Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Temper Tantrum: The Rise of the Machines

The image of the machines we’ve built to do our work rising up and taking over, is a classic Sci-Fi plot that is presented in a scary but unrealistic way, but what if its already happening?

I’ve just been over to Martin Ford’s website, and he didn’t say it directly but he is basically saying the machines are taking over.

Automation is increasing productivity without needing more workers so for the last 10 years the workforce has shrank. Basically if this trend continues, and there is no reason to believe it won’t, the cost of making any product and most services will shrink to the point where they are almost but not quite free.

The problem is there will be no reason to hire someone to make something or provide a service, so the vast majority of humans won’t be able to buy these goods even at a cheaper cost.

In the past we’ve always stayed ahead of the productivity gains with new innovations that transform the economy. I truly believe we can do this again, by ending this recession with a green revolution, end the next one with opening up Space, but what about the one after that?

Given the unrelenting force of the automation’s push for greater productivity eventually we won’t be able continue our current economic system if we even can now.

The idea of the free market deciding how to use resources will break down as goods become almost but not quite free. We will soon need to decide on a path for humanity to take.

The increasing productivity of Automated Systems has been seen as the light at the end of the tunnel, signaling humanities freedom from manual and repetitive labor, but that light might belong to freight train that is coming right at us.


Grant Lawrence said...

Excellent point. That is why we need a system that is more equitable so that all of the wealth doesn't go to the top and everyone else are set up as serfs.

The future (sorry this is not Friday) could be fantastic for all people on earth. Or it could develop into a living hell nightmare for nearly everyone. Unfortunately we are headed down into a nightmare scenario (even if we discount the eco-system collapse).

Technology could be used (and it must be done immediately) to offset the environmental problems and to make life more livable for all the people of the planet.

Stephanie Barr said...

Labor is only part of "stuff". The other is materials. I suspect we'll be around a while.

Project Savior said...

Not to get all Marxist here, but traditionally (in economics) stuff is looked at as Labor + Resources + Capital. Removing the Labor (or reducing to a minimal amount) destroys our current economic models. In the short and medium run, total automation would be great for the holders of Capital and Land (Resource) Owners. But for everyone else our current economic systems would create a hell without bounds.
There are a few ideas on "The Economics of Abundance" floating about, and I'll try to explore some of them in future posts.

Stephanie Barr said...

I'm not an economist. Maybe that's why I'm not scared.

Not that I'm particularly impressed with the expert economists out there; I mean, look where listening to economists have gotten us?

Project Savior said...

The big problem with "expert" economists is the bad ones (and I mean that in all senses of the word)make much more and get more attention then good ones.
In Physical Sciences you have Theories and Hypotheses. A theory has been proven a hypotheses hasn't.
In Economics we have Theories and Schools. A theory has been shown to be predictive (as close as we can get to proof) and a School has either not been predictive (not proven) or demonstrated false.
The media reports these two things as equal. So while good economists debate Classical vs Keynesian theory, the media bring on an "expert" from the "Chicago School" to talk trickle down economics.
It would be like sending a probe to Mercury and having one simulation look at orbits using both Newtonian physics and Relativity and one simulation where the Solar System revolves around the Earth. Both would spit out numbers but one set would be gibberish. Unfortunately the media treats the gibberish equal to the real numbers.