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View Full Version : Automation and the future of work.



baboon2004
05-06-2016, 10:37 AM
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/adidas-to-sell-robot-made-shoes-from-2017 - "Adidas to make shoes in Germany again - but using robots"

I read this at the same time as I was reading "Inventing the Future" by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, which I'd recommend to anyone. The basic thesis of the book (ridiculously simplified) is that 'the Left' needs - desperately quickly - to come up with a universalist proposition that stands in opposition to neoliberal capitalism, if the future is not to be progressively harsher neoliberalism all the way. A large part of the book discusses the changes that will be wrought as many industries become automated, but how this needs to be seized as an opportunity to free people from work, rather than used by neoliberals to achieve the dual purpose of (i) impoverishing yet more people and (ii) terrifying those currently in work into utter subservience. So Srnicek and Williams talk a lot about universal basic income as one of the cornerstones of such a Leftist universalism (of course, incidentally, Switzerland is holding a referendum today on universal basic income, which is very heartening in a way, though the fact that no prospective level for the UBI has been set, suggests that the proposal is not as radical as it initially seems).

So, given Adidas's decision, which no doubt has been taken/is about to be taken by many other companies I don't know about - it seems that automation and the future is pretty much upon us. Any thoughts?

[And presumably Adidas's decision also acts as a kind of nationalist coup of 'bringing industry back home' (except without the jobs)]

baboon2004
08-06-2016, 12:34 PM
bump

cos the EU and Trump are getting all the attention :slanted:

Corpsey
08-06-2016, 01:14 PM
This is indeed a fascinating subject, and really does deserve to be called a new industrial revolution. It will probably have similarly seismic effects on humanity. With the ever growing population, ever increasing productivity and imminent mass obsolescence of human workers, how could it fail to?

John Lancaster writes about it in this book review http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/john-lanchester/the-robots-are-coming

droid
08-06-2016, 01:58 PM
UBI is opposed by large portions of the left.

baboon2004
08-06-2016, 03:48 PM
Thanks for the Lanchester article link, Corpsey, I'll look at that now.

Droid - could you say a bit more about that? Certainly, UBI could be implemented in such a way that it is nowhere near enough for people to live comfortably on, and also involves the cancellation of other benefits, and then it could easily be a tool of an oppressive regime. But are there people on the left opposed to any form of UBI, no matter how well its implications are considered?

I'm still unclear about the wording of the Swiss referendum (clear enough about the result tho... :/ ). Some news reports suggested that there was a specified level of about £1800, while others suggested that any such level would have to be thrashed out in the event of the referendum returning a 'yes' vote.

droid
08-06-2016, 04:04 PM
yeah, sorry, I think the basic idea is that UBI will be used to break down unions, the public services and the welfare system. Good article here:


While left-wing proponents believe a basic income will strengthen the hand of labour, right-wing proponents back it for exactly the opposite reason. Libertarian economics commentator Steve Randy Waldman argues: “Supplementary incomes are a cleaner way of increasing labour bargaining power than unionization. Unionization forces collective bargaining, which leads to one-size-fits-all work rules and inflexible hiring, firing, and promotion policies, in addition to higher wages.”

Here, basic income is not only a subsidy to employers; it is a union-buster.

After all, why would any contemporary government, as beholden to global capital as governments are today, introduce policy that would strengthen the hand of labour?

If labour had the strength to enforce the introduction of a good basic income, it would also have the strength to revive the project of full employment. And while even the best basic income policy only sets a floor below which poverty cannot fall, full employment strengthens labour’s hand to demand ever-greater wages.

The unemployment we see today is not primarily caused by technology but is a deliberate product of fiscal and monetary policies introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, intended to discipline labour after the abandonment of the full-employment strategies of the previous three decades that had produced stagflation, a declining share of national income going to the capitalist class, and – worst of all for the rich and powerful – militant unions.

Van der Veen and Van Parijs devised their capitalist road to communism in the mid-1980s as a shortcut to less poverty and more leisure time amid the defeat of organized labour and the political left. Thirty years later, do we still expect governments to offer up these policy outcomes in the absence of a robust and militant labour movement?

https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/who-wants-a-universal-basic-income

Woebot
09-06-2016, 10:09 AM
http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/four-fundamentals-of-workplace-automation

john eden
09-06-2016, 05:40 PM
Probably also worth mentioning Paul Mason's "Post-Capitalism" at this point, not that I've read but it seems to plough a similar furrow.

A lot of this stuff reminds me of the Mondo 2000 / Boing Boing stuff from the 90s - that technology was going to save the world and we'll all be living crazy lives of creativity and leisure while machines do the work.

That didn't happen, did it? It didn't happen because technology doesn't fix the underlying economic antagonisms.

3 Boring Marxist bits:

1. Marx was pretty clear that machines do not create surplus value. Humans create surplus value because only humans get paid for a smaller proportion of the day than they actually work, in terms of the value they create. Whereas the value of a machine is basically calculated at the rate that it takes to replace it. (this is very simplified, obvs).

2. Capitalism relies on workers earning a certain wage so that they can consume the products they collectively produce. The whole thing falls to pieces when only capitalists can afford to consume. This means there is a risk to impoverishment/austerity whatever.

3. Automation is inevitable and probably will lead us to the next phase in human organisation at some point. It is a moot point whether this will be emancipatory or properly shit though.

A UBI under neoliberal conditions will be the same as George Osborne's "Living Wage". I think we need to recognise that is better than people starving in the street because they don't have a job, but it isn't what we are aiming for. If it happens it can be struggled around like anything else though.

The left has had a compelling vision of a world without work (or with less work) for quite some time. What it has lacked is a cohesive project with the necessary force to achieve it. But without sounding too Wolfie Smith, people are working on this in workplaces and communities and you can join in :D

Corpsey
14-06-2016, 05:09 PM
This is perhaps deserving of its own thread, but I think there's a connection to this thread that makes it relevant: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/06/peter-thiel.html

It's about Peter Thiel, the 'PayPal founder and Silicon Valley billionaire'who recently bankrupted Gawker as revenge for outing him as gay.

The interesting thing about this, beyond the ramifications for free speech, is Thiel's libertarian ism and belief in the 'liberal' establishment crumbling to make way for authoritarian technocracies.

Here's the most relevant part:


The first problem — and perhaps the biggest and most obvious — is the economy. Both Trump’s and Sanders’s insurgent campaigns have been premised on anger at stagnant incomes and the decline of mass-employment manufacturing. The big drivers of these are structural forces like trade, technology, and the entry of places like China into the global labor market. None of these can easily be fixed by the state, which means that anger and perceptions of elite failure are only likely to grow. Inequality is persistent, long-term unemployment is still high, and more pessimistic forecasters are suggesting a future in which the labor market is split between a small, highly productive elite and a large underclass rendered unemployable by changes in technology. It’s a view popular among the tech elite, who generally support things like universal basic income (UBI) — free money, essentially — which will allow people to survive, and keep buying widgets, even after the robots take their jobs. Yet the neoreactionaries offer a dark twist on what is usually a story of sunny Valley optimism: Why should the elite consent to be ruled by the poor in such a society, especially if the poor don’t have the leverage that comes when the rich need their labor?

Rudewhy
27-06-2016, 10:28 PM
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n13/owen-hatherley/one-click-at-a-time

Corpsey
12-07-2016, 10:23 AM
https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3254/2839862996_99dc41988c.jpg

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/07/are-we-at-the-start-of-a-tech-world-war

Like the flight crew on that episode of The Twilight Zone, we should have listened to Shatner!

firefinga
13-07-2016, 02:42 PM
I am rather pessimistic regarding the near future of (western) societies here. For me, it's not robotics replacing factory jobs in assembling goods (that happened already in the 1980s and 1990s, exacerbated by the fact that manufactoring jobs went to places like Asia) or autonomous cars (I have my doubts we will see these on a mass basis any time soon). Its way easier and the changes appear very stealthly.

We now witness the diminishing of (formerly) well paid white collar jobs in banking/insurance/accounting (also partly bc of automation) but more importantly, bc WE the customers, do lots of what used to do a bank clerk nowadays by ourselves - internet banking/online trading/ online shopping etc. And with things like uber and airbnb people themselves damage the taxi/transportation industry, hotels etc.

The middle class when beeing threathened ususally turns to the political right and we are witnessing this all over (Northern) Europe now (Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Finland, also the UK) with all the scapegoating that goes with it.

baboon2004
13-07-2016, 04:55 PM
thanks all for v interesting replies upthread btw - meant to check out the links but my attention got diverted over the last month...

Corpsey
22-07-2016, 09:43 AM
An interesting/deeply worrying article on Thiel's support of Trump in the name of abolishing democracy:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/21/peter-thiel-republican-convention-speech

Reminds me of Gore Vidal's remarks on the purpose of the U.S. constitution, e.g.:


The founding fathers were not interested in democracy, in fact, in a country with 3 1/4 million people, which is about what we were at the time of the separation from England, only 700,000 people could vote—white males of property. So it's never been terribly democratic. ...and they put together a constitution which would protect property for all time. No nonsense about democracy!


We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic. The founding fathers hated two things, one was monarchy and the other was democracy, they gave us a constitution that saw to it we will have neither. I don't know how wise they were.

And to tie-in with this thread - when you don't even need workers to produce your goods, what good are workers to you (except as consumers)?

john eden
22-07-2016, 10:00 AM
An interesting/deeply worrying article on Thiel's support of Trump in the name of abolishing democracy:

And to tie-in with this thread - when you don't even need workers to produce your goods, what good are workers to you (except as consumers)?

Well Thiel right - Capitalism and Democracy are incompatible. It's just that most people who are not bazillionaires would come to the opposite conclusion to him - we need more democracy and less capitalism.

Back to Marx again, you end up with a crisis when workers don't earn anything because nobody can afford to buy the commodities that they produce.

To a certain extent you can survive on selling to other capitalists (stuff they need to produce other things or stuff they need for their own pleasure and sustenance). But the system as it stands is largely based on workers producing stuff and then buying stuff.

Corpsey
22-07-2016, 11:33 AM
What IS democracy compatible with, if not capitalism?

vimothy
22-07-2016, 01:22 PM
Where's the evidence that democracy and capitalism are incompatible? Aren't most western democracies also capitalistic?

john eden
22-07-2016, 01:37 PM
Where's the evidence that democracy and capitalism are incompatible? Aren't most western democracies also capitalistic?

Well we can agree that they are two different things, no?

What would the role of the electorate be in a "pure" capitalism - unhindered by state interference?

vimothy
22-07-2016, 02:06 PM
I'm not sure I understand what is meant by "pure capitalism", but presumably its role would be to elect the government.

We can certainly observe states which are both capitalist and democratic, so it's hard to see how the two could be incompatible.

john eden
22-07-2016, 02:26 PM
I'm not sure I understand what is meant by "pure capitalism", but presumably its role would be to elect the government.

We can certainly observe states which are both capitalist and democratic, so it's hard to see how the two could be incompatible.

I was thinking more of the right wing libertarian anti-state stuff.

Perhaps incompatible is the wrong word but there are certainly tensions between the electorate and the uber ruling class capitalists. Hence the grumbling about Brexit.

vimothy
22-07-2016, 02:59 PM
There are definitely tensions. People used to say that capitalism leads to democracy. Today I guess the feeling is that autocratic (and often former communist, in a nicely ironic twist) states make better managers of capitalist economies.

sufi
20-08-2016, 05:08 PM
This
​Sgt. Augmento by Bruce Sterling
https://motherboard.vice.com/read/sgt-augmento
not hugely illuminating, or did i miss a point somewhere?

Mr. Tea
20-08-2016, 07:48 PM
This
​Sgt. Augmento by Bruce Sterling
https://motherboard.vice.com/read/sgt-augmento
not hugely illuminating, or did i miss a point somewhere?

Pffft.


My eyeballs could see some new wavelengths. So for me, the rainbow looked a little broader, it was "Sort of Red, Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Indigo, Violet, Even More Purpley." But nobody goes around gazing at rainbows all the time, except maybe gay guys.

It's funny that it's "brought to you by Deus Ex" - I'm playing the third game at the moment. Some aspects of the backstory and aesthetics are a bit cyberpunk-by-numbers but it's quite entertaining. Some nice little in-jokes about RoboCop and stuff like that (it's set in Detroit).

Corpsey
09-12-2016, 11:00 AM
http://qz.com/854257/brace-yourself-the-most-disruptive-phase-of-globalization-is-just-beginning/

'To properly understand globalization, you need to start 200,000 years ago.

Richard Baldwin skillfully takes on this daunting task in a new book, starting all the way back with the hunter-gatherers. For too long, he says, traditional analysis of trade has been too narrow, he argues.

The economist, who is a professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and president of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in London, has been researching globalization and trade for 30 years. As anti-globalization forces now sweep across the world, The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization (Harvard University Press) is well timed.

Baldwin argues that globalization takes shape in three distinct stages: the ability to move goods, then ideas, and finally people. Since the early 19th century, the cost of the first two has fallen dramatically, spurring the surge in international trade that is now a feature of the modern global economy.

The standard line from politicians in recent times is that everyone wins from globalization. But the backlash from low-skilled workers who lost their jobs to cheaper labor abroad has forced a change in tone.

Corpsey
05-01-2017, 10:41 AM
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/05/japanese-company-replaces-office-workers-artificial-intelligence-ai-fukoku-mutual-life-insurance

'Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence

Insurance firm Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is making 34 employees redundant and replacing them with IBM’s Watson Explorer AI'

Corpsey
05-02-2017, 12:54 AM
http://www.zmescience.com/other/economics/china-factory-robots-03022017/

luka
15-02-2017, 12:35 PM
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Piano_(novel)

luka
28-02-2017, 01:47 PM
https://runesoup.com/2017/02/chaeconomica-rise-of-the-robots/?utm_content=bufferdab2e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Musk says that the disruption of car-based transportation will take place over the next 20 years, and that within 10 years it will be "unusual" for anything other than driverless cars to be manufactured. Because, as Musk says, "the single largest employer of people is driving in various forms," a lot of people are going to be out of jobs very soon. "Twenty years is a short period of time to have something like 12-15 percent of the workforce be unemployed."

droid
28-02-2017, 01:55 PM
You cant drive underwater.

luka
28-02-2017, 02:05 PM
50 possible apocalypses in a foot race

Mr. Tea
28-02-2017, 02:36 PM
50 possible apocalypses in a foot race

^darkest Prince tune ever

luka
01-03-2017, 08:28 PM
In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen’s army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military -- to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no “home front” or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture -- except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175507/tomgram:_engelhardt,_the_arrival_of_the_warrior_co rporation/

sufi
06-03-2017, 06:29 PM
a stupid idea masquerading as a brilliant idea
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/06/chatbot-donotpay-refugees-claim-asylum-legal-aid

parking tickets was clever, cos that is a case where legal aid is not cost-effective,
but asylum is another matter, people face detention, deportation or worse if their asylum or asylum support application is botched

furthermore I tweeted the guy who made it and he blocked me

sadmanbarty
17-09-2017, 10:15 PM
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJ31YsbVYAA4IeB.jpg

https://www.wsj.com/articles/workers-fear-not-the-robot-apocalypse-1504631505

sufi
22-09-2017, 01:01 PM
"all uber need to do (to get re-licensed) is to clean up their act" some clever-ass person on twitface

is that even possible?

uber claim automation is responsible for their cheapness, but actually it's just sharp employment practices. #techwashing

john eden
22-09-2017, 01:05 PM
Everything is possible, but in this instance it will depend on how badly cleaning up their act reduces their profits.

sufi
22-09-2017, 01:19 PM
impressive backlash building about how unlike black cabs uber actually pick up black passengers...

john eden
22-09-2017, 03:35 PM
impressive backlash building about how unlike black cabs uber actually pick up black passengers...

and sexually assault them

Corpsey
22-09-2017, 08:28 PM
Was going to start a thread about Uber - the ease, convenience and economy of services like Uber and Amazon, which many people (like me) now take for granted, despite being vaguely aware that some shady shit is going down behind the scenes to make it all possible.

Leo
22-09-2017, 08:39 PM
and sexually assault them

even once is too often. just curious, does that happen with any frequency in london? there have been isolated incidents here in the states but when weighed against the total number of rides provided, it's a very tiny sliver of a percent.

firefinga
22-09-2017, 08:40 PM
Was going to start a thread about Uber - the ease, convenience and economy of services like Uber and Amazon, which many people (like me) now take for granted, despite being vaguely aware that some shady shit is going down behind the scenes to make it all possible.

You can add AirBnB and pretty much any bank to the shitlist. Clever to let the actual costumers do lots of administrative work and call it all "convenience"

Leo
22-09-2017, 09:07 PM
You can add AirBnB and pretty much any bank to the shitlist. Clever to let the actual costumers do lots of administrative work and call it all "convenience"

i don't think they deserve to be on a shitlist, though. for example, i much prefer banking via ATM or online from home than having to somehow get to a bank between 9:00 am-3:30 pm, stand in line and then have to deal with a slow, grumpy bank teller. also, isn't it much better to be able to research and book a place to stay online in minutes as opposed to wasting time making an appointment at a travel agent and having them book the (always more expensive) room?

yes, i agree it sucks that amazon kills small brick-and-mortar retail stores, but lots of tech firms have disrupted and improved industries that were historically overpriced, non-competitive and not customer friendly.

firefinga
22-09-2017, 09:17 PM
i don't think they deserve to be on a shitlist, though. for example, i much prefer banking via ATM or online from home than having to somehow get to a bank between 9:00 am-3:30 pm, stand in line and then have to deal with a slow, grumpy bank teller. also, isn't it much better to be able to research and book a place to stay online in minutes as opposed to wasting time making an appointment at a travel agent and having them book the (always more expensive) room?

yes, i agree it sucks that amazon kills small brick-and-mortar retail stores, but lots of tech firms have disrupted and improved industries that were historically overpriced, non-competitive and not customer friendly.

There are pros and cons of course, and if it's an "improvement" to have a new monopoly (which amazon pretty much is) is debatable (I don't think it's great but that's what the oh-so-praised digital economy is: winner takes it all, you have a monopoly within a very short time). I haven't dealt with a bank clerk face 2 face for a decade now, yet I pay more and more friggin fees just to have a darn bank account (which has always been way in the plus) despite the promises of "internet banking cutting costs".

Well, I am a grumpy soon-to-be middle aged man who suspects the evil capitalist cunts ripping off people behind the shiny happy walls of "progress" and "disruption". That's just how I roll ....

Leo
22-09-2017, 09:37 PM
plenty of evil capitalist cunts at all those old disrupted companies too, probably worse ones in many cases. maybe the driver isn't so much the technology part as it is the capitalism part.

firefinga
22-09-2017, 10:00 PM
maybe the driver isn't so much the technology part as it is the capitalism part.

The driver is the lazyness of people. If you haven't your services optimized for smartphone usage, you'll go down soon (or are already history). Lazyness, of course, is just another word for dependence.

droid
23-09-2017, 09:59 AM
i don't think they deserve to be on a shitlist, though. for example, i much prefer banking via ATM or online from home than having to somehow get to a bank between 9:00 am-3:30 pm, stand in line and then have to deal with a slow, grumpy bank teller. also, isn't it much better to be able to research and book a place to stay online in minutes as opposed to wasting time making an appointment at a travel agent and having them book the (always more expensive) room?

yes, i agree it sucks that amazon kills small brick-and-mortar retail stores, but lots of tech firms have disrupted and improved industries that were historically overpriced, non-competitive and not customer friendly.

Fuck no. Air BnB are a disaster. Apart from the usual lack of regulation, accountability etc, they are devastating housing markets in cities all over the world.

Leo
23-09-2017, 01:24 PM
fair enough, i was thinking more of the consumer experience of getting a place to stay. that being said, "devastating" is a bit of an exaggeration: they have a negative effect but don't (yet) have anywhere near the critical mass to wreak mass havoc on global housing markets.