R2D2 Has Your Job

GENEVA (AP) -- Increased sales of industrial robots in North
America and Europe have revived the global market for the
machines, a U.N. report said.
The annual World Robotics Survey, released Tuesday, said a 26
percent rise in business orders coincides with an increase in the
number of robots used around the home, mostly to mow lawns and
vacuum floors.
The 380-page report, issued by the U.N. Economic Commission for
Europe and the International Federation of Robotics, said 80,000
robots were sold between January and June. Orders for new factory
robots rose 35 percent in North America and 25 percent in Europe
_ in both cases mostly for use in the auto industry --
compensating for the continued decline in Japan.
"These figures indicate that a strong recovery is in sight," said
the study. Amid economic gloom, the global robot market shrunk
last year by 12 percent.
The total number of robots in use worldwide stands at around 1.4
million, the study said.
. . . . .
Long ago, a group called "saboteurs" (name taken from
their wooden shoes) tossed their togs into the gearworks
of the early industrial revolution - afraid that machines
would steal away their jobs.
Well, back then, it wasn't really true. There was still
plenty of work for the average Johann to do - indeed
mechanization caused a business boom that (eventually)
elevated the living standards of everyone who avoided
"needle park". If Johann didn't do one thing, he could
do another. Fair trade. The spectre of vast unemployment
was unrealized.
That was then, this is now. What happens to the average
Joe nowdays when robots replace him (and many of his
co-workers) ? Can he just go out and find a similar
job elsewhere ?
Not long ago, the answer would have been "yes". If you
lost your job making widgets you could get another
making wodgets. A speck of re-training and you were
good to go.
NOW, however, things have definitely changed. Old jobs
in manufacturing and such are being mechanized but most
of the new jobs require something Joe doesn't have and
is largely unable to obtain - a higher IQ and a specialty
The few who design and maintain the robots have to be
SMARTER than the average Joe, as do the company managers.
Joe is a victim of his own inherent averageness and can
only find a job flipping burgers (McDonalds is seriously
looking into automated burger-making BTW) that doesn't
pay half of what his old job paid. The kind of work he
used to do ... well ... it still exists, but it's being
done by Mexicans and Chinese who work for cheap. Soon
enough, even they will be replaced by robots.
All the free educational opportunities in the world
will not make Joe SMARTER. He's never going to be an
engineer or software designer or administrator. Such
occupations are literally above his abilities. An
IQ of 100 just doesn't cut it anymore. At best, Joe
can go into politics ... or dope dealing. Alas, soon,
there won't be enough Joes here with cash to either
pay taxes or buy drugs ... the new middle class will
be in Mexico and China (for a while anyway).
So, what becomes of Joe ?
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I dunno. I see a possible explosion in 'caring' jobs; people taking care of other people's kids, people taking care of the elderly, people taking care of unemployed people who would otherwise be in jail because they stole things. We've got them now; but I think these are real growth industries, especially as people start to realize how expensive it is to do without such care.
Heh; that was a straight line, wasn't it.
Hey; why don't we invent this system whereby you can put some money into a machine, and get out a sandwich? But really, once the care of animals in battery farms and their subsequent dismembering can be automated, together with harvesting of crops, our social structure is going to change radically.
I know some "Joe"s who are plumbers, builders, electricians. Some are just unemployed and have given up looking for work. There are those who want to learn things; and don't underestimate people who have a (supposed) IQ of 100. They can learn things, and they can use that learning and pass it on to others. Much of our society is informal, in the sense that we don't see cash changing hands as people help each other. We can expect a lot of it to be formalized and brought into that which economics recognizes; GDP is only the tip of the iceberg.
So while there are real problems as society restructures itself, and you're quite right that eventually we can all be made redundant, I think you're being a bit gloomy in the middle term.
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