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Are robots going to eliminate humans from the labor force?

Posted by John Reed on

Robots do not pay taxes. And all jobs is a gross exaggeration. Robots need to be made, delivered, installed, maintained and replaced. They are generally more productive than humans but not able to exist without some humans. Even unmanned satellites require many humans on the ground to create and sustain them.

In Japan, they are now big on self-driving construction and farming machines and tractors, because of their labor shortage.

The competition comes from abroad if not from within the US. There is no place to hide from competition. There is more automation now than ever in history and millions of American jobs are going begging for lack of trained applicants. And the total number of employed people in the US is now 124 million—more than ever before.

I keep trying to get my readers to not stop at logic and theory. You must check the empirical evidence to see if your theory is correct.

Robots have to be “taught” what to do. Watch a couple of episodes of “How it’s made.” Engineers and mechanics have to work out precisely what the robots do and the split-second timing. Someone has to keep all the magazines and tanks full, that is, the parts that roll down into the assembly line need to be there and in the chute or queue or whatever so they fall down to start the process. Clean lubricating oil must continue to flow over moving parts that touch others. Temperatures must be precisely maintained and that means fuel for heat or electricity for cooling. Power outages must be nullified by emergency generators.

If you create a robotic assembly line and just turn it on and walk away, it will go blooey at some point—from a component getting worn, or inadequate quality parts being supplied, or a snow storm preventing key components arriving time.

Plus there is the big picture. A typical manufactured product can be diagrammed showing raw materials flowing through a complex chain of transport and distribution like tributaries of a great river that flows uphill. And on the other side of the robotic factory is the finished product distribution again looking like the Nile Delta now with the rivulets flowing downhill to distributors, warehouses, and stores. Finally, it all must match the consumer demand for the product in question—demand which ebbs and flows and sometimes jumps up or falls down.

It is amazing it works as well as it does. Robots can make parts of the “river” more efficient, but robots cannot make this all happen.

Another side of the robot equation is that humans could compete against robots far better if politicians would roll back all the additional “benefits” they have given employees: minimum wage, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, right to sue, family leave, day care, pensions, health care. Eliminate all that, as is generally the case now with independent contractors. If they did that, it would be the robot makers who would be sweating and crying and going bankrupt for years before they adjusted.

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