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    Locus Online | 7/6/20 | 8 min
    21 reads14 comments
    8.5
    Locus Online
    21 reads
    8.5
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    • fdestin4 months ago

      The displacement of jobs on a massive scale does not require AI. Workflow automation suffices and I believe it is happening on a grand scale in what we think of as white collar jobs, such as bank middle office or insurance claims processing. I hear it everywhere. The issue with big shits like that is the speed at which they happen, such as the closure of the mines, leading to stubborn long-term unemployment.

      • jeff
        Top reader this weekReading streakScoutScribe
        4 months ago

        I agree that the speed of the shift is proportional to the magnitude and duration of the unemployment but has workflow automation itself ever been the cause of such shifts on a scale large enough to impact the overall economy?

        It seems to me that governmental policy change would lead to the fastest, largest shifts. Technological development is always incremental but laws are arbitrary and can be conjured into existence in an instant. It's my understanding that the mine closures that I'm familiar with (I'm thinking Thatcher in the 80's and Appalachia today) were the result of changes in energy policy rather than mining automation.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        4 months ago

        Welcome to Readup! I love "the issue with big shits" although I think you meant "big shifts" but either way it all makes sense. And yeah: speed. That's what makes everything about life on Earth so crazy: the speed of it all. As we're living it, we can't even keep up with how dizzying it is. And it's accelerating. Automation. Climate. All of it.

        Doctorow is a living legend of a writer. I'm stoked he's starting to get some more attention on Readup.

    • jeff
      Top reader this weekReading streakScoutScribe
      4 months ago

      I agree 100% with the AI skepticism but am not sold on the economics.

      Permanent 30% unemployment for next year is a radical prediction. Where is he getting that number? Unemployment in the US is already declining. It's at 11% in June down from around 15% in April and this article was published in July. These are still big numbers but they were the result of a government-mandated shutdown due to a public health emergency, not a private market that doesn't want labor.

      I agree that government austerity during such an emergency doesn't make sense but why does that mean we will need a jobs guarantee? Why not just temporarily subsidize the payrolls of private companies that were forced to close during the shutdown? Seems to be working pretty well in Germany from what I've read.

      But honestly, if we’re going to dream, let’s dream big...

      What he's essentially talking about is converting the US to a centrally planned economy. Has that ever gone well? How can anyone be so confident that we can just explode the money supply and manage to keep inflation in check indefinitely? I'm going to be buying gold and Bitcoin. These people who are mainlining Modern Monetary Theory 24/7 and itching to see their experiment pushed to the absolute limits scare the living daylights out of me.

    • sjwoo4 months ago

      I look forward to the days ahead when we again have people as smart as Doctorow help run the government.

      He's 100% right. If you think about all the gains we've made through all the tech innovations (IC engine, computers, smartphones), we're still just as busy as ever, if not more so. The blue-collared class have been decimated, but that's a phase and they'll die out (sorry to be so blunt, but it's true). Even the dumb kids nowadays can use tech to a decent degree, and for those who still would rather have a physical-labor-intensive job, like Doctorow says, there will be plenty of that through the natural catastrophes we've created.

      That hole digging and filling metaphor is quite apt. You could make an argument that this is all human beings have been doing since the dawn of time.

      • SEnkey
        Top reader this weekReading streakScoutScribe
        4 months ago

        Interesting. The death of the blue collar class and worker has been prophesied for more than a century, much like peak-oil it never quite lands. The dumb kids may be able to use tech, but using tech isn't the same as coding or creating tech.

        The problem with digging and filling holes is that it doesn't actually create anything. Digging up fossil fuels creates wealth because it powers systems. Imagine if no one bought oil, gas, or plastics - we would stop digging up fossil fuels immediately. Despite all the jobs in digging it up, transporting, testing, processing etc, those jobs are only there if the eventual output is valuable. Digging holes to fill them would never accomplish that.

        I always find it interesting that Nuclear power isn't mentioned at all. The quickest, safest, and most economic way to end fossil fuels is to begin using more nuclear power. Wouldn't that do a great deal to mitigate climate change?

        • sjwoo4 months ago

          Nuclear power needs some major PR campaign to make it viable again. Just watching the Chernobyl miniseries will make you never want to go anywhere near nuclear anything.

          I agree -- using tech isn't the same as coding or creating tech, but you really don't need that many coders. More important that we have people who can work with tech. Maybe I'm being too optimistic with the younger crowd, though. Being on their phones 24/7 doesn't necessarily translate to work ability (or desire).

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        4 months ago

        Wonderful comment. I agree that the hole digging and filling metaphor is apt. It’s a lot to think about - the meaning of the word work.

    • jbuchana4 months ago

      Half the population digging holes, the other half filling them in.

      we did just spend 150 years subsidizing our ancestors to dig hydrocarbons out of the ground. Now we’ll spend 200-300 years subsidizing our descendants to put them back in there.

      An interesting comparison.

      "Just adding zeros" sounds good on paper, but it sounds bad in reality. I wonder how this ties into yesterday's post on what went wrong in 1971...

    • peat4 months ago

      Being the respectable sci-fi author he is, Doctorow flipped my thinking of Universal Basic Income from it being a revolutionary policy, to it being an incremental policy. That said, as an avowed incrementalist he did one better and suggested a jobs guarantee which may well be a better incremental policy.

      • erlank4 months ago

        Great thought experiment. Better than doing nothing. Feels pretty much like going in circles though. I feel humans are so smart, but I feel they’re so damn dumb as well. So disappointing. We have the answer/s just not the willingness to face our collective bullshit. Anybody who thinks we can abdicate responsibility to political solutions is dreaming, and sorry it will continue to be a bad dream. Time to retire the connivers, the bullies and the egomaniacs from politics. Time to get real, face the shitstorm we collectively created, implement human solutions to human pain or stop moaning and start digging holes.

    • Florian4 months ago

      That’s quite the reality check. I enjoy reading from authors with so much confidence and conviction.

    • JoshChapdelaine4 months ago

      A critically important read on the fantasies of progressing to artificial general intelligence before we address the existential climate threat from one of the most visionary authors of our time.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        4 months ago

        👍