back to article Oh S**T, here comes a ROBOT to take my JOB

The enormous lump of shit sat steaming directly outside the publisher’s door facing the first-floor landing, welcoming early morning office workers as they arrived with a cheeful “Hello! I’m a giant turd! And I smell really bad!” Each member of staff who had chosen to begin work at 7.30am that day reacted the same way: wrinkled …

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WTF?

am I the only one

...that gets this column in Daniel Craig's voice when reading it?

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Stop

Re: am I the only one

Yes.

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Re: am I the only one

Evidently not since I got a thumbs up from another cultured reader.

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Pint

Re: am I the only one

I imagine it sounds more like Will Self...

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Headmaster

Re: am I the only one

Or the other cultured reader could have meant, 'Yes, you are the only one who gets this column in Daniel Craig's voice when reading it.'

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Happy

Re: am I the only one

More in the style of Will Self as told to Craig Brown

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Coat

Re: am I the only one

The Queen

And when I say "the Queen", what I mean is Elton John...

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Terminator

A story that springs to mind

A plausible robotic-takeover scenario: http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

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bad example

Its not immediately obvious how "desktop computing killed off the office typing pool" . Things still need to be typed.

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Holmes

Re: bad example

Yes, stuff still needs to be typed, but none of it's done in rooms full of rows and rows of desks, each with a PC and a lady behind it typing away.

That's what the old typing pool was like. You wanted something typed, it went to the pool and came back when they got to it, not before.

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Re: bad example

Well,

In the "old days" you would give handwritten stuff to the typing pool to type out neatly.

If you had your own typewriter what you typed would be full of overstrikes, spelling mistakes and would take you many times longer. Only the "many times longer" applies with a desktop PC, and that is mitigated by the amount we have to type, we naturally get fast at it (generally), and can copy stuff from the internet ;p!

Now the only time I hand write stuff is a few scribbled notes before browsing the server room or in a meeting.

The cost, ease of editing of the desktop PC meant there was no future in the typing pool.

I'm not sure however that we should (or even could) keep on obsolete jobs roles that are replaced by technology.

In a free market economy, company 1 , which adopts (say) cargo loading robots for cost reasons (faster, no vacations , no accident claims) will outperform company 2 (that uses traditional manpower and thus pays more for it). This is assuming the new technology actually works as advertised,

Eventually company 2 will be undercut by company 1, and unless it moves to some niche role where docker robots cant do the job, it goes under.

The only way to avoid that is a) Banning docker robots b) Nationalizing the manual docker company and operating it at a tax-payer subsidised loss

Company 2 refusing to adopt the robots does not save the jobs, it simply costs the company its existence.

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Childcatcher

Re: bad example

Now they call that sort of set up "data entry." I am pretty sure it is with us still.

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Re: bad example @Robert Helpmann??

It's not quite the same. In a typing pool, they would often type from dictation, either via a dictation machine, or through the phone system (or in the really old-fashioned office, by a secretary taking shorthand). The typists needed to be able to correct grammatical errors, and spell correctly, and also know how to format a letter.

Data entry is normally repetitive, vary rarely free text prose, and extremely boring. And it's slowly being replaced by OCR and mechanical form reading, or direct entry over the Internet anyway.

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Re: bad example @Robert Helpmann??

Its not immediately obvious how "desktop computing killed off the office typing pool"

Quite right - it is not immediately obvious. It requires a smidgin of historical awareness and a moment of thought to arrive at that conclusion. I recommend both, though learning the difference between "its" and "it's" is also worthwhile.

[Data entry is] not quite the same [as a typing pool].

Agreed, if by "not quite the same" you mean "vastly different". As you yourself noted, professional typists were (and still are, albeit in much-reduced numbers) skilled workers who were responsible for usage, mechanics, and not infrequently much of the content of written business communication. The work done in typing pools was not even vaguely like what happens in modern data-entry farms, aside from involving the striking of lettered keys.

I recommend JoAnne Yates' classic historical study Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management, for anyone interested in the changes that led up to the typing pool. Yates also covers matters such as filing and duplication, which turn out to be far more interesting in their history than they are in their everyday practice.

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utopia

I guess the important thing is that the work gets done, not that we are all doing work. Once the robot designing making and repairing robots arrive , providing they dont exterminate us , we can all have the rest of our lives off.

I've often wondered how with the automation and machinery we've got working for us today , we still manage to find trivial crap to fill a working day up with. We should all be on half day by now!

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Re: utopia

A lot of people already have the rest of their lives off - they're called "the unemployed". Similarly, many are on half-days - they're called "part-time workers". Unfortunately, the way things stand, these people are worse off than before, and the profits go to the business owners instead.

This is why we need a basic income sooner rather than later: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income

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Re: Patients?

Then where is the motivation for people to work? We already have literally millions of people who have made themselves unemployable. Yes there are also many who are unemployed or on reduced incomes through no fault of their own and these people truly deserve adequate support until they find work, but subsidising people who haven't ever worked and have no intention of working is fundamentally unfair. There is an obvious exception for those truly unable to work, but far too many people just made bad choices. I would strongly favour replacing the UK 'dole' with something similar to the US system where unemployment benefit is related to your salary and length on contribution and time limited (this period has been extended during times of mass unemployment). So if you have a family, mortgage, car etc and get canned, you can get by without losing the house etc for a year or so (longer in a depression) giving you time to get another job and not have your life ruined. Should you have never worked and be in reasonable physical & mental health (i.e. not genuinely precluded from work) then expect food stamps that cannot be spent on bingo, fags or stella.

Social security is incredibly important, but so is protecting it from abuse. An outright guarantee of a liveable wage (i.e. significantly more than welfare) would just be abused by too many.

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Childcatcher

Re: Patients?

But at the same time, what happens when global competition, increased efficiency, and so on simply results in there being no more jobs for the working people to fill? Businesses won't stand for the redundancy, but at the same time, families gotta eat. Plus, if anyone says leave them to their fate, they'll be immediately railed as inhumane. It's essentially a population control lottery. So you're caught between a rock and a hard place. Basic Income is unfair, but laissez-faire is inhumane.

It's like twelve survivors going after enough water for only six or so, and splitting the water won't help because then EVERYONE dehydrates.

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Re: Patients?

There is usually more work than people think. They just live in the wrong area of the country, don't want to retrain or don't want to take a job 'beneath them'.

People say universal employment is gone, it probably is (and was probably never truly here), but how much of the gap (across the entire economic cycle) is people who have made poor decisions. My experience, across two economic cycles is a total of just under 6 weeks of unemployment about half of which was due to an illness. I had to move across the country and also moved countries entirely (although not for work), I have left a cushy lab job and worked the next day as a labourer. Should I ever need it I would love for social security \ welfare to be there, but as a stop gap or a safety net, not a way of life. Sometimes you have to fight like hell to get a job and do stuff you never imagined you would end up doing, and when the economy goes to shit you may spend some time out of work.

It just isn't economically sound nor in the best interests of the country to turn around and remove the financial incentive to work. We would be significantly more broke. Yes families have to eat and as I suggested there is an alternative system that actually does a better job of protecting those out of work, but there is a strong incentive to find more work built into it. If we protected the system from abuse better it would be far better equipped to help those who truly need it. You can wait all your life for another post as an assistant deputy executive in marketing, or you can roll up your sleeves and clean shitters on a work site until you can retrain and find a better job. I'm sorry if this is coming across as insensitive, it's tough to phrase it better, but I think sometimes people need a wee push for their own good. Look how many people didn't have work in the UK between 2003 and 2008. We were bussing in eastern euros to work on farms, too many people already here turned their noses up at work like that, too hard, not enough money, those people really piss me off.

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Re: Patients?

Plenty of people are motivated to work, but this way, they would be free to do the work they enjoy, rather than, as most of us do, what we have to do to keep body & soul together.

What's the point of labour-saving devices and automation if not to give us the free time to achieve our full potential, and to work (or not) as we choose? Forcing people to work or allowing them to starve in a world of plenty is fundamentally inhumane.

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Re: Patients?

ok so who pays for it? We all get to do whatever we want but who picks up the bill and who does the jobs nobody wants to do?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Patients? @Rampant Spaniel

That always used to be my view - until losing my job reasonably recently. Now there are literally hundreds of people after every job, and I've got used to being turned down because I'm over-qualified - the assumption is that the moment you get a sniff of a better paid job closer to your normal level you'll be off, so they may as well only employ people at the right level for the job.

There are currently around 2.5 million people registered as unemployed in the UK, and I think it's about 0.5 million job vacancies. Add to that the facts that the adult population of the UK is growing by both birth rate and immigration from the rest of Europe, then factor in the retirement age being raised so people needing to work until later in life, and many people who used to be classed as disabled now having many of their benefits removed so having to work, and you can see that not everyone can "just get a job doing something anything". The jobs just aren't there, full stop.

The Eastern Europeans being bussed in are often working for less than the minimum wage, and most of them are single people with no dependants. What they earn genuinely isn't a living wage, and certainly won't be enough to support the children, mortgage etc of many people currently out of work due to their job being off-shored.

The amount that most people receive on benefits, those who aren't playing the system or working cash in hand on top of their benefits, is such an incredibly small amount that it is enough incentive to find a job if they possibly can. Things like replacing worn out clothing is a luxury they can't afford, let alone such indulgences as a cheap coffee when out doing the shopping, or having fish & chips once a month.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: made themselves unemployable, made poor decisions

Having you job disappear from under you because of changing economics or technology isn't "making yourself unemployable". Deciding to do that job in the first place might seem like poor decision in hindsight, but the decision was made at the time, not now.

No doubt some people really are nearly hopeless and actively make them unemployable, and deliberately make poor decisions. However, I suspect that such people are vanishingly few; and that really the so-called "unemployable", and those who made what seemed like a perfectly reasonable decision which turned out wrong, were actually just doing the best they could.

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Re: made themselves unemployable, made poor decisions

It's like I said, a lottery. And many people have perfectly valid reasons for being unemployable. Move, you say? Great, what about your homebound mother who you're taking care of, has no other family, and refuses to move? Retrain? Fine...if I had the time and money to go back to school, which most people unceremoniously laid off DON'T since they were already at the paycheck-to-paycheck (if not day-to-day) level. And in every other place, it's an employer's market: full of desperate unemployed. And even there, more and more jobs are being taken up by cheap imports who willing work at starvation levels or by machines and computers who almost never "tire". Even the retail sector is feeling the effects with loading machines, automated ordering programs, and self-checkouts.

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Re: Patients?

LVT would go a fair way to paying for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax

The robots would of course do the jobs that nobody wants to do - that's where this conversation started, remember?

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Re: utopia

The problem with that is, once you have your days off, how do you pay for your food / accommodation etc etc?

Up till now, robots were tools, just like PCs or pulleys and ploughs - they allowed humans to do more with the same input. So they increased enourmously the economic 'pie' but still only made up a small slice of the overall pie. As they increase in complexity and autonomy though, they will start making up a larger and larger percentage of the pie as well. If the overall size of the pie increases indefinitely, the actual amount of humans in employment can stay stable, but this cannot go on indefinitely. At some point (and I think we are at or close to right now) more humans will lose their jobs to robots than there will be new jobs created because of robots.

Now, if that pie was owned fairly evenly by all humans, their income from their slice of the pie would comfortably allow them to own and operate their own robots for their leisurely benefit. But in reality, most of the pie is owned by very few people, so the benefits of automation accrue to the owners of capital (robots being capital equipment same as computers, buildings etc etc). The result is that the richest people will mostly get richer, the middle-class people will get poorer, and the poor will stay poor (but not really notice since there's no change). This is already happening - average earnings are creeping up, median earnings are going down.

Note that this isn't an anti-capitalist rant, it's how the world works. Those in the middle can either spend their surplus earnings (and possibly a good chunk of credit) on 'stuff' as they were doing pre-credit crunch and join the ranks of the poor, or they can spend their surplus earnings and credit on a slice of the pie (assets) and join the ranks of the rich.

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Re: utopia

Yes, it's how the world works *now* - that doesn't mean that it must always work like that. I'm not sure how it will happen, but it will change, possibly violently once things get too bad for the 99.9%.

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Re: Patients?

I guess the ideal solution is that robots take up the boring, repetitive, labour-intensive, shitty jobs that no-one wants to do.

I can see where R. Spaniel is coming from, definitely there needs to be less incentive for scamming unemployment benefits, and benefits need to go only to the needy. What RS seemingly has failed to notice is that there are more genuinely needy people, as AC pointed out.

This is a result of tax / business / education etc being set up in a way that people with capital are getting more and keeping more. Overall GDP in most countries isn't decreasing, it's stable. But more of it is going to teh top and less to the middle and bottom. You want to reform benefits so that they really only go to the genuinely needy? Fine, let's do that, but at the same time let's also reform the tax code so that an investor living off dividends, or a business making billions pays at least the same %age of tax as the guy making £20k

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Re: utopia

@uncle slacky - yes I agree, just because it's so now doesn't mean it has to stay that way.

Re how it will end, I suspect as energy gets more and more expensive and capital equipment starts to cost more and more to run and repair, the cost differential between hiring a human for a job vs building a robot will swing back in human's favour. Demand for labour will go back up, as will wages, jobs etc.

For a while at least, it's all cyclical anyway, none of the status quo is for ever

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Re: Patients?

@James

Actually no, I didn't fail to notice. I did actually address it. I said we need a system like the US which BETTER supports (i.e. more money) those who have worked but genuinely have issues paid for by not being so generous to those who haven't ever worked although they are able. I agree entirely that during a recession even people who made the right choices in life will find themselves out of work. They deserve a living wage whilst out of work until things pick up and they get another job. The people out of work during the middle of an economic boom for no good reason, why should they get more than they need to avoid starvation?

Take the money from them and give it to the people who did work and now can't find work so they can keep their house and feed their kids. Provide them with free training, relocation assistance, actual useful help. Why take what they need and see them lose their house or not afford clothes for their kids just so somebody else who has no intention of working ever?

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Re: Patients?

As for robots :-) You design a robot that can do tasks we need, make it intelligent so it can do them well, make a robot to build the robots and another to maintain them. Now the human race relaxes and does 'what it wants'.

I can tell you where that ends, quickly and painfully with you down a mine somewhere digging up ore for your robot overlords. Without the need to push yourself the vast majority of the human race would end up obese simpletons ripe for subjugation. Go look at somewhere like Wythenshawe, tell me theres no such thing as devolution (in the social sense, as most of our recent evolution has been mental \ social) once the need to work is removed.

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Pint

civic work? volunteerism? [was: Patients?]

Respectfully suggest that many who are unemployed actually /DO/ work -- as volunteers serving on neighborhood and civic committees, in schools, et cetera. Some vols do this for resume building, some do it "because it needs to be done", and others do it for other reasons, but generally the work is important and serves a valuable function even if it isn't "valued", i.e., paid for (this is how a thing's importance is measured, right? whether someone will pay for it and how much?).

<- a pint for those who give their time and skill

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wim

Re: made themselves unemployable, made poor decisions

"No doubt some people really are nearly hopeless and actively make them unemployable, and deliberately make poor decisions. However, I suspect that such people are vanishingly few; and that really the so-called "unemployable", and those who made what seemed like a perfectly reasonable decision which turned out wrong, were actually just doing the best they could."

don't you call those people politicians ?

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Gimp

Completely agree re volunteering (to the commenter above).

As for being unemployable, thats in reference to those that haven't ever worked, if you were out of work for virtually all of 2003-2008 then you have to admit there was something a little suspect there?

Rather than arguing about that, what do we do to fix it? Talking about a star trek esque existance where we all have everything we need and turn up to work because it's fun and have robots do everything we don't want to do, what do we do right now? We cannot afford to quadruple unemployment benefits if they are given to everyone who doesn't work. It's just not economically possible. If we double the state pension and triple DLA, JSA etc (to get closer to liveable wage levels) we would need to find another 130 GBP odd billion in taxes, nearly anough to require income tax to be doubled. At it's most basic we have too many people for not enough jobs but even when there is enough jobs we do have issues with people qualified in the wrong areas, not willing to do certain jobs, living in the wrong area etc. Fix those problems, and I mean by supporting people who want to find work and making it possible for them to fix issues by providing relocation assistance, free training etc. Then when the economy is generating a surplus don't piss it away so when the bad times come you can spend your way out of recession as you won't already be in hock to the bank. THEN we can talk about increasing payments to those out of work because the economy will be strong enough to realistically do it. Just turning round and saying lets pay everyone a livable wage tomorrow just can't work, but it can be achieved in the long run if we fix as many of the underlying issues. I don't for a second think that everyone out of work is a scrounger, but I think it is grossly naive to think that nobody is abusing the system, or even that abuse isn't widespread and significant.

If you believe in providing more support to those out of work (as I actually do, see my earlier comments about the US system), then the best and most realistic way to do that is to look at the underlying problems and fix them. You are suggesting we treat the symptom not the actual problem. That just creates more problems. Until we actually do have self building, self repairing, intelligent robot armies and star trek replicators we are going to have to live with the concept of going to work each day, sometimes to jobs we don't like, sometimes for wages that should be or that we need to be higher. Then when the robot overlords come we will see what they think :) Personally I think they will have us slaving away for them whilst they watch Kryten present Human Wars.

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Re: utopia

It certainly is true that if machines can produce food and clothing and other necessities for everyone, without people having to work, we would have to arrange the economic system so that the production went to everyone - not just the people who owned those machines and the few who they wanted to hire for something.

But unemployment may stay a problem if there's something people want that can't be made by machines. And I think there is.

If we provide the necessites for everyone, but the chaps with the good jobs get all the girls, there'll still be competition for the good jobs.

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Happy

Re: Patients? @Rampant Spaniel

No job - NO PROBLEM - I got a job fixing robots! Pays pretty good too! Way more interesting that actually working! HA! If the robots revolt - Oh Well - all we have to do is take the Terminator model and destroy all robots! Right?

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Re: Patients? @Rampant Spaniel

Right on! You wrote:

> The jobs just aren't there, full stop

Same over here on the other side of the pond. I'm in the same pickle here in the Yoo Ess of Aye. Only choice is to make my own job, and then ... here come the tax men, the regulators, the bureaucrats, the local zoning officials, and on and on.....

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Re: Patients?

"who does the jobs nobody wants to do?"

The machines! you're all not seeing the big picture and think its an excuse for scroungers

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Dockers should become engineers; miners should become programmers.

In my experience, miners became Police Officers, Fire Fighters, Ambulance Staff or Nurses, strangely.

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WTF?

"This deserves top marks for its optimistic view of the human spirit but it’s still as much a wild fantasy as Sparky dreaming that he can play the piano."

Unfortunately, I have news: Sparky better start playing the piano, even if badly. Have you seen a miner 'round here lately? There are just fuhnancial types and possibly state employees being fed by taxes of I don't know whom where I live. And cleaning ladies. The guys who worked in the housing bubble have all been laid off, too, causing moans about "austerity".

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Not the ending I'd expected

I thought the copro-culprit would turn out to be a typesetter made redundant by DTP. From compositing to depositing, as it were.

Anyway, I'm all for robots doing all the work. I'll be need one with particular finesse to help me don my cravat and smoking jacket, refresh my vodka gimlet, and prime my cigarette holder with fresh Sobranies.

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Re: Not the ending I'd expected

>> I thought the copro-culprit would turn out to be a typesetter made redundant by DTP

My anecdote dates from the late 80s when typesetting was a closed shop ruled by NGA union overlords. Correct a typo? £100 – cash only. Want to output a bromide? It needs an NGA sticker on the back.

A year or so earlier, when the NUJ called for strikes at News International with respect to the way in which "new technology" was being introduced to news rooms and presses, NGA members simply walked through the picket lines. So when desktop publishing came in and the NGA asked the NUJ to back industrial action to save their jobs, the journalists told them to get stuffed.

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Flame

Re: Not the ending I'd expected

"the way in which "new technology" was being introduced"

in other words "the end of our racketeering"

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DIN

You just wait till people are fitting with input ports at birth then we will all be robots serving the state

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Anonymous Coward

Re: DIN

"You just wait till people are fitting with input ports at birth then we will all be robots serving the state"

We already are robots serving the state in one way or another.

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Coffee/keyboard

broken-down industrial robots will be fixed by maintenance robots,

Read "Strata" by Sir Terry.

or

Its just another version of Who watches the Watchmen?

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Anonymous Coward

The current big office turd ..

.. MUST be Windows.

Granted, my unkind labelling of the efforts of Mr Gates and later idiots may be driven by a scanner suddenly inexplicably failing to be seen by the system it had been working with for months, but it's exactly that: the inexplicable failing of something that by all logic should just work like it did the day before but doesn't, and there is no explanation why it failed, nor why it failed after you reinstalled everything associated with it and the fact that's very happy on another machine. Or why Windows 7 insists on making a file placed in shared folders read-only to anyone but the owner and makes the process to change that so tortuous on a standalone machine that you're better off sticking it on a USB stick and reading back in, defeating the purpose of "sharing" in the first place. What's more, the effect of attempting to address either of this is akin to being forced to replace a bottom row card of a 3 story house of cards: things are only going to get worse as the whole heap collapses under its own weight and you'll have to start from scratch, dealing with sh*t that had no bearing on the original problem. No news here: it's been like that since Windows was first landed on us.

Yes, it keeps Windows staff employed. It's also such a gigantic waste of productivity that I would call Windows one of the clearest arguments you should like lawyers before you like consultants: at least lawyers will not advise using Windows because it keeps themselves employed.

Windows, consultants, large turd? No contest - give me the turd every time.

Thank God it's weekend.

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WTF?

Re: The current big office turd ..

So you took an article about the rise of robotics and a dog crapping on the floor and managed to get an unwarranted rant about Windows out of it?

You are Eadon and ICMFP!

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Anonymous Coward

Managers are the weak expensive difficult to replace link that can be got rid of. Staff with an earpiece and a RFID scanner can be individually monitored and told what to do , checked for break times and attendance, tracked and retasked as needed. From a warehouse to a sandwich shop cheap labour is not what you need to replace, just augment.

Just as per unit costs fall the cost per remaining worker actually rises, because it's the lower end who have been removed. Now it's going to be the turn of managers, remove stock checking, report writing, tasking employees, planning, ordering, monitoring and the pool of employees widens.

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Robot apocalypse? - I think not

Randall Munroe (of XKCD) applied some thought to the potential problem of a robot apocalype:

http://what-if.xkcd.com/5/

Slightly more believable than the You-tube expert IMO.

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