Beyond Robotics and Jobs

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Almost a year ago, I penned Advancing Towards A World Without Jobs concluding that robotic technology will relentlessly eliminate jobs.

Half a century ago futurists predicted a world to come where automation would eliminate the need for humans to do many jobs….  Somewhere between that time and the present someone forgot to plan how these “liberated” people would get enough money to be able to afford to “grow the human experience.”

Economists currently continue to predict improvements in the rate of jobs growth based on historical data.  I contend that overall employment will begin to decline before the end of this decade, and that political leaders need to begin now to re-gear the economy for world with fewer jobs.

When I wrote the original automation post, I did not consider 3-D printing (the ability to literally “manufacture” parts on a one-off basis). A post this past week stated:

The 3D printing revolution is not a decade or more away – it’s going to start showing up in mass production within the next five years. Despite skepticism, research demonstrates 3D manufacturing improvements combined with key patents will lead to a 79 percent reduction in average cost to print objects in five years, and a total of nearly 90 percent over the next 10 years.

3-D printing is currently envisioned by futurists as the manufacture of components at the location of assembly and just when needed.  This will eliminate jobs and much of imports and exports.  I see 3-D printing leading to the potential elimination of much of the goods production sector of the economy.

  • Who says that a complete product cannot be printed (like a TV or mobile phone)?  It just means the “printer” needs more than one cartridge (like the difference between black-and-white and color printers).  How many of the almost 12 million American manufacturing jobs will be eliminated? Globally, how many jobs will be eliminated when goods can simply be printed?
  • The supply chain will require almost no transport or warehousing.  There will be little need for shipping when the product can be made locally on demand when needed.  35 million are now employed in these sectors of the economy.  How many of these jobs will be gone?
  • Will Amazon and Walmart just become print shops where you shop in front of a printing machine.  How many of the 37 million involved in retail will no longer have jobs?
  • How fast employment dislocation caused by 3-D printing begins will depend on the on the swiftness of the reduction “printing” costs.
  • What happens if the costs get so low that the average Joe can afford a printer in his house?  The ripple effect across the economy could affect most segments of employment and the way society is organized.  Will peoples’ jobs be growing the food because goods will almost be free?  Could this will reverse a century old migration from the country to the city.

I believe that employment drives GDP in a consumer based economy, and the current economic weakness is a result of poor employment dynamics as technology advances are destroying nearly the same amount of jobs that are being created. This is evidenced by jobs growth following a major recession barely keeping up with population growth.

There are growing headwinds (caused by automation, robotics) which in a short period of time will have jobs growth well under population growth, but politicians and economists are not yet reacting to the change in dynamics.  There are social issues to deal with when the economy cannot grow jobs.

Are there solutions?  I see some but they carry poison to a capitalistic and consumption based economy.  I am counting on those smarter than me to engineer an acceptable social and economic solution.  Would the government paying people to spit at the moon create an inefficient economy?  Being able to produce much of what a population needs with only a small number of that population employed creates a confounding dilemma.

Other Economic News this Week:

The Econintersect economic forecast for August 2013 again declined, and sees the economy barely expanding. The concern is that consumers are spending a historically high amount of their income, and several non-financial indicators are struggling or flat.

The ECRI WLI growth index value has been weakly in positive territory for over four months – but in a noticeable improvement trend. The index is indicating the economy six month from today will be slightly better than it is today.

Current ECRI WLI Growth Index

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Initial unemployment claims degraded from 334,000 (reported last week) to 343,000 this week. Historically, claims exceeding 400,000 per week usually occur when employment gains are less than the workforce growth, resulting in an increasing unemployment rate.

The real gauge – the 4 week moving average – improved from 346,000 (reported last week) to 345,250. Because of the noise (week-to-week movements from abnormal events AND the backward revisions to previous weeks releases), the 4-week average remains the reliable gauge.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims – 4 Week Average – Seasonally Adjusted – 2011 (red line), 2012 (green line), 2013 (blue line)

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Bankruptcies this Week: Maxcom Telecomunicaciones, American Roads Holdings

Data released this week which contained economically intuitive components (forward looking) were:

All other data released this week either does not have enough historical correlation to the economy to be considered intuitive, or is simply a coincident indicator to the economy.

Weekly Economic Release Scorecard:

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6 replies on “Beyond Robotics and Jobs”

  1. 3D printers and Robots don’t eat. The solution will be a decrease in the manufacturing work week. Some companies will go to a four day week, others will go to  35 hour day. Manufacturing workers will move to services. The minimum wage will go up dramatically to better serve workers. Obamacare will be paid for from profits. Rate of change will happen as conservative republicans realize they can vote their pocketbook and still keep guns and government out of their lives or democrats figure out how to get economic reform without intruding too much in people lives. Neither are easy!

  2. “Who says that a complete product cannot be printed (like a TV or mobile phone)?  It just means the “printer” needs more than one cartridge (like the difference between black-and-white and color printers).  How many of the almost 12 million American manufacturing jobs will be eliminated? Globally, how many jobs will be eliminated when goods can simply be printed?”
     
    I think this statement is literally ignorant of the complexity of these products.  To enable production of these items on a device like a printer would require the full development of atom by atom placement techniques or APM.  This kind of technology is not what 3-D printing is trying to achieve which is solid objects.  I suggest you read Radical Abundance for the difficulty of achieving these dreams of “printing” a complex object. Drexler thinks we’re getting closer but the tasks are hugely complex and not just a matter of changing a cartridge.  Atomic Precision Manufacturing has increasing scales at its smallest no direct digital control is possible so a useful analogy is how biological systems self-assemble as in the activity of ribosomes. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RibosomeBut continuing on with your analysis, however flawed it is, of whether these technologies, robotics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence will displace the need for human labor I would argue that all of these technologies are just capital which raises the productivity of labor.  Just as it now takes fewer work hours to put food on the table than it did just 50 or 100 years ago so too in a future of radical abundance it will take fewer labor hours to put that same food on the table perhaps so few that food becomes nearly free for all practical purposes  with some fraction of a percent return on investment which won’t be so unusual or troubling in a world of radical abundance.

  3. @StevenHales 
    I suggest you are thinking too narrowly.  You suggest that electronics cannot be made by 3-D printing because of the complexity.  You are not considering the possibility of 3-D atomic printing where structures are made one atom at a time. Yes, this is pie in the sky. But so were solid state electronics (transistors) a century ago, powerful computers carried around in your hand or pocket 30 years ago and atomic scale computers (quantum computing) and nano technology a decade ago.
     
    One amazing thing about the distant future: Some of it can arrive with astonishing speed. Around 1950 Robert Heinlein wrote a book about traveling to the moon which captivated this young imagination. But I never expected it to happen in my lifetime. It happened in less than two decades and I was still a young man (at least from my current perspective).
     
    The future of automated creation is totally remaining to be mapped out. Some far-out things may not happen in the next five years but 10 and 20 years are eternities for the timeline of technological development.
     
    Perhaps you would want to you reconsider your reference to ignorance in your comment?  Such statements in the past have sometimes led to future embarrassment.

  4. @JohnLounsbury
     Did you read what I wrote? I talked about APM “I think this statement is literally ignorant of the complexity of these products.  To enable production of these items on a device like a printer would require the full development of atom by atom placement techniques or APM.” I think we agree on what is required to achieve the “printing” of complex objects. The ribosome model of what a nano factory might look like is useful in visualizing it.

  5. @StevenHales 
    I apologize for not reading your comment more carefully.  We do substantially agree.  You stated the premise of atomic 3-D printing in a glass half-empty construction and I was thinking glass half full.  I allowed the framing of the discussion to hide the content.
     
    My bad.

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