Posts Tagged ‘Automation’

Capitalism without a working class

July 9, 2019

Karl Marx and other socialists believed that capitalism depended on exploitation of workers, and that workers could liberate themselves by taking control of the means of production.

But the driving force in capitalism today is to eliminate workers as much as possible.  Manufacturing jobs are being eliminated through automation.  Now service jobs are being eliminated through use of artificial intelligence.

The end result would be a capitalism without workers—just investment in capital goods such as robots and AIs.

I don’t say this would ever happen completely, and it wouldn’t happen any time soon, but this is the direction we’re heading.

Treating people as unnecessary, and telling them that they are unnecessary, is wrong and very dangerous.

Almost everyone has it in them to do something that is useful and beneficial to others.  An economic system should be set up to honor and encourage this.  Investing in machines rather than investing in people is a choice, not a law of nature.

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Robots will not (necessarily) replace us

November 15, 2017

You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—And Sooner Than You Think, argues Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

His argument is simple.  Historically, computing power doubles every couple of years.   There is no reason to think this will stop anytime soon.   So at some point the capability of artificial intelligence will exceed the capability of human intelligence.  Machines will be able to do any kind of job, including physician, artist or chief executive officer, better than a human being can.

This will happen gradually, then, as AI doubles the last few times, suddenly.

When that happens, humanity will be divided into a vast majority who serve no economic function, and a tiny group of capitalists who own the means of production.   Rejection of automation is not an option, according to Drum.   It only means that your nation will be unable to compete with nations that embrace it.

The only question, according to Drum, is whether the wealthy capitalists will have enough vision to give the rest of us enough of an income to survive and to create a market for the products of automation.

I have long believed that automation is driven as much by administrators’ desire for command and control as it is by the drive for economic efficiency.   An automated customer service hotline does not provide better service, but it eliminates the need to deal with pesky and contentious human beings.

I also believe that, in the short run, the danger is not that computer algorithms will surpass human intelligence, but that people in authority will treat them as if they do.

Drum presents interesting information, new to me, about the amazing progress of machine intelligence in just the past few years.   But that’s not necessary to his argument.

His argument is based on continuation of exponential growth and (unstated) continuation of the current economic system, which works for the benefit of high-level executives and administrators and of holders of financial assets at the expense of the rest of us.

There’s no law of physics that says development of technology has to result in higher unemployment.  Under a different system of incentives and ownership, technology could be used to expand the capability of workers and to make work more pleasant and fulfilling.

To the extent that automation eliminated boring and routine jobs, it could free up people to work in human services—in schools, hospitals, nursing homes—and in the arts and sciences.

Technology does not make this impossible.   Our current economic structure does.   Our current economic structure was created by human decisions, and can be changed by human decisions.  Technological determinism blinds us to this reality.

The coming of the robots

July 8, 2016

This video from Boston Dynamics shows the capability of robots to do human labor—not that they would necessarily be in humanoid form as in the video.

In theory, the use of robots could enable human beings to live lives of voluntary, meaningful, higher-level activity.  In practice, the results probably would be more like Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel, Player Piano, with an elite of engineers and a mass of unemployed or under-employed former workers.

If robots do everything, there will be no high-wage, full-employment economy.  There would be no mass consumer market.  Economic activity would be mainly devoted to serving the needs of the owners of the robots and the engineers and technicians who keep the robots running.

A guaranteed annual income would not be a solution.  Human beings degenerate if they have nothing useful to do.

Maybe a new economy would arise—a robot economy serving the elite and a parallel human economy serving the majority of humanity.

Or maybe—in some way I can’t foresee—robotic technology would come under democratic control, and there would be a public debate as to how robotics could be used to benefit everyone and not just a few.

LINKS

New Rossum’s Universal Robots: Toward a Most Minimal Wage by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.  Lots of interesting links.

Toyota in talks to acquire Boston Dynamics from Google by Danielle Muoio for Tech Insider.

When the Robots Rise by Lee Drutman and Yascha  Mounk for The National Interest [added 7/11/2016]

Technology primarily benefits those who own it

June 29, 2015

jobs.5x650I can remember 50 and 60 years ago when people worried about what Americans would do with all the affluence and leisure time that would result from automation.   Today that seems like a cruel joke.

Technology primarily benefits those who own it.  Applied science primarily benefits those who fund it, or at least reflects what the funders are interested in.  There can be spillover effects that benefit everyone, but these don’t necessarily happen of their own accord.

I came across a good article on this topic in Technology Review.  The lesson I draw from it is (1) technology is not a substitute for social and economic reform and (2) there is a need for scientific and technological research outside the domains of for-profit corporations and the military.

LINK

Who Will Own the Robots? in Technology Review.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism}

The real reason robots are replacing human labor

May 12, 2015

The great danger of so-called artificial intelligence is not that computers will become sentient beings, but that decision-makers will treat them as if they are.

Machines are tools.  They are a means to multiply human strength and to duplicate repetitive human tasks.  They are highly useful.  But they are not a substitute for human skill and judgment.

jobretraining21stcenturyThe use of automatic pilots in airplanes is a good example.  An automatic pilot will make fewer errors than a human pilot, especially if airline management has pushed the human pilot to the point of exhaustion.  But excessive use of automatic pilots means that the human pilot’s skills wither, and the human is less able to respond in an emergency that doesn’t fit the computer algorithm.

Another example is the use of the Internet and automatic answering machines for customer service.  I don’t think anybody who has ever had to deal with one of these things thinks that they provide improved customer service.  Their purpose is to create a barrier between the organization and the public in order to save money, but also in order to free the managers from the inconvenience of having to deal with actual human beings.

Machines don’t talk back.  Not even self-directed machines talk back.  Neither do they exercise judgment or think of ways to do the work better.

But from the standpoint of a bureaucrat whose goal is the seamless exercise of power, the latter consideration is unimportant.   It is much more convenient to program machines than to deal with employees or deal with the public.

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