7.12.2005

 

Why so nervous about robots, Wal-Mart?

Why so nervous about robots, Wal-Mart?

From the article:All that you have to do is read Robots in 2015 to understand why Wal-Mart doesn't want to discuss it. The completely robotic Wal-Mart is just not that far away. When Wal-Mart converts, the company will need to dump about 1 million employees onto the job market.

At the same time, every other retailer will need to convert to the same kind of system in order to compete, which means about 10 million people will pour onto the unemployment rolls over the course of just 3 to 5 years. At the same time, millions of teachers will be pouring onto the unemployment roles as well. So will pilots. So will... see Robots and jobs for a long list.

It will be a remarkable period of time, for which there is no precedent and for which we are largely unprepared. See Robotic Nation for details.

Comments:
We are truly living in revolutionary times. It is like those that were born in the 1890s and lived until the 1980s. This is our future- when we are old and grey, the world will not make sense to us. No matter how hard we try, it will seem foreign and off. This is the nature of modern times, and it is truly both scarry and exhilerating at the same time.

Having said that, I think Walmart should replace all of it's workers with robots. What crappier job is there in America? Even those that work in refineries are better off because the economy, for lack of a better word, respects them enough to provide ample compensation. Most of those working at Walmart have no hope, dignity, or future. End these life-sucking jobs now!
 
There is no need to cry about robot future. For smart people it will open unlimited possibilities. Same like Internet, economy did not collapse because of postmen replacement by email.
 
"Same like Internet, economy did not collapse because of postmen replacement by email."

The two things are very different.Internet is an additional mean of communication.In the long run it has made some things like offshoring service jobs (jobs that still exist anyway even if now they are located in India) much easier but no one in his right mind should have expected massive unemployement.I do not recall a lot of dire predictions back then either, although memeory may be failing me at the moment.Some of the major employers of the USA automating at the same time is a pretty different thing.

"Most of those working at Walmart have no hope, dignity, or future. End these life-sucking jobs now!"

I am all for it.But there is a small detail that need to be discussed first.These people are at the bottom of the labor market food chain.AFAIK their education is usually limited, they do not have valuable skils etc.In addition there will be millions of them.What will happen to these people?
Will they be hired en masse in new high end service jobs despited their lack of education,skills etc?

Or will they mostly just end up in the street,living off occasional jobs, public/private welfare and various expedients?

Remember, the industrial revolution did not happen in five years or even two decades.People had a lot of time to adapt and besides turning a peasant into a lowly industrial worker, while not the easiest thing, was doable. Turning someone working at WalMart into someone the market will need then might be far more challanging.
 
Inventory checking yes. Teachers no.

Thomas Edison proclaimed that movies would replace teachers. What happened? Teachers simply insert the videos and the students watch the films.

Humans are extremely complex emotional creatures. While kurzweil says that computers will exceed the intelligence of humans by 2048 I think it more likely that the future will hold more creatures like the "rat bot" that is part animal and part robot.
 
I don't think people realize just how many people are employed by the government already. This is a result of the productivity gains of the industrial revolution. Ever increasing productivity demands ever increasing "invention" of new work for a growing population that has no other source of currency besides labor.

To date, the reply is has always been "well, those people can always do X" whatever X may be. If Robotic Nation means anything it means that robots will also be able to do X, and more cheaply.

So in a scenario where people are getting displaced from certain fields by robots, the moment they enter new fields en masse, robotics entrepeneurs will chase the market and offer an alternative to employing humans for that field as well.

Again, we already went through several periods of increased productivty -> increased unemployment -> political intervention. I believe that the only real choice comes at the last phase. You can have the FDR style welfare state, or you can have Stalin and Hitler.
 
I believe Wal-Mart’s days are numbered. Like all colossal store chains their marketing strategy is to make huge profits, not variety. While bankrupting mom and pop stores with all their variety. These days I purchase ever more on the internet. Just because I can’t find items I want in the monopoly stores. The internet is ultra diversified and nearly fully automated! With voice recognition, online help will be perfect and fully automated! The days of robots and automation producing all goods and services are counting down – 2030 - 2035 (Eric Drexler – technology predictions).
 
"AFAIK their education is usually limited, they do not have valuable skils etc.In addition there will be millions of them.What will happen to these people?"

They will be retrained by hordes of cheap robotic teachers. What will they be retrained in? No idea.
 
"They will be retrained by hordes of cheap robotic teachers"

Well, cheap is not a synonimus of free.Then if you have to spend all the day worrying about food and shelter pursuing high education may not be something most people are capable of, even if available.

"What will they be retrained in?"

I tend to believe there will be new opportunities, at least until really human or better than human like AI come online (after that all the bets are off).Just that these people will not be in the position to take advantage of them.Even in the Manna scenario with all that automation there were still at least 100 millions of people still partecipating to the economy after the rest had been warehoused.
 
"They will be retrained by hordes of cheap robotic teachers. What will they be retrained in? No idea."

They will be trained in the fine art of making Soylent Green.
 
"They will be trained in the fine art of making Soylent Green."

What many of your are forgetting is that new industries spring up over night. Consider the computer games industry, the theme park industry, etc. This same arguement was spouted by opponents of the industrialization of agricultural America.

Technology has *not* brought us more free time, and it *never* will. We are busier now than we were 100 years ago. I repeat, technology will *never* bring us more free time.

It is not in human nature for us to sit around and do nothing. Doing such is truely the most distructive thing for a human being to be faced with. We need challenges, we need trials, we need danger.

If millions of people are truly laid off over the next half-centure due to robotic evolution instead of being moved into new industries that demand a human presence (and I seriously doubt this will happen) then we will have millions of people traveling off to colonize new worlds. People will just not sit around, they will be drawn to challenge.

Having said all of this, however, let me repeat: technology will *never* provide us with more free time. It never has and never will. It is truely a fallacy to believe otherwise.

Now please stop worrying.
 
It is reasonable to believe that hoards of people will be unemployed, and that there will be no labor for them that they can become skilled at in time.

What I would like to hear, from the "everything will be fine" crowd, is: What would you be willing to do, if there are hoards of unemployed people who cannot skill up in time for the next jobs?

What we are wondering is: Should something go horribly wrong, what would your reaction be?

If millions of people are truly laid off over the next half-centure due to robotic evolution instead of being moved into new industries that demand a human presence (and I seriously doubt this will happen) then we will have millions of people traveling off to colonize new worlds. People will just not sit around, they will be drawn to challenge.

During the great depression, ex-farmers didn't become colonizers of a new world. They suffered. They were not inventing; Merely struggling to survive. They were not drawn to challenge. It was a humanitarian crisis and disaster. The wealthy laughed as they left their fields unused, even though they were ripe for planting. The free market did not balance things. The system was immoral.
 
During the great depression, ex-farmers didn't become colonizers of a new world.

If robots truely do take over millions of jobs previously performed by humans, then there must be a serious incentive for businesses to do this- i.e. increase in productivity which leads to increased profit.

I really can't see a "Great Depression" happening in a time of huge productivity gains.

The great depression was caused by a number of large factors including WWI which resulted in huge amounts of wealth being destroyed.

The free market did not balance things. The system was immoral.

All economic system, ALL of them, have SERIOUS problems. The free market system is the one that has the least amount of problems. Also, the depression affected EVERYONE- sure some fared better than others, but no one got rich off of the depression.
 
P.S. One thing that free markets ADORE is the opportunity to move into new markets, or to even create them.

If there are millions of unemployed flooding the public doles, and politicians pushing for higer taxes of businesses to pay these masses of unemployed, and corporations making trillions in new profits due to increased productivity gains from the introduction of robotic workers, then there would be a very large incentive for those very companies to move large amounts of people to the Moon, Mars, or a near-by asteroid for mining or what have you.

Think about that for a little while before responding please. Also, the sky is not falling. Thank you.
 
"I really can't see a Great Depression happening in a time of huge productivity gains."

Well,if memory serves me the mechanization of agriculture was actually accelerated up during the Depression.Many of those farmers were indeed replaced by tractors which started to become widespread in the 30's.That would count as a substantial productivity gain for me.Many technological innovations took place in the 30's anyway.

"then there would be a very large incentive for those very companies to move large amounts of people to the Moon, Mars, or a near-by asteroid for mining or what have you."

The space is a cold, inhospitable place.It is not 19th century America.Nobody can live there without extensive and comparatively expensive life support. Whatever amount of mining and industrial activities will take place there will be almost fully automated because it will be much more convenient than sending people there.Besides by when mining and industry in space will have become convenient they will also have become almost fully automated even here on the earth (we are alredy on the way).Which leaves only science and tourism (whose infrastructure will be largely automated too) as reasons to go there.
Think for a while to the reasons that induce people to live in or to go to inhospitable places here on the Earth.
 
"What many of your are forgetting is that new industries spring up over night. Consider the computer games industry, the theme park industry, etc. This same arguement was spouted by opponents of the industrialization of agricultural America."

The first difference is that people simply switched from agricultural tools to others tools.
Tools which increased productivity but still needed human operators.
Now the tools start to operate themselves.At some point we should have AIs capable of human like creative work.
What happens then?
And even before we reach that goal?
There is no precedent for this.All the bets are off.

The second difference is timing.The industrial revolution got in motion in the early decades of the 19th century.In the early years of the 20th century agriculture still employed large masses of people.The transition was mostly slow (with a few exceptions).People could adapt.
Here people are speaking about transformations taking place in a couple of decades, with peaks taking place in the span of few years.
Millions of people may simply be unable to keep up.The market may not need them.

The sky will not fall anyway.Masses of people already live miserably and that has not happened yet.
 
..and I'm still waitinf for an answer to: "Should something go horribly wrong, what would your reaction be?"

Would you be capable of changing your mind, or would you reason: "Well, they deserved it."
 
..and I'm still waitinf for an answer to: "Should something go horribly wrong, what would your reaction be?"

Would you be capable of changing your mind, or would you reason: "Well, they deserved it."


In the foreseeable future (atleast 100 years), there will be a growing demand for face-to-face jobs, such as from a sales staff. As long as people can speak, they will be needed.

The anti-robot paranoia present here is a prime example of this- there will be large segments of the population that are afraid/dislike/distrust/etc robots, and will be unwilling to speak to robots in the sales, medical, etc fields. Humans will be required for these positions.

Just look at the outsourcing of software jobs- as companies outsource software positions, they hire more sales staff.

Would you let a robot coach your kid's soccer team?
 
"The anti-robot paranoia present here is a prime example of this"

Personally I like automation, what is debated here are the effects on the labor market.A widespread
anti-robot bias might indeed take place, maybe as a direct consequence of the dislocation robots cause, making a lot of human personnel necessary for interactions but it is just a possibility.
It is difficult to predict cultural trends like these.

"Would you let a robot coach your kid's soccer team?"

Well, if the robot is advanced enough, why not? I might actually trust it more than its human equivalent.
 
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