Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A repost from my other blog. Via Economist's View, a paper on 'dancing with robots'-
For the foreseeable future, the challenge of “cybernation” is not mass unemployment but the need to educate many more young people for the jobs computers cannot do. Meeting the challenge begins by recognizing what the Ad Hoc Committee missed—that computers have specific limitations compared to the human mind.
Paul Krugman had a different worry with the "third Industrial Revolution" - we're just exploring the beginning of possibilities with computers. And the fact remains that computers have eliminated enormous numbers of human beings at jobs that involve some degree of repetition or systematization - because computers excel at anything that involves repetition. A world where a handful of human beings take decisions and computers do the rest has been there in science fiction for quite a while - Isaac Asimov imagined the Robot-heavy world of Solaria in 1957's "The Naked Sun", for instance. But the trend here is more worrisome. Earlier, for every job destroyed, a new job was created. That trend has gone on for quite a while. Will computers kill off job creation enough to cause significant unemployment? Quite possibly.
I keep getting the feeling that we're running into a fundamental clash of values. Businesses find it the most profitable to keep their labor flexible, and one way of doing that is through automating a large number of tasks. The upfront fixed cost of automation is small, but the cost of automation afterwards is less than that of adding labor, so it turns out to be highly profitable in the long run. Lower job creation or lower labor costs overall equate to higher profits, which is good for the business, or so they claim, to the consumer. But that assumes that the jobs they don't create will be taken care of by society, or by other means. "It's not our business", that sort of externalization.
It reminds me of what Keynes said about private saving turning into a public vice. What helps an individual company profit could lead to a potential trend towards mass unemployment. The report submitted 50 years ago was wrong, but Linus Pauling and Gunnar Myrdal had very legitmate worries, and it may be too early to write off their fears. More on this in the future.
EDIT: Turns out that this came up on the New York Times as well. "The Race against the Machine." I must have read this a while back, or maybe I got this off Paul Krugman's blog. Seriously though, how does one race with computers if the entire system is biased towards replacing human labor?

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