Sunday, February 26, 2017

How will you bet on Man v. the Machine?

Intellectually, rationally, I have a very tough time understanding how trump could have campaigned telling workers that he will bring back their old jobs.  It is beyond my imagination and understanding.  It is a crime to intentionally mislead gullible and helpless people by promising a future that simply cannot happen.  Yet, he did.  And he won telling such tales that have no basis in reality.

I, on the other hand, have been telling students for years that the reality of business decision-making, and the reality of advancement in science and technology, mean that anything that can be outsourced will be outsourced and anything that can be automated will be automated.

An essay by David Rotman--the editor of MIT Technology Review--is about all these issues, which make me worry even more about the demagoguery:
It is “glaringly obvious,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, that political leaders are “totally unprepared” to deal with how automation is changing employment. Automation has been displacing workers from a variety of occupations, including ones in manufacturing. And now, he says, AI and the quickening deployment of robots in various industries, including auto manufacturing, metal products, pharmaceuticals, food service, and warehouses, could exacerbate the effects. “We haven’t even begun the debate,” he warns
For a while now, I have also been telling students that the transition that we are now in will be challenging.  Painful for some.  Just like how the Industrial Revolution was a painful adjustment process.  The pain that led the Luddites to break a few machines.  But, that didn't stop the Industrial Revolution, did it?

I often quote Andrew McAfee--also at MIT--when I tell students that we haven't seen nothing yet.  Rotman writes that the changes coming our way will be beyond our imagination:
Joel Mokyr, a leading economic historian at Northwestern University, has spent his career studying how people and societies have experienced the radical transitions spurred by advances in technology, such as the Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th century. The current disruptions are faster and “more intensive,” Mokyr says. “It is nothing like what we have seen in the past, and the issue is whether the system can adapt as it did in the past.”
Adapting to the changes will require principled and responsible political leaders.  Exactly the kind that we do not have today.  The November 2016 election threw out the only candidate who tried to bring a level of reason and responsibility.  That candidate talked a lot about the need for retraining, for which the US spends very, very little:

Even that little bit that we spend, well, left to the GOP they want to gut it because they will rather spend the money to strengthen the military, and provide taxcuts to the rich!
Not only might automation and AI prove particularly prone to replacing human workers, but the effects might not be offset by the government policies that have softened the blow of such transitions in the past. Initiatives like improved retraining for workers who have lost their jobs to automation, and increased financial protections for those seeking new careers, are steps recommended by the White House report. But there appears to be no political appetite for such programs.
How terrible!
The economic anxiety over AI and automation is real and shouldn’t be dismissed. But there is no reversing technological progress. We will need the economic boost from these technologies to improve the lackluster productivity growth that is threatening many people’s financial prospects. Furthermore, the progress AI promises in medicine and other areas could greatly improve how we live. Yet if we fail to use the technology in a way that benefits as many people as possible (see “Who Will Own the Robots?”), we risk fueling public resentment of automation and its creators. 
It is way, way, way more difficult to understand these issues and convey these to voters who need to be educated on such matters.  It is far, far, far easier to simply yell and tweet Make America Great Again!  What an asshole trump is, and what a bunch of assholes the GOP leaders are!


Ramesh said...

You should also explore the unwillingness of workers to shift to an occupation they see as "beneath them" . For example it is clear that the demand for nursing, health care attendants, and the like (which can also be relatively low skill and easily trainable jobs) is going to explode. And yet not enough people are willing to take to them. It has the added advantage of being seen as a noble profession and one where the satisfaction quotient can also be very high - you earn the eternal gratefulness of the people you help. I'm not sure how the pay structure in the US is for these professions, but in India at least, the pay is comparable with other similar professions - certainly as good as a factory worker.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, it comes down to (re)training.

And that is exactly what candidate Clinton campaigned about. Guess what happened to her?
She lost to the asshole who campaigned that he will bring back those old jobs, essentially promising people that they don't have to (re)train for anything new. Guess what? The lying sonofabitch asshole won.

The NY Times magazine has plenty on this aspect. Click here for that:

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