Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Send In the Slaves

When it's completely boiled down what are robotics except the process of capital owning labour?  What are the implications of that if capital is given a free hand to dislocate human labour with its mechanized alternative?

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald claims that robots could replace half of human jobs in the next 20-years.  Something that radical usually results in guillotines in the public square.

University of Oxford Associate Professor in machine learning Michael Osborne has examined the characteristics of 702 occupations in the US, predicting 47 per cent will be overtaken by computers in the next decade or two.

Those most at-risk jobs are in accommodation and food services (87 per cent of workers at high risk of being replaced), transportation and warehousing (75 per cent) and real estate (67 per cent).

By contrast, only about 10 per cent of workers in the information sector, software developers and higher level management were at risk of automation.

Professor Osborne said machines and computers still struggled with creativity, social intelligence and the manipulation of complex objects, making jobs with high requirements in these areas less vulnerable to robotisation.

History is full of examples of machines replacing workers.

At the start of the 20th century about 40 per cent of US workers were in agriculture. That's now about two per cent but the unemployment rate has remained relatively steady.

The invention of the car savaged jobs in the horse transport industry but gave rise to tourism and all the jobs that come with it.

In the early 19th century the Luddites rioted against labour-replacing machinery in the English textile industry, coining a name for someone resistant to change.

"These people weren't irrational. There were genuine risks to their jobs," Professor Osborne said.

"And while overall in the end unemployment wasn't affected, there certainly were very severe negative consequences for those workers in the short term.

"I think the story here is fairly similar actually that in the end, yes we may see new forms of work generated but it's not clear that the kind of people who are put out of work, which I said ought to be those at the low-skilled end of the spectrum, are necessarily going to be those that move into those new forms of work."

The dislocation triggered by mechanization can be ameliorated in an expansive economy but what does it mean to a world of scarcity and retraction?  We're not there yet, thanks in good measure to some economic parlour tricks, but we're not far off either.               


Purple library guy said...

It's worth noting that this is a problem only under capitalism. In a system which did not rely on a reserve army of labour, the mass unemployed, to keep wages down and so forth, the response would be simple: If we can produce as much with half the work, halve the work-day. Leisure for all!

But that wouldn't be good for short-term profits, so under our system we won't do that. At least, not until the unrest in the streets gets so huge the plutocrats can feel the breeze of the guillotine blade on their necks.

The Mound of Sound said...

So long as we're a society with a consumer economy, we'll have to find some way of accommodating and properly compensating labour. Ever worker you lose is a consumer lost. You can have all the robots you like but they can't buy what they're churning out.

Toby said...

The Mound of Sound said..."Ever worker you lose is a consumer lost."

Not necessarily. These days a factory can be and often is in a different jurisdiction than its customers.

Purple library guy said...

The elites seem to be fine with negative-sum games as long as their percentage keeps increasing. In the age of finance capitalism, the "growth" mantra is just a smoke screen.