Perhaps a Professor of Economics should grasp this point

And second, I suspect that immigration will soon be superseded by other issues — such as the impact of artificial intelligence on middle-class livelihoods; rising levels of poverty;

If AI’s doing all the grunt work cheaper and better then how can we be having more poverty?

37 thoughts on “Perhaps a Professor of Economics should grasp this point”

  1. Artificial Intelligence: twenty years away, always has been,always will be. Present state-of-the-art is somewhat below ant-like, on the other hand, in comparision with a potato…

  2. Giving him the benefit of the doubt (not sure it is deserved) I does depend on the distribution of the wealth generated, how much results in lower prices and how much goes to those already not in poverty. And also what dubious definition of poverty is being used.

    In the long run we’d expect all those made unemployed to get new jobs either way. Unfortunately that isn’t an instantaneous process as can be seen by the closure of coal mines*, But the solution to that is probably a simple efficient wellfare system that guarantees people aren’t in real poverty (such as universal income).

    *I’d be quite interested to read an article on how true it is that jobs around closed coal mines haven’t recovered and what the reason for that is. Is it just the people who were prepared to move have got jobs and the people remaining is biased to count the ones who refused to move?

  3. Because the doom and gloom forecast is a-few-winners-take-all scenario. Repeat after me until it sinks in: “Most people have nothing to sell but their labour. Destroy that and you destroy that person economically.”

    If you can replace trillions of dollars of labour for tuppence ha’penny those people have a problem, at least a temporary problem.

    Like the last 500 years of technological advance, it is of course unlikely to be as bad for the losers as the luddite doom’n’gloom mongers predict, and yes, it will make us all better off longer-term, but it’s wilful blindness to deny this has potential to wreak major and instantaneous* devastation on a huge chunk of global society, even as it increases production.

  4. *: AI is instantly, and (effectively) infinitely replicable. It won’t take decades to get up to speed (like tractor production putting ploughmen out of work), it will happen within days each time there is a step-change in its ability, and without giving you much advance warning of when your job is next in line.

    djc, it doesn’t have to walk and talk and shit like you or me, it just has to do (cost-effective chunks of) your work adequately.

  5. @ The Mole
    Middle-aged/old men with silicosis and one skill that is no longer used ended up on the dole until 65.
    Most of the young ones moved out if they could.
    A lot of the other people were in jobs that depended on the mines or farms (another industry that wishes it had only been decimated). Coke ovens, ironfounders, smokeless fuel, gasworks, cement works … all wanted to be near the mines.

  6. Current Leftist talking points:

    1. Robots will take all the jobs
    2. We need mass immigration to do all those jobs
    3. Robots will take all those jobs
    4. We need mass immigration to do the jobs the robots will be doing
    5. Robots will (continues ad nauseam)

  7. Rob,

    How to give the future to the leftists:

    1: AI taking all our jobs is just a leftist talking point
    2: The right doesn’t need to worry about it.
    3: When AI takes everyone’s jobs, the non-leftists just say “fuck the people who lost their jobs” and lecture them that total production has skyrocketed and they can just eat the creative destruction, losers.
    4: Those whose jobs were stolen by AI vote for leftists.

  8. We don’t have enough poor people so we need to import more?

    AI? I remember the threat of automation in the 50s. Things change. There won’t be Karel Capek style humanoid robots, robots are all around us. They are apps.

  9. With the continuous torrent of drivel spewed out of the potato on a daily basis we obviously have the problem of AU (artificial unintelligence) well and truly licked.

  10. “*: AI is instantly, and (effectively) infinitely replicable. It won’t take decades to get up to speed (like tractor production putting ploughmen out of work), it will happen within days each time there is a step-change in its ability, and without giving you much advance warning of when your job is next in line. ”

    Doubt it. It’s the difference between science & engineering. A scientific breakthrough, everything changes. In science. Engineering is implementation. Try it. See if it works. Try again. Eventually you get something works in the real world. Maybe.

  11. BiG,

    The problem is there’s a lot less problems that fit “AI” than people imagine. AI is just something new that the media have jumped on and boosted various tech because of demoware like self-driving cars.

    It’s particularly suited to guiding decisions, spotting anomalies. Someone starts racking up buying furs and jewels on their credit card, it gets flagged. Not because it’s guys and jewels but because it doesn’t match prior spending patterns. But it might be that someone did a legit transaction. So you can’t apply it automatically.

  12. As with every previous technological revolution, jobs lost will be replaced with jobs higher up the value chain.

    Robots need monitoring, servicing and repairing. Meanwhile, there could be a revival of some craft industries (as handcrafted items come to have more status) and an increase in demand for some manual trades. To some extent, this is happening already with artisan bakeries, micro-breweries, etc challenging mass production.

  13. Robots don’t do jobs, they do tasks – repetitive, simple and monotonous tasks. AI, still better to call it machine learning, is just a software robot algorithm that will do those simple tasks now done by people who though they were safe from technology. Its not that simple though as they need good, clean data sets for training and clear rules that can be implemented.

    Two early casualties:

    Radiologists – machine learning is ideal for processing 1000’s of images and flagging up ones that need expert human intervention.

    Para legals and associate lawyers – machine learning is ideal for processing the 1000s of documents that are resented at discovery and highlighting concerns for the more experience lawyers to look at.

    In both those cases the nature of the work place will change and from what I’ve read is already changing. Fewer medics are saying they want to enter radiology, for example.

    When I listen to some commentators going on about AI I’m reminded of the conversations I used to have with my father and his generation in the ’70s about the impact of computers. The same cases were being made about destroying jobs and industries, even then I was arguing that it will just change the nature of work and had the potential to create more jobs, we just didn’t know where, when and what skills would be needed.

    That said, I agree with BiG that its going to happen a lot faster this time round and the biggest costs are likely to be born by the middle classes this time. It won’t be as easy for government to ignore their howls and demands as it was when it was manual workers being affected. As always the costs will be visible and the gains dispersed.

  14. @BiND,

    If anyone’s working on it, I reckon about half of my job would be easily AI/machine-learnable. I have my doubts that the volume is high enough for it to be worth anyone’s while.

    I guess that makes me relatively safe, things that resemble my job won’t disappear entirely. We are often sold the idea of AI as crystal-ball gazer, but where real money is at stake I can’t foresee a stock-picking or product development-deciding bot making those data-driven decisions which companies employ thousands to agonise over – or – indeed – getting them more right than humans.

    The most obvious impact on a lot of jobs will be that it will get harder to train new entrants up to scratch. If you can’t get them to spend a month doing a mediocre job for a month’s pay because a machine can do it well in an hour for half a kilowatt-hour (plus Googlebooksoft’s licensing fees), the entire on-the-job training is lost. Perhaps people will have to spend even longer at school, and pick a very narrow speciality which they hope is future-proof!

    I agree these are soluble problems, but like all the last times we did this, they are not dismissable problems.

  15. bis,

    Once you have an implementable solution it can be instantly distributed to the entire world. As fast as an app can be. Which is substantiall faster than a smartphone can be distributed, which is itself faster than the tractor kicked us out of the fields, or the robots kicked us out of the factories.

    In addition to that we are all now used to working as beta testers for shitty software, so won’t be expecting a perfect implementation with the first roll-out (or even the thousandth).

  16. BiND

    I can’t see AI or robots displacing or replacing radiologists or junior lawyers, but rather assisting both and so increasing productivity. If that means some redundancies, such skilled workers can retrain.

    The jobs that are most at risk are still the simple and repetitive ones. Check-out assistants at super markets are increasingly being replaced by self-service tills. A better example is road-sweeping. Thirty years ago, street sweeping involved a man with a brush, some other tools and a push-bin. The chap who cleaned my street was thorough but mentally retarded. When the council introduced motorised vacuum cleaners with spinning brushes, he lost his job because he couldn’t operate the machine. The current operatives are hardly the sharpest knives in the drawer, but autonomous street cleaning robots could might well replace them in a decade or less.

    As technological change drives human workers higher up the value chain, I reckon the people who will suffer most will be the bottom 20% of the ability/IQ range.

    That said, I have very poor record when it comes to predictions…

  17. I think I’m with BiG.

    I’m just not sure the same rules apply as once did, at least in terms of realpolitik.

    Take farming. Used to be a bloke owned a hundred acres and broke his back from dawn till dusk in the shittest weather this country could throw at him to grow root vegetables/raise cattle.

    People didn’t really object to his owning the 100 acres because they didn’t fancy the graft, and they also knew a dozen other families in the area who relied on him for employment, and who had relied on his father and his grandfather before them.

    Does/can/will this hold when one man in control of 2,000 acres, owned by a Chinese corporation, can do the work of a hundred from his sofa, pressing buttons on his iPad? I may be exaggerating slightly, but if so it’s only a matter of time before I’m not. Jim I am sure will confirm that farming ain’t what it was in more ways than one.

  18. OK, lads.

    Let’s inject a note of reality here.

    The phrase “AI” is used far too freely these days. What we have all over the place isn’t anything like AI. It’s ‘pattern recognition’. To be much more accurate, it’s an early stage in the pipeline of “artificial vision”.

    There ain’t no ‘AI’ hereabouts.

    (yes, yes; it’s possible that what we think of intelligence really is nowt but a bunch of highly connected neurons firing according to learned patterns, and that ‘intelligence’ is an emergent property of such systems. But the scale necessary for such stuff, now that Moore’s Law/Dennard scaling have failed us doesn’t seem at all just within grasp. And as with birdies and flapping wings (compare with Spitfire or Boeing 737), it isn’t clear that slavishly copying the revealed ways of Mother Nature would be the best approach given the tools/materials we have available are different… Plus all those natural intelligences are remarkably easy to fool, right? Else there’s be no Left…)

  19. @BiND
    “It’s particularly suited to guiding decisions, spotting anomalies.”

    I’d imagine that’s how Verified by Visa works. Comparing card uses against spending patterns. Until it met me. Because my spending’s across 4 or more countries & multiple currencies. With no pattern whatsoever. I went through a phase of having my cards blocked every time I used them & the bank’s paid out over a 1000 in compensation payments. So they’ve turned it off. When I make an online payment the VbyV login briefly appears, then vanishes & the payment completes.
    Not very intelligent AI. The country changes always involve travel related charges. Fuel, ferries, peage or tickets.

  20. Theo,

    I can’t see AI or robots displacing or replacing radiologists or junior lawyers, but rather assisting both and so increasing productivity. If that means some redundancies, such skilled workers can retrain.

    I agree and I should have been clearer. The jobs of radiologist and para legal will still exist, there may be fewer of them and their jobs will be different. As you say, they will also be more productive and hence better paid.

  21. Check-out assistants at super markets are increasingly being replaced by self-service tills.

    Which are completely unable to recognise my bag under any circumstances and in any store, meaning I have to wave at a human and they come over and tell it to stop being so stupid.

  22. Theophrastus,

    “The jobs that are most at risk are still the simple and repetitive ones. Check-out assistants at super markets are increasingly being replaced by self-service tills. A better example is road-sweeping. Thirty years ago, street sweeping involved a man with a brush, some other tools and a push-bin. The chap who cleaned my street was thorough but mentally retarded. When the council introduced motorised vacuum cleaners with spinning brushes, he lost his job because he couldn’t operate the machine. The current operatives are hardly the sharpest knives in the drawer, but autonomous street cleaning robots could might well replace them in a decade or less.”

    The really big thing with robotics is how cheap it is to make robots and prototypes now. These platforms like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Intel Galileo are cheap, have a load of physical connections, internet etc and are fast enough that you can work in reasonably high-level languages. You can fail fast with robotics.

    Street sweeping certainly sounds possible but have you eliminated a job? The benefit of self-service tills is that you replace 6 people on checkouts with 1 supervisor (a friend of mine also pointed out that in metro stores, you save a lot of space).

  23. Bloke in Tejas calls it right. All the AI cockrot is just that. Cockrot. Patterns –like chess games–the machines can do–but the rest? The driverless car has killed 3 folk already just at far-from-prototype stage. And the artificial surgeon has seen several more heart patients off I believe. Nowhere near even dim human level.

    Too much faith Biggie not enough cynicism as ever.

  24. “The Mole
    February 25, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    But the solution to that is probably a simple efficient wellfare system that guarantees people aren’t in real poverty (such as universal income).”

    That’s pretty much a guarantee that your unemployment rate will skyrocket and stay high. As the US found out during the last recession when unemployment benefits were extended to 99 weeks.

  25. Rob
    “February 25, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Check-out assistants at super markets are increasingly being replaced by self-service tills.

    Which are completely unable to recognise my bag under any circumstances and in any store, meaning I have to wave at a human and they come over and tell it to stop being so stupid.”

    But that one person is doing the work of a half dozen previously.

    Jobs don’t disappear overnight due to automation. Automation increases the productivity of a single worker. Over and over. Until the store only needs one person in the whole thing. Then all the stores in the city only need one person to run them all, then all the stores in the country . . .

  26. @ Rob
    Quite!
    I was approached by a wishing-to-be-helpful member of Tesco’s staff while waiting in a check-out queue in one of their biggest supermarkets; she gestured at the “self-service checkout” area which was almost unoccupied and said “Have you tried our self-service check-outs?”
    So I replied “Yes, that’s why I am standing in this queue”

  27. The self-service checkout is, like so many things now, not so much a replacement of the supplier’s labour with technology as a replacement of the supplier’s labour with the customer’s labour. My last interaction with one was very much like that of John 7:7, except it needed 3 interactions by the supervisor.

    Ecksy, you break my heart. And here was I thinking, I’m such a cynic and I’m being super cynical today, so much so that I should win the biggest cynic of the year competition in Cynic-City on Planet Cynic in the Cynical arm of the Cynic Galaxy.

  28. BIG – And here was I thinking, I’m such a cynic and I’m being super cynical today, so much so that I should win the biggest cynic of the year competition in Cynic-City on Planet Cynic in the Cynical arm of the Cynic Galaxy.

    Yeah, right.

  29. The self-service checkout is, like so many things now, not so much a replacement of the supplier’s labour with technology as a replacement of the supplier’s labour with the customer’s labour.

    Good point.

  30. “The self-service checkout is, like so many things now, not so much a replacement of the supplier’s labour with technology as a replacement of the supplier’s labour with the customer’s labour.”

    But -when it works – I **spend less time paying for my stuff** which is for me a big win.

    I don’t really care that I’m “doing the checker’s work”. I’m stuck there anyway, so getting out quicker is the win for me.

  31. The self-service checkout doesn’t appear by magic.

    Aside from the physical manufacture, there’s the IT, and this will be corporate IT, which frequently means at least 100% of the saving will be taken by newly minted and well paid employees.

    As self-service checkouts are a must-have because everyone else is doing it. I’d be highly surprised if shareholders are the winners.

  32. When the typical work available is beyond the ability of the typical worker to perfom, I can easily see a rise in poverty among the lower class even when as a whole we are wealthier.

  33. Me Black

    “When the typical work available is beyond the ability of the typical worker to perfom, I can easily see a rise in poverty among the lower class even when as a whole we are wealthier.”

    True, true. But assuming that the sweepings of our society really are incapable (future generations, natch; you couldn’t expect this generation to change their ways) then we just give them a free ticket to Calais with paperwork explaining they’re oppressed and fugitive. I’m sure they’ll be taken in by Mama Europa, no??

  34. Which is all sort of relevant to import tariffs and President Trump. We all understand that it’s more efficient if there are no tariffs, but if that means millions are permanently on the dole then it might make sense to instead artificially create an economic environment where they can find full-time employment. It costs the same, given the savings in welfare, but people work for a living rather than existing as beneficiaries: which is healthy for them and for society as a whole. I think this was essentially Tucker Carlson’s point recently.

    And on the subject of self-checkouts, aren’t those Amazon-style shops on their way, where we simply stuff our pockets and walk out? Surely that counts as AI. But the slam-dunk, surely, will be when computers start making profound insights and discoveries in physics and the nature of reality, rather than just watching us picking up packets of hob-nobs.

  35. “When the typical work available is beyond the ability of the typical worker to perfom, I can easily see a rise in poverty among the lower class even when as a whole we are wealthier.”

    Maybe that day will come, but one thing with all the various advances in some areas is how it improves others. As Theophrastus points out, getting richer has created a lot of “craft” businesses. The bloke who runs the upmarket ice cream parlour near me doesn’t need geniuses. Just someone to mind the shop, serve ice creams.

  36. I’m a fan of self checkout and use them as a preferred choice.

    I had really high expectations when Lidl opened a new shop in Blandford and provided 6 self-checkouts. Those expectations came crashing down the first time I used one, it takes at least 5 seconds from an item going in to the bag until the beep for the next item. To add insult to injury if you take more than a micro second after the beep to scan the next item it starts nagging. Its also super sensitive on weights and forever requiring manual override.

    This being Lidl they manage to make sure that there’s always a queue at the operated checkouts just long enough to make it seem worthwhile using self checkout.

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