Automating Ourselves To Unemployment

This is a view on this matter that I like


Charles, i will be sure to take a look at your book

Michael Spence is the real deal.He is against HFT and writes for Project Syndicate.The economics teachers should take a page out of his playbook…Adam how lucky were you at Stanford?

That was an awesome video Sterling, Humans Need Not Apply.
It sounds like we humans are giving birth to a new species of machines, which are soon to be better and smarter than we were.

As Dr Chris so well points out in the Crash Course, all civilizations have grown and thrived when they were able to harness energy beyond their immediate needs. This has progressed from basic tools, to animals, to other humans,to understanding how to use the forces of nature to help,  to more advanced tools powered by animals, to tools powered by fossil fuels.
Now we face the use of smarter automated tools powered by ???. My answer in looking around is still fossil fuels for the heavy lifting.  Sure, a robot/bot computer can run on solar, just like I can.  It can survive, not just do the heavy lifting of 20,000 man hours that is in a barrel of oil. The crucial juncture comes when , like the horses of old, the human component of input becomes unneeded. But then, who/what is at the top of the feeding chain? Either humans fight to hold their place at the top of the food (i.e. energy) chain, or they will find that their relevance will continue to decrease.

You make the point that automation eventually leads to diminishing profits.  I'm going to claim that doesn't matter, and in fact its a non-sequitur.  Here's why:

Money is just a way of dividing up the treasure - the threasure being the total "surplus" produced by society.  Its just an accounting structure layered on top of the productive economy.

Assume in a far future that robotics + 3-d printing results in the vast majority of the humans being entirely displaced from the workforce.  They are unnecessary.  The productive & service capacity of society maintains itself, and it spits out its surplus and hands it over to the population according to the rules defined (presumably) by some element of society itself.

Individuals place their orders with the Big Machine, and stuff pops out either sooner (3d printing at home) or later (something big that must be constructed off-site).

Clearly, if anyone can order anything (I'd like a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier, please) they will, so there has to be some sort of limit.  Perhaps, as Milo Minderbinder once observed, "everyone has a share."

That ends up looking awfully like a "basic income."

Clearly if you can contribute "more" to society, that's a good thing and that needs to be rewarded with those people getting a bigger share and/or greater access to the "good stuff" (Chateau Lafite, personal spaceships, etc).  That's always the struggle.  And how will you keep the masses entertained when they really have nothing urgent to do every day?

There were a series of books created by Ian Banks which describes The Culture - a "post-scarcity, utopian, anarchistic society."  I found it a fascinating study on how people might behave in such a situation.

If trends continue, and we find a fix to our energy and resource issues, that's where we might just end up.

Of course, if some individual seizes control over the Big Machine and/or decides that depopulation means he gets lots more of the surplus for himself and his close friends, things might go awry.  But for a moment, let's postulate an incorruptible instrumentality and see how that might play out.

Or in other words… a technocratic dictatorship.

I don’t argue with the basic desires, and even some of the basic logic of the greens.
But a major question has always been “how do we get there from here”? That question you address with the answer “for now, we don’t”.
I DO think it ignores the basic question of “given unlimited resources, how do you control unlimited procreation until resources are again heavily limited”, and the related question “should you do that?”
In the past, the answer has been (as with the Jacobians in the French Revolution) for the elites to mass-depopulate mostly others, and inadvertantly sometimes themselves. I have a major problem with that. It’s called mass murder, and it is not a proper function of a continuing society.
I DO agree with your estimate that our definition of profit and money is horribly skewed, and that a better way of judging profit might help solve some of these problems.
But that definition of profit seems to be characterisic of the agricultural-warlike model of society, which is enormously effective at conquering and eating the members of other societies. So unless you can devise a way of conquering an AW society without replacing it with something far worse, you may not be able to get there from here.

"You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."  -Ellen Ripley, Aliens


Maybe robots would do better.

SandPuppy, do you give up sometimes? wink
I am not sure I am doing ONLY the reverse of the trend Adam is mentioning in his article. I decided to build this backhoe mainly for two reasons: 1) because (I thought) the cost of building it is the same or lower than paying someone to do the work I plan to do with, and 2) having some fun building it.
Note: The machine cost me about 25% higher than paying someone for the work I plan to do this summer, but this is not a loss as hopefully I expect to have many more summers ahead.
This being said, I also did this: remove work from someone and use a machine to do the said work (Straight in line with Adams' article). We can look at the same problem from many angles. It is a communicating vases problem. If we move some work from A to B, then A has less work. And vice-versa.
Now, the most important for me: 1) I have a new skill (Far from perfect, but usable): Welding and metalworking. 2) I have a machine to perform some heavy work in the close future (help clear forested area, dig a pond, foundations, etc...). Also, I can offer my services in the area (detrimental to the guy, mentioned above, offering the same services).
Along this path I got a small metal workshop that will stay (More physical capital and a bit less $$$; but, heh, $$$ are like drafts… they only pass…)
Other than this new skill, I have developed over the years (30+) a set of skills that allow me to be more versatile. I lived in several parts of the world and in some places you would better be resourceful, otherwise, you are just swallowed by the folks around you. At the base, you must develop a mindset of willingness to learn, experiment, not be afraid to lose money or time, and more importantly develop critical analysis. Also, the willingness to be free as much as you can must be there. Of course, you always need a complement (the help from a neighbor, subcontract something, etc…) but you are not captive of the whole system.
The skills I have developed over the years? Here are some (Not all with the same proficiency, but usable and in constant progress).
- Computer science, systems engineering (my job)
- Electronics
- Construction (framing, plumbing, plastering, masonry, electricity, roofing, …)
- Mechanic  (Modern cars are a nightmare because of lack of documentation and complex fine-tuning tools required. I am missing my old 1973 Mercedes 230…)
- Cabinetmaking
- Metalworking
- Gardening
- Beekeeping
- Hunting, fishing
I renovated the garage of our old house in 2001 (Renovated could be seen as the wrong word…). We added one story to the house in 2005 (and rebuild the ugly “new” garage from 2001). In 2009, my wife and I, moved and build a new house. It took 5 years to complete. Having the other half onboard is priceless. We learned a lot, and managed to build something nice with the previous experience. In the light of the current situation, we see this house a bit too luxurious, but it is very hard to sell in this area. So we keep it, stay in it, and will see how the taxes will evolve in the future. With what we know today (I wish I discovered PP back in 2009), we would have built a much smaller house. This one is 3200sqft. This is large for two persons.
As you see, the building process was incremental: each time bigger and better. The best way to learn and minimize cost of non-quality (And also straight in line with the American dream: do bigger at each step - which we finally understood is not the way to go)
All these skills will help in case of social and economic change. Or simply between two jobs. Or stay occupied and in shape when retired. Or whatever your motivations and needs.
Also, with two fiends we started our own company in 2011. Three complementary profiles: strategic, commercial and technical. A kind of freedom. We have our own destiny in hands. This is a big motivation element.
The next steps will be very practical, like building a pond, a 4 season greenhouse, a bigger garden, and also the local community (Last year I posted that we had two nasty guys in the street that compromised all community building efforts– they are gone thanks to a fight between them that burnt one of their houses. No regrets at all and happy ending for the rest of us). 
Also, I am thinking at getting involved in our municipal life: if I can convince our municipal council to facilitate the establishment of permaculture in our municipality, then this will be a tremendous win. Actually, the population is ageing and decreasing. There is a need to bring in new blood. So, if we have easy rules for permaculture and homesteading, then we may have a chance to reverse this trend. We are far from Montreal and it is understandable why the young leave the place. Capitalizing on what a rural area can give, then it is possible to attract people that wants to live close to the earth.
Regarding the backhoe, I never thought that one day I would build one. At first glance, those machines, even the small ones, look very intimidating. We think “No way, I can’t build that", "This a heavy industry task”, etc… but I decided to start this project and if it fails, then losing a few $$$ is not big deal. At the end, it went well (Well, almost, my jacket caught in fire three times because I did not used the leather apron – safety? What’s that?). Overall, much easier than I thought first. So, for the ones that are interested to try, go for it! The risk? A few $$$ if you spend as you go. Usually, most of the failures occur at the beginning. The more you advance, the more chances you have to complete successfully your project.
In the end, I just say that the most important factor is willingness. The will to change, to adapt, to do the homework to plan. It is a lot of work, but at the same time very rewarding. This rewarding sentiment makes see things very simple and facilitate undertake new projects. It’s like a drug.
What we did, my wife and I, is not magic and we are not exceptional in any way (Except for each other, but there is a big subjective part there). Undertaking projects outside our comfort zone is doable and anyone can do it. We have been taught to stay within the limits the society has set (You! You are baker. You! You are lawyer. Etc…). Well, it is the choice of every person to not cross these virtual (but strong) limits, or to cross some of them, or to cross all of them. Everything can be learned and done. Just make the first step and “So, what?” about the rest.
The discovery of PP in 2012, was the spark that set in place the whole picture of what I should do in the coming years. Considering what await us ahead, I just can say a big Thanks to Chris, Becca, Adams and all the ones that regularly posts interesting and enlightening comments.
I am planning to setup a website to share our experience. To follow in the coming months…

Yes I'd say I'm green. But they seem naive economically so throw in some moderate libertarianism and I think that fairly characterizes me. 

As to how we get there from here, I think I've come to accept that we don't. 

I think procreation slows to less than replacement in modern society which is one reason western countries have so much immigration. But the damage has already been done, there are far too many people in the planet. 

Maybe if I saw a real effort on the part of out leadership to admit that growth must stop, and to move our economies over to renewable resources ASAP I'd have some hope. Instead I see fossil fuel dependence growing faster than renewables. Every direction  we are moving seems to be contrary to where we should be going. 

The only solution to overpopulation is depopulation. Will we see this in our lifetimes? Maybe, if a world war is started.  Maybe future societies will learn from our mistakes and do things differently but I doubt it, it is in human nature to repeat these cycles. Humans are adapted to live in small competing tribes in the African savannah; not to rule the world in global mega societies. 

The cornucopia view is appealing but centralized hierarchies that dominate our society/economy are not designed to distribute surplus except to insiders/vested interests. If costs matter–which they must if capital is to allocated wisely–then "surplus" is the same as profit.

But hey,  just listened ended to an add on the radio announcing that the TSA is hiring.  And the message is?

AK GrannyWGrit


Cornucopia is the trend IF we assume increasing automation, and a fix to our energy and resource issues.
(A fix to energy fixes resources too, especially if the energy = LENR or something like it).

Just like the advent of fossil fuels led (more or less) to the current welfare system, if we postulate a step beyond fossil fuels AND increased automation, then increased surplus is the inescapable conclusion.  Roman bread and circuses was what was doable back then, these days its an EBT card and section 8 housing and earned income tax credits.

In the future - it pretty much has to be larger, given my assumptions above.  More surplus = higher living standard + nobody working.  Either we get massive depopulation, or the same percentage of a larger surplus gets distributed in some way throughout society, and it will be larger than it is today because of automation.

Simple example: asteroid mining via robotics solves the resource problem, assuming we have the energy to get there.

And my guess is pop growth will plateau and start to fall too, the same way it has in Germany and Japan.  With a nudge from the authorities - either drugs, or laws - it can go even faster.

If the plans to "make stuff" are open sourced, everyone has a cheap 3-d printer, and energy is relatively free via LENR, what then?

Some part of me enjoys thinking about a future where the problem is "not enough work" just as a thought experiment.  I've spent plenty of time thinking about a world made by hand.  :slight_smile:

How odd the picture disappeared so I will try again.

In case it disappears again it's a picture of fast food kiosks.  Right after I saw this I heard a commercial advertising for jobs with the TSA.  Isn't it ironic fast food jobs may disappear but people control and harassment is the up and coming booming business.  What's next.

AK GrannyWGrit

There is a counter cyclical trend rising below automation that many have alluded to.  Automation is the last great gasp of a dying culture.  Unemployment is running at 23% (all in, including long term unemployed), inflation is running at around 8 - 9%.  Resources are starting to collapse, demand for goods is in the process of collapsing.  All this has been attendant to an ever increasing amount of automation.  Remember the stories of electricity to cheap to meter?  Are we still recycling the same old crap.  You still see "the farm of the future" kicking around, glass towers of automated equipment with nary a person around.
Well the economy never came  out of the great "recession" of 2008, we have collectively become the great can kickers, except for those who have made a concerted effort to leave or partially leave the system, but we are running out of road.  As someone suggested, who is actually going to be able to afford to purchase automated goods?

Automation is the ultimate in ossification, unconscious action, inflexibility.  It captures thought in time, in a repetitive action, and then repeats it over and over again.  A machine made to cut patterns in a flat metal plate, cannot attach a bumper to a car or assemble a toaster.  An idle machine demands production from those that made the huge capital investment.  It is exactly what is happening in the oil patch, it's just another form of leverage, it demands acceleration. More resources driven through a dying consumer society - from natural resource to landfill wastelands.

The world is alive in ways we are now just beginning to understand.  GMO engineering is failing because of its mechanized, repetitive reductionist view of the natural world.  The spread of genetic modifications through bioregions, development of antibiotic resistant microorganisms, pesticide resistant weeds, are already tell tale signs of the death of the automated mind set.  The farm of the future does not look like gleaming glass automated towers drawn by some who couldn't tell a dandelion from daisy, but is already here in the form of Polyface farms.  Its technology, moveable electric fences and chicken trackers.

Automated telemarketers?  Give me a break, how long before that hits the bust bin of history.  Our future lies in the evolution of consciousness, not the machine. 


Manufacturing requires repetitive, semi-unconscious activity.  It is these manufacturing jobs that America has lost.  From a consciousness standpoint, it would seem that anything that could be automated, "should" be at some level.  Only those things that require consciousness "should" require hiring a human being.
Based on where I see AI going - machine vision, machine learning - that's going to be reality in the not so distant future.  The AI future I see is not specifically gated by discovery any new hardware breakthroughs.  We have all the hardware tools we need right now.  It is dependent on applying what we already have to different problem domains.

We are starting to develop the pieces necessary to build far more flexible robots than we had previously.  As an example, AI can now identify handwritten numbers more effectively than humans.  The mistakes they make actually make sense.  Once you train a model on a particular problem, it "knows" that problem from here on out, and it can solve it very quickly. 

At some point perhaps 5-10 years from now, we'll be able to assemble a robot "brain" capable of a wide variety of abilities from a collection of pre-trained models.  Upload a new module for recognising something new - the robot can now have a new capability.  The secret sauce is in the training of the model.

I will go so far as to say that robotics will eventually replace everything that humans can easily do unconsciously - if we solve the energy issue.  That's where AI is currently headed - we will end up building a massive amount of unconscious processing power.  What we choose to apply it to, that's the only question.

This capability is a new thing, and has been enabled by GPUs that provide us with "teraflop" computing.  I recall discussions at the beginning of my career how ballistic missile defense was impossible unless we got teraflop computing.  Back then, a teraflop was an impossibly large number - the higher end computers the size of washing machines were rated in megaflops, and so BMD was therefore impossible.

These days, a high end GPU board (ex: $1000 for the NVidia "Titan") can do 5 teraflops; theoretically you could put 4 in a tower (admittedly with a 1 kilowatt power supply) and that gets you 20 teraflops.  This has by itself enabled the whole "deep learning" revolution, which is a field that is so new and un-tapped that a single human can actually understand the current state of the art.  Training time is the issue with deep learning, and teraflop computing makes training time run vastly faster, especially for the computer vision problems, and that brings some previously impossible-to-solve problems well within the range of normal people like me.

Even if GPUs get no faster than they are now, there are a lot of discoveries waiting in dozens of fields that have yet to benefit from the impact of the new ML systems.  That's what I see anyways.A

The important takeaway?  As an example, it might take that $6000 computer a few hours of computing time to train a model to recognize handwritten digits.  But once trained, you can run the model on a low-end phone, and it will take a fraction of a second to translate a picture of handwritten numbers into digits.  Or whatever else you need the module to do.  Download a new model - you get a new capability.

We just need to solve the energy thing.


Executing Permaculture design is a skill that can be conducted within a community.   Even the smallest of towns and mostly all cities have parkways ( space between the curb and the sidewalk)  that could be designed, cultivated, and planted by those who have little or no property of their own. 

With regards to the growing world of automation & robotization - It may, after the initial outlay is recovered be a more profitable and necessary step into future, however - I have always asked "Where are governments going to find enough revenue when many millions of workers are to become unemployed  non-income tax-payers and who will be adding to the numbers of welfare recipients?"
Because of the declining Income tax revenue due to redundant workers, governments will have no choice but to impose a tax on companies for every automated machine/robot which has done them out of revenue. Of course governments will need more revenue than what they receive now due to growing numbers of welfare beneficiaries and subsidies for these people.

I suspect that down the line, companies who automate will be "eventually" shooting themselves in the foot even though it seems a logical step through rationalization to increase output more effectively and also cut expenditure by a large degree.

In the not too distant future I think that companies may be worse off than now.

I have recently read an article on the arrival of "Automated Trucks" which should apparently save the transport industry huge money - But what happens with these long-haul trucks if they break down or have tire blow-outs etc in remote areas - Most of these drivers have vast skills to keep checking for all manner of faults pertaining to their trucks & loads and have acquired much knowledge on how to negotiate flooded roads and rugged terrain and repair many faults. In outback areas of Australia for example, these trucks travel thousands of km's each way to service remote towns which are time-dependent on these deliveries - These drivers stop at ranches & cattle stations along the way to have a break when roads are washed out and waiting for signs of a clear road ahead. They have nurtured a friendship over the years with these rural people - Something a machine cannot do!

Its not that there is not a place for automation, there are places that it makes sense, it will just never be the dominant paradigm.  But this techno fantasy vision of an automated world, with human beings flitting about trying to find things to fill there day is just that, a fantasy.  I think that we would quickly find that such a scenario would not be a fantasy at all, but rather a nightmare.  Human beings, free from the constraints of the universe, would quickly devolve into monsters.  Lottery winners are a perfect example, free from the constraints having to be useful on a daily basis leads to trouble with almost certainty.  There are those of course who have awakened within enough of a connection to the universe within, that they can flourish despite the external dysfunction of a large inheritance.
The "rational mind" tries to understand the universe by braking it into smaller and smaller pieces, in doing so, cuts the millions of filaments that ties the subject of our observation to the rest of the world.  That is the automated mind, it is the mind of dominated by unintended consequences.  The starting premise always is that I am outside observer, separate from the universe in which I exist. Transformation occurs when we embrace and accept that we are part and parcel part of the universe in which we find our selves, connected in millions of ways of which we are aware of only a few.  The repetitive is antithetical to the adaptive, creative, and the living.  Lets usher monocultures, both socially, technologically, and agriculturally to pages of the history books as rapidly as possible. What serves humanity as also what serves the planet, because we are one and the same.