Don’t Be Afraid of Robots: Technology is What We Make of It

Lambert: “New technology is what society makes of it.” Or the most powerful actors in society? So, it’s good to potential job loss from technological advances — if advances they be — put in the context of the Jobs Guarantee.

By Kevin Cashman, who researches issues related to domestic and international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Originally published at The Minskys.

Rapid technological change, if it is even happening, does not necessarily need to lead to mass unemployment or even major disruptions in people’s lives. In all cases, new technology is what society makes of it — that is, it should be used to broadly improve lives and work, not reorient the world around the technology itself or redistribute wealth upwards.

There is a lot of talk of the rapid development of technology leading to changes in the way people work as well as mass automation and thus mass unemployment. However, the data generally don’t support this story (the most recent data being a notable, but very limited, exception). Nevertheless, the story has currency among the public and politicians, in part due to the novelty and allure of technology — and the political power of its promoters. Throughout recent history, the promises of revolutionary technology have captivated imaginations but also come up far short. Instead of flying cars, there are apps for refrigerators and ordering cat food over the internet.

It is important to note that the gains from technological advancements do not necessarily need to go to the rich or lead to mass unemployment. If shared fairly, the gains could lead to social benefits, such as increased social services, and broad individual gains, such as more leisure time. And there can be concerted action to help those directly affected by technological change. While there are many policies that could be implemented, a job guarantee — where the government provides jobs to all those that need them — is the simplest and most straightforward way to deal with job loss. If people lose their jobs due to factors outside of their control, why not simply provide them with new jobs?

If the gains go to the top, it is important to point out that this is because of deliberate policy. It is not a natural outcome. The rich and their allies in politics promote this redistribution to the top as inevitable — as the “future of work,” for example — whether or not advancements in technology pan out or not. Since advancements in technology do not fundamentally necessitate a change in social relations, this is intentionally deceptive at worst and wishful thinking at best. To see this dynamic, looking at particular jobs and industries is instructive, for example, in taxis and buses and trucking.

The ability to use smartphones and the internet to mediate services is not particularly revolutionary or unique but it does provide some benefits. Uber, the ride-hailing company, brought investment and these ideas to the taxi industry and quickly took over a large part of the market, despite many issues with its service and sustainability. In Uber’s case, appealing to the political power of affluent residents in cities and the supposed innovation of its app was enough to negate its blatant disregard for regulations, questionable safety record, exploitation of drivers, and unprofitability. In this sense, Uber’s investment allowed it to provide some benefits to its relatively wealthy passengers at the expense of the disabled, regular taxi drivers, and others. Most importantly, because it subsidizes every ride (Uber loses money on every ride taken), it was able to undercut the regulated taxi industry. The government’s lack of interest in maintaining fairness in the taxi industry effectively led to Uber being handed the market.

How could this have been different? The taxi industry on a whole is not an industry with large margins or much investment. In part, this is due to underlying characteristics of the industry as well as regulation, including those aimed at limiting the number of taxis operating in a city (which is good policy). To realize the benefits of technology, taxi commissions or groups of taxi drivers in various places could have developed their own app and infrastructure to facilitate ordering of cabs on the internet. This would have required substantial organization and money, which could have been facilitated and provided, respectively, by the government. The result could have been an app that allowed taxi authorities to continue to maintain standards for safety and operation and also provide the seamless service that certain groups of consumers desire. Indeed, competitor apps are being developed this way and existed before Uber, but they must now claw market share away from Uber. This is quite difficult because Uber is still subsidizing rides and keeping prices artificially low.

Let us now assume that rapid technological advancement is inevitable: self-driving cars and buses are finally right around the corner, as has been promised for years. (Indeed society could be on the cusp of this sort of technology, although the challenges shouldn’t be understated.) There would be massive benefits if self-driving vehicles are implemented successfully: increased mobility for the elderly, many fewer accidents, lower operating costs, increased productivity when in transit, etc.

Along with these benefits, there would be significant disruptions to the labor market. Ideas around how to approach these changes were discussed in a recent report, Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work.1 It discusses two questions that are central to evaluation rapid disruptions to the labor market: How fast will the technology develop? How much of an impact will it have?

Regarding the first question, and assuming that these technological hurdles are overcome,2 the report notes:

If the technology is successfully developed, the rate of the adoption and popularization of autonomous vehicles will depend greatly on whether necessary infrastructure is built, and whether and how regulation responds to these advances in technology. One of the inevitable debates will be between those who wish to ensure that autonomous vehicles are safe and reliable and those who want to get them to market as soon as possible. The outcome of this debate could greatly determine how the labor market is affected. Thorough vetting of the technology, along with phased rollouts, would allow time for workers to adjust to incoming shocks, and would dampen those shocks as well.

If the government were to assume the costs of building infrastructure for self-driving vehicles instead of the companies that are selling them, it would be fair for the government to also take a pro-active approach and develop a process to adequately assess the safety of those vehicles. This would somewhat mitigate the effects on the taxi industry and on bus drivers, especially in the early years of their use.

Proponents of self-driving vehicles also often forget to mention that technology will replace individual activities of workers but not necessarily all of the activities that encompass their jobs. Truckers, for instance, perform many other activities besides simply driving:

…in the trucking industry, there are many tasks that are difficult to imagine autonomous-vehicle technology being able to manage, which may limit their adoption or consign them or the driver to a secondary role. This includes many things that truck drivers are required to know, such as how to inspect the vehicle and cargo, perform maintenance and fix emergency problems, put on tire chains and deal with unpredictable weather, refuel the vehicle safely, and carry dangerous materials safely, to name a few.

If self-driving trucks took over the trucking industry, this suggests there would be many more support jobs in the trucking industry.

The other question is more pertinent considering our assumptions. How much of an impact technology will have on society is entirely up to society. The question is then not how much of an impact will self-driving cars have on society but where does society need self-driving cars and how do self-driving cars fit with social goals? There is a convincing argument that cars — self-driving or not — should have much less of a role in cities in the future. While taxis could have a role to play in the future, for example, public transportation and good urban design should be the focus, thus eliminating much of the need for taxis. In this vein, employment in the taxi industry could decline, but in addition to more social benefits from less vehicle use, employment would increase in association with an increase in investment in public transportation.

The social aspects of occupations are also important to consider when asking whether it might be desirable to transition to self-driving vehicles:

There is also the question of more socially oriented driving jobs. Bus drivers are one example. City bus drivers preserve order and safety on buses, provide information, ensure payment, and are generally considered community members and authority figures. School bus drivers have specific responsibilities related to the safety of the children they supervise. For these reasons, it may not be desirable or necessary to replace bus drivers, completely at least, even if the buses were fully autonomous.

In this sense, the elimination of these jobs would be akin to cuts in public services, and they would also eliminate some social benefits. Social aspects of jobs are rarely considered — but they are very important.

Here, a jobs guarantee would be useful, since it is a policy that prioritizes the social aspects of jobs and since social benefits are not prioritized in the private job market. Returning to the example of bus drivers, buses could be self-driving in the future but the “driver” need not be replaced. Rather, the position could be reoriented in a purely social role.

Whether technology will bring small changes, as in the case of Uber, or large changes, as in the case of self-driving vehicles, who benefits is entirely up to society. Gains from technology can be shared broadly with the right policies — just a few of which were described here — so there is no need to inherently fear the robots. A jobs guarantee is one of those policies, and it is perhaps the most important. (And it’s gaining traction in the mainstream.) Whether or not robots and mass automation are around the corner, it’s good policy, too.

References in original.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Disturbed Voter

    I am not afraid of technology, not even nuclear weapons. But I have every reason to be afraid of the human potential for mischief. Sophisticated technology can be very beneficial, but only if designed by the most competent technical people and managed by the most ethical people. Technical people suffer from hubris. Managers are non-technical, and are subject to arbitrary demands from the executive level, so they suffer from accommodation.

    What I generally find with “technology” boosterism is that it involves either marketing fraud or special pleading or both. The conclusion is given, then rationalization and persuasion set in.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Politicians are what we make of them.

      They are supposed to be our public servants. And lucky indeed we have been…I think.

      On the other hand, or maybe the same hand, we continue to read, ominously, that CIA money and Chinese money continue to pour into AI start ups in the Silicon Valley. Maybe we can all use some kindness from strangers.

      So, I am still afraid…perhaps more afraid now than yesterday.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        How many of us are honest enough to say to him/herself “I don’t trust myself?”

        As in, ‘Don’t leave the chocolate here on my desk. I don’t trust myself.”

  2. Nat

    “Technology is What We Make of It” which is precisely why we should all be very afraid of robots. The only possibility for not being afraid of robots is one in where our dominant society radically changes before the advent of robots such that it won’t be a rational premise that “what we [will] make of” robots is something other then the ultimate tools of class war and oppression. Until we magically get a considerably better more caring, decent, and forward thinking society, I suggest you prepare for the otherwise inevitable coming apocalypse.

    1. BoycottAmazon

      +1 and +1 to Disturbed Voter. I’m afraid of Unrestrained International Capitalism armed with robots.

  3. MartyH

    I agree with both @Disturbed-Voter and @Nat. Sales pitches for “The Next Great Thing” always lean on “Technology is What We Make of it.” But WE_THE_PEOPLE are NOT the “We” that refers to. It is more accurate and honest to say “Technology is What THEY make of it” … and at this stage in my life, I am not optimistic about the agenda behind self-driving vehicles as with so many new technologies being deployed “in our best interests” as defined by the invisible-others. The Rent Extraction is obvious. The Social Control too.

  4. Thuto

    The utility value of technological innovation can indeed be accessible to all and its benefits more widely (and fairly) distributed. However, this goal of equitable benefits distribution is diametrically opposed to the apex priority of those who currently fund technology innovation (e.g. private venture capital), which is to realise outsized financial returns. Given the disconnect between these two stakeholders (I.e. society and tech funders), access to the most transformative technologies (e.g. advances in restorative medicine) is usually a function of one’s income/wealth level given the need to recoup the R&D investment and return profits to the funders. On the other hand, technologies whose transformative value is questionable at best (I personally count social media among these) are widely distributed, often free of charge, so as to reorient society/social relations around their use and capture some aspect of their users’ lives ( e.g a captive eyeballs market) to onsell to a paying audience.

    The watershed moment came when the primary responsibility for funding technology innovation passed (or was wrestled from) from the government to the private sector, distorting the channels through which the benefits of said innovation are distributed amongst the members of society.

  5. diptherio

    Given the history of technological development, and barring any major changes in how we arrange things in the near future, what we should probably expect to see is the continued crapification of more and more jobs. Just as the emergence of Uber has made it harder, not easier, to make a living driving people around, so too will the emergence of self-driving semis (if such ever happens…which I doubt) will simply be an excuse to pay the drivers less (since their main responsibility will have been removed). The ‘drivers’ will become simply maintenance techs attached to the vehicle, responsible for all the things the article points out a self-driving semi can’t do. The work of making our goods distribution system function will become that much worse of a job.

    Not that I want that to be what happens, but if we let the elites keep calling that shots, we shouldn’t expect that they’re going to make their decisions for the benefit of the population-at-large. Despite what the title of the piece would have you believe, technology is not what we make of it, but rather what those with decision-making power make of it. Gilens and Page proved conclusively that “we” don’t have any input in decisions of this type. Just sayin’.

    1. JTMcPhee

      I wonder how much diesel mechanics get paid, relative to all the many kinds of people who are now soon-to-be-displaced drivers (maybe), including grandmothers and husband-and-wife teams and pimply-faced striplings, or how these trucks will be designed for longevity and minimum service requirements in a low-bid, race-to-the-bottom system like we live in today. Gonna find Asian or Ukrainian importable mechanics to ride along, subject to the potential oopsies of the “robot” driver, ready to drag out those huge diesel tools and the computers necessary to maintain and repair today’s big Detroit Diesels and Cummins and Mercedes and Volvo and Asian iron?

      Massive supply chain vulnerabilities. The whole thing is full of Rube Goldbergian Murphy’s Law incipient happenings that are just biding their time… Time to be pursuing personal and small-group autarky as much as possible. Buy all the made-elsewhere crap you think you need from Amazon, like such good tools as are available any more, and stow it away before the whole freakin’ thing collapses from the weight of its own externalities.

      I do have to say that in some categories, it looks like the manufacturers in “China” are producing some pretty good stuff in the tool department. Better even than CRaftsman and Snap-on (which oops, are also made in “China…”)

  6. JTMcPhee

    “Technology is what we make of it.”

    Who is “WE,” again? The creatures that lead Goldman Sachs, or run the NSA, the spooks that run all the many parts of the CIA, in concert with Bezos and Zuckerberg and the rest? The “geeks” at DARPA who spend every working moment inventing disruptive technologies like itsy-bitsy increasingly autonomous things “we” call so blandly “drones,” thingies that can buzz or float up to “us” and kill us with injections or mists of toxins produced by other “really smart techs and scientists?” Or “energy weapons” like the ones imagined in sci fi since the 19th Century? And space does not allow noting all the other collections of humans across the planet, driven by the same set of motivations, working on “tech solutions” to the same “problems.” Even where the motivation of an individual is “ethical,” by some measure, like the guy who thought up CRSP-R, and now sees the downsides beyond his hope to cure diseases and stuff.

    “We,” if “we” means the great mass of humanity, have NO SAY in either the “development” or “deployment” (a term that works well in the increasingly overlapping sets of “civilian” and “military” sub-economies) of technology, a frame that totally excludes any kind of “democracy” or “people’s choice.” About the only “choice” I can recall, on a large scale, is the switch away from the worst ozone-depelting chemicals, like chlorofluorocarbons, and that only happened in a narrow window and because there were LESS-damaging (not innocuous) and also profitable substitutes.

    What choice do you or I or the fellow behind that tree have about “robots,” a category that is already YUUUGE and constantly growing? Or about the proliferation of CRSP-R? Or the misuse of antibiotics that is resulting in “superbugs” (YAY! say the un-“woke” people among us who cheer Big Super anything, after centuries now of marketing inundation) and supercomputers and vast “server farms” where bovine processors industriously and placidly, under the direction of “algos,” turn femtabits of raw green data points and terawatts of electrons into sumptuous tools of manipulation and oppression, all to feed the insatiable, carnivorous appetites of those who “own” them, and are a lot more of a “WE” in the sense of power and control than any of what “we” here think of as “us?”

    “Technology,” in the sense of unbridled “development” of all the infinity of things that can be done with “materials” and “code,” is a Juggernaut. All well and good to talk about how nice it would be if “technology” would be controlled and directed by “ethical people.” Whose “ethics?” There are flavors of that notion of every sort, including people who would end the species, or particular parts of it, because it’s so “bad,” in their frames? As noted in comment above, to avoid the unfortunate consequences (from the standpoint of ordinary people) from “misuse” and errors, “we” have to hope and pray that the ranks of “techs” and “managers” will fill out with infinitely wise and skillful and “ethical” people. I don’t see that has a snowball’s chance of ever being the case. Bleeding-edge “techs” look for the IPO payday, managers for bonuses, nobody very much cares about externalities and downstream effects and interactions that kill and destroy and “displace” — disruption is a core theme and driver of “tech,” in all its current forms.

    “Not afraid” even of nuclear weapons? Where only dumb (Fblog) luck has on many, many occasions avoided “unintended detonations,” and even all-out sear-and-then-freeze-the-planet war (as if species suicide by “nuclear exchange” can really be shoehorned into that apparently infinitely elastic term “war”)?

    Line from a movie: “Then we’re stupid and we’ll die.” Maybe because some “ethical hackers” decide to turn off all the electricity… Would that kill the NSA and Google and Amazon server herds? Nah. They probably have their own generating capacity, since they know their vulnerabilities that way. Might make life untenable for most of the rest of “us,” though…

    I know an old lady
    Who swallowed a fly…
    I don’t know why
    She swallowed that fly.

    Perhaps she’ll die...”

  7. BoycottAmazon

    Job Guarantee, a broad brush applied where it takes details – and if the truth is in the details, then policy wonks are just blowing smoke, or maybe they have another work program in mind: “Arbeit macht frei”

  8. QuarterBack

    I sense that technology evolution has reached a point where a profound and fundamental ecosystem state change will soon occur laying waste to prior (valid) foundational assumptions on the demand for human labor; more precisely, the demand for brawn, and menial task completion.

    The Bell Curves for the distributions physical strength, intellect, and many other human capabilities have been incredibly consistent throughout history. Societies and their various economic systems have evolved to naturally migrate toward conditions of ecological balance between the demands and supply of human labor.

    Technology advances have always had a disruptive affect to reshape and displace demand for various uses of brawn and menial task performance, but these disruptions have always been around the margin, and have been a useful part of the engine for innovation and diversity.

    Technology is now passing a milestone where the demand for physical strength and menial cognitive performance will become, from a practical sense, nonexistent. This will leave large portions of the Bell Curve without any demand to satisfy. There will be no need to retrain, because there will be no alternative physical or menial tasks to satisfy.

    The result of this state shift will be that large portions of the Bell Curve will have no place to go, no way to contribute, no way to profit from a new normal that no longer needs their skills. This will create incredible friction between the bands on the Curve, because those in the brawn and menial tasks class will be seen as drains on society. The most dangerous part of this that, under the current economic model, this will be true. These people will be unable to contribute, they will have to rely on charity and taking to survive. It is not hard to imagine this.

    The only way to avoid this slowly growing tragedy is to focus our great economic, political, and spiritual philosophers on trying to build a new economic model to conform to the new reality where brawn and menial labor will become no longer needed. We cannot train our way out of this situation. There will always be a bell curve section of people who will be incapable of advanced tasks, and this distribution will continue through each new generation. We cannot continue within this new reality with the current (albeit successful for centuries) societal and economic systems for social status, wealth, property ownership, self-worth, and survival that omit a significant percentage of the population of the species.

    1. JTMcPhee

      That assumes that the “new paradigm” will somehow triumph and sustain itself. There are massive vulnerabilities in the existing and any post-Milestone “political economy” and particularly in “tech.” A whole lot of “Tech” is about increasing and leveraging and attacking these vulnerabilities.

      Nice thought that menial mental work and physical strength will become nugatory in the coming best of all possible (or supposedly inevitable) worlds. And hey, it’s not a “tragedy.” That implies some kind of moral imperative against which the vast wonderful inevitable milestone of delaborization would generally be measured. The relatively few humans who are driving what’s happening, increasingly whooshed along by the apparent drivers developing within the technology itself (algos?) are NEVER going to let whatever exists of “our great economic, political and spiritual philosophers” have a thing to say about what the “political economy” of that post-Milestone world will look like. And there’s a reason why zombie myths and themes are so very popular these days. The Few may have big brains, but that just makes them more attractive to the physically strong menials who would eat them…

      1. QuarterBack

        My question is how will society function when every task that can be performed by a person with an IQ of 90 or less will be performed by robots or AI? Plus, who is to say that the IQ cutoff for replacement by AI or robotics wouldn’t (eventually) be 105 or higher? At some point, the weight of the “non-productive” class will cause societal breakdown. Our economic and moral assumptions for productivity and personal value are built on the assumption that demand for labor is always out there, somewhere, if one is willing to take the retraining, relocation, or quality of life investment to adapt. If there is globally no demand to retrain for, or relocate to, then this a big problem. This premise is a basis for assuming that any able bodied unemployed person is just lazy, not will to adapt to reality, or a ne’er do well. Unfortunately, at some point, you can’t tell a janitor, ticket agent, or assembly line worker to suck it up and learn to be a software developer.

        1. JTMcPhee

          And I guess in that post-Milestone world, “robots” will willingly feed the “software developers” and FIRE whiz kids and military and police? And having been instilled, in their algos, by the unconscious biases of Silicon Valley, to do away with unnecessaries, the AI of the future will not decide via one of those surprising and opaque leaps of quantum or positronic intuition to do its own software development and do away with the un-necessity to feed or clothe or provide shelter and munchies and BMWs and sex toys for the said software developers? Would AI and robotics stop in-filling and disrupting and displacing at an “IQ” (questionable metric at best) of 105, or 130?

          Software developers and the people who rule them, the “owners,” just did a “cost-saving rollout” of a New! Improved! electronic medical record, billing and management software at what used to be a pretty good local trauma center hospital. Seems all the radiology and lots of other patient data became inaccessible, and the scramble is on to wire in the kludges that the humans of good will, the nurses and doctors and low-level staff, are struggling to come up with to get the “developed” software to perform what the corporate types who mandated the “development” and implementation claim to have had in mind — “better functionality” and “improved patient care.” And of course Moar Profit. Not clear whether and how many “patients” have suffered, in morbidity and mortality, from this latest bit of “techfoolery.”

          “How will society function when every task ” is robotocized? What “society” are you talking about? What are its parameters and operations and goals? I guess by definition a “society” will exist and will have to “function” somehow — there was a “society” in an African tribe I recall studying in Anthro way back when, that had descended into anomie due to a number of pressures, including innovations and the intrusion of a money-based transaction structure to replace the more traditional forms. It got to the point that smallpox appeared, and people would dip the ends of sharp straws in the pus from the pox and insert them, pointed and poisoned end out, into the thatch over the doorways of the huts of others, to infect them too, surreptitiously.

          I’ve got no idea how you identify politically, Libertarian or anarchist or progressive or whatever. My question would be what your vision is for the society that you might like to see develop. “Soylent Green?” “Elysium?” “Wall-E?” Wells’s “The TIme Machine?” Or is this just a thought experiment, rather than prescription or prophecy?

    2. nonclassical

      ..perhaps you are pointing out the needlessness of the mass of humanity…and subsequent “rational totalitarian” behavior?

  9. Brian

    I only remember one robot that was programmed by an advanced extraterrestrial society to keep order among the planets. This only after they nearly wiped themselves out. This robot would “keep the peace” through violent retribution should it be required. Humans hated the idea then.
    Please think about this and the humans of today, and what kind of robots we would build?
    So far, what we have built have some limited purpose when anthropoid. Why would we imagine this will work out well as the computer we insert will make it more autonomous over time? We going to have rules and regulations like the banks?
    Pandora, Pandora, where is thy box?

  10. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Proponents of self-driving vehicles also often forget to mention that technology will replace individual activities of workers but not necessarily all of the activities that encompass their jobs. Truckers, for instance, perform many other activities besides simply driving:

    …in the trucking industry, there are many tasks that are difficult to imagine autonomous-vehicle technology being able to manage, which may limit their adoption or consign them or the driver to a secondary role. This includes many things that truck drivers are required to know, such as how to inspect the vehicle and cargo, perform maintenance and fix emergency problems, put on tire chains and deal with unpredictable weather, refuel the vehicle safely, and carry dangerous materials safely, to name a few.

    If self-driving trucks took over the trucking industry, this suggests there would be many more support jobs in the trucking industry.

    That last sentence just reads like hand waving. Exactly how, a truck driver may want to know the details and the various paths to the more-jobs-for-humans-tomorrow-land..

    1. Edward E

      More doesn’t always mean better quality jobs. Support jobs generally pay less.
      One possible way: They have in mind that the trucks will drive themselves from one staging lot to another and truckers ( probably making peanuts) will take them to fuel, do delivery and reload, then park the truck at a staging lot and send it off. In winter weather someone will probably have to go. Most robotic trucks may very well be all electric except for the onboard charging units.

      The new automated wonders now only need preventive maintenance every 80k miles. I wouldn’t buy a used one.

  11. David Laxer

    Max Tegmark wrote an excellent book on AI – the impact it will have on us and the conversations about AI we must start.

    He organized an meeting in 2017 in Asilomar, CA to discuss ‘beneficial AI’ (or friendly AI) with many of the worlds top AI scientists and researchers.
    Here’s what came out of the meeting:

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      That 2017 Asilomar meeting, attended by many of the world’s top AI scientists and researchers, did it include potential future victims of AI?

      I think they (or we) should have been invited to map out, hammer out those 23 (or more) rules.

      1. JTMcPhee

        “It’s a small club, and you (and I) ain’t in it.”

        Lots of action-suspense-geopolitical novels are based on plots by individuals or small groups to develop some world-dominating, or species-ending (mostly, at least — the plotters expect to survive and prosper) technology or artifice. Our myths ought to tell us something about our very rational fears and maybe unconscious and intuitive apprehensions (all definitions) of our collective and individual vulnerabilities. In the absence of the vast comity and commensalism that a lot of people wish for (often while plotting their own personal apotheosis of wealth and power…)

        Too bad it looks more and more like accident and error, those immutable bedrocks of reality, will prevail.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          It’s always assumed that there are only so many uebermenschen at a given time

          The smaller the number, the more elite and greater satisfaction of the ego.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Thanks, maybe I will.

          in the meantime, Mr. Tagmark, who is obviously devoting himself a lot of time and energy to the subject, is welcome to go out and talk to humans of all backgrounds.

          He will be welcome here.

          “Take the conversation to wherever people will have it.”

          1. David Laxerd

            The Epilog (Tale of the FLI Tam) of the book discusses the progress he made from the first meeting in Puerto Rico in 2015 to the second meeting in 2017 at Asilomar. It’s very interesting.

            Chapter 5: Aftermath: The next 10,000 years, portrays 12 scenerios/worlds we could end up in.

            His goal is to inform, educate and initiate a dialog regarding ‘the most important issues of our time.’

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              Sorry, I presumed he would be welcome to come.

              I spoke for only myself, but I believe many will be happy to see him here.

  12. McWatt

    Our robotic future is something to be abhorred not celebrated. If your life doesn’t fit into our AI model
    then I guess you are the problem, not our model.

    I run up against this everyday. From the 5-10 robot calls a day on land line and cell phone, to interacting with any large company via phone or computer, to the hundreds of fraudulent emails a day, the world of interacting with people who think so little of me that a machine can talk to me is a future I don’t want.

    Not just cause I don’t want it, because it just does not work. My life does not fit into their box.

  13. Jesper

    I’m not sure if the example of the self-driving cars/trucks is meant to illustrate a principle or if it is redirecting interest….. Office work has never been easier than now and the cost-savings in office work are now bigger than in driving. Automation is in my opinion now more likely to hit the college-educated than the ones who can ‘only’ drive a truck or ‘only’ cut hair.
    The drive to make office workers replaceabe/disposable to push down wages will continue. Only way that I see how we can deal with that is to use the ease of being replaceable/disposable by sharing out the jobs by increasing paid vacations, reducing pension age etc.

    1. Mark P.

      Office work has never been easier than now and the cost-savings in office work … Automation is in my opinion now more likely to hit the college-educated than the ones who can ‘only’ drive a truck or ‘only’ cut hair.

      Exactly. Plumbers and electricians are safe for a generation or three, given those jobs’ requirements that workers move around in the physical world and take note of very specific physical situations. Routinized office work or even something like most medical diagnosis, on the other hand, is clearly where algorithms and AI are going to dent employment next.

  14. UserFriendly

    At first I thought this was going to be a reference Bill Mitchell’s latest. Which linked to this amazing report to congress in 1966. Which I highly recommend reading in full, or at least from pg 33 on.

    We have stated the view of the economic role of technological change to which the Commission has come in the course of its deliberations. Our assign- ment includes also an obligation to make recommendations to management and labor and to all levels of government to “facilitate occupational adjustment and geographical mobility” and to “share the costs and help prevent and alleviate the adverse impact of change on displaced workers.” Our recommendations flow logically from the view we have already adopted. Constant displacement is the price of a dynamic economy. History suggests that it is a price worth paying. But the accompanying burdens and benefits should be distributed fairly, and this has not always been the case. The costs of displacement to employees do not exhaust the total costs of technical and economic change. Business firms, labor unions, schools, government agencies and other institutions, as well as persons, develop some vested interest in the status quo. An economic or technological change that represents progress to society as a whole may, in a nation devoted to political and industrial democracy, be resisted by persons and institutions to whom it appears a threat. Though public policy has less obligation to the perpetuation of institutions than to the protection of individuals, there is a public interest in reducing resistance to progress. Our analysis of the economic impact of technological change suggests the following organization of our recommendations for facilitating adjustment to change. 1. For those with reasonably attractive skills and no other serious competitive handicaps, ample job opportunities and adequate incomes can be assured by management of the total demand for goods and services. 2. For those less able to compete in the labor market, productive employment opportunities adapted to their abilities should be publicly provided. 3. Under the best of circumstances, there will be some who cannot or should TECHNOLOGY and 33 not participate in the job economy. For them, we believe there should be an the adequate system of income maintenance, guaranteeing a floor of income at an acceptable level. Our recommendations which relate to employment and income are discussed in this chapter. We reserve to the next chapter those recommendations which relate to information and mobility, education and training, and to the regional context of technological displacement. A. The Management of Total Demand It is the unanimously held conviction of the Commission that the most im- portant condition for successful adjustment to technological change is an ade- quate level of total income and employment. We recognize that this is not the end of economic policy, but we are confident it is the beginning. We have noted that the unemployment problem we contemplated when we first met has diminished in the course of 1965. The sequel to the Revenue Act of 1964 has clearly demonstrated that Federal fiscal and monetary policy can bridge the gap between the current level of private spending and the level of total demand needed to reduce unemployment. During the life of the Commission the very groups disproportionately burdened by unemployment-—the young and inexpe- rienced, the undereducated, the unskilled, Negroes, production workers—have profited more than proportionately from the healthy growth of total employment. Many of them have benefited from such innovations in manpower policy as the Job Corps or the Neighborhood Youth Corps. This, too, is a source of satis- faction and an incentive to do better. We believe that the potential for general expansion of demand and employment has not yet been exhausted. We recognize that as labor markets and product markets become tighter and production comes closer to capacity in important industries, the beginnings of inflationary pressures emerge. It is not our busi- ness to predict what will occur during the next 12 months either in Asia or in the domestic economy. We urge, however, that the toleration of unnecessary unemployment is a very costly way to police inflation. It deprives the country of valuable output, and it sacrifices the poorest and least privileged among our citizens. It is preferable to press carefully ahead with the expansion of total production and employment, and simultaneously to redouble private and public efforts in the manpower field to relieve shortages in skilled and trained labor as they arise and develop effective means of combatting other causes of inflation. As we write, events in the economy and elsewhere are moving rapidly; there is considerable uncertainty about the size of the economic and manpower burden of military operations in Vietnam. Under the circumstances, we can make no attempt to suggest the precise direction that fiscal and monetary policy should take in the near future.1 We urge most strongly, however, that economic policy aim resolutely and watchfully at a reduction in the general unemployment rate to 3.5 percent or below by the beginning of 1967. No good is done our economy or our country by recoiling from that task prematurely. For the longer run, we believe it to be of the highest importance to the future of democracy in the world that this country never present to its neighbors the spectacle of wartime prosperity yielding to peacetime unemployment.

    1. pricklyone

      >> For the longer run, we believe it to be of the highest importance to the future of democracy in the world that this country never present to its neighbors the spectacle of wartime prosperity yielding to peacetime unemployment<<

      Of course, as always, the response is always to make the "wartime prosperity" permanent, rather than finding a peace that functions.

  15. Chris

    Don’t be afraid, society will adjust and we’ll be ok…

    Something not quite right with this narrative. We are already seeing what the elites response to this is – go eat dirt and die.

    As soon as they have enough ‘robots’ to kill us all. They will. It’s already happening right before our very eyes

    1. Summer

      It’s dismissive of criticisms as being only about “fear.”
      The criticisms about robots and technology are clearly about trust, but some still can not fathom how little so many institutions and organizations are trusted.

      They never say let’s fix the policies before we continue, do they?

  16. Skyburn

    Maxim 24: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun.

    Who are the robots aimed at?

  17. Rosario

    Assuming 250000 years of our present species, 10000 years of agricultural society, and 250 years of industrial society, the 25 years of digital society is a paltry sample size of human history to very subtly state that progress is inevitable and can, in every case, be directed toward our species best interest. (The emphasis is on our species in relation to global ecology and its many other species adversely affected by our progress, dinosaurs couldn’t reflect on their taking up a lot of space, we can, thus we have no excuse for abusing the privilege.) I agree with the hopes and desires of the article, but I don’t think the author recognizes the magnitude of the problem (complex problem needs an appropriately complex solution).

    As far as the full 250000 years, we almost went extinct shortly after the Toba eruption. The resulting genetic bottleneck likely creating the tight knit genetic makeup that most humans share despite vast geographic displacement. The 10000 years of agricultural society seems to contradict the thesis as well. We’ve rolled snake eyes numerous times, despite our best intentions and use of fairly diverse and sustainable energy production/use methods (versus industrial society’s ubiquitous consumption of one time use fossil fuels). During the agricultural age the patterns of “civilization entropy” (yeah I made it up) by geographic region were largely sinusoidal (think Balkans, Europe, China/Central Asia, Tigris/Euphrates, West Africa, Mayan Peninsula, US Southwest, Pacific Islands, etc.). The fairly consistent growth of industrial society for 250 years has rode on fossil fuels for its entirety and came about by subsequent accidents of innovation and discovery (think steam engines for pumps in mines, used for manufacturing, then power generation, etc.). What to say of the digital age? I think it is an enormous mess (like gigantic, enormous, mental illness inducing mess) and we are way behind in developing the proper linguistic, social, and political tools to deal with it in a way that is healthy both culturally and psychologically. I don’t even think we have the proper set of tools to deal with the industrial age or the agricultural age for that matter. Theirs is a work in progress, and always will be, short our extinction.

    I agree that we decide how to use technology, but the issue is more that we don’t often use it rationally. How much of social media is a psycho-social-political slot machine reinforcing firmly held views and opinions via the brain’s addiction to satisfying “randomness”? How much of our motivations hinge on our insecurities and fears in addition to our loves and passions? The common theme is, a whole lotta feeling with not a lotta reason. These are hard things to address from every perspective and I’m thinking there is very little energy and thought put into this. The nearly global cultural refrain of the real power brokers (I’m not thinking “alt-right” cultural reactionary boogeymen) is “every innovation is inevitable, and represents progress, and we need to get used to it”. Again, 25 years out of 250000 is a very poor sample set, and history tends to show the contrary. Nothing is certain, and not every innovation or progress is inherently good. Particularly if it is not acted upon with reflection, intent, and measured purpose. Technology is a relationship, and with the digital age we have already met the parents, said I love you, moved in together, and got a dog.

    Well that was my uneducated opinion. I have missed the comments very much. Many smart people here thinking before acting…I think. I miss that. Thank you moderators for working to keep it going. I think it is helping ;)

  18. Jeremy Grimm

    Just out of curiosity …
    What happens to robots and AI in the lean days after peak oil? Is there some giant AI whirring in a dark corner grinding out plans for new energy sources?

    What will the robots and AIs do for us as the oceans rise and drown our great cities — as random violent weather becomes routine — as crops fail — as entire sections of this beautiful blue world become hostile to human habitation? Where will they get their silicon when the hypercomplex hyperfragile industrial base which gave them birth collapses under the weight of its Neoliberal follies?

    Whether AI and robots create new and improved jobs — two jobs for each job lost [an outcome which I highly doubt] — or great robot boots trample the work force into further poverty — is an interesting point to speculate upon. But I am becoming more and more concerned that it may become little more than a minor distraction in the not so distant future.

  19. Scott

    I can say that I have become a Librarian of work. I have insights into work. I even drove a cab, nights, 6 PM to 6AM for 11 months. Made me a bit crazy.
    The idea that there ought be only medallion cabs is great if all neighborhoods are served.

    There is a good reason that there were, or still may be Gypsy Cabs.
    I was in the wrong neighborhood for me and ended up running for my life to hail the all black car, acting like a cab. If I’d not driven a medallion cab in another city at the other end of the state, I’d not have known what I was seeing and needed right then to understand.
    Do you grasp that?

    Uber is another corporation that is run by the people taught never to pay labor. They are so interested in not paying labor they lose sight of what the company is supposed to even accomplish. CEOs now pursuing the money for Stock Buy Backs do that at the expense of the vitality of a corporation that existed once for some rich reason.

    The aim of the business owner is to pay no one and receive from their vending machines equivalents a never ending flow of cash into their bank accounts, wherever they can get Compound Interest.

    Mobsters run the country and they loved vending machines & cab companies and jukeboxes, any cash company is riches for mobsters. Mobster Financial Engineering was made more legal under Clinton than ever before.

    All the actions that crush labor before labor can figure the plan and unite are possible since wealth is power and the individual of the nation is well isolated. Labor is kept divided, isolated, ignorant and desperate.

    The entire nation needed first rate public schools so all citizens had the education that made them capable of all these adaptations.

    The public schools I went to in the South of the Golf Set didn’t want us to advance out of our “class” of cowed mill workers. Cigarette factories need people same as Detroit.

    They got better educations up north and fought for their pay insured by the union that hired mobsters to do the bloody work.

    The lesson being you had better be willing to do your own bombings & killings or you will be sold out by the mobsters acting like Business Agents for trash hauling and film crews and driving trucks.

    We call it “The Government” out of habit so much we forget it is “Our” government.

    Things of our world are supposed to be done in good order. For instance robots do not yet have brains or bodies quite as good as ours. But instead of our step from factory floor motion control welding robots, there are little flying drones for surveillance and all but the thing that put into the mix would amplify the strength, of a man saving his or her body the wear & tear their bodies are not built to endure for so long. Instead of demanding the Exoskeletons the game is to use Mexicans and throw them away when they are disabled.

    Sheetrock delivery is as hard to do as loading truck and tank cannons with artillery shells. DARPA has an exoskeleton design for that. If you have a better brain than the robot a wearable robot exoskeleton is the answer, if you are about doing things in order.

    Sheetrock delivery produces 70 percent disability and the capitalists would rather pay a higher insurance premium than pay the workers. You’ll see crops picked by workers wearing exoskeletons not too long from now if there is no cheap ignorant labor to abuse.

    So it is driverless cars and pilotless airplanes on roofs of tall buildings Uber & Google and Amazon all lust for instead of our seeing the greater use of the Exoskeleton which ought be next to any forklift in a Clark showroom.

    Of course Our Government is supposed to have a specific Goal, that being the Defense & Education of its people so they and we enjoy our lives together. We want a society that honors the honest laborer as much or more than bankers with little curiosity about anything but how to create debt and get more money than god for doing that.

    Most bankers are incompetent do do anything but make loans for real estate.

    “You cannot go wrong if you have to correct goal.” Einstein.

    I’m reading Nomadland and feel for those my age working for Camper Force since at least if I could still work, I had a IATSE card meaning I could shape up in any town to work concerts or shows or even hang in LA or NYC for work.

    Both Obama & Sanders have said that citizens need to join unions. Labor loves to work with new tools. Huge jets can take off and land themselves, but the pilot & copilot are indispensable.

    Things go wrong, only a living being cares.

Comments are closed.