R2D2 Has Your Job

(CNN) 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 education.
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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BlackWater wrote: ...

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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snipped-for-privacy@ncl.ac.uk http://homepages.cs.ncl.ac.uk/chris.holt


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