‘Crush, Kill, Destroy’

There’s an interesting/alarming cover story in Barron’s on the use of automation, specifically robots, and it’s impact on jobs. We may be in a perfect storm where even the most protective actions could result in the most automation:

As President Donald Trump prevents manufacturers from leaving the U.S., expect them to use robots to keep labor costs down…

…One thing that could accelerate U.S. robot deployments is a corporate tax cut, which would reduce the overall cost of manufacturing in the U.S., but not the labor cost. Another is a border adjustment tax, which would reward exporters while penalizing importers. Accelerated depreciation on capital investments would give companies an immediate tax break on money spent to automate factories.

…and of course, investors would applaud this action. There were some other nuggets of information that also could have a lasting impact: China.

Already the world’s largest buyer of robots, China plans to close the gap with developed nations on robot density, or the number of robots in service per human worker. The idea isn’t just to drive down production costs. It’s to improve quality and one day compete more effectively in high-value goods like cars. It’s also to offset the million workers per year that China is expected to lose as its population ages. In the U.S., the demographic challenge is less dire, but present. The working population is growing slowly, at about 0.5% a year.

One of the stories I remember reading about the birth of the Smartphone was about how quickly assemblers in China could set up a factory, but also have full shifts of workers. It was something like in 6 weeks they were able to ramp-up from a standstill to complete production for world-wide demand. No one else could do it, but mostly it was the availability of workers that gave them the edge. Robotics would continue to give them a significant advantage, and as the article state, allow them to move into new markets like cars.

So what’s the obvious answer: be the designer and manufacturer of Robots. Even the Russian Usurper (quoted in the article says so, and that’s how I know it is obvious). Less obvious is the answer that one of the automation enthusiasts proclaims:

“Robots save jobs,” says John Roemisch, vice president of Fanuc America. “You can’t do it the old way just because that employs the most people. If you don’t adapt, you’re not going to survive.” In Roemisch’s view, robots replace unpleasant or dangerous jobs, but also spawn new ones. “Instead of a worker picking up a screwdriver, the robot does that and the worker operates the robot,” he says. “His skill level has to be a little bit higher, but it’s not like you need engineers on the shop floor.” Indeed, newer robots come with features like intuitive touchscreen controls that decrease the amount of training workers need to use them.

…which implies a certain amount of education and/or training. Betsy DeVos um, oh never mind.

So the summary of the argument is that without robotics, entire industries will decamp for countries like China that are embracing automation. I’m not sure that I believe that, but it does seem plausible. If there are a certain number of workers that are needed to operate the factories, then it seems reasonable that the answer is to have more factories, but it would need to be exponential to our current level of workers. And of course, those factories will be disrupted by another wave of innovation.

Being Baron’s, a huge chunk of the article goes on to explain to investors how and why to cash in, which seems rather sangfroid to me, but that’s the investor class in a nutshell.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the psychology of the article is probably right. Hold on tight, I think the future is coming right at us.

PS: Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942 short story “Runaround“)

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

I wish our plutocrats were as ethical.

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12 Responses to ‘Crush, Kill, Destroy’

  1. well, the answer is simple: Replace our plutocrats with robots!

    It’d be pretty easy to design them, too. They wouldn’t have to do much except show up late, bark a few random strings of meaningless words, and leave early.


  2. HarpoSnarx says:

    Which sh*thead Republican legislator is going to demand voting rights for these Skynet robots? Also as they roll into the coal mines, who will Trump voters be blaming next?


  3. Sirius Lunacy says:

    Also, keep a lookout for a big push from the Rs to allow all the big corporations to bring heaps of their offshore account money back home virtually tax free. They will argue that the big injection of capital will allow the “job creators” to create more jobs but the truth is that they will need it to buy more robots. According to a study from Ball State University, 12 million American manufacturing jobs today produce the same amount of goods as 21 million manufacturing jobs did in 2000. It’s not the illegal aliens that are taking all the jobs (not the ones that pay well at least), it’s the robots.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. moeman says:

    Good stuff TG.

    I’d add that American (by birth) companies, like Apple, are funding in huge parts (see what I did there?) these new robotized plants in Asia and soon India.


  5. Infidel753 says:

    It’s time to acknowledge that a growing percentage of the population in modern countries is simply not needed for any form of production, and that the old model in which the default assumption was that everyone (except the independently wealthy) works for a living is becoming steadily more inapplicable.

    It’s the beginning of the transition from the type of economy we’ve had for thousands of years, in which humans work to produce what they need and exchange their output in various ways, to the future type in which machines will do almost all the producing and most humans’ role will only be to consume, not produce. Managing the transition is going to be difficult, especially if people refuse to understand what’s happening. Redistribution schemes like Basic Income are the best option for these early stages, but of course the conservative/libertarian element will fight like hell against that.

    The worst thing we can do is try to stop or slow down technological progress, which will merely relocate it to other parts of the world. (If Trump’s anti-science Luddism remains in place, global technological leadership will probably shift to Europe and Japan anyway.) Nations, too, can become obsolete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • w3ski says:

      I too see the need and perfection of a guaranteed income from our Robot Workforce. And I too agree that the Retuhgs (read selfish) will fight that, tooth and nail.
      They think Socialism to equate with failure, I see socialism as the coming age of Humanity itself.


  6. The real point here is that Trump cannot make business hire, because he cannot make business WANT to hire.

    (The underlying point is that the supposedly-universal moral imperative that “everyone must work” was invalidated by the steam engine and the entire world has spent the past two-centuries-and-change trying, very clumsily, to pretend that that did not happen.)


    • tengrain says:

      Frank –

      Yeah, and the other driver is that businesses increase capacity (and hire) when demand increases. Of course, demand increases when customers have more money to spend, but Ayn Rand never gets that far in explaining how selfishness works.




  7. Pupienus Maximus says:

    >which implies a certain amount of education and/or training. Betsy DeVos um, oh never mind.

    What was it James Baldwin said about the difficulty of getting an education in a society hostile to intellectualism? I’d ask Cruella Ponzi-DeVos but she’d think I was talking about a Trump impersonator.

    Also comes to mind Baldwin’s warning, “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. C Montgomery Burns says:

    Oh great, then what?
    Robosexual marriage?


    • tengrain says:

      Mr. Burns, never, ever, EVER get between a Republican woman and her pocket rabbit. You could lose an eye.




  9. kathywompus says:

    I had such a boy crush on Will Robinson when I was 7.


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