Sunday, May 18, 2014

Technological Unemployment: Both Danger and Opportunity

Only a fool will not acknowledge that we, today, live in an era where outright marvels of technology--the practical applications of scientific breakthroughs years in the making--have made possible a civilization whereby threats long afflicting Mankind are now so rarely felt that they are slipping out of living memory in parts of the world. We possess productive technologies of such a vast, deep, and diverse array that what used to be "just life"--the need for everyone to work to stay alive--is now obsolete. We do not need every last employable adult to be employed in work outside the home! (Literally or virtually, for those seeking that clarification.) Putting ourselves out of jobs, through the use of our technology, is a good thing. The insistence upon human labor to justify an individual's existence is nothing more than euphemized slavery.

This is "technological unemployment", and it is a centuries-long trend in Mankind's development of Civilization. As the experts in the mainstream will tell you, the overall trend is that new technologies render sectors of human labor obsolete and compel those so affected to retire (if possible) or retrain and get rehired for new sectors that emerge as a consequence of this shift in the real economy. The reaction against this trend is known, generally, as "Luddism" and one subscribing to it is a Luddite, after the 19th century Luddites who were notorious for their specific example of it. Despite my doubts about how it will shake out this time, I am no Luddite and I welcome this automation trend that's already changing the way of things here and how.

One aspect of talk about technological unemployement that isn't getting enough respect is that the aforementioned trend towards the dislocated workers finding either a graceful exit or new employment is neither absolute nor a guaranteed phenomenon. This is often dismissed as "The Luddite Fallacy", but structural unemployment (which is what this is really about) is finally a real threat and as such should be taken seriously. There are two reasons for this being different than past episodes: first, this is a global change; second, the rate of change is so severe that most people simply cannot adapt fast enough anymore. Depending upon where in the world you are, you already see much of this in action.

Nevermind immigration and global brain drains. What's going on is that automation, both robots and software, are already making tsunami-like waves in how things work for Mankind on this planet and the rate that it is destroying jobs (and thereby the means for people to get the currency they need to pay to stay alive) is accelerating so fast that the new jobs created not only fail to keep pace with those destroyed, but those created are so low-quality positions that they cannot justify the compensation needed to keep alive as I just mentioned. This plays into the danger of technological unemployment.

Still with me? Good.

The issue is that automation will destroy the service sector, which had previously absorbed dislocated workers through expansion of low-wage, no-benefit (because employers don't want to pay for full-time workers if they don't have to) positions alongside the destruction of labor unions and the spread of "right to work" statutes (where one can be fired for damn near anything, at any time, without warning; the protections that are written in the codes are routinely toothless, and rarely bring remedy). Further, jobs currently considered "skilled" are already being de-skilled, which exacerbates the problem when formerly high-trained folks find their compensation cut to account for the new economic reality of their work after automation removes the need for skills or knowledge that formerly took multiple years and severe tests of competency to acquire. Since it is easier to make a new robot or application to do the new, unskilled or semi-skilled, position than it is to train a human being to do it expect those new jobs to decrease in number until they disappear altogether.

The reason for this is simple: automatons are specialists, and economics privileges specialists over generalists in both real and virtual industrial economics (which is what we really have). It is getting easier for the robots to make, repair, monitor, and upgrade themselves- both hardware and software alike. Soon it will be standard practice. It is now inevitable that automated service provision, automated production, and automated transportation will swiftly overtake the globe- watch how everything will change between now and 2025; McDonald's in Europe will soon trial automation of order-taking via kiosks, there is already a robot that makes perfect burgers ready for licensing across the world, Japan has automated noodle shops as a real thing, Print-On-Demand printing businesses are now established and making deals with businesses like Amazon (or being bought outright by them) to distribute what they print, and LegalZoom took a lot of grunt legal work out of small practices everywhere. It's only going to get worse for those that insist that everyone pays to stay alive.

The danger here is that structural unemployment is allowed to occur without any useful, effective changes in our global economic system to compensate for the accelerating proportion of people who are permanently unemployed (and unemployable; retraining is a short-term solution that's soon to become useless since the new jobs will be automated out of existence before the retraining is done- so all you "the trades will save us" folks are going to be so screwed very soon). With drone cars killing taxi drivers as a job, drone trucks killing the Teamsters (alone with drone forklifts, etc.), drone planes killing commercial and military pilots (and their unions), drone techbots killing the grease monkeys that keep those things going, we're soon to see what can't be automated out of human hands- and that means a critical mass of people who can't get the currency needed to buy food, clothes, Internet access, housing, etc. will soon manifest in the world's cities and cause a metric fuckton of unrest that governments will be compelled to address.

At this time, with all the world's governments militarizing their security services and establishing police states, I expect that the go-to reaction will be to deal with these dispossessed populations will be to do unto them what the militaries of the globe have done to "others"--the Third World populations heretofore (and currently) droned to death on a regular basis--up to this date. Between starvation, thirst, disease, neglect, democide (death by government), Empire expects its Thralls to cull these now-useless eaters (as the Anglo-American Establishment terms us) with no real consequence to them as a whole, and little or no risk to themselves individually. The danger of technological unemployment is that it will provide the psychopaths that want this planet to themselves the excuses needed to justify genocide on a scope and scale heretofore unimaginable to most of us.

The reason for the danger is due to the opportunity, which is what Empire and its Thralls fear: the opportunity is that we can do away with everything that requires us to turn away from the mass development of the unique human power of cognition that we see in non-linear creative thought- something no robot or program can ever take from us. With this power developed in our BILLIONS, we can cooperatively and voluntarily solve all of our problems and bring an end to Empire and its Thralls predatory and parasitic existence forever. No, not Utopia (because Utopia is static, and life is anything but that; only the dead know Utopia) but instead a potential future worth living for, fighting for, sacrificing for- one worth the struggles, which WILL turn violent, that are now inevitably to come soon.

Nevermind the Venus Project (though they have some damn useful ideas to ponder), or the Zeitgeist Movement (who've benefit a lot from breaking with the Venus Project; they're seriously coming up with solutions that could work), or the Basic Income crowd (as much as that would be a fantastic interim step that does stop the immediate threat), but rather focus on just this one simple idea right now: we no longer need, and it is no longer desirable to have, every adult working outside the home so that they can pay to stay alive. We can do this now, immediately, and reap the benefits therefrom in the form of superior social engagement, and thereby social cohesion; we can return to one-income households without fear of poverty or worse, and we already know what our communities are like when half of us are around the neighborhood at all times.

Sure, there's going to be rough times ahead, and no everyone will NOT make it, but the other side is NOT determined; the future is ALWAYS in motion, and we outnumber them by several orders of magnitude. Fear not the opportunity; face the danger, make this better tomorrow happen, and Empire will fall.

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