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Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite (nytimes.com)
104 points by pseudolus 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments



>“The choice isn’t between automation and non-automation,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “It’s between whether you use the technology in a way that creates shared prosperity, or more concentration of wealth.”

This could lead to a scenario with what happened when there was aristocracy. Land was a major necessary means of production and was overwhelmingly owned by the aristocracy, it was guarded since they had no reason to sell it and could rent-seek with it (and primogeniture guaranteed it didn't disperse much), and they simply owned nearly everything.

Craftsmanship and high demand for skilled labor led to the middle class. Automation could be the new land. A wealthy "owning class" owns all the means of production (and less skilled labor) and has no incentive to open it up. Automation could lead to a small wealthy class, but a rapidly expanding lower class with little access to self-ownership of means of production.

Decentralization of means of production tends to have a beneficial effect on society. If normal folk can own means of production, then they will do well in any scenario because they will have choices, but if there is little choice but to work for large corporations, then they will get squeezed on the monopoly of means of production.

Whatever is having that effect of enforcing centralization of means of production is eventually going to not end well. It might be the tech, it might be some of the regulations, it might be cultural, or it might be the "legal entity" nature of corporations and the ability to amass huge amounts of resources with them; but whatever it is, it ain't pretty.


This could lead to a scenario with what happened when there was aristocracy. Land was a major necessary means of production and was overwhelmingly owned by the aristocracy, it was guarded since they had no reason to sell it and could rent-seek with it, and they simply owned nearly everything.

Don’t look now, but that’s still the case. In England it’s really the case, and the old joke that it helps to have an ancestor who was close to William The Conquerer is genuinely true.

Craftsmanship and high demand for skilled labor led to the middle class. Automation could be the new land. A wealthy "owning class" owns all the means of production (and less skilled labor) and has no incentive to open it up. Automation could lead to a small wealthy class, but a rapidly expanding lower class with little access to self-ownership of means of production.

Again, that has largely already happened, and never really stopped. We just see things differently because we’re not one of billions who can only look up at everyone else’s boots, and because we’re at the tail end of a stable period born from two world wars and the teror of nuclear annihilation.


Napoleon put an end to that, the state's monopoly on violence came to rest on it's ability to mobilise an army of it's citizenry. Napoleon's army's demolished (comprehensively) army's dragooned into the field by aristocrats, aristocrats who thought to ignore this truth came to a bad end. In China, currently, there is an interesting experiment being played out about what the limits of modern centralised power are. The last time that this experiment was run (also in China in the late 60's) the results were not good for the ruling class, or actually for anyone at all. It may be that it's possible for an elite to "stamp a foot on the faces of humanity for all eternity" but this is not completely tested so far, and I think that the early indications show that it will turn out not to be true. I believe that authorities that push it may well find themselves in the most disastrous personal situations, I think that they are smart enough to realise this and to back off.


It seems that centralized power would benefit from encouraging differences and factions in its citizenry. This keeps any sort of broad mobilization limited in scope and also if force needs to be used against a mobilizing group, there is always a plurality of citizens that would not be opposed to it.


> It seems that centralized power would benefit from encouraging differences and factions in its citizenry.

Key word being "encouraging". A possible(!) recent example of this would be the maga hat kid. The beauty of this incident is, the initial incident is guaranteed to polarize people, but even if more truth comes out it the result is even more polarization. Can't lose strategy, provided no one notices what's going on.

I believe this is a bi-partisan issue, I imagine many similar examples could be found with the political roles switched.

An effective modern day Napolean is going to need the persuasive skills of Donald Trump combined with political beliefs from both poles (~ Trump + Bernie Sanders), but even then with the top down control (censorship) over modern means of mainstream communication it could be difficult to even get your message out there.

So far there always seems to be reason for hope though, while Bernie is getting along in the years almost out of the blue here comes this Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez girl, almost like a "far left" Donald Trump to keep things interesting.


This worked in China right up till The Red Guard emerged. After that, it stopped working with about 5 million bangs. It's an unstable approach (so far), with blowback guaranteed.


I agree with this thesis. However, doesn’t our economic system rely on lots of consumers? If the majority of people are very poor, would this not reduce the overall economy? Then what’s the benefit to the aristocracy?


No, our economic system does not rely on lots of consumers. It relies on people spending money. 1,000 people spending $1 is equivalent to one person spending $1,000. It is the dollar amount of spending that is important, not the total amount of consumers. Another key economic metric is the velocity of money...or how fast money goes from one person to the next. The faster the velocity of money...the better because we assume that when people trade...both are made better off through specialization.


That isn't really true, though.

If 1000 people spend $1000, that isn't the same as a person spending all that in one month. The 1000 people are going to spend the money differently and on a variety of things. Phone bills, electric, car payments, groceries, rent, clothes, entertainment, coffee. Perhaps a restaurant or two or a bar. Might need school supplies and medicine. Even better, these 1000 people are likely to do this monthly.

One person spending 1,000,000 isn't likely to spend it on those categories nor spend that monthly. Even then, the spending is going to be different. The spending is also more likely to be stable.

The economy generally will survive if the one person doesn't spend their 1,000,000. Even if they stop spending that monthly, that'll be OK.

However, the economy will suffer if the many people do not spend 1000 a month, depending on how close the people are to each other. All in one town probably means an employer has had hard times, and eventually other businesses close because of it - unless, of course, things start getting better again.

The economy hurts if trends shift. When folks get more poor and cannot spend on small luxuries or stop buying as mnay cheap clothes, the economy suffers.

The person able to spend 1,000,000 a month likely very much depends on those 1000 people spending 1000 per month, consuming the things they do.


Right, it does end up harming the aristocrats as a whole, but no single aristocrat will actually be incentivized to stop hoarding any of their wealth.


This is absolutely true, a sort of tragedy of the commons for the elite. We should institute a sort of 'enclosure' on the means of production, just to protect them from themselves.


But the things they own service the needs of the many; when the many become poor, why do you need to own a factory which produces a phone at scale when there aren't enough people to buy it?


> Automation could be the new land. A wealthy "owning class" owns all the means of production (and less skilled labor) and has no incentive to open it up. Automation could lead to a small wealthy class, but a rapidly expanding lower class with little access to self-ownership of means of production.

This is basically Marx and the theory of capital, e.g already describing our world since industrialization.


automation could also do the opposite....liberalize and spread technology. Imagine a world where owning an "advanced" production robot costs $500-$1,000. Right now people view automation technology as being very expensive but if you look at trends in automation technology the price of that technology is actually declining so even small businesses can utilize the same technology as the mega corporations of the world.


> Right now people view automation technology as being very expensive but if you look at trends in automation technology the price of that technology is actually declining so even small businesses can utilize the same technology as the mega corporations of the world.

The computer is the greatest automation tool for office work, and that scenario is obviously not the case if you look at what happened to the PC revolution. Local area networks with various file and application servers were a huge market for small and medium sized businesses, and there was lots of hype similar to what you are describing. Now everyone is back to centralizing on virtualized remotely leased computers, just like small and medium sized businesses used leased time-shared (and for IBM 370 series, virtualized) remote mainframes in the 1970s.

Same thing happened with the centralization of the automobile industry in the 1910s, and is happening today in the centralization of agriculture: better combines, tractors, Round-Up pesticides etc. are all available to family farmers, which are all being bankrupted by large factory farms.


This is a really good point. Prices for new tech always go down over time, and it's unlikely automation tech will be any different here. It won't just be big companies automating jobs, it'll be people using similar tech for a ton of things.

Of course, there's also an interesting worry that's not connected to jobs here, namely, whether we may end up in a new age of SaaS companies selling automation to small and medium sized businesses as their main business model. Imagine if instead of large companies using tech alone, or people buying these machines alone, the likes of Google/Amazon/Microsoft/whatever started leasing them through an AWS esque service for X amount of dollars a month. We've already got Maker Labs and what not, this could be the future for that.


I agree, that's a good point, and the way that I really hope it goes. I think it depends on how we use the tech; it's a huge opportunity for decentralization and good things for the little guys. It's kind of what Aristotle said about wealth, it isn't good or bad in itself, but how it is used is what makes it good or bad.


'Automation' has been going on quite rapidly for over 200 years and 'more automation' has led to less inequality and definitely more prosperity.

The elites used to pay people to stand around and practically wipe their arses, that quickly diffused as more markets developed, and there were other, better things to do.

The issue is not 'automation', it's 'the rate of automation' and the extent to which the economy can re-absorb those out of work by whatever means: retooling, retirement, UBI, whatever.


> The elites used to pay people to stand around and practically wipe their arses, that quickly diffused as more markets developed, and there were other, better things to do.

That trend is very cyclical and depends on the state of the inequality in the economy, not on automation. Marx observed that the number of servants in England increased dramatically during the height of the industrial revolution:

> The extraordinary productiveness of modern industry… allows of the unproductive employment of a larger and larger part of the working-class, and the consequent reproduction, on a constantly extending scale, of the ancient domestic slaves under the name of a servant class, including men-servants, women-servants, lackets, etc. [footnote: Between 1861 and 1870 the number of male servants nearly doubled itself. It increased to 267,671. In the year 1847 there were 2,694 gamekeepers (for the landlords' preserves), in 1869 there were 4,921.]

Capital volume I, chapter 15.

The same thing has been going on in the last 25 years: elderly caretakers, nannies, personal shoppers, personal assistants, virtual assistants, personal chefs, personal trainers, food delivery persons, package delivery persons (especially Amazon contractors), Lyft/Uber drivers, dog walkers, pet sitters, pet groomers, etc.


>>Automation could be the new land. A wealthy "owning class" owns all the means of production (and less skilled labor)

Times have changed, at least a bit. You will see pitchfork revolutions unless state provides basic needs to the masses, via taxation to the robot owners.


Isn't replacing people with machines what we've been doing uninterrupted since the beginning of the industrial revolution ? In what sense is replacing a translator with DeepL different from replacing a farmer with a tractor ? We've gone from more than two third of the population working on the fields to less than 5% and people still have jobs. What has changed that makes us think that this time it will be different ?


Replacing people with machines isn’t, and has never been the problem. Telling generations of people who depend on the jobs they have to suck it up and move out of the way of progress without good recourse is. Shrugging and telling people to make do with two or three “gig” jobs is a bullshit answer to their concerns, as are empty suggestions to retrain or find a new job. People don’t work a coal face because it’s fun, but because it’s what they know how to do, and it brings home the bacon.

So if you want people to do more than spit on us as we pass, we should put effort into ensuring a safety net for them when the work we domtskes their livliehood away. Right now that doesn’t happen, the wealth just accumulates at the top while we suckle drops of it when it “trickles down” on us. It’s easy to talk about how machines will give us more free time, because we can afford it.


> People don’t work a coal face because it’s fun, but because it’s what they know how to do, and it brings home the bacon.

Far more than that, coal workers take pride in their work, it's part of their identity and it commands a certain degree of respect as being "hard labor". If it was just about "bringing home the bacon" they might as well take any other job.

This is in contrast to working for Wal-Mart or McDonalds, there's no pride in it, it's not part of people's identity. People want to move on from these jobs, but there are less and less opportunities to move on to.

> So if you want people to do more than spit on us as we pass, we should put effort into ensuring a safety net for them when the work we domtskes their livliehood away.

A safety net is well and good, but if people lose their jobs and get stuck in the net, it destroys them. Again, it's about pride and identity.


I agree that pride and identity are important to people’s well being. What are some suggestions to help people gain those back, perhaps in a still viable industry? Until AGI is invented, there will always be jobs available [1] but some jobs are unnecessarily looked down upon despite being important to society and safer than mining.

Since pride in one’s work tends to tie with the value that broader communities put on the work, would a broad-based ongoing PR campaign by well-resourced organizations (incl. local and federal governments) help with that? Perhaps we can put the DeBeers experience with creating a shared cross-generation myth of diamonds representing true love to good use.

Elderly care, for example, would be hard to automate cost effectively over the next couple of decades and possibly longer. If society puts more value and gives more prestige to the job, more people would be willing to train to do it.

(Obviously, the society should help people transition to their new roles as well for example by covering the costs of living and training for a substantial period.)

[1] Lump of labor fallacy https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy

As concrete examples:

- Has every piece of potentially useful land well-developed as a magnificent public or private space?

- Has all public infrastructure needed been built and well-maintained to the best quality possible?

- Does every person, adult and child, have access to world-class education/training they want or need, including private tutoring if they wish?


> - Does every person, adult and child, have access to world-class education/training they want or need, including private tutoring if they wish?

The well-resourced organizations seem to be backing broad-based ongoing PR and political campaigns to do exactly the opposite of providing people with a good education:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZGVR1-4Gqs


Eh. This seems fluffy.

This seems more like the Industrial Revolution + Twitter. Just like all the studies that the world is technically better off in every modern metric of improvement (poverty, starvation, mobility..etc, but things feel shitty because you are forced to read about the one dude kidnapping and eating children one state over, I think it's probably just amplified fears (and ultimately seperation of teams) than it was during other large periods of change.

It's also worth noting that people dont die, jobs just shift unexpectedly. Sure it can crush a generation (see the american midwest from 1960-2020), but most people move to where the work is geographically and intellectually or just die out.


There was far more to it than that. Whole communities arose around the pit, steel works or ship yard. Hundreds or thousands of local families depended on it. Family, friends and everyone in the street was a part of it. When it goes a few shop or driving jobs may be possible but leaves the majority up shit creek with no paddle.

> Sure it can crush a generation (see the american midwest from 1960-2020), but most people move to where the work is geographically and intellectually or just die out.

That is possibly the most heartless thing I have read on this site. I imagine your perspective would change markedly if it were you that were stuck, unable to afford to move, in a dead town whose industry left, while you contemplate your time until you die out.


You are right, so is OP, but I don't think OP's post is heartless. It's simply descriptivist (positivist) and not normative. It is what it is, there's no point in sugar coating it.

And yes, of course our response to these facts are even more important. Do we just short steel mill stocks and Pittsburgh bonds or advocate for retraining, for subsidizing emerging industry establishments in the affected areas, etc.

Some of the affected people feel it as elitism, socialism, etc. Usually because outsiders are blind to and ignorant of the local complexities, and also because good fashioned bias and denialism. It's easier to simply deny climate change and hate green liberals than accepting that coal is out. And that software has a much higher ROI due to the marginally aomost zero cost of adding new users/customers than hard labour jobs, etc.


There's a certain truth to it, but I think we owe society far better, rather than just blithely accepting it as it is what it is and tough shit for everyone affected. If we want a society at all, that is.

For instance, I remember the wave of de-industrialisation of the 80s. While I wasn't personally affected, I knew plenty who were. For many tens of thousands it wasn't a simple case of just move to where the work is.

How do you do that when your house is worth a quarter or tenth of of what you paid, but the mortgage debt remains? When almost everyone else locally is trying to move to get work too. Who is going to buy the house? In a town with no work. They may lose the dozen ship builders or steel works, but also lose the hundreds of businesses that serviced, supplied and depended on the products of those major works, then everything that depended on the money flowing from those - the takeaways, supermarkets, cinema, garages etc. The whole supply chain breaks. You may as well ask them to flap arms and fly out of the ghost town.

If one of the lucky few that were able to get out, carry a debt that can never be paid off, whilst earning half or less of the former skilled wage. They can't all move to the outskirts of London to work in banking or retrain in age discriminating IT in their mid 50s. Who's going to employ that junior? It ruins more than just one generation. The kids deprived of education and other life chances, or just the consequences of having parents from whom the hope has been sucked, perhaps on anti-depressants long term. Little wonder most of those places gained a huge drug and crime problem in the aftermath. Some places have still not come close to recovering.

Clearly we can't artificially keep every rural pit village viable, but we could, and should try not to lose whole towns, cities and regions, unless we want more civil unrest and more extremists elected. That history even goes some way to explaining Brexit. So yes, from what I've seen over those 40 years in the UK, we should and probably must subsidise through tax and incentives new industries and services establishing in deprived areas until they can sustain once again. Ignoring whole regions as acceptable losses in a "free" market was a huge, unforgivable mistake. Adequate regeneration help is probably far cheaper for the state once you consider all consequences anyway. Particularly in a future where it appears likely many more will lose their work, much more quickly, than in the past.


I think this is exactly where VR will help people enormously. The game industry is already outpacing the sports industry in revenue - and in reach. Games provide people with agency, accomplishment, and a community that some people cannot get anywhere else - perhaps the very people you are describing. Its inevitable that people will be replaced by technology - no amount of government regulation is going to slow the massive tides of progress. VR is going to be a very, very important coping mechanism during this period of disruption.

edit: some words


Have you ever known a McDonald's worker, or a coal worker? I have known plenty of bottom-barrel blue collar workers who do it begrudgingly and some fast food employees who take pride in their work.


I think this debate underestimates the psychological value of contributing through work and the identity and belonging that come from that. And I don't even think obsolescence becoming common will help to normalize this state. People want to contribute, and it hurts when they aren't needed.


I agree with this, but I also recognize that it’s not feasible for governments and industries to invent meaning in people's lives. Supporting people and providing them with more than a skin-of-their-teeth existence is and it’s something that isn’t historically addressed very well during transitional periods. If automation eventually dominates work, society will have to change, but that’s something we’ll have to work through as a society. The experience will be less horrific if people are not being dumped into poverty or awful makework jobs as well as having to reinvent the meaning of their collective existence!


It's been a problem since the luddites in the 19th century, and as we move further into the 21st, human adaptability is going to become a stronger selling point.

Nobody really cared as the blacksmith, farm hand, or the secretary lost jobs. Coal mining is a celebrated profession for some reason.


Because density and homogenity. Entire cities are built on coal and related processing, mining, etc.

Whereas farm hands and secretaries have transformed, and were not so densely localized. (And farm hands are still needed, large industrialized farms are still rather labor intensive, just more area can be successfully managed by the same sized staff + a lot more capital/machinery.)


Farm hands were close to 30% of the jobs in the U.S. before the combustion engine - now they're <1% of the jobs. Entire towns consisted of farm hand jobs, and people migrated solely for them, so the job itself was more important than anything we have today.


> Nobody really cared as the blacksmith, farm hand, or the secretary lost jobs.

I am not sure where you got that impression. The loss of blacksmith (and nailmaker, etc.) and farm hand jobs in 19th century England was a huge social issue (hundreds of thousands of people starved to death after being thrown out of work in England alone; over a million if you count the displacement that lead to the Irish famines), with regular government inquiries, newspaper coverage, and many, many books written about it.

In particular, there was a very famous book, called Capital, written by Karl Marx, that, among other things, points out that popular anti-automation anxiety goes back much farther than the Luddite movement:

> In the 17th century nearly all Europe experienced revolts of the work-people against the ribbon-loom, a machine for weaving ribbons and trimmings… Abbé Launcelloti, in a work that appeared in Venice in 1636, but which was written in 1579, says as follows: "Anthony Müller of Danzig saw about 50 years ago in that town, a very ingenious machine, which weaves 4 to 6 pieces at once. But the Mayor being apprehensive that this invention might throw a large number of workmen on the streets, caused the inventor to be secretly strangled or drowned." In Leyden, this machine was not used till 1629; there the riots of the ribbon-weavers at length compelled the Town Council to prohibit it… After making various decrees more or less prohibitive against this loom in 1632, 1639, etc., the States General of Holland at length permitted it to be used, under certain conditions, by the decree of the 15th December, 1661. It was also prohibited in Cologne in 1676, at the same time that its introduction into England was causing disturbances among the work-people. By an imperial Edict of 19th Feb., 1685, its use was forbidden throughout all Germany. In Hamburg it was burnt in public by order of the Senate. The Emperor Charles VI, on 9th Feb., 1719, renewed the edict of 1685, and not till 1765 was its use openly allowed in the Electorate of Saxony. This machine [the ribbon-loom], which shook Europe to its foundations, was in fact the precursor of the mule and power-loom, and of the industrial revolution of the 18th century… About 1630, a wind-sawmill, erected near London by a Dutchman, succumbed to the excesses of the populace. Even as late as the beginning of the 18th century, sawmills driven by water overcame the opposition of the people, supported as it was by Parliament, only with great difficulty. No sooner had Everet in 1758 erected the first wool-shearing machine that was driven by water-power, than it was set on fire by 100,000 people who had been thrown out of work. Fifty thousand workpeople, who had previously lived by carding wool, petitioned Parliament against Arkwright's scribbling mills and carding engines. The enormous destruction of machinery that occurred in the English manufacturing districts during the first 15 years of this century [19th], chiefly caused by the employment of the power-loom, and known as the Luddite movement, gave the anti-Jacobin governments of a Sidmouth, a Castlereagh, and the like, a pretext for the most reactionary and forcible measures. It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used. [footnote: In old-fashioned manufactures the revolts of the workpeople against machinery, even to this day, occasionally assume a savage character, as in the case of the Sheffield file cutters in 1865].

From chapter 15 of volume I


Progress has always come with some consequences, unfortunately. I'm not saying that we can't do better, but we're only human afterall.


One of the issues is the fairly short timescale over which this is happening. The other is that no credible alternative has emerged as to what role displaced workers, and ultimately their descendants, will have in a society that will be unable to offer employment opportunities. This situation can be distinguished from the reduction in the farm population where farm workers were readily redeployed to the industrial/factory sectors.

There are a lot important questions that will need to be answered in a very short time. Where will the future unemployed be redeployed? Will the lack of employment lead to instability and civil strife? What about social mobility and advancement? Will the inequality gap worsen?


> Where will the future unemployed be redeployed?

Pay attention to which jobs currently pay well, those jobs are the most likely to get pressure from surplus labor.

There's also a big and growing demand for health care and care for the elderly.

I doubt that automation will truly replace such a massive amount of labor as some predict, but even if it does, that will cause an equally strong lowering of the cost of living, requiring less labor to live, cheapening welfare, etc.


Human civilization moved at a snail's pace for millennia until industrialization. Machines however have seen explosive growth in capability since the 18th century. The human body is like a Swiss Army knife that can perform many tasks well, but if I want to cut through a 2x4 I'll use a circular saw and if I want to butter my bread I'll use a butter knife. Machines permit greater specialization and differentiation than do our bodies. The trend lines of the capabilities of man and machine seem clear to me.


Have we replaced translators? Is there a single book translation that has been commercially published that was done by a machine? In diplomacy or negotiations does anyone dare to use a machine translator? I agree that for tourism and casual use machine translators are brilliant, but for the use cases where people needed to pay in the past do they not still pay a person?


They need to pay a person, but that person can start with a machine-translated text and only needs to edit the parts where the machine failed. So the same amount of text can be translated using fewer translators. Although the machine can't do everything a human translator does, it can still partially replace them, just as technology has partially replaced humans before (think a dozen guys with shovels vs. one with an excavator).


Well - sorta in some use cases; my suspicion is that translators working in this way find most of what the machine can do marginal in value.


Please do not tell people about DeepL.


One of my friends who does Spanish tutoring also does “clean up” of automated translations to make them sound native-speaker like. Según her, DeepL is not bad but not great. If you use an automated translation for important communications, native speakers will be able to tell and may even be offended that the company did not bother to use the services of a quality translator.

One example from the NYTimes.

English: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/style/modern-love-how-i-m...

Spanish: https://www.nytimes.com/es/2018/09/28/modern-love-donador-es...

Excerpt #1

Original English:

> A couple of years ago I began seeing ads for 23andMe, a service that analyzes your saliva — you spit in a test tube and mail it off for analysis — and provides you with information about ancestry, health and DNA relatives.

Translated Spanish via DeepL:

> Hace un par de años comencé a ver anuncios de 23andMe, un servicio que analiza tu saliva - escupes en un tubo de ensayo y lo envías por correo para analizarlo - y te proporciona información sobre ascendencia, salud y parientes ADN.

Translated Spanish (professional translator):

> Hace un par de años, comencé a ver anuncios de 23andMe, un servicio que analiza tu saliva —la pones en un tubo de ensayo y lo mandas por correo para que se analice— y te da la información de tus ancestros, salud y familiares según tu ADN.

DeepL’s translation has the same faults as other services. Namely, in Spanish, object pronouns are very important. In the sentence describing how he sent a saliva sample, the DeepL translation does not use pronouns correctly like a native speaker would. Also, it stumbles on what is the most common vernacular. The DeepL translation does not use the right way to say “DNA relatives” which is “familiares según tu ADN”. “Según” is commonly used to denote authority of a source or in other words “according to”.


Why? I'm fascinated by any meaningful, superior-quality tech innovation these days that doesn't come from FAANG or a pre-existing unicorn. There don't seem to be many.


Because “world continually gets better over time” isn’t a headline that gets clicks. But one that makes people afraid of something does. That fear is also a great way of promoting a number of different political agendas, which is why you’ll see all sorts of people stirring it up.


The "world continually gets better over time" is historically a relatively new concept. There are many periods in human history where things have significantly worsened. As they say in finance - past performance is not indicative of future results.


>There are many periods in human history where things have significantly worsened

Sure, which is why I said over time. If you look at any isolated period you’re not going to see any trends that take place over longer periods of time. The standard of living world wide goes up over time, and has done so at a very accelerated rate since the industrial revolution. The world is generally becoming a better place, it’s much better than it was 100 years ago, and still even better than it was 10 years ago. New technology, and the progress of emerging economies makes life better for the whole world. There’s plenty of people who have an interest in selling fear, especially when it comes to technology, but that deception has been around for as long as technology itself. They said all the same things about mechanization back then as they say about automation now. The sad truth is that good news is critically dangerous to too many people with agendas, that it’ll end up getting ignored or denied with ignorant passion.


Over the long term it's entirely possible that the current historically anomalous growth rate might be maintained but it's of little comfort to me and, say my children and grandchildren, that my great grandchildren will be living in the land of milk and honey if immediate generations are consigned to some kind of economic purgatory. The negative slopes and valleys that appear, but don't necessarily dominate economic charts, represent people. It's cold comfort to someone, or even a generation, at the bottom of a chart to know that "on average" things will work out.


Even over the past ten years things have been improving. Even if you ignore the developing economies (where things get better faster) and the rest of the world, the US is still improving. Poverty in the US for example has been trending downwards for decades, including over the last 10 years. I can see how attached you are to this “everything is bad” narrative, but it’s not reflected in reality.


We need to make progress on automating the job of the CEO. The CEO is just an intermediary between investors and profitable activity. Why should they be so expensive? ROI would improve if CEO costs could be cut, especially for underperforminmg CEOs.

There's already a hedge fund where an AI has a board vote on acquisitions. This isn't that far out of reach.


Or even just forcing wealthy and corporate entities to actually pay adequate taxes, instead of crushing the slightly-above-poverty classes with tax burden to pay for bullshit services or assistance for the poverty-and-below classes.


Liability, mostly. It's hard for the board to sue a machine or for officials to send a machine to prison.

Also ML/AI isn't even near strong enough to make the varied decisions necessary to run a publicly-traded company, but it could augment decision makers with recommendations.


I think the public facing role and risk is adequately compensated.

CEO's start the company and suffer share dilution. They did their job if the shares are valuable.

Future CEOs don't get the same incentive package, and need something somewhat comparable.


Even CEOs who don't start the business and are paid more money that seems necessary are probably worth it. Lloyd Blankfein gets 50M+ at Goldman Sachs but with profits of 10B its hard to argue hiring the best possible CEO won't help improve profits by a tiny percentage.

Is it fair that society lets someone keep so much money? Maybe not. But if you are an owner (directly or through stock) or even an employee who de facto wants the company to succeed, it is mutually beneficial to have such highly compensated executives.


...Good? Work is horrible? If a drop in the amount of work that needs to be done is actually a problem then that's a policy failure.


Fine, but as of right now I need work to pay for the education I got 4 years ago(50k), the doctor visits/ct scan I got this month(2k), and the food I need on my table every night.


It’ll be a problem because ultimately the people who own all the capital won’t need anyone else to survive. They’ll build walls and robot guards and live in their utopias of plenty while everyone else starves.


The ownership of land by value is more unequally distributed than the ownership of capital. Capital depreciates and needs to be regularly replaced each generation. The wealthy have never needed robots to live a life of plenty; they can extract as much labor power as they need through rent.


The "rich will just live on their land without workers" seems like a hypothetical scenario, but it actually happened a few times during the colonization of the Western United States and Australia (post-Native American/Australian genocide). Marx has an interesting note on this in chapter 33 of volume I of Capital:

> It is the great merit of E. G. Wakefield to have discovered, not anything new about the Colonies, but to have discovered in the Colonies the truth as to the conditions of capitalist production in the mother-country… First of all, Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative - the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. Mr. Peel, he moans, took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3,000 persons of the working class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, "Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river." (E. G. Wakefield. "England And America," vol.ii, p. 33)

In the United States, the slave labor system kept the workers from subjecting their masters to this "violation" of property rights. There are many historical records of European colonists running away from indentured labor to join Native Americans (the reverse does not seem to have ever happened).

The wealthy need poor laborers a lot more than vice-versa. What is really happening with automation is that it is being used to build militarized police states around the world that keep the poor from squatting the land held by the rich, to force the poor to work for the benefit of the rich (for example, someone is going to have to keep working on oil extraction for a long time to come, even if all the farming will be done by robotic tractors). A police state forcing people into wage slavery is the necessary precondition for the "rich live in automated luxury" scenario to occur.


If you really believe this, does that mean you are studying robotics?


You do realize that food and wood literally grow out of the ground and water falls from the sky right?

If there is all this automation in your predicted future, how would people not be able to automate growing plants, filtering water and cutting down trees?


Maybe.

I'm not sure any of us are going to live to see that dystopian time, but o boy if I were one of the ones...


Indeed. The same newspaper that decry automation also complain about the future lack of workers available to take care of elderly.


There's no immediate [5yr horizon] automation coming to solve this. Human home care workers will be needed [and more of them]; it's in a category of jobs that not even machines want.


But there will be plenty of people free to care for the elderly after the machines take their jobs.


It is good that we give the elderly care to people that has lost their work?


Exactly. And you see it with more than just automation. It's the "they took er jerbs!!! we need a wall to protect our way of life!" knee-jerk reaction.


Journalists are credulous, and sell clicks. Execs are credulous, and sell tenure till the next bonus. Consultants and vendors are selling themselves.

There will be automation, it will take much longer to deliver than is being pitched. It will deliver smaller benefits (initially) than are being pitched. It will probably not realise the type of value that is easy to pitch.

In the meantime lying liars are scaring people; this suits all the liars because scared people are compliant.


I love how they always lump words like AI, automation, ML, Deep Learning together. They make it seem like there already exists an army of robots just as capable as humans ready to take over. Sure, many companies have managed to automate lots of things, but this isn't new and is expensive and takes lots of time to achieve. Further capitalism is predicated on growth, and growth requires people to have money and for the population to continue growing to see spending growth. We run into an interesting problem. Why do we need so much production if no one has money to buy anything? Why do we need so many people if we have an automated labour force? Further has no one considered that much our economy is based on solving entirely unique human problems? Things like finance, communication, luxury goods and even energy production...these are things for humans. I have yet to read an meaningful analysis of what a truly automated labour force will mean for the human population and capitalism.


Ha ! Try The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks :)


What a piece of reverse psychology/propaganda.

The agenda of the so called "Davos Elite" is to maintain the status quo. Because that is all they know what to control. Automation and AI and the future unknown unknowns scares them to hell.


The biggest missing point in this article is that the companies who actually succeed at automation are few and far between, and generally speaking entire industries need to be upended for automation to actually take hold. I don't agree with the re-skilling narrative, but I do think they're overblowing the capabilities of something like RPA. It's not as good as they claim and generally speaking you have to rejig an entire process for it to make sense. The most important missing discussion point here is that unless we have a global view of humanity and our goals as a species, who are we doing all this automating for? If people lose their jobs and can't spend money, why do we even care about high production? The real thing no one at Davos is openly talking about is the global population and what to do with 7 billion people if you really only need a world of 500 million since you've automated all that labour away and now you don't need to produce as much.


Automation thought leaders have become an echo chamber divorced from the reality of problem solving. I rarely see discussion of concrete steps to take to automate something, only fluffy high level conversation about impacts should a vague widespread automation rapidly occur. Meanwhile, the hardest problems are still out there and it's impossible to determine impact without knowing what those problems are and basic steps to automating them.

That said, there are broader trends that can be studied and discussed, like the impact of the industrial revolution on the world wars, global trade, etc. But those are academic in nature and don't directly indicate investment potential, so tend to stay in academia.


Universal income will become a necessity to avoid people losing their heads. Otherwise, the super rich can hide out on islands, mountains, skyscrapers surrounded by guards.

They kind of already do that though.


I think automation will succeed where humans hate to do the job because it's too monotonous, risky or unhealthy - fruit picking, Foxconn, mining etc. It also makes the most economic sense to automate those jobs. Knowledge workers' jobs on the other hand - it'll be much easier for employers to put downward pressure on the salaries of those jobs than to replace them with automation due to higher automation costs and risks.

If it works out like that and the displaced workers are supported by their governments with equivalent income that will be a net positive. Those whose skills are still in demand will have jobs, others will have UBI and not many will complain.

However we don't learn anything - UBI will never come in time and there will be a lot of needless suffering and upheaval as a result of hurried, ill-managed drive towards automation.

There is also the whole identity crisis thing - many people equate their worth with their job and not having one will make for a lot of unhappy people.

Interesting times indeed.


no I think you mishandle the spin.. business will try to create new companies where the AI is doing the work, whatever that year's AI is capable of .. no bargaining, instead straight to "disruption"

secondly, the horrible, unanticipated errors will be the catch, while the raw capacities of the machine side will continue to soar..

$0.02


Can we all get smarter? Children easily become experts at any modern device. If we automate everything and pour resources into cheap and scalable education could we make the majority of the population into information workers? Just a thought.


I think we've killed the "automation will allow us to kill off all the workers" idea. Automation isn't going to kill work.


why do you think that?


Worth a re-link in this conversation,

https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/05/30/ascended-economy/


Lol, Davos. I'm pretty sure they had a meeting in the early 2000s where they worried we'd all be grey goo by now.


So when a significant portion of the population has no work because they have been replaced by machines, who will buy what the machines make (or do)?

Seems like a short sighted race to extinction.

Not everything that can be done should be done.

Footnote:in the long run if society survives the initial shock, I predict it will actually lead to a resurgence in artisanal crafts to manufacture bespoke items that are prized not because they are perfect or the best, but because they are unique and have a back story.


For most of history economies were fighting against scarcity, working to produce as much as possible to keep people alive. It is only in the past 100 years that we have had a problem with too much productive capacity. The consumer economy you are describing is one way to solve that problem, in which increased supply stokes increased demand. However it appears to have been a fleeting solution. Number one, needless consumption is environmentally destructive. Number two, consumerism is hollow and a poor motivator compared to poverty. For the latter reason more than the former (although the former is more concerning), I believe many people are consciously choosing to shrink the population by having fewer children. And that is in many ways a completely sensible reaction to overcapacity and overpopulation.

There is no dictum that consumerism is the only way an economy can work. Consumerism is (not exclusively) a manifestation of mass affluent democracies, but I can imagine other systems. The economy ultimately is a mixture of social norms and economic laws. There's enough leeway that I don't think you need mass consumerism.

The devil is in the details, however, and the big question is: who will inherit the earth? Increasingly it's a question of motivation and not survival.


> For most of history economies were fighting against scarcity, working to produce as much as possible to keep people alive. It is only in the past 100 years that we have had a problem with too much productive capacity.

That really does not describe hunter-gatherer or feudal economies. And it's not even true for capitalist economies: for instance, there were periodic gluts of cotton (1820s, 1860s), or in the textile products made from cotton (1850s, during a global economic crisis). Famine has different causes, independent of the economy: either deliberately caused by forced displacement (ex: Irish famine), or a result of local weather patterns (for any geographic region, there will be a weather event, like drought or late/early frost, that will cause harvest failure roughly every 15 years). Improved shipping, which in a positive feedback loop was the cause of and response to increased trade, is largely what is responsible for eliminating famine. You first of all need to be able to ship grain to a region that is experiencing famine (agricultural over-production in a different region does nothing to prevent people from starving to death otherwise), and the region experiencing the famine has to have something to trade for the grain (people have, and continue to, starve to death in places that experience agricultural surpluses).


>Footnote:in the long run if society survives the initial shock, I predict it will actually lead to a resurgence in artisanal crafts to manufacture bespoke items that are prized not because they are perfect or the best, but because they are unique and have a back story.

I'd say this has been happening for one or two decades already.


What exactly do you mean? Answers like these are too chronocentric.

This automation will be no different than the early proto-hominid hunter put out of his job because someone made a spear. Or the scribes that died out because of the printing press.

Everything that can be automated will eventually be automated.


Everything can be automated.


Everything is already automated if you consider the universe’s noise to be an organizing force.


there is an infinite amount of work to be done. There are needs unfulfilled today because there arent enough people and therefore the price is too high.

There will always be work that machines cant do.


Examples? Especially, an infinite series of examples?

The point of life is to keep entropy forces at bay for long enough to raise the next generation. As living beings, the core point of humans is to gather enough food and build a good enough shelter to survive through the next winter.

Society will succumb to nihilism, depression and lack of meaning long before those 'infinite' amount of work will ever be tapped.




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