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TED: Are Droids Taking Our Jobs? (They are...but we ain't seen nothin' yet.)

Revolution? There is a real revolution going on here:



From TED: Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs like building cars, writing articles, translating -- jobs that once required a human. So what will we humans do for work? Andrew McAfee walks through recent labor data to say: We ain't seen nothing yet. But then he steps back to look at big history, and comes up with a surprising and even thrilling view of what comes next. (Filmed at TEDxBoston.)

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The Curse of Machinery Fallacy

I think you should read what Ron Paul the Austrian economists would have to say about your concerns


And remember The Lesson:

"The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
-- Henry Hazlitt

Michael Nystrom's picture

Oh, I've read it

And I'm well aware of the argument. The distinction here is that we're not talking about 'machinery.' There may be some similarities between physical machinery and virtual machines, but there are also some very significant differences that may invalidate the argument.

Time will tell.

He's the man.

I think you're exactly right.

...and I think Michael is off on this.

150 years ago, what % of the people spent a lifetime of physical and mental effort producing food? I'm guessing somewhere about 90%. Today, that's got to be down to under 10% (at least in developed areas).

I don't think there has been any "devastation" of a job market in human history that can compare to what has happened to farming jobs caused by the development of large scale farming equipment. Yet is that really a negative?

Absolutely not. Had Michael been born 150 years earlier, he almost certainly would be a farmer. Think how much better the world is because he wasn't born then and was born today where he could pursue other things with his efforts.

The speaker said it best at the end: technology taking jobs frees up people's efforts to pursue other things. That's a huge net positive for everyone.

Michael Nystrom's picture

I think it is easy

to point to the writings of a dead economist (a Nobel prize winner, even!), and say that this has all been thought out - don't worry about it - here are the answers. But to do so is both lazy and folly (not to mention boring :-), because this situation is not like the last. Yes - the similarities are obvious. The differences less so.

As I said above, we're not dealing simply with machinery, or technology, we're dealing with intelligence. Kurzweil is right when he says we're heading towards a singularity, and if you don't know what that means, here is a little taste from the book Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind as quoted in the Bill Joy article from Wired:

Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior competitors. Ten million years ago, South and North America were separated by a sunken Panama isthmus. South America, like Australia today, was populated by marsupial mammals, including pouched equivalents of rats, deers, and tigers. When the isthmus connecting North and South America rose, it took only a few thousand years for the northern placental species, with slightly more effective metabolisms and reproductive and nervous systems, to displace and eliminate almost all the southern marsupials.

In a completely free marketplace, superior robots would surely affect humans as North American placentals affected South American marsupials (and as humans have affected countless species). Robotic industries would compete vigorously among themselves for matter, energy, and space, incidentally driving their price beyond human reach. Unable to afford the necessities of life, biological humans would be squeezed out of existence.

Amusingly, he goes on to cite the advantage of government intervention in saving the human race. Ha ha ha. You guys are going to have a field day with this, I just know it!

There is probably some breathing room, because we do not live in a completely free marketplace. Government coerces nonmarket behavior, especially by collecting taxes. Judiciously applied, governmental coercion could support human populations in high style on the fruits of robot labor, perhaps for a long while.

I'm not saying I agree with this completely, I'm just pointing out that there is more to this argument than, "Henry Hazlitt already addressed this."

He's the man.

you nailed it

The short if it is that there will always be work that needs to be done. Machines break down, computers crash, and people still need services performed by other people.

Now that's an optimistic view of humanity. We could just as easily devolve into the fatties from Wall-e, floating around on anti-gravity chairs, occupying ourselves with inanities. I know enough to know that predicting the future is sheer folly.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

Michael Nystrom's picture

The fatties from Wall E!

For anyone who hasn't seen it, start at about 1:00


I always wondered how they earned their money to just sit around like that.

He's the man.