7.03.2005

 

Robotic Nation coming true before our very eyes...

Profits, Not Jobs, on the Rebound in Silicon Valley - New York Times

From the article: "In part, the change is driven by the very automation that Silicon Valley has largely made possible, allowing companies to create more value with fewer workers." This is the essence of the Robotic Nation. Automation and robots replace people, causing employment to fall and the Concentration of wealth to rise.

Comments:
I disagree,

First, for "robotic nation" to come about will require vast amounts of high tech labor and capital expenditure over a decade. The payroll decline in silicon valley is probably due to the fact that Americans are asking for 6 figure salaries and indians and chineese are asking for 4 figure salaries.
 
I believe outsourcing is part of Robotic Nation predictions.

I haven't met too many Americans asking for 6 figure salaries, though. Most seem resigned to $25,000-$75,000 a year, if you ask me.

Scientists and programmers and other high tech laborers aren't actually paid a whole lot. Most are paid $40,000-$70,000, in my experience. It does not seem to me like the Americans are asking for a whole lot. If what Marshall Brain is showing us is true, Americans are actually asking for much less than they used to, 50 years ago. 50 years ago, a man and woman would get together, he would go to work, they would get a house together, and she would raise the kids. Today, the man and woman get together, they both go to work, they pay a bunch of money for preschool (or whatever,) and they may never buy a house. Money goes to rent.

I don't really believe it will require vast amounts of capital expenditure to bring about the Robotic Nation. It's just the result of following logical steps: Companies want to save money. They will automate, because it works. It doesn't cost a whole lot, and pays off for itself pretty quickly.

We are not talking about research here that requires decades of focused labor, with little return in between. Rather, we are talking of hundreds of little incremental improvements, that do not cost much, and which all yield returns in short order. Workplace automation.
 
Programmers are just the latest group to claim their labor is worth more than the market thinks.

It isn't a crime lower their salaries, nor a sign of a robotic revolution. It is voluntary exchange and competition.
 
"It isn't a crime lower their salaries [...] It is voluntary exchange and competition."

Might I ask, out of curiosity, what do you do to earn a living?
Because I have noticed that some people feel pretty smug telling people who got shafted by the market to stuff it, as long as things are going well for themselves and they feel safe that will remain so.
I bet that a lot of those aforementioned programmers engaged in this sort of behaviour towards others workers back in the 90's when nobody would have imagined that their precious jobs would have been shipped off to India.
Mantaining faith in the free market can become a bit tricky when YOU are the one getting shafted...
 
I'm a programmer :-D

Actually, my title is the ever-vague 'scientist'. I couldn't have that title if it weren't for the graduate work for which I went into debt with student loans. They have already paid off in spades in both income and happiness.

Those kinds of choices are what make people competitive. If a skill-set is becoming overly-broad/shallow to prove useful to an employer, it is the employee’s fault.

Considering I work directly with artificial intelligence (computer vision), maybe more programmers should make the same choice I made, and go to school or train himself or herself to be more competitive. This is especially true if you believe in the ‘robotic nation’ meme. There is little I know that couldn't be learned (more slowly) as a hobby.

By the way, it isn't 'smug', or 'faith', to admire free markets. It is centuries of empirical evidence. A new kind of mercantilism is emerging, with jobs being the new specie. You should read-up on it and avoid the same economic pit-falls.
 
"Actually, my title is the ever-vague 'scientist'[...]They have already paid off in spades in both income and happiness."

I should have expected that, of course.Needless to say that is precisely what many programmers believed back in the 90's when the meme was the New Economy.They were well paid, they were sought after and surely nobody could have done without them,right?
But surely there is nobody, let's say in China five years from now, that will be a better scientist than you for a fraction of your salary,right?

It will be interesting to hear your opinion then...

PS
By the way, I have studied a little bit of economics myself (even if by no means extensively or my specialization) and I have to deal with public bureaucracies, so there is no need to lecture me on the advantages of free trade (at least in its basics) or why the soviets collapsed, especially the latter.
 
I don't expect to stay competitive for long unless I go back to school or start my own business within 3 years. I also wouldn't mind being a stay-at-home dad, working on hacking the latest roomba or robosapien in my spare time; I can dream can't I :-D

The funny thing about America is the number of people who _know_ alternatives are worse, but complain about things where taking action would be some kind of government involvement/control of industry. Governments have a neck for failing to pick both winners and losers accurately.

Rather than claim that this shouldn't be done, and we should grin & bear the horrible effects of competition, I'm saying that a person in China taking my job is GOOD, and should be welcomed. Brain fails to understand what happens to that money that is saved by my being fired. It’s like he things it goes under a evil CEO’s mattress or something.

Similarly, I fail to see what is bad about the majority of industries going the way of the farmer: important, but not labor intensive.

Also, why doesn’t Brain ever comment on his posts in response to folks who read em?
 
"Similarly, I fail to see what is bad about the majority of industries going the way of the farmer: important, but not labor intensive."

As Brain himself says (in others part of the site),there is nothing wrong .And I cannot emphasize this enough,I too believe automation is a good thing. Problem is, what happens when what jobs are left in agriculture and industry will be mostly automated and automation will start to cut across the service sector like an hot knife throught the butter?

In the past with the industrial revolutions people left agricultural tools to operate increasingly sophisticated tools (meant in the widest possible sense).Thanks to the gains in productivity they were generally better off in the long run even if the transition was not always smooth.But what happens when the tools start to operate themselves, heck maybe even design themselves at some point, without much human intervention?
Does the paradigm of the industrial revolution still apply?
At some point we should have machines capable of doing almost everything humans have the capability to do, including a lot of human interactions and of what we now classify as creative work.
And since the change will be incremental we will feel the effects even before we get there.What the majority of the people will do then?

Not everyone can be a scientist in an hot field or a succesful entrepreneur.I do not believe that Brain proposed solution is workable but the problem may well be all too real.

"It’s like he things it goes under a evil CEO’s mattress or something."

Well it seems that CEO's salaries are indeed skyrocketing, if that is what you meant.
 
<< Brain fails to understand what happens to that money that is saved by my being fired. It’s like he things it goes under a evil CEO’s mattress or something. >>

In the capitalist system, technology amplifies the divide between the richest and the poorest.

Free markets however do neutralize the classes across polical boundries. As of now, the middle / lower classes in the United States are still overwhelmingly more wealthy than the middle / lower classes of developing nations. As jobs once filled with U.S. workers are shifted to other countries with lesser regulations, the lifestyles of the lower classes of the world will beging to merge.

If you are making $300 a year in an African Village, your experience of the equalizaion will be much differant than if you are making $13,000 in the United States.

Simultaneous to this economic equalization, will be a regulatory equalization -- work rights, enviromental regulations, etc. will work towards a middle point world wide.

This set us up for the 'new world order' the global controll under one world goverment. Since all of the countries will be forced into equalization via the free market, everyone will essentially be operating under the same guidelines.. This is the proverbial 'race to the bottom'.

Meanwhile, the technology is still amplifying that separation -- it's an exponential progress that is happening rapidly.

The wealth of the world concentrates within a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, and the lower classes bloom as the middle class dissolves.
 
<< Brain fails to understand what happens to that money that is saved by my being fired. It’s like he things it goes under a evil CEO’s mattress or something. >>

In the capitalist system, technology amplifies the divide between the richest and the poorest.

Free markets however do neutralize the classes across polical boundries. As of now, the middle / lower classes in the United States are still overwhelmingly more wealthy than the middle / lower classes of developing nations. As jobs once filled with U.S. workers are shifted to other countries with lesser regulations, the lifestyles of the lower classes of the world will beging to merge.

If you are making $300 a year in an African Village, your experience of the equalizaion will be much differant than if you are making $13,000 in the United States.

Simultaneous to this economic equalization, will be a regulatory equalization -- work rights, enviromental regulations, etc. will work towards a middle point world wide.

This set us up for the 'new world order' the global controll under one world goverment. Since all of the countries will be forced into equalization via the free market, everyone will essentially be operating under the same guidelines.. This is the proverbial 'race to the bottom'.

Meanwhile, the technology is still amplifying that separation -- it's an exponential progress that is happening rapidly.

The wealth of the world concentrates within a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, and the lower classes bloom as the middle class dissolves.
 
Actually, by the CEO/money comment, I was hinting to the widely known fact that the vast majority of CEO's have wealth in equity markets. This is equivalent to taking profits, and investing them back into the system, something that isn't bad. To question the fairness of the proportion of income going to CEOs (vs. 'workers') is to question the fairness of voluntary exchange.

Unless a contract is signed which stipulated the proportion of profits due to workers, it isn't unfair to keep profits from them.

Also, we have been in the process of transitioning to a service based economy. You don't have to be an inventor to make money outside manufacturing. It is a lack of faith in individual ingenuity that leads to these concerns. I would recommend this book.
 
Free Markets raise the wealth of the poor faster than any alternative.

If you think that equality is more important than growth, than this might be bad, as the rich also get richer.

Personally, I find the definitions of poverty rather misleading. Instead of asking, 'can you afford food and shelter', statisticians just look at the bottom 1/5th and call it poverty.

Considering the average person in Portugal is earning less than those in the bottom 1/5th in America, just calculations are quite misleading.

Also, free markets are the cure for Africa. Opening our markets to their crops, and eliminating our subsidies for farmers would do a great deal more than doubling aid or eliminating debt.
 
"Also, we have been in the process of transitioning to a service based economy. You don't have to be an inventor to make money outside manufacturing."

And services are going to be subject to automation too, just like agriculture and industry.
 
There is 'soft' and 'hard' AI.

Hard AI is being human. That is harder (duh), and will take time.

Soft AI will let a humanoid butler cost as much as a car, or for that car or FedEx truck to drive itself.

Those services will be threatened, yes.

Services based on the ingenuity of humans will not be threatened as till hard-AI dawns. Another way of putting it: if your job requires higher thought or creativity, you are less threatened.

By the time those jobs are automated, humans will probably have taken advantage of artificial mind enhancement, making this division between robots and humans rather mute.

This will be over the next 20-50 years, as the soft AI will solve problems robotically over the next 1-20. These estimates could be wildly off :), but a simplistic measure is that Moore's law produces 'human level' FLOPS around 2025.
 
I will repeat myself

"At some point we should have machines capable of doing almost everything humans have the capability to do, including a lot of human interactions and of what we now classify as creative work."

Feel free to disagree with this premise of course.But given the pace of technological evolution it seems to me that we can look forward to it.And even long before we get, let's say, an android as capable as an human we will get self driving trucks, computer programs replacing call centers, robots restocking shelves and doing physioterapy, computer generated anchormen and machines than maybe will handle jobs that do not exist yet.Agriculture and industry can be almost fully automated.Are we sure that the service sector could not be automated for at least a great part too?

"Considering the average person in Portugal is earning less than those in the bottom 1/5th in America, just calculations are quite misleading."

Is that adjusted for differentials in costs of living (I got the admittely anedoctal impression that that was a non trivial factor, feel free of dissent of course)? Furthermore Portugal is not exactly the richest country in the world after the USA.What would be the results of the same comparison taking, let's say Canada or Germany?

And by the way, I never said that trade barriers against the developing world were a sound idea.
I think the opposite is true.
 
Sorry, the post above was meant as a development of that regarding services automation but I posted it too late.
 
I would like to recall that the Portugal comparison is based on purchasing-power-parity, but it might be a simple average income in Portugal <= bottom 1/5th income in America.

As for the creative jobs robots will take, I have my doubts about the speed. One big point is that we are not currently, as a society, utilizing our creative and intelligent power. Way too many people don't think for a living. Who knows what kind of synergy will occur as more people are forced to think to earn a living.

Many services can be automated. I don't think my interior decorator, for example, will be automated soon.
 
"I would like to recall that the Portugal comparison is based on purchasing-power-parity, but it might be a simple average income in Portugal <= bottom 1/5th income in America."

Let's clear this.Portugal was under a pseudofascist dictatorship till the 70's.They sat out of the 60's boom, so they are still playing catch up.I think countries like the UK or Germany or Canada would offer a better comparison.
In terms of GDP per capita the USA
has a value of $40,000 (Portugal is around $17,000).Countries like Germany, the UK, Canada, Belgium and Japan are around $30,000 or so.GDP per capita is not of course income, for that you will need an analysis with brackets but IIRC the top brackets in the USA have a proportionally larger share than elsewhere.I suspect (based even upon anedoctal impression) that the average Joe is at least to some extent better off economically than his german/japanese/etc counterpart but not massively so (and there may also be additional trade off like work vs leisure to consider in some cases).If you take indicators like life expectancy, infant mortality rate, crime rates and such the USA is not generally leading the pack.

"Free Markets raise the wealth of the poor faster than any alternative."

Well certainly the chinese on the whole are improving their lot now that communism has been scrapped.
Yet judging from the stats that are coming in it seems that the wages of most people in the USA are beginning to stagnate despite an acceptable GDP and productivity growth.Time and more analysis will tell if that is correct but I am not optimist on this front.Which does not mean I am advocating communism or something, just pointing out.
 
The exact stats show that the US is pushing ahead of Europe. Read this book.

Just because someone writes an essay enumerating only a few potential futures, it doesn't mean those are the only choices.

Alternatives include having almost everything be much cheaper, while certain services retain high value, and being trained in those areas can gainfully employ those interested. Not too sexy, no doom and gloom, just a simple transition over a decade or two.

Resources freed up from the robots will go towards other endeavors. There is no limit on the quantity of wealth in the world.
 
Ivan, I do not get the impression that Marshall or you vary all that much in your predictions. I also tend to agree with you that the rich turn around and spend their money, keeping a good flow through the economic system. However, a dystopic Robotic Nation can still occur without evil CEO's stashing their riches under mattresses. Economics won't be the problem...ideology will be. You seem to touch on this by mentioning creative pursuits when labor is eliminated. Unfortunately, while you and I may know that such opportunities are available to us, some (many?) people might cling to traditional views and be trapped in nightmares of their own making.

Frankly, I embrace the Robotic Nation. Eliminate jobs, please! I'm not here to work a job and then die. Of course, I'm not here for any particular reason at all. Therefore, I get to choose my reason. Bring on change.
 
"The exact stats show that the US is pushing ahead of Europe"

Maybe you did not understand.In items like wages and unemployement, yes (which, judging from the review is what the book is about anyway).If you want to argue that the USA has a greatest life expectancy or the lowest infant mortality rate or similar things you will have to explain me first why all the published stats are wrong.Check for yourself.

"Resources freed up from the robots will go towards other endeavors."

That, as I noted before, assuming the paradigm of the industrial revolution still applies.The changes yourself describe are much more radical and fast paced than anything happened so far since.The truck drivers/ janitors/burgers flippers/etc fired en masse in the early 2020's (or whatever)might not have the luxury of being useful for some high end service job.That BTW is more or less what the whole Manna scenario is about.

"There is no limit on the quantity of wealth in the world."

And I said otherwise...Where?
 
"In items like wages and unemployement, yes"

To clarify,to a certain extent.By the way, that americans are richer than europeans is not exactly something new.

"Alternatives include having almost everything be much cheaper"

You still need an income to buy something even if technology and competition have made it cheaper.
 
Mind you, Europe or most of it has not a great future to look forward to.But many trends emerging in the USA are rather worrisome.

Regarding the Manna scenario,I believe one of the points Brain tried to make was that technological innovation may happen so fast that society or more accurately large parts of it will be basically left to rot,unable to keep up.Which is not to say that innovation should be slowed or stopped:history shows that it would be just plain suicide.
 
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I find the commentary about programmers and the economy and outsourcing very interesting.

By far and large, the programmers losing jobs overseas were not the skilled people to start with. They were people who wrote scripts to solve business problems using products designed to do this sort of thing with little or no real effort.

In the bad old days you would create a database as needed. Today we have database products containing SQL and such and the majority of programmers create screens and scripts that get stuff into and out of this database.

Fundamentally there is no inherent difference between keeping track of patients and billing at a small town dentist's office than a major banking concern tracking 200k student loans at 1800 schools. It's a mater of scale, and the solution to neither problem needs to invent anything new. Essentially this is grunt work, period.

Nothing new is being invented. These "programmers" aren't reinventing the core technology used by their employer, they're merely writing scripts within the confines of the products used.

And yet... there's all of this chicken little discussion being had about "highly skilled" programmers losing jobs.

Highly skilled? No, just burger flipper level skills in cubicles. The people yakking about the chicken little aspect of this are obviously not technically trained (although there will be a few dissenting SQL people who assume that it takes skill to write SQL scripts becuase they were told that this was so.)

A few years back people nattered about the dot bomb stuff and it sounded just as stupid. Most people aren't asute enough to realize that PetFoodsOnline.Com (e.g.) didn't invent any new technology, it merely used it, whereas Hewlett Packard creates and invents technologies. Guess which company is still here. Duh. The one that was a tech company to start with, of course.

Same argument/thinking applies to highly skilled programmers who are losing jobs overseas. They were never skilled, much less highly skilled, and they weren't programmers.
 
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