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Krugman: Is the Computer Revolution Coming To a Close? 540

ninguna writes "According to Paul Krugman: 'Gordon argues, rightly in my view, that we've really had three industrial revolutions so far, each based on a different cluster of technologies. The analysis in Gordon's paper links periods of slow and rapid growth to the timing of the three industrial revolutions:
IR #1 (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830.
IR #2 (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900.
IR #3 (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present.
What Gordon then does is suggest that IR #3 has already mostly run its course, that all our mobile devices and all that are new and fun but not that fundamental. It's good to have someone questioning the tech euphoria; but I've been looking into technology issues a lot lately, and I'm pretty sure he's wrong, that the IT revolution has only begun to have its impact.' Is Krugman right, will robots put laborers and even the educated out of work?"
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Krugman: Is the Computer Revolution Coming To a Close?

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  • I would argue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:13PM (#42399681) Homepage Journal

    that IR 4 is robotics. Not that robotics are a continuation of IT.

  • Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:18PM (#42399757)

    The only the silicon part of the revolution is slowing down. The software revolution has barely begun, especially after being set back ten years or so during the Microsoft dark ages. What the future holds can scarcely be imagined today. Think of it this way: we already have more processing available on a single, $50, add in card than a modest sized mammalian brain. It isn't our hardware that sucks, it's our algorithms.

  • Already Happening (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:39PM (#42399955)

    As a physician, I see the future, and it's increasingly moving away from me and towards the computer. There will still be a role for us, but it will be in the areas where big data doesn't come up the obvious answer. As humans, we suck at reliably following algorithms. For a lot of medical conditions, following an algorithm reliably will give much better results than the haphazard method in which it is practiced now. Let the computer do that and let us practice the art of medicine where we don't know the correct answer yet.

  • by EzInKy ( 115248 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:43PM (#42399969)

    Human labor is cheap, feed them a few scraps and they will work just to survive. It's those whose living depends on ephermal things like "intellectual property" for survival who will suffer the most.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:50PM (#42400015)

    The industrial revolution is driven by man's ability to harness energy. So far that's all been fossil fuel and has limited what we can do - and how fast we can do it.

    That phase of the industrial revolution is still going strong and has nothing to do with electronics, electricity or computers. Those developments are a completely different strand of development, and (themselves) have barely started, either.

    The next phase of human-kinds development is when we break out, past the limitations (both of availability and rate of generation) of fossil fuels into a new era where there is MORE energy available to each human. Probably several times more energy.

    However, if you really want to talk about computers, then we're still in the pre-condensing boiler stage. We can make computing devices that seem pretty powerful (because we have nothing better to compare them with), but they're not particularly powerful, complex or scalable. Also, it's debatable whether there is anything on the horizon (quantum, possibly - but it seems to be a hellishly complicated way to do things and needs a lot of supporting structure, compared to, say, the human brain) to take us to the next phase.

    So, no. We have NOT come to the end of IR3, we're still firmly stuck in the first industrial revolution, probably for another 50 - 100 years until we get our asses into gear and get past fossil fuels. Computing also seems firmly stuck on the bottom rung, with no promising technologies to move up, past the limitations of current semiconductor processors and logic-gate based architectures.

  • by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:53PM (#42400037)
    There is an elegant way to solve the problem of the concentration of wealth issue to the exclusion of general society.

    Tax the robots at 70%
    Then take that money, and funnel it into education, the arts, and a basic living wage to the masses.

    Problems with people becoming breeding factories? Reduce the basic wage payments given for each child born over +2 by 50% then 75%, then nothing over 4.

    With a higher level of education, our scientific advancement will increase, further increasing our wealth in general. Since the tax on robots leaves a 30% profit for the rich, they are rewarded for keeping the machines going. and paying for the administration of the machines to those who still earn a wage.

    The formulas can be tweaked, should there be a new frontier opened up such as space, and money may in fact become only representations of pure resources and energy if technology such as a nano lathe becomes reality. (Being able to assemble anything from the atom up)
  • IR Dates all Wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @08:53PM (#42400049) Homepage Journal

    Let's see, he cuts off IR#1 at 1830, which pretty much misses the entire steamship revolution and the invention of so many consumer goods of the 19th century, not to mention, the facilitation of mass immigration to the USA by all those steamships, the openning of the west due to practical railroads.

    Then, he cuts off the next IR at 1900, and thus misses aircraft, the widespread adoption of the telephone and radio, and consumer appliances.

    And then, having decided that aircraft, telephones, radio and steamships were useless, he says that the next 60 years of IT will mean absolutely nothing.

    I would be inclined to think he is totally wrong.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @09:14PM (#42400191) Homepage

    Mandatory reversible sterilization of all children when they turn 12 years of age. Then let them undergo the procedure for free to reverse it after age 21 if they choose to do so. I will bet you that 90% will prefer to not have kids. Keeping young teens from ruining their lives by having kids is important, teens will hump like rabbits, it's in their nature. Lets not let them ruin their lives because a bunch of backwater uneducated hillbillies wont let the government give out birth control and educated kids in the use of birth control.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @09:37PM (#42400345)

    Mandatory reversible sterilization of all children when they turn 12 years of age. Then let them undergo the procedure for free to reverse it after age 21 if they choose to do so. I will bet you that 90% will prefer to not have kids. Keeping young teens from ruining their lives by having kids is important, teens will hump like rabbits, it's in their nature. Lets not let them ruin their lives because a bunch of backwater uneducated hillbillies wont let the government give out birth control and educated kids in the use of birth control.

    Yeah, I like your solution better -- but instead of free reversal of sterilization, prospective parents should have to show that they can financially support a child, successfully complete a parenting class, as well as complete a home study similar to what adopted parents go through. I went though a stricter screening to adopt a dog (who would otherwise face euthanasia) than the scrutiny faced by horny teens in the back seat of a car when they conceive a child.

    This would dramatically reduce the world's population -- Within a generation or two, the world's population could be cut down to a much more sustainable level. The population could be prevented from dropping too low by offering increasingly higher economic incentives to encourage couples to conceive. With robots taking up the slack in labor and economic development, this could be a huge environmental win - better standard of living for everyone without any real sacrifice.

    All would be perfect...until, of course, the machines realize that the humans are the real threat and seek to exterminate them. But we've all seen those movies.

  • Re:hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @09:42PM (#42400391)

    I have always found the idea of technological revolutions being restricted to specific timeframes interesting. It is mostly a bunch of bullshit created by people who excessively attempt to categorize things. Notice how his time periods for the revolutions don't include: Bessemer process, refrigeration, antibiotics, polymers (e.g. nylon), jet engine, solar cells, nuclear power, etc. Do you honestly think transatlantic flight was less an important transportation achievement than steam ships? The mind boggles.

    Another example is the period formerly known as the Dark Ages or Middle Ages. Crop rotation, wind mills, boats with a keel like longships and knarr, glass lenses, gunpowder, compass, paper currency, etc are all seemingly trash for these people. You often hear flamethrowers were invented in WWI. The truth is people were fighting with flamethrowers back in the Crusades during the Middle Ages.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:09PM (#42400585)

    Geez. Don't buy into Krugman's presupposition that "robots taking jobs" is evil. Robots are viable only to the extent that they increase productivity. It is PRODUCTIVITY that creates wealth and abundance, not jobs. (IMO Krugman outght to return his Ph.D. since he no longer practices Economics and only uses it to bolster un-scientific, Socialist propaganda.)

    R. Buckminster Fuller used to talk about the "energy slaves" available to Americans, and how that made our life better. I suspect that buying machines is morally superior to buying people.

    The second part of your argument that I strongly disagree with is the presupposition that the government has right to steal our goods and services and distribute them to others in the name of "equality".

    This whole "the robots are coming" scenario has been going around for about 7 years. About 5 years ago there was an interesting article in Salon Magazine predicting that in about 25 years the unemployment rate for the unskilled labor would be about 30% because robots would be doing the menial jobs. Since then I've seen robots that mangage warehouses, pick watermelons, clean restaurants, cook food, build houses, pick up trash, recycle waste, navigate highway traffic, and a lot more. The big challange is going to be finding a way to train and educate people so they manage the robots rather than stand around and watch. (And, hey!, There are programs that will teach you better than teachers can teach you...)

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:14PM (#42400621)

    I think IR #3 is a bit too nebulous and abstract to be useful... I can't imagine how you top "information age" or what could ever possibly come next.

    Instead I think you really need to think in terms of a tech tree with more specific items such as cheap high density batteries, memristers, large scale 3d stacking / optical or plasmon gates, room temp superconductors, optical frequency fourier antennas, quantum computers with thousands of entangled qbits, tabletop fusion, warp drives..etc are likely to dominate the landscape of future changes vs general themes.

    I think a mistake is made when you confuse the effects of diminishing first order returns on information and information processing technology from the more important secondary effects it has on the worlds industries and feedbacks on information technology itself.

    For example faster Internet or a faster computer at this point would continue to provide ever diminishing returns to the average consumer.

      Likewise the always connected mobile computers and communications provide limited little additional value over traditional fixed hardwired systems.

    When you end your analysis with this narrow view of technology itself you are blind to what is really going on in terms of aggregate effects on all of industry.

    All advances in pharmaceuticals / chemistry / material science is fully contingent on complex large scale computation.

    Astronomy and basic research.

    Computational biology and insanely cheap + fast sequencing is just now starting to go apeshit..

    Automation in design, manufacturing and logistics of all kinds throughout all of industry.

    Facebook, mobile phones, twitter and assorted consumer gadgets are red herrings... They are just noise that never really mattered.

  • Re:I would argue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:21PM (#42400657) Homepage

    IR 4 is cheap and abundant energy (solar, wind, nuclear, fusion perhaps...etc). Emphasis on 'cheap and abundant'.

    IR 5 would be robotics that require an IR 4.

  • Re:Not really (Score:4, Interesting)

    by forkazoo ( 138186 ) <> on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:32PM (#42400733) Homepage

    We've seen massive consolidation of operating systems since the 80's. IT at this point is relatively stable and mature.
    Famous last words. Surely you must be joking.

    I'll put a few caveats on what I was saying in the long term. If Strong AI happens, it will potentially be a fundamental shift in computing. But, I don't think we are really all that close to true strong AI. 20 Years is far enough out that I have no idea what the world will look like. But, I'd be really surprised if things are shockingly different in 2013 vs 2023. 2033 Will be the same distance in the future that 2013 is from 1993, and I'm much more willing to be surprised in that time frame.

    Aside from Strong AI, one of the really disruptive technologies that I see moving forward will be AR. That's potentially a huge social game changer, but not really a technological one. Fully seamless, always-on, mature augmented reality will change the way people see the world around them. That will basically be a "new" software platform, and there will be a period of change that mimics recent history in mobile devices, or the 1980's in home computers. Some of the basic bits like OpenGL will probably be used off the shelf, but nobody has yet created a good AR programming environment, so I think some of the stuff like OpenGL won't be used directly, and we may potentially see brand new stacks. Sort of like when Apple created CocoaTouch and offered the first popular multitouch API. It was built on a lot of existing technology, but it still offered some interesting new capabilities. Android likewise created a new API for dealing with mulyitouch UI's which leveraged quite a bit of existing code (Linux kernel and such) but was clearly a new environment and platform to deal with. AR will provide a disruptive new space for developers to make new things, but from a pure technology standpoint, it won't be anything as significant as the social implications.

    Whatever happens, in the near term after they are introduced, AR goggles and AI systems will still reference information services that live in 19" racks, with some sort of UNIX and TCP/IP involved. The data will be stored in hierarchical filesystems. It'll be secured with passwords and crypto keys. (And, cue the old story about how shuttle SRB's are the size that they are because they needed to fit on trains running on legacy rail infrastructure which is ultimately the same size as a Roman road because infrastructure never gets swept away in one go. It tends to hang around forever, so change is never as rapid as creation.)

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @12:03AM (#42401227) Journal
    Why is it either/or and not neither/nor?

    Exactly, I had just turned 21 when my 18yo wife had her first son in 1980, he was no accident. Neither side of the family offered any kind of financial help and a tax break on fuck all is obviously less than fuck all. Having kids early ruined my finances, not my life, it gave life a purpose and bone-headed determination that non-parents have great difficulty understanding, I was no longer "working for the weekend" I was "putting bread on the table" and I was doing it the hard way, as a high school drop out. Neither of my kids followed their parents lead and dropped out of HS, and neither will my three grand kids.
  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @12:21AM (#42401291)

    Oddly enough, I think I find the idea of mandatory parenting classes/standards more disturbing then mandatory contraception. I shutter to think what kind of standards boards might exist to decide what 'proper' parenting might be. Family law is a pretty horrible domain, and I have seen all sorts of things used as examples of why one parent or another should not have custody including 'improper' sexuality, religion, political allegiance, hobbies, career, relationship structures, lifestyle.. and the idea that such standanders could potentially leak in to deciding if you can even have a kid in the first place is kinda chilling.

    My wife works at a subsidized (i.e. low income) preschool and you'd be surprised how few parents actually know how to parent. They do offer parenting classes (optional, but encouraged), and they don't touch on any of the controversial issues you're worried about, but cover basics like diapering, feeding/nutrition, what do to when the baby cries, how to cope when the baby won't stop crying, when to seek health care, other outside resources for help with parenting, etc. Yet every year, they still have to call child protective services to investigate at least one family due to child abuse, malnutrition, etc.

    Parenting in modern society is not instinctive, is not always passed down from mother to child, and there are many skills that can be taught without offending most people's ideals (there will always be the fringe that object to any mention of breast feeding versus formula, corporal punishment, etc).

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @01:05AM (#42401505) Homepage

    However, modern Science shows Keynes and Socialism to have deleterious effects on the smooth functioning of economic behavior.

    Exactly what evidence do you have of that?

    Consider that there is not insignificant evidence that your "deleterious effects" (which I notice are not defined anywhere) simply aren't there. For example, European countries that have cut government spending have seen unemployment rise, sometimes precipitously, exactly as Keynes predicted.

    Another thought for you: What would have happened if the US government had, instead of paying out billions in unemployment benefits, instead paid out billions to repair highway bridges or build a high speed rail network?

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @01:32AM (#42401639)

    "... he didn't want to use anything, so we didn't."

    She could have used the 'morning after' pill. Or gone on 'the pill' and made him wait 2 weeks. The problem with condoms isn't just their availability at the time of the sexual act.

    Sure, there were other contraceptive options that she could have used, but she didn't, even though she knew where babies came from, and knew what her options were. Which is the point I was trying to make - despite plenty of education and availability of birth control, they chose to use nothing.

    Note that the availability of the "morning after pill" and birth control pills to minors without parental consent depends on the state.

  • Re:Krugman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr Bubble ( 14652 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @02:24AM (#42401841)

    You should probably read the article. Krugman is not saying these things, Gordon is. Krugman disagrees with him.

    What Gordon then does is suggest that IR #3 has already mostly run its course, that all our mobile devices and all that are new and fun but not that fundamental. Itâ(TM)s good to have someone questioning the tech euphoria; but Iâ(TM)ve been looking into technology issues a lot lately, and Iâ(TM)m pretty sure heâ(TM)s wrong, that the IT revolution has only begun to have its impact.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Thursday December 27, 2012 @04:06AM (#42402131) Journal

    Actually there is an even better way to handle it, just do what that woman who adopted 2 crack babies did when she found out the mother was carrying a third and still doing crack: Offer a one time cash payment if the person will have their tubes tied or get a vasectomy in the case of guys.

    Since the ones most likely to breed are the uneducated which tend to be impulsive offering a one time cash payment of say $3K-$4K each would be a bargain when you figure how many unwanted children could be prevented using this method. Hell even the religious shouldn't have any problems as this is tying the tubes before conception, not aborting afterward.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court