The Robots Are Coming….

I have noted previously that the biggest threat to American workers by far is not outsourcing–it’s automation.

Those of you in my (advanced) age group can attest to the changes we’ve seen: we fill our own gas tanks, computers have decimated the ranks of secretaries, ATM’s and remote deposits via our phones have made visiting the bank unnecessary–and on and on.

Some of the things we’ve automated have actually created new jobs. Most have not, however, and the guy who used to fill your gas tank may not have the skillset needed to service ATM’s.

I wrote a lot about the likely consequences of automation in my last book, and I was prompted to revisit that research when I came across an article in Time Magazine about a robot invented to help us cope with the current pandemic.

Conor McGinn is a roboticist and professor at Trinity College Dublin. McGinn and his colleagues at Trinity’s Robotics and Innovation Lab focus on figuring out how robots can best assist aging individuals in care homes.

The signature product from the lab and its spinoff company, Akara Robotics, is Stevie, a 4-foot 7-inch tall social robot whose primary function is alleviating loneliness. In trials in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere, the robot has been programmed to tell stories, call bingo numbers, lead sing-alongs, and other morale- and community-building exercises in a group care setting.

Its team of engineers have also worked closely with care home staff to understand what additional functions could be added to the robot to boost patient safety. In July 2019, well before the first reports of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, the team began exploring whether Stevie might be able to ward off infections too.

After a few false starts–viola!

The team began drawing up plans for a new robot that would combine the navigational features they’d designed for Stevie with a UV-C light. The robot wouldn’t have any anthropomorphic features, but would be designed to work alongside humans. They would call this one Violet…

Violet is one of many robots deployed or soon to be deployed on the front lines of the global outbreak, navigating hospitals and assisting health workers and patients with a very low risk of spreading the infection.

According to the article, new generations of robots are being developed to “navigate high-risk areas and continually work to sterilize all high-touch surfaces.”

Sounds great. But then…..

A study by Ball State University found that just since 2000, nine out of ten manufacturing workers have been replaced by automation.

In 2018, the Pew Research Center asked approximately 1900 experts to opine on the impact of emerging technologies on employment; half of those questioned predicted the displacement of significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers by robots and digital agents. Many also expressed concern over the likely consequences of that quantity of job losses, predicting that displacements will lead to even larger increases in income inequality, masses of people who are unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

An analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted that ten percent of the jobs in advanced economies will be automated, while scholars at Oxford University forecast that 50% of American jobs are at risk. Obviously, no one can say with confidence how many jobs will be lost, or which workers will sustain those losses, but technologies now in development threaten millions.

Think about this: There are 3.5 million professional truckdrivers in the United States, and another 1.7 million Americans drive taxis, Ubers, buses and delivery vans for a living. Self-driving cars, which are currently being road-tested, could put them all in the ranks of the unemployed.

Think skilled workers are immune? The Brookings Institution’s Tech Tank tells us that between 2011 and 2017, Goldman Sachs replaced 600 desk traders with 200 coding engineers. Even medical professionals are at risk: in 2017, Entilic, a medical start-up, reported that its AI algorithm “outperformed four radiologists in detecting and classifying lung modules as either benign or malignant,”

In 2016, the World Economic Forum projected a total loss of 7.1 million jobs to automation, including jobs in advertising, public relations, broadcasting, law, financial services and health care.

It isn’t just the pandemic that is threatening to upend our world–but among its other consequences,  the pandemic may hasten the process.


  1. In my humble view as one of Sheila’s (advanced) age group; I have watched for decades as U.S. automation has outsourced manufacturing, production and actual jobs to other countries whose citizens are willing to work at those jobs for less. We then must import the finished products at much higher costs than had the work been done here by Americans. On the box of the TV I purchased last year, it was proudly stated “ASSEMBLED IN AMERICA”. I keep seeing “Buy American made products” and “buy from small businesses” but where do we find the American made products and where are the small businesses? My father once related to me his idea of entering all information pertaining to criminal trials be computerized and the computer would spit out the decision. Thus, doing away with much of the court system…and attorneys! Of course Dad was a staunch Republican who was a factory worker who retired before his job was replaced by automation.

    Are we really working for and headed to situations such as we saw in the movie “The Day The Earth Stood Still” when Klaatu was brought back to life by a machine which was turned by his robot Gork?

    “It isn’t just the pandemic that is threatening to upend our world–but among its other consequences, the pandemic may hasten the process.”

    Trump has turned public control (who knows what goes on behind closed doors) to Pence; actually it is the responsibility for his failing system which will be laid on Pence and the decisions to be made by Governors of all states. Governors reopening state economy step-by-step seem to think they can gradually win over the current coronavirus as they begin this while numbers of diagnoses and deaths continue to soar…a little slower but still soaring. Maybe these decisions would/could be better left up to automation!


  2. Today’s topic is serious, but at the risk of seeming irreverent, I remember reading a sci-fi story, many years ago, about an inventor who woke up one morning with a bad hangover, to find a robot in his apartment, which, who? mixed something for him to take to get rid of the hangover, and in general, acted like a human butler. At the end of the story, after lots of other things happened, the inventor said aloud, I could use a beer, and the robot got one from the fridge and opened the can perfectly – smooth edges, so the fellow wouldn’t cut himself. Then he remembered that the night before he had invented the robot because he wanted a perfect can opener.

  3. Very scary. I don’t even like voice mail. Imagine when the office voice mail ‘receptionist’ refers us to a robot.

    Automation has its place, but often people get so enamored with it that they forget what humans do better than machines. Receptionists are a case in point. So are computer trouble shooting pages which never have the question I want answered, and it takes 20 minutes to connect with a live person halfway around the world whose English I can barely comprehend but she/he repeats everything I say regardless.

    I grow increasingly distressed that customer service is hardly ever about the service anymore. It’s always about increasing profits so as not to worry about absenteeism, job hopping, unionization, pay increases, and just dealing with humans. Especially if a company is in the business of selling or working with others, they NEED the kind of interaction that helps them relate to live persons. Otherwise, we’ll be left mostly with the people who can build and repair robots that can’t answer all the questions we have.

    The future scares me a lot.

  4. The interesting thing about automation is grounded in an economy focused first and foremost on profit. This profit driven model is based on finding more efficiencies and cost reductions with labor being one of the primary cost in the economy. This profit driven economy exacerbates globalization which of course negatively impacts local economy. Also, an economy driven by consumption and human value tied to consumption, perpetuates this challenge. And, last but not lease, this “profit at all” cost economy exacerbates the most essential crisis of humanity and that’s global climate change.

  5. Danger, Will Robinson! I remember reading a magazine article when I was a kid. The article posited that automation would take over all of the labor, freeing up humans to think. After these past several years on FaceBook, I can confidently state that that probably isn’t a good idea.

  6. When I visited the British Science Museum in London a few years ago, I was struck by the machinery that was invented and used to support the British Empire for a few centuries. One of the machines was one of those “rocking horse” pumps one sees in oil fields extracting crude from deep in the ground. Well, this particular pump was used in the 18th century to extract water seeping into coal mines. Labor intensive bucket brigades were replaced with “modern” technology.

    And so it’s always gone…. We are a clever species, but not necessarily all that smart. We invent stuff to make life easier. Unfortunately, capitalists have stuff invented to increase profits. They DON’T CARE how many jobs are lost if they can replace wage-earners with a machine that won’t complain, ask for raises or go on strike. Now, however, the capital necessary to buy and support many robots is sent, instead, to off-shore banks as tax dodges. The labor-intensive jobs were sent to Asia and Africa so that corporations wouldn’t have to lay out the capital for robots or automation.

    Cynical? You bet. But, as a former industrial engineer who implemented million dollar robotic projects, I watched and listened to corporate level cost accountants give new meaning to the word cynicism. “It’s just what the stockholders want to see.” Or: “We don’t want to have to pay salaries and benefits if we can get a machine to do the work.” Those words, and words like them, have been with capitalism since the industrial revolution began.

    Now, however, there are nearly 8 billion humans – as opposed to barely a billion in 1775. What do we do with all of …. us?

  7. When the first repacked the guy further down the assembly line I said nothing because it didn’t effect my job, when the second robot replaced the guy next to me I again I said nothing because it didn’t effect my job, then when the third robot took my job, there was nobody left to say anything to, the entire line was robots.
    It’s not about robots, it’s about Corporations changing the paradigm, that their commitment is to good products and the people that build them, but to the Share holders that want higher and higher return on their investments. A person requires a livable wage, medical coverage, vacations, 8 hour work days, and retirements. The Robot requires none of those things.
    Greed is the most destructive force in the Global economy. People require care and feeding long term, robots require and initial investment occasional maintenance that’s tax deductible and don’t care about being scrapped at the end of their usefulness.

  8. There will always be automation, look at how the internal combustion engine replaced horses and wagons, airplanes replaced cruise liners, the telephone replaced the telegraph, and along with it all of those nifty delivery people. We can go on and on and on coming up with how automation has replaced human workers, but it will not change/stop.

    Look at some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, they all fear AI. Artificial intelligence runs the risk of becoming self aware to the detriment of its creators. At least that’s what they are saying now! Will that actually happen? I’m sure Nostradamus would have a quatrain on that subject somewhere, or someone would invent one anyway, LOL.

    But this is where the government has to exert some sort of parameters and direction on how automation would replace human workers. Either, automation can enhance life, or, bring to life visions of gloomy disadvantaged society where people scuffle for crumbs, die young, and are unceremoniously dumped.

    The government should let it be known to the manufacturers and anywhere where automation can impact human workers, that there has to be a way to make sure those human workers are taken care of! This could be done, by, taxing the robots! Now the robots can’t pay taxes, but their owners can! Since robots don’t have to take time off for any reason, and they don’t get sick, except if they need a repair person probably another robot. So the money that would be saved paying for healthcare and insurance, along with an agreed-upon taxed wage should go into a pot, a pot that protects those employees that were/Are replaced.

    This money would be untouchable except by those employees who have been replaced. The monies could be put in high-yield accounts or whatever would be available. With a nationalized healthcare system, people could be paid a living wage out of this pot, maybe some could reeducate themselves through a nationalized educational system. Anyway, the corporations would save money because the robots would not miss work, they could work 24 7 365 days a year. After all, all of this increased capacity would have to have consumers at the other end. Otherwise it would all be for naught anyway.

    This would definitely make life a little more enjoyable for a lot of people. After all, this might not be a panacea, but imagine not having to worry about healthcare, or education, or being able to have a roof over your head, or eat! You could jump into a nationalized automated mass transit system, and go anywhere on the continent (World?) without cost. Public Transportation would use the same blueprint as nationalizing health care and our educational system. Who knows what amazing things could be invented with all of these minds out there being able to learn and work without fear.

    Automation could be a good thing, maybe automation could possibly be a panacea, but the AI would have to be limited and controlled. Remember the Terminator!?!?! LOL.

  9. Automation has been with us for a couple of centuries. It shows up in national statistics as an increase in productivity (output per worker). Productivity has slowed over the last few decades, so machines appear to be not replacing workers at a higher rate than in the past.

    However, even with a slower rate of automation, there is a concern with the types of jobs that replace those automated (or globalized). Many firms now outsource functions like janitorial or clerical services even accounting and human resources. This affects people in a number of ways. Pay is often lower, benefits slim and the opportunities to advance (from mail room to C suite) are compromised. Outsourced employees are not members of the same team as permanent employees of the company. The are not “invited to the office party.” I read somewhere that less than half of the “employees” of Google are actually Google employees. The others are at-will, outsourced folks.

    Same applies to many other businesses. Much of our identity is tied up in our work. It’s not always about money. People take pride in their work. “I’m an employee of Lilly.” What happens when you still work at Lilly facilities but are not members of the team, are replaceable at will, with low pay, few benefits with no apparent pathway to advancement? Answer: Trump

  10. I miss having someone fill my tank and wash my windows. I miss the day when someone not only bagged my groceries but took them to my car and unloaded them. In those days it seemed to me that people valued serving their customers more. It also seemed to me that there was a deeper sense of community.

    One of the questions that arises for me with robotics is simply this. How does it affect our carbon foot print? How much does our construction and use of robots affect the environment?

    I watched a Frontline documentary on this and it was evident that corporate leaders who are investing in AI and robotics had little to no concern re its impact on people who would become unemployed. It did not present its audience with the impact AI and robotics have on people of color.

    Future generations will have to struggle with the issue of balancing AI and robotics while ensuring that every person can make a livable wage. Perhaps in the near future governments will have to move toward a guaranteed income for each person. But even beyond that how will those displaced find meaning and purpose? Freud said that the 2 essential sources of meaning for people are love and work.The suicide and addiction rates are up amongst men who cannot provide for their families.

    Will the human race create a world in which robots do almost all of the work while the plutocrats find new ways to engage in recreation? And will it eventually lead to a world with a marked reduction in the # of humans who are on the earth? I wonder if some science fiction author has already envisioned a world in which robots outnumber humans by say 3 to 1. Would it be a dystopia or Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a Star Trek world?

  11. Robin,

    Nice commentary, but one of the most common phrases that is incorrect is the “human race”. A race is defined as a breeding variation within a species. Humans are a species. Our “races” may interbreed to form hybrids just as any plant and animal that have compatible genetic material.

    Sorry. Old science teachers never die. We just continue to be a pain in the ass.

  12. The Seventh Day Adventist ran one of the largest hospital chains in Florida back in my banking days during the early to mid-90s.

    They were extremely shrewd business people. They were already testing AI in the emergency room by entering symptoms and outcomes into a computer with the goal of saving money on unneeded tests for a patient who had a high probability of death.

    As many have touched on, our economic system is not designed for social problems caused by engineers and robotics. It’s driven by revenue and profits.

    In order for us to make our way into the 4th Industrial Revolution, we will need an economic system much different than the one we have today.

    Sadly, the USA and all its satellite regime operations have been moving in the wrong direction for decades. The people through its institutions must be served by technology — not replaced.

    Machines and robots are more efficient and productive than humans, so society (all of us) should benefit from these increases in productivity. Instead, as worker’s productivity has grown over several decades, wages have remained flat and all the gains have gone to CEOs and shareholders. And, for some reason, the workers have accepted this Neoliberal movement.

    We as a society need to change the economic structure of our country. As we pay attention during this pandemic, neither our economic system nor our government (institutions) serves the working classes. Quite the contrary.

  13. Gee, maybe if our labor policies didn’t focus on perpetuating serfdom, and we weren’t letting special interests quash emerging industries (see Indiana and home-use solar technology), automation wouldn’t be so ominous.

  14. I work in IT and we have looked at automating our text and chat responses to free up our employees to focus on the probable sales. We looked at simple work flows that provide a set response to different questions and answers so the conversation feels like you are chatting with a human. You have probably interacted with these chat bots without even realizing it. This industry is moving towards AI where instead of a set work flow with scripted responses the algorithm would learn within set parameters to have a more interactive and natural conversation with the goal of increasing sales and reducing the need for customer service employees. It is highly likely that a chat bot designed to reach out to multiple companies to get information in order to buy products informative has had a conversation with a sales chat bot without a human ever being aware.

  15. I am writing from memory about books I read a long time ago. You can make an argument based on Freudian principles, that work results because of the repression of libido. Herbert Marcuse made this argument and combined it with Marxism. He posited that as the need for human work diminished, so would the need for repression. This would result in changes in both the structure of society as the relation of the owners of capital and workers changed, and sexual behavior. He didn’t actually say “If it feels good, do it” but many took away this interpretation.
    Eric Fromm, took a different view. To him, “sanity” was evidenced by the ability to “work and love.” In other words, that that work fulfills a basic human need.
    To me, they may both be right. What does that mean for our Society? We are not all above average in skills. For most of us, our well being rests with our ability to exchange work for income. If the limits of your skills is to put nut A on bolt B, automation is a fundamental challenge to your livelihood. How do we address the problem of the linkage of work to income? One way would be to organize along the lines of the Navy. In the Navy there is a career path for people of almost every level of ability. If the best you can do is paint and tie knots, there is a job reserved for you with a clear advancement path and a method to improve your pay. There is also lifetime health care, good food, housing, and a retirement program. (Yes, I have read “Brave New World” and may be I am suggesting organizing as Alphas, Betas, etc.)
    Another way is guaranteed basic income. I find that less attractive. Taking Fromm’s analysis into account, I don’t see that most people would be satisfied just sitting at home and drawing a check. I don’t think it would be healthy either.
    So to me the narrow concerns over automation leading to lost jobs is the tip of iceberg. The real problem is that the gains from increases in productivity are being exclusively directed to the upper levels of society with little concern about the impact on the rest of us. The “radical” idea is that these gains should redistributed more “fairly.” But then again I always was a pointy head pinko commie.

  16. computer trucks.have a driver just in case,it fails.hes reading a best seller,and,,,the insurance industry has made profit on everything,even this will maintain profit. though it seems a future of,but no computer can determine the thinking of another driver. in the land of dire needs for infrastructure repair,building,etc, this is a chos type of issue.we are far from ready for it. the tech industry can play all the tech games they want,but inless we go to complete roadways of this type of vehicle,there will only be accidents.road rage at a vehicle programed for the speed limit,yea, bumper cars… we are too independant in our sightless driving already.. but then again, if the insurance industry and tech demand their way,then all will follow. imagine,no road rage..
    best wishes ,washdapaws

  17. As a wannabe labor economist, I found the commentary of Robin and Todd engaging. I have written many times on how this invasion of the robots will work out given our capitalist society’s rules, centering on how we defeat the Protestant rule of ” no work – no eat” when there are so few jobs available. Something has to give when the day of reckoning arrives, and I have postulated that if we think “welfare” is bad now, just wait, because our current economic system will have to become more socialistic if humanity is to survive. How do we fault those lazy humans on welfare when there are few if any jobs available to them? Capitalism as now practiced is in for a very new look on just how we are to distribute its wealth and profits.

    As to the limits of what we can teach robots to do, I recall reading a few years ago that Silicon Valley is now teaching robots emotional intelligence. Apparently psychiatrists will soon be on welfare since the patient need only tell his/her story, push a few buttons and the robot gives such patient advice tailored specifically to his/her problems. This is a far call from Henry Ford’s first assembly line at Willow Run and leads one to wonder what kind of world humans (if any) will inhabit when (inevitably) a post-robot world comes into view. Not to join the science fiction dreamers, but could it be that by such time humans are unnecessary and their dwindling number in zoos for robot viewing? Far out? What’s far out then?

  18. Tim,
    nice try,but as a working class person,ive been through many decades of what still narrows down to self needs and self gratification. though work may seem like a sweat filled room,the compassion to achive everyday,is still important. no matter the think tank genre,it still has a humans touch to it. we didnt develop America and its strength by merely taking another path,to some perceived goal. the goal is still, self gratification. ive worked as a trucker,welder/fitter,hydrolic tech,truck mech,carpenter,millwright..none of them ever had a retirement plan or a decent suits for me,worn jeans and a finger when people drive stupid…

  19. From WIKI:
    On 26 September 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, was the officer on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow which housed the command center of the Soviet early warning satellites, code-named Oko.

    Petrov’s responsibilities included observing the satellite early warning network and notifying his superiors of any impending nuclear missile attack against the Soviet Union. If notification was received from the early warning systems that inbound missiles had been detected, the Soviet Union’s strategy was an immediate and compulsory nuclear counter-attack against the United States (launch on warning), specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

    >> A missile launch was detected by Soviet Computers.

    Petrov considered the detection a computer error, since a first-strike nuclear attack by the United States was likely to involve hundreds of simultaneous missile launches in order to disable any Soviet means of a counterattack.

    Later, the computers identified four additional missiles in the air, all directed towards the Soviet Union. Petrov suspected that the computer system was malfunctioning again, despite having no direct means to confirm this.

    In explaining the factors leading to his decision, Petrov cited his belief and training that any U.S. first strike would be massive, so five missiles seemed an illogical start. In addition, the launch detection system was new and in his view not yet wholly trustworthy, while ground radar had failed to pick up corroborative evidence even after several minutes of the false alarm.

    Luckily for the earth Petrov had what we would call common sense.

    I do not think this idea of self-driving cars or trucks is going to work. The number of decisions that need to be made is mind boggling. Then you might want to think of the Hackers out there. The hackers could be just a troll, or some government entity.

  20. Like so many things the ultimate promise of automation will be difficult to realize because we are individually smart but collectively not so much. One of the consequences of that is that we are terrible at transitions. We know now and can imagine then but stumble all of the time on the trip from here to there.

    We work in order to get paid and the money we make allows us to buy what others make. The goal? Specialization. Otherwise we each would have to make all that we want. If we fully automated the production of what we want we’d only have to pay for the natural resources required and the means of production.

    The transition problem? Now, instead of the benefit of automation going to the displaced workers it goes to those who own the means of production. That’s ok but doesn’t help those who used to make their living doing what the automation does. It could if they were investors rather than workers but we have traditionally not paid such workers enough to have more money than they need so that they could be investors. It’s one of the economic basics of capitalism. The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Wealth redistribution up, relentlessly up.

    Of course we could pay the displaced workers to not work but that goes against our greedy grain. Why should automation engineers have to work to make money and workers get paid not to?

    Again we are individually smart enough to figure out how employ science to reduce the demands of life but collectively not even sustainable apparently.

  21. As a person who worked part of my working career in an industrial setting and then later as a white collar worker, I witnessed machines replacing people. As an example the digital revolution eliminated the filing clerks of paper files and the huge typing pools.

    It was political decisions that led to America’s de-industrialization, like NAFTA and later Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Communist China. Clothing and athletic shoes by the early 1980’s were being made in third world countries. Third world countries where human rights, labor rights or environmental regulations were just words on a piece of paper.

    Today, China dominates so much of our economy, electronics, toys, etc. I recently purchased frozen fish fillets – Product of China was on the label. As a Chicago Cubs fan, I have some Cubs shirts – Made in Vietnam.

    All of this had nothing to do with robots or A.I., it was Steroid Capitalism, seek out the friendly climate where human rights, labor rights and environmental regulations were subservient to Profit.

    Politically, both Republican and Democratic parties at a high level handed over control to the Steroid Capitalists of Wall Street.

  22. Imagine (apologies to J. Lennon) that with increased automation, society suddenly realizes that what can’t be automated is REALLY valuable and ought to be well paid and respected: nurses, teachers, home health care workers….

  23. Monotonous Languor, we already have the least safe driving system conceivable for cars and trucks. It will be relatively easy to improve with modern sensors and computer networks. The one technical obstacle left are high speed communications systems so that two way vehicle to vehicle and to road communications can be realized.

    The one impediment here is that we are now a relatively backwards country so it will be realized probably in Asia, Australia and Europe first.

  24. I remember when we were promised that automation would lead to shorter work weeks and increased leisure. That, of course, would have meant that the financial benefits of automation went to the workers who were now sharing jobs.

    Imhotep summed it up well. Welcome to now.

    I am working in IT these days, and like Andrew, I see a push to automation. At my latest assignment, we were told that “Automation” was the future and that we should device automated solutions to handle our common tasks. They didn’t say that instead of training our low-cost Indian counterparts to replace us, that they were now asking us to build low cost automated software to replace us – and I will note that these are well paid technical support positions, not call centers.

    I am with Robin. I miss the old gas stations. One side effect of self-serve gas that isn’t talked about much anymore is the effects on tires. People rarely check the tire pressure themselves, but that was part of a typical service back in ancient times.

  25. Eventually, we Americans–yes, the masses and the tycoons–will come around to realize that those advances that led to robots doing all the work came as a result of team effort. Everyone had a hand in it. A head in it. A sacrifice in it. Even very lazy people contribute, because laziness is a greater motivation to alleviate labor than is greed. And the natural resources belong equally to all of us.

    There will come a day when capitol is measured in many other ways than mere dollars. Empathy is capitol. It has value to industry every time industry needs the public to be understanding of mistakes. My deciding not to be a murderer or terrorist is positive capitol. Just staying out of the way is capitol. And you’re welcome, North American Rockwell; I did refrain from building a competing aircraft industry.

    Want to know what the scariest thing is to a capitalist? The disappearance of the masses.

    I recommend that Democrats develop strategy and champion unbeatable arguments for equitable sharing of profits and produce of automated economy. Claim those ideas as our own and don’t let Republicans latch onto any of them.

    Here’s one: every US citizen automatically owns a functional amount of equity shares in companies that operate on American soil. Those shares pay certain dividends and comprise the universal basic income.

    Andrew Yang did us a service by setting the UBI ball on the tee.

  26. The discussion about the societal effects of AI are interesting but not new. What is new is that the capital posited by AI is mainly intellectual, not material. Marx and Engels based their economic theory upon ownership of the means of production, which was, in their view, government. In the increasingly automated economic model, the “owner” derives his income not be work but by ownership of the means of production, a kind of entitlement. In previous centuries, a poor man could amass enough money, through his work, to buy property and tools and thus to acquire the means of production, derive an income therefrom, and- MOST critically- to pass along the fruit of a lifetime of his labor to his children. Each generation built upon its predecessor. Interesting is the fact that the most vehement opponents of the federal inheritance tax are successful people of color (who may have started in life dirt-poor) who want to pass along their businesses, valued in excess of the federal valuation exclusion, to their children, but get robbed by the federal government after their respective deaths. The torpedo amidship is that, increasingly, a man cannot amass the capital necessary to create this personal family economic engine. Those who are already on the boat can- but if you aren’t, you have a problem. Your master is not some leering overseer with a bullwhip demanding that you “lift that barge, tote that bale” but rather is simply faceless exclusion. It isn’t that you have to wait your turn in line…. there is no line. The concept of a guaranteed annual income is, ethically, a non-starter, too. Why? Because the underlayment of that concept is a notion that those who have capital income (which the IRS code sneeringly refers to as “unearned income”) , have an obligation to those who do not. In other words, your mere existence on this planet imposes upon me an obligation to care for you. Hooey.

  27. As someone who’s worked in IT my entire life and watching my work with electronic claim replace insurance jobs, and later other work replacing other jobs, I’ve never been able to understand how politicians could promise more jobs. They all did it and they were all lying…or, is it possible they were not aware that technology would replace all the jobs?

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