Tim O'Reilly says Don’t Replace People. Augment Them.
If we let machines put us out of work, it will be because of a failure of imagination and the will to make a better future!
That sure sounds nice. But imaginations driven to find ways to automate and cut costs will do whatever cuts costs and boosts profits the most. If they can totally eliminate human labor and doing so will be cheaper then that's what companies will do. Really, from the perspective of managers of capital, why not? If you can make materials enter a factory and a car or home appliance come out on the other side with no human in the factory then why not? How will putting a human in the loop help? If the automated factory can make the exact design as specified and humans aren't needed then what's the business reason to use humans? There isn't one. Get over it and move on.
O'Reilly argues that technology extends human capability. Which humans? Certainly not the replaced humans. Technology definitely extends the capabilities of scientists, engineers, and some managers (while replacing other managers and some types of engineers). It even extends the capabilities of many other workers. But often times this capabilities-extension is a transitional phase until machines can fully replace the humans.
Take all sorts of manual laborers for example. Is there really a big future for manual laborers whose labor is enhanced by robots? The trend has been to automate manual labor. I do not see that trend changing. Granted, rising affluence of the knowledge workers sometimes causes them to shift expenditures toward using kinds of manual labor (e.g. gardeners or home improvement workers) that they could not previously afford. But shifting income distribution patterns do not suggest manual laborers are maintaining their pricing power in the labor market.
O'Reilly thinks companies that only automate existing processes rather than developing new things to do are exhibiting a failure of imagination. But if a large portion of the population is dependent on the management elite to keep trying to find ways to make their continued presence in the labor market essential then, well, that's a change from past practice. Engineers of 100 or 50 years ago did not need to worry about how to make manual laborers useful. The usefulness of the manual laborers (and other low skilled workers) came as a side effect of industries pursuing improvements in processes and development of new products.
Lee Drutman and Yascha Mounk ask Will automation kill the middle class—and democracy with it?
Can democracy thrive when more and more benefits accrue to machines that are stronger in body, and quicker in mind, than any mere mortal? And will the machines’ owners remain willing to honor the claims of their social inferiors when they no longer need them to make their food, or to staff their companies, or to fight their wars?
I do not see how this kills democracy. They think the elites will undermine democracy. But that assumes the elites see value in sticking around. Right when elites no longer need large populations why should they keep their robots in large population countries with all the risks and taxes that entails? What I think is a more likely scenario: the end of the need for manual labor and low skilled labor causes capital and management elites to decamp from big Western democracies, taking their engineer and scientists with them. Their likely destinations will be much smaller states where they can pay much smaller slices of their production as taxes. Those left behind could still manage to operate a democracy I think.
Before 1870 three quarters of the people worked as farmers. That certainly made for a different sort of democracy than what industrialization made possible. Even before World War II a very small city called Washington DC was a sleepy backwater. Now it is an ideological and economic battleground of interests and factions. If the biggest capitalists of America and Germany and France and England go elsewhere these countries will still have national capitals. Its just some of the battles over redistribution won't be held in those capitals. In a nutshell: It'll be far easier to shift production when very few people are needed to actually do production.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2016 July 17 03:31 PM|