25 February 2015

"Experts rethink belief that tech always lifts employment as machines take on skills once thought uniquely human"

What Clever Robots Mean for Jobs

"Experts", eh? Right.

Here's one "expert" from the article, MIT economist David Autor, who apparently reads too much left wing opinion blather about inequality:
“When I was in grad school, you knew if you worried about technology, you were viewed as a dummy—because it always helps people,” MIT economist David Autor said. But rather than killing jobs indiscriminately, Mr. Autor’s research found automation commandeering such middle-class work as clerk and bookkeeper, while creating jobs at the high- and low-end of the market. 
This is one reason the labor market has polarized and wages have stagnated over the past 15 years, Mr. Autor said. The concern among economists shouldn’t be machines soon replacing humans, he said: “The real problem I see with automation is that it’s contributed to growing inequality.”
No, the real problem is fewer jobs available for people who want them. Inequality by itself is not a problem if people are working and incomes are rising, and GDP is rising, and the economy is robust and growing. There will always be inequality, in the general sense of the term, and even when inequality is growing, this by itself does not indicate problems in the economy.

People who are working and who feel like they have opportunities and options in their working lives, and who see wages and incomes rising and therefore feel confidence in the future, and who therefore start families and buy houses and cars, do not really care if some rich guy they don't know is making millions of dollars a year, or not. They just don't. Why should they?

This focus on inequality is a dangerous attempt to redefine what real people want and need from a job.

Then there's the "fear of technology" thing. For decades now, anybody who questioned the relentless march of technology as having any potential downsides that might, just might, outweigh some of the benefits was derided and insulted as an out-of-touch backward-looking reactionary Luddite.

Yet now it seems that even the "experts" are calling into question their cherished assumptions about technology, and the impact it is already having on the job market.
Economist Erik Brynjolfsson had long dismissed fears that automation would soon devour jobs that required the uniquely human skills of judgment and dexterity.
Many of his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a big chunk of tomorrow’s technology is conceived and built, have spent their careers trying to prove such machines are within reach.
[...]
“It’s gotten easier to substitute machines for many kinds of labor. We should be able to have a lot more wealth with less labor,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “But it could happen that there are people who want to work but can’t.”
In the Australian Outback, for example, mining giant Rio Tinto uses self-driving trucks and drills that need no human operators at iron ore mines. Automated trains will soon carry the ore to a port 300 miles away.
The Port of Los Angeles is installing equipment that could cut in half the number of longshoremen needed in a workplace already highly automated.
Computers do legal research, write stock reports and news stories, as well as translate conversations; at car dealers, they generate online advertising; and, at banks, they churn out government-required documents to flag potential money laundering—all jobs done by human workers a short time ago.
It could happen? It's already happening.

So it seems, then, that the Luddites might have been right. Sometimes, being a reactionary is exactly the right response, because sometimes, things move faster than we understand and can adapt to.

And the experts might, just might, have spent decades devising ways to destroy the economy by cannibalizing the job market, helping to create a dependent underclass that goes on the government dole, freezing them there and making inequality dramatically worse.

The huge irony here is that nearly all of these technocrats are lefties with excessive faith in government power and the inevitable progress in every avenue of life via the magic of technology, yet they have spent decades screwing the very people they pretend to "care" about more than you and me: those with less education and fewer skills.