Trope or fact? Technology creates more jobs than it destroys

Will automation beget a jobless wasteland or more stimulating, creative employment? That's up for debate.

Editor’s note: We’re trying something new here. I read this back-and-forth exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons, and decided we should give it a try. Or, more accurately, since we’re already having plenty of back-and-forth email exchanges like that, we just need to start publishing them. My friend Doug Hill, author of Not So Fast: Thinking Twice About Technology, agreed to be a guinea pig and chat with me about a subject that’s on both of our minds (and a lot of other people’s): technology and the jobless recovery. We’ll be diving into this topic again next week in a debate hosted at Strata. This post was lightly edited on 2/6/14 for clarity.

STOGDILL: I saw this Tweet over the holidays while I was reading your book. I mean, I literally got distracted by this tweet while I was reading your book:

It felt like a natural moment of irony that I had to share with you. In the article Ari Gesher references in his Tweet, Vivek Whadwa obviously has an optimistic point of view, and Gesher was right to call out the inconsistency of his claims with our jobless recovery. I also recently read George Packer’s The Unwinding, his enlightening and disturbing look at the human stories behind our current malaise, and frankly it seems to better reflect the truth on the ground, at least if you get outside of the big five metro areas. But I suspect not a lot of techno optimists are spending time in places that won’t get 4G LTE for another year or two.

I’m not going to ask you what you think of the article because I think I already know the answer. I do have a few things on my mind, though. Is our jobless recovery a new structural reality brought about by more and more pervasive automation? Are Norbert Wiener’s cybernetic predictions from the late 1940s finally coming true? He spent the 1950s telling politicians, union leaders, and anyone else who would listen that robots were the slave labor of the future, and that free men can’t compete with slaves for jobs. Or is creative destruction still working, but just taking some time to adjust this time around? And, if one is skeptical of technology, is it like being skeptical of tectonics? You can’t change it, so bolt your house down?

HILL: Your timing is good. The day your email arrived the lead story in the news was the latest federal jobs report, which told us that the jobless “recovery” continues apace. Jobless, that is.

The national conversation about the impact of automation on employment continues apace, too. Thomas Friedman devoted his New York Times column a couple of days ago to The Second Machine Age, the new book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They’re the professors from MIT whose previous book, Race Against the Machine, helped start that national conversation, in part because it demonstrated both an appreciation of automation’s advantages and an awareness that lots of workers could be left behind.

I’ll try to briefly answer your questions, Jim, and then note a couple points that strike me as somewhat incongruous in the current discussion.

Is our jobless economy a new structural reality brought about by more and more pervasive automation?

Yes. Traditional economic theory holds that advances in technology create jobs rather than eliminate them. Even if that maxim were true in the past (and it’s not universally accepted), many economists believe the pace of innovation in automation today is overturning it. This puts automation’s most fervent boosters in the odd position of arguing that technological advance will disrupt pretty much everything except traditional economic theory.

Are Norbert Wiener’s predictions from the late 1940s finally coming true? Or is creative destruction still working, but just taking some time to adjust this time around?

Yes to both. Wiener’s predictions that automation would be used to undermine labor are coming true, and creative destruction is still at work. The problem is that we won’t necessarily like what the destruction creates.

Now, about those incongruous points that bug me:

  1. First, a quibble over semantics. It’s convenient in our discussions about automation to use the word “robots,” but also misleading. Much, if not most, of the jobs displacement we’re seeing now is coming from systems and techniques that are facilitated by computers but less mechanical than the robots we typically envision assembling parts in factories. I don’t doubt that actual robots will be an ever-more-important force in the future, but they’ll be adding momentum to methods that corporations have been using for quite awhile now to increase productivity, even as they’re reducing payrolls.
  2. It’s commonly said that the answer to joblessness is education. Our employment problems will be solved by training people to do the sorts of jobs that the economy of the future will require. But wait a minute. If it’s true that the economy of the future will increasingly depend on automation, won’t we simply be educating people to do the sorts of jobs that eliminate more jobs?
  3. Techno optimists argue that our current employment problems are merely manifestations of a transition period on the way to a glorious future. “Let the robots take the jobs,” says Kevin Kelly, “and let them help us dream up new work that matters.”Even on his own terms, the future Kelly envisions seems more nightmarish than dreamlike. Everyone agrees automation is going to grow consistently more capable. As it does, Kelly says, robots will take over every job, including whatever new jobs we dream up to replace the previous jobs we lost to robots. If he’s right, we won’t be dreaming up new work that matters because we want to, but because we’ll have no choice. It will indeed be a race against the machines, and machines don’t get tired.

One more thing. You asked if being skeptical of technology is like being skeptical of tectonics. My first thought was to wonder whether anybody is really skeptical of tectonics, but given the polls on global warming, I guess anything is possible — more possible, I think, than a reversal of the robot revolution. So yeah, go ahead and bolt the house down.

STOGDILL: Let me think where to start. My problem in this conversation is that I find myself arguing both sides of the question in my head, which makes it hard to present a coherent argument to you.

First, let me just say that I enter this discussion with some natural inclination toward a Schumpeterian point of view. In 1996, I visited a Ford electronics plant in Pennsylvania that was going through its own automation transformation. They had recently equipped the plant with then-new surface mount soldiering robots and redesigned the electronic modules that they produced there to take advantage of the tech. The remaining workers each tended two robots instead of placing parts on the boards themselves.

Except for this one guy. For some reason I’ve long forgotten, one of the boards they manufactured still required a single through-board capacitor, and a worker at that station placed capacitors in holes all day. Every 10 seconds for eight hours, a board would arrive in front of him, he would drop a capacitor’s legs through two little holes, push it over a bit to make sure it was all the way through, and then it was off to the next station to be soldiered. It was like watching Lucy in the Chocolate Factory.

I was horrified — but when I talked to him, he was bound and determined to keep that job from being automated. I simply couldn’t understand it. Why wouldn’t he want to upgrade his skills and run one of the more complex machines? Even now, when I’m more sympathetic to his plight, I’m still mystified that he could stand to continue doing that job when something else might have been available.

Yet, these days I find myself losing patience with the reflexive trope “of course technology creates more jobs than it destroys; it always has. What are you, a Luddite?” The Earth will keep rotating around the sun, too; it always has, right up until the sun supernovas, and then it won’t.

Which isn’t to say that the robots are about to supernova, but that arguments that depend on the past perpetuating into the future are not arguments — they’re wishes. (See also, China’s economy will always keep growing at a torrid rate despite over-reliance on investment at the expense of consumption because it always has). And I just can’t really take anyone seriously who makes an argument like that if they can’t explain the mechanisms that will continue to make it true.

So, to my thinking, this boils down to a few key questions. Was that argument even really true in the past, at least the recent past? If it was, is the present enough like the past that we can assume that, with re-training, we’ll find work for the people being displaced by this round of automation? Or, is it possible that something structurally different is happening now? And, even if we still believe in the creative part of creative destruction, what destructive pace can our society absorb and are there policies that we should be enacting to manage and ease the transition?

This article does a nice job of explaining what I think might be different this time with its description of the “cognitive elite.” As automation takes the next layer of jobs at the current bottom, we humans are asked to do more and more complex stuff, higher up the value hierarchy. But what if we can’t? Or, if not enough of us can? What if it’s not a matter of just retraining — what if we’re just not talented enough? The result would surely be a supply/demand mismatch at the high end of the cognitive scale, and we’d expect a dumbbell shape to develop in our income distribution curve. Or, in other words, we’d expect new Stanford grads going to Google to make $100K and everyone else to work at Walmart. And more and more, that seems like it’s happening.

Anyway, right now I’m all question, no answer. Others are suggesting that this jobless recovery has nothing to do with automation. It’s the (lack of) unions, stupid. I really don’t know, but I think we — meaning we technologists and engineers — need to be willing to ask the question “is something different this go-round?” and not just roll out the old history-is-future tropes.

We’re trying to create that conversation at least a bit by holding an Oxford-style debate at our next Strata conference. The statement we’ll be debating is: “Technology creates more jobs than it destroys,” and I’ll be doing my best to moderate in an even-handed way.

By the way, your point that it’s “not just robots” is well taken. I was talking to someone recently who works in the business process automation space, and they’ve begun to refer to those processes as “robots,” too — even though they have no physical manifestation. I was using the term in that broad sense, too.

HILL: In your last email you made two points in passing that I’d like to agree with right off the bat.

One is your comment that, when it comes to predicting what impact automation will have on employment, you find yourself “arguing both sides of the question.” Technology always has and always will cut both ways, so we can be reasonably certain that, whatever happens, both sides of the question are going to come into play. That’s about the only certainty we have, really, which is why I also liked it when you said, “I’m all question, no answer.” That’s true of all of us, whether we admit it or not.

We are obligated, nonetheless, to take what Norbert Wiener called “the imaginative forward glance.” For what it’s worth then, my answer to your question, “Is something different this go-round?” — by which you meant, even if it was once true that technological advancement created more rather than fewer jobs, that may no longer be true, given the pace, scale, and scope of the advances in automation we’re witnessing today — is yes and no.

That is, yes, I do think the scope and scale of technological change we’re seeing today presents us with challenges of a different order of magnitude than what we’ve faced previously. At the same time, I think it’s also true that we can look to the past to gain some sense of where automation might be taking us in the future.

In the articles on this issue you and I have traded back and forth over the past several weeks, I notice that two of the most optimistic, as far as our automated future is concerned, ran in the Washington Post. I want to go on record as denying any suspicion that Jeff Bezos had anything to do with that.

Still, the most recent of those articles, James Bessen’s piece on the lessons to be learned from the experience of America’s first industrial-scale textile factories (“Will robots steal our jobs? The humble loom suggests not”) was so confidently upbeat that I’m sure Bezos would have approved. It may be useful, for that reason, to take a closer look at some of Bessen’s claims.

To hear him tell it, the early mills in Waltham and Lowell, Massachusetts, were 19th-century precursors of the cushy working conditions enjoyed in Silicon Valley today. The mill owners recruited educated, middle-class young women from surrounding farm communities and supplied them with places to live, houses of worship, a lecture hall, a library, a savings bank, and a hospital.

“Lowell marked a bold social experiment,” Bessen says, “for a society where, not so long before, the activity of young, unmarried women had been circumscribed by the Puritan establishment.”

The suggestion that the Lowell mills were somehow responsible for liberating young women from the clutches of Puritanism is questionable — the power of the Puritan church had been dissipating for all sorts of reasons for more than a century before factories appeared on the banks of the Merrimack — but let that go.

It is true that, in the beginning, the mills offered young women from middle-class families an unprecedented opportunity for a taste of freedom before they married and settled down. Because their parents were relatively secure financially, they could afford to leave them temporarily behind without leaving them destitute. That’s a long way from saying that the mills represented some beneficent “social experiment” in which management took a special interest in cultivating the well-being of the women they employed.

Thomas Dublin’s Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 tells a different story. Women were recruited to staff the mills, Dublin says, because they were an available source of labor (men were working the farms or employed in smaller-scale factories in the cities) and because they could be paid less than men. All supervisory positions in the mills were held by men. Also contrary to Bessen’s contention, the women weren’t hired because they were smart enough to learn specialized skills. Women tended the machines; they didn’t run them. “To the extent that jobs did not require special training, strength or endurance, or expose operatives to the risk of injury,” Dublin says, “women were employed.”

How much time they had to enjoy the amenities supposedly provided by management is another question. According to Dublin, mill workers put in 12 hours a day, six days a week, with only three regular holidays a year. As the number of mills increased, so did the pressure to make laborers more productive. Speedups and stretch-outs were imposed. A speedup meant the pace of the machinery was increased, a stretch-out meant that each employee was required to tend additional pieces of machinery. Periodic cuts in piece wages were another fact of mill life.

Because of their middle-class backgrounds, and because they were accustomed to pre-industrial standards of propriety, the first generation of women felt empowered enough to protest these conditions, to little avail. Management offered few concessions, and many women left. The generation of women who replaced them were less likely to protest. Most had fled the Irish famine and had no middle-class homes to return to.

I go into this in some detail, Jim, because it’s important to acknowledge what automation’s fundamental purpose has always been: to increase management profits. Bold social experiments to benefit workers haven’t figured prominently in the equation.

It’s true that factory jobs have, in the long run, raised the standard of living for millions of workers (the guy you met in the Ford electronics plant comes to mind), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that they’ve necessarily been pleasant, fulfilling ways to make a living. Nor should we kid ourselves that management won’t use automation to eliminate jobs in the future, if automation offers opportunities to increase profits.

We also need to consider whether basing our economy on the production and sale of ever-higher piles of consumables, however they’re manufactured, is a model the planet can sustain any longer. That’s the essential dilemma we face, I think. We must have jobs, but they have to be directed toward some other purpose.

I realize I haven’t addressed, at least directly, any of the questions posed in your email. Sorry about that — the Bessen article got under my skin.

STOGDILL: That Bessen article did get under your skin, didn’t it? Well, anger in the face of ill-considered certainty is reasonable as far as I’m concerned. Unearned certainty strikes me as the disease of our age.

Reading your response, I had a whole swirl of things running through my head. Starting with, “Does human dignity require meaningful employment?” I mean, separate from the economic considerations, what if we’re just wired to be happier when we grow or hunt for our own food? — and will the abstractions necessary to thrive in an automation economy satisfy those needs?

Also, with regard to your comments about how much stuff do we need — does that question even really matter? Is perpetual sustainability on a planet where the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds sway even possible? Anyway, that diversion can wait for another day.

Let me just close this exchange by focusing for just one moment on your point that productivity gains have always been about increasing management profits. Of course they have. I don’t think that has ever been in question. Productivity gains are where every increase in wealth ever has come from (except for that first moment when someone stumbled on something useful bubbling out of the ground), and profit is how is how we incent investment in productivity. The question is how widely gains will be shared.

Historically, that argument has been about the mechanisms (and politics) to appropriately distribute productivity gains between capital and labor. That was the fundamental argument of the 20th century, and we fought and died over it — and for maybe 30 years, reached maybe a reasonable answer.

But what if we are automating to a point where there will be no meaningful link between labor and capital? There will still be labor, of course, but it will be doing these abstract “high value” things that have nothing whatsoever to do with the bottom three layers of Maslov’s hierarchy. In a world without labor directly tied to capital and its productivity gains, can we expect the mechanisms of the 20th century to have any impact at all? Can we even imagine a mechanism that flows the value produced by robots to the humans they sidelined? Can unemployed people join a union?

We didn’t answer these questions, but thanks for exploring them with me.

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  • Gisele Huff

    As someone who agrees that technological unemployment poses entirely new challenges to the meaning and availability of work, I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I suggest that, to begin the process of insuring that the productivity increases redound to everyone, we explore Basic Income Guarantee and/or Conditional Cash Transfers both of which have already been instituted in various countries. We also have to transform our education system so that children are trained not to be cogs in a machine and consumers, but life-long learners who can pursue their passions.

    • Jim S

      Thanks Gisele. I agree, those are really interesting trends. VERY difficult to imagine them in our current political climate.

      • Gisele Huff

        Indeed, Jim, but 10 years ago,, it would have been difficult to imagine that gay marriage would now be legal in several states and marijuana in two.

        • Cole Thompson

          Spot on. I can recall, not that long ago, smart and reasonable people saying, well, a black man could never be President of course. Not in our lifetime.

          I’ll just add regarding a Basic Income (I prefer Citizen’s Income) that it’s not hard to justify. Take all the arguments about why the children of the wealthy are entitled to the proceeds of their inheritance, by dint of the hard work of the clan’s founding patriarchs, etc. Just substitute “citizens” for children of the wealthy, “production from robots” for inheritance, and “our ancestors” for founding patriarchs.

          • Gisele Huff

            I like your justification for a Citizens’ Income. It’s spot on as well. Is there a way that we can connect off line?

          • Cole Thompson

            Let me see what I can do, I want to respect the privacy rules of Disqus, etc.

            FWIW I’d say a core question of our age is “ownership.” As currently constituted, in modern civilization ownership of assets (real or virtual) trumps everything else. It’s tempting to say that doesn’t work, rip it out and replace with something else. However…putting one’s pragmatic thinking cap on…I’m inclined to say that evolutionary change is more likely to actually get anywhere. So I think that realistically the most do-able reforms evolve things, rather than break and replace. If we can more fairly spread out who “owns” robots and AI, the problem of humans being outcompeted by machines tends to solve itself.

            What we do *not* want is a continuation of the current dynamic, where ownership is ever more concentrated. Or if we collectively go that route, then I don’t see an alternative to heavy VAT taxes, etc. to fund Basic Income/ transfer payments to the have nots.

          • Gisele Huff

            My son and I are currently exploring both technological unemployment and universal basic income so your comments are right on line with this. We believe that bringing the two concepts together will be the beginning of a long-term but critically important and urgent “movement” to change the way America (and the world) does “business.”

  • Adam Logghe

    Great discussion.

    One thing I notice about this topic in general is that no one ever gets around to what the next big thing will be and it is that people will be doing in that next big area of “human” endeavor.

    It’s pretty clear that regardless of the subject area and whatever successful new industry comes up, to be successful it will be heavily automated from the earliest days.

    You don’t get labor bubbles that absorb displaced workers from that.

    Here I’ll actually put forward an industry that might be important in the future ;) Biotech.

    Anyone want to suggest there are going to be tons of jobs for non-elite workers in this field?

  • I really liked this discussion.

    I would just like to add that surely if mechanisation makes production/calculation cheaper then surely we should compensate by valuing more those areas of work where humans are required.

    For instance, why do we pay so little to those who care for our elderly whilst its such a social necessity (and growing)? Because they aren’t rare skilled is the obvious answer. Currently this is the economic reality but its not inevitable, for much of the last century labour was organised and could demand minimum pay and standards – reserve army of labour or not.

    In a working political democracy gains in productivity would be displaced across society, we would hire more people to do research, to care, to rebuild our infrastructure. In our current democracy we simply abandon a section of society and let the gains all flow up to the top 1% and sit offshore or accrue in the value of property or art.

    • Jim S

      There are clearly a bunch of things at work here, and narrowing on just the technical automation story is constraining. There are also lots of “state capture” kinds of arguments to make as the wealth->power->wealth->power feedback loop does its thing.

  • joeraimondo

    Along with the impact of technology, I think there is a a concomitant effect of the ‘financialization of everything’ that presents a new variable in the discussion. With enterprise decisions increasingly driven by the exigencies of capital — whether demand for increased return on assets or from increasing focus across the board of the opportunities afforded by various means of financial engineering — it’s pretty clear that ‘the employment problem’ can be seen as a function of companies no longer having any commitment to capitalize on or invest in their workforce. Such investments look bad to the capital markets; for example, I read the other day how the Japanese were having a hard time stimulating return from their public companies because they had “too much commitment to their workforce and their existing partners.” Well I suppose Wall Street has driven out all that abhorrent behavior in the US, but at the cost of labor playing any kind of substantial role in setting strategy, other than in the areas where there is a shortage (and even those Silicon Valley titans were recently called out for colluding to protect their privileged role in the tight market for high-tech skills.

    • Jim S

      Really interesting point.

    • DougHill25

      Yes, I agree, an excellent point. A corollary of the ‘financialization
      of everything” is a management tendency to see workers as figures in an
      efficiency formula — i.e., as part of the machinery — rather than as
      human beings. At which point dehumanization becomes a byproduct of automation (as in Chaplin’s “Modern Times”).

  • loreleikelly

    Thanks for collecting these important thoughts together in an article. This conversation is timely. I wish it were true that automation would allow humans to re direct their energy to work that matters–but here’s the problem–work that matters or work for common goods is often paid for through a negotiated social contract called taxation by government–and government is under continual attack in the USA. As someone inside the Beltway, its the innovative stuff that gets axed by the sequester, the stuff on the margins, the progressive “stuff that matters” to move society forward. Meanwhile, old obsolete programs embed themselves even more comfortably inside the budget process (getting rid of earmarks made this worse, btw, though it was very satisfying to talk about) I did defense budget work on Capitol Hill for years–why are we still paying for missile defense again? The Stealth bomber was defeated by flocks of geese…The Joint Strike Fighter, btw, probably couldn’t even fly in extreme weather–a major threat that we’re going to have to contend with over the coming years. The New Yorker just ran a fantastic piece on how the entire process of policymaking can be gamed by a commercial interest… “work that matters” would be figuring out a way for people to strive for a transparent, accountable public square where living things are valued more. I work in tech now, and something I would say to all of us who are delving into this question of balance and prosperity–the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in civic life is health and inclusion…its giving people a destiny and not just a fate, you choose one and the other chooses you. You can’t monetize civics and not become a hideous distortion of democracy–In the workplace, technology could lead to a new organizational model–the horizontal workplace dictatorship–and you’ll be lucky if the boss is a benevolent one.

    • Jim S

      Great points. And you’re so right about the fact that killing earmarks was actually a net negative.

      “you can’t monetize civics.” Well said.

  • Jobs turbulence circa 2014 is merely an issue of people failing to realise how everything in the future will be free. Every job will be completely automated in the future. The automation in combination with technology becoming ultra-efficient will entail resources becoming essentially limitless, which is why everything will be free, scarcity will be abolished (note Drexler “Radical Abundance” and Diamandis/Kotler “Abundance” for an intro to these issues).

    So the future means nobody will need to work and everything will be free. The transition to this state is basic income, which is a non-withdrawable welfare payment given without any conditions or obligations whatsoever for the recipient, it’s basically free money without any catches. Basic income seems very radical but it is closer then you think. MLK advocated it and there is currently a pending Swiss referendum for the possible implementation of it.

    On the issue of automation, you may ask if there is any evidence of this. Where is Wall-E? We already have the Roomba and Nao is being tentatively used to help elderly people and autistic children. Google recently bought Boston Dynamics, which has a variety of notable robots. Google is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence, note the recent DeepMind acquisition of the input of Ray Kurzweil. Intel is in the process of launching a competitor to Siri, called Jarvis; and then there is the classic IBM Watson who won Jeopardy! IBM have opened up Watson to app developers. So regarding all the automaton, AI and robotics, the question is have we reached the limit of progress or have we hardly scratched the surface, is this the beginning or the end?

    • Jim S

      You may be making the mistake of thinking technology and economics occur in a vacuum with no relationship to humans and politics. Also, not having jobs isn’t necessarily the same thing as distributed abundance.

      • The ignorance of politicians is very problematic, but abundance and no jobs is inevitable, eventually. The question is can we avoid the turbulence regarding political ignorance? Can we achieve a smooth or turbulent transition into a free future?

        Basic income is being debated in various aspects of the media, there is even a Swiss referendum (pending) to implement it. Political ignorance can be overcome via public awareness. Automation will reach a point where it is clear all jobs are being eroded, hopefully via insight (intelligent forward-planning), we can implement basic income before a disastrous situation occurs.

        The economic reality of the future is clear, it’s a free future, but similar to politicians economists may not realise it. Resources will become more abundant via technology thus the only opposition to our free future is mere ignorance, blind loyalty to tradition.

        • Cole Thompson

          Good points, there is the Swiss referendum, and further some German politicians have toyed with the idea of an “unconditional basic income.”

          The notion of a citizen’s income has featured in “steady state economics” for a while. I won’t say I speak for everyone in the SSE community, but some of us have had discussions on pragmatic transition to a citizen’s income via VAT taxes on robot output and more.

          Some of this is captured in a color slide presentation here:

        • Jim S

          “the only opposition to our free future is mere ignorance, blind loyalty to tradition.”

          Seriously, you really should read the Italian futurists of the 1930’s. You’ll find their certainty and “Future, hell yeah!” vibe reassuring.

          Also, can I just summarize your argument here?
          1) A singularity is a coordinate in space time where the math breaks down. Where things go so non-linear we can’t predict anything.
          2) I know that the singularity is coming in 2045. Precisely.
          3) After the singularity, on the other side of that unknowable boundary, we are going to have no material needs and our political system will magically line up with the new reality of perpetual abundance.
          4) Thus sayeth the Lord. QED.

          Did I get it right? :)

          • 1) There are various schools of Singularity thought (note how “MIRI intelligence” lists the three “major” schools). My view of the Singularity is a modernist view (see my article “Singularity Defined and Refined,” which is a beginning for my refutation regarding how the traditional Singularity theory is flawed). The Singularity is a newish theory, currently evolving. Basically my viewpoint is the unpredictable outlook is wrong, there will be no event horizon beyond which you cannot see.

            2) 2045 is a deadline, a latest date regarding when the Singularity should have occurred by. It is a conservative date, cautious, based on the evidence of progress, to avoid anticlimax. Very probably the Singularity will happen before 2045.

            3) Again I state the Singularity is not unfathomable or unknowable. Looking at various examples of progress it is easy to logically predict everything will be free no later than year 2045. For example in 1983 mobile phones were priced at $3,700 approximately whereas in 2014 a significantly more sophisticated phone costs only $6. I have responded to you with greater depth on my Medium post: “No Jobs In the Future! Everything will be FREE!”

            4) You are not wrong to link Singularity-traditionalism to the Lord. Mysterious event horizons are very much the realm of cosmic-teapots, but Singularity-modernism, my viewpoint, is very atheist, very clear without any hand-waving unfathomableness.

            So you got almost everything wrong :)

  • Let’s expand this idea to something that’s inevitably coming, which is that in the not too distant future, computers will likely design/program themselves and all those who currently think their jobs are secure because of their intellect and engineering/coding prowess might find themselves in the same position of factory workers who have watched automation reduce jobs in their workspace. Programmers will become the “auto worker/plant workers” who will likely unionize at some point only to see their numbers steadily decrease and once again we’ll have an argument over what value we see in labor…and why aren’t we just teaching these old dogs new tricks?

    There is certainly incredible power in automation and it does reduce our costs which are later passed on to consumers, but the cost of that is the erosion of the middle class. The new middle class seems to be the tech worker who is paid a very good wage for the work they do…but we question our values…

    What is the value of work that pays a fair and comfortable wage for a job well done and how will we measure our own value when we keep moving the method by which we measure that?

    As we get older and we face greater longevity and a future where keeping up in a fast paced work force becomes harder and harder…what place will any of us have in that? I guess since I’ve always been on the ideas/marketing side of technology…I’ll may be okay, but it doesn’t look good for everyone else. Best to start saving now for a very early retirement…er…redundancy.

  • Adrian Patterson

    I think the forum format would work much better if readers could vote up the best comments rather than have posts ordered by recentness.

    • Jim S

      Agree. I’ll have to look into whether disqus can support that.

    • Jenn_Webb

      Hi Adrian,

      The up-down arrows would rank, but wouldn’t change the order of comments. We’ve changed the setting — clicking the arrows will now move comments up / down based on voting.

  • Smiling Dave

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