually take care of that.

      2. Slim Boom

        Are you kidding me, our lives have already changed to accommodate machines. I am one of the so called ‘intelligence class’ workers. I sit in a cubicle looking at 5 screens for 8 hours and drive home to some more screens. Pretty soon, my car will have screens (If you count the cell mounted on the dash it already does). I can go an entire day without moving from my cube. That is computerization baby!!!

  18. Avg John

    Look at it as an opportunity. You can start a robot repair service for robots that guard the one percenter’s property and assets from hungry little people. Until someone designs a robot to repair and maintain those robots, that is.

  19. Steve

    I found this list hilarious, but this did not encourage me to read the article.
    What is a “recreational therapist”?
    Clearly these folks are missing some fundamental understanding: Clergy, Sales people.
    Why are Chemical Engineers given such short shrift?
    There is one really scary entry: Dentists

    Steve

  20. ep3

    Yves, I am an accountant and it’s overwhelming the amount of IT knowledge that is needed to operate most accounting software. It’s not about the debits & credits anymore. It’s the database knowledge & skill. Anyone can run accounting software. It’s so automated, it prevents most errors. But not everyone can dig thru a database & identify error code or run queries to identify mistakes. And to ask a person to spend 5 years in college for an accounting degree AND THEN another 2-4 years studying computer programming, just to make $40k a year, that’s not good.

    1. mansoor h. khan

      EP3,

      I am an IT guy who helps accountants with what you have stated in your comment. And yes they (the accountants) complain that they are paid less the IT guys. If you already have a college graduate you don’t need to get another degree. Just pick a book about SQL and download MySQL or Oracle Desktop DBMS Software and go at it. And then practice at work as much as possible. Just lean a tiny bit every day and after a few years you will be ready to transfer to the IT department. I have seen this happen many, many times in my career during the last 25 years.

      The internet is boon for learning technical knowledge. I constantly use the internet to get design examples and code examples and sometimes wholesale solutions to my exact problem. The best part is resolution to “bugs” which I have encountered which the eve software vendor’s analysts have a difficult time with. The pay for such skills is around $60,000 to $120,000 depending on experience, local market and luck.

      Mansoor H. Khan

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      I think the IT end of accounting and other such domains is itself subject to automation, if not already, in the not too distant future. It will reach a tipping point and then come faster and more suddenly than one thinks. Of course one might ask why not make hardware/software that doesn’t need IT in the first place but that is actually a different discussion. As a disipline, IT will be around for quite a while. IT automation, on the other hand, just like machine designed and generated code is coming to a theater near you, perhaps in bits and pieces and drips and drabs for the moment, but it is coming nonetheless.

      1. dw

        depends on what you mean by IT. if you mean an IT department, maybe, you can out source it today. but then some one must keep track of the bills (there will still be those) and drive the IT bus if you will. otherwise the companies will waste a lot of money. is it possible that IT will go away? sure. just like its possible that accounting, HR and management will. and just about any other department too. but then what does the company have to offer to its customers? if it doesnt really have employees, and little control over where its going. wouldnt that mean all of the companies end up being identical? or just going away?

  21. allcoppedout

    Back in the 80’s I was researching expert systems. It was generally thought then that accountancy and banking would ‘go machine’. The programs produced didn’t work well other than in the embodiment of manual skills – an old Marxist-Luddite theme. What Yves puts forward here is a very old story updated and none the worse for that.

    The technology to get rid of banking, finance, retailing and much other control fraud work is with us – we are held back by ideology including work ethics, ‘growth’ and foreign policy – not least by the fear that we don’t need to work much to have plenty if we are sensible. Poverty is still portrayed as a great motivator under lies about meritocracy. Our basic ideology on efficiency is now almost all wrong. We should start looking into (as this blog does) just how “expert” our owner-class is and what they really do. What we have modelled for automation tend to be rational formally espoused systems. This is not much of the real system.

  22. Banger

    It appears that a longer version of this comment was lost in the ethers–my mistake, no doubt. So if it shows up somehow, my apologies for repeating myself.

    Automation has been seen as a way to liberate people from the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality we cling to almost desperately. I believe most of our outstanding collective problems have pragmatic solutions based on stupendous growth in technology. I also believe that the power-elite are directly suppressing these facts as they do everything else.

    I welcome robotics and maybe will help us rethink our assumptions.

  23. fresno dan

    I would throw this out – maybe automation makes our economy less efficient and less effective.
    In the mid fifties, an application to FDA was 8 pages. Recent applications, when submitted in paper, weighed TONS. LOTS and lots of data – much of it gathered automatically. Much of the additional information is just noise, and seems to me designed to obfuscate. (there are 500,000 pages….critical information, not put straightforwardly, is on two pages. We won’t tell you where its at…)
    NO evidence that drugs approved recently are safer or more effective than drugs approved 30 years ago. Certainly more expensive, but not more cost effective, Indeed, better, cheaper drugs like Metformin were supplanted by Avandia, a demonstrably less effective drug, that costs WAY more, and oh, and had the added benefit of being MUCH more likely to kill you.

    In banking and finance, banking as a share of GDP has doubled in the last twenty years. CDOs, CDOs squared, MBSs, etcetera – tremendous automation and computerization (how did that going from recording of real estate transactions to the new “improved” system of property transfer recording work out??? ROBOSIGNING)
    So at least with finance, it seems to me that all this computerization was counterproductive – we are going through one of the worst financial crises ever.
    So I look at industries like banking and pharmaceuticals….lots and lots of computers, automation, “information” and I see lots and LOTS of profit for them, but for us, major screwing…

    1. Banger

      All that because technology is used to achieve an ends, i.e., riches for oligarchs. We live to make the rich richer, in short. Our problem is with our collective goals–when we change them to the idea of bettering our lot making society more convivial then we everything will change. We aren’t there yet–people are hypnotized with the cult of wealth–that will be going away in few decades.

      1. mansoor h. khan

        Banger Said:
        “cult of wealth–that will be going away in few decades.”
        I hope and pray for sooner than few decades and before my last day on earth. Inshallah.
        Mansoor H. Khan

  24. Jeff Z

    Also from “The Economist” is the report of this conversation.

    Henry Ford II: Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?

    Walter Reuther: Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?

    Probably apocryphal, and labeled as such by “The Economist” according to quoteinvstigator.com. But the upshot is that as long as innovation continues and new inventions emerge, economies and ways of life will be continually transformed, sometime s for the better, sometimes not. I think Mansoor H Khan is on the right track.

    http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/11/16/robots-buy-cars/
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/11/artificial-intelligence

    1. Sandwichman

      Testimony of Walter Reuther to the 1955 Joint Congressional Subcommittee Hearings on Automation and Technological Change (p. 124):

      “Every tool on every operation has a green light, a yellow light, and a red light; and when all the green lights are on, it means that all the tools at each work station are operating up to standard. When a yellow light comes on, on tool No. 38, it means that the tool is still performing, but the tool is becoming fatigued and that is a warning sign, so that the operator sitting there looking at these panels will know that he has to get a replacement tool for tool No. 38. He stands by at that position on the automated machine, and at the point the red light would kick on, on the board, he walks over — the machine automatically stops — he puts the new tool in the place of the tool that is worn out, and automatically the green light comes on and the machine goes on.

      “When I went through this plant the first time I was told by a top official of the Ford Motor Co.: ‘Mr. Reuther, you are going to have trouble collecting union dues from all of these machines.‘

      “And I said: ‘You know that is not bothering me. What is bothering me is that you are going to have more trouble selling them automobiles.’ That is the real significance. We have mastered the know-how of mass production, and what we need to do is to develop comparable distribution know-how so that we will have markets for the tremendous volume of production that automation now makes possible.”

      (Not the first time that my research has bested the Economist’s!)

  25. Jeff Z

    Fresno Dan,

    Good points all, and I happen to agree with them.
    We have to think seriously about what kind of society we would like, but that kind of question is dangerous to the present social order. We could start with the idea that increased productivity need not result in more “goods”, but might instead be used for less work, and more time for people to be with their friends and family.

    Those who are poor in an absolute sense do not even have their material need met. Those who are poor in a relative sense may have their material needs met, but not as well as they could be, and they could be truly deprived in other areas like education. Those who are not poor in any sense often still suffer from insecurity and other psychological stress. That means that even if the problem as we see it here is deep and affects everyone, it affects them in different ways depending on where they fall on the ladder of income / wealth distribution. That means different political priorities for members of each group, an that is an obstacle that needs to be overcome to address the problem of automation.

  26. Min

    The Economist: “just as the satisfaction of making things was reduced by deskilling and interchangeable parts in the 19th century.”

    Obviously not written by a Maker. ;)

  27. Alonzo

    Seems to me that politicians should be on the list. The algorithm could be less than 20 lines long.
    It also seems to me that automation is not necessarily bad. Automating accounting would be be okay if it empowered people to be their own accountants, which would distribute work among the population, but not if The Very Big Corporation gained de facto exclusive rights to process all the accounting in the country, not least because the first thing they would do is mark up their prices with a three-pronged pencil.
    I think the real job killers are mass production and centralization of services. These don’t necessarily follow from automation.
    I think I’ll stay away from the Google Car until the Google Train and the Google Trolley are perfected.

    1. Slim Boom

      20 lines, ARE YOU MAD!?! I’m thinking something in the arena of four:

      Create random number between one and three;
      one vote yes;
      two vote no;
      three abstain;

      I swear to got this would produce better political results than we currently enjoy.

  28. dw

    i have no doubt that capital will replace all labor with robots when its possible, or mix imported cheaper labor and robots till that time. the problem is of course as they do this plan they run into a problem (and they are already seeing it today). who will buy what they are selling? cause if there are only 85 potential customers, the rest will really punish those who need to sell some thing (including those 85). today’s economic mess is partially built from the need to keep selling when customers quit being able to buy. it was papered over by easy credit. but now that is gone (and the 99% aren’t to interested in recreating that mess again). so who will buy to keep the 85 going? and when the do the rest figure out that the plan does nothing for them?

  29. rps

    Cool, we don’t need no stinking humans in a robotic society. Following the debate about robotic replacement of human workers which leads to the next step; robots will be the consumers of corporates products and services??? Humans have been cut out of the economy; no job, no mon -no fun. Robots will be purchasing designer labels, tiffany jewelry wearing deodorant, smoking a marlboro, popping viagra while watching the Kardashians; and of course picking up the kiddie robots from daycare. Who’s gonna clean Dimon, Blankfein, Moynihan and Buffets toilets, cook and maintain the too many to count mansions??? Robots? Who’s gonna listen to the endless narcissistic chatter of these morons who’s only human relationships are with their personal shoppers, housekeepers, valets and nannys? No one else can tolerate these egomaniacs, even the robots would convulse and crash.

    Its corporate psych fiction to keep humans from rebelling against the corporate slave master.

    1. psychohistorian

      RPS: “Its corporate psych fiction to keep humans from rebelling against the corporate slave master.”

      Let alone consider that its the plutocrats that hire, fire and direct the corporate slave masters.

      When can we start talking about accumulating ownership of private property and the existence of and rules governing inheritance? Maybe when the corporate slave masters are robots?

  30. Sierra7

    “Simplicity…..”……
    How do we define, “progress”…..
    All else will (should) follow……

  31. Slim Boom

    I haven’t seen anyone mention that there have been a least a few great science fiction works about this. I believe it was Player Piano by Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick’s works are loaded with production/consumption themes.

  32. BigRed

    I don’t have much to add to except to point out that I find the claims what Machine Learning/Data Mining can do vastly overblown. The examples the Economist gives are essentially cognitive low-skilled jobs: image recognition, text search, numerical optimization done by computers instead of brains.

    And as to long-haul trucking: that’s exactly the kind of jobs that should be replaced by automation, as washunate also points out. Long-haul truck driving is a shitty job from everything I’ve ever read and heard, brutal hours, spirit-deadening work, low pay. In the same way it’s good if a lab technician has better things to do than stare at an image trying to identify abnormal tissue, if someone in a legal firm is not called upon to browse through law texts to identify the relevant ones. It’s waste to have humans do this if there is more relevant work they can be doing, as rusti points out.

    Also: economists only at 43%? The way I see it, there are two tasks that an economist can perform: prediction and prescription. Mainstream macroeconimists have a brutal error rate over the last five years, and as a predictor, an economist is essentially a serial learner/predictor: based on the current state of the world (and maybe some prior states) it predicts the next one.
    There’s a very simple serial predictor: predict that the trends of the current state of the world will continue. W.r.t. the Eurozone, this primitive predictor would have outperformed the IMF, the OECD, and the ECB economists. So replacing mainstream economists in this regard should not be too difficult.

    Finally: the original article is full of a lot of bullshit, and somehow expected NC to call this out. The magical appearance of higher wages after WW2, for instance, without a single word about organized labor. Or the claims about the German Jobwunder, given that NC recently had a piece on the shitty Amazon jobs.
    NC has the tagline “Fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics, and power” and I thought that this commentary was supposed to come from the postings. But once again it seems that it’s actually coming from the commenters – have I misunderstood the site’s purpose?

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