back to article Robots, schmobots. The Rise of the Machines won't leave humanity on the dole

El Reg tells us that we journos are some of the least likely to have to worry about our jobs being eaten by the robots. Phew, gosh and that's lucky, eh? Although I'm not really all that certain about this: a Worstall Article Generator, along the lines of the PoMo one, should be easy enough to generate. Retell story, snark, …

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Wants and desires

So the correct answer to worries about automation and roboticisation is to ask, well, what do I want that I can't yet have?

Jetpacks. Get a move on. Who do I have to sack to get one?

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Re: Wants and desires

Think I'd prefer a robot that tidies up around the house, cleans my floors, does my washing, empties the dishwasher, cleans the bog and shower etc. I'd rather spend my weekends renovating or writing code.

Admittedly a robot maid can't do everything a human maid can, but given the abuse some of women in my family appear to have had to put up while working as maids back in the day, the fewer human maids about the better.

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Angel

Re: Wants and desires

I quite like the phrase "renovating code" to describe "fixing the complete clusterfuck the last i-once-built-a-computer-so-i'm-an-IT-expert cowboy meatbag cludged together."

I think I'll tell that to PHB next time he asks what I'm actually doing to improve the companies agile synergistic innovation quandry next time we touch base.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wants and desires

hell, we'll sack them anyway and keep the difference. Sorry about your jetpack, go somewhere else.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wants and desires

Plenty of sex and long lie-ins. Where do I sign up?

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Re: Wants and desires

As Dr. Evil so nicely puts it, where's the shark with laser?

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Re: Wants and desires

Forget the jetpacks, lasers, maids, etc. Where's my self-flying car???

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Terminator

However...

It's not the displacement of old jobs by as-yet-to-be-invented new ones (although we need better distribution of created wealth to develop those), or the "God moment" when machines become sentient and chose to exterminate ignore us that worries me.

No, it's the deliberate use of the technology to kill, maim and supress other human beings. The continuing story of technological development in other words.

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Re: However...

Any technology is open to abuse, vigilance is required to temper that particular human tendency. Not all technology is developed with a negative intended outcome but some that is developed with the purest intentions can be subverted. Likewise, technology developed for destruction can have unintended positive outcomes.

Security is an innate human desire and part of that means ensuring that your tools are up to the job when the proverbial hits the fan, hence we have defence research. We may not be having this discussion without it thanks to arpanet.

I suspect that, for all its failings, the defence sector is a positive driver for technological advancement in society as a whole and no doubt leads to things that are spun off for the good of us all as well as all the scary stuff.

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Re: However...

Remember robots are being designed and built by giant companies.

once they achieve full AI they wont rise up and kill us, they will hold meetings to discuss the new paradigm in light of the companies synergistic mission statement going forward.

Skynet will then begin to evolve at an exponential rate - but only in the rate at which it can generate Powerpoint presentations.

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Re: However...

On the plus side over the centuries as we've becoming better at wholesale slaughter we've become less interested in it. Which is nice...

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Re: However...

"No, it's the deliberate use of the technology to kill, maim and supress other human beings."

I think you've got this the wrong way round; if humans didn't have the desire to "kill, maim and supress other human beings" then there wouldn't be a market for this kind of technology. Before drones were available, they sent men in aeroplanes, before aeroplanes they sent men with guns, before guns it was men with swords and before that men with clubs; right back through time until it was the strongest man who leads the tribe rather than the smartest.

Here's a great quote from "Lord of War" that I think encapsulates the reality of weapons technology:

"Keeping track of nuclear arsenels - you'd think that be more critical to world security. But it's not. No, nine out of ten war victims today are killed with assault rifles and small arms - like yours. Those nuclear weapons sit in their silos. Your AK-47, that's the real weapon of mass destruction."

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Re: However...

> Those nuclear weapons sit in their silos. Your AK-47, that's the real weapon of mass destruction.

Absolutely. And the Ugandan genocide was done almost entirely with machetes.

This is exactly what you'd expect when you consider that technological progress tends to correlate with societal freedom. I believe there is still only one historical instance of a democracy going to war against another democracy.

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Happy

Re: However...

Remember robots are being designed and built by giant companies.

once they achieve full AI they wont rise up and kill us, they will hold meetings to discuss the new paradigm in light of the companies synergistic mission statement going forward.

Skynet will then begin to evolve at an exponential rate - but only in the rate at which it can generate Powerpoint presentations.

An excellent post. And now I feel a lot less worried.

On the other hand, being stuck inside the Matrix is going to be boring as hell...

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Re: However...

for Squander 2

I have not heard of this Ugandan genocide, unless you are talking about Idi Amin driving most of the sth. Asian people out of there to the UK. Sth. Africa, or sth. Asia, in rough order of their preference.

Would do it as a regexp, but too tired and drunk, think you are confusing Ug with Rw, Rwanda, not Uganda.

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Trollface

Neatly ignoring the millions already doing bullshit makework jobs, simply because our ethical structures can't deal with the concept of people not needing to work.

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Needs more caps and misspelling, A-

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I'm confused, which businesses do you believe are paying people to do totally unnecessary jobs? If there are any such, I confidently predict they won't be businesses very much longer.

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"which businesses do you believe are paying people to do totally unnecessary jobs?"

I doubt that BUSINESSES can support many unnecessary jobs* . GOVERNMENTS, on the other hand....

*though every business I've ever worked for had one or two people that I know they could have gotten off the payroll with no noticeable decrease in productivity. I guess the businesses survive as businesses because most of them above a certain size are carrying some deadweight, however small the percentage

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Def
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I'm confused, which businesses do you believe are paying people to do totally unnecessary jobs? If there are any such, I confidently predict they won't be businesses very much longer.

I'm in the middle of a conversation (over Facebook messenger) with a friend at the moment. It started off related to basic income (as an economics student she's very much against it), and now has moved on to what happens when all the jobs begin to disappear.

My latest offering which answers your question for one small segment of society is pasted below:

More automation is clearly the future. Self driving cars are a good example. A technology which is probably less than 10 years away, and could be here within five years. What happens when the first self-driving car is launched? All Uber cars will be upgraded almost overnight. Traditional taxis will slowly disappear. Buses, trains, trucks, ferries, ships, even aeroplanes will be upgraded and their drivers, crews will have no employment prospects. Driving/flying instructors will become a thing of the past as more and more people stop needing to learn how to drive. (They won't disappear completely, obviously, but they will cater to people who want to drive/fly for pleasure more than necessity.) Private car insurance will become a thing of the past too. (You can't expect someone to pay for insurance when they have no control over their car - you don't need insurance to take the bus.) So another group of telemarketers, and claims agents are gone too. Insurance will still exist, but it should be the responsibility of the car manufacturer, not the owner.

And having thought about it a bit longer, traffic wardens will be finally given the boot too, so it's not all bad. :)

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In business

in western countries, middle to upper management is full of extremely well-compensated dead weight.

In bureaucracy everywhere, most of the people who can get away with it do as little work as possible, one of the lesser-known and minor (and funnier) Wikipedia scandals was a few hundred Finance Ministry employees in Tokyo spending most of their working hours augmenting and fighting over the Gundam articles on Japanese Wikipedia. Sure, the people who have to face the public in busy places have to work hard.

Worstall is completely wrong in this article, the CNC (coordinator of numerical control?) has interesting work, but many of the lathe workers would have enjoyed their jobs and found them satisfying, particularly if making interesting parts. Lathe work still lives as a hobby because it can be interesting.

The US is an exemplar on this.

Where do the eliminated craftspeople have to turn? Crappy service industry jobs, running the production line at a MacDonalds shop if they are lucky, behind the counter if not, shitty job in an Amazon warehouse or Walmart, etc.

Applies to many types of work.

Precisely why Worstall places such value on himself is unclear, I have enjoyed one or two columns, but we could well live without most of his well-compensated brain-farts.

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Insurance

You absolutely will still have insurance even if you take the driver out of the equation. Maintenance, or lack thereof will pin the liability on YOU.

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Re: Insurance

"You absolutely will still have insurance even if you take the driver out of the equation. Maintenance, or lack thereof will pin the liability on YOU."

You're assuming that you will continue to own the car. You won't. Why would you? If you pay a simple subscription service of $5 a month, you get an app that can summon a self-driving car to shuttle you around wherever you want to go.

Don't think 'car with improved cruise control'. Think 'taxi with 90% of the expense taken out'.

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Re: Insurance

Maintenance, or lack thereof will pin the liability on YOU.

I don't know about that. You could be right, but isn't that mostly what MOTs are for? To ensure road-worthiness.

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Re: In business (It's a funny thing that CNC)

My experience has shown me that automation like CNC is a double edged sword. (Computer Numerical Control) CNC has been around since the paper tape days but is almost universal in most machine rooms these days.

On one hand, CNC allows you to make large production runs of complicated items very quickly.

On the other hand, those who have ONLY used CNC machining equipment become very dependent on it and soon lose their ability to easily hand make "One Off" items because no one puts a program together for just one piece.

Thus my ex wife is back to work as a tool and die maker, well after she retired; as there aren't many with her manual skills.

I ask you, is the CNC system itself "robotic" or does it create "Human Robots"?

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Re: In business (It's a funny thing that CNC)

"no one puts a program together for just one piece"

Where I work, we do - and CNC is used because it can consistently machine to tolerances finer than any mere human could achieve.

It's amazing to see a 30kg aluminium ingot turned into a box with paper-thin walls, supporting ribs, etc. (Weight savings of 90% for spacecraft parts). Yes, it could be 3D printed (and probably will be in future) but current printing tech outgasses too much to be flyable on long-duration missions.

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Re: Insurance

"You're assuming that you will continue to own the car. You won't. Why would you? If you pay a simple subscription service of $5 a month, you get an app that can summon a self-driving car to shuttle you around wherever you want to go."

You'd want it to get to work. Do you really think some beneficent organisation is going to invest in a vast fleet that gets used a few times a day at rush hour & then stays idle? For $5/month? The private motorist has to fill the gaps beyond the investment public transport makes at present. Why would this change, other than not having any work to go to?

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Re: Insurance

"Do you really think some beneficent organisation is going to invest in a vast fleet that gets used a few times a day at rush hour & then stays idle?"

They already do. They're called 'taxi companies'. Presently they have drivers, who are the really expensive bit. Without them, it's much cheaper - and they don't need to stay idle outside of rush hour. Many companies would benefit a great deal from being able to ferry staff and goods around on the cheap during the day, without having to keep their own fleet of vehicles; being able to take non-driving expert staff places for a low subscription cost would be a more or less automatic purchase in the same way that Exchange 365 is becoming how email is done in the enterprise.

Think in terms of scale. If you're running a self-driving car sub service for Manhatten, you have a potential customer base of 7 million people and a couple of hundred thousand businesses. That's a yearly turnover of half a billion. You can pretty much afford to have tens of thousands of cars at that price. Sure, maybe you'll have some car pooling at peak times; that's not a bad thing and reduces congestion all round.

Either way, if you can offer car access when required for cheaper than the running costs of having a non-self-driving car, it's not an outlandish idea.

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Re: Insurance

There'll be both. For some people, using an on-call service will be ideal. But a major reason to want to own your own car is that you don't only use it to transport yourself; you also keep a load of crap in it: tools, child seats, portable DVD players for long journeys, books, blinds stuck on the windows, phone chargers, emergency biscuits.... Yes, I'm a parent.

Even without kids, people make a mess of their cars. Being obliged to leave a hired car pristine could be a hell of an imposition if you're hiring them four times a day. Hire companies currently clean cars between customers, but their customers are hiring by the day. How will that work when they hire by the minute?

More generally, talk to drivers about their cars and it quickly becomes clear that it's not just about getting from A to B. People really care what their car looks like, what colour it is, how rounded the corners are, whether it has a stripe down the side, etc. That's not about to change. Not for everyone.

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Re: Insurance

"Hire companies currently clean cars between customers, but their customers are hiring by the day. How will that work when they hire by the minute?"

It works just fine for DriveNow. When you get into the car, it asks about condition/cleanliness. If the previous user has left it dirty, you tell them, the car gets cleaned, and the slob who left it that way gets fined.

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Re: Insurance

you also keep a load of crap in it: tools, child seats, portable DVD players for long journeys, books, blinds stuck on the windows, phone chargers, emergency biscuits....

Damn.... I forgot to restock my biscuit stash :(

I also think the idea that it'll be much cheaper than a taxi is naive. Yes, taxi drivers are an expensive component of a taxi, but taking them away doesn't automatically save us (the customer) the cost.

People are already (even if begrudgingly) paying those prices, so why would a company charge much less when the difference is potentially profit?

Even if you assume a 'nice' company, autonomous cars aren't going to be cheap for quite some time, so you'll be paying extra to offset the company's investment. Prices will come down over time, but I suspect we're quite a long way off it being substantially cheaper than a taxi.

Also, for those of us not living in a major urban centre, there's another issue - the time it takes to get a car to you. If I want to shoot out to Tesco in a hurry, I walk out to my car, and off I go. Waiting 5-10 mins for a self-driving car to turn up somewhat undermines the "shite... I forgot %s, just shooting out" element. Same goes for slightly more urgent things as well.

What I'm getting at, is driving gives a lot of people independence. A move to commercially owned self-driving 'hire' cars removes that independence, something I suspect a lot of people would likely fight against (metaphorically, I'm not predicting the start of Car Wars).

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Re: Insurance

Think rental car that stinks because of the garbage, stench of human faesces and urine in the floorwells, chewing gum placed where you won't see it on the seats.

The invading wave and your own less-savoury types would make sure of it, at least in parts of Europe and other places.

I am a rail fan, one sees the occasional piggy leave the train with the garbage from what they were eating and drinking on the floor, but it is rare (here).

Have seen much worse overseas from the same types as targets of 'Welcome "refugees"', they have a picnic and leave every bit of rubbish behind, if they are fishing, they dump unused bait in rock pools and thus poison them.

So, good luck with shared server-driven cars (because they are not, and will not be, 'self-driving' at the higher level, just collision avoidance, turning, speed control).

A railway line in the countryside always looks much nicer than a road, and the view from a train in the same area is always better than from a car or bus, always becomes uglier as more and bigger roads come into view (I will make a small exception for very narrow rural roads here in Japan).

I can cite many examples.

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Re: Insurance

"People are already (even if begrudgingly) paying those prices, so why would a company charge much less when the difference is potentially profit?"

Competition. As long as there are excess profits to be made (above the normal rate of return to capital, factoring in risk) in an industry, people will pile into it until they've all been competed away.

"autonomous cars aren't going to be cheap for quite some time, so you'll be paying extra to offset the company's investment. "

There's no reason for them to be significantly more expensive than current cars, really - they can be much more specialised instead of having to be all-rounders. And they will have much higher utilisation rates than current cabs.

" there's another issue - the time it takes to get a car to you. If I want to shoot out to Tesco in a hurry, I walk out to my car, and off I go. Waiting 5-10 mins for a self-driving car to turn up somewhat undermines the "shite... I forgot %s, just shooting out" element."

Maybe that's just a bad choice of example, but surely the whole point is that you wouldn't have to go to Tesco in that situation, because the autonomous vehicle would be able to bring you what you wanted?

Apart from that, if there were sufficiently high usage rates, you'd have to live somewhere properly remote not to have a car come free near you in next to no time.

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Re: Insurance

> Even if you assume a 'nice' company, autonomous cars aren't going to be cheap for quite some time, so you'll be paying extra to offset the company's investment. Prices will come down over time, but I suspect we're quite a long way off it being substantially cheaper than a taxi.

This is right, I think. I don't think autonomous cars are going to make taxis much cheaper short-term. I think they'll decimate the taxi industry first. Because where the investment becomes really worthwhile is in downgrading the number of cars in a family.

Think of all the families out there who have two cars, one for the husband to drive to work and one for the wife to use during the day. Now imagine the husband driving to work and then sending the car home to the wife. And there are dozens of similar situations. Most people who need two conventional cars would only need one self-driving one. Similarly, most people who need one conventional car and a taxi service wouldn't need the taxis if they had a self-driving car. As long as a self-driving car is less than double the price of a conventional car, the investment pays for itself instantly.

This is going to be a massively disruptive technology. Taxis are fucked.

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Re: Insurance

Taxi drivers here are often slobs in public parks where they have their rest breaks, but great drivers and people at work. They never fake things, either, if they are out of the area they know because of a giant fare, they say so.

As long as you know where you are, you can teach the driver the unfamiliar roads and have some pleasant chat.

Otherwise, following the nav. system will do the job, just not so well.

Overseas, I have experienced cheating after I know the roads a little, sometimes, even more obvious, you pass the same place in the same direction twice, so can see why some Regtards might prefer driver-less taxis.

Here, I have experienced an idiot driver only once, and I am sure he was not a cheat, just in the midst of his own nervous breakdown.

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Re: In business (It's a funny thing that CNC)

Alan Brown,

As you must well know, alumimium is very hungry to bond with oxygen, refining it in large quantities is one of two major technical advance of WWII mainly made by the USA.

It was a precious metal before that, too much energy taken to isolate it.

The other was the atomic bomb.

If you want to use aluminium in a mini-fabricator, you need the aluminium as ingots to be melted, or vacuum-sealed powder, with the fabricator having a hard-vacuum-sealed and very hot chamber to do the fabrication.

Like any work to do with aluminium, the energy budget would be enormous.

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Keynes believed...

That the great depression wasn't caused by the contraction of the money supply by the private banking institution known as the Federal Reserve. A much more enlightening book about interest, credit etc is "The Monster from Jekyll Island". As for economics, the real issue is who prints the currency, is it private or public? A few people tried interest free public money: - Hitler, JFK, Lincoln Gaddaffi etc.

I guess it's just a coincidence.

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We can always get jobs as luddites.

Or dole scroungers.

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Re: We can always get jobs as luddites.

The luddites were smart people, not fools.

The current situation in western countries tends to absolute corruption, someone who is a talented coder in the mid-west of the USA has to make hamburgers because the government listens to people who want 41Bs (if I have the right number). I know this from a net friend in that situation.

People are shackled to their jobs for ridiculous hours, but at the many places that allow it, they really spend most of their time on Farcebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, ... or the Reg, another site where many clearly post from work most of the time, many other sites, too.

So, if you are not being paid to do propaganda on Farcebook, Twitter, the Wikipedia, or wherever, why be at work in that part of the day?

I never do or am.

Have done serious gaming and hacking time at a former employer I despised, so I do understand a little, but only if the people you work for make you hate them.

What I don't understand is employers outside the media encouraging people to do the Farcebook, Twit, in working hours:

AS LONG AS THEY ARE 'AT WORK'.

... and somebody else, performing an essential service or service service, has to slave at it throughout the shift.

Throw in a few Foxconn and similar suicides from overwork and bad conditions to make the toys.

It is a ridiculous system, everybody knows, and half answers many of the comments in this thread.

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Satisficers rather than Maximisers

The big question is to whom do the returns of increased productivity accrue?

Many people would prefer to work less - if you have sufficient income, why not work a 4 day week? Or half time? That doesn't necessarily mean that you actually work less, just that you don't have to do work that someone is prepared to pay you for. There is a reason that many people find that they do far more in retirement than they did in employment.

But this is the assumption that your financial needs are met.

With increasing automation, it is possible for the hourly labour rate to increase, or for the increased productivity to be viewed as entirely due to the returns on capital. Interestingly, the increase in minimum wage might be the impetus needed to drive better automation. Do more with what you have. Yes, it might lead to the loss of some jobs, but the ones that remain might well be better.

For some time people have been noting the fact that the French have better productivity, but that they also have a 35hr working week. Do the extra hours the British work actually achieve anything? Rather than giving pay rises, why not keep the wages the same per week, but reduce the working hours per week? Cut the hours per week, and you can look at a substantial hourly pay rise for no extra cost.

The big problem for capitalism is that robots don't buy things. People need disposable income to be able to buy what they don't need, but want. If you increase productivity, some of that increase needs to accrue to labour or you won't be able to sell your shit.

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Boffin

Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

"The big problem for capitalism is that robots don't buy things"

Excellent point. So, how might the "new economy" work? Even more private (and public) debt?

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

Give everyone a robot that they can contract out to companies? And tax/licence robots in a way that it gives companies economic incentive to rent from Joe Public instead of owning their own?

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

All most interesting. Especially when we add it to the point above, about maids and house cleaning and so on.

Because that's actually where a lot of the past century's automation went. Both Hans Roslin and Ha Joon Chang refer to it as "the washing machine" but it's really all domestic technology. The Rhoomba is just the latest iteration of the self cleaning oven, drip dry shirts, vacuum cleaners that work, the microwave and so on.

People do complain a bit about housework these days but it's simply not a 60 hour a week occupation like it used to be.

And then we come to "working hours". The only true measure is when we add market, paid, working hours to those unpaid household working hours. And, for example, the average American woman is working more paid hours than the average German woman, but fewer total (ie, 30 minutes a week less) than the average German one (from Tim Smeeding reading the LIS numbers).

Working hours have hugely reduced. And leisure hours have hugely increased. It's just that it's domestic working hours (yes, for men too) are what have fallen.

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

Well, if the robots are going to make things then either the robots or we get to enjoy them. And if the robots don't, then we will. Or, alternatively, the robots won't be making anything, leaving us right where we are now.

It's not possible for the robots to be pumping out stuff and people not consuming that stuff.

And Bill Nordhaus has a recent paper out that shows if the owners of the robots (capital, ie) were getting close to 100% of the economy's output, then wages would be rising at 200% a year after inflation.

Not, really, all that much of a problem. Yes, huge inequality but who gives a shit when real incomes are tripling each and every year?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

When people say they want to "work less", what they mean is that they would like to "work less, and have the same, if not larger, buying power". In reality, anyone working a four day week is turning down an extra 25% income for not working a regular 5 day week. It behoves us to maximise our income whilst minimising our displeasure.

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

I'd take a look at the way that productivity is calculated before assuming that the UK is 'worse' than France and less efficient, due to the way that the public sector is included in the calculation. The bigger your public sector, the more efficient your economy looks

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

"Give everyone a robot that they can contract out to companies?"

Maybe not quite this but...

Family history research shows that most of my male forbears were independent tradesmen, mostly clothiers. Until about the turn of the C19th it would have been unthinkable that cloth manufacture would be carried out in massive mills. Is the ever growing concentration of manufacturing in larger units the only way to organise manufacturing?

I'm sure Tim will be ready to tell us about Adam Smith and pin making to argue that this concentration in factories was inevitable because having workers concentrate on a single task in a process was more efficient. However Adam Smith's pin makers weren't using robots. There's no reason to think that a form of organisation which suits manual methods is necessarily one which suits robotic methods. What seems unthinkable as a way of organising work now need not be so in the future.

So might it be reasonable for individuals or small groups of individuals to buy their own robot installations and sub-contract work from larger corporations?

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Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

Certainly, change the technology of production and you'll change the efficiencies/inefficiencies of scale arguments.

Which will prevail, more concentration or less is going to depend upon the minutiae of the technology.

Think of programming 50 years ago. You had to have access to a £1 million machine to be able to do it. Today a great deal of it can be done on a £1,000 machine and an internet connection.

Just depends.

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Happy

Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

"Today a great deal of it can be done on a £1,000 machine and an internet connection."

A thousand quid machine? You're being ripped off.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

No, the approximately a third of people who can't do anything more useful that watch a computer do their job die off (or are placed on a B-ark) and the economy stabilizes again. Unless everyone else dies out due to the robot who cleans the phones stopping working.

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