Automation - Good or Evil?

Automation - Good or Evil?

It seems to me that every innovation that comes along heralds in a new age of possibility and a new age of problems.

 

Just like the start of the industrial revolution, which spawned the Luddites of yore, these developments threaten existing jobs and ways of life. They are usually seen as a bad thing but gradually we adjust to them. The old ways never survive. Once the new age comes in the old is shunted out.

 

We saw this with the new machines of the industrial age that threw people out of work and ripped apart communities that had existed for centuries. No longer were masses of labour required to farm the land; machines could do the work more efficiently. The workers poured into the cities and ended up slaves to machines in the factories. Trains, trams, cars, diesel engine ships and planes replaced the horse and cart and old wooden clippers. The world changed.

 

We’ve recently seen it with IT which was meant to lessen our load.

 

We are now seeing it again with globalization and automation. We are seeing it with the death of the old industries of coal, steel, oil and dirty power production.

 

We no longer need a huge workforce. Robots are more efficient and productive. The profits are greater.

 

So is that a good thing or a bad thing?

 

To me that depends on how it is done.

 

If the workforce is simply dumped and the profits siphoned off into the pockets of a wealthy elite then it is terrible.

 

If the profits are used for the good of society it could be wonderful. The workforce could be retrained to do all those vital jobs that cannot be carried out by robots – nursing, medicine, teaching, social care, plumbing, electricians, IT technicians – everyone could have a three day week on the same pay which could give them a better quality of life.

 

To me we can either embrace the changes and demand that the wealth is used wisely for a better quality life or we can fight it and lose – and see the rich and wealthy walk off with the spoils while everyone else is thrown on the scrapheap.

 

What do you think?

Comments

opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 10:45am
This could be a real boon for everyone or it could mean even greater misery for most people and lead to inequality the like of which we have never seen.
Billy Roper Added Nov 16, 2017 - 10:51am
The Japanese have used automation to their benefit. Instead of importing cheap foreign labor, they chose to preserve their people and culture by using technology, instead. You have to respect that about them.
opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 12:14pm
Billy - the Japanese seem to have a highly educated and orderly culture. They seem to have a good standard of living and wise use of technology. Hopefully we will all find a way forward on the same lines.
Mike Haluska Added Nov 16, 2017 - 12:54pm
Automation - like every other invention of humans is not intrinsically "good" or "bad".  It is simply a tool, and tools make excellent slaves and terrible masters.  If you haven't already seen it, do yourself a favor and watch the SyFy version of "Battlestar Galactica" - it is the best TV series EVER and deals with the impact of technology run amuck in an intelligent manner.
 
At the show's beginning episode, the main character (Captain Adama played brilliantly by Edward James Olmos) addresses dignitaries at the Battlestar Galactica's Decommissioning Ceremony:
 
"The Cylon War is long over, yet we must not forget the reasons why so many sacrificed so much in the cause of freedom. The cost of wearing the uniform can be high ... [after looking at crowd] but sometimes it's too high. You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question, why? Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we've done. Like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore."
 
 
opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 1:01pm
Mike - I agree. There is nothing inherently good or evil about it. I just hope we use it to make things better, not worse.
Dave Volek Added Nov 16, 2017 - 1:35pm
There's a growing social movement for a Guaranteed Basic Income. One of the reasons is that many workers are not going to make the transition from low technology jobs to high technology very well. And, for whatever reason, many citizens will not be educated enough to handle the new kinds of jobs coming up in this new technology. This is a social-economic trend that must be dealt with.
 
In order to appease this large sector of "unemployables" so they don't take to mass street protest or petty crime, the state is going to have pay them a small stipend.  A GBI will be more efficient than a myriad bureaucratic social programs.
 
I realize that a few WB contributors would like to inflict their heaps of scorn on me: socialist, communist, tax-the-wealthiest, immoral, etc. etc. Rather than call me names, I would be interested in their solutions for when the new technology throws people out of work.
 
In ten years, the restaurant industry will no longer have waiters to take orders. Customers punch in their order on a tablet-menu, which gets sent to the kitchen. Cooks cook it. Wait staff bring it out. But this system will require a lot less wait staff. Maybe 1/3 as before. Where will those waiters go?
 
 
 
 
George N Romey Added Nov 16, 2017 - 1:53pm
Neither the public or the private sector wants to deal with the side impacts of technology other than send more people to the already crowded welfare line. In 1933 40 hours became the standard for the work week. Nearly 85 years later it still is. Yet are we using telephones from the 1930s? Technology could be one of the biggest booms for mankind but the corporate and financial elite along with help from  politicians will make it so technology will enrich the rich and financially kill everyone else.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Nov 16, 2017 - 3:34pm
Evil. Not everybody can handle too much free time creatively. Many turn to stupid couch potatoes or  to drugs and alcohol. Especially when they're not well off financially.
opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 5:12pm
Dave - I think you are right about a guaranteed income. If we can get to a shorter working week and better leisure facilities I think it could be beneficial.
opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 5:14pm
George - you highlight the big danger. If this is handled badly the rich will just get richer and everyone else will be living in austerity. If it is handled better we could see a vast improvement in social services and care.
Inequality is already so bad and people are so angry. If they are not careful they'll have a revolution.
opher goodwin Added Nov 16, 2017 - 5:16pm
Stone - I think as Dave said - a guaranteed income would give people money to spend on leisure. A shorter working week and a better educated population with more emphasis on creativity and the caring services could see a fairer, nicer society.
Jeff Jackson Added Nov 16, 2017 - 9:50pm
Opher, in the 1980s GM converted to a lot of robots. At the end of the production run, they had millions of dollars in robots that they couldn't use. One of the union reps asked Mr. Smith how many cars those robots were going to buy.
Tamara Wilhite Added Nov 16, 2017 - 10:21pm
AI used to censor comments, content uploads and social media sharing is the automation of systematic oppression of viewpoints. That is a negative.
 
Too many people think machines are only neutral, ignoring the biases of their programmers from the code as written to the liberally biased data sets selected for AI training, so we get systematically suppressed and herded toward the "approved" channels.
 
Censorship on Youtube is but one example.
The Methods and Layers of Censorship on YouTube
 
Bill H. Added Nov 16, 2017 - 11:50pm
If we were the ones producing the technology, then it would be a good thing. Seems that most of it is now engineered and produced offshore, which eliminates jobs here in the US. It is also used to eliminate even more jobs when it is finally implemented. I believe most of the robots being used to eliminate US jobs are manufactured in China. I suspect that many of the people maintaining and upgrading the robots are also offshore.
A local supermarket chain is rumored to be in the process of testing technology that will replace all of the checkers in the near future. I kinda like chatting with the people at the check stand, so I will miss them. Especially one older lady that has been with the market for over 45 years. The local cable company wants to implement drones to look for signal leakage on their system. There goes at least 4 employees.
Michael B. Added Nov 17, 2017 - 12:38am
From what I've seen, nations that are full of people who have nothing better to do and have nothing to lose are nothing but trouble. The only viable solution is for the human population to STOP FUCKING GROWING! Of course, most of us live to fuck, so we should consider our fate completely sealed, lol.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 3:30am
Jeff - versatility in new robots should ensure that they don't become redundant. It seems to me that automation is inevitable. What remains to be seen is how the productivity bonanza is going to be handled. At the moment all the gains go straight into a few pockets and people are simply dumped.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 3:32am
Tamara - thanks for highlighting an inherent danger. There is always that greater risk of us being censored and controlled.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 4:01am
Bill H - There is no doubt in my mind that there are going to be huge job losses. There will be some gains with building, operating and maintaining robots but not many in comparison.
That is a bad thing.
It could be a good thing if -
a. The increased profits are pumped into better public services
b. The jobs are shared out so that everyone gets one
c. We have a guaranteed basic wage
d. We go to a three day week
e. We retrain people into creative or caring professions
 
But I suspect the increased profits will be straight into the pockets of the wealthy, people will be dumped and live in poverty and inequality will grow obscenely.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 4:04am
Michael - I agree. There are far too many people. We need to reduce from 7.6 Billion to 3 Billion. The number of people we presently have are trashing the planet, the pollution and environmental destruction is appalling and the poverty is horrendous.
But while we have this capitalist mantra of growth I can't see us dealing with it. They want a nice bunch of consumers and a cheap labour force.
Phil Greenough Added Nov 17, 2017 - 6:34am
We no longer need a huge workforce. Robots are more efficient and productive. 
 
More people are working today than ever before and there is a lot more automation than ever before.  What I just said applies to every country and the world as a whole. 
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 7:53am
Phil - that is true. But the quality of that work is not good is it? It tends to be low pay, low skill, temporary or insecure. What we really need is a better paid workforce carrying out more skilled work and the mundane tasks carried out by robots I would suggest.
Phil Greenough Added Nov 17, 2017 - 8:19am
Thanks to all that automation of menial tasks, today's humans are doing far more heady work than humans of the past. For that work we are earning more than ever before.  What I just said applies to every country and the world as a whole.
Dino Manalis Added Nov 17, 2017 - 8:38am
Automation is both good and bad and even supposedly unskilled workers have to learn technology for personal use.  Automation allows for quicker more efficient work and there's no going back, but that's why we need to prioritize consumer and employer interests before labor conditions improve, otherwise, employers would be prompted to invest in machinery and save money long term.
George N Romey Added Nov 17, 2017 - 8:40am
Other as long as companies are using cash to repurchase stock and not invest in R&D there won’t be demand for better skills. Also how do we retrain a workforce that has 1980s skills? As it stands now I see little motivation in the private sector to retool workers.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 11:25am
Phil - not the experience over here in the UK. Lots of zero hours contracts, lots of people belting around delivering things on low pay, lots of stuffing shelves, serving food, delivering food, packing and distributing. Lots of surveillance, security and menial tasks. Big cuts in nurses, doctors and teachers. Where are all these great jobs?
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 11:27am
Dino - I agree that there is no going back. The worry is that all that will happen is that people are laid off and put into low pay work with no security and the profits are all pocketed and sent offshore.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 11:28am
George - that is why I think we need government involvement to set out the rules, regulate and tax. If we don't the rich will just scam everyone.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Nov 17, 2017 - 2:15pm
"It seems to me that every innovation that comes along heralds in a new age of possibility and a new age of problems."
 
It seems to me that every innovation that comes along heralds in a new age of possibility and a new round of new jobs and growth.
 
The negative innovations seem to come from our phony government:
 
busing
high taxes
Affordable HC that is too expensive to own. 
Laws some 40 ft thick
government mandates. 
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Nov 17, 2017 - 2:17pm
George Romney
 
"Other as long as companies are using cash to repurchase stock and not invest in R&D there won’t be demand for better skills. "
 
Corporations have other avenues to place capital such as in acquisitions, mergers and efficiency streamlining. Your two choices are limiting and do not describe the scope of investing or running a corporation.
 
an Ex CEO
George N Romey Added Nov 17, 2017 - 2:25pm
And none of those uses increase employment in fact destroys employment. New business formation is down while concentration continues.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Nov 17, 2017 - 2:39pm
"And none of those uses increase employment in fact destroys employment."
 
Acquisitions do not provide new jobs?
 
Increasing efficiency by automation, sophisticated software and seeking advertising help [new jobs there]?
 
Your view is too narrow for business people to pay attention to. 
 
I suppose tax cuts to corporations only push money to the rich too?
The Burghal Hidage Added Nov 17, 2017 - 5:40pm
You are correct that progress of any form is quite often a dual edged sword.  Taking the long view on these things one has to consider some likely scenarios.  I have always been fascinated by Frank Herbert's view of human progression into the future. Though he provides a glimpse at some of the wonders that may come to pass as a result of scientific advances, he also placed a light upon some of the potential negatives. In his future he describes an evolution in which men become slaves of other men with machines. Then the masters end up becoming servants themselves.  It's a frightful vision, but one which seems less and less far fetched as time passes.  We will always wrestle with these questions and their consequences.
 
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 5:58pm
rycK - Thanks for that but I see nothing wrong in progressive taxes. The gross inequality is the basis of much anger and resentment. It needs addressing. And good public services have to be paid for and affect the quality of life and happiness for most people. I'd rather live in a high tax country with great public services and quality of life than a low tax country with huge inequality and a dog eat dog approach.
What government mandates do you refer to?
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 6:01pm
TBH - it seems to me that it is always better to grasp the nettle and sort out the ground rules at the beginning rather than allow the innovation to grow and then try to sort it out.
Automation could be a great boon or a complete disaster. It depends how it is played.
Leroy Added Nov 17, 2017 - 6:23pm
"The only viable solution is for the human population to STOP FUCKING GROWING! Of course, most of us live to fuck, so we should consider our fate completely sealed, lol. "
 
With the advent of sex robots, maybe our fate is not completely sealed.
 
But, I suspect some idiot to come along and give them rights.  Men will be charged with harassing and raping their robots.  Then we will all be fucked.
opher goodwin Added Nov 17, 2017 - 6:35pm
Leroy - including the robots!!
But perhaps you are on to something! Perhaps the extremely proficient sex robots are the answer to the world's insane overpopulation. If they can be programmed to do it better than the real thing who knows?
A. Jones Added Nov 17, 2017 - 7:32pm
The workers poured into the cities and ended up slaves to machines in the factories.
 
Workers left farms voluntarily and sought work in factories for two main reasons: wages were higher in manufacturing than in agriculture; and factory work was safer than farm work.
 
Farming is a very dangerous occupation.
A. Jones Added Nov 17, 2017 - 7:35pm
Automation could be a great boon or a complete disaster. It depends how it is played.
 
Please cite one example in which automation was a complete disaster.
 
A. Jones Added Nov 17, 2017 - 7:41pm
I would be interested in their solutions for when the new technology throws people out of work.
 
Implement no laws that impede the free flow of labor and capital.
 
Allow private insurance companies to create risk pools for potential unemployment. 
Bill H. Added Nov 17, 2017 - 9:12pm
 
When sex robots are fitted with reproductive organs, the population problem will continue. Now we will have Humanoids to deal with.
Leroy Added Nov 17, 2017 - 10:22pm
The Chinese recently made the first successful head transplant, so maybe a womb transplant to humanoids isn't so far fetched.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 17, 2017 - 11:37pm
@Leroy "










Head Transplant Surgery Has Success in China | Time





















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opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:13am
A. Jones - the other factor was the mechanisation of farm work.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:17am
A. Jones - I think it could be considered a complete disaster for the displaced workers who could no longer find work, for the deskilled who were suddenly redundant, for the little kids and women who were pressed into service to operate machinery in the factories. The ones who starved, were forced into prostitution or maimed by the terrible lack of health and safety; they might not have found automation that good.
There are always winners and losers. It isn't all about the big economic picture. That merely puts more money in the pockets of the wealthy.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:20am
A. Jones - no - I disagree. Governments are in charge of education and retraining, investment and encouragement of industry, public services (Education, Health, infrastructure, Social Services, Armed Forces, Policing) and an overall plan. It is up to them to create a fair progressive tax system to prevent runaway inequality and to create a society that is fair and caring.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:22am
Bill H - No I think Leroy might be on to something. I'm sure there would be many men and women who would be happier with a responsive and compliant machine rather than a real partner. It could solve the population problem. Great. Bring it on.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:24am
Leroy/Bill H - there is a danger that intelligent machines might decide to take over and dump crazy cruel destructive inefficient humans. Who would blame them?
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:25am
Leroy/Dr G - I haven't heard anything about a successful head transplant. How is that possible?
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:29am
@Opher, please delete my previous response.
 
"The Chinese recently made the first successful head transplant, so maybe a womb transplant to humanoids isn't so far fetched." Leroy
 
That is where we are going. The problem is memory transplantation might not be possible. This is the link. Is it true?
 
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 7:19am
Dr RG - I can't believe that is really true. They do not know how to connect nerves to start with and the blood supply would be almost impossible.
Neil Lock Added Nov 18, 2017 - 7:25am
Opher: My take is that past waves of automation have been, once the dust has settled, generally a good thing rather than a bad. I see no reason why that shouldn't be so with robots too. Yes, there will be teething troubles. And yes, there will be political players seeking to misuse the new technology (like they have done with computers - intercepting our e-mails and monitoring every keystroke on sites like this - as well as with every development there has ever been in weaponry).
 
Increased leisure, if it happens that way, will be a great thing for those who can use it wisely. That some can't use it wisely is no good argument for denying it to those who can. More likely, though, I think that new kinds of jobs will open up, as happened with the Industrial Revolution and with computers.
 
Surely, there will need to be significant changes in other areas too. For a start, education systems will need a complete re-jig. Even the philosophy of education will need to change, as it becomes normal for people to go back every few years for re-training in new skills. And there will need to be big changes in energy too - and I don't mean towards dead-end "green" technologies.
 
But what concerns me about this talk of "guaranteed basic income" and the like is that it would only make worse the current iniquitous system. It wouldn't be the political class and their rich cronies that pay for these benefits; no, not at all. It would actually be the shrinking pool of the most productive people who would be screwed and forced to do the paying. The rich would get richer, the politicians would congratulate themselves on what a good job they are doing, those unable to find work would get some minimal support - but I think that the productive, honest, independent minded people would find themselves working as if on a treadmill, for little more than the minimum reward.
John Minehan Added Nov 18, 2017 - 7:53am
To answer your question: Yes.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 18, 2017 - 8:53am
@Leroy, you stated:'The Chinese recently made the first successful head transplant, so maybe a womb transplant to humanoids isn't so far fetched."
Must be careful of not becoming the victim or propagator of fake news.  Below is what was done. 
First Human Head Transplant Successfully Performed on Corpse, Sergio Canavero Announces
Leroy Added Nov 18, 2017 - 11:48am
Yes, Dr. Rupert, it was on a corpse.  If it can be done anywhere on a live body, it will be done in China where they have ready access to "donors."  Don't mean to sidetrack the article but Falun Gong members already provide a ready source for fresh organs for transplant that meet your precise needs.  Just tell them what you want, and they will go out and find a willing "donor."  With enough donors and surgeries, I am confident that they will eventually get it right.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Nov 18, 2017 - 12:27pm
The notion that the machines could take over has been beat to death in science fiction. A rational scenario for such an occurrence soars beyond reason given our current state of science. 
Bill H. Added Nov 18, 2017 - 12:36pm
Opher - You are correct. Our machines and AI are based on logic and may end up coming to the conclusion that their makers do not always operate on the principles of logic. Their next move may be to eliminate us, as has been depicted in some sci-fi movies in the past. There has been testing and possible actual use of antipersonnel lasers mounted on drones that are programmed simply to recognize the infrared signature of a human being as the target. I wonder if they can decide which side their target is on? I don't think so at this point. Maybe every soldier will need to be equipped with a I.F.F. (Identification, Friend or Foe) transponder. Imagine if an advanced version of this type of weapon decided on it's own that all humans required elimination?
George N Romey Added Nov 18, 2017 - 12:56pm
The automation of the 21st century will eliminate the human element not just replace it as in the Industrial Revolution. It will be on all levels from Wall Street traders to janitors. The investor and owner class will greatly benefit.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 1:10pm
Neil - thanks for your observations - very pertinent. However I do think it is the rich who need to pay for the minimum income. Automation will be putting huge amounts of wealth in their pockets. Only a progressive tax system will curtail the massive inequalities that will inevitably ensue.
The big question will be what to do with our huge redundant populations? Only a small number will be needed.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 3:32pm
John - what was the question to which the answer was yes?
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 3:34pm
Leroy/Dr G - I am confident I could do a head transplant on a corpse.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 3:37pm
rycK - the article was not really about machines taking over; it was more about people being displaced by automation and the way the world will change.
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 3:39pm
Bill H - the scenario you portray is one that Stephen Hawking thought was a possibility that we should be concerned with. Who am I to argue?
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 3:42pm
George - it is already happening. Wall street is now trading with machines that operate on nanoseconds, illnesses are being assessed by AI, surgeries are being performed, cars are being driven, food is being served, drones operate in the battlefields. The need for people is being drastically reduced.
John Minehan Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:19pm
"John - what was the question to which the answer was yes?"
 
"Automation - Good or Evil?"  Yes. 
opher goodwin Added Nov 18, 2017 - 4:38pm
OK - I get it.
Michael B. Added Nov 18, 2017 - 6:35pm
I think society, if it survives long enough, will become a Matrix-like world, were people are essentially networked cyborgs. I've met some people at work that were very cyborg-like. As a matter of fact, I've said only half-jokingly that I've had more intellectually-stimulating and emotionally-satisfying conversations with my espresso maker than with many people I've talked to. Maybe there's something to this after all, lol.
John Minehan Added Nov 18, 2017 - 7:19pm
Yeah, but espresso makers tend to be a bit hyper . . . .
opher goodwin Added Nov 19, 2017 - 4:10am
Michael - the way work is run, overly bureaucratic, driven, prescriptive, target orientated - has made a drudgery out of it. It is a treadmill that saps the mind.
opher goodwin Added Nov 19, 2017 - 4:11am
John - LOL.
Neil Lock Added Nov 19, 2017 - 5:00am
Opher: A tax system, progressive or otherwise, is quite the opposite of what is needed to bring poor people out of poverty. All tax systems take from the politically poor, and give to the politically rich - the government, the political ruling class and their cronies. The more progressive the taxes - and particularly taxes on income - the more conservative and inhibiting the results will be.
 
As to "redundant" populations, what those people do is their decision, not mine or yours. I like to think that forward thinking people will be opening up new industries and ways of doing things, and these people will join those new industries.
 
Oh, and you're right on the money with what you say to Michael about the way work is run. That way of doing things is characteristic of big organizations; and those organizations, like the dinosaurs, have to go. What we see now is that the smaller the company, the less bad things are for those who work in them. That's why the politicians hate small companies and are trying to tax us out of existence.
opher goodwin Added Nov 19, 2017 - 10:09am
Neil - so how would you propose to solve the growing inequality if not by progressive taxation? Or provide for the needs of the population? - To pay for quality education, health care, policing, defence, welfare? - When less of the population are in good jobs and more of the wealth is flowing straight into the pockets of a tiny minority?
What happens to those redundant people is precisely our responsibility. It is the work of government to organise society to provide for its people. It is incumbent on us to elect responsible government who will create a pleasant society to live in through making responsible decisions. Hence we need to have a clear vision of that future society and work towards electing people that will bring that vision to fruition.