Tag Archives: Automation

‘Automation anxiety’ in the information age

Over the weekend, Mike Allen at Axios.com had a Special report: How the robot revolution is changing our lives:

We’re entering a new, robot-fueled tech boom that is already disrupting the world’s balance of power, and is changing how we fight wars, stay alive, drive, work, shop and do chores.

The future is now: We keep talking about what’s coming, but we’re already on the leading edge of a profound global change that will create tremendous opportunity for new power and wealth.

In this new age of automation, businesses are frantically installing machines and algorithms that eventually will make them far more efficient — and wipe out jobs and sectors at blinding speed.

  • This has touched off a tech race between the U.S. and China. And the other major economies — the U.K., France and South Korea in particular — are also spending big to own a piece of this future.

The upsides:

  • Manual, back-breaking jobs will go away (this is good only if replaced by better gigs). Far less time will be spent doing menial tasks like driving or cleaning. And your ability to get more of what you want, when you want it, will be greatly enhanced.
  • Health care will be more precise and sophisticated: Medical robots could make surgery more precise, and micro-bots will target the delivery of drugs within the body. Empathetic ones could help care for us as we age. Soft, flexible ones could aid in search and rescue operations.
  • Robots and other autonomous devices will power apps on your phone that advocate for you with doctors; and could cut through government bureaucracy.
  • The next big wow to your house will be smart appliances, especially in your kitchen: Your refrigerator will know its contents and order refills, and will communicate with your oven and dishwasher — to make us even lazier and less essential than we already are.
  • Manuela Veloso of Carnegie Mellon University told Axios that ultimately humans will be in control of how robots operate and the role they play: “These robots did not come from Mars and fall on Earth. They were invented by us and they will continue to be invented by us.”

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Economic disruption and a federal ‘jobs guarantee’

Axios.com regularly publishes reports on how artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and computerization in the information age is eliminating jobs in the way that the industrial age caused economic disruption of the world’s economic order from its agrarian past.

Steve LeVine recently reported this fascinating piece, The coming jobs apocalypse:

Congress and the Trump administration have yet to create a coherent policy response to a widely forecast social and economic tsunami resulting from automation, including the potential for decades of flat wages and joblessness. But cities and regions are starting to act on their own.

What’s happening: In Indianapolis, about 338,000 people are at high risk of automation taking their jobs, according to a new report. In Phoenix, the number is 650,000. In both cases, that’s 35% of the workforce. In northeastern Ohio, about 40,000 workers are at high risk.

In all three places, local officials are attempting to take charge by identifying jobs most at risk, skills most likely to be in great future demand, and how to organize education and industry around a new economy.

  • Their gingerly first steps are a snapshot of how economies throughout the advanced countries will have to respond to an already-underway economic disruption that will be of unknown duration and magnitude.
  • “This is a national trend that is going to play out locally. This is something the country and really the world is facing right now,” said Rachel Korberg of the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the reports covering Phoenix and Indianapolis.

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August jobs report shows weakness

Steve Benen has the monthly jobs report for August. Job numbers fall short of expectations in August:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs in August, which is down from June and July totals, and fell short of expectations. The unemployment rate, while still low, inched up a little to 4.4%.

AugustJobs

In fact, overall, this is not a heartening set of data. The revisions for June and July were both lower, and combined they show a net loss of about 41,000 jobs. (In case you’re curious, the BLS report explained at the outset, “Hurricane Harvey had no discernible effect on the employment and unemployment data for August.”)

All told, if current averages keep up, we’re on track to see the U.S. economy add about 2.1 million jobs this calendar year, which isn’t bad, but which would fall short of last year’s totals. In the first eight months of last year, 1.55 million jobs were created, while in the first eight months of this year, the total is 1.4 million.

Here’s another chart, this one showing monthly job losses/gains in just the private sector since the start of the Great Recession.

AugustPrivate

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(Update) Public policy is failing to address the economic disruption from rapidly advancing technology

Another in a series of posts about the technology tsunami rapidly transforming the labor force.

The Washington Post this week has a couple of interesting reports on jobs affected by the Technology Revolution, and the economic disruption it is having on society.

First, Jef Guo writes at the Wonkblog, We’re so unprepared for the robot apocalypse:

Economists have long argued that automation, not trade, is responsible for the bulk of the six million jobs shed by the manufacturing sector over the last 25 years. Now, they have a put a precise figure on some of the losses.

Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.

The number is stunning on the face of it, and many have interpreted the study as an indictment of technological change — a sign that “robots are winning the race for American jobs” (Clair Cain Miller, The Upshot at The New York Times). But the bigger takeaway is that the nation has been ill-equipped to deal with the upheaval caused by automation.

The researchers estimate that half of the job losses resulted from robots directly replacing workers. The rest of the jobs disappeared from elsewhere in the local community. It seems that after a factory sheds workers, that economic pain reverberates, triggering further unemployment at, say, the grocery store or the neighborhood car dealership.

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New report on automation and A.I. replacing human labor

popsciWhile I was waiting in line to check out at the store, I thumbed through a special edition of Popular Science on the magazine rack. Popular Science – The New Artificial Intelligence.

The New York Times Magazine recently published a feature, The Great A.I. Awakening, about how Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.

Last year there was even a best selling book on the subject by Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future: “As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making ‘good jobs’ obsolete…”

More and more I see news articles appearing on this topic, but our political leaders appear to be entirely unaware, uninformed and unconcerned about rapid advances in technology replacing human labor. They do not even talk about this subject, let alone offer any plans or policies to deal with the economic disruption caused by rapidly advancing technology.

Instead, we just held an election in which Appalachian coal country voted for Donald Trump because he told them that he could bring back 20th Century coal mining jobs that disappeared years ago and are never coming back. It was a cruel hoax for which all of us will now have to suffer the consequences.

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