Self-Driving Trucks Will Be a Part of Unprecedented Social Change

It was nice to see the Los Angeles Times recognize the negative effect of self-driving cars and trucks which will cause severe job loss, as shown by a front-page story on Wednesday.

A lot of reporting over the last few years has had too much fan-boy wonderment at the rapid growth of admittedly amazing technology. But the automation gizmos are being designed to replace millions of workers: tech designers and business owners win, and workers lose.

The self-driving sector is now engaged in something of a gold rush. There is huge money involved on who prevails in the marketplace, and the big players in the automotive and tech companies don’t want to be left behind.

As a result of the haste, safety may not be given proper attention by Washington because nobody in Congress wants to see China or any other competitor overshadow American technology. The Times article refers vaguely to a hearing which must be the September investigation which I reported: Senate Hearing Paves Way for Self-Driving Trucks. The Teamster representative Ken Hall was the only one who discussed safety much, noting:

For instance, I have yet to hear a serious discussion about how we will make sure an 80,000 pound automated truck will be able to maneuver around a warehouse or drop yard and not injure the countless workers also occupying that same space. Or how we would make sure that the rules governing a driver’s training requirements would be updated the moment one of these new vehicles is put on the road. And we haven’t gotten to the largest issue of them all, the potential impact on the livelihoods and wages of millions of your constituents.

Read Hall’s full testimony here

My optimistic self hopes that 80,000-pound self-driving trucks will not be loosed on the public highways any time soon — a software malfunction could be catastrophic. A reasonable (and hopefully long-term) introductory step would be the “platooning” strategy where a human driver pilots one truck with a small number of other vehicles hooked up electronically to the leader.

Furthermore, as the article points out, the political blowback will likely be severe when the public begins to see society transformed in a way nobody asked for, and the driving environment looks to be just an early harbinger of change. Many jobs are liable to face a die-off or at least be affected by the automation revolution. The Oxford study that got everyone’s attention in 2013 predicted that nearly half of occupations in the US were likely to be automated within the next 20 years. Yet Washington remains asleep to the danger, as demonstrated by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s clueless remark last spring that big automation was 50 or 100 years away.

There’s not a lot that can done to stop the harmful effects, because capitalism and invention go hand in hand. But ending immigration would be a prudent step, since it makes no sense for America to continue importing workers when machines will be doing many of the jobs in a few years, because:

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete

This is one of the better articles from a mainstream newspaper about the difficult automated future:

The driverless revolution may exact a political price, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2017

A driverless truck is seen at a garage in San Francisco in May 2016. Such autonomous big rigs already are being tested on the roads. The Teamsters warn millions that of truck-driving and related jobs are threatened. Economists see a political backlash brewing.

In its race to embrace driverless vehicles, Washington has cleared away regulatory hurdles for auto companies and brushed aside consumer warnings about the risk of crashes and hacking.

But at a recent hearing, lawmakers absorbed an economic argument that illustrated how the driverless revolution they are encouraging could backfire politically, particularly in Trump country.

It was the tale of a successful, long-distance beer run.

A robotic truck coasted driverless 120 miles down Interstate 25 in Colorado on its way to deliver 51,744 cans of Budweiser. Not everyone at the hearing was impressed by the milestone, particularly the secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters, whose nearly 600,000 unionized drivers played no small role in President Trump’s victory last year.

Driverless vehicles threaten to dramatically reduce America’s 1.7-million trucking jobs. It is the front end of a wave of automation that technologists and economists have been warning for years will come crashing down on America’s political order. Some predict it could rival the impact of the economic globalization and the resulting off-shoring of jobs that propelled Trump’s victory in the presidential election.

“This is one of the biggest policy changes of our generation,” said Sam Loesche, head of government affairs for the Teamsters. “This is not just about looking after the health and welfare of America’s workers, but also their livelihoods.”

Washington isn’t ready for it. The Trump White House already has indicated it sees it as some future administration’s problem. Silicon Valley remains in shock over Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s remark in the spring that economic fallout from this type of automation is 50 to 100 years off and “not even on my radar screen.”

“I don’t think anybody there is thinking about this seriously,” said Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.” “They are still looking at this as futuristic and not having an impact and not politically toxic. … Once people start seeing the vehicles on the roads and jobs disappearing because of them, things will quickly become very different.”

The arrival of that reckoning is getting accelerated by Washington’s bipartisan excitement for self-driving technology, one of the few policy issues advancing. New Trump administration regulations don’t require industry to submit certain safety assessments, leaving it voluntary. And legislation — already approved in the House and expected to pass in the Senate — strips authority from states to set many of their own safety guidelines.

Objections raised by the National Governor’s Assn. and the National Council of State Legislatures don’t seem to be slowing things down. Consumer groups are dismayed.

(Continues)

Martin Ford: Adjusting to the Robot Future

Martin Ford, the author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future appeared on Ted Talks to explain important aspects of the techno-future. He starts out by emphasizing that a workplace transformation is definitely coming, and automation will displace “roughly half the jobs in the economy.”

That level of permanent unemployment sounds like a good argument for ending immigration as an obsolete policy.

In the latter segment of the talk, Ford makes the case for a universal basic income to make the robot revolution more equitable.

MARTIN FORD: I’m going to begin with a scary question: Are we headed toward a future without jobs? The remarkable progress that we’re seeing in technologies like self-driving cars has led to an explosion of interest in this question, but because it’s something that’s been asked so many times in the past, maybe what we should really be asking is whether this time is really different. The fear that automation might displace workers and potentially lead to lots of unemployment goes back at a minimum 200 years to the Luddite revolts in England. And since then, this concern has come up again and again.

00:47
I’m going to guess that most of you have probably never heard of the Triple Revolution report, but this was a very prominent report. It was put together by a brilliant group of people — it actually included two Nobel laureates — and this report was presented to the President of the United States, and it argued that the US was on the brink of economic and social upheaval because industrial automation was going to put millions of people out of work. Now, that report was delivered to President Lyndon Johnson in March of 1964. So that’s now over 50 years, and, of course, that hasn’t really happened. And that’s been the story again and again.

01:26
This alarm has been raised repeatedly, but it’s always been a false alarm. And because it’s been a false alarm, it’s led to a very conventional way of thinking about this. And that says essentially that yes, technology may devastate entire industries. It may wipe out whole occupations and types of work. But at the same time, of course, progress is going to lead to entirely new things. So there will be new industries that will arise in the future, and those industries, of course, will have to hire people. There’ll be new kinds of work that will appear,and those might be things that today we can’t really even imagine. And that has been the story so far, and it’s been a positive story.

02:03
It turns out that the new jobs that have been created have generally been a lot better than the old ones. They have, for example, been more engaging.They’ve been in safer, more comfortable work environments, and, of course, they’ve paid more. So it has been a positive story. That’s the way things have played out so far. But there is one particular class of worker for whom the story has been quite different. For these workers, technology has completely decimated their work, and it really hasn’t created any new opportunities at all.And these workers, of course, are horses.

02:38
(Laughter)

02:40
So I can ask a very provocative question: Is it possible that at some point in the future, a significant fraction of the human workforce is going to be made redundant in the way that horses were? Now, you might have a very visceral, reflexive reaction to that. You might say, “That’s absurd. How can you possibly compare human beings to horses?” Horses, of course, are very limited, and when cars and trucks and tractors came along, horses really had nowhere else to turn. People, on the other hand, are intelligent; we can learn, we can adapt.And in theory, that ought to mean that we can always find something new to do, and that we can always remain relevant to the future economy. Continue reading this article

Hotels and Restaurants Expand Use of Automation

Robot bellhops were introduced to the public as a coming thing in 2014 when trials began. Now they and other automated technology are becoming normalized, as reported in a CBS Los Angeles TV segment.

As is often the case, the media doesn’t know how to handle the automation issue and the CBS pirce wanders all over the place. It begins thoughtfully by asking whether smart machines threaten human jobs in the future but then veers into a Jetsons clip and from there to existing businesses with robots in use. Questions of whether humans are being displaced are laughed off as managers emphasize the appealing novelty aspect of the bots. Finally, serious person Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, appears with a warning, “The way these technologies always begin is they begin as tools helping people do their jobs, but they eventually do evolve.”

A purpose-built hotel robot acts as a bellhop when it delivers desired items to the rooms of customers.

Service jobs in hotels and restaurants are popular among immigrants, particular in diverse locales, so the government should get serious about passing the RAISE Act to decrease immigration substantially, because many unskilled jobs will be disappearing under the automation onslaught.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts bellhops and baggage porters together, and the May 2016 number of persons employed in the category was put at 44,750. It’s not a huge number as jobs cohorts go, but alternative choices are shrinking for unskilled people because of immigration and automation.

Experts have described he automated future as they believe it will play out. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. Forrester Research Inc. has a more optimistic view, that there will be a net job loss of 7 percent by 2025 from automation.

Does it make sense for Washington to continue importing immigrant workers when the workplace is changing fundamentally from automation? It makes no sense at all, but the government is pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

As Hotels, Restaurants Expand Use Of Service Robots, Are Jobs At Risk?, CBS Los Angeles, August 9, 2017

He’s a robot butler at the Residence Inn LAX on Century Boulevard, and his name is Wally.

“In this particular brand of Residence Inn, if you called down and you wanted something, you’d really have to come down and get it yourself,” Residence Inn LAX General Manager Tom Beedon told CBS2.

But employees can program the butler to deliver anything to a room that fits in Wally’s compartment, even fresh towels from housekeeping.

“You’re going to hear somebody check in that says, ‘Oh, this is the hotel with Wally the Robot, right?’ ” says Beedon.

And if you think a robot delivering hand towels to your hotel room seems cool, you should check out the Gen Korean BBQ restaurant in Montclair.

It’s here where a human server takes your order with a tablet, another human loads your food in the kitchen, and a robotic system of trays and tunnels delivers it all to your table.

“I don’t think anybody 10 or 15 years ago would have thought, ‘Hey I’ll be at a Korean barbecue house with a robot bringing food out to me,’ ” says Gen Korean BBQ VP David Ghim. . .

(Continues)

CBS Imagines the American Future as Automation Nation

The CBS Sunday Morning show began a special edition focusing on money with a report on automation and its threat to employment now and going forward. The eight-minute video report included tough facts about job loss across the skills spectrum with expert comments by Rise of the Robots author Martin Ford and other involved in the technology.

The piece has more facts than most TV reports, but typically the pro-robot cadre is included, and they insist that automation will actually create jobs. Right, all the manufacturing workers, store stockers and pizza cooks will be retrained to be computer coders. As if. But that’s the only way to end the segment on a positive note. And of course, there’s no mention that immigration becomes a counterproductive policy in the automated future — that’s to be expected in network TV.

Check it out (spare video here):

The written version allows perusal of the numbers of jobs likely to be lost from various categories — alarming when they are toted up even partially.

When the robots take over, will there be jobs left for us?, CBS News, April 8, 2017

By every measure, our country is on the road to becoming an AUTOMATION NATION. Our Money Issue Cover Story comes from David Pogue of Yahoo Finance: 

Tony Hughes has been a long-haul truck driver for more than 20 years. But today, all he has to do is sit back and relax.

“’Rosebud’ is on,” he said, flipping a switch.

Today, he’s hauling 20,000 pounds of freight down the Florida turnpike in a self-driving, robotic truck. It’s been retrofitted with a self-driving kit made by Starsky Robotics.

Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, who founded the company in 2016 with Kartik Tiwari, said, “We think that sometime towards the end of the year, we could be doing this run without a person behind the wheel.”

And if it’s not his company, it might be Otto, whose truck made headlines last October by driving itself across Colorado to deliver a shipment of beer. Otto is owned by Uber, which also has been testing self-driving taxis in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

But here’s the thing! Once our trucks and taxis drive themselves, what will happen to the people who used to do those jobs? In the U.S., that’s 180,000 taxi drivers, 600,000 Uber drivers, and 3.5 million truck drivers.

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An Otto self-driving truck on the road.

CBS News

“We really need to start to think very seriously about this,” said Martin Ford, author of the book “Rise of the Robots” (Basic Books).

rise-of-the-robots-cover-basic-books-244.jpg
Basic Books

Ford says driverless cars and trucks are just the beginning of a wave of automation that will threaten millions of jobs, in every industry at once, like America’s nearly five million store workers.

Later this year, shoppers in Seattle will be able to walk into the first Amazon Go grocery, take what they want, and walk out again, without ever encountering an employee.

Sensors will detect what you take and bill you automatically.

“The cashiers are totally gone,” Ford said. “You’re going to end up with the equivalent of a Walmart with a handful of employees. You scale that out, and that’s just extraordinarily disruptive.”

Name an occupation, and there’s somebody considering a robot to take it over.

At Zume Pizza in Silicon Valley, four specialized robots help make the pizza. Eventually, the company plans to replace the remaining humans on the line, too.

Pogue said, “You would think there would be some Roman pizza chefs who’d say, ‘No, this is not the way it’s been done since our ancestors!’”

robot-making-pizza-620.jpg

A robot making pizza.

“Well, the world changes,” said Zume’s chief technology officer Josh Goldberg. “There’s a lot of other things we don’t do just the way our ancestors did, either.”

The common wisdom is that robots primarily threaten repetitive, blue-collar jobs. Not so, says Martin Ford: “We’re seeing dramatic advances in the area of computers analyzing tumors, recognizing medical scans, mammograms, and being able to find disease. We’re seeing algorithms move into areas like journalism, for example.”

Wait, wait, wait. Certainly not journalism? “Oh, yeah. Absolutely,” Ford said. “By one account, every 30 seconds there’s a news story published on the web, or maybe in a newspaper, that’s machine-generated.”

Algorithms are even threatening the Masters of the Universe. Two weeks ago, Black Rock, the world’s largest money manager, announced that it’s laying off dozens of human stock pickers and replacing them with robots. By 2025, across the financial industry, artificial intelligence is expected to replace 230,000 human workers. Continue reading this article

Automated Trucks Threaten Millions of US Jobs

Self-driving vehicles are coming on strong, faster than anyone knowledgeable thought a few years ago. Self-driving vehicles are being tested for real world use, and highway laws are being rejiggered to accommodate the new tech future.

But driving is a major jobs category, as shown by the map below, taken from an interactive NPR graphic in the 2015 article Map: The Most Common Job In Every State.

Millions of driving jobs still exist in the US because it’s one gig that could not be outsourced to China, but self-driving technology now threatens that employment. Indeed, as a San Francisco writer asks, Self-driving trucks: what’s the future for America’s 3.5 million truckers?

Of course, it goes without saying that America no longer needs to import immigrants to drive our trucks given the coming technology. There is supposedly a shortage of drivers now, leading to a push for immigrants, but that won’t last long. The future is automated, including on the highways.

It was news last October when a self-driving truck from the Otto company traveled 120 highway miles to deliver a load of beer:

The following article was written by Martin Ford, author of the book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. His knowledge on the subject adds to the big picture of how our society is on the edge of a foundational transformation to work and the economy.

Driverless trucks: economic tsunami may swallow one of most common US jobs, By Martin Ford, The Guardian, February 16, 2017

America is producing more than ever before, but it is doing so with fewer and fewer workers. Once trucks become automated, where will these jobs go?

In April 2016, Uber announced the acquisition of Otto, a San Francisco-based startup that has developed a kit that can turn any big rig into a self-driving truck.

The Otto technology enables complete autonomy on highways: trucks can navigate, stay in their lane, and slow or stop in response to traffic conditions completely without human intervention. Otto’s equipment currently costs about $30,000, but that is certain to fall significantly in the coming years.

Otto is by no means alone. Massive automated vehicles are already commonly used to move materials for the Australian mining industry. Daimler, the German multinational company, has likewise demonstrated its own model, a giant 18-wheeler with a “highway pilot” mode available (meaning a driver has to remain present, prompting the head of the US branch to say that “tomorrow’s driver will be a logistics manager”). Another approach is to use automated convoys, in which self-driving trucks follow a lead vehicle.

It seems highly likely that competition between the various companies developing these technologies will produce practical, self-driving trucks within the next five to 10 years. And once the technology is proven, the incentive to adopt it will be powerful: in the US alone, large trucks are involved in about 350,000 crashes a year, resulting in nearly 4,000 fatalities. Virtually all of these incidents can be traced to human error. The potential savings in lives, property damage and exposure to liability will eventually become irresistible.

There’s only one problem: truck driving is one of the most common occupations in the US.

Once replaced by automation, where will these jobs go?

As of 2015, a typical production worker in the US earned about 9% less than a comparable worker in 1973. Over the same 42 years, the American economy grew by more than 200%, or a staggering $11tn.

For millions of average Americans, the reasonable expectations of their youth – a steady job, home ownership, college education for their children – have degraded into decades of stagnation, even as they have been continuously bombarded by news of the overall growth and prosperity of the US economy.

The driving force behind this transition has been technology. It is widely recognized among economists that while the impact of globalization has been significant, especially in specific regions of the country, robots and factory automation have been a far more powerful force. Indeed, even those jobs that did migrate to China are now evaporating as factories there aggressively automate. Continue reading this article

The Social Contract Spotlights Automation and Immigration

socialcontractfall2016robotscover-tsc400A few months ago, I worked with The Social Contract quarterly to produce an issue with a section discussing the topic of how automation affects America’s need for immigration. The result was the Fall 2016 issue, subtitled “When Robots Replace Humans.”

After writing dozens of blogs for LimitsToGrowth.org about rapidly advancing automation, robots and computer software, my aim was to produce a series of basic articles that would introduce the subject as a whole to readers who might not have realized the effect of technology on today’s workplace. Many people understand that automation is a growing element of manufacturing that has reduced the need for factory workers, but don’t realize the extent to which the new technology is showing up in every corner of the work universe. The Associated Press reported in 2013 that numerous businesses responded to the Great Recession by implementing machines to replace millions of workers worldwide. It therefore seems clear that the slow pace of employment recovery is at least partially due to automation, although the Obama administration’s numerous regulations have had a discouraging effect on hiring as well.

The facts are basic: when robotics experts say that a substantial percentage of the current workforce will be replaced by machines or software within a decade or two, then America does not need to import immigrant workers to perform jobs that soon will no longer exist. Plus, automation follows decades of offshoring entire industries to Asia for cheap labor, and social dysfunction like drugs and crime have worsened throughout the Rust Belt and other areas of the nation that once produced things.

Editor Wayne Lutton’s introductory remarks:

As Automation Transforms the American Workforce… What need is there for further immigration?

Following are the automation articles by Brenda Walker:

Automation Is Coming for American Jobs

Automation Everywhere: From Manufacturing to Intelligent Software, Technological Change Is upon Us

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete – It’s time to end an institution that no longer serves Americans

Amazon Robotics – A case study of how smart machines transformed an Internet store

Finally, Dwight Murphey reviewed Martin Ford’s important book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future:

Automation and the Future of the American Workforce

Networked Self-Driving Cars Are Moving Forward

Big changes are planned for the nation’s transportation, although the citizens have not been consulted about whether they want private ownership of cars to be pushed to the side as the government plans for a system of self-driving cars hooked up to enormous computer networks.

Not that long ago, self-driving cars were just a spark in Sergei Brin’s mind, and were thought by many automation experts as something to occur in the distant future, if at all.

As Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” remarked during a radio interview in March:

Ford: All of this [technology] is subject to a continuing acceleration, and for that reason, it’s going to unfold at a rate that may surprise us. To take the example of driverless cars: It’s just a few years ago — really, back in 2009 — that I wrote my first book on this topic, and I never imagined at that time that driverless cars would be feasible any time soon. It seemed like an almost impossible task, even to me. Yet now, virtually every auto manufacturer, as well as a whole bunch of companies that haven’t traditionally been in the car industry, are working on this, and it’s looking like it’s going to be feasible within 10, 15 years, at least. So it’s pretty amazing how fast things are moving.

(For more on this background, see my recent Social Contract article, “Self-Driving Cars Are Becoming Fast Track.”)

At some point, the major car manufacturers figured out that automation technology was going forward and they should get on board in order to shape events to their advantage. That viewpoint was made clear in a Senate hearing where one of the expert panelists was an executive from General Motors (Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars, March 15, 2016).

One sign of elite approval is government money: Obama Plans to Spend $4 Billion to Speed Development of Self-Driving Vehicles. The excuse, er reason was given that automated autos will be a swell government solution to worsening traffic problems (caused by unsustainable immigration and subsequent overpopulation):

SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION ANTHONY FOXX: “We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people. Today’s actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.” (Gizmodo).

There are a lot of problems with this utopian roadmap of the future, yet it is moving full speed ahead because elites want it. What about the estimated 3.5 million Americans who drive trucks for a living? Rejiggering the transportation sector entirely will cause all sorts of pain, such as inconvenience to commuters as daily kinks get worked out, assuming they can be.

The upshot of the big tech plan is that self-driving cars will be joined together in a government-run network which will make a vehicle appear on demand when an individual calls for one — which sounds like quite a tall order even if the technology can be made to work. Cars are a lot about freedom in American culture, but the government thinks private car ownership needs to be pruned back to reduce roadway crowding, and a networked robot car system is what the big brains cobbled together.

Most citizens have no idea that this monstrous experiment is about to be foisted upon them, yet it is in the pipeline, unless the system fails or the people just reject it. The first step is to try out the technology at the city level, and the Smart City Challenge sponsored by the Department of Transportation is a way to kickstart that process with a pile of money.

One good thing about self-driving cars would be that rude foreign cabbies become obsolete and no more of them would be imported. . . right?

Can a city switch entirely to driverless cars? CNN Money, May 31, 2016

In ten years, will American cities still be crippled by bumper to bumper traffic and inadequate public transportation? Or will our urban centers come up with some ingenious technological solutions — and the funding to make them happen?

The Department of Transportation and major U.S. cities are betting on technology to solve their transit woes. As part of its “Smart Cities Challenge,” the DOT will give a winning city up to $40 million to help it experiment with innovative transit options. It would also be eligible for an additional $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

San Francisco, a finalist, imagines a fanciful city with an elaborate network of city-run self-driving cars and shuttles, where the on-demand businesses it’s still struggling to regulate are a seamless part of life.

The most technologically ambitious part of San Francisco’s big vision, created by the city’s new Office of Innovation, is getting people out of the driver’s seat and into shared, autonomous cars. The idea is to reduce traffic and reclaim parking structures and some roadways for housing and parks.

Existing streets will be outfitted with sensors so they can communicate with cars. Cars will be able to talk to other vehicles, orchestrating a delicate synchronized dance to minimize traffic and injuries.

The catch? The idea hinges on people selling their cars and relying on a city-run transit service. It’s a grand vision, but to convince anyone to give up their cars, the new system would need to be much faster and better executed than San Francisco’s current public transit. Continue reading this article

Switzerland: “Robots” Promote Guaranteed Income for Humans

Robots were on parade recently in Zurich to demonstrate in favor of a basic income for all citizens, a referendum item which is slated for the June 5 Swiss election.

ZurichSwissAnti-RobotProtest-rt

Whether you agree with the solution, it’s refreshing to see people debating the socially transformative problem — what are humans supposed to do for income when half or more jobs are done by smart machines over the long term? As NYU Professor Gary Marcus remarked last Labor Day, “Eventually I think most jobs will be replaced, like 75 or 80 percent of the people are not going to work for a living.”

That’s a social apocalypse headed this way, and most political leaders are on snooze-mode.

It’s particularly disappointing that the debate-filled presidential campaign has had zero discussion about a likely cause for the jobless recovery — surely automation is at least partially (largely?) to blame, in addition to excessive government regulation. Clearly the recession caused many businesses to switch to machines to save money, and the result is being seen in lower employment. (See my Social Contract article: Presidential Candidates: Why Is Automation’s Job Destruction Not Being Debated?.)

As I have described, only two governments have grappled with the approaching automation behemoth: Tennessee and Israel. More attention in the states would be welcome, as well as in Washington, if the people in the Congress aren’t too busy with fundraising for re-election.

The idea of a guaranteed basic income as a remedy to technological unemployment has been floating around on the internets where the automation future is being discussed, both pro and con. The strategy was included in Martin Ford’s important book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. He cites Hayek as a conservative proponent of the proposal.

Of course, a government that controls and dispenses incomes sounds a whole lot like socialism, and we know how well that hasn’t worked. If anyone can come up with a capitalism-based response to the robot catastrophe, inquiring minds would love to hear it.

It looked like the Zurich robots had a good time, at least.

Naturlich, the robots should also advocate for an end to immigration in Switzerland, because foreign workers will not be needed in the near future, if they ever were. In fact,

Automation makes immigration obsolete.

However, it should be noted that the Swiss have been generally sensible about maintaining control of their sovereignty and society by voting to limit foreign residents.

‘Robot’ activists in Switzerland demand guaranteed income for all humans, RT.com, May 1, 2016

A “robot rally” has taken place in Zurich, with more than 100 activists wearing cardboard costumes in the streets as part of a major call for the introduction of Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) in Switzerland.

The Swiss are set to go to the polls on June 5 in a referendum on a guaranteed income for everyone. The sum proposed stands at 2,500 Swiss Francs ($2,500). The Swiss people will be voting on a new article in the country’s constitution which stipulates that the federal government would have to implement the UBI with an “amount high enough for people to live off in dignity.”

According to the organizers of the first rally of its kind in the world, activists from the Unconditioned Basic Income (BGE) movement, claim that the main idea of an UBI is to secure the basic needs of human life unconditionally. Calling themselves “the robots”, they argue that humans should be free and not struggle for basic income.

“We want to work for the humans to relieve them from the struggle for income. We are really good in working. But we do not want to take away people’s jobs and thereby bring them into existential difficulties,” a BGE declaration adopted earlier this year reads.

Fearing that soon the dangers of robotization in the workforce will cost humans their jobs, the “robots” decided to play an active role in defending the idea to introduce “an Unconditional Basic Income for all humans.” Continue reading this article

Influential People Agree: Automation Threatens Jobs

Over at the exclusive Milken Institute confab this week, wealthy and important people were warning about the coming robot jobs apocalypse that endangers employment across the skills spectrum.

As an example of the increasing insertion of automation into society, here is a BBC report about the four-day conference read by a robot:

It didn’t sound very human-like to me. Perhaps it isn’t supposed to.

Here are some actual humans discussing the automation vs. employment issue at the Milken conference in a panel titled, “Jobs and Technology: Is Any Job Truly Safe?”

Back in the real world economy, the April jobs report was a disappointing 160,000 net new jobs created, the lowest number so far this year. In addition, more than 94 million Americans were not participating in the workforce as of last month, a rather shocking number. Whatever is going on in the employment economy, job creation is not happening.

Why should anyone be surprised? Automation started taking jobs with the invention of the ATM (Automated Teller Machine) in 1969 which has put many human banking clerks out of work. Customers can now use self-service machines to gas up the car, purchase groceries and check in at the airport — automation which saves money for the companies utilizing it.

There’s lot more smart machinery behind the scenes, like the robots that now do about 80 percent of automotive manufacturing, as well as the Kiva carry-bots that enable Amazon to process millions of customer purchases with rapid speed.

Few humans are needed to produce cars and trucks in today’s factories.

If the important people are aware of the automation threat to the economy, does that mean our elected representatives might wake up soon? Perhaps presidential candidates or other politicians might even make the mental leap to the idea that importing immigrant workers is not appropriate to our modern times.

In short, Automation makes immigration obsolete.

Back to a report on the Milken conference (see more videos here):

Rich and powerful warn robots are coming for your jobs, Reuters, May 3, 2016

Some of the richest, smartest and most powerful humans have an important message for the rest of us as they convened this week to discuss pressing global issues: the robots are coming.

At the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, at least four panels so far have focused on technology taking over markets to mining – and most importantly, jobs.

“Most of the benefits we see from automation is about higher quality and fewer errors, but in many cases it does reduce labor,” Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, said on Tuesday during a panel on “Is Any Job Truly Safe?”

The four-day annual conference, which began on Sunday, has 3,500 invite-only participants exploring “The Future of Human Kind.” Continue reading this article

Tennessee Prepares for Loss of 1.4 Million Jobs to Automation

While our hidebound representatives in Washington DC continue to ignore the technological revolution increasing in the nation’s workplaces, the political leaders in Tennessee are stepping up. The state government recognized the problem, studied it and finally created a policy response in the form of an educational program. The nation’s leaders should do half as well.

Below, robots build cars, a job that once provided employment for many thousands of American workers.

First, the bad news: 1.4 million Tennessee jobs, or around half of existing employment, are predicted to be lost to advancing juggernaut of robots, automation and software in the near future. That conclusion was published in the Tennessee Workforce Disruption Index, a project of a state economic research agency.

A Nashville report focused on the sorts of employment facing replacement as well as Tennessee’s skills-based retraining program: Report: Technology Threatens Jobs Of Tennesseans (March 21, 2016):

It’s good to see a state take the automation revolution seriously. In particular, Tennessee has set up its “Drive to 55” initiative which refers to the goal of raising the number of workers with post-secondary degrees from the current 37 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

Below, students learn skills suitable to the modern workplace at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

TennesseeJobRetraining

Still, the education solution may be only temporary in the coming techno-future as smart machines advance in abilities. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa observed in a 2014 Washington Post piece: “. . .at best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans” (We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government does).

Martin Ford, the author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future was similarly cautionary about education as the panacea during a September radio interview in Australia:

So these technologies are coming after the skilled jobs, the good jobs, the jobs that college graduates might want to take and really kind of upends this conventional view that the solution to all of this is more education.

You know, the idea that if you lose your low skilled job then we’ll send you back to school and give you some more training so that you can move up the skills ladder. That’s looking like it may not work so well because the technology is also coming after those skilled jobs.

At least Tennessee is engaged and facing the future, which is more than you can say for Washington. That place still can’t find the OFF switch for immigration, even when it’s clear that importing more foreign workers is ill-advised given employment’s shrinking future. Enlarging the angry underclass of poor is unwise and can only lead to more misery.

Remember: Automation makes immigration obsolete.

Here’s a local report of Tennessee’s grappling with the automation behemoth:

Robots taking over? Half of Tennessee jobs at risk due to automation, state report says, Nashville Business Blog, March 21, 2016

About 50 percent of Tennessee jobs, some 1.4 million, could be replaced by robots, automation and advanced technology in the near future, according to a new study from the state’s economic development department.

That’s the crux of a new report by the Center for Economic Research in Tennessee, which explores the impact automation and technological disruption may have on the state’s workforce in the years ahead.

The study notes that 1.4 million workers have a high likelihood of being displaced by automation — a total that represents 37 percent of the wages among Tennessean workers. Continue reading this article

Robots and Automation Are Coming for Human Jobs — Martin Ford Interview

I’ve posted earlier discussions with the author of Rise of the Robots before (Australia ABC radio, Sept 2015 and NPR, May 2015) but the latest has a timely dialogue about jobs and the incursion of  smart machines.

The automated workplace is a huge and basic threat to the economy when the social contract of payment to workers for tasks performed becomes more broadly undermined. We seem to be seeing the beginning stages now in the jobless recovery, which is partially caused by businesses turning to machines to survive the hard times of the recession:

Millions Of Middle-Class Jobs Killed By Machines In Great Recession’s Wake, Associated Press, January 13, 2013

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What’s more, these jobs aren’t just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren’t just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They’re being obliterated by technology.

Automation experts say the transformation to machines and software will only increase. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to tech replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi warns of a dystopian future in 30 years when humans become largely obsolete and world joblessness stands at 50 percent. The Garner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. Forrester Research Inc. has a more optimistic view, that there will be a net job loss of 7 percent by 2025 from automation — but that’s still a loss when more jobs are needed.

These forecasts are rather alarming and seem worthy of attention in Washington. But the people’s representatives are asleep as the future economy is headed off a cliff.

Government needs to wake up and smell the technological unemployment — something that has not happened in Washington, where the same old prescriptions are dragged out with no understanding of the new age of automation.

There are no easy fixes, but certainly the first thing to do is slash immigration severely, because America won’t require foreign workers for the mythical “jobs Americans won’t do” — citizens will need those jobs.

The Robots Are Coming … to Take Your Job, Wharton Radio – University of Pennsylvania, March 2, 2016

Today, robots are increasingly handling many jobs in manufacturing that were done by human hands not more than 20 years ago. This sea change has affected a variety of industries, and it’s one reason why the jobs recovery of the past few years hasn’t included as many manufacturing jobs. Those jobs weren’t just destroyed — they were lost to smart machines.

But while we’re living in a time when computer programs already dominate Wall Street, and when driverless cars and delivery drones are moving from science fiction to mundane fact, those developments may be just the tip of the iceberg. Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, recently appeared on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 to talk about how the robot revolution has affected businesses in a host of industries, what it means for jobs in the years ahead, and what other surprises might be on the horizon.

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: We’ve seen these changes going on. Where does your concern lie for the future?

Martin Ford: It’s really across the board. Traditionally, robots have been in factories, but I think that over the next 10 to 20 years, automation in the form of robots, smart software and machine learning is really going to invade pretty much across the board. It’s going to start impacting jobs at all skill levels. It’s not just going to be about low-wage people who don’t have lots of education. It’s really starting to impact also professional jobs.

Knowledge@Wharton: For years, when you did have robots involved, they were viewed as a supplement to the workers, but that clearly isn’t the case now in some areas. From what you’re saying, we’re going to see this even more going forward.

Ford: That’s right. I really think we’re in the midst of a transition where in the past, machines have always been tools that have been used by people and made those people more productive, but increasingly, the technology is really becoming a replacement or a substitute for more and more workers. That’s going to be a huge issue over the coming decade.

Knowledge@Wharton: Based on the level of adoption by businesses so far, what has been the effect on the economy? It’s probably somewhat marginal at this point, but it’s certainly going to be growing.

Ford: That’s right. Clearly, we have not seen actual massive unemployment as a result of this. That’s obvious. But what we have seen is, for decades now, wages have been stagnant, and even now, as the economy has been recovering and we’ve seen the unemployment rate falling, we haven’t seen anything in terms of wage increases. I do think that technology is probably one of the main forces that’s driving that stagnation of wages. It’s important to note the way that stagnation is happening — even as, over the long run, productivity has continued to increase. We see this decoupling of productivity and wages that really points to this transition that’s unfolding.

Knowledge@Wharton: You work in software development, so this is an area that you have focused on professionally for quite some time. How quickly are we going to see this continue to grow? I was watching a segment on a TV show earlier today where they were showing off a driverless pick-up truck. That technology is getting closer and closer to being a part of our everyday life.

Ford: That’s right. All of this is subject to a continuing acceleration, and for that reason, it’s going to unfold at a rate that may surprise us. To take the example of driverless cars: It’s just a few years ago — really, back in 2009 — that I wrote my first book on this topic, and I never imagined at that time that driverless cars would be feasible any time soon. It seemed like an almost impossible task, even to me. Yet now, virtually every auto manufacturer, as well as a whole bunch of companies that haven’t traditionally been in the car industry, are working on this, and it’s looking like it’s going to be feasible within 10, 15 years, at least. So it’s pretty amazing how fast things are moving. Continue reading this article

Will Machines Replace Humans to Become the New Workforce?

Aside from techies, financial people appear to be the most aware of the fundamental changes now occurring in the workplace caused by automation. People who analyze economic trends, including employment, have to look at the facts and numbers — unlike, say, politicians who are either clueless or hiding under the bed. (See my new Social Contract article, Presidential Candidates: Why Is Automation’s Job Destruction Not Being Debated?)

And, as noted in the following article, some financial analysts now have robo-advisors which utilize algorithms to generate investing advice. Furthermore, the big changes to the workplace are “coming more quickly than you think — in less than a decade.”

In many ways, the transformation is happening now, only Washington and most of the media are in snooze-mode.

McDonald’s restaurants have begun replacing counter clerks with kiosks to save money, a process that has been accelerated by employee demands for higher wages.

With such radical change coming down the highway, the least that could be done would be to end immigration, which has become an obsolete institution. America won’t need to import labor when robots and software will do major segments of the work that needs done. Oxford University researchers predicted in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs could be automated within 20 years. The Gartner technology consultants predict that one-third of US jobs will be done by a computer or robot by 2025.

America already has a homegrown underclass, angry about how their prospects for a decent life have been gutted by government policies of outsourcing and excessive immigration. There’s no reason to enlarge the Spanish-speaking one.

Will robots zap the job market? Knowledge-based automation could make machines the new workforce, by Dustin Walsh, Crains Detroit, February 7, 2016

David Sowerby, who has managed investment portfolios for more than 25 years, does not fear the robot revolution.

But should he?

The rapid innovation of automation, largely originating in manufacturing operations, is expanding into new industries, such as the financial sector, and will challenge our concept of the labor force, according to experts. And it’s coming more quickly than you think — in less than a decade.

This quarter, Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch is serving clients with online robo-advisers, which use algorithms to assess dozens of factors and generate investing advice.

Bank of America, in an extensive study published late last year, predicts advancements in robotics and automation will displace up to 25 million workers globally in the financial and legal services sectors by the end of 2025, with the potential to do the work of more than half the 230 million-person global base of knowledge-based workers in the same timeframe.

Experts are split on the ill effects of automation, but they agree that the labor force must play catch-up, and fast, to face a world where a large portion of current jobs will be done by computers.

At Bank of America, robo-advisers are a win-win for the bottom line. The firm is able to target clients with investable assets below $250,000, who generally don’t get access to its live Merrill Edge advisers, at lower cost to the client.

“Really, we’re targeting the untapped market (with robo-advisers),” said Beijia Ma, strategist on the thematic investing team at Bank of America in London and researcher on automation. “But, as that software gets better, me and my colleagues, the thundering herd of Merrill Lynch, maybe we wouldn’t be as necessary.” Continue reading this article

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