Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Rise of the Robots


                                                Comments due by Oct. 11, 2014

For decades, people have been predicting how the rise of advanced computing and robotic technologies will affect our lives. On one side, there are warnings that robots will displace humans in the economy, destroying livelihoods, especially for low-skill workers. Others look forward to the vast economic opportunities that robots will present, claiming, for example, that they will improve productivity or take on undesirable jobs. The venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who recently joined the debate, falls into the latter camp, asserting that robots will save us from a future of high prices and low wages.
Figuring out which side is right requires, first and foremost, an understanding of the six ways that humans have historically created value: through our legs, our fingers, our mouths, our brains, our smiles, and our minds. Our legs and other large muscles move things to where we need them to be, so our fingers can rearrange them into useful patterns. Our brains regulate routine activities, keeping the leg- and finger-work on track. Our mouths – indeed, our words, whether spoken or written – enable us to inform and entertain one another. Our smiles help us to connect with others, ensuring that we pull roughly in the same direction. Finally, our minds – our curiosity and creativity – identify and resolve important and interesting challenges.
Thiel, for his part, refutes the argument – often made by robot doomsayers – that the impact of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics on the labor force will mirror globalization’s impact on advanced-country workers. Globalization hurt lower-skill workers in places like the United States, as it enabled people from faraway countries to compete for the leg-and-finger positions in the global division of labor. Given that these new competitors demanded lower wages, they were the obvious choice for many companies.
According to Thiel, the key difference between this phenomenon and the rise of robots lies in consumption. Developing-country workers took advantage of the bargaining power that globalization afforded them to gain resources for their own consumption. Computers and robots, by contrast, do not consume anything except electricity, even as they complete leg, finger, and even brain activities faster and more efficiently than humans would.
Here, Thiel offers an example from his experience as CEO of PayPal. Instead of having humans scrutinize every item in every batch of 1,000,000 transactions for indications of fraud, PayPal’s computers can approve the obviously legitimate transactions, and pass on the 1,000 or so that could be fraudulent for thoughtful consideration by a human. One worker and a computer system can thus do what PayPal would have had to hire 1,000 workers to do a generation ago. Given that the computer system does not need things like food, that thousand-fold increase in productivity will redound entirely to the benefit of the middle class.
Put another way, globalization lowered the wages of low-skill advanced-country workers because others would perform their jobs more cheaply, and then consume the value that they had created. Computers mean that higher-skill workers – and the lower-skill workers who remain to oversee the large robotic factories and warehouses – can spend their time on more valuable activities, assisted by computers that demand little.
Thiel’s argument may be correct. But it is far from airtight.
In fact, Thiel seems to be running into the old diamonds-and-water paradox – water is essential, but costs nothing, whereas diamonds are virtually useless, but extremely expensive – albeit in a sophisticated and subtle way. The paradox exists because, in a market economy, the value of water is set not by the total usefulness of water (infinite) or by the average usefulness of water (very large), but by the marginal value of the last drop of water consumed (very low).
Similarly, the wages and salaries of low- and high-skill workers in the robot-computer economy of the future will not be determined by the (very high) productivity of the one lower-skill worker ensuring that all of the robots are in their places or the one high-skill worker reprogramming the software. Instead, compensation will reflect what workers outside the highly productive computer-robot economy are creating and earning.
The newly industrialized city of Manchester, which horrified Friedrich Engels when he worked there in the 1840s, had the highest level of labor productivity the world had ever seen. But the factory workers’ wages were set not by their extraordinary productivity, but by what they would earn if they returned to the potato fields of pre-famine Ireland.
So the question is not whether robots and computers will make human labor in the goods, high-tech services, and information-producing sectors infinitely more productive. They will. What really matters is whether the jobs outside of the robot-computer economy – jobs involving people’s mouths, smiles, and minds – remain valuable and in high demand.
From 1850 to 1970 or so, rapid technological progress first triggered wage increases in line with productivity gains. Then came the protracted process of income-distribution equalization, as machines, installed to substitute for human legs, and fingers created more jobs in machine-minding, which used human brains and mouths, than it destroyed in sectors requiring routine muscle power or dexterity work. And rising real incomes increased leisure time, thereby boosting demand for smiles and the products of minds.
Will the same occur when machines take over routine brainwork? Maybe. But it is far from being a safe bet on which to rest an entire argument, as Thiel has.
(Bradford De Long)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Robots taking over human jobs has been thought to happen in the future by probably all of us. Movies such as IRobot make us believe that robots are going to take over one day. Thiel makes some good points talking about how the robots would only consume electricity as oppose to humans who need food, water, and sleep. In the long run, taking away breaks, unions, ect will save a lot of time and money. But are robots a good idea? Will high wage jobs increase if the low wage jobs are taken over by robots? It will be hard to determine if there will be a high demand for high end jobs. In my opinion, we shouldn't be giving robots too much power in our society because that could open up a door of a ton of new problems.

Katherine Haas

Matthew Kurdewan said...

This article brings up the interesting question, will the increase of robots in the workforce take jobs away from humans, especially from low-skill workers. Peter Thiel believes that this will not happen and the introduction to more robots in the workforce will actually save the United States from a future of high prices and low wages. Thiel also talks about another subject similar to this discussion the introduction of Globalization. During the wave of Globalization, American low-skill workers lost their jobs because companies began to choose the low cost work of foreign workers compared to the American worker. Thiel believes that the difference between the two is consumption. Robots only take up electricity, even when doing work that a human would do. Thiel points to PayPal and how they used one worker and a computer system for something that would have taken a thousand workers a generation ago. Proving that introducing more robots into the workplace can be very beneficial.

Brenden Wisnewski said...

This article really makes us future workers scratch our head; is it better for robots to take over human jobs? We are all here in college hoping to get a high wage job once we graduate. I agree that robots will definitely make production much more efficient, but it will also take away jobs from the low income families who posses those low-skilled jobs. This is really more of an ethical dilemma. Do we chose efficiency over human life? From an entrepreneurial viewpoint, it seems much more smarter and efficient to have robots in factories producing your products. Also you do not have to pay robots, all you need is electricity. But that entrepreneur will have to lay off many of his factory workers and leave them hopeless with no income. Even though you need workers to oversee the robots, you will still need to lay off many workers. I view this robotics problem as more of an ethical dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Bryan Rivers

The idea of robots taking over human jobs has been thought about for awhile. It has been portrayed in movies for the past 10 years. The problem is the cycle that we have been learning in class will be altered. Households will not be supplying the jobs therefore cannot give back to the businesses. There lies the problem of people that will be out of a job because of robots. They have to look for other opportunities that may not match there qualifications. This can be a viscous cycle and one that could spike unemployment. From the business side a producer is looking for the most efficient and cost friendly way of making goods. Robots are that exactly. It will be an issue that is not going anywhere any time soon. The United States has always been a country that innovates. Since using robots to produce and make goods are more efficient robots could be the next innovation.

Anonymous said...

Brian DelVecchio
What makes things frightening is that many robots are designed so that they can learn new skills and adapt to different situations much faster and better than humans. This means that middle and high skilled workers are in danger of becoming obsolete compared to their technological counterpart. This is a terrifying thought as bots are, generally speaking, more efficient in every way. Bots don’t get sleepy, angry, or distracted and crush human competition in time, costs, and accuracy. When these components are all put together it seems like there is reason to not have robots with the only reason to employ them, is the question of where the humans they replace wind up going to work. In due time, few will be able to even find a job that has no involvement with robots and that is if it even requires human interaction in the first place. With humans being more expensive and not as efficient or profitable, most companies are guaranteed to make efforts towards upgrading to bigger and better machines which begins to become a problem when there are more things that robots are better at than vice versa. So even though Peter Thiel states that robots take away undesirable jobs, they may become desirable should the unemployment rate rise to a dangerously high level, which is a very plausible future. Robots do not necessarily need to be perfect and they aren’t, they just need to make less mistakes and be more efficient than humans for us to become obsolete. It is terrifying to think that this could actually happen and even harder when we ask ourselves what the solution of all of this is. This is an answer that we do not know now and I can only hope that we know in the future.

Anonymous said...

This is strictly technology that has advanced over the years doing what it was and is being designed to do. To produce, to make the product cheaper to produce but of the same quality.
It is sad to remove people who may dedicate years to a company to simply be replaced by a robot one day, but it is this country's way of evolving the system.
We have become a country of creators and innovators, not with small, simply put, mindless tasks that whether our bodies in a few years. We should use robots because we invented them to fulfill a purpose in our society. But only to give these machines the jobs that are a danger to humans so that we will not be in danger. But at the same time these are all jobs that people need to provide for themselves and their families.
I cannot say what is best, but only with time can we make true observations and adjustments so that as many people keep their jobs so that our economy stays stable, but as well, the first goal of any business is profit.

Beverly Levine

Doris Da Silva said...

We all know that technology has evolved tremendously through the years and it has helped our economy due to its efficiency. I think technology has created jobs but most of all destroyed the job market for those with lower income. When we go to place like supermarkets, airports, and banks we find at least two machines doing tasks a human being used to do which is a little frightening. If we think about it, humans were replaced by machines and with that they lost their job and their income. Employers are most likely profiting from such growth in technology/machines, but how about a regular individual… are we supposed to compete against machines? Even if we did compete with machines, I don’t think there would be big chances of winning. As Thiel said robots only need electricity and they are faster and more efficient than humans would.
I don’t know if robots will take over, but we need to be prepared for the future and expect more innovation in technology.

Anonymous said...

This article is about the possible robotic takeover in the American workplace, mainly in factories. This could potentially be a massive problem because so many people will lose their jobs and means of income. People not making money generally means that they will go through desperate measures to put food on the table for their family; that would cause an increase in crime, which is yet another problem. The bottom line is that we should keep things the way they are going at the present time as far as technology is concerned. Technology is getting to advanced and sophisticated for the blue collared workers and even some of the middle class. If technology becomes too advanced, it will cause many people to lose their jobs. I feel that robots in the workplace doing human jobs will be a very poor decision.
-Nick Bellantese

Domenick Luongo said...

This post is talks about robots taking low skilled jobs away from people. This brings up the question are these robots a pro for the economy or a con. This article makes the claim that the usage of robots is good for the economy because it saves us from a future of high prices and low wages. A very interesting point was made about the factory workers’ wages were set not by their extraordinary productivity, but by what they would earn if they returned to the potato fields of pre-famine Ireland. I believe that now robots are taking the low skilled jobs more humans are going to have to get higher skilled jobs like being a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant in order to survive. This in turn will push the economy ahead.

Brittany King said...

This article discusses the rise of robots and its impact on the prices of goods and employment. I agree with Peter Thiel and his assertion that robots will save us from high prices due to the speed that they can manufacture goods. In addition, robots will reduce overhead costs as the machine itself is a one-time cost and the maintenance is significantly less than the labor and the amount of people they would require to manufacture the same amount of goods. Additionally, I disagree with Thiel on his views of the impact of artificial intelligence. I believe that it will mirror globalization because it will continue to impact lower-skilled workers. The robotization movement will impact such workers by eliminating a substantial amount of low-skilled jobs. The higher paying jobs the movement will create will be a fraction of the jobs lost. I believe that the jobs outside of the robot-computer economy, that involve people’s mouths, smiles, and minds, will no longer remain valuable and in high demand. For example, Wal-Mart in Fishkill, New York recently set up 8 self-checkout cash registers. This eliminated 7 jobs because now only one person has to oversee 8 machines whereas before they would have had 8 different cashiers working and earning their low wages.

Nick Leader said...

Having robots replace humans for jobs is something that could be very beneficial in the output and efficiency of the job but at the same time it takes away many jobs from humans. High end jobs will be kept by humans but the less desirable jobs would be taken over. Robots would be taking jobs from the lower class who needs those jobs the most to support themselves and their families. We should continue to try to advance our technology as much as we can but we should not get to the point where we start replacing people with machines.

Anonymous said...

Advances in technology has caused many good things, but also many bad things. One of the down sides of technology is that it is taking over jobs. Now that people realize that robots can work faster, harder, and longer then humans company's are replacing jobs that citizens had with robots, but there is a problem with that. It takes away citizens pay checks. More and more people are losing jobs because of the replacement of robots. It is also getting rid of the emotions and thoughts that humans have. If you were served by a robot at a restaurant, you wont feel the connection of human to human contact. It doesn't matter how advanced a robot is, you can't make one that has the emotions, feelings, imagination, and creation of a human.
Said by Marissa Cotroneo

Aedjet Simoy said...

Robots taking over human jobs are both beneficial and a disadvantage in our society. Robots can make efficient, faster and precise products in a way that humans can't while humans will lose their jobs and the ability to experience that type of work. Even though our technology advances every day, in my opinion, I think robot and human labor should be equally divided in a way that robots can still make efficient, fast and precise product while humans can still have their job and help their families.

Christiana Camaj said...

Technology is becoming more and more advanced as new brains, new thoughts, more educated, and more creative people come together to great greatness in technology. As per always, technology does things for many humans. Calculators do the math for humans, cell phones translate messages, and computers help manage major businesses. IN this article, they are introducing the up and coming project for America, Robots. In the article, people have mixed reviews on it. Some believe that Robots would be efficient, while others believe they wouldn't. Most companies around the world want Robots, because the Robot will be designed specifically for a certain job, and it is state that it will be done with the equivalent to 1,000 workers. They believe the Robots will be quicker, easier, and CHEAPER. The Robot will only use electricity, which is cheaper than paying human wage. Those who work in the factories and businesses that they want the Robots for, are against Robots. Because of computers and an advance in technology, many people have already lost their jobs. With Robots in the picture, the low wage jobs that humans do, will be taken from them, and will leave people out of work. This issue will not be resolved anytime soon,but this is what was destined to happen. This is what technology has always done, advanced and become greater by making things easier and cheaper.