Monday, July 11, 2011


New research effort:
Last month President Obama traveled to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to unveil a $500 million effort to create advanced robotic technologies needed to help bring manufacturing back to the United States. But lower-cost computer-controlled mechanical arms and hands are only the first step.
So we're hoping to replace Chinese peasants with robots in factories here.  This is going to help unemployed Americans how?


Jim Centrifugal said...

If the robots can make stuff cheap enough to win business back from the Chinese, maybe some of them can be given away at little cost to society in general.

In such a case it costs less than if they are imported.

Bruce Howlett said...

The question will be -- where will the robots be manufactured and who will do the programming / software? Pittsburgh or Shanghai

Even heavily automated auto plants employ a fair number of Americans.

Galen? said...

When replacing Chinese peasants with robots, one is back to square one as it consumes a lot of energy to produce the robots. Energy which is in short supply.

What you can do is to replace the Chinese peasants with American peasants. Otherwise, the energy use will increase.

HalFiore said...

The cingularity proceeds apace.

Greg said...

That's the right question, Stuart. Everyone should be asking it, all the time.

It's a pity that no one in Washington is asking it.

For the first time in a couple of years, I watched one of those 24-hour news channels for half an hour yesterday. The first 15 minutes was four Washington talking heads chatting about the debt ceiling negotiations. The next 10 minutes were an interview with the new head of the IMF. The presenter brought up jobs four times, and only once got any response. Maybe 20 seconds of attention in 15 minutes.

The last five minutes was a piece about a family that had no income apart from food stamps. It seems that there are millions of people in this situation.

I was amazed at the figure given for the food stamp allowance: $97 per month. I don't know if that was per person, or the total for the (single) parent and two children. Even if it was per person, $97 per month is less than $3.25 per day: not far off the commonly used world absolute poverty threshold, $2.25 per person per day.

In the USA, much more than anywhere else in the OECD, jobs are vital for simple survival. Your question ought to be front and center in Washington.

Seth said...

Stuart, I think you're misunderstanding this event. The robots thing is for the benefit of corporate citizens and the Platinum Citizens(tm) who own those corporations. The obsolete Economy Class(tm) citizens will be diverted by the celebrity drop-by from Barry.

Remember: Hope! Change! ... and ... would you like fries with that?

Stephen B. said...

As a mainly libertarian person, I've always pretty much supported businesses and people being free to chose what they want to do for a living, how they do it, along with the power to hire and fire any help they need for their business.

I always thought the Luddite position to be a fairly hopeless one, if for no other reason than it's hard, if not impossible to keep another person from employing some technological advantage for the purpose of economic advancement.

Yet over the past few years I've also seen how the growing use of high technology in this world is rendering more and more people, vocationally obsolete, putting even the sharper workers on a path of constant training and retraining - something very expensive in terms of time and expense. For more and more workers, the amount of training simply becomes impossible to continue and/or produces insufficient returns. Basically put, there are limits to the human intellect, in the aggregate.

Unless resource and energy constraints substantially slow down this march of technology, there is going to be a truly huge pool of underemployed humanity that is going to need to be kept busy and/or entertained *somehow.*

Right now, for better or worse, we have growing entitlement payments that *somewhat* function as a wealth transfer from the very rich (their wealth largely the result of smart thinking and employing much modern technology and/or instant communication and transportation) to the lower mid class and poor.

Even if this transfer could be continued indefinitely, we are seeing the very soul of lower class folks being destroyed by so much idleness and govt. entitlement payments, as seemingly meager as the latter may be on an individual level.

Trying to continue this economic support of the lower classes instead of finding suitable employment for them might prove very difficult in a severely energy-constrained world.

It almost seems as there is indeed a "surplus population" as cold as it is to say so.

How civilization, especially the developed world, deals with this, going forward is going to be very interesting indeed.

KLR said...

Can a Computer Do a Lawyer's Job? - Martin Ford - Business - The Atlantic

For knowledge workers, there is really a double dose of bad news. Not only are their jobs potentially easier to automate than other job types because no investment in mechanical equipment is required; but also, the financial incentive for getting rid of the job is significantly higher. As a result, we can expect that, in the future, automation will fall heavily on knowledge workers and in particular on highly paid workers. In cases where technology is not yet sufficient to automate the job, offshoring is likely to be pursued as a interim solution.

Some other piece I read on this suggested that out of how many lawyers there are in the US - 80k? - some piffling trifle would still be needed - 500? Simply for all the higher order work, which is still decades beyond machine capability. But so much of legal work is just brute force looking up.

That would be disruptive, to say the least - an awful lot of 6 figure incomes being removed from the luxury goods market. The article points out that some of this work has already been outsourced to India, too, where possible.

sharon said...

Precisely the question that occurred to me, too.A very large segment of American citizens is already expendable, and more are going to become expendable in the next few years. That's not just the very old, the very young, the sick, the students, and other "non-productive" members of society. It's anyone whose job can be sent overseas or replaced with a robot or with a computer and the appropriate software. As someone who is approaching the "too old to be of any use" category, I just hope that the government will either hand out free cyanide capsules, or at least make the co-pay not so high that they are out of reach.

TiradeFaction said...

Or the "expendable" populations could organize, rather than taking a "cyanide" pill. If your only alternative is suicide, I'll take the (I'm sure someone will call hopeless) cause of fighting back that nasty reality.

sharon said...

Oh, I'll take it on the steps of the Capitol, to be sure. I won't be going gently into that good night in my bed.

Don said...

"Or the "expendable" populations could organize, rather than taking a "cyanide" pill."

Yes, and TPTB know it too. That is why in their benevolence, they provide a third option, aka FEMA camps.

Regarding Stuart's question i.e. cui bono, even if the machines are not built in the US, they still have to be maintained, housed in buldings with rent paid to US landlords, taxes owing to the US etc.

Further, it seems to me that the biggest cause of job loss is offshoring, rather than technology per se. The big fear of computers was that they would automate thousands out of jobs. They may have, but thousands were created too. Perhaps robots could be similar? Perhaps I am being naive?

TiradeFaction said...

"Yes, and TPTB know it too. That is why in their benevolence, they provide a third option, aka FEMA camps."

Lol, I stopped reading there.

"FEMA camps" are nothing more than the product of Alex Jones's deluded mind.

Oh, but blather on about how I'm a "sheeple".

TechGuy said...

1. What was Employment like before industrialization and recently the rise of the computer age?

2. There may be less jobs in manufacturing, but there will be new jobs created to support automated production. Some one still needs to sell, transport, and repair widgets. Unless I-Robot (the movie) become realty, Automated manufaction will fuel jobs.

3. Might lead to new industries. For instance in the 1920, the electronics industry was nearly non-existant. Today its the dominate employment.

That said, it's not really a significant factor for the future, due to the global financial crisis, declining resources (including, energy, agraculture, and some important raw materials).