Archive for January, 2013


January 28, 2013

Robots will steal your job

Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon Are Worth $1 Trillion, but Only Create 150,000 Jobs

It’s Time to Reassess the Future of Work. Look. Robots are displacing human workers around the globe, and even the world’s biggest tech companies aren’t creating enough other jobs to even the scales.

Below, 60 Minutes rounds up some of the most high profile examples of robo-labor edging out the human variety: Sorting robots, manufacturing robots, stock-trading robots, oh my. Robots doing the jobs humans once did; each eliminating employment opportunities. And some of these robots are actually already cheaper than Chinese laborers. So even workers in developing countries will be fighting over robots for jobs.

The service industry isn’t safe either—there are already waitstaff-free restaurants. What’s more, the information technology sector, that great hope for future job creation, isn’t making up the difference. Not even close.

The bluntest way this is framed comes at the end of the piece: Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook combined account for over $1 trillion dollars of market capitalization. Yet they only employ around 150,000 people total. That’s less than half the number of people who work for GE. And it’s roughly the number of people that enter the U.S. job market every month. In other words, it’s a farce to believe that tech giants, internet startups, and app developers will ever be able to employ the same number of people that manufacturing once did.

The world is fundamentally changing; the economic assumptions that currently gird our society will be meaningless in as soon as a few decades. And we’d better get ready to prepare for that shift—if we don’t adjust the current socio-economic structure, we’re going to have mass joblessness, and society-wide chaos. We’re going to need to fundamentally reform not just our policies but our attitudes towards work. We’re going to need to re-engineer the social safety net from the ground up to account for the fact that robots are taking over on the labor front.

What’s the point of building society around a 40-hour work week, after all, when robots are doing all the heavy lifting?

We have a couple options to consider: the wisest would be to aim for something like a guaranteed minimum income. When robots are doing our work, everyone should benefit, and no one should be left out cold. Under the current trajectory, only those who own the robots will benefit from the rise of automation. The rich will get richer, the masses will get jobless. And restless.

Since there simply won’t be enough job slots for the entire population, we’re going to have to account for the shortfall, and recognize that work, as we currently conceive it, will no longer be the average person’s principal contribution to society. If we’re intent on maintaining a capitalist economy, there’s going to have to be a basic allowance allotted to citizens that’s untethered to the labor market—because pretty soon, the numbers just won’t add up. There won’t be any realistic route to full employment when robots become cheap, efficient, and flexible enough.

So we should probably look to providing all citizens a flat salary per annum. Tax the robot owners to do it; they’ll be richer than God soon anyway. Or, as Yglesias suggests, we could

abolish private property in ideas and natural resources. Then by taxing pollution, land, congestion, and other externalities we have adequate revenue to provide a decent social minimum for all at which point people do what they like. Some people’s hobbies will align reasonably well with some kind of labor market opportunity whereas others won’t, but society won’t be organized around a “work hard or else you’ll starve and be homeless” model because there will not objectively be a shortfall of food and houses or much of anything else.

Or we’ve got to drastically expand and streamline unemployment benefits, and de-stigmatize unemployment.

Good thing, then, that this specter comes looming at a moment of unprecedented Congressional paralysis. Unlike coping with global climate change or immigration, we do have a few years to get these kind of reforms underway—but I’m willing to take odds that we’re not going to be ready anytime soon nonetheless, seeing as how everything I’ve just suggested would instantly make any Tea Partier’s head explode.

It is possible that the rise of the robot workforce could end up being a major boon to society—we just need to calibrate our assumptions and policies to allow it to be. With some luck and progressivity, we may yet be able to fashion some slender variant of those work-free techno-utopias dreamed up in the past. Or, of course, we could plunge into a dystopic, inequality-ravaged hell-hole where a few titans of industry reap the profits of robot labor while the rest of us hopelessly slum it up in a cyberpunk-esque future. It’s our call.


A poem that I’d forgotten I had written

January 27, 2013

And unevenly
We step across this playground
The ground is not level
Never level
Sometimes we stumble
Or is it only me
In my darkness
My feet do not land where I place them
In my mind
They draw their own footprints
They decide their own path
And assume their own direction
I follow where they lead me
Or should I fight to go my own way
I’m tired of fighting
But far more I am too terrified of giving-up
And I have no idea of where it is best to hide

The Torie should read this

January 26, 2013

No Man Is An Island by John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less,

as well as if a promontory were,

as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;

any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.

(1572-1631 / London / England)


January 25, 2013

I have choices – I like to keep my choices – ads reduce them; ads try, slyly, to influence me, they try to limit my choice to the choices that the ads imply.
If I am “sold to” or have the ad shoved in my face, I am less likely to purchase that product.
“Ads make the internet ‘free’!” Do they?
so who pays for the ads?
The government tries to limit my choices, yet they call this a ‘free’ country.
They called East Germany the ‘German Democratic republic’ – yet it was a communist dictatorship.

Labour and the lowly.

January 24, 2013

“Come on Labour – pull your finger out” could be the derisive shout from the rear…
I saw Socialist Eddie’s spindly, long, narrow finger being wagged at Posh Dave yesterday in PMQ’s.
I don’t hold out much hope for our salvation.
Labour are so full of themselves – of their middle-classness.
They sit in committees and smell the scent of their own fundaments
and revel in the aroma!
We have the privileged and bigoted Tories destroying lives of which they have no comprehension and those who are supposed to represent the lowly do nothing – not even say anything to argue against the Tory actions.
“Come on Eddie” – pull your spindly finger out!!!