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Is Technology Eroding Employment? 544

First time accepted submitter Idontpostmuch writes "The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics. Lately, some economists have been changing their tune. MIT research scientist Andrew Mcaffee writes, 'As computers and robots get more and more powerful while simultaneously getting cheaper and more widespread this phenomenon spreads, to the point where economically rational employers prefer buying more technology over hiring more workers. In other words, they prefer capital over labor. This preference affects both wages and job volumes. And the situation will only accelerate as robots and computers learn to do more and more, and to take over jobs that we currently think of not as "routine," but as requiring a lot of skill and/or education.'" Note: Certainly not all economists agree "that technology cannot cause unemployment," especially in the short term. From a certain perspective, displacing labor is a, if not the, central advantage of technology in general.
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Is Technology Eroding Employment?

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  • by Tobenisstinky ( 853306 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:39PM (#42279069)

    Pay those whom support the technology exorbitantly , and we'll buy big houses and hire gardeners, maids, butlers etc. Problem solved.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:42PM (#42279137)

      we'll buy big houses and hire gardeners, maids, butlers etc.

      Robot maids, butlers, gardeners, etc.

      OTOH, my wife refuses to replace the pool boy.

    • Pay those whom support the technology exorbitantly , and we'll[1] buy big houses and hire gardeners, maids, butlers

      ... and personal grammar trainers.

      [1] With an attitude like yours, better add bodyguards to the list.

  • Modern Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:39PM (#42279071)

    This debate occurred in the 19th century []. It's over. The answer is a resounding no. As in not at at all. Forget it. Give it up.

    The only rational questions in the foreseeable future are whether or not we should reduce the work week's duration and increase paid vacation time.

    • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

      by codepigeon ( 1202896 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:46PM (#42279203)
      "whether or not we should reduce the work week's duration and increase paid vacation time"

      That is such a ridiculous statement. Oh yes, my work week will be shortened; along with my paycheck.

      What fantasy land do you live in where corporations value the happiness of their employees? Or to be more blunt, openly willing to spend more on paid vacation time? It took unions to get fair pay for workers and look what is happening to them. Do you honestly think a company will waste profits on its employees without being forced to?
      • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:56PM (#42279409)
        Consider the fact that your government confiscates ever greater amounts of your pay and savings via inflation. There is a reason that real income peaked while hours worked per family bottomed in 1971.

        The sad truth is that you are competing for scarce goods with money that has been stolen from you and given to mostly non-productive workers (think bankers, politicians, and their cronies).
        • by Mitreya ( 579078 )

          Consider the fact that your government confiscates ever greater amounts of your pay and savings via inflation. There is a reason that real income peaked while hours worked per family bottomed in 1971.

          I do not believe that inflation has been particularly notable in United States. United States is number 35 [] right before France and Canada. Unless you can demonstrate that other countries do not suffer from similar inflation, I do not see your point

          Everyone is subject to inflation, but in some places average salary is adjusted to compensate for that fact. Apparently, it hasn't been the case in US for the last few decades.

          • even in best case scenario (which doesn't happen) i'd prefer 0% inflation and 0% raise than 5%/5%, thank you very much.
            Prices rise more or less smoothly while your wage graph looks like stairs. The difference between those 2 functions is not 0 and you lose at all these small triangles between stair step (your wage) and smooth, more or less linear envelope of that stair (prices)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What fantasy land do you live in where corporations value the happiness of their employees? Or to be more blunt, openly willing to spend more on paid vacation time?


        • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @02:25AM (#42284581)

          Bull! (resident of NL here)

          The Netherlands is sliding at an ever accelerating rate towards inhuman capitalism a la USA. In the last 5 years the average salary increase for 85% of all employees was less than the official inflation which is, as usual, significantly lower than the real inflation.

          Vast portion of the employers used the crisis to get rid of people and keep wages down even if the crisis did not affect their businesses. The national pride of the NL - the "polder model" is declared dead because it cannot generate enough profit. does generate huge profit but it is hidden in the form of content workers, decent relations at the working place, calm and polite society, general happiness and wealth. But it does not generate profits for the 1% comparable to those in inhuman capitalist societies, only the governments of lately are listening with the two ears to the 1% only.

          The Medical system has become utter crap, they made me an invalid due to negligence which was due to the doctors being pressured to give the cheapest treatment. 5 years later I am forced to go private and pay handsomely while at the same time I am forced to keep paying the insurance system.

          The trains have become crap after the company was privatized. They are now "profitable" by no delivering millions of people on time to work every day. So they cost billions to the country in order to make millions of profits. What is the government doing - they craft financial mechanisms to force people to move close to their work, so that we do not have to rely so heavily on the railroads.

          The list goes forever.....I came from a former communist state to witness the self-destruction of the so-called free world. Check when the west started sliding to good old "shot the strikers" days of capitalism. Yhea, when the wall collapsed. NO need to pretend anymore that the little person matters. No fear from workers revolution - this is "red" and it failed , right? The last straw - the feudal masters managed to convince the people that it is again those former red countries that are guilty for it all (took our jobs, fucking immigrants). Whereas the workers in the west instead of believing this shit should thank us for living in hell so that their fathers and grandfathers could have decent life......

          • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:4, Interesting)

            by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @08:43AM (#42285827) Journal

            I came from a former communist state to witness the self-destruction of the so-called free world. Check when the west started sliding to good old "shot the strikers" days of capitalism. Yhea, when the wall collapsed. NO need to pretend anymore that the little person matters. No fear from workers revolution - this is "red" and it failed , right?

            That is very interesting. While there was the old West/East divide, the West had to keep making concessions to democracy and the rights of the majority in order to maintain the moral highground over the East.

            Now the divide has gone, it's all a race to the bottom.

      • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:08PM (#42279625) Homepage
        I've said before, it would be a great experiment to force a state or two in the US to switch to 5 work hours a day (or 3 days a week instead of 5). I bet the overall happiness of the people in that state would multiply, without much detriment if any to their economy.
        • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

          by poity ( 465672 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:26PM (#42279945)

          I'll bet many of them would be happier simply because then they could get a 2nd job and make 40% more income by continuing to work 8-10 hours a day, since 1) they're used to working that much, and 2) enjoyment of free time is dependent on quality rather than quantity (would you mope around for an extra 4 hours a day, or spend the weekend on your new boat?).

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#42279911) Journal
        It's not a fantasy or even a theory, it's historical fact for the last four hundred years. A guy who can run a combine harvesting tons of cotton per day makes more, and works fewer hours, than someone picking by hand. An accountant running a computer is more productive and higher paid than one with a quill pen. Assume a company was NOT willing to pay you more for programming robots than it did for assembling toasters. (Or equalivently, give you more time off.) You'd simply get a job at another company which will pay programmers operators of robots more than the assembly low workers the robots replace. The fact is, 98% of Slashdot readers earn more and get more time off than our grandparents precisely because we use the technology that replaced pur grandparents' jobs.
        • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:39PM (#42281129)
          The 400 year trend is not in dispute. It is the 30 year trend is more problematic: worker productivity and corporate profits have skyrocketed [], while wages have fallen [].

          I think there is a good reason why you referenced our grandfathers rather than our fathers. Even then your claim is dubious. My grandfather, on "just" a bachelor's degree, single-handedly supported a family, owned a home in Long Beach and a vacation cabin and a boat, and retired on an inflation-adjusted pension after only 25 years of work at a company, from which he drew for 25 years. He even owned real furniture, not this particle-board and plastic crap of today. Granted, he didn't have slashdot.

    • by ph0rk ( 118461 )
      I don't see why Luddism is the necessary conclusion.

      It could just as easily be: Sky-high unemployment, and to hell with the workers anyway. Human input isn't really necessary for a variety of tasks. When machines become cheap enough for a short-term profit, why hire humans to flip burgers, push mops, write tickets?

      Jobless recovery and all that.
      • Who is going to pay for the goods and services at the burger flipping place?

        • Don't think binary.

          Think 20 to 25% unemployment.

          The other 75% to 80% still have money to buy burgers.

        • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:58PM (#42281395)

          Who is going to pay for the goods and services at the burger flipping place?

          No one, so it will close down. After all, it provided services to a class that's now useless. In the end, only the factories that provide luxury goods for the rich will be left operating; the rest of us will starve to death or, in the absolute best case, be treated as cattle and provided the basic necessities as charity by whatever echoes of conscience might remain in the necrotic souls of some of the owning class.

          It doesn't have to go this way, of course, but having it go another way requires changing our economic system. It's not even capitalism that's the problem, but the very idea that you should work for a living - it simply doesn't work when paired off with increasing automation. Already we have persistent unemployment because we simply don't require as much human labour as can be supplied by everyone doing full work week.

          I suggest we start reducing working hours per week, while keeping the hourly wage intact and compensating by paying a monthly "citizenship pay". This is to give various businesses an incentive to further automate their functions, thus cutting the need for human labour ever more. At the same time, our schools should shift their focus to philosophy, art, history, all the so-called "soft" subjects necessary for people who'll be spending most of their time without any pressing external needs. But of course they shouldn't forget the "hard" sciences either, and indeed since we'll be having a very large pool of otherwise idle people, it should be easy to recruit far more teachers per class, increasing the quality of education in all subjects.

      • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

        by reve_etrange ( 2377702 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:45PM (#42280205)

        The conclusion is probably going to be the detachment of income from labor.

        Progress is bad for us right now precisely because we allow workers who have been displaced by technology to starve (or nearly so). We should try and alter our economy so that increased efficiency actually benefits society.

    • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:51PM (#42279301) Journal

      Sure, it didn't happen with the first significant efficiency gain, but what of future gains? Yes, if the labor of one man can support the lives of 10 men, we can find something for the 9 other men to do. What happens when that ratio changes to 1 in 100? 1,000? Do you really think we can extrapolate from the industrial revolution to future where the vast majority of economic activity is automated?

      • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:57PM (#42279439)
        Funny thing is, the industrial revolution created most of the jobs we're now trying to automate.
        • by Hatta ( 162192 )

          Yes, people who operate machines would not have jobs without the machines. But when the machines are replaced by robots that do not need operators, what are they to do? If you re-employ all of them to maintain the robots you haven't really gained anything.

        • by readin ( 838620 )
          The industrial revolution replaced jobs that were pure manual labor. But jobs that required both manual labor and intelligence were hard to automate. Jobs that required manual labor and artistry were hard to automate.

          What happens when computers become intelligent than a large part of the population?
      • This is why I think we will eventually (be forced to) detach income from labor.
        • That's actually a pretty brilliant insight. I've come to the same conclusion I believe via a different path but was never able to succinctly summarize like you have. Very nice!

          My thought process was this ... There are a few levels to understand money ...

          1. The actual things themselves of worth were exchanged (barter)
          2. A token was exchanged instead (money) due to finer granularity and convenience
          3. Money represents time and knowledge. i.e. You pay contractors to build you a house because you have more m

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      That's pretty much it.

      Already a very small percentage of people in developed nations are what Marx considered the working class: farmers, manufacturing workers, and soldiers. In my lifetime I expect those specific jobs to have all-but-vanished. That's not a bad thing! Technology is what makes it more efficient to produce a good or service: less labor, less energy, etc. All good stuff.

      Why does anyone need employment in the first place? Both to produce all the good and services needed and wanted by socie

      • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:17PM (#42279771)

        I dont work for the feeling of earning what I have.
        I work for money. Because I need money. To buy things like clothes, food, pay rent.
        If I didnt I would have to spend all my time creating all those things myself.

        I dont know who taught you that rubbish, but he needs slapped.
        I dont know if you noticed or not, but subsistance living is hard, and sucks by and large compared to modern society.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          I'm not sure why you went off on a rant about subsistance living and making everything yourself? It takes very little work in a modern, developed nation to afford enough food not to starve, and enough clothing shelter to not die of exposure - most places you can get that for free, if you're needy. That wasn't true even 100 years ago. Technology is neat.

          Theres been a vast shift to automation in manufacturing, especially in the past 20 years, and we need fewer manufacturing workers every decade. Farming w

      • The problem is that the bottom of the barrel can't do much that's useful, and those who are capable of being useful are so darned useful that they get paid - a lot. And they aren't going to resist the temptation to add 50% to their income by working longer hours.

        You see this all over the place in health care (my industry), although there the licensure requirements help limit the supply. Plenty of healthcare workers work two or even three jobs, entirely voluntarily, and not just because they can't get enoug
      • Why does anyone need employment in the first place?

        Because we basically let the jobless starve. Eventually technological progress will force the separation of income from labor (at least to an extent).

    • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:12PM (#42279689)

      A Resounding No?

      Depending on the machine you can replace between 1 and 20 (lets say) workers. So those 1 to 20 people at Company A are now without job. They now have to find new employment in some fashion, which means learning a new job, something that not everyone is able (age, competency) or willing to do (lazy, screw them). That new job could be the caretaker for the new machines. Either way, Company A now has fewer workers. Another option for the workers is to go work for Company B, the maker of the machines. They need salesmen, engineers, and factory workers, sure. And some of the workers can go there.

      But it's still generally a sloping plot trending to smaller numbers.

      If there are 20 displaced workers in one place from the new technology, not all 20 of them will find new work revolving around the new tech. And it's a viscious or self-enforcing cycle. Sometimes the tech is made because there arent enough workers or the workers are limited in capability (cant work 24 hours a day, etc). Sometimes the tech works in place with workers, symbiotically, sometimes it totally replaces them.

      It's not a given that technology has no effect on unemployment, but it's not a given that it does either.
      It depends on the industry, on the tech, and on the workers.

    • Re:Modern Luddites (Score:5, Interesting)

      by readin ( 838620 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:14PM (#42279731)
      In the 19 century, much manual work was replaced, but the human mind was still required for many tasks - including much factory and farm labor. But is every single human being employable? Is every single human being capable of contributing more to the economy than they demand in food, clothing, housing, waste disposal, etc.?

      There are some people who clearly aren't. A comatose patient of course does not contribute. What about paralyzed person who isn't smart enough to do any mental work (at least not any that couldn't be performed more cheaply by a computer)? As computers become more and more sophisticated, we'll be able to move more and more people into the "can't pull their own weight when compared to a computer" category.

      We already know machines can outperform humans at most jobs that require strength. If the process is repetitive then the machines don't even need operators. For delicate work we also find that machines outperform humans. Basically physical labor is no longer needed from humans except when combined with a need for human intelligence or artistry What happens when computers are able to out-think humans? I haven't an artistic bone in my body and mass media has made it so we don't need many artists anyway. What happens when even artistry is done better by computers?
  • . . .is what's eroding employment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:40PM (#42279109)

    ... sooner or later we're going to have to deal with the fact that humans are just machines made of meat that were designed for no specific purpose besides propagate genes/have kids. Whereas robots/AI can be specialized to a particular task and all the energy/resources dedicated to full specialization and be safely chucked/destroyed/replaced when new models come online. This will easily make huge swaths of humanity redundant/unemployable and everyone who believes that humans have an infinite employment landscape are idiots. We already have technological unemployment NOW we just haven't noticed it because we moved on to other "low hanging fruit" of work that only humans could perform, but that low hanging fruit is going to be gone sooner or later.

  • Player Piano (Score:4, Informative)

    by schneidafunk ( 795759 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:42PM (#42279143)
    This reminds of 'player piano' by Kurt Vonnegut. It was his first book published and one of the best.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:44PM (#42279167)

    What utter moron thinks that technology can't cause unemployment. Throughout history, technology has repeatedly caused unemployment. Fortunately, in the past, other positions opened and there was some balance. However, as this article is showing, the imbalance is growing as it is tipping towards more rapid technology growth and other positions not opening fast enough to compensate for the losses.

    What we are seeing today is technology creating permanent unemployment. Cue the experts stating how clueless I am.

    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      You are clueless ;)

      But seriously, there are a lot more causes for unemployment than just "advanced technology". If it was technology, then unemployment would increase evenly everywhere it was adopted. This is not happening. Spain does not have the same unemployment rate as Poland, despite similar levels of technology and economic development.
  • by mcnster ( 2043720 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:48PM (#42279233)
    Instead of facilitating full employment with calls of "jobs, jobs, jobs!", the goal should be 100% total UNemployment using technology (specifically self-repairing robots or "cybermation"). A very low percentage of humans (say, 1% of the world population) can act as overseers on rotating teams of volunteers who do the remaining creative and design work that AI-guided machines cannot. The rest of the population can take the day off to pursue their own interests....
    • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:02PM (#42279539)
      Many science fiction authors has said "If this continues..." and studied what would happen if automation took all the jobs. Some are utopian and some are distopian.

      Interestingly, the economist Paul Krugman was influenced by an early Heinlein story about a goverment that had to actually destroy wealth in order to keep the economy flowing.

      The trick for individuals is to survive the transition from a work based economy to an automated economy. I suspect that wealth will flow to people who own land and things, as there is less and less oportunity to create.

      Alternately, the RIAA, MPAA, and **AA, will take over, buy the elections, and we'll all be slaves to the managers that control the creative class.
    • by DahGhostfacedFiddlah ( 470393 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:03PM (#42280497)

      The last time this topic came up, someone posted a link to the short story Manna []. I found it well worth the read.

      The story explores two vastly different ways of greeting a near-total automation of labour.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:51PM (#42279319) Homepage

    We have an article still on the front page [] in which Eric Schmidt of Google is saying we're going to have to compete with robots for our jobs.

    Globalization is trying to move everything to the cheapest possible labor source, and robots and technology is next in line. Sure, your startup costs are high, but your robot won't need to take the day off because its kid is home sick.

    • One has to admit, it makes sense- to a point. At some point the robots burn out too, whether by burn-out or by arson. It really doesn't matter. There is always a tipping point.

      Life the universe and everything is riding a pendulum.

  • What economist says that "technology cannot cause unemployment", instead saying that on average technology transfers jobs from low to high skilled?

    Any economist at all will at least give lip service to the fact that local changes can cause temporary disruptions in economies. It's the long term forecast that they argue over.

    It's like the difference between weather and climate change.

    The problem is that a local job change, like a tornado, can kill you before conditions normalize.
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:54PM (#42279379) Journal

    I can't help but notice that as of late, MIT has a *load* of content coming out of the place revolving around the general concept of automation displacing humans. I think they're, perhaps, a little too fixated on it to look at the big picture clearly? (Don't get me wrong. I think MIT is doing a lot of excellent research work - and they're on the cutting edge month after month with interesting tech. developments. I just see how they'd get sucked into the "robots will displace us" idea in the midst of all of that.)

    The bottom line is, humans are social creatures. There's WAY too much that gets lost when you get close to full automation of any business. The workplace isn't only about the work that's done. You're still selling your services or products to other human beings on the opposite end of the chain, and they want to interact with other people. At best, artificial intelligence is still just that; "faking it". Maybe, *maybe* we'll eventually reach a point where a robot can think, reason and interact with humans to the point where it's effectively the same as another person. But it's far too early to suggest that will be the case in any of our lifetimes.

    What you do (and will continue) to see is automation replacing any workplace roles where humans act like "artificial robots", performing repetitive manual tasks that don't require any real thought. That still amounts to only a certain percentage of the work at hand in any given factory, and if it helps make production more profitable, it leads to more factories being built, who employ humans in all of the roles that aren't just assembly-related on the production floor. (And yes, it also creates a few more jobs for people who do repair, sales of and setup of those robots and machines.)

    • Let's look at another creature who used to be a large part of the economy but who's numbers have dwindled to nearly nothing, the horse. Technology has created machines that were able to replace nearly all that a horse could do, ie. farming, transportation, warfare. The few remaining jobs, being a pet, used for the pastime of horse back riding were not enough to employ all the horses, so they were mostly killed and not allowed to breed.

      Human's still have some abilities that cannot be replicated by technology

    • We already use automated checkouts, vending machines, and shop online. It's faster and cheaper. And do you think people would pay the overhead of even minimum-wage social interaction? Commercial empires have fallen over less.

  • by DrEasy ( 559739 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:57PM (#42279427) Journal

    Look no further than in agriculture. Just a century ago, what percentage of people used to work in the farms? What's that percentage now? People then moved into the manufacturing industries, but work there has also been replaced by machines to a great extent, and cheaper labor in other countries.

    It doesn't take a lot of human labor to fulfill our basic needs anymore, and so people have been trying to create needs we didn't think we had. This is why so much rides on advertisement these days. Is there a point where the incremental improvement in our comfort is no longer worth the money we'd spend to get it? That's when we'll probably face major unemployment issues...

  • ...this is either the start of the post-scarcity future so cleverly portrayed by Ian M Banks in his Culture novels. In this future we are freed from the need to work and instead choose to work, and play.

    ...or it's the start of a dystopian future forshadowed in Kevin Warick's "In the Mind of the Machine". Chapter 2 of that book is still the most horrible account of our near-term future I have read anywhere. In it humans are bred in conditions like contemporary chicken farms, kept for their labour, and are l

  • the money that we have created cannot just be destroyed. you can put it in the bank,but the bank will find someone to lend it to who has a plan to make more money with it.

    most likely it will be put to use on something to do with leisure. the trend of the last hundred some years is the cost of living dropping and more money being spent on leisure and entertainment. in the 1800's people used to give oranges as gifts. They were expensive, hard to find during the holiday season and good for you. hard to believe

    • Money can just be destroyed, it is called inflation. One of the many reasons we aren't still using the solidus.
  • by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:02PM (#42279527) Homepage

    Wasn't eroding employment supposed to be the *point* of technology? The biggest problem with this debate seems to be that everyone is assuming a lack of employment is a _bad_ thing.

    If we can, at a relatively trivial cost, build machines to replace all menial drudgery, why is this a problem? Isn't it The Glorious Future?

    We need to adjust our social, economic and political systems for the new reality, of course, but that's hardly impossible. It's not like we haven't changed them before. 150 years ago domestic service was one of the largest employment categories and only those who employed the domestics got the vote, after all. (Thinking of the U.K. here).

    Hell, looked at from a certain perspective, we're already halfway *through* this change. 150 years ago a large majority of the population of any 'civilized' country had to work - whether actual paid employment, or some form of domestic labour - probably 72+ hours a week to give the country as a whole a standard of living quite a long way below what we enjoy today. I know there are still substantial numbers of people in some 'civilized' countries who have to work two jobs to keep the wolf from the door, but still, there's a hell of a lot more people who get by perfectly well on 40 hour working weeks and then don't have to hand wash their clothes or dishes when they get home.

    Look at it that way and technology has _already_ reduced the amount of actual labour humans have to do by, say, 50%, and the world does not appear to have ended. What's terrible about getting rid of the other 50%?

    • The challenge would then be the distribution of resources. Take hunger for example. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everybody. But still some get fat while others starve to death. Or perhaps, why bother building automated factories when you won't get anything in return? Why should anyone build/repair/maintain a robofactory just to make stuff for people who have nothing to offer in return?
  • Yes because it's true that employers sometimes see increased technology spending as an alternative to hiring more staff. ("We'll just buy you a laptop and cell phone and you can work from home in the evenings, too! That way we won't need to hire someone else to help you get everything done during the 8-5 workday.")

    No because there will come a point where businesses and their managers will realize that you can't just buy a magic box from Best Buy, plug it into the wall, and generate profit from your hind
  • The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics.

    Er, there's some guy called Ned Ludd on line one...

  • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:20PM (#42279831)

    Once upon a time, people generated most of their value with their muscles. When machines replaced muscles, people could still generate value with their brains because machines could not replace brains. So the original Luddite scenario never materialized.

    Now that machines are starting to replace brains, a growing portion of the population has a rapidly dwindling ability to generate significant economic value relative to the machines. As time passes, machines can effectively replace both the muscles and brains of more of the population.

    This is also why forcing people to work fewer hours will not help. The problem is not the number of jobs available; it is the number of people who can generate more positive value in that position relative to a machine. Eventually we will all be in the position of no longer being able to be a productive member of a modern economy; everyone believes their contribution to be indispensable until the technology catches up and it isn't.

  • If one person can feed ten, and one can house ten, and one can cloth ten, then we find something for the other seven to do.

    Like making SUVs, reality TV, porn sites, weapons, CFCs, Pop music, CO2, High Fructose Corn Syrup, TPS reports, e-mail spam, brand name bottled water, high frequency trading...

    Clearly we are much better off, and everyone is happier than when we all had to work just to sustain ourselves; and we need to raise the retirement age to 70 to ensure that all these vital things continue to be cr

  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:22PM (#42279867) Homepage

    Some tech actually erodes employment. There's no question about there. In fact, nearly any kind of system that decreases human input or actions has the specific INTENT of incurring savings through reduced human employment and increased process precision:

    --Manufacturing automation
    --Community Self-Assistance (Forums, FAQs, etc.)
    --Self-driving taxi cabs

    Some tech on the other hand creates employment need. This tech usually involved the addition of a product or service to a market.

    --Cellular Telephones
    --New websites that offer services in new niches

    The problem comes when business, entrepreneurs, and economic theory suggests that the first grouping is more important than the second. With that scenario, tech has a net-negative effect on employment.

    The question then arises, "What do we do when the machines are capable of doing our work?". The answer is simple, but not easy: move the general global philosophy from working for the ability to survive and progress financially to a socialistic and humanistic expectations on how one receives what s/he needs to live and how s/he spends her/his time. Yes, the "Start Trek" switch.

    Unfortunately, tech advances by the day and hour while philosophy changes by the generation... and even then only slightly.

  • by big_e_1977 ( 2012512 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:39PM (#42280109)
    Biorobots only cost a few dollars per day to run. They require no capital to aquire as they naturally self replicating, thus there will always be a constant supply. Biorobots do not require a programmer or engineer to put on task. They are also cordless and self propelled allowing them to easily change tasks. Should a biorobot not do a task correctly a unit can be debugged by the use of a cellulose based rod, or by withholding the carbohydrate,protein, lipid, and water based energy supplies they require. Should production needs change, biorobots automatically remove themselves from the factory floor and return to the pool of available units. Biorobots are not chemically resistant. Should one malfunction due to overexposure to toxic chemicals, disposal is easily accomplished by placing the biorobot into a zippered polymer bag and disposing it as normal biohazardous waste, preferably by incineration. Grossly defective or worn out biorobots are easily dealt with by means of a lead projectile launched a high speed by expanding gasses in metal cylinder striking the biorobots central processing unit. Regular disposal procedures apply. Some biorobots may self propel themselves out of windows of the upper floors of the factory. This may be remedied by the strategic placement of nets if needed. Most factory owners have found that biorobots are color coded for their convenience. Biorobots are expected to remain a vital role in industrial production due to their cheapness, versatility and disposability.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#42280317) Homepage

    We're seeing the return of the Iron Law of Wages []: real wages always tend, in the long run, toward the minimum wage necessary to sustain the life of the worker. That had been the case for most of history. For most of the 20th century, the Iron Law of Wages was viewed by economists as being obsolete. That may have just been a historical anomaly in capitalism. The period during which wages substantially exceeded survival level in the US was the period in which labor unions had enough power to push wages up. That's over.

    "Machines should think, people should work". Humans just do the dumb manipulation jobs that still cost more to do with robots. Kiva Robotics video: "Training for a human picker on the system takes a minute or so." [] The end result is that most new jobs pay about $10.25 per hour. It's now cheaper to put the smarts in the software rather than train skilled workers. Computers are so cheap, and copying software is even cheaper.

    As retail goes online, whole sectors of the economy disappear, buildings go vacant, and jobs go away forever. One (1) new indoor mall has been built in the US in the last decade. (We don't count the New Jersey Meadowlands debacle; they're not open after a decade and the roof collapsed.) Many, many malls are dead. [] First, order processing and payment went online. Then warehouse operation and order fulfillment. Ordered from Staples, the Gap, Walgreens, Saks Fifth Avenue, Toys "R" Us, Follett, Timberland,, or Dillard's? Mobile robots did most of the work. [] Amazon just bought Kiva Robotics. Coming up next, Google same-day delivery service. [] (Not with automatic truck driving. Yet.)

    We have an economic system which optimizes for lowest costs, including labor costs. It's working as designed. Do you want fries with that?

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:12PM (#42280667) Homepage Journal

    "The idea that technology cannot cause unemployment has long been taken as a simple fact of economics"
    By who? it has clearly eroded employment. The only people saying that where corporate factory owners.
    If technology produced more jobs then it replaced, then we really wouldn't need it.

    Lets loko at some clasicc examples.
    Garment industry. The first automated garment company produced for more product with fewer people need per hour, including the people keeping the automation system running. And this was pre-computer.
    The number of people it took to build and maintain robotic auto systems has always been for lower then the people it replaces.

    I right reports that can be generated in seconds that would have required 5 people 3 months to do.

    I was on a team of 50 people that wrote some very sophisticated loan automation software that replaced over 1000 positions over a period of 2 years.

    This is happening all over the world. What do you think will happen when robot appear to reliable do menial tasks? when fastfood places start replacing employees with 'robots'? Million will be out of work. Do you think it will take millions to build robots?

    And when automated system write software? when robots repair other robots?

    The real question is: How wisely are we willing to mvoe economically?

    If you just replace people and leave then on there own in an environment where most jobs can be done better by machines, you will have riots, starvation, war. So what do you do? ONly let people own one robot and chose to work themselves, or hire out the robot? Do you have the government own the robots and pay people a monthly stipend*? Tax the work robots do, and divy that up among all the people?

    Now, the price will come down,and efficiency will go up dramatically. And we will most likely have the technology to replace the people in these systems that would screw them up.

    And eventually computers and robots will be able to make what you want on demand, including exotic features.
    Could we become like the people in Wally?

    The only thing of value will be land. So do we pay people with land?

    *yes communism, but with out the pesky problem that a person will do less work for the same pay. I argue this is the only way communism can thrive without having to use force.

  • by Feanorian ( 1664427 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:22PM (#42280837)

    Marx talks how capital's need to grow lead to technological innovation to make production more efficient. This in principle could allow for people to work much less and still maintain very high standards of living. However, our production is oriented toward maximizing profits, not human needs, therefore we work longer hours in spite of the mechanization of most of production.

    OTOH, the labor theory of value also shows that this mechanization also causes a decrease in the RATE of profit, which has lead to a decline of labor intensive industry in the US and a financialization of capital.

    So yea, mechanization not only displaces jobs, but I contend that it is more relevant than outsourcing to the loss of American manufacturing and tech jobs. In fact, there was a Slashdot post not too long ago talking about how rising wages in Asia is causing manufacturing to move back to the US but in the form of robot factories, so the jobs still don't come back.

    These effects don't make themselves readily apparent because capitalism shifting these problems in space and time so they show up as problems elsewhere in the economy. Markets also further obscure these problems as consumers arrive at the market place theoretically as "equals" making mutual exchanges while hiding inequalities in labor and production.

  • by yusing ( 216625 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @03:44AM (#42284769) Journal

    technology cannot cause unemployment

    Yeah? Tell that to the fine people working in the grocery stores I visit, slowly being replaced by machines. Tell that to all the people who would have worked in banks and offices before the days of punch cards. Tell that to the guys who gandy-danced rails into place, and the diggers, and the guys who carried bricks on their backs all day long, and the guys who built cars and machined millions of parts all day long for decades.

    Of course economists would say that, they've never left the Ivory Tower to labor in the mills and fields and tunnels and streets. That's the kind of disconnect that got Murka where it's got today, that got our space program where it's got, that creates the 'nutrition' that got us where we are.

  • by JCCyC ( 179760 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:47AM (#42287301) Journal
    and won't have to pay nuthin' to nobody. Big factories making goods to sell to a large number of people will become unnecessary too. The only function of the army of robots will be exactly that -- be an army. Protect the 7,000 from the 7,000,000,000. They will fail.
  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <`whitroth' `at' `'> on Friday December 14, 2012 @02:43PM (#42289435) Homepage

    And just how do these other economists define that phrase? Is it thirty years... in which case that's when you kids are my age.

    In the late seventies, before many of you were born, and into the early eighties, there was a *lot* of talk in the media and by talking heads, about how, in the US, well, yes, manufacturing was going away, but it was going to be replaced by better, less soul-deadening, and better-paying jobs in the "Information Economy".

    Yup. And for the majority of the US (that's > 50%, for those playing with statistics), their paychecks have been stagnant or gone down; the majority of newly created jobs involve burgers, pizza, and low-level healthcare.

    This time around, they claim that the economy will Really Move, and more new jobs will be created... not one is saying *where* those jobs will come from.

    And do you *really* think many people are capable of doing college, and adding to the economy, rather than them preferring lower education jobs, and more time at life, not at work?

    There were a number of stories a couple of months ago, about new manufacturing jobs here.. all of which require extensive training, and there aren't a lot of them.

    The conversation I've been trying to get started for about 15 years is what happens when 90% of manufacturing is automated, and construction is heavily prefab? Where will the jobs be? What will happen to three-quarters of the population - will it be like what used to be called the Third World, with 50%-80% unemployment?

    Just to offer a suggestion, how about government ownership of major industries, and a reverse income tax... the way they have in Alaska?

    What you do with your life after that is, of course, a separate conversation.


"Wish not to seem, but to be, the best." -- Aeschylus