Idiot tosspottery

These include the prospect of large-scale unemployment due to automation, with attendant political and social dislocation,

This is about AI. It’s comin’ for all our jobs, woe is us.

Which is idiot tosspottery.

The aim and idea of our having an economy, of capitalism, of economic advance, is to destroy jobs. We would, because we’re human and lazy, like to have lots of stuff without having to work for it. So, every time a machine takes over from human labour we become that better off. We get more stuff at the expenditure of less human labour.

The rate at which this happens can be a problem, yes. If it all happened at 11 am tomorrow by midday there’d be an awful lot of folks wandering around looking for something to pay the rent with. On the other hand, if the machines so absolutely everything then true communism has arrived, as Karl said it would. All desires and needs are sated by the technological progress of capitalism – no, really, this is what Marx said – and we can go farm in the morning, hunt in the arvo and philosophise at night.

So, given that we don;t think – and don;t fear – the machines taking all jobs it’s the speed of adaptation that matters. Some jobs get killed – good – and those displaced need to find anohter.

So, what’s the average displacement a year? Atchurly, about 10% of all jobs each year. That’s the normal turnover rate in the economy. 10% of jobs get killed off, 10% of jobs are new that never existed before. Technological shift is that the new jobs are just shaded a little along the machine using spectrum than the older ones. A new version of Sage being used, or the computerisation of the accounts perhaps. A CNC rather than a lathe.

It’s not that “All jobs here die!” it’s that jobs ie all the time and the new ones created are just that little bit further along the spectrum. It’s not, in fact, a technological revolution, it’s s technological creep, a technological ooze.

The speed still matters. Estimates like 40% of jobs are at risk over the next 20 years.

Hmm, over 20 years we’ll have oozed our way through 200% of all jobs anyway.

Technological unemployment is not in fact a problem. Worrying about it is infantile tosspottery.

31 thoughts on “Idiot tosspottery”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    I remember similar discussions about computers with my father in the late ‘70s and early ‘89s. He’d talk about the jobs they’d destroy and I talked about the endless possibilities.

  2. “Hmm, over 20 years we’ll have oozed our way through 200% of all jobs anyway.”
    Doesn’t really work like that though, does it? What has happened is jobs for a section of the workforce have repeatedly destroyed & created, where as for others there’s been few changes at all. The professional classes, for instance, have defended their turf resolutely.
    However I personally reckon the administrators are in for a nasty shock. Many of the tasks, in computer speak, amount to simple, rules based, distributed data processing. Where the work, itself, is mostly the communication between the various processing nodes. That’s ripe for AI but bad news for desk jockeys.

  3. GP’s, for instance, may well have cooked their own goose. What else, in practise, is a GP other than a medical information terminal? If you’re not going to get a face-to-face appointment with a GP, what’s the point of them. A virtual GP would have the entirety of medal knowledge at its silicone fingertips & not just what can be remembered from whenever the meat equivalent skived its way through medical school.
    Next, they may come for the lawyers. (Did I hear someone cheer?) Accountants?

  4. I think you’ve missed the point of the article Tim. It’s “AI is coming for our jobs, therefore we must control what people are allowed to say on social media”. The job side is just the hook to hang a call for censorship on.

    I remember when we had the fad for CB radio in this country, and someone stood up in the House of Lords and said words to the effect of “we cannot allow people of this country to communicate freely with whomever they like, that way lies anarchy”. The desire for censoring the common people has always been strong amongst those who would tell us what to do.

  5. “ Without such constraints big tech will continue to host the instruments of extremism, bigotry, and unreason that are generating social chaos, undermining public health and threatening democracy.”
    You can just guess who they think gets to decide what Is extremism and unreason.

  6. The concern isn’t that automation is coming for jobs, it’s that current AI is too intelligent to write articles for the Guardian and at the moment their jobs are safe. They’re worried that somebody will write a drivelbot, install it in the Cayman Islands and then the Guardian-writing classes will be out of work a job and that would never do.

  7. bloke in spain,

    “However I personally reckon the administrators are in for a nasty shock. Many of the tasks, in computer speak, amount to simple, rules based, distributed data processing. Where the work, itself, is mostly the communication between the various processing nodes. That’s ripe for AI but bad news for desk jockeys.”

    I may have covered this before, but we’ve been scrapping lots of desk jockey jobs over the decades. Typing pools got word processors which cut jobs, and then, staff just typed themselves. We’re constantly automating jobs, but there’s generally something else to do. There’s always new businesses and new processes, a lot of which aren’t very well automated. Automation has a cost. If you’re not doing a thing that often, it probably isn’t worth doing it. Then you hit a certain point and it is worth automating.

    The main thing with law and medicine is government regulation. And there’s been plenty of other things to automate, so no-one has bothered that much. But, I think a growing revolution is happening. People are working around the NHS in various ways, with various degrees of legality.

    I mean, GPs are a waste of space. Pharmacists are as good at diagnosis for the same stuff. Anything tricky, the GP refers you. “Yes, you have a problem there”. Thanks. I know that, you overpaid quack. The only reason they exist is as gatekeepers to specialists and for scripts. But it’s not like they’re cheap gatekeepers. That’s the whole point of gatekeepers in services. You put cheap people at the first stage so you don’t waste expensive people’s time. Putting £90K people on the front end is stupid.

    The govt has them doing covid jabs FFS, which is like taking a Formula 1 senior mechanic and have them installing exhausts at Kwik-Fit. Does it really take more than a few weeks to train up an unqualified person to inject a vaccine?

  8. “Does it really take more than a few weeks to train up an unqualified person to inject a vaccine”

    My last jab was delivered by a squaddie in his uniform. Possibly 20 years old. I would hate to be jabbed by a GP who hasn’t done any hands on stuff for 20 years. The last time a GP jabbed me, for typhoid, I wondered if he was using an electric drill on my bum. That was before they started employing practice nurses. That was a step change improvement in my surgery. At last they had someone who was up to date with medical knowledge and could do proper injecting and bandaging

  9. Aren’t we going to be faced with a mismatch between the sort of jobs that are being created by the advances in automation and the sort of employees being “made available” by said automation replacing their jobs?

    That which could laughingly be called our “education system” appears to excel at creating a product that has a decent percentage that are functionally-illiterate and totally-innumerate and suited to, at best, digging ditches, they aren’t going to slide comfortably into the “newly created” jobs that require literacy and numeracy… Nor will the displaced ditch-diggers.

  10. When I were a lad at school…
    They taught typing, but only to girls, and only the lower streams of them.
    Certainly not to the top stream of boy pupils.

    I have spent all my professional life typing code and documents into keyboards.

    When I left Uni, I did the normal Career Department things, but I’ve spent most of my career working in an industry that didn’t even exist when I left Uni. Same one as BoM4 I think.

    Change is constant and any attempt to hold it back is futile and a waste of opportunity. But a good way of making people poorer and easier to manipulate. Power has never recovered from the proles learning to read and write, something urgently needing correction. See ‘Government education policy’.

    NB I loved the term ‘drivelbot’ and will stealresearch that! 🙂

  11. “I remember similar discussions about computers with my father in the late ‘70s and early ‘89s. He’d talk about the jobs they’d destroy and I talked about the endless possibilities.”

    There’s a BBC Horizon programme from around 1977, might still be on iplayer and was on Youtube “when the chips are down”. It looks at the expected impact of these new fangled microprocessors. Great for quotes such as “Our children will grow up without jobs to go to”

    “Can we all live on the wealth of automated factories and the earnings of an elite band of 60,000 software engineers?”

    “if we do automate, will we be able to cope with the problems of large scale unemployment?”

    “What is shocking is that the government has been totally unaware of the effects that this technology is going to create” whilst also lamenting that the uk is behind the curve.

  12. Diogenes
    My local NHS clinic has great phlob..phelob…blood nurses. Sit, stab, suck, gone. Over in seconds. Doctor ( professor) tried it few years ago, probably found Brent Light Crude while he was at it. Arm was sore for days.

    Computing is GIGO, that is the immutable fact. All AI means is that the the computer decides for itself which garbage to input, based on garbage algorithms that it has been given by garbage programmers.

  13. “The govt has them doing covid jabs FFS, which is like taking a Formula 1 senior mechanic and have them installing exhausts at Kwik-Fit. Does it really take more than a few weeks to train up an unqualified person to inject a vaccine?”

    We’ve been having this argument over on The Reg about universities taking software engineers and using and paying them to be IT monkeys. There’s a stubborn perception that “medical” == “doctor” so anything medical has be to be “doctor” and “computer stuff” == “IT” so anything computery has to be “IT”.

  14. Tim: some years ago I did a tidy-up and found my Careers Advice statement from school. At that point I’d been designing and building computer hardware and software for six years, managed the school computer network system, wrote most of the admin programs. My Careers tutor told me my recommended career was “Local Government Admin”.

  15. A careers tutor told Greg Lake that playing the guitar wasn’t a real job.

    The thing about automation is that it often makes the thing being produced cheaper. If it is a thing that only certain people can afford, being cheaper brings it within reach of more people and thus a bigger market. Hence you sell more and have to employ more people to make them.

  16. Old reset: All desires and needs are sated by the technological progress of capitalism.

    New reset: You will own nothing and be happy.

  17. The government encourages this by raising the minimum wage. What automation would have been too expensive suddenly becomes cost effective; at the cost of some jobs. More customers for those government folks running the dole.

  18. Baron Jackfield,

    “That which could laughingly be called our “education system” appears to excel at creating a product that has a decent percentage that are functionally-illiterate and totally-innumerate and suited to, at best, digging ditches, they aren’t going to slide comfortably into the “newly created” jobs that require literacy and numeracy… Nor will the displaced ditch-diggers.”

    How many people are really functionally-illiterate and innumerate? Maybe they don’t have GCSEs, but there’s a lot of jobs out there that don’t need essay writing, and almost no jobs require math beyond what kids learn at the age of 13. I have 2 O levels in math, and almost none of it matters for software development.

    School produces some very good results at primary level, and slightly beyond, but most of school past 13 is a mix of signalling, babysitting, indoctrination and for the 10% of kids who become engineers, medical people and the odd historian, actually useful. And the signalling is largely unnecessary. We know who the smart, diligent kids are at 13.

    School does almost nothing to help people into work. For most people, it’s about starting at the bottom and finding a way into something, or an apprenticeship, or doing a City and Guilds course. And a lot of people just have a “misspent youth” creating a comic book or a game or tap dancing, because it’s is a lot more exciting than doing French comprehension, although doing that will give them more opportunities in what they want to do than the crap they learn at school.

    If school wanted to help kids, it would teach them all to drive. That’s about the most valuable job skill, and one of the most valuable life skills you can learn.

  19. @BoM4…

    According to the “National Literacy Trust”: 16% of adults are considered to be ‘functionally illiterate’ in the United Kingdom. Literacy levels are falling among the younger generations and it is stated that 1 in 5 adults struggle to read and write.

    According to “National Numeracy”: only 22% of adults in England have numeracy skills levels equivalent to GCSE “C” grade or above. (Down from 26% a decade earlier) and 20% are completely innumerate.. (FE News).

    So, all in all, not good.

  20. In my old school, my ex history teacher became the careers master. The only job he had outside of teaching was as an auciliary postman at Xmas while a student.

  21. “If school wanted to help kids, it would teach them all to drive”

    If school wanted to help kids, it’d teach them how to learn. From what I’ve seen of most people, they don’t. My education did & I’ve learnt infinitely more since I left school than at. If I needed a job now, I reckon I could choose between a dozen careers I could competently tackle. Most of them very well paid. More you learn, the easier it gets.

  22. Bloke on M4: My school used to spot the non-academic kids and get them in the tech block stripping down and rebuilding motorbikes or smashing a brick wall and rebuilding it and stuff and use that hands-on stuff to cram them through their basic ‘O’ levels so they came out of school at the end with a basic fundamental grounding in functional adulthood *and* a collection of skills that they had an aptitude and liking for. For me it was giving me free run of the computer room before lessons, lunchtime and after school.

    During my time there the local Labour council got rid of the vocational stuff and most of the Sixth Forms ideologically insisting it be done in college – by which time it’s too late, the kids who would benefit have already been turned off.

  23. During my time there the local Labour council got rid of the vocational stuff and most of the Sixth Forms ideologically insisting it be done in college – by which time it’s too late, the kids who would benefit have already been turned off.

    The last thing any political party that draws its historical vote from the downtrodden working classes wants is a generation of kids with aspiration and the skills that can be put to use.

  24. At that point I’d been designing and building computer hardware and software for six years, managed the school computer network system, wrote most of the admin programs.

    I think the statute of limitations has passed now; tell us what you got up to.

  25. bloke in spain,

    “If school wanted to help kids, it’d teach them how to learn. From what I’ve seen of most people, they don’t. My education did & I’ve learnt infinitely more since I left school than at. If I needed a job now, I reckon I could choose between a dozen careers I could competently tackle. Most of them very well paid. More you learn, the easier it gets.”

    I just remember a lot of secondary school being stuff I didn’t care for much and which I didn’t feel anyone really explained why I should learn it. They gave us Chaucer in Old English. I could see no good reason, none at all to learn this. A lot of chemistry just seemed to be about putting two chemicals together and getting a reaction, but no-one told me why this mattered. Math at least required some problem solving rather than rote learning.

    I think I just didn’t feel it profited me to learn it. I didn’t find this stuff interesting, and I didn’t think it would help me.

  26. BoM4
    You confirm my point.
    Your mind is not Sherlock Holmes’s attic. Learning anything is useful.
    Whan April with its shoers swote
    The droght of March hath perced to the root…
    gives some useful historical information about normal weather patterns in medieval England.
    Then longen folk to go on pilgrimage

  27. BoM4 “A lot of chemistry just seemed to be about putting two chemicals together and getting a reaction, but no-one told me why this mattered.”

    Quite so, it wasn’t until I got to university organic chemistry classes that my lecturer gave the revelation in his opening words: “Organic chemistry is simple, there are only 4 reactions to learn, addition, substitution, elimination and rearrangement” He was basically right, once you understand the mechanisms you can mostly work out how any piece of dinitro chicken wire will behave.

    Of course you could say the same thing about maths with add, subtract, multiply, divide and BODMAS et.al. but it takes a particular mind wiring to be a mathematician.

  28. One aspect of school that I remember looking back is that everything was drip fed at an absolute snail’s pace. I’m sure that I could have learned a lot more in the time alloted if they had just got on with it. I say that as someone who is maybe slightly above average intelligence but certainly not a genious level kid.

    It is also worth mentioning that for the first couple of years or so at work I felt like a fish out of water. School really didn’t prepare me for work and it took me a while to adapt.

  29. [pedant mode]
    Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which (as philip demonstrates above) is relatively easy to read, if you squint a bit and ignore spelling. Old English is essentially a foreign language, with a different alphabet and all the genders and case endings of German plus a few more for good measure. Here’s the start of Beowulf:
    Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
    þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
    hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

    Good luck reading that.
    [pedant mode off]

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