Technology

Rise of the Machines

They’re after my jobs, the ba****ds. Not the eastern Europeans. Nor the Indians. Nor the growing population of Latin American emigres. Those guys, up there. The machines. The dreaded, job eating machines. They are the new competition. And they are tough. Relentless. Remorseless. It’s a new world, and they are determined to make it their world. We feeble humans are having to adapt in order to compete. The 21st century resume will need to be reworked if we are to stand a chance.

Mine will need to stress my ability to not simply ‘pause for thought’, but to inexplicably freeze for no apparent reason for minutes on end, before returing to action as if nothing had happened . Usually just after the train has left. I will need to highlight my ability to detect any flaw in a coin (whether a flaw really exists or not) and then, ever so slowly, throw every single coin back at the customer. Without mentioning which coin was the problem. Oh, and by selling the requested ticket to a customer, no matter how overpriced and inappropriate it is for the journey they need to make, I can help meet sales targets. I’m not job hunting at the moment, but it’s never a bad idea to keep a resume up to date with your key skills, is it?

I do feel, however, that ‘we the people’ are being let down on a very specific promise made by a very unspecific entity. The technological revolution was supposed to bring increased efficiency. But it was also meant to free up human labour for other productive endeavors. It was supposed to free up our time and allow us all to benefit from the wonders of automated progress. I do not recall the promise involving anything about increasing inequality of wealth, sending chunks of the population into poverty and destitution whilst a select few enjoy all the prosperity that it has brought about.

There is another way. A way where we all progress with the times and where we all enjoy what technological advances have to offer. Whether or not we find that way is another matter. It seems to me that there is opposition from that small, select section of the population to finding that way. And therein will lie the origin of the next revolution.

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13 thoughts on “Rise of the Machines

  1. norm says:

    When I started in the iron house, I was number 786 on the seniority list and there were about 50 behind me. We put out less than 6000 tons a month of good product for the time. I left ten years ago, there were about 225 in the union part of the company, there are 125 now and they, those 125 put out 8-9 thousand tons of steel that has a quality level that was inconceivable in 1978 when I started making steel. Machines, up to date machines are the difference. The firm just won a big contract from Tesla for stock to make Tesla’s fancy new batteries.
    Unemployment here in Ohio is under 5%. I’d go back to work for the right work but no factory work, no midnight shift-it would have to be interesting. That 5% is a hard number to get under with picky people like myself. I have plenty to get by.
    On that note, take Gary, a great writer; you are and you know it, that skill is a better payer than train work but it carries a risk of starvation if it takes too long to make it pay.
    We have a Clockwork Orange problem in our developed world. What do we do with the half wits, the antisocial lot, the just plain bone lazy folks? I do not have an answer for that one. In the steel mill, I encouraged the gifted to carry the not so gifted because we would have to support them anyway-we can’t let them starve. So carry them and be happy about getting at least a little out of them.

    The gifted should make more but they have to give back more or those without will take what they need and that will not be pretty.

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    • I read an interesting article a few days ago on the steel industry, by a journalist who’s been reporting on the subject since the days of Bush Srn, and his attempt at raising tariffs. The figures made interesting reading. Steel production in the US is donw by a third. Employment is down by three quarters. Human labour in the industry has been replaced with automation. But use is down too, with per capita use down by a half since (I think) the 60s or 70s. Car making machinery is more precise, for example. Less needed, less wasted. But the most interesting fact – steel imports have, for decades, always stuck between 20 to 25%.

      It seems to me that Trump is fabricating a justification to embark on a trade war. Although you could, I guess, argue that that 20-25% figure has always been too high. That doesn’t seem a reasonable argument to me, but I’m no expert. I’m not a leading expert on trade wars either, but I am of the opinion that you only win a trade war when you fight it alongside a shooting war. History generally seems to support this.

      There are too many wastrels in the UK. The alcoholics, the druggies, the lazy. They are a source of frustration, and a growing source. I observed in Mexico that life was too hard there, too easy here. But there is no perfect dividing line when trying to resolve the problem. There is no answer. The governments attempted answer has a tendency to pick out the deserving cases, those who don’t know how to play the benefits game, rather than the real problem cases. But frustrating though the wasters are, they are not the biggest drain on the public finances that warrants remedy.

      As for my writing career – I’m still waiting either for divine inspiration for a novel, or a newspaper to pluck me from the obscurity of blogging….

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    • You Brits have a funny way of speaking English. Not American at all! Still I see the same discussion taking place in the U.S. of those who do not actually work for a living but live off the dole. The truth lies somewhere in between the two viewpoints. With robot and robotics taking more and more jobs, it seems to me that we could idle away our lives while robots do the work for us. But that would be in a perfect world, wouldn’t it?

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      • We speak English proper over here.

        The machines now account for roughly 50% of all tickets. Phone apps will be taking a larger chunk too, moving forwards. But there’s still benefit to having a human presence at stations. Besides keeping the machines in service, there will be for a long time to come a section of the population who are machine averse. There are other tasks that need to be performed. And from the POV of society, it’s best to have the population in work.

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  2. norm says:

    If I were the current dictator, I’d slap a 15% tariff on everything crossing the border. An amount that matched my Social Security deduction. Everyone who works for wages in the US pays 15% off the top, before income tax, up to earnings of a little more than a hundred grand USD. Everything coming across the border for sale would be taxed; I would encourage my fellow dictators to do the same, reciprocity, you know.

    When I was making steel, my firm’s wage nut was about 18%. Their interest charges were over 40% of costs-rolling mills run upward of 50 million USD, that’s a big nut. The wages are something that is fungible, hence the union. The machine bill is the only reason the firm is still profitable. The union as least our union never balked at losing union jobs on the altar of increased productivity .

    The steel we processed came from Holland. We were never able to buy the quality we needed from American firms. The American firms were using the good stuff to keep their finishing mills running. You only get so much high quality steel out of every pour. The Dutch supplier was a sister firm of my firm so it was an inhouse deal, just what the American firms were doing with their best steel.

    I think there is a place in our world for tariffs but they need to be across the board like a VAT tax.

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    • There’s nothing, in principle, wrong with tariffs. And trade has to benefit all sides, although in a global world you just need to make sure that if you lose some, you also win some. But tariffs are best arranged around a table, with open dialogue to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

      The changing world economy has seen a lot of jobs move from west to east. A historian might comment that these are jobs that have simply been repatriated. But it’s also seen a lot of people come out of poverty into consumerism. Which is good for everyone. Or should be.

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  3. norm says:

    I sat with a friend from school today. He teaches a course on International law at the local university, his question on China was: What will they do when someone along the new”silk road” decides to put up a toll booth or even worse, shuts it down? What is going to happen when the next downturn comes along and those soft power recipients decide they can’t pay their nut? What happens when the pork barrel projects become a drag on growth? Imperialism has its cost, as the west will testify to, that was kind of the answer. Will China be willing to pay that cost? Always another question…
    India has gone the slow route to prosperity compared to China but in the long run its method should prove more stable.

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    • UK debt stands at £1.8 trillion. Which is enormous. We’ve gone from having a debt around 30% of GDP in 2001 to 85%. And yet Chinese debt is so vast that just the margin of error when working it out, so I’ve read, is greater than UK debt. I know their economy is bigger. But still. It’s a problem that will be met somewhere down the road. Possibly that Silk road…

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  4. Here’s the real problem. There is a segment of the population that’s below average in intelligence. Combine that with below average diligence and other characteristics to get along, add some smart machinery and suddenly those people simply can’t add value to modern production processes. In the past, there was a need for even low human intelligence to do repetitive tasks that machines could not do. Now that machines have advanced so much, what do you do with the people?

    Norm is onto the fact that you need to do something with them. And I’d argue that some kind of make-work is better than paying people to be idle. But society (at least in the USA) has yet to come to grips with this essential problem.

    Meanwhile, while well intentioned, things like minimum wage laws only make the problem worse by pricing idiots out of the labor market.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where the streets are full of such unemployable people. Sad!

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    • I agree, but I do think technology is replacing manpower with a broader brush. Highly skilled craftsmen, bankers and salesmen have all seen their jobs go. My ‘investigation’ also revealed that there was once such a job as a knocker-upper, which was knocked on the head when the alarm clock was invented.

      The minimum wage can make life tougher for businesses that recruit from the bottom and live on the edge. But surely, the subsidisation of labourers by the taxpayer on behalf of business through benefits is a bigger issue?

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