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Half of jobs can be automated now

Tribuno Del Pueblo  |  Issue: June | July 2018

While the oligarchy debates, el pueblo pays the price

“What are my grandkids going to do?” — David Patterson, winner of 2018 Touring Award.

Even a winner of the year’s top prize in computing worries about oncoming joblessness in a society that rewards only work for pay. Google’s David Patterson hopes we figure it out “before we pull out the pitchforks and guillotines” — a reference to the French Revolution.

The vision of pitchforks and guillotines is only part of the reason that policymakers who serve the global oligarchs are wrestling with the same question — a growing awareness that the rise of intelligent robots threatens to do away with almost everyone’s job.

They are telling each other (but not us) that the most easily automated jobs are hotel and restaurant work, garment making, sorting fruits and vegetables, construction, truck driving, even retail — the low-wage jobs held by many Latinos and their Anglo counterparts.

For example, Britain’s Adair Turner (“Lord” Turner, no less) is head of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, founded by multi-billionaire George Soros, whose great wealth has come largely from financial speculation.

“Today, it would be possible to automate 50% of all work,” Adair told a high-level conference in Washington recently. By 2060, “we’ll definitely be capable . . . to have reached a hundred percent.”

This frightens even the oligarchs. They understand that it threatens them and their wealth and power when it threatens the ordinary, working class people whose jobs will disappear. How so?

One answer comes from tech entrepreneur Martin Ford, whose book “Rise of the Robots” predicted a “jobless future” and won a 2015 “Business Book of the Year Award.”

Ford thinks the robotic revolution in production will be different than the 19th-century industrial revolution. One possible outcome, he says, is “mass unemployment, no one has any money to spend, and the economy collapses” — no good for the oligarchy if they want to make profits.

Both Ford and Turner are telling the oligarchs that they will have to pay more taxes and give people at least enough money to live on — if they want to avoid the “pitchforks and guillotines” and hold on to their billions and their control of society.

Meanwhile, el pueblo — the common, working-class people — are paying a price for rising robotics.

FARM WORKERS — California’s $50-billion agriculture industry is built on the backs of Latinos — three quarters of them undocumented. With deportations rising, agribusiness is turning to automation. Drones, harvesters, and other robots are proving to be efficient, cost-effective replacements.

RETAIL WORKERS — Walmart is competing with Amazon in using robots and cheaper labor. Checkouts are being automated. Grocery delivery will be done by day laborers. Walmart’s goal is to equal Amazon in paying workers only 20% of the wealth produced, keeping the rest.

CARPENTERS — Complex building framing that would take human beings hours now can be done in a jiffy by robotic carpenters using computer-aided design. But they also do simple framing. A Swiss developer is framing two-story houses with robots. Drones are surveying job sites. Self-driving trucks delivering construction supplies.

TRUCKERS — The U.S. government has begun using robotic surveillance to limit the hours a trucker drives — legally, a maximum of 11 hours in 14-hour shifts. Truckers have threatened to strike for longer hours. They know self-driving trucks are coming and they will need to work longer hours to compete.

HOTEL, RESTAURANT — Airports, restaurants, and hotels may become “human-free.” The global electronics giant LG is selling robots that deliver meals and drinks, check guests in and out, and take luggage to their rooms. The big advantage? “Robots work 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Ultimately, the interests of the oligarchs and el pueblo are not the same. If they are still in control when robots take our jobs, what’s the chance that they won’t get rid of us like the machines we used to run?

On the brighter side . . . Read:

‘Big data’ makes enough-for-all economy possible

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