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, …

  1. Rich 11 Silver badge

    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?

    1. John Hawkins

      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.

      1. Brenda McViking
        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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wants and desires

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wants and desires

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

    3. BigFire

      Re: Wants and desires

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

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Wants and desires

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

  2. Zog_but_not_the_first
    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.

    1. Fraggle850

      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.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        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.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          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...

    2. a cynic writes...

      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...

    3. Anonymous Blowhard

      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."

      1. Squander Two

        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.

        1. Bleu

          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.

  3. Lis 0r
    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.

    1. David Dawson

      Needs more caps and misspelling, A-

    2. Chris Miller

      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.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        "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

        1. Bleu

          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.

          1. Dan Paul

            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"?

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              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.

              1. Bleu

                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.

      2. Def Silver badge

        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. :)

        1. BigFire

          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.

          1. Naselus

            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'.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              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?

              1. Naselus

                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.

                1. Squander Two

                  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.

                  1. DaveDaveDave

                    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.

                  2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

                    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).

                    1. DaveDaveDave

                      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.

                    2. Squander Two

                      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.

                      1. Bleu

                        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.

            2. Bleu

              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.

          2. Def Silver badge

            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.

  4. Bota

    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.

  5. Tom 7 Silver badge

    We can always get jobs as luddites.

    Or dole scroungers.

    1. Bleu

      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.

  6. Joel 1

    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.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first
      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?

      1. auburnman

        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?

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          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?

          1. Tim Worstal

            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.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
              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.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

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

              And not only that. Transport infrastructure matters. In the C18th being a clothier meant, for most, a weekly trip to market to sell cloth & buy wool. By the mid C20th when I was growing up a 4 times per hour bus service doubled at peak times served and 8 or 9 mile route along the valley. Most mill employees would walk or cycle short distances to work; for some the nearest mill would be closer to home than the nearest bus stop. Not only have most of the mills gone but their sites are now occupied by housing with more being built. So local employment has gone down and the local population has gone up. And the bus service is now negligible. The consequence is that the area is now a dormitory for more distant urban centres with commuting by car. There is no real opportunity to improve the road network. It is an unsustainable situation in the longer term. It's also difficult to see how large scale employment could be reintroduced - the mill sites have largely been converted from single ownership to multiple ownership so that anyone wanting to build on the scale of a mill would have to buy out an entire housing estate house by house.

              The same thing happens elsewhere; employment is being concentrated in urban centres which require hundreds of square miles of surrounding countryside to house employees. At some point this trend will need to be reversed by reverting to small scale distributed employment or self-employment. Could the adoption of robots facilitate such a reorganisation?

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

                "The mill sites have largely been converted from single ownership to multiple ownership so that anyone wanting to build on the scale of a mill would have to buy out an entire housing estate house by house."

                Why would you want to do that?

                The original mills were built in the countryside close to water sources (first for power and later for transport) and were nowhere near any houses. All the housing came along later, _because_ of the mills

                Anyone wanting to build on the scale of a mill will do so where they can start with a clean sheet. Doing it the other way around is bass-ackwards and a recipe for failure.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

                  @Alan Brown

                  "Why would you want to do that?"

                  Because the original generation of mills occupied most of the flat ground in the valley bottoms. Those sites are now occupied by housing, Anybody's clean sheet of paper is going to assume flat and level.

            3. LucreLout Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

              @Tim

              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.

              Most can be done on a machine costing less than £500. Realistically an 8GB RAM, Intel i3 will see you off and running with pretty well any OS and coding environment you need. Sure, my works PC is a much higher spec, but then I spend 8-12 hours a day here, so it needs to be.

              Better still, if you want REAL horsepower, AWS/Azure/Others, will lease you the kit for what amounts to quite a small fee.

              Even beer is better now than 50 years ago.

      2. Tim Worstal

        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?

        1. Zog_but_not_the_first
          Facepalm

          Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

          "a recent paper out that shows printed in the 1970s predicted that 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." Roughly, anyway.

          WTF happened?

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

            "WTF happened?"

            Workers tolerated and encouraged industrial robots when they were doing dirty/unpleasant/dangerous work. As soon as they moved into the "easy jobs" the mood changed.

            Even the Japanese car industry faced industrial action over increased robotization.

            Robots could do a lot more on factory floors more cheaply than a human, but the pace of robotisation is now dictated by the retirement rate of the workforce - who will strike to keep uneconomic practices going even if it means the company fails and everyone loses their job, rather than only 25% of them (UK shipbuilding, British Leyland, etc etc).

            Willy Wonka's chocolate factory may have been staffed by Oompa Loompas but that was no comfort to his former workers in that fable (Dahl was a dark bastard even in his children's books). The same will happen when robots hit price points that mean factory owners can afford to build an entirely new factory 10 miles out of town using 1% of the previous workforce, close to heavy transport links and abandon the old one to the scavengers.

            1. Squander Two

              Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

              > Robots could do a lot more on factory floors more cheaply than a human

              Yes, but robots can only do the existing job. Toyota figured out that humans make better employees because they are capable of noticing the various ways in which their job can be made more efficient. They have an incentive program to actively encourage production-line staff to improve processes, and a no-robot policy. And it works very well.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

                "Yes, but robots can only do the existing job. Toyota figured out that humans make better employees because they are capable of noticing the various ways in which their job can be made more efficient."

                Thing is, once you figure out how to make the process more efficient (which only takes maybe a couple experts), you can usually apply the improvements to the robots, who will then perform the job more consistently and now more efficiently, 24/7/365.25, and the upkeep costs are usually less than the labor costs for a bunch of humans.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      4. James Micallef Silver badge

        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?"

        I guess something like this: robots for small tasks are owned privately by people. Robots for more specialised tasks are owned collectively, either through a company with membership subscriptions, cooperatives (in the same way as a tenants association for a building) or government (eg NHS-bots).

        Keep in mind that as robots become more plentiful (and possibly self-maintaining and self-building), then simple supply-and-demand tells us that the cost of both them and their services will drop, to the point where governments could either buy its own bots to provide services to citizens, give citizens subsidised bots, or citizens can buy bots from their dole checks.

        Just like 50 years ago a computer cost millions for something really basic, maybe 50 years from now we can all get a robot butler (finally!!) for the price of a laptop

    2. Tim Worstal

      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.

      1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: The Rhoomba

        I'd love to see a Roomba dance the Rhumba.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    4. IHateWearingATie

      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

    5. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Satisficers rather than Maximisers

      "For some time people have been noting the fact that the French have better productivity, but that they also have a 35hr working week"

      Productivity does not increase linearly with hours worked.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our scrap dealing future

    Step 1. Replace your workers with robots

    Step 2. Sit back and light a cigar as the profits flood in.

    Step 3. Note your profits begin to fall because no one is working to buy your robot produced tat/service

    Step 4. Go bust because with no one buying your services you can't keep up the repayment on the Googlematic 5000 self activating tat dispenser.

    Step 5. Join the seething mass of humanity scraping together a living from farming and dealing in scrap parts from rusting Googlematic 5000s.

    I am fairly sure I've seen a number of documentaries positing this future, set in the Australian desert.

    1. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: Our scrap dealing future

      "Step 3" should be replaced with:

      Step 3a: "Embrace a vendor financing scamheme to shift your un-affordable product via lease-contracts or as a service".

      Step 4a: "Once the finance department becomes *the* profit centre and is hoarding trillions in "assets" in an offshore place with lax taxation and non-existing enforcement, convert your finance department into a Bank, leverage those assets 100:0 or more and sell them off as bonds."

      Step 5a: "Congratulations, Now you are Too Big To Fail and you get to screw the taxpayers forever, however - you are better than all the other parasites and leachers at the trough, and what they get, you don't so:"

      Step 6a: "Use every opportunity to explain media and policy-makers why it is in society's best interest to create jobs by collapsing wages and social benefits to zero".

      1. naive

        Re: Our scrap dealing future

        This article has refreshing views on the future of labor, most describe doomsday scenarios.

        It does however not take away worries that the future of the "common" man is indeed scrap dealing, while the 1% owning >80% of the assets, live in luxury, heavily guarded by robotized warriors.

        With the introduction of robots, humans get replaced by more intelligent and capable workers, pushing the majority of humanity to the second place on the food chain. It also implies that in the equation labor/capital, labor loses out again after the globalization since the 90's, which will on its turn amplify the existing inequality in incomes and assets. All economic models are based on the assumption that humans have a potential to add value to the economy, when robots with an IQ of 140 and more can be utilized for manufacturing, this assumption becomes invalid, thus leaving all the John Doe's in the rain who do not happen to own one of these machines.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Our scrap dealing future

          You don't need to be replaced by machines. You could (for instance) introduce a national minimum wage, and watch a number of companies move manufacturing to China to reduce costs. Everybody then buys from the cheapest provider, leading to everybody else moving manufacturing to China to compete which destroys just as many jobs without any job creation. (In the country the goods are being sold in, anyway.)

          Was this not entirely hypothetical problem caused the laws not stating that you had to pay somebody abroad the same as the people in the country the goods are being sold in, or by people not caring about the pay and working conditions of the people doing the work?

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Our scrap dealing future

            "You could (for instance) introduce a national minimum wage, and watch a number of companies move manufacturing to China to reduce costs."

            OTOH robots in manufacturing could reduce the costs so that it becomes cheaper to move the manufacturing closer to the market & bring manufacturing back from China. There'll be some associated employment even with robotic manufacturing and everyone else can make a precarious living selling each other stuff on ebay.

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Our scrap dealing future

          @naive

          It does however not take away worries that the future of the "common" man is indeed scrap dealing, while the 1% owning >80% of the assets

          Wealth has pretty much always been concentrated at one end of the spectrum. The spectrum may change, from the alpha male monkeys 'owning' the mating rights to the females, through kings & queens, and on to college dropouts who could work a compiler.

          It doesn't pose a 'real' problem so long as the fraction of wealth in the "common mans" hands continues to grow such as his needs and some of his wants are met. Does it make any difference to me if Zuckerberg can afford an 80' marble ballroom on his 3rd yacht? Not really.

          It also implies that in the equation labor/capital, labor loses out again after the globalization since the 90's, which will on its turn amplify the existing inequality in incomes and assets.

          Given the scale of automation and offshoring, I'd say the labour end of the capital:labour ratio will forever fall. I'm not convinced that's a good thing, only that it is inevtiable. I agree this will amplify inequality between incomes and assets, but I don't see that sort of equality as an issue. Equality of opportunity, however, is very important to me, which is why I share some of your concerns.

          How will the children of the "common man" have opportunity to make a better life for themselves if they cannot find an income generating occupation? How will they accrue their own assets without excess income with which to do so? If we remove all of the challenges in life, how will their childrens children develop as people?

          All economic models are based on the assumption that humans have a potential to add value to the economy, when robots with an IQ of 140 and more can be utilized for manufacturing, this assumption becomes invalid

          The average IQ is marginally below 100 (allowing for some of those above the median to drop below it due to illness or injury). At that level a robot is competition for us all. Lets be honest, I don't use all of my IQ at work now any more than when I worked in a factory, and the robot doesn't have a family it'd like to go spend time with, so it can stay here out producing me.

          In a post robotised world we may indeed have all of our needs and desires met such that wealth in the current sense ceases to be real. My concern is how we transition from this world to that one with the minimum of harm. I can't see it being a peaceful transition, unfortunately.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Our scrap dealing future

            I think he used the 140 IQ mark (the Genius threshold) to mark the point when over 95% of the human population will become redundant, including highly-skilled and specialized positions. About the only jobs that would be left are supervisory (which would require mad skills) and Turing-sensitive positions (where we insist on talking to a human for less-rational reasons). When even doctoral jobs aren't safe, start worrying.

  8. smartypants

    Robots = more jobs

    We have two robots in our office, called 'lift 1' and 'lift 2'. A human appears to be on almost continuous duty trying to keep them working, a job that would not exist if we still used the stairs!

    If the robot gets more complicated, expect more jobs to be created to try to keep them going. Look at IT for example, where things have got completely out of hand since we sacked the typing pool.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      What floor sir?

      1. Still fewer than when each had a lift attendant to operate them for you.

      2. It's clearly crap technology with a huge TCO. The better the technology the gets, the less engineers it will need.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: What floor sir?

        @Brewsters Angle Grinder

        The better the technology the gets, the less engineers it will need.

        Tell that to the space shuttle....

    2. Naselus

      Re: Robots = more jobs

      That's not how automation works, and has never been how automation works.

      If as many jobs are created to repair the robots as the robots destroy, then there is no sane reason to use the robots. It's just more training of human beings and more capital outlay required for the exact same results.

      If fewer jobs are created to repair the robots than are displaced by the robots, then it's worth using them but lots of people need to find new jobs.

      The tractor did not cause the 70% of humanity that were no longer required on the farm to go off and get jobs as tractor mechanics.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Robots = more jobs

        "If as many jobs are created to repair the robots as the robots destroy, then there is no sane reason to use the robots."

        And yet, that is exactly what has happened with increasing robotisation (computerisation) of the British Civil Service...

  9. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Will people be able to sell their labour, though?

    What you miss is that the creativity necessary to do jobs is increasing over time.

    Apparently there were 3.3 million horses in the UK in the 19th Century -- mostly doing hard work. Now there are about 1 million, mainly in leisure. Technology has supplanted the need for horse labour and horses aren't creative enough to do anything else. (The lazy gits should have invented the opposable thumb while they had the chance.)

    But, increasingly, computers are going jobs that need more creativity. (Self driving cars, being the obvious one.) I expect creativity is normally distributed amongst humans and the bottom end of the spectrum is going to find itself supplanted by computers; when someone needs more supervision than a computer they won't be able to sell their labour. We should be able to find jobs for a good chunk of them---like in care homes---but not necessarily all. If the horse numbers hold, that's two-thirds in the knacker's yard.

    1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: care homes

      I'm looking forward to getting my backside wiped by some bitter, resentful so-and-so who thinks they ought to be a rock star. Assuming I can keep my job from robotisation long enough to be able to pay for the privilege of course.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: care homes

        But there'll be so many potential employees to chose from. Give anything less than a first class service and you'll be in the workhouse on JSA.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: care homes

        "I'm looking forward to getting my backside wiped by some bitter, resentful so-and-so who thinks they ought to be a rock star."

        That kind of job is one of the first targets for robotisation. The mantra of "dirty/dangerous/unpleasant" applies - and care workers have a high rate of injury claims.

    2. Stuart 18
      Joke

      Re: Will people be able to sell their labour, though?

      ^Horse unemployment^above^

      Forget evolving opposable hooves - they need to soften and taste optimise their flesh:-) It's disgusting how Tesco's recalled all those lasagnas that were aiding in maintaining the horse population;-)

      Humanity will be fine once our robot overlords evolve a power unit for converting human bodies into cremation ashes....

      I've got one of the many, soon to be created, jobs as an ethics co-processing unit for my 180 IQ tin buddy. I predict he'll be placed in the ethically challenged compound:-)

  10. Cab

    Fun game to play.

    Step 1. - Go and have a look at what billions of dollars of research funding has got us in the way of general purpose autonomous robots, I suggest this years DARPA challenge (the IEEE youtube vid of the failures is a good place to start.

    Step 2. - Have another read of the reg article on Japanese research on how people (especially children) behave around robots (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/08/07/engineers_help_robot_escape_tots/)

    Step 3. - Imagine sending one of the cutting edge DARPA challenge systems into a room with constantly changing layout and dozens of people. Load it up with hot liquids and sharp objects for added fun.

    Step 4. - Check the BBC's guide to which jobs are most at risk and see that Waiter / Waitress is rated at 90% (it's quite likely).

    Step 5. - Consider how much time, effort and above all else money, you are going to have to throw at this thing to prevent your restaurant being sued out of existence, in order to replace a bunch of people working for minimum wage plus tips.

    Step 6. - Realise that most of the stuff being written is by people that haven't spent more than about 10 minutes with an actual robot, which was running a manufacturer's demo, in their life, let alone worked with one.

    But I'm just bitter, being someone that has to do research with the bloody things, rather than get paid to write tosh as a "Robot Ethicist" or "Futurist" or whatever the hell these people like to call themselves this week.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fun game to play.

      Steps 3 & 4: the robot replacement is likely a vending machine that asks "do you want fries with that?" and the customers have to do their own negotiation of the room.

    2. Squander Two

      Re: Fun game to play.

      That's a too-literal understanding of "waiter". Take a look at some of the cutting-edge sushi bars in Japan, where they use two separate tiers of conveyor belts, RFID chips in the plates, and ordering consoles on the tables. They deliver personal orders to individuals at specific tables and issue their bills, all without waiters.

      They do still have kitchen staff, though. Just not waiters.

  11. Phil_Evans

    Irrelevant - all of it. Or for a long time to come.

    Remember 'teleworking' in the 80s? "In 10 years time, everyone will work from home"

    Or the 90s "Within 10 years you will be able to watch deamless movies on a mobile phone"

    Or the noughties "Within 10 years we will be wearing all our tech"

    (or something like that)

    And even when they do take over, everyone will live out their fantasies as bounty hunters in a dystopian Blade-Runner type world. What's wrong with that?

  12. Banksy
    Coat

    I for one....

    ....welcome our new robot overlords.

  13. damworker

    Feel free to make up your own joke.

    What is the difference between a cheap low skilled worker in China and a robot?

    Feel free to make up your own joke.

    Seriously, there is a cost in buying a robot and maintaining it.

    Humans are self replicating (yo mama is a self replicator) and potentially cheap to maintain if you ignore enough human rights.

    So in that sense, robots are nothing new and not a threat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Feel free to make up your own joke.

      Sure there are upfront and maintenance costs to robots. The thing is, their TCO tends to beat the same number of human workers, especially once you factor in their per-unit productivity (robots don't have to work in shifts unlike humans, so one 24/7 robot can do the work of three people and be more consistent in the process.

      As for self-replication, that's just on the horizon for robots. Anyway, human reproduction has assorted costs attached to it as well.

  14. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    CNC supervisor

    What would have been seen as a skilled lathe operator demanding a high salary at the beginning of the process is now, at the end, seen as a wood loader on zero hours.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: CNC supervisor

      CNC lathe operators in the UK typically earn between £12-15 per hour in the South, and a little over £10 in the North. Most that I know are not on zero hours contracts due to the premium their skills fetch over minimum wage.

      I take your point that had the turning still been done by hand & by eye, then it is likely they'd earn more than present. It's just not minimum wage, nor zero hours.

      And before my stalker pops up again asking how many CNC lathe operators I know, the answer is three. I used to work with two of them.

  15. Bleu

    If we are thinking of industrial or humanoid robots

    and the like, they are much less energy-efficient than people.

    Sure, with cheap energy, they can be more capital-efficient.

    Even in networking, it would be interesting to hear, say, the scale of the per-habitual-user physical server resources and how many watts required to run, say, Google maps or Apple's Siri, including the cost of cooling.

  16. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Terminator

    I'm still thinking

    of the lathe operator as a CNC supervisor bit.

    And still cant get my head around it.

    As I've always pointed out in comments like these.

    The situation used to be 4 skilled lathe setters and 10 lathe operators.

    Now its changed, we now have 4 CNC lathe setters....... and 2 operators.

    The automation has replaced the unskilled jobs, we dont need someone to load bar into the the machines for machining the first operation because we have automated bar magazines to do that for us now, the 2nd operation loaders.. they're gone because the machines have 2 spindles and can transfer the parts themselves, heck even milling slots and holes is done on the same machine so the operators and machines to do that are gone.

    We still have the need for skilled educated people who can be trained up, but for a lot of folks... unemployment looms, and what defines us as a society is how we deal with the hordes of people who become unemployed due to the increasing use of robots.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: I'm still thinking

      @Boris

      what defines us as a society is how we deal with the hordes of people who become unemployed due to the increasing use of robots.

      If we're to preserve a civilised society, we'll have to lower the birth rate amongst those that become unemployable. I know that sounds hearltess and awful, but that doesn't make it wrong.

      Law & order would reach dystopian levels well before the tipping point of half the population being surplus [1]. The only pragmatic solution would be to invert child benefit and pay people not to have children, while taxing those of us who do for the privilege (I know, someone suggesting higher taxes on themsleves, how odd).

      [1] Anyone strongly averse to this point should feel free to go visit any council estate in Ordsall and its ilk, both during the day and after dark, to see what most people choose to do with perpetual idleness/leisure.

    2. DaveDaveDave

      Re: I'm still thinking

      "We still have the need for skilled educated people who can be trained up, but for a lot of folks... unemployment looms"

      Why? Are you seriously suggesting that there's nothing which could be done by unskilled labour to satisfy some currently unsatisfied human desire?

      People said much the same things about the automation of farming that you're saying here, when that removed 90% or so of the then-existing jobs over a generation or two. But in fact people find other things to do with their time, other needs to satisfy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm still thinking

        But eventually, two things happen. One, robots gain the skills to take on more aesthetic jobs such as the arts, and two, people run out of imagination.

  17. Irony Deficient

    but what you actually do is radically different from what you were doing 20 years ago.

    Twenty years ago I was writing source code using vi.

    I actually do a radically identical thing today.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: but what you actually do is radically different from what you were doing 20 years ago.

      Same here, only instead of coding I'm hand-holding idiots through information technologies' most basics principles. Sorry - I meant to say that I'm still doing technical support (tho not at the same place and for far more money.)

      Anon because the dumb-dumbs around here don't take kindly to being called idiots. They seem to prefer the term "management" - whatever *that* means.

  18. Jonjonz

    New Jobs in Servitude

    I see having lots of servants that you can disrespect, rather than bots who cannot appreciate your nastyness as becoming a huge job market as the portion of world resources is controlled by fewer and fewer individuals.

  19. Esme

    What I want

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

    A three day weekend. Four would be better, but I'd settle for three at the moment.

    I do think that the article was somewhat too utopianist in a right-wing direction to be taken entirely seriously though. It also isn't taking into acount the acceleration of the rate of change.

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