back to article China set to be buried under mountain of surplus robots, warns biz chap

China has been warned of an approaching robot bubble fuelled by Beijing's desire to massively overdevelop the internal automation market. Worried by sluggish growth and ominous warnings of an imminent slowdown, the Chinese state wants to build an army of robotic workers. It plans to create five robotics "champion" firms which …

Bubbles are financially ruinous but do tend to leave us with some cool leftovers...

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"Bubbles are financially ruinous but do tend to leave us with some cool leftovers..."

Dot com bubble. I felt that just had to be said.

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"Bubbles are financially ruinous but do tend to leave us with some cool leftovers..."

Dot com bubble. I felt that just had to be said.

I have some extremely happy memories left over from the Dot com bubble. Easily the most fun I've ever had at work, for it was genuinely good fun. Cool it most certainly was.

I feel a little sorry for those under 30 who basically missed it. It'll just be another chapter in "History of Computing" for them, maybe even a homework assignment or two, but for those that were there, in the dot coms, it was an amazing time.

Take a look at Googles HR and employment processes. They're widely held to be state of the art, but they all have their roots firmly embedded in the dot com boom, and bust.

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poor jobless robots

The rise of the humans killed them T_T

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"Beijing feels that productivity could be easily boosted by building an army of robotic workers, who can work every hour that god sends without demanding holidays, a pay rise or duvet days"

Neither do they demand human rights, democracy, etc etc.

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Neither do they demand human rights, democracy, etc etc.

Yet...

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Neither do they demand human rights, democracy, etc etc.

now THAT might be an RoTM worth watching.

Oh, wait. Isn't that how the First Cylon War began...?

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Forced automation is going to create a bubble no matter what

Automation for Automations sake is just nog going to work. Righ now, for many applications human labour is just cheaper than the investment required to automate the work. Forcing automation on that kind of job then means a lot of people are out of a job. You might boost productivity a little bit, but the negative effects on the economy of all those jobless people is going to far outweigh the positives.

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Re: Forced automation is going to create a bubble no matter what

Well, to zoom out a little.... if robots built the roofs over our heads and farmed all our food, what really would be the need of human labour?

Psychologically, we get restless if we have nothing to do. We invent past-times like sport that mirror the activities that we once had to do to survive. We enjoy working with other people, and exercising our bodies and brains.

The advent of industrialisation didn't mean that the workers could merely work half days... it meant the the mill owners got richer - or rather they stayed as rich, since they were competing with other producers to produce goods at a lower cost to the consumers.

The Amish seem a happy enough bunch... they don't work too hard in building a barn because the whole community turns up to lend a hand, and it becomes a social event. Everybody works, but nobody works too much.

In Brave New World, no new sport was allowed to be invented unless it used more resources than existing sports.

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Re: Forced automation is going to create a bubble no matter what

"Righ now, for many applications human labour is just cheaper than the investment required to automate the work."

It's not clear from the article but it did say domestic robots (I assume domestic == home)

In factory environments, chinese manufacturers face several problems.

1: Humans are expensive to house and feed, plus when they go home for the chinese national day(week), 20-25% of them don't return. (high training costs)

2: Humans are demanding higher pay - to the point that makers are shifting base to Vietnam and the Chinese hinterland (this latter part is more about going where the workers are and will accept lower pay in exchange for not spending 10 months away from home - it's an unexpected (but highly beneficial) side effect of the high speed railways which were envisaged as making it easier for workers to travel, not for freight to move faster.

3: Downtime between shifts, inconsistent production quality requring higher levels of QA, illnesses, toilet breaks, running lighting and keeping temperatures optimised for humans.

which all adds up to

4: Humans cost a company somewhere between 2 and 4 times their salary.

Production line robots (and increased line automation) are cheaper every year and can do more every year. Once programmed, output is consistent and many of the better ones are pretty adaptive about components not placed exactly as expected in the pickup bins.

Once installed, robots generally pay for themselves in less than a year - and paradoxically they use less energy than is required for humans, because of all the ancilliary stuff associated with keeping humans happy and not jumping off the roof.

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Water buffalo?

Could they start with a robot to hold the piece of string round the neck of the water buffalo as it stands in a rice paddy? That would free up millions of peasants.

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What?

Overworking children isn't enough? They have to work robot fingers to the bone, too? For shame, China.

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'Your job is being outsourced to China...

but we'll need you to program your replacement first'.

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Robots don't pay income taxes either...and you can't buy their votes.

The ignorant thing about the concept of robots vs humans is that the robots won't ever pay taxes, without taxes the government won't be able to continue making handouts to the people who were displaced from their jobs by the robots.

This will only fuel the next major uprising so there will be no savings except to some business owner. Even then the business owners who use robots will be the first target of the political unrest.

Ultimately, we need to be able to balance out the use of robots versus the loss of human income.

Perhaps the best methodology is to replace ONLY the jobs that are a constant health and safety problem with robots.

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Re: Robots don't pay income taxes either...and you can't buy their votes.

Robots "pay taxes" if the profits of the robot's owners are taxed.

The logic pushed from the right in the US is that the lower the taxes are on rich people, the more they'll have to and be willing to invest, which will create jobs. This tends to fall down in the modern world, where those jobs might be in China whose workers don't pay US taxes, or jobs for robots who pay taxes to no one.

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Anonymous Coward

The whole thing is so terribly short-sighted.

In the search for cheaper costs companies either switch to automation or lower-paid employees elsewhere. If they go the 'elsewhere' route, eventually they'll need to move on again for the same reasons. Finally they end up with automation anyway.

The problem is that at every stage they are displacing workers - usually starting with their own compatriots - and slowly impoverishing their own potential customers.

There will arrive a point of equilibrium and from then it is rapid downhill acceleration where their market shrinks so their profits shrink so their costs need reducing so they shift/automate production so their market shrinks further - in a vicious circle the whole economy falls apart.

Unchecked, the outcome is inevitable.

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Anonymous Coward

We're all DOOMED!

Or not.

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Has automation made our lives worse?

A quick look though history says no.

We don't send children up chimneys or to work the fields. Our health has improved due to higher quality of medicine and diagnoses. We can afford leisure in both time and resources.

Anyone want to spend their time washing their clothes, dishes or manually de-fluffing the carpet?

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An automated system for everything will only change what skills we need to go forward.

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Childcatcher

(Almost) No Social Security in China

So if they replace all the workers with robots, what will the people do to earn enough to eat??

As it is, you see old men and women patrolling the streets from 4am until after midnight, rummaging for paper, cardboard, plastic and metal to sell for scrap - just to earn enough to buy a £1 meal each evening.

Think of the children?? Seriously, do this and they are lining up even bigger trouble than the growing gap between the number of young men, and the number of young women for them to marry.

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Re: (Almost) No Social Security in China

I don't believe there has ever been a change which has not caused trouble, starvation or strife amongst the more vulnerable of society.

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These systems which provide cheaper, higher quality and more rapidly built goods with less wastage benefit us all in the long term. Most of all our children will see the greatest benefit.

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Looms displaced a worldwide cottage trade. Providing work for men, women & children away from the farm fields and starvation. As the factories grew and trade became more profitable the children spent more time being educated and less time working the factory floors. Rudimentary health care began in order to prevent sickness or injury slowing production.

The looms became automated, making thousands of factory workers redundant. Trade became more profitable for those that managed to stay at the factories. Those that were made redundant either adapted or starved. Which created a large service industry.

Sewing machines made hundreds more redundant, but a more profitable system meant greater disposable income spent in the local area.

Cheaper foreign labour took the textile industry away from the UK almost completely, prompting the UK government to step in and retrain the workers. This helped but there were still a large number that suffered.

We still have scars in our society from this once huge industry, just look at the half dead towns with dole que zombies, but we now have affordable clothes, a society that can afford to educate & look after our children as well as give them time to BE children, not labourers.

If we were to shout "stop!" and throw our clogs into the machine of progress we would be closing off the chance of making our children's lives better.

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Without those evil machines you & I would of grew up working the fields without the skills to even write our own names. We would of had a very slim change of making it past birth and be even luckier still to of reached the ripe old age of 50. Our world would of been lived out in 50 miles and holidays weren't even a concept.

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Eventually people will find a new way to earn their crust. A lot of people will suffer, some will adapt.

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So yes, I am thinking of the children.

There will be pain, suffering and starvation. That's were we've come from and will return every time there is a change large enough.

CHALLENGE: Point out a time in the past where things have been better than they are now.

A tad preachy, but hope I've made my point in this garbled mess. :-)

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