Serious Automation/mechanization, Efficiency, and People

Chou Toshio

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Big question of this thread: At what point do we people stop working, and let machines make the pie to which all of humanity should get a piece of? Is that even a possible reality?


So most people who know me in Cong, know that I am solidly "right" in economic views-- in other words, I believe that capitalism, free trade, market forces, private sector, and competition are better at efficiently utilizing resources (than government) to realize greater economic value, which enriches society.
(Though I also only believe that's possible with a healthy bit of oversight/regulation, probably beyond a degree acceptable by avid lobbyists of corporate America)

That said a lot of the opinions stated here are going to be quite contrary to that core premise-- things I have been mullying around by myself for a while.

Main topic of this thread: Increasingly with the developments of technology, humans have been able to replace human work with machine work in many business processes, resulting in cut cost and "greater efficiency" of businesses. Greater efficiancy means greater profits, a wealthier economy, but at the cost of jobs.

Of course, this is nothing new-- it's a battle already fought and lost by human workers in manufacturing. Right now though, we're in a technological boom, and the next generation of robotics and AI will be stepping in to cut further still into the blue-collar job base. Machines that reduce, if not completely run call centers; robots that clean floors; cars that drive themselves (wonder how long Uber will be using drivers?); droids that deliver packages/mail, etc.

Greater efficiency leads to greater wealth in the economy-- we should all be richer, but will we be?



First question of exploration: Are machines actually more efficient? What does it mean to be efficient?

In the traditional animal sense, efficiency comes down to currency of calories. In order for a species to be successful, the sum of its activities must cost less calories than what's consumed. With the amount it spends, it has to collect as much or more nutrition.

Traditionally you have 3 categories of activities for calorie spending:
-Food Collection/Processing (hunting, eating, digesting)
-Self-defense
-Reproduction
*Waste Elimination (usually only a cost for ecosystem-building animals such as Humans, Prairie Dogs and Ants)

Do you spend less on the above activities than what you consume? Do machines? Ah-hah, there it becomes less certain.

The human brain (one of the most energy-hungry human organs) has remarkably low energy consumption from a computing standpoint. Compare it to computing systems that use AI, and the computers use over 10k times the amount of electricity. Beyond computers, machines can do things with exactness, precision, and power that human muscles can't, but often organic tissues win when it comes to work per energy consumption.

What really makes machines more "efficient" in terms of input/output of energy, is that their input is largely written off-- gas is under-priced. What are you talking about Chou? Gas is really expensive, and is going to get even moreso.

Eh, no-- from a traditional biology model of input/output of energy, fossil fuels are under-priced to the point of being practically free; or do you think the price at the gas pump reflects the actual cost of photosynthesis, raising up giant organisms or quantities of organisms, having them die, and waiting millions of years for it to turn into burnable fuel? When you pay for Gas, it might as well say "Free, except for shipping and handling".

Human reliance on fossil fuel is akin to predators after a big die-off. Angry scientist introduces a giant plague that sweeps across Europe killing off wild rabbits. The Ibarian lynx becomes extremely efficient at tapping the new resource of dead rabbits-- until you know, there are no more dead rabbits. Did the Lynx actually become more efficient? Well no, and now they're practically extinct. I know this isn't exactly equivalent (since we've been burning fossil fuels for generations now), but I can't help but draw this comparison:

"The Chinese Solar Industry is very profitable" <--Sure it is, as long as the Chinese government is grossly subsidizing its costs.
"Machines are more efficient than manual laborers" <--Sure they are, as long as Nature is subsidizing their energy costs with a non-renewable energy supply.

But I'm no engineer-- if someone else has a more informed opinion on the efficiency of humans v. machines (for tasks humans can do) in terms of energy costs, I'd love to hear it!



That's one topic, here's another: Let's assume that the energy source isn't a point of debate; that technology progresses to the point where renewable energy sources become perfectly or near-perfectly harness-able before we run out of fossil fuels, such that humans can effectively "write off the cost of non-food energy" for eternity. Great! Then machines do effectively become more efficient than humans at basically everything machines are capable of.

So when would we all get to sit around and do nothing, and be perfectly fine with it?
How are consumable resources going to be allocated?
When do people no longer have to be competitive?

This question becomes serious, because pretty soon I imagine it won't be possible for people to be competitive. It seems to me that if we are not there already, in our lives, we will be at the point where no matter how much you invest into people and education, society won't have a need for most of the people in it.

We are in an era where there is a large supply of people who want to work-- with the will and dedication to contribute to society, while currently lacking a job. And, at the same time we have a huge demand for skilled labor-- hottest of all in Data Scientists, people who can make sense of all the information coming out of our mobile/social and devices, but the market's got an insatiable demand for programmers, mathematicians, engineers, and creative thinkers/leaders capable of discovering new innovations for how to apply current and future technologies.

^Honestly though, I'm not confident that even if you had an incredible education system with full opportunity to everyone to get training in anything, that you could raise anyone and everyone to be a data scientist, engineer, innovator, or leader, such that everyone in society (or the majority of society) could have a contributing and meaningful role. We still have a huge demand for menial labor as well, but those roles continue to be less and less liveable; not positions you can deem acceptable for the bulk of lower-middle class society. (unless you know, society decides to attribute such work with greater social standing, and the market decides it's valuable enough to pay a liveable wage)

Is this a real problem?
Is there an answer?
Is there a point where a social state makes more sense, because there won't be roles in society for people to live on.

The theory of economics is contingent on the presence of unlimited desires working on limited resources-- but what happens if and when resources (the outputs of the economy) exceed the value of the desires (specifically the basic needs of human life at a high living standard) in society?
If we are not there already, will we/when will we get there? And when we get there, what do we do?
 
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tehy

Banned deucer.
I personally believe this one of of the most serious problems of our age; as machines get better and better, there will be fewer and fewer jobs.

The endgame is that machines just do everything and everyone basically lives off of 'welfare' because we have so much 'profit' due to not paying the machines wages (fuel + repairs is definitely cheaper than wages and benefits). Which is fine in its way, but the midgame is rather problematic. After all, let's say that you buy a robot instead of paying a worker. You save money, but even if you were to give all of the money you saved to the worker directly, it wouldn't be enough, since you have to factor in the actual cost of buying a robot, fuel, repairs, miscellaneous. So anyone replaced by a robot would by definition be poorer even in a system of extreme welfare (one which isn't necessarily happening).

Also, this endgame is rather bleak. We may get to the point where humans have nothing to strive for. We'll certainly get to the point where most people are just lazy slobs all of their lives. Are those good things?

Personally, my view is that the government should intervene as hard as they possibly can. Robots should be stifled, and only carefully allowed in certain ways that benefit humans but don't push them out of jobs. This is also to prevent the singularity or any such; i'd like to wait an entire century, research robots but don't use the research, before we let them into our society. That's probably a bit too much, but you get the idea
 

Chou Toshio

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Someone is bound to post this sooner or later, so I figured I would

of course, irony of ironies, my preroll ad was about a mechanized product
Never saw this before, but fantastic-- this is a perfect summary of everything I said. The point is that unless machine work becomes too expensive (ie. we run out of the fossil fuel/nuclear/solar/geothermo/algae-phosynthetic/etc. needed to get sufficient electricity), this is an inevitable outcome. At the rate of research and technology, it's far more likely that we crack the code to mastering renewable energy than that we fail at it.

What do we do in structuring society when 90% of the work needed in the economy is doable by machines. Ideally you would have some socialist Utopia where re-allocation of great wealth made by robots means that humans can spend all their days eating, exercising, playing, engaging with bot and/or human produced web content, and fucking (making babies at leisure w/o the slightest worries about their futures, or enjoying the company of advanced robot substitutes) without care, and the last 10% of stuff gets done by people interested enough to do it.

Seems like the only thing that makes sense to me, unless someone else sees otherwise! Personally, I'd be okay with that future, but maybe not everyone is??
 
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tehy

Banned deucer.
Like I said i think that's the future, but with 2 problems:

A: the midgame, like I said earlier. As we go on the road to this, there will be more and more robots putting more and more people out of work, but there still won't be enough money to just give those people total freedom. It may be politically or even economically impossible to even give those dudes basic stuff as well.

B: once we're a utopia, how would people derive their worth? I love driving and I feel like being a good driver gives me part of my worth-I have something not everyone does, something necessary and valued. I'm sure many people in many professions feel the same way.

in this utopia, nothing we do contributes anything. So we're just sitting around all day doing nothing? Even on Smogon, I feel like at least I can play a game not everyone can play as well, I have opinions not everyone can get, et cetera...what will remain to give us worth? will it really be enough for everyone to have infinite leisure without meaning??

so far as I know most rich kids have that kind of infinite leisure sans meaning and it sure as hell doesn't turn out well. what will we do?

the best-case is some kind of artificial system where we must work, but will people really have feelings of worth if they know they CAN be replaced by robots but just aren't because we all collectively decided on it?

the solution : put the freeze on it. All of it. We can solve the majority of the world's problems now without robots, we have the technology. Keep our society evolving in all kinds of ways, but keep bots out of it.
 

Bughouse

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What do we do in structuring society when 90% of the work needed in the economy is doable by machines. Ideally you would have some socialist Utopia where re-allocation of great wealth made by robots means that humans can spend all their days eating, exercising, playing, engaging with bot and/or human produced web content, and fucking (making babies at leisure, or enjoying the company of advanced robot substitutes) without care, and the last 10% of stuff gets done by people interested enough to do it.

Seems like the only thing that makes sense to me, unless someone else sees otherwise! Personally, I'd be okay with that future, but maybe not everyone is??
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income

This is a (slightly out-there) concept that has been thrown around before and has been experimented with in many small-scale cases. Not in the same scenario as this hypothetical future, since we're not quite at "humans need not apply" just yet, but I think the general idea could be the same. The wiki page describes many alleged benefits, some of which I think hold water, many others of which I think haven't. Long story short, though, basic income has had not-bad-to-ok results in the places where it's been tested and the so called disincentive to work that it would create doesn't seem to be a particularly huge threat. But we're talking about a future in which few would be working anyway, and in that case it could be applied to a future where humans aren't the majorly productive piece of society.

Yup, it'd be pretty darn socialist. State owned enterprises with stock issued to all citizens, from which they earn a basic income could be one possibility. It's not purely socialist though. Basic income does not preclude all other activities. If a human wants to do business on their own with other likeminded humans who detest mechanization, they can. If they want to be artists and sell their work, they can (in this way, actually an art based economy CAN work, just so long as it's initially fully subsidized by all the economically productive things first haha)

Switzerland will actually have a popular referendum on basic income in 2016, despite governmental opposition. Will be curious to see how it goes. I think they'd be the first place to do it on a national scale (unless you want to count Macau). And if the future goes as you, cgpgrey, and others are concerned, we might need something along these lines to avoid massive problems.


**to read more about basic income as it specifically pertains to concerns about future automation, read The End of Work by Rifkin**

-----------

As a final note, I'm not quite persuaded by the entire presentation cgpgrey gave in his video (nor a fair bit of the doom and gloom in your OP). There are surely nuggets of truth. Mechanization is rising, and many people will lose their jobs. But I'm always leery of any time someone says "this time is different." People/societies/eras/etc who think themselves exceptional are rarely right.




EDIT: Also just in case people are skeptical this is even a thing that is happening at all, here's some proof. Productivity and employment diverged right at the .com boom.
 
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macle

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in my free time when im not thinking about frogs, i think of robot communism.

Robot communism sounds good on paper, you have robots doing all the work while the people can do whatever they want, but where do these robots come from? Most likely, some billion dollar corporation is gonna figure out how to make robots that are easily fueled and can do everything. Other corporations will reach this point and a giant robot battles will break out, possibly wiping out humanity. If we survive, we just become slaves to whichever corporation wins and we have no way to fight back against the machines.
 

Adamant Zoroark

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I've pretty much always held a right-leaning economic policy, so I'll kind of go into a slight explanation on my views on socialism.

Basically, the fiscally conservative argument against socialism is that it discourages people from working - I'm talking about all-out socialism as in where everyone gets an equal share of wealth, and not the cases it is applied to when Republicans use the term very broadly. Of course, there is reason to this argument - if everyone got an equal share of wealth, why would anyone work hard? You're just going to be equal anyway.

However, if we reach a "humans need not apply" kind of future, then that argument no longer applies. Basically, if robots have taken almost all of the jobs humans could take up (I can't see how they'd be able to take over art and music though) then (almost) nobody's working to begin with - so basically if we get to that point, any argument against basic income gets thrown out the window.

-----------

That being said, people pointing out a doom and gloom future with machines taking jobs from humans kind of sounds like back in the early 20th century when freezers killed the industry of shipping ice. Yeah, new developments will come about that will make certain jobs obsolete, and if you're not going to adapt to the changes, then tough luck. I'm personally very wary of people who claim such a gleam future due to this technology because no one knows what the future will be like. How do they know humans won't be able to find different jobs? And if these jobs really are gone with nothing taking their place, how can we be certain this future will be bad? It's just something no one can claim to know for sure.
 

Chou Toshio

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Adamant Zoroark -- I also believe now that the world needs capitalism.

But the world doesn't need capitalism because competition, corporations, or jobs are inherent goods in and of themselves. Working isn't the purpose of living, and we don't live to work-- we work to live, we compete to live. Living is the ultimate good, our lives as the ultimate good, and government, economy, and society are things humans have built for the purpose of bettering human life.

We need capitalism because it is better at using finate resources to better good, and because it better directs human energy (as we are creatures of competition, and self preservation by nature). Because it enhances technology, and creates wealth and resources more available to humans. But we don't need capitalism to be human, or to live meaningful lives; I don't think we need to work to have meaningful lives.

You say no one can know the future-- and no one ever has, about anything. But trying to know is part of what has made humans so successful, to build what we have. Not caring to know or think is where problems come about.

I'm not saying that this is the certain future, but it is a possible one, and I think human minds and human hearts should be aware of that possibility, and learn to be open to it. We need to think.

If no one takes the time to think about it, and the technology of the world reaches the breaking point and people aren't ready, then old values of hard work, of keeping what you kill, and socialism as an evil-- with enough people like that at the top (and there are plenty), it will lead to suffering as the wider society fails to find a place or means to live (because no such place exists). People impoverished, shamed, and trampled for no fault of their own, living as best as they could. It will lead to civil unrest that will tear the fabric of society apart. Capitalism only survives when there is peace.

In the mean time, we should think about our future, we should think about how we do education, and we should think about how we will value the life of an individual in the next generation.

"Humans Need Not Apply" showed an example of how horses were eliminated from the system as their work was replaced, and drew an analogy between horses and people.

The difference is that society doesn't exist for the welfare of horses, and never had an obligation to protect them. But, society, government, and economy exist for the purpose of bettering human life, and so will be forced to change when the value of a person's economic contribution can no longer be attached to the value of a person's life.
 
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If the working class doesn't have to bear the burden of shit jobs anymore, they can focus on education and charity efforts in other countries. Not everyone can be an inventor, but you're not gonna be any more useless than the born wealthy sent to college. Unless those in power just decide to starve us to death after they fire us because they have a running streak of murder, and class mobility of such an extreme degree would just be an unpleasant adjustment.
 
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MikeDawg

Banned deucer.
I don't think that we should ever halt progress to artificially raise employment rates. Instead, we should create ways to form a superior workforce (better and more accessible education). Menial jobs that can be easily replaced with robots exist because people don't have the means to find better work. This gets a bit trickier when dealing with things like robots replacing surgeons. I don't know how to feel about that (though I still think that we should just accept that it will be a natural shift in what we value as a career).
 

Chou Toshio

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If the working class doesn't have to bear the burden of shit jobs anymore, they can focus on education and charity efforts in other countries.
^They'd be doing that (or anything else) already, if it actually paid a living wage. Actually, young unemployed college kids have been going into volunteer and foreign education in huge numbers, but they can only continue to do that (losing money the whole way) for so long before it stops helping their resumes.

I don't think that we should ever halt progress to artificially raise employment rates. Instead, we should create ways to form a superior workforce (better and more accessible education).
I agree that this needs to happen, but the education system is not only broken, but the new jobs created around technology are NOT easy to raise up. For instance, in the era of big data, high level statistics is probably the most important field of math skills in the market right now, but statistics is an after-thought course for highschool kids, that's not even in the main curriculum of highschool math. Programming in school is... well...

In the US, going to college is becoming completely impractical if we're talking respected, 4 year university. The system is truly terrible. The way we educate, and the way we hire needs to totally change, but regardless the logistics and feasibility of turning the BULK of the next generation of people into high-level workers ready for jobs that DON'T EVEN EXIST YET is nigh impossible in my view.
 
At a store I bought parts for my pc not so long ago, there was a robot that was moving around and asked me if I was looking for something and if it could help me. With the use of some key words, it would bring me to the parts I was looking for.

Basicly technology already advanced faster than we expected. If I am not mistaken, entire streets can be build by robots according to a presentation I heard a few weeks about robotic/artificial intelligent.

Makes me wonder if machines won't start to become more human than they are already. Centainly we have to yet to fully understand the humans brain which could be done in a few decades if I am not mistaken. We already use the human brain as interfaces to control machines and computers even if it is not at a state the end-user can take full advantage of.
 
People fear-mongering about technology really need a history lesson. (I don't believe that fear-mongering was C.G.P. Grey's intent, if anyone asks.) I'm tired of self-righteous, privileged people blaming technology for all societal ills. If anything is truly the "fault" of technology, it's that it has continually pretty much destroyed life as people knew it and replaced it with a new way of life. It does so so thoroughly that we hardly remember that it was ever any different, until the next revolution comes around.

Technology can do a world of good and has done so, allowing humans to be more equal to each other. If our use of technology brings disastrous results, that's on us.
 

Chou Toshio

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People fear-mongering about technology really need a history lesson. (I don't believe that fear-mongering was C.G.P. Grey's intent, if anyone asks.) I'm tired of self-righteous, privileged people blaming technology for all societal ills. If anything is truly the "fault" of technology, it's that it has continually pretty much destroyed life as people knew it and replaced it with a new way of life. It does so so thoroughly that we hardly remember that it was ever any different, until the next revolution comes around.

Technology can do a world of good and has done so, allowing humans to be more equal to each other. If our use of technology brings disastrous results, that's on us.
To clarify, "fear mongering" was never my intention in this thread (but then I don't think you're accusing me of it either-- just clarifying). I do think that awareness and thought around the topic is important. I agree that technology has only enriched our lives, and with technology as the only type of progress we can 100% rely on occurring, technology brings with it the best chance to solve many human issues (environment, energy, etc.)-- along with all the many older issues it's already solved and is solving.

However, there's always growing pains around the way technology changes our lives. It's not a matter of change happening, but when people are more aware and do something to adjust, there's the hope that growing pains that could be short-term-disastrous could be much better smoothed out.
 

Bughouse

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Yeah I mean the big thing to remember here, as capefeather alluded to, is Schumpeter's idea of creative destruction.

When I said above I'm not convinced this time is so different and so gloomy and unsolvable, it was this that I was referring to. Most times in history, new technology has created just as much, if not more, new opportunities for the old ones that have been replaced.

I get the point that replacing horses with cars is different from humans with machines, in terms of what it means for humanity. It could "destroy" human labor in tons of fields and force a lot of unemployment. We're already seeing this - Static unemployment rates are higher than they were decades ago, iirc. And it'll continue. But if you believe in fundamental principles of economics, it's happening because it's actually more efficient, and that efficiency, as long as strong leadership regulates the use of mechanization where appropriate and allays its side effects, should in the long run be beneficial for everyone. I really don't want to see a second coming of the Luddite movement. Technology is generally good, even when (especially when?) it's so transformative.
 

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