The Most Terrifying Technology

One of the problems with the Trump administration is that they are doing so many retrograde, horrible, awful things, that you can’t even keep up with chronicling them, let alone fighting them all. You have to pick your battles, and even then, the deck is so stacked against you that victories are few and far between and often pyrrhic. Because of this, you can’t even begin to think about dealing with the numerous future crises that are rolling down the road at an alarming rate. For example:

Now I have no idea how well thought out his policy is, or how practical, but one of the things that scares the hell out of me is the future of automation. In particular, automated trucking. I feel like I have mentioned this before, but I can’t remember when, but it is important to realize that trucking employs several million people, and there are an equal number of people whose livelihoods come from supporting the trucking industry. This data is from 2014, but that is pretty recent when it comes to data sets of this size:

Because I live in an area that is considered both the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, I am acutely aware of how the loss of a couple thousand mining and steel mill jobs every year has perverted our politics for the last two-three decades. Take that upheaval, and make it several orders of magnitude worse, and you get the idea how bad this is going to be. And we’re not even getting into the fact that trucking is a tough business as it is, with owner operators getting hosed every single day (the trucking industry as a whole did really well the past few years, but the drivers- not so much. Sound familiar?).

Again, this is the sort of thing that if we were a serious nation, we would be planning in advance how to deal with it, whether it be regulation, legislation banning and limiting it, etc. It’s going to be a major deal. The only serious conversations I have even seen about it are coming from the left, with discussions about a universal basic income (Give People Money by Annie Lowrey was a good read), and to his credit, Andrew Yang has talked about this (and also written a book).

Of course, half the people in the Democratic primary would probably scoff at this idea, but it really is not just backwards thinking socialism. It’s more forward thinking than people realize, because this stuff is really right around the corner.






128 replies
  1. 1
    Elizabelle says:

    It’s terrifying. The combination of automation putting whole sectors out of work, combined with benefits attached to one’s job (or advanced age). No money, no access to healthcare, no work.

    Our tech overlords have really brought us a lot of horrible outcomes, that have benefited a very small and select number of them.

    Any idea how the EU is handling this one?

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  2. 2
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Apart from John, here’s another cool guy from West Virginia.
    https://twitter.com/socialiststeve6/status/1171919390847229952
    Need that T-shirt.

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  3. 3
    Keith P. says:

    Workers of the future better learn how to farm or perform artisanal crafts or be a doctor (and not the super-rich kind, either), because robots/AI are going to be doing most of the jobs of today. Kids a couple of generations from now probably won’t even be able to flip burgers.
    And trucking is getting pretty automated already (many of them have real-time logging that lets their bosses track their progress and drive time….drivers *must* rest every X hours, which is even more of a reason for companies to replace them)

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  4. 4
    Anne Laurie says:

    This is a good post, Cole. We should definitely be thinking more about the exponentially wrenching economic changes as the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ expands.

    (On the other hand, Bill deBlasio remains the worst candidate this side of Marianne Williamson, and from everything I’ve read generally not a person you’d want to trust about *anything*. A penalty for automation is the sort of bureaucratic idiocy RWNJs imagine us lie-brals proposing!)

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  5. 5
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    I want that shirt!

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  6. 6
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Elizabelle: I don’t think there is a way to deal with this outside of overt labor controls.

    The problem in a nutshell is that we now have the ability to create machines that can completely outstrip the capacity of even the most efficient humans. And whenever that has happened in the past it has led to ‘cataclysmic’ change. And there is frankly nothing that stops that since we are hardwired to maximize returns for minimizing effort.

    Or to put it another way – how do you philosophically justify stalling progress in terms of reducing error and inefficiency in the labor pool for the reason of not having a large chunk of your population rendered redundant?

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  7. 7
    dmsilev says:

    @Keith P.:

    Kids a couple of generations from now probably won’t even be able to flip burgers.

    There’s a place near where I live which has a sign up proudly advertising their burger-flipping robot. I guess the future is now.

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  8. 8
    Cacti says:

    @dmsilev:

    There’s a place near where I live which has a sign up proudly advertising their burger-flipping robot. I guess the future is now.

    More than you know.

    UPS has been using self-driving trucks for long hauls between their distribution centers in Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ. About a 1,064 mile trip each way.

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  9. 9
    Elizabelle says:

    @BlueDWarrior:

    how do you philosophically justify stalling progress in terms of reducing error and inefficiency in the labor pool for the reason of not having a large chunk of your population rendered redundant?

    Because it’s got ENORMOUS social costs, and could make for a really unstable society. It is literally too expensive for the population at large to bear. Of course your tech wizards salivate at bringing in sweet billions of cash to themselves. But at what cost to the rest of us?

    Progress, and especially “efficiency”, is not always the highest good.

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  10. 10
    Mart says:

    In our I got mine fuck you country, I don’t see responsible models for dealing with AI coming to fruition. I foresee a lot of pain.

    As for documenting the encroaching authoritarian takeover of our democracy, Amy Siskind does an admirable job. So many horrible things slip by every week under the outrage of the day or two. Almost impossible to keep up, and that is the plan.

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  11. 11
    Brachiator says:

    Global warming will kill us all first.

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  12. 12
    RAVEN says:

    @Elizabelle: That’s how we got union featherbedding.

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  13. 13
    J R in WV says:

    I saw the “tags” for the post, “Domestic Politics, Science & Technology.” and read Domestic Science & Technology.

    Not that crazy after all the roasted peppers and canning peaches and tomatoes we’ve had the past month. Worth the laugh when I read it again and saw “Domestic Politics, Science & Technology.”

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  14. 14
    Cacti says:

    @Elizabelle:

    Because it’s got ENORMOUS social costs, and could make for a really unstable society. It is literally too expensive for the population at large to bear. Of course your tech wizards salivate at bringing in sweet billions of cash to themselves. But at what cost to the rest of us?

    Progress, and especially “efficiency”, is not always the highest good.

    I believe that technology will eventually progress to the point that there will be a minimum guaranteed income for people, because there will be many more people than there will be jobs requiring a human worker. But what happens between now and then could get pretty ugly.

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  15. 15
    Raven says:

    @Cacti: The Luddites!

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  16. 16
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Elizabelle: the problem we have now, as opposed to when proper farm equipment replaced the bulk of human labor in the field (which were generally serfs and slaves) and automatons replacing line workers in the factory, is the scale.

    Whenever machines outstripped human capacity, there was something else those displaced people could all do. But now we’re running out of places of we left it to the market. And 400 years of the Protestant work ethic and its derivatives means a lot of people think those left out should be left to starve, while they personally get welfare to ‘ease the transition’.

    This is going to lead to a massive internecine conflict. That’s why almost every fictional society that developed high level automation of ‘menial labor’ suffered a terrible dark/war-filled age preceding it.

    We, as a society, have no model for this, just a before and an after.

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  17. 17
    J R in WV says:

    So those trucks are out there, crossing west TX, the most desolate territory in the nation for hundreds of miles, with no one watching them.

    What happens if the front tires suddenly become deflated? What is that cargo worth after that?

    Not advocating violence, even against a dumb truck driving machine, but the question needs to be answered before we see it happening a lot…

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  18. 18
    Central Planning says:

    @Cacti:

    UPS has been using self-driving trucks for long hauls between their distribution centers in Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ. About a 1,064 mile trip each way.

    Just to be pedantic (what? here?): according to this article at Gizmodo, UPS is using self-driving trucks for a 115 mile stretch from Tuscon to Phoenix. USPS is using the same technology company for the 1064 mile trip from Dallas to Phoenix.

    They do have a driver and engineer in the vehicle, so they aren’t freely roaming the roads. It’s similar to the self-driving Lyft vehicles in Las Vegas.

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  19. 19
    The Golux says:

    @Patricia Kayden: Too bad he’s in the Warren-is-a-corporatist-tool/Go-Tulsi camp.

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  20. 20
    Ohio Mom says:

    @Brachiator: Has anyone combined the two scenarios, global climate change and mass automation? What would that look like?

    All that automation will require large amounts of energy, but at the same time, we need to more prudent energy consumers.

    As someone once said, the most renewable energy source is human sweat.

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  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    I feel like I have mentioned this before, but I can’t remember when, but it is important to realize that trucking employs several million people, and there are an equal number of people whose livelihoods come from supporting the trucking industry. 

    We have seen entire industries transformed or eliminated before, and we have adjusted. Does anyone want to make farming more labor intensive? Get rid of the printing press and have copyists produce books?

    Could we achieve the fictional utopia promised by Star Trek (or The Orville) where people work for curiosity or for reputation? Or would we achieve an ironic dystopia where robots can produce anything, but everyone is broke and unemployed?

    BTW, I think that one measure of productivity is GDP per person. But what would it look like if we adjusted for the portion attributable to automation? Is the wage stagnation gap partly hidden in this computation?

    The only serious conversations I have even seen about it are coming from the left, with discussions about a universal basic income (Give People Money by Annie Lowrey was a good read), and to his credit, Andrew Yang has talked about this (and also written a book).

    The left worries about it, but I don’t think that anyone really has any idea as to what to do about this yet.

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  22. 22
    Steve in the ATL says:

    Is there a plan to teach truck stop hookers how to code?

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  23. 23
    Duane says:

    @Mart: We know what to do for people losing jobs because of tech advances. Basic income should be part of the mix. The ones making loot from the advances can damn well pay for it too. Republicans stand in the way. Get rid of them and we can have nice things.

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  24. 24
    Eolirin says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Won’t help, the AI will be better at that than humans too.

    Sex work on the other hand actually has a good amount of job security.

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  25. 25
    Brachiator says:

    From a prior thread, about the prospect of self driving cars…

    I don’t believe they’ve actually done the math on the actual cost of maintaining a massive fleet of magic self-driving cars (and, truly, how could you since they’re magic and don’t exist yet, or perhaps ever?). Their current business models is all about avoiding those costs.

    Not just Uber, but futurists have tried to work out a future with self-driving cars. Lots of people really want to see this, since it could give you mass transit, but with individual vehicles offering point to point transportation. But all kinds of logistical issues. Car ownership might decline precipitously, but car demand might rocket. Imagine a household where Mom 1 and Mom 2 each order separate cars to take them to work, and where each of their 4 kids also order cars to take them to school and to after school destinations. The number of vehicles available starts to grow dramatically.

    Then you have the issue of zombie fleets circling the streets until called into service or parked … somewhere in massive stacks.

    Not sure how you prevent car thefts or vehicles diverted for use by homeless people and others. If I were a teen and had access to these vehicles, or a sex worker, well, love machine on wheels. Presumably one could order a vehicle with lots of room to stretch out.

    Oh, brave new world!

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  26. 26

    Thanks for giving me something else to worry about.

    It would be bad enough trying to deal with this even if one of our major parties had not chosen to go full metal Dickens when it comes to the working poor.

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  27. 27
    cmorenc says:

    If the majority of human wage-earning labor is rendered obsolete by AI and machines making and servicing the economy – where is the market for the goods and services thus produced if they’re unaffordable to the mass of underemployed/unemployed workers? Will the entire economy be geared to producing for the elite 5 to 20% with enough accumulated wealth or special skills AI hasn’t managed to successfully replace yet?

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  28. 28
    Central Planning says:

    @Eolirin: Sounds like AI sexbots are where I should be investing my money.

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  29. 29
    oatler. says:

    It’s…uh…Steampunk!

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  30. 30
    Geoduck says:

    Yes, we should prepare for this, but are we really that close to having the technology to send out whole swarms of robo-trucks to successfully make deliveries any- and everywhere?
    EDIT: I see this point’s been touched on already. Anyway, carry on.

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  31. 31
    jl says:

    Some parts of the plan seem on the right track. Vastly increasing protections for displaced workers is one. I’m not sure about a ‘robot tax’. Seems to me the cost of increased protections for displaced workers would be a kind of ‘robot tax’ in and of itself.Not sure the scary line in the story about how few people are in the factory during production. How many people are employed in the industries that design and manufacture the machines? I’ve read that in some industries, increased automation actually increases total employment, but not on the factory floor, though not sure how widespread that phenomenon is.

    There is a mystery in the ‘scary robots replacing all the workers’ story. If robots are working wonders and displacing humans because they are more productive, why has labor productivity been on a steady downward slide since 2002 or 2003? And the downward trend has been especially pronounced in manufacturing:
    https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MPU9900063

    A lot of recent regional pain in the US from job loss wasn’t due to robots taking jobs, it was shipping jobs overseas, which was pretty much what US macro and international trade and finance policy was designed to do by our leaders, particularly during 2000 to 2010. The social distress wasn’t so much from gradual technological progress, which has been going on for hundreds, or thousands, of years, but from going over a cliff in lost jobs in just a very few years with no recovery.

    Regardless of mystery of falling labor productivity, I think correcting increasing inequality of income and wealth, getting back to pre-1980s sharing of productivity growth dividends with workers, better macroeconomic policy to support demand for goods and services from the ‘lesser people’, and increased benefits for displaced workers might do more than expected. Try those, while we think about what a ‘robot tax’ would look like and if it could be a good idea.

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  32. 32

    That Four Corners area is…………..surprising and confusing.

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  33. 33
    Ladyraxterinok says:

    @Cacti: Many science fiction stories have dealt with aspects of this. Most are unpleasant to this nearly 80yo.

    As I recall, many have societies withnextremely severe population controls, with nasty consequences for the inevitable failures of individuals to keep the controls. Eg, babies are not registered and then are stalked by gangs to be raised for body parts.

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  34. 34
    Yarrow says:

    @Brachiator: I saw recently that there’s more traffic on the road because of Uber and Lyft. All those vehicles that previously would have been parked are on the road as their drivers are hoping to get a fare.

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  35. 35
    Doug R says:

    @RAVEN:

    That’s how we got union featherbedding.

    Noticed a couple of rookie mistakes in this video, but the worst one is at 44:55 (driver time) when the vehicle in front swerves right to avoid road debris. No sign of braking and their truck runs over the debris at 44:57.
    Try it at 0,25 speed, since the recording is at 16x at that point.
    Autonomous Truck Drives in a Storm, Hub to Hub, Zero Disengagements

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  36. 36

    @Eolirin: In fact, a lot of sex workers can’t lose their jobs even if they want to.

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  37. 37
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Brachiator: Just wait until all the credit card scanners start calling us all assholes.

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  38. 38
    Ohio Mom says:

    @Yarrow: My family back in NYC describe the traffic as astronomically worse than ever, and they are a dispassionate bunch. We all suspect Uber and Lyft as the cause.

    I sometimes imagine, someday in the future, entering a self-driving car that has driven up to my doorstep, and finding it full of cookie crumbs, empty juice boxes, a tiny sock, a small toy, and all the other detritus trailed behind very young children. In my fantasy I am hit by nostalgia for my lost young motherhood.

    Really, who is going to clean all those self-driving cars, especially after drunks throw up in them?

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  39. 39
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Eolirin: ah. So we will retrain truck stop hookers to be automated truck storage depot hookers. Sounds good.

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  40. 40
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Ohio Mom:

    Really, who is going to clean all those self-driving cars, especially after drunks throw up in them?

    Retrained former truck stop hookers, of course. Do you have me pied or something?

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  41. 41
    jl says:

    @Yarrow: I’ve read that too. There are a number of analysis that support that idea. I went looking to find one, but why not post a news story with a link to one of the analyses and Uber’s and Lyft’s happy-face, but irrelevant and weak sorry non-response.

    Uber and Lyft finally admit they’re making traffic congestion worse in cities
    Ride-hailing accounts for up to 14 percent of vehicle miles traveled in some cities, according to a study commissioned by Uber and Lyft
    https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/6/20756945/uber-lyft-tnc-vmt-traffic-congestion-study-fehr-peers

    The fact that Uber and Lyft aren’t the largest share of traffic has nothing to do with whether they are causing congestion. It’s their role in the increase in traffic in already clogged systems. And it’s an open question whether their business model will ever be profitable. I think Uber was forced to admit that it could not estimate when it would make a consistent profit.

    I have to wonder how much of Uber and Lyft’s success has been due to lax law and regulatory enforcement at the local level, lack of willingness of US political system to fund infrastructure, and economic environment where a lot of investors are essentially gambling on high risk but potentially high pay-off investments in a very low interest rate environment.

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  42. 42
    Jeffro says:

    Oh look tomorrow’s news is already off to a good start:
    1) Daily Beast reporting that trumpov might be signing on to extending Iran a $15B (yes indeed) line of credit to allow them to buy American farm products (take THAT. China!) in exchange for getting back on board with…wait for it, waaaaaaait for it…the Obama nuclear deal. No. Shit.

    2) Also apparently during the anti-vape presser today, trumpov said something about vaping being a huge concern to the First Esco…er…Lady, stating, “it’s a huge concern…she’s got a son…together…who’s a beautiful young man…”. DUDE HE’S YOUR KID!

    People are joking about how John Bolton must have given Barron a vape pen or something…I dunno…this whole country is going to hell.

    Back on topic: self-driving cars and trucks are coming, so let’s get busy figuring out how to steer the profits from all this wonderful automation back to the people who are losing their jobs. Either in retraining or just sheer “here you go, you’re now retired with great benefits”. The problem is that these jobs keep getting eliminated but the .1% vacuum up the profits. Make it mandatory that the folks who just lost out don’t lose out for good, one way or another. It’s not rocket surgery.

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  43. 43
    RepubAnon says:

    @Geoduck: The real disruption won’t be the lost jobs – it’ll be the follow-on effects of a big chunk of the population that has no money. We’re set up as a consumer economy, where we sell stuff to each other to earn money so we can buy stuff for ourselves. If a big chunk of the population can’t afford to buy stuff, fewer deliveries are needed. This means massive job losses throughout the economy. Stocks will plunge, the 0.1% will retreat to their robot-defended fortresses, and the rest of us will be fighting each other for water and food.

    Think “Enclosure Movement” with no factory jobs.

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  44. 44
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @jl:

    I have to wonder how much of Uber and Lyft’s success has been due to lax law and regulatory enforcement at the local level, lack of willingness of US political system to fund infrastructure, and economic environment where a lot of investors are essentially gambling on high risk but potentially high pay-off investments in a very low interest rate environment.

    My take? All of these reasons, plus the incredible shittiness of taxi companies that gave Lyft and Uber a huge opening to disrupt the industry.

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  45. 45
    jl says:

    @Yarrow: Thought I’d also mention that traffic engineering is a field where a lot of weird counter intuitive things can happen. For example, if you have a congested network, and add capacity in the wrong place, particularly what looks like a shortcut for a large share of the traffic, you can end up with more, not less, congestion. The, uh, math demands it!

    Transportation networks are full of nonlinear and nonconvex phenomena. A change that looks like a benefit locally, may be a net loser globally.
    It is not an area where unregulated local maximizing of unregulated capitalism can be guaranteed to work.

    But some WaPo columnist or maybe Brooks in the NYT will write up a column that says we are just not unregulated enough, or it is the millennials’ fault, Or something. So, the math must be wrong, and I apologize.

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  46. 46
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Jeffro:
    1) I hope Trump isn’t promising American pig farmers that Iran will buy lots of their product.
    2) It’s no surprise to anyone that Trump is so disconnected from his kids that he doesn’t really think of them as his own. He doesn’t talk about Ivanka like he’s her dad, either.

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  47. 47
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @jl:

    But some WaPo columnist or maybe Brooks in the NYT will write up a column that says we are just not unregulated enough, and it is the millennials’ fault

    Fixed. Also our fault that avocados and toast are so expensive.
    Also, fuck David Brooks.

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  48. 48
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Amir Khalid: Pork and beans? No! Pork and booze!

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  49. 49
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Jeffro: 2) Also apparently during the anti-vape presser today, trumpov said something about vaping being a huge concern to the First Esco…er…Lady, stating, “it’s a huge concern…she’s got a son…together…who’s a beautiful young man…”. DUDE HE’S YOUR KID!

    have you seen the tests? are we sure he doesn’t look like that security guard from the Tiffany’s in the lobby of trumped tower?

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  50. 50
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Steve in the ATL:
    Grab, the company that bought Uber’s operations when it folded in southeast Asia a few years ago, complies with government regulation and is doing just fine.

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  51. 51
    Sister Machine Gun of Quiet Harmony says:

    I don’t think a universal basic income will prevent unrest. A lot of people won’t be satisfied with just getting a check from the government for doing nothing. They want jobs because work gives them pride and purpose. Plus, you will end up in a truly stratified society that looks a lot like the ‘maker/taker’ model Republicans have been pushing for a decade. If you think the rich are contemptuous now, just wait until most people are unemployed dependents. This can only get uglier.

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  52. 52
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @cmorenc:

    Will the entire economy be geared to producing for the elite 5 to 20% with enough accumulated wealth or special skills AI hasn’t managed to successfully replace yet?

    Wouldn’t get that far, the economy would crash when UI would get in to the high 20%.

    Actually the ones really in trouble would be countries were all the off shoring is done. Automation makes more sense in large scale manufacturing than the specialized stuff done in the US now.

    And then all the company’s who went big time for the robot revolution are screwed because you can’t layoff a robot in a down turn like you can an employee and they will still have to pay the bank loan for the bot.

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  53. 53
    Duane says:

    @jl: Uber’s response to California’s proposed law treating drivers as employee’s seemed curious. If drivers aren’t the core of their business model what is?

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  54. 54
    jl says:

    ” self-driving cars and trucks are coming, ”

    Those might be nightmare in congested urban areas too. Driving becomes cheaper because the time cost of inhabiting a vehicle on the road is vastly reduced, either because the occupants can pay attention to something else, or the vehicle is unoccupied. So cars could well not even try to park for short stops, just drive around the block a few times. OK, one can see nightmare coming.

    I’m with Dean Baker that a lot of these problems are not a necessary result of technological progress, but policy choices made to benefit our corporate masters, or part of bad conservative governance. Fuel tax hasn’t bee raised in something like 25 years and lower by around 50 percent in real value. So, raise that fuel tax! Eliminate ridiculous fossil fuel subsidies. And as electric vehicles take over, tax charging stations.

    Passenger vehicles as the most common mode or transport are, and will continue, to be tremendously destructive, and we need to move away from them/.The BS arguments about personal freedom and flexibility will go down the tubes after the corporation that runs your auto drive car tracks everything it does, and you can’t move due to nightmare traffic everywhere you want to go.

    I have to wonder if developments in transportation in the US are just as much a result of an increasingly dysfunctional economy and political system as it is of anything that can be called ;progress’ or ‘technological development’.

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  55. 55
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Quiet Harmony: Perhaps soylent green made of rich people is delicious.

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  56. 56
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:
    To add to that, throwing people out of the workforce by automating blue-collar and even white-collar jobs depresses to some extent the market for consumer goods because people without jobs will be making do without. The more people lose their jobs, the greater that extent will be

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  57. 57
    Jay says:

    @Cacti:

    TuSimple says it has been helping UPS “better understand the requirements for Level 4 Autonomous trucking in its network” — a reference to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ scale for self-driving vehicles, where Level 4 refers to full autonomy that’s locked to a designated geographic location. The trucks in use still have a safety driver and an engineer on board who monitor the system, like many of the other self-driving pilot programs currently running in the United States.

    https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2019/8/15/20805994/ups-self-driving-trucks-autonomous-delivery-tusimple

    So, that’s a no. Until your Billionaires and their bought and paid for Politicians are willing to raise taxes to fix potholes and bridges, you arn’t going to have self driving cars and trucks.

    But there’s lots of sweet sweet VC money to be sucked from the teats of Billionaires for the next Juiceria.

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  58. 58
    Calouste says:

    @jl: Also a problem for Uber is that what they do isn’t particularly hard, and the capital expenditure to get into the market is relatively low (because most of it is provided by the drivers). The hardest part was probably getting the public to accept the idea of rideshares, but now that Uber has burned through however many billions to achieve that, anyone can come in with a far smaller investment and start a competitor.

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  59. 59
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Duane:
    Drivers are not the core of Uber’s business model. The core of Uber’s business model is the exploitation of a driver’s personal property, i.e. his car for which Uber disavows any responsibility, and his labour for which Uber does not pay him directly.

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  60. 60
    jl says:

    @Duane: Uber said it’s an app, that is all it is. Which is BS, but let’s see how it flies with the politicians and in the courts.

    This is another area where I wonder if we are making things too hard on ourselves and gaping at supposed intractable dilemmas that are not real. Moving the burden of a lot of social insurance from the employer to public sphere would help (some form of Medicare for all, or much stronger version of Obamacare) More regulation of certain kinds of contracting work would be another.

    I don’t know if the new CA legislation is well written or a reasonable approach. IIR news reports C, it didn’t go through normal hearing process, and was rushed through with a lot of closed door negotiations. And Newsom took a kind of passive aggressive hands off approach until the bill was nearly finished (which seems to be becoming his style on nuts-and-bolts governance, as opposed to high profile social issues). I don’t know if that was a fear of Uber and Lyft having resources to delay and derail it, or general chicken shittery of how things are done in the US these days.

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  61. 61
    Jeffro says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    It’s no surprise to anyone that Trump is so disconnected from his kids that he doesn’t really think of them as his own. He doesn’t talk about Ivanka like he’s her dad, either.

    Those are, um, two separate issues each with their own underlying pathologies. Actually five separate issues/pathologies – one for each kid. And the GOP thought this was a suitable nominee for the highest office in the land. Ick and ugh.

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  62. 62
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Amir Khalid: and that’s when capitalism hits against a wall. The whole point is to convert human labor into capital (and the laborers get a piece in wages).

    If the capital gained comes mostly from machines, then what the hell do you do? Because the only options are force an inefficiency in labor to not cause social c unrest, or take enough capital (or raw resources) to placate the displaced human labor.

    It all boils down to human society resisting easy and consistent modeling. There is no prescribed option, just doing something that prevents the hoi poli from putting everything and each other to the torch.

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  63. 63
    Jay says:

    @Duane:

    Stock sales and Venture Capitalist cash infusions.

    ReplyReply
  64. 64
    jl says:

    A potential problem with the new CA law is that it is very broad. So broad, that carve outs for independent professionals, like physicians and some other health professionals had to be written in.

    I have to wonder if such a broad approach is wise. Seems like a law that was more narrowly tailored to contract work that is centrally managed by a contracting company could have been written and been legal (though maybe the BJ lawyers could chime in).

    IANA, but economically, I don’t even see how an Uber or Lyft driver has anything that can be called a well defined and stable contract, since the company seems to be able to change the rules on the fly, while drivers who depend on it for a significant portion of their income have some intangible but real sunk costs in the relationship.

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  65. 65
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Jeffro:

    And the GOP thought this was a suitable nominee for the highest office in the land. Ick and ugh

    Not surprising from a party who’s said the government is the cause of all your problems for the past 40 years.

    I’m sure Grover Norquist was beside himself on election night.

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  66. 66

    @Duane:

    If drivers aren’t the core of their business model what is?

    According to Uber, The App.

    ReplyReply
  67. 67
    jl says:

    @Jay: Yeah, that too. Maybe you can tell me, but maybe that also is just lot of very rich people and organizations with money to burn.

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  68. 68

    @jl: The legislation is codifying a CA Supreme Court ruling.

    ReplyReply
  69. 69
    Jay says:

    @jl:

    Yup. Too few people with way too much money.

    ReplyReply
  70. 70
    mad citizen says:

    Braichiator nailed it. In all cases in the past demand for labor has gone up or remained steady as industries died. CBS Sunday Morning did a story on this a few years ago. Plus, humans will have to drastically cut their numbers to enable earth to be sustainable.

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  71. 71
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: Thanks for reminding me. Do you know enough about it have an opinion about whether the codifying had to work the way it did?

    ReplyReply
  72. 72
    Amir Khalid says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA:
    That’s like a carpenter saying the core of his business model is a saw.

    ReplyReply
  73. 73
    Amir Khalid says:

    @BlueDWarrior:
    Henry Ford made sure his workers could afford to buy the cars they made. Does no one remember that, or why he did it?

    ReplyReply
  74. 74

    @jl: Not really, but that would explain it’s relatively fast track to passage.

    ReplyReply
  75. 75
    Brachiator says:

    @Yarrow:

    I saw recently that there’s more traffic on the road because of Uber and Lyft. All those vehicles that previously would have been parked are on the road as their drivers are hoping to get a fare.

    Not just drivers trying to get a fare. Lots of factors, including people using Uber and Lyft because it is convenient.

    Erhardt and Castiglione acknowledged the limitations of the methodology, including its inability to account for some factors that might have influenced congestion, like increased truck traffic due to the popularity of online shopping. But Erhardt said the study suggested that some people in San Francisco who at one time might have walked or used public transportation to get around might have shifted to ride-sharing instead.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/ride-sharing-firms-say-they-help-ease-traffic-congestion-new-ncna1003051

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  76. 76
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @mad citizen: problem with that last point is that rapid losses in population leads to catastrophic breakdowns.

    ReplyReply
  77. 77
    jl says:

    @mad citizen: I think in the past, social solutions were found to spread the gains from increased productivity around. Sometimes that was done peacefully in and orderly way, sometimes not.

    Right now, US doesn’t have the politics that allows that. We need a politics that allows it, and takes account of the threat of climate change, asap.

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  78. 78
    Jay says:

    @jl:

    Hi, I’m a techbrodude,

    Look at this wifi/bluetooth enabled Juicer I made, costs $1K, everybody is gonna want one,

    Billionaire: How much does a fresh pressed wheatgrass juice cost a cup? $500? Here $120 million.

    ReplyReply
  79. 79

    @Amir Khalid: You see, they’re a tech company and produced this app that independent contractors use for a small cut.

    ReplyReply
  80. 80
    Amir Khalid says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA:
    Do their noses get longer when they say that?

    ReplyReply
  81. 81
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    Having seen how warehouses work I really find it hard to believe that automating them is even remotely viable. Maybe some massive distribution center on products that being shipped in bulk but at the places I work, no, the stock is constantly shifting, hell humans can barely finds the stuff as it is, much less a machines. Even the times I had to work as a warehouse worker there was a lot more to the job and then just receiving stuff and putting it on a shelf.

    But take Jose the receiving guy at work; his job is receiving the shipments, which means actually physically examining the delivery to make sure the invoice is correct. Then unpacking it, getting it into the warehouse or to the employee it’s meant for. Cleans up the old packing. Then he packages the outgoing products or anything else than needs to be shipped, contacts the shipper to arrange a pick up, So scanners networked to an AI and how many robots going to replace Jose and why is that cheaper than Jose?

    And thank god code never goes bad and crashes because of a crappy update. Why that would paralyze the entire economy in a robot future.

    ReplyReply
  82. 82
    Jay says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Warehouse, no whorehouse. Completely different business models.

    ReplyReply
  83. 83
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: I remember news about the court ruling now. Most news stories are pretty superficial and they don’t cover that aspect, and it slipped my mind. I did a quick search and can’t find much on what the court case required be done, and how it shaped the legislation. This LA Times article said it effectively narrowed the scope of the ruling. If that is the case, then seems like the CA leg had quite a bit of discretion. Maybe a CA lawyer person can chime in.

    Sweeping bill rewriting California employment law sent to Gov. Newsom
    https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-09-11/sweeping-bill-rewriting-california-employment-law-moves-to-gov-newsom

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  84. 84

    @Amir Khalid: No, they’re attorneys and are immune to that physiological reaction to untruths.

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  85. 85
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Then unpacking it, getting it into the whorehouse or to the employee it’s meant for.

    Autocorrect really done you wrong this time.

    ReplyReply
  86. 86
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Jay: True, but the later is much more interesting. But be that way, it is corrected.

    ReplyReply
  87. 87
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Jay: Freudian slip in a whorehouse?

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: Don’t you go changing the subject when you promise to talk about automating whorehouses.

    ReplyReply
  88. 88
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Amir Khalid: because he wanted to move his own product, mostly. He needed to set a precedent for workers being able to afford the thing they are making unless it’s specifically a luxury product.

    But you still had human labor getting a return on thier labor. The question is what do you return to displaced human labor when displaced by a machine?

    Also note that best practices also compounds this issue a little more. We just aren’t doing as many dumb, redundant things internally that’d necessitate having too many extra laborers. Wish it’d translate into getting rid of redundant management as well.

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  89. 89
    mad citizen says:

    @jl: Oh, personally I can get behind an Eat The Rich policy.

    ReplyReply
  90. 90
    Jay says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    It does however have threads of Incels, Sex Robots, and how one line of bad code can kill them,…….

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  91. 91
    Ruckus says:

    Automation is not going away. For production it works far better than humans a lot of/most of the time that even though it’s expensive it can create better products cheaper. The issue is that we have a large workforce and little to no push to actual educate people in ways that they can use in an automated production system. We also value people more who don’t work with their hands, even back when I was in high school, which is a long fucking time ago. We still need people to work with their hands and brains, we just don’t need as many of them. I can not imagine why someone would want to mine coal, unless there is absolutely nothing else they can do. And the answer to that is training. Not training at cost but free training. And part of that problem is that we invest in new stuff, in stuff that doesn’t require a lot of labor because part of our culture has gotten the idea that physical labor is too expensive and beneath us. So one hires immigrants who can be sent away and replaced to work in an expensive golf resort cheaply rather than hire expensive citizens, to whom he’d have to pay an actual living wage.
    Our country has grown up, at least in the concept of advanced, wealthy societies. Except it isn’t an advanced, wealthy society, too many of our citizens are exploited by drug companies, by laws that suppress their right to vote and have equal representation, by the wealthy who need to be extra, extra, extra wealthy and not pay taxes or reasonable wages to get there, by billionaires who run for president rather than use some of that money to actually do something good for the world. IOW we are fucking selfish. In this country you have the right to be poor, but we’ll kick you out of a shitty living situation to live on the street, no wait we can’t have that we don’t like how that looks…… We don’t have equality in this country, not in voting, not in politics, not in the economy, not in education and 40+% of our population will vote for that even if it screws them, just so they can think they are better, in some asinine way, and even if it screws them worse than their worst imagination of the people they hate for no rational reason.

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  92. 92
    Brachiator says:

    @mad citizen:

    Plus, humans will have to drastically cut their numbers to enable earth to be sustainable.

    The planet may be overpopulated, but this is very asymmetrical. Japan has a problem with a relatively healthy and wealthy declining population. Other advanced nations may soon have similar problems.

    Links

    http://conversableeconomist.bl.....l.html?m=1

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  93. 93
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: if we ever had a fully automated economy we’d likely already have a model for what to do with the displaced humans.

    The problem is that a collapse could come almost as soon as we’d start figuring it out. All it’d take is say 15-20% persistent unemployment to cause crippling strife. So basically what might happen in the first wave as we’d displace the bluest of the blue-collared.

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  94. 94
    jonas says:

    Well, this is essentially what Andrew Yang’s campaign is about: he sees a UBI as really the only way right now to deal with the massive social and economic dislocations about to be caused in the next decade or so by automation and truck drivers are at the top of the list. Think of how many jobs have been lost to automation in the past 25 years, and then think about that going forward, but throw AI into the mix. It’s a big problem.

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  95. 95
    Kayla Rudbek says:

    @Brachiator: and from my limited observation of my metro area, blind and visually impaired people use Uber and Lyft a lot as well, to replace/supplement mass transit.

    And speaking of the blind and visually impaired, I know that there are contests to develop a car that could be driven by a blind/visually impaired person. I’m not sure how recent the last contest was, but Virginia Tech was working on it

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  96. 96
    Jay says:

    @Brachiator:

    Italy has entire regions offering €25k for immigrants,

    But they don’t want Syrian refugees.

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  97. 97
    Ruckus says:

    @Amir Khalid:
    No one who owns a big business. Well maybe the people who own Costco. Except that it isn’t viable for me to shop at Costco. I had a Costco card and for the most part the yearly cost for the card was about the same as what I saved but transporting and storing a pallet load of toilet paper really wasn’t worth the effort.

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  98. 98
    Suzanne says:

    @Keith P.:

    Kids a couple of generations from now probably won’t even be able to flip burgers.

    When I worked at McDonald’s in the mid-90s as a teenager, the grills were clamshell-style and the burgers required no flipping. So your dystopian hellscape of lazy-ass unflipped burgers is ALREADY HERE.

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  99. 99
    Jay says:

    @Ruckus:

    No need for a 45 gallon drum of maple syrup?

    Love Costco.

    Queen sized waffles and the special toaster you could also get.

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  100. 100
    Kelly says:

    @jl: I used to know a Portland, OR traffic engineer. At parties he would patiently explain how annoying bottlenecks in the grid were the result of local business folk talking the commissioners into building interchanges and intersections that the engineers knew would never work. Named names. Surprisingly interesting.

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  101. 101
    Kelly says:

    @Sister Machine Gun of Quiet Harmony:

    They want jobs because work gives them pride and purpose

    If the money had been the same I’d of worked on wilderness trail crews. The WPA i.nstead of the dole.

    ReplyReply
  102. 102
    Jay says:

    @Kelly:

    Yup. double yup.

    ReplyReply
  103. 103
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Kelly: that’s always one of the questions that has intrigued me. How does society even deal with a population that wants to work certain jobs because of that individuals desire over society impressing a need onto them.

    I often wonder if that’s part of the problem with aging pool of high-skill blue collar laborers, that we’ve ‘coded’ two generations to disregard that work as desirable unless that individuals family had a history of it, or that individual really is that much of an ‘odd duck’.

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  104. 104
    Hob says:

    @Central Planning:

    Just to be pedantic (what? here?): according to this article at Gizmodo, UPS is using self-driving trucks for a 115 mile stretch from Tuscon to Phoenix. USPS is using the same technology company for the 1064 mile trip from Dallas to Phoenix.

    To be even more pedantic: no, USPS is not doing that now. They did a two-week test with that company for the Dallas-Phoenix run, back in May—five round trips in all. There was a ton of press-release-driven coverage at that time, and there’s been no word since then as to how it went or what their plans are.

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  105. 105
    PenAndKey says:

    @mad citizen: “Braichiator nailed it. In all cases in the past demand for labor has gone up or remained steady as industries died. CBS Sunday Morning did a story on this a few years ago.

    I keep hearing this, yet not once have I ever seen someone who makes the claim that “because it happened before, it will happen the same way now” ever describe the job category, let alone professions, they think will exist in sufficient numbers for the people being replaced right now, in real time. it’s one thing to point to some magical “everyone can just be a programmer or robot repair tech” pipe dream, but that does absolutely nothing to prevent large scale social unrest over the next 50 years. The simple fact is that automation is reaching the level where it can out-compete the average capabilities of the average intelligence person. There’s no sunny side to that, not in a society that ties healthcare to work and that treats unemployment as a justification for starvation.

    Plus, humans will have to drastically cut their numbers to enable earth to be sustainable.”

    Yeah, that ain’t happening. Not without a war or a totalitarian despot taking over. The only way the birth rate will go down, let alone the total population, is if the “third world” successfully completes industrialization and no longer has to rely on children as their safety net.

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  106. 106
    Kelly says:

    The blue collar workers I know are from blue collar families. My brother last winter retired from a lifetime of moving dirt with heavy equipment, which is what our dad did. The young guys that were good were like him, from construction worker families.

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  107. 107
    Mart says:

    I think nearly everyone on this thread is grossly underestmating what AI will become – ETA except PenandKey. In my youth the welds at car factories were so bad they had folks in O2 fed suits in lead booths slopping molten lead to cover the gaps. Unibody robotic welding was here by the late 80s. Result of AI in car factories is thousands less per shift with faster production. People needed in warehousing is mentioned above. I’ve been to 150 foot high Automated Storage and Retrieval distribution centers where humans cannot enter the building. If there is a screw up, need folks to clean up or reset the pallet, but won’t be long before robots do that. Lawyers and legal researchers have been hammered by search engines. Many futurist think in 40 years there won’t be a single human endevour that a machine won’t complete better. Including sex.

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  108. 108
    Kelly says:

    @Mart: Moving dirt with heavy equipment is a skilled trade. Pushing a smooth steady grade to match the survey stakes used to be the most skilled. Nowadays once it’s roughed in GPS mounted on the blades can do the finish work with a very average operator in the seat. We still need high skilled operators on difficult ground. That could change. I can imagine automated machinery with LIDAR and ground penetrating radar could improve on skilled humans.

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  109. 109
    azlib says:

    The reason trucking is looking at automation is there is actually a shortage of truckers because the job of driving a truck is really hard and there are not a lot of people who want to do it. The automation is more along the lines of assisting and making driving a lot easier. Think Lidar systems to keep you from hitting the vehicle ahead of you, while you spend your time generally monitoring the system and the overall road conditions. To my knowlege there are no fully automated vehicles roaming public roads without a human driver because of those pesky edge conditions which the software systems do not handle very well if at all.

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  110. 110
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Mart: the actual mechanics of sex a well-developed machine can replicate given enough development time. Now the emotional weight of sex? That’s still an open question.

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  111. 111
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @azlib: human error with mass transit or bulk shipping is something we’d want to reduce to 0 as close as possible.

    I do believe a livable balance between man and machine can be achieved, but will we give ourselves the space and time to find it?

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  112. 112
    Martin says:

    @Elizabelle:

    It’s terrifying. The combination of automation putting whole sectors out of work, combined with benefits attached to one’s job (or advanced age). No money, no access to healthcare, no work.

    A) This is not new
    B) This is desirable in the long run.

    The domestication of animals might have been the first automation tech, displacing human labor. Simple tools, slaves, steam engine, typewriters and calculators, computers, robots. Each introduction freed up workers to more advanced, less dangerous work. Each introduction also usually brought about social policy as well – barter, money, government, child labor laws, 40 hour work week, etc.

    What should be the social policy to accompany this? Lower hours/higher wages? Greater benefits.

    In addition, the US taxation structure is fucked. It’s predicated on the notion that labor wages are a proxy for GDP. So things like payroll and income taxes will scale proportionate to GDP. But those two measures started diverging in the 70s. GDP has soared well ahead of aggregate wages, so we’ve been drawing proportionately less and less taxes relative to other things we do relative to GDP – defense spending, infrastructure spending, etc. The US needs to shift to a taxation model based on value add. That model doesn’t care if the value add was from human labor or automation. Right now automation is a tax free way of adding value to a product or service. Human labor doesn’t stand a chance because the tax model penalizes hiring workers. Tax revenue as a result of automation doesn’t need to pay for services for the automation, so it serves as a supplement for services to labor. Tax revenue remains proportionate to GDP, even in the case that no human labor is involved. Social services keep getting paid for.

    But human labor never actually goes away. We simply find new services to do. That’s small comfort to the workers who are displaced and feel unequipped for the new task, but that’s how it’s always been.

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  113. 113
    Mart says:

    @BlueDWarrior: You are obviously not familiar with the devastating effect the Orgasmatron had on Woody Allen in 1973’s “Sleeper”. That orb was a party!

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  114. 114
    Ruckus says:

    @Martin:
    The added value is taxed some time along the line, but not in as effective a way. It’s done as a capital good, say an automated robot welder. Of course the business gets a depreciation write off as well……
    I believe we need a value added tax on things like a robot welder, they do add capacity and lower labor costs. A thing to think about. In 1991 I purchased/leased a machine tool that cost $256,000. It would run unattended, once programed, tools made and parts loaded. It was not a fast machine but it was extremely accurate and could do work that no other type of machine or machinist could and was far faster than previous generations of like machines. It would run unattended for days. Longest job I ran in it took 160 hours. It ran unattended for 6 1/2 days, 24 hrs a day. But I paid less tax than an employee would have for that same amount of time. Good for me, not so good for the country per your point.

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  115. 115
    Martin says:

    @azlib:

    The reason trucking is looking at automation is there is actually a shortage of truckers because the job of driving a truck is really hard and there are not a lot of people who want to do it. The automation is more along the lines of assisting and making driving a lot easier. Think Lidar systems to keep you from hitting the vehicle ahead of you, while you spend your time generally monitoring the system and the overall road conditions. To my knowlege there are no fully automated vehicles roaming public roads without a human driver because of those pesky edge conditions which the software systems do not handle very well if at all.

    Trucking is a good case for automation in limited cases. There’s a lot of trucking where the edge cases can be either nearly or fully eliminated – mostly drayage, from dock to distribution facility, that kind of thing. The endpoints are fixed and well known, the route can add sensors, restricted lanes, and so on.

    The real appeal of trucking automation is the restrictions on drivers. 10 hours per day means your goods are on the roads (along with the trucks) doing nothing for trips over 10 hours. Autonomy eliminates that, which is really appealing for perishable goods.

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  116. 116
    Martin says:

    @Ruckus: Right. So why should that asset get a depreciation deduction when a worker gets a payroll tax? That asset isn’t the same kind of capital asset, it’s basically labor, so tax it as labor by taxing its output.

    Doing that wouldn’t eliminate automation – because of its accuracy, ability to run 24/7, etc., but it would contextualize it. Right now, a less efficient machine is cheaper than a more efficient worker. That should change so that the machine has to be more efficient than the worker to make economic sense. Make the robot earn that job. It will, but in the process it’ll produce as much or more tax revenue than the worker did. That doesn’t solve the problem for the worker, but it does create a pool of money to apply to the problem of the worker. It’d be something.

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  117. 117
    Ruckus says:

    @BlueDWarrior:
    Machines are man made things and as such have limitations and faults. The more complex the machine, the more pressure there is to reduce costs, take the Boeing 737-800. Now people screw up and break as well. Nothing will ever be fool proof, 100% dependable, have an unlimited life span or operate without error. There are always failure points in any system that man creates, the goal is to lessen them but it’s like perpetual motion, a failure free system doesn’t exist. Look at BJ. A new, better system is being built, it’s in the final what 10% stage, which will take 90% of the total time to finish. And it will have faults, just hopefully fewer and less annoying faults. And that is no matter how good it is done. I made 20 pins today for a company that builds aircraft hydraulics. I had to hold the diameter to very tight tolerances. I got well within the tolerance required but perfect? No. They will all work fine, they just aren’t perfect, nothing is. Somethings are closer than others but nothing is perfect. It’s perfect enough. Software, to be successful at automated driving has to anticipate every single possible problem, make critical judgements and respond properly or people will die. It’s possible that the auto driving vehicles can be better than the average human considering cell phones, texting, music, being stoned/drunk, having parts played with…., playing with parts….., falling asleep, having a stroke/HA, and on and on. But they will never be perfect. Nothing ever is. At least that’s one thing you can always count on…..

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  118. 118
    Ruckus says:

    @Martin:
    We are in agreement, I was just pointing out the way it works currently is a huge part of the problem and not many people actually know how it works, why it can be cheaper to buy a 1/4 million dollar machine rather than hire a $15 or $25 or $50 /hr worker. In my case no worker could produce what the machine does, but it also does it when that worker has to get some food or sleep. In that regard, while it couldn’t be replaced by a 7 day, 3 shift workforce, it didn’t require them either. That welding robot can do a better job than most human welders and do it without requiring as much attention and time. So it’s not just replacing one human it is probably replacing 2 or even more and it never comes to work hung over or pissed at it’s mate, it does occasionally get sick but never needs a holiday, or a labor negotiator.

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  119. 119
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Ruckus: I don’t think we’re that far apart. Ideally there’d be a human operator on standby to take manual control if you have a non-standard scenario, and let the machine handle the routine drudgery that can bore a human to tears.

    When it comes to A.I. I’d say that no decision can be made without an approved flesh person making it. The A.I. can only act in an advisory capacity. Problem is dealing with flat-thinking managers that would just do whatever the A.I. spat out.

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  120. 120
    Chris Johnson says:

    @Brachiator: I don’t often agree with Brachiator, but my favorite lefty economics professor has a very different take on all this.

    My gut level reaction is that the ‘end of work’ and mass starvation and homelessness etc. due to automation is a thing, but Mark Blyth thinks that is ridiculous. Why? Partly Brachiator’s reasons, and partly one very simple answer: climate change.

    Mark figures there will be THAT MUCH WORK to do to (a) ward off, (b) cope with and (c) rebuild from climate devastation, that it’ll be an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. I think this’ll depend on something like the government embarking on huge projects since private industry is going to do the opposite and try to build pipelines and shit, funneling the profits to the 0.001%, but the bottom line is that Mark has a point. I don’t know if it’s a proof of that ‘the market will always adapt! people always retrain!’ notion, which I’m very suspicious of even when it seems to be right.

    Thing is, we will absolutely need huge amounts of work done. Building 10,000 year storm resistant human habitation. Rebuilding ruined cities. Green energy as an industry. We will eventually be faced with the challenge of ‘living on Mars or Venus’, but right here at home as the planet becomes a lot less habitable. Humans are not likely to just give up, so there will be a lot of work to be done to adapt to the new conditions. In so many ways those can be paying jobs. Hell, they can be government jobs.

    We can get that rolling at any time. In those terms, ‘death of work’ is a hilarious notion: we’re gonna be extra busy.

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  121. 121
    Another Scott says:

    Dead thread, I haven’t read all the comments, but here’s my $0.02.

    Dean Baker regularly makes lots of good points about “the robots are going to take all the jobs/there are no qualified workers/population growth is slowing and we’re all getting old and there won’t be any young people to do the work” concerns. E.g. we’re (mostly) all better off when there are improvements in efficiency and productivity. Productivity growth (output per worker hour) is what is going to pay for liveable retirements for all of us. Productivity growth in the US has been very slow since ~ 2000.

    Second, one can’t have a simultaneous shortage of workers and mass unemployment. Robots aren’t going to replace everyone if there are masses of unemployed people – the economics won’t work. Robots aren’t cheap. Companies aren’t going to fire everyone if there’s nobody with a paycheck who will buy their goods and services. Supply and Demand still works.

    So, in general, don’t fear improvements in efficiency – embrace them. It will help address climate change, also too.

    [klaxon][blink]However[/blink][/klaxon] the way the transition is done and who benefits from the transition matters a great deal. The economy isn’t an organic thing, it’s a human construct. There will be consequences from hundreds of thousands or millions of people losing decent middle-class jobs in trucking, delivery, and all the rest. We need to think about what that means, who benefits, who loses, and make sure the benefits are widely distributed in society. Policy matters.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

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  122. 122
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Duane:

    We know what to do for people losing jobs because of tech advances.

    Only fools think we do. No one has figured out how to replace the concept of fulfillment through work. Even ditchdiggers & sanitation workers could take pride in the fact that their labor puts a roof over their (& their family’s) heads, food on the table, modest luxuries, respite, relaxation, & the power to choose the latter 3. They gained a sense that their lives were not being lived in vain. That they counted. UBI won’t fix the loss of that – in fact it’ll probably make it worse.

    And beyond that, what happens when the only creative act left to the vast majority of human beings is procreation, on a planet already bursting at the seams? Just watch the “demographic transition” we have all been waiting for in the developing world to flip a 180 & haul ass furiously in the other direction. Good luck trying to promote (let alone enforce) replacement-level birth rates under those conditions…

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  123. 123
    susanna says:

    @Ruckus: If you have a friend, have them by you some Costco gift cards. You can use them and spend any amount for goods. I also quit the membership and bought 6-$25 gift cards, one recently used and no problem.

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    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Amir Khalid: I remember that: So they could afford to buy the cars they made. Ford still ended up with the $$$ but his workers got “stuff” & everyone prospered.

    In autumn 1945 those who scoffed at Ford’s “crazy” pay scheme started to understand the point. As late as 5 Aug it was presumed fighting would continue well into 1946 & possibly 1947 with the invasion of Japan & horrific casualties on both sides; 10 days later, after two A-bombings & the entry of the last major neutral into the conflict**, the Japanese surrendered. Over 12 million soldiers were about to come home looking for jobs & nearly all US industrial production slammed to a halt, because what they were making was no longer needed. Industrialists were terrified that the Great Depression – which really had only been halted by war production – was about to roar back with a vengeance.

    But then the industrialists realized that if they hired the returning veterans & set them to building consumer goods – & used as pump-primer all the cash that the Riveting Rosies & “either too young or too old” male war workers had stashed under their mattresses because there were no consumer goods available – their workers would get “stuff” while they, like Ford, would end up with the ca$h.

    And it worked like a charm until the first oil shock (fall 1973). But only because the American people were a captive market – the rest of the industrialized world having had the crap kicked out of it by the war, they’d be buying Made In USA or they wouldn’t be buying at all. We even had to spend money in Europe (Marshall Plan) & Japan to build their economies up so that they could buy what American workers were making.

    Unfortunately that is the period that cemented into the US group mind the idea that every generation would have it better than its parents. It was true enough at the time. My father’s family lived on Federal relief handouts when he was growing up in Appalachia in the 30’s; having a stable, good-paying job that let him buy a house, buy a NEW car, eat meat six days a week, send his sons off to college, & enjoy a comfortable retirement – that was a miracle that he never, ever stopped being grateful for.

    But once the rest of the world recovered, & started competing for Americans’ business, all bets were off. Those jobs that allowed US workers with no more than a high-school education to prosper have been going away for generations – coal-mining jobs in Appalachia most dramatically – and ain’t none of ’em coming back. And now with automation, nearly all jobs are at risk, everywhere; not even the poorest & most desperate third-worlders can compete with machines that run 24/7, do the work precisely, never strike, & cost nothing but electricity & occasional lubrication to operate. And that is where we are.

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    evodevo says:

    @Eolirin: Japanese sex robots…oh, wait…they’re WAY too expensive for truckers…

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  126. 126
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Uncle Cosmo: Forgot the footnote to my last post, FYWP wouldn’t let me edit.

    ** It’s pretty clear that the main reason the Japanese surrendered was the USSR’s declaration of war on 9 Aug 1945, which removed their last hope of negotiating something less than an unconditional surrender. Hirohito cited the atomic bombs in his address to the nation, but it was a convenient excuse; LeMay’s mass bombing of Tokyo with incendiaries had already killed more people & burnt out more urban area.

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  127. 127
    Brachiator says:

    @Uncle Cosmo:

    ** It’s pretty clear that the main reason the Japanese surrendered was the USSR’s declaration of war on 9 Aug 1945, which removed their last hope of negotiating something less than an unconditional surrender.

    It’s pretty crazy that the terrible power of the atomic bombs may not have had the intended effect. Yes, the massive bombing before caused terrible death and destruction. But a single bomb….

    Also, I always thought that the Japanese feared that the Soviets would bring with them lingering resentment about Japan kicking the shit out of them in 1905.

    ETA. Yeah. Dead thread. Great comments. I learned a lot. Hope the issue of automation comes up again.

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  128. 128
    evodevo says:

    I’m a rural mail carrier. Out in Ky country on our rural roads, I run into situations all the time where a semi has been directed by Google or Garmin or whatever onto what are woefully inadequate back roads that are labeled as “highways” …but are just barely wide enough for two medium size cars (or sometimes not even that). I have to get out and tell the drivers how to get back to a good road, or tell them the hazards that await a couple miles further along or give them directions how to get to their intended destination…i can’t imagine encountering a driverless semi….

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