Automation and labour


in Economics, Geek stuff, History, Politics, Teaching

Arguably for millennia, but certainly since the industrial revolution, technological development has been driving changes in labour practices. This has been accelerated by globalization and automation and is likely speeding up as sensors and artificial intelligence improve and costs fall:

Both for individuals and governments, it’s hard to discern what this means when planning for the labour force of 2050 and beyond, except, perhaps, don’t build careers on anything that is easily automated.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

. February 3, 2017 at 1:46 pm
. February 3, 2017 at 1:57 pm
. February 6, 2017 at 12:35 am

Bill Gates and Elon Musk are sounding the alarm “too aggressively” over artificial intelligence’s potential negative consequences for society, says MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson. The co-author of The Second Machine Age argues it will take at least 30 to 50 years for robots and software to eliminate the need for human laborers. In the meantime, he says, we should be investing in education so that people are prepared for the jobs of the future, and are focused on where they still have an advantage over machines — creativity, empathy, leadership, and teamwork.

. February 9, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Actors, teachers, therapists – think your job is safe from robots? Think again

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, many jobs that weren’t considered ripe for automation suddenly are

. March 28, 2017 at 8:19 pm

Meet Sam: Bricklaying robot that builds walls six times faster than a human could put millions out of work

* The Semi-Automated Mason, nicknamed Sam, can lay 3,000 bricks a day
* Machine’s nozzle covers a brick in concrete before robotic arm puts it in place
* Experts worry that robot’s arrival in UK could threaten jobs in construction

. April 18, 2017 at 3:50 pm

The company has argued that an in-house autonomous driving capability is crucial to its long-term success as a company. “If we are not tied for first” to develop the technology, Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick said last year, “then the person who is in first, or the entity that’s in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber’s, then Uber is no longer a thing.”

In Uber’s stated vision of the future, the only thing that’s important is surviving long enough to fire all its drivers and replace them with robots. And, to a certain extent, the company is right. If another company develops, or licenses, self-driving car technology before Uber’s own in-house product is ready, it will be very easy for them to undercut the company on price – a disaster for a market as sensitive to small differences in cost as cab hire.

. April 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Yet as robots grow more nimble, humans look increasingly vulnerable. A new working paper concludes that, between 1990 and 2007, each industrial robot added per thousand workers reduced employment in America by nearly six workers. Humanity may not be sent out to pasture, but the parallel with horses is still uncomfortably close.

The paper’s authors, Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, are careful to exclude confounding causes as best they can. Their results are not driven by a few robot-intensive regions or industries, and are distinct from the effect of trade with China, or offshoring in general. Increased robot density does not seem to raise employment among any group of workers, even those with university education. Since relatively few industrial robots are in use in the American economy, the total job loss from robotisation has been modest: between 360,000 and 670,000. By comparison, analysis published in 2016 found that trade with China between 1999 and 2011 may have left America with 2m fewer jobs than it would otherwise have had. Yet, if the China trade shock has largely run its course, the robot era is dawning.

Similarly, the financial returns to automation flow to profitable firms and their shareholders, who not only usually live apart from the factories being automated but who save at high rates, contributing to weak demand across the economy as a whole. Indeed, roughly half of job losses from robotisation (as from exposure to Chinese imports) are attributable to the knock-on effect from reduced demand rather than direct displacement.

anon April 24, 2017 at 5:41 pm

This is exactly the problem. As robots and AI are able to outcompete people doing more and more jobs, it will add to the trends building up wealth inequality. As long as governments remain unwilling to even consider effective policies of redistribution the world will continue getting more and more politically and economically dominated by the 1%. Not because they are performing valuable services for others, but because their wealth builds itself regardless of what they contribute to society.

. April 25, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Dongguan has an official policy of encouraging automation, and has set aside 200m yuan a year to help its factories eliminate jobs. This is part of a national strategy to upgrade manufacturing through automation. The governments of the PRD are leading the charge. Guangdong has pledged to spend 943bn yuan to boost the manufacture and adoption of robotics in the province. Guangzhou optimistically hopes to automate the jobs of four-fifths of the city’s industrial workforce by 2020.

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