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Offshoring is the LEAST of our worries

http://marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm

Jim Rankin
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Very optimisticly pessimistic.

He does have a point, but it's too bad he falls into the processing power = intelligence trap.

It does give me an idea for a theme restaurant though! ;-)

Steve Barbour
Thursday, July 24, 2003

"The elimination of pilots could happen as early as 2015."

Uh..no...Computers are great at flying airplanes providing everything is working well. What happens when something goes wrong?

Experienced human judgement in the cockpit of an airplane can not be replaced by a computer.

Sure, computers can do a lot of things very well but we are still not at the point where a computer has the power of human brain.

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, July 24, 2003

If current trends continue 1% of the US people will be entrepreneurs (half of them in legal insurance schemes), 5% will be their tech workers, 40% of the US population will be lawyers suing anyone with money in a play-the-legal-lottery game. For 54% of the US population this playing-the-legal-lottery will be a fulltime occupation, while the other 50% practices it parttime.
The armies needed to pressure the rest of the world into also handing out lottery prizes will be fully robotic.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, July 24, 2003

That was a thought provoking article.  I do agree that it is a bit too skewed to the doom and gloom end of the spectrum... but it does provide an interesting perspective.

As for the human intelligence hurdle, most of the jobs that are replaceable in the low-end of the spectrum do not require rocket-scientry.  If the burger-flipping goes wrong... no big whoop... make another one.  Clean the bathroom again.  Rescan the groceries, whatever.

I don't agree that robots will replace all of the jobs that require intense thinking.  Doctors for example should have no immediate fear.

Somehow during the article, I could not help myself from envisioning a Star-Trek like society, where money does not exist :)  Only time will tell, but I think the initial growing pains that would come with losing low-skill jobs would be quickly replaced with the general benefits to society. 

If we no longer have to do remedial tasks, then perhaps we would have the freedom to focus on the bigger picture and the quality of life.

Seeker
Thursday, July 24, 2003

The article makes no mention of the fact that all these lost jobs and unemployed people might get new jobs in another industry.  A country with 50% unemployment is not going to support robotized mcdonalds and wal-marts.

Even if the mechanical aspects of moving like humans is met (which I don't think will happen in 30-50 years I think a bio-mechanical solution would be needed) acting like a human (real human intelligence) has made very little progress in the past 50 years.  Even if the memory capacity and processing power is there we don't know how to make a computer learn, interpret and understand what humans easily grasp.

Hi ideas are also nothing new.  See Metropolis, the Matrix etc.  it's a popular theme in sci-fi.

chris
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Well, one thing I've decided after reading that article.  I'm going to invest all my money in U.S. Robotics right now!

Wait, what do you mean they make modems?

Jim Rankin
Thursday, July 24, 2003

It does make me wonder what would happen if that did come true.

Assuming no new giant career fields for humans, does natural selection kick in and the 50% that have no jobs just starve, or do we resort to a communist-like society?

Chris
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Who's gonna maintain these robots? Not I. I'm gonna be one of those biggot robot haters.. taking our jobs! Go back to robot city you stinking robot!!!

trollbooth
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Well, if the self-check-out lines that some Home Depot stores now sport are part of this automated movement, I'm not worried. The scanners never work when you run your items over, and the full-time assistant (human) is constantly busy running around trying to make the damn things work. We tried that a couple of times but it wasn't worth the aggrivation... now we just stick to the lines that have humans running the registers.

HeyCoolAid!
Thursday, July 24, 2003

The cost of building/buying, maintaining and replacing these robots are going to be much higher than the part time kid that works at McD's for $6/hr for a long long time.  And thank God for that. 

Also, I can see too many problems with robotics even if we could get over the 'trivial' issue of intelligent thought ;-)

Virii/hackers/et al - causing chaos in the real world - I mean if my outlook gets infected, who gives a sh*t.  But if the AI-wireless-controlled aiCatapillar bulldozer mowes down 5 city blocks b/c of a bug/hacker/virus...you get the point.

GiorgioG
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Solution: Make sure YOU are the one making the robots. :-D

John Rosenberg
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Robots may cost more than humans, but they potentially may create more money.  They scale better, act politely and don't get into sexual harassment suits unless some virus makes them.  Humans at many workplaces are astonishingly bad at their jobs.

anonym
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Robots are much cheaper than humans. This increases the profit. Therefore, all jobs which can be replaced by robots will be replaced by robots. Robots don't go on strike, they don't demand benefits or potty breaks. They can work 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The don't need a pension -- when they break down they can be tossed in the dumpster and a new one ordered.

Delivery and truck driving jobs will be replaced by robots, but humans will still be required to do the heavy lifting and packing of stuff into the trucks, and subsequent unloading.

Detail work that requires agile ability to maneuver and ability to discriminate will still be left to humans -- so those valuable coal mining jobs will still be ours.

Most nursing and home health care will be replaced by robots.

Growth industries? Robot repair and hauling.

Best bet? Invest in grenade launchers that can take out robots.

Tony Chang
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Humans may be bad at their jobs, but most progrmas are even worse at theirs.

How many programs do you use in spite of the problems they have?

Steve Barbour
Thursday, July 24, 2003

> Doctors for example should have no immediate fear.

Seriously?

Are you sick? Here are some antibiotics.
Depressed? Take this prozac.
Shy? We have anti shyness pills.
P*n!s too small? I just saw an ad last night on prime time network TV for a new pill that makes your member a monster.
Can't get it up or partner too ugly? It's viagra for you.
Something else? I'm not sure, let's refer you to a specialist.

Which of this can't be done by a robot again?

Tony Chang
Thursday, July 24, 2003

A little more seriously, in response to what field should techies to get into now that so much off-shoring and down-sizing is going on, robotics looks like a good bet.  Robotics companies could be the next dot coms (so get in now, and get out before it's too late).

May take more work, though, than buying a common word as a domain name and investing in sock puppets.

Jim Rankin
Thursday, July 24, 2003

The writer clearly has a decent grasp of technology, but I think his economics is weak.  The number of jobs is not a constant.  500 years ago 99% percent of the jobs were in agriculture.  Not sure what it is now, but in this country it can't be more than 10%.  If you had said at the time that we'd be able to feed the entire population with with less than 10% of the people working, this guy would have predicted we'd have 90% unemployment.  When jobs are eliminated because of automation, companies become more profitable.  But that money always goes somewhere- they don't stuff it under a mattress.  Ultimately it ends up paying somebody's wages.  As long as companies are profitable, there will be jobs.

Ken
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Nah, there will be at least 60% unemployment, probably 90%. Let me say what everyone is thinking but doesn't have the guts to say it because it's politically incorrect. The 60% with no jobs will be the undesirables - people who weren't smart enough to work in high finance or robotics, and some artists. Htese people are a drain on natural resources. Their main occupation will be sitting at home and breeding. They will contribute nothing. The solution is as obvious as it is inevitable - they will be either sterilized so they can not continue draining tnatural resources while contributing nothing but more worthless welfare recipients, or if those in charge are brave enough to do what needs to be done - they will be euthanized. Exactly as it should be and something that is long past overdue. With the outsourcing scenario now, we are seeing skilled and efficient workers get the jobs they deserve while the lazy and inefficient workers are being taken out of the workforce. This is the natural evolution of things and is how the human genome will be improved - by removing the weak and preventing them from reproducing. Robots will allow this to happen in its entirety because right now the only thing the breeders are good for is jobs in fast food, in retail, in sanitation. Robots will allow us to pass the final hurdle on our way to the creation of a new, superior human species. It's about time.

William Winklemann
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Well that's a nice troll.  Are you trying to get Godwin's law invoked, or are you trying to see if you can push Joel's buttons?

Steve Barbour
Thursday, July 24, 2003

There's one fundamental problem with the theory that robots will replace humans in every job.

As AI gets closer and closer to being able to do everything a human can do, it becomes more and more unpredictable and fallable.  More complex = more bugs.

So you design a robot to be a taxi driver.  It has great reaction time, can work 24/7.  You give it as advanced AI as possible so that it can interpret language, inuendo, make idle chatter with customers, and intelligently react to unexpected circumstances (like a pregnant woman going into labor in the backseat).

Well, one day it's driving a foreign dignitary from a foreign nation which happens to be a dictatorship.  Its AI decides that the world would be a better place if this person were dead, so it drives off the brooklyn bridge.

Richard Ponton
Thursday, July 24, 2003

We have machines now that allow one miner to produce in 30 seconds what used to take a single worker a full day.  Is anyone complaining about this massive job loss today?  I'm also glad that most of us don't need to be farmers anymore.  Does this guy really believe that getting rid of another menial unfulfilling role is somehow a bad thing that will devastate the economy?

Oren Miller
Thursday, July 24, 2003

As others have written, when people become unemployed, they don't stay unemployed for the rest of their lives.  They find new jobs in other industries.

Look at recent history and the downturn in tech:  A lot of those unemployed programmers are now working in other fields, or at least other aspects of their field (such as testing).

Also, new technology is adopted relatively slowly.  There are still fast food places with no drive-thru window, and that particular innovation's been around for, what, decades?

IOW, we won't see unemployment rise from 5% to 30% in a week.  It'll be a slow process, allowing market forces to react.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, July 24, 2003

This article is what happens when you concentrate your education on one field (I'm guessing Comp. Sci.), and neglect other fields (Econ):

Unadulterated twaddle.

Grumpy Old-Timer
Thursday, July 24, 2003

"Best bet? Invest in grenade launchers that can take out robots."

Hahaha!

...Looks around sheepishly..Well, I thought it was funny for some reason...

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, July 24, 2003

do guys who post phrases like "unadulterated twaddle" to the internet use the same phrases in everyday speech? 

...
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Note also that Mr. Brain's argument is pretty much entirely predicated on Moore's Observation.

Note that I characterize it as Moore's OBSERVATION, not the more common characterization, Moore's LAW.  Moore's so-called Law is completely unlike the law of gravity or the law of large numbers or the law's of motion.  It has no universality and no predictive power.

Mr. Brain casually assumes that Moore's "Law" will continue to hold for many decades.  How many MORE decades after that before Moore's "Law" predicts that a typical computer will have more transistors than there are atoms in the earth and will cost a trillionth of a penny? 

Obviously Moore's "Law" will cease to apply at some point, and Mr. Brain's argument depends on knowing precisely when that point will be.  I see no evidence whatsoever that the trend of increased computing power per dollar will continue to hold more than a decade.

Moore's "Law" is no law.  It's an interesting observation which has happened to be true for the last few decades.  But this is like saying that because in the last two decades my cousin Carolyn has grown from being 24 inches high to 64 inches high, that she will continue to gain 2 inches of height a year forever!  Past performance is no guarantee of future behaviour!

Eric

Eric Lippert
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Oren has it right ... throughout history, we've been inventing new technology that allowed one person to do the work that formerly took many.  In the short term, this may have caused unemployment, but in the long term it allows those people to do other things, thereby increasing the economic output of the entire region.

I don't want to go back to the times when I would have had to be a full-time farmer.  And I'm sure 100 years from now, people will say "I'm sure glad we don' t have to do X anymore", where X is a job that is now performed by a a human but will be taken over by a robot.

The only way this could cause unemployment is if the economic output is increased to the point where it's viable to sit around and do nothing all day and still have enough resources to live.  While this would certainly change things from a cultural perspective, I don't think it's quite the doomsday scenario we have to be worried about....

Of course this is all off if the machines become sentient and hook us all into a giant network to make power.  Oh wait, too much SciFi .. ;-)

Michael Kale
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Was Socrates a full time farmer?
Was Cicero?
Was Newton?
Was Mozart?

Come on guys, it's benn thousands of years since most people had no spend most of their time getting food. Even today, primitive hunter-gatherer societies have more leisure time than Americans, which is down to 16 hours a week total.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Besides the flaws that have been discussed (ie, whether an abundance of robot workers would ruin our economy), I see a few major flaws in his technological reasoning.

1) He assumes that Moore's Law will continue unabated.  This strikes me as unlikely.  We are approaching fundamental physical limits in the way we make chips.  Who knows if we will be able to keep up the same pace of advancement in the future.  Future chip technologies may advance faster or slower, there is no way to tell.

2) He assumes that AI follows naturally from more processing power.  This is just ludicrous.  The primary problem with AI today is not that we don't have enough processing power, its that we don't know HOW to make a machine that is intelligent.  If you've ever studied the field of AI, you know that it is all about little tricks to make something *seem* "smart" in *one specific application*... usually by doing a lot of fancy searching.  There is a HUGE conceptual leap from the state of AI today, to something that is actually capable of doing autonomous work.  This is the sort of conceptual leap that you simply cannot predict.  It could be developed tomorrow, or it could take centuries.

As someone else mentioned, what he fails to consider is that if robots are able to provide cheap labor for all our needs, people won't NEED to work.  Yes, our economic system would have to change.  But that doesn't mean everyone is going to go homeless and starving.  If robotic workers are actually that superior to humans, they should be capable of providing all the necessities for zero or very low cost, allowing people to do more creative work, and things they enjoy.

Mike McNertney
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Dennis I'm not sure what your point is.  Maybe you aren't aware of the incredible reduction in farming labor over the past 200 years.

In 1830, it took a farmer 250-330 hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat.  In 1975, this figure was 3.3 hours.  In 1810, agriculture accounted for 85% (!) of the US labor force.  In 1995, this was down to 3%.

www.econ.rochester.edu/Faculty/GreenwoodPapers/Usdemtran1.pdf

Now, that is an absolutely incredible shift in the labor force.  Did it hurt our economy drastically for so many farmers to lose their jobs?  Sure, it was probably bad for individuals who were forced to give up their small family farms.  But the economy is much stronger today for it, and those people who would have been manual labor on farms have moved on to other jobs.

Did EVERYONE have to produce their own food?  No, of course not.  But agriculture was a hugely labor intensive job, whereas now food for the entire country plus a large surplus is produced by a very small proportion of the people.

Mike McNertney
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Well, we'll be cyborgs by then, and be each able to control 500 machines with the vast unused parts of our brain while watching soap operas.  Brave new world.

Of course, there will be people complaining of outsourcing to those cheap barely sentient AIs.

sammy
Thursday, July 24, 2003

I for one welcome our new robotic masters.

Kent Brockman
Thursday, July 24, 2003

>>> do guys who post phrases like "unadulterated twaddle" to the internet use the same phrases in everyday speech?  <<<

Probably not.  But Grumpy's expression is better than anything I've thought of so far.

The kind of argument in the linked article has been popular since the beginning of the industrial revolution, if not before.  The author adds up all the jobs that could be displaced by this technology and figures about 50% unemployment.  He should start back when steam drills were introduced (remember "John Henry, Steel Driving Man"), if not before.  It would probably add up to 500% - 1000% unemployment by now.  But he should subtract off the hundreds of millions of people that died in the famines back in the 1970's or 1980's.  Don't recall that?  There were popular writers that were sure it was inevitable.

Not that we don't have anything to worry about.  There is always a danger that the government will pass regulations to aleviate the effects of this inevitable massive unemployment, thereby almost guaranteeing that it will happen.

Z
Thursday, July 24, 2003

[The primary problem with AI today is not that we don't have enough processing power, its that we don't know HOW to make a machine that is intelligent.]

That is right. Science fiction makes it look so easy, but it may well be impossible for anyone but God.
And if it were possible, which it probably isn't, it would turn out very badly (as in Terminator or the Matrix).
And it's pretty scary to think of robots running around cleaning bathrooms, and all of us trying to stay out of their way.

People have been making predictions like these for ages, and we are no closer to real AI than 50 years ago.

In addition, the author seems to object to the fact that we need jobs to survive. He seems to think we could transform our society so that work is unnecessary, most of it being done by robots. With the government supporting everyone I guess. Well, just picture the trouble millions of Americans on permanent vacation could get into.

The Real PC
Thursday, July 24, 2003

"And it's pretty scary to think of robots running around cleaning bathrooms, and all of us trying to stay out of their way."

my friend has a robot that cleans his carpet. i think it cost $200 at Bed Bath and Beyond. It isn't very scary. His girlfriend calls it "cute." 

...
Friday, July 25, 2003

"they lower the cost of doing business and should therefore lead to lower prices" (from the article)

Should I call the author an idealist or naive?

"those people who would have been manual labor on farms have moved on to other jobs"

Working in McDonalds?

And Winkerton? You think you're going to be one of those allowed to breed? [/looks on list... Waster... Weevil... ahh, Winkerton] Nope.


Friday, July 25, 2003

If worker productivity goes up by 2% a year, this means we need fewer and fewer workers for producing the same output. The robotics thing might or might not increase this 2% figure. Now how do we go from there?

(a)  we consume 2% more ?
(b)  we take on extra overhead so that overal productivity growth goes back to 0% (taxes, insurance, regulations, management, ...)?

I do believe there is a limit to consumption (although we have a long way to go if the rest of the planet has to live up to the US example). So at some point at least we get to a situation where almost no workers are needed for the actual production, but the overheads on production run in to the millions of percents.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, July 25, 2003

Do I use phrases like "unadulterated twaddle" in everyday speech?  Of course not.  Educated people write and speak in different voices.  The former is called "Standard Written English"; the latter, "colloquial".  I am old enough to think it important to write clearly.  Soon enough, my kind will die off, and you'll be left with emoticons, abbreviations, and misspellings.  FWIW, YMMV, and remembar, IANAL.  ;o)

My actual point was that the referenced article is very well-reasoned drivel, in both the AI and economic arenas.

I have a cherished memory of a roundtable discussion on deconstruction (or something) being brought to a screeching halt when someone asked, "What is the meaning of 'meaning'?"  It sounds Clintonian at first glance, but the more you think about it, the more you despair of imbuing a piece of software with the ability to understand the answer (much less ask the question).  Maybe it will turn out that this kind of insight won't be necessary to create an airplane-flying robot; but I'm betting it will.  If you don't really know what "intelligence" is, how can you create it?  What *is* the meaning of "is", anyway?  (And no, not the dictionary definition - the *meaning*.)

The article's economic nincompoopery is so obvious that any economists reading must be having a good belly-laugh.  For starters, if half of us are unemployed, who's going to buy all these robots?  Who's going to sell, transport, track, assemble, maintain, etc. all these robots?  Does the author expect any government to simply stand idly by while the unemployment rate hits twenty, then thirty-five, then fifty per cent?  If a rate of twenty-five during the Great Depression gave rise to a substantial Socialist movement in the US, what kind of social disruption would fifty percent lead to?  Riots in the streets?  Not a good climate to sell your robots in.

As an aside, Moore's "law" was not a prediction, nor an observation - it was his articulated business goal.  It was not bestowed upon us by a golden hand descending from the heavens.  If we're allowed to blindly assume it will hold for 50 years, why not 200 years?  By that time, computers will be smarter than God, smaller than a neutrino, and engaged in manipulating space/time for the good of mankind.

Grumpy Old-Timer
Friday, July 25, 2003

[If you don't really know what "intelligence" is, how can you create it?]

You are right, Grumpy. No one knows what it is and never will and therefore can't create it, ever.

The Real PC
Friday, July 25, 2003

I'm sorry but the idea that robots can replace medical professionals is absurd. This is a caring profession that goes beyond the ability to diagnose, prescribe and operate.

My microwave says "Enjoy your meal" when it is finished - it doesn't make the experience of eating it any better.

Robots don't give reassurance; or decide that letting someone visit outside of visiting times is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances; or there is something niggling them, maybe they'll run this test, purely on a hunch; or smile; or actually care how you are feeling; or discover new illnesses...

Pete J
Friday, July 25, 2003

"This is a caring profession that goes beyond the ability to diagnose, prescribe and operate."

Sad as it may be it is sometimes observed that as people in general seem to loose their social interaction abilities, they tend to prefer anonimity and sterile transactions over emphatic engagement and caring.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, July 25, 2003

I am kind of looking forward to those order taking kiosk's at McDonald's. Robots may not be reassuring, caring, smile, etc., but they also aren't nasty, surly, bigotted, etc.  On the rare occasions that I go to McDonald's anymore it is via the drive through window to minimize interaction with the staff.  I recall when McDonald's was known for having a friendly staff even if the food was the antithesis of gourmet.  Must be they dropped that feature as a cost cutting measure.

mackinac
Friday, July 25, 2003

"I am kind of looking forward to those order taking kiosk's at McDonald's."

But how will you afford a Big Mac after your job has been off shored or given to a robot?

Jim Rankin
Friday, July 25, 2003

The Economist magazine, which is probably the bar for good written english style, would never publish the phrase "unadulterated twaddle." There is a difference between good written english and trying to sound like a fictional headmaster in a harry potter novel.  Check out the economist style guide online.

http://www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/index.cfm

...
Friday, July 25, 2003

Oh, give it up, troll, for God's sake.  I just happened to like the way "twaddle" sounds.

Grumpy Old-Timer
Friday, July 25, 2003

I'm just trying to do my part to encourage IT people to try to be less dorky than they actually are.

...
Friday, July 25, 2003

time to get out my Lego Mindstorm kit.

fool for python
Friday, July 25, 2003

"As an aside, Moore's "law" was not a prediction, nor an observation - it was his articulated business goal."

As an aside, I hate to be contradictory, but in fact it was clearly a prediction and an observation.  It is helpful to go back to the original source. I invite you to read the April 19, 1965 edition of "Electronics", where Gordon Moore makes the following observation and prediction:

"The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year (see graph). Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue... Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least ten years."

Of course, Intel articulates this observation as a business goal, 38 years post hoc.  From their web site:

"The mission of Intel's technology development team is to continue to break down barriers to Moore's Law."

Intel also notes

"Gordon Moore made his famous _observation_ in 1965... The press called it "Moore's Law" and the name has stuck. In his original paper, Moore _observed_ an exponential growth in the number of transistors per integrated circuit and _predicted_ that this trend would continue. "

[My emphasis.]

Eric

Eric Lippert
Friday, July 25, 2003

What the hell is wrong with people? Why this assumption that unemployment is a baaad thing? Why work more than necessary? If we manage to automate everything, surely we have a right to sit back and do nothing in the time we've freed up... Wasn't that the whole idea of building machines in the first place? Like, we get to sit in buses or trains reading a good book rather than running everywhere... Just relax for god's sake!

OC
Saturday, July 26, 2003

The would not be possible. If we didn't work how would we get things we need? If the governmentt gave everything out for free where would they get tax money to buy it if most people didn't work?
And someone would still have to work -- who decides who works and who lazes around? How could a society like this be managed?
An economy that balances itself somehow has always been necessary, since human beings are not qualified to manage anything.
Hunter/gatherers in good environments had plenty of leisure time. But no one had to make decisions about who worked or not -- anyone able to work who wanted to eat went out and hunted or gathered.
As societies become stratified a leisure class may develop, made up of relatives of the rulers. But this kind of leisure is backed up by military force and ownership of land. Besides, it isn't "fair," since some are born privileged aristocrats while the rest are peasants, serfs, slaves, etc.

It has always been the case, since agriculture was invented, that growing food does not require the labor of the whole population. Rather than increasing the leisure time of the average person it decreased. That's because a society cannot support large numbers of parasites. Parasites must have financial and military power.

A paradise where most people do not work sounds impossible to me, since it would have to be planned and engineered somehow. Human nature being what it is, we cannot trust ourselves to engineer other peoples' lives.

The Real PC
Saturday, July 26, 2003

It's easy: just shoot the greedy people.

OC
Sunday, July 27, 2003

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