Trump Effect: Farmers Turn from Foreign Pickers to Automation

Farm automation has been progressing along, just like uses of smart machines in other industries, but agbots may now be getting an extra boost. Apparently President Trump’s crackdown on illegal border crossings has decreased the supply of foreign pickers, so farmers are looking more favorably at tech solutions. The transition would have happened anyway, but immigration enforcement is speeding it up a bit.

Not only are there are robot weeders, pickers and cultivators, but cows can now walk into an automated milker when they feel the need.

Agricultural automation makes immigrant farm workers obsolete.

Who will pick the strawberries without illegal immigrants? ROBOTS!

For an extra automation touch, you can listen to the Reuters article posted below being read by a robot:

As Trump targets immigrants, U.S. farm sector looks to automate, Reuters, November 9, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Convincing big U.S. dairy owners to buy robots to milk their cows – and reduce the farmhands they employ – used to be a tough sell for Steve Fried. Recently, his job has gotten easier, he says, in part because of President Donald Trump.

“I get calls on a daily basis and it typically starts with, ‘I don’t want to deal with this labor headache any more’,” said Fried, sales manager for Lely North America, which makes robotic dairy milking and feeding systems.

Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration through stepped-up arrests and border enforcement has shaken the U.S. agricultural sector, where as many as 7 in 10 farm workers are undocumented, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In addition, Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation that would require all employers to check social security numbers against federal databases to ensure their workers are in the country legally, something that is now voluntary in all but a handful of states.

The get-tough approach “has created a great deal of anxiety,” said Tom Vilsack, chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary for eight years under President Barack Obama.

The shift comes as the industry was already struggling to cope with a shrinking, aging workforce. That is ratcheting up pressure on the sector to embrace new technology.

Farmers and food companies increasingly are moving to automate dairy operations, chicken processing, crop production and harvesting. Even delicate crops such as strawberries and peaches are being considered for mechanization.

“You’d be a fool to not have a plan that moves you that way,” said Duff Bevill, who owns a vineyard management company in Sonoma County, California.

(Continues)

Tucker Notes Automation’s Effect on Need for Immigrant Workers

On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson had a rapid-fire interview with billionaire Mark Cuban who thinks he might challenge President Trump in the 2020 Republican primary. Cuban bragged on how he can use his technological expertise to solve government problems, but he shrunk into nonsense at an automation question with an obvious answer:

MARK CUBAN: We need to find ways to reduce the cost of those entitlements while maintaining the same level of care. I’m a tech guy, and the reality is I would focus on creating technology solutions. I have investments that I see myself where it can have an impact. I think there’s a way that we can reduce the size of government, the size of bureaucracy that deals with healthcare but it’s going to take somebody who understands technology that can introduce technology to find those solutions, and I think it can happen relatively quickly.

TUCKER CARLSON: You definitely understand technology and you’ve been one of the people, to your great credit, who’s been sounding the alarm about automation’s effect on employment: you said robots are basically going to kill a lot of jobs; I think you’re right. Given that, is allowing about a million low-wage low-skilled workers into the country every year legally is that a good idea? Is that the right level of immigration?

CUBAN: You know what, you can argue both sides of that, Tucker, I’m not, I don’t have all the data to make the final decision, but on one hand you can say that it takes jobs away from people who need them the most. On the other hand, because of the demographic trends you can say we need people to fill certain jobs, you know if you look at agriculture, there’s jobs that are going unfilled, so you know there’s arguments for both sides. I’m not ready to come to a conclusion.

Wait, this guy is presenting himself as the successful tech expert and he thinks that America still needs Mexicans to pick crops? Hardly, at least not in the near future. Advances in agricultural robots make immigrant farm labor obsolete.

The future of agriculture is automated.

And if Cuban really is familiar with automation-caused job loss, he must certainly be aware of expert projections about the topic which are rather grim. 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. The consultancy firm PwC published a report earlier this year that forecast robots could take 38 percent of US jobs by 2030.

At least Tucker Carlson is connecting the dots between automation and the alleged need for immigrant workers in the automated future.

New York Times Frets over Suffering Illegal Aliens in Fire-Ravaged Wine Country

The Times is concerned that the recent infernos in northern California have left many of the foreign workers homeless, or certainly with fewer housing choices. The paper fears that they might pick up and depart, leaving wineries with no workers for the vineyards.

Interestingly, many of the grape pickers are illegal immigrants, even though the H-2A visa allows farmers to have as many foreign ag workers as they want.

But technology provides the answer to any fire-caused labor shortage with a variety of agricultural robots. The video below reports that regarding the chore of pruning back shoots, “In a nine-hour workday, a crew of about 20 workers can get to 200 plants, but with these machines a crew of just three workers can get to over 14,000.”

The machine still needs a driver, but a self-driving tractor-robot for grape-picking can’t be far off.

A French inventor has created a more futuristic-looking machine, called a Wall-Ye, for tending the grapes, shown below. It is a tiny, less tractor-like machine that putters around from the ground level to do its thing. The video following says the inventor hopes to put the machine into production in a few months, and the cost will be around 25,000 euros.

So the New York Times needn’t worry about agricultural tasks getting done — that sector of the automation revolution is moving ahead quite rapidly.

As Fires Move On, Wine Country Wonders Whether Immigrants Will, Too, New York Times, October 17, 2017

Many of the foreign-born workers the region depends on are undocumented and do not qualify for most disaster aid. They may struggle to find affordable housing.

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. — The lush vineyards that dot the hillsides and valleys here largely survived the fires that leveled neighborhood after neighborhood to the east.

Crushed cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other grapes in tanks are now fermenting into wines that have earned California a prestigious place among global producers.

But the wine industry and the lodging, restaurant and construction sectors that help make this bucolic region a draw for millions of visitors each year are now bracing for a different crisis: the potential loss of many members of their immigrant work force.

Some 5,700 houses and structures have been destroyed and many more damaged by the blazes that barreled through Northern California last week. About 100,000 people were displaced, temporarily or permanently.

It is still too early to know how many of them were immigrants, who are in the most precarious position of any group. Because many of them are in the country illegally, they are ineligible for most disaster aid, raising concerns that those without places to live will move to other regions where housing is more plentiful and cheaper.

“To function, we have to be able to retain the immigrant workers in the area,” said Cameron Mauritson, who grows grapes on 350 acres in Sonoma County for 60 wineries. Losing them, he said, would be “catastrophic to our economy.”

In absolute numbers, the population of immigrants in Los Angeles, Oakland and other California metropolitan areas dwarfs that of Sonoma County. But immigrants play a significant role here: nearly one-fifth of the residents in Santa Rosa’s metropolitan area are foreign-born, according to an analysis by Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies immigration. Latin American immigrants, mainly from Mexico, dominate the blue-collar work force.

(Continues)

Tucker Carlson Considers Trump’s 70-Point List of Immigration Enforcement

On Monday, Tucker Carlson examined the latest from the White House about enforcing law and sovereignty, noting, “The administration has now put forward a 70-point immigration plan which calls for easier deportations of people here illegally, a border wall or a partial border wall anyway and new limits on chain migration, which is the idea that once you get here all of your relatives can come. Those are all preconditions for any future amnesty of DACA beneficiaries. Could this be the beginning of real immigration reform?”

Tucker chatted up a liberal radio host from Los Angeles, Ethan Bearman, who was quite chipper about continuing the import of foreign workers. Interestingly, automation came up and Tucker connected the dots. He didn’t say “Automation makes immigration obsolete” but pretty close!

ETHAN BEARMAN: I want people out of the shadows, so they’re not abused and they’re not subjugated by unscrupulous people who take advantage of them while they’re here working. By the way, one of the advantages of a long term change here with increased minimum wages is you’re gonna see Silicon Valley fill that void. John Deere just bought a huge company — it was over three hundred million dollars, to buy a company that makes the lettuce bot to automate some of that so there are long term trends that are happening here as well, but why are why do we want to be as mean as possible?

TUCKER CARLSON: I like immigrants, I actually really do. I grew up in California. I like them. But I think our primary responsibility is to Americans, but I wonder as a macro question, if we’re automating a lot of these jobs — and you just said we’re going to — why do we need 1.1. million legal low-skilled workers every year and an unknown but high number of illegal ones? What’s the point, what are they gonna do exactly? If jobs are going away, why are we importing all these people? Has anyone ever stopped to ask that question?

In fact, smart farm machines have been coming on strong for a long time, and the advances in ag technology are making human farm laborers a thing of the past. When a farmer can rent a robot weeding machine for $300/month, why would he bother with a crew of Mexicans? The future of farming is automated — along with many other industries.

Now, back to the larger subject of Trump’s List. NumbersUSA has a simplified enumeration, excerpted immediately below. The voluminous entire list follows that.

WH Immigration Principles Call for Ending Chain Migration & Mandatory E-Verify, October 8, 2017

BORDER SECURITY: Build a southern border wall and close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration and swell the court backlog.

• Fund and complete construction of the southern border wall.

• Authorize the Department of Homeland Security to raise and collect fees from visa services and border-crossings

• Fund border security and enforcement activities.

• Ensure the safe and expeditious return of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) and family units.

• End abuse of our asylum system by tightening standards, imposing penalties for fraud, and ensuring detention while claims are verified.

• Remove illegal border crossers quickly by hiring an additional 370 Immigration Judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys.

• Discourage illegal re-entry by enhancing penalties and expanding categories of inadmissibility.

• Improve expedited removal.

• Increase northern border security.

INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT: Enforce our immigration laws and return visa overstays.

• Protect innocent people in sanctuary cities.

• Authorize and incentivize States and localities to help enforce Federal immigration laws.

• Strengthen law enforcement by hiring 10,000 more ICE officers and 300 Federal prosecutors.

• End visa overstays by establishing reforms to ensure their swift removal.

• Stop catch-and-release by correcting judicial actions that prevent ICE from keeping dangerous aliens in custody pending removal and expanding the criteria for expedited removal.

• Prevent gang members from receiving immigration benefits.

• Protect U.S. workers by requiring E-Verify and strengthening laws to stop employment discrimination against U.S. workers.

• Improve visa security by expanding State Department’s authority to combat visa fraud, ensuring funding of the Visa Security Program, and expanding it to high-risk posts.

MERIT-BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM: Establish reforms that protect American workers and promote financial success.

• End extended-family chain migration by limiting family-based green cards to include spouses and minor children.

• Establish a points-based system for green cards to protect U.S. workers and taxpayers.

Here in the Scribd format is the whole 70-item thing.

Administration Immigration Principles by Alex Pfeiffer on Scribd

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.

(Continues)

Robots Are the Next Generation of Farmworkers

It’s good to see traditional media connect the dots between automation and immigration, as the Los Angeles Times inadvertently did somewhat on Tuesday’s front page:

The online version of the article appeared last week, on Friday, July 21. An above-the-fold story with photo gets a lot more attention, certainly, as long as those newspaper boxes are sitting on the sidewalk.

The missing part of the message is that the machines make importing foreign farmworkers increasingly unnecessary. If fewer illegals are crossing the border because of Trump, that may hasten smart machines in the fields, but ag robots are coming sooner or later: when the machines become cheaper than human pickers, then field workers will be gone, period.

Plus, it’s long past time that Mexico etc. became more responsive to its own people’s needs, rather than pushing them north to mooch from America.

Remember,

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete

Can we get Washington to notice that the world of work is changing fundamentally?

A new generation of farmworkers: Robots, By Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2017

Growers race to mechanize as labor pool shrinks

Driscoll’s is so secretive about its robotic strawberry picker it won’t let photographers within telephoto range of it.

But if you do get a peek, you won’t see anything humanoid or space-aged. AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO — a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries.

Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.

Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.

California will have to remake its fields like it did its factories, with more machines and better-educated workers to labor beside them, or risk losing entire crops, economists say.

“California agriculture just isn’t going to look the same,” said Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find crops grown as labor-intensively as they are now.”

Driscoll’s, which grows berries in nearly two dozen countries and is the world’s top berry grower, already is moving its berries to table- top troughs, where they are easier for both humans and machines to pick, as it has done over the last decade in Australia and Europe.

“We don’t see — no matter what happens — that the labor problem will be solved,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas.

That’s because immigrant farmworkers in California’s agricultural heartlands are getting older and not being replaced.

(Continues)

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.)

Left Media Admits Automation May Affect Need for Immigrant Farm Workers

It’s nearly summer and that means the time has come for media boilerplate articles about a shortage of immigrant workers down on the farm — so couldn’t Washington kindly arrange for a few hundred thousand to be sent to California?? Right on schedule, a Google News search (which covers the last 30 days of listings) for Immigrant Farm Labor Shortage brings up 14,600 results.

You would think there was no such thing as the H-2A visa which allows for unlimited foreign farm workers. Open borders are so much more convenient for everyone concerned — except law-abiding citizens.

However, a different farm labor solution has been developing over the last few years — smart machines that can pick apples, harvest almonds, milk cows and various other agricultural chores.

“Who will pick the strawberries?” used to be an argument for open borders. But now the answer is robots.

Even the immigration-worshiping left media now says that machines are coming to the fields, and the need for foreigners may need to be adjusted. The PRI radio station chats up the changes, including hopeful remarks from immigrant workers. The have no idea what sort of labor revolution is about to happen, but people much better educated than they are similarly naive.

Certainly America won’t H-2A visas or any immigrant workers at all for that matter, given the automated future that will similarly affect most workplaces.

No farm workers? How about a robot, PRI’s The World, June 02, 2017

Blue River Technology’s LettuceBot uses sensors and cameras similar to those in self-driving cars to thin lettuce. Engineer Ken Hickman says the machine is “doing its own thinking” as it thins lettuce, about three times faster than a human crew. Credit: Valerie Hamilton

At Lakeside Organic Gardens, a vegetable farm on California’s central coast, field-workers bundled up against the sun are thinning lettuce crops, chopping out some plants to make room for others. The farm’s owner, Dick Peixoto, walks through the rows, complimenting his workers as he moves along.

“Swinging that hoe from that distance, being able to pick out one plant and not the other, they’re really experts at what they do,” he says. “They’re artists, you know what I mean?”

That’s why I’m surprised at his answer when I ask him if he would replace these workers with a robot doing the same job.

“Not if,” he says, “the question is when.”

Immigrants do the majority of California’s field labor. But as demand grows, workers are becoming scarce. It’s hard for field-workers to come to the US legally. It’s dangerous for them to come illegally. The people working the fields now are getting older, and younger workers want different jobs.

“The handwriting is already up and down the wall that we’ll never have the labor force that we had before,” Peixoto says. “Anyone who’s not adapting to that today has got their head in the sand.”

Enter the LettuceBot. Continue reading this article

President Trump Approves of Continuing Big Immigration

It was disappointing, although not entirely surprising to read President Trump’s disinterest in limiting legal immigration, as remarked in a May 11 Economist interview and quoted by Mark Krikorian in National Review:

Do you want to curb legal immigration?
Oh sure, you know, I want to stop illegal immigration.

And what about legal immigration? Do you want to cut the number of immigrants?
Oh legal, no, no, no. I want people to come into the country legally. No, legally? No. I want people to come in legally. But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system. Actually two countries that have very strong systems are Australia and Canada. And I like those systems very much, they’re very strong, they’re very good, I like them very much. We’re going to a much more merit-based system. But I absolutely want talented people coming in, I want people that are going to love our country coming in, I want people that are going to contribute to our country coming in. We want a provision at the right time, we want people that are coming in and will commit to not getting…not receiving any form of subsidy to live in our country for at least a five-year period.

But the numbers of those people could be as high as the numbers that are coming in legally now? You’re not looking to reduce the numbers?

Oh yeah, no, no, no, no, we want people coming in legally. No, very strongly. Now they’re going to be much more strongly vetted as you see. You know, we’ve broken the all-time record [of detentions at the border] by many times, 73, we’re up to 73, it’s going to go up to almost 80% at the border, we’ve…you know, really stopped it. We also want farm workers to be able to come in. You know, we’re going to have work visas for the farm workers. If you look, you know we have a lot of people coming through the border, they’re great people and they work on the farms and then they go back home. We like those people a lot and we want them to continue to come in.

The comments of President Trump were foreshadowed by his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s declaration in March that automation’s threat to American jobs was “not even on our radar screen … 50-100 more years.” President Trump has spoken often about globalization as the source of job loss without mention of automation. That ignorance is concerning.

Below, automobile manufacturing once employed millions of Americans, but no longer, since the robots arrived.

Mnuchin’s opinion is not shared by many tech and robot experts, who believe that a substantial portion of US jobs could be automated within a couple decades. The big picture of employment is indeed sobering. 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 recent PwC forecast was only slightly less severe than the Oxford numbers.

Even the most upbeat forecast reveals the foolishness of continuing to import large numbers of immigrants as workers because they are not needed now and will be even more unemployable in coming years. A growing community of angry, jobless foreigners does not sound like a recipe for domestic peace and tranquility.

In addition, overpopulated California dodged a bullet by having a very rainy winter in 2016-17 that ended a disastrous drought that I suspect was worse than authorities were willing to admit. The state experienced severe mega-droughts from 900-1400 which is quite recent in climate terms, and there is no guarantee that similar droughts won’t recur.

California’s Lake Oroville was almost dry in September 2014.

What happens in a modern society when a region runs out of water and millions need to relocate? Certainly in the west, water supply must be considered before inviting millions more immigrants to come live in America.

The automated, potentially drought-plagued future strongly suggests that immigration is an institution that needs to be retired for the good of all Americans.

Robot Apple Picker Will Displace Illegal Alien Workers

Automation’s threat to jobs is not entirely negative, considering that robot pickers can replace an agricultural workforce that is generally estimated to be half illegal alien. The Associated Press article below notes that in Washington state, “several counties near the Canadian border are now majority-Hispanic.”

Abundant Robotics has developed a vacuum-based system that doesn’t bruise the apples. It doesn’t pick particularly quickly, but on balance, the machines can literally work 24 hours a day and don’t require lunch. In the video below, the developers describe how they moved from experimental versions to building a commercial machine.

Apples are easily bruised so hand picking has been the norm. Robot developers think they have that problem solved.

The world of work is being fundamentally altered because of automation. What worries me is how the government is oblivious to smart machines coming on strong and acting as if nothing has changed.

A robot that picks apples? Replacing humans worries some, Associated Press, April 28, 2017

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Harvesting Washington state’s vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States.

That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market.

The robotic pickers don’t get tired and can work 24 hours a day.

“Human pickers are getting scarce,” said Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics. “Young people do not want to work in farms, and elderly pickers are slowly retiring.”

FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years.

Harvest has long been mechanized for large portions of the agriculture industry, such as wheat, corn, green beans, tomatoes and many other crops. But for more fragile commodities like apples, berries, table grapes and lettuce — where the crop’s appearance is especially important — harvest is still done by hand.

Members of the $7.5 billion annual Washington agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops. Continue reading this article

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.

otto-self-driving-truck-on-road-620.jpg

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!’”

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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

A Television First — the Connection between Automation and Immigration Is Discussed!

Tucker Carlson interviewed New York Times columnist Tom Friedman a few days ago about his new book, “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” The discussion was about technology, which is the cause of the accelerations from the book title.

Carlson has a new prime-time show on Fox News, and he has apparently been given a degree of freedom about topics to explore, although he has not hit immigration much thus far. On the morning show he once inhabited, he showed a fair amount of interest in mass immigration and how it has affected many areas of American life.

Tom Friedman has lately turned his fuzzy gaze toward technology and the crazy speed-up of society, and even for a liberal columnist, he is a shallow thinker. I watched a C-SPAN video of a recent book talk he gave about the new work and found it to be remarkably boring, particularly for an important and fascinating subject. In his talk with Tucker regarding technology and employment, he chattered on with his little stories of a few new jobs developing in the more automated economy, as if those minuscule examples have anything to do with the economic tsunami we are facing.

Expert opinion is rather dire. A 2013 report from Oxford University researchers estimated that “nearly half of U.S. jobs are vulnerable to computerization” in less than 20 years. The Gartner analytical company predicts that one-third of jobs will be performed by robots by 2025.

How will the economy function in the automated future when paychecks are discontinued because there are no jobs?

In the 1940s, many Americans were employed in the production of cars and trucks.

Now, around 80 percent of automotive manufacturing is done by robots.

Why isn’t Washington facing the jobless automated future? At the least, immigration should be terminated as a government policy, because automation has made immigration obsolete.

Tucker Carlson does seem to have sniffed out this logical progression, but Friedman appeared nervous to have his trite ideas about immigration challenged even a tiny bit.

(Spare Audio)

TUCKER CARLSON: When a lot of us were born, personal computers didn’t even exist; today of course they’re totally ubiquitous, and they’re making more and more jobs obsolete. Today it’s McDonald’s employees, tomorrow it’ll be millions of truck and taxi drivers with self-driving cars. Eventually it will be lawyers and physicians and so on. Will it ever be newspaper columnists and cable news anchors? We’re praying not!

Joining this now is New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman, author of ”Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”. Tom, thanks for coming on. You’re very optimistic in this book, and I appreciate that because I love optimism, but I wondered as I read it, are people wired, from an evolutionary standpoint, to digest this pace of change?

TOM FRIEDMAN: There’s no question Tucker that what’s going on in globalization, in technology in particular, is now faster than the average rate at which humans and societies can adapt. I think people are feeling that sense of acceleration. One of my favorite quotes in the book is from John Kelly around the IBM Watson project, and he said to me when I was working on the book. He said you know Tom, when you buy a car, it comes with a sticker on the rear view mirror. It says objects in your rear-view may be closer than they appear — that actually belongs in your front windshield because it’s the stuff coming at us is actually coming faster than you think. In fact I had an experience in this book I’ve never had before — I felt I had a butterfly net and I was chasing a butterfly and every time I got close, it moved. I had to interview the head of Intel at least three times in writing this book just to make sure nothing changed from six months earlier. So I was actually living that pace of change.

CARLSON: So I mean it’s no one person’s fault of course, though I do think a lot of us are very insensitive to its consequences, among them the political consequences. The last time we had a big technological disruption — the Industrial Revolution — we got 70 years of totalitarian Marxism out of that, our response to that. This is a more profound change, I mean how can you be hopeful about the political consequences? Continue reading this article

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