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AI Technology

If I Had a Hammer 732

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Tom Friedman begins his latest op-ed in the NYT with an anecdote about Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner who, when asked how he'd prepare for a chess match against a computer, replied: 'I would bring a hammer.' Donner isn't alone in fantasizing that he'd like to smash some recent advances in software and automation like self-driving cars, robotic factories, and artificially intelligent reservationists says Friedman because they are 'not only replacing blue-collar jobs at a faster rate, but now also white-collar skills, even grandmasters!' In the First Machine Age (The Industrial Revolution) each successive invention delivered more and more power but they all required humans to make decisions about them. ... Labor and machines were complementary. Friedman says that we are now entering the 'Second Machine Age' where we are beginning to automate cognitive tasks because in many cases today artificially intelligent machines can make better decisions than humans. 'We're having the automation and the job destruction,' says MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson. 'We're not having the creation at the same pace. There's no guarantee that we'll be able to find these new jobs. It may be that machines are better than that.' Put all the recent advances together says Friedman, and you can see that our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology. 'But it also means that we need to rethink deeply our social contracts, because labor is so important to a person's identity and dignity and to societal stability.' 'We've got a lot of rethinking to do,' concludes Friedman, 'because we're not only in a recession-induced employment slump. We're in technological hurricane reshaping the workplace.'"
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If I Had a Hammer

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  • Job limit. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:16AM (#45948601)

    Some people need to dedicate a second to imagine a world where one person's work can support a hundred thousand. Centuries ago, the end of the era where 90% of the population had to work in the fields to feed everyone didn't create 80% of unemployment.

    There is no limit to the total amount of possible "work" to be done. Just as we went from production to services, we'll go maybe to science, or to entertainment, or to space exploration. Most of the proletariat will also probably reduce their daily working hours, increasing the demand for entertainment and other services.

  • by little1973 ( 467075 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:22AM (#45948629)
  • Obligatory not xkcd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coward Anonymous ( 110649 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:31AM (#45948673)

    There are two basic approaches to handle this: []

  • by joss ( 1346 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:32AM (#45948677) Homepage

    Computers replacing human's is fantastic, it frees us up to do what we want to do.

    Well, it would if it wasn't for the fact that the monetary system is designed in such a way that unless we all work like dogs the economy goes to shit and we end up with a vast uneducated, depressed and criminal underclass.

    There is a way out of this, but it involves stepping off the money-is-debt forced march that humanity is on at the moment [], otherwise the 1% we will end up having to exterminate the 99% []

  • Re:Job limit. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:55AM (#45948781) Journal

    Only if the wealth is shared. [] []

    The wealth doesn't need to be shared.
    Instead, the workers need be payed what they are worth.

  • Re:or maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:01AM (#45948803) Homepage Journal

    12 people built and ran instagram before it was bought out by facebook. They created $1.2 billion dollars of value. That's $100 million each. To generate $100 million in value in the manufacturing sector requires considerably more resources, long term investments and planning. And employees. And management.
    The mail order company I worked for, their online division kept growing and growing the share of sales but they didn't lay off anyone in the mail order division due to loyalty to the employees. But they also didn't hire anyone new. Newcomers to their market don't even have a printed catalog anymore, and mail orders are processed by the IT staff on an ad hoc basis. Newcomer companies just have 2-3 employees where legacy companies have 20 or more along with 10 years of paper records to store and organize.
    Yesterday I wrote a script that automates 80% of my coworker's job which was manual data entry for our system, which will allow our department to shed 1-2 jobs over the next 2-3 years.
    Heck the financial industry used to be 100% manually processed and employed many many thousands of people across the country, now most trades are processed through four or five "large" firms who employ a couple hundred employees each in just a few cities.
    Brick and mortar retail is seeing a decline matched almost dollar for dollar with gains in online retail, especially on holiday sales events.
    If you don't see the data, it's because you're actively avoiding looking for it.

  • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:22AM (#45948897)

    True, but as AI gets better and better, it is a possibility that machines will be able to do nearly everything, and there just won't be enough jobs. Not everyone can be artists, actors, or musicians.

    Artists, actors, musicians, psychologists, physicists, biologists, writers, ...

    Not only art gives unlimited jobs, also science, management, services (there will still be cooks, stylists, hairdressers, ...).

  • Services (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Confused ( 34234 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:25AM (#45948907) Homepage

    Ok, jobs in manufacturing have been greatly reduced over the past century and the individual productivity sky-rocketed. The consequence was consumer goods became dirt cheap and few people work at producing them - at least in the western world.

    Now things start the same with knowledge jobs and some services. With a diagnostic tricorder, automatic blood analyser and self-service MRI, the doctors and many specialists at the labs will have a good part of their work disappear or be replaced by a friendly unskilled worker telling you where to place your hand and hand you the print-out. Another set of jobs on the way out are train-drivers, truckers, taxi-drivers and pilots, they have a big chance of being replaced by computers in the near future.

    What will be the consequence? Will the world end? Will the mschines rise and Skynet take over?

    One of the first consequences will be, that the value of the service rendered will be greatly devaluated. In the end, we humans pay manly for three things: The value of the raw materials, the necessary investments for the production site and the time spent by a human to create the product. If the latter two drop significantly, the second because the productivity of the machines go up and the third because of automation, then simple we won't be willing to pay as much for the product and spend out money elsewhere. This elsewhere is where the jobs for humans will be.

    For one, personal comfort services are very often hard to automate. Hairdressers and make-up stylists will be be hard to replace by computers. As another consequence, the organisations will fill with pointless jobs which keep each other busy. We see that today with all the consultants, controllers, marketing departments, safety and security people, quality assurance, project managers, application owners and so on. Those are nearly totally unproductive or, the few that are good at their job, cost only a little less than what their work saves. This is the negative aspect, but the same also exists in positive. Skilled people are able to spend more time doing things not possible before. Today, many illnesses have been identified that before didn't have a name because people died of other things first. And for many of those illnesses, cures have been developed.

    In the end, humans will go on pushing the envelope, being that with discovering new cures to make life longer and better or be that by spending more effort on hairdos and the next fashion in legging-design. Automated tasks will just become a commodity, no matter how complicated it is. If you don't believe me, just look at that mobile phone of yours and look around how many designer cases are floating around. People are willing to spend 25% of the value of the phone on a piece of printed plastic with some designer-scribbles on it.

  • by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:32AM (#45948951)

    Actually the money issue could very well turn into a non-issue. Namely, look at how much cheaper food has become these's cheaper than it has ever been in fact. Technology and automation is largely to credit for that. We're basically to the point that food is pretty much just a "gimme," i.e. it's so easy to obtain that generally price isn't an issue, whereas in the past we've had plenty of times where you were lucky if you got enough food at all.

    What ends up becoming the issue is purchasing power; namely how much things cost vs how much you earn. The only thing I could see causing problems later on is minimum wage, which even some of the more liberal economists will tell you causes more problems than it solves, and that will probably get worse over time if we keep raising it. If you do away with minimum wage, things could be even cheaper, and people could actually compete with machines.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:00AM (#45949095)

    I have no idea where you live that you believe food to be cheaper than it's ever been, and I challenge you to cite your source because it simply isn't so in the US. Furthermore, ever since the 80s, when it was reported in the WSJ that US citizens spent the lowest percentage of their gross income on food, that share has been increasing. That fact notwithstanding, there is also greater incidence of child poverty, infant mortality and 'food insecurity' (aka hunger) in the US, according to the US congressional research staff, than at any time since The Great Depression.

    Automation and efficiency don't improve, they exacerbate these problems in an economy governed by those who blindly follow an ideology of market fundamentalism. So says Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, which I am certain you have never read.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:09AM (#45949135) Journal

    Add a basic income to this, and you get:

    A few factory owners swimming in money, but having to give some of it in the form of taxes to the state.
    The state then gives that money to the jobless people.
    Those people do not swim in money, but have enough of it to buy the stuff produced in the factories, thus closing the circle.

    Still not an ideal society, but a working one.

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:29AM (#45949207) Homepage Journal
    Feel a sense of accomplishment. To paraphrase Iain Banks: a robot composing a symphony is like flying a helicopter to the top of a mountain; it presents its own unique challenges, but is not nearly as impressive as climbing it with ropes and pegs.
  • Re:Job limit. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:11AM (#45949311)

    Not necessarily. The Mondragon Corp. [] is a worker-directed co-op in the Basque region. Despite being "ethical" it is highly competitive, and with 80,000 employees it's the 7th largest company in Spain. The economist Richard Wolff talks about them a lot in his lectures. [] Worth a look...

  • by Pav ( 4298 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:34AM (#45949413)

    People often say "communism doesn't work", and out of curiosity I looked into it. Dictatorships are bad news for sure, but democracy is a form of government and communism is an economic system - they are not incompatible. Several states in India have had governments with significant democratic communist components - Kerala and West Bengal [] being the most notable. West Bengal recently had their communist government voted out after 34 years, and that was apparently only because of a percieved betrayal of their socialist principles(!). South America has had several democratic socialist/communist governments... usually overthrown in short order by the USA, as is the case in the Middle East (eg. Iran)... so it's difficult to draw any conclusions there. I did find an interesting communist community in Spain with economic refugees coming into it from the rest of the country. Apparently the mayor [] changed the economic system to escape the crushing poverty commonly experienced in that part of the country.

    I'm happy with my Australian free market with social/democratic trimmings, so I'm certainly no radical, but I was surprised and fascinated by my research.

  • Re:or maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by N1AK ( 864906 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:49AM (#45949473) Homepage

    Yet there were new jobs. As someone else pointed out, the amount of potential work is limitless. Although few of us work in any of the jobs that existed 200 years ago, we still have jobs.

    Actually, if you look at youth employment it's pretty clear that 'we' don't have jobs. Even the people who do aren't benefiting from the increase in productivity which became detached from wage increases around 30 years ago.

    I'm always cynical about any view of doom based on extrapolation. We've seen again and again that we adjust. If there was one slightly different aspect of the current issue it is that the rate of change is vastly increased and the level of expertise is much higher now. When cars led to stablehands losing jobs they probably didn't have to do any training to move into another role. When miners lost their jobs to automation a couple of weeks of training was probably about all they needed to get into another role (actually in the UK we are still feeling the impact of those job losses). When doctors, who spend 5+ years studying and training, get largely replaced by machines then how long will it take them to retrain into a role that a computer still can't do (biochemist perhaps)?

    The average level of a job worth employing a human over a machine for is increasing rapidly. The level and quality of education of the population isn't. We aren't preparing the youth of today to all be particle physicists and genetic research post-doctorates so why expect that everyone is going to be able to do something that a machine can't do better and cheaper in just a few years time.

  • Re:Job limit. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GauteL ( 29207 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @08:05AM (#45949541)

    The John Lewis Partnership [], the most upmarket of any widespread retailer (Waitrose and John Lewis brands) in the UK is employee owned. Their wages are good, they are profitable (with a strongly positive trend) and typically pay out two months salary as a yearly staff bonus.

  • by rioki ( 1328185 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @08:55AM (#45949793) Homepage

    With services, it depends. I am quite sure that the average joe may get his hair cut and food waited by a robot at some point. But the people that own means of production (i.e. capital) will pride themselves that they are served by real humans. The millionaire may have a self flying jet but 12 gorgeous flight attendants. Unless we have a radical change in the society, I think we will have a situation pre industrial revolution: few with capital that employ hundreds of servants.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:04AM (#45949851) Homepage Journal

    But the robots will be owned by someone who does want payments.

    Years ago "they" talked about how in the future machines would do the work, and our problem would be figuring out how to handle our leisure time. What appears to have happened is that the machines do the work, the machine owners capture the revenue, and all of that "free time" essentially translates to lack of income.

  • by egarland ( 120202 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:45AM (#45950075)

    This definitely *is* the goal, and people who imagine automation destroying lives and healthy job prospects don't understand economics. This is a symptom, not a cause. You don't blame the firemen for the fire, and you don't blame automation for unemployment, despite the obvious correlation between the two.

    This should be obvious, since if you take away technology's elimination of jobs from human development, we're all living like cavemen, all working hard, but all working on food, shelter and clothing, and still starving to death and dying from exposure and all the jobs and lives we have now wouldn't be possible. Technology eliminating jobs is as old as technology itself, and it's part of the most important good an economy can bring to our lives. The mistake that's being made here is equating unemployment with job elimination. They're not the same thing, and they have vastly different causes and effects. Job elimination is progress, is good for economies and people, and is caused by technological advancement. Unemployment, is bad for economies and people, and it's causes are economic and political. Technological advancement aids by providing the constant elimination of jobs, but under a properly functioning economy jobs that are eliminated inevitably result in others being created. Technology can no more cause unemployment than bringing water home from the beach and flushing it down the toilet can lower sea level. To think it can is to not understand the whole picture of how things are connected.

    Our current problem is that our economy is being operated extractively, allowing people to make money from owning things instead of working. This is breaks economies and destroys jobs, and is bad for people who have to work for a living. Our problem is an economic one, not a technological one, and it's relatively easily fixable, but the fix requires the political will to take wealth and power from the wealthy and powerful, and that's not something that comes about easily.

  • by alispguru ( 72689 ) <bane AT gst DOT com> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @11:41AM (#45951343) Journal

    James Albus [] wrote a book in 1976 called Peoples' Capitalism []. He proposed that the government create a mutual fund that invests in automated industries and pays dividends to every US citizen.

    Eventually the fund's dividends would be enough to live on, so nobody would be required to work, and everyone would get a minimal share of the proceeds of automating everything.

    Imagine that we had started doing this in, say, 1980.

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @12:25PM (#45951907)

    > is that pesky concept of Money.

    Actually, there are three levels to understanding the definition of Money.

    1. Token of exchange (aka barter)
    2. Token of time, knowledge, and/or skill.
    3. Token of energy

    Each definition "solves" a problem that the previous level is unable to.

    Let's go over some examples:

    Past: Physical barter; I have 2 cows, you have 10 sheep. We could do a simple 1:1 exchange of 1 cow = 1 sheep. However if say cows are more valuable then sheep, you can't easily trade 2.25 sheep. Since we are trading physical objects sub-dividing the exchange rate is rather difficult. We need a finer granularity.

    Current: Let's replace all the physical objects with tokens that symbolize wealth. Since the symbols are mathematical numbers we can sub-divide down to our hearts content. Plus things are a heck of a lot easier to trade for now.
    I don't have the skills or knowledge or hours to build a house so I can pay someone to do that for me. Likewise I can trade my time, knowledge, and skills for a common token which I can then in the future exchange for something I want / need.

    The old problem of the 20th century was production.
    The current problem of the 21st century is distribution.
    The next problem of the 22nd century is society adapting to letting go of the false concept of the past thousands of years of "There is never enough" to the new truth: Abundance: Having enough when you need it

    Future: Eventually we will get to the point that:

    a) We have Free Energy -- as long as we don't pull too much energy at once from the Lattice of the universe we have as much energy as we want, and
    b) Einstein showed us that we can convert matter into energy. Once we have mastered the reverse process of Energy -> Matter (aka the Replicator in Star Trek parlance) what will give items their worth if we can simply just crank them out for free? Their unique design. (The Fashion industry is already laying the foundation with this approach.) []

    > eliminate the concept of money

    That is impossible given the definition of what money actually is.

    I have professionally shipped numerous games on DS, PS1, PS2, PS3, PC, and Wii.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan