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FDChief

Coupla thoughts here.

First, automation DOES create jobs. But not many, and over time it tends to destroy far more jobs than it creates. It doesn't take a ton of extra hands to run the diagnostics on a half-dozen checkout machines. That's why we don't have hundred of mill hands tending spinning machines anymore. Or spinning machines at all, for that matter; because where there ARE industrial processes that need human hands those tend to follow the lowest human costs to places like Cambodia or Bangladesh.

And a mature technology tends to have a fairly low failure rate, so you don't need an IT guy or gal for every store; you have one or two for a half-dozen stores. One of the primary virtues of machinery is that after the initial cost its operating costs are far lower than humans because it doesn't need to eat and have a roof over its' head.

I think the real problem we're looking at - and possibly not too far down the road - is that we're going to run out of things for people to do. Not everyone can create art, or literature, or design, or craft. Some people - quite a few people - are going to need to work with their hands. But that's just the sort of work, outside of genuine craftspersonship - that machines are good at. Right now our society, and U.S. society in particular, defines us as what we do. What happens when that's no longer possible for a LOT of people? When the Green Revolution ended subsistence agriculture for much of the world it coincided with the Industrial Revolution, so there were cities for the former small farmers to go to and factories and stores for them to work in. Where do the former cashiers, nozzle jockeys, bakers, stockroom clerks, and all go when their jobs are automated?

Second, and lastly, I was bitterly disappointed in RP1. It had a terrific opportunity to make some genuinely interesting observations about virtual- versus real-reality, digitization, a society that interacts - as we are right now - through simulations and electronic interfaces. And it didn't, preferring to wank off over every game ever written for the TRS-80.

(Which, I should add, was a weird part of a "young adult"-ish novel; who, born after 1975, would give a rip about "Joust" or the original D&D? It seemed like Cline wrote about what HE fanboi'ed over and it was people like me, the Late Boomer kids who grew up putting quarters on console games, read it.)

And Cline could have done both. "World War Z" managed to be both a page-turning zombiepocalypse novel AND a worthwhile introspection on how people, nations, and societies react to crises, as well as people and societies in general. Terrible film (well, terrible in "just another goddamn zombie movie") but a fun AND thoughtful read.

Kaleberg

This is actually a case of automation creating jobs. That bakery would likely close if it couldn't automate the cash handling.

We have a barbecue joint in town with automated ordering and payment. It's run by one guy who is good at making ribs, pulled pork and pulled turkey. Maybe he could afford to hire someone else to help run the joint, but odds are that would be too much. Instead, he uses Square. He doesn't take cash. You can pay with a card or your phone. We order online. We come in and chat with him a bit, then we grab our food and go. At one point I wave my phone.

If you've ever been to a bakery, you'd know that the ordering and payment process is a big time sink. There are people who can spend five minutes deciding which type of roll they want with the counterman standing there idle and a long line of customers fuming. Worse, there is the clean bread, filthy money problem mentioned in the article. A lot of people come for the baked goods, not the conversation. They have friends for conversation.

Look at service stations. Cars used to be really crappy. They needed oil every few thousand miles. They needed new brake pads, new tires, tune ups, winterizing, and so on. Things were constantly breaking. Modern cars are much more reliable. They need new oil every 10K miles. The radiators are sealed. Computers do the tune ups and watch for more serious problems. Most people think this is really great, even if they chat with the service department less often.

There are lots of people who have excellent, salable talents. Reducing the barrier between them and their ability to make a living from their skills is an excellent job for automation, and it creates jobs. Maybe the future isn't about selling stuff. Maybe it's about creating and selecting stuff to sell.

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