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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:08AM (#45948565)

    Why shouldn't machines eventually take the jobs humans currently do, but could be done better by a computer? Wouldn't that leave everyone with the option to use their minds rather than muscles for those things humans are best at, such as true creativity? I personally think robots at McDonald's would be far superior and everyone's life will be so much richer there won't be the need for the concept of minimum-wage and grunt-work jobs. Except for those who really prefer the grunt part.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:15AM (#45948599) Journal

      Why shouldn't machines eventually take the jobs humans currently do, but could be done better by a computer?

      They already do 90% of the jobs that were done by humans 150 years ago.

      • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:33AM (#45948691)

        They already do 90% of the jobs that were done by humans 150 years ago.

        There is no limit on the work that could be done. Even if machines did 100% of the work done by humans 150 years ago, we'd still have plenty to do.

        Why don't we have 95% of the population exploring one branch of science or another? Why can't more books be written? More movies be done? More people help those who need help?

        Would it be so bad to live in a world where there is 0% NEED to work and everyone just decides whether they want to be a medic, or an astrophysicist, or a script writer, or...

        Only amazingly lazy people believe everyone would stop "working" if it was voluntary. Even if the only payment was respect by the society, joy, or simply to fight boredom, most people would do something.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Why don't we have 95% of the population exploring one branch of science or another? Why can't more books be written? More movies be done? More people help those who need help?

          Would it be so bad to live in a world where there is 0% NEED to work and everyone just decides whether they want to be a medic, or an astrophysicist, or a script writer, or...

          Only amazingly lazy people believe everyone would stop "working" if it was voluntary. Even if the only payment was respect by the society, joy, or simply to fight boredom, most people would do something.

          You're ignoring the fact that 99% of the populace are too stupid to do anything other than make-work.

        • by maple_shaft ( 1046302 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @08:20AM (#45949599)

          Why don't we have 95% of the population exploring one branch of science or another? Why can't more books be written? More movies be done? More people help those who need help?

          With the exception of helping others, I think the real problem is that the remaining work to be done requires significant training, natural talent, or high intelligence. Most people don't possess these skills and are incapable of obtaining them with any amount of effort or drive. As sad as it sounds I very much believe we are reaching the upper limits on the capabilities of humanity as a whole.

          We see it plain as day in the software industry. Probably 8 out of 10 software developers or business analysts are completely incompetent and even with years of education and multiple certifications seem to be unable to not only be productive, but instead be a net drain on productivity and quality of software as a whole. Many of these people are doing this job because the demand for even mediocre software talent is so high and the lack of mindless blue collar work forces people into IT fields that they have no natural talent or ability for. Fifty years ago many of these people would be pushing brooms in a steel mill.

        • Who pays for it all?

          Consider a fast food example, let's assume all fast food restaurants are automated this year - maybe each store has 1-2 technical positions and 2-3 inventory/supply positions, removing 30-50 minimum wage service positions. There are about 4.1 millions food prep/servicing positions in the US (

          Does the average fast food worker want to be a fast food worker? Of course not, it's one of those "someone's got to do it" type of positions.

          Anyway, they al

          • Does the average fast food worker want to be a fast food worker? Of course not, it's one of those "someone's got to do it" type of positions.

            more accurately, it's an "I've got to do something" type of position.

            Anyway, they all get laid off and now there are 4 million people unemployed.

            How do they get by?

            It seems we have reached a two-fold intersection where:
            1. Society could support/provide basic services to everyone
            2. Automation actively reduces the number of jobs available

            3. the people who should be working but aren't team up with the people who should be rich but aren't and they stage a revolution.

        • 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.

        • OMFG. Who is going to pay those people? Please elaborate. No doubt there's plenty of work to do but how much of that will be paid for and by whom?

          Even, assuming that everyone has equal abilities which they obviously don't, under our current capitalist system we compete with each other and some people are STILL GOING TO LOSE. It's unavoidable. Who's going to take care of them?

          To hear some people on the right talk, it's as if they believe we could all be in the 1% if we weren't so lazy. This is so
        • The problem isn't that there is a limit to the amount of work that can be done. The problem is that there is a limit to the amount of work that can be done by the average person. Not everyone in capable of attaining the level of education needed to perform the kind of inventive/creative work that would allow them to work at a level meeting or exceeding advanced AI (this is, of course, assuming that AI doesn't end up massively dwarfing the capabilities of even researchers and artists). Even if you were to

    • by bob_super ( 3391281 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:36AM (#45948711)

      The problem with the goal of not having to work because the machines do all the menial stuff, is that pesky concept of Money.

      Everyone still needs to find a way to convince someone else that the latter will better off if they give the former some of the money they control.
      If too many tasks are automated, a huge number of people will lack the skills required for that age-old civilization arrangement.
      Which leaves the others either the choice to subsidize them for nothing, eliminate the concept of money, or eliminate those unable to earn it. Not highly appealing.

      While this has always been true, the path of innovation is such that it's no longer the lazy, the sick, or the idiots (in the medical sense) who find themselves unable to rejoin the workforce. Most people cannot fathom how to "recycle" the millions who are about to lose their jobs to ever-smarter machines, because the threshold for valuable work keeps rising, while the basic jobs keep shrinking.

      In the end, which is far from tomorrow, you end up with either a police state or a revolution, while those who either control the machines or have not been replaced yet try to hang on to what they have.

      • by stjobe ( 78285 )

        Which leaves the others either the choice to subsidize them for nothing, eliminate the concept of money, or eliminate those unable to earn it.

        I'd like to find out what's behind door number two.

      • by DiniZuli ( 621956 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:17AM (#45948875) Homepage
        I agree, and I think one of the major problems in this is, when a robot replaces the workforce at some company the money (salary) that once went to many now goes to a lot fewer. The money shifts towards the people in 'higher' positions. So in the long run we need to reshape the economy, because continuing with the current model won't end well.
        • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:56AM (#45949501)

          The solution, up to this point, has been busy work. Based on my experience, 90% of the work being done today is unnecessary. Almost all of the paperwork being done could be replaced by competent automation (though a lot of it has been replaced incompetently and actually lead to more work), most service sector jobs are entirely unnecessary but provide some convenience to those with money. Many engineering jobs are just repeating work that's been done before (but the information was lost, kept secret, or poorly maintained), a lot of the work that is necessary is done very inefficiently. Basically, the only reason most of us even have jobs is the greed or incompetence of some moneyed person or politician or criminal.

      • But money will not be the same. You can imagine a society where everyone receive enough money every month to be able to live and enjoy it. You can have more money from the 'state'/'governing body' by doing necessary thing that the machines can't (yet) do (Farmer, Teacher, Doctor, Police...). You can have more from your fellow humans by providing some kind of service (Cook, Artist, Performer...). You can also create new things/products that machines can produce and receiving some money for each asked by some

      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:04AM (#45949103) Journal

        No, money is mot the problem. The problem is the way we distribute money. The current money distribution system is based on the basic premise that humans need to work in order to keep society running. If that premise falls down, the system simply doesn't work any more.

        And I also disagree that, as the article states, "labor is so important to a person's identity and dignity and to societal stability". What is needed for that is having an accepted place in society, and having an income you can depend on. In the current system, labour is generally a way to achieve both. But nothing says it must be.

        I've one read a very insightful comment: If you look at any depiction of paradise around the world, they have one thing in common: People all were out of work.

      • 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.

    • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:43AM (#45948723) Homepage Journal

      It *IS* the goal. The problem is that we are apparently not mature enough as a society to not turn a potential utopian dream into a dystopian nightmare where the world is divided into a few haves and a huge number of have nots.

      If we were mature enough, we wouldn't have former middle class people joining the ranks of the long term unemployed while wall street makes record profits and retailers screech about how they must be open on one of the few national holidays we still observe.

      Those that think the first time around was easy and trouble free forget that it took the very real threat of global communist revolution to get the capitalists at the top to make the necessary concessions.

    • ... the majority of humanity is not creative or particularly smart. And if there are few jobs for them to do because machines do all the grunt work what exactly do you expect them to do? I can tell you what they WILL do if the majority of the population is unemployed - riot.

    • Why shouldn't machines eventually take the jobs humans currently do...

      I agree with your tirade, AC...there's no rational reason not to advance as humans and take advantage of the automation we can achieve today.

      There IS a's not rational but it is always in play when it comes to any capital resource or essential service: artificial scarcity.

      A human engineered economic shortage in some way, a shortage that would not exist in a natural free-market scenario.

    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:18AM (#45948881)

      Because we have no economic framework that could accommodate such a situation. It doesn't matter if machines can do all the work is there is no means to ensure access to their produce. Economics as we practice now is entirely centered around the labor market: People work for wages, use the wages to buy things, and producing those things pays wages back to the workers. Money circulates, everyone gets fed and clothed.

      Take away the jobs, and what are you left with? A few factory owners swimming in food and products they cannot sell because no-one has any money to buy it, and a load of ex-workers who have no money to buy even the essentials of life.

      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Then you have a minority of super-rich people who have ALL the money and pay ALL the taxes, subsidizing the rest. At best this becomes a feudal society where the rich people have more rights - because they can buy them - or more possibly they have rights while the rest (colloquially dubbed "the herd") have not; at worst the rich complain about paying too much in taxes (they always do, no matter the real amount or percentage) and start a policy of population growth control - eugenesia, euthanasia, forced ste

  • '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

    Or maybe we're just in a recession-induced employment slump.

    Seriously, extreme claims require evidence. If you're running around saying, "This time is different!" after we all found jobs that weren't farming or factory work, tell us why you think it's different. Because there are plenty of counter-examples from history saying you are wrong.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • Re:Job limit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Boronx ( 228853 ) <evonreis@mohr-en ... m ['ing' in gap]> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:36AM (#45948703) Homepage Journal

      Only if the wealth is shared.

    • Or maybe we'll go back to farming and repairing.
      Fossil fuels are the ones doing most of the work, and they won't be here forever.

      • Coal also wasn't forever, not wood cut from the outskirts of the village, nor the fire that had started with a lightning and had to be cared for through the night.

        And when fossil fuels die we'll have fusion, or antimatter engines, or whatever else.

    • Re:Job limit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:44AM (#45948731) Journal

      There is no limit to the total amount of possible "work" to be done.

      This is the crucial point. Remember right now we have people whose entire career is devoted, not to pushing a pointy ball across a line, but cheering for people who push a pointy ball across the line. And they work hard at it. []

      We have people who spend their entire lives painting other people's fingernails.
      We have people who make a good living by painting art, not great, but good enough that people are willing to buy it at fairs.
      We have people who live by playing live music
      There are people who live by teaching chess lessons. And people who make a living playing Starcraft.

      Since the computer was invented, and started taking over human jobs, the number of jobs in the US has more than tripled [], absorbing a huge number of immigrants and women coming into the workforce. Where did all the jobs come from? If you can't answer that, then you'll have trouble predicting the job market over the next 20 years.

      • by ruir ( 2709173 )
        Easy answering about immigrants, cheaper labor force. About people cheering for other people, I thought you were taking about cushion jobs like HR or the Quality department.
      • As another example, how is it not demanded by society that any paralyzed person has one person close by, ready to do any task?

        I don't see anything wrong with the job of simply spending four hours a day watching movies chatting online and playing videogames while staying with a paralyzed person and doing for that person anything they need.

        There would have to be almost zero need for productivity in the world for such a job to exist, but it's clearly the current needs that stop all kinds of such "jobs" to exis

      • by grumling ( 94709 )

        And with cheap and smart automation (IE robots):

        We'll have people who "paint" murals and frescos on the walls of your living room for the same price as a single color.
        We'll have people who create furniture that no one else on Earth has ever made before, just for you.
        We'll have automobiles with custom bodies, paint and mechanicals.
        We'll have cell phones and tablets that fit our hands exactly and are completely unique to our needs and desires.
        We'll have people who take up woodworking by designing 3D models of

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      It seems funding for science is being cut. Most of the service jobs pay less and suck more than the production jobs. There's a lot of 'at liberty' entertainers working for minimum wage already.

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Yes, the only real barrier, and what in essence is being complained about, is that people now have to reskill if their job does become automatable and automated.

      This is the real problem, all too many people still have a jobs for life attitude, a belief that the world owes them a job doing what they want to do rather than asking the question of themselves "What can and am I willing to do that everyone else wants so that they'll pay me?".

      It's not a new thing, the whole drama with Thatcher and the miners in th

      • Re:Job limit. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by roca ( 43122 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:42AM (#45949005) Homepage

        The pace of innovation and automation is only going to speed up, but people's ability to retrain isn't going to speed up much. At some point, maybe not far away, we'll be eliminating classes of jobs faster than people can train for new ones. What happens if, by the time you've learned to do a new job well, it's likely to be obsolete? And then at some point we'll reach the situation where most people simply aren't capable of doing any useful job as well as a machine no matter how much they train.

        It's ironic that both extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing people believe the fallacy that people are endlessly reprogrammable labour units. Extreme right-wingers believe it because they want to believe people who aren't successful are lazy. Extreme left-wingers believe in a mythical world where every person is a special soul who can achieve anything if they're just given the right assistance.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      In theory the number of work hours could and should drop. In reality they did not. Most jobs are not available as part time jobs, and the laborers get low salaries, so they cannot go for less money per month. Experiments in Europe with 35 and 38 work hours failed and were rolled back to nearly 40 yours or even more. The average work hours is by the way very stable throughout human history. Therefore, I doubt that there will be a reduction at least not capitalism evolves to allow such careers and the people

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

        by rmstar ( 114746 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:47AM (#45949247)

        Experiments in Europe with 35 and 38 work hours failed and were rolled back to nearly 40 hours or even more.

        These "experiments" did not really fail except in the sense that bosses and conservatives felt the employees and lower classes where having it too good.

        In theory, you cannot be competitive with that number of hours. In practice, a lot could be gained by having employees that are less stressed, less sleep-deprived, and generally happier. But there is a sadistic streak running in those well off that refuses to see it that way.

      • by N1AK ( 864906 )

        Experiments in Europe with 35 and 38 work hours failed and were rolled back to nearly 40 yours or even more.

        The UK has plenty of 37.5 hour jobs, it's probably the closest thing we have to a 'standard' working hours. We also get a minimum of 28 days holiday a year, have a higher minimum wage and get free healthcare. I don't mean to imply the UK is perfect, or the US terrible, but suggesting that Europe has 'experimented' with treating workers remotely well and failed is misleading at best.

        • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

          In Germany, France, Greece, and the Nederlands, there were work hour limits down to 35 hours (France), but in recent years, Germany for instance moved back to 40 hours for most jobs (there are exceptions in production). In France the 35 hour limit is not a hard limit, you may work longer, your company has then to pay "extra money". Furthermore 350 over hours per year are legal. With approx 48 work weeks, this is 7.3 hours per week overtime resulting in 42.3 hours. The funny thing is, the EU sets the upper

  • by little1973 ( 467075 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:22AM (#45948629)
  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:25AM (#45948643)

    Computers and automated systems are not replacing any cognitive tasks soon, at least not economically. Sure, if you throw in a team of engineers, several years of research and a couple million euro/dollars, then you can build a computer that can defeat a chess grandmaster. But until engineering companies are actually laying off their engineers and designers and replacing them with computers, I am not worried.

    Computers are likely to replace the more simple jobs (as they always have). Driving a lorry or car is not exactly a highly skilled job, and I would be delighted if that is automated.

    • True, Friedman's view of AI is over optimistic. No matter how well certain systems are performing well under controlled circumstances, the point is a general AI system doesn't exist yet and is not to exist soon unless breakdown technologies and scientific discoveries happen really soon.

      A typical brain consumes 20 watts-hour of electricity and is capable to reason and learn almost anything. No software is capable to do a thousandth of what a brain can and what it is doing is at the expense of thousands of wa

  • Ob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:31AM (#45948667) Homepage Journal

    'We've got a lot of rethinking to do,' concludes Friedman

    Sounds like hard work. Can't we get a computer to do it?

  • 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% []

  • by hweimer ( 709734 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:39AM (#45948713) Homepage

    I don't buy that the demise of the median worker has anything to do with technological progress. If the average income increases steadily and the median declines, it simply means that a society has problems to fairly allocate its resources. Since people making less than the median typically also make up 50% of the electorate, it looks like these people are voting against their own interests (or do not vote at all). One also has to keep in mind that the events that hurt the median worker the most (deregulation of banks, Bush-style tax cuts, and the whole war on terror) were all political descisions that were completely unrelated to technology.

  • I'd hammer in the morning
    I'd hammer in the evening,
    All over this land.

  • by taylorius ( 221419 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:20AM (#45948885) Homepage

    Historically, technological revolutions have eliminated large categories of jobs. Many manual jobs are now performed by machines, even skilled manual jobs. An economist might say that these former manual workers are now free to retrain, and do other things - (or just grow old and die, and be replaced by youngsters who have never known the old way, and have learnt the right skills to get along in this new world whilst growing up).

    The question is, what happens when literally everything of economic value that a person is capable of doing, can be accomplish more efficiently by a machine? More and more resources come under the complete control of fewer and fewer people, and for the rest of the population, what is left?

    I believe that once machines obviate the need for large human organisations, with their attendant inefficiencies, a form of democratic socialism will become the preferred way to run society. Resources owned collectively, with broad decisions made democratically, but organisational details left to machines to optimise and execute. People would be provided for, because it is easy to produce enough to do it.

  • If machines took all the jobs, and there were none left for humans, this would just mean that all the work was being done by machines. If machines are doing all of the work, then there is nothing being left undone, no task that is not already being completed, for if anyone needed anything else done that the machines were not already doing for them, they would attempt to hire someone to do it, which would create a job opening, which would then contradict the original premise that computers had taken all of
  • 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 MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:24AM (#45949187) Journal

    The sincerity in this argument is an admission that, in reality, the 1% that make up the wealthiest of human beings consider the rest to be slaves, be it to labour, or interest rates or just putting food on the table.

    Consequently, the externality from their pursuit of automation is making more and more people slaves so that we are always competing with one another for a dollar instead of the market competing for our labour, which drives labour prices up. As long as there is a steady rate of unemployment around 10%, every person will fear for their job and be a subservient slave, too afraid to attend to matters of democracy or society. That's what that 1% want from their win-win situation.

    However I think it's 50's thinking that drives it and the fear. Technology is a gift that will either enslave or free the human race and most people can't comprehend what it means to them. So too many of the people who devise the technology. To me automation means I kick back a work for an hour or two while my automation does the work for me. That's because I control the technology I deliver and the reason I control it is because I have educated myself to do so. So the automation allows me to educate myself more - improving my life.

    We have to ask ourselves what happens when the Western worlds labour becomes obsolete in a world that is competing for resources and corruption is inherent in every political system in the world. Personally, I want technology do better for people not profits, however it was my own naivety that blinded me to the fact that those who control the deployment of technology en-mass, aren't even people any more - they're company boards legally obliged to make a profit.

    Our role as technologist's is also changing with the automation. You can bet that people will begin to cast blame on those who devise technology so unless we are prepared to push back and be cognisant enough to take a lead role in society and educate them about the choices they make the consequences of that fear will be played out on us hapless geeks.

    If the cost of education goes down as the price of energy goes up we stand a chance to find a way to reduce our slavery and perhaps live better. My old mentor used to tell me 'You bleed on the cutting edge of technology' and, like a knife it will be used like a tool and a weapon to sculpt or subjugate our entire society.

  • This is ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thisisauniqueid ( 825395 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:43AM (#45949439)
    This is ridiculous. The capabilities of man + machine will always be greater than the capabilities of a machine by itself, so we're not going to run out of intellectual jobs just because machines can do smarter things. Machines, including computers, are just power tools for the brain. (And I say this even as a full-time AI researcher with a PhD in the field, developing new AI algorithms for my day job at a major tech company.)
    • Dear PhD AI worker,

          How come you're not being paid 2x what you are now? Yes, 2x. Productivity of the worker has gone up 2x in real terms since 1973. Yet your pay is less than that, even YOURS, Dr. AI worker.

          Suppose most jobs are automated, and the few remaining jobs have many highly qualified people who need that job. What happens to the price of labor? Market forces push wages down--people underbid you just to work. THAT is why your pay doesn't match your productivity. And the trend is accentuating.

      Those high paid high level creative jobs you like to imagine? They ONLY exist if there is market for them, i.e., if the 1% (or whoever controls the resources) decides to allocate resources for them.

        And they're not, hence the depressed wages ACROSS THE BOARD. I've got a PhD too, doing creative non-automatable work, and I SURE WOULD like to be getting paid 2x as much. But I'm not, and it's flatly because the rest of the labor market is depressed.

          I'd sure love to keep doing creative non-automatable work, but I can only do that if it pays, which in turn depends on how many creative non-automatable jobs the 1% wants to devote resources for. And guess what: the 1% is apparently deciding that research and technology investment needs to drop because it is a "cost". Government investment is declining too. So capital (the 1%) thrives on productivity increases and everyone who must labor, is, frankly, slowly starving to death.

          At least in the USA.



  • by SpaghettiPattern ( 609814 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:43AM (#45949441)
    I don't want to disrespect grandmasters. Not even lesser chess players as I think their mental capabilities are impressive. But jobs consisting of repetitive actions are the ones we need to get rid of by all means. Shovelling coals requires physical strength and endurance. Playing chess requires a huge mental container to consider many moves ahead but no particular level of creativity. Creativity is the main property/virtue that creates added value. Acquiring creativity is much harder than than using sheer mental power in learning facts from books. It requires a peculiar combination of a laissez faire attitude (to brood over concepts) and determination in grasping concepts. Overdoing the "laissez faire" bit inevitably will backfire and hence creativity comes at a high risk which in its turn must inevitably translate into higher earnings and appreciation.

    The question now is what we will do when everyone is out of a job. There's no clear answer but we can assume a few things. One is that society fares better when people are employed. The second is that values shift and that we pay more for property and services that are scarce or that are a nuisance. So how will employed society look like in 30 years? War and other instabilities hurt business and therefore new activities will appear in order to prevent these. So which ones will come? I don't know but I'm sure there will be. Perhaps working on a way to extract desert heat and to bring water to it in order to allow crops to grow and humans to live. To me such ideas seem easier to entertain than say smart phones 100 years ago.
  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @08:47AM (#45949739) Homepage Journal

    ... a bigger hammer.

    On the serious side, since all this technology is supposed to make our life experience more enjoyable, otherwise why are we doing this (greed of the few or competition mindset???) I want to know why our paid vacations are not getting longer.

    Oh wait, there is a growing number of Americans on long vacations, sort of..... its called unemployment.

    Maybe we really do need a bigger hammer.

  • 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.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.