Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Luddites Dislike Self-Service Machines

I noticed an article by Brandan Sharp (archived here) published via the UK newspaper The Independent (18th March 2014): "Are self-service machines in our supermarkets really the way forward?"

The essence of the article is a Luddite fear of machines in supermarkets. It is feared robots are stealing our jobs, which is a tiresome trope you've probably heard before.

The Editor's Note states: "Brendan Sharp's article was notable for two reasons: clarity of argument and aptness of subject. The threat to manual workers from automation is a challenge facing all advanced societies."

Brendan wrote: "With such a high unemployment rate, combined with the liability of self-service machines, perhaps there should be a mandatory number of manned customer tills to cater for the varying demands of our retail culture."

Below are my comments including replies to my comments.

I disagree strongly. Automation is not a problem. Yes machines can be stupid but they will become smarter. Already I think self-service automation is generally quicker. I definitely don't think Brendan Sharp's article has "clarity of argument." The "threat to manual workers" is merely a failure to explore intelligent possibilities. With a slight bit a research Brendan might have discovered the #BasicIncome concept, it is regarding everyone receiving a totally unconditional income without needing to work or look for work. Basic Income would be enough to live on and it cannot be withdrawn. So the future entails the freedom to not work because cheap automation has replaced manual labour. A person of the future in receipt of Basic Income has no financial pressure therefore they can devote their time to whatever project they desire, such as designing novel products via 3D-printing then setting up a kick-starter campaign to sell their inventions thereby supplementing their basic income. Free from the drudgery of manual labour, via the financial security of Basic Income, people will in the not too distant future unleash their creativity and intelligence.

"Irish Lass" replied:
Yes, SingularityUtopia - it sounds fantastic.... and familiar. In the 1970s, when I was just starting out as a computer programmer, the talk everywhere was of how computers would free us all up so that we would not have to work for a living. Did that happen? Did it heck! In actual fact, the more computers can do, the more individual human employees are expected to do......because the computers have made it possible to do more. I have heard of many people being made redundant because of computers, and there is certainly an increase in the number of people who don't work and who live off the taxes taken from those who have to, but no, I see no sign of any utopia on the horizon. Your Basic Income certainly sounds very like social security benefits - and I don't think most people find living on those very utopian!

In the 70s you didn't have Watson, Siri, Google Now, Cortana. You didn't even have the Web back then. We now live in very different age. There is actually a pending Swiss referendum for the implementation of Basic Income. It would be silly to think a radical future can never happen merely because initial predictions were way too overoptimistic. I think what most people find troublesome about living on benefits is the hostility and constant pressure to not claim benefits. That pressure (hatred) would not be evident regarding the unconditional Basic Income. You mention people being made redundant due to automation thus surely you should see the value of a totally unconditional benefit that cannot be withdrawn. The answer is not to abolish machines in a Luddite manner. People need to understand that in the not too distant future nobody will need to work, which is where Basic Income fills the gap.

"flighty2" replied:
We were told all this in the 1960's on the BBC programme 'Tomorrow's World'; people would work a three day week etc. - didn't happen. Ironic that governments are bribing people to have even more unnecessary children; and the Swiss economy is hardly a comparable model to use in the UK.

The Swiss Basic Income referendum demonstrates how Basic Income is not a science fiction 'Tomorrow's World' fantasy. Yes the UK economy is slightly different to Switzerland but the Swiss are not aliens on Mars, there is some similarity. Merely because some predictions were wrong (overly premature) in the 60s this does not mean the predication can never happen. There is not some weird magic regarding premature predictions where if you predict something early it means it can never happen. So the reality is we have the Swiss showing us how Basic Income could be implemented and the world around us is overflowing with very tangible examples of radical technology with a clear potential to improve over the next couple of decades.

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