Automation – The Savior – Not The Destroyer

There is a lot of doom and gloom about the future, technology, automation and employment.

Previously, I have written about sweat shops and the coming automation in the making of clothing. Automation faces many hurdles.

One of those hurdles is that the costs have to offer a return on investment compared to traditional manufacturing technologies.

Even if that technology is centuries old. Using people to manufacture clothing – in the present era (starting at least 100 years ago) is the sweat shop. In this recent article it is reported that workers earned £3 an hour to manufacture clothing for high end retailers.

That dress you are wearing – and paid $200 for? The person making it took less than an hour and was paid like $4 for their entire hour.

So, who is making the money? Well, the retailers are making the money – and they apply pressure to the manufacturers to provide the lowest prices.

So, automation. It is going to take jobs. Some jobs need to go away. The sweat shop needs to go away. Ironically, since they pay so little it will take longer before automation penetrates in to this market.

People will not have health care to make that dress.

People will not have enough money to survive to make those jeans.

People will work in dangerous environments with high risk of fire – to make those undies.

It needs to stop.

Oh, and just a side note. There is a reason we have regulations and laws. It is because businesses cannot be trusted to behave in an ethical manner. You can complain about the costs to businesses because of all these regulations, but the fact of the matter is that businesses as a whole will reduce costs to the lowest they can regardless of industry and will break rules, behave unethically and endanger the lives of their customers and employees simply to maximize profits.

So, the ship where we have low number of regulations and laws and people are treated well – that ship has sailed. The ship we are on now, where you have to document workers hours, how much you paid them, and are forced to treat them properly – because you have to (not because you choose to – that is the ship we are on now.

The Future of Clothing

The future of clothing is more than just the future of clothing. There is social impact of who makes the clothing, under what conditions, how much money do they make, and what happens to the makers of clothing.

In 1911 in my local home area of New York City there was a fire that killed 146 people. It was at a garment factory – two are known to have been 14-year-old girls. This was a culture changing event – inflaming needs for unions, worker safety, and city, state and federal standards for safety in the work place.

It seems, though, that lessons of garment workers, fires, standards, wages, and safety are not worldwide. Defying all rules for the dispersal of information and geography, in 2012 in Bangladesh killed 117 people and over 200 people injured.  The company produced clothes for lots of different organizations that United States consumers purchase.

Once again, in order to avoid the flames people jumped from the building rather than burn to death.

On 24 April 2013 a building housing multiple clothing manufacturers collapsed killing 1100 workers and injuring 2000 others.

The garment making market has been known for ages for “sweatshops” oriented toward clothing manufacture. Associated with horrible working conditions, low pay, no benefits, and easily threatened workers by management – this practice has not disappeared over time. In fact, as demand for goods (and low prices) has continued the practice has simply become more widespread.

Technology is the answer. This article indicates that 3D printing may offer clothing. It shows a few examples. However; based on the sheer manufacturing output 3D printing would have to vastly improve before it would replace much of the garment manufacturing throughput. Still, it is out there. It is happening. It has created real clothing. Perhaps one day it will be part of the answer to poor labor conditions in the garment industry.

There is automation in the garment manufacture industry. These robots might also be part of the answer. Still, though, the reason people are still making clothing is because clothing is tough to deal with – floppy, with lots of curves cut in to it – and it is hard to cut cloth without some tension. This technology solves the floppy unpredictable nature of clothing by making the cloth stiff.

There is some concern about job losses due to automation, but in this case, let the jobs go. No one needs to be treated like cogs in a machine, with no healthcare, and no future.

So, the future of clothing, involves not just the future of clothes and their manufacture, but the jobs, how people are treated and hopefully the end of the “sweatshop”.

Employment in the Future – healing concrete

Today on CNN they posted an article on concrete that can heal itself.  Remarkable stuff where bacteria pellets are mixed in with the concrete and when openings occur and water gets in to the opening the bacteria is activated.  The bacteria produces a limestone deposit filling in the crack in the concrete.

Awesome stuff and it needs to be everywhere.  Without entering in to discussion about the Singularity and the economic and employment impact of the Singularity – we have a case where microeconomically it makes absolute sense to install this living concrete everywhere (once established as a safe and well-working solution).  Macroeconomically; however, you find that it may take years for everything to be made of this concrete but over time there will be less a call for the people whose jobs depend on repairing that concrete.

We will keep solving problems with technology, but every benefit has a detraction.  We have to be watching for these detractions and ensuring that the people affected land on their feet in another job.

Rude Potential Employers

This article talks about the idea that employers may ask questions about what you do while on social media.

“Job applications are now asking you to write down anything you’ve ever written on Twitter, Facebook or any other social network, that you think might be incriminating to you.”

Hmmm, how can we really understand this question?

“Job applications are now asking you to write down anything you’ve ever said to anyone that you think might be incriminating to you.”

These are nonsense questions.  If an employer asks for your Facebook account information, twitter information, blog, and etc – the simple answer is to say no.  Employers don’t need to know if you use dildos and if so what brand, why would they need to know about any public conversation you have ever had?  Who is to judge what is incriminating?

Can anyone imagine the chilling effect employers will have (or already do have) on private citizens if they include anything they have ever written on social media or on the internet against them?  Suppose you are a rabid Democrat and most of your employer is Republican?  Suppose you philosophically believe that ‘swear’ words are just words used to emotionally color language and to ban any words is to give them power (such that is my point of view).  Suppose your employer believes that the word bitch is a swear word no matter what the context, even if you are discussing female dogs?

Unless your job is PR, CEO, or some other major public position where your penis pick or vagina pick might get out and the world would go “Oh my goodness, nobody has ever seen one of those before, even on the internet!”, the private activities of your employees or potential employees is none of the business’s business.


China Advances Replacing Workers With Robots

Economics and Scarcity Drives China to Replace Workers with Robots

In China, there is a new scarcity of workers who are willing to work in factories doing manual labor.  In Economics in college I learned that supply and demand drive costs.  In this case, scarcity of employee resources is driving labor costs up in China.

The primary driver for manufacturing to move to China was the low cost of labor.  This causes a major macroeconomic problem for China that could impact their GDP.

China is going to do the logical thing – they are going to keep costs low in their electronics manufacturing sector by employing robotics to replace humans.  In the short term this will help China with their goal of retaining the economic benefits of electronic manufacturing in China.

There are other benefits to China and the world that are not seen directly.

  1. China is going to get very good at automating human oriented tasks with robotics
  2. China will pioneer making robotics work in human oriented tasks.
  3. The knowledge required to automate human tasks will already be known and no longer be a development task – and the costs will be greatly lowered for everyone around the world.

Direct implications of China’s Robotizing the Work Force

  1. Automation will come to other parts of the world where labor is too expensive and benefit some countries where due to fluctuations of currencies – manufacturing has traditionally not been effective.
  2. While this is primarily a benefit to China, in other parts of the world we will see a vast reduction in the labor force required to make things.
  3. If not done in a planned manner, there will be a lot of societal backlash as jobs disappear and more people are unable to find work and survive.

There will be many benefits to developing this robotic manufacturing technology.  I can foresee where you can fit these robotic factories inside a few tractor trailers.  You could drive them to the site of a natural disaster – assemble the robotic factory – and have it produce the needed goods to help people survive in that area.

Another benefit is that if this mobile robotic manufacturing is possible – then we can launch it to the moon, or to be assembled inside of asteroids to allow (finally) the expansion of humanity outside of our original biosphere in statistically significant numbers.  This benefit; however, won’t be seen for a few years, but will have significantly more impact than reduction of labor costs today in the present.

It is another piece of evidence for the oncoming storm – the singularity.  Humanity will have far more abilities in the future than we have ever had in the past.

We will need to choose wisely what we want to do with this technology.