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Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050? 1457

Posted by michael
from the metal-man dept.
Anonymous writes "Marshall Brain (the guy who started HowStuffWorks) has published an article claiming that robots will take half the jobs in the U.S. by 2050. Some of his predictions: real computer vision systems by 2020, computers with the CPU power and memory of the human brain by 2040, completely robotic fast food restaurants in 2030 (which then unemploy 3.5 million people), etc. It's a pretty astounding article. My question: How many people on /. think he is right (or even close - let's say he's off by 10 or 20 years)? Or is he full of it?"
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Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050?

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  • by sweeney37 (325921) * <mikesweeney@gmail.cPARISom minus city> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:24AM (#6520445) Homepage Journal
    I will make this prediction: by 2008, every meal in every fast food restaurant will be ordered from a kiosk like this, or from a similar system embedded in each table.

    Yeah, I'm going to go with a no on this one. Everyone said the same thing when ATMs came around, "Oh no, they're going to replace actual tellers!" But it didn't, banks still hire quite frequently for bank tellers.

    I'm not saying these kiosks aren't going to become more prevalent, but they won't replace actual human contact. Having previously worked in many service related jobs I know that people (especially older adults) will not allow this to occur. We all need to be able to talk to an actual human every once in a while. Computers don't care if you yell. Could you imagine the amount of complaints McDonalds would get?

    With this being said, I love automated services such as "Pay-at-the-Pump" and especially self-checkout at the grocery stores. It's not that I'm some hermit who likes no human contact, but who wants to make idle chit-chat with some register jockey?

    Mike
    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:30AM (#6520511) Journal
      I'd have to agree with this. I'm sure that we could have the technology on the timescale suggested, I have full confidence in human ingenuity we could quite possibly have human brain level processors in 40 years. The real question is would we allow them to take over 50% of all jobs?

      Just because the technology is there does not mean people will want to use it.
      • by noah_fense (593142) <noahtheman@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:42AM (#6520670)

        if robots take over 50% of the jobs, the robot industry will need millions of workers who performed these simple to complex tasks to program/design/manufacture their replacements, thus creating a multibillion dollar robot industry which will create millions of new jobs (maybe not 50% as much).

        -n
        • The real question (Score:5, Insightful)

          by missing000 (602285) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:47AM (#6520744)
          Is why anyone would care what a dot com god like this guy [nasvf.org] preticts about anything.

          Yeah, advertising will make a lot of money and we can all retire. Thats going to work.
        • by Nutcase (86887) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:50AM (#6520774) Homepage Journal
          Why not just make robots that work in the robot factory?
          • by scotch (102596) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:06AM (#6520990) Homepage
            Because robots are lazy no-good techno-molestors who can't be trusted? If you're going to build robots, humans are the right ones to do it.
            • by Frequanaut (135988) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:32AM (#6521347)

              Good god man, what are you saying? I for one welcome our new robot masters with open arms.

              • by Marcos_AD_com (692219) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @04:14PM (#6526233)

                Well, first of all, this guy is echoing ideas first voiced by people like kurzweil [slashdot.org]. You may want to take a look to the original if you want to have a clearer idea of what he is talking about. And now please keep in mind this are the conservative estimations. They think that, according to Moore's Law we must be able to have enough computer power to equal to the MAXIMUN ESTIMATED computer power of the human brain. But we all talking of a very conservative stimation here, and we may be for a surprise in the sort future. Let's take a look at how this estimations of the human brain computer power are performed:

                - Average number of Neurons in the human brain (excluding the cerebellum): 20.000.0000.0000
                - Average number of connections per neuron: 1.000
                Each neuron can perform about 200 calculations per second, per connexion.

                So, we have 20.000.0000.0000 X 1.000 X 200 = 4.000 TeraOps

                Now, 4.000 TeraOps is about 100 times faster than the Earth-Simulator [slashdot.org], the faster computer system in existence, and according to Moore's law, is going to take a while before we have a Data Center-wide cluster that powerful, not to mention a desktop system light enough so we could propel it around with two mechanical legs.

                This is the logic after those "no AI before 2020# arguments we hear now so often. But us I said, this is the conservative estimation, and the conservative estimation is not the most likely scenario at all. Well, let me tell you something, and I know what I'm talking about, we will have a few nice surprises in the next few month. Let me give you a hint, there is a obvious flaw in that logic:

                - Number of transistors in transistors in the AMD "Hammer" processor: 100.0000.0000
                Each transistor can perform at 2.000.000.000 calculations per second.

                So, we have 100.0000.0000 X 2.000.0000.0000 = 200.000 TeraOps

                Acording to that logic, we may need a 200.000 TeraOps computer to emulate a AMD "Hammer" processor, what is oviuly untrue: 2Ghz Hammer can perform at only 4 TeraOps, and we just need, say, 2 1.8 Ghz Atlons to get to that speed.

                The "peak" performance needed to contemplate all the possible states of the system is enormous, yes, but that is not realeted to the true capacity of the system. Not every single transistor in the system flops every cicle, that's not a realistic assumption, just a few of them do. Consecuently, the amount of information and operations you need to perform in order to emulate is orders of magnitude below the conservative estimation of the peak number of states you need to emulate. Now extrapolate to the H Brain. Is it more efficient than the hammer? No doubt. How much efficient is it? 10 Times? 100 times? 1000 times ? 10.000 times?
                Even if the human brain happens to be 100.000 times more efficient than your tipical Pentium/Atlon, you'll need only a 2.000 nodes computer cluster to outperform it. And that is something we have at hand right now. The rest is just software.

          • by The Jonas (623192)
            Why not pay me for the work my robot performs. The person with best-programmed robot is likely to reap the most $$$.
            • by Exedore (223159)

              Why not pay me for the work my robot performs.

              Why would corporations (or whoever) pay you for work your robot performs? Wouldn't they rather just pay once to buy their own robots?

              • by The Jonas (623192)
                Wouldn't they rather just pay once to buy their own robots?

                Yes, they would. But if you have a robot that performs better than theirs it is plausible that a market for privately-owned robots for contract labor/other work could start to emerge. I realize the concept is somewhat of a stretch, but this may apply to AI/DSS robots and similar technologies. A good argument could be made for both sides on Open v. Closed Source systems, Intellectual Property, and software patents depending on , in part, how mu
          • Ive seen spooky video of Industrial-Robot manufacturing facilities in Japan with THOUSANDS of robots assembling their own.

            eerie.
        • Player Piano (Score:5, Interesting)

          by spruce (454842) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:56AM (#6522419) Journal
          Reminds me of a book Player Piano [rosettabooks.com] by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a story about an America where machines control everything, and engineers and managers who design the machines are at the top of society. Most people either have to join the army or the Wreaks N' Wrecks (menial labor for little pay). Everybody's standards of living are high because the machines produce everthing they need, but everybody is miserable because they don't feel they have a purpose.

          Interesting read. Slight spoilage below.

          What must Vonneguts first readers have made of Player Piano? The story gives off the dank chill of 1984 and Brave New World, but it is less earnest, almost zany, and it wields its message playfully in comparison. The hero is Paul Proteus, an engineer in an America of the future where computers run everything and do everything, making people almost afterthoughts. Paul seems to be on his way up the ladder of success in this techno-utopia -- a perfect wife, a fast-track position at the Ilium Works and a shot at a major promotion -- but he is plagued with doubts about what modern life has become. Through a strange series of events (for some form of Big Brother is, indeed, watching), Paul joins a revolutionary organization called the Ghost Shirts and even becomes its leader. The Ghost Shirts are inspired by the past, when people mattered more than machines, but their revolution collapses with brutal irony. Paul and his companions surrender when they discover their followers have become obsessed with making new machines from the wreckage of the machines they have just smashed.

        • 'The wars of tomorrow will be fought by tiny robots on the tops of very high mountains. Your job will be to build and maintain these robots.'
        • by cluckshot (658931) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:04PM (#6523210)
          Will the "supply siders" never give up. We now see that we have passed the "Curve" on almost all industries where the number of persons required is dropping. The supposed robot maker jobs here is already automated. The electronics Industry is so automated that the total world supply of CPU's is made by less than a thousand persons and that number drops every day!

          We may or may not reach the points in the time suggested but the real issue is what are we going to do with the people and how are we going to allocate the resources.

          I moved to Alabama in 1963. There were over a million jobs in the state picking cotton. With the advent of cotton pickers, this number dropped to an insignificant sum of a two or three thousand. There were a significant number of new jobs which arose that replaced some of the lost jobs but even as early as the 1960's and 1970's this was a real problem.

          The failed concept here is that every person is somehow able to adapt "Instantly" to the new reality. People who are young do so fairly well so long as they are pretty bright and industrious. Many others particularly as they grow older have increasing difficulty adapting. Careers which once lasted a lifetime now last but a year or two. The Economic Concepts of the "Free Traders" and such simply do not factore in any concept of time or adaptablity factors.

          The solution was to build lots of "Projects" where these people live and their progeny to this day. They fill every town in the state. Their cost is dramatically higher than paying these people to work would be. It is on the order of 4 to 5 times as expensive as a fairly decent job!

          We need to quit arguing about the supposed supply of new jobs which about 5 years ago the curve of job loss as a net crossed the curve of new jobs that can be supplied. Now even if we recover economically the jobs don't return.

          Those who point to jobs going off shore as a job increase don't notice that world wide there is a massive glut of labor. The issue here is pretty deep because if we continue with the stupid "Supply Side" economic ideals as a religious belief that it is, we will do very great damage before we face reality and fix things as they need to be.

          I am not suggesting that there are not many routes to solution here, but the confidence that somehow people will need more and more labor as we automate is the triumph of belief over reality
      • by cavemanf16 (303184) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:52AM (#6520799) Homepage Journal
        Just because the technology is there does not mean people will want to use it.

        More importantly, no matter how much technology we have, we'll always find ways to keep ourselves more occupied with other matters through the USE of the technologies we create. The Matrix is certainly a very fun, very cool movie, but the distopian future of self-aware machines displacing humanity just isn't reality. Yes, I would rather have a robot properly preparing my cheap Wendy's cheeseburger over waiting 5 minutes for some high school kid to get done spitting on it, rubbing it on the floor, and then carelessly handing it to me through the drive-through window. However, when that kid gets displaced by some robot, I'm sure he'll find some other means to buy himself that rice-burner.

        Look at history people. The only time a civilization or humanity has been "displaced" has been because the people self-destructed, not because of their inventions, mechanical creations, or otherwise. Now ruining a natural habitat, or creating "gods" to sacrifice themselves to, yes, that has a negative impact, but those aren't technological innovations.
        • by TrippTDF (513419) <hilandNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:11AM (#6521042)
          The only time a civilization or humanity has been "displaced" has been because the people self-destructed, not because of their inventions, mechanical creations, or otherwise.

          Why can't technology be the mechanism for the self-destruction?
        • by drdrs (582450) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:33AM (#6522151)

          Look at history people. The only time a civilization or humanity has been "displaced" has been because the people self-destructed, not because of their inventions, mechanical creations, or otherwise

          Ok, this is just silly. Never in the past has a civilization had the technology to create something with the ability to displace it. We still don't have that ability now. In the future we might, if we can make something "better" (i.e. stronger, faster, smarter) than we are. I don't see any fundamental reason why science should be unable to create something more capable than the products of evolution if given enough time.

          Also, in the past civilizations have been replaced when something better came along. Usually another civilization with better technology and maybe superior intrinsic abilities in the case of Neanderthal vs. Homo sapiens.

          David
        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          The Matrix is certainly a very fun, very cool movie, but the distopian future of self-aware machines displacing humanity just isn't reality.

          Which is a damn shame.

          This is me, when the machines become self-aware and decide to take over: "So, you're saying I get to live in a completely convincing fantasy world in which I can become a master of ten martial arts forms in a day and have super powers, and otherwise live my life with the same opportunities I had in the real world (only with more kung-fu), and t
        • by jasno (124830)
          No, don't look at history. We are quickly approaching a point in time where the old rules really will stop applying. This isn't the same as any of the other fancy tools we've come up with in the last few million years.

          Remember the technology growth curves which point to a singularity sometime in the next 50 years. Its driven by positive feedback. We're going to see massive changes coming at a pace with which we can't keep up. The system is entering a non-linear region and its anybody's guess how it wi
      • Progress (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Vagary (21383) <jawarren@@@gmail...com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:40AM (#6521447) Journal

        There's this thing called capitalism, which is what will get us the robots in the first place and it's an implementation of a thing called natural selection, which is what got us you in the first place. And what these things say is: if you choose not to use the robots, the world will choose not to use you.

        All it takes is for a very small minority of humans to vote robot and by meme or by gene that small minority will become a big majority. (And believe me, no matter how taboo something is, you can always find a small minority who'll choose it for step 1 if step 3 is profit.) Then the robots take over.

        Sorry, but the only way to prevent you being replaced by a robot would be to prevent your creation in the first place. The same forces that giveth, also taketh away.

        • Re:Progress (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dnoyeb (547705) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:23AM (#6522014) Homepage Journal
          Yup yup yup.

          I know a certain one of the Big3 automakers that told a certain supplier exactly this;

          "We don't care where you build your parts, we will be paying you as if you built them in mexico."

          Of course its also the auto inductry that discovered people are a lot cheaper than robots. And 3rd world 'inhabitants' are a lot cheaper than people.
      • by CatWrangler (622292) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:14AM (#6521890) Journal
        If they ever simulate our fingers and our hip, wrist, ankle, knee joints only then will most people be in trouble. Yes robots are now "stronger" than humans, but they don't have our dexterity to match it. They simply aren't close. Once they reach that stage of critical mass, the ball game is over. Does anybody honestly think that wealthy people are going to pay for a strange woman from El Salvador to clean their houses, once a machine can do it to such an exacting standard, that there are actual microscoptic samples being done of dirt particles done on every floor and wall of the house? If your robotic "maid" can be programmed to clean every time you aren't around for example. Detecting the moment you go outside to take a 2 mile brisk run as a great time to clean maniacally for 15 minutes. When you head to the bathroom, it decides to do a 3 minute spot clean up in the kitchen or take out the trash. There is no way that once prices are right, that anybody is going to give this type of job to a human for any other reason than charity.
    • by diersing (679767) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:30AM (#6520516)
      ATM replacing bank tellers. eTickets replacing airport personnel. Self checkout at the grocery store. Sure, it has prolly reduced the number of people working those teller/clerk positions and I'm sure on a very small scale its contributed to the unemployment rate. Aside from businesses trying to reduce costs, the government will be trying to create jobs elsewhere. If we, has a people, can automate the mundane, in theory, it would free the rest of us to create, inspire, and innovate. Ahh, its just a theory.
      • by MarcQuadra (129430) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:48AM (#6521539)
        Wron on the unemployment factor. Automation is only implemented where it INCREASES output/dollar, AKA PRODUCTIVITY. Higher productivity is GOOD for the economy on the whole, it has a huge ripple effect. That money that would normally go to 'register jockeys' or tellers has gone to technicians for the automated systems and reduced costs for the store/bank. Reduced costs mean reduced prices, and that means more money in the economy for stuff people want, like better cars or computers. This is how it REALLY works, folks; Automation is our FRIEND.
      • Self check-outs in grocery stores don't really reduce the number of employees. They still have a cashier or sometimes two at my grocery store at the end of the self-checkout lanes for those people that want to pay with cash. And that cashier often is doing the scanning for the person because they don't know how to work it, and they often help them bag because some people are really slow at it. And even if they are doing the scanning themself, the self-checkout cashier is supposed to watch to make sure th
      • by Tailhook (98486) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:05PM (#6523965)
        it would free the rest of us to create, inspire, and innovate

        Yes it would. Unfortunately, this is bad.

        Humans require a certain level of ambient drama in their lives. The amount differs from one specimen to the next but all humans need it. When the world fails to provide the necessary amount of drama, individual humans create it for themselves.

        How many people can you have sex with in one day? How many piercing can you have done before it kills you? Who's oppressing you and exactly how do you plan to kill them? How many cults can you be a member of and which is the most extreme?

        "Idle hands do the devils work." For most people the stress induced by "work" is necessary to prevent them running amok and ruining themselves or those around them. Sheeple need work.

        This is the greatest danger posed by automating away work. Billions of bored people trying to entertain themselves.
    • by dachshund (300733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:34AM (#6520569)
      Everyone said the same thing when ATMs came around, "Oh no, they're going to replace actual tellers!" But it didn't, banks still hire quite frequently for bank tellers.

      What bank do you use? Many of the banks in my area have reduced teller hours to the point where most working people can't use them. Some have instituted fees for seeing an actual person.

      Others (my neighborhood Washington Mutual) have so completely automated the process of withdrawals and deposits with special kiosks, that actual human presence in a bank is much lower than it ever was when I was growing up. You go to one kiosk to prepare your deposit, and another to withdraw cash. The actual teller transaction, if necessary at all, is minimized. And tellers double as customer-service people, opening new accounts and the like-- one of the few remaining tasks that isn't machine automatable.

      Then there are online banks like ETrade, which seem to do ok with no human contact at all.

      So no, humans haven't been written out of the equation. But their numbers have been substantially reduced, and the process is a long ways from complete.

    • by TopShelf (92521) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:36AM (#6520595) Homepage Journal
      The common mistake when people talk about efficiency improvements that result in "lost jobs" is that the same dynamic forces that made those changes also open up opportunities for new jobs that were previously unanticipated. Who would have thought years ago that today we'd have airline customer service reps who work out of their own home (ATA, I believe), supply chain specialists coordinating the efforts of several companies in the creation of a product, or a niche industry of boutique personal PC manufacturers who create customized and stylized computers for the consumer market?

      In short, the story's much more complicated than simple "jobs lost."
      • by Kintanon (65528) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:53AM (#6520808) Homepage Journal
        Fuck the whole *open up new jobs* thing. I want to be able to buy my own humanoid robot and then have it go to work for me while I get paid. THAT is labor saving right there. Make ownership of robots past a certain complexity level illegal for businesses, reserve the right for individuals. Then you can save up for your very own robot that will go to work for you, freeing up valuable loafing around time.

        Kintanon
        • Great idea, but that will never happen in a capitalist society. The big businesses will build and buy these expensive robots and they will be the sole ones to profit from them.

          As an employee, you get paid ONLY for the work you do.

          As a business, you can replace yourself or your equipment with more efficient people or equipment. (read: forign workers and robots) and you get to profit from it.

          If it were a perfectly fair society, you could hire a lower cost Indian that does better work to replace yourself
      • by Catskul (323619) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:27AM (#6521277) Homepage
        Not so live from the time warped news room:

        This just in, Breaking news from BCE 7000 ... An anonymous "Curch of technology" terrorest has elimnated half the jobs of rock wielding nail pounders by inventing the hammer. Experts predict that this will spell the end of the world. Spokesman for the ROWNPAW (ROck Wielding Nail Pounders Association of the World) had this to say: "The ROWNPAW will not stand for this Coperate greed coming out of the Curch of technology, We plan to strike to prevent adoptation of this job killing device. Its unfair, and this 'hammer' has no regard for ROWNPAW workers who work their butt off to earn their keep" The church of Technology has denied being greedy and one church spokesman had this to say: " Its just seemed like a good idea... thats all".

        Breaking news from CE (AD) 1455 ... Germany lost 75% percent of its manuscript workforce today as inventor Johann Gutenberg unvailed his massive project to print bibles using moveable text. An Industry leader of the MIGOG (Manuscript Industry Group Of the Germany) issued a statement: "These printing presses are merely tools of copyright pirates. All these people want to do is illeagally print Bibles and sell them on the black market. We plan to subpenea the Reformation for the names off all offenders." The industry leader also made mention of the pending patent lawsuit from a Chinese group with a substancial patent portfolio, supposedly including a patent for a movable type machine. Nastrodamas has issued a cryptic statement presumeably that implies that the end of the world is near.
      • You're right, as old jobs disappear, new jobs will be created. Like we will need lots of programmers and engineers to create the robots. This is good news for me! But eventually those jobs will disappear too, as we figure out better ways to make programming easier and easier. Pretty soon the computers will be auto-generated all the code based on just answering a few questions and hitting "next", like a Wizard.
    • "...who wants to make idle chit-chat with some register jockey?"

      That, my friend, depends entirely on how attractive she is. Don't tell me: You've never played "Rate the Register Girl"?

      I take a pass by the registers on the way in, then rank my top three choices by register/aisle number. If I'm going to suffer the pain of shopping, I might as well make it a tad more enjoyable by flirting and chatting up the cute cashier.
    • > Having previously worked in many service related jobs I know that people (especially older adults) will not allow this to occur.
      >[...]
      >With this being said, I love automated services such as "Pay-at-the-Pump" and especially self-checkout at the grocery stores. It's not that I'm some hermit who likes no human contact, but who wants to make idle chit-chat with some register jockey?

      Seniors don't make idle chit-chat with register jockeys because they're old/lonely. They do it because, when th

  • by yoey (247125) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:24AM (#6520448) Journal
    "Who will be the first large group of employees to be completely automated out of their jobs by robots? Chances are that it will be pilots."

    Uh, uh. No way, no how. In case of an emergency onboard an aircraft I will literally bet my life on the instincts of a human being over the computational prowess of machine.
    • by ray-auch (454705) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:38AM (#6520617)
      In a fly-by-wire aircraft (which is a lot of recent large passenger planes) you already bet it on the computational prowess of machine. It might be (is) several machines with different software comparing/contrasting/voting and monitoring each other, but machine it is - and if it decides the engines won't throttle up, then they won't, no matter how hard the pilot pushes the stick.
    • by will_die (586523) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:38AM (#6520618) Homepage
      Better not fly on an Airbus.
      They are already using computers to limit what the pilot can do. [nwsource.com]
    • by DanDwig (658279)
      Read R. Heinlein's "Friday" it has a strong argument agreeing with the parent statement. Admittedly it's primarily talking about biological constructs rather than computers/automation, but it's still applicable. The upshot is that a human will do their level best in an emergency to save the passengers/plane. A computer can only do what it was programmed to do and this limits its ability/desire to react to an unforseen situation. For that reason, in critical applications, I'll still fly with the airline
    • by anshil (302405)
      Who will be the first large group of employees to be completely automated out of their jobs by robots?

      The weavers will be the first large group of employess to be completely automated out of their jobs.

      And guess what, it has happened already!
  • Brave New World (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mandalayx (674042) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:26AM (#6520461) Journal
    The arrival of humanoid robots should be a cause for celebration. With the robots doing most of the work, it should be possible for everyone to go on perpetual vacation. Instead, robots will displace millions of employees, leaving them unable to find work and therefore destitute. I believe that it is time to start rethinking our economy and understanding how we will allow people to live their lives in a robotic nation.

    Does anyone else see Brave New World here? Artificial industries created in allowing humans to be free of worry and work...merely players in a game whose goal is to increase consumption.

    Worrying stuff. Now where's my soma..
  • by noah_fense (593142) <noahtheman@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:26AM (#6520464)

    I thought all our fast food workers already were robots.
    -n
  • This article is dumb (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mjmalone (677326) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:26AM (#6520468) Homepage
    This article is absolutely rediculous. How do you make a connection between a kiosk where you can order food at McDonalds and robots taking over every job in the United States? First of all, I don't think a fast food resteraunt could be completely automated. Machines are good at things like accounting, but when it comes to human interaction there is a lot of room for improvement.

    Autonomous humanoid robots will take disruption to a whole new level. Once fully-autonomous, general-purpose humanoid robots are as easy to buy as an automobile, most people in the economy will not be able to make the labor = money trade anymore. They will have no way to earn money, and that means they end up homeless and on welfare.

    This is horseshit. First of all it is impossible, if most people in the economy were on welfare they would be no economy. Where would these companies get money to build and maintain the robots? I don't disagree that there will probably be a lot of automated systems in the near future, but this article is just stupid.
    • by dachshund (300733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:49AM (#6520767)
      How do you make a connection between a kiosk where you can order food at McDonalds and robots taking over every job in the United States?

      The question is, how do you not make this connection?

      Ask yourself the following questions:

      1) Is there a compelling reason to believe that computer/robot technology won't reach the point where most basic service jobs can be (almost) entirely automated? Think food service, janitorial, banking, etc.

      2) Is there a compelling reason to believe that this technology will remain too costly or inconvenient for employers to adopt it?

      3) If (1) and (2), is there some compelling reason why employers will choose not to adopt a cheaper, more convenient technology for these purposes, in order to increase their profits?

      If you can't answer with confidence to any of these questions, then it's probably not a matter of whether robot technology will absorb these jobs, but of when it will happen. The 50 year prediction may be off by quite a lot. But over some reasonable time span (less than a couple of centuries, barring global disaster), the technology will be available and-- assuming our economic system remains similar to what we have today-- it will be in use.

    • Well, take a look at the automotive industry. Every year more and more workers are laid off and replaced by robots. You don't have to pay retirement pensions for robots. Sure, new people are brought in to maintain and develop the technology, but one person in charge of five robots costs a lot less than five union workers. Go take a look at the Michigan economy, especially Flint. I think Micheal Moore is 90% bullsh*t, but he's right about what happened to the economy there when automation, globalization, and
  • Don't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by deman1985 (684265) <dedwards AT kappastone DOT com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:27AM (#6520475) Homepage
    The problem with most of these predictions is that there are claims of robots taking over service jobs, which I find highly doubtful. People don't like interacting with robots-- that's why automated call answering systems piss people off so much when they call their favorite stores or businesses. I can see robotic technology taking over some other hard labor jobs once the intelligence is there, and perhaps assisting in some of the engineering areas, but not in the numbers he's talking about, and not as soon.
  • Moore's Law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by s20451 (410424) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:27AM (#6520479) Journal
    Pretty much all this analysis assumes that Moore's Law will keep going indefinitely. As soon as that runs out of steam, computer technology will advance far more slowly, and any advances that seemed to be just ten years off will be shunted off to the far future.
    • Re:Moore's Law (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah...until quantum computer comes along. Same goes with a lot of the non-volitile memory work being done. Changing the properties of plasics and other materials at the molecular level to increase it's usefullness is going to be a major area of development. The next revolution will not be computers. It will be nanotech. Computers, and a whole range of other products, will just be a beneficiary of the discoveries.
  • by pez (54) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:27AM (#6520481) Homepage Journal
    There are two ways to look at this issue; one
    is to make forward-looking predictions which are
    justified with little more than hand-waiving
    arguments, and the other to look at past
    history and see what type of hand-waiving
    arguments of days gone by have actually come
    to fruition.

    The author touches on the issue, but IMO is
    comparing apples to oranges in this quote:

    Imagine this. Imagine that you could
    travel back in time to the year 1900. Imagine
    that you stand on a soap box on a city street
    corner in 1900 and you say to the gathering
    crowd, "By 1955, people will be flying at
    supersonic speeds in sleek aircraft and
    traveling coast to coast in just a few
    hours." In 1900, it would have been insane to
    suggest that. In 1900, airplanes did not even
    exist. Orville and Wilbur did not make the
    first flight until 1903. The Model T Ford did
    not appear until 1909.


    Rather than talk about airplanes, let's talk
    about robotics since that's the subject of the
    article. Off the top of my head, the
    industries in which robots have dominated
    more than any other are in chip fabs and
    automobile assembly lines, and this has been
    the case for over a decade. Are we seeing
    the type of doomsday scenario for the
    workforce that this article implies?
  • 3.5 million (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roalt (534265) <slashdot.org@roalt. c o m> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:29AM (#6520501) Homepage Journal
    Some of his predictions: (...) (which then unemploy 3.5 million people), etc.

    In other news, the estimate number of people in development, production and support of intelligent robots in the year 2030 is ... 3.5 millon people.

    • Re:3.5 million (Score:3, Interesting)

      by binaryDigit (557647)
      In other news, the estimate number of people in development, production and support of intelligent robots in the year 2030 is ... 3.5 millon people.

      Only problem with this is the skill level of the people being eliminated and the new jobs produced. The 3.5MPeople being displaced will be more manual laborers and lower income. While it will be nice to have a subsequent boost of 3.5M jobs for "skilled" technology/machine laborers, those 3.5M displaced will suddenly place a large burden on various social pr
  • by billmaly (212308) <bill@maly.mcleodusa@net> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:30AM (#6520506)
    But, when I take Elroy and Judy to school, I'll want to do so in a round flying car. Come see me about the flying car, then we'll talk robots.

    No, Mr. Spacely, I'm not posting to /.. I'm hard at work sticking it to Cogswell!!!
  • by master_p (608214) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:31AM (#6520519)
    I agree with the article. We are going to see more and this type of automation. The type that the article describes.

    But I don't think lt Data will be around any time soon. the AI development is very slow, to the point that all predictions about clever machines retracted.
  • by Shoten (260439) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:33AM (#6520551)
    By 2060, half of THOSE jobs will be outsourced to robots in India!
  • Its very possible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mnmn (145599) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:37AM (#6520608) Homepage

    While they wont replace ALL employees of that sector, its easily possible the number of fast food robots will exceed employees in numbers. Robotics have made lots of advances and with powerful CPUs and languages to deal with them, sophisticated tasks can be handed over to them more economically than to a high school student.

    Computers potentially already have more cpu and memory than a human....... can anyone remember 2 terabytes of text, graphics and audio??(our memories are very low resolution), and can you compete with a 386 in arithmetic and general logic? The deep blue bested the best of chess players and approximately that level of cpu power is already available on desktops. However many key features of the human thinking will remain missing from computers for a while, the biggest of which is learning and associating concepts. How many computers can listen to two foreigners talk and learn the language by listening alone?
  • by Neuronerd (594981) <{ed.gnidreok} {ta} {darnok}> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:39AM (#6520640) Homepage

    Ok lets look at a number of problems

    When can we expect good computer vision? There are lots of progresses in the field. New statistical techniques. Faster algorithms for supervised learning. But still. I guess if you had asked 30 years ago when perceptrons were quite fashionable how long it would take to have real good computer vision you would have gotten the same estimate of 20 years. Doing some work in computer vision I must say that to my knowledge we are still very far from building anything thats real. We are rather at the stage where we discover 2 new problems for each problem solved. Problems are for example: Attention, efficient learning, efficient inference, symbol grounding, categorization. So I guess it will take many more years. Or forever.

    What about self repair ? One of the really cool things about humans is that they mostly repair themselves. Our bodys endure constant abuse. Our bodies constantly repair the damage at least over approximately 100 years. A large number of robots would demand constant repairing.

    Are robots really cheap? Lets face it people are there. We already have a very high rate of jobless people. Given the right taxation systems these people should be a lot less cheaper than any robot could ever be.

    Dont get all of this wrong. Computer Vision and Robotics will improve. But it will improve the same way that tools improved throughout the history of mankind. They slowly get better and more useful. While we find novel ways of using them. And spend our time doing more interesting stuff. Like reading slashdot.

  • by reallocate (142797) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:40AM (#6520651)
    Positions on the Slashdot editorial staff will be filled by six rhesus monkeys walking on the keyboards of an equal number of Pentium XVII boxes running the newest Debian release, which will be release 3.2
  • by trix_e (202696) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:42AM (#6520669)
    yeah, I'll buy this... they could automate 1/2 of what we do now.

    it's the same automation story we've been hearing since the industrial age started (or before).

    how many less jobs are there in the lumber industry now than there were 100 years ago? Farming? Metal workers? Technology, regardless of whether it is deemed 'intelligent' or not changes the face of the workplace.

    The flip side of it is that there will be new jobs for humans... how many programmers were there 100 years ago? Just as my great great grandparents couldn't even imagine nor understand the concept of what I do for a living, we probably can't concieve some of the tasks that humans will be doing 50 or 100 years from now...

  • by javatips (66293) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:42AM (#6520672) Homepage
    Even if we have all the nice technology to create a humanoid robot that have the same physical capability as a human, they factor that will dictacte if they will replace humans will always be a cost/benefit ration which need to be lower that the human worker.

    Such advanced robot will surely cost a bundle to produce and then maintain. Energy consumption (we are still far away of from the energy effeciency of an organic lifeform in any mechanical/electronic devices) will also be much higher than that of a human being (it will prbably cost more to McDonald to provide the proper amount of energy for the robot to function for a day that to give free lunches to it's employee).

    We have the technology to create a complete automated McDonald (using specilized robots)(from ordering to delivery the food to the customer). We are not doing it because human are a lot cheaper worker. That's not going to change anytime soon!

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:43AM (#6520695)

    Such systems would have to be built to inherently limit the ammount of actual human interaction. But if that could be done, and each robot could be kept at a cost of, say a modern luxury automobile, then even with replacements, maintenence and repairs, then it wouldn't be inconceivable for one "manager" to be the only human at a popular urban resturant.

    The problem would be that said resturant would act like a giant vending machine, with a hole for money, and a hole food appears in, and you have to find a (busy) manager if something goes wrong. This is definetly fine for McDonalds-style food distribution, but not a place you'd take business clients, relatives, or dates to. It's a niche, though a popular one.

    On the subject of McDonalds, I've tried the new automated ordering kiosks. They work well. They do not reduce the need for human labor, they increase it slightly - someone still has to make the food, put it together on a tray, and even find the correct customer to give it to, then exchange money. Then there has to be another employee ready to help people with the kiosk itself. The kiosk is merely a tool to keep lines shorter, and people happier. It works rather well that way, and since labor is cheap, it ends up efficient for McDonalds even though it requires more people on average to run it. But that's just my observation.

    Ryan Fenton
  • by hawkstone (233083) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:45AM (#6520708)
    From Russel and Norvig Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach:
    From the beginning, AI researchers were not shy in making predictions of their coming successes. The Following statement by Herbert Simon in 1957 is often quoted:
    It is not my aim to surprise or shock you -- but the simplest way I can summarize is to say that there are now in the world machines that can think, that learn, and that create. Moreover, their ability to do these things is going to increase rapidly until -- in a visible future -- the range of problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to which human mind has been applied.
    Although one might argue that terms such as "visible future" can be interpreted in various ways, some of Simon's predictions were more concrete. In 1958, he predicted that within 10 years a computer would be chess champion, and an important new mathematical theorem would be proved by machine. Claims such as these turned out to be wildly optimistic.
    I remember claims apart from Simon's (can't find the source, sorry) dating back fifty years ago that computers would have human-level intelligence by 2000. The field of AI has been notoriously difficult to predict. Who knows? -- maybe this time someone will be right. But don't bet on it.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @08:57AM (#6520863)
    "By 1955, people will be flying at supersonic speeds in sleek aircraft and traveling coast to coast in just a few hours."

    Well actually for normal people that didn't happen until the 70s - Concorde. And after
    October they won't be able to do it anymore ironically because of economic reasons so frankly
    he couldn't have picked a worse analogy.

    We hear this Futurama crud all the time from people with starry eyed techno-vision , yeah
    they may come tru e, they may not but I can promise you one thing - any technology that makes
    half a country jobless (without any replacement jobs to give them) will face social unrest the like of which has never been seen
    and will make the actions of the Luddites look like a scuffle in a playground in comparison. If
    technology companies want to persue the profit motive to its logical conclusion then thats up to them , but
    they must accept the fact that it may lead to a breakdown of society and hence to their own companys total collapse.
  • by bc90021 (43730) * <bc90021@NoSpam.bc90021.net> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:01AM (#6520924) Homepage
    Computers are getting into everything, and robots build most things now:


    Most people who have commented are saying "I'd never trust my life to a robotically controlled plane" and "Oh, no way will I want to interact with a robot". But what you're missing is that this already happens.

    As for interacting with robots, all Al Gore jokes aside, it won't be that difficult. People interact with computers all day (for Gen Y it is as natural as breathing). Automated voicemail was mentioned, but while it may be frustrating, when well designed it is more efficient and cheaper (hence why businesses use it!)

    And that brings up the other point: most posters have ignored the economic aspect of it. That same factor that is driving jobs to India is the one that will make it so that Marshall Brain is completely correct. Companies need to save money wherever possible, and replacing labourers with robots will be a very big way to do that.
  • My job!? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cornflake917 (515940) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:01AM (#6520927) Homepage
    What??? I can't get an IT job because they are all going to India?

    Oh well, I guess I'll just go flip burgers.

    WHAT!!??? Robots have taken THOSE jobs!?
    DAMNIT!!!
  • by alispguru (72689) <bane@@@gst...com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:04AM (#6520960) Journal
    How can anyone talk about robots taking over the economy without mentioning Hans Moravec [cmu.edu]? After all, he's only been doing work in robotic vision and navigaton for the past thirty years or so, and has been on record predicting human-equivalent intelligent machines by 2050 since the mid-1980's [cmu.edu].

    He's even got a start-up company [cmu.edu] that wants to manufacture control heads - basketball-sized sensor+computer units that could be used to run forklifts in warehouses.

    My personal prediction is that within ten years, we'll see the first automated tractor-trailer truck. It'll have a Moravec-like brain that will run the truck for the 95% of the time the truck is rolling cross-country, and a satellite link for a driver to help direct it for the last 5%.
  • by b-baggins (610215) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:08AM (#6521004) Journal
    The author's premise is that an economy is a zero-sum game. If a robot takes a job, that means a human must lose a job.It's the same idea that many liberal politicians have. If one man gets rich, it's because another man has become poor.

    The truth is, economies are not zero-sum. If robots do become a large factor in our economy, then people will move to other avenues to provide for themselves. Heck, the economy may even shift again. We used to be a manufacturing based economy. Now we are more a serviced based economy. Who knows, in a 100 years, if robots can do it all, our economies may focus around land (where we can live with all our robot servants), art, and knowledge and other things that are uniquely human.
    • The economies will likely focus around creativity and intellectual property. That is the one thing that not only robots aren't able to do, it is the thing that humans enjoy doing, and they wouldn't give it up even if robots could take over.
  • by joshv (13017) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:08AM (#6521005)
    Ok, why the hell does automation have to present itself in the form of a humanoid robot? The best shape for a robot that vaccums the floor, is - well - the shape of a vacuum cleaner. The only reason to create humanoid robots if for the sake of backward compatibility with existing tools. In the time frames we are talking about it's probably more economical to think about redesinging the entire system, with automation in mind, rather than just plopping a humanoid robot behind a cash register.

    In fact that is what's happening. If you've ever used an automated checkout, you dealt with a robot that is far from humanoid. It's a squat little brushed metal dealy with a minimal complement of sensor devices and a reasonably dumb computer brain. With some adjustment on the part of the consumer who is using it, the new system performs just about as well as the old - at least for small purchases. Now if they can just come up with an automated bagger that puts the eggs on the bottom of the bag...

    Furthermore, much of the automation we are going to see replacing human won't take any sort of a physical form. My job is implementing automated business systems that do the work of a department of dozens, even hundreds of people. Anyone rememeber how payroll was once processed? Clerks manually calculated every check. Today the payroll for 100,000 people with complex benefits, deductions, bonuses, etc... can be run in about an hour - with the attention of a few trained humans to pick up and correct errors.

    If you believed the author of this article, the payroll department of the future would look like hundreds of humanoid robots staffing calculators. Not going to happen. Robots and automation will eventually replace most humans at work, but whatever form it takes won't look like us.

    -josh
  • McDonalds (Score:5, Funny)

    by FrostedWheat (172733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:08AM (#6521012)
    I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

    Um, I'd like a Big Mac and a coke.

    Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion....

    Ok ... and a Quarter Pounder meal....

    All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

    That's very nice .. and a McFlurry please.

    Time to die. Oh, and would you like fries with that? *evil smile*
  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:19AM (#6521170) Homepage Journal
    Machines have been replacing humans in boring, repetitive jobs for a few hundred years. On the other hand the creative and social aspects of humans can never be completely replaced. IMHO this same progress will simply continue like it has before. It means there will be more resources left for new inventions and arts, and the development will continue in an exponential, positive-feedback manner.

    On a related note, it appears there isn't enough work for everyone any more. The idea, that every healthy adult in the society should have a job, needs to change radically, because we obviously don't need everyone working in order to run this society and feed ourselves. What we could do is split up the work so that everyone could work, say, four hours a day and have plenty of spare time. This would be a natural progression, considering the working hours are already a lot shorter than they were in the early industrial times. Sadly, however, we're stuck in the notion that everyone has to work full days, even if there's no real need.

  • Shorter workweek? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:22AM (#6521208)
    I think a flaw in all of this is: if essentially everyone is unemployed, they will have no money to buy the products that are automatically produced. There will be no market. It will become self-defeating. It is in the interest of the producers to maintain a market for their products.

    Instead, what I think will happen is that the typical workweek will slowly get shorter and shorter, in part because there will be so many leisure activities and interesting things to do outside of work and that's what people will demand. Our quality of life will increase dramatically. Actual human labor will become very expensive, and we will only need to work a few hours a week to earn enough to reap the rewards of all the automation. Of course, there will be those who will still work 80 hours a week, if they want, and they'll probably become richer than most.

    I guess there are alterate distopian possibilities, such as a massive imbalance of wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer people, which they article seems to be predicting. We should be wary to try to take steps, whatever they might be, to help prevent that from happening. Without draconian government measures that trample on freedom.

    • by ozborn (161426)
      I'd like to agree with you, unfortunately the workweek has been *increasing* in the last few decades (France with the 35 hour work week is a recent exception).
      In the 19th cenutry most people were working the 12 hour workday, it wasn't until there was a huge political campaign, strikes, protests, etc... that the 8 hour workday was won. What makes you think it will be any different in the 21st century?
  • I sure hope so (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:45AM (#6521510) Homepage

    If technology can render human labor unnecessary, then that's exactly what it should do. The problems that come from technology replacing humans all stem from an economic system that is at odds with our real goals as a society. It is the economic system that needs to be replaced. The more technology is capable of doing and the cheaper it is to use that technology, the stronger the pressure is to make the economic system match our real goals.

    To put a finer point on it, for the vast majority of people, capitalism is a means to convert time and effort into a living. The real goal, however, is to have a living without needing to apply time and effort. That goal has not been reachable due ti limitations of technology. However, in the future, the goal will be limited more by capitalism than by technology.

    Looking at the job situation, how many people really WANT to work in fast food? Other than a few retirees who just want something useful to do with their day, I can't think of anyone off hand. Of course, those retirees don't have to put up with a bunch of crap from the manager since they don't actually need the job in the first place. Even amongst professionals in careers that match their interests, most would probably prefer to pursue their interests as dedicated hobbiests rather than as an employee if that were a viable option for them. If technology can make that possible without forcing other people to take up the slack, then it should. If our economic system stands in the way, it should be changed. If our economic/educational systems are inadequate to the task of transitioning, then they must be fixed.

    A sort of steam engine was invented in the Roman Empire, but was never put into use because it would have resulted in idle slaves. My fear is that our modern "fearless" "leaders" will be just as short sighted or attached to the idea that labor is a virtue in itself rather than one of several virtuous means to an end

  • by coupland (160334) * <dchase@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:46AM (#6521522) Journal
    I won't quibble over details (like number of years or if computers can ever be "smart" like humans") but the fundamental flaw in his argument is that while he acknowledges technology will continue to mutate and change, he assumes industry and jobs will remain stagnant through 2050. So as robots take over menial jobs nothing is created to take their place. It's like someone saying in the year 1950 "if textiles and commodity manufacturing moves to Mexico and China, then by the year 2000 50% of Americans will be unemployed." Sure, if no other industries are created to replace him. But changes in industry dynamics cause jobs to migrate from one industry to another, not vanish.
  • You mean... (Score:3, Funny)

    by TClevenger (252206) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:07AM (#6522527)
    those people working in my local McDonald's aren't robots? I suppose next you're telling me I'm supposed to get a smile and friendly customer service.

  • by stonewolf (234392) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:13AM (#6522585) Homepage
    First off, this is not new. These predictions have been made many times over the last 40 years. Anyone who understands Moore's law can do it. I have seen the same predictions, with the same dates (plus or minus 5 years) several times since the late '70s.

    Personally, I think the guy is a pessimist. The robots could be taking large numbers of jobs in as few as 5 years.

    The Soviet Union (remember them?) was so worried about automated systems taking jobs away form people that they banned the development of that technology. Kept them 20 years behind the west for decades. That one decision could have been the nail in the coffin that lead to its down fall...

    So what happens? Speaking as someone how has now lost three (3) jobs because it was cheaper to do them in India, I can tell you that change happens. When it happens it happens quickly. Those companies that adapt survive. Those that don't die. A technology like humanoid robots can reduce labor costs by 90% (or more) and once those jobs are taken by robots they will be gone forever.

    Sure, a few people and a few new companies will get very very very rich implementing this technology. But many many people will lose everything to the robots.

    So what happens? People get upset when they can't eat and in the US the starving can vote. Expect to see rising taxes placed on the robots. Property taxes, value added taxes, even an out right labor tax. (The increase in taxes will slow the adoption of robots by artificialy increasing there cost, but it won't stop it.)

    The tax money will at first be used by governments to offset lost income tax revenue. Then, it will be used for "retraining" programs and extended unemployment benefits. Eventually, large parts of the tax money will be sent directly and indirectly to people who can't find jobs. We could easily get down to where less than 10% of the population is able to find a traditional job. The rest of us will be paid to keep us from rioting and burning the robots.

    At that point the closest thing possible to "true" socialism will have arrived. A few of us will do all the brain work, robots will do all the physical work, and the rest of us will watch TV and do drugs at the expense of the robot owners. The RoboCapitalists will be the only ones with lots of money.

    The next phase is physical immortality and the rise of the megaminds....

    Stonewolf
  • by osjedi (9084) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:54AM (#6523065)

    This scares me. I mean it's going to happen. Look at how all the year-2000 predictions came true. All the girls love my flying car (it's an old classic model) and I've got a great under-sea view of the lagoon from the living room of my home in the Coral Valley underwater bio-sphere. I really like my job doing moon tours - I mean it could be worse. At least I don't work at a rayon-undergarment recycling center. Yep, I hope things stay just the way they are now.

  • by cartman (18204) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:08PM (#6523256)
    Increasing mechanization never increases unemployment. A simple example can illustrate why. Suppose you have a group of people who manually sew sweaters. A machine is introduced that can do the work of 3 sewers for less money, so all the sewers are replaced and thrown out of their jobs. Already we have 100% unemployment among sweater sewers. Supposedly, at this rate, soon nobody will have a job. But now two other things have happened. First, the sweater-sewing machine has to be manufactured and repaired, leading to new jobs that didn't exist before. Second, the cost of manufacturing a sweater has dropped by 2/3rds, so there are new dollars floating around in the economy that weren't there before because they would have otherwise been spent on sweaters. With the money saved from a 2/3rds drop in the prices of sweaters, people can now buy an additional television or visit a shrink twice as often. Thus the other markets (televisions or psychiatry) expand their employment precisely as much as sweater-making had declined. This is why 95% of jobs have been eliminated since the 18th century, but almost everyone is still employed.

    Insofar as I can tell, the author of the article is unaware of this. Some interesting economic facts:
    1. Mechanization does not permanently increase unemployment, because it creates new jobs at the same rate it destroys them.
    2. Destruction of industries is necessary for economic advance, otherwise all the investment capital would be tied up in obselete industries. Suppose we prevented slide-rule manufacturers from going under and laying people off, and those people were still paid and factories for slide-rule-making were still constructed. We would be poorer not richer and the level of employment would be approximately the same.
    3. The same argument against machines can be used against any form of productivity increase. Every increase in productivity temporarily throws someone out of a job. Even the invention (10,000 years ago) of the use of animal power to carry something threw out of a job the people who had carried it on their backs. Strangely, this productivity enhancement has been going on since the dawn of civilization, and still most people are employed.


    The principle implied here is a fundamental principle of economic growth: productivity increase, followed by temporary unemployment, followed by re-employment and the general enrichment of the economy. This is the sole reason we make $30k/yr in this country (on average) rather than the $500/yr that was typical until the 18th century.

    What's shocking to me is that the author of the article apparently doesn't have the slightest notion how capitalism works or how economic growth occurs. This despite the fact that he lives in a capitalist country and is apparently well-educated. Sometimes it amazes me that this country works as well as it does.
  • The one thing I haven't seen is people discussing the power of lobbyists to curb the rise of robots. There will be huge battles between unions and business as robots become able to replace humans, and the battles will take place on the political playing field.

    Remember the huge dockworkers strike on the West Coast recently? Much of that was over the replacing of old-tech workers with new-tech workers controlling the ever-advancing machines on the docks. The union didn't so much try to stem the tide of technology, but make sure that the new higher-tech jobs would still be under the union's umbrella.

    The unions will be joined by neo-luddites who fear distopian prophecies to lobby Washington to legislate limitations on intelligent robots... what jobs they can legally do, requirements for minimum levels of human supervision. There won't be an entirely-robot staffed McDonalds, because there will have to be at least three human supervisors watching the kitchen, dining area, and janitorial areas to ensure that the robots are doing their job without error, ready to hit a panic button that sets off a failsafe power-down in all the robots at the first sign of danger to people or property.

    Will it really require three people to oversee the robots in one McDonalds on a realistic need-based analysis? That won't matter, because the "need" will be established by congressional committee or state labor boards. Those standard-setting organizations will be lobbied heavily by the labor unions trying to preserve jobs and by wealthy corporations, trying to increase profits.

    Despite that, no technological innovation has had the widespread ability to replace such a wide variety and large amount of human laborers as the robot, and it is quite possible some of the author's predictions could come to pass.

    So what do we do with the displaced workers? The author's vision of 25-50% of the population living in welfare dormitories is ill-informed. When the mass becomes that large, welfare riots will happen. Cities will burn. The rich will be dragged from their homes... not necessarily en masse, but at least where the rebels can break through. And you just won't be able to employ a police force large enough to pacify that huge a number of unhappy people.

    So we look toward other concepts...

    Distopian: Sterilization incentives for the poor to decrease population, "Soylent Green", powerful placating drugs (i.e. Huxley's Soma), Logan's Run style "mandatory retirement"...

    Utopian: Shifting population off onto new planets where manual labor will be more valuable during colonization phases, the "information economy" evolves into the "intellect economy" and the value of labor becomes replaced by the value of thought...

    Will robots effect radical changes in how our society is constructed? Sure. But our society has been undergoing radical changes for hundreds of years as political, technological, and dogmatic upheavals have changed the ways that we think, organize and make money. There are always difficult periods of adjustment at flashpoints, but we get through them and come out a better society for them.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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