If you think the jobs market and larger economy are bad now, just wait for the future.
In the future, virtually everyone you know may be on the dole.
There are a lots of projections and scenarios about what to expect as technology advances to practically unimaginable heights.
Already many human jobs are being displaced by computers, and most trends point to a rise of automated assembly lines, computer-run logistics and services and robots to do jobs humans did before that.
China has already ushered in a workforce of robots, with less and less reliance on humans for anything.
What does this mean for the average American?
In a word: dependence.
From The Week:
The robopocalypse for workers may be inevitable. In this vision of the future, super-smart machines will best humans in pretty much every task. A few of us will own the machines, a few will work a bit — perhaps providing “Made by Man” artisanal goods — while the rest will live off a government-provided income. Silicon-based superintelligence and robots will dramatically alter labor markets — to name but one example, the most common job in most U.S. states probably will no longer be truck driver.
The article also discusses the impact that Amazon.com, specifically, is already having on retail business:
Just look at how Amazon is disrupting brick-and-mortar retailing. And even though tech firms such as Google and Facebook generate huge revenues, they employ comparatively few people versus industrial giants of the past, such as IBM or General Motors. In the 1970s, General Motors employed more than 600,000 people, 10 times more Google and Facebook combined.
Moreover, their use of robotic warehouse workers and coming use of delivery drones are sure to have further impact on jobs.
The Week also wrote:
Former Intel executive Bill Davidow… makes a strong claim: “For all its economic virtues, the internet has been long on job displacement and short on job creation. As a result, it is playing a central role in wage stagnation and the decline of the middle class.”
So the very few at the top will be owners — as they are now, but with perhaps greater clout over human affairs. A token few will have human work where “manmade” might find appreciation and market, and more and more and more will become utterly dependent upon the government.
Not only will the Middle Class disappear, but so will the “working poor” as there becomes less and less meaningful work to do.
If you thought the welfare state was bad now – with a record number of homes on food stamps, many out of work or giving up on work and a significant portion of what used to be the Middle Class struggling just to make ends meet – it may be that we haven’t seen anything yet.
While we can hope for things to turn around, we should prepare for the worst.
What happens if we all become hordes of helpless masses completely dependent on government for everything?
It might sounds OK to some, but time for a reality check: life at the hands of government assistance is no kind of life at all.
From health care to food and everything else in life, government and technology will be the provider. Ready for that?
This is why former SunMicrosystems CEO Bill Joy stated that the Future Doesn’t Need Us, quoting from Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto on the human condition under technology:
Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system.
If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite.
Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.
Time to defund these projects, bug out and work on trading your skills for survival.
China’s Factories Are Building a Robot Nation
The robot-to-worker ratio in the country is still relatively low, the IFR said, with 30 robots working in manufacturing plants per 10,000 employees. Japan’s ratio is 11 times higher.
Four multinational companies – Switzerland’s ABB Group, Japan’s Fanuc Corp. and Yaskawa Electric Corp., and Germany’s Kuka Robot Group – are the dominant suppliers of robotic systems for factories in China. Mir Industry, a Chinese industrial consultancy, said the four account for about 58 percent of the nationwide market.
Zhang Hui, general manager of the ABB Small Parts Assembly Center in China, which services robot clients, said his company spent years focusing on the world’s developed countries, but now works to win clients in emerging markets with total-solution packages. “In emerging markets such as China, we provide our clients with more solutions than products,” Zhang said.
Meanwhile, domestic robot makers are vying for a bigger piece of the action. One up-and-coming company is Foshan Xinpeng Robotics Technology Co. Ltd., most of whose clients are bathroom tile and ceramics manufacturers.
Qin Lei, who founded Xinpeng with 60 workers in 2013, said his company’s robots perform ceramic-glazing tasks that pose a health hazard to human workers. Xinpeng reported 30 million yuan in revenues last year on sales of some 100 robots.
Domestic robot manufacturers and systems integrators advertise themselves as better than multinationals for the China market in part because of their expertise in assembly line processes, particularly for computer, telecommunication and consumer electronics manufacturing, said Deng Qiuwei, general manager at Shenzhen-based Rapoo Robotics Applications Co. Ltd.
Deng said his company built a robot system for a client’s remote-control device assembly line with the goal of integrating the entire process, not just for replacing workers. “We actually used the robots as a platform for realigning the production line,” he said.
Manufacturers have benefited from growing competition between Chinese and multinational robot companies. Qin said Chinese robot-makers since around 2010 have been offering budget-priced machines that forced global manufacturers to drastically cut prices. ABB, for example, last year slashed the price of a robot model similar to one made by Xinpeng to 200,000 yuan from 500,000 yuan, he said.
A private equity manager who asked not to be identified said he decided to invest in robot manufacturers after touring recently automated electronics plants in the eastern province of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. He found robots there were being used not only for dangerous jobs and simple tasks, but also to handle complicated chores that otherwise require workers with special skills.
“At first, robots replaced workers who had jobs that exposed them to pollution, such as painting, or required that they repeat the same task,” the equity manager said. “But gradually, robots have been used for trades requiring skilled workers, such as welders, because they are cost-effective.”
Yet some companies have automated their factories simply because they cannot find enough people. A mid-level manager at an electronic manufacturer said that many businesses that are unable to fill positions have had no choice but to install robots.
“Workers quit every day,” he said. “Physically challenging jobs under harsh conditions or jobs requiring repetitive processes are much less attractive to young workers than the older generation.”
Zhang Fan, who oversees automation at a Midea factory in Wuhu, in the eastern province of Anhui, said the plant installed one robot in 2011 and another in 2012 to rapidly move 70 kilogram air conditioners on an assembly line – a job that was too strenuous for people.
The electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group has been among the most aggressive promoters of automation in the country. Playing into the push to replace workers with robots were accusations that its factories abused workers, reportedly leading suicides.
But the company failed to meet a 2011 goal set by founder Terry Guo, who predicted that by 2014 Foxconn would install 1 million robots at its plants in China. Foxconn’s Automation and Robotics Division chief, Dai Jiapeng, said that so far these installations have amounted to only several hundred thousand sets of automation equipment. In other words, Dai said, just over 10,000 robots have been installed on Foxconn assembly lines. He also said automation rates at Foxconn plants vary from 40 to 70 percent.
Guo’s goal was apparently too ambitious. For example, Dai said, the company found automation ineffective for assembly lines on which people work better than robots. One Foxconn engineer who preferred not to be named said most Apple Inc. electronic products are still assembled by people because mechanical devices can scratch the products’ alloy cases, but fingers do not.
ABB’s Zhang said he’s recommending Chinese manufacturers look carefully at robots, but take care not to automate their factories more than necessary. Robots are best suited for overcoming labor issues and cutting costs. Ultimately, he said, a unit should improve productivity.
In some cases, hiking wages is more cost-effective than replacing workers with robots, Zhang said. Indeed, he said, ABB’s business in China has been slower than previously expected because many companies have found robots are still more expensive than laborers.
It’s a different story in Japan, where years ago a shift to robotic manufacturing started with companies seeking to escape high labor costs. Rapoo’s Deng noted labor costs in Japan are five times China’s.
A Japanese company “could afford to use two robots to replace one worker,” Deng said. “But in China, it’s only worth considering when one robot can replace three workers.”
That said, a lot of Chinese companies including Midea have already decided to push ahead with automation and grow their robot populations.
“If it’s a task that a robot can do, we’ll have one do it,” said Wu Shoubao, Deputy General Manager of Midea’s Home Air Conditioner Division. “That’s our strategy.”
Why the future doesn’t need us.
From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies, their ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the 21st century. I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil, the deservedly famous inventor of the first reading machine for the blind and many other amazing things.
Ray and I were both speakers at George Gilder’s Telecosm conference, and I encountered him by chance in the bar of the hotel after both our sessions were over. I was sitting with John Searle, a Berkeley philosopher who studies consciousness. While we were talking, Ray approached and a conversation began, the subject of which haunts me to this day.
I had missed Ray’s talk and the subsequent panel that Ray and John had been on, and they now picked right up where they’d left off, with Ray saying that the rate of improvement of technology was going to accelerate and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots or something like that, and John countering that this couldn’t happen, because the robots couldn’t be conscious.
While I had heard such talk before, I had always felt sentient robots were in the realm of science fiction. But now, from someone I respected, I was hearing a strong argument that they were a near-term possibility. I was taken aback, especially given Ray’s proven ability to imagine and create the future. I already knew that new technologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the world, but a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots surprised me.
It’s easy to get jaded about such breakthroughs. We hear in the news almost every day of some kind of technological or scientific advance. Yet this was no ordinary prediction. In the hotel bar, Ray gave me a partial preprint of his then-forthcoming bookThe Age of Spiritual Machines, which outlined a utopia he foresaw – one in which humans gained near immortality by becoming one with robotic technology. On reading it, my sense of unease only intensified; I felt sure he had to be understating the dangers, understating the probability of a bad outcome along this path.
I found myself most troubled by a passage detailing adystopian scenario:
THE NEW LUDDITE CHALLENGE
First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.
If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite – just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.