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Is there a problem with automation replacing human workers?

It seems a job that provides a major source of income for a huge number of Americans (in fact, most of the people I know work in fast food or other similar service jobs, sad as that may be). It is already starting to happen. The nearby grocery stores have already started rolling out "do it yourself" shopping lanes, where the customer scans in everything themselves (the implementation is still a little wonky though, as I have to have everything on a scale for some sort of badly thought out security reason, see if you can find the problem with such a way to prevent theft). I can easily envision not just a future where ALL the checkout lanes are replaced in this manner, but one wherein the entire way stores function is changed, so that everyone just lines up in a front "lobby", punches in their orders on one of several touch screens, and the rest of store, basically converted into a giant vending machine, delivers everything to the front area while you wait. Basically, it'd have almost no human employees.

The specifics are all that's new, this trend has been going on since before we were born. Ever been to a full-service gas station? (Shut up, weird animal person from Austin riding an old-time bicycle, we're talking about real people here.) At a certain point, gas stations all decided that fueling a car had become so easy that there was no point hiring someone just to put gas in the car, and thus the dangerous midnight "I'm just going to put the pump in and hurriedly dash back into the relative safety of my car" gas run was born. Entire careers have disappeared numerous times ever since they started "bringing in computers to improve productivity". Of course, there are many cases where an "automated" approach has done nothing but hurt the consumer as well as the employee. Automated help lines have risen quite a bit, but how many people have ever actually had their unique issue handled by the automated help line? At this point, I speak in garbled nonsense until the computer just gives up on me and connects me to an actual human being.

I've gone more left than the supposed "left" party in America, but on this issue I think I disagree with the general consensus. On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate the total loss of one of the few reliable jobs someone who's down and out can get. As these low level positions vanish, a significant margin of Americans will have no skill set they can fall back on, and even if they did, the pool of available skillset requiring jobs is too small to accommodate everyone. It's a grim future that threatens to completely overturn the extremely recent reduction in joblessness in America (and the world over, once others start adopting these practices). This can't be ignored. Allow me to ignore it for a moment to talk about something else now.

I'm more or less deaf to the idea that companies should be allowed to pursue profit for it's own sake without any ear towards human suffering it causes, so let's get that out of the way. No, my issues with taking the "protect the jobs from innovation" run a bit deeper, a bit more conceptual.

Basically, the biggest problem with keeping human employees around to do a job that can be done better and cheaper by a machine is just how that must make that employee feel. At any point that employee ever screws up, a boss has the perfect "you're only here out of CHARITY" argument, a constant degredation of their worth as a person and a constant reminder that the ONLY reason they are there is out of a sense of pity, that literally everything they are doing in their work shift is utterly meaningless and useless by ANY metric you can come up with, because it ALL can be done by machine. It's the sort of degradation one might feel being forced to break rocks in an old timey prison, or being made to clean a floor using only a tooth brush in some army movie. You know, pointless "busy work" just so the person can say that they are technically "working". That, to me, is the worst possible fate, the kind Greeks made legends about. Now hear me out on this, I'm not saying it's better for these people to starve to death on the streets than doing mindnumbing and pointless labor. I'm all for charity, and government sponsored charity at that. I'm just saying let's just go all-out on the charity thing because this half-way point only gives the illusion of providing workers a secure job, and worse, it deprives most of these workers of the time and energy they could devote towards a real skill-based job. (As to why I keep sounding like I think people are too good for this sort of work, well, I do, because ALL MY PARENTS AND TEACHERS growing up kept ramming the warning of "You don't want to be stuck in a dead end job flipping burgers, do you?" at me, so yeah, thanks previous generation, now my generation really DOES think this job is terrible and beneath our dignity, because you TOLD us it was, so don't go crying on fox news about it when it's your fault we think that!) What I'm suggesting is that if technology progresses to the point that entire service industry jobs are outright replaced, this isn't a bad thing IF we are the kind of society that decides that being jobless is a condition that SOCIETY should help fix. I'm saying that Obama's recent initiative to have state sponsered 2 year collage is a good start, and providing homes for people until they can provide for themselves is even better.

More fundamentally, if the service industry goes entirely self-automated, and the food production industry follows, we're at stage one of reaching a post-scarcity economy, and that's a good thing. What's better than the charity I suggested above? Producing technology capable of providing for everyone's needs so they don't NEED to worry about starvation, and are thus free to pursue career paths that'll actually provide them some real job satisfaction. I'm suggesting that artificially limiting this progress is just keeping everyone a slave to money, and I'm all for a technological future where money itself dies because it no longer serves it's purpose (trade isn't needed if everyone can have everything).
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
Automation is inevitable, you can't fight it. Embrace it. Phone lines are of course imperfect, but not so much a pain that companies do away with them. There are always human employees on standby to help, because automation is not intelligent enough to get us to that point yet. It may very well never be. And even when it does, there's a psychological satisfaction as a customer to know that if a machine shit the bed, a manual override by a technician will resolve the problem.

You see the same thing in self check-out lanes, an employee must be there to monitor it and ensure people don't cheat the system or steal. And me personally, I hate full-service gas stations. They are mandated in New Jersey. Yes, it is against the law to operate a self-service gas station in my neighboring state. It drives me crazy to have to wait for an attendant when I can do it myself and get out of there more quickly. It speeds up the process for everyone, and a gas station attendant is always there in case something goes haywire, say gasoline vomiting all over my shirt just as I'm lighting a cigarette, or that time I forgot to unhook the pump and started driving off. (I'm not the only one who has done that, right? :()

Don't mistake me: I'm skeptical of course of the whole "invisible hand of the free market" always being the best solution, but technology is quickly discarded if it cannot be adopted for better efficiency. If companies can save money, they'll have additional income to invest into new ventures, creating new jobs. Or alternatively, the government can raise taxes and administer the money to good use. We need a robust social net to keep everything in order. No citizen should ever go homeless, starving, or without medical care. Every person has something to offer this world, and we all must take care of our own. There's no "us" vs. "them", "hard, honest workers" vs. "lazy moochers". I try to see the best in everyone, and even people who are lazy and cheat the system are not worthless. Every human life has inherent worth. But I guess I'm going off on a rant.

As much as politicians and pundits wind people up about moochers off the system, I think they'll quickly get into shape if they see civil unrest getting too high. If we collapse into a bad enough depression, politicians will have no choice but to go further into debt just to keep our economy under control. We're at 18 trillion now, hoo-boy, that's double since Dubya. But even if it were ten times higher, if things are bad enough, you can bet we'll give a cushion to voters that can't make ends meet. Or otherwise their opponents will give voters better hope. People may often be brainwashed into voting against their interests, but you can only maintain the illusion for so long.
It would be ironic and sad that after so many decades fighting bloody wars and threatening to nuke each other over economic ideologues, that capitalism all this time was destined to render itself obsolete thru the natural evolution of automation and technology, ending scarcity and the need for human labor.
Holy shit, ASM, where ya been? How you doin'? Stay a while.
, i was curious to see if you guys were still here, To think At one time you tendocitizens thought I was less fun then a colonoscopy, now you bring out the red carpet! :)

How are you doin GR? I'm doin fine ,studying at a community college trying to figure what I'm gonna do with my life, maybe I'll repair robots :)
Now that's just not so, we just couldn't understand ya half the time :D.

It's funny how all at once we're getting a bunch of old tendites (tektites?) wandering back in. By the way, spell check thinks tektite is a real word.
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
Must be the new year turning over.

ASM, what are you studying at community college? Robot repair would be fun. :)

I'm doing pretty well. Working at a software firm, moving up to projects that are interesting, instead of boring client work. I'm going to partake in a rewrite of the system with better specs. Right now, it runs on a proprietary Microsoft tool to let you build windows forms into .dlls and release them to the web. Our new goal is portability with HTML/AJAX. If all goes according to plan, I'll have a decent team of people working under me, 5 to 6.

Sounds daunting, but a hell of a lot of fun. Looking at software from a bird's eye view and rebuilding it is interesting to me. It makes me think of when I was a kid, and would build complex structures out of Legos.
a wielding course, although I'm not completely sure if it's what I want to do ..

DJ, I looked it up in the dictionary, Tektites have something to do with meteorites.
I dunno SJ, years have turned over before without this happening.

Personally, I blame swamp gas from mars.

Also, ASM just corrected me on english. I take it all back.
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
You'll be singing a different tune when a robot takes over your posting duties on these forums, DJ.
Sometimes you get the scorpion.
No robot could ever imitate DJ. We could probably come up with a decent algorithm for ABF though. Lol
Saw a good post on facebook from my man Daniel. I can't remember his alias back in the day, but his roots are in Nintendorks, and eventually Project Reality, Sharp Gaming, both offshoots of Nintendorks. Not sure how many and whether any of you visited Nintendorks (Lazy is the only one I can think) but yeah. That's this guy.

We were discussing the acceleration of technology, and the inevitable extinction of money. I believe Weltall said it here? The next great emerging marketplace is that of ideas, rather than monetary wealth.

"The idea of money going away may seem like a huge leap and completely crazy, but it's already reaching it's limits. In our country, 1/3 don't have any savings at all, and 1/2 wouldn't have enough money to be able to manage a single emergency like a trip to the ER or their car breaking down. 1/3 of 18-34 year olds are living with their parents, and both they and their parents are struggling to carry their school debt. Social security is busted for this generation, but even if it was working properly, wages aren't high enough for the measured payback on it to be enough when they need it. There aren't enough well-paying jobs to dish out to these people, whether they get educated or not.

When the time comes that half of your nation is in the second half of their lives, and they have nothing to show for it, that is not sustainable. And that's just where we are now with a big chunk of production being automated. Next up is information systems and most of the rest of the service industry, right where the majority of those already-struggling people are. And this isn't just happening in our country, it is the trajectory of the entire developed world. But when you automate to produce and process and serve, and the people that's for don't have jobs and thus don't have money, you're done. Thus jobs and money are rapidly becoming outdated, faster than the nonrenewable energy sectors that support the industry development of that automation. It has been predicted and observed for decades."
I believe you're talking about post-scarcity. I don't think it's as close as some hope, but I do think it's the future, so long as the rich don't buy up every bit of technology that'll lead to it and hoard it for themselves.

At some point, we'll have the technical ability to have automation provide all our food, shelter, and "other". When all the manual labor is replaced by shiny chrome, the only reason for money to exist will be to buy things like land which will always be scarce. At that time, the "rich" won't be able to justify their own existence any more, but I fear they'll fight tooth and nail to keep their positions.
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
Oh geez how time flies.  My position is a little more immediate now.  While I mostly still agree with what I've said here, rather than just focus on charity, I'd rather focus on Obama's failure of imagination.

Giving those without jobs the task of building homes and infrastructure for the homeless is increasingly necessary and it's necessary right now.  We're in an as yet unannounced second great depression, and it's full scope is going to be revealed as soon as the pandemic is behind us, if not a bit before then.  It's a nightmare we have to contend with now, not just dream about from an armchair.

To that end, Biden stating outright at his recent town hall that he will NOT forgive debt beyond 10,000 dollars (an entirely arbitrary cutoff point, if you think you can do $10,000 with the stroke of a pen, why not $50,000?) is an utter failure and the sort we already expected from him, sadly.  And yes, he IS having to deal with a pandemic and now a natural disaster, it's affecting the rest of us FAR more than it's affecting him though, so no, I won't "give him a break".

More specifically, we need to radically rethink how companies work.  Comrade...  I don't mean that the government should take ownership of every large company, but the people working at them?  They definitely should.  That's the sort of radical shift that will also prevent automation from replacing everyone's jobs except on a clear schedule to providing alternatives.  I call for an end to secret board room meetings where a few at the top know about upcoming layoffs but no one at the bottom levels do.  The employees would vote for the company leadership positions.  There would be votes on the direction a company goes.  Nothing the top does would happen without the approval of the majority of their employees.  Bottom-up management, that's what I'm asking for here.
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

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