by Marque A. Rome and Jeffery Haas
“The world is splitting in two,” said the king, “but not in the way we were promised, not between the Red and the free but between the fat and the lean.”
— John Updike in ‘The Coup’
The following exchange of letters between Jeffery Haas and Marque Rome occurred upon publication of the latter’s piece yesterday on this blog, entitled ‘An Abstract of Employment — US Style — Today’. I thought Chalong Bay blog readers might find it interesting. Haas is a talented writer and expert with 40 years experience in communications, technology and engineering. Visit his site at deepfreezevideo.com
From Jeffery Haas:
What if I told you that in the next ten years nearly half of all typical human labor jobs will be rendered obsolete?
What do you suppose that would do to the economy? What factors would bring about such mass labor obsolescence? Advanced robotics and artificial intelligence combined with the economies of scale and Moore’s Law, that’s what.
Ten years from now those factors are going to eliminate almost half of all typical human jobs — not just in the USA…GLOBALLY.
I would love someone to tell me how a Dickensian/Darwinian unregulated winner take all/losers-go-die-somewhere capitalist system can survive that. A system destroyed not by bloody revolution, but by demand destruction. When half the world population can’t find decent paying work, they won’t be buying much of anything.
Not that there won’t be revolution, there very well might be. But long before that, demand destruction will be the Tsar Bomba that lays waste to notions of ‘free markets’ and invisible hands, Ayn Rand, and all other such nonsense. In twenty years we may well see as much as 90 percent of all human labor made obsolete. By then, any adjustments that need to be made will be made — either that or mass die-off will ensue.
It’s the ten-year mark that is most worrisome, because around the ten-year
mark we will most likely still be struggling to recognize and understand the problem for what it really is. Can you imagine hard core right wing market evangelists telling people to suck it up and stop being lazy against a backdrop like that?
From Marque Rome:
Your scenario is no vain conceit: in 2001, while researching a story on the economy of China, I discovered that, at a time when any company that could was moving production there, the Chinese were hemorrhaging 16 million jobs yearly — and that was before development of nano technology, the revolution in micro-robotics and the sale of cheap, 8-ounce, hand-held devices with more processing power than all the IBM 360s occupying the Empire State building during what we now recall quaintly as ‘the Space Age’.
This has been much on my mind lately. Consider: if you, as a capitalist, could buy robots for less than, say, the wages of your human workers for a year — robots that perform satisfactorily 24/7, whose employment is not regulated by arcane and ever-changing labor codes, who will never sue you for sexual harassment or racial discrimination, who can be employed, reprogrammed or cast off as necessary without recourse to union negotiations — well, wouldn’t you?
The answer’s obvious, and is, indeed, now a fact of life just as you pointed out.
But your ten-year scenario makes it scarier still, especially as I’ve a notion you’re spot-on. The service industry has kept America afloat for 50 years; but now, with reliable voice recognition, improving computerized language translation, driverless vehicles, robot drones, biologic design, and the real prospect of ‘automated innovation’, it is shedding human workers apace. Even teaching and legal services are being automated.
I understand the Air Force has drones that can take evasive action and win a dogfight all on their own, without guidance from human controllers.
With a will, I suppose almost everything might be automated overnight (and apropos of night-times: I read earlier this month that the technology of robotic sex dolls is advancing rapidly, that they will be more capable ‘lovers’ than real people and that it is expected humans will ‘love’ them more than they do real people).
So Capitalism is not disappearing, but the aspect that made it a sustainable social and economic model — human employment — is.
That’s not the worst of it. Human interaction itself is becoming crippled. The smartphone generation largely feels incapable of carrying on conversation; they sit together and stare at their phones, think it rude to interact with strangers without first obtaining introduction via Internet. (Nancy Jo Sales’ story on Tinder and the ‘Dating Apocalypse’ in the September Vanity Fair is highly revealing in this regard.)
Finally, all these new devices are plugged into central processing centers, from which they can also be controlled. Imagine, twenty years hence, someone in bed with his robot doll which, upon instruction from an automated ‘anti-terrorist’ program, begins to interrogate him sweetly about his political leanings. His responses are relayed back to the Processing Center, where a program that filters keywords flags his speech as suspect because he’s out of work, irate and can’t pay bills. So next day, when he gets into his driverless car, it automatically locks the doors and carries him to the robocop police station where he experiences ‘enhanced interrogation’, again via robots using artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, the Center’s Electronic Brain concludes he is a threat to society and…well, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen to him, because, under the PATRIOT Acts, and their successor, the USA Freedom Act, anything can. He can be held incommunicado indefinitely, ‘terminated with extreme prejudice’ (to use a phrase from Apocalypse Now), or forced into a re-education facility. All of it can be done secretly, and it’s all legal under the law; the Constitution and Bill of Rights are effectively dead letters whenever the president or his legally deputed minions say so (and there’s nothing says those minions can’t be robots).
So that’s where we’re at; not where we’re headed to — where we’re at. It only remains for the infrastructure to become more widespread, I can see that happening within ten years.
What’s more, I don’t see any way to reverse the trend: the technology provides the result, and appears, to me at least, inevitable.