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wonderpup

Automation And Jobs- Why It Really Is Different This Time.

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It's true- the Luddites were wrong at least in the long run. History shows that technology does not lead to permanent job losses because labor that is displaced in one area eventually gets redeployed into other areas- so as the countryside emptied of agricultural workers the factories filled with production line workers- give or take a decade or two.

So why is it (really) different this time?

The difference is that for the first time the technology involved is not simply replacing the skills and capabilities of workers, it is also duplicating their ability to learn new skills and capabilities- and this is genuinely new.

The most basic example is the Baxter robot which is a simple industrial robot with the unique ability among it's peers to learn new skills simply by being shown what to do. So instead of being a dedicated solution to a specific problem Baxter is a tool that can learn to be other tools.

Another recent example is that of an AI that taught itself to play simple computer games like 'asteroids' starting from the single instruction to maximize the score- no other instructions were given yet 'out of the box' this AI system worked out how to play these games and in some cases achieved a superhuman level of skill in playing some of these games.

What these examples are showing is that unlike their technological forebears the new generation of AI's are different because they are not simply acting out predetermined behaviors, but demonstrating an ability to generate new and adaptive behaviors in response to their environment.

But isn't it exactly this kind of adaptive behavior that has allowed human beings so far to stay one step ahead of the machines? So in replicating this kind of adaptive behavior the new AI's represent an entirely different order of challenge to human workers.

What we are looking at here is the commoditisation of brain power. At present the only source of intelligence is expensive because it resides in the brains of human beings who are a high maintenance proposition due to the various collateral costs involved in housing,feeding and negotiating with a human work force.

Even a relatively simple artificial substitute could have a serious impact on the market for brainpower if it undercut the value of human brains at the lower end- most people's jobs are not that intellectually demanding after all.

So the argument that new technology will not replace human labor in a large scale and permanent way assumes a continuum in which what begins as a crude tool evolves over time to become a superior iteration of itself but still remains a tool that has a recognizable and limited function. Thus the cars of today are still the recognizable ancestors of the prototype car that first hit the roads in 1886.

However a tool that learns transcends this paradigm because it has the ability not only to interate but also to innovate. What the new AI systems seem to be doing is displaying a simple kind of emergent behavior- they are 'improvising' solutions in response to problems on the fly and hitherto this kind of emergent problem solving ability was the sole province of human brains.

I don't want to overstate things too much- computers are still moronic compared to even very young human children- but I think it's fair to say that if a human newborn over the period of a week or so managed to teach itself how to play a computer game to a level far beyond that of any other human this would be regarded as a significant event.

So I would argue that it's different this time because what the new technology seems to be suggesting is that at some not too distant point in time intelligence itself-of a low level kind- will become a commodity which could be accessed in a scaleable way via a cloud based interface that would in effect allow a company to manage it's needs for some types of 'brain work' the way it currently manages it's needs for energy or raw materials.

We already see children's toys that can hold rudimentary conversations with their owners due to the fact that their 'brains' are not located in their plastic heads but are accessed via the web allowing a lot of processing power to be thrown at the task at low cost.

Should the more basic forms of intelligence become commoditized in this way many humans who currently trade on their brainpower to get by will find themselves priced out of the market due to the availability of these software based 'brains' that could be mass produced at very little cost and have no messy 'wetware' complexity to trouble their employers.

Edited by wonderpup

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world. The more we automate the more we can work on other things as well and everyone will benefit.

Even if that wasn't the case, should we ban automation so that people can work? Keep people working for the sake of it? Work isn't usually something people do because they want to. They do it because they have to

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I suspect this debate is going to go the way of all of the previous ones.

Wonderpup's right to hint at computers/robots flipping very quickly from dumber than an insect in a certain capability to better than any human. Currently, the "easy" problems are being solved. But they'll also use the experience and previous learning gained to solve more complicated problems.

I had this discussion with one of my senior colleagues recently. I mentioned the shared economy as a major trend, and all he could talk about was how bad his Uber experience had been so hence wasn't that significant. Talk about a near complete inability to see the bigger picture. As humans, we struggle to get out of the mindset of our individual selves and regularly fail to anticipate longer term changes (while being overhyped by the short-term impact of technology).

Jobs requiring empathy with other humans will probably be some of the hardest to replicate with technology although the Japanese are having a damn good go at it.

I believe we are already beginning to see the problems of the machine in the workplace. It's increasingly difficult for young people to enter the workplace because the entry level jobs are either going or being occupied by older people who have been obsolete in previous job functions. We do not necessarily need all of the workforce to struggle to make a living for there to be social problems - 25%-33% of young people would probably do it, and even then it only needs to be in pockets (say inner cities) to have an impact.

Personally, I don't see it as a problem in the long run. Most jobs that machines could do are not ones people naturally want do, just are forced to do. The problem is one of making sure they have a decent quality of life while not working.

Edited by StainlessSteelCat

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The changes are nothing, nothing, compared to what happened quite rapidly with grunt labour when the steam and electric motor started to get widely used. Even the last 30 years has seen a vast drop off in the number of people who work on a farm.

The only thing that is different is that the jobs being reduced are middle class, so there's a big fuss.

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If human labour is replaced by robots the related goods / services become eventually free (robots making robots; materials are recycled by robots; power generation is laboured by robots; natural resources are harvested by robots).

Social democratic state will then provide these free goods / services to all citizens for free. Such as libraries or roads today. Although not probably a designer stuff.

I would be more concerned about obesity, drugs and depressions when the robots come. Perhaps the personal hobby/activities sector will take off exponentially???

Edited by Damik

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world. The more we automate the more we can work on other things as well and everyone will benefit.

Even if that wasn't the case, should we ban automation so that people can work? Keep people working for the sake of it? Work isn't usually something people do because they want to. They do it because they have to

+1

The automation of dull, repetitive jobs. What's not to like?

Bring it on.

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Robots need a vast capital investment and break.

To create a human, I just need to buy a couple of cocktails jugs at 'spoons and pour them into a fat bird.

Oh, and some Dutch courage for me.

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No different to CI really. As you say, empathetic roles would still be required, even volunteered for, and would allow people now redundant to do things like learning to paint, kayak, play xbox, cook (gourmet stuff), create films.

Medium term of course the engineers to design maintain monitor (and dispose of the unruly bots) will also be required.

I don't think futurama (one of the best shows ever created, but that's a different story) is that far off, where all our teenage boys are going to the movies with a robot lucy liu and then giving them one in a virtual reality motel.

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If human labour is replaced by robots the related goods / services become eventually free (robots making robots; materials are recycled by robots; power generation is laboured by robots; natural resources are harvested by robots).

Social democratic state will then provide these free goods / services to all citizens for free. Such as libraries or roads today. Although not probably a designer stuff.

I would be more concerned about obesity, drugs and depressions when the robots come. Perhaps the personal hobby/activities sector will take off exponentially???

I had to go on a 'fraud awareness course' some years ago. The guy giving the talk was a retired policeman ~60 years old. He told us the reason he was doing these talks was because he was so bored with retirement and we should not take for granted the purpose that getting up for a job gives us.

******.

He had just become so conditioned in work that he could't function outside of it. Learn the piano or even try to master it, learn to write music, read classic literature, write a book, travel, get fit, service your friends, tend to the garden, learn to ski, study economics, try another language. What's wrong with these people - I crave for the day I have all this time

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In the 90s the Graphic Designer David Carson published a graphic book titled 'the death of print'. Despite an initial golden age of creative web design, innovation gave way to uniformity (function over form). Hence why all websites look the same template driven portals.

Graphic Design/typography is mostly still constrained to print.

Amazon, the inventor of the kindle, the first major player in online book sales and book streaming... Has just opened a book store.

TV was meant to kill radio. Yet Netflix is harvesting the terrestrial TV audiences, whilst radio is as strong as ever.

Record shops are again considered 'funky' (apparently).

I don't 100% buy into the robots will take over theory, Besides what's not to like having the spare time to persue whatever (photography, painting, Lego..)?

Yet whenever the latest new innovation or trend comes along, everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon and proclaim the demise of the medium's predecessor. Yet this is seldom always the case.

The extinction of real ale was on the horizon not that long ago, now it's craft beers micro brewery fantastic.

Of course some things do get replaced and should be allowed to die, VHS for example. Yet how many idiots jumped on the faddy dead end technologies such as Mini Discs and HD discs?

When things stand the test of time, it's premature to write them off completely. Automation will come, and jobs will come and go on the back of it.

There will still be butchers or barbers shops though,

Edited by PopGun

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world. The more we automate the more we can work on other things as well and everyone will benefit.

This is exactly what evades the statists. Reverse the logic into retrograde and you find we would be still living in dark ages. What's the point of the thread beyond me.

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The two examples given by the OP were Baxter and Deepmind's Learning to play Atari games.

Baxter can be taught to do tasks like screwing on caps on bottles and then can be taught to do something completely different. It has been around for several years and I do not see it being used in a widespread manner. It is a neat piece of kit but I think robots will be sticking to specific tasks rather than learning to adapt to new ones for a while yet. In a factory that kind of learning flexibility is not really needed.

Deepmind's Atari player is slightly different. It used reinforcement learning combined with deep learning to learn the best action just from 'seeing' the game images. This type of technology could be used for other things. I have used it to learn to trade markets without human intervention. But to do this takes a lot of work by the human to set it up. Each new environment has to be thought through and programmed then the agent can learn by itself and find better solutions than a human could. This sort of tech could be used in fraud detection, stock picking, web analytics, searching to make sense of legal documents and so on. The more times the agent does a task the better it gets. Unlike humans a GPU can try a task a million times very quickly and learn to get better and better.

It will be jobs in places like banks, accounting firms and legal firms that will go in the same way as the PC led to less secretaries needed. This time a hedge fund will nolonger need a human stock picker, instead he will need an AI programmer. Low pay service and care jobs will remain to a point. The Japanese humaniod robots will ultimately takeover some care home jobs, particularly companion jobs, leading to better quality of life in old age.

The issue is those who control the technology will control the economy. Those who do not will be stuck in low paid work. If the professional middle classes are removed we will end up with a slave type economy with a few mega rich people and the rest of the people with not enough money to buy anything. The good news is learning to use the technology is available to anyone who is interested. Although the firms like Google and Facebook have paid big bucks for the experts the techniques and a lot of code is open source. I do not buy into to the argument that these companies have all the data so no one else has a chance. There is an unlimited amount of data available to anyone by the internet.

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The two examples given by the OP were Baxter and Deepmind's Learning to play Atari games.

Baxter can be taught to do tasks like screwing on caps on bottles and then can be taught to do something completely different. It has been around for several years and I do not see it being used in a widespread manner. It is a neat piece of kit but I think robots will be sticking to specific tasks rather than learning to adapt to new ones for a while yet. In a factory that kind of learning flexibility is not really needed.

Deepmind's Atari player is slightly different. It used reinforcement learning combined with deep learning to learn the best action just from 'seeing' the game images. This type of technology could be used for other things. I have used it to learn to trade markets without human intervention. But to do this takes a lot of work by the human to set it up. Each new environment has to be thought through and programmed then the agent can learn by itself and find better solutions than a human could.

...

The issue is those who control the technology will control the economy. Those who do not will be stuck in low paid work. If the professional middle classes are removed we will end up with a slave type economy with a few mega rich people and the rest of the people with not enough money to buy anything. The good news is learning to use the technology is available to anyone who is interested. Although the firms like Google and Facebook have paid big bucks for the experts the techniques and a lot of code is open source. I do not buy into to the argument that these companies have all the data so no one else has a chance. There is an unlimited amount of data available to anyone by the internet.

History isn't favourable to those who allow the vast majority to have nothing to lose.

We already have a large proportion of the workforce in non productive vocations. It's not by accident.

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In most cases the programming of these "AI" has already laid out the heavy lifting that true learning comprises. How to store, measure, sense, weight, compare, and classify data etc. All the "AI" is doing is filling in structures (that it likely had defined for it already) with empirical data.

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Income for the erstwhile workers is the problem.

There may be plenty of work to be done, but where is the money coming from to pay people to do it, so that they can afford the staples of life?

The solutions favoured so far in the UK to the problem of loss of jobs through automation and offshoring aren't going to work for machines * - machines don't need cappuccinos, cocktails, cupcakes or bunting, they have no nails to manicure nor dogs to walk, they eat neither burgers nor haute cuisine, they don't wear clothes from Primark or from Burberry, nor do they watch TV programmes or films or listen to music.

They need attendants, but only a relatively small number of those, and the attendants won't be able to keep the whole of the service and manufacturing sectors going all on their own.

*actually, they're not going to work for much longer in any case

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world. The more we automate the more we can work on other things as well and everyone will benefit.

Even if that wasn't the case, should we ban automation so that people can work? Keep people working for the sake of it? Work isn't usually something people do because they want to. They do it because they have to

I think the argument in paragraph one is undermined by the observation at the end of paragraph two. People work mainly for economic reasons- and those that employ them do so for economic reasons also.

The problem has never been a shortage of things that need doing- even during the Great Depression there were many things that needed doing. The problem is that in order to pay people to do these things you need a consumer willing and able to purchase that end product or service.

An economy is like an ecosystem in that there are constraints on the systems ability to expand indefinitely- in any ecosystem there are a limited number of niche's available. So if it turned out that humans were displaced by technology in a given economic niche it does not automatically follow that new niches then become available to absorb these human workers- the economy simply might not be able to support these new niches due to resource constraints.

So you could have a situation in which a growing number of the economic niches available are filled by automation with no new niches opening up to absorb the human workers being displaced.

The idea of banning innovation is interesting because-so far- it's the dog that has not barked in this debate. For example I have read many angst ridden articles on the evils of youth unemployment, especially on the continent where levels are very high- but I have never come across anyone who even in passing suggested that we roll back technology in order to create more work.

And in a sense this is quite odd- after all if unemployment is such a terrible thing- if an entire generation of Europe's population is being profoundly damaged by their inability to find work why is no one calling for a ban on labour saving technology? It's not as if the EU is a stranger to legislation after all- they are usually quite keen to pass new laws and regulations.

Technology is a sacred cow it seems- and the idea of limiting the impacts of technology on employment is about as close to heresy as one could get.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not advocating that we do ban technology- but not doing so is a choice that we are making as a society. To anyone whose job is eaten by a machine we are saying 'well that's tough- but it's your problem and we absolutely will not intervene to prevent it' and then we label them a scrounger if they have the temerity to claim any of the unemployment benefits they paid into when they did have a job.

But note the asymmetry here- on the one side we have the vast juggernaut of literally industrial scale R&D into new labour saving technology- and on the other we have the individual whose labour is being replaced. But which of the two receives the whole hearted support of the State? And the big research grants and the tax breaks?

We applaud the onward march of labour saving technology as a boon for all mankind while choosing to ignore the reality that for a growing number of people this technology is a genuine threat to their well being- and the ultimate expression of this cognitive dissonance is that we locate the problem in the very people who might be impacted.

In a classic 'blame the victim' manoeuvre we suggest that it's their failure to win a technological arms race with billion dollar research budgets that is the root of the problem- they should have 'skilled up' more in order to stay one step ahead. Yeah-right.

Edited by wonderpup

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world. The more we automate the more we can work on other things as well and everyone will benefit.

Even if that wasn't the case, should we ban automation so that people can work? Keep people working for the sake of it? Work isn't usually something people do because they want to. They do it because they have to

Yes, there will always be jobs for people to do....the caring and creative jobs, the kinds of jobs that are at the moment poorly paid.......any old bot can do a traders or accounting job....two a penny.

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Yes, there will always be jobs for people to do....the caring and creative jobs, the kinds of jobs that are at the moment poorly paid.......any old bot can do a traders or accounting job....two a penny.

But who is going to pay people to do the caring and creative jobs? Under what system will they be better paid than they are now?

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But who is going to pay people to do the caring and creative jobs? Under what system will they be better paid than they are now?

Those that need their bottoms wiped.......seriously all relative, paid according to true value and worth.....physical labour and human creativity worth its weight in gold.

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I'm sorry, but these automation killing jobs arguments frustrate me. There is an unlimited amount of "work" to be done in this world.

But do the people who have lost their jobs have the skills to do one of the 'unlimited' bits of work? Is a toilet cleaner going to work on solving faster than light travel when their job has been automated?

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But do the people who have lost their jobs have the skills to do one of the 'unlimited' bits of work? Is a toilet cleaner going to work on solving faster than light travel when their job has been automated?

Wants and Needs....the clue....... Toilets need to be cleaned....fast travel is not a need....people without will not buy it.

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