Skip to Content

The rise of the robots - in case you haven't figured it out, robots are changing the world economy, and reducing your pay

I have talked about the effect of robotics and automated manufacturing foi rmany years - this was a well discussed topic back in the early days of the net, when the early adopters of the internet all collectively realized that robotics changed the planet's economy, and would change the planet's politics as well.

I posted this for example, not long ago...

The fiscal cliff, the deficit, and the decline of america - It's all the ROBOT'S FAULT!

The rest of you have taken a long long time to catch on to the basic, almost common sense understanding - that if manufacturing is done by robots, human workers will be surplus to requirements. That is, pal, we got no need of you, you have been permenantly downsized, "do you want fries with that" for the rest of your miserable unneeded life.

Well, it's taken what, 20-30 years - but the Very Serious People are starting to recognize what we all (we netkultur geeks) knew long ago. Robots change everything.

What will you do in a robotic future, when you are not needed?

Summary? You are pretty much screwed for the forseeable future. It's going to be like "Thunderdome Two - the fight for the last remaining lower middle class jobs! Two men enter, one man leaves!".



Here's a great metafilter post.... The Robots Are Coming .... with snippets and links to some of the recent thoughts from the VSP's. (Very Serious People, in case that's not obvious...)

All of a sudden, we looked up, and they were there. What if the explanation to the past half-decade --- or maybe the past decade and a half --- of the world’s economic malaise can be explained in one word: Robots. Maybe, in other words, the reason that corporate profits are higher than ever and yet jobs aren’t being created is because we have built machines to take those jobs. Paul Krugman thinks it’s possible.

If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality. Better education won’t do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assets....I think our eyes have been averted from the capital/labor dimension of inequality, for several reasons...But I think we’d better start paying attention to those implications.

So does Kevin Drum:

Here's what I mean. It's quite possible that, say, 50 years from now the production of nearly all goods and services will be automated. And this might usher in a golden age...But what happens while we're busy getting there? Answer: the owners of capital will automate more and more, putting more and more people out of work...The rest of us will have no jobs, and even with all this lovely automation, our government-supplied welfare checks will be meager enough that our lives will be miserable.

And 60 minutes. And so does the Financial Time’s Izabella Kaminska, who’s been writing a series of posts on the influential FT Alphaville blog for more than nine months on the influence of robots on the economy and whether or not an economy can handle no scarcity. FT Alphaville requires registration, but fortunately Kaminska has collected links from across the world of economics and journalism as people attempt to hammer out this problem.

Why is she so obsessed? In Kaminska' words,
“One of the criticisms I face all the time, meanwhile, is that all this tech innovation has been going on for centuries. Why should there be a crisis of capital now? What makes this time any different? And what makes my sudden focus on tech relevant?
For starters, what I feel is new is the idea that the financial crisis was born out of the tech crash. If not for the dotcom bubble, we would not have had the conditions to create the subprime crisis. The China outsourcing phenomenon and imbalance situation may also have been born out of a need to replace mechanised labour — which compromised capital — with human labour, which still ensured profit and the preservation of capital. It was in a sense, an artificial scarcity response… designed to spread spending power to secure return on capital, rather than extinguish it.

[If] West not outsourced labour as extensively back in the 1990s…. the West may have been Japan-ified much earlier on.

But what really makes this time different, I would argue, is that a lot of the competition is now coming from a) the voluntary and crowd sourcing/open source arena and b) it’s only artificial scarcities (patents, monopoly interests) which are preventing complete democratisation of technologically-fueled abundance across the world. It is thus because monopoly power is slipping, challenged as it is by free alternatives rather than cheaper ones… that the crisis is beginning to manifest.”
Some think the revolution is already in progress. Forbes thinks China may be one of the first victims.

And Wired, of course, has the optimist’s spin:
This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do. You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that seems like drudgery will be done by robots.
Share this


Paul Krugman's "The Rise of the Robots"

Paul Krugman's recent editorial about the effect of robotics on the economy is available at TruthOut, and not just behind the NYT paywall...

I thought is was an fairly milktoast piece, not a lot of thought or content - Krugman doesn't always work that hard. lol.

It starts as a kind of pan of the "end of growth" arguments. Krugman is "Pretty sure he's wrong", but his reason for being pretty sure seems surprisingly weak:

It's good to have someone questioning the tech euphoria, but I've been looking into technology issues a lot lately, and I'm pretty sure he's wrong: the information technology revolution has only begun to have its impact. Consider for a moment a sort of fantasy technology scenario in which we can produce intelligent robots able to do everything a person can do. Clearly, such a technology would remove all limits on per-capita gross domestic product, as long as you don't count robots among the capitas. All you need to do is keep raising the ratio of robots to humans, and you get whatever G.D.P. you want.

But, he allows, even if super smart AI super-robots are invented and productivity (for the corporations) soars thru the proverbial proof - well, that may not be so good for the people who work for a living.

Ah, you ask, but what about the people? Very good question. Smart machines may make higher G.D.P. possible, but they will also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots. And then eventually Skynet decides to kill us all, but that's another story.

Anyway, interesting stuff to speculate about — and not irrelevant to policy, either, since so much of the debate over entitlements is about what is supposed to happen decades from now.

A New Industrial Revolution: The Rise of the Robots

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

blog | about seo