Posts Tagged unemployment

ROBOT, TAKE MY JOB. PLEASE!

Posted by on Tuesday, 28 August, 2012

 

GREAT ROBOTIC SUCKING SOUND

We have moved on from the last recession best we could. Companies are profitable. Stocks are back. even the housing market seems to be steadying.

But jobs? Peh!

Why is that?

In a word? Robots.

Nobody – not even a glib politician – is going to add jobs faster than the “robot revolution” scrapes them away. Cut taxes all you like. Stimulate till the top blows off. The fact is, technology’s outgunning us and we will keep losing jobs till we cry uncle.

Why WOULDN’T a company use the best available tools? Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? What’s wrong with that? Of course companies will buy “intelligent machines” to reduce labor costs. And why worry? Aren’t new jobs being created to replace the ones that were lost?

I have talked about this before. I’m still talking about it. Technology is zooming. Faster and faster. And jobs are being eaten alive.

Let’s look at how we shop. Consuming is a lonely chore now.  We cavort with machines at the store instead of clerks. No friendly smiles. Not even a nasty scowl.

And work? Well that’s been you and your best buddy,  the machine,  for a long time, right? Only now it’s more so. Flesh-and-blood workers aren’t valuable enough to waste a wall on. Just a cubicle. Soon humans will be so rare in the workplace, the computers will gawk when they see one. Wherever there are human workers, their computerish adversaries are crowding in.

Isn’t it time to examine our basic assumptions about why jobs aren’t rebounding along with the rest of the economy? The recovery has been slow. But that’s really not the whole story. There’s something else going on. The very technology that has the potential to free us from muckery is tossing us about like a rubber ducky in a hurricane. Unless we pay attention, there will be less rubber duckies.

“BUBBLES” ARE THE PRICE OF INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS

This last economic bubble was real estate. At least, that’s how it began. The next economic bubble is inflating under our noses – an unemployment crisis that is being confused with a slow economic recovery.

Here’s the thing. It used to be  that automation, though disruptive , was something we could adjust to.  Jobs got eclipsed but others took their place. And because we seemed to adjust, we came to assume that we always would. No matter how powerful our computers, no matter how capable  our robots, no matter how fast the rate of innovation, we would adjust. Jobs would show up when others were destroyed. How did we know we could adjust? It’s simple. We always do.

True.

Till it isn’t.

Look around you kids. The high unemployment is only being MASKED by the “recession” which, by the way, has been over since June of 2009. Those high unemployment numbers are your beloved technological revolution peeping at you over the walls of your complacency. While you were focused on the last set of problems, there’s a whole new set arising.

That’s bad, right?

No. It shouldn’t be.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is just a science guy. He shouldn’t write tirades like this. It’s not his cup. Not his tea.  Techies like me? We’re THRILLED when our intelligent machines work right. Rare as it is. We shouldn’t be the ones to worry about the social implications. That’s the other guy.  Advanced robotics and computing is good stuff. It should be helping us, not hurting. It shouldn’t be ME who points out that science has consequences. That’s for the philosophers and the social engineers and the political types. Who are slouched around the TV, watching each other making speeches.

Guys! Wake up! Too many people. Too few jobs.

Get it?

What are the options? Okay, I can help  you with that.

Option A: We could make more stuff.  Create jobs that way. With all of our great technology, we could use it to increase the benefits for all. We haven’t run out of needs. Our knees and backs still hurt. More medical stuff please. The air’s too hot. Global warming solutions please. And I guess we can all agree we need lots more ringtones for our friggin’ smartphones.

There’s lots to do. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to encourage a bit more risk – taking by entrepreneurs. Maybe we need more government. Maybe we need less government. Maybe we need more leadership. Maybe we need more patent law suits.

Whatever!

Amping up sales could  increase employment. Can’t argue with that, right? However, maybe  things can only be pushed so fast. Maybe the public isn’t up for more innovation right now. Maybe there’s a limit too how much new stuff can be absorbed at any one time.

And that’s okay by me.

Option B: But if we can’t incentivize, brutalize, or hypnotize society into upping the need for stuff (and hence jobs) we may need to approach this differently. Maybe we need to find a better way to share out the existing jobs or, at least, the benefits of those jobs.

More, I will not say. There’s a limit to how far a technical guy is willing to debase himself. But you  – YOU know who I’m talkin’ to – you love this crap, right? You, who can’t wait till the next copy of The Journal Of Politics And Society shows up, you’re a social engineer, a political mover/shaker, one who dreams of changing the world, one dreary meeting at a time. Maybe you didn’t notice that there’s a burgeoning unemployment bubble that’s independent of the economic recovery until I said so. I helped you out, didn’t I? Now you know.

Get busy.

 

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Where The Jobs Are: Robot Technicians, Robot Handlers..

Posted by on Thursday, 1 July, 2010

No Humans?

Technology CREATES jobs, right?

Unemployment’s kinda high.

Slow economy.

To get through the rough spot, employers have been p-r-e-t-t-y creative. Every possible trick. Technology aplenty.

Not that I’m worried. In Business Week, I read that robots create more jobs than they destroy. Robots, kiosks, voice recognition system. All fruits of the labor of human designers, manufacturers, implementers of all kinds.

If anything, technology means more jobs and more interesting work.

Well.

Jeff Burnstein, the author of the Biz Week article I quote above,  is head of the Robotic Industries Association.

Tongue.

Cheek.

Here’s the thing. Some things’re true till they aren’t anymore.

Then, they’re not so true.

Robots have been around. We’re used to them. Nobody died. (I could research this. Maybe a robot ate somebody.)  And, at times, employment’s been just fine while “machine heads” were welding away at car companies.

In bad times, we target our rage at giant job sucking winds wafting Mexican spices our way. But technology is our friend. More jobs than it eliminates.

This is CERTAINLY what MISTERScienceAintSoBad likes to think. He is a HUGE proponent of techology and science (‘case you haven’t noticed). Huge.

But I got this day job, too. Where I’m sposed to be objective. Look at evidence. Scientific approach. (Science is an elaborate way of being honest with ourselves. You can quote me.)

So.

What’s WITH this sticky, sticky unemployment number that’s spooking investors? Maybe something new is happening. Maybe we’re slipping into the “robotic age” – the one where all our work’s done by machines? Where we live lives of leisure, living on I don’t know what?

Matthew Bleicher’s (Robots FTW) unsure. His “bet” is that us human’ll still get to flip a burger or two. But he admits he could be wrong.  Rosemary Black (NY Daily News)  describes the way that robots are now being deployed in the work place “side by side with humans”. She describes a hospital in Silicon Valley where “..Tug robots deliver meds, take out the trash and even speak politely to human workers and patients. Leasing the robots costs the hospital about $350,000 annually, while hiring that many people would have cost more than $1 million a year.”

Katharine Gammon (Wired Magazine) is less nuanced. She says robots are “stealing” American jobs in warehousing.

Larceny.

Where’s  this leading?

PUNCH LINE

The punch line? Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, talks about ordering food at a MacDonald’s kiosk.

Too good. Too easy. The kiosk was fun. Got him thinking. He sees a “seismic shift” in the American work force for which we aren’t prepared. He points to  five million jobs lost from the retail sector already. Just the beginning, he says. You wait.

MisterScienceAintSoBad has to let you down. Can’t give you the definitive answer here. Can’t boil down the evidence. There ISN’T “evidence” for future events. We don’t yet KNOW if technology’s starting to truly destroy the base of employment).  We DO know that vigilance is the price of living in this century. Can’t live yer life by cliches . Real estate CAN go down.  So can skyscrapers. So can economies.

Things change. Expect the unexpected.

In the past, technology HAS created more jobs than it has taken away. A truism.

We hope.

Note to investors. If, by some chance, we ARE in the middle of “the big one” where  technology crowds humans out of the workplace, this has implications. High unemployment may NOT mean recession anymore.  The “salaries” of the unhired workers wind up in balance sheets as “retained earnings”. Which isn’t very fair, is it?

So.

In the interest of fairness, social justice, and, most important of all, social order, gotta figure out a proper way to get those resources back to the new leisure classes before they get too bony.

Should be a mere exercise in Democracy, right?

What do YOU think?