back to article Terrified robots will take middle class jobs? Look in a mirror

At the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Barbican last year, Claire Fox chaired a panel titled "Is Technology Limiting Our Humanity?", and invited me to take part. Panelists could give a seven-minute introduction. It's now online as a video and podcast*. Two avenues looked promising, and I'll give you excerpts from each. One …

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Coat

Re: Holy Grail Team Terrain for Virtual Exploitation and/or Exploration

Welcome back - you've been missed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Holy Grail Team Terrain for Virtual Exploitation and/or Exploration

Clearly amanfrommars1 is a robot - or just speaking in tongues. On this evidence I do not feel that my income stream is under imminent threat.

Unless I too am a robot?

Must stop reading that SciFi rubbish.

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Robots will need to let the boss win at golf.

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Anonymous Coward

Golf, Bunga-Bunga and Friday Lunch Time Piss-ups

Golf as a business networking tool is surely as outdated as taking your work colleagues to a bunga-bunga event or mass piss-up on a friday lunch time.

Christ I miss the good ol' days.

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I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

I'm a little concerned about what's going to happen if pretty much every middle class job gets eliminated. Mechanization of agriculture pushed people into industrial jobs. Automation of industry pushed people into corporate jobs. Automation and offshoring of corporate jobs is pushing the lower-end people into crappy service jobs. Unless the next step is for all of us to become international YouTube celebrities or something, the entire model is going to have to change. There just isn't another place to go this time around.

I've worked for big companies doing IT for almost 20 years now. Big companies used to have thousands of people paid middle class salaries to do things like answer correspondence, type memos, etc. when those things couldn't be automated. There are still a good number of jobs that involve taking an input stack of paperwork, performing some sort of process on it, and sending it to the next person in line. And people are paid decent money for that. People buy houses, cars, other toys, and have children based on the idea that they will have some way to support them. Your average megacorporation has a headquarters that can span multiple full size office buildings, and you can bet that not everyone is an IT wizard or executive.

So I'm not fearful of change; I'll adapt if I have to. I am worried that there will be no way to adapt and still have a comfortable life.

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Anonymous Coward

@Erik4872 - Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

Like you, I know I can adapt and I'm willing to adapt. Trouble is most of the time you're being denied the chance to adapt. They're simply not interested in you.

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Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

"Automation and offshoring of corporate jobs is pushing the lower-end people into crappy service jobs"

Its bad enough that this is happening, but we are moving closer to the point where many retail, driving and food service positions are being automated out of existence. Here in San Francisco, a company that makes robots for the food service industry is opening a 100% robot-made hamburger joint to showcase their technology. And locally we have Google working on driverless cars, something that will have profound effects for people who make a living driving cabs/Uber/Lyft/limos or even trucks and buses (I recall seeing something about a year ago about how "driving" is the #1 or #2 occupation in the United States). Uber supposedly plans to move entirely to driverless cars once they are reliable, so there goes jobs for the people who are working under Uber's already-questioned labor practices.

And if you go to most big stores that do not try to convey a "high-touch" service model in the U.S. and Canada, there is a self-checkout line where you scan and bag your own stuff, pay at the built-in kiosk at the checkstand and walk out. And this self-checkout is supervised by one employee who answers questions and makes sure that customers just don't walk right out the door without paying, instead of the 3-4 cashiers/service clerks that would be needed if you had normal checkstands.

And building these robots? How much do you want to be that will be done in China/India/Vietnam/wherever manufacturing is cheap and less regulated?

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Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

"There is a self-checkout line where you scan and bag your own stuff,"

Which works fine if you have less than a dozen items.

If you have a big shop, a human operated till is much faster.

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Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

"If you have a big shop, a human operated till is much faster."

Unless the only human-operated tills ALL have lines going halfway to the intimates (and this is the norm these days).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

Or no manned tills at all, which seems to be happening more and more these days, at least in smaller shops.

We have a small Tescos in the town centre, and the main tills are only staffed during peak times, pop in at 7PM on a week day, or a quiet Sunday afternoon and you only have one staff member watching the self serves, and all other staff are doing stock checks etc.

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Re: I'm more worried about stability of society than displacement.

My prediction is that those "unexpected item in the bagging area" self scan tills aren't the killer for checkout staff. I reckon it takes 20% longer to go through a self scan till than a regular one if everything goes right, much longer if something won't scan or has a security tag. So although there are 4 people being looked after by only one human, it's only really acheiving less than double the throughput, at a cost of a worse customer experience.

The killer for checkout staff is click and collect. Order and pay for your groceries on t'internet then just turn up and pick up your already packed bags. You used to have to order the day before, now you can order in the morning and collect in the afternoon. A bit more automation in the warehouse and I can see the robot picking my shopping in the time it takes me to drive from my house to the shop.

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Can Scott Adams help?

It crossed my mind that something from Dilbert might be appropriate, but I found too many to choose from.

See http://dilbert.com/search_results?terms=Robot and find your own favorite.

Scary...

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Re: Can Scott Adams help?

Thanks for that. Many lulz - at one time I shared the same employer at Scott.

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You received precious seconds with your GP? Luxury!!! I get to see a picture of mine as I'm walked down the hall by the PA that does the actual consult......

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The End of Work

Two facts:

1. There is no shortage of food, water, energy, health care, shelter (or any "thing" else).

2. Our social systems based on imaginary differences (e.g., 'monarchy' or 'race' or whatever those tokens signify) and magical thinking combined with magic hat procedures makes point 1 seem false to the magically benighted.

AI need not be sentient or even care if you turn it off for it to far outstrip all human decision-making in all domains where humans substitute the absurd, the stupid, and the plain outlandishly wrong for the hard work of actual reasoning. "That's the way we've always done it" is the "reason" for the continuation of the current farce.

I read "Turing's Cathedral" based on a book review I found on El Reg:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/01/10/turing_cathedral_fan_belts_exist_briefly_in_the_intervals_between_stars/

Highly recommended, full of startling things, but to the point of Andrew's essay, we still lack a definition for "thinking" "living" or "sentience" that troubled them at the start of the computing revolution.

These questions don't need answers for us to make better decisions. Look to the Finns and the proposal to just "give money" to everyone so they can subsist. At some point computers will be able to do everything better than humans (political decisions for example), and then there won't be jobs, or work, careers: everyone will have infinite free time. Then what? The computers may gin up some occupational therapy like the dude in Metropolis moving the clock arms.

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Re: The End of Work

"These questions don't need answers for us to make better decisions. Look to the Finns and the proposal to just "give money" to everyone so they can subsist."

A proposal shared by some libertarians as well as some very left leaning people. It has a lot of merit and would increase the wages for many tedious and unpleasant jobs while decreasing the cost of roles where career/skills advancement is the aim. Can we afford it? Can we afford not to do it? I'm glad someone is trying it, but it does require a strong immigration policy.

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As Jaron Lanier points out, to make computers seem intelligent, we first have to make ourselves really dumb. And once we're dumb, we're super impressed by what a computer just did!

The process is well underway in the US at least. Schools don't teach people to think and even the subjects they do teach are dumbed down because.. well we can't leave anyone behind... They don't want tools they can use to be creative, they want a bit of smart and shiny. They buy into false news because it's on their computer and from the Internet. A look at the scams floating about says more about society then anyone might want to believe. Yes, the dumbing down process is succeeding and breeding whole new generations of people who's main job will be asking "Do you want fries with that?".

We need a grumpy, disheartened cynic icon...

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"The process is well underway in the US at least. Schools don't teach people to think and even the subjects they do teach are dumbed down because.. well we can't leave anyone behind..."

Well, some of them DO have a point. After all, if you DO leave children behind, what do you do with the rejects? Make the standard too tough and you could the up in a situation like Japan and South Korea, where the intense pressure causes them to have the worst suicide rates in the industrialized world.

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rejects?

As always there has to be a happy medium (something nobody seems to have ever managed to achieve sustainably).

However, what has been happening for some time is that against an objective standard of best available performance, median performance has been declining so we're all becoming "rejects". Here, maybe, is a reason. Instead of, as in the past, creating technologies primarily to enhance innate capacities, for some time we've been creating them to supplant those capacities, so the innate capacities are allowed to atrophy. It's even beginning to show in the quality of the supplanting technologies, as people with atrophied capacities have entered the roles of creator, designer and QA inspector. Evidence of this is readily to hand - witness the appalling quality of software, even in mission- and life-critical systems.

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Unhappy

Evolution in Action

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Re: rejects?

"As always there has to be a happy medium (something nobody seems to have ever managed to achieve sustainably)."

Because no modern parent wants to be told his/her child has basically been rejected by society: particularly if the child is the parent's last or sole child, marking the parent as a failure, too. I mean, no one wants to be told, "You Lose. Game Over. Better Luck Next Life." So how do you deal with hopeless rejects in a society that won't tolerate rejects when it gets personal?

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@Charles 9 re; "what do you do with the rejects?"

Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.

http://despair.com/collections/demotivators/products/potential

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Happy

America Is Safe

The moonshiner's stills and the meth labs will still be manned by humans........

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Happy

America Is Safe

.....because the moonshiner's stills and the meth labs will always be manned by humans.

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Meh

Re: America Is Safe

you really think so? moonshiners are business people too and I'll bet they can automate it all

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Re: America Is Safe

Moonshiners also know they have to keep a low profile. And the best way to keep your still secret is to stay low-tech. No power, minimal fuel, equipment easy to conceal or, as a last resort, rebuild. Anyway, the nature of the beast restricts the level of increased efficiency a moonshiner can squeeze out before something else chokes up the process (usually mash or water supply).

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The state of the "social safety net" and automation concerns

Frankly, the future of most worldwide government healthcare and pension entitlements doesn't look too great. These programs aren't going to die, but its hard to see how they will be able to provide the inflation-adjusted benefits that they do today.

Plus this world is not currently turning into Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek future, where your food replicator puts billions of people who work in agriculture and food service/retailing out of a job, but the savings and freed up resources are distributed in large part to the welfare and retraining of these now jobless people. Sadly, the world we are heading toward is closer to Blade Runner, where the investors and entrepreneurs at International Replicator MegaCorp make a mint, and the people who's living is disrupted are tossed out on the street, and maybe given the gruel-only replicator in compensation.

So getting automated out of a job can basically mean that you spend your retirement in a rather squalid room with illnesses that you can't afford to get treated, eating a fairly meagre to substandard diet.

I can see why people have "displacement anxiety" about something like that.

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Re: The state of the "social safety net" and automation concerns

Frankly, the future of most worldwide government healthcare and pension entitlements doesn't look too great. These programs aren't going to die, but its hard to see how they will be able to provide the inflation-adjusted benefits that they do today. .... Marketing Hack

The programs are going to die, Marketing Hack ..... for this is just the tip of the titanic iceberg of future woe, http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-02-18/i-guess-its-food-stamps-400000-americans-jeopardy-giant-pension-fund-plans-50-benefi

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I for one welcome our new AI overlords - gotta be better than the clueless VIP's currently in charge!

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"On that train all graphite and glitter

Undersea by rail

Ninety minutes from New York to Paris

(More leisure time for artists everywhere)

A just machine to make big decisions

Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

We'll be clean when their work is done

We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young

What a beautiful world this will be

What a glorious time to be free"

Part of the lyrics to "IGY", by Donald Fagen

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Behaviourism

For a few years now I've been pointing out in various discussions that a lot of govt. policy has been based on behaviourism. A belief that we can be taught, controlled and "nudged" using these ideas. Much of education has been taken over by that sort of policy. Everything has been broken down into mechanical skills that are taught individually in sequence, tested individually before passing onto the next level. It has a pseudo-logical "stands to reason" attractiveness that ignores the messy, complicated way that we do actually learn.

Ditto how we behave. We don't really behave in that selective, logical, individual decision way and behaviourism can only have a limited influence on our decisions. Other things get in the way, like how we see other people behaving.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Behaviourism

I agree, it's everywhere.

We don't act rationally at all times, obviously. But once you decide a priori that people can't act rationally at all, then behaviourism is about all you have left: hence all the nudging, prodding and hectoring.

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Windows

Still looking at the headline, abnd wondering why the robots are terrified.

Pass another pint of coffee please.

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Purpose of GPs

GPs are there to treat minor ailments and spot and signpost major ones, not to have an enjoyable chat with you.

One of the things which makes the NHS more efficient than the French health system is that you're not personally paying your GP. If you were, of course he'd be happy to chat to you for an hour. However, if in that hour he hasn't treated or diagnosed anything which couldn't have been spotted in a 5 minute consultation, then what you've really done is hired a GP for 5 minutes and an escort for 55.

For similar reasons, we don't particularly want GPs exercising creativity. We want them to consistently do whatever produces the best health outcomes and that means following the diagnostic procedures which can be shown to give the best results. The minute some bio-sensors and a tech following the instructions of IBM's Watson programmed with a medical degree out performs the average GP, we should switch to that if we care about healthcare. As the AIs get better and the body of medical knowledge a GP is expected to know gets bigger and more complex, this is surely only a matter of time.

Of course, if you don't care about healthcare you just want someone to chat to for an hour who will tell you how amazing you are for cutting down on smoking, you can probably hire someone on peopleperhour.com to do that much cheaper.

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Welcome the Singularity (and beyond)!

At some point, with the current level of AI development, "robots" will ultimately match human intelligence then rapidly expand beyond that point. Humans will become redundant, i.e.: have no purpose or place in future development. I view this as our ultimate goal even though it will mean the end of biologic humans.

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Crowdfund Sickipedia Now

GPs rarely look up from reading the-NHS-version-of-Wikipedia on their computer.

Health care has several components, including prevention, monitoring, diagnosis and treatment. The age of robotics really could replace GPs in some cases and would definitely improve their usefulness in others.

If something like Blogger could be used to collect details of symptoms, effects and side-effects of medicines, outcomes, helpful hints and so forth, with the heap of anecdotal information being mined by the sort of software that the three letter agencies are supposed to use to find trrrrsts, then this might actually help to promote the shift from having doctors as demigods towards evidence-based medicine.

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Rol

Re: Crowdfund Sickipedia Now

And the a robot is highly unlikely to prescribe medicine on the back of a free weekend of golf in California.

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Terrified robots will take middle class jobs

Stop scaring the robots then!

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Terrified Robots...

The REAL reason we can't allow robots to ever have any AI... Poor bank droid....

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Rol

The Grimm Reality

"Ha, Beanwhistlethwaite, I see you finally managed to teach Techtron 5 how to make a wicker basket"

"Yes....Sir"

"Well, as we discussed, I'll keep your wife working in the talent mill, but you my friend, have no purpose."

"Yes....I understand"

"I'll book you into the All Quiet rest home, let's say, next Tuesday. That'll give you enough time to get your affairs in order and say your goodbyes."

"Of course Sir"

.......

"Hi love"

"Oh my dear, you finally did it"

"Well, I couldn't string it out any longer. Sir was on to me and I didn't want to risk you losing your job as well"

"But I hate this life, and without you, what is the point?"

"The point is you persevere, you live until your very last breath, because there's always hope"

"Hope! What hope? I am alive, because of my pretty looks, and how long will they keep me in favour?"

"And then you will become the mother of many pretty girls, all favouring your genes"

"NO! I will not see my children born into a life of prostitution, I'll go to the rest home first"

"Please my beloved, don't give up hope, and don't deny your children life, so that they may never hope"

"Hope, hope, hope. Is that all we have for tomorrow,? Hope. Hope the Sun erupts in tears for our plight wiping out the electronics that binds us to this horror, or hope an alien species with some sense of morals stumbles across this, this,....please, let's run away, you don't have to die"

"What, and live on whatever we manage to scavenge from the Amazon delivery drones? A home-made bow and arrow and fingers crossed will not deliver us a Harrod's hamper and don't forget, the Facebook patrols will be looking for us. No, my fate is sealed. Accept it my darling, and lets enjoy these last few days together"

....

"Ah! David, how the Devil are you? It's been a while"

"I'm fine Dad"

"You don't sound it. Was the holiday that bad?"

"It may sound really stupid, but I hate being stupid"

"Stupid, don't be a fool, you're as clever as the next man"

"Exactly, we're all here by the simple merit of having wealth. Knowledge, education, learning, they're all useless endeavours, pursuits with no purpose."

"And that gives you all the time in the world to do as you please"

"But, what is happiness if my comprehension of it is limited to buying stuff and abusing my privilege?"

"I think you need to spend some time in the rest home, young lad, watching the final moments of my redundant staff, should shake you out of this malaise"

....

Will David help save Beanwhistlethwaite, change the world and help usher in a new era of humanity for humanity's sake?

Nope. Seems that Bender hacked his Amazon account and spent it all on beer and 3-in-1. Without money the poor lad will be credit checked as he walks into the All Quiet rest home and be turned into fertilizer in an instant.

And they all existed, ever after.

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