Automation and labour

2017-02-03

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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{ 11 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.

. June 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm

The Austrian village of Donawitz has been an iron-smelting center since the 1400s, when ore was dug from mines carved out of the snow-capped peaks nearby. Over the centuries, Donawitz developed into the Hapsburg Empire’s steel-production hub, and by the early 1900s it was home to Europe’s largest mill. With the opening of Voestalpine AG’s new rolling mill this year, the industry appears secure. What’s less certain are the jobs. The plant, a two-hour drive southwest of Vienna, will need just 14 employees to make 500,000 tons of robust steel wire a year — vs. as many as 1,000 in a mill with similar capacity built in the 1960s. Inside the facility, red-hot metal snakes its way along a 700-meter (2,297-foot) production line. Yet the floors are spotless, the only noise is a gentle hum that wouldn’t overwhelm a quiet conversation, and most of the time the place is deserted except for three technicians who sit high above the line, monitoring output on a bank of flatscreens. “We have to forget steel as a core employer,” says Wolfgang Eder, Voestalpine’s chief executive officer for the past 13 years. “In the long run we will lose most of the classic blue-collar workers, people doing the hot and dirty jobs in coking plants or around the blast furnaces. This will all be automated.”

. July 2, 2017 at 7:58 pm

At an exclusive gathering at a golf resort near Lisbon, the big minds of monetary policy were seriously discussing the risk that artificial intelligence could eliminate jobs on a scale that would dwarf previous waves of technological change. “There is no question we are in an era of people asking, ‘Is the Robocalpyse upon us?'” David Autor, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told an audience Tuesday that included Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and dozens of other top central bankers and economists… [A]long with the optimism is a fear that the economic expansion might bypass large swaths of the population, in part because a growing number of jobs could be replaced by computers capable of learning — artificial intelligence.

Policymakers and economists conceded that they have not paid enough attention to how much technology has hurt the earning power of some segments of society, or planned to address the concerns of those who have lost out… In the past, technical advances caused temporary disruptions but ultimately improved living standards, creating new categories of employment along the way… But artificial intelligence threatens broad categories of jobs previously seen as safe from automation, such as legal assistants, corporate auditors and investment managers. Large groups of people could become obsolete, suffering the same fate as plow horses after the invention of the tractor. “More and more, we are seeing economists saying, ‘This time could be different,’âS” said Autor, who presented a paper on the subject that he wrote with Anna Salomons, an associate professor at the Utrecht University School of Economics in the Netherlands.

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