Some recent links showing the on-going march toward job automation:
Automated Coffee Shops – Singularity Hub.
(See also my previous post on the automation of fast food (and beverage) jobs.)
Automating Legal Work – New York Magazine.
This is more on the the use of e-discovery software to process documents. Automation is likely to hit especially hard at the entry level (and more routine) jobs often taken by recent graduates in a variety of skilled occupations, including law and journalism:
Automating Journalism – Wired … and other articles at Slate and The Guardian (UK)
Nevada gives Google a License for Automated Cars – CNN.
Rapidly Improving Manufacturing Robots – Singularity Hub.
Military Robots – GMA News
Construction Robots – Construction Digital
Canon Plans Full Automation for Camera Production – AP
Productivity Increases are Going to Capital — Not Labor – Paul Krugman
Falling Labor Force Participation Rate – Conversable Economist – As this post points out, demographics (aging workforce) and cyclical factors explain only part of this…
12 thoughts on “Automation / Robots and Jobs – Links”
Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?
* By Steven Levy
* April 24, 2012
From a conversation on whether, (in the face of exponentially increasing technological change), pursuing and acquiring an Advanced Professional Degree is “Worth It” any longer.
I say no.
Just how long before the pursuit of a Higher Education is itself rendered Moot?
My fiendr, Wayne, in an Essay of his, on the Education/Automation Crossover, thinks it’s about 30 years off.
I say that it’s **already** happened.
And that from this point in time on it is pointless and futile to pursue a Degree as either an Attorney, Doctor, or MBA.
Here’s the Math behind my thinking.
An average 18 year old American College Student begins University in September of this year.
By the year 2020 this hypothetical student acquires/earns a Professional Degree in Business, Medicine or the Law.
They borrow $25K a year, (approximately half the *current* cost of an Ivy League Degree), which means that they need to repay an Outstanding Student loan Debt of $200K by the year 2030.
With Interest that works out to about a $400 a week payment.
For 520 consecutive weeks.
Presuming that they should pay no more than 10% of their Annual Salaried Income to Service this Debt of theirs…
They would need to land a job right out of school that pays them a *minimum* of:
$200K a year.
That’s just not going to happen.
Fact is that those $200K a year jobs *already* simply do not exist in the year 2012 for the average newly minted Attorney, Medical Resident, and/or MBA.
And thanks to the Accelerating change it’s highly doubtful that they are going to automagically appear in the year 2020.
By the year 2020 the IBM Watson Machine will be in its 4th to 5th Iteration.
And that version of Watson will have about a 15 fold to 30 fold increase in its Processing Power above where it was when it defeated Ken Jennings on Jeopardy last year.
Only THAT Watson won’t be playing games on the TV for fun and cash prizes.
But it *will* be networked with 10s of thousands of similar machine in The Cloud working in parallel.
And that Watson/Cloud Network will working with the winner of the Tricorder X PRIZE on Medical Diagnosis, (Gotta hand it to Peter Diamandis, he’s gonna a score an Abundance of a **multi-billion dollar** Revenue Generating tool for a paltry $10 million bucks, that’s some Rate of return on piddly little investment), Business Analysis, and Legal Discovery.
IE, taking away all those groovy 6 Figure Income Jobs away from the Newly Degreed Bright Eyed & Bushy Tailed Professional Class.
Because why on earth would I pay YOU 10x as much cash as it would cost ME to have a machine do that same job when the machine does what you do?
Only it does it 5x better for a hell of lot less money?
Capitalism is NOT a Charity.
It’s a Business.
And as a Business, with its main goal being to increase Profits in meeting Customer Demand, the #1 thing I’m going to want to do as an Owner-Operator is to cut my costs to the bone.
Wherever, and whenever, I can.
Since ‘Jobs’ are my #1 Cost Item on my P/L Ledger, I’m going to bend over backwards to *eliminate* jobs wherever possible.
By any means necessary.
The reality is, (given the exponential rate of technological change), that by the end of this decade there is simply going to be no way that the average human will be able to compete in the Workplace with these machines on any level, be it on Productivity/Efficiency and/or Cost.
Today we are doing absolutely nothing on any level, (be it socially, economically, culturally, or politically), to prepare ourselves for any of this fast approaching future.
Which will be here, sooner than later.
One of the first things we need to do to start addressing this on a practical level is to just drop the outdated notion that pursuing an ‘education’ is as of right now anything more than just another form of human entertainment.
The US Economy is a 75% Service Economy.
As of right now, today, (when you factor in the fact that a $20 thousand dollar Amazon.com/Kiva Systems Warehouse Order fulfillment Robot has 6 times the Productivity/Efficiency of a human worker), and if this Kiva Systems Order Fulfillment Bot is working ONLY 12 hours a day for 2 years, then this Bot costs Amazon HALF of what it costs Amazon to hire the LOWEST paid Chinese Minimum Wage Worker, (earning $1 dollar an hour), doing the same task.
And it costs about 40 times less that what it costs Amazon to hire a fully benefitted American worker making the Federal Minimum Wage.
The ‘Life Expectancy’ of these Bots is about 2 years.
At which time they will be replaced by Bots that will have 2 times more the Productivity/Efficiency of the predecessors.
And they will cost Amazon half as much to deploy.
The entire history of Capitalism teaches one story:
In the pursuit of boosting Profit Margins, (the whole point of any business), as soon as a more efficient, cheaper, method of meeting Customer Demand comes along then the older, inefficient and now more expensive methods are promptly cast aside and abandoned.
So, this Tech is also about to unleash a *massive* Tsunami wave of permanent unemployment throughout every single last Big Box Warehouse in the US, (and likely similar Bots will be deployed by the US Post Office, eliminating 10s of thousands of those jobs as well), and it will happen by the end of the year 2015/all during the year 2016.
One thing is for certain in this upcoming Scenario:
Since Labor Unions essentially no longer exist in the USA today, not a one of these companies that “displace” their human workers are going to be paying a single penny in Union Dues as was once predicted over a quarter of a century ago:
Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a *very* bumpy ride.
Agreed with all the above. I’ve personally come up with a rebuttal to any defender of the status quo who says something along the lines of “a century ago the workers who made buggies all got jobs making automobiles, so don’t complain about technological change, the market will sort it all out, leave it alone”. What I say is that “Oh, today’s humans aren’t the buggy makers in that scenario. What other employee was there in that equation that you might have overlooked? Someone who was rendered completely and permanently redundant, irrelevant and never made a comeback? That’s right, the *horses* who pulled those buggies!” Today’s human labor is yesterday’s draft animal. There is no place for it, given sufficiently advanced technology.
Capitalism’s end state is to make capital 100% of the economy. It’s right in the name. If you want the system to continue, make sure everyone shifts from “worker” to “asset owner”. Within a decade, two at the most, if you do not own capital sufficient to generate livable returns, you will not be able to make, it absent a cradle to grave welfare state.
Paul Solman contributed a good piece recently for PBS NewsHour:
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