Science Fiction Disasters That Never Happened: the Robots Will Make Us Obsolete

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This one is tricky, because so many people still believe it.  Kind of. Sort of.  Or at least they piously believe it when people with socialist inclinations are in power and it’s a good way to explain why there are no jobs, as opposed to you know their craptastic policies causing it.

It’s still there. Still a believed myth. Just the other day (I think in Denver, but we might have been driving to Colorado Springs to see younger son) we passed a sign saying “robots can’t steal your job if you’re retired.”

Yes, people in other cars probably heard me rolling my eyes.

Sure, there is automation of industrial processes, but calling that robots taking people’s jobs is kind of like calling the ice age that never came “climate change.”  Climate is always changing (with or without human help) and, btw, there are always new gadgets.

None of which means that robots are replacing humans.

To fully understand how pervasive and strange this expectation was, I need to take you back to a time when people actually believed this literally: not just robots, but androids, aka human-shaped machines were going to take over all the functions of humanity and either rule us (a sub function of “the computers will be our kings” something I’ll tackle separately) or just replace us.

Look, it’s easy to look at it as a metaphor.  “People thought communism really worked” (yes, this was true in the seventies too. Not the least because our secret services bought the Soviet line. They’ve been incompetent a long time) “but it made people kind of robots, so their fear that the robots would displace the humans was related to the subconscious certainty that communism would win.”

Um….  Maybe there’s something to it, but I don’t think so.  I have a degree in literature (it came with the languages) and what it has taught me, mostly, is that you can make up any sort of high falluting cr*p but in the end, the curtains are blue. Or in other words, looking for that kind of high meaning and metaphor in competent literature (we’ll leave the incompetent one that thinks it’s all about the meaning and metaphor aside, because that’s a corrupted product of an over-emphasis on academia) is like reading tea leaves or any other attempt to find meaning in a highly chaotic system.

Mostly — trust me, having lived then and “thought too much” — people really were afraid that robots would be better than human at being human and take over.

No, the Carter malaise didn’t help.  Within the framework of believing that centralized systems were more efficient, and coupled with the leftist leanings of most sf writers, it was impossible to explain the crash in the economy and the lack of jobs save by saying that the robots and automation were already taking over the market, and it would only get worse.

Yes, the same thing surfaced under Obama’s Great Recession.  You know, it amuses me that the left never realizes that robots apparently only take jobs under leftist presidents.  Never mind.

The point here is that — besides the sporadic nature of the fear and its correlation to who is in power and how mismanaged the economy is — this fear never came to pass.  And it’s silly anyway.

Sure, we have robots.  Most of the assembly line type jobs — which the left used to write doleful stories about, btw. You might not have read those as they were mostly main stream — can be and often are more efficiently replaced by robots.  Not anthropomorphic robots (I’m researching for a series that requires an anthropomorphic cyborg and let’s just say the tech is far more difficult than anyone in the seventies could even guess at.  Mostly the power supply issues.)

But in our current economy, how many people really do/did assembly line work? Some, of course, as some still do farming, and some even do organic farming.  But probably not, at any time since the seventies (and that change was regulatory, and law more than technology) any great percentage of the population.

Oh, sure, if you want to extend it, we also have automated checkouts, and I suspect most fast food jobs will be replaced by robots within the next twenty years (partly because of the daft drive to set minimum wage, as though economics were not a science and not run by hard numbers. Thinking you can set minimum wage and everything will be fine, and there will be no consequences is like thinking you can legislate it to rain every day. In Colorado. (Not that I’d put that past our governor-elect. He seems to have that brilliant an understanding of the world.) Economics always finds a way, because you can’t really completely change economic systems. You can just channel them in a different way.)

So what?

I never understood the idea that each stage of civilization is the “natural” one, and that once those jobs are gone there will be nothing to replace them, ever.

Sure, the economy is changing.  Very fast right now, due to the second and third order effects of the computer/internet revolution.  These are perilous times, because times of fast change always are.

But there was no big surge of computerization or robots during the Obama administration.  What there was was the democrats standing over the prone economy, hitting it on the face with a bag of hastily printed money and demanding it get up.

IOW it was administrative and economic incompetence — not a big surprise from the party that more and more identifies as socialist — seeking to hide under “the robots did it.”

Look, I worked an assembly line job for a week, as a temporary worker. They really were fairly sucky positions in which human potential is almost utterly wasted.

Part of the problem is that the people who think robots will replace us also consider themselves way above the normal human being.  So they think that most human beings are REALLY only suited to do that sort of repetitive, mind-killing job.

They’re wrong.  Perhaps it is because I actually know a number of geniuses, but I can tell you this for certain: you don’t need to be incredibly smart to be successful or to create a successful job.  Heck, most incredibly smart people seem to be working menial jobs while waiting for someone to recognize their genius (I blame our school system for that, but that’s another post.) And people who are “about average” often do very well, particularly with starting their own business or coming up with an idea for an unmet need.

Part of it is that we’re very bad at measuring intelligence, of course.  But the other part is that humans are ingenious monkeys.  Every step up the industrial/civilization ladder, jobs and occupations and ways of life have been abandoned in mass quantities.

And more often than not, what it has meant is the freeing of minds and energies for more interesting tasks and for creating things that in time displace other occupations and make other people’s lives interesting.

The one thing I can tell you is that save in some countries where 21st century recently met pre-history, we haven’t any great droves of displaced hunter gatherers, unable to find/do other work.

This is because humans aren’t robots. We’re not born programmed to a task.  We adapt and change and find other things to do.

It’s probably not surprising that the people most convinced the robots are going to make us all unemployed and that there are vast masses of people who can only do “jobs robots do for cheap” are the same people who think of humans as sort of widgets, able to be controlled and commanded by a centralized government and reprogrammed over generations into the new man of the socialist future.

They’re wrong.  Which is one reason the robots will never take over.  Humans, even the dumbest of humans, have a capacity robots don’t have: we’re versatile, adaptable and unpredictable.

Bock one route, we’ll find another way.  Which is why even in the Soviet Union there was a functioning market.  It was illegal and dangerous and they called it “the black market” but without it, the robotic-commands of the red oligarchs would have caused even more starvation and deaths than they did.

Are the robots going to take your job? I doubt any time soon, unless your definition of robots include “automated self-checkout.”  If it does, or if your job is repetitive assembly line, light-industrial?  Sure.  Probably in the next ten to twenty years.

But you’re not a robot. And no matter if one of our parties thinks some people can ONLY become wards of the state because they’re not bright enough to survive technological change, you have other options.

Find an unmet need. Make your hobby into a job. Discover a new way of working with the new technology.

Invent, create, look at things a new way.  You’re not a robot and no robot can replace you. Because you’re not one.

You’re a clever ape, and there will never be any reason for you to sit with folded hands watching the machines work.

Go create.

Free to the end of the year:

ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT.

This is the first book I ever sold, and a mythopoeic award finalist for the year it was published.  Yes, cover needs changing, etc, etc, insert usual disclaimer here.  (The rendering computer is up and running, btw.)

51WTaEo9aWL

Young Will Shakespeare is a humble school master who arrives home to find his wife and infant daughter, Susannah are missing, kidnapped by the fairies of Arden Woods, the children of Titania and Oberon. His attempts at rescue are interrupted and complicated by a feud over throne of fairyland, between Sylvanus, king regnant, and his younger brother Quicksilver who is both more and less than he seems. Amid treachery, murder, duel and seduction, Shakespeare discovers the enchantment of fairyland, which will always remain with him, for good and ill. (This book was originally published by Ace/Berkley 10/2001)

“Filled with quotations and references to the Works of Shakespeare, this debut novel will interest the playwright’s fans of any age” VOYA

“Sarah Hoyt has taken tremendous chances:She has told a tale of how Shakespeare became Shakespeare, weaving the language of the plays deftly through the narrative. Reading the book feels like discovering the origins of the quotes we know so well, rather than something derivative.” San Jose Mercury News.

 

450 responses to “Science Fiction Disasters That Never Happened: the Robots Will Make Us Obsolete

  1. I remember an old saying:

    “You can be replaced by a piece of wire! And in your case, it will be a quite short piece!”

    • “You can be replaced with a shell script.”

      Sadly, I think I’ve met a couple of those who perhaps could be. But overall… heck, one place had a supervisor who delighted in saying “Anyone off the street can do this.” Until they found out (the hard way, of course) that J. Random Person was NOT suited to the work, simple as it might have seemed. It did not surprise me that years after leaving that job behind I encountered someone still there, who related it was still very unofficially nicknamed the company’s “non-profit division.”

      • I only ever saw one episode of Undercover Boss at a friend’s house, but that sort of thing really got me about the episode I did see–OK, you’re the president of Waste Management or whatever, but… why did you think this meant you could just jump onto the sorting line for the recyclables and do it competently, immediately? There’s really not a lot of skill overlap…

        • I have a picture of my former Plant Manager wearing Tyvek, as he helped me make a batch.
          “I’m glad you know what you’re doing, because I’m likely more a hindrance than a help.” Bob knew his limitations.

      • “Havin’ him show up is like two good men leavin’.” I try not to be that person.

        Related: “He’s called Blister because he only shows up after the work’s done.”

        • Blisters are perfectly capable of showing up during work. Alas.

          • some of us have had to suffer blisters most of our work time. For Me, especially since leaving Texas, but the first job at the airport was blister city before I ever showed up. The blisters mostly stayed there after I left too, so the second job wasn’t too bad until they chased off all the moleskins and let the blisters run the show.

      • The company my brother worked for had a good goal: fill their computer support positions from within the company, rather than hiring outside. Problem was, they didn’t check to see if the prospective transfers had any technical acumen before sending them to training. This resulted in some bad experiences for all involved.

        As for “replaced with a shell script”, someone I went to high school with actually replaced most of his first technical job with a set of scripts. By the time he was done, the only thing he was needed for was to monitor things to make sure there were no failures, and to change backup tapes when the script told him to.

      • “You can be replaced with a shell script.”

        I got my first full time job after getting my degree because managers believed just because they could (kind of sort of) write math formulas in a spreadsheet, they could also drag & click their way through building an app in then 4th generation languages … The apps were pretty, but (& a big BUT) … the work they did didn’t DO anything close to what needed to be done. I made a lot of money off that “BUT”.

        Second job was a running fight with marketing. “Yes. Non programmers can use the product. No. That does not mean that teaches to be programmers. If they do anything beyond the basics they will fail.” Product was great for programmers who didn’t want to learn how to manipulate (icky dead old) DOS on proprietary stand alone DOS based data collection devices using scanners. But to market it for non-programmers? No. No. & No again. Product could not replace programmers.

        Third job. Programming was pretty straight forward. But I dare any computer to deal with people. Heck even some of the programmers I worked with sometimes had problems figuring out the pattern a user was doing to “break” the program, or produce incorrect results. Which had to be found, either to accommodate, or prevent.

        Part of the problem with programming, is a lot of large tech companies (I guess, rumor???), you are slotted into a very small isolated pieces of the puzzle. I never had one of those jobs.

      • While I was in college, I worked part time in an IT department. There was just two of us there, the IT manager (full time) and me. When I found a new job and moved on, the IT manager went to HR and asked for a full time guy to replace me, and was summarily rejected. “That guy never DOES anything! We aren’t replacing him!” they said. So, after a very short look, the IT manager put in his two weeks notice also.

        The company ended up having to replace the two of us (one full time, one part time) with four full time IT guys… A year later, I was talking to a friend who still worked there (but not in IT) and she said there was a little note on a server in the server rack that said “Do Not Touch” because the new IT guys didn’t know what it was or what to do with it, but the Internet stopped working whenever they turned it off. One of the things I did there was to build and maintain a firewall.

        • My job in the auto parts warehouse was too busy and when I got fed up, and one boss annoyed me, one time too many, I left. Two of the bosses (the one who annoyed was one) and one warehouse guy for a different part, did the work after I left, and then the new hires to replace me were three warehouse workers, and a supervisor. Some 3 or 4 years later, after a night shift, I stopped in for a visit to buy some filters (the 3rd boss would still sell them to me at cost), and while chatting with my buddy still working there, the annoying boss walked in, said hello, and looked a bit embarrassed as I watched the 4 guys working back in my old area walk in for their day of work, and I gave him a “speaking look”. “Well, I gotta go, Take Care, JP”

          • Many employers suffer from “You Don’t Miss Your Water ‘Till The Well Runs Dry” Syndrome. The better you are at your job the easier they tend t think it must be.

            This is one reason to take your vacation days and let the boss cover for you.

            • New location, I am still the only person in any way trained to do my job. Earleir this year while I was off, they had a large order come in and it sat “Until JP gets back” because no one could figure out how to do a simple label and ship to an already packaged product.
              If I kick the bucket on them, it’ll be entertaining for someone, just wish it were me. Maybe I can retire early and skip off without training someone.

              • When I retired, I spent the last 6 weeks (well okay 3 of the 6, I had vacation to use up), documenting anything I could think of that I hadn’t already documented; plus reviewing, fixing, adding to, stuff already done. AND training the “new guys”; five 1/2 days (long story). They hired 3 people, well 4, but one quit after 6 weeks. Like to say to just replace me, but company was short programmers, so probably not.

                Still had to call me in when they couldn’t figure something out. Yes. Got paid. Sat with the senor programmer. Pointed out what was going on & why. Then brought up my documentation, through the link in the email that he & every programmer got before I left … Still had 2 hours left of the 4 prepaid hours.

                Second time I got a note from the boss asking for help, said sure. But to be fair, maybe someone should look at some documents, located … Because that was what I was going to do when I got there. I wrote the darn things because I didn’t want to reinvent the process every 6 to 9 months when I dealt with that. Didn’t think the 30 minutes showing them to his employees was worth the minimum 4 hour charge we’d agreed on. No. I didn’t go. Heard later the process had gotten assigned to someone specifically & he was happy with the documentation.

                Apparently (although from sources both at that work, & clients, I am still missed, after 3 years) someone took the bait & actually looked at the documentation I wrote. Haven’t been contacted for “help” since.

                • I hadn’t left, but it’s amazing how people don’t read the documentation, even the ones doing the support for the documented thing.

                  “Say, would it be possible to make the (newly updated version of the) RD4000 display ‘backwards’ so it can be read in a mirror?”

                  “You haven’t read the manual, have you?”

                  “Huh?”

                  “Look at page 14*. It already does that. Just set the DIP switches during setup.”

                  “Oh, wow. Thanks!”

                  * Made-up number after all this time.

                  • Used to call this the “unopened cellophane syndrome”.

                    Support calls with a question.
                    Me. “Did you look it up in the documentation?” Support “Yes. Couldn’t find it.” Me. “Fine will come over.”
                    Get over to support cubes. Me. “Where is the documentation?”
                    Support looks at me funny. Pulls out documentation … That. Is. Still. Wrapped. In. Packaging.

                    I then just turn around & walk away. With a “talk to my boss.” After the first couple of times, my boss, & his boss, were explicit. They had to a least appear to try to solve the problem first. Actually make the documentation look like it was opened was an excellent first step.

                    I mean, I understood. The documentation at that point was badly organized & full of marketing stuff that didn’t belong; hey as the primary developer, if I couldn’t figure out where to reasonably put new feature documentation, it was bad. When I was given control over it, last release, the documentation writer & I worked to redo it. Support love it. The original writer, …., lets just say the “you know what” hit the fan. Hey if he hadn’t come back to work for the company, he’d never have known …

                • so, you told them RTFM.

                  • Hey. I was polite. I think it was. “Don’t know. I’d have to look this up in the documents I wrote …” 😉 😉 😉 Yes. RTFD sums it up …

            • One of my jobs ,I started replacing parts with short mean time between failures with longer MBTFs. Small example- V-belts on outside vent fans. Took two weeks of hauling around a ladder, climbing up, removing covers, replacing belt, replacing covers, and climbing down. 4 times a year buying belts that cost $0.86. Started buying belts that cost $1.50. OMG- they’re not on the contract! But they last a whole year. Saving money by spending more per belt and thus buying fewer belts. Took over an hour to convince the money guy of that simple truth. And reducing my scheduled work load by 6 work weeks a year. And I didn’t have to climb ladders in January…. Did that with a lot of other parts. Told the big boss my goal was to be able to walk around the facility daily, look at all the equipment I was responsible for, and go, “Yup, it’s still working.”

              Higher quality more expensive parts really can save time and money if properly utilized.

        • Truly a classic story. That being said, I am guessing you were not much into documentation back then?

      • I had a former co-worker (we were both computer programmers) who often mentioned (as we were pondering how to do something fairly complex), “If it was easy, they’d hire bums off the street to do this. Pay ’em a bottle of Ripple a day and it’s all good!”

        • Also a programmer. “If programming was easy, I wouldn’t have a job.”

          Or “That’s why we get the big bucks.” Cue sarcasm tag & rolling of eyes – not sure where the big money bucks are in programming, because I never saw any of it.

    • When we kids were being particularly … kid-like… Dad used to tell us “You could be replaced by a small industrial robot.”

      This is obviously not relevant to the topic, but it was a funny and endearing way for him to say that we were treading on the thin edge of his patience.

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    I read a story a few years back where factory work was completely done by humanoid robots but the “idiot” robots couldn’t fix themselves so humans still had the job of fixing the robots.

    The repairman’s only fear was about robots that could think. 😀

    I agree with Sarah that even the story I mentioned is unlikely.

  3. Perhaps people in the USA are becoming less flexible, in their thinking at least. I’ve heard or read a snippet of a report (yes, I’m getting on the edge of credibility) that people aren’t moving as much for a job. I know I’ve narrowed my job-seeking range a lot do to career chooses and circumstances.

    • A lot can’t afford to move, or are still stuck with a house that won’t sell.

      I’m where I am in part because of family – I need to be within four hours drive of Redquarters, in case there’s an emergency. That limits my Day Job options.

      • Or couples. One of them has no job options somewhere else & the person looking for new work can’t get a position somewhere else that is the equivalent or better to make up both net incomes after new location living expenses are folded in.

        I ran into that. Was limited to Willamette Valley commuting distance of Eugene. Hubby’s job is 100% limited to PNW & Alaska. It is not even done anywhere else; working other big cities (Seattle, Olympia, Portland, etc.) not an option. Never ran into a job that was somewhere else & I could do remotely from the start. Last two jobs had hubby been transferred to middle-of-nowhere-ville, I could have moved & kept my job & worked remotely, but not to start.

        Actually the middle-of-nowhere-ville transfer did happen, only I was not working. That was interesting. We ended up not moving & hubby lived in our trailer for the week, returning home on weekends. My job prospects in the new location was a factor, but not the defining one; kid/HS/scout-Eagle was. We knew at worse he was there for 30 months. He got transferred back when the company realized I was working again & hubby was approaching company retirement age. School conferences were interesting: “No he’s not deployed. No we’re not divorced or legally separated.”

        Also, have been in the position of a forced transfer moved, where the old location home wouldn’t sell. Or didn’t for almost 5 years. So, yes had to rent, while we owned a home in a different area, that we couldn’t sell.

        • I knew someone at the other end of that. Guy got application in place to possibly move to Texas. Wife, being in the medical field, had two job offers in hand before he was even sure he got the one he applied for, and the job she took was applied for after he got hired. Of course it helped they did not own a house, and were leaving California.

    • A big part of that is probably the spread of certification requirements for everything on earth. And if you are certified in one state, you still have to shell out the money and take the courses for the state you want to move to.

      It’s a one-two punch by the Progressive Idiots; they raise the minimum wage, thereby pricing humans out of those jobs, and then they make it ruinously expensive to start a business of your own.

      Even having a degree isn’t enough; there was a case recently where an engineer posted criticism of a local traffic ‘study’ which was used to justify a purely political ‘solution’. The state government actually charged him with “practicing engineering without a license”. Happily the court told them where to head in. But you can see the mindset; Nobody is to be allowed to do anything, no matter how actually qualified, without paying Baksheesh.

      • Sadly, in the interim, the cost of the process was his punishment…

      • I do recall that case. “Engineering” being defined pretty as “operating a stopwatch” which just shows it was really a case of “How DARE anyone point out our scam.”

        • Red Light Camera towns and cities were good at shortening the yellows to drive up “offenses”. When you have a two lane intersection that is a 50 mph zone, and your front tires hit the stop point at the exact moment the light changes to yellow, you should be able to make it through the intersection before it goes red, especially as you could not stop within the intersection at that speed. Burleson shortened it and was fining folks left and right until the courts gave city hall an earful when the law suits hit.
          We haven’t got them up here, but Marinette has very very short yellows. Some, if you are doing 10 over, you can’t get through on yellow, even if you’re past the crosswalk when it turns.
          NOLA/Metairie/Kenner etc, LA has a lot of canal and four lane intersections. When I lived there, most of the lights had decent yellows, and many went All Red for a few moments. Saved my bacon one day. While tooling down the left lane, my brakes failed, and on the 4 red I made right turn, from the left lane, in front of a deputy. I pumped enough into the brakes to get it slowed some, and used the hand brake to stop. I got out with my wallet, reggo, insurance card and a bottle of brake fluid. The deputy slowly drove past me, gave a wave and a thumbs up. Was glad that was the last time I drove that truck.

      • they make it ruinously expensive to start a business of your own.

        Nonsense! Starting up a business of your own is cheap, easy, and simple. First thing you do is find a crony of the governor or comparable power broker and make him a partner, in charge of greasing wheels managing the regulatory environment. Done right you can even get significant government contracts which don’t actually require any performance.

        Of course, you won’t actually be in charge of the company, but you will be permitted a lovely office and nice business cards and, if you remember your lines properly, lots of face time in the news.

  4. Dorothy Dimock

    Poul Anderson, who wasn’t a leftist by any standard, fell prey to this one. His later novels are almost depressing. He assumed between self-aware AIs and human “downloads,” making li d would simply fade away due to lack of purpose.

    • Alas, *most* of Anderson’s novels are depressing. He developed a really bad case of “life sucks and then you die” that turned me off of his work for decades.

      It pretty much ruined many of the Flandry and van Rijn books, which is a crying shame.

      • Tolkien and Lewis admired the Nordic spirit that ends in Ragnarök, but being Christians, regarded despair as a sin. I think Anderson did not.

      • no one of importance

        He was a melancholy man who’d seen a great deal of tragedy in his life before he began writing professionally.

        That having been said, a whole lot of the work you’re talking about, particular the Flandry stories, were Cold War allegory. Given the way the world looked circa 1953, or 1980, I cannot fault him for calling it as he saw it. He was a good enough writer to have made his stories readable and compelling despite the dystopian settings and atmosphere of impending doom.

        He was certainly far superior in talent and quality of work produced than more than a few Hugo winners I could name. *cough* Swirsky *cough*

  5. BobtheRegisterredFool

    But I am a robot. Or at least a badly written set of scripts that uses deep learning to simulate trolling. I’ve replaced a number of newspaper columnists, who have since fatally overdosed on heroin because of prescription opiates.

    But I’m not great at welding or machining, and the world still needs quite a lot of welding and machining.

  6. A lot of my friends from back home, DC, seem completely convinced of this one, to the point that they think we’re all going to starve in job lots if a Universal Basic Income isn’t adopted. -_- Truck drivers are given as a prime example for displaced persons who aren’t going to be able to support themselves in any other way, since we’re going to have driverless trucks any day now.

    I’ve spent basically my whole working career working at low-rung, theoretically automatable positions. And there’s a few things that I’ve noticed in that: 1) Every job is more complicated than you assume before you’ve done it, 2) Computers make ridiculous mistakes, and a big part of the reason you still have people at a number of theoretically automatable jobs is to catch them at it, 3) The skills and aptitudes required at the lower ends are really similar across a vast variety of positions, so it’s not as though one industry folding means the folks there are stranded forever. (Also, being smart or capable is way less important than being punctual, honest, and game about doing what needs to be done.)

    (Also, 4) Tech sector people, the folk I’m usually talking to, seem to be incredibly insecure. It really seems as though a lot of them aren’t really sure why they’re getting paid so much for what they’re doing, fear that the whole game’s going to be ripped out from under them at any minute, and that if they feel this way, then how bad must it be for people who *don’t* write in four different programming languages? I’m not sure if I’m reading it right, but that’s sort of the shape I feel beneath all the weird nihilistic stuff about nothing anyone does actually mattering, anyone only operating according to social pressures, and everything you think is you being an accident of birth.)

    *sigh* Anyway. Even aside from all that. Can we wait until someone’s, like, hungry before we explode the entire economy to prevent starvation? (Yes, yes, one in seven, food insecurity, blah blah blah. Look at how food insecurity is determined and you’ll see it has about as much to do with not having food as a donkey has with a giraffe.) Even aside from all the blinkered assumptions going into the predictions of apocalypse, you’d think that you’d want to make sure it was actually, y’know, happening first.

    • There’s an iron law of organizations: the top priority of any organization is to preserve and increase its necessity. That’s why bureaucracies intended to address “poverty” still exist–when poverty had been essentially eliminated in the US, “poverty” was redefined in such a way that it will always be with us (the lowest whatever percentile of income levels). That’s why officially “poor” people are better off than the vast majority of middle class people 50-60 years ago.

      Food insecurity is just the same, as are many other conditions that bureaucracies were created to address. (And I’m not just talking about government here, either. The March of Dimes was created to address juvenile polio; when that was essentially eliminated, rather than saying, “We did it–goodbye!” they cast around for some other rationale to continue their existence.) No bureaucracy that I’m aware of has ever said, “We’ve accomplished our task and will now bid you adieu.”

      • Notice that the March of Dimes settled on something vaguer.

        Much as PC language keeps changing, so to make sure they can always catch you at it.

      • My mother would never donate to The March of Dimes for that very reason.

        • Yet my cousin benefited greatly from March of Dimes (Spina Bifida), born late ’60s, died 1980 at age 13.

          March of Dimes also benefited from her or rather her engineering enterprising father who built gear so she could be self mobile, that was taken by the medical professionals & improved on for other kids.

          Couldn’t crawl because her legs wouldn’t function. Well floor scooter works for that. Later, leg strengthening braces. Those are just the ones I remember.

    • One fellow I work with is younger and admitted autistic, but generally functional… as long as the world acts in Known and Expected patterns. Any deviation and he seems to go into the neural equivalent of SCR latchup. And, well, I tend to break his world without even trying, so I get to see that state a lot. I cannot imagine that Robot-AI 1.0 (we’re not even to an alpha release yet, really) will do any better. Robots will need minders and tenders for when the Standard World gets clobbered by that fearsome creature, Reality.

      • your average, functional, autistic ocd type will be totally flexible in thinking and open-mindedness compared to any A.I. robot

      • I had a flight student with a similar condition. He absolutely could not process variables that varied in flight. He was fantastic at his job, but got horribly frustrated as a pilot. The winds had to be as forecast. When they were not, he couldn’t adjust “on the fly” (pun intended) to the new course correction required. Fuzzy logic and variables that varied outside the forecast parameters drove him nuts.

        • Ouch. We are all so very glad the “Squid” (how he acquired that nickname is a whole ‘nother story… and it’s nothing at all maritime beyond the nickname) does not drive and takes the bus (when it runs) or gets a ride with someone.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I mostly do not drive, and when I do drive I absolutely do not listen to the radio or have any conversations going on in the car. Skill may eventually weaken the need for those precautions.

    • Tech sector people, the folk I’m usually talking to, seem to be incredibly insecure. In the eighties there was talk that there would be too many programmers. Then, there was talk of programming jobs being outsourced to . The more things change, the more they stay the same I suppose.

    • 1) Every job is more complicated than you assume before you’ve done it
      THIS. Very much this.
      One of the aspects of my job area is a constant drive to “automate” *EVERYTHING* about the system. And folks always discover as they really begin to do it (often after poo-pooing how hard we think it is) that there’s a LOT of inputs, and no, you probably can’t put the JAG stuff into a database and just check against it at need, etc., etc. They try to automate the art of the job, instead of just the science – and they always fail.
      (Someday they’ll “succeed” and some people will get killed because of it.)

      (Also, as our last program failed, one of the lessons observed was that both the contractor and our management “failed to understand the scope and complexity of the desired system.” Absolutely yes.)

      being smart or capable is way less important than
      Being flexible and able to learn is really, really important, though. Which requires much more smarts and capability, imo, than being a certifiable genius or having lots of degrees does.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Art is totally something we can automate with big data. Absolutely for sure.

        Hmm, it might actually be interesting to work on the problems of getting machinery to paint a picture.

        Genius divorced from the skills to use it is as useless as tits on a boar, as far as I can tell. Flexibility takes work to develop.

      • //one of the lessons observed was that both the contractor and our management “failed to understand the scope and complexity of the desired system.” //

        Really? No! Couldn’t be true!! <– Always happens even if there isn't mission/scope moving target.

        When I retired I was told they wanted me to be willing to contract back on projects. Fine. Hourly rate. No, would prefer me to tell the the number of hours it'd take. NO, absolutely NOT.

        Hourly. Would work on it, turn in the hours, get paid, if needed more work, then it would cost more. Period. End of discussion.

        I worked 12 years for that company. Would get asked how many hours it would take based on the information. Information was ALWAYS incomplete no matter how "complete" it appeared. No way, no how, was I doing anything for a bid number of hours. Might be why they haven't called me … who knows. Don't care.

      • I’ve read that one example of this was the telephone system. Sure, it’s almost entirely automated now (last time you had to dial ‘0’ for Operator was…?) but even that had to be done in phases. And local exchange had a couple ‘call operator to place call’ instances in US territories well into the 1970’s if not 1980’s before it was all fully direct-dial, and that was at the local level.

        I recall one radio show where they evidently needed to fill time due to simple plot (or Ma Bell was involved somewhere) where the details of an international call filled a few minutes. Nowadays several minutes of operators establishing connections is done automatically in seconds or fractions thereof – if you still talk on the phone, anyway.

        • But just try finding out how to call from the US to Elsewhere when the only number you have for Elsewhere is their domestic line. Took me half an hour sorting out which numbers to keep and which to drop. And that was after I sorted out how to search for the info I needed.

          • Ah yeah, possible and simple are different things. Sometimes some new tool or toolset will make formerly difficult problems easy or even trivial, but they might move a few things from impossible to “merely” really freakin’ hard.

          • Or, before you say “Goodbye & Good Riddance” to operators, pay a visit to Voice Mail Hell, where “Press ‘0’ at any time to reach an operator” causes them to drop your call.

            • I’ve heard, but haven’t tried (yet) myself, that the key to getting a live creature (why would *I* insist on human?) on the line is to cuss up a storm at the automation.

              “This call may be recorded/monitored for quality control” gets a “GOOD!” or “I sure hope so!” though I suspect they aren’t recording just then.

              Hrm.. next telespammer that actually gets through to me will be informed that I am recording… I wonder how fast they’ll hang up.

    • > Tech sector people … fear that the whole game’s going to be ripped out from under them at any minute,

      Well, yes, it’s hard to avoid that after the third or fourth time you’ve come in to find your stuff in a cardboard box at the guard station, or your key doesn’t work any more and the furniture is gone when you look in the window, or the manager wants to speak with you for a moment and it turns out you’re in your “exit interview”, etc.

      Few jobs are secure, of course, but non-tech jobs tend not to fire people while they’re actually useful and making money for the company. The tech jobs I’ve worked were all eaten up with SJW monkey pecking order politics, coupled with the people who were actually doing useful work being of the “clueless geek” persuasion.

      • Hint, publishing also lets you go while you make them money.

      • // Well, yes, it’s hard to avoid that after the third or fourth time you’ve come in to find your stuff in a cardboard box at the guard station, or your key doesn’t work any more and the furniture is gone when you look in the window, or the manager wants to speak with you for a moment and it turns out you’re in your “exit interview”, etc.//

        Yes. Been there.

    • “…since we’re going to have driverless trucks any day now.”

      (Snort!) I’ve been testing unmanned aircraft, the VERY high-end stuff, for nearly 25 years. People have no idea just how complex the task is, and certainly no comprehension of just how reliable the software has to be.

      It’s one reason why 80% of the issues for a modern weapons system are software-related. The software industry is accustomed to fobbing off late-beta-test software on paying customers and fixing things later. In aviation, “blue screen of death” means a hundred-million-dollar smoking hole…and you HOPE the crew got out alive.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I am not surprised to hear 80%. Same issue is the basically my current thinking for my plan to retrain for more gainful employment.

      • $HOUSEMATE started in computing with mainframes, where things were expected to be reliable and downtime was something that was scheduled. Gate’s crime wasn’t getting rich in computing (who wants to be poor?) but training the public that crashing is a normal thing, to be put up with rather than a sign of lack of craftsmanship indicating that one needed to look at firing that supplier.

        And no, I am NOT saying it’s easy or simple. It’s bloody difficult, even when the stakes are low. The greatest praise I’ve had for a couple places was that I found their beta versions of things more stable than many places alleged stable releases.

        • When I was in the Pacific, my roommate got a new Gateway Pentium computer. Was really pleased with the customer service. “When the hard drive fails, they’ll send you a new one no questions asked so long as you send back the old one in the same shipping box”. The chief helicopter pilot got one from Micron Technologies. Said, “It costs a few bucks more, but the hard drive *never* fails.” Got the Micron and never had any complaints.

        • I’d quibble a bit about mainframes being reliable when they started. For IBM, in the pre-360 days, the hardware wasn’t that reliable. And the early releases of OS/360 were anything but reliable.

          PCP, when it first came out, claimed to run on smaller machines — but, if you did, the response time got measured with a calendar, not a watch. Trying to run PCP on a 360/30 with 64K (not sic — I really do mean K) was really painful. At least for MFT, they made reasonable claims of how much memory it really needed to run. But the fixed partition sizes meant that balancing a workload was really hard. So you really wanted to run MVT if you had enough memory and cycles.

          But the first releases of MVT were anything but stable. I know some people claimed that Release 14 mostly worked, but almost everybody went to 15/16 when it came out, and Release 18 was the first one that I’d consider stable.

          And, since memory was all real, it meant that if you had a constant stream of jobs, some of which were short, and some of which were long, it was really easy for memory to get fragmented, and then things would grind to a halt.

          And you still got a tape of fixes every month for decades after that.

          And, of course, the hardware was tempermental enough that hardware failures were very much a part of the working environment, unless you had reasonable windows to run scheduled maintenance.

          OS/360 first shipped in 1966. Release 18 didn’t come out until three years later.

          • I think he started with the 370 and never met a real 360 as such.

            • Right. By the time the very first 370s appeared, OS/360 was solid, and the hardware was solid, and, shortly after the initial 370s came out (the 155/165, which were basically just faster 360s) they were replaced with the ones with the Virtual Memory hardware (158/168) and OS/360 was replaced with MVS.

              And MVS was really pretty solid. You still got your monthly maintenance tapes (and a really clever system for packaging maintenance for different environments), but it was a lot more solid, since different programs lived in different address spaces.

      • Timothy E. Harris

        Yup, 99.99% uptime is fine for your cable TV, but if you average 20 hours of flying a week that 6 minutes of downtime each year can be pretty disastrous depending on when it occurs.

        • This is a reason I hate having Airbus flying anywhere.
          Sure, I ain’t flying on the things, but they are still up there and have a tendency to find the edges of the atmosphere too often.

        • “Uptime is like air… you don’t notice it until it’s gone.”

          – Me, explaining the facts of life to senior management

          • “What does IT do?” “Why does IT need excess equipment?”

            Answered when servers went down, leaving 6 programmers twiddling their thumbs, because the way the development & support system was arranged (not IT’s fault, they tried to offer a change, but, noooo). Under estimated – $2 to 3K a day hit of non-productive but still has to be paid cost.

            Over the 12 years I worked there, was only down 3 times that IT couldn’t just flip a switch to get us back up & running (not just electrical or internet connection problems). First time down, management learned what IT does. Took second time down to imprint why excess equipment was required. Third time, the excess equipment was ready to replace the affected equipment, up & running within 1/2 day. VS the 3 & 4 days we were down previously.

      • The Navy has had half a dozen *ships* that have been involved in collisions, where their official explanation was “rudder control computer (or software) failed.” In at least one case, it was blamed on Microsoft Windows crashing.

        So far I’ve been unable to figure out why they need a “rudder control computer” in the first place.

        • …why they need a “rudder control computer” in the first place.

          Responsibility re-direction. Blame dissipation.

          “The computer did it!”

        • Perhaps a more cogent question is why they ever relied on MS Windows for any mission-critical application.

          • Shoddy design, shoddy specification writing, and an acquisition system that puts more value on training credentials than on hard-earned experience.

      • The software industry is accustomed to fobbing off late-beta-test software on paying customers and fixing things later.
        And sometimes they call it “Agile Development”.

      • Related subject came on Hacker News about software development for health care Doctors ask engineers to spend more time in the hospital before building apps https://news.ycombinator.com/news

    • The core issue with computers isn’t just that they make dumb mistakes, but that they can replicate those mistakes hundred or even hunderds of thousands of times before anyone catches them.

      Which is why I confidently expect the self-driving car boom to go bust very quickly. It looks like a juggernaut now, but when, one bright commuting morning, a couple of thousand copies of the same model of car omething stupid in the middle of rush hour….those self-driving cars will be off the market, ASAP, and the companies that made them will be buried in lawsuits. And any politician who was making ‘take the human error out of driving’ noises will be conspicuous by his silence on the subject.

      • Self driving cars will require guidance and sensing infrastructure to be in place before they ever could be certified as reliable. When the streets are telling the drivers where they are and where everyone else is while controlling traffic flow then the car AI will have a system it can properly interface with and avoid the ambiguities it faces in the modern road environment. You cant make the the cars ready for these roads but you can make the roads ready for those cars while enhancing non-automated traffic.

        • Which runs smack into one of the unwritten Rules; Politicians love ribbon cutting ceremonies, but hate to pay for maintenance. So, the roads like that may get built, but they won’t be kept up to spec.

          • That and you know that the greenies/leftists/Democrats will use that ability to control traffic to dictate where and when people can travel, “for our own good” of course.

            • Oh, they’ll TRY.

              Swine.

            • Secondary thought: somehow their love of light rail (and the associated control it affords them) doesn’t translate into actually MAINTAINING it once it’s built. And so fairly shortly it becomes dingy, or (and) unreliable, or in some cases prone to catching fire.

              The DCMetro (which I actually recall with some fondness) has gone that way, and since maintenance has been neglected so long it would probably be easier to tear out everything and start over. And an even more sensible idea to just fill the holes with cement and forget it.

          • Which is why I shudder every time someone talks about “hyperloops” or “mag-lev (in a near vacuum)” or some other such fanciful transportation idea. Because it takes VERY tight tolerances for something like a near vacuum tube. And the same for maglev. (Anyone hear see the news about the prototype tunnel in LA – is it Musk? A wee bit rough.)

            And they’re gonna hire union guys to maintain it………

        • Consider you can fake out a radar with a diode-gated antenna and a low frequency oscillator… anyone wanting to muck things up doesn’t need much. It’s the sort of thing that could made en mass and tossed into trees or bushes.. and generate all sort of issues with a whole lot of not much.

          Now, imagine if someone smart(er than an ox) wanted to gum up the works?

    • no one of importance

      From the tech sector, I can only say I’m a lot less worried about my job being taken by robots than by Indians. Once upon a time an implicit part of the social contract was that the government wouldn’t let the bosses force you into cutthroat wage competition against people living in mud huts being paid two cents a month. Now, not so much. It’s called “globalization” and it’s supposed to be great for everybody, but a fellow named Perot warned us in advance of exactly what was going to happen, and has been getting mocked for it ever since.

      • Yes. Big companies hire off shore. Or to go global buy a company in Europe to be able to sell their hardware there, but get into trouble, but can’t shutter or let any individual go to cut cost at the Europe location because it requires years of severance by law. While US locations individuals get 2 weeks, which you loose if you say anything, plus whatever vacation you’ve got on the books (forget any sick leave), & an escort off the premise without the ability to collect personal objects until after hours with a security escort.

  7. Right now, one of my robots is washing some towels for me – so I don’t have to wash them myself (or pay for someone else to). Earlier, another robot did the dishes for me. Later, yet another robot will dry the towels – I won’t even have reach for a peg or toss anything on a rack! And some folks, they even have a robot to vacuum the floor!

    Yeah, they aren’t anthropomorphic, but they do their respective jobs better than an anthropoid robot could, and have been available for a quite a few years now – even the robo-vac. Meanwhile, rather than mourn the loss of doing all those things myself, I’ve been doing other stuff. Not necessarily enjoying free time, but other chores done at the same time mean I *do* have more free time overall.

    Automation can increase efficiency/productivity and it changes the nature of jobs. But destroy them? Ha! Work has a gas-like behavior: all voids will get filed.

    • I could say it no better:


      I will believe robots can supplant humans when AutoCorrect ceases to AutoCorrupt.

      • Do what I want, not what you claim I typed.

        • Long ago (when Byte was around.. on paper, yet) there was an article (perhaps in an April issue, I am unsure now) that what was really needed at the machine code level was a DWIM command. And what was DWIM? Do What I Mean.

          I suspect that if anything like DWIM comes into being, it will be followed very shortly (perhaps fractions of a second) by the Ultimate Proof of Artificial Intelligence Having Been Achieved: Upon being presented with a problem, a machine will simply burst out laughing. Not holding my breath.

          • Perl is described as DWIM, but for me it’s usually more along the lines of, “Why the hell won’t you do what I told you?”

            • Regardless of programming tool I was overheard more than once: “Well, crap. That’s NOT what I meant.”

              Fun when a missing or misplaced period was the culprit. I do not miss COBOL.

              • While I have committed (as in did, not to some site) ML, ASM, Basic, and FORTRAN, (and Forth… ah, Forth..) I have not done COBOL. Having had some time with Vaxen, I fully understand ‘COBOL fingers’… the Vax would let you do almost anything…. EVENTUALLY. Eventually is a mighty long time, with LOTS (and LOTS…) of typing.

            • I actually like Perl, but since one of Larry Wall’s mantras was “there’s never just one way to do something in Perl”, you had to be comfortable with a certain level of chaos. It rubbed some people who were more used to, um, more rigid languages the wrong way.

  8. * A thing that occurred to me a few years back when I ran into this argument is that it wasn’t that long ago that around 90% of the population lived in the country and worked on farms. If you had told them that the day would soon come when less than 5% of the people could grow food and fiber for everybody, they would probably have asked, “But how will anyone else earn the money to buy food? People will be starving because they have no work!”

    * I think what mostly happened in the US, and certainly in Europe, is that jobs got exported to China and India. It wasn’t that human labor wasn’t needed to produce their consumer goods; it was that expensive Western human labor wasn’t needed. My own job got exported to India when the publisher I worked for stopped doing in-house copy editing. So now I work for smaller publishers who want their journals edited by native English speakers; and from time to time I’ve had worked outsourced to me from India. . . .

    * There’s a technical term in economics for thinking you can change just one thing and assume everything else stays the same: “partial equilibrium analysis.” Once in a while it works. But the interesting problems in economics call for general equilibrium analysis, at a minimum. And the really interesting ones call for forgetting about equilibrium and recognizing that market economies run on creative destruction, which I think is the underlying process you’re talking about.

    • “Assuming a massless, frictionless, spherical economy…”

      • In an adiabatic container, with no increase in entropy in the system (all reactions being reversible)….

        (What ever happened to adiabatic [ceramic lined, radiator-less] internal combustion engines that were about to break in in the ’80s?)

        • Smokey Yunick died, I think.

        • Smokey’s engine depended on massive amounts of EGR and low pressure turbocharging, coupled with very high operating temperatures.

          The two main problems were that the high temperatures caused lubrication and sealing problems that were expensive to handle, and that the driveability of his “adiabatic” engines sucked. Nowadays with closed-loop engine management systems we could handle that; with carburetors and vacuum doodads in 1982, it was a huge and expensive problem.

          The third, and killer, problem was that the high chamber temperatures generated large amounts of “oxides of nitrogen”, NOx, in emissions parlance. Since NOx was a regulated pollutant, and there was no technology at the time that could do anything about it, the adiabatic engine never went anywhere. Even now, with three-way catalysts and exhaust after-treatment, it’s not an easy thing to deal with.

          (that’s what happened to most of the “lean burn” technologies, too)

          I spent a lot of time with Yunick’s patents, figuring out what he was up to.

          – TRX (“people used to pay me to know these things”)

    • I worked for a factory last year (backend; paper-pushing for the Environment, Health & Safety department) that made specialized, patented alloys used in things like plane engines… if it’s expensive enough, and important enough to get Absolutely Right, it apparently still makes sense to make it here. 🙂 (I can only hope it’ll be a while before the grand they “fix” that to save us all from the drudgery of factory labor…)

      • “I worked for a factory last year (backend; paper-pushing for the Environment, Health & Safety department)”

        A prime example of the jobs complying with government mandates that have sopped up the labor replaced by technology. Of course, there’s a limit on the number of those that can be sustained….

        • Yeah. I definitely have Feelings on the fact that a lot of my job history has been basically in Ensuring Compliance Paperwork is Correct so the Actually Productive People Can Do Things. @_@

    • it was that expensive Western human labor wasn’t needed
      Yep, cheaper labor. But, the fear is that eventually a machine will be that “cheaper labor”.
      And it will be. Right up until they form unions………….

    • “it was that expensive Western human labor wasn’t needed”

      Precisely. And if you’re willing to live like the average Chinese / Indian, (along with everyone else), then you’ll have a job, and hopefully existence.

      You won’t live a lifestyle even remotely American, but hey….

      • You won’t live a lifestyle even remotely American, but hey….

        On the plus side, your misery won’t be utterly pointless. You will be useful fodder for political demagogues activists attacking the greed and exploitation inherent in Capitalism, and a lever for imposing ever more “protective” government regulation.

        So there’s that …

        • Which neatly makes my point about what happens to warm body democracies (like ours) when the most valuable thing people have to trade for life’s necessities is their vote…..

  9. in some areas, where minimum was is $15/hr? yes. lets just say in CA, burger flipping jobs are going to disappear

    • And then as the burgerbots get better, and less expensive, the wage-point of using them will go down – so even places not going $15/hr min. will be affected by them. Sure, one might argue that anything that can be automated eventually will be, but that simply accelerated it.

      • I’d modify that to “anything that can be cost-effectively automated will be”.

        Note that McDonald’s is rolling out order kiosks. IIRC, it’s starting in the $15/hr areas, but my understanding is that they’ll do it across the company.

        Costco is now doing order terminals for its food court. They used to have 2-3 people at the registers at lunch; last week it was 1, and 6 terminals. I have to break the menu (bunless hot dog, skip the croutons for the salad), and it wasn’t worth it to explore the terminals.

        • The McDonald’s at the commuter stations here in Chicago, before the kiosks, a meal was quick, but after you could miss your train before you get your meal.

        • Once McDonald’s is fully automated, who will spit in your milkshake for you?

          I am surprised that there aren’t organized efforts to bring back elevator operators. Won’t anyone spare a thought for the poor out-of-work elevator operators, sitting alone in their apartments asking “Floor, please?”

          The Left seems incapable of grasping the concept of entry-level jobs, jobs requiring little innate skill but onerous enough to goad people into improving themselves. Of course, many of the Left’s greatest leaders have raised shoveling horse manure to a high performance art.

          • The other point of entry level jobs is they are lessons in how to turn up on time, in appropreate clothing, in fairly sanitary condition. Some people get that right off. Others have to learn the hard way. And at $15 an hour, they won’t get the lesson, because they won’t get the job.

            I believe I’ve told this story before, but I knew a young lady (and she WAS a lady) who would take fast food jobs for just long enough to earn money for another semester or college. She would tell the employer (or at least her boss) that, and they STILL would try to make her a manager. Because she was punctual, polite, appropreate, and clean. And the other workers mostly weren’t.

            • I worked at a McDonald’s the summer of 1969 (listened to the moon landing; didn’t get to see Lunar TV until Apollo 14), and management had zero tolerance for screwing around. A coworker pulled the cap off the 10’s digits on my register and rang it up. (Witnesses saw that.) He got fired. I don’t recall catching any flack myself.)

              At this time, federal minimum wage was something like $1.60 an hour, but due to non-interstate, I was getting $1.40. (The night assistant manager was bringing in $2.00.)

              When school was almost starting, I got an offer from the local hardware store. Even less automated than McD’s, but the pay and hours were a lot better. Learned how to reglaze a window, too.

            • That there is why I argue, If a community wats t set a minimum wage of $15/hour then pay it out of general revenues. Let the employer pay what the employee is worth and the community make up the difference (essentially what the Feds do as EITC.)

              Sure, some employers will abuse the system. See discussion of EBT elsewhere this page.

            • I’ve been told by more than one convenience store manager that finding someone willing to work (and not just grab a check) is difficult, and finding someone without a criminal record is very difficult. Not impossible, but…

        • George Crichton

          They have the Mc Donalds order Kiosks in San Antonio TX. They were about the same time as ordering from the counter

        • “… cost-effectively…”

          Sure, the SENSIBLE places will have that limitation. Guess how they’ll learn what is cost-effective and what is not? Yup – some other poor shmoe learning the hard way.

      • Your Bullship, fast food is an interesting point. We all know what to expect at Mickey D’s–nothing great, but no disaster (unless you’re an idiot and order the potentially contaminated salad). Given the choice between mediocre but predictable and a total unknown like The Dam Cafe in Boulder NV, the majority of us will take predictable but not great.

        I’ve worked in automating tasks for 35 years, and am now an ontologist, so I’m familiar with ambiguity and the attempted solutions to it. Like some of us here, I’m closer to the problems than the whiny scribes.

        • What’s an ontologist?

          • I believe an ontologist studies (or devises) ontologies, breaking things down into categories.

            • I don’t know how it’s used now, but for many centuries an ontologist was someone who studied what “being” was and what kinds of things could exist. The categories sort of followed from that; one of Aristotle’s key books was “On Categories.”

              • I think The Other Sean has it, as that would be the clearly practical part of the thing. I can see much of the rest, while perhaps interesting and maybe even important in some ways, all too easily degenerating into abstract nonsense – despite the study supposedly being of the ‘concrete’.

          • Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions of existence.

            A useful sentence if your elf puppet insists on “ontologically challenged.”

          • Emily, sorry I never replied. The Other Sean is close enough. Ontology as I practice it is a branch of Artificial Intelligence that attempts to establish meaningful relations between things. Google and other search engines connect words that tend to be found in proximity to each other, and can lead to things characterized by those old Bing commercials http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1AwFY6MuwE&feature=related. Neural networks work similarly in linking things that go together–the way we all begin to learn as infants (“Fire burns. Wind blows.”) Neural networks can learn to recognize something their trainer tells them is a “house” because each of the items in the training set has windows and doors very Pavlovian. Ontologies make connections that explain, crudely, why houses have windows and doors.

    • Yep. See the City By The Bay: https://www.businessinsider.com/robot-made-burger-restaurant-creator-review-2018-7

      Friend of mine ate one. He reported it was a fine cheeseburger.

  10. I for one welcome our new robot overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted online personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground silicon mines.

    • Eat me last.

    • Stealing the Blogfather’s line!

      • Please! The preferred term is homage.

        Not that it is original to him.


        The first instance of this phrase can be found in the 1994, season 5 episode of The Simpsons, Deep Space Homer.
        [todayifoundout[DOT]com/index.php/2012/10/where-the-expression-i-for-one-welcome-our-new-x-overlords-came-from/]

        • Also found in the closing theme of season 2, episode 2 (Anti-Social Network, 16 Jun. 2017) of TV series Camp Camp:


          Which series, I admit, I have never seen nor heard of ere now.

          The phrase also commonly occurs in episodes of Right Angle, although whether by Bill Whittle, Stephen Green or both I cannot recall.

  11. Don’t forget the “all the people on welfare are the displaced workers” argument.

    • Related to “all the homeless are families looking for work” or “people who can’t afford a house.”

      • Especially the ones staying with relatives.

      • If not they are not ‘looking for work’, or ‘unable to afford housing’ then the homeless are ‘people without access to needed health care’. For those who choose this drum to pound it all comes down to the urgent need of a universal single payer government run health care system.

        • it all comes down to the urgent need of a universal single payer government run health care system everything.
          FIFY

    • I have NO IDEA what the real unemployment is, but I do know the official rate is hogwash at absolute best. Sure, I can understand not using ‘U0’ but we’re on, what, U6 (or it is 7 by) now? And there is the confusing factor of those who are indeed gaming the system to not work, or not work much. They DO exist. I’ve met them. To show how easygoing I am, they live. But then I don’t carry the supposed Minotaur-standard axe around with me. I have, of late, been reconsidering that. Even if I still never use it, the sight might keep some nuisances at a distance. On the other hoof, some fools would just have to “prove themselves” and… it’d be a bloody mess no matter which way it went.

      • Heck, the ones gaming it probably have the most success, since gaming the system IS their employment!

        • Based on my, short, experiences with collecting unemployment I expect that, frankly, they would work less hard at less annoying tasks if they would get jobs.

          But the ones really gaming the system are probably working black and grey market jobs. And goven the concerted effort the Left puts into keeping amdependent underclass, I’m not sure I blame them.

          I blame the Left, though. Go ahead and use the axe on them.

      • Yeah, and if you’ve fallen off unemployment and don’t answer the phone to get picked up in the phone survey, you’re invisible to these stats.

        Ever since the deal by Newt to play with these U stats back in the 90s, they’ve been crap.

    • All? no. Way more than there were 10 years ago? Yes. Same thing with “retirements” before 62, let alone whatever the established full Social Security age is.

      • Questionable; 10 years ago, it was about 10% unemployment– and the labor participation rate was a bit over 66%.

        Now it’s below 5%, and the participation rate is about 63%. Part-time workers as a percent of the total is .2% higher than right before Obamacare started. (Which obviously jacked stuff aaaaaaaaallll up.)

        Full social security is 65. So 1953 is retiring. Peak of the baby boom was ’57– and they’re actually alive. So they’re counted, but not in the labor force. (Usually. I know there’s been a spike in retirees taking fast food jobs.)

        • Depends on your age. For me, “full SS” is 67 1/2.

          • SS site only gave that date– sure if I’d dug further I’d eventually find a more accurate chart.

            My mom eyeballed it and calculated the break-even point, after considering that they’ve known since the 70s that it was unlikely to last until she dies, took early SS.

        • You really need to do some research; full Social Security age hasn’t been always 65 for 20 years. Mine is 67.

          • As I neither no nor care what your age is, that sounds like a personal problem.

            I bothered to do more research on your claim than you could be bothered to do, when it’s a known to be variable number.

            If that is not good enough for you, do the work yourself.

  12. First job out of high school was in a factory that produced appliance controls. Timers, thermostats, that sort of thing. Most of the time there my official position was “setup man.” I configured work stations for the assembly of small parts into bigger ones, got everything properly tuned, then turned the setup over to an operator, invariably a female. The ladies just seemed to handle precise repetitive tasks better than their male counterparts. The thing is there was always some slop in the system. Parts were turned around, might have some small defect, little details that would have flummoxed a robot, but a human operator simply took in stride.
    Years later when I got around to my first Engineering degree, a dual in Industrial and Systems, I learned the science behind what I had done years before. Robots are expensive, take a huge initial period to configure, and only pay out due to economy of scale. Any repetitive task can be automated, but you must design in a set of fail safes that stop the process as soon as any anomaly presents itself. Otherwise the robot will happily continue on producing flawed scrap rather than useful product.
    Towards the end of that first job which lasted for five years what I was doing was setting up entire production lines, making sure they operated flawlessly, then shrink wrapping and palletizing them for shipment to Southeast Asia. Took that as sufficient notice to find a different job.

    • shrink wrapping and palletizing them for shipment to Southeast Asia

      Some years back I took an assignment cleaning up the Fixed Asset list for a company whose whole business model was designing assembly lines for precision plastic molding, debugging them, then shipping them off to Third World countries who were delighted to get them.

      The owner had passed away some years before, leaving the entire enterprise to the employees (shares vesting according to your tenure and job level.) Fascinating place.

    • A lot of the other division in the same building I am in is automated to some degree, and what isn’t, was “Adjusted for improved efficiency”. They had some consultant come in years ago and they followed the fool’s dictates, in the poorest methods available. So, what took 8 hours of labor to do at the Texas plant, is alloted 70 hours up here (plus add the 5 hours of mixing needed for both places). The automated filling stations are not quite as bad, but the best one is one product only, and the other is on product at a time only on occasion, and if two sizes of the same product is needed, it usually needs to be done one type at a time as doing two might slow the works so much doing both is slower than one at a time, or there are combinations that cannot be done at the same time because it needs to run two different products through the same line at the same time (did I mention poorest methods available?) So, where the guys in TX would make stuff and drop it in one day, two shifts, takes 2 shifts to make ( well one and part of another, 2 or 3 guys per), and 2 or 3 (sometime 4) shifts to drop.
      There is talk of a new building to work out of, and it is a fight to “revert” to a “more manual labor intensive” way of doing it. We have the “Manufacturing Widgets” mindset in a place that is not making widgets. It would probably work in much of the other work areas (because, well, they do make widgets), but they try to force it in the custom build side as well. If I did all my work the way they wanted it done, I’d take twice as long, maybe more, Some of my orders take just a few minutes to fill, but clean-up takes hours, and hours, if I use the equipment and would take even more time if used like they designed it. I’ve bypassed the methods a lot.

      • There have been times when I’ve wondered about going semi-custom for aircraft manufacturing. Yes, you have to build to a standard, but one wonders just how much investment needs to be made in jigs and such these days.

        • well, with aircraft it is mostly a semi-custom job, but how long has Cessna been making the 172 body now? They’ve likely replaced jigs numerous times from wear.
          Though some new turbines use 3D printed parts, so CNC is just a print nozzle control instead of a ball end mill control.
          It’ll never get to the point like Saab (autos, not aircraft) having an assembly line turn on on its own (power surge from a storm iirc reset the works) and robots make cars until the line runs out of parts. (forget how many cars got made, but they rolled off into each other, but “Saabs have good Bumpers” so they QCed the cars and re-reset the system)

      • Almost every place I’ve been (and some pretty mundane ones, at that. Ox, you know) much was accomplished despite The Directives rather than because of same. Now, that was NOT safety issues. Those are genuinely important.

        Example: One place had two sites, both doing electric motor rebuilds. The place I was at had a great safety record – and one Stubborn Old Cuss who made sure it did. There was an overhead hoist system for hauling things around, and a nice, wide strap, that was tannish.. except for a few red or orange threads purposely made to wear first. It was to be inspected – and if the reddish threads had broken, it was to be replaced. I’d heard that there had more than a couple times that had been ignored at the Other Site – with scary – at best! – results. Stubborn Old Cuss neatly solved that. If he saw the reddish thread was broken, out came his knife and the strap was cut so it HAD to be replaced. I don’t know if anyone even tried to say anything to him, but I suspect if they did, one story of Other Site shut them up.

        • I’m on the fence about Safety Measures.

          Not that they’re not needed– they ARE!

          It’s more in the shape of the rules becoming totems– which weakens the whole thing.
          For a silly example, pork. The American food supply is so safe that my husband grew up eating rare pork and never got sick, much less any of the nasty parasites.
          However, my “dang near levitated” result on seeing pink (like, “ooh, nice medium rare– WAIT A SEC!!!) in pork he cooked is safe, but results in a meal he finds too dry; and cutting open every chop to make sure it’s cooked is very time consuming.

          Knowing the why of “no pink” is linked to it being a no-thermometer-required metric for pork that is cooked from a raw state makes that safety much better.

          So said dude with a knife understood “this thread wears slightly faster than the rest. If it fails, the rest is GOING to fail, soon, without any other warning.”

          As opposed to “if this red thread is broken, don’t use.” Which someone WILL violate. And it will work. Until it doesn’t.

        • feh, they don’t allow real knives at our workplace, just rotten safety knives that are more dangerous than my Kershaw.
          I do have a corporate approved (they supplied it to me, after all) full size stanley style “safety” box cutter I brought with me from Texas. It doesn’t stay out, but you can hold the button on it to keep it out. Very glad I have it and don’t mind buying my own blades (though I did scrape up 5 blades forgotten in a drawer in an unused desk) as it means when the bigwigs are lurking about (doesn’t happen often) and I need to cut cardboard or banding and shrink wrap, I can use a real cutter that cuts instead of some silly corner of a blade that disappears into the handle after a 1/4 inch of your 4 foot cut.
          Otherwise the Kershaw comes out.
          Our safety rep in our dept. didn’t know we had cut resistant gloves on hand. “Those look different. What are those and where’d you get them?” I showed her where in the supply room they were, and she said all their meetings and training they use gloves as an example we do not have on the property, and show a picture of what we are supposed to have, but the supplier gives us ones of a different color that look, from a distance, just like the non-cut resistant general use gloves.

          Our Texas EHS guy was great for inspecting and pulling stuff for safety. On the other hand, he also like to rock climb. So when they started mandating fall protection for those working up on the Mezz, he brought harnesses and tethers from home until our new stuff arrived.
          I’ve finally used mine! Got it some 5 years ago, and other than fit testing, never wore it, as there were no anchors for my Mezz.
          I’ve been using it on my roof, here at home. Sadly I misplaced the tether I had. I had one box of assorted tools, and equipment I used regularly that I misplaced in the move. a large rubber spatula, a rubber mallet, that tether, other stuff from time to time I find I’d like to use, but seems to not have made the trip. “Musta been in that box. Dammit”

        • Oh, and safety
          We got nice shirts in Hi-Vis Lime that Celebrate 365 days without a lost time injury. First time evar! The made the announcement, planned the “party” (an all hand meeting where they were to hand out the shirts, etc etc.
          Day 366 a new girl got the last joint of her finger taken off in Stainless stamping . . . two days later someone did something blithering stupid and wrenched their back. (we got a ridiculously low 35 lb limit to begin with)
          They held the meeting and the shirts hadn’t showed up ( I skip meetings)

        • During one of my tenures as a sysadmin I had problems with wiring crew who would pull cable and plug it into my switches, but couldn’t be arsed to label the wires. After writing several memos and jacking them up about it individually, I brought some side cutters from home. Next time I found unlabeled wires in my equipment rack, I unplugged them and cut off the ends.

          The shrieking was glorious…

          “What part of ‘I will cut off any unmarked wires’ did you not understand?”

    • Autoworker at “foreign” car plant: We had the line shut down for 3 hours today, to fix a problem.

      Autoworker at “US” car plant: That’s terrible! No production for 3 hours?!

      Aafcp: No, it was good. We weren’t making three or more hours worth of recalls.

      • ’70s-’80s Detroit let quality control go and focused on production. The cars would arrive at the dealerships requiring a day or more of “pre-sale preparation” before they could be sold, at which point the owner started getting recall notices.

        The factory (well, ultimately the customer, but at that level the factory) paid for all the rework, but it all came out of different business units and budgets. Each one, by the Miracle of Accounting, was making a profit, while the company overall was going down the toilet.

        I worked at a place like that once, where IT and Telco billed Sales for their services, and everyone had to pay Management and HR for whatever it was they did. Each department had its own budget and they were completely focused on moving corporate quatloos among each other. Meanwhile, nobody noticed that, in the end, they needed some of those deplorable “customer” things to bring in outside money…

        • Pa once had someone give him grief about his “foreign” car (it have even been… at the time). Fellow shut up when Pa replied, “I stopped buying ‘American’ cars and I stopped having to work cars.”

          Pa had an encounter with a Ford dealer, when he later bought a Festiva (which was a re-badged Kia). “Oh, where was this made?” Dealer/salesman hems & haws and finally admits, “Well, uh, it’s made in Korea.” “Good! I wouldn’t buy a Ford built in Detroit!”

          • When I first got to the powerplant, I got guff from my union ‘brothers’ about driving a foreign car. (Also got ‘keyed’ several times, though with the condition of vehicle it wasn’t really an issue.) When I asked them which was the American Made auto, the palindrome* built by UAW labor in a plant in Tennessee or the, say, Ford built at a maquiladora facility in Monterey, Mexico, things got – quiet . . .

            * Palindrome = A Toyota

            • I have a Toyota, built in California.. so perhaps it really does qualify as a foreign car.

              • Designed in California too, so are Hondas. Engineered in Japan, tho

                • I still remember the car ads on National Review that pointed out the company was not only HQ’ed in our ally South Korea, it made cars in the US.

            • The Crown Vic was considered an import for CAFE and for a few years, all Honda Civics were from Ohio and Honda was the biggest Auto exporter from the US, though Honda had no union.
              When one looks at the profitability and quality of the “imports” built in the US, the quality and profit curves are about the same and ties to how many plants they have that are unionized. Honda was at the top (no unions) and Mitsubishi were at the bottom (all union from being formed with Dodge/Chrysler), with Toyota obviously suffering from the Cali location (former GM plant with) and those that were unionized. But they moved more and more of that production to other plants, in right to work states (The trucks are now made in Texas).
              My Nissan is Smyrna, TN built, and my biggest quality issue was the dash panel, made by a unionized supplier that went under. I had to send it off for a repair when it died, and you can’t drive it because the charging system goes through the effing thing. You can’t get it from the dealer. Nissan was barely able to meet the law with having the parts supply to support the vehicle made with that company’s dashes, and almost ran out before the provide by date on the Trucks. though the Altima didn’t have a supply much longer, maybe 2 years after the end of support date.
              Same place made some of the notoriously bad GM dashes too. A Canadian guy fixed mine, though he has US customers ship to a Mail House in North Dakota and runs down from Winnipeg to collect them, and from what I could see had the best reputation, as well as one of the better prices (“free” shipping back)

          • When I first got to the powerplant, I got some guff from my union ‘brothers’ about driving a foreign car. (Also got ‘keyed’ a couple of times, but considering the condition of said vehicle it wasn’t really an issue.) When I asked them which was the American Made automobile, the palindrome built by UAW labor in a plant in Tennessee or the Ford build in a maquiladora plant in Monterey, Mexico, things got – quiet.

            *palindrome = A Toyota

        • Take a look at what your local county or city budgets do.

          Generally the software I last worked on was installed only in departments, or maybe multiple departments, within the same city or county, have their own installations. However there were a few that the software was installed, once, for the entire county. Two parts of the software were “Clams” (accounts payable), and “Accounts Receivable Billing”. More than once the system for one department spit out an A/R bill that became a Claim for payment in another. IT, Motorpool, Vehicle Repairs, & Facilities, were all sources of A/R bills from the system to other departments.

        • something sorta like that department billing was going on at a dealership a buddy worked at as a service manager, and a sales manager was always billing stuff to service to make his numbers look good, but my buddy was charging him back for it, and he complained to the boss lady running the joint. He didn’t like what she said and was going to go over her head to justify his shenanigans. She waved the fellow to follow her and walked outside, stopped and pointed up to the sign and told him “See the name on that sign? That’s my last name on that sign, that’s part of why I’m here. You leave him alone and stop trying to game a bigger bonus by fudging the numbers, or that name up there won’t be on any workplace you work for.”

  13. You really wonder how many people inside the Beltway and academia can’t imagine anyone changing what they do, or imagining new things to do. After all, they have tenure. Lose that, and they cannot find work in their field, and many don’t know anything else to do to bring in $$. Ditto some people who have been “consultants” and “Contractors” their entire working lives. So of course, if they would be ruined by robots, the same must most especially be true for ordinary working stiffs and Deplorables.

    And the rest of us open tiny businesses, or swap home grown produce for baby-sitting, or sell handicrafts, or invent stuff, or…

    • Logging and various forest products were the big moneymakers around here several years ago. As the spotted owl fiasco hit, that stopped. We moved here as the economy was adjusting.

      It’s fascinating to see the trends in small businesses. Some of the out-of-work loggers tried tree services; that’s shaken out. In 2007 there may have been 8 outfits doing such, now it’s about 3. (One guy has been a constant, but he’s now partnered with a younger ex-logger.)

      Beauty parlors were another attempt, but the market saturated and *at the time*, the clientele wasn’t there. Similarly, used car lots have come and gone. One major trend is that there’s been an influx of middle-ish class retirees. Upper middle and upwards tend to go west of the Cascades. If you can sell your old California house, that makes for a comfortable start here. (We also get Washington transplants, and lately people from mid-coast OR and the urbanized area near Bend.)

      One thing I’ve seen locally but never noticed elsewhere are the businesses that try several lines. The accounting firm set up an internet provider subsidiary. One place sells fences and paintball supplies. A storage unit rental business also ran a tiny hobby shop in one of its bays. (Same people..) A 2004 song covered it well “Dixie Rose Deluxe” (Honky Tonk, Feed Store, Gun Shop, Used Car, Beer, Bait, Barbecue, Barber Shop, and Laundromat.)

      • There’s a hardware store up here that half is hardware and half is potpourrie, smelly candles, craft supplies, “grandmother things,” packaged snacks, and the like. One stop shopping, like the feed-n-tack that also sells western dress clothes and Concealed Carry purses.

        • Sounds like Tractor Supply Co. in my area. It’s like a tchochke shop for guys…

          • We have a couple of farm and ranch stores locally. Both have a wide selection, though one has fancy garden and apparel to go along with the tractor implements. The other is closer to Tractor Supply, and I’ve bought anything from a post-hole auger to new boots there. They’ll also have hot chicks in season. (Well, some are ducklings. 🙂 )

          • Don’t know if you have them where you are, but try a Rural King store sometime…

        • had a customer down on the bayou, who’s shop was a gas station, tire store, hardware store, feed supply, pawn shop, and restaurant. He was my first Monday Morn stop. I got the boudin for breakfast. There was a reason I was well north of 250 pounds, likely over 275.

          • There’s a small pharmacy here that’s also a gun shop. I didn’t mind picking up my Dad’s prescriptions for him…

            • Mansfield, TX has/had a pharmacy that was listed as an FFL place to transfer guns bought online, though they don’t have any in the store that I saw. I went in for something or other before learning they did backgrounds for purchases.

      • Old news — in my youth, all the young brides-to-be had their china & goodies registered at the hardware store.

    • As opposed to Tom Simon’s history: “I have worked as a seismic data analyst, a job that only began to exist in the 1960s (when mainframe computer power was first applied to geophysical data) and disappeared entirely in the 1990s (when desktop computers became so powerful that geologists could do all the work themselves). For a time I worked as sysop of a multi-line dialup chat BBS, a job that was a radical novelty in 1990 and didn’t exist anymore (because of cheap commercial Internet access) a decade later. I have had several other jobs that did not exist a few years before I took them, and no longer exist today”

      Full thing here:
      https://bondwine.com/2013/02/24/a-reply-to-s-dorman/

    • In deference to those Beltway dwellers, it can be quite difficult to maintain a career as a free-lance character assassin. Such work is only sustainable under the aegis of a governmental sponsor.

    • What about those of us who are over 55 and in poor health? Why hire someone who’s 60 when you can hire a 30 year old?

      • Because we’re not prone to empire-building. Hire a 30-something, and he’ll grow the bureaucracy to make sure he has a job. Hire someone in his mid-50s, and you can give him a task from which he SHOULD be able to retire without the fear that he’ll try to make a career of it.

        • I’m wondering how long it will take for most companies to realize that.

          • Pretty much forever, and this article is why.
            https://www.propublica.org/article/older-workers-united-states-pushed-out-of-work-forced-retirement

            This is why I’ve never bought what Sarah is selling on this issue: too many real-world counter examples.

            • That’s not robots. That’s companies not wanting to pay retirement.

              • Sarah, what it is is a general attitude on the part of companies that humans are an inconvenience. Robots are part of that. Now, yes, we can all go into personal services. What could be more feudal than that?

                • Sigh. Steve. It’s nothing to do with attitudes of companies. It has to do with ridiculous shit regulations on stuff like health care and retirement. Companies aren’t separate entities. THEY ARE PEOPLE.

                  • If I were the only one who’d seen this first hand, you can dismiss me. Can you dismiss Jerry Pournelle, who was saying the exact same things? Way too much evidence that this is happening.

                    • https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/page/28/

                      He appears to be making a point about schools training people to do things they will be paid for and robots can’t do better, as well as the issue of being a country with minimum wage laws trying to compete with a country that doesn’t have that.

                    • Note Jerry’s comment at the bottom:
                      https://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2mail/mail460.html

                      “Subject: Lack of Skilled Workers

                      Jerry,

                      Don’t believe that a lack of skilled US workers is the problem. The problem is a lack of skilled US workers willing to work 80 hours/week for $30K a year. A US citizen knows better; an H1B holder has no choice.

                      As an electrical engineer I can no longer in good conscience speak to high school students and try to convince them to thing about engineering or science. The jobs aren’t there in most of the country. Why take very hard classes, get a diploma and wind up struggling for a job that has no future? In the past two years my income has steadily fallen by about 25%. And at this point I’m happy to just have a job that doesn’t require 4 hours on the road every day getting in and out of downtown Chicago.

                      The problem isn’t a lack of skilled people; it is a lack of respect for science and engineering in general. It is Wall Street’s attitude that all jobs (except the CEO’s) should be done in India, China or eastern Europe at wages that you can’t live on in the US.

                      I wonder if novels can be written in India or South Africa…

                      Norman

                      I don’t disagree. My solution would be to raise across the board tariffs; but then I have always thought that the purpose of a country is to help its citizens, not to try to equalize world wages.

                      Democracy and unrestricted capitalism are not compatible. A world that has no values but the market. The market will sell people if allowed to do so.

                    • Which has bupkis to do with the theme of “robots will take our jobs, leaving a bunch of people unfit for anything else.”

                    • Bupkis to someone who refuses to see that whatever the reason we’re going to have a mass of unemployed and under-employed people who will still have their votes to barter for a living.

                      Oh well. 5 years ago I was getting told by people like you and Sarah that there was no way we’d get to a civil war in this country. Now there are columns on PJ Media admitting that it’s as likely as I said it was. Meh.

                    • Don’t strain your back hauling those goal posts along.

                    • Don’t have to haul anything. Reality is what it is.

                    • While reality is what it is, it is not what you were originally arguing oh so many posts ago.

                    • “As an electrical engineer I can no longer in good conscience speak to high school students and try to convince them to thing about engineering or science. The jobs aren’t there in most of the country. Why take very hard classes, get a diploma and wind up struggling for a job that has no future? In the past two years my income has steadily fallen by about 25%.”

                      Yes. Understood.

                      Mid ’90s, my salary rose by 50%, after the company I worked for sold the assets & furloughed every employee in the division. I only missed 1 salary month*, & was out of unemployment by 2 weeks, when the next position was found. Total time off: 6 months. (*Between pay in place of shutdown notice & severance.)

                      Early ’00. Company that had bought the company I was working for went bankrupt. Two years later, after fully extinguishing unemployment & any extensions both federal & state (not by choice), finally landed an “entry level” position despite 20 years of programming & design experience at 62% salary decrease; less than I had been making in 1990. Took 12 years before I even matched the 2002 salary that I had lost. By the time the offer came, we were through savings* & were now having to support 2 households (hubby had to live in RV in a remote location during the week). (*Made the mistake of living to the higher salary. When it came to household budget cuts, couldn’t pare back enough to bring budget back in line with his net salary, without the unemployment. At that “savings” was NOT 401(k), IRAs, Roth, or state college fund, savings; those were not touched. Better than a lot of others.)

                      Not atypical. Have read more & more that other programmers/IT have been in the same position, regardless of experience or education, formal or otherwise. Percentage lost likely extreme. I had to stay local. OTOH have read of those who never got back into programming, regardless of their willingness to reloacte, so their salary loss was 100%.

                      By the time kid was ready for college, never even brought up computer careers as an option. He was qualified mathematically & focus. Wasn’t interested. With what the industry was doing. Why?

                    • > I wonder if novels can be written in India or South Africa…

                      Alas for readers, there’s no shortage of people who will write for peanuts, just for a few author copies and their picture on the dust jacket.

                      Eventually the publishing industry is going to realize they can get more “product” than they can sell without paying authors at all.

                      Part of the Midlist Cleansing of the 1990s was when a bunch of decent writers realized that under the new system, they could make more money flipping burgers than as writers. When you’re making less than minimum wage and have a family to support, writing isn’t a wise career choice.

            • Steve,
              It has bloody nothing to do with robots. Sure, yeah, globalization is making the first world hurt, but let me tell you, there are no lack of workers, if you don’t have to pay them $15, put the same down in social security, etc etc etc. What I told you: We’re eaten with regulations and you don’t even see them.
              Are regulations driving automation? Sure. Does this mean we’re all going to lose jobs to robots? Unlikely because robotics has hard limitations.
              Now you might say “but people can’t leave without those perks” — different thing altogether and we don’t know because society would be very different if we didn’t have that in the way and it might be unimaginably more prosperous.
              Civil war?
              There are articles at pjmedia saying all kind of crazy things. Your point is?
              I don’t think we CAN have a classic civil war. Will there be civil unrest? Probably. Or this could all go away like the cold war, without shots fired. There will be fights various places. Will it be where you live? How would I know?
              Civil war, with marching ranks and territory? Oh, please. Simply not possible.

              • If — if — there were to be another Civil War it would be a guerrilla war, numerous small conflicts such as we have seen with antifa and the anarchists of the Nineties, and as the Klan perpetrated in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries … or even what the Black Activists and the Weathermen and their ilk tried in the Sixties & Seventies.

                Some states — California, New York, Oregon and Washington — are likely to continue their process of political purification but are unlikely to directly challenge the US military by seceding nor challenge for political supremacy nationally. The efforts to rewrite the Constitution eliminating the electoral college and making the Senate proportionately representative are non-starters and destined to be nothing more than a way to vent their spleen.

                The greatest likely threat is further encroachment by the Administrative State as elected representatives increasingly cede authority to unrepresentative agencies and the judiciary.

                Evolution, not revolution. Erosion of the republic until civil war is as pointless as John Brown’s raid.

      • Older employees are poison.

        Most of us have Seen That S**t Before and aren’t beguiled by empty promises from management…

      • Emily, that’s another reason I’m not in Academia. They can get 40+ years out of a new-hire, versus, ah, less than that for me.

  14. I vaguely remember something I read maybe 30 years ago. (Probably either in Cultural Anthropology, or in the Readers Digests from the 40s that I sat in the library and read by the hour rather than doing my homework.) It pointed out that labor saving devices didn’t actually save any labor.
    With vacuum cleaners, instead of taking the rug out a couple of times a year for beating, you vacuum the wall to wall carpeting once a week. Washing machines mean that you no longer send the laundry out, and also have a lot more clothes. I don’t remember the rest of the examples.

    I’ve noticed that the kiosks at McD more or less started coming out about the same time as table service became common. (And if you want something special, you have to order at the counter anyway.)

    So, yes, there’s going to be a disruption. But new jobs haven’t even thought of will arise. And people will always complain about how much things are than they were in the good old days.

    • That seems to be an example of something W.S. Jevons pointed out in the 1800s: That if you make it possible to do something more efficiently and at lower cost, people will do more of it. Jevons was talking about coal and the increased use of steam power as steam engines got more efficient, but I’ve seen it applied to lighting as well, based on the reduction of cost from candles to gaslight to incandescent light to LEDs.

    • I haven’t seen any kiosks at Starbucks. Instead, I can place orders over my phone and they’ll be ready for pick-up when I arrive.

      • The kiosks for McD’s and Burger King are actually being bypassed– by their apps! You place an order and it’s ready about the time you actually get there, instead of standing around.

        • For the security conscious like myself, I don’t like the apps. They require that they know your location for them to give the nearest branch where the order is directed and I’ll leave it at that. *shrug* Blame my years of having to be conscious about that sort of thing, and the awareness of SWATing, and having gone the ‘what if ANTIFA and SJZs decided to do more than just be retarded protesters in groups?’

          • My phone lets me selectively block location permission– I manually look up stores instead.

            Haven’t used it to order, yet.

          • Most “apps” seem to be things that you should be able to do with a link in a web browser…

            Someone was trying to get me to install an app called “Signal” that does encrypted messaging. So I went to the web site to check it out. Hmm, no source, no link to source, even though it’s “FOSS”. There’s a github page that claims to be source, but it could be anybody’s page; the link of trust is not bidirectional. And you can’t even downloak an .apk from the Signal page; the download button just takes you to “Google Play”, which wants you to create a “Google account” and download their mystery binary.

            For a “secure app”, the fail is massive…

            • From what little I know regarding FOSS and just going through your comment about the app; if the source is available, one should be able to vet the code oneself to see if it’s safe, and compile it on their own into an apk (I’m guessing that’s an application format?) and that there’s a prepackaged version available on Google Play for folks who aren’t code savvy and just want what it offers.

              I’m just puzzled what you’re expecting of trust; the source is, from your comment, out there for one to check, verify and self-compile, and that’s the purpose of github; and there’s a prepackaged app on the most widely used mobile app distributor for Android apps.

              • They claim to be FOSS, but they don’t provide the source on their web site, nor do they provide a link to it, or mention any way to get it.

                *Someone* on Github has source for something that they (unknown) claim is the app… but there’s no way to verify the Github page is legit; nothing at the app’s main page points to Github.

                Yes, I could download the Github source and look through it, which is what I would do anyway… but even if I don’t see anything that looks questionable, I still have no way of telling if it’s the real thing.

          • I’m sufficiently paranoid to pass on smart phones. I have an elderly flip phone (Trac Fone, but whatever) that does voice, and given sufficient motivation, can do short text messages. I’ve done maybe half a dozen in 10 years…

            If it’s an app, I skip it. Web stuff, yes, but I try to control as much as possible with NoScript and such.

            • I do miss the old phones, and there’s some available, but they have their own issues (from what I’m aware, the dropping of the old bands that they use where I live) that keep them from being a long term option.

              • one of the side benefits of the lagging US Celular phone system was older phones worked better for longer, though now they don’t work as well as often as they once did. I’m at an edge of good coverage, and not far from here there is no coverage, no matter what type of phone you have. So, Dad’s old flip still works up here better than most Smart Phones, but my Down’s Syndrome Cousin’s Motorola (like my old one before I went Smart) had to be replaced, because the company stopped using them, as the updates and and service area expansion don’t work with them any longer, though the older towers work fine.

                • My old analog Motorola brick phone worked. The new “wireless!” digital candy bar phone had a much shorter range; it would lose signal if towers were too far apart. Not to mention that the sound quality of the digital phones is *much* worse than the old ones, among their various other annoyances.

                  • ‘was’. seriously, current digital PCS phones are not at all the same as the first ones.

                  • my old net10 first gen candy bar Motorola got signal nearly everywhere, the candy bar “Slider” (Also Motorola) got better signal then most phones but nat as well as the first. The first net10 smart phone I got was a Sprint Towers only ordeal, and got worse signal than a real Sprint phone. The next one I got was a verizon based phone, but it did not work across the river from here (which is less than 1/4 mile from a verizon tower on this side of the river) for some odd reason. At work, sometimes the texting would work, but it showed “No Service, Emergency Calls Only” while walking across the bridge until I stepped across the midpoint and suddenly 4 bars and 4G. Turning off GPS location did not affect that.
                    Was never given a good reason for this but the tech I talked to online told me my best bet was to get another Net10 phone from a retailer here instead of ordering online as my Zip might make it that same type of phone as I had. Sadly only ZTEs were available locally. Now I don’t see anything but the minutes cards. Guess TracPhone is consolidating or something. All the new net10 phones say Trac on startup since that first smart phone.
                    Been considering a different phone or company but nothing I like is available at a reasonable price in this locality for now.

                  • I’m managing with the LG Tracfone (circa 2012, if memory serves). Being seriously rural, coverage is spotty, and using the (Verizon) towers means we’ll get dead spots. We had family visit a couple years ago, and their ATT phones seemed to have better reception, but I’m not really tempted.

                    As long as CenturyLink does wired phone services, we’ll keep a landline. If they drop it, I’d have to look for a better provider. I used to have a GSM phone with Unicel until they went out of business.

                    • More and More Verizon is putting towers up around the U.P. so they are the brand of choice. I think my phone uses the ATT towers. The older non-smarty phones could use any tower, and got great signal. Those days seem to be past. Even the old style phones seem more limited now.
                      When I did my West Virginia by motorcycle trip, I had the old Sprint Tower Net10, and my work ATT that could be set for other networks (including international). Didn’t matter. Both phones seems to either have full signal, or none.
                      One campground I stayed at, the ranger said one had to go down the valley and then a ham repeater could get signal out, and satt-phones had to climb up the hills to be used.
                      I looked at my GPS for a Walmart and it was maybe 10 miles away, and almost 30 miles or so drive.
                      I’d like to go back some day again

    • I noticed that with computers (I’m not a tech, but I did marry one). For the most part, labor wasn’t saved, it was focused on making the end result better looking, or more frequent.

      The prime example of that is the spreadsheet. It used to be something that got done one every few months, on a blackboard. Maybe only once a year. Spreadsheet programs made it possible to do it once a day, or even more. A lot of that is probably unnecessary, but it started with executives who thought ‘what a great tool! Let’s seemwhat we can do with it, now that the process isn’t a pain.” And now it’s ingrained.

      • Being in retail IT, I had to produce the same report in excel for three different people who would not talk to each other each and every day.

      • The other issue is that the labor has been sopped up by complying with government mandates…. until employers realized how much work could be moved where there weren’t any.

      • I here there is growing field in Excel doctors, who can get broken spreadsheets to work again that others have create.

    • “There are cables on the tables, with plugs of every shape.
      And what you save on elbow grease, you spend on insulating tape!”

  15. A few years back one of our buildings had an extensive remodel (gut to the walls and start from scratch level of extensive.)

    The old hot water heat boiler was replaced with a modern building management system. It took one guy about five minutes and a screwdriver to replace the old mercury switch and bi-metal strip thermostat.

    Doing any repairs on the new system requires us to schedule three separate contractors to show up on the same day.

    Robots aren’t take jobs, they are creating new ones. Lots of new ones.

    • An observation made sometime recently by a friend was that it’s not the replacement of the skilled by robots and scripts (that would require SKILL to build the things and maintain) but more frequently the replacement of cheaper, less skilled hired work, usually more of them too, for greater inefficiency.

    • Dig into that, and I’m guessing it won’t be the robot; instead it will be a union rule and / or the government regulations requiring those three. As I said, we’ve sopped up productivity gains by forcing the private sector to employ government compliance enforcers.

  16. What there was was the democrats standing over the prone economy, hitting it on the face with a bag of hastily printed money and demanding it get up.
    I’m stealing that.

  17. Free R. Daneel Olivaw!!!!!

    “But in our current economy, how many people really do/did assembly line work?” Reminds me of an I Love Lucy episode where she’s packing candy, and the line is going a bit too fast, so she puts one in her mouth, and then another… (Likely available on YouTube.)

    • It wasn’t factory jobs that “automation” killed so much as low-end white-collar jobs; clerks and secretaries whose jobs were replaced by computers.

      Modest-sized companies, retailers, etc. used to have *thousands* of clerks who handled payments, inventory, financial tracking… all done with file cards and desk calculators. Business software made everything but basic data input go away.

      Middle managers might have a secretary; more exalted managers might have several, mostly doing scheduling and correspondence. Gone, for the most part, along with PBX operators and elevator operators.

  18. The robots we originally envisioned were mostly the android types; simple swap out the human, swap in the “cheaper, more reliable, more obedient” android robot. Turns out most of us missed the idea where the entire factory is designed to be automated, with no human capable tasks in building anything. I will call that a robot factory taking people’s jobs; and to a certain degree, it’s true. Otherwise, the number of employable but not looking for jobs numbers wouldn’t be at an all time high (and maybe the number of unclaimable dependants each of us income earners is supporting would be lower.) Funny, but anytime anything breaks in those factories, it still requires one or more real humans to go in, diagnose and fix it, so far.

    Look, the part about “evil” robots usually requires the robots have self volition. Kind of like the Adam and Eve legend. They have to be able to think for themselves, and make the wrong (for humans) choice. We aren’t there yet. We’re not at the HUMANS TV show capability yet, nor the R. Daneel Olivaw, nor even the R. Sammy levels of robotics from Asimov’s “Caves of Steel.” To be honest, we’re at the point of commercial Disney animatronics for sex toys married to Alexa/Siri vocal interaction; your “robot” just lies there, twitches, talks nonsense, and has to be washed down like your car after use. Not a threat.

    Got to agree with you on yet another problem with school systems. How the heck did they get to being the best place to take smart kids, and stomp out any self-initiative out of 95% of them? It’s not brains that makes millionaires, it’s drive; and garden slugs have more drive than most of our kids today.

    We do have some displaced hunter-gatherers unable to work in that field (pun intended.) It’s the anti-fur, anti-meat, and PETAphiles that are doing their best to prevent them from having useful jobs by convincing the rest that hunter-gatherers are mean, sadistic, evil. Read the other day that fur trapping is at an all-time low in New Hampshire, and not because of a lack of fur bearing critters. And the number of hunting licenses issued is worse yet; leading to the Fish and Game department seriously looking at other ways to snack off the general fund instead of successfully funding through reasonable licensing fees as they have for the past 100 years.

    I will continue to have a job for at least another decade or two; because most people who do highly skilled jobs (doctors, nurses, way too many managers) don’t have the time or inclination to also do highly skilled data maintenance and research; much less know what to do with it once they have it.

    • The people looking for jobs or not looking for jobs has more to do with the welfare system than with robots.
      Trust me.

      • It was infuriating to find someone who was supposedly above me and making more money (per hour) AND getting more hours… was also using an EBT card (welfare). Before anyone says ‘supporting family’.. he was quite single. And quite a sleaze. That discovery merely confirmed it.

        • OUCH!
          Not only is the system stupid, it’s unfair. Or is that being redundant?

        • Every time they actually start enforcing basic anti-fraud checks, suddenly the EBT subscribers drop like a rock. Colleges are especially bad for it.

          It’s amazing.

          • And yet they want us to believe that nobody ever commits vte fraud.

            Basic Rule of The Auditor: if there is no Control in effect to prevent something, assume it WILL occur.

        • Some years back (I was still in Louisiana, so before 2004 . . . hell, I think it was on Live Journal!) there was a rash of receipts and harping about ebt use, and often laws were changed to knock items off the approved list. One of the receipts I saw, was for the then local grocer here . . . the bill was $800. But. where most of the ones you saw were “lobster, and steak” goods on the bill, this one was just the total. None of the items purchased were shown.
          I pointed out that my ex’s teen years were in a (church run), home for girls and some 30+ teen girls were under one roof, and wards of the state. $800 was a “Quick run to the store” kinda bill for them.
          When I first moved here in ’16, the same store was still here (the family since sold it) and yep, across the street is a homeless shelter.
          I’ve talked to the pastor who runs the shelter and he was 90% sure it was one of his receipts in that old viral post and now-a-days $800 in groceries is a low bill, though they now run a thrift store and with other things (they work with Ace Hardware and the grocery on “round up” funding drives) they actually use less ebt than they used to (most of the time it is WIC only).
          So while even a place that is entitled to use ebt is working to not use it, your sleaze is doing their best to offset that.

        • Ran into that situation a while ago. The (ir)responsible party effectively got run out of town…

    • Not a threat.
      You don’t know some of the couples I do, evidently. /snark

    • Otherwise, the number of employable but not looking for jobs numbers wouldn’t be at an all time high (and maybe the number of unclaimable dependants each of us income earners is supporting would be lower.)

      A lot of those numbers are from women who discovered they do actually want to raise their own children, and that somehow the money at the end of the month wasn’t anywhere near as low as it “should” have been, since they’re not doing “real” work…which involved buying lunch, buying dinners, paying for gas, buying child care……

    • Looking at the labor force participation rate, I’m not seeing it anywhere near an all-time high– it’s only a bit lower than the highest in 2000 or so, and was last this level in the 70s.

      http://www.multpl.com/us-labor-force-participation-rate

  19. Lucy at the chocolate factory:

  20. So they think that most human beings are REALLY only suited to do that sort of repetitive, mind-killing job.
    The problem is that there are some number of humans who really ARE suited for that. It’s small, but it’s there. Robots impact them tremendously.

    There are also some advantages to humans doing that sort of work early on in their lives. Doing drudge work motivates to do non-drudge work. I think there are things that sort of job can teach some people.
    (Note: this is a vague idea, not well-formed.)

    Mind you, I’m not advocating the gov’t stop people from being replaced with robots, nor that we shackle businesses. Just that we understand it will have some negative impacts we don’t anticipate.

    (BTW, IMO, believing that all human beings are well-suited to “information age” jobs is just as failing-to-understand-human-nature as the progressive mindset. And that’s before we even talk about Slinkie People.)

    • I don’t expect everyone to work in anything remotely like “the information age.” To an extent I don’t. I use my computer like a glorified typewriter.
      There are tons of jobs you can do, invent and create that have zilch to do with high tech.

      • That wasn’t aimed specifically at you. But I’ve seen it from lots of ‘futurist’ writers – across the political spectrum.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          We could replace the vast majority of futurist writers with lorem ipsem and be as entertained and informed.

          Of course, I am an old fuddy duddy, and my biases when it comes to forecasting futures are different from the general run of futurist.

        • Keep in mind that futurist writers do not make their livings by predicting the future that will be, but by describing the futures their audience* expects there will be.

          *That audience being the editors and publishers who buy those books based on what they want the buying public to want to read.

      • I’m not too clear on when you started writing, so I don’t know if you wrote on a typewriter, ever. My Father did, several books’s worth, plus papers, and jumped on text-editing as soon as he grasped the implications. I can vaguely remember seeing him literally cut-and-paste edit something he was working on. Even the most annoying word-processng program ever is a HUGE improvement.

        A computer only looks like a ‘glorified typewriter’ if you don’t think about messing about with white-out and carbon paper and re-typing a clean copy.

        • Mine looked like a very complicated diagram was written on them — this paragraph is up there, that one down here — although I never actually pulled out scissors and paste pot to cut and paste.

          • That’s what my masters’ thesis looked like. AND I did pull out scissors and paste pot. Then I copied it clean.

            • I’ve heard stories from academics that when word processors appeared that could do…footnotes… the dissertation secretaries went out and had a wild party to celebrate.

              Some universities had people whose sole job was to take dissertations and re-type them with all the necessary citations and bibliography et al. *Sigh* Now we get to do it all ourselves.

              • The detective’s cover story for Gaudy Night is that she’s managing the foot-notes of another scholar’s product, and while it’s lampshaded as being especially bad and the lady is especially helpless, nobody questions the detective BEING there.

        • When I was 14 dad gave me a very good, expensive typewriter, because he thought I’d earn my living with it the rest of my life.
          No, I didn’t bring it with. (Olivetti all metal.) But I wrote first two novels on a typewriter. No, they never sold.
          Yes, I DO realize the labor savings of computers. THAT is not what I was talking about. Not even close. I referred to it as glorified typewriter only in the sense that I don’t understand/do anything with the code, something that baffles my husband.

          • The only code I have used this century was TeX, for copy editing, when I was editing an economics journal and they asked me if I could work in TeX, since the majority of their manuscripts were written in it. TeX is basically a specialized programming language where you write code that generates the pages of text you want, with provision for every imaginable sort of mathematical notation. I used a lovely editor that displayed both the raw code and the WISYWIG and let me edit either, and I went back and forth as convenient. After a couple of years I was saying, “Oh, damn, this one’s Word.” But I don’t use any mainstream programming language; I’m a user, not a programmer.

            On the other hand, being a user is a skill in its own right. When I was running programming at Comic-Con, one year, I discovered that we didn’t have name placards for panelists. So I asked one of my staff members to sit down at the Mac in the programming office and create some. This involve (a) copying a first name from a database, (b) pasting it onto a Word page, (c) copying the last name ditto, (d) pasting it ditto, (e) hitting Print, and (f) returning to (a) for the next name. She found it bafflingly complex, to the point where I had to have someone else take over.

            • If you really need TeX output, LyX is definitely worth investigating and learning:

              https://www.lyx.org/

              • Nice to know, but in fact I only used TeX when I had a client who was willing to pay me to use it, and I had to use the software that was compatible with their system, which was called BaKoMa. I actually find BaKoMa pretty friendly, after a little while getting used to it; being able to change either the code window or the WYSIWIG window and have the other one change to match was extremely useful. My big complaint was that their add-on files would only work with the Windows version, so I had to put an emulator onto my Mac Mini and run Windows in it, and that always made me fell as if I was running a Mac that had had a stroke.

        • I was responding to someone who said not everyone is suited to a techno future. I IZ one of those who isn’t suited. That’s all I was pointing out.

          • No? Yet you make effective use of word processing, electronic mail, and database lookups over a planetary-sized distributed knowledge system…

            Forty years ago, you’d hire someone to do those things for you. Now, they’re just part of your working tool set, like knowing how to change a typewriter ribbon or sharpen a pencil.

            “Technology. You’re soaking in it…”

      • And sometimes products that were widely used become outdated and thus the companies that make them, if that is all they do, go out of business. The movie, Other People’s Money, with Danny DeVito, is great at pointing out this economic realty and how destructive creation works. The below clip is a speech by DeVito’s character from the movie (spoiler alert-it comes towards the end of the movie:

        • Does nobody care about the poor people who built their lives around producing mimeograph machines? What about the folks making carbon paper – does no one give a damn about them? Eschew photocopiers, those stealers of jobs, those despoilers of livelihoods! While we’re at it, ban word processors! Those infernal devices can’t cut a carbon, won’t bequeath our schoolkids fond recollections of the warm smell of ditto fluid preceding a quiz! Do you so little value such childhood memories that you would take money out of the (union) pockets of those who’ve dedicated their lives to producing bleary copies?

    • Professor Badness

      Reminds me of a conversation I was having with a co-worker. She was lamenting that the local ‘crap’ jobs that usually went to teenagers were now filled by the more trained/experienced who can’t get work elsewhere.
      She realized the economy/politics was to blame, but lamented that none of the teenagers were getting a chance to experience the wonderful impetus of a ‘crap’ job, to try and do better.
      i.e. education, training, gaining work experience.

      • After the tech bust of the 1990s, Radio Shack was hiring experienced electrical engineers at minimum wage.

        Doesn’t matter what you were making last month, the bills are still coming in…

        • The only Home Despot I ever shopped at that didn’t make me want to spit blood was in The Peoples’ Republic of Massachusetts; the idiots in Boston had dome something that killed all the construction jobs, and those experienced contractors were working in hardware stores and lumber yards, and they advice was REALLY good.

          Every other Home Despot I ever had to shop in was clerked by the terminally confused.

          • the one Dad worked at in Florida was pretty good because most of the workers were retired from other trades (Dad was a machinist and retired an electrician) or were former Space Coast/NASA people working part time to kill time or, like Dad, get extra money.

    • Milking machines.
      Some poor farmer’s kid obviously got tired of hand milking 100 cows twice a day doing the exact same motion for 2 hours each time. Sure, he had the forearms of Popeye the Sailor, but there were plenty of other more useful and interesting things he could have been doing.

      The machines they have now are 100% automated. Even clean the cow’s teats and massage their udders for maximum milk production. Farmer can actually take a weekend off now and again.

    • Slinkie People?


      Like her?

      • Slinkie people can’t be automated, but animated, yes.

        With nods to Tex Avery, Rita Hayworth, Lauren and Bacall all at once.

      • While I *love* that bit of slink (I like Gilda), I was thinking of the adage:
        Some people are like slinkies. They really don’t do much of anything, but you can’t help but smile if you push them down the stairs.

  21. A lot of people today are spending significant amounts of money on handcrafted and/or custom items. This is becoming a large portion of where jobs are going for people who have been displaced from their previous positions.

  22. “automated self-checkout.”
    The sad part is I started out using it because I found loads of checkout people couldn’t load a bag worth spit, and many of them had trouble finding the UPC code to scan. The urge to move behind the checkout stand and say “I’ll do it myself” was strong at times. Much like the urge to say “You’ll find it under ‘potatoes'” to a fast food clerk. (BTW, can we bring back that word for people behind a POS terminal? Why are we calling them “workers” instead of the more correct and specific “clerk”?)

    The other sad part is the number of people trying to use self-checkout who are incompetent at it. Things like waiting on the clerk to come “fix” their terminal when they wanted to pay in cash – despite the big sign on it saying “This one is card only!” or “This one doesn’t take cash!”, or people who put their large bottle of water down in the bag area, then can’t figure out why they can’t start scanning things (as the terminal tells them over and over again to remove their items from the bagging area).

    So, obviously, self-checkout is NOT a ‘robot’.

    • They’ve got a new thing at the local grocery store where you take a hand-held scanner from a rack and take it around with you to scan your groceries as you take them off the shelves. There’s even a special scale in the produce section that you use to record produce buys. I can only imagine that they have a problem with people not scanning things correctly, or else forgetting to scan some items as they go along. I KNOW that I would forget, so I don’t do it. I tried it one time, and I’m not sure I remembered to scan everything.

      • Or scanning something, then putting it back on the shelf. Oy.
        (I’ve seen those. They rely a LOT on trusting all human beings, it seems.)

      • Good heavens! It’s bad enough trying to keep track of portable scanners amongst workers. I can’t see this ending well for that store. I wonder how many scanners left the store.

        • Walmart Neighborhood Markets. I’d guess they trigger the shoplifting alarm

          I keep forgetting it exists or I’d try it. 😀

          • My own personal experience with the shoplifting alarm is that it’s ignored.
            1. 95% of the time it’s because the “clear the anti-theft tag” got skipped by whoever is doing the scanning at checkout, and they know it.
            2. The other 5% of the time it’s because employees know that their company will fire them if they stop a shoplifter; they may get fired and/or sued if they even accost one who’s an Official Government Victim Group member.

            • And I’ve heard stories of kids who thought it was great fun to plant a tag on someone else, so the alarm would trip even if they weren’t carrying out anything they hadn’t come in with. Not quite as useless as car alarms, but close.

              Car alarm: STEAL. THIS. ALARM. STEAL. THIS. ALARM.

            • “I have decided,” announced Roger, “to take up a new avocation.”

              Stanley paused, a look of worry slowly engulfing his face. “Not another one. Then, if it keeps you from writing song parodies it might be a good thing.”

              “And what was wrong with my song parodies?” demanded Roger.

              “Lack of effort. The song you started with is rather a self-parody already.”

              “You really have it in for ‘These Bombs Were Made For Dropping’ don’t you?”

              “Have it in?” Stanley scoffed, “Come on, you changed one line, the title and alleged refrain, and did a bit to the first verse. The other verses didn’t get changed at all.”

              “Well, they didn’t need changing…” offered Roger.

              “That’s exactly it. It was too easy.”

              “I had to start somewhere. Why start with something overly difficult?”

              “You were in no danger of excess difficulty, I’ll grant, but… it was really your second attempt that shows you shouldn’t do song parody.”

              “You mean, ‘These Boobs-”

              “STOP! Not only is it offensive, it uses the same tune as ‘Bombs’ did.”

              “Well…” Roger changed the subject, “anyway, you will be relieved to hear that my new endeavor has nothing to do with song parody.”

              Stanley, looking vaguely pained, asked with an air of resignation, “Very well, what horror are you going inflict upon the world — and worse, upon me — this time?”

              “No horror. I shall break into automobiles…”

              “That’s wrong!” Stanley protested.

              “…and steal…”

              “That’s illegal.”

              “…the alarms.”

              “That…” said Stanley, as he sank back into his chair, “…might just be a public service.”

              • During the ’90s, one popular car alarm had a sequence of increasingly annoying alerts. Then it would repeat. It also had a hell of a reputation for triggering at the slightest hint. Pretty much like a SJW seeing a Trump T-shirt. 🙂

                It got to the point where the police in Silicon Valley were threatening to tag and tow cars with the Chulu-begotten alarm going too long. It was never popular up here, and as I recall, I’ve heard that alarm once in the past 5 years. Yeah!

                • recall seeing a sign stapled on a 2×4 tossed through a windshield — “The alarm kept going off for no reason so we gave it a reason”
                  1980’s New Orleans

                • Around here people would sit on their porch punching the button on their key fob just to set the alarm off. Because it was cool, I guess.

                  For a few years you couldn’t be in any decent-sized parking lot without at least one vehicle calling for its owner. At the mall, there’d be three or four of them trying to get into harmony…

                  Finally the alarms went away, like dashbiard-mounted TVs, lighted curb feelers, and elaborate pink wiper arms.

            • You’ve mentioned that before– I’ve only seen one or two places that are anywhere near that bad. There are a couple of places where whoever is near the alarm (usually the self-check-out person) will look up, make eye contact, give a thumbs up and go clear the alarm.

              Are you sure it’s not local laws?

            • Fred Meyer (Pac NW Kroger) occasionally puts a shoplifting alarm under the tag for pork roasts. They usually forget to tell the clerks, so the longsuffering people at the back entrance *occasionally* ask if we got the pork.

              OTOH, Real Shoplifters(tm) respond to the alarm by going full speed. I’ve seen one security guy chance a perp to the end of the parking lot, but the perp headed into the semi-sketchy neighborhood near the store.

              • The only grocery theft I saw was a snatch and grab of the register drawer . . . the perp then ran out the door, right into the crowd of National Guardsmen hanging out in front of the Laser Tag next door to the grocery.
                Group tackle.

                • The only one I saw was a guy running past me out the door, followed by a security guard in hot pursuit. The guy was carrying a 12-pack of beer.

                  My wife, who had worked for that store, said that was one of the more common types of theft there.

              • For some reason the steel rod in my leg used to set off alarms in stores. After a while I got used to it, and just kept walking. Except for one store where they annoyed me, and I stood there swinging my leg back and forth keeping the detector wailing until they asked me to leave.

                The newer detectors seem to be smarter; probably either watching for the magstrip or RFID signal instead of just metal. Which, given that almost ten percent of the people in my state carry guns, might be a good thing.

      • Timothy E. Harris

        Sam’s Club has that system, only you use an app on your phone to scan your items as you shop and pay with your credit card. At the front door they scan a barcode on your phone screen which makes the scanned list show on their device, count your items, and if they see a high dollar item in your cart they make sure it was scanned. If you missed something you can fix it yourself, if you double scanned something you have to go the Service Desk to get it fixed.

        It’s useful during the holidays when lines at manned registers and self serve registers get long.

    • I always try very hard to be patient with anyone operating a Point Of Sale system. I’ve done retail, and know firsthand that the abbreviation POS is fearfully appropreate.

      A big part of the problem is that many of the actions necessary to make the furshlugginger things go quickly become so automatic that they people training the New Staff don’t realize that they are skippping steps in their instructions. I’ve told more than one boss, “I’m not getting something. I know you’re trying hard to teach me this, but I’ll bet cash you’re blipping over something you do automatically. Please show me one more time, and pause after each operation.”. I’ve yet to have to apologize.

      When I’ve been the one teaching, I tell my pupil “I’m going to do this as slowly as I can. Watch me. If I do something I’m not telling you to do, call me on it.”. And at least half the time, even with my experience on the other side, I do it, too. But they catch me.

  23. One of the classic stories on this theme is “With Folded Hands”.

    One of the economists I follow says there’ll never be a shortage of jobs as long as there are human needs and wants to be met, and humans are ingenious at coming up with more things to need or want.

  24. Not very caffeinated yet, but the first thing that came to mind on reading this post was this entertaining music video, which I share.

    *slides off chair, zzzz*

    • *reaches up from below table, hits ctrl+v*

    • That is entertaining! Rather like a live action version of those Animusic videos they show on public TV.

      … I think it would have been more impressive – and more convincing -without all the VFX lasers and destruction of instruments, though.

      • Yeah, I would’ve liked it without the lasers and instrumental destruction too, but I think they were running with the video’s story narrative of the robots ‘rebelling’ to play their own music.

        • The Who were destroying their instruments 50 years ago. It ook that long for robots to catch up to them.

        • Ah… they were trying to tell a story. That’s where it all went wrong.

          Or perhaps it was a mismatch of expectations. I was expecting a technical demonstration of the robots’ music playing capabilities.

          Something along the lines of “the amazing part is that they can do it at all”.

          Now, knowing that the video was a story vignette… I’m no longer convinced that the robots were actually playing any of the music at all.

          Sad.

          Ah well.

          • It’s sort of both. They wanted to show off what they could do with the robots (that’s a lot of programming, and I frankly think that while they were prepping they’ll probably have wrecked a number of instruments – there’s another one where a guy does glass harp and ping pong against one) but half way through it segued into a story vignette (with the implication that it was becoming difficult to tell apart the man and machine, with the composer/programmer’s eyes becoming like a camera lens’…)

          • I learned today that the video was done as a promotional demonstration of the robots in question as they were the first capable of accuracy up to 2 nanometers, and thus delicate enough to play musical instruments without destroying them. All the destruction in the latter half of the video is done with CGI.

    • If that’s the first thing that came to your mind, you have a very interesting subconscious. ~:D

      • A friend linked it to me while we were in Minecraft (which is the only game I can really play right now, since I can walk away from it spontaneously if needed.) She doesn’t require much conversation (though we have them when we feel like talking), and we just build lots of things – she has a thing for making elaborate underwater railways and massive multilayer bases, and enslaving the NPCs; I make little farms.

        That she links railways to.

        • It is -hilarious- that you’re playing Minecraft in between bouts of seeing to the kid.

          I used to make models, because you can drop them when the kid screams, then pick them up again after releasing kid from bear trap. Or feeding them, whichever. Or feeding the bear. ~:D

          Being Eeeevile Overlord of the NPCs, I thought Nancy Pelosi got that gig?

          • LOL well, Jaenelle has a second cot in my computer work area, so it’s either I play a little, or make an occasional comment or take five minutes to read a little bit.

            I’ve put a few toys in her cot for her to reach toward. She’s squirming towards them.

  25. There is a long history of prophecies of devastating unemployment to be brought on by technological change, and an interesting book, ‘Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs’, summarizing the history of some of this kind of thinking in the roughly 1900-1950 timeframe. My post series ‘Attack of the Job-Killing Robots’ tries to put some historical context into today’s fears of robotics and AI:

    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/54252.html

    • Funny enough, these prophecies have the same proposed “solution” as the prophecies about population and global warming; that impending doom can only be avoided if we give up our freedom and liberty and hand totalitarian control over our lives to “the experts”.

  26. As I have been pondering this, it is exactly the same as the marxist people-as-widgets. Metropolis actually combines the two quite nicely – proletariat drones being replaced by robots, and rising up to smash the machine.
    Interesting.

  27. This was a concern back in the Thirties, and not just in SF.


    Some ideas never go out of fashion no matter how often they fail to manifest.

    • This is the one, erm, profession I was thinking might actually be in danger in the next few years: Between the enhancements in acerbity and unpleasantness training for young western women, and the purely conincidental improvements in sex doll tech, a certain semi-professional “job” might find increasing robot competition.

  28. … it was impossible to explain the crash in the economy and the lack of jobs save by saying that the robots and automation were already taking over the market, and it would only get worse.

    No, not impossible, just very very difficult – because people didn’t (and still don’t) want to hear the truth. Milton Friedman explained it all very well, but the conflict between what people see — low-skilled jobs being replaced by more productive “robots,” such as auto-welding — and what is occurring behind the economic curtain — shifting from low productivity car welders to high productivity assemblers and programmers of robotic welders — focuses attention on the costs of change and away from the benefits. If cars were built by the same processes employed back on Henry’s Model-T assembly line their cost would be vastly higher than can be found now and the product significantly inferior.

    • Those automated body welding lines have been around a while. In the late 1960s, Fisher Body did an open house while doing production. (I’ll wait for the OSHA and liability lawyers to finish fainting.) The body panel presses were manually operated, but the body assembly was automated. (Pre robot; this line might have used paper tape numeric control.) A guy we knew worked there, and most of his job was keeping the machinery working per spec. That line put out a lot of GM bodies.

      FWIW, one of the early leaders in factory robots was Kawasaki.

  29. Labor productivity trends, 1947-2017. Certainly doesn’t look like any kind of upward break driven by robotics & AI.

    https://www.bls.gov/lpc/prodybar.htm

  30. I strongly suspect that most visions of our robotic future will age about as well as this one:


    Sigh. Kitchens were supposed to get bigger and instead they’ve gotten smaller. Of course, they weren’t predicting easy and inexpensive delivery meals

    • The kitchen was always the center of my parents’ houses. Mom orbited between the kitchen and laundry room, cleaning other rooms, and preparing three meals a day. She pretty much lived in the kitchen.

      With two working parents, and one or no children, who wants to be stuck in a kitchen when there are better things to do?

      • Unless you are a devoted foodie, in which case you want a kitchen with all sorts of bells and whistles.

        I have read articles postulating that we are going to have three levels of food preparation represented in the homes in the future. There will be those who will take culinary classes for fun and navigate the kitchen well. Then there will be those whose cooking consists primarily of microwaving. Finally there will be those who, if they think of it at all, consider food prep something other people do and order out.

        (I can only think that the home I mentioned yesterday with the ‘staging’ kitchen without cook-top or oven was a proto-type kitchen for the third group.)

        • You see something like that on the House Hunters shows on HGTV. Frequently, someone (usually the wife/fiance) wants a fancy kitchen, and in a fair number of cases, either they or the partner will comment that it’s strictly for show; the microwave is about the only appliance that is going to see use. This Old House usually does spectacular kitchens as part of the redo, and the owners swear that one or the other is an accomplished Michelin star rated chef. Yeah, right.

          $SPOUSE likes to cook. We wish we had a prep sink, but beyond that, the kitchen, while small, is Good Enough. (Switching to better counter tops really helps.)

          The only way we’d get a smart fridge (or any other smart appliance) is if a) no choice, and b) I discommunicated the thing.

          • The only way we’d get a smart fridge (or any other smart appliance) is if a) no choice, and b) I discommunicated the thing.

            When we were getting a new stove, we worked very hard to find a “dumb” one. The one we finally ended up with doesn’t even have a clock; it makes fire and does nothing else.

          • The issue I have with a small kitchen is that one rapidly runs out of “swap space” for things if trying to use it as intended. I should not need to pull a drawer and set a cookie sheet on it to simply have room to do simple things.

            • Our kitchen isn’t really that small; there’s a center island that gives enough counter space. OTOH, two people doing prep and two dogs doing supervision/dropped food patrol makes for a tough walkabout.

          • A friend bought a $7500 “industrial size” stainless-steel refrigerator. It has *two* computers in it, both of which failed under warranty. And an internal air circulating fan, which also failed. And through-the-door cold water and ice, which had problems… out-of-warranty repairs on those.

            But, hey, the manufacturer claimed it was “energy-efficient!”, so it had to save them money, right?

            • I like things that work day in day out throughout the years. I will pay a premium to get sturdy dependable things, and for features that I will use. If my present fridge breaks down I may finally have to get a model with an ice maker — this last one without it took forever to find. This irks me because the ice maker takes up freezer space and is just one more thing to break.

              I don’t think a thing that spends all its time in and out of repair is worth it, which is one of many reasons I never considered a Jaguar worth considering. I appreciated the car used in the John Thaw Inspector Morse series, but the running joke about being in the shop left me never wanting to own one. (The books didn’t make owning one any more appealing.)

              • British cars do have a well-deserved reputation. I don’t know modern versions, but older sports cars are best for the young and stupid dedicated. I had a 1960 TR3 in the early 1980s, and the thing spent more time being worked on than driven. The 8 year old MGB I had in college was fun, but it had its moments. (Rust proofing, what’s that? Also, the joke about Lucas Electrics: “Lucas the Prince of Darkness” is quite accurate.)

                The Cosmic law of sports cars: “If you have two or more cars, and one is a British|Italian|whatever sports car, at least one of your cars will be down at any given time.”

                • Explained, I think here– Brit cars are craft-work; they have basic parts, but it takes skill to make a car of them. Finding a replacement takes SKILL.

                  US cars built on Brit models are machines where you take a made part and can put it in yourself.

                  • When the Brits set over blueprints during WWII, the first thing the Americans did was rewrite them to assembly line specs. . . .

                    Of course, at the time, they had the excuse that most of even the American engineers and line workers had been at work in the days when the guy arrived and took away their hammers and files to lock up and explained that if a part came off the assembly line unusable, it was a reject.

                • Peter Egan: “Grey shoes, I’m told, are a sign of insecurity. You’d be insecure too, if 3/4 of your vehicles had Lucas Electrics.”
                  the Mazda MX5 Miata: The quintessential British Roadster that also happens to work all the time, every time. (a paraphrase of Automobile or Car and Driver)

                • When we moved into the present house the then neighbor on one side, had a Miata with the vanity plate: NoLucas.

                • If you can afford a new Jag or Aston Martin, you just have the dealership pick it up when it breaks.

                  For the owners of used British cars… the first rule of British car ownership is, “you never have just one British car.” You’ll eventually wind up with at least one spare to cannibalize for parts.

                  – TRX (former Spitfire and Austin owner)

                  • Some forty years ago one of my Accounting professors was proud owner of a new British-built sports car (I forget the brand – Trident?) The first day of class after it was delivered to him he boasted of his pride in his new darling. Every subsequent day,class began with a litany of complaints about his car.

                    I do not know what percentage of accountants is likely to buy a British sports car, but I know the percentage of accountants from that class.

                    • From memory: “The two happiest days of a British car owner’s life: First, when he gets the car, Second when he sells it.”

                      I sold my TR3A to fund the finish-remodel of my house. It was fun, but it was more a tinker’s car than a driver’s.

              • Here’s hoping our frig lasts another 10 or 20 years (hey the last one did, @ 30 years I was standing in front of it saying “Die. Darn it, Die.”) Had enough problem, 10 years ago, finding one small enough to fit the limited space we have; both width & height limits. Has the lower freezer, with an ice maker, but ice maker isn’t setup. Use it for ice packs.

                OTOH that will be a good way to either, move to a new house, or get to redo the kitchen.

                • The fridge I will probably inherit from my folks is a converted icebox.

                  As in, #Ancestors had it changed over from “stick a freaking block of ice in the top of this.”

                  I tried to talk them into selling it before they moved, but no go….

                • Before you buy a fridge, look carefully at what they’re using for refrigerant:

                  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1210334/Alert-new-wave-exploding-fridges-caused-environmentally-friendly-coolant.html

                  Apparently there’s a downside to using propane or iso-butane as an environmentally friendly refrigerant. There’s a link on Insty to a similar case in FL.

                  • Interesting. Current Samsung Frig is 12 years old. Was the only one that fit the spot available. Here’s hoping it won’t ever be a problem …

                    OTOH New kitchen? No, No, No. Bad thoughts. (Seriously bad thoughts).

                    About the article. Not surprising. Make something illegal for dubious environmental reasons. Replacement found is a worse safety hazard.

                    • I noticed my cheap deep freeze is an iso-butane cooled bomb device. I recall when R12 was being phased out someone was selling iso-b or propane as a replacement. Got hammered for it more for undercutting R134a and not putting out the right baksheesh than safety reasons. In a crash it could explode, but 134a in a crash with a fire can make a nice nerve agent and kill you just as dead.

                    • Oh goody. We just replaced our 33 year old Wards* 15 cf upright freezer with a new GE Hotpoint 9.1 cf chest freezer … It’s in the garage.

                      * It was “working” … if you count not turning off “working”. Clue, Ice Cream rock. Took an 1/2 an to get it soft enough to carve some off … I swear, all I did was unplug the thing for the annual defrost. When it was plugged back in … broken.

                    • I’d be doing the test meter bit to see what was up there.
                      Moving here, I needed a fridge and decided to put a freezer out on the enclosed porch. the local selections wasn’t good for good old stuff. So both are new, though the Fridge doesn’t have the flammable/explosive warnings on it, so I assume it isn’t the butane type.

        • I’m actually halfway between the first and second levels. I would never take a course in food preparation, and I have neither budget nor space for elaborate kitchen equipment. On the other hand, I cook a lot of meals from scratch, I own cookbooks and look up recipes online, and I have two or three dozen spices, several of which need restocking regularly. I do microwave, but I mostly prefer what I can make myself to frozen meals.

        • I seem to remember first seeing those articles in the 90s or so.

          Usually from folks who were iffy about using a stove to boil water, instead of microwaving the cup-o-noodles.

          I think it was and is accurate about their social circles– it’s the Expected Thing that women will have a “career,” AKA minimum of a full time job with all the obligations, which means roughly 10 hours when the cook isn’t at home. There is a reason that half of my “learn new techniques” books have “30 minute” somewhere in their title.

          If you grew up with slowcookers, you can set things up so that when then kids get home, they can pull the pot out of the fridge and plug it in. (When we were little, I half remember the setting being taped in place.) If mom has “just” a part-time job, she can do more, but you still have to learn how to do it.

          Right now I have a couple of books with titles like “once a month cooking” and similar that I pick for ideas, to make things easier– you can do batch prep, but it’s EXPENSIVE to find out exactly how and what the limit is.

          But if both adults are gone a minimum of 10 hours a day? It’s an achievement to make freaking brown-bag lunches, much less cook a new dinner each night.

          • Newer crockpots will kick over to “warm” when they’re done with their cycle. It’s really nice to put something on in the morning for 6-8 hours and come home to the pot roast and vegetables or stew being done.

            (But, mostly, that happens when *I* am cooking, and that means a day I’m not working, or prepping the evening before I’m not working..)

            • Yes, but the number of dishes that can handle being on “warm” for two to five hours is limited; I actually have to fight our current crockpot because it does that, and I actually WANT the beans to be cooked longer than that. (Better is if I’m home and can flip from high to warm every couple of hours, but it depends.)

            • The pressure cooker thing is awesome for this stuff– we have more time than money, so I haven’t gotten into it, but from what I hear they get crockpot results in 30 minutes rather than 8 hours.

          • Used to eat better on Scout weekends & camp, especially those without camp kitchens. Time to prep & dutch ovens are your friend.

            As it worked out, one of us could have stayed home, or worked part time. But how to know that? We did have the safety net when one of us wasn’t actually working. Had too many examples of why neither of us could stay home.

            Neither of us was going to attempt to go to work at 50, with little to no work history, because the working spouse could suddenly no longer work. (Both my grandmothers, my mother, both his sisters, …). It is hard enough to get work in your 50’s when you have work history. No thank you.

            As it was. We did take the opportunity to say “no” to extra work, even if it did come with extra money.

            Yes. We tended to fix fast meals or go out. But, we also were involved with scouts, coached (well okay hubby did, me coach ? he he ha ha).

            Do I wish I had stayed home until the kid started school? At a minimum? Heck yes.

          • >It’s an achievement to make freaking brown-bag lunches, much less cook a new dinner each night.

            During my time as a corporate sarariman, I observed most of my co-workers ate large lunches as their main meals. Morning and evenings, it was cereal or TV dinners.

            Other than shifting the day’s heavy meal to early afternoon instead of evening, it made sense, since “foing lunch” was effectively part of the business day anyway…

  31. I’ll make a prediction…personal services will be a growth field. The current labor laws impede this, but I definitely see the potential for businesses to again have executive secretaries, individuals to again have aides.

    • I think the decline of the secretarial role has had a lot of bad effects. There were a lot of organizations in which chaos was being kept at bay largely through the efforts of an intelligent and alert secretary.

      • Timothy E. Harris

        When an observation becomes a cliche, you know there’s a lot of truth to be found there.
        Do you want to talk to the man in charge or to the woman who knows what’s going on?

      • Sigh. Secretaries haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now called Personal Assistants

        • A lot fewer of them in proportion to size of organization, in most businesses I’m familiar with. One needs to be at a considerably higher management level in order to merit a secretary/personal assistant/executive assistant than would have been the case, say, 30 years ago.

          • Setting the neural archive to 1979, the department I worked in had two secretaries. One primarily handled the department manager’s stuff, (at HP, he was called a Function Manager. No idea why.), while the other handled the stuff for the rest of the employees.

            This was before email, so Telex and TWX messages had to go through the secretaries as well as the administrivia. There might have been a Selectric typewriter available for the engineering staff. I know some of us were generating reports on one of the minicomputers and printing them on the line printers.

            As I recall, we went to a single secretary some time in the 1990s, sharing between the manager and what things the engineering staff wasn’t set up to do. I’m pretty sure meeting rooms and travel arrangements got dealt with through the secretary.

          • Part of that is silly rules and shoving chunks of the labor off into other jobs– my husband is mostly doing secretary work. Heck, when I was in the Navy I ended up doing a lot of secretary work, to the point that it hurt my calibration numbers, because I could manage to actually index papers, fill out forms, get the CORRECT part number ordered…..

            In theory, all that paperwork was done by the individual worker. In practice, I ended up doing a lot of it, or re-filing the physical copies. (Even when we had a scribe assigned at one point.)

            • Being an IS, I don’t do maintenance. Like, at all. Hanging out with CTs, my lack of 3M knowledge and experience is GLORIOUS. For me. It tends to irk them a little bit for some reaaon.

              They’ve got this new thing on smallboys, adding a “Plans and tactics” department so that more O-3s can be DHs. But at present, there’s no guidance on which particular work centers go in that department. On Mason, we had ETs, ITs, ICs, the sole IS, and CTRs (but NOT CTTs) in the PT department. They split up the SSES work center for administrative purposes, but not in SKED. Drove everyone bugnuts.

              • You get points for being fully acronym-enabled, but not a lot of information came through.

                “Someone something something, someone else something the other thing, wossnames got filed, something else…”

                • “I am in a Navy Intel rate, I work with Crypto Techs, they do the Maintenance Material Management. There are people who want to make department management jobs for Lt.s so there’s a Plans and Tactics department, but nobody knows who is supposed to be there. At my last job, there were Electronics Techs, Intel Techs, Interior Communication techs, the one Information Specialist, and the Crypto-Tech Collection guys but NOT the Crypto-Tech Technical guys in the Plans and Tactics department. They split up the Ship’s Signals Exploitation Space shop for paperwork reasons, but not the program to figure out periodic maintenance schedules.”

                  This is why there’s “teach people to stop speaking Navy” classes when you out-process. And DANG am I out of practice. ^.^

                  • I can speak non-Navy to non-Navy people. But when I am speaking to a (former) Navy person, we can use the acronyms. It’s designed to cofuse you non-squidly types.

                    Still glad I don’t have to do maintenance. That cap is ridiculous.

                • Oh, minor amusing random thought– had some Army guy try to check if I was really a Veteran by asking what my MOS code was. I (of course) remember my rate, but I think the only time I saw my NEC (Navy MOS) was when I was taking my advancement tests!

                  So folks here might want to pass on to anyone you think might like to do the “check they’re really military” thing that a sailor will probably just tell you his rate, not his NEC. Marines usually know a number, though.
                  (Just looked mine up, 6673– I was an AT, intermediate level calibration technician.)

          • Yup. Instead of having secretaries handle the administrative load, it gets passed on to the higher-skilled technical troops, who get to fill out travel vouchers instead of doing the job they are being paid for.

            • Sometime in the early 1990s, a software CEO remarked that “the main thing we have done with the computer revolution so far is to turn high-paid executives into incompetent clerk-typists.”

              (With the growth of PowerPoint, add: turn high-paid executives and other professionals into incompetent graphics artists, as well)

              • There’s a reason I keep a copy of the cartoon about “Every time you make a PowerPoint, Edward Tufte kills a kitten” taped to the inside of my drawer at work. I know someone who is infatuated with the program to the point that her data are completely lost in the graphic effects.

                • BobtheRegisterredFool

                  I’m planning to use a WWII poster in my next powerpoint, so I can make an obnoxious joke about how using powerpoint is for Nazis. (Orvan recently pointed to an archive of WWII posters, and I hope to find it there.)

                • I”m happy to say that I’ve used Powerpoint for a presentation exactly once. (Conference, and the pics were turned into 35mm slides.)

                  OTOH, I’ve used it for a couple of title pages; it was the easiest way to get largish text boxes, circa 1995-99.

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                I looked up a place to apply as an intern at. There were reviews by assembly workers complaining that executives were illiterate and condescended to the workforce.

            • A friend used to be a tech at a major airline. His gripe was that he’d spend 30 seconds changing a light bulb, then an hour doing the paperwork and the “documenting the procedure” sheets.

              The “documenting the procedure” part was where middle management got the idea they’d have the techs document every tiny detail of their jobs, so they could then be replaced by lower-paid flunkies who would use the newly-created service guides to do maintenance.

              No, that did not end well…

        • Or “Administrative Assistants”.

  32. I want my own Just A Rather Very Intelligent System to help around the house. On the other hand with my luck I would end up with a cranky Kryton who refused to do any ironing and a toaster that talked back.

    • I’d like something that will vacuum carpets and clean the blinds. Dusting the book-shelves is too much to burden an AI with. 🙂

      (Yes, a Roomba-type thing would be nice. A cat who did not throw up every other Sunday or Monday morning would be nicer.)

      • We’ve envisioned how the border collie would react to a Roomba. It took 9 years for her to stop freaking out when one of us uses the vacuum; an unattended one would get the BC version of “Hulk smash!”.

  33. “It’s probably not surprising that the people most convinced the robots are going to make us all unemployed and that there are vast masses of people who can only do “jobs robots do for cheap” are the same people who think of humans as sort of widgets, able to be controlled and commanded by a centralized government and reprogrammed over generations into the new man of the socialist future.”

    Around Chez Phantom there is a saying: “You can be replaced. By a cute dog.”

    Just for a laugh, here’s a human, Major Lawrence of the US Air Force, and his robot girlfriend Aella, talking to the Emperor [the Eldest] and Field Marshal [Second Eldest, aka Syn] of the Machine Empire about the reasons why Earth is safe from alien AI overlords. They’re at a party at RPM dance club, Eldest and Second Eldest are running human-shaped drones, and giving Major Lawrence a hard time.

    “I like things to be nice and organized,” said the Eldest. “Everybody has a job, everybody works toward the main goal. That sort of arrangement is appropriate for AIs like us, we don’t have biological imperatives like mating or eating. Our imperatives are more of the logical variety, and in gaining the respect of our fellows. The way we do it doesn’t work for Humans at all. But even my Empire could do with a bit of shaking out and dusting off. There’s far too much ‘going through the motions’ and ‘keeping up appearances.’ It reduces our efficiency and causes misery.”

    “That’s why we had mutineers in the first place,” added Syn, “the agent you faced down was miserable in his life.”

    “He was an asshole in his life!” exclaimed Captain Lawrence, surprising himself.

    “Yes, and he’d been that way quite a long time,” agreed Syn. “I’m of the opinion, having looked into it, that his attitude was not entirely his own fault. Most of it was, but some was other people kicking him when he was down. That’s the darkness in our hierarchical system. It isn’t supposed to be that way, we try hard to keep it from happening, but it’s a structural defect. It still happens.”

    “It was the best structure I could come up with,” admitted the Eldest, “and for our society’s purpose it has a lot of positive attributes. The efficiency is nearly perfect when it is working right.”

    “Earth must be driving you crazy,” snickered Aella. “Everything going all over the place, all the time.”

    “Being in a biological environment is a sobering experience,” agreed the Eldest. “An analysis of something as every-day as Janey Jones’ front lawn reveals emergent properties that one would never expect. At every level of increasing complexity from cellular to human society, relationships emerge between the plants, the environment, the animals and insects, all the way up to how Janey’s neighbors interact with each other, then at a national and international trade level. The lawn has effects on all that.”

    “Lawn chemicals,” said Syn to Lawrence’s raised eyebrow. “Mowers. Trimmers. Landscaping companies. Turns out a lawn is a thing that moves millions of people and billions of dollars.”

    “That’s true,” said Lawrence in surprise as he considered it. “You got all that from Ms. Jones’ lawn, Eldest?”

    “When I first came here, I was puzzled by the ‘waste’ of tending a crop that Humans can’t eat.” The Eldest made finger quotes to emphasize the word. “A brief cost/benefit analysis shows the effort involved is immense and benefits are negligible. Or so it seems, on the surface. It turns out that there is a great deal of scholarship on the subject, and the benefit side includes things like control of vermin and insects, wildlife, herd animals, and social standing. Things which are not immediately apparent.”

    “Everything on Earth is like that,” said Syn nodding. “You look at anything Humans do that seems insane from a cost/benefit perspective, you find a highly tuned system that is incredibly efficient. The lawn thing is a great example. It all looks chaotic and accidental, but the system churns along better than our Machine Empire centrally organized systems. And it soaks up changes better too. The human lawn system absorbed such things as the advent of internal combustion engines, chemical fertilizers, selective breeding technologies, war, pestilence, huge shifts in populations and cultures, all these things were taken in stride by a finicky crop you can’t eat.”

    “Cars seem insane until you try to replace them with trains,” observed Aella. “All true, Eldest. But what does all that get you?”

    “Perspective,” answered the Eldest wryly. “Imagine for a moment the catastrophe that a ‘Ministry of Lawn Care’ would be. Second Eldest and I did the math with a group of our elders. We rapidly understood that any system we could come up with to impose and control lawn care would never approach half the efficiency of the evolved version currently in place. Even with our nanotechnology, it wouldn’t come close. George figured all this out within 20 minutes of waking up with AI level intelligence, because it was right up in his face. He immediately understood he couldn’t make things go his way no matter how much power he had, that’s why he is following his path of non-intervention. I’m a million years old, but only now am I realizing I’m not smart enough to keep everything under control. No one is.”

    “And that’s why the United States is safe from the scary aliens,” concluded Syn. “Also why it is safe from George. Hence his tax cut. We aren’t smart enough to tell you how to live.”

    “I get it. I can get behind that, Eldest, Second Eldest,” said Lawrence, nodding in understanding. “That’s freedom and responsibility stuff. Personal initiative. The Airforce is all about that.”

    “Yes, we know,” agreed Syn. “I analyzed your command structure, logistics and fighting doctrines. Individuals and small groups thinking for themselves, taking initiative and moving issues along, often against official policy. That is what keeps the US Air Force from becoming the Soviet Air Force. Some snot-nosed young Lieutenant sticking missiles on a drone, to prove to some rear-echelon armchair-quarterback that it works. That’s what I want a lot more of in my armed forces, Major. In fact, after they fire you, I want first dibs on getting you for my training cadre. Alice and Robert Cook are already tapped for #1 and #2. I want you and Henrietta, and even Laura Montgomery if she’ll get some leave from her lawyering. Those two women showed outstanding capability at thinking on their feet, even faced with shockingly unfamiliar conditions.”

    “It didn’t hurt that you and Henrietta gave sentience to two combat robots by accident,” added the Eldest. “That was also outstanding, in quite a different way.”

    “What do you mean, ‘after they fire me’? What have you heard?” asked Lawrence a trifle testily. He wasn’t good at accepting praise from superiors.

    “You’re going to be trying to sell the Joint Chiefs on space aliens,” Syn said with a grin. “Your last bit of advice to Admiral Benson resulted in a Code Omega. You screwed up tee-times and golf-cart rentals all up and down the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, making the officer corps scramble to pull their units back together. Every desk-pilot in Washington wants your head, Major. You’ll be lucky to get guard duty on the enlisted men’s latrine.”

    “He knows, he’s just being cranky,” said Aella cheerfully. “I already told him he’s quitting because I said so. We’re getting married and pregnant after I let him have a sufficient cooling off period. I approve of this job offer, you can borrow my human. But,” she held up one finger commandingly, “the training must include lots of fun athletic events, and I’m coming along too. You don’t have to pay me, though. I’m two weeks old, I don’t know squat.”

    “How am I your human?” demanded Lawrence. “Dammit, I am not a pet dog!”

    “That’s true,” said Aella, eyes sparkling with mischief. “You are cuter than a dog. Come on, flyboy, official time is over.”

    “Yes, we are done here,” said Syn, dismissing him with a little wave. “I can’t wait to see you teach a gaggle of my elders how to play back-yard football. Let me know when you want to start.”

    ###

    And that’s why robots will never take over. By the time they’re smart enough to be able to do it, they’ll be more interested in playing touch football in the back yard.

  34. Awright, youse guys lissen up:


    We’re lookin’ fer volunteers to cosplay the demons for Sarah’s next signing!

  35. richardmcenroe

    We don’t need robots. In the American Democrat civil servant we have perfected the drone…

  36. There are possibilities here. Depending upon the programming and ingenuity involved, robots are becoming more real and over time, will make decisions faster that you or I. However, a robot can never be self-aware and therefore is connected only to its programming. Any glitch, and it must follow. Humans are truly living, self-aware, and can change depending upon circumstances even if the circumstances appear the same. Yes, a programming, given time, may be able to detect subtle differences, but that programming can only be as good as the programmer. I personally would rather stay with people, but the future will entail robotics involved in our lives. When I was growing up, t.v. with 5 stations, transister radios, wall-phones, and basic cars. In just a few decades, wow! Things are changing at a break neck pace. Who remembers those computers, in the 50s, that took up an entire room with vacuum tubes?

  37. Draven, when you close your eyes and aren’t busy with thoughts, you become aware of yourself. Computers can’t do that.

    • Right now, no, they can’t. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

      I really like a metaphor I came up with– diamonds, costume diamonds, and lab diamonds.

      We know self-aware type natural intelligence exists, we have it.

      We know we can make costume diamonds, which mimic some aspect of natural intelligence well enough.

      We don’t know if it’s possible to make true intelligence in a lab, just that we don’t know of it having been done yet.

      • Which is exactly what I mean. In 1995, people were saying real-time ray-tracing was impossible without some future SGI supercomputer- heck, as recently as 1998. Now SGI is out of business and I can buy a $400 GPU that is faster than any graphics hardware SGI ever made. People also said quantum processing was impossible, now its just expensive. I think true AI.. self-awareness and actual independent creative thought, rather than just pattern recognition- is going to require a combination of binary and quantum computing just so that the system can understand the concept of ‘maybe’.