Robot Bullying?! Do I Have to Stand in Line?

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CNN Money combined two popular concepts – robots and bullying – that trigger my gag reflex –  in “Robots hit the streets — and the streets hit back.”  There are lessons to be learned.

 

Robots are not human.  They are no more alive than the Velveteen Rabbit; but I admit I have sympathy for the rabbit. However, what we lack here is a clear perspective.

Human lives matter…robots, not so much. We had over a dozen shootings this weekend in St. Louis…real people…some gang members and some innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire. We’ve got junkies dying in the street from a heroin overdose. Did I say “junkies” — I meant so say “our kids.”  There are seniors dying alone in hospice, one inch at a time, as cancer eats away what’s left of their bodies. Despite the best attempts at political spin, there is chronic unemployment and underemployment in the country and it is getting worse.  I don’t even want to talk about the the abortion mills that destroy life in the womb. For a lot of people, life sucks.

Of course, none of the above is of concern to the editors of Money.cnn.com. But it says something about the perversity of society….that we notice the plight of the robots…poor robots being “bullied” over what might be more pressing problems.

dogs_playingLets be clear. Robots, cast iron pans, lug wrenches, and pictures of dogs playing poker are NOT human. They have no rights, nor should they.  But you say, how about the engineers, investors, and entrepreneurs that merrily launch robots, drones, and driverless cars into the public at large? Don’t they have rights?

Well, it depends. “Rights” are not absolute. Of course people have the “right” to be secure in their property. However, when you were a kid and you left your favorite toy outside at night, and it was gone in the morning, were your rights violated or were you just stupid? If a scientist or entrepreneur launches his machine into society he should not be surprised to find it stripped cleaner than Clark Griswold’s car in “Summer Vacation” as it traverses some of our more colorful and exotic urban landscapes.

Expect to see more “bullying” as cost-efficient robots encroach on jobs.  Consultants are touting AI and robots as a good thing, and that the “bots” will actually create more jobs.  I doubt it.  We are going through an unsettled time. Change is happening at a faster and faster tempo.  The divide between the rich and the not-so-rich-anymore increasing in width and depth.

Today we focus on the technological (give us more) and how technology impacts the economy (all sweetness, light and growth).  Everybody that stands to make a buck on this stuff is widely optimistic. We don’t worry too much about the political, but we should.  Robots don’t vote. You spend time focusing on who gets to urinate in which restroom and neglect the disappearing blue collar jobs, and maybe it costs you an election. I’m not saying we should be insensitive to gender; but I am saying it is stupid to ignore the unemployed or underemployed. Excuse me for being blunt. It is not about pissing; it is about pissing away jobs.

People who hurt or think they have been hurt can get downright belligerent.  Belligerents are very often not “logical” – or at least operate on a logic that may allude politicians, technologists and corporate executives.

I am struck by an exchange between an executive at Ford Motor Co. and Walter Reuther, who headed the United Automobile Workers union between 1946 and 1970. The executive took Reuther on a tour of a highly automated assembly plant and joked with him, saying “How you going to get machines to pay union dues?” Reuther replied, “How you gonna get them to buy Fords?”

The Japanese did an interesting study on the effects of artificial intelligence and automation…Is You Job Robot-Ready?

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Image result for robot automation autoworker

Question: what the hell are we going to do with the people who are displaced?

The political and social aspects of technological change are enormously important and all to often we conveniently ignore them— that is a big mistake and potentially a very costly one for our society.

  • Pain is real
  • Robots don’t vote
  • If you can codify a job it is in jeopardy

Image result for frog in a boiling pot

There are social cost at play here. Forget about climate change and Russian meddling in elections…robots and AI is the stuff of revolutions. Each of the five categories contain in the Japanese study describe people who are not the most agile or adroit members of society when it comes to dealing with change in their dedicated profession….maybe dedicated over 10 or 20 years. They have what economists call a ‘sunk cost” in their education and apprenticeship, and robots and AI just make it difficult to recoup that cost.

Lets bring this close to home…you’re gonna be loaning money to your brother-in-law, the auditor or architect, that has been out of work for the past two years and has drained all of his savings.  Your sister, the anesthesiologist nurse has already hit you up for mortgage money; and your kid majored in finance but there is not a job on the horizon except one at Chili’s busing tables. Real people with real hurt.

If you can codify a job it is in jeopardy.

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