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One more: Automation - how it's different this time.
Posted: Posted June 13th, 2017 by Jet Presto
Saw this the other day and have also been finding myself engaged in more conversations with various strangers at the bar (I reeeeally want to do a political podcast at the bar...) about the subject of automation.
This has come up here a bit throughout the course of the election. I remember once talking about how it didn't make sense to prioritize manufacturing jobs in America because the bulk of them weren't lost to "Mexico or China," but rather, to automation and technological advancement. Factory jobs won't ever return to anywhere near the status that they once were when they were the backbone of the economy for that reason.
But with the advancement of computers, automation does feel like a bigger issue than even then. The video touches upon it, but basically, in the olden days, simple machines were capable of only really performing basic, repetitive, menial tasks. That's what made them replace people on assembly lines and whatnot. But with computers, especially ones designed to learn and adapt to its collection of data, technology is becoming more capable of performing multiple tasks at once.
A good example of how the rise of computer technologies is in, say, the trucking industry. Easy to think of a machine putting lids on jars at a pickling factory or whatever to replace humans, but you can't get a machine to drive a truck across the country! Except now, self-driving vehicles are already starting to enter the fray. It actually isn't hard to imagine a future like that seen briefly in the film Logan with automated self-driving trucks. Alternatively, as we see a growing war emerging between taxis and ride sharing companies like Uber or Lyft, self-driving cars could eventually render both of them useless. Or even just think about what companies like Amazon are looking into with their drone delivery service they've been developing.
I initially figured this was a good time to start putting more focus on the service industry, myself. Can't automate waitstaff, chefs, or bartenders!
Except the technology is emerging that can. I think it was Arby's that, as a fast food chain, was experimenting with self-service machines that would get you your meal without having to deal with staff. And as an employee at a movie theater, I've already seen 35mm projection get replaced by computers (and it's actually getting harder to imagine my job being necessary 10 years down the line...oh god...so glad I just bought a house...) Even things like ticketing: many theaters have automated ticketing stations where you can purchase tickets without dealing with a human. So it has hit the service industry as well.
The concern is that as these technologies become better and better, more jobs become automated, and the fewer jobs that remain will become even more specialized. While automation and technological advances have always been a part of human history and economics, the rise of computer technology-driven automation can actually produce exponentially greater production at substantially fewer jobs, doing even more damage than the initial rise of machine automation in the manufacturing industry.
I've heard this argued as the premise for the basic income argument (although I haven't done any substantial reading into that topic yet). There are a lot of predictions for the future, but I don't actually think it's so ludicrous to imagine a future not that far off in which unemployment begins to really spike.
Has anyone done much digging into this topic? Do you expect to see a dramatic increase in unemployment due to these data-collecting computer technologies that can perform multiple tasks and adapt? Do you think the scenario in the video is too much doom in gloom?
Alternatively, have you come across good resources on the subject? I'm curious to read about it. It feels to me, at least, like a pretty obvious problem coming down the pipeline, even if I'm not sure I think it will happen as soon as others do. (I heard someone say they think self-driving cars will be the norm within five years, which I still think is a bit quicker than I would predict, but it's hard to imagine they won't be the norm at some point in our life times.)
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