back to article Robo-AI jobs doomsday may, er... not actually happen, say boffins

Today's technopanic about robots and AI, largely created by the media, may be overstated. New modelling published this week attempts to isolate the impact of industrial automation from other factors, and envisage what the economy might look like if the use of robots in industry increases, focusing on the impact on employment …

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I'm for the chop soon then...

...as my job mainly consists of taking the blame without arguing back. I should think a machine could do that.

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Re: I'm for the chop soon then...

As you cannot hurt a machine's feelings it will not be as satisfying as blaming a person so I think your job is safe for now.

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Trollface

How about the jobs that those robots create ?

Think of all the programming, assembly and maintenance required...

Unless we start creating robots to create and maintain those other robots...

Then its robots all the way down !

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

An awful lot of the work we do is in maintaining our fleshy selves so if robots could dispense with that part they'd have a lot more time to focus on their own assembly and maintenance.

I am sure they will work this out for themselves in due course.

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

"Unless we start creating robots to create and maintain those other robots...

Then its robots all the way down !"

No, you route them into a loop. If Robot A can service Robot B and Robot B can service Robot A (or at some point in the chain, the robot or robots can circle back to service the first robot in the loop), then you solve the "Who Services the Service Robots?" with "One of the other Robots."

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

The issue is, for every programmer and maintainer, you've most likely lost a hundred or more manual workers.

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

What you describe is exactly what Elon Musk is aiming for.

Tesla will be the test bed for this. It is needed to make a colony on Mars viable (i.e. self sufficient) but the side effect will be to make tens of millions of workers redundant within 10 years.

Prepare to spend your life jobless. Unless we have a new Luddite revolution.

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

I'd just like to point out that not having a job is not a terrible situation if you have another way of deriving a living. At that point it's actually pretty sweet.

I would love to be able to get by without needing to work. Finding ways to accommodate that across most of the population will be one of the big challenges of this century.

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Mushroom

Re: Luddite Revolution

How about a Butlerian Jihad. PP

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

I think you mean a Butlerian Jihad.

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Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

The problem is that its not 1 to 1. A fleet of robots may replace several dozen workers, but only need a few people to maintain. Furthermore, the displaced workers won't be the ones doing these maintenance jobs. So retraining becomes an issue... most likely one that has to be taken on by the laid off workers themselves or the gov't, because that costs money and the avg company will try to externalize everything they can.

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Paris Hilton

Re: How about the jobs that those robots create ?

"No, you route them into a loop. If Robot A can service Robot B and Robot B can service Robot A (or at some point in the chain, the robot or robots can circle back to service the first robot in the loop)"
But if all these fembots are busy servicing each other, how do they find the time to service paying clients? Or am I missing something?

Paris because there's no icon for Anita...

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Lift

It was suggested the other day that the only job that has been completely automated out of existence in the USA is the elevator (sic) operator.

Are there any others (septic or otherwise) that spring to mind?

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Re: Lift

"It was suggested the other day that the only job that has been completely automated out of existence in the USA is the elevator (sic) operator.

Are there any others (septic or otherwise) that spring to mind?"

Lighthouse keepers are pretty well gone.

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Re: Lift

A few years ago I would have said car washing, but those hand-wash outfits have made a comeback* due to being better than monster rolling brushes and easier than jet-washing it yourself.

I went on a tour of the BBC, and was surprised to find no camera operators in the newsroom. The fairly routine (hence automate-able) pan/zoom etc on static studio occupants means that in an early-morning newsroom, the newsreader(s) are usually alone.

*May soon be reversed due to Brexit and the non-indigenous accents of most of the guys working there

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Re: Lift

Telephone exchange operator?

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Re: Lift

Typist... maybe just displaced.

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It all depends on your definition of robot and automation.

You may be better of saying technology.

For example, self service tills. They are not automated, they are not robots, but here yo have a technology replacing jobs. Not many, but a "few"

Printing, you used to have typesetters, negative makers, plate makers, ink mixers....not it's often straight to press.

The biggest risk is not robots per say, but the chip, chip, chip effect of minor changes becoming one big change.

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Right: over the past hundred years farming jobs didn't go away, but one or two guys can do the work of dozens. With ratios like that, the idea of farm hand as a separate job from farm manager has all but evaporated.

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Joke

"...the chip, chip, chip effect of minor changes becoming one big change."

Absolutely, and that's why this is where I draw the line and make my stand. It's "per se".

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"over the past hundred years farming jobs didn't go away, but one or two guys can do the work of dozens. With ratios like that, the idea of farm hand as a separate job from farm manager has all but evaporated."
The percentage of the population involved in farming has declined from over 50% to around 1%. And there's a shortage of farmhands. My neighbour (apple orchardist and beef cattle) told me he's selling up. Neither of his sons are interested in taking over.

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Inverting the pyramid

As the actual "producing stuff" gets more automated and therefore cheaper, companies will be able - maybe even required - to employ more layers of managers, supervisors and other clerical roles. We have seen this ever since the 1960s: as mass-production improved, the cost of manufacture dropped, the cost of transportation was reduced and goods got cheaper, into the bargain.

Yet, in order to have a market to sell those goods into, it is necessary to have a large number of employed, well-paid, individuals to actually buy the stuff: consumers. Without them, it doesn't matter how cheap, well-made or innovative something is.

Even 20+ years ago when I worked for a large multinational as a consultant, The overriding element of that company was the number of unproductive administrative staff they employed. I had calculated that from my hourly rate - of which, being an employee I saw very little, they were employing 6 other people, simply based on what they charged for me; at the sharp end - the guy who actually had billables.

And so it will be in the future. When all the productive, revenue earning, work is done by machines companies will still employ the same number of people. But instead of stamping out widgets, selling shiny products to the gullible or explaining to a client why a database table with 1200 VARCHAR columns won't access very fast (will update even slower), will be a nightmare to maintain and probably isn't even what they want - all those employees will while away their days in meetings discussing exactly which shade of brown their packaging boxes should be and whether the risk-assessment for moving the company logo 2mm to the left on the letterhead should be out-sourced or done in-house.

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Re: Inverting the pyramid

For most companies, human employees are something they'd want to get rid of, even if cash costs of automation were a bit higher.

Automation can give less quality variations, doesn't chuck sick days, doesn't go on strike, doesn't get all emotionally "needy" from time to time, doesn't need entire departments to administer and pay it, doesn't embezzle, doesn't need rest breaks, washrooms, canteens, pensions, doesn't need a parking space, doesn't switch company every few years taking all its tacit knowledge and skills with it, doesn't need training in safe lifting or competition law for oiks, etc

The only companies who wouldn't want to automate away their staff to the greatest possible extent are those where human interaction with customers or product is part of the proposition, so things like front of house hospitality, or where "hand made" is key to the offer.

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Re: Inverting the pyramid

And as for having people with the money to pay for your goods, the robot masters can simply cater to each other.

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Re: Inverting the pyramid

>Automation can give less quality variations, doesn't chuck sick days, doesn't go on strike, doesn't get all emotionally "needy" from time to time, doesn't need entire departments to administer and pay it, doesn't embezzle, doesn't need rest breaks, washrooms, canteens, pensions, doesn't need a parking space, doesn't switch company every few years taking all its tacit knowledge and skills with it, doesn't need training in safe lifting or competition law for oiks, etc<

You do realize that you just said machines don't need service, and don't break....

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Re: Inverting the pyramid

Not perfectly, but it still seriously reduces manpower. Instead of a line of workers, you have one or two line supervisors, and when things breaks, you bring in an on-call contractor only as and when needed.

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Re: Inverting the pyramid

Maybe. Much of what managers do is herd people through reviews, assignments and scheduling. Take that work away and you can essentially kill off that whole role and go with directors, project managers and the reduced staff necessary for decision support and marketing.

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Displaced not redundant

Robots will do the same tasks that a human used to do only cheaper and quicker, those humans are freed from that production line to work on either a new/different (as yet) non robot production line or do something different entirely.

The displaced humans may get the same or less pay than before the robots arrived but it doesn't matter because products produced by robots are cheaper for the end consumer.

The cost of a mini in 1960 was about 1/5th of a house

The cost of the equivalent today is about 1/22nd (and it is more reliable and cheaper to run)

Most people still have jobs and more people own cars and TVs than at any point in history despite both automation and negligible above inflation pay rises.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

Probllem there is that the cost of living hasn't fallen as quickly as the average wage, plus inflation affects the cost of living harder than the average wage. End result, cheaper goods are STILL out of reach for people locked into pittance jobs that pay EVEN LESS.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

Charles 9,

that's not true though, most people have double glazing, central heating, kitchens full of gadgets they never use, 3 TVs, mobile phones for everyone, tablets, games consoles, fridge freezers, dishwashers even.

Food is cheaper now than it has ever been, more people eat out more of the time, even on minimum wage life has never been better in this (or any other non-war torn) country.

The number of cars on the road has doubled since the 1980's

In 1970 about 65% of households had a washing machine, now virtually every household has one.

The cost of housing hasn't fallen though, this is due to lack of permissions to build and the lack of automation in the building process (these together add up to restrictive practises and keep the price high).

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Re: Displaced not redundant

"Food is cheaper now than it has ever been, more people eat out more of the time, even on minimum wage life has never been better in this (or any other non-war torn) country."

Care to back that up? Sure, some things are cheaper, but they're the small fry on the average budget. Plus we're currently in the middle of a soft spot in fuel prices. If we took numbers post-Katrina when fuel prices were 50-100% higher, that changes the outlook.

http://www.mybudget360.com/cost-of-living-compare-1975-2015-inflation-price-changes-history/

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Re: Displaced not redundant

In the 1950's UK households spent around 40% of their income on food and only 8% owned a fridge. By the mid-80's housholds were spending only 20% of their income on food and by 2005 this had dropped to 10%

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/597666/FF75Timeline-09mar17.pdf

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Re: Displaced not redundant

@Bob Rocket

Choose life.

Choose a job.

Choose a career.

Choose a family,

Choose a fucking big television

Choose washing machines, cars,

Compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.

Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance.

Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments.

Choose a starter home.

Choose your friends.

Choose leisure wear and matching luggage.

Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase

In a range of fucking fabrics.

Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning.

Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing

Sprit-crushing game shows

Stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth.

Choose rotting away at the end of it all,

Pishing you last in a miserable home

Nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish,

Fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself.

Choose your future. Choose life.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

The percentage of people taking drugs for pleasure (except tobacco) has remained remarkably stable despite price/legality/other distraction fluctuations.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

The thing is, as cheap as robots are getting it's still a capital outlay that has to be justified by the operational cost over time. And as more and more people are unemployed the cost of labor will fall until it reaches whatever passes for minimum wage. You shouldn't buy robots if meat is cheaper over the long run unless there's a quality improvement or some other justification for it, and some work is low margin enough that the cost of automation will never be covered.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

That can only apply if the cost of living is really, really LOW (say, Third World low). Otherwise, it increasingly becomes a case of living wage or no wage. People who work two jobs deprive more people of work, exacerbating the issue. Meanwhile, like with horses, there are upkeep issues with human labor, plus you need multiple laborers to cover the 24-hour day, inconsistencies, etc. It's not like the Sprawl where people are born and raised in the company and are thus totally loyal to it, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Displaced not redundant

What I do not get is the obvious next set of jobs/revolution: space exploration. Start sending people out in the universe as there will be PLENTY of work for them. Think of people on Mars and ALL of the new jobs that would be there just waiting for them. Robots cannot do everything a human can do, plus it also ensures our survival as a species as the sun gets warmer.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

"The cost of a mini in 1960 was about 1/5th of a house

The cost of the equivalent today is about 1/22nd (and it is more reliable and cheaper to run)"

I take it then the new ones don't have Lucas electrics...

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Re: Displaced not redundant

"Probllem there is that the cost of living hasn't fallen as quickly as the average wage, plus inflation affects the cost of living harder than the average wage. End result, cheaper goods are STILL out of reach for people locked into pittance jobs that pay EVEN LESS."
Er... when I were a lad, the poor were poorer. Working class today have a standard of living only achieved by the middle class in the 1950s.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

"that's not true though, most people have double glazing, central heating, kitchens full of gadgets they never use, 3 TVs, mobile phones for everyone, tablets, games consoles, fridge freezers, dishwashers even."
Had a tenant whose rent was subsidised by the government, therefore low income. Moved out after 12 months and left behind two full skips of tat.
"The cost of housing hasn't fallen though, this is due to lack of permissions to build and the lack of automation in the building process (these together add up to restrictive practises and keep the price high)."
Here in Oz and probably UKLand as well, the high cost of housing is more due to high cost of land. The cost of land is maintained by Planning Schemes designed to do just that because that's what keeps the land taxes and rates bringing in the moolah for more government.

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Re: Displaced not redundant

Some most people have double glazing, central heating, kitchens full of gadgets they never use, 3 TVs, mobile phones for everyone, tablets, games consoles, fridge freezers, dishwashers even.

If you can't get that right, you're haven't seen the full bell curve in the world. There are plenty, actually more than plenty, of people who don't have 3 TVs, mobile phones, tablets, games consoles, and dishwashers.

In fact, have you even tried to trace back who made all your gadgets? Have you thought about where the factories are? Look at the factories workers life style, look at the truck delivery guy salary, look at the crap those people eat to get on with their days.

If you think those people get anyway close to what you enjoy, then you really need to go out for a walk to the downtown area and meet a few new friends living on the edge.

Back to topic, the problem is not that technology continues to chip out the bottom of the triangle, but it could chip too much of the bottom of the triangle too quick. The great depression that somehow led to WWII was an example of that. The economic no longer needed a surplus of workers due to demand changes and suddenly 25% unemployment.

With unemployment, people buy less, leading to company selling less, leading to working employee paid less, leading to employee buying less, until to a point nothing works the way it was.

The developing of AI, advance machine learning or just one complex script could very much chip out a lot of workers for a job by removing the demand for the workers. Currently, it is already happening but at a feasible rate. We are just plain 'lucky' that no company has the will to complete their ultimate AI research no one asked for.

Because if they did and if they sold it at an unfeasible low price, it is back to great depression v2. Except this times, it will be very hard to recover. This is especially when most humans today don't use even close to 20% of their brain capacity, meaning they are likely to stay unemployed rather than to improve toward a better job.

We are not scared of robots taking over our specialized job, we are scared that the robots take over too many of other people's job, pulling us and the whole economy with them.

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@ Tim Seventh (was Re: Displaced not redundant)

It may not have occurred to you, but the wealth whereof we squeak is concentrated where there's maximum automation/cheap energy. I would suggest that if we assist the third world to achieve similar levels of automation/cheap energy, they will no longer be so badly off. Of course The Green Blob is vehemently opposed to this happening.

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Stop

Re: @ Tim Seventh (was Displaced not redundant)

@Tim 7th. The world is a much better place than you seem to think. Ask Hans Rosling. Even though he's dead.

http://www.gapminder.org/videos/dont-panic-end-poverty/

"Up-to-date statistics show that recent global progress is ‘the greatest story of our time – possibly the greatest story in all of human history. The goal seems unrealistic to many highly educated people because their worldview is lagging 60 years behind reality."

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Re: Displaced not redundant

"The cost of a mini in 1960 was about 1/5th of a house"

House prices have inflated at a much higher rate than other things, so aren't the best standard for comparison. In 1970 an average house in the UK cost around a year's pay. Now it's more like 10 years.

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Re: @ Tim Seventh (was Displaced not redundant)

"Ask Hans Rosling. Even though he's dead."

I've watched some of his presentations, as one of the few people that get get air time that are not all doom and gloom he is a real loss.

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("the voice of robotics in the world")

Anyone else hear that phrase in Stephen Hawking's voice while reading it?

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Coat

I tried calling him the other day. Kept getting his answering machine.

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Holmes

"Today's technopanic about robots and AI may be overstated"

see icon.

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Where's Fred Pohl when you need him?

The fraction of people who can understand and produce/fix all this automation is small. You have no idea how vastly tinily mind-bogglingly small it is. So what we get in the future is a world of glitchy automatons, even worse than the situation inside most companies that rely on software.

Get ready, world. Here comes that woodpecker.

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Re: Where's Fred Pohl when you need him?

Not too different from multi-function printers today: standard maintenance in the field, component swaps for some repairs, full unit replacements for anything complex, and rely on the network for configuration, monitoring and upgrades. The hard stuff, programming and design, stays centrally located and minimized. It'll be a mess for a while, but it's been done before and will be again.

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