Thursday, August 14, 2014

When Robots Replaced Liberal Arts Majors

If you really want to be on the cutting edge of economic thought, the concept of robots making human labor obsolete is the place to be.

This does not really threaten people who are willing to expend the calories of energy to learn skills and trades that either cannot be replaced by robots or that are in the fields of developing, building, maintaining and programming said robots.

But if you're a talentless "liberal arts" major working as a barrista


An idiotic customer service worker in Seattle who thought the minimum wage of $15 was a great idea

you may want to rethink you're grand strategy of just "forcing" employers to pay you more when your lack of genuine skills can be automated at a fraction of the cost.

But, you know, hey, you go and "major in what your heart tells you" and see how well that poppycock strategy developed in the 50's works for you.  The rest of us will be preparing for the 2020's.


fatmanjudo said...

You need to read "The end of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin. I read it back when Clinton was in office. The elites are struggling with what to do with people when the GRIN technologies (Genetic, Robotic, information, nanotech) are integrated and replace 80% of the workforce. The big solution was volunteerism, which, I suppose, is much better than what they appear to have settled on - elimination.

When you look back to the turn of the last century 1/3 of the population was engaged in agriculture. Now 3% feed us all. Then the workforce was pushed into manufacturing. Which everyone knows is going to be replaced with robotics coupled with information science - even in China. The only area left is services. Which are either high (healthcare)or low paying (baristas).

The solution of everyone becoming a science major, just means that wages will be pushed down in the high end service sector. The service sector gate keepers are fighting the good fight by raising the barriers to entry. A good example is physical therapy, which was a BS is now a doctorate. How much new information is there in physical therapy.
In the near future we are all baristas.

AuricTech said...

The Adaptive Curmudgeon is currently writing a series of blog posts called "Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug." Part 1 discusses why he's in favor of ever-increasing automation, Part 2 discusses the ATM, Part 3 deals with self-service gasoline pumps, and Part 4 (the latest as of this comment) discusses fast food. In each part, he personifies the worker who used to provide the service, then points out how much better life has become (or, in the case of fast food, is in the process of becoming) since soulless machines took the workers' places.

kurt9 said...

This is why I'm an automation engineer.

TroperA said...

There's only one economy I know of where being a creative person actually pays off - Second Life. It's in its infancy, but I predict the bulk of human work will eventually take place in virtual worlds--first, in worlds that can be accessed via computer monitor or primitive VR systems, then--later on-- worlds that are fully immersive and almost indistinguishable from the real world.

It's not hard to envision a future where people live in small apartments (equipped only with beds, fridges and toilets), where they can plug themselves into a Matrix-like device that replicates a fantastic version of the real world. People will spend most of their time in this world, free from the constraints of physics, gender, sex and infirmity. Virtual items will still be needed for this world to function, and the bulk of work will be done by self-employed people who make new things to place into the virtual world. Virtual clothing, mansions, landscapes, jewelry. Even virtual bodies and body parts will be for sale. Everything you can find at the Second Life Marketplace will be selling for a mere fraction of what these things cost in real life. (Imagine, owning a virtual mansion with a pool, three Rolls Royces, your own personal jet and a floating island in the sky to place it on--all for a slightly above minimum wage salary. After all, your only real world expenses will be a dingy apartment, utilities, enough food to keep you alive, and a monthly subscription to the virtual wonderland where the vast majority of your most prized possessions are stored.)

Those people who are unable to build things in the virtual world will be able to provide in-world services--prostitution being chief among them. The barrier to entry for this profession will be extremely low, since anyone, male or female, would be able to buy an attractive female avatar. (However, if someone manages to create virtual prostitutes--avatars with a serviceable AI--that would drive down the cost of virtual hookers even further.)

One possible source of virtual income could come from the creation of games or interactive adventures, set in simulated worlds Or one could run a virtual jazz club and hire people to act as hosts and DJs. Or one could be a musician and give concerts inworld at virtual theaters.

The only real world jobs would consist of those who grow food, maintain buildings and utilities, those who maintain the Matrix, and Policemen and Soldiers, who have to make sure people and their Real World stuff are safe while everyone is frolicking in Virtualand.

Anonymous said...

>>>>When you look back to the turn of the last century 1/3 of the population was engaged in agriculture. Now 3% feed us all.<<<<

Looking at the political and economic situation and outlook; I rather suspect that 3% is going to have to move back closer to the 1/3, albeit for a smaller population

Subotai Bahadur

Anonymous said...

I knew a chap - dead now, in his 40s - who worked as a teaching assistant in my university. He was very excited when the teaching assistants became unionized. I told him not to be too excited - the pay rates would increase, but the number would decrease. His department followed through by not rehiring him. He was eventually picked up by another department to teach on a per-course basis - which is the very bottom of the barrel. I think he OD'd a couple of years after that.

Anonymous said...

Well, telephone services are now almost entirely automated or outsourced. As for banks, I'd rather deal with an ATM than with a teller who is trying to act like an ATM and not doing it very well.

We'll probably end up with a very stratified society, much like Roman society in the early Empire. There will be a bottom class (uneducable) kept on handouts (bread and circuses in Rome). Then a lower class with considerable technical skill (technologists). Then a middling class with more technical skill (engineers and equivalent professionals). Then probably a class who own and run fair-sized business establishments (equivalent to the Roman equestrian class). Then the extremely wealthy upper class, made up of cyberlords, Russian oil billionaires, and that ilk - roughly the Roman Senatorial class. The differences in income may be factors of 10 or 100 between successive classes. We see this right now, where the wealthiest billionaires may be worth 100 times as much as mere millionaires.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on those of us who can still build & repair things in the real world? For example, I'm in the process of interviewing for a power-supply repair job. Turns out that a lot of STEM grads can't write a "Hello World" program or light up an LED. Don't ask them to fix anything technical.....

newrebeluniv said...

Robots be raciss.

They take jobs from minorities and minority customers can't use them. Businesses only get robots because they raciss.

Anonymous said...

I'm not completely convinced that robots will ever take over customer service roles, with the exception of the most basic (till jockeys being the first on the chopping block). People will always value a pretty girl or guy they can shoot the shit with serving their beer. The higher end services (law, advertising, sales etc) are even safer, as they'd require extremely advanced AI and usually some human decision making element. Its manual work that will be the first to go.

Rick said...

And how exactly do you sell your robot-built products to people who have no money because they have no work? This is a question never answered by those who implement automation to the degree to which you refer.