A sobering analysis from C.G.P. Grey on the coming “robot revolution”. No, it’s not a Terminator scenario, but instead an enormous expansion of the ways that automation is going to replace more and more jobs in our economy. Joe Esposito wrote about a theoretical Google entry into the scholarly publishing market and suggested that the human wisdom and editorial oversight offered by publishers were key areas that Google could not automate.

This video suggests we might want to think carefully about how long that will be true. As the video progresses, it shows how automation is coming for more and more of us, not just for menial workers, but for white collar workers, and yes, creative workers as well.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


7 Thoughts on "Luddite Horses and Why Your Job May Soon Cease to Exist"

Automation is going to end work? What now, we’re doomed!


“But what will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?

In the West, we have various ways of dealing with this problem. We have no attempt at economic justice, so that a large proportion of the total produce goes to a small minority of the population, many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the absence of any central control over production, we produce hosts of things that are not wanted. We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labor by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.”

– Bertrand Russell, “In Praise of Idleness” (http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html)

Bertie, dear Bertie, if you only lived to see the age of TV commercials, or the Mitt Romney campaign! See, we have no difficulty at all keeping notions alive.

Society won’t change by consent; only once we

“forge an iron law forbidding every one to work more than three hours a day, will the old earth, trembling with bliss, feel a new world stir within it.

But how can a manly decision be expected from a proletariat corrupted by capitalist morals!”

– Paul Lafargue, “The Right to be Lazy” (http://www.slp.org/pdf/others/lazy_pl.pdf)

Ah, there’s that. And the need to buy a bigger SUV, or travel further for that 7-day summer holiday I hear is customary over there across the ocean.

The thing is…

“No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance.”

– Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/Bob_Black__The_Abolition_of_Work.html)

I recommend reading each of those three essays in full. Unfortunately, reading those inevitably leads to the conclusion there must be hard work ahead. Putting up guillotines and whatnot…

Work, broadly interpreted, is a person’s contribution to the community they live in. In the automated future, the community is going to turn to big chunks of the population and say “Thanks for your interest, but we don’t need you. Your physical labor is inefficient. You’re not exceptionally intelligent, so you won’t get a high powered job. You don’t have the connections to get one of the few jobs left that only requires average intelligence. You’re not particularly entertaining. The AI in your house is better at raising your children than you are. There is nothing that you can usefully contribute to society.” Even if we get the economic adjustments right (doubtful), the psychological adjustment is going to be a doozy.

Happy Friday!

Not forgetting Jeromek Jerome:

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.

Interesting take on the future of automation. It does fail to consider that this automation will need to be paid for – and if no one is employable, who will pay, and so then why bother.

Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel c1952 was Player Piano. He had this topic pretty well sewn up back then.

Remember this vision of what human life might be like?

“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

Marx, German Ideology (1845)

I assume that Marx would be delighted to know that robots can take over the work of “general production” and allows us all to live such variegated lives. 🙂

However, there is a darker possibility: robots might take over the world and force all of us humans to do the specialized work so that the general purpose robots could enjoy hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, and …. 🙁

More than half of the people in America now think for a living. Anyone who thinks machines are about to start thinking thinks wrongly. As IBM once put it, machines should work, people should think. But of course we can automate a lot of the work involved in thinking. I used to drive a lot just to get copies of studies. I used to stand at a copier making copies, then worked hard delivering them. And so it goes, less work and more thought, in work.

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