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Robots and jobs: What happens when the machine gets automatic

Long as futurists and philosophers have predicted, the lived reality of technology replacing synthetic has been a constant feature since cotton gin, the assembly line and, more recently, the computer.

We are deep in what- when there are those representations, but the conversation about robots and jobs is increasingly paired with the debate about how to address growing income inequality – a key issue in the wake of the Democratic presidential primary of 2020.

The workplace is changing. How should Americans deal with this?

"There is no simple answer," says Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at UC Berkeley, an adjunct professor of neurological surgery at UC San Francisco and author of an upcoming book, "Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control. "" But in the long run most of the current jobs will be lost, so we need some radical policy changes to prepare for a different economy in the future. "

In his book, Russell writes, "A rapidly emerging picture is of an economy where fewer people are working because work is unnecessary."

That is either a very scary one or a Surprising prospects, depending on what and how much you (and / or society) think people deserve to work and how society will place a price on human labor.

There will be fewer manufacturing jobs, fewer jobs in call centers, fewer truck driving jobs, and more jobs in healthcare and home care and construction.

The MIT Technology Review tried to keep track of all the other reports on the impact automation would have on the workforce. They are many. And they suggest anywhere from a moderate shift to a total labor overhaul with a different level of alarm.
One of the reports, by the McKinsey Global Institute, includes a review of how automation can be susceptible to different jobs and found hundreds of millions of people worldwide find new jobs or learn new skills. Learning new skills can be more challenging than it sounds, as CNN found in car plants like the one closed in Lordstown, Ohio.

More robots mean more inequality

Almost everyone who has been taken seriously about this has said that more automation is likely to lead to more inequality.

It is not conceivable that businesses have gained more and more productivity but the wages of workers have not continued.

"Our analysis shows that much of the employment growth in the United States and other advanced economies is in jobs currently at the high end of the wage distribution," McKinsey said. "Some low-wage jobs, such as nursing assistants and teaching assistants, will also increase, while a broad range of middle-income jobs will have the biggest decline in employment."

"The likely challenge for the future lies in. Coping with increasing inequality and ensuring adequate (re) training especially for low-qualified workers," according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A Democratic presidential candidate ̵

1; Andrew Yang, the unassuming non-politician – has set up his campaign to solve this problem. Yang blames automation of jobs beyond outsourcing China for the collapse of American manufacturing and drawing a direct line between the recession of the manufacturing sector and the rise of Donald Trump.

"We need to wake people up," Yang recently told the Atlantic. "This is the real reason why Donald Trump is our President today, because we have fired millions of jobs in America and people are feeling they have lost their way."

If jobs are to be automated, then everyone should get government. paycheck?

Yang's answer to the problem was to give everyone in the US, whatever the need, an income – he called it a "freedom dividend" – of $ 1,000 a month. It will address inequality, both economic and racial, he said, and allow people to pursue work that adds value to the community.

This is not a new idea. Congress and President Richard Nixon nearly passed such a proposal in the early 1970s as part of the war on poverty. But now, decades after the GOP has distanced itself from social programs, the idea of ​​a universal basic income seems to be about sci-fi as the new movie "Terminator" (yes, they're making another one) coming out this year.

"Ninety-four percent of new jobs created in the US are gigs, temporary or contractor jobs at this point, and we still pretend it is & # 39; 70s, where like, 'You're going to work for a company, you get benefits, you can retire, even if we completely avoid any retirement benefits, but somehow you retire, it'll work, & # 39; "Yang in the Atlantic lecture. "Young people look at it and be like, & # 39; It just doesn't seem to work. & # 39; And we're like, & # 39; Oh, that's okay. & # 39; It can't be done. We need to grow up."

He referred to truck driving as a profession that is key to the US economy today but could and may be fully automated in the near future. Automating trucking will help the environment, save money and boost productivity, he said. But that doesn't help truck drivers.

On the other hand, truck driving, while reputable work, may not be the ambition of many people's lives. In this way, robots are getting jobs that people don't want unless they have to do something, which they do now.

"When you accept these events, that we can compete against technologies with marginal costs close to zero, then you must quickly say that it is OK, then, how do we begin to value our time – does the 21st century economy look in a way that serves our interests and not the mechanical efficiency of capital? ”he said. And that's how he, and many liberal economists and capitalists like Elon Musk, came up with the idea of ​​a basic income.

Yang argued in a CNN municipality this year that it was not enough for people to organize as workers in unions. to protect jobs.

"I don't think we have the time to rework the workers that way," he said. "We should start distributing value directly to Americans."

Creating a population that can survive on a major income, without a job, will end up revisiting how society works.

"For some, the UBI represents a version of paradise. For others, it represents an admission of failure – a consideration that most people do not have any economic value to contribute to society, ”Russell wrote. "They can be fed and stored – mostly by machines – but otherwise left to their own devices."

Yang focused more on the immediate threat he said automation imposes on American jobs. And politicians do not talk about it honestly because they are too focused on being optimistic.

"You are a politician, your incentives are to say we can do it, we can do that, we can do other things and then meanwhile society is separate."

What to do with our time?

Not all people think of society as separate, and really care about what people do when productivity increases to a point where they don't have to work as much.

In an important paper in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that people need to be motivated along with their leisure for generations to come.

"" To those who sweat for their daily bread recreation is a craving for sweetness – until they get it, "he wrote, adding that" man will deal with his true, the his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from the press to take care of the economy, how to occupy leisure, where science and compound interest would have w ere for him, to live wisely and in harmony and well. "

Instead of posing as a leisure problem, automation can often lead to unforeseen problems. Cotton gin made it so & # 39; t that slaves in the American South did not have to remove cotton from cotton, but it also led to the explosion of slavery because cotton was made easier.

And while it simplifies life for individual workers, management is transitioning from one type of economy to the next ( farmer to manufacturer, to specialist information and now more) has become a key fact for American workers.

Is the difference of changing times today?

No one thought more about it than labor unions. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasury Liz Shuler agrees with Yang that automation is one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation and it didn't get the attention it deserved. But he's not worried about dystopia yet.

"The tactics of the scarecrow are pretty intense," he said in an interview, arguing that reports of tens of millions of American jobs lost by 2030 would probably be overstated.

"Each time a technological shift took place in this country there were those situations in order," he said in an interview.

This issue became a problem in the 1950s, Shuler said. "You have (then-United Auto Workers President) Walter Reuther testifying before talking to Congress about how job automation will change and people are making wild guesses that if you bring robots in auto plants that will cause massive unemployment, "he said. .
Reuther's testimony was really interesting to read, by the way. Check it out. "The revolutionary change made by automation is the tendency to remove workers entirely from direct machine operation," he said. He argues that unions are not opposed to automation but they want more help from companies and from the government for workers dealing with workplace change.

"What ended up happening was what they called bargained acquiescence," says Shuler, "where the unions went to the table and said & # 39; OK, we get it, this technology is coming, but how can we handle it change? How can we have a workers' voice on the table? How can we ensure that workers benefit from it and that the company can be more efficient and successful? & # 39; "

The counter arguments by noting that automation is sped up, making it difficult for workers, employers and governments to fix. "Unlike previous waves of automation, at this time new jobs do not appear quickly in large enough numbers to do so," he said on his website.

Somewhere in the middle is where we end up going

Shuler says American workers need to have a conversation about the future of work more urgently today.

"We all have a choice to make," he said. "Do we want technology to benefit the working people, and is our country, as a result, better? Or do we want to follow a path of dark, dystopian perspective that employment will go away and people will have do nothing and we will essentially work on the whims of a bunch of robots? "

Somewhere in the middle, he argued, where we would end up.

"We are working alongside technology as it evolves. New work is coming out. We want to make sure that working people can move fairly and justly and responsibly and we can only do that if working people have seat at the table. "

The long-term future

Shuler had a vested interest in workers and their rights today, but Russell wrote that long-term, because job automation is becoming more accessible, the country needs to change its whole perspective on work and what we teach children and human endeavors.

"We need a radical rethink of our education system and our scientific business to focus more on human beings than on the physical world," he writes. "It may seem strange to say that happiness should be an engineering discipline, but that seems an inevitable end."

In other words, we will need to learn how to be happy with robots and automation, because they are coming.

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