The rise of the robots 3

“Drones have become America’s weapon of choice, the driverless car is now a reality.”

This is from the FT:

With each month, the US economy becomes steadily more automated. In January the US economy added just 4,000 manufacturing jobs, and the net increase since July is zero. Yet last month, manufacturing activity rose by its fastest rate since April, according to the Institute for Supply Management. The difference boils down to robots, which pose an increasingly nagging paradox: the more there are, the better for overall growth (since they boost productivity); yet the worse things become for the middle class. US median income has fallen in each of the last five years. …

Change is speeding up. Manufacturing employment is shrinking around the world. Among other countries, China is moving even faster towards industrial robotics, an area in which German and Japanese manufacturers dominate. Last year Foxconn, the Shenzhen-based assembler for Apple, Nokia and others, said it was buying 1m robots in the next three years to substitute for workers performing repetitive manual tasks. At the other end of the spectrum, a restaurant in Harbin, northern China, last year became the first to be entirely waited on by robots. …

The effects of technology are only just beginning to be felt in education and healthcare – the two most labour-intensive areas of the US economy that both suffer from productivity stagnation. Online education is beginning to spread. It is also meeting resistance. “The reactionaries in the faculties will eventually be grandfathered out,” says Tyler Cowen, co-founder of the Marginal Revolution University, which has pioneered free online learning in economics and other subjects. “We’ll still need Harvard as a dating service,” he jokes. “But the mid-level private universities do not know what is about to hit them.”

Even in healthcare, which reliably added jobs when every other sector was shedding them, technology is starting to look labour-saving. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued a patent to RP-Vita, the first “human interacting autonomous robot” for hospitals. …

But the spread of the robots will leave a large and growing chunk of the US labour force in the lurch. In their excellent primer, Race Against The Machine , Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee point out that in the contest between changing technology and education, the former is winning. Too few Americans are prepared. Some, such as Mr Cowen, fear many never will be. He believes the federal government should pay a basic guaranteed income to all Americans – a despairing view that accepts there will be permanent losers.

The machines will do the work, produce everything, and the central government will distribute the goods (“equally”) to the people, and so have total control over the population. That’s the new socialist vision.

It replaces the old socialist vision. Friedrich Engels, the capitalist who kept Karl Marx, wrote (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific): “The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a State. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not ‘abolished’. It dies out.”

It doesn’t, it wouldn’t, it won’t, of course.

However, our view is: let machines do everything inventors can make them do. Fight wars. Drive us about safely. Manufacture everything. Wait tables …. People  will be set free to do other things. And they will. There’s no need to make a plan for them.

  • Gregory nearing

    i hope robots don’t limit jobs in the future.

  • liz

    Couldn’t the loss of jobs in the last five years also be attributed to the overzealous regulation and banning of productive activity perpetrated by those who’ve been running things during that time?
    And even if robots have taken over alot of jobs, the same thing happened during the Industrial revolution and we recovered from that just fine.
    It’s not as if there are no alternatives, but in the minds of Statists, there is always only ONE alternative to anything – the State.
    As with Islamist a**hole Keith Ellison saying that Phil Mickelson’s tax rate is fair compared to the alternative (as if it’s the ONLY alternative) of starving the poor, etc.
    And of course our only salvation from “global warming” is for the government to regulate everything out of existence, and send us back into the Stone Age where we’ll all live happily ever after.

  • rogerinflorida

    This is a fascinating subject. I have designed and commissioned many robotic and other manufacturing and infrastructure automation systems over the years, I have looked at these projects as works of art rather than grubby artisan-ship.
    However there is a side effect; the loss of manufacturing/distribution jobs has resulted in many people being permanently displaced from employment. Certainly some, perhaps most of the people so displaced will find paid work of some sort, but many will not. This is going to be a significant societal problem that so far seems to me to have been ignored. The growth of gangs and the associated criminal activity is one manifestation, another is the increasing problem of poverty amongst the aged. Failure to study, to prepare and to save is certainly a cause, nonetheless, there are some hard choices coming. David Goldman has talked of an “Economic Tsunami” engulfing the US populace, I believe him.