Fast Food Expert Warns That Machines Are Coming for Jobs

Former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi appeared Friday on Fox Business and voiced opinions about the automation threat to employment.

Fmr. McDonald’s CEO: Human workers can’t compete with robot replacements, Fox Business, August 11, 2017

Former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi said regulation will force restaurants to turn to technology to make a profit.

“Not only is the minimum wage an issue but health care, rights to work, overtime hours, government regulation—if you look at the mounds and mounds and mounds of regulation that comes from the local, federal level it’s almost impossible to do business and make a profit,” Rensi told Stuart Varney on Varney & Co. Friday.

Rensi pointed out how Amazon has begun to use robots in its fulfilment centers.

“Look at what’s happening in retail with Amazon. Automation and robotics are going to start replacing people and they’ve got to become more efficient to make a profit,” he said. “There’s too much invested in quick service restaurants around the world across the United States. Too many dollars invested in fixed properties—[they have to] do something and that something they are going to do is automate and try to reduce the amount of labor and labor content.”

Rensi said he is working with two companies on products that would make restaurants more efficient without the help of physical workers. But he warns there are also pitfalls of automation.

“The unfortunate part of all of this is we are starting to lose the interpersonal relationships of kindness and good service and hospitality and the socialization that goes along when guys like you and I can talk over a beer,” he said.

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. . .

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Robot T-shirt Factory Is Planned for Arkansas

Here’s a snapshot of the automated, globalized future: a Chinese company has acquired a factory in Arkansas to produce t-shirts for the German company Adidas using robot sewing machines from Atlanta business SoftWear Automation.

Clothing manufacture is big business and is important to small, poor countries like Honduras where the income from sewing jobs helps keep many people afloat. So the automation of the industry over the next decade or two could be hard on that and other countries’ economies and may potentially inspire another large surge of illegal immigration.

Interestingly, a recent poll in Guatemala (another apparel producer) found that 90 percent of illegal aliens came for economic reasons rather than to escape violence, the reason frequently given by the liberal media as an excuse. So if the clothing manufacturing jobs were to disappear, low-paid though they are, it makes sense that even more Central Americans would head for the US. In general, the automation discussion has concerned what will happen in our own country, but it will have worldwide effects.

I reported earlier about a sewing robot that developed a technique for stiffening the material to deal with the difficulty of various fabrics from dense denim to stretchy knits. It looks like SoftWear Automation system uses overall pressure on the fabric to keep it from wiggling around, although the company’s solution is not completely clear.

Below, a Sewbot demonstrates a couple of sewing tasks.

Automated Sewbot to make 800,000 adidas T-shirts daily, Innovation in Textiles, August 3, 2017

Technology developed in the USA will be used by a Chinese company to supply European sports brand Adidas with T-shirts made in the US by robots. This is a major breakthrough in the automation of garment assembly by the global partnership.

Leading sportswear brand Adidas is planning to produce 800,000 T-shirts per day using fully automated Sewbot Workline’s supplied by SoftWear Automation, of Atlanta, GA. Tianyuan Garments Company, of Suzhou, China, the largest producer of apparel for Adidas worldwide, has partnered with SoftWear Automation to produce the T-shirts at Tianyuan’s newly acquired plant in Little Rock, AR, China Daily reports.

Using cameras to map the fabric and robots to steer it through the sewing needles, the system will handle soft fabrics and make the T-shirts for Adidas on the system which is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of next year.

“From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes,” said Tang Xinhong, chairman of Tianyuan Garments. “We will install 21 production lines. When fully operational, the system will make one T-shirt every 22 seconds. We will produce 800,000 T-shirts a day for Adidas.”

This is a big achievement for Atlanta based brand SoftWear Automation, which launched in 2012. The company’s Sewbots use a combination of patented high-speed computer vision and lightweight robotics to steer fabric to and through the needle with greater speed and accuracy than a human. The technology was developed by and is patented by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center.

Tang said that with complete automation, the personnel cost for each T-shirt is roughly 33 cents. “Around the world, even the cheapest labour market can’t compete with us. I am really excited about this,” he said.

Tianyuan announced last October that it would invest $20 million in the 100,000-square-foot defunct Little Rock plant it had acquired. In time, it will bring 400 new jobs to Arkansas. The signing ceremony was witnessed by a Chinese textile delegation led by Xu Yingxin, vice-president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council.

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Washington Post Notes Rise of Smart Machines (Incompletely)

The Washington Post included a front-page story about automation on Sunday, and it admitted “the surrender of the industrial age to the age of automation continues at a record pace.”

But the cause was mostly laid at the feet of the workers themselves rather than complex forces of globalization that have been accumulating for decades. The workers are blamed for being late, drunk, stoned and having bad work attitudes which may certainly be true in some cases. But the pay is poor and there is no opportunity for advancement. No mention is made of retraining for more technical jobs that could provide a step up. Wages start at $10.50/hour for day work and $13 for night shifts.

But the article further admits that “even the lowest-paid worker was more expensive than the robots,” yet blaming the victims is a theme that runs throughout.

Hopefully a future Post article will examine the bad attitudes of newspaper workers facing new technology that automates news story writing to cut costs in newsrooms with far fewer humans.

Rather than blame the dispirited workforce, there are many more issues about automation that the Post could have examined for the benefit of readers. One is how is society supposed to function when a third to a half of the workforce is unemployed in less than 20 years or more in decades beyond, as forecast by tech experts? That topic would fill lots of column inches and could be composed by a software robot.

Another subject: why should America continue to import immigrant workers at all when most will be redundant in the near future? Automation makes immigration obsolete, just like homesteading.

Rise of the machines, Washington Post, August 5, 2017

How a couple of robots came to be the newest hires at a Wisconsin factory in search of reliable workers

By Chico Harlan in Dresser, Wisconsin

The workers of the first shift had just finished their morning cigarettes and settled into place when one last car pulled into the factory parking lot, driving past an American flag and a “now hiring” sign. Out came two men, who opened up the trunk, and then out came four cardboard boxes labeled “fragile.”

“We’ve got the robots,” one of the men said.

They watched as a forklift hoisted the boxes into the air and followed the forklift into a building where a row of old mechanical presses shook the concrete floor. The forklift honked and carried the boxes past workers in steel-toed boots and earplugs. It rounded a bend and arrived at the other corner of the building, at the end of an assembly line.

The line was intended for 12 workers, but two were no-shows. One had just been jailed for drug possession and violating probation. Three other spots were empty because the company hadn’t found anybody to do the work. That left six people on the line jumping from spot to spot, snapping parts into place and building metal containers by hand, too busy to look up as the forklift now came to a stop beside them.

In factory after American factory, the surrender of the industrial age to the age of automation continues at a record pace. The transformation is decades along, its primary reasons well-established: a search for cost-cutting and efficiency.

But as one factory in Wisconsin is showing, the forces driving automation can evolve — for reasons having to do with the condition of the American workforce. The robots were coming in not to replace humans, and not just as a way to modernize, but also because reliable humans had become so hard to find. It was part of a labor shortage spreading across America, one that economists said is stemming from so many things at once. A low unemployment rate. The retirement of baby boomers. A younger generation that doesn’t want factory jobs. And, more and more, a workforce in declining health: because of alcohol, because of despair and depression, because of a spike in the use of opioids and other drugs.

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Senators Cotton and Perdue Discuss RAISE Act with Tucker Carlson

There is plenty of chatter about immigration flying around the ethers on a daily basis, but very little concerns the big policy basics of Who and How Many. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) have done the nation a service by developing and submitting a bill that recognizes the reduced need for foreign workers (assuming there is any need to import labor — doubtful because automation).

The RAISE legislation as submitted begins:

A BILL — To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a skills-based immigration points system, to focus family sponsored immigration on spouses and minor children, to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, to set a limit on the number of refugees admitted annually to the United States, and for other purposes.

I am impressed that the senators included the vile Diversity Visa for the dumpster along with the bigger stuff. The program is often overlooked but shouldn’t be, because choosing immigrants from a random drawing based on diversity is double bad. A visa to increase diversity is simply insane at this point.

The most appealing aspect of the bill is of course the reduction of legal immigration by half. A larger decrease would be better because of the automated future workplace, but half is a good start.

Below, Bloomberg reported in May that the number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. rose to nearly 27 million in 2016, up about 700,000 from the previous year and a new high (America’s Labor Force Is Made Up of More Immigrants Than Ever).

The senators appeared with President Trump on Wednesday in the White House to present the bill to the public (transcript here).

Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue discussed the legislation with Tucker Carlson later in the day:

SPARE AUDIO:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The RAISE Act ends chain migration and replaces our low-skilled system with a new points-based system for receiving a green card. This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.

TUCKER CARLSON: Senators Cotton and Perdue join us now; thanks to you both. Senator Purdue to you first. When you hear that, the precepts, the principles behind it sound non-controversial; they sound pretty basic. You guys work in politics. I know you’ve polled this. What’s the public opinion of those ideas?

SENATOR DAVID PERDUE: Well this is the the big learning here in Washington; the people out there and the rest of the country get this. Seventy-two percent believe it should be the primary worker plus their nuclear family or less. Eighteen percent, it ought to be just the the worker. So people out there in the real world get this: it’s pro-worker, it’s pro-growth, and it’s been proven to work in Canada and Australia.

CARLSON: What’s interesting, Senator Cotton, when you say this this bill is pro-worker — our current arrangement seems anti-worker. If you look at the effect on wages, working-class people in the country when the Kennedy Act became law, they’ve gone down and remained stagnant. Do you think there’s a direct connection between mass immigration and low wages?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: No doubt, Tucker. I mean the law of supply and demand applies to labor market just like it does to every other market hasn’t been repealed, even though some Republicans feel like it doesn’t apply there. Look, over the last 40 years, my lifetime, you’ve seen a quadrupling of the number of foreign-born residents in our country. The vast majority of those — 14 out of 15 — today come here not based on their skills or their education or their English language ability on some other category. They’re by definition unskilled and low-skilled.

In that 40-year window, if you have high school degree or less, your wages have fallen. If you have more than that, so if you’re not competing with those very same immigrants, your wages have increased. So there’s a direct correlation between the mass unskilled low-skilled migration we’ve seen over the last few decades and stagnant wages and standards of living for working Americans.

CARLSON: Wouldn’t it be clarifying to import — I don’t know — lobbyists for example from abroad who would work for less than our lobbyists? Maybe that. Or United States senators? I think that might change some ideas.  [EDITOR: Or how about journalists? Why is there no journalist work visa?] Continue reading this article

California: Refugees Supply Cheap Labor for Meatpacking Industry

Monday’s front-pager for the Los Angeles Times is a reminder that refugees are just another variety of cheap-labor immigrants.

Meatpacking plants used to be a big magnet for illegal alien labor which was convenient for the industry, and the business recruited openly in Mexico. But in 2006, the government raided six Swift plants and carted off around 1300 unlawful workers, so management looked for a different source of cheap labor instead of offering better wages to attract citizens. Refugees were one answer.

But there are caveats. The industry is very interested in automation technology that will end the struggles of labor acquisition. As a result, many of the unskilled refugees are likely to be unemployed in a few years, requiring even more taxpayer assistance.

Below, a diagram of a robotic chicken butcher shows the sort of technology the meatpacking industry wants to adapt.

Also, the story notes that the refugees are from Muslim nations, and while Taiseer and the others profiled sound like upstanding fellows, the second generation is where the trouble often starts among Muslim immigrants. Second gens may have identity problems, feeling they are neither entirely American nor the parents’ tribe either. As a consequence, the strong message of jihad and sharia can sound like the answer to a young person’s confusion.

The most prudent policy would be to admit NO Muslims as immigrants at all. Public safety should come first.

In California’s poultry plants, refugees from war fill labor vacuum, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2017

Taiseer Al Souki spends most days on his feet at a Foster Farms poultry plant, hefting table-sized plastic brown boxes and feeding them into a machine that cleans them.

He plugs his ears to soften the deafening clang of heavy machinery as he cycles through the same motion for hours on end.

At night, after slumping to sleep in exhaustion, the 44-year-old Syrian refugee dreams that he’s at the plant, still hoisting box after box filled with chicken destined for dinner tables across America.

Al Souki does not complain. He fled war-torn Syria and worked backbreaking 12-hour shifts in his home country and Jordan before making his way to the United States. He is grateful for the $10.50 an hour he collects at the poultry plant.

“I like work. I need work,” he said in the smattering of English he has picked up. “Without work, not a man.” [. . .]

The meatpacking industry has become so reliant on refugees that the North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, released a statement stating their concerns after President Trump issued an executive action restricting citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entry into the United States.

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Retail Robot Does Inventory -- So Long, Stock Boys!

In St. Louis, a midwestern grocery chain is making news with its test run of an inventory-taking robot, called Tally by its manufacturer. The machine is not unrelated to the LoweBot-type machine that guides customers to desired items in the store which the robot has filed in its database of what and where. The Tally just rolls around and counts, creating a list of what needs restocking.

The Tally robot scoots around stores to check inventory and verify prices.

The robot won’t actually be restocking the shelves because that task requires the dexterity of the human hand — for now at least. But developers are engaged in a race to build a machine that can move objects around as well as a person. Ground zero for that technology is the Amazon Robotics Challenge, an annual contest for a robot that can physically pack an order into a box for shipment (which is taking place this week, as it happens). A machine that can pick and pack like a human hand will have a lot of job-killing applications beyond the Amazon warehouse.

The Tally robot is a creation of Simbe Robotics in San Francisco. The company has a pleasantly reassuring video with a Strauss waltz playing — though there’s no mention of the jobs lost since a human with a clipboard is no longer needed.

The retail business is about to be transformed by automation, including the shopping experience for consumers, and the result will be severe job loss. Hardest-hit will be cashiers, because self-checkout is a simple technology. In May, the financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group forecast that between 6 million to 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk of being automated over the next 10 years. What are those people supposed to do for a living when the same technological forces are knocking many other unskilled jobs? President Trump’s efforts at increasing jobs are having an effect, but the long term looks unpromising.

Eric Brynjolfsson, tech author from MIT, recently remarked about the revolution in retail (Amazon’s Move Signals End of Line for Many Cashiers, NYTimes, June 17, 2017):

“Amazon didn’t go put a robot into the bookstores and help you check out books faster. It completely reinvented bookstores. The idea of a cashier won’t be so much automated as just made irrelevant — you’ll just tell your Echo what you need, or perhaps it will anticipate what you need, and stuff will get delivered to you.”

The shopping experience that tech wizards are designing sounds pretty sterile, but it would be an improvement over sales helpers who don’t speak English well (as I reflected yesterday while shopping for manila folders at Staples).

The future will automated. To prepare for it, the least Washington could do is severely limit immigration, say by about 99 percent, because AUTOMATION MAKES IMMIGRATION OBSOLETE.

The robot invasion has begun in the grocery aisle, New York Post, July 27, 2017

A family-owned grocery chain in the Midwest is set to test an aisle-roving robot, joining technology-savvy retail behemoths like Amazon and Walmart.

The robot, named Tally, will begin scanning store aisles at three St. Louis-area Schnucks grocery stores in a six-week pilot program starting on Monday. The robot will check aisles three times a day to look for out-of-stock items and make sure items and price tags properly correspond, company officials say.

“We’re excited to see what this partnership brings,” Dave Steck, the chain’s vice president of IT and infrastructure, said in a statement on its collaboration with San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics. “This is just one of many ways that Schnucks is staying at the forefront of technology to enhance our customers’ shopping experiences.”

Schnucks — which operates more than 100 stores in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa — will initially use the adjustable 38-inch, 30-pound robot to monitor items on store shelves but is hopeful that the robot “may open up a world of other possibilities” with the data it collects, Steck said. Continue reading this article

Sewing Robot Technology Takes an Interesting Tack

Clothing manufacturers would love to economize on production with some sort of automation, but the materials used, which vary widely in terms of thickness, stretch, slickness and other qualities do not easily fit into the robot factory. The dexterity and sensitivity of the human hand has kept sewing in the human realm except for simple tasks like hemming, though not for lack of trying.

The latest contestant in the sewbot competition uses a clever approach: Seattle developer Jonathan Zornow has changed the material rather than the machine. He has created a process that will temporarily stiffen the fabric to be like a piece of cardboard, which can then be handled by a robot which inserts it into a sewing machine.

The Financial Times’ report on the subject, included below, is sensitive to the wider social implications. Garment production is a big industry in cheap labor havens like Asia and Central America, and the loss of millions of jobs to automation would be devastating. Revolutions have been fought over less.

I wrote about some of those issues in a recent issue of the Social Contract: How Automation Threatens Third World Stability.

And we know that widespread unemployment and consequent social unrest in less prosperous regions can spur mass migrations of persons in search of a first-world welfare office.

Robots and the World of Work, Financial Times, July 18 2017

ANNA NICOLAOU, FINANCIAL TIMES: Robots have transformed production of cars and planes. But the garment industry has stayed old fashioned. For decades, companies have tried to sew clothing with a robot. But the concept has mostly remained a pipe dream.

In practise, almost all of the world’s t-shirts and jeans are still made by millions of cheap workers, mostly women watching over sewing machines. The first sewing robots that have been brought to the market are expensive, running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. With an abundance of cheap labour available in Asia, humans still make more financial sense.

But labour costs are rising in China, and political groups are campaigning to bring jobs back to the US. A new group of start-ups is now looking to upend the way clothing is made.

RAVJ KUMAR, DIRECTOR PAHLE INDIA FOUNDATION: Technology can now replace human beings in their totality, just changing basic motor force, or basic routine mental processes, but has now the potential of, with the huge amount increase in computer power, to replace or substitute complex mental and complex intelligent processes.

NICOLAOU: Jonathan Zornow, a software developer from Seattle, last year came up with what he thinks is the solution. He calls it the Sewbo. Unlike his predecessors, he wants to change fabric to work with robots, instead of vice versa.

He patented a process of drenching fabric in a liquid thermoplastic solution. It makes material like cotton as stiff as a board. The robot then sews, stitches, and shapes the fabric. Wash it off with warm water, and it comes back to life, as a t-shirt or a pair of jeans. With this method, he believes he’s made the first fully robotic garment– a t-shirt.

Mr. Zornow is now in talks with big retailers and manufacturers across China, India, and Sri Lanka to roll out the technology.

JONATHAN ZORNOW, FOUNDER OF SEWBO: This is an industry that’s very dependent on manual labour. And because of this, the supply chains have grown very long. They’ve stretched all the way around the world. I believe the average t-shirt has about 20,000 miles on it by the time it reaches the consumer, going from the cotton field, to the spinning factory, to the textile mills, to the sewing factories.

This allows people to shorten their supply chains to manufacture in a much more responsive way, and to avoid labour costs. So this is something that’s been of great interest to both American retailers and brands, as well as existing manufacturers overseas.

NICOLAOU: But economists are now wondering if these technologies will threaten the entire economic model of South Asia. As Chinese workers demand higher wages, places such as Bangladesh and Pakistan are hoping that their cheap workforces will become the world’s new workshop. The World Bank estimates South Asian countries will add more than one million workers each month for the next two decades.

Economists call this a demographic dividend, as populations grow and wages stay about a quarter of those in China. But if technology like the Sewbo take off, the jobs they’re relying on could be eliminated for good.

KUMAR: So the fear is that our so-called demographic dividend could turn into a demographic nightmare, because of all the educated, aspiring young people who would be unemployed as a result of this automation ad robotisation.

NICOLAOU: The question becomes, how much time is life? Even some of the companies building the robots say it could be 20 years before they’re adopted widely. This would give governments time to prepare, to retrain workers. But some economists warn that these countries should give up on manufacturing altogether, as the demographic nightmare looms. Anna Nicolaou, Financial Times, New York.

Automation Will Revolutionize Retail for Shoppers and Workers

A recent Wall Street Journal piece framed its robot-replacing-human story by focusing on one employee who loses her job counting cash, but is moved to a greeter position at the same wage. Since the unnamed woman is 55, her gig as human greeter will likely go to a robot when she retires, if not before, because that technology is already available.

The LoweBot hardware store machine welcomes shoppers and offers them directions about where to find their desired items.

Also, a back-office cash-counter job lost to a smart machine occurs out of the public eye, like so many others. It’s great that President Trump’s economic and trade policies are emphasizing Made in America, but the long term trend is toward more automation and fewer human workers. In addition, automation is a worse cause of factory job loss than bad trade deals.

The automated future has been sketched out by various experts. 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.

The retail industry is particularly susceptible to automation, with cashiers being first on the chopping block because self-checkout is very simple technology. Six million retail jobs could be lost in the next decade.

Plus, retail is getting clobbered by Amazon, which could not function without robots and computerization.

It’s baffling how Washington can be so clueless about the revolution beginning to occur in America’s workplaces. Perhaps the Masters of the Universe are in mass denial because they cannot think of a fix, or maybe the swamp gas is just too thick for them to see what’s happening.

Not a whole lot can be done, since the market forces toward cheaper means of production are powerful. But it certainly makes sense to end immigration entirely since the need to import inexpensive foreign workers is over. In fact,

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete.

So don’t mend it: end it.

Robots Are Replacing Workers Where You Shop, Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017

Wal-Mart and other large retailers, under pressure from Amazon, turn to technology to do workers’ rote tasks

Last August, a 55-year-old Wal-Mart employee found out her job was being taken over by a robot. Her task was to count cash and track the accuracy of the store’s books from a desk in a windowless backroom. She earned $13 an hour.

Instead, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. started using a hulking gray machine that counts eight bills per second and 3,000 coins a minute. The Cash360 machine digitally deposits money at the bank, earning interest for Wal-Mart sooner than if sent by armored car. And the machine uses software to predict how much cash is needed on a given day to reduce excess.

“They think it will be a more efficient way to process the money,” said the employee, who has worked with Wal-Mart for a decade.

Now almost all of Wal-Mart’s 4,700 U.S. stores have a Cash360 machine, making thousands of positions obsolete. Most of the employees in those positions moved into store jobs to improve service, said a Wal-Mart spokesman. More than 500 have left the company. The store accountant displaced last August is now a greeter at the front door, where she still earns $13 an hour.

“The role of service and customer-facing associates will always be there,” said Judith McKenna, Wal-Mart’s U.S. chief operating officer. But, she added, “there are interesting developments in technology that mean those roles shift and change over time.”

Shopping is moving online, hourly wages are rising and retail profits are shrinking—a formula that pressures retailers, ranging from Wal-Mart to Tiffany & Co., to find technology that can do the rote labor of retail workers or replace them altogether.

As Amazon.com Inc. makes direct inroads into traditional retail with its plans to buy grocer Whole Foods Market  Inc., Wal-Mart and other large retailers are under renewed pressure to invest heavily to keep up.

Economists say many retail jobs are ripe for automation. A 2015 report by Citi Research, co-authored with researchers from the Oxford Martin School, found that two-thirds of U.S. retail jobs are at “high risk” of disappearing by 2030.

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Coal Miners Face Replacement by Smart Machines

It was a sweet early moment in the Trump Presidency: a group of miners had been invited to the White House to watch the new Chief Executive end Obama regulations that were designed to cripple the coal industry.

Coal miner Michael Nelson thanked President Trump for keeping his election promise to help the industry’s workers.

Nelson appeared later on Fox News to discuss how he hoped for better times in coal country. “For a politician to such as Donald Trump to stand up and hold good to his promise is absolutely fantastic, and he’s an inspiration to all working Americans,” he remarked.

I wondered at the time whether the miners knew that automation posed a bigger long term threat than even business-buster Obama.

Miners have already been threatened by immigrants workers willing to perform the tasks more cheaply, as I wrote a decade ago in American Miners Now Targeted. Mine executives wanted to scrap the English-only policy, which would have further endangered worker safety in a dangerous workplace.

Now the machines are here, and even the smartest ones don’t worry about survival — yet.

Bloomberg reported March 27 in Trump’s Executive Order Won’t Save Coal Mining Jobs that the industry has changed quite a bit:

. . . The image of miners toiling underground is increasingly antiquated, as companies use automated tools to extract coal from giant seams in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. There, electric shovels are able to claw 400 tons worth of coal at a single time from open pits, and load them up onto rail cars bound for plants as far away as Georgia. 

As a result, total U.S. coal employment plunged to 53,000 last year; in the 1940s, West Virginia alone was home to 126,000 miners. . .

A recent recent article from an industry pub was a reminder of the automation pressure on mining:

Robots and recruitment: the impact of automation on mining jobs, Mining-Technology.com, July 13, 23017

. . .The job drain of recent years, felt across the mining sector globally, can be attributed in part to automation, which has made the profession significantly safer.

 ‘Smart’ mines, which incorporate everything from drones and wearables to 3D printing, are becoming more commonplace, and recruitment and human resources have simply not kept pace with the growth of technology. But there is hope.

“The message is that it’s not necessarily fewer jobs in mining – it will just be different jobs,” says Philip Hopwood, Deloitte global head of mining. “In reality,” he adds, “employment will be growing in the mining sector as we see mining investment ramp back up again, leading to opportunities in jobs related to investment in building what we term the digital mine.”

At present, Hopwood says the mining sector is still playing catch-up with the likes of real-time data analytics and the phasing out of manual labour in favour of the back office, whereby on-site technology is connected to back-end systems. The next step for miners is to find the right talent to operate the tech.

Translation of that last bit: there will be a computer operator in an office running the machines that do the extraction, similar to the way the oil business is going: New York Times Reports Automation-Fueled Job Loss in the Oil Patch

Farm Robot Is Touted as Kinder to Workers

Down on the farm in Salinas California, a new robot harvester uses “water knives” — actually high-powered water jets — to pick lettuce. To hear the industry flacks describe it, the machines end unhealthy stoop labor in lettuce fields. But details in the story suggest that President Trump’s border enforcement is having an effect when it says, “Fewer immigrant workers are coming to the fields.” Big ag is explaining in a way to portray itself as a humanitarian when other factors are the cause.

In fact, automation has been transforming agriculture just as it has changed factories.


Welcome to Salinas! The Farming Town Where… by wired

The story also does a little dance when it says the machines reduce the need for labor, but workers won’t lose their jobs. In the case of the lettuce robo-harvester, the workers are now doing different tasks like sorting and packing, but how long until automation does those jobs as well? Growers are always looking for less expensive means of production, and that means more smart machines are coming in the long run.

So the Salinas case is another example that America’s cheap worker immigration must end: unskilled foreigners will just end up on the welfare rolls.

Automation makes immigration obsolete.

Below, a robot lettuce harvester moves through a Salinas field.

Robots Wielding Water Knives Are the Future of Farming, Wired.com, May 31, 2017

JUST AFTER DAWN in the Salinas Valley south of San Francisco, a raucous robot rolls through a field spitting clouds of vapor. It’s cutting lettuce heads with water knives—super-high-pressure beams—and gobbling up the produce. The heads roll up its mouth and onto a conveyor belt, where workers in hoodies and aprons grab the lettuce and tear off the loose leaves.

Right across the road, workers are harvesting lettuce the agonizing old-fashioned way—bent over with knife in hand. “If you’re a beginner, it kills you because your back really hurts,” says Isabel Garcia, a harvester who works atop the robot. “It takes somebody really strong to be doing that kind of work.”

Garcia and the other workers here didn’t lose their jobs to a robot—they work in tandem with one. And just as well, because California farms are facing a serious labor shortage of perhaps 20 percent. Increasingly sophisticated robots have to pick up the slack, here and around the world. Because if humanity expects to feed its booming population off a static amount of land, it’s going to need help.

Here in the Salinas Valley, farmers and tech types are teaming up to turn this into a kind of Silicon Valley for agriculture. And they’re not stopping at water-knife-wielding robots. Because it’s data that will truly drive this agricultural revolution. It’s not just about robots doing jobs humans don’t want to do, but AI doing jobs humans can’t do. And AI can’t go anywhere without data.

For sure, the robots will definitely support the dwindling farming workforce. Fewer immigrant workers are coming to the fields, and their demographics are shifting. “Just with a changing population here in California, we’ve got an aging workforce,” says Mark Borman, president of Taylor Farms California, which operates the robot. “So people who are coming out to do agricultural, we’re not getting that younger population into the job.”

(cont.)

The Robot Future Requires Job Retraining

Television coverage of automation’s threat to the world of work is not common, so it was nice to see Fox’s segment on Friday. The report is decent regarding the need to rejigger education to align with future employment in the tech environment. It is certainly true that robots will require oversight and programming, but the big automated picture means job loss for many people.

If businesses couldn’t save money by automation then why would they invest great sums of money to re-outfit their factories? It’s true that manufacturing is returning to the US because automation reduces labor costs and having production close to the markets is a money saver. But where will the shoppers come from when in the future millions of Americans suffer from technological unemployment?

The admittedly brief Fox piece did not mention any of the expert warnings about the jobless robotic future: 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.

Finally, is it not obvious that the automated future completely erases any need for immigrant workers? In fact,

Automation makes immigration obsolete.

Can robots create jobs for humans?, Fox News, by Jonathan Serrie, July 7, 2017

As President Donald Trump seeks to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing, many industry leaders are looking to robots as the most efficient way for American factories to compete with cheap labor overseas.

“We think robotics has had a positive impact on U.S. manufacturing by creating better, safer and higher paying jobs for American workers,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a trade group. “Most importantly (robotics is) making American companies more competitive so that they can expand their business and ultimately, in many cases, add more workers than they did before they started automating.” (. . .)

“Instead of doing away with a job, we still have to have someone to be able to operate that robot. We have to have someone to be able to program that robot and someone to be able to work on it,” said Rick Maroney, director of the Alabama Robotics Technology Park.

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