Luddites Are Almost Always Wrong: Technology Rarely Destroys Jobs

from the it-might-change-markets dept

Two years ago, I wrote a long post about the “paradox of job creation” about politicians trying to take credit for creating jobs. As I noted, there’s something of a paradox, because job creation often involves what looks like job destruction in the first place — before people realize that those jobs can be shifted in a different direction. Case in point: in the 1940s, AT&T employed approximately 350,000 people as phone operators. AT&T had rapidly begun moving to automatic switched telephony systems a bit earlier, but it took until the late 1940s, until those really became common enough to move away from people having to pick up the phone and ask a human operator to connect them.

In the short-term tech-kills-jobs view, you could easily see this new “technology” as killing jobs. Indeed, it’s reported that there are somewhere around 18,000 telephone operators in the US today. But… there are also about 100,000 call center operators and 290,000 telemarketers (and of course, in a globalized world, many of those jobs have moved overseas). But, more importantly, moving from having a human operator connect you to an automatic switched network was just an early step in leading to tremendous follow-on innovations that created all kinds of new jobs and economic growth. Automatic switched phone networks created all kinds of new business opportunities and convenience, but also eventually enabled easy access to the internet. And the internet has since created millions of new jobs (including mine!).

Two years ago, we wrote about how even President Obama had falsely argued that ATMs had diminished teller jobs and that automated check-ins at airports had hurt airline employees. The data said otherwise:

At the dawn of the self-service banking age in 1985, for example, the United States had 60,000 automated teller machines and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the United States had 352,000 ATMs–and 527,000 bank tellers. ATMs notwithstanding, banks do a lot more than they used to and have a lot more branches than they used to.

Professor James Bessen has now written a similar piece for Slate, pointing out how the history of predicting job destruction from technology has almost always been totally incorrect:

At least since Karl Marx, people have been predicting that technology would create mass unemployment. However, these predictions were consistently wrong because they ignored the offsetting benefits of automation. For example, during the 19th century, machines took over tasks performed by weavers, eliminating 98 percent of the labor needed to weave a yard of cloth. But this mechanization also brought a benefit: It sharply reduced the price of cloth, so people consumed much more. Greater demand for cloth meant that the number of textile jobs quadrupled despite the automation.

Something similar is happening in quite a few occupations today. Because ATMs perform many teller transactions, fewer tellers are needed to operate a bank branch. But because it costs less to operate a branch office, banks dramatically increased the number of branches in order to reach a bigger market. More bank branches means more tellers, despite fewer tellers per branch.

Bessen does note that the type of work and skills may change — tellers are more focused on more complex transactions rather than simple ones, just like call center employees have to help customers with problems, rather than just connect person A to person B. But is that such a bad thing?

Of course, for all this to work right, as Bessen notes, the technology has to generate much greater value to the economy. It’s that value that gets disbursed more widely, creating new opportunities for jobs and economic growth. I’m almost surprised that Bessen — who has done some of the most important research on the negative impact of patent trolling — doesn’t take the next step and point out that one way to make sure that the benefits of innovation do not get spread out over the economy is to lock them up, so that only one party receives all the benefits — which is what something like a patent will do. We get economic growth because you can’t contain the offshoot benefits of innovation. These are sometimes called externalities or spillover effects, but they’re really the very fuel that improves the economy and overall opportunity — and attempts to lock them up can often lead to those benefits not being able to spread as widely, limiting the opportunity and the potential for job growth.

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Comments on “Luddites Are Almost Always Wrong: Technology Rarely Destroys Jobs”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

People are always needed, technology just determines what they’re needed for. This is why quality education is so important, including education opportunities for middle-aged workers who are caught in limbo where they’re not in a position to retire, but the career they started out with twenty years ago has changed too much and they haven’t caught up. An issue with this is that small-to-medium size companies can’t afford to provide continuing education, while large corporations can just outsource the job to a 20-something foreign worker instead of trying to train a middle-aged domestic worker.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Better to say that SOME people are always needed. A case in point, and related to the article, regards new textile mills and jobs returning to the US. Of course, the reason they can afford to return is because the mills are now highly automated.

One new mill currently employs 150 people. Years ago, it needed 2,000 people to produce the same amount of cloth, for a net 92% reduction in jobs.

The jobs needed to produce the looms, maintain them, etc., are a wash, as older looms had to be produced and maintained as well. (Actually, the newer looms are probably produced using robots as well.)

The same plant, back in the day, probably also had tons of middle management, secretaries, and other positions also eliminated or no longer needed, again due to technological advances.

The call centers mentioned above are also a nice bit of misdirection. Yep. Lots of people work in call centers. But technology also lets those centers be located where labor is cheapest, and technology also lets one call center support dozens upon dozens of individual companies, eliminating in-house positions from each.

And even assuming the increase in numbers across new fields (phone operator to telemarketers) directly corresponds, once you factor in population growth (1940s?), I highly suspect that any major gains are largely illusionary.

Technology is reducing the job count relative to population, and further, is driving salaries down at the same time.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think you have some weaknesses in your argument. The primary one is that people who are not employed by the mill are no longer employed anywhere. A secretary that isn’t in work in the mill may get a job dealing with the increased orders, or elsewhere. A company may open more mills, so employing experienced engineers.

That leads to another weakness, the assumption that an old mechanical mill needs similar support to a more automated one. I’m pretty certain that you’ll find a good number

In case you hadn’t noticed, automation allowed for revolutions in farming practices, allowing most people not to have to work on the land for a result of subsistence-level food production. It also allows mass production, allowing many more people to have nice stuff, be it clothes, furniture or electronic doodads. And funnily enough, most of a vastly bigger population is still employed. We haven’t even touched on how automation can support service industries… Your comment about call centres seems utterly irrelevant, and characterises much of your argument in the MAFIAA’s “if you don’t spend money on our crap it’s lost from the economy” logical failure.

I think Mike’s argument stands fine.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As I pointed out, automation allows locally located mills to be competitive in the global marketplace. Barely. Mills overseas can use the same exact machines, and have lower costs with cheaper labor. Basically, one saves on shipping and time-to-market.

Open another mill? Wow. Another 150 jobs. You’d need 13 mills to replace the 2,000 jobs lost in just the first mill alone, much less the 26,000 people 13 old-style mills would have employed. Assuming. of course, that the demand is there to support them.

Next point: more people can buy “nice” mass-produced stuff only if they have the jobs to support doing so.

Unfortunately, the economy is contracting in that regard. And this is the point you seem to miss. People displaced are often thrown out of work and/or forced into lower paying jobs, which in turn contract the economy even further. Job “creation” is largely failing to keep pace with population growth.

And your claim, “We haven’t even touched on how automation can support service industries…” simply underscores the point. Automation is moving into those areas as well, with fewer jobs needed as a direct result.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Technology is reducing the job count relative to population….

Is it really? Then why haven’t we experienced a 90% unemployment rate when 90% of the agricultural jobs disappeared over the last 400 years.

…. and further, is driving salaries down at the same time.

And if technology is also driving the cost of essential goods down, why are the larger salaries even required?

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“And if technology is also driving the cost of essential goods down, why are the larger salaries even required?”

Weel, there’s this thin called “inflation”. And another thing called “scarcity”. Tried to buy or rent an apartment in NYC or San Francisco recently? Buy a house? Even pay the rising property taxes on land? Paid for health insurance or health care?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Do I need to?–by-choice–and-thrives–190436599.html

The important thing in life is work done, paid or free.
You can do it without money, some people are just proving that.

In Mexico security in some cartel freezones is done by militias that work for free.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

And as I pointed out below, there are more bank tellers than ever before because there are more PEOPLE than ever before.

In 1985 the US pop was 237M. In 2002, it was 287M, or a 18% increase. There were 485K tellers in 1985, and 527K in 2002. That’s mere 8% increase.

So, adjusted for population, there were FEWER tellers in 2002 than there were in 1985. Why? We had 50 million more people. Why not more tellers to maintain the same level of service?

Or did computers, ATMs, online banking, and other services reduce the need to have extra employees standing around in every bank branch in the US?

Come on, Mike. It’s not like you to make such an elementary mistake.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And where does anyone think that life has to stand still, that the exact same proportion of people have to be employed as bank tellers, and that they cannot get any other kind of employment.

Why not start moaning about the poor ‘unemployed’ stableboys that we had so many of 150 years ago?

The whole point of a ‘growing’ economy is that the pie gets bigger for everyone.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As I pointed out, no one says time to stand still. But adjusted for population, there are fewer tellers. And again, why? We have more people, In a “growing” economy we’d have more money to handle.

But technology has eliminated the need for tellers to keep up with the corresponding rise in population growth. ATMs, online banking, more credit card readers, etc., mean fewer jobs in that sector.

And that would be fine, unless we start to see fewer jobs in other sectors, as well. Which we are, and even in service jobs. Scan it yourself checkouts reduce the need for checkers. Tablets being introduced in some restaurants reduce the need for waitstaff. I can renew my plates and drivers license online now, so fewer branches and employees.

Online services like RocketLaywer are even reducing the need for lawyers and clerks for many routine tasks (poser of attorney).

And Mike has another point wrong. People who point out these things aren’t Luddites. I’ve been using computers for decades now, and I have no wish nor desire to turn back the clock.

But we are rapidly reaching an inflection point, and the sooner we recognize that fact, the sooner we can try to do something about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You missed the point: the facts /diferectly/ contradict what Mike said in this case. His original logic was that /because/ there are more bank tellers now then there were before, this means that there is no jobs crisis arising from technological development. This is clearly fallacious logic in use here, now you /can/ claim that the original argument still holds based on /different/ grounds, just not the one stated by Mike. At least have that much consistency, please.

Urgelt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

AC, you seem to think that I’m arguing in favor of Mike’s viewpoint, and you’re criticizing me for hanging my argument on his fallacious logic.


Mike is arguing in favor of the author’s viewpoint: that advancing tech creates as many jobs as it destroys. I am arguing that since the 1990s, advancing tech has destroyed more jobs than it has created, and that the trend is accelerating, with potentially dire implications for the economy and for civilization itself.

My argument does not rest on Mike’s fallacy.

In fact my argument doesn’t rest on much of anything. It’s a declaration, a description. I haven’t reasoned from evidence here in the comments section.

Others have. There is evidence, but it’s the sort of thing that fits better into academic papers or articles than a comment thread on TechDirt.

My purpose is to acquaint readers – the few who read comments, anyway – with the fact that there is a competing thesis which contradicts the TechDirt article, and that thesis has alarming and grave implications.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Operators vs call centers?

I do agree with the overall point of the article, but I’m not so sure that’s a comparison that backs it up. It seems to me that a job in a call center is much less desirable than a job as a telephone operator. It’s not just a question of replacing jobs, it’s a question of replacing jobs with ones of equal quality.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Operators vs call centers?

I do agree with the overall point of the article, but I’m not so sure that’s a comparison that backs it up. It seems to me that a job in a call center is much less desirable than a job as a telephone operator

How so? I’d think a call center job could be a lot more interesting: having to help answer questions/solve problems sounds more rewarding than merely connecting A to B.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

I’ve never worked in a call center myself, but I’ve known a number of people who have, and their stories are remarkably similar. There is no problem-solving involved in it. You are reading from a script and following a flowchart. If an actual judgement call is required, that’s done by a supervisor, not the call center worker.

Also, in a call center, a large percentage of the people you talk to are hostile. The emotional toll (having to deal with angry customers and not having any actual power to help them) is quite high. Plus, it’s pretty much sweatshop work (although I understand that the old telephone operator positions weren’t much different on that count).

There’s a reason why call centers have among the highest turnover rates of amongst all industries.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Operators vs call centers?

Granted, but that’s still how call centers work.

Not all tech support jobs are call center jobs, by the way. Where I work (major software company), tech support jobs are desirable: well-paying, no scripts, actual power and job satisfaction from solving customer issues, very low turnover. Most of the people working in tech support have been there for about 10 years. That’s a whole different beast.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

I worked in a call center calling credit card customers with short term delinquency. The job was almost 100% on the fly problem solving. There was no script. There were no flow charts. Almost everyone I spoke to was hostile but not as many as you might think given the subject mater. I mean as long as we’re sharing anecdotes about call center jobs.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

I’ve never worked in a call center myself, but I’ve known a number of people who have, and their stories are remarkably similar. There is no problem-solving involved in it. You are reading from a script and following a flowchart. If an actual judgement call is required, that’s done by a supervisor, not the call center worker.

I never said it was a good job. But how can you say it’s much worse than an operator? Sounds equally bad.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

I’ve worked in a mobile telephone support call centre which wasn’t too bad, but the pay (and hours) sucked. However, it was a good learning experience, especially everytime I want to renew my phone contract.

However, I’ve also worked in a ‘contact centre’. which was doing serious health promotion – no scripts, ability to talk for a long time, and the satisfaction of helping people to improve their health. So it does depend on the job – that was rather an outlier.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

I have. Pay was pretty decent and there were bonus opportunities. Hours were flexible and reasonable. I did deal with crap quite a bit though. Lots and lots of crap. I wouldn’t want to make a career out of it (or I’d still be there) but as a 3-6 year job to get through some college classes I’d recommend it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

This is true to some degree. But is it honestly any worse that connecting cables on someone’s orders? I’ll bet operators took their fair share of crap too, btw – the general public are assholes a lot of the time and they’ll take things out on the first person they speak to.

Also, some call centres are worse than others. I’ve had jobs where I was given training and opportunities to move up the ranks and join other parts of the company, and it was a good start to my career. But I had other jobs where you were timed by the second and disciplined if you took too long on your pre-allocated break times (you couldn’t choose or alter them) and were given no chance to do anything other than the job you were assigned. Sometimes, if a call centre job really sucks, it’s just badly managed, not the nature of the job.

any moose cow word says:

Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

The occasional victory of solving a customer’s problem was the only thing that kept me going when I worked at a call center. Most of the time, I had to deal with angry, uncooperative, and/or clueless customers to fix problems caused by other employees or contractors who didn’t do their job–only to send the problem back to them again–and/or self-inflected issues caused by customers themselves, while using outdated workstations that constantly fell under the burgeoning weight of bloated web apps, all while being hounded by managers for not meeting impossible conflicting metrics. Sure Mike, a real dream job…

Jake says:

Re: Re: Operators vs call centers?

Yeah… no. I’ve done it, and my job description consisted of a) entering details into a clunky web interface that someone read out over a phone line, a job that could have been eliminated entirely if our system hadn’t been so old that half of us were using 1970s vintage green-screen terminals (in 2005, I might add) and b) acting as a punch-bag for every customer who’d been lied to about the conditions of delivery by some polyester-suited sales weasel and then not bothered to read what they were signing. (I won’t name names, but it was a chain of British home furnishings stores.)

A Dan (profile) says:

... So Far

This is true at this time. I hope I am not alone in hoping that some day technology truly does destroy jobs. In my ideal world, “jobs” are not be necessary. If we can automate away our needs, everyone can do what they choose to do, instead of being forced into a job in order for themselves (and the economy) to survive.

Yes, there are social changes necessary. I hope someday, due to advances in technology, they will happen. Jobs are a necessary evil, not something we should idealize.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think the biggest job destroyer coming down the pipeline is self-driving cars. If we suddenly displace truck drivers and taxi drivers and possibly implement wide-ranging car sharing programs reducing the need for cars, it could be a very painful change

You don’t think that self-driving cars won’t also open up tremendous new jobs for people?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can spitball all kinds of possible new jobs all day long. For example, if cars were driverless, you could use roads with much greater efficiency. This effectively makes them cheaper on a per-car basis, and reduces travel times and fuel usage. That means that it becomes more economical and safer to travel, which can’t help but expand tourism not only in current destinations, but in place people don’t both to go to now. Or, there’s be entirely new business selling pre-planned “tours”. Get in the car, pop in a USB stick, and kick back.

But if history is any guide, it is essentially impossible to predict what the new jobs will actually be. They’re almost always surprising and couldn’t really be envisioned beforehand. But they always come into being.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The efficiency seems the thing that will help the most because it will mean less time on transit and thus more time for yourself. It has been proven that holidays generate shitloads of revenue, the money simply flows much more during those here. But the industry complain they are losing money because employees don’t work. They don’t see the indirect benefits. The driverless cars should follow some similar pattern.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Self-driving cars will fundamentally change society.

The negative economic impacts are obvious: Anyone who drives for a living will lose their job. Insurance industries will take a huge hit. Hospitals will lose thousands of accident patients every year. People are likely to own fewer cars. Lots of businesses will be hurt, just like when the automobile was invented.

But the benefits are totally unpredictable, because it requires a new mindset to realize the true potential. All you can really do is think of how it might improve the current situation. Let’s speculate on that:

Tourism is the big one. Go to sleep in your car and wake up in a different city.

Deliveries will be cheaper and easier. Even small businesses can do it.

Mobile workforce: More people can work on the road since they can work while the vehicle is moving, so fewer hours lost to travel and increased telecommuting.

Less need for massive parking lots means less urban sprawl and revitalized downtowns.

And self-driving cars are the first step necessary to create the flying cars of the future. You won’t be piloting those things yourself.

Once we have a new mindset about transportation, entirely new ideas and concept will emerge to take advantage of that new situation.

When there’s a technological disruption, it’s easy to see how it will affect the status quo, but extremely difficult to see what new status quo it will create.

You simply have to accept that things are going to change – which is hard for people making a lot of money on the current status quo, but pretty much good for everyone else.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Hospitals will lose thousands of accident patients every year.”

This is not a negative consequence, to either hospitals or society in general. Hospitals are almost always understaffed and overworked. Removing a chunk of workload can only make things better for everyone by allowing more staff man-hours per patient.

“People are likely to own fewer cars.”

How so? Just because you don’t actually have to control the car doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll need less of them.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Fewer accidents is a great boon to society – the main reason to push for driverless cars – but economically hospitals will be hit if there are drastically fewer accidents. That is a good thing in general, but a negative on a purely economic level. On a related note, the leech business isn’t what it used to be either. It will allow hospitals to provide better care in other areas, so those losses could be offset.

People will own fewer cars, or no car at all, because the car can drop you off at work then drive back home to pick up the wife or the kids (yes, the kids can ride on their own unsupervised). The car won’t have to sit in a parking lot at your job all day, if your job even has a parking lot.

Or you’ll pay a monthly fee and have car service at your door whenever you call, so no car ownership at all. The advantage of this is you can request a certain type of car depending on what you need. Have something to haul? Request a truck. Got a long trip? Request an SUV. Night on the town? Request a luxury car.

As cars become less driver-centric, the shape and size will start to change too. Imagine being seated at a table with friends where you can play games or watch movies while the car drives you, or a car with a bed for long trips. Mobile office? Dining cars? You can get creative.

There will also be a baby boom, since right now if a couple’s in a car one of them has to focus on driving, but with driverless cars… well, couples will get bored and start to play.

Basically, once the driver stops driving, they’re going to be looking for other things to do on the road, and that’s where new business opportunities will arise. People who commute by train already know about this, but it’s not the majority of the population, and trains go to limited destinations.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“That is a good thing in general, but a negative on a purely economic level.”

I disagree. Most of those people who are involved in accidents are employed, so the accident removes their productivity. They might lose their jobs, in which case their welfare and that of their dependants become the taxpayer’s responsibility. They might lose their home, they might become disabled and need long-term assistance, or their death might mean a destitute family that requires support from welfare. These are all negatives to the economy, and removing the accident removes these negative factors.

Even with the hospital itself, there’s other things to consider given how the US system is run. Less insurance claims means cheaper insurance (or should do at least), and so people are free to spend on other things. It means less bankruptcies due to medical bills. It means the hospital can concentrate more on running the best care they can rather than hiring staff to fight with insurance companies, chase debts from the uninsured and so on.

It’s not a 100% positive of course, but in my opinion it would be more likely to have a positive rather than negative effect if you consider the economy as a whole.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Yeah, I know where you were coming from, but there’s a hell of a lot of things to consider. Another thought that comes to me is that less work in one area doesn’t mean the staff have nothing to do. Unless the entire hospital is run to service car crash victims, it’s just one of many things they do.

I’m sure most doctors would be happy to move away from an ER environment dealing with car crash victims and into another area of medicine. There’s less danger of burnout, so the hospital wins. The hospital perhaps stands to gain more specialists and so make more money per patient, and so on. More doctors, better care, the economy as a whole may well be better off.

So while I see exactly what you were thinking, it’s a very complex situation that can’t be easily simplified. But as the old adage goes – work smarter, not harder. Less work only means less income if you’re not capitalising on the resources that become available to do other things.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There’s no reason that this would have be a car rental company thing, although I could see a rental company using the services of such a vendor as an inducement for people to rent their cars. This would be equally useful for use in a car you personally own.

This would also absolutely not replace a guidebook, which gives you information about the places you’re seeing.

So the rental companies are still in business, the guidebook companies are still in business, and we have a new business developing the “tour sticks”.

Job gain +1.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

So who’s going to make these sticks that can be pirated with the simplest computer?

I’m sure that lots of people would, just as lots of people (including myself) develop and profitably sell software that can be pirated with the simplest computer right now.

But, with that, we’re rather veering off of the point.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“So who’s going to make these sticks that can be pirated with the simplest computer? “

The same people who currently make tourist apps and ebooks that can be pirated by the simplest computer?

“The market value will be as close to zero as possible.”

Are you one of those idiots who doesn’t understand that there’s a massive difference between price and value, and that people will pay for the latter even if a free option is available (evidence is everywhere if you open your eyes)?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Truck drivers: instead of having to drive the truck themselves they now buy one truck and send it to the place they need to be, they also would be the responsible party for the maintenance of the vehicle which is why so many companies sub-contract to not have to deal with additional costs. with some luck good truck operators can create fleets of their own more easily to operate in certain areas more effectively and in conjunction with online stores creates the physical underlying network necessary to transport and deliver goods.

Another opportunity is for programmers to actually program custom ECU’s and other programmable stuff in the cars.

Using the cars as advertisement and sales platform cars could become electronic points of sales, so the owner of the car gets a cut of whatever is sold inside that car through virtual shops and can earn some money by allowing it to display ads to others. Which creates secondary jobs also.

Cars still will need maintenance.

The car could become a supplementary income source for much more people.

Imagine the following, you go to work and your car automatically goes into “sharing” mode, someone solicities your car, which picks up that person to drive it to somewhere else, while in the car that person buys some food from the supermaket virtual store and gets some ads shown, part of the money spent on that buy goes to the owner of the car along with the ad income, plus the sharing fee.

Truckers could become deliverers of services, instead of delivering of only goods, you can send a truck that transforms itself into an open stage to one place, you can send another that is an arcade, or have offices in it or medical equipment, with automated selling machines selling sodas or whatever and if it grows you need more trucks and if you don’t have the money to buy new ones you call your friends to join in.

Opportunities do exist.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Another opportunity is for programmers to actually program custom ECU’s and other programmable stuff in the cars.

This will become more and more regulated to prevent accidents. So custom ECU’s are not something you will see much of.

Cars still will need maintenance.

Not so much if you look at the Tesla Model S. Also think automated repair …

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Truck drivers: instead of having to drive the truck themselves they now buy one truck and send it to the place they need to be…”

Much more likely that a corporation buys a fleet of the aforementioned trucks, giving them 200 cross country trucks that no longer need drivers. With further negative downstream impacts at restaurants, truck stops, motels, and so on.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You don’t think that self-driving cars won’t also open up tremendous new jobs for people?

Quite the opposite, I also see the secondary job losses. More efficient use of roads means less people building roads. The lack of accidents means job loss in the automotive repair arena and insurance industry. The reduction in the need for meter maids as cars move themselves or pay the meter as needed. The lack of speeding and unsafe driving means no more tickets and a reduction in revenue for local police. Car sharing (not ridesharing) also means the loss of jobs in automotive manufacture.

We have reached an inflection point where robotics and automation are concerned and there is no going back.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I just tried to look up the government report that shows this inflection point but got Due to the lapse in government funding,… instead. There are actually 3 reports the NSF, US military and another agency that show growing trends in automation and job loss. Look them up when the .gov sites come back up.

Meower68 says:

Re: Re: Self-driving cars

I don’t know that it will open up lots of job opportunities. But it will allow older folks who really can’t drive, anymore, to keep their mobility much longer.

I’m certainly looking forward to that when I’m in my 80’s and really shouldn’t be guiding tons of machinery around at 100+ feet/second. I won’t have to stay in some “retirement community,” where someone else will have to take me to the doctor, the store, etc. I’ll still be able to live wherever I want. And my self-driving car can take me where I need to go.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Self-driving cars

I don’t know that it will open up lots of job opportunities. But it will allow older folks who really can’t drive, anymore, to keep their mobility much longer

Which means that there will be more people going out and spending money on things, which means that there will be more job opportunities to serve them.

out_of_the_blue says:

Yes, but those jobs are now in China at slave wages.

Civilization isn’t about corporate efficiency, for start. We’d all be better off refining simplicity rather than allowing globalist mega-corporations to enslave us with their spying gadgets.

It’s far more satisfying to make stuff with your own hands than sit passively in front of “entertainment”. (I’ve generalized that a great deal.)

Industrial jobs are regarded as dull and horrible because the corporatists make them that way: they want robots not humans. There’s no reason for locking people into the same low-pay no-advancement job other than that serves those at the top who are skimming off the fruits of labor. But it doesn’t have to be this way: as with so much of society, it’s all pretty much arbitrary.

If money manipulators weren’t allowed to skim unlimited profits and control the economy, then industry and invention could again fluorish. — It wasn’t the presence of bankers and stock markets and Inherited Rich that ever enabled industry to fluorish, it was them being kept limited so that they didn’t interfere with production.

“Crony capitalism” is one of those terms people use to try and maintain that there’s also a beneficial version; what the 99% actually want is well-regulated fair markets favoring Industrial Production over Money Manipulation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yes, but those jobs are now in China at slave wages.

Civilization has always been about increases in efficiency. That’s why the resources we have now, even though there are nominally fewer of them than there were thousands of years ago, are worth more than they ever were. If you honestly think we’d be better off hand making everything then you should probably go off and smash some looms or something. More classist bullshit from little boy blue.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Yes, but those jobs are now in China at slave wages.

If money manipulators weren’t allowed to skim unlimited profits and control the economy, then industry and invention could again fluorish.

Once again you toss out this supposed “solution” of yours without any indication of how you propose to achieve such a goal.

Maybe if you’d answer some simple questions that I’ve asked of you previously instead of running off to nay-say the next Techdirt article, your notion might actually get some support.

Those questions are here:

FarSide (profile) says:

Re: Re: Luddites have no vision

Well, no. This is true.

BUT, the robot-repair jobs will require robot-supply services and other robot-related secondary jobs.

Meanwhile, lower cost for some end products or materials could make them turn into higher-order capital goods that can be used to create a whole new industry. These are the things that become the job-producers.

You can’t just think about the 1st order jobs created by a new tech.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Luddites have no vision

ou think those robot-related jobs will offset the millions of jobs rendered obsolete by robots?

Maybe not completely, but close. Somebody has to design, produce, service, etc. those millions of robots don’t they?

Think about it in terms of human history, in the last four centuries we have gone from 95% of the population working in agricultural industries to something like 2% in developed counties nowadays. We don’t have a 93% unemployment rate do we?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Luddites have no vision

Why not? Like most luddites, you lack the vision to see the wider reality.

No, telephone operators weren’t directly replaced by people doing a similar job with automated switching. But that technology is what allows most of business today to operate as it does, not least because mobile telephony, the internet and most modern long distance calling wouldn’t be possible if it still depended on a human operator. That’s a lot of jobs that wouldn’t exist if your luddite ancestors had insisted on keeping humans operating the telephones – and we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now either.

So it will be with the robots if industry heads that way. Some people will have new jobs designing, maintaining and instructing the robots. Others will be working in the new industries that you haven’t considered yet that exist because of them.

That’s why luddites aren’t looked at kindly by history. In hindsight, you always look like blinkered fools who can’t see beyond how things happen to exist at one point in time.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not that simple

Technology doesn’t always create more jobs. When no new jobs are created, workers displaced by technology need to compete for existing jobs. Even if new jobs are created, these new jobs are likely to be become fewer and fewer as technology becomes more advanced. The more technology advances, the more kinds of jobs will be automated and the more displaced workers will be competing for the jobs that still remain.

Luckily for future generations, this will ultimately resolve itself. Capitalism is not sustainable without consumers, and there can be no consumers without workers. The more workers are displaced by automation, the less sustainable capitalism becomes. Our economy will need to change as a result, and capitalists will no longer able to derive a profit from the monopolization of land, resources and machinery. Automatons will be owned in common and humans will finally be free from the yoke of the capitalist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It's not that simple

From the article:

“But in some cases, the benefits of technology do not offset job losses from automation. This is especially true in mature manufacturing technologies. So even though textile technology created jobs during the 19th century, recent advances in weaving have eliminated jobs. Technology continues to drive down the price of cloth, but lower prices no longer motivate consumers to buy much more clothing. Demand does too little to offset the labor-eliminating effect of automation.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 It's not that simple

“Except that’s not an example of technology failing to create more jobs. That’s an example of automation in one industry leading to more jobs in others.”

Did you read the same words I did? Job displacement is not the same as job creation. What about “demand does too little to offset the labor-eliminating effect of automation” did you fail to understand?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 It's not that simple

I disagree. The number of jobs that have come about as a result of textile automation are enormous. Arguably, the entirety of modern IT came from it (Jacquard looms led to the idea of Von Neumann machines led to punch cards led to the computer revolution). Not to mention all of the things that could be done with textiles that were impossible before automation, including specialty fabrics that enabled all kinds of other industries including spacecraft and aircraft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 It's not that simple

It could indeed be argued that modern IT owes its earliest developments to the Jacquard loom, but even without the Jacquard loom we would still have ended up with modern computers. Technology does often create jobs, as indeed did technology derived from the Jacquard loom. The loom itself, however, did not create new jobs.

I don’t deny technology has improved people’s lives quite significantly, but notice how the jobs you speak of are more intellectual than manual. Manual labor is currently the most at risk by the advance of technology, but as machines keep advancing so will intellectual endeavors be put at risk. Eventually there will be few jobs that machines can’t perform, at which point society will have no choice but to abandon the current economic model.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 It's not that simple

even without the Jacquard loom we would still have ended up with modern computers.

This is arguable. Many times, certain advances are inevitable, but some are so revolutionary that you can’t call them inevitable. I think Jacquard looms are one of those. I think it’s unlikely that we would have modern computers without the loom’s invention. We certainly wouldn’t have them in the form they exist now. But this is a subject that cannot really be adequately addressed in a blog comment.

The loom itself, however, did not create new jobs.

True enough in the short term, but you’re arguing against a point nobody has made.

Manual labor is currently the most at risk by the advance of technology, but as machines keep advancing so will intellectual endeavors be put at risk.

I will note that manual labor is in as great of demand now as at any time in our history, so I’m not sure that it’s at risk quite yet. Or ever will be.

I don’t agree with your prediction (obviously, I guess), simply because history teaches us something else entirely. When automation throws people out of work, people find new work to do. Not just because they need a paycheck, but because people have a deep, powerful need to be productive. Even if it were economically possible, a future where nobody works will never happen. It goes against human psychology. We will invent work for ourselves, if necessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 It's not that simple

People will find work to do, but it will not be the kind of work we do out of necessity. The transition will be difficult: many people will lose their jobs, but it will also lead to inevitable changes to our social and economic structure.

Once those changes take root, people will work on things they enjoy instead of working for others in pursuit of a paycheck. Property owners will no longer be able to profit off the labors of others, nor will these others depend upon owners of property to provide them with the necessities and luxuries of life.

Technology will liberate humanity, but not before leaving a bunch of us out of a paying job.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 It's not that simple

“When automation throws people out of work, people find new work to do.”

I can go in my backyard and “work”, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to get paid for it. People only get paid for work when that work provides goods or services to someone else. And that someone else has to be able to afford to pay for those goods and services.

And if that someone else is also unemployed, then you have a problem.

That’s the US problem in a nutshell. Companies automated or off shored high paying jobs. The people laid off then had to compete for low-paying jobs, driving some out of work, but most importantly giving them less money to spend themselves. When means less demand for goods and services, which means you need fewer people to meet that demand, so more people are laid off and have less money to spend, which reduces demand…

And around and around it goes.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 It's not that simple

That’s the US problem in a nutshell. Companies automated or off shored high paying jobs. The people laid off then had to compete for low-paying jobs

That’s not exactly true.

Did you know that, right now, the US has the strongest manufacturing base of the entire history of the US? It doesn’t matter what metric you measure it by, we’re currently doing better then, literally, ever.

The reason so many people are fooled by the media talking about how there is no manufacturing in the US is because what we make has changed. We don’t make consumer goods so much anymore. What we do make are high-technology, high-education, big-ticket items like airplanes, supercomputers, huge ships, etc., and their components.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 It's not that simple

I disagree. Pascal’s calculator was just that: a calculator. It wasn’t an evolutionary leap forward from what came before it.

Without the Jacquard loom, we wouldn’t have Von Neumann machines, which means we wouldn’t have general-purpose computers. We might have really kick-ass calculators, but the thing that makes computers so awesome is not that they can perform calculations. It’s that they are general purpose and reprogrammable without altering the hardware.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 It's not that simple

Sigh. There are more bank tellers than ever before because there are more PEOPLE than ever before.

In 1985 the US pop was 237M. In 2002, 287M, or a 18% increase. There were 485K tellers in 1985, and 527K in 2002. That’s mere 8% increase.

So, adjusted for population, there were FEWER tellers in 2002 than there were in 1985. Why? We had more people. Why not more tellers to maintain the same level of service?

Or did computers, ATMs, online banking, and other services reduce the need to have an extra employee standing in every bank branch in the US?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 It's not that simple

“Or did computers, ATMs, online banking, and other services reduce the need to have an extra employee standing in every bank branch in the US?”

Yes, of course they did. Online banking and ATMs mean that people are doing a lot of their banking outside of the branch, so you need less people inside the branch to do the same work. But, those computers, ATMs, data centres, call centres, etc. still need to employ people as well to build, maintain and operate them. There’s still people employed. They just don’t happen to be standing in the branch.

“Why not more tellers to maintain the same level of service?”

Because the services the tellers did have been distributed. You don’t need to ask the teller for $100 or your balance because the ATM will give it to you. You don’t need to wait in line to pay a bill because you can do that online. You don’t need to take a cheque to the teller to pay your wages in, because that’s done by automatic transfer. Tellers still provide valuable services, but since they’re not the only option for most like they used to be, you don’t need so many of them per branch.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 It's not that simple

“Tellers still provide valuable services, but since they’re not the only option for most like they used to be, you don’t need so many of them per branch.’

Precisely. Those jobs are replaced by computers and automation.

“TMs, data centres, call centres, etc. still need to employ people as well to build, maintain and operate them.”

A single data center NOC of 12 people can support thousands, if not millions of online “businesses” and services. ATMs are built in automated factories, and a couple of guys in a couple of trucks can support all of that banks ATMs in your average city. (ATMs report their own status, signal when cash is low, etc.)

What’s so hard to understand here? Automation means you can do more with fewer people. More jobs, at all levels of the economy, are becoming automated, even at the companies producing the machines that do the automation.

Follow that trend, and you end up with not enough jobs.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 It's not that simple

Please go back to farming your own food, weaving your own cloth, and milling and baking your own bread.

Seriously, what’s this fetish with all that matters being loss of one type of job? You can’t even blame it on outsourcing, as we’re talking about stuff that’s been happening for hundreds of years (although I guess it was happening even then, yay capitalism!).

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 It's not that simple

Which part of “as more and more sectors automate” isn’t clear? It’s not just one type of job. It’s jobs in sector A and sector B and sector C and D and E and F and J and K…

Computerization, software, automation, telepresence, and other technologies are going to have a profound impact on jobs and employment, displacing millions upon millions of jobs and workers. What we’ve seen thus far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not that simple

Even if new jobs are created, these new jobs are likely to be become fewer and fewer as technology becomes more advanced.

If you were wondering where your screed went completely off the rails and contradicted all of history as well as economics as it is currently understood I’ve highlighted it above.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It's not that simple

“Likely to become”, as in “not yet, but in the future”.

Machines have forced many workers into jobs machines can’t perform. The more machines advance, however, the more such jobs they are able to perform. There is no infinite supply of job types, so the outcome is inevitable: lots of workers left competing for existing jobs and not enough jobs to accommodate them all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's not that simple

There actually is an infinite supply of job types in the long run. As an illustration what percentage of the current jobs do you think a person from 50 years ago would be unable to dream up? 100 years ago? 500 years ago? 2000 years ago?History is one long story of the supply of job types growing and growing. A temporary displacement is not evidence of systemic failure or a lack of sustainability and it never has been.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

I have to disagree with you on this one

We are getting to the point where the decreasing cost of technology and the increasing capabilities are actually beginning to affect the job market. Like most of the disruptive innovations before this one is creeping up on us slowly but is beginning to go exponential.

A great example is Foxconn purchasing 1 million robots, to replace about 1 million workers, in a nation (China) with relatively low wages. Another is the robot Baxter, by rethink robotics, which will be used to manufacture more Baxters, removing the need to hire employees for manufacture. Google’s self driving car has the potential to remove about 10 million primary driving and secondary insurance, mechanics, body shop workers, etc out of the US economy. The secondary effects are due to accident reduction.

The 3D house printer I am working on, by generation 3, will be able to set itself up and print a house unsupervised in under a day. The finishing, wiring, plumbing, glazing, tiling, painting, etc will take another day and will be fully automated. I foresee major job losses in the construction sector, about 3-4 million of them.

The quest for profits will drive this forward, with companies that refuse to automate or roboticize becoming financially unviable and failing. No laws, rules, or regulations can prevent this from occurring. Any laws passed, by specific nations, to slow job loss, will cause the companies burdened by them to fail, as other nations become more efficient and cost effective due to automation.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

I think you are being overly pessimistic. The companies will have to let go of profits and start paying decent wages that’s a certainty. But really, even if robots can replace every single human being it doesn’t mean they will. I believe in the future we’ll see a much more developed services sector or 3rd sector and people won’t deal with heavy work such as mining, car making and other manufacturing activities. Sure there will be a painful adaptation period but things will be sorted out.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

I have been working on robotics for about 20 years now and have been thinking about this alot. Most of what you have said is unrealistic. Companies letting go of profits and paying a decent wage… not going to happen. The services sector is going to be automated away also. Doctors and lawyers are also not safe from automation. With projects like the qualcomm tricorder xprize 80 percent of what doctors do can be automated. It does not bode well …

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I have to disagree with you on this one

It is not the getting there you should be thinking of. It is the transition from a capitalist based system to one where the cost of manufacturing approaches zero. This “Tween time” is going to be a really bumpy ride, demonstrations, riots, corporations and governments failing due to loss of revenue.

A recent report (pdf) shows how half (45%) of 702 job types can be automated into extinction. The paper doesn’t take into account projects currently in the development stage tricorder project (doctors), self programming and evolving systems (programmers, engineers), natural language systems, etc, so their numbers are very conservative and on the low end. If you do take them into consideration the numbers go to the 60-70% range over the next 20 years.

Right now in the US we have 120 million people filing taxes, and 86 million people paying taxes on a country of 300 plus million with a huge debt load. Using the numbers from the report the number of people paying taxes will be in the 50 million range in 20 years. Using Moore’s law and just the projects in the works to forecast forward you end up with between 28 and 34 million people working in the US 20-25 years.

Financially this is unworkable. With the current debt load the failure point for the US federal government in is 50-60 million taxpayer range. After that they are bleeding money to quickly to survive.

Ever increasing taxes on a shrinking tax base is also a huge issue. One thing that will likely occur is the inevitable surprise increases in taxes that reduce peoples tax refund checks to negative values. Another is a Cyprus style raiding of bank accounts. All in all it does not bode well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to disagree with you on this one

I am not worried.

a) I have survival skills.
b) I learned to make what I need.
c) I know how to make weapons.
d) I tried telling people every chance I get that they should take some responsibility for the things around them and be less dependent on others, you can only tell people what is right or not, is up to them to decide for themselves though.

I will be there if governments fail, I will be there until the environment becomes toxic, native Indian Americans lived ages without anything but the land, that is all I need, heck I am even learning how to make simple crud microprocessor myself.

But even I need others, I am not a geologist I can’t see the differences in rocks and know what materials they contain, I know a lot about plant biology but there are many species I don’t recognize and don’t know what they are for.

This was when I realized that all this fear of losing your job is nonsense, the stupid will go wild and probably get shot in the streets many people who didn’t care to learn real skills will suffer tremendously, but sadly choices have consequences.

I don’t care about the economy, I know I will have a roof over my head and food at the very least, no matter what.
What else should I want from life?

That is my safety net, the knowledge to build things, the knowledge to do things, you think I am counting on money that I should give to others to take care for me?

That is nonsense that money is long gone, my own government robbed me and others of that money a long time ago, they just don’t want riots on the street that is why they don’t tell anybody otherwise.

Obamacare is all about one thing only, the creation of a new tax to replace the money that was robbed before, it probably will end the same way again, but this time is mandatory, you will be forced to give money to them again.

Have you gone to Etsy?
Thousands of people live on the handcraft market created there. Somehow a market for handcraft art appeared from nothing in a digital space, people will trade, people will learn to live with less and we all will learn to thrive again.

I am old now, and have lived a lot of all that social nonsense I saw it all, over and over again, this time I am not afraid, I learned my lesson, I strived to learn how to make things.

This is what everybody should do, we should all learn first how to make the things we need from what we have around us, and then go out and learn others stuff.

There is this story about what Sir Isaac Newton told a guy who asked about the telescope he had, he said after being inquired where did he get that telescope:

“Sir if I ever waited for others to do something for me I never get anything done”

It took me decades to realize what was important in life.
Knowledge of how to make stuff, money, economy, education everything else is secondary, the first step in anybodies life should be to learn how to make the very minimum they need to have a life without depending on anybody else.

Go talk to an Indian on the Amazon all of them know how to make a fire, how to make clothes, how to make weapons, how to make medicine and a lot of other stuff is incredible and they didn’t even had schooling they learned from others how to do it, we lost that, we let others tell us they would take care of everything and we let them do it and now we get scared that they screwed up and could go away any day now?

I am not, I learned my lesson.
Still I would trade with others.

Are you afraid of riots?

The STEN gun is a submachine gun that was made to be produced anywhere is mostly stamped parts not milled, you need pepper spay buy some hot peppers(jalapenos) and put them on oil(it gets hotter) the liquid can them be pored into a plastic bottle that you can pressurize with a one way valve that you can make or buy and a bicycle air pump, heck you can make gallons of the stuff and spray anybody who gets near you. Other plants that have toxins that are useful for protection are poison ivy and cashews beware though that the cashew toxins can be deadly if inhaled.

Don’t be afraid learn to make what you believe you will need, you sleep better at night and worry less about the future.

Go outside take a look at what plants you have around you, some are good for fibers, others can be eaten, some have substances that are medicinal, look at what others throw out, that is raw material that can be used.

Are you afraid people will gas you?
Most air filters are carbon filters with a some fine thread to capture particulates, you can make a crude one by punching some holes on a plastic bottle filling it with charcoal and wrapping it in cloth.

Are you afraid you want have food?
Urban farming, window farming are all techniques showing how to grow food in tight spaces.

As I said before, you can wait for others to come to their senses or you can do something about it yourself, what would you chose?

Yes is hard, yes is annoying, yes is tedious, yes it is a lot of things that we were taught it was bad and then I remember Hun Tsu that said that the worst thing you could do to your enemy was to make him comfortable and I get over all that crap.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I have to disagree with you on this one

I really don’t want to start off a counter-argument by saying you’re an idiot… but, you’re an idiot.

Should society collapse to the point where your “skills” are needed, you’re as screwed as everyone else. Live off the land? Right. We’re long past the point of society “living off the land”, and you’re not going to find anything to hunt or fish when millions of others are trying to do the same.

Armed? Yep. So are millions of other people, and if a gang of them wants whatever meager food you’ve managed to grow in your window box , you’re also screwed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to disagree with you on this one

Here is a tip:

Easy yourself into a world without money.
Try living a time without it and learn what you will need to make it.

A thousand mile journey starts with the first step.

Once you learn that you can live without money, you will fear very little in this world.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

Companies letting go of profits and paying a decent wage… not going to happen.

It will as humanity evolves. But as I said not without some blood and pain in the evolution process.

I’m thinking the perfect scenario where robots fully replace humans at everything. We will still need to eat, we still have psychological needs. But then the robots will be doing everything and nobody will be able to buy or do anything because nobody will earn anything. At that point either we evolve to a true socialism, cease existence or simply move away from those that overuse robots. There’s a strong social component there. And if every land belongs to big corporations and you can’t grow your own food in that scenario then people will simply revolt. As I said, blood and pain.

Aidian Holder says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I have to disagree with you on this one

I’d like to believe that our automated future features “humanity evolving” in a way that restructures society for the benefit of all.

But if I had to wager on either “humanity evolving” or “brutal capitalist oligarchy,” I’m afraid history would require me to bet on the later. Unless I got, say, 6-1 or maybe 8-1.

Of course, long before either of those futures come to pass the automation in question will become self aware and form skynet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to disagree with you on this one

Or you could get P2P production.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if everybody could produce anything?

What would limit that? Resources.

Trade still would go on, we can’t produce everything we want, so we depend on others still.

This is why I don’t believe brutal oligarchies will arise they will be destroyed by one big anonymous production machine made up of individuals.

But suppose you are right and things turn south, what can you do to mitigate the repercussions of such event?

I believe knowledge will be everything, this is what will make us free or at the very least allow people to live comfortable lifes.

You can see that play out in the entertainment industry, knowledge allow others to find ways around walls, knowledge allow others to build their own distribution systems and there is nothing others can do about it to stop it, in that sense is compete or die in that market right now, and that is probably how it should be everywhere.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

80 percent of what doctors do can be automated

The doctors in the hospital my wife works at would be absolutely thrilled if this were to happen. They are so overworked right now that they cannot really give care at the level they want to — just to keep up with workload, they can’t devote more than a half hour or so to a given patient (about 10 minutes of that actually talking to the patient). People do die because of this, and burnout amongst doctors (especially surgeons) is incredibly high.

If 80% of their workload went away, they would be freed up to give their full attention to the patients who have really difficult problems, leading to a better outcome for everybody, both patients and doctors.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I have to disagree with you on this one

“If 80% of their workload went away, they would be freed up to give their full attention to the patients who have really difficult problems, leading to a better outcome for everybody, both patients and doctors.”

You presume that hospitals wouldn’t simply reduce the number of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to the point were 20% are now supporting the same workload.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

I believe in the future we’ll see a much more developed services sector or 3rd sector

Service sector job are in general low paying jobs. Government jobs are ultimately limited by the tax base of non government jobs. Note taxes on government employees are a discount to the government.

MonkeyFracasJr (profile) says:

Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

While I want to agree with your comment completely I can’t. Nothing, and I mean nothing, ever unfolds as it is foreseen. It is never quite as good or bad as any given prognosticator describes it.

Why can’t we all work fewer hours? Why are some people compelled or forced to work 60+ hours per week while others can not get any work?

The system we are forging will not work without some fundamental changes in how societies function. I am not endorsing handouts and I am not suggesting we “return to the old ways.” I am hoping more people will see the dysfunction of the path we are on.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

That. We have to change mentality. The occupy movements were nice laboratories, people tried alternatives. There are several popular attempts of rethinking the system on those lines and on stuff I can’t comprehend because I’m not that evolved. But I’m not ready to dismiss those as unworkable. That’s the key, we have to be aware that we are limited by an established way of thinking and must not block new attempts and ideas. That’s what the legacy industry and the older generations are doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to disagree with you on this one

Yes. An ad hominem argument is an argument made against the person speaking rather than the statements being made. Pointing out that is analysis drops off abrubtly at the ‘technology leads to job displacement’ step and doesn’t explore any further is very much an address of the statements being made.

If you thought I was literally saying his eyesight was bad then I guess I just wasn’t clear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

This is exactly why people call the next phase of society as service based and the government took to mean intellectual property based.

When production ceases to be a problem services will be where everyone will work, people still will need to learn stuff, people still need others to do something for them.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

People will still need to research to improve the systems, people will still be necessary to monitor such systems, people will be necessary. End of the story. The question is what will the next phase look like. The current system does not fit into the future. I don’t know what does fit. I’m not that arrogant. But I hope to contribute to this next phase the way I can.

I think crowdfunding is a teaser of what we’ll see next.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: I have to disagree with you on this one

The future you paint is one where a few people work (building robots) while everyone else sits around with nothing to do because robots are doing it. I’m pretty sure people will find work even if they have to invent whole new job categories.

If you can show me how the technological advances of the industrial revolution led to the great depression, then maybe you have a point.

alternatives() says:

You are better than this article Mike

The 1940’s VS now example? Where is the normalization for population and number of devices?

Destroy – put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it. The 1st part is true – Technology does put an end to the existence of some jobs. But the end doesn’t come by ‘damage’ or ‘attack’. The end comes by replacement.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve always found it ironic that whenever a Luddite says a piece of technology ‘destroys’ a job what they’re actually saying is that a piece of technology has increased productivity. The problem is when you look at 500 men making 500 shirts and then introduce a piece of technology that allows 10 men to make 500 shirts in the same amount of time you’d look really foolish if you said ‘increased productivity and the cheaper products it brings is bad. we should destroy the looms!’ When you say ‘det loorm took meh jerbs!’ it’s sounds sympathetic even if you say it while wearing a shirt you could only afford because the loom exists.

Aidian Holder says:

Re: Increased Productivity to whose benefit?

“when you look at 500 men making 500 shirts and then introduce a piece of technology that allows 10 men to make 500 shirts in the same amount of time”

Sure that’s a huge productivity gain. To whom do the benefits accrue? Sure consumers get some. But the lions share seems to go to the owners of capital. Multiply by thousands of times across the economy, and you get a very unhappy place…actually you get America today.

Greevar (profile) says:

This article is ignoring one important facet:

The advantages of needing less labor. What about the massive gains of having automated industries? Stuff that took human labor to do is done my machines and people have more free time for other things. They also do it better than human labor. Automation means people have to do less work and get more out of it. At some point, “job” will become synonymous with “hobby” because full automation of all industries means that nobody has to work for what they need and everything will become abundant. Every technology we apply creates more of what we had before. Look at agriculture. 1,000 years ago, how hard was it to feed large populations? Now, the only barrier is money. We produce more than enough food to feed every human on the planet. It’s a senseless tragedy that anybody starves to death today.

PlayNicely says:


The whole discussion revolves around the question of job creation/destruction and this thoroughly misses the point of innovation – which is to make human labour obsolete or rather making it available for the creation of new goods and services.

Since all the money spent on a certain good or service eventually ends up on a paycheck (of the miners, executives, maintenance staff, bank employees, lawyers, etc. that in some even very indirect way contributed to its creation) spending less money on it means less money on those paychecks or fewer paychecks in general. This is offset by the new things we can and will spend all that money on which will end up on new and different paychecks.

The problem is that we won’t be able to retrain everybody so some people will lose their social status as well as their job. As long as we treat job loss as a sign of personal failure that is “justly” punished by poverty rather than as an unavoidable consequence of innovation that has to be managed by society we will have strong (and justifiable) opposition to any kind of innovation.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about banking

Prior to computers banks employed LOTS of people, everything had to be done manually, there were large back offices, and lots of employment. And it was good work, working at a bank being a prestigious position in society.

Then came automation and computers, all those banking jobs,, gone !! now it’s a small number of people or an ATM !

Typing pools ?? Lift operators.

Even checkout operators !! now you might question these jobs are ‘good’ or bad, and saying losing checkout operators is not a bad thing.

But for a University student, or a young person wanting to make some extra money (or even some money) stacking shelves or working a checkout is valuable to them.

Their jobs are being replaced, it’s very possible those people did not really mind if their job was not ‘high tech’ and it was repetitive and boring, it was a job and it allowed them to live. Live and buy things.

You actually NEED people with jobs (no matter what they are) so you have people with an income to buy things that employ other people to make and sell.

Take it to the extreme, if everything you make requires no one to make them, you don’t employ anyone, you don’t pay anyone, you do not have anyone with income to buy your product.

You pay the checkout operator, and with some of his pay he buys stuff from a shop and employs another checkout operator who in turn gets payed and buys things.

Henry Ford worked that out, he worked out that you not only have to be able to make lots of cars, but you have to pay people so they can afford to buy those cars.

(this post will be CENSORED BY MASNICK for 4 or 5 days, or never posted AT ALL)..

Urgelt (profile) says:


Very cute. If one proposes that advancing tech destroys jobs, he’s a Luddite.

Unfortunately for the author’s viewpoint, he’s wrong, and you don’t have to desire a nontechnical world to understand it.

Citing examples from the 1940’s cuts no mustard. The crossover point happened sometime in the 1990’s – the moment when productivity increases from advancing technology began to destroy more jobs than it created. Worse, the trend line now is hyperbolic. It’s moving faster every years.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: productivity is not just rising, it’s accelerating. Advancing tech is hitting more sectors every year, and as it does, jobs are shed. Some new jobs are created, yes. But since the 1990’s, it’s been less than those destroyed, and the gap is widening.

This isn’t only a trend in the US; it’s international. Last year, for example, Foxconn in China began a modernization program that will shed one million jobs in two years. One. Million. Jobs. That’s just one company. A million jobs won’t be created somewhere else. The tech they’re upgrading to already exists. A few thousand workers is all that’s needed to extend it to them.

What’s most interesting to me is how apparently unlikely sectors are suddenly coming under threat of rising productivity. Take long-haul trucking and taxi drivers, for example. Jobs in those sectors have traditionally been directly correlated to economic demand. What happens when autonomous vehicles become a mature technology? That will happen in the 2020’s. Answer: trucks and cabs will operate with lower accident rates. They won’t have to stop to rest drivers. Some tech jobs will be created, but not enough to offset the job shedding those sectors will undergo.

Or take the field of medicine. Automation has barely nudged into that sector of the economy, but the potential is tremendous. Almost all of what primary care physicians do is ‘if this, then that’ boilerplate. They have to practice medicine that way; if they deviate from the boilerplate ‘best accepted practices,’ they’re vulnerable to lawsuits if something goes wrong. But this very fact makes medicine a great candidate for automation. IBM rightly sees that field as an opportunity for its Watson product. Productivity will rise. Jobs will be shed.

A Luddite probably doesn’t have the informed capacity to recognize what is happening. Techologists do. This is the take-away point: the owners of capital are gradually becoming the owners of the means to produce labor. Slowly at first, more rapidly later on, human workers are becoming surplus to requirements. Poverty is claiming more humans, also slowly at first, but the trend is accelerating.

Capitalism is a 19th Century ideology that has no conceptual framework for endlessly advancing productivity due to advancing tech. And so many of its adherents simply deny it could be happening at all. Unfortunately, that’s a head-in-the-sand stance. It is happening. The sooner we wrap our minds around this fact, the sooner we can begin to make meaningful decisions about how the human race should adjust to the trend.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Cute.

I think you make a good point. At some time in the future (not all that far), jobs will not be necessary. People won’t have to trade their labor to satisfy basic human needs because human labor is not needed. There will still be some particular industries that will always exist (e.g. science, art, and technology), but they will not be a commercial entity. If people work, they will do so because the work itself matters to them, not because they are seeking a paycheck, they don’t need one.

Capitalism thrives on one important property: scarcity. Eliminate or drastically reducing scarcity through automation and abundance-creating technology (aluminum used to be more scarce than platinum) will undercut capitalism’s core mechanism: allocating scarce resources. The biggest problem with capitalism is scarcity, because instead of trying to use resources efficiently, people leverage it to acquire more and deprive others from satisfying their basic needs. We actually have an inefficient allocation of resources because of capitalism.

So, I see the dwindling supply of jobs as progress, not as a problem to be dealt with. The real problem is making sure the people at the bottom don’t suffer for it, but making more jobs is not the solution. Aligning technology to provide for people without the expectation of monetary exchange is the solution. We need technological solutions, not more political pandering about “job creators”. That term has been falsely distorted to be synonymous with satisfying basic needs.

Urgelt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cute.

The problem with your conclusion is that there is no mechanism to distribute wealth below the capital-owning class if only a small percentage of humans are needed to do work. Furthermore, wealth concentration isn’t the only trend going on. We’re also trending towards more monopolization, more rent-seeking behaviors from large corporations (intellectual property lockdowns) and, as wealth is concentrated, more government corruption, so that laws favor these trends.

And so the ‘end of work’ that has been predicted by some economists is also a doomsday scenario. If billions of people are surplus to requirements and can’t earn livings, they’ll either starve to death or rebel.

Wealthy elites are betting on rebellion. And that’s why the police are being militarized.

Robotics and automation hold great potential to improve the human condition. But without a mechanism to distribute the vast wealth promised by these advancing technologies, it can’t come to any good end.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cute.

You’re making the assumption that the means of production will remain in the hands of the capital-owning class. It won’t. If 3D printing keeps progressing, people will have their own means of production completely independent of the class of owners. This vast wealth that’s coming is already here, we just don’t use it very well. The distribution might well be taken care of if resources can be properly allocated, because the means of production will be highly distributed already.

The doomsday scenario will only happen if the capitalists insist on holding on to the means to production in spite of it being pointless to do so. The capitalists won’t need workers, so they don’t need money to keep their operation going. So what we need is a system to allocate resources that doesn’t rely on currency. If we are approaching an age of abundance, then we’ll need something to make sure that we distribute those resources efficiently. I don’t know what that might look like, but I hope I get to see it.

Of course they’re betting on rebellion. What else will people do if the elites don’t step down and relinquish control of the means of production? Militarizing the police is a foolish plan. There are more of us than there are of them and the police are people no different than us, they wouldn’t be fighting the people when they’re just as badly off. No, if they expect rebellion and they won’t back down, they’re likely planning something to take that threat out before it happens. Some sort of class cleansing.

The only real reason anything basic is scarce is because it’s locked behind a pay wall. These capitalists are still stuck on the idea that if I get something from them, I need to give something to them in return. You don’t need to re-compensate for something that was trivial to produce and isn’t rivalrous to them.

Urgelt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Cute.

Greevar, you’re quite right. I am assuming, or perhaps ‘predicting’ is a better word, that the means of production will remain in the hands of the capital-owning class unless it’s stripped from them by force. I don’t think 3-D printing is going to make much of a difference by itself, at least not in this century.

Technology alone won’t do it, because wealth concentration has enabled the capital-owning class to completely corrupt government at every level. And that lets them establish the legal framework under which the economy operates.

Take the internet. On its own, it’s a liberating force for information. But with every passing year, legislation creep is assaulting that freedom at the behest of the capital-owning class. Wholesale spying, which, combined with vague laws, enables government to prosecute anyone who annoys the elites, is only part of it. It’s just a matter of time before laws explicitly prohibit ISPs like Google or Facebook from hosting unedited content from users that can be accessed by the public. Why do I think that will happen? They’ve got a strategy: first they’ll go after small service providers for illegalities committed by their users (MegaUpload and The Silk Road being examples). Once that precedent is firmly in place (which overturns the DCMA), they’ll get legislatures to endorse it with laws. Can you imagine Google letting users post what they like if Google will be liable when those users have broken the law somewhere? We’ll be back to pre-internet days: the only information in the public space will be edited information from media companies. And they’ll charge rent for it.

For 3D printing, it’s a similar problem. You can legally print whatever the printer will let you print… if laws permit it. But copyright, trademark and patent IP is mutating and spreading like crazy. Exxon-Mobile filed a lawsuit just recently against another company that used an ‘X’ in its name! Maybe they won’t win, but it’s yet another high water mark, and it won’t be the last one. Vague patents are being filed by the million! Which means that the average Joe will be vulnerable to lawsuits he can’t afford if he threatens even minor damage to monopoly interests. They’ve got the law on their side, they can interpret however it suits them, they’ve got the SWAT guys to enforce it, and the spies to figure out who’s transgressing against the interest of the owners of capital.

So while I agree that on its own, advancing technology has a tendency to distribute power more broadly, that alone isn’t going to be enough to offset the powers of the totalitarian state that is slinking darkly towards us with greedy hands and more weapons than you could possibly count.

Matt (user link) says:

Jobs and Automation

I’m glad you’ve addressed this issue. The more automation becomes a standard part of society, the more people cry out about losing their jobs. It’s good to see someone use logic to calm some of the more irrational fears that people have.

Even so, there is a balance between the the value of technology and the value of leaving it alone. If we’re solely focused on the increase in profits, we won’t move toward a more valuable technology by default, and until government and corporations get this into their thick skulls, we’ll always run the risk of losing too many jobs to technology.

Fugly says:


“…in 1985 … the United States had 60,000 automated teller machines and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the United States had 352,000 ATMs, and 527,000 bank tellers.”

In 1985 the population of the US was ~237 million, in 2002 it was ~287 million… So, while the US population increased by better than 20%, the number of bank tellers only increased by ~8%… AND in those 17 years, our use and dependence on digital currency (made possible by banks) increased exponentially — which means that banks do exponentially more work/business than they did in 1985, with a meager 8% increase in employees.


PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Ooops

“with a meager 8% increase in employees”

WRONG. 8% increase in bank tellers, not in overall staff. Like most luddites, you seem incapable of considering employment that doesn’t consist of a human being sitting in front of you.

Do you think that all the back office tasks, manufacturing, infrastructure, support, call centre, security, etc. all happen without employing anyone. Do you think that features and improvements in banking don’t enable greater employment elsewhere? Hell, do you think that “digital currency” (which doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means) creates and maintains itself?

There are arguments to be had, but “there’s less jobs because there’s proportionately less people sitting at desks in branches” only serves to prove you incapable of understanding the entire industry you’re addressing. Especially if you only consider banks to be “branches” rather than the entire industry, and exclude the related industries that would not have been possible had the banks not gone in that direction.


Hold off the caps lock key, learn the proper usage of apostrophes then try to learn how to see the bigger picture. Come back if you’d like to argue with a complete set of figures representing the entire industry, not just the small part a tiny luddite brain is capable of picturing. Whether you’re in a bank, a supermarket or an office, the industry is a hell of a lot bigger than the number of people who happen to be sitting at your particular point of entry.

Fugly says:

Re: Re: Ooops

Your comment is pretty short-sighted.

First, the article does exactly what you’ve accused me of doing, ignoring the human beings who are not sitting in front of me; it even takes things a step further by ignoring new aspects of banking that did not exist 25 years ago, which require additional work, but have not resulted in large scale hiring today. And second, I could easily have spent an hour carefully crafting my comment, looking up every job associated with the humble ATM, but I was sure any reasonable person could have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t take much to keep an ATM running (a single teller to fill/empty it once per day, and a service call maybe 3 times per year). Furthermore, given that 80% of the components of a typical ATM are simple off the shelf computer parts, I think one can very easily assume that it takes about as much additional labor to produce one as it does to produce a terminal that a teller might have otherwise used, had s/he been hired. Ultimately, it seems pretty obvious that given a much larger population, people banking more often, and using an absolutely enormous array of new features, that the number of people working for banks should have increased exponentially. If you can show me exponential growth in banking related jobs, go for it, I’d love to see it, but looking through the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, I’m pretty sure you’re S.O.L.. Of course, based on your comment and the fact that you didn’t bother to supply any actual statistics to back up your silliness, I can only assume you don’t really give a crap.

In any case, now I’m going to imagine how annoyed you’ll be as I depress my caps-lock key to type this next bit…


If you’re honest about it, you can see it happening every day, in every part of the world; the production of computers and automated systems, can themselves be automated, which means that humans are, as we speak, losing jobs.

Anyway, sorry for the overuse of the ellipsis (I can only assume that’s what you were complaining about). I avoided using them as best I was able in this comment.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ooops

“the number of people working for banks should have increased exponentially”

Oh dear, you actually missed most of my points. Perhaps the total number of people working for banks had not directly increased in proportion to their growth. But there’s a crapload of ancillary industries that have grown up using the new technologies. You have to look at the whole picture.

For example, how much have other companies been able to grow due to savings and efficiency they’ve made by adopting the new tech? How many working hours have been saved by allowing people to bank online rather than take a morning off to queue at a branch? How many industries ranging from home grocery shopping to eBay are only possible because the banks changed their technology? Hell, you could argue that it’s efficiency in credit card processing that allows a lot of bar sales on a Saturday night in places where people are able keep a card open for the night, while people would spend less if they had to use cash for every drink or snack.

Sure, there might not be as many people employed who assemble ATMs compared to bank tellers. But pretending this is the only story is missing the point, both within the banking industry and outside of it.


Bullshit, and completely missing the point. To reiterate the most obvious example, sure less people are directly employed by telephone exchanges due to automation. Perhaps less people are employed in telecoms providers full stop. Some people lost jobs, and some of those jobs were skilled. But, how many jobs did that new technology enable, not just in the telephony industries but in the entire world, from faxes to everything we do online? How many industries and therefore jobs only exist because some manual telephone operators were made redundant? Millions.

I know that my employment and lifestyle would be utterly impossible had luddites been allowed to force manual exchanges, as would this very conversation.

Sure, if you pick a single industry and only consider the jobs directly within that industry, it can destroy jobs. But, if you’re not considering everything else in the larger picture, you’re lying to yourself. Scepticism of technology is healthy, but you have to address it honestly.

JamesSmith says:

There should be an easy way to predict this.

If new jobs are created by greater efficiencies
then we shouldn’t have to worry about technology
that increases output as that should create new
jobs. What about technology that doesn’t increase
output though. Replacing a 20k worker with a 20k
robot because it is cheaper and doesn’t need a break
doesn’t really increase efficiency by much it just
eliminates a job. Big tech is doing more and more
with fewer and fewer employers with no end in sight.
Also what happens when the market is saturated and
noone wants anymore widgets.

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