Saturday, August 29, 2015

Technology a Job Creator?

The title of the article suggests Reason science correspondent, Ron Bailey, is promoting the old conservative/ libertarian dogma that fears about technology and robotics is overblown. That technological advances create jobs overall. I disagree and suggest his article supports my feelings, at least in large part.

Sure, him and others rightly point out the jobs created in the tech the past and conceivably the near future. But he also points out jobs that have been lost never to return:

"American coal production has doubled since 1950 while the number of coal miners fell from 483,000 then to 123,000 today. In 1950, about 16 percent of the U.S. labor force was employed in agriculture; that has dropped to below 2 percent today. As late as 1930, nearly 19 million horses and mules were used to plough fields, compared to fewer than 1 million tractors. In 1960, when the U.S. Census stopped collecting data on draft animals, the number had fallen to 3 million animals while the number of tractors had grown to 4.7 million. Meanwhile, farm productivity has tripled."

So, jobs have disappeared, yet he uses the rise in productivity as at least subtle proof that technology is good? We might be comparing apples and oranges here. It's good that productivity has increased. That makes things less expensive and more affordable for everyone, but what about those jobs lost? Sure they can do something else, for now, but for how long?

Then he goes on to write:  "Despite all these jobs and more lost to automation, U.S. employment continued to steadily rise. Why? Because technological progress is a "great job-creating machine,".

Yes, it has created jobs in the short term, but more and more jobs are being taken over by artificial intelligence and robotics. He seems to dismiss artificial intelligence. Robotics, coupled with artificial intelligence, will eventually turn the tide of technology creating more jobs and those in tech jobs will be affected as well.

"... automation has taken over a lot of the routine physical and intellectual tasks that once were done by middle-income workers. This process has resulted in a more polarized economy, where highly skilled workers in such fields as infotech and biotech are richly rewarded while a greater proportion of the workforce toil at relatively lower-paying service jobs. Will this continue? Autor doubts it, because he foresees a rising demand for services, involving non-routine tasks in which workers have a comparative advantage over machines—ones requiring interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving."

There they admit again that automation has taken over a lot of routine tasks...yet suggest it's a plus that people have more time to get into even more menial jobs. Of all things they even praise increases in the food industry, yet don't acknowledge automation in the fast food industry replacing jobs as I write this. Seems to me they're making a good case against their own argument.

Regardless, I've wrote here before that robotics and artificial intelligence is going to take a lot of jobs in the future. We're already seeing it as the writers admit. I predict this being a very big issue in the years to come. I don't share their enthusiasm that the changes coming will necessarily be a good thing.
As an aside, I read a week or so ago where some factory in China replaced 95% of its workers with automation. Only three workers left just to make sure everything keeps running smoothly. Wonder where the 95% laid off are going to get jobs? And in another 20 years or so, artificial intelligence might well replace the last 4 or 5% of those workers.
I'm sure some of you want to ask me what I think the future holds in 25 to 50 years when this becomes a real issue and only a relative small group holds jobs that pay anything. Let's say it comes to 20% of all jobs being good paying jobs and the rest are pretty much unemployed. Then it becomes a critical problem. What will happen?

Without putting a lot of thought into it, I see two scenarios: Riots in the streets, perhaps ending in a Final Solution of sorts with wholesale executions of those that aren't deemed worthy of having around- pretty much those without jobs or any realistic chance of getting them. Hey, if they can't pay their own way, why have them around?

More likely, though, would be a continuation and extension of the way things are now: A massive welfare state. It's probably unlikely we'll have mass executions. It's also certain that those 25% working the good jobs need someone to sell their products to. I'd suggest governments will just print money and give each person a certain amount, enough to buy a few things to keep those 25% getting paid- and some returned in taxes, of course. A scene many on The Left here would probably welcome, and probably the best of the two scenarios.


At 1:25 PM, Blogger MOLA:42 said...

Freddy, I think you did pretty well until the last paragraph.

No, the "Left" will not be thrilled to see the vast majority of the population be dependent on welfare. Welfare was never intended as a lifestyle choice, simply a hand-up to productivity for those able to be productive.

There may be an occasional "Lefty" who thinks a welfare state is the way to go (what is welfare? Social Security? Unemployment Insurance? Health Care? A tax system biased toward corporate and/or personal wealth?).

But most "Leftists" of my acquaintance want to help the down-and-out to no longer be down-and-out. That does not mean promoting lifelong coasting on the couch watching TV for a living.

As to the main subject of your article... the projected advances in AI are truly very scary. Eventually, there will even be a Freddy AI who writes Libertarian Blogs.

By the way, the above paragraph is not a joke. I wish it were a joke, but it is not.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

Well, regardless, I think it's inevitable. I don't see how else we'll deal with it. It could be similar to Star Trek, Next Generation where someone said they give people the choice to work if they want to. Otherwise, they'd be taken care of.

Of course, all those folks on the starship's jobs could probably be replaced. They've even had an episode or two where they tried such a thing.
Never worked out.

You wrote, "Eventually, there will even be a Freddy AI who writes Libertarian Blogs."

Yep. They already have that news announcer that wrote and reported electronically formatted news. I've seen a web site- I think I pointed it out here- that creates web sites for you automatically. I wasn't too impressed with the early version but it's just a matter of time before it gets better and better and regular web guys are replaced.

Then there's that thing I saw on Yahoo Messenger, and this was many years ago. I was cruising around on Messenger and some supposed gal pages me. Started chatting with stuff like "How are you?". I'd answer and she'd give what I realized shortly was generic responses. Then I realized it was some kind of robot that chatted based on keywords.

Still, I would think by now they've developed that quite a bit. Might now their improvements have made that akin to artificial intelligence?

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One way to protect jobs that technology replaces is to conduct business with people rather than machines. Use bank tellers rather than ATMs, use grocery clerks rather than self check out, use a travel agent rather than online travel sites, etc.

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

"One way to protect jobs that technology replaces is to conduct business with people rather than machines."

Yep, and many, including myself to some extent do that. Still, I think we're trending the other way, with demands for higher minimum wage helping speed things along on the business end. I would think generations to come would be even more inclined to go with technology run services as opposed to people.


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