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Every once in a while, I’ll admit, I get frustrated.

But let’s see what I can do about this. 

Mike Fisher wrote:

>>>The steel mills went away. And no jobs came to replace them.

Many of the auto plants have gone away. And no jobs came to replace them.

Other manufacturing jobs have gone away. And no jobs came to replace them.

Then help desk jobs went away. And no jobs came to replace them.

Law firms (some of them anyway) are farming out much of their legal research overseas. And no jobs have come to replace them.

Oh, some of the people have moved on to other jobs. Low paying, usually service industry of some kind, jobs.

Now the machines are threatening to take over even the jobs that have been shipped overseas AND higher skilled jobs that are, as yet, still here.

There will be no jobs to replace them.

It hasn’t worked that way in a long time.

And this is such unrelieved nonsense, I don’t know where to begin.

OF COURSE jobs came to replace all those he listed–jobs as software engineers, technical writers, special effects technicians, CGI artists and directors, all those people who do everything necessary to get you CDs, DVDs, cable and digital television…

And I could do that for a day and a half, listing all the jobs that didn’t exist in the year I am born that people work at now, many of which are actually going begging because we can’t find the people able to do them.

If no jobs had come to replace the ones that went missing in more traditional industries, we would have fewer jobs available to do than we used to have.  We in fact have more.

If all the jobs that came to replace the ones that went missing were lower paying than the ones we lost, then we would have fewer higher paying and more low paying jobs available–and what we have is the opposite.  There is actually a lot more and a lot higher paying work for people with training than there has ever been before, and there’s no sign I can see of that stopping.

What will we do when automation takes over all that other stuff, assuming it does?

I don’t know.  It will be something we haven’t invented yet.

All the doomsday scenarios depend on the assumption that people will stop being people.  We will not invent anything new.  We will not change in any way.  Everything will stay just the way it is now, except automation will come and take our jobs away.

I’ll say it again–nonsense.

Or, not to sound elderly, bullcrap.

Part of the problem here is the the unstated assumption–if  jobs go away, the only was they can be “replaced” is as jobs for the same people at the same skill levels with the same benefits and salaries as before.

But that’s never happened, and it’s never going to happen.

Some of what Mike is discribing is what I think of as a correction, and I think it’s very real that that correction is coming.  It’s just that I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  I think it’s a good one.

Until very recently, neither teaching nor medicine was considered a way to make a great salary and great benefits.

Why not?

Because these are not market operations.   Neither sick people nor very young people have lots of money.  They can’t pay through the nose to learn Aristotle or get their gall bladders fixed.

We’ve blinded ourselves to this reality by pushin the payment for these services off on third parties–insurance companies and the government, mostly–who can pay inflated wages and benefits for skills that have always been in demand, but that have never before been remunerative.

And I probably spelled that wrong.

In the years before WWII, college professors had patches on their tweed jackets not as a fashion statement, but because without them the jackets got holes and the professors weren’t making enough money to get them replaced.    Doctors were in the same boat. 

People who went into these profession went into them out of dedication, not the conviction that this was the best way to be the snag the accoutrements of the upper middle class.  Hospitals and schools were deemed charitable institutions and given tax exemptions on the assumption that they provided a service that could not and probably should not be provided profitably.

If we’re going back to that, I’m really not going to be very upset.  It bugs the hell out of me that I am taxed at a higher and higher rate to keep a hospital like, say, Yale-New Haven open, when that place operates its billing department in ways that would be deemed unacceptable in a credit card company.

As for writers, a fair number of people would say that your only choice would be either no career or best selling author now, but it’s not that simple.

First, a lot of what Mike is talking about happened a long time ago, even if not with the aid of AI.  The mystery magazines were paying the same rate per word for short stories in 1980 as they had been in 1930.  Do the math and you’ll see that that was an enormous cut in pay, so much so that it was no longer possible, by 1980, to make a living writing mystery stories.  A

As for short articles in magazines–well, if they can do that, God bless them.  But it won’t save the magazines anyway, more and more of which are going out of business every year. 

And they’re going out of business for precisely the reason I’m not worried about machines taking over from writers, artists, and musicians any time soon.

Or ever.

The machine scenario is just stage forty-seven of the corporate “takeover” of movies, books, television, and music.  That’s in scare quotes because it hasn’t actually happened.

What has happened is this: 

Great, big, huge media conglomerates have arisen, and they have proceeded to behave like great, big, huge media conglomerates.

The kind of people who are successful in such organizations have no idea why people listen to music or go to the movies or read books.  They look around at what sold well last year and go, “Aha!  What people want is detective stories about nuns with talking cats!  We’ll get somebody to write a talking cat mystery!”

So they do that, and their talking cat mystery flops all over the place, and they wander away confused–but also panicked. 

Something went wrong, but they don’t know what.  And since they don’t know what, they don’t know how to stop it from going wrong the next time.  They do know that talking cat mysteries are just bilge.  Nobody wants those.

So the next really good talking cat mystery to come along gets turned down by every big conglomerate.  Then it gets picked up by a small press.  Then it takes two years to hit #4 on the Amazon list.

Then…all the conglomerates want talking cat mysteries again.

You see it happen in music and movies all the time. 

The very same technology that makes it possible for the conglomerates to get away with hiring fewer and fewer people means that individuals who aren’t conglomerates or much or anybody at all can make and market their own books, records, movies and Internet television shows.

It’s happening as we speak.  Dan Brown self-published The Da Vinci Code when nobody standard would publish it.  So did the guy who wrote The Celestine Prophecy.  The corporations jumped in and bought both after they were already proven best sellers on their own.

The writers and the artists and the musicians will be fine in the long run, as long as they can change and adapt.

The jobs of the future will look different, feel different and be different than the ones we have now.

They will be in areas and industries that don’t exist yet and that we cannot yet imagine.

But not only has that process not stopped happening, it’s actually working at a far accelerated pace from anything we saw before 1960.

Change is not bad, and it is not going to lead to anything at all like your dystopia.

Written by janeh

February 19th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Replicate'

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  1. I continue to recommend Ralph Williams’ “Business as Usual, During Alterations.” (You can find it in PROLOGUE TO ANALOG.)

    Generally, it’s instructive (and fun!) to look up the “trusts”–big firms of TR’s day, which then owned 80% or more of some industry–United States Steel, Standard Oil, United States Rubber–and the ones that dominated in FDR and Eisenhower’s day–General Motors, IBM, AT&T, for example. Many have gone bankrupt. None dominate an industry, and in many cases the industry itself is substantially less important.
    If I’d started investing seriously in my college years, I’d not have picked any of the current American winners. I couldn’t have. They didn’t exist in 1970, and that’s more true of the United States than of anywhere else.

    The talking cat problem is what happens when the people who can actually decide what an artistic organization spends money on–Bill Goldman calls them the “Green Light Guys”–don’t know their customers. The first generation of Hollywood moguls had often run movie theaters, selling tickets or running the projectors. They had their customers’ education, and had started at their customers’ income level. They might have been mocked by critics, but they seldom misread their audience. It’s mostly the next generation, much better educated with “sophisticated” taste, which establishes that great Hollywood tradition of producing expensive movies no one wants to see.

    If you want to write for magazines, I think the best bet is to hop into a time machine and start submitting about 1879. The rates were even better than the 1930 figures. But that’s not the whole story. Heinlein claimed about 1980 that there were no more than 200 full-time freelance writers in the United States. I bet it’s more than that today, and that the median income, adjusted for inflation, is higher than it was then. (Anyone have a way of checking?) No paperbacks in 1930, and no Amazon and no kindle in 1980.
    But the start-up cost is higher. In 1930 a student or a working porfessional could dash off a short story in an evening or weekend as an income supplement and phase into full-time writing. Today you pretty well have to start with a novel, which has probably cost us some writers.

    The future will have more problems like that. It always has. But for about the past 1,000 years, median income and education–in the sense of training–have risen in the West with every generation, and much of east and south Asia are now following that lead. We will have difficulties in the next 50 years I can’t imagine–but I don’t see a tiny plutocracy ruling over a ragged starving proletariat as one of those problems, however popular it is as a prophecy.


    19 Feb 11 at 1:47 pm

  2. We may begin seeing a renaissance of short-story writers with e-publishing. Larry Niven sells a lot of his short stories and novellas individually on the Kindle, for anywhere from 49 cents to $1.99. I suspect other writers will do the same, when they need to write something shorter than a novel. It doesn’t matter how long something is for an e-book, as long as the reader feels they’re getting good value for the money.

    Oddly, when the computers start being able to do most skilled or semi-skilled jobs, science fiction writers have transformed humans into two classes…the policy makers and the consumers. They suppose that production without large labor costs produces wealth, and that wealth must be consumed. Computers don’t consume, humans do. I too think that Watson foreshadows great changes, and that those changes will be mostly positive.

    My husband wrote the IBM folks about using Watson technology to review legal documents to identify and perhaps relieve some of the 250,000 people he estimates are currently wrongly imprisoned in the US. (see http://www.skepticaljuror.com)

    He actually got a non-form email response from IBM. More news as it occurs. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if a task that is impossibly overwhelming for the available innocence resources were taken over and successfully accomplished by a computer? Wouldn’t it be great if all those innocent people got a real chance?

    I think “they’ll put us all out of work” is just Chicken Littleism. I’d far rather hear “They’ll set us all free.” In so many ways.


    19 Feb 11 at 2:31 pm

  3. “OF COURSE jobs came to replace all those he listed–jobs as software engineers, technical writers, special effects technicians, CGI artists and directors,”


    “Report: Michigan lost 315K manufacturing jobs in 8 years
    Published: Saturday, September 27, 2008, 11:36 AM Updated: Saturday, September 27, 2008, 11:37 AM”

    “Michigan has lost 315,200 manufacturing jobs during the last eight years – a 35.5 percent reduction that represents the biggest percentage decline in the nation.
    The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition report released Friday says Michigan’s total job loss of 489,900 during the same time period is more than three times worse than during the oil-induced Rust Belt downturn of 1974-82.”

    Now, Microsoft, the behemoth everyone hates – has a grand total of 88,414 employees. Worldwide. Only 53, 737 as of Sept. 30 2010

    And most of them are NOT programmers. If any of them are technical writers, they’re incompetent.

    Apple computer’s cash cow, the ipod : the iPod
    and its components accounted for about 41,000 jobs worldwide in 2006, of which about 27,000
    were outside the U.S. and 14,000 in the U.S.

    Google, another modern success story and cash cow — employs, world wide, about 20,621.
    Google’s gross revenue was 29.32 billion, reporting a net profit of 8.5 billion. That’s a net profit of $425,027 per employee. (and remember, for the net profit statement, they’ve already deducted employee salaries as an expense, so this number represents how much money each employee has made for Google after expenses and above their individual salaries. Kinda puts that $1,000 bonus that made the news in perspective, eh?)

    And yes, I can do THIS all day. Albeit the process is much slower than just rattling off postion names. But the point is simple. There are not anywhere near as many “new technology” jobs being created as there are manufacturing jobs lost. Yeah, a good programmer makes good money — but EVEN IF, and Jane has already pointed out that increasing technology requires increasing IQ (as a shorthand) and education to cope with, it also requires far fewer individual EVEN IF there was one to one need for programmers/system administrators/PC tech versus manufacturing jobs lost.

    And there clearly is not. Most of the “new” jobs pay far less than the jobs that went away. The new jobs that pay as well as or better than the old jobs, well, they not only require more education – they are in much shorter supply. And about to get shorter.

    And about those software engineers.

    http://www.tsri.com/ :

    “Industrial-Scale Military-Grade Transformation and Re-Factoring For Automated Information System Modernization

    Trusted Provider For Military and Civilian Software System Migrations

    Modernization Of Large Mission-Critical Information Systems

    Award Winning Technology-Intensive Model-Based Rule-Driven Solution

    Artificial Intelligence Based Software Modeling, Analysis, and Transformation

    Supporting Dozens of Software Languages and Databases”

    “Proven Services

    70+ Industrial Scale Projects
    100% Success Rate
    30+ Years R&D
    100% Automated
    Model Driven Modernization

    Highest Quality
    Most Cost Effective
    Highly Uniform
    Fully Deployable”

    Got that? TSRI machines will take your old computer code and convert it into a modern programming language that can be compiled to run on a modern PC – without the need for hiring any human programmers. And that’s not a Watson level AI by any means.

    All I can say at this point is is fasten your seat belt. If you think the world has changed a lot since you were born (and it has), you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The express train is about to turn into a rocket sled.

    A rocket sled using the booster engines from a Saturn 5 moon rocket.

    And I could do that for a day and a half, listing all the jobs that didn’t exist in the year I am born that people work at now, many of which are actually going begging because we can’t find the people able to do them.

    If no jobs had come to replace the ones that went missing in more traditional industries,


    20 Feb 11 at 10:24 am

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