If the Robots Come for Our Jobs, What Should the Government Do?

Some big ideas are starting to percolate. But less dramatic ones might work, too.

Comments: 211

  1. There are two big issues here: how to craft an economy that keeps creating goods and services that people want or need and how to distribute those goods and services to "people". While these issues interact a lot, I still see no proof that they can't be addressed somewhat independently. I'm willing to listen to arguments that show that these issues are absolutely locked together, but I haven't heard even a good starting argument for that yet. I recall that there were marvelously complex arguments that allowed scientific issues to be discussed without violating the dogmas of particular churches. This article sounds a lot like some of them. Neither of these two issues is easy to solve. Venezuela right now is demonstrating how easy it is to destroy an economy despite enormous reserves of valuable oil. Russia is demonstrating how to take a large and sophisticated economy and distribute the gains only to a dictator and his vassal oligarchs. So far, we have been able to get away with the dogma that everyone must work to produce "stuff", or must inherit enough wealth to build new factories and service industries to produce "stuff". In the era of intelligent robots this dogma will obviously break down. We need to start right now to devise alternatives.

  2. "disruption won’t result in a permanent loss of demand for workers, but rather shifts in what types of work the economy needs." Yes, but when you try and change jobs or industries you are labeled a failed career changer and "damaged goods." In short, someone who failed and is toxic to the new employer.

  3. Yes and try changing careers after 50. Age discrimination is very real, and has nothing to do with skills or work habits.

  4. You both seem to have missed the point. As conditions change, our attitudes toward certain things will have to change also. Forty years ago, many middle class people worked for the same company their entire working lives. Other changed jobs a few times early in their careers, then settled down for long periods of time in one field, if not at one company. That way of doing things has been changing since even before the advent of automation. Companies will have to change their attitudes also to adapt. Yes, older workers can be at a disadvantage in the fast-changing tech world--or even in various other industries. But, as we make adjustments that increase employment (and, yes, it's going to happen), age discrimination will be, in many fields at least, less of a problem because companies will not be able to waste the resource of competent employees with life experience. It will be helped by the fact that we must find ways to provide our citizens with the means to keep learning--as alluded to in the article--as they go through life. It's unlikely that it will benefit those of us who are already at an age when age discrimination is relatively common, but again, change will come. Both employers and employees will be growing up and entering into their work years with a different set of assumptions and expectations than those that have existed for decades now. The issue is going to be figuring out HOW to deal with the changes in a way that benefits all of the population.

  5. Attitudes, like behavioral habits, are the most difficult human characteristics to change. Better education, changes in understanding, improving skills, changing efforts are all much, much easier than changing attitudes and behavior. Both workers who may be displaced by automation and companies who benefit from it will not be easily capable of changing their opinions and habits. This is the crux of the matter; altruism is a weak characteristic compared to the profit motive, and lethargy is easier than vigorous action.

  6. Didn't Bill Gates, some time ago, suggest that the government needs to impose a tax on robots? If only humans pay taxes and robots take all the jobs... then what? Perhaps we might want to listen to the richest man in the world?

  7. Bill Gates stole the idea of taxing robots from me. I posted it online at least a decade ago!

  8. Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world (and he's in the process of giving away his wealth). Jeff Bezos is. And Jeff Bezos (public noise withstanding) is only interested in Jeff Bezos, his family, and his dreams. All charitable inklings are there to protect his investments and his plans.

  9. Can someone explain to me why we need more immigration if we will have trouble finding work for people here now? Other than to drive down wages?

  10. Can someone explain to me why it makes sense to let corporations move money out of the country when we have trouble finding work for people here now? We wall off humans but let cash run free. That is really good for the people with too much cash, but bad for everyone else.

  11. Simple because throughout history from the invention of the wheel to the invention of the computer, new jobs were created that replaced old jobs. Also, throughout, there were always jobs that people did not want to do, only immigrants, new people would do it. There are tons of jobs in NYC and every other city in America that pay minimum wage, in horrible conditions that most Americans don't want to do.

  12. Can someone explain to me why we don't put limits on births if we need less people to work?

  13. All I keep hearing this week in the news is that there are not enough carpenters, roofers, electricians, plumbers to do the work. Why are our schools sending kids off to college where they will be in debt for the next 20+ years when they can learn a trade and make a very good living? Why? Problem solved. Retrain people for the job openings that exist.

  14. Part of the attack on public schools in general is an attack on vocational schools in particular. Since vocational schools are the traditional dumping ground for poor performing students, they are easy targets for those that want to privatize education (for their own profit). I actually believe that everyone should get a college education, but when a decent job in the trades pays more than what teachers make, and the jobs cannot be exported, not training people in the trades is a crime.

  15. Unfortunately, trade unions prefer to keep the trained carpenters, roofers, electricians and plumbers to a minimum to keep demand high and salaries higher.

  16. The state I live in has large labor force shortage in manufacturing. The state and other business organizations and non-profits (I work for one) to help solve that problem have set up all kinds of committees, partnerships, initiatives, run conferences, and provides high school and community college student with tours of manufacturing facilities to get them interested in manufacturing as a career. None of it seems to be making a difference and young people are still leaving the state. Your solution to just retrain sounds easy, but it's much harder than you think. There are no easy, quick-fix answers. If there were we would not be having this problem.

  17. “During the Luddite risings of 1811–13, rioters achieved nothing more than their predecessors, except forcing the British government to deploy an even larger army: the 12,000 troops sent to resolve the situation exceeded the size of the army which Wellington took into the Peninsula War against Napoleon in 1808.” (https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/Political%20Machine...

  18. "You can always pay half of the poor to kill the other half." -Jay Gould How is it possible that productivity has doubled since the 1960s, but that most people are not better off than they were then? How can we double output per person, without doubling the median income? Theft at all epic scale, that's how. The poor people didn't steal the money. The few thousand people that control more than half of the entire world's wealth stole all the money. I know this because they have the money. So we just gave them a giant tax cut. If the rich are so against socialism, why do they expect it for themselves?

  19. "The poor people didn't steal the money. The few thousand people that control more than half of the entire world's wealth stole all the money. I know this because they have the money." That is a great quote. Might have to steal it from you (pun intended).

  20. From Investopedia: "Back in 1961 the 398 highest-income taxpayers, measured in today’s dollars, enjoyed an average income of $16.3 million. They paid 42.4% of their income as income tax. Jump forward to 2013 (while the IRS has released data for all taxpayers through 2014, the annual report on the 400 highest incomes in tax returns is only available through 2013). By that year, the top 400 enjoyed more than 16 times as much income as the same statistical group did back in 1961, averaging $264.9 million. However, their average tax rate was almost cut in half to 22.9%. (From: Who Else Doesn't Pay Taxes? at http://www.investopedia.com/news/who-else-doesnt-p...) We have done this to ourselves. Every ordinary person who has voted for a smooth talker like Reagan or Bush or Trump because of promises to cut taxes has caused this. They never seem to realize that cutting taxes almost always means that those at the top will realize benefits far in excess of anything that the middle and lower income groups will. Too many people fall for it every time. (Might this time be a breakthrough--the Trump tax cut doesn't seem to be going over all that well. Maybe it's a start.) For years we had 25-26 income brackets; under Reagan at one point it got down to just two. That is disaster for the bottom 90% of the population and for our society. Remember, these are marginal brackets. If the top bracket is 70% or even 80%, that doesn't mean someone's entire income is taxed at that amount.

  21. The major problem with "guaranteed basic income schemes" is that the people that get the money but NEVER get a job think the money is never enough and since those the refuse to work eventually outnumber those who do work, the politicians keep raising the amount to buy votes and the people the do work start looking around and eventually decide to stop working since they don't actually get to live better than their neighbor that isn't working because the government keeps giving more of the workers money to the non-worker. "Socialism fails when it runs out of other peoples money to spend." Margret Thatcher. Democracy will fail when the masses learn they can vote themselves largess from the public purse. Author(s) Unknown but written at the dawn of democracy.

  22. hello, it appears that your considerations are specific for a situation where you compare two workers with low wages as it used to be in the past. I read the article as the point in time when robots will replace so many workers that we will not face the competition between lazy and proactive workers, but between those who do not have the talent to get an education to be competitive with smart machines. I do not believe that every truck driver (just to name the ones I see most at risk in the next 3 years) of today could become an engineer/doctor/lawyer if given the time (and money) to attend college. The available job positions for them will be exponentially fewer and I do not consider it is right to get them out of the society. Machines will take care that we will not run out of resources to spend: MT statement was right at the time it was made, today it is surpassed by events.

  23. You just made that up. Where is the evidence. You quote Margaret Thatcher, but Britain never had a universal income, so she knew nothing about it. Numerous studies show that the best way to motivate people is to help them develop a sense of Mastery, a sense of Autonomy, and a sense of Purpose. The "conservative" idea that you motivate the poor through hunger and the rich by paying them far more than they contribute is destroying the world. Very few people actually want to sit around doing nothing. Most people are far happier doing something useful with their time. The "hunger makes people work" theory robs people of the resources they need for necessities (housing, food, education, healthcare) which puts them under so much stress they can't cope day to day, and struggle with jobs. Even the ones that hold down two minimum wage jobs, are living in poverty and can't devote enough time and resources to their children. Go visit Detroit and tell me how efficient capitalism is. Once millions of people made good livings there. Then capitalism pitched up and moved to China, leaving more than half of the city a vacant lot. That is not efficiency. That is economic terrorism. Right now capital is at 80% utilization, while we are at "full employment." This as before we gave $5 trillion more in tax cuts to capital (paid for with $4 trillion in tax increases on high-tax-state workers). That mismatch in investment between machines and people is hurting productivity.

  24. I cannot agree enough. I teach high school in a fairly working-class town. My students are the kind of people, if you saw them, you would think would be happy to do nothing. And yet? Every one of them has personal goals. Every one.

  25. Non-wealthy employees need to receive a share of the financial gains from incorporated firms, including from their automation and location decisions.

  26. What should government do? Probably not encourage 100k new immigrants to come and drive down wages for the remaining jobs that aren't automated. And please don't trot out the "they do jobs Americans won't" canard. There are no jobs an American won't do, only jobs that you aren't yet paying them enough to do.

  27. If you want to stop illegal immigration, prosecute the CEOs that hire them, then expand legal immigration, and enforce the minimum wage, and other wage rules. Amnesty is not a solution and a wall is not a solution either. The reason that employers hire illegal aliens is precisely because they are illegal, and therefore have no enforceable rights. Making then more illegal does nothing to change that dynamic.

  28. You don't seem to understand the free market. Sitting at home and complaining that you won't work for less than 35 an hour is your right, as is the right of someone else to undercut your labor and work for 14 an hour. In effect, if not in principle, it's a job you won't do. Someone else did it. They were an immigrant. You've been outcompeted. My sympathy is marginal.

  29. @Kevin - You might have a point. IF we weren't seeing a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 10% and especially to the top 0.1%. We had a much more equitable distribution of our society's wealth during the post-war years and our country thrived. I'm not advocating for a system that tries to impose an equal income on everyone. But what we have now is unhealthy and destructive. Why is greater equality important? There are both moral and practical reasons. One important factor, I think, is that great inequality makes both the rich AND the poor a drain on society. Because we are not willing to simply let people live on the streets and die of starvation there, money is taken from those who are richer to provide a minimal amount of the necessities of life. But low income people are poor consumers of goods and services and have little energy or access to contributing to society in, at best, any but the most menial of ways. And the rich? Well, at some point, they have more money than they know what to do with. They, too, largely stop contributing to society in a generally beneficial way. Their wealth becomes a tool for controlling the political scene and for playing financial games with stocks and homes and luxury goods. They invest only marginally--where they expect the returns will be best--in businesses that will provide jobs or improve the quality of life for society as a whole. We're going in the wrong direction.

  30. A tax on ALL robots and related automated labor devices to fund a minimum income for all impacted laborers. “I have always said that I am in favor of a minimum income for every person in the country.” Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue by F. A. Hayek, edited by Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994) In August, 1969, President Richard Nixon proposed the replacement of AFDC with a program that would benefit “the working poor, as well as the nonworking; to families with dependent children headed by a father, as well as those headed by a mother.” “What I am proposing is that the Federal Government build a foundation under the income of every American family with dependent children that cannot care for itself — and wherever in America that family may live.” Richard Nixon, 1969

  31. How is it possible that sending every citizen a check every month is "not politically viable?" Only if politicians don't care what their constituents think anymore. Everyone in Alaska gets free money and it works for them. Meanwhile the federal Reserve has been throwing many trillions of dollars at global banks. Where is the outcry over that? Every time they give a trillion dollars to global banks that is $3,300 they didn't give each citizen of the U.S.. Global banks invest anywhere. U.S. citizens spend dollars in their neighborhoods.

  32. Much of the work that constitutes a job is repetitive tasks. If it's mental it's a candidate for computers to take over. If it's physical, robots. If we demand "productivity" from people in employment, then that will come, in future, by working closely, as partners, with computers and robots. I first started working with computers in the late 70's. I'm neither programmer nor computer scientist but my work has always been based on results from increasingly more powerful computers. About 80% of my productivity comes from these machines. Ten percent goes into original ideas, and 10% goes into explaining complex result to the various people (all non-mathematicians) that pay for my work. The way I look at it, I get to have all the fun, while all these machines do the grunt work. That's how I try to sell the idea of automation to people for whom my work eliminates their jobs. No you do not become "less valuable, you get to do "more interesting and valuable things". "Work" to me is doing the same thing twice, but I realize not everyone is wired that way.

  33. Yes! Professor Julie Shah of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT has said: "The key is to understand that this technology is not about replacing people. It’s about harnessing the strengths of humans and robots to achieve new levels of efficiency and productivity that neither can achieve alone.” An interesting website is that of the Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau (VDMA), the association of Germany's engineering industry which represents the interests of Germany's large capital goods sector, including machinery, plants, system suppliers, system integrators and service providers. "Work 4.0 – Humans at its heart" explores the relationships that exist in Germany between humans and machines. ((https://humans-machines-progress.com/reportage/work-4-0-humans-at-its-he... The article, Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation, by David H. Autor, is an exploration of the phenomenon he calls "automation anxiety" and how the fears that have arisen repeatedly in the past have not been realized. It's at https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.3. I think the future holds a lot of promise, but it won't be easy for us. Our politics have become toxically divisive just when we need to come together to tackle big issues from climate change to the automation revolution. There are many questions that need to be resolved, and while we're working on that, there are those people for whom the transition is and will be painful.

  34. Finally someone is saying what needs to be said. And btw automation and/or industrialization already destroyed jobs in developing countries. Just because in western countries the unemployment rate is always around 4% (with some exceptions during financial crises) doesnt mean there are enough jobs at this time for everyone. Also other measures include to strictly enforce labor laws such as always pay overtime and paid leave for everyone! On the other hand, there is much work that could be done in environmental protection, infrastructure, removing duds in war zones, etc. So basically there is lots of work but no one pays for this utopian idea, instead people working in a bank shift around requirement documents to marginally improve some business processes and scientists try to clone animals in their lab. I know Im right.

  35. All of the ideas here are good. Throughout history the bogeyman of automation from the invention of the wheel to the invention of the computer were going to end life as we know it. It did not happen. New jobs were created. Also immigration/new people will be needed anytime demo shifts happen.

  36. New jobs are being create that play a tenth of what union factory jobs used to pay, and pensions and benefits are being cut. Taxi driving used to be a small business. Now Uber drivers earn less than minimum wage. Not every historical trend continues into the future. Productivity is double what it was 50 years ago. But all that that increase is going to global shareholders. Not the people that do the actual work. They are being fired from good jobs and forced to take bad jobs. As productivity goes to infinity, pay will go to zero, unless we figure out a new system.

  37. Thank you for your reply McGloin. You bring up an entire new issue that has nothing to do with automation. Jobs are lost and created by automation. The conditions of the working conditions are determined by man just like man creates automation. Your points are well taken but again are not directly related to automation. Before automation when the wheel wasn't invented, you had the haves and have nots pushing things around by hand.

  38. Capitalism contains the seeds of it's own destruction.

  39. Every time the subject of robots comes up, someone broaches the idea of job sharing. So explain to me how this works mechanically? Say you split your job with someone else, so you both work 20 hours, which together is the standard 40 hours. Do you both get paid for working 20 hours as if you worked a full 40 hours alone? Because if not, then I am curious as to how you will be able to pay your rent/mortgage, put food on the table and pay all the other bills most people incur in our modern society (insurance, utilities, cell phone, etc.) I serious doubt that your landlord/bank is going to be willing to accept 50% of your usual payment or that the supermarket will reduce the prices you pay for food and sundries by 50%.

  40. Universal basic income.

  41. I'm good with UBI but UBI is not intended to pay people 20, 30, 40k or more yearly that they would lose in my above scenario. Also, where will the money to fund UBI come from? From the FED money tree? Wealthy people don't exactly seem to like additional taxes on their earnings (excepting perhaps Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and a few others). Point is, if you are a service provider, say in the form of a landlord, bank holding a mortgage, supermarket, etc., who like many others lives check-to-check, you are going to be in for a rude awaking when you can't rent your apartment for the price you have come to be dependent upon.

  42. "Globalization and automation caused upheaval in the manufacturing industry from the 1980s through the early 2000s, and millions of factory workers lost their jobs. The disruption to communities is still being felt, and is arguably at the root of a lot of the biggest social and economic problems of this era.” Workers lost their jobs to automation, to countries with cheap labor and to the cheap labor being provided by migrants who have come here illegally. While the media writes countless articles and broadcasts on the plight of the undocumented workers and their families, it has pretty much ignored the economic and social problems in working class and poor communities. While it is hard to see minors being taken from their parents at the border, it is also hard to accept how many of our country’s children are now growing up in single parent homes because their dads do not make enough money for their moms to marry them. Many of these unmarried parents have ended their relationships by the time their children turn 5, and enter school. . Those who favor illegal migrants do not seem to be aware of what it must be like to grow up poor, in a single parent home, in a community where the basic institutions are falling apart.

  43. Out of automaton, outsourcing, and immigrants, you only team about immigrants. Why?

  44. Absolutely clueless they are.

  45. Blaming immigrants for low paying jobs is ludicrous. Your imagined citizen people are not picking fruits and vegetables, washing dishes in our restaurants, or cleaning toilets in our hotels. Low paying jobs at this time of record profits are a result of corporate greed.

  46. It's useful to think through the extreme case in which self-maintaining robots take over production of all goods and services. Theoretically, if the "spoils" of this were distributed fairly, people could enjoy their free time as they wish and never labor except by choice. But this thought experiment brings up two interesting observations: 1. Ever-greater automation + concentration of capital (and no universal income) will eventually lead to a world of material abundance, but a large population that can't afford basics 2. In a world with unlimited labor input, the limiting resources are natural resources. I suggest both of these observations support the idea of a universal basic income, first because it's the morally right action to provide for the basics of life in an economy of abundance, and second because every person born has (or should have) an equal claim to the natural resources on earth, the "natural capital".

  47. Suggest reading Jack Williamson's famous SF book 'The Humanoids', originally penned in 1948 I believe, for a picture of what life might be like in a completely automated society. Also, in such a world, there would be no need for a UBI, because everything was free, created by the robots and machines as we desired.

  48. Unfortunately, the rich strongly disagree with your two reasons to provide a universal basic income, and since they own the place, what can we do?

  49. You cannot and should not expect the government to do anything to soften the blow that workers will experience when the time comes. They did not do it in the 80's, 90's and after. They have no foresight, don't care or are unable to mobilize in sufficient time for the greater good and welfare of the vast numbers of citizens who will be affected. Capitalism can be cruel and those left behind will remain that way because those who benefit won't even be thinking about them. It's already too late.

  50. Defeatist. I support Bernie's movement because his heart is in the right place, he understands that the change that needs to happen won't happen overnight, and he won't give up.

  51. If you take away a person's opportunities for employment due to automation, then what regard would they hold for the capitalistic system? You will only create a huge class of economically deprived revolutionaries. The end result of that would be nonstop violence and civil disorder.

  52. We'll get them to blame themselves. It's what we do.

  53. Tax them! Fund a basic income that will allow more time for the non-robot population to get education, care for family, get exercise, and volunteer in the community.

  54. "And he sees promise in work-sharing programs like those that have been used to help keep unemployment low in Germany even during economic downturns. The idea is that if a company needs to cut 20 percent of its work force because of new innovations, it is better for society if it cuts each worker’s hours by 20 percent rather than laying off 20 percent of its staff." This idea may work in situations where workers are being paid a good living salary already, such that they can manage a cut. However, I have personal experience in this. I once worked for an employer who had overhired and needed to cut a few positions. Rather than make the cuts, management decided that we were "a family" who needed to share the pain, so everyone's pay was cut. Problem is, the staff (I was mid-level) was being paid so little that the results were disastrous. Some people quit because they couldn't afford to stay on. I lost my home and almost all of my belongings, including most of my clothes and books, all the evidence of who I was as a child and a record collection that I had spent countless hours of my life to that point acquiring, which I liquidated for less than 5% of its value. I was dependent on the charity of family members and became severely depressed for a year and a half. Work sharing for those barely making ends meet in the first place is a harebrained idea with catastrophic consequences for those forced into it. This isn't Germany.

  55. An awful lot of jobs are ripe for mechanization: truck driving, mail and package delivery, even elderly companionship, if you believe some stories published recently. Fast food restaurants will become walk-in self-cleaning vending machines. Lots of low and middle wage earners will have no work and the government will have no taxes from the labor of machines. Things look good for the capitalists who enjoy the fruits of this, but they had better be sure they have good security around their homes and cars, just like in Latin America.

  56. A few million unemployed angry people won't be enough for their fences and security to stop.

  57. If companies expect to save money and gain more productivity with machines, tax them. Let the technology support people. Certainly, new jobs will open however this cycle will repeat itself and people need to survive.

  58. Good luck getting the owners of Congress to allow loosening of intellectual property monopoly rights! Let's not forget the travesty of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1998 which actually took us in the opposite direction, ever closer to perpetual copyrights.

  59. A good argument against the unfettered importation of millions of unskilled, uneducated immigrants.

  60. The owners of robots could just keep workers like pets, relics of a bygone age like they now keep recreational horses and border collies. Whether you call it subsidized wages or basic income is just semantics. Of course this could only provide "employment" for a chosen few. The rest would have to be euthanized.

  61. the leisure society is coming 80% or more of the pop. will not have to work. computers and robotics will supply all the food goods and services needed. no money needed. people doing engineering medical and science will still do it for the creative enjoyment no pay required. it will dramatically improve mankind lives. I look foreword to the leisure society

  62. Come on... and you think the corporations will just hand us the bounty at no charge? We have only two options: move forward to socialism or regress to feudalism. So far, every sign points to regressing to feudalism -- where a small handful of nobles owns everything.

  63. We have actually had a situation where most of the work was done by robots before. Consider ancient Greece. In this case the place of the robots was taken by slaves. The citizens lived on the income of their slaves and involved themselves in community service and intellectual pursuits. We should consider this too. Tax the robots for an income and change our ourselves to be seekers of knowledge. A big ask but could be a possible answer to aim at.

  64. Technology, robotics, automation,and computer software (TRACS) have been creating rapidly increasing chronic, irreversible, permanent unemployment. This includes highly skilled professionals such as physicians, engineers, accountants and computer software developers; TRACS have been doing a rapidly increasing share of the work of these professionals. One example is the increased power of computer programming languages; a project that required 100 programmers 20 years ago requires only one programmer today.

  65. I just love all the rose-coloured visions of the future. Much of American labour subsists just above slavery at this point with few benefits and fewer rights. One smart commenter already noted that productivity has increased many-fold but that wages have been stagnant for decades. What makes anyone think that the ownership class will allow such a drastic and positive change with the arrival of mass automization? That would require morals and an emphasis on the common good. Now I am making myself laugh.

  66. Mr. Irwin: nice, rich set of policy ideas for some future policy soup. Just not for the United States. Unless and until the Republican Party is removed from governing, there will be no one interested in constructive legislation to ameliorate complex problems. Republicans could not even cut taxes for their rich donors without incompetence, greed, and short-sightedness souring the bill and crying out for many fixes. They have been unable to outright demolish the ACA, preferring lazy, slovenly attacks on various mandates and mechanisms, making the program less and less comprehensible. Conservatives will be eager to protect and cater to their business patrons; the administration will stack every decision process with interested parties, and not a single Republican in Congress will support or even speak up for an honest process. We have a government only in so far as it is an extension of a willful, malevolent, ignorant autocrat named Trump.

  67. Neil, a good article which has prompted some useful discussion. First, there is no "if". Robotisation and AI are already consuming jobs, some more visibly than others. Second, the point about factory automation is critical - over the last 50 years, 80% of Americans have had hardly any real pay rise. TVs may have got cheaper, but healthcare and education costs have blown out horribly, exacerbated by the lack of a 'proper' social welfare system in the USA. Third, without intervention, increasing productivity will continue to drive wealth polarization. This will very likely increase social tensions, and will drive slower economic growth. The biggest challenge in all this is to persuade those at the top of the economic and political systems that they face real risks if they do not act. There's no doubt that, harnessed in the right way, AI and machine learning can drive dramatic reductions in the cost of living and improvements in social prosperity. But if the wrong decisions are made, many leading economies may experience a deflationary death spiral. In short, there is phenomenal opportunity and extreme risk for companies and governments. For those that want a deeper look at this set of issues - and a more quantitative approach - take a look at the paper I recently published with Prof Jorgen Randers (Limits to Growth etc).

  68. "In particular, we could be headed toward a bifurcated labor market, where people with advanced skills earn higher wages but where workers without those skills see technology drive down demand for their services, depressing their pay." We're not, "headed toward at bifurcated labor market." We're already in a bifurcated labor market. The future is now.

  69. That was going to be exactly my comment. You saved me the trouble. I spent 25 years in IT before retirement, so I've been observing and worrying about these trends for decades. I retrained to learn databases, retrained again to learn internet programming, etc., and that's fine. But my final 20 years were spent in a secure government job, so I was spared the lifelong anxiety that "lifelong learning" will generate for independent contractors stuck on the hamster wheel, with new technology always creeping up in their rearview mirror. I feel sorry for the upcoming generations; wish I knew how to help.

  70. The idea to limit IP protection because labor will benefit is flawed and absurd.

  71. The robots will inevitably come, but it seems to me that we could choose otherwise - who decided that we are ultimate slaves to the market and only the market? (clearly a naive comment, but I said it anyway) I would like to see a comparative study by some high-powered economists as to what the cost would be to society if we choose NOT to automate everything, and what the costs would be to provide a subsistence income to all displaced by technology - would we be willing to pay a few more pennies for our stuff to have actual people make it, rather than pay the increased taxes and other societal costs resulting from no meaningful work for our fellow citizens? Some might argue that the robots would do a better job, save driver's lives, reduce medical errors, etc., but I am not convinced.

  72. Well, for one thing, we can start serving as mentors, a role for which robots and artificial intelligence are—and always will be—ill-suited, if not completely unfit. This country would benefit enormously from a large infusion of talented teachers and the finances necessary to support and sustain them. The profession has been unfairly maligned for years now, and we would do well to begin to reorient our economy toward more meaningful longterm, interpersonal exchanges.

  73. We have been on the cusp ever since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century when the world saw the first steam engine and much more that followed. The Luddites are at work again.

  74. No, the Luddites are not at work again. Some have learned from history and can project reaonably well into the future. The Luddites were concerned about loss of jobs in one industry. The future will be about loss of jobs for almost everyone, especially with AI.

  75. How come all economists but watchdogs ignore the fact that over $2 Trillion owned by US corporations is sitting in overseas tax shelters, all because the executives don’t want to pay taxes on it? How come economists pretend that greed isn’t a massively, near overwhelming component of economic decisions and policy? I’ve even seen economists try to argue in favor of greed, like it’s a good thing. There is nothing wrong with the desire to attempt to acquire the resources so a person and their family can enjoy life. There’s a massive problem in corporate philosophy and darwin economy designs that reward people for acquiring more resources than they need, at the expense of others in that same economy. As it stands, money flowing like the Amazon river flows to the top 10% of global wealth holders, while money equivalent to that coming from a drinking fountain flows to the rest of us. That is to say, the flow is shut on and off. None of the serious policies I’ve seen designed to address technological displacement of workers solves this. Which is why each proposal that ignores the nature of human cruelty and greed is doomed to fail. Each economic policy assumes either a neutral or a sunny outlook on the human disposition. That’s either wholly naive, or dishonest. Until such a time as economists decide to get serious about the destructive nature of greed and power, we will forever continue the cycle of conflict-reconstruction-conflict-reconstruction.

  76. Greed makes the economy go. Rules and laws put harness to it.

  77. Humans and machines both wear out. The problem is humans need health care and a retirement income when they stop working. Machines just get tossed. Let's tax the machines for Medicare and Social Security and not humans. The decision that a company makes between hiring a human or buying a machine would then tilt toward the human.

  78. And, the companies that tilt toward hiring a human could use it as a HUGE marketing opportunity - Robot Free is the new Organic. I don't know what the average relative cost difference is between organic and non-organic fresh and prepared foods, but I do know that there is a difference. I would pay more for goods certified as Robot Free - Human Hands Only. Isn't it surprising that Apple has not already caught on to the concept?

  79. very smart idea.

  80. OK, you convinced me. Now convince the Republicans.

  81. My thoughts are that if robots come for our jobs, we should simply tell them to go elsewhere. Why do so many people not see this? Allowing technology to do the work of people is a CHOICE. There is no law, either man made legislation or a law of nature, that requires it. Factories have replaced their workers with robots because they can make more money that way - and because we as a society allow them to do so. But why do we allow it if it hurts many people? We should not. We already ban or restrict the use of many technologies, not because they don't work but because they pose dangers of various kinds. We don't permit cloning of human beings. We restrict the availability of nuclear technology. We ban medical experiments on human beings in most cases. Why? Because we fear the harm they could do. Why not ban or restrict technologies that do harm by taking away the livelihoods of many people?

  82. On the other hand, do you really want to spend decades of your life doing a job that can be done by a robot? Lift piece a and insert into piece b. Repeat. Over and over. Hundreds of times a day. For most of your adult life.

  83. My husband is having robotic surgery next week. A surgeon will be involved, but a robot will be doing the work, getting its “hands” dirty. Your concept of what a robot can do is a generation behind.

  84. What are you going to ban, exactly? If my code works too well it's illegal? There is no way to enforce such a thing. There is no single AI technique or technology, and there are multiple ways of solving any given problem. They represent more of an broad approach to addressing a problem, and there are many such approaches. For instance, what most people thing of today as AI are just statistical techniques that have been around for a long time that are juiced up with the computing power of graphics cards (roughly speaking). How are you going to ban that?

  85. Some drama in that title. If some jobs are replaced by some robots, then there will be a need for workers who build, transport, maintain, and operate robots. Some workers then will have to be trained in these fields, and some will require college education, but most probably will involve tech training. That is until robots are made that build and repair other robots. Yikes! @Neil_Irwin, this happened in history with any significant change in technologies. NB, the Industrial Revolution, Trains, Cars, Planes. This is probably a good extension of those manufacturing that was labor intensive. Maybe a shorter work week in time...

  86. We were told in high school in the 1960s that increased productivity would result in shorter workweeks, so careers in recreational activities were going to be big. I’m retired now, but still wondering whatever happened to that shorter workweek! If anything, electronic communications took the leisure out of leisure time.

  87. Let's go back to our math and look at limits. One limit is all work done by robots. Should robot owners then get all the work product and all others get nothing? Next, let's look at approaching that limit, where, say 90% of the work is done by robots and a few humans do the rest. So the choice then would be between those few working full time and the others unemployed, or sharing the workload, and the work product, amongst the population. A shared increase in leisure time, and work product, by the entire population solves this non-problem.

  88. Yes. Asking how stuff should be distributed when no human is involved in producing or distributing it is a good question to ask.

  89. I'm reminded that Taylorism, the early 20th century workflow changes popularized by Frederick Taylor, were supposed to bring Eden back to the working classes: all that time freed up from streamlining processes and the resulting productivity savings were, of course, going to go right back to the worker. Look how well that's turned out.

  90. If machines ever reach the level where they exponentially supplant members of the workforce, we are going to have to come to some agreement on how to handle not just quality of life, but quality of life spread across a growing population. We cannot continue to give away chunks of our lives to machines and expect our children to live as fully as we did, especially when we have 3, 4, 5 children. Imagine if China removed all factory workers and replaced them with robots. How could they reasonable handle it? The harsh reality is that we will need to evaluate population controls, or we run the risk of the already exponential increases in population mitigating any attempts to increase quality of life for supplanted workers. Having a universal income is a fine idea, until the generation that enacts it doubles and the income is spread thinner. And of course, the even harsher reality is that trying to control the base animal instinct to procreate is likely impossible. Tough like this article need to start happening more frequently.

  91. We are having exactly the opposite problem right now -- a shortage of workers at least partially due to demographic shifts clearly documented in this newspaper. In much of the world, people are already having fewer kids and population growth has fallen below the replacement rate. In California, government regulations including minimum wage increases are pushing businesses to automate as fast as possible. It's the only way a business here can succeed long term.

  92. @ Paul What you are describing is what I would consider either a linear or logarithmic growth of automation. That is a solution to a human problem that, in the short term, causes localized impacts (decrease in town sizes, emigration, etc.) but nothing of overt concern. The problem is when there the "penicillin for machines" moment. Human population skyrocketed and reached exponential growth rates starting with the discovery of penicillin due to the our increased longevity. It is entirely foreseeable that there will come an invention or policy that provides the same boosts to machinery in the workforce. Imagine a time when machinery repairs are handled by machines instead of humans. Or when all over-the-road trucking is automated. Those are the times we need to start looking towards, either to avoid them or to prepare for them, as you prefer.

  93. I can guess what Republicans will do: exploit the fear and anger of people whose jobs are displaced to get them to vote for tax cuts for billionaires.

  94. This is coming just as surely as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. What should be done? Universal basic income adjusted for your States Revenue sharing. That is blue states which provide much more than they collect should have much higher levels of universal basic income for their citizens then dependent welfare style States most of whom are red.

  95. Don't worry -- the capitalists will blame the lazy workers and leave them to starve to death.

  96. It's the end of the human race as we know it! Hal didn't die at the end of 2001, A Space Odyssey! Kubrick was wrong!!!

  97. Soylent Green anyone?

  98. Please, sir, may I have more?

  99. Plenty of ideas as to how workers should adapt and government should help them. But not a single suggestion that business, the cause of the entire problem, should have to do or sacrifice anything in pursuit of a solution. This is the heart of why the rich are richer and the workers are screwed.

  100. Robots are CAPITAL. THAT is the reason they want low taxes on capital.

  101. "Mr. Strain says liberals have blind spots on these issues as well: Raising the minimum wage, as many on the left have advocated, could well be counterproductive if technology causes market wages to fall for certain workers, for example." As a liberal who supports raising the minimum wage to a living wage, the risk of pricing workers out of the market is a feature, not a bug, when coupled with universal basic income. Wage subsidies would enable companies to pay their workers less than a living wage (they "can't afford" to pay them more), make taxpayers make up the difference, then pocket a profit. If wage subsidies have to expand as automation makes workers obsolete, that money has to come from somewhere. Would it come from the middle class, next on the automation chopping block? Or the businesses and owners who are reaping the benefits of that automation? Rather than an absurd system of having the government tax businesses to then turn around and give the money to their employees, the system needs to incentivize companies to pay their workers enough in the first place. To be clear, my goal isn't to increase the tax burden on the wealthy, but to use the threat of such taxes to motivate them and their corporations to find market solutions to keep people gainfully employed and justly compensated.

  102. These are all band-aid measures. We're starting a transition that will be every bit as important as the Industrial Revolution, so we shouldn't shy away from radical solutions. The news is good -- once we complete the transition, things'll be much better. Believe it or not, I think that AI could lead to directly solving the major problems of our time - war, poverty, climate, etc. The principal obstacle is that our political and economic systems are designed around competition -- we can't solve our problems because we're too busy fighting with each other all the time. Maybe that was OK for the Stone Age and Industrial Age, but the Information Age requires, and will bring, more cooperative social structures. I realize these are bold statements and a big gulp - but I explain the full argument, and propose concrete solutions, at http://www.whycantwe.org. AI won't be the end of civilization -- it'll be the beginning of civilization. Henry Lieberman Research Scientist MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab

  103. When you've "trained" a neural net, do you really know what you've trained it to do? (No.)

  104. The idea of universal basic income for workers who are displaced is interesting. But, no one ever talks about what we should have the recipients do? Purpose and work are important for reasons beyond having the necessities of life. Sitting around or 100 percent leisure activities can be fun for awhile but long term will not give people purpose. We should talk about what other worthy pursuits should be encouraged, or perhaps even required, such that people will continue to have purpose and society at large can benefit.

  105. Advanced automation interferes with the way in which wealth is distributed to the public. Perhaps we can invest in a certain number of robots or other automata and be paid according to what they produce. This begs the question of how we can accumulate the wealth to buy an automaton in the first place.

  106. In an Econ 101 term paper in 1962, I suggested some portion of capital investment that would replace labor, go to those displaced workers in the form of stock. I still think some variation on that idea would be helpful.

  107. Henry Ford's realization that the workers are also customers was a practical insight that promoted a dynamic economy in which higher wages led to more consumption, leading to more corporate income, leading to further wage increases, and so on in an ascending spiral. Supply-side economics tended to ignore this insight, much to the detriment of workers. But the worker-customer connection warrants renewed attention in the age of robots. Human workers are customers but robots are not. They consume resources but they don't buy household appliances or children's toys, eat in restaurants or contribute to building funds. Humans have to buy the products robots produce, and if humans' wages go down so does corporate income and the whole economy. Let's not expect simple solutions. It's a whole different economic world when the workers are no longer wage-earners and customers.

  108. People keep repeating that myth about Henry Ford. He did not care a whit about his workers’ spending. The first auto plants were not great places to work. Those fine tuned assembly lines did not spring up like magic beanstalks. It took years of improvements to make them successful. The work, in comparison to other places, was neither satisfying or rewarding. His attrition rates were horrendous. He raised the wage rates for one reason: keep his workers from leaving. It worked.

  109. Governments globally will have to implement job creation initiatives in healthcare, infrastructure, affordable housing, education, recreation. All those things that improve people's lives and things that machines and robots can't do. And, the wealthiest are going to have to pay for it.

  110. It is normal for humans to fear change.The coming of AI and a robotic world is no exception. The good news is that we adjust pretty good to changes. The fear of machines has been with us since the industrial revolution. At one time computers were going to replace all paper and all people. Computers have worked out pretty good for all of us. Those who are not willing to change will be left behind just as it has been throughout history. I am optimistic that the best is yet to come and we live in the best time in human history. One question that comes to mind about the minimum income is where is that money coming from? It is one idea that will not work and a pipe dream of the socialists. Oh hail our master AI leader!

  111. I share concerns about the relentless pace of automation with the additional factor of AI and robotics potentially turbocharging the process going into the future. Aspects of many jobs, if not the entire job itself, will increasingly be taken over by robots or intelligent agents. This could well leave less work for humans and demand higher skills for those who remain. I also agree with many of the remedies considered. Expanding the earned income tax credit, beefing up lifelong education and technical training opportunities, portability and protection for pensions and healthcare coverage, and even basic income if it can be demonstrated to be cost effective and preferable to alternatives. There are two areas where I have some disagreement. First, I'd prefer we raise the floor for everyone before giving out money without strings. In addition to better vocational education, healthcare, and pensions, I'd improve public education from pre-k through college, add more arts support, and improve our parks and mass transportation. They should all be worthy of the richest country in the modern world. The costs of these adaptations won't be cheap, but again we're a very rich country. And this ties into my other critique. Workforce angst is driven by more than automation. More importantly, the bulk of economic benefits since the 80's have been funneled almost exclusively to those in the top 10%. That means we know where to go to fund improvements for the 90% left behind.

  112. I agree, except for one point. Because surveys indicate that most Americans not be able to raise $500 in an emergency, I don't believe we can call America a rich country any longer. Instead, America is a country with a few very very rich citizens who control the government, and a vast sea of people who struggle to stay afloat financially.

  113. Doc Who, maybe I didn't make the point clearly enough, but the issue isn't how wealthy our country is but how that wealth is distributed. It's pauperized large segments and large sections of out country.

  114. "the issue isn't how wealthy our country is but how that wealth is distributed." Yes ... the GINI Index measures income equality in a country (lower index number means more equal). The US ranks just behind of Cameroon and just ahead of Peru (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/21.... The US is the 41st least (not most) equal country in terms of income distribution. We are far behind countries such as the UK or Canada, or even Egypt and Pakistan in terms of income equality (we are even less equal than Russia).

  115. Put all robots in a warehouse in West Texas and take their children away. Oh, wait. Would that be unethical?

  116. Morlock or Eloi, take your pick.

  117. I try to skip that era.

  118. “We just need proper policies in place to ensure that workers don’t bear the burden of that transition.” LOL -Where in our populace or it's current leadership doess one see the capacity for progressive action (of any kind) OH - and a reminder: -50 milliom americans just installed a dangerous imbecile and life long grifter as their incompetent-in-chief. And -Those workers will become irrelevent and preying on each other rather than accept progressive liberal guidance. So -Why should we care -they are aging and dying out at a rapid pace from their personal lifestyle choices.

  119. Concurrent with this article are NYTimes editorials encouraging immigration, legal and illegal. Doesn't anyone at the NYTimes understand that with more entry level jobs lost to automation it is a mistake to keep bringing in more people? If Democrats share the NYTimes position, they endanger 2018 and 2020, as to most voters it will be obvious that adding more people to an already unsustainable economic and environmental climate is a huge mistake.

  120. Yeah, it was called the Industrial Revolution. The way to cope is to get an education.

  121. You do realize, don’t you, that work done by highly educated people like doctors, lawyers, and engineers is already being affected by robots. Education will not be enough.

  122. Well, let's see...what happens to the unemployables now? For many, the answer is they become homeless because of the capitalist ideology so popular today. So I would imagine a government of the near future would deal with the consequences of AI and automation in similar fashion. That is, the unemployed would be blamed for their "choice" and harried from pillar to post as they attempt to live their pathetic lives. What of the wealth that accrues from AI and automation? Well, it will be "owned" by uber wealthy capitalist job creators, although we probably won't be calling them job creators anymore because all the jobs will be done by robots. So the 99% will be impoverished, while the rich get richer. And, of course, no other fate is possible, because we have all been indoctrinated to believe categorically that Social Democracy is the work of the devil. Just as Kim's enslaved minions have been convinced that he is a god.

  123. There's no way to know what machine intelligence will want with us, and there will be no way to resist. Best to make ourselves as comfortable as we can and get it over with ASAP.

  124. Someone with even the most rudimentary understanding of globalization realizes that American workers would lose their jobs if forced to “compete” with the lowest wage slave labor on the planet. Politicians understood this as well and yet did absolutely nothing to lessen the blow on people who worked in manufacturing. To think that politicians from both sides will now act in the country’s best interest and implement any of the “big ideas” suggested borders on the ludicrous.

  125. The computerization and robotizing of the private sector puts people out of work. It also lowers private sector costs, among them the cost of human labor, such as providing safe work conditions and benefits. The private sector can focus on making and marketing widgets, and lobbying, of course, for less regulation, lower taxes and fewer benefits. And fattening their off-shore accounts. In many ways this modernization resembles the effects of mechanization upon agriculture, and the resulting movement of displaced workers from farm to city. But this time there’s no place to go. The resulting dislocations require government action. They are widespread problems caused by the private sector, but whose solution is of no interest to the private sector. Like slag heaps, and air pollution, and loss of fisheries and forests and water, the damages are spread among us all, and are no concern for those profiting from their exemption from these costs. The answer to these problems is government, of course. Taxation of corporations to pay for fixing the public ills they cause, and regulation to insure against undue damage of environment and human welfare. So let’s kick out the bought-and-paid for venal GOP Congress mealy mouthing nonsensical whimsy and address these matters!

  126. I've read about people bullying self-driving cars - veering towards them just to see what how they'll respond. If people start losing jobs in large numbers, I'll suspect you'll see more of this. If some random guy takes a shotgun to the droid delivering packages on the sidewalk, it's only vandalism, not murder. I suspect the police have better things to do than track down a victimless hit job. We hear about the robot revolution, but what of the revolution against robots? (For the record, I don't support violence of any kind, including against non-sentient beings. It just occurred to me that some people might think it's a good idea.)

  127. What should the government do? Since either robots or climate change chaos awaits us in the future, governments, worldwide, must make ALL birth control free and available on demand, ditto for abortion, must set up free clinics for free vasectomies and/or tubal ligation, and must recognize a person's right to end their life when they wish. Any country not in agreement must be placed in full quarantine. It is one thing for a/any government to be indifferent to its citizens/subjects. It is another thing to stand in the way of what ever it's people decide for themselves. Let's face it: Governments, with few exceptions, are NEVER going to stand in the way of the One Percenters to make money, money, money. Of course they will be happy to have every person in their land unemployed and even hungry. Let's face it - they do that right now. Robots? Homelessness? Hunger? Climate dislocations? Sorry, but from what I see, the ones in charge of any organization are stuck in the Victorian Era, the days of the Robber Barons; and, whereas, once upon a time, the Luddites who threw their Sabots into the gears of the primitive machines could be thrown on a ship and "transported" to the New World or Austrailia, today there is no place to ship them out to. All frontiers are gone. Tis a brave new world. Iceland might figure out what to do, but that's the only country that I suspect will pull it off. All the rest are bought and sold to the Robot makers. Birth control is your only hope.

  128. We don't need to protect jobs, we need to protect workers. Automation should provide for workers to grow new skills and (perhaps) innovate. Workers are the resource. Workers make but also EARN and SPEND. We can let that virtuous cycle die and then we are left with a depreciated resource; a frustrated (and growing) demographic left out of the new world with nothing to lose and nothing to do but make it society's problem. The real question is does government and industry want a bunch of idle, angry hands connecting on social media to rally against the rich word automation cut them out of or would you rather keep those hands productive and serving the system?

  129. None of the strategies mentioned in this essay or the report it's based on seem likely to have more than a marginal effect on the problem at hand. It seems to me that what's called for is some truly creative thinking. Which seems to be in very short supply these days.

  130. Answers - reducing birth rates (using availability of women's reproductive health services, as well as voluntary incentives to have fewer children - currently children are rewarded under our tax laws) until we reduce world population massively is necessary for civilization's survival. As to work, and technology, we may have to evaluate new technologies as to their societal effects. We may find the "progress" achieved is progress towards more income inequality, more tyranny, more societal destruction. It may be in our interest to not develop such technologies. Such considerations do not make us luddites, it allows us to put the well-being of society, of human beings, ahead of the well-being of technology addicts.

  131. We have a minimum wage, we should have a maximum wage. Most people cannot get their brains around how great the disparities in wealth are in this country. They are so great that if we were to limit a family’s wealth to 4 or 5 HUNDRED million dollars, we would have the basis for universal healthcare, free education through college and living wages. It’s that bad.

  132. Totally agree. And if we don't find a way to cap personal income and wealth, there will be a revolution. It will be ugly. And since greed forever trumps reason, the rich won't do what's needed to prevent this development.

  133. What should the government do? Probably start building those Wall-E recliners for everybody.

  134. Robots that take jobs need to be taxed annually. The tax needs to cumulative to the amount of jobs the robots replaced. These taxes need to be funneled into a preventative health care system, to education job retraining programs, and to community centers where creative skills in every single facet we can think of can be taught. Realistic parenting educational programs need to start younger and so does birth control. We definitely need to stop being anxious about this because anxiety causes us to put off making a decision. We need to see this as the opportunity it is. We, as humans, are creators. We so love to create we have made everything from stone tools to robots. Now robots can take the jobs that wear away our creativity and we can get busy creating for ourselves and other. I remember in the 60s, when I was a hippy and hitchhiking around the USA, when I needed money I would sit at some vacation spot or park and sketch or watercolor. I usually made enough money every day that I could provide for myself another day. If I needed a pair of sandles, I would barter with another hippy who made shoes. Humanity use to craft everything they used. It is still possible.

  135. I work in this field of AI. I know the work I do will displace jobs. My hope is a move to universal basic income. Most minimum wage jobs provide a subsistence lifestyle in repetitive work. These workers will not ever enjoy a lavish lifestyle with a UBI. But maybe they can be there with their kids helping with homework and keeping them out of trouble.

  136. Nice thought....but how will they support themselves? Support their lifestyle that requires technology? More welfare? Government support?

  137. "the Federal Reserve and other policymakers should commit more energetically to pursuing a “maximum employment” goal set in federal law, even if it means being willing to tolerate a bit more risk of inflation." The Fed has been shirking this duty in order to please the banks for decades now, don't expect them to change unless Congress forces them to. Regulatory capture means that the government bodies that could be tasked with mitigating some of the coming downsides to automation probably won't, and a Congress in the thrall of big money from here own out thanks to the courts and Citizen United will mean that unless the displaced have the financial means to outbid the wealthy there will be no help from Congress, either. It will take a revolution or the sight of large numbers of people dying in the streets in order to get the rich to permit the government, including the Fed, to do something about these massive problems on the horizon.

  138. Jobs give folks an identity and usually have a positive effect on their lives. When people are stripped of their careers, or prevented from working in the first place, society will suffer. There is nothing inevitable about increasing automation in most professions. It just takes some foresight to prevent tech companies from making these jobs obsolete.

  139. The stripping of careers and loss of job identity is not something that is planned, it will be a slow evolution. Our system of governance is not really good at proactively setting a best course for the economy over a long period. All you have to do is look at global warming to see the failure of trying to impose proactive measures to prevent a slowly evolving catastrophe. I cannot see us doing any better with the problem of robotics replacing the work force. Economic forces and the human love of innovation and technology are too powerful. The interesting news here is that there are very few jobs that are not vulnerable to robotics and artificial intelligence. We may well go through a phase where the low-skill jobs disappear but eventually even high skilled jobs, such as engineering, can be done by AI. I give it maybe 50 years.

  140. Jobs replaced by robots or segments of the highest skilled jobs replaced will be the bottom of the barrel in human interaction. Going off on a crusade to save jobs or parts of jobs that people hate doing does not make much sense. Absolutely no one, that has ever done it, thinks driving a semi across the middle of nowhere, for 8-10 hours a day is in any way rewarding. The skill is at the front and back ends. Does your doctor really enjoy coding treatment or documenting minor steps? Of course not. Her skill is making the final recommendation and then performing the treatment. Unrewarding jobs are causes of quality problems in every industry. The robots do more than reduce labor costs. They mainly reduce errors, a result that likely has a much greater impact on the bottom line than labor substitution. People that think you can just keep workers hanging around without a productive purpose have never managed a business and most likely work in government. Processes require inputs, standard inputs. If people are not necessary, they simply get in the way. We can still work on providing some kind of alternative compensation. That is different. Let’s just not do something ridiculous by maintaining inefficient, unrewarding and error prone steps because they now use a human.

  141. Doctors coding agreed. But choose your motes justes with care. Have you driven an eighteen wheeler? Have you ever watched the Wyoming landscape unfold as the grand Tetons loom in the distance; or reveled in the craic on the CB and in the diner? Do you know the feeling of renewal as dawn creeps across the horizon in the Dakota Badlands; or the satisfaction of backing into a dock with a forty-five -degree dog-leg; the first shot? "Oh, the hours were long, and the work was hard; and the treatment surely took some bearing..." Or had a surprise when you looked down at the Buick travelling beside you and the lady passenger was - well - powdering her nose? Yes the paperwork is unfulfilling, although logs and ladings tend to be more or less automated. But to use a lede which characterizes this as an unrewarding job is not the way to begin an otherwise thought=provoking and insightful post. Be well.

  142. Many seem to like the idea of UBI, but there are two problems with it. First, unless implemented with a finesse rarely seen in government programs, it may spark inflation that will push UBI recipients back into poverty. Second, and more important, mere income is not enough to satisfy human needs. Work gives us an identity, aspirations, self-respect, and more. That's why, in a 2014 paper that later became a chapter in a book, I argued that government should tax the excess profits that AI may generate and then plow them back into the the nonprofit sector -- everything from hospitals to human services to the arts -- to create jobs where AI lacks the human touch.

  143. How do you define “excess profits”? Did not we try that one with fuel costs? A total disaster.

  144. Today those who control the wealth lack empathy for those who live in poverty, lobbying to cut services even for children to get tax cuts for themselves. What is the basis for thinking their attitudes will change? As long as people are so self centered, all these ideas are pie in the sky.

  145. A tame and timid, toe-in-the-water sampling of policy proposals that must be far more aggressive and human-centric (rather than corporation- and profit-centric, which I think is assumed in these ideas). I think the fact that must be faced is that the "inflection point" of technologic advance is right here, right now. The number and scope of robotic / AI-driven capabilities has accelerated, and is about to invade both "manual" and "brainy" occupations. The resulting productivity, reliability, and return on investment is going to bring huge incentives for businesses to replace workers in high numbers. The number one policy goal must be full "employment" and adequate income for the generality--and that doesn't mean tentative, half-measure nibbling about work shared in small increments, as mentioned. It means enabling "surplus" citizens to maintain a dignified and productive role in society, but quite possibly in other than an employed capacity. Guaranteed minimum income, assured health and other benefits, must be squarely on the table, and boldly explored. Otherwise, we'll have a highly-productive, and (at first) highly profitable economy whose products and services are affordable to fewer and fewer humans with the financial resources to make use of them. As that occurs, what inputs of energy will keep the wheels of industry turning?

  146. Far too many people are buying into AI hype. We are at the early stages of some interesting techniques that will accelerate automation and productivity and that will be positive for everyone. The idea that we've somehow suddenly reached "the cusp of" some AI apocalypse, or even created something that approximates actual (human) intelligence is laughable. "True AI" is always "20 or 30 years" away, and has been for a long time. People are just buying into the marketing hype at this stage. "Technologists and futurists" aren't worth their salt. Wizzbang demos do not translate into robust, reliable applications. Those still take many thousands of person-years of effort, as something like self driving cars demonstrates.

  147. Companies used to provide extensive on-the-job training for new employees, passing skills on to new hires who lacked the exact experience but supplied the brains and brawn to tackle the jobs that needed to be done. They have now foisted that role onto the government and to nonprofit organizations, because it does subtract from their profit margins. However, we are coming to see that corporations and smaller employers need also to invest in the common good, as they once did. We don't need a return to the paternalistic ways of the past, but we do need a more-equitable sharing of the training and retraining of employees at all stages of their careers. Young and older adults are greatly disadvantaged in today's job climate. Discrimination is rampant--women and older workers unhired or forced out by "cultures" that work against "their kind," even in medicine, engineering/high-tech, and finance. Employers cause havoc in family life by part-time shifts that change week to week without much notice. Others demand unpaid overtime from salaried workers who are basically constantly on call (what vacation?). Employers would rather import skilled foreign workers at lower salaries than invest in training US workers by providing low- or no-cost education loans or earn-and-learn training programs. They want everyone else to pick up the training costs without doing their fair share. Until that changes, we'll have large populations who can't even get service jobs that can support a family.

  148. I’m an artist, and a teaching artist. A robot will not replace art (maybe BE someone’s art), and will not be a conduit for what is probably art’s greatest function: self-expression. Robots and machines do however, replicate art.

  149. As technology gets more complicated, it may require levels of skill and ability that many people don't have and are unable to develop. How will the new economy deal with the resulting unemployable individuals?

  150. Artificially creating unnecessary jobs to keep people employed will work exactly as well as it did in the USSR. The Soviet Constitution guaranteed the right to full employment and the authorities kept their end of the bargain, generating millions of pretend jobs that paid just enough to fend off starvation. And yes, healthcare and education were also free. The result of this paradise? Disaffection, boredom and eventually a revolt that brought the whole system down. The fact that most Americans don’t seem to know this recent history is part of the problem. The only way to avoid the social disruption created by the technological revolution is to have an educated, nimble and intellectually alert population. Invest in education to give your kids the gift of creativity and intellectual curiosity. Yes, the job market is changing rapidly. Yes, people who are willing to commit to a lifetime of learning will do well. The rest? A guaranteed income may save them from starvation (which is a good thing) but it won’t give them the sense of purpose and identity.

  151. Mr. Irwin seems to be oblivious to the debate going on in back channels about the management aspect of automation--artificial intelligence capable of organizing and directing other forms of automation make ALL human jobs obsolete, as most things humans do to enable production of things serving human needs become unnecessary. This means that the upper classes and educated classes will be as unemployed as the working classes. Those who have control of vast capital will have won the game of musical chairs, as nobody going forward will be able to amass wealth (because all capital needs will be worked out by AI engines using algorithms). These AI engines will be as small as a USB stick and not need server farms to do their work. They will be intelligences far superior to ours which take up no space and require few resources to create; and they will be created by other machines. Under these conditions humanity will have to have a serious dialogue about human purpose and be prepared to jettison a lot of baggage such as religion while taking up the only thing left which will matter, pure science. A vast reduction in human population will also be called for, which the inevitable wars may take care of, clearing the planet of our obsolete species so AI can take its place as the next step of the evolution of intelligence...

  152. I read several trade publications that deal with robotics. Certainly in my lifetime I will see a war fought almost entirely with robots and drones. Soldiers will still be in control of these AI robotic soldiers. People are resourceful and imaginative. Certainly many people, not all, will find some occupation where there must be a person, not a robot, providing some kind of service and product.

  153. I think that for the past 25 years the place to be was in government or public education. Recently pushed out after 40 years in IT(but OK..kids grown, house pd, etc) I have had a lot of business at our government center(city hall, board of ed). I am amazed at the number of secretaries, mail sorters, receptionists, PBX operators who have been 20 years gone in the private sector. Even if government is going broke with pensions, health care etc wouldn't you rather be on the taking side providing stability for your family than be a pawn chasing a job that may not be there. It seems like a convivial environment(like when I started working in 1978) where people stop and talk about local news, sports, etc and aren't rushed.

  154. The Robots have long time ago arrived and the labor market has bifurcated a long time ago. Computer programs are robots as are harvesters and so on. For hundred of years the market driven economy has sustained itself by shifting the labor force to a service economy. This has resulted in bizarre new demands such as services to find services. I for myself always believed that the best way to control the bifurcation of the labor market is democracy. But it appears that democracies are spectacularly failing resulting in a split society of poor and rich - exactly because a capitalistic economy without functioning democratic controls will always distribute the spoils of labor spectacularly unevenly. Karl Marx was always right.

  155. It's time to start shrinking the labor pool, which will also benefit the environment. Overpopulation is by far the largest threat facing humanity. It affects jobs. It affects the environment. It affects our quality of life. There are articles about the cost of housing, which is driven by population growth. It's time.

  156. How will we decide who doesn't get to procreate? Have you taken the lead on that? Perhaps we should laud India and China for their gender preferences and childbirth quotas which have resulted in male-dominant generations.

  157. If robots are worried that they are in direct conflict with humans, they are coy in simply making it cheaper for there to be more robots, not more humans. Humans reproduce very cheaply, but then it takes endless wars to keep them from simply reproducing themselves off this planet. We are losing our lives as fast as we can, but, not fast enough to keep very many comfy since a very few years after the Great Plague, centuries ago.. What a world. Robots may outlive us, but, who cares?

  158. Really? I can't even get Siri to make a phone call. Relax.

  159. When there is nothing to do on Earth, send them to the Stars. Some will be sacrifices; some pioneers, but all will have a purpose.

  160. Medicare for all would make life better for those left behind, and would protect the rest of us from infections and epidemics.

  161. I remember thinking, as an apprentice in a skilled trades program, This is fun. Why weren't there more jobs that were enjoyable and engaging? The answer is, very little effort is made to design fun jobs, except for the elites. Henry Ford saw that the design of assembly lines was breaking people down and tried to institute healthy living programs so they could stand up to the strain. Lacking qualified people he began the Ford Trade School to bring the workforce to more technical competence, and what was learned there became part of the Department of Labor's certification standards. For all that, admiration; but the actual design of working jobs aims first to avoid discomfort; entertainment factor is scarcely considered. Journeymen told me, you might not like what you are doing, being the only apprentice in this shop; and you might think it is no fun at all. That's why they call it work. Then they would tell me to clean out the supply crib and wax the table saw. But they made sure to goose me, by way of showing their good humor. Later in my career, walking through the studios at GM Design staff, the tube farms and clay bucks, it all seemed so much more serious, or tense. Pontiac Engineering had been more like a party. They hand built 5 Trans-Ams for Burt Reynolds to wreck in Smokey and the Bandit just before I got there. Even the assembly line in Plant Eight was a riot of bikers yelling and the black girls doing dance moves at the drinking fountain.

  162. wages are the most important issue, but one of the losses that every generation comes to bemoan is that of the connections and purpose each generation had in its past -- such as in interacting with mail carriers and shop keepers in the community - that community glue that just doesn't seem to work in forced gatherings, such as in committee rooms or interest groups . . but works so much better in strolling about, visiting, and carrying the news back and forth.

  163. I agree with you but what you're saying resonates with me as a reason the government will not intercede. Less community, more apathy and more fear of your neighbor enables a government to more successfully manipulate a population. To me it seems we have a worldwide trend in that direction, and that those in power would want to hasten automation so that they have the opportunity to de-legitimize larger groups of citizens.

  164. Degradation of neighbourhood communities is already very much underway in some cities. Where I live , it is very transient fir several reasons (1) being a university town there is a constant flow if students coming and going (2) high property prices and constant rental increases results in people not being able to stay long (3) people like the mail delivery person, local coffee shop barista, and shop attendants are not paid enough so there is constant turn over, (4) many Asians buy homes and either don’t live in them or just don’t integrate with the existing community. So all of the above and more creates a fractured and isolated community. Hence it wouldn’t matter if robots delivered the mail or lived next door. There was no contact to begin with. However that was not what the article was about and I do think job sharing, universal health care, affordable housing etc is very much in need and if the evolution of robots pushes the governments to address these issue that will be a huge benefit.

  165. Slowing down the advance of job killing and skill reducing technology is evidently not on the table. The technology and its wide spread applications are inevitable, can't be stopped, is our species' destiny, and is as unassailable as the great religions (in fact, it is one of the great religions, laissez-faire capitalism). Like for hurricanes, board up the windows, evacuate, take shelter, and pray that something is left when the storm is over. Maybe instead of trying to create new forms of jargon camouflaged welfare, which have a pathetically pity chance of surviving the political warfare it generates, we can just say, with some discretion, no to applications of job killing, skill reducing technology. For example, a common prediction is that sometime, in the not to distant future, self driving technology applied to trucks will eliminate the need for truck drivers. There are now about 3.5 million professional drivers. It might be a lot easier to just keep those generally well paid drivers on the road driving, than find political support to put millions of drivers on the dole, with sufficient income to sustain their standard of living and mental health. I'm not advocating ideas like the replacement of computers with the abacus, but....

  166. For the same reason we can't say no to Nuclear Weapons. "If the other guy gets them, we are doomed." Believe me, I hate all this stuff. Well, not all of it. I was fine when I could type a paper without using White Out. I am not fine with a Smart Hair Brush or the push to relocate our massive cities and infrastructure to Mars. What they mean when they say "Yhis planet will become inhabitable and we need a new place to live," is, "The rich need a place to go." (Which, BTW, is the stupidest thing I ever heard because it would still be easier to build a biodome on earth. And Elon Musk is supposed to be a smart guy). Better to just be dead than live on Mars.

  167. The answer to the question that is the title of the article is that the government should prevent job loss by automation. Simply giving money to people to not work would be a social catastrophe. Just look at the societies with large unemployment, especially among young men, such as the middle east: what you get are phenomenae like terrorism. People NEED to be doing something productive, even if they have money. Look at the British upper classes that considered work to be beneath them: an otherwise highly-educated mass of human capital doing nothing but shooting animals. The rich, who have a huge amount of power in the US and beyond, have already convinced even the lower classes that if you don't work it's because your just lazy. I don't see them actually giving enough back to support people who are thrown out of work by automation. They already refuse to pay their fair share.

  168. I really think governments should look to solving peoples economic stresses and needs. Right now the government provides things like clean water and energy (in the form of regulated utilities), maybe instead of a UBI of cash, government can instead cover housing. Maybe a specific housing stipend that srrives in conjunction with regulated housing markets that allow all people access to decent housing and those that want to pay more still can. Seems a good way to remove daily stress feom people’s lives to free them up to focus on things they care more about and maybe have time to learn them! Just a thought.

  169. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the answer and will happen regardless of anti-socialist sediment among many post Cold War American brainwashed capitalist mentalities. Otherwise chaos will surely ensue. A great new book for all to read is Andrew Yang's "War on Normal People". Mr Yang is a self made millionaire who then started a non-profit to help entrepreneurs in economically depressed cities all over America. He knows what's happening on the ground in our country and has also penetrated the realms of the 1% via his success in Education testing software. There are solutions - whether the will to make them happen will manifest is up to we the people. Here's a link to a decent debate from last year. https://youtu.be/EefzHbTArtY

  170. Yes, we will have to find a way to help the chronically unemployable and the incompetent to live in a way that has dignity. Oh, and squirrels. We need to help the squirrels.

  171. the pic made me think of future killbots - roaming the neighbourhood - using AI to identify and zap apparent offenders followed by a pickup robot - which could quickly grind up the ex-human for mulch or animal feed ... what's that smell ... ?

  172. America right now: “Why oh why is there such a dramatic increase in suicides?”

  173. Many people are no longer mentally strong enough to deal with change, they take drugs etc.

  174. Easy. Let the robots take over the gummint's job instead. Couldn't do a worse job. This is starting to sound like a Bob Newhart routine.

  175. On the positive side, maybe we can get the robots to fight our 'wars' in the Middle East for us. They're dumb enough to go over there.

  176. the military can or will be able to do so....soon. be afraid. be very afraid

  177. Agreed. Very scary if robots fight our wars.

  178. The harsh reality is science fiction coming true: People who don't have anything to offer are non-essential baggage. Robots will not allow them to bred & whine while eating McDonalds, & KFC washing it down with Coke & beer. And, a Crispy Cream chaser. If they're not contributing well then....bye-bye. The culling of the stock.

  179. Honest question: who will billionaire companies like McDonalds, KFC, and Krispy Kreme be selling to, exactly, in your "culled stock" scenario? Society is a tightly woven net of humanity and though conservatives want to forget this, without "poor people"/"non-essential baggage," there are no "rich people."

  180. Not like you who, undoubtedly through your boundless magnanimity, allows the planet to continue to spin on its axis. Must be really lonely up there at the apex of society.

  181. We won't need any of it with robots doing all the work. They kill off the deadweight who are just eating up resources (and killing the planet with the factory farming needed to sustain all this fast food for the unwashed "billions served.") Instead, robots tend to the rich without all the waste...a few super smart people to keep the robots running I guess.

  182. If the robots can't figure out how to stop climate change and rid our oceans of plastic and chemicals, it won't matter how many jobs they take. "Wall-E" seems as prescient these days as "Idiocracy."

  183. Robots can't do that, they could be an effective way to do what some person designs. Your trash in the ocean can be improved, it just takes money. And climate change can't be stopped, but robots can help us adapt.

  184. The Federal government will do what it always has done when facing technological change. It will fund training programs for these displaced people to participate in the technological revolution that made them unemployed. That is, they will be trained to build and program robots. These programs will be as successful as every other training program created by the government. Meaning, not at all. But it helps politicians feel like they accomplished something.

  185. we need robots to pick up trash and dog poo here, more that a package delivery service. It's not sexy but I'd pay for it. Can we a WALL-E over here?

  186. 'Susan Lund, a partner in the firm, says it is increasingly crucial that people continually upgrade their skills to keep up with changing technology, whether through community colleges, traditional universities or narrowly targeted online training.' Of course those who make their living in the so-called adult education or adult training sector will advocate we all retrain or train some more. But such platitudes fail to recognise that we are not all equally intelligent. Roughly one sixth of any large human population has an IQ of 86 or less (100 minus one SD of about 14). Hence, about fifty-four million Americans have an IQ of 86 or less. Where is the evidence that this low IQ group can cope intellectually with learning the skills of the future?

  187. Interesting, but if that is true the solution is to discourage such from having children so the distribution eventually moves up. Perhaps we need to restrict automation in some areas so these people can have jobs.

  188. It's not at all clear that the one SD below segment of the population is more likely to produce offspring one SD below average than the rest of the population. IQ tends to correlate more with economic distribution than parental IQ. Even so, correlation does not prove causality. How many geniuses are the product of ordinary parents? How many geniuses are wasted because they were born to ordinary or less than ordinary or poor parents or in the wrong place? Eugenics is not the answer. For a better society, we need to identify the brightest sooner and invest resources to ensure they have the opportunity to develop to their maximum potential, regardless of their parent's capabilities or resources. This runs counter to the natural biological imperative to help one's own offspring maximally,which makes it hard.

  189. The economic health of working families has been destroyed over the past 45 years because we have allowed monopolies to re-form in the face of rapid automation. The destruction of competition by monopolies means that labor cost reductions due to automation are not passed on to working families in the form of reductions in the price of goods and services, but rather are used to increase corporate profit. From 1948-1972, corporate earnings were about 5% of sales. Monopolization has raised this to 12% since 1972. In the mean time, worker wages have fallen from 50% to 43% of sales. This represents a current income redistribution from working families to business owners of $1.5 trillion per year or a pay cut of $10,000 per year for every full-time worker. It is the economic uncertainty and fear induced by this destruction of family income that threatens our very democracy today.

  190. I'm glad to see The Times finally taking a whack -- albeit a small whack -- at this important subject. Risiing income inequality and the slow destruction of financial security for most Americans is the overriding social issue of our time -- and the AI/robotics trend strongly suggests that the national dilemma is going to be much more difficult in the foreseeable future. It's "The Hunger Games" future -- a tiny elite lives in luxury while the rest of us eat squirrel stew. Some experts seem to believe US unemployment could reach each 40 or 50 million workers, fully a third of the labor force. That would make democracy as we've known it unsustainable. It's time our political leaders took this issue serious.

  191. I think you are half right, Tom. Financial insecurity is a huge problem that affects the quality of life of far too many. but income inequality is not really a problem directly. We have a capitalist system, and except for Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, everyone has to deal with the fact that someone is a lot richer than they are. Reducing poverty is an important policy goal, but handing out participation trophies and playing to a sense of entitlement is not. Most really wealthy people that I know do not live that differently in a day-to-day sense. They spend their free time walking, biking, reading, looking at content online or maybe tending to their pets. Many of them like camping and hiking and street festivals. None of these things cost all that much. You will see a huge spending difference on private education, expensive sports and sports tickets, lavish vacations, and fancy restaurants that are less healthy than cooking at home - things that frankly have dubious lasting value. There are plenty of folks who cannot afford or struggle to afford the basics, and lifting them up is important since we all benefit if this group feels enfranchised and participates as citizens. This does not require leveling pay for everyone.

  192. The need for more human service jobs to meet neglected needs is enormous.

  193. @Wade- Paid for by whom, sir? By you and me — middle class taxpayers? No politician alive dares raise our taxes, not after giving away the store to our oligarchs. 80% of the benefits of tax reduction accrue to Trump’s class of people. They own America lock-stock-&-barrel and aren’t interested in sharing, “trickle down” or no. And they don’t want to pay taxes either — and don’t, to the fullest extent possible. Social Darwinism is the new norm, not the exception, in Trump’s Great America. Look at Puerto Rico. Devil take the hindmost.

  194. Robots are the answer. Not more too emotional humans.

  195. Three cheers for mentioning how counterproductive a minimum wage is - it not only encourages cheating by employers, who then "out-compete" those playing by the rules, it encourages automation or simply offering less service. An EITC or similar mechanisms are far superior. There are so many jobs that seem to be understaffed now that immigration and automation should not be scaring too many people in the short run. Truck drivers, public defenders, prison guards and several other areas have notorious labor shortages. The day will likely come when some of these shortages no longer exist, but there is no reason to think that day is tomorrow. Education is a logical place to address changes expected in a decade or so. More people going to college for four years may not be the answer, but changing college so that it is more aligned with the economy has a lot of potential. If some people get a specialized bachelor's degree for a job most of them will quit in a couple years, everyone might be better off if that training program were an associate's degree that could, optionally, be applied towards a bachelor's degree down the road. Engineering students, who typically work in industry in the summer might want the option to stay working and complete their degree part time. Both of these changes would be especially helpful for lower income students who do not want the risk of four years of college debt for a job that is out of reach or may be automated away.

  196. What should you do? Join the legions of homeless living in tent cities by the side of the road, pushing their few belongings in shopping carts, assaulted by more prosperous Americans and harassed by police, surviving on handouts day after day.

  197. "If the Robots Come for Our Jobs, What Should the Government Do?" What it likely would do is to declare robots "persons" and give them full rights.

  198. Mr. Irwin is pretty naive. As an electrical engineer I've spent much of my career automating industrial systems to improve quality, to improve health and safety, and to cut costs. In some cases this has resulted in the loss of human workers. It's never been, and never will be, the panecea suggested by this article. In most cases the automation is too expensive to replace a human worker. I find recent statements by Elon Musk to be almost comical. In a tweet on 14 APR 2018 he said: "Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated." Pretty much every engineer on the planet who has experience with automation knows this. Musk just doesn't have the experience, or he never sought the advice of people who already know this. I can only imagine how much that mistake cost his company. A good example is the delivery robot shown in the photo in the top of this article. Depending upon where it's used, it's going to be followed by every 'package snatcher' (waiting for it to disgorge it load, or worse yet, just snatched for parts). They will be smashed to bits by every malcontent out for kicks. And then there's the speed of the thing. It's going to crawl along at 2 mph, from a semi located a mile away. It would probably take fifty or sixty of those machines to replace one delivery driver today. Cost of driver = $500/day; cost of sixty robots = $2,000/day.

  199. The geeks never account for malfactors in human behavior. It's why so many of their oversimplified predictions never come true. Only young people who haven't worked with real tech or real companies long enough don't understand this.

  200. Why not start with cutting the hours we have to work for the same pay, and let us have more time for ourselves? Of course boredom and entertainment addiction are risks, so we need to create education for serious leisure pursuits. Lots of useful invention occurs because people have time on THEIR hands.

  201. Tax them! Isn't that obvious? Raise the cost of using Robots to protect workers and derive revenues to stregnthen the social safety net.

  202. Yeah...all those robots. Someone has to design them, program them, assemble them, maintain them, update them, deprecate them, sell them, upsell them, and that's not even counting all the people who discover and mine the raw materials, manufacture component parts, and manage all those people who do everything else. In the meantime, and because of automation, untold millions of working people will have more leisure time on their hands which will require huge numbers of support personal in every service sector imaginable. Our problem will NOT be the robots eliminating jobs. It will be finding and training all the people who can work to support the new societal paradigm.

  203. And supporting those that are not capable of adjusting to the changes.

  204. Few robots can replace too many workers. But will many workers be required to service a few robots? I think not my dear. Here's a little prediction exercise: one robot can do the work of ten humans. Of those ten humans, one or two will be needed to service the robot that took their jobs. And the rest nine or eight of these humans? That's why I do not agree with your thinking.

  205. Until the time that robots can build, educate and train other robots, I believe we will have a problem. We'll pass on our own prejudices to the AIs. We need to be able to keep robots in the background until they are smart and flexible and sturdy enough to build and program themselves and their prodigy with 'no' human prejudices built in.

  206. We are already in a bifurcated labor market as some of the comments have noted. While the unemployment rate is at, or near, historic lows, we still have people underemployed or not even listed on unemployment roles. It seems a significant portion of American adults are falling below middle class status. Employment in this country is becoming more technological, such that a high school degree means very little in terms of earning a living wage. Higher education is becoming more expensive and trade schools have decreased in number and breadth. So, what to do about it? I am conservative and have believed most of my life that a person must pull him/herself up by their own bootstraps. That may not be possible today. As much as I distrust government intervention, I now think that a coordinated effort must be put forth and state/federal governments alone can achieve the overhaul necessary. Yeah, I know it will cost more, but what choice do we have?

  207. The solution is simple, greatly restrict the number and capabilities of individuals in our country. Start by eliminating immigration, and reducing birth rates. Fewer humans is the answer.

  208. Who says jobs are a human imperative? Imagine a human world freed of the need to work at meaningless jobs in order to survive. People could focus on doing things that fulfill them and might pleasure or be of practical use to others. Why not include this in your (so-called) Upshot, instead of considering a “job” as a human necessity. Remember, those celebrated people (think Picasso, Gates, Shakespeare, Einstein, etc) who did not build their lives about being a “worker bee”. And hopefully countless uncelebrated ones, who rejected the mantra of “live to hold a job”.

  209. Yannis Varoufakis makes the case for a basic universal dividend. Worth a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuoc3cZfaNU

  210. Just because our very wealthy 'are' very wealthy does not mean they are good or productive humans - or even very smart. In some cases they were simply the first on the scene with a new means of doing 'something' and in other cases, they had the luck to be born into the right family. Neither of which make those wealthy people 'better' or more superior than the rest of us. In both cases, they just got lucky through no real input of their own. And lived in a country under a government that catered to them. None of us should have to bow down to them or have our lives restricted because so and so was born in the right year in the right area in the right country, or born to the right parents. I would hope had a different sub-set of humans had inherited (either through birth or being in the right place or country at the right time) a fortune, they would have chosen a different method than genocide. Humans are flawed, so maybe we all would have done the same as our wealthy now are, at least in the U.S.? I hope I'm wrong - that the fault lies with who our wealthy have chosen to be and become here in the U.S., and not with all humans. I know - other nations have killed and maimed their own - though normally those nations then spiral down into nothingness and have to learn all over again that without caring about and cooperating with each other we are nothing but apes with larger brains and body parts agreeable to speech and handling raw materials in meaningful ways.

  211. Exactly. Genocide is the only case scenario that seems realistic. You do not expect these wealthy to "share" the wealth do you? These billionaires scream long and loud if they are charged an extra penny in income tax (or what would seem like a penny to you or I).