Author Topic: bedtime story  (Read 10508 times)

rcjordan

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bedtime story
« on: July 22, 2014, 12:55:40 AM »
“The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2014/07/21/were-heading-into-a-jobless-future-no-matter-what-the-government-does/

Rupert

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2014, 09:51:14 AM »
Great read thanks. 

Quote
“enough work for all who need work for income, purchasing power and dignity.”
  This is core and the bit that gets forgotten so often imho is dignity. 

I do think he is wrong in thinking the week will shorten.  History says imho that fewer people end up working harder.  Its just that if you are on the wheel, you are terrified of falling off, as there are so many skilled young thnigs behind you wanting your place. They dreamed of that Utopia in the 60s and 70s I am told :)
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rcjordan

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2014, 02:09:13 PM »
>Utopia

I have a friend/mentor who is a great futurist (though I DO tease him a lot about my having to pick through his wispy grasp of reality to find the gems).

Over the past year of so, we've been debating the future of jobs, mostly as they relate to the US/EU demographic.  His reply:

> I was pretty interested until i go to this:  "but we could also create the
> utopian future we have long dreamed of, with a large part of humanity
> focused on creativity and enlightenment."
>
> Predictions about the future are usually wrong Utopian  predictions are
> ALWAYS wrong.
>
> Still, it makes me think-  Such change can't happen without a HUGE downside
> that no one expects.
>

RC:
I think the editor said "This is too goddamn gloomy! Make it a happy
ending or toss it in the trash."  But the points about job-loss are
good.   Basically, a lot of people can see this train wreck coming but
no one can see how to get out of its way.  The only thing I can see is
massive population loss.

buckworks

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2014, 02:09:32 PM »
Quote
Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water

I think those predictions are wildly over-optimistic, to the point of being irresponsible.

Drastic

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2014, 02:25:48 PM »
>almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water

I'd argue we're close to that now, or at least the potential for it. The problem is squandering resources, poor or no infrastructure for distribution, and doomed because of money.

nffc

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2014, 03:14:54 PM »
> "with a large part of humanity focused on creativity and enlightenment"

We tried that already, ended up with the Kardasians and funny cat videos.

Drastic

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2014, 03:23:56 PM »
>We tried that already, ended up with the Kardasians and funny cat videos.

1 out of 2 ain't bad...

littleman

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2014, 03:57:13 PM »
We've talked a bit about how there is going to have to be some type of shift in the social-welfare systems around the world as employment opportunities collapse.  I don't think it's going to be a utopia, but a very painful adjustment.  People with wealth aren't going to want to give it up, people who are hungry aren't going to want to starve. Ultimately, we're going to end up with people receiving pay checks just for breathing and some will want to spend that money in the wrong way.

>humanity focused on creativity and enlightenment

We did get Linux, Kikipedia, the internet, open source software, Archive.org & the Gutenberg project.  Sure, most people will spend their time doing meaningless sh##, but not everybody.

ergophobe

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2014, 10:04:32 PM »
Whew! Where to start? I'm a historian (16th-century Europe), not a futurist. But when I see how people who know little about history project backwards it gives me an idea about how people who know little about the future (that is all of us) project forward.

The largest point is certainly right - many jobs will be eliminated. As information systems get smarter, there will be fewer and fewer jobs where humans reign supreme. I was once considered one of the premier French paleographers (reader of old manuscripts) in the world. Paleography is basically like solving the CAPTCHA from Hell. But as I told my students in this summer's seminar, I would expect that in 20-30 years computers will be better at paleography than humans. It's mostly a horsepower problem.

That said, his vision of a future only a couple of decades away is farcical.

Everyone interested in thinking about the future should read Stewart Brand's book "The Clock of the Long Now." One of the points he makes is that the primary utility of long-range forecasting is to identify present needs. The forecasts are always wrong because they always discount the 1 in a billion events. And yet, played out over billions of events over a hundred years, one of those 1 in a billion events that changes everything is bound to happen.

-- the general problem with the article --

The general problem is that people project current trends way out into the future. I see this a lot with non-historians thinking about the past. They think that because their parents familes were larger and their grandparents' families even larger, that in the distant past families were generally very large. It's simply not the case. The typical household in Renaissance Florence was 4 persons, including servants (see Herlihy and Klapish, Les Toscans et leurs familles). This "futurism" is a similar sort of project.

Stewart Brand illustrates the problem with a nice anecdote. In the 1980s, the Swedish navy received notice from the national forester that their trees were ready. Nobody in the navy knew, but in the 18th century, the navy had identified a key strategic problem that would cause Swedish military power to decline: an impending shortage of trees suitable for building masts. So the navy ordered the forester to plant a forest so that in 200 years they would still have trees to harvest for masts. Of course, 200 years later, masts had no strategic importance. However, old growth forest had a value all its own and Sweden now has an old growth forest thanks to long-term thinkers in the navy. That's what I mean about the utility of long-range planning being useful for setting current priorities. Huge trees had a value in 1785 and in 1985. The reason was totally different, but the long-range thinking allowed the value and the need to be identified. It did not, however, result in anything like an accurate picture of the future.

As to the details in the article...

Starting at the top....

Quote
Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores

Let's start with the obvious... In two decades....

-- "robots will drive our cars" --
 The average age of a car on the road today is 11.4 years[1] and that number has been generally rising as cars last longer (remember when it was a feat to get 100K miles out of a car). If ALL new cars become robot-driven 8 years from now, that means that two decades from now at most half of the cars on the road will be robot-driven. Do I need to say that 8 years from now, few if any production cars will be robot-driven. Verdict: utter fantasy.

-- "unlimited energy" --
How about this quote: "Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter."
 -- Lewis Strauss, 1954 [2]

When I was in high school 25 years later, we were seeing the fastest rise in energy prices in history, not free electricity. I did a term paper on nuclear fusion. From everything I read, nuclear fusion and crazy cheap electricity were two decades away.

I believe that "free" energy will always be two decades away. Energy, as a proportion of personal income, is astronomically cheaper today than it was in the past. According to one study, the cost of 1000 lumens in ancient Babylon was 58 hours of labor for a typical worker. The cost in 1992 for a 1000 lumens was equivalent to 0.00012 hours of work for a typical worker [3].

By historical measures, we have "almost unlimited energy" today. Raise your hand if you feel that your energy costs are approaching zero and if a survey of geopolitics suggests that energy feels unlimited currently?

-- food --
Climate change is stressing all of our food systems and our food systems are feeding climate change. Beef in particular can't become "unlimited" if we are going to actually keep the planet from zinging past 10 degrees Farenheit. And looking at it from the other side, the best projections are for food production to decline. There are all sorts of inefficiencies in the food production and distributions systems, but I don't see unlimited food. We are likely, at some point, to see a falling planetary population and possibly planet-wide deflation as a result, but first we need to get over the "hump" in the form of African population explosion (European and North American and Japanese fertility have cratered already, South America and most of Asia are, I believe, slowing down, but Africa is poised for a population explosion if it ever gets past its political problems. If you've seen the Hans Rosling TED talks, we can guess that's coming.

-- clean water --
Read Cadillac Desert. America is pumping its aquifers dry. Most people don't realize that about half of the water used to grow food in the Great Plains is pumped from the ground, mostly from the Oglala Aquifer. That is a bank of water left over from the last Ice Age. The best data suggest we've used most of it up already. Is there another 20 years in there? Another 30? Similarly, the wells in the Central Valley of California are going dry. Many have gone dry this year. The drought is driving it because it's forcing people to pump more, but a few years of rain will not replenish ancient underground water. In other words, the drought has only accelerated the draw down. It's been many, many years since Californians were pulling water out at the replacement rate.

If energy becomes super cheap, then desalination becomes an option, but it's going to take a huge amount of energy to desalinate it and then pump it to eastern Colorado. If the energy prediction doesn't come true, we can guarantee the water one won't either. And if the water prediction doesn't come true, say goodbye to the food prediction.

-- advances in medicine will allow us to live longer lives --
That's probably true, though at the moment the current generation of kids in America is the first one in history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to preventable diseases related to obesity and sedentary lifestyle. But if it does come true, it exacerbates the food, water and energy problem. It will also divide the haves and the have-nots unless prices truly crash. We will need a lot more Theranos-style innovation for that to happen.

1. http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-ihs-automotive-average-age-car-20140609-story.html
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Too_cheap_to_meter
3. http://www.nber.org/chapters/c6064.pdf - Table 1.4 (pp. 46-47).

rcjordan

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #9 on: July 22, 2014, 10:27:01 PM »
You guys keep focusing on the utopian stuff, as 'Debbie Downer' (who *ahem* was right about that 25% loss in home values, pre-bubble) I'm waving that off as feel-good bullshit.

>stressing

>>The only thing I can see (as an answer) is massive population loss.

ergophobe

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2014, 10:38:06 PM »
History says imho that fewer people end up working harder.

Modern industrial societies work far more hours per day than hunter-gatherer societies, that's true. But after that I'd say that observation is wrong.

In general we work less than in the West than we did 100 years ago thanks to the labor movement, the two-day weekend and the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour day. Remember, it was only about 130 years ago that workers striking for an eight-hour day were shot to death by police, resulting in the Haymarket Affair and the celebration of May Day everywhere except the United States were anti-labor forces succeeded in making sure it did not become a labor holiday. ( http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/571.html)

There has been a rise in the workday in recent times in America, but the best time-diary studies show that it is minimal and not close to what the popular media would have you believe. Part of the perceived rise in working hours is because people consistently overstate their work hours and the more they work, the more they overstate, especially women - http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/06/art3full.pdf

Then if you go back further... I can't recall the book, but there was a man in 18th-century France who started as a farmer and then moved to the city and became reasonable educated and well-off. Reacting to the "noble peasant" idea prevalent at the time, he wrote the story of his earlier life and the backbreaking toil of a peasant at the time. And in the city I study, the city rang the bells at 4am in the summer to wake people for work and many worked until late in the day. In the winter, the day was shorter, but to make ends meet, peasants were often busy with handcrafts indoors if they could afford the light to keep working.

So I would say that historically speaking, the general trend in hours worked has been down. As the author of the article implies, though, the downward trend has not been fast enough. As a culture, we've chosen to work more and have more. Most of us live lives that kings of old could not even imagine with all manner of comfort and entertainment and food from distant lands. What we have not been willing to do is bring hours down faster and have a lower standard of living. The French tried the 32-hour work week, but just couldn't get it to stick in the context of a global economy. Someday, though, I think the 32 hour work week will be the norm. There will still be people working 100 hours per week, but the norm will drop below 40.

Gurtie

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2014, 06:30:49 AM »
>>  What we have not been willing to do is bring hours down faster and have a lower standard of living.

that's the issue. I won't pretend I'm better at this than anyone else, but we need to be more realistic in our expectations, I had a quite heated discussion with my best mate who says he has the "right" to one foreign holiday a year minimum, and my cousin, she of 16 types of benefits and prone to not repaying money you lend her has the "right" to a new car on HP because otherwise her two kids get wet walking places. 

None of us have the right to anything but heat, food and an element of comfort. I would be really reluctant to give up my extras for which I feel I work hard but I do understand its irresponsible to make some of the choices I do. But hell I'm not giving stuff up if everyone else is having fun!

In 20 years time I suspect we'll be living in a global version of animal farm. I feel like there should be a link to that preppers thread here!

nffc

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2014, 08:57:48 AM »
>In general we work less than in the West than we did 100 years ago

I don't think that is anywhere near correct. Maybe the "poor" work much less, many not at all. The "don't want to be poor" group much much harder and for proportionately less reward.

ergophobe

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2014, 04:28:15 PM »
>In general we work less than in the West than we did 100 years ago

I don't think that is anywhere near correct. Maybe the "poor" work much less, many not at all. The "don't want to be poor" group much much harder and for proportionately less reward.

Professionals work a bit more than they did 50 years ago, but very few professionals work 6x12, which was a common factory worker schedule in the 19th century.

People feel stressed and overworked, but time diary studies show that most of the "lost" time since 1970 has gone into television and other diversions rather than work. In general, work hours have bee stable throughout the industrialized world since 1970 and before that they fell dramatically over the course of the 20th century.

Plus you have to realize that at the beginning of the 20th century women's kitchen working hours alone were estimated at 42 hours per week. So even people who spend more time at work are actually working less because of convenience foods, power mowers and things like that.

These are based on research and data rather than just subjective impressions and show a slight rise in leisure and a decrease in overall work over the past 100 years. The idea that people work more today than ever is not borne out by any data I can find.

http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research/Century_Published.pdf
http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/@publ/documents/publication/wcms_104895.pdf
http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/WagesandWorkingConditions.html
« Last Edit: July 23, 2014, 04:36:20 PM by ergophobe »

Rupert

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Re: bedtime story
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2014, 08:00:44 AM »
As Ever, isnt it a case of where and when you compare it from?  like the climate really.

Early industrial work was hard and long, and farmers, when they are bringing in the crops, have always had to work hard then. However, come the winter months in the hemispheres the work load reduced.  (My impression, happy to be put right on this but it does still with Charlie who works the fields behind us)

As for calculating working hours now I know I can count child care,  and parent care in the equation, then my hours go up even more. TV?  little time for that.

My point is not really comparing with hunter gatherers or railway builders, just that those on the wheel now, generally, are going to have to work harder to stay on it.  There will likewise always be niches that people can exploit, and governments changing working directives. 

A job is/will be a luxury, that gives you a bit extra.  Otherwise why work?  I can site here, catch fish and play with my grandchildren?

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