Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?


Eagle, CO

Last updated on Jul 20, 2024

Posted on Apr 25, 2023

I wrote this in 2013 on heyheyrenee. I wouldn't change a word.

Here's a great piece by Kevin Drum on Mother Jones on what the not too distant future will look like, technology wise.

It's about what technology will do, the jobs that'll be eliminated. Not just a few jobs, a few million jobs.

In the early 90's I remember sitting around my Mom's kitchen table with my brother and my Mom. I was just getting started in computer telephony, my brother was starting to design in Quark.

Back then, I was doing touch tone apps. You'd call in, press the first 3 letters of person you were trying to reach, last name. The first victims of my "success" were secretaries, because you no longer needed anyone to answer the phone. You'd call in, direct yourself to who you were calling. Now, there's a lot of companies in tech that don't even advertise a telephone number.

My brother came from typesetting. Before digital layout tools like Quark, people and machinery were needed to layout something in print. Quark eliminated machinery, cut down the number of people needed to layout a publication.

Back to my Mom's table. Both of us were knee deep in technology. I was telling my brother about how I was using this great new bbs called The Pipeline, where you could graphically connect to libraries around the world. I was young, excited about the possibilities. My brother wasn't near as optimistic. While he was doing well too, he couldn't help but think about the higher reaching effects of technology. I can still remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. He said:

"Entire gene pools will become unemployable. The government will have to pay people to stay home". I could see it, too. We're here. From the piece:

"Entire classes of workers will be out of work permanently".

"This isn't something that will happen overnight. It will happen slowly, as machines grow increasingly capable. We've already seen it in factories, where robots do work that used to be done by semiskilled assembly line workers. In a decade, driverless cars will start to put taxi hacks and truck drivers out of a job. And while it's easy to believe that some jobs can never be done by machines—do the elderly really want to be tended by robots?—that may not be true. Nearly 50 years ago, when MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created a therapy simulation program named Eliza, he was astonished to discover just how addictive it was. Even though Eliza was almost laughably crude, it was endlessly patient and seemed interested in your problems. People liked talking to Eliza".

Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?

On page 2, Kevin brings up the idea of artificial companionship. This is already happening. A friend of mine just moved to Boston. While he makes clear he'll miss me, to him, the relationship hasn't really changed. He's younger than I am, his idea is that we're still connected because we can do video chat. Get it? In his mind, and millions of others like him, there's no difference between a relationship in person and a relationship over the transom, 2000 miles away. So his generation the new normal is already here - digital relationships are no different than person to person relationships. In fact for some, a digital relationship is the preferred means of interaction. How many billion people are on Facebook?

People should take a cold hard look at what's ahead. I agree with the author. I'm not sure education will be enough in years to come. What's going to be important is capital. From the piece:

"Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us".


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