Category Archives: Vision

Unemployed by Technology

Screen Grab of KQED story on basic income
KQED story on Basic Income

This day has been on the way for some time.  I know many including myself that have talked about it and tried to raise awareness about it within our circles.  Technology is about to replace you.  Years ago it was in the immediate future.  That day is here!  You have already seen it.  All over.

First was vending machines they seemed quaint and the Japanese totally fell in love with them in post war Japan.  Nobody took much notice, they displaced many workers but created a few to service them.  Then ATM’s popped up at banks everywhere in the late 80’s.  Most found this a great convenience to the point that ATMs have by and large replaced drive up tellers and retail bankers.  Recently I have seen banks remodeling to reduce window counters to 2 maybe 3 of which one is reserved for business clients.  Everyone cattle cars into a line to smile at a machine.

It’s been a few years but the ATM evolved into automated checkout at stores.  How many cashier positions are lost?  Walmart is about to unleash a new service where you don’t even stand in line at an automated point of sale terminal, instead you use your smart phone to scan items as you put them in your cart.  So much for your rags to riches plan of starting out as a cashier.  Or maybe it was just scrapping enough together to feed the kids.

For years Amazon has been automating it’s fulfillment operations and in general the logistics industry has spent billions in upgrading their operations to eliminate workers and replace them with automation.  Amazon and many other companies are looking at Drones and automated vehicles for filling in that last mile delivery service.

Self driving cars are a reality.  Years ago when my friend Dan and I were working on a ride share app several years before Uber we had conversations about setting up self driving service in the near future.  That day is here and Uber is doing it.

Surely some occupations will be spared right?  Doesn’t look like many.  Nurses are being replaced by robots in Japan already.  The Army and Hospitals have been developing automated medical robots for years.  They have already started performing in the field on limited trials.

Just a few years ago AI (Artificial Intelligence) was a thing of science fiction.  I bet you have used AI to make decisions more in the last week than you even did friends and family.  Whether it was Google Now, Apple Siri, Amazon Alexi, or Microsoft Cortana you most likely asked a device a question, it understood you and replied with an answer.  How many web searches did you ask Google?  How many times did you go to a web based medical system to find out if you need something or find what a friend needs?  Did a automated machine vacuum your floor, or do your dishes?

We have automated ourselves out of work.  The question is no longer if your position will be automated but when.  Unfortunately the answer is soon.  From what I see most manufacturing and service positions will be eliminated in the next decade.  Two decades if the powers drag their feet on implementing current technology let alone stuff in five years.  For those who are old enough to drive in the seventies remember those stations that were holding out and not replacing their full service pumps and staff for the new ones and charging a few pennies more for the service.  That is where we are today.  Any business who has already started automation will be pushed out of business or modernize in the next decade.

So the question is how will you feed yourself if you are unemployed?  A few days ago I pointed out that ordinances have been enacted about feeding the homeless.  I see many more hungry homeless on the way.  Coincidence?

A few years ago a friend Tom and I had a conversation about basic income I played devils advocate.  He was totally opposed because “it wouldn’t work” he said nobody would go to work they would just play games.  I pointed out at the time everyone is working even when they don’t work.  We were playing StarCraft so I used it as the example.  When you play a multiplayer game it is like a stock market.  If you don’t have enough players the lobbies are stagnate and the orders don’t get filled or the game doesn’t start.  Add a few more players and those orders get filled and the game starts.  A market is formed.  Just like in stocks you need market makers.  People who keep a market fluid and fill orders even when the market isn’t productive.  The people playing are in fact creating value for the other people playing.

We went back and forth on it I made notes I should find where I saved them.  I couldn’t convince him of the whole concept at the time.  I suspect you will have a hard time with it too.  Because the obvious issue is who pays for that basic income.  The answer really lies in who creates value today.  Who decides an hours wage is $7.50, or $10?  Who decides gaming isn’t a value while all the people involved in presenting a movie are?  Who decides that interest rates should be 3% instead of 5?  Who decides currency is gold or silver or paper?

The truth of that is man does.  We collectively by our actions decide all that non sense.  Certain people have more influence on it but it is only us we have to blame for any of those decisions or even what is of value.

It is all fiction!  Is that bar of gold worth 1200 pieces of paper with $1 printed on them?  Or is an attorney worth $350 an hour when a janitor is only worth $15?  Ironic isn’t it that a person who is going to fix your toilet is worth less than someone who is going to tell you something you already know.  The only difference is you know the janitor will fix your toilet where you “hope” the attorney will fix your problem.

The transition we face has little to compare it to.  Industrialization is probably the best example but clearly pales.  In industry we went from agrarian subsistence to specialization.  Exactly what does a world without work look like?  Do we go back to subsistence?  If so what is subsistence in 2020?  Does everyone get iPhones, MacBooks, dishwashers, robot vacuums, self driving cars, and all you can eat delivery?  Or is it just enough food, water, and space to live?  Who pays for basic income?  Do the unemployed have a right to vote?  If so they will be the largest voting block and I don’t think they will limit themselves to robotic vacuums.

More important than the basic income issue is what can those on basic income do to increase their value and have a better lifestyle?  Those who don’t have easily automated positions in the near future such as coders, marketing, managment, media jobs and those whose systems currently don’t lend themselves to automation such as plumbers, electricians, parts of the construction industry, areas of automotive etc.  What value do they have in a world where currency is near meaningless?

I end this post with a lot of questions at this point even though I have thought about it for years I am not certain they are the right questions.  The issue is that I see several paths humanity can travel.  Some are quite ugly yet look a bit more likely.  Others are grand and noble but humanities track record of altruism isn’t very good.  I will save that for another post though this one is already very long.