Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ludd Lives: Another great article on how machines are taking our jobs

I posted about the economic threat that is posed by the rise of technology a week or two back. In that post, I gave a number of irrefutable examples of kinds of jobs that have been eliminated by technology, most of which have not been replaced by equivalent kinds of jobs elsewhere in the economy--or any other kinds of jobs for that matter.

One of the points I made was that many of the services performed by real, living human beings were not performed as well by the technology that replaced them. What I didn't mention were examples of newer technology that does not work as well as older technology. I forgot to mention automated toilets.

Whenever I walk into an airport men's room, I notice that anywhere from one to about a third of the toilets don't flush. The same thing for many of the sinks and towel dispensers. Some brainiac somewhere thought that it would be a great idea to, instead of simply letting us use the simple lever (is this really a problem for 99 percent of people?), instead have us have to rely on sensors that electronically detect whether someone is getting up from the toilet or has their hands in the sink or has them in front of the towel dispenser.

Of course, they break. And when the break, there is literally no way to flush or turn on the spigot or get a towel. So often there are several toilets that are simply unusable. Is this really better than the more primitive technology they had before?

So you stand there in front of the towel dispenser, dancing around trying to get the machine to recognize you. Finally, you just give up and go on.

Anyway, that just my little introduction to a new article expressing the Neo-Luddite philosophy. I'm telling you folks, it's our economic undoing:
Very few of us can be sure that our jobs will not, in the near future, be done by machines. We know about cars built by robots, cashpoints replacing bank tellers, ticket dispensers replacing train staff, self-service checkouts replacing supermarket staff, tele­phone operators replaced by “call trees”, and so on. But this is small stuff compared with what might happen next. 
Nursing may be done by robots, delivery men replaced by drones, GPs replaced by artificially “intelligent” diagnosers and health-sensing skin patches, back-room grunt work in law offices done by clerical automatons and remote teaching conducted by computers. In fact, it is quite hard to think of a job that cannot be partly or fully automated. And technology is a classless wrecking ball – the old blue-collar jobs have been disappearing for years; now they are being followed by white-collar ones.
Read more here.


KyCobb said...


It may be harder to automate a lot of jobs than you imagine. Something like assembling a sandwich or burrito from a variety of ingredients as its being ordered by a customer making impulsive, changing choice is relatively easy for a low-paid worker but extremely difficult for automation, so its more cost effective to keep people doing that job. Jobs requiring personal care, like nursing, would also seem both difficult to automate and something that most people would prefer to receive from a person. The real problem is figuring out how to distribute the vast wealth technology is generating so that it isn't just enriching a tiny minority while impoverishing vast numbers. This new wealth should enable all of use to live better lives.

Singring said...

KyCobb is right on the money.

The real problem is wealth distribution, not automation (though it obviously has its drawbacks).

Just a week ago you showed a graph with the skyrocketing productivity increase of workers - yet they have seen virtually nothing of that increase in productivity reflected in their wages. Instead, it is going to a comparatively small number of people.

If wages kept pace with productivity, automation would not be such a problem by having such a disproportionate impact on workers who are already earning less than they should.