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Outsourced Tech Jobs Are Increasingly Being Automated 236

Jason Koebler writes Yahoo announced [Tuesday] it would be laying off at least 400 workers in its Indian office, and back in February, IBM cut roughly 2,000 jobs there. Meanwhile, tech companies are beginning to see that many of the jobs it has outsourced can be automated, instead. Labor in India and China is still cheaper than it is in the United States, but it's not the obvious economic move that it was just a few years ago: "The labor costs are becoming significant enough in China and India that there are very real discussions about automating jobs there now," Mark Muro, an economist at Brookings, said. "Companies are seeing that automated replacements are getting to be 'good enough.'"
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Outsourced Tech Jobs Are Increasingly Being Automated

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  • by adric22 ( 413850 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @07:52AM (#48101655) Homepage

    If those are tech support jobs, then they might as well automate them. The best I can tell those workers they hire over there have essentially no skills in the products they are supporting. They basically just read what the computer screen tells them to say or ask. As a customer, I'd honestly rather be talking to a machine as it would give me the same answers but might actually be at little easier to understand.

    • Great, now all the tech support "guys" are going to sound like Professor Hawking.

      • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:19AM (#48101851)

        If those are tech support jobs, then they might as well automate them. The best I can tell those workers they hire over there have essentially no skills in the products they are supporting. They basically just read what the computer screen tells them to say or ask. As a customer, I'd honestly rather be talking to a machine as it would give me the same answers but might actually be at little easier to understand.

        Great, now all the tech support "guys" are going to sound like Professor Hawking.

        Relax, you only have to start worrying when the tech support "guys" start sounding like HAL 9000.

      • by yagu ( 721525 )
        NO! NO! NO!.... It's Roger Ebert's voice. Hmmm, come to think of it, I've never seen the two of them in the same room together.
      • by ogdenk ( 712300 )

        I'd rather listen to a robot tell me to reboot 600 times than an unintelligibly thick Indian accent.

    • You can't automate enterprise level support. As an infrastructure admin (network, server, workstation), if I'm having to call tech support, it's going to be tier 3 and tier 2 in rare circumstances. Basically, the GAL list requires fixing via ADSI Edit or working around a firewall bug with a non-public release of firmware. In all instances including those two examples, support was in India.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      First, Yahoo's move was that of consolidation. The engineers were asked to either relocate to the US office, or move out.

      Next, Yahoo had a series of terrible acquisitions in the US which had brought them zero revenue. They had given out these projects to the folks over here to run. Finally, they decided that they were better off not running them to make products better. Very recently, Yahoo turned profitable after Alibaba's IPO.

      Third, the engineers who were asked to move out were amazing people by themselve

    • "I'm sorry,Citizen. The driver for that hardware is unavailable at your security clearance. The proper authorities have been notified. Please try turning it off and back on again."
  • Monitoring software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @07:59AM (#48101701)
    The monitoring software where my buddy works has gotten good enough they don't need teams of analysts to watch over things anymore. Most of the problems I see are caused by cutting corners in programming because there's not computer power. As computer power gets cheaper and cheaper that all goes away, and those tech jobs go with them.

    In the 80s Computers and automation were suppose to free us for a 20 hour work week. Now we're pushing 50-60 hour work weeks because the only thing it's done is increase competition for the few jobs left. Productivity America's up something like 80% but real wages are way don. I'm not quite ready to become a Luddite yet but I'd like to see some of this increased productivity show up in my pay. But law of supply and demand says the more work I can get down the less it's worth.

    Heck, I'll just come out and say it: Can I has socialism?
    • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:08AM (#48101773)

      It's not just computer power, it's programmer time.

      I could eliminate about half the jobs at my company (I've already eliminated about 1/3) with automation, but I don't have the time, and we only have a few decent programmers. I spend most of my time fixing problems caused by the lack of automation, aka general human error.

      Will my job get automated? Not for a while. I'll be retired in a few years anyway..

      • If you think you don't have time to automate more jobs, but spend most of your time fixing problems caused by lack of automation, you are mistaken.

        But it may not be in your interest to automate the remainder of what could be automated, because then what would happen to your job?

      • Oh, good. My slow-clap processor made it into this thing. So we have that.
    • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:34AM (#48101989)

      In the 80s Computers and automation were suppose to free us for a 20 hour work week. Now we're pushing 50-60 hour work weeks because the only thing it's done is increase competition for the few jobs left. Productivity America's up something like 80% but real wages are way don. I'm not quite ready to become a Luddite yet but I'd like to see some of this increased productivity show up in my pay. But law of supply and demand says the more work I can get down the less it's worth.

      It's inflation. Based on a simple inflation calculator I found on DuckDuckGo (usinflationcalculator.com), a $100k salary in 1980 would be the equivalent of making about $288,655.34 in 2014. Technology didn't cause the purchasing power of a dollar to collapse nearly 66% over the last 34 years. Federal reserve and congressional policy are the direct culprits. You don't have to be "anti-government" to pin much of this squarely on the federal government and Federal Reserve.

      Between inflationary policies and allowing nearly unrestricted (even incentivizing by tax law) exploitation of arbitrage, we've see various government policies annihilate all of the savings and benies that technology would have brought to our economy. Now add on top of that the fact that we have a policy of heavy immigration which, when seen through the lens of the law of supply and demand, is essentially another assault on domestic wages (hint: adding millions of immigrants increases the domestic labor pool, which means that yes kids, wage competition will only increase).

      Instead of Socialism, I would suggest reading up on Distributism. It is essentially Capitalism reforged through Catholic social teaching, so among many things it is free market-centric, but strongly pro-labor and pro entrepreneur.

      • That's idiotic. Inflation is normal in a healthy economy. It's just that historically, both pay and prices have increased in tandem. During the Regan administration that changed, and wages started to lag, but lately that divergence has been accelerating. Inflation is still happening, but wages are stagnant. The issue isn't inflation - again, a little bit is normal and healthy - but lack of wage inflation.
        • During the Regan administration that changed

          Because it took about a decade for the effect of going off the gold-exchange system wherein the dollar was at least pegged to a fixed unit of gold to really start hitting home. Then the printing presses started and suddenly inflation started to kick into high gear, especially 2000, onward. Since the early 1970s, the US dollar has been getting systematically hammered by federal policy and is it a surprise when eventually wage inflation can no longer match the infla

        • The fact that non-management workers are approaching being worth 100k is a big factor on stagnating wage inflation from what I can see.

          For years 6 figures was considered the benchmark for success (e.g. management). Now that this number is edging more toward living wage status rather than a ticket to an extravagant lifestyle. But the old guard still has that "why would I pay non-management a 100k salary" mindset. Which trickles down. Ok I'm paying my engineering 90k and that is all. But wait...why should
        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          That's idiotic. Inflation is normal in a healthy economy.

          Yes, that'll be why a tablet with the power of a million-dollar 1980s Cray now costs a couple of hundred dollars.

          Deflation due to increased productivity is the norm in a healthy economy, but governments love printing money, and that causes inflation.

      • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @10:13AM (#48102821) Journal

        Technology didn't cause the purchasing power of a dollar to collapse nearly 66% over the last 34 years. Federal reserve and congressional policy are the direct culprits. You don't have to be "anti-government" to pin much of this squarely on the federal government and Federal Reserve.

        Between inflationary policies and allowing nearly unrestricted (even incentivizing by tax law) exploitation of arbitrage, we've see various government policies annihilate all of the savings and benies that technology would have brought to our economy.

        I don't follow.
        As in, your conclusion doesn't naturally follow from the facts presented.

        I'd suggest you look up the stats on worker productivity.
        You'll discover that there have been enormous benefits from technology,
        but all of those benefits (profits) have accrued to the executives and shareholders,
        instead of being distributed in anything resembling an equitable fashion.

        Productivity has massively improved over the decades, employment has declined, and profits are up.
        This is true in agriculture, manufacturing, and white collar jobs.

      • oh great, capitalism PLUS religion.

        i cant see any problems with that.

    • If you're employed, it's not your productivity, it's not America's productivity. If the means of production (and productivity) are not owned by you, then you don't benefit. If your employer's investment in capital improvements can make the next guy just as productive, it's not about you.
      • Only because that how we've chosen to run things. It's actually nonsensical, since your argument ("some other worker could have done that") applies equally well to capital by logic - if whoever owns the productive capital didn't own it, somebody else would own comparable capital to fill that niche in the economy.

        In other words, Apple putting $100BN in the bank is presumed to mean Apple created $100BN of value. In some sense that is true, but had Apple never released the iPhone, for the most part other s

  • What was automated? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @07:59AM (#48101703)

    Read the articles, both Yahoo and IBM cuts sound like downsizing rather than automation.

    I hope the "automation" they're talking about in other parts of the article doesn't really mean "Do-It-Yourself". For example, grocery store self-checkout lines are essentially using my labor (at my labor rate) as an inefficient checkout clerk. I don't want to be a checkout clerk, and would gladly pay for a few minutes of a clerk's time if it gets me through the line a couple of minutes faster.

    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      Meh. I don't mind the self-checkout lines. The fewer people I have to talk to, the better. Walk in, get what I want, scan and pay, walk out.

      [John]

      • by itsenrique ( 846636 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:27AM (#48101945)
        Yes, those darn cashiers will never shut up... They always tell me to "have a nice day". It's truly overwhelming.
        • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

          It's the constant conversation actually. "Did you see that [some sports thing] Sunday?! Go [sports team]!" or "Looks like it might snow, good for skiing, snowboarding, etc" or even "Happy Holidays!".

          There needs to be a "no talking" aisle.

          Oh wait, there is one. It's called 'Self Checkout'.

          [John]

    • The problem with that scenario is that unless the machine has to call over a person then I have never gone through a self checkout line that is slower than going through a clerk's line. A clerk has zero incentive to get you through the line as quickly as possible.
    • I found the self check out is used by LOWER priced grocers as a way to cut costs and offer lower prices. Supermarkets without self checkout are often much more expensive to provide that personal touch. Natures, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, etc are examples of upscale markets without self checkout. Walmart appears to be the exception in haveing no self checkout and offering lower prices. Communities have a beef with the low rates they pay their staff, but they do have paid staff instead of self check out.

    • Read the articles, both Yahoo and IBM cuts sound like downsizing rather than automation.

      I hope the "automation" they're talking about in other parts of the article doesn't really mean "Do-It-Yourself". For example, grocery store self-checkout lines are essentially using my labor (at my labor rate) as an inefficient checkout clerk. I don't want to be a checkout clerk, and would gladly pay for a few minutes of a clerk's time if it gets me through the line a couple of minutes faster.

      The check-out machine in the grocery store costs minimally when sitting idle (in contrast to an employee) and ideally a large number of them can be made available with one large initial investment and small subsequent maintenance cost. Thus it has the potential to save valuable customer queuing time and/or more efficiently accommodate a larger number of customers, ultimately reducing prices and/or increasing profits. The second article seem to mention automation as a cause of 'disruption' without any detai

    • IBM cuts are about shifting technologies and not needing staff in those areas. Those like my self that have taken on new job roles and not let myself be stagnant are keeping ahead of the curve.

      OTOH, I do work on some of the job costing. We put modifiers in to account for the difference in productivity for each of the Geo regions. Once you do that, there is only about a 20% savings over US labor.

      Used to be much higher, say 50%, but rising wages in many areas are closing the gap. The GDF initiative ha

    • Self checkout lines reduce the amount of pointless human interaction I have to endure in a day. Totally worth it imo.

  • by jacobsm ( 661831 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:06AM (#48101749)

    I'm all for automating management with decision makers powered by random number generators. It'll be more honest and more likely to come up with the right decision.

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      I'm all for automating management with decision makers powered by random number generators. It'll be more honest and more likely to come up with the right decision.

      You can say that again! Half the decisions of our board are vanity projects, and most of the rest are questionable

  • It solves many problems. It will be interesting to see what happens when robots and intelligent systems go consumer. Personal robots and personal digital assistants.

    • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:52AM (#48102157)
      To a certain extent, yes. However some functions cannot or should not be fully automated. There are reasons why we still have human beings flying planes. I am an ex-IT guy as I drive an 18 wheeler now. You hear about automation attempts at self driving cars and trucks but a self driving 80,000 pound semi going 65 mph is not a good idea. Driving a truck requires many, sometimes split second decisions and requires processing multiple events happening at once. An 80,000 pound semi is absolutely lethal if the driver loses control and is unable to regain control. Imagine a software or hardware glitch on an 80k semi carrying hazardous material .... you have a scenario likely to kill, maim, or effect thousands of people. Automation can and should be more of an assist rather than a takeover. I could see automation for trucks enforcing safe speeds, following distances, warnings, etc. Even Airbus and Boeing recognize that only so much can and should be done automated.
      • by Scottingham ( 2036128 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @09:55AM (#48102633)
        I have little doubt that computers will be able to drive big-rig trucks not too far into the future. All of the examples you gave sounds like it would be better handled by a capable computer. Split second? How about sub-millisecond? Multiple events happening at once? Humans are notoriously bad at doing that. Hardware glitch? Like sleep deprivation?

        Ever see that Volvo ad of two semi's going in reverse at 40+MPH and staying within 3 feet of each other? Do you think people could do that?

        Of course, we aren't there yet. It will happen though, and highway safety will improve.
      • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @10:17AM (#48102895)

        There are reasons why we still have human beings flying planes.

        Generally speaking, we *don't* have human beings flying planes. Autopilots do it. We still have human beings sitting in cockpits because of a) liability paranoia and b) unions.

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        You do realise "split second" is like a lifetime to a computer, right? You also realise that your hardware was developed to run around in the jungle swinging from trees and running away from tigers, and not to drive 80,000 pound trucks at 65mph... Once automated trucks are developed, they will be inherently safer than the humans who operate them today - they have specifically-designed sensor packages, computing power far greater than your brain, and far more accurate input from the vehicle and road. It's

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:24AM (#48101905) Journal
    After all, this will end all of the hassle of dealing with real people.

    Maybe they can get virtual people to buy all of their products.

    Virtual customers will be the next growth industry
  • by tippe ( 1136385 )

    This interesting mini-documentary by CGP Grey is totally relevant: Humans Need Not Apply [youtube.com].

  • A good example of first being outsourced and then automated is telemarketing.

    The low level lead generation has been replaced by robocalls. This blight on the phone system makes automated calls very inexpensive for the caller and more expensive for the receiver both in call plan time usage (unless unlimited) and resources (time) of the receiver.

    If left unchecked, my phone will go to an automated auto attendant instead of being answered for non white list callers.

    It's a sad day when you need a spam filter on

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      Where I live robocalls are already illegal (with exceptions for opt-in such as appointment reminders, and an exemption for political parties... must be nice to write the laws...) How much do you think that has reduced the number of robocalls I receive? If you guessed, not at all, you win. Problem is that Robocalls are generally from overseas and from scammers, there's no practical way for any enforcement.

      • Friends I have on my phone list with their names associated to their phone numbers. Other types of callers I place in my phone list with an appropriate name like, "Anne As'Clown" and a photo of a horse passing gas; I googled it. It actually becomes a pleasure to see who's calling me.
    • by Shados ( 741919 )

      People talked about how spam would make email useless and that we'd need a replacement. But spam filters have become pretty good, and my Gmail account is treating me quite well.

      My phone however? I use a service to flag known spam callers and have them never reach my phone, but that only use numbers, not the content of the message. So I pretty much just whitelist, and everyone else has to leave a message, and I'll call them back. Since I get a lot of crap spam calls, it takes a while before I go through mess

  • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:37AM (#48102017)
    I was more curious about the second link in the article as I was hoping for some examples of what was being automated. Instead the article was just another example of poor technology journalism: the author used a lot of words without writing anything of substance. It only spoke to the economic impact which is, I daresay, fairly obvious. I'm hoping technology journalism isn't devolving over all.
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:37AM (#48102025) Homepage Journal
    When I was growing up, my relatives had a washer and dryer, but when they broke they went back to having the in house staff wash clothes on the outdoor basin and hang out to dry. It was simply cheaper to do that. Other relatives simply had the people next door wash by hand because it was way cheaper than using a machine. Now labor is more expensive, and machines are cheaper, so most people have machines do the washing. Mostly it is because machines are cheap and a new generation thinks that using machines is cooler than paying someone.

    It reminds me of this poster [despair.com]. If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

    • When I was growing up, my relatives had a washer and dryer, but when they broke they went back to having the in house staff wash clothes on the outdoor basin and hang out to dry.

      Must be nice, having a home with "in house staff."

    • There always seems to be a pendulum in the cheap labor vs. automation decision. When a lot of manufacturing jobs were being outsourced to China, many looked at what those jobs were and saw that they were very repetitive and low skill jobs. They would then get a puzzled look on their face. They get that a Chinese person can do the same task cheaper than an American person, but why have a person do it at all? This job is perfect for automation! The reality, though, is that many Chinese people toiling away is
  • A recent Oxford study shows that 702 jobs or close to half the current workforce can be automated over the next few decades: http://artificial-intelligence... [artificial...igence.com] A nice solution to keep human employment might be to reduce our work weeks: http://artificial-intelligence... [artificial...igence.com]
  • One day corps might get their dream and have no wage bill at all, but then no one will have any jobs to get any money to buy their stuff so where will they be then? Dead and gone ready for the whole system to reset.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2014 @08:49AM (#48102141)

    Article is weak because it generalizes Yahoo's experience to all tech companies. Yahoo is in crash-and-burn mode, trying anything to survive. Apple hasn't changed its business practices. Microsoft just opened a Canadian center to exploit cheap labor. I don't see a trend. IBM is in crash-and-burn mode, too, so you can't use them to back up Yahoo's experience.

    Article is also weak because it conflates technical support, software development, and hardware manufacturing. The author doesn't seem to know what he is talking about, even suggesting robot automation can take over tech support. Confusing.

  • ... "FUCK YOU, YOU GODDAM MACHINE!!!," please wait for the next available ....

  • On so many levels does this statement show a lack. Is humanity so desparte to hear words?
  • for the offshore workers who displaced American workers to know that their value is now being measured by whether it can now be done by a TI-84 calculator or a resurrected TRS-80 if a human is still required in some capacity. They will now know how it feels to have to compete for jobs managing their automated overlords for even less meager earnings than before.

    And, one has to wonder how far the shockwave will go. Will engineering and middle-management type jobs now be offshored (something that, historical

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Offshore workers used to be cheaper than an TI-84 calculator and it is the only reason they were hired as their skill level was abysmal.
      But guess what, low skill doesn't mean stupid, so these offshore workers start getting better, and they start noticing that they are more valuable than the minuscule "wages" they get. As a result they now want to actually get paid, forcing the directors to reconsider that TI-84.

      As for the offshore workers. They will probably indeed start their own companies, not just becaus

  • Based on all of the lazy Indian "developers" I've had to deal with this can only be a good thing.

  • My experiences with support for commercial products has been much worse than the support I've enjoyed from open source communities. It seems like all they want to do is accept money to allow their customer to check the box to say there is support for audit purposes. It's cynical, and the fact it can be relegated entirely to IVR is more proof.

    Now, if they would put fewer, better qualified people into a moderated forum that would be an improvement and save money, but then it would expose too many precious sec

  • I wonder where they think people will get the money to buy their products? Even a right-wing nut like Henry Ford understood that he was creating customers by paying a decent wage. If American corporations keep outsourcing and automating jobs, soon enough, no one in the US will have any money to buy their wares.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      Sigh. Not the old 'Ford paid more so his workers could buy Ford cars!' claptrap again?

      Ford paid high wages because it allowed him to hire the best workers, and reduced costs by reducing turnover. If I remember correctly, he had about 400% employee turnover the year before he dramatically raised wages, and about 0% the year after.

      • Not only that, but a big portion of the increased wages were a bonus that depended on satisfactory performance in house visits. Yup, if the factory rep decided that you weren't keeping your home clean enough, or thought you were drinking too much off the job, poof went a big portion of your comp.

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