Monday, March 27, 2023

What If You're Wrong About Climate Change?

 Let me start by saying straight out that I plan to use AI software ChatGPT to help me write this article. I will put any quotes that I use from it in italics.

First let's define what we mean by "Climate Change"

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

The only thing we can have an effect on is the last part. "human activities have been the main driver of climate change". Some agree, and others disagree so this article will try to sort out the consequences of each point of view to perhaps help to make a rational rather than emotional decision about your opinion. 

The article will examine both sides of the debate with a different approach than we are used to from public media.

Part 1 - I believe that climate change is being caused by fossil fuels - What if I am wrong?

To look at this I will break down what I think are some main repercussions of the current trend to cut back on fossil fuels. I will use statistics from the USA to illustrate the points.

Economic Repercussions

  • Job Loss 
    •  According to a Brookings report, nearly 1.7 million people worked in fossil fuel industries in 2019. The Energy Department report stated 2.3 million additional jobs were in energy transmission, storage, and distribution; a number that includes powerline and pipeline workers and more than 900,000 retail jobs, such as gas station workers and fuel dealers.
  • Money invested in stocks and bonds of fossil fuel companies will be removed from the market and the companies will declare bankruptcy leaving many investors with losses. 
    • According to a report published in March 2021 by a collection of climate organizations titled Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, the 60 largest commercial and investment banks have collectively financed $3.8 trillion in fossil fuel companies between 2016 and 2020.
  • Cities and towns dependent on neighboring fossil fuel operations will lose that source of tax revenue as will some of the business in these cities and towns.
  • Projects to provide fossil fuel energy for the future will have been delayed or cancelled causing energy shortages. Existing facilities and pipelines may be abandoned and unusable. 

Physical Repercussions

  • Many current transportation vehicles would be scrapped and replaced with other clean fueled versions.
  • Many petroleum products will be discontinued including plastics, lubricants and others. Substitutions would need to be developed.
    • In the industrial sector, the petrochemical industry uses petroleum as a raw material (a feedstock) to make products such as plastics, polyurethane, solvents, and hundreds of other intermediate and end-user goods. Petroleum products are also used to produce chemical fertilizers, synthetic fiber, synthetic rubber, nylon, pesticides and insecticides, perfumes, dyes, paints, carbon black and sulfur.

Political Repercussions

  • Tax revenue would suffer and need to be replaced. 
    • Fossil fuels provide substantial revenue to the US federal government and many states, tribes, and localities.
  • Progressive party politicians who back the idea may suffer voter kickback and funding from those affected by negative economic outcomes. Elections may be lost.
  • Conservative politicians who deny the premise may see this as a victory and ride a wave of confidence further to the right. 
  • General loss of confidence in political systems that back the premise may occur and cause difficulties in the future.
  • Public opinion may move away from concepts of clean air and water thus allowing pollution policies to fall and setting back environmental movements.
  • Your country may fall behind or lose power to countries who do not follow the trend away from fossil fuels and use the fuel as a bargaining chip.

Personal Repercussions

  • You may lose your job for no reason if you work in the fossil fuel industry.
  • You may lose your job in the future because you chose renewable energy as a career and it has failed.
  • You may lose money on your investments in renewable energy companies.
  • Friends and family may split apart because of differences of opinion and the "I told you so" arguments. 
  • You may lose credibility in your pier group.

Part 2 - I deny that climate change is being caused by fossil fuels - What if I am wrong?

Economic Repercussions

  • Vast amounts of money will be spent on disaster relief and rebuilding. 
    • According to a report published by Reuters in April 2022, the federal government could spend an additional $25 billion to $128 billion annually on expenditures such as coastal disaster relief, flood, crop, and healthcare insurance, wildfire suppression and flooding at federal facilities¹. The United States faced 22 extreme weather and climate-related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each last year alone – a cumulative price tag of nearly $100 billion⁴.
  • Economic output will be reduced and growth stifled.
    • According to a report from Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest providers of insurance to other insurance companies, the effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11 percent to 14 percent off global economic output by 2050 compared with growth levels without climate change¹. The largest impact of climate change is that it could wipe off up to 18% of GDP off the worldwide economy by 2050 if global temperatures rise by 3.2°C⁴. If that happens, the economy of the United States would be as much as 7 percent smaller than in a world without climate change.

Physical Repercussions

  • Crops will fail and warming will alter the environment. Land and animals will be lost.
    • According to NRDC, if we don’t limit greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, the consequences of rising global temperatures include massive crop and fishery collapse, the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of species, and entire communities becoming uninhabitable. Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heat waves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. Climate change may increase the risk of some infectious diseases, particularly those diseases that appear in warm areas and are spread by mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Sea levels will rise due to melting glaciers and ice fields.
    • According to National Geographic, sea level rise poses a serious threat to coastal life around the world. Consequences include increased intensity of storm surges, flooding, and damage to coastal areas. In many cases, this is where large population centers are located, in addition to fragile wildlife habitats. Potential effects of sea-level rise include surface inundation of low-lying coastal areas and changes in the altitude of the water table and corresponding distance from the land surface to the water table (depth to water), the position of the freshwater/saltwater interface in the aquifer, and the volume of base flow in freshwater streams.

Political Repercussions

  • Millions of people will need to leave their homes and migrate to areas where they can survive rising temperatures.
    • According to Time, if climate change is left unchecked, bigger storms, unsurvivable heat and disappearing coastlines will leave billions displaced or struggling to survive. This would in turn create unprecedented strain on political and social institutions, not mention the global economy. No one really knows exactly how the fallout will occur. As climate change takes its toll on Earth’s physical planet, it will also cause social, economic, and political chaos as refugees flee areas that can no longer sustain them.
  • Conservative party politicians who deny climate change may suffer voter kickback and funding from those affected by it (everybody). Elections may be lost.
  • Progressive politicians who believe the premise may see this as a victory and ride a wave of confidence further to the left. 

Personal Repercussions

  • You may lose your job if you work in the fossil fuel industry.
  • You may lose money on your investments in fossil fuel companies.
  • Friends and family may split apart because of differences of opinion and the "I told you so" arguments. 
  • You may lose credibility in your pier group.
  • Your home location may become unlivable due to extreme weather or pollution.
  • Your home may be destroyed.
  • You and your family may be dispossessed and forced to move.
  • You and or loved ones may die.

Part 3 - I'm not sure so what should I do to increase the odds of a better life for me and my family?

One thing I did discover using ChatGPT for research is that it's sources (scouring the internet) overwhelmingly favor reduction in the use of fossil fuels. In every case when I asked it to give me repercussions of ignoring climate change (Part 1 above), it came back with what I asked but then cited reasons not to ignore changing climate. While this is not definitive, it tells me that the majority of public opinion and scientific evidence is pointing to climate change causing big problems in the future.
  • I think it's a sure thing that if we do nothing about fossil fuel use, the environment will get worse than it already is. Pollution is a bad outcome no matter what you believe in. Its proven and you can see the smoke in the air with your own eyes.
  • If you go along with the majority of public opinion it is easier to move ahead in your life. A wise bit of advice from the investment community says "Follow the money". Going against the grain is not the easy solution to life in our societies.
  • If you believe anything from the topics I have brought up here, you can see that not investing in a clean future could cause catastrophic repercussions if not for you, at least for your kids and grandchildren.
A final word from GPT in the form of a poem about climate change. A bit corny but what the heck!

The world is changing, can't you see?
The air is thick with CO2
The ice caps melt, the oceans rise
The planet's future's in disguise

The forests burn, the droughts persist
The storms grow stronger, can't resist
The climate's changing, that's for sure
We must act now, there is no cure

We must reduce our carbon footprint
And find new ways to live and sprint
We must protect our planet's health
And leave behind a better wealth

For future generations to come
Let's make sure they have a home
Where they can breathe and live and thrive
And keep our planet's hope alive

So let's unite and take a stand
And save our planet, hand in hand
For we are all in this together
And we can make it last forever!

Monday, January 16, 2023

Artificial Intelligence Application ChatGPT - Threat or Tool?

 ChatGPT is in the news every day now and it's interesting to follow the multiple sides of the discussion about its merits and pitfalls as well as the fears of AI taking over and destroying us.

I'll ask ChatGPT to describe itself so we can start with that. 

How do you describe yourself in simple terms?
I am a computer program designed to understand and generate human language.

How do you work?
I work by processing and analyzing large amounts of text data using machine learning techniques. This allows me to understand the patterns and relationships in the language, and generate responses based on that understanding. I am also continuously learning from new data and user interactions, which helps me to improve my responses over time.

And here's a link so you can check it out yourself.

Here's my take:

Way back (50 years) when I was in 2nd year mechanical engineering, I managed to save up enough pennies to buy myself a calculator. I think it was $40 and all it did was basic math with maybe one memory function. At the time, we were allowed slide rules in exams but not calculators. The fear on the street at the time was that wide use of a calculator would ruin children's ability to do simple math in their heads and that people without calculators would be at a disadvantage in an exam. 

Guess what, it did just that. Have you ever been in line to buy something when the power goes out? Nobody can give the correct change without the cash register (calculator). The store is shut down. But also, have you ever been in a math exam without a calculator?

But ... it seems that we as a society have managed to get by without being able to add or subtract on demand. Tools to do that are all around us.

How about spelling. Same thing has happened. It used to be frowned upon to write a letter with bad spelling. No more. Firstly, we really don't care anymore as long as it's understandable and secondly, spell check is rampant in our world of communication and its use is not difficult.

Do computers make us dumb? There is an argument about that too.

Each of these examples has two truths depending on how you look at them. 

- If you are threatened by them, then they can be thought to be harmful to your way of thinking or at least going against your view of the future.

- If you think of them as evolutionary tools helping advance our aptitude and way of life, then they are all just steps along the path to the future. 

The question that arises then is, do we seek to regulate the application to make it more acceptable to the former group, or is that even possible. Looking at my other examples above (calculator, spell checker) it is probably safe to say there is no way these could be regulated without severely difficult philosophical arguments and oversight. In fact, I think we could agree that without them running free we would not have their full benefits in our society.

Are calculators and spell checkers used for evil? Of course, they are used by evil people to further their evil goals. Could we stop that? Doubtful. Once the pandora's box is open, it is impossible to close without authoritarian rules and oversight. And then the question becomes whether or not it is the authoritarian that is evil or the application?

I know, you are now thinking my arguments and examples are much too simplistic to be meaningful. My engineering background shouts at me to simplify simplify simplify so that the problem can be understood and solved. So, bear with me!

I argue that AI applications like ChatGPT are best left unfettered so that the market (i.e. the need) decides how they will evolve. Evil players will use them, but the overall drive for improvement will drive them to mainly good uses and features. Already there is a real market posed by teachers to develop applications that can identify ChatGPT output thus avoiding plagiarism by their students. 

So, my conclusion to myself is that we need to encourage AI applications / tools for the betterment of our society and use them where necessary to aid in the development of more and better tools as we grow.

If you disagree or have other ideas to discuss, please comment. If you agree, see you on the other side.

In closing, I asked ChatGPT to "Write one paragraph justifying your existence."
As a language model, my existence serves the purpose of assisting users in generating human-like text. I am trained on a vast amount of text data, allowing me to understand and respond to a wide range of questions and prompts. By using me, individuals and organizations can save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on writing or editing tasks. Additionally, my ability to understand and respond in natural language can be beneficial in areas such as customer service, content creation, and language translation. My existence ultimately aims to improve efficiency and productivity for users.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lets Talk about The Future

So a bit of time has gone by since my last post and robots have not yet taken over the planet ... but not to fear, other things have changed both personally and globally. Only 4 months to go before I will be officially retired. Yikes!

For lack of something concrete to dedicate my new life to, I will try to write in here on a regular basis whether anybody reads it or not. The subject matter may ramble for a bit until I get into a routine both mentally and physically ... but it will mostly be about the future and how technology could save the day.

What Day are we Trying to Save?

It's Sept 2019 as I write this from the west coast of the USA. 
  • Democracy in America (and most of the globe for that matter) is in gridlock.
  • Social Media has made the world a bit crazy and it's directors have made us nervous with their concepts on ethical business practice. Apparently we are their human data for sale to the highest bidder. 
  • The US President has acted like the proverbial bull in a china shop for the last 3 years and for at least some of us, destroyed our trust in the ability of our system to deliver policies based on ethics and common decency.
  • Global relations are strained in many ways including trade, religion, ideals and conflict. Alliances are re-aligning and what they call populist politics is rising in popularity ... or at least it appears that way. 
  • Trust in communication via the media has been shaken, somewhat driven by what is now referred to as "fake news" which has cropped up on social media and to some extent mainstream media. 

Can Technology and / or AI be Harnessed to Police our Networks?

There are many skeptics out there that will say no to this and I must confess that my doubts have been raised over the last few years after seeing what has happened to our digital environment at the hands of hackers and data harvesters like facebook. So perhaps the first thing we need to do is to harness our technology and turn it onto itself in order to wipe out some of these dangers.

  • Would it be possible to develop an AI system to scrape universal networks and destroy malevolent code wherever it is found including when it is released by hackers? It would need to be able to not only recognize known threats but also to foresee and destroy new threats as they are released. Here is an interesting article about this possibility and perhaps one of you out there can comment on it as well:
  • Can a better business model be devised for social media whereby the good side (healthy communication and co-operation) is preserved without the downside of bad actors being allowed to survive. I think this one would require government intervention and regulation and the goal of infinite profit by selling user data would be banned. Advertising has worked for decades without being malicious so there is hope for this ... or how about paying for your social media instead of having advertising at all. Here is an article about some possibilities:
    So far though I don't think this model is working because we are just too enamored with the thought of everything free on the internet.
  • And what about politics and government ... can technology fix that mess? Maybe so but only if we can elect some people with vision and so far I don't see much of that happening at least in this country. Let me just write down some thoughts for discussion and perhaps you can comment on the pros and cons of these points:
    • Limit the length of time for campaigning to a few months
    • Take money out of the process by giving each candidate a blog whereby he/she can talk to the public and express platforms and ideas. Otherwise communication is by unpaid news reports only ... no TV ads or fundraisers ... no more lobbyists or super pacs either.
    • No more primaries. Each party selects their presidential candidate at a convention by majority vote
    • All positions are limited to a time period (4-6 years) after which a second term may be attempted but only two terms are allowed.
    • Elections could be done via the internet over a period of a week or so and only registered voters would have the ability to log in and vote (need the AI police mentioned above to stop fraud and hacking).

Well that's a start anyway. More later. Comments welcome here and I will try to respond to all of them.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Specifics of the Robot Minimum Wage Plan

In case you have not had a chance to see my short scenario describing The Robot Minimum Wage Plan (RMWP) please take a minute to read it to get up to speed on the concepts we are discussing here.

It's been a while since my last post ... sorry about that. No excuse, just life getting in the way sometimes. 

Since the last post, there have been umpteen articles and scenarios in the media about robots taking jobs and government funded guaranteed income for all. Even the big tech gurus are talking about it. So, let's accept that there is a problem, and move on from that and discuss in more detail how my RMWP solution could work.

Firstly, to reiterate, the plan endeavors to tap into capitalism to fund and maintain the minimum wage system ... not government handouts or higher taxes for anybody. This is where the idea differs and why I think it is something that would be supported by the majority of citizens in most countries.

But, I need help to flush out the details and that is why I created this blog. I'm hoping to get feedback and ideas from people who know much more that I do about various aspects of the plan.

Let me break it down here and ask you to give your feedback. Bear in mind that I am an engineer and strive to keep things as simple as possible. That's how we get things built :-)

Part 1 - Convincing Industry to Adopt the Plan

Role 1 - Robot System Manufacturers 

The concept here is that robot manufacturers and system providers (this includes process automation software and systems) would change to a leasing system rather than outright sales and ownership transfer. They would act more like an employment agency in some ways. Their robots or systems would be leased to companies at an hourly rate as though they were employees. 

For this to work it obviously must be just as, or more, profitable to the manufacturing company. My simple brain tells me this would not be difficult and in fact because of the expensive nature of robotic systems, it may be advantageous to offer them as though they were employees. It seems to me that more small companies would be able to afford to implement them without the large capital outlays required today. 

Role 2 - Robot System User Companies

The companies who use the products and services would treat the systems as if they were employees and pay an hourly wage rather than own them outright. The wage would be broke down as follows:
  • Part A - Lease fees paid to the system manufacturer above. 
  • Part B - Income taxes and payroll taxes paid to the government. Tax rates would be determined based on the hourly wage of the robotic system. Need an economist to simulate the effects of this on the taxation system.
  • Part C - Contribution to the RMWP (Robot Minimum Wage Plan). This amount would be determined based on the number of employees replaced by the robotic system.
Of course, the end result here is that the company must make a profit doing whatever it is they do. The decision of whether or not to use robotic systems instead of humans would be made based on the economics of this model. In some cases I expect that humans would remain because the are cheaper or better suited to the job.  

Part 2 - Designing and Operating the Plan

Role 3 -  The RMWP (Robot Minimum Wage Plan) 

There are probably many ways to set this up but I think it would need to be closely tied to the government so it has the power it needs to collect and distribute the funds. Maybe something like the IRS since the roles are somewhat similar.

This institution would be responsible for:
  • Determination of contribution and distribution levels based on a system designed to be as simple as possible. That's what this blog is for :-)
  • Collection of revenue and distribution of wages to qualified recipients
  • Oversight and enforcement of the plan. 
This institution should be designed to operate mostly with AI / Robotic precision as far as collecting and distributing the funds. It could be a model for government to follow in other areas

Role 4 - Government

Since new laws would be required to make this work, the role of government would be to make those laws and give the RMWP authority to carry them out. Whatever shape that takes would depend on the type of government in place for each participating country.

That is all the government should be involved in!

Part 3 - Living with the Plan

Role 5 - Society

Now we enter the human equation and we need to be careful not to oversimplify here. In a society that embraces the plan we would expect and encourage evolution from what we have now to what we want to have in the future. Here's how I think we could start to look at the plan in action:

Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders
Existing incentives for success must be maintained although the goalposts may move.

Government Leaders and Politicians
How do we move away from re-election mania to responsible governing again? I can't answer this one but perhaps a society that sets different goals will encourage that.

Professionals and Educators
This group responds well to higher ethical standards and I suspect would see opportunities to use their influence to encourage a more equitable way of life. Again, as long as they can still be motivated with monetary and status rewards. We also need to be aware that some of these professions will be affected by the loss of employment due to automation and AI so the RMWP must take those jobs into account as well.

Ambitious Individuals
Again, we need to encourage and reward ambition just as we do today. Higher education must be rewarded with higher earning power and status. The goal posts will move however. Careers will shift to areas where robots cannot affect status and employment. This should be a good thing for the advancement of the society.

Average Citizens - The Middle Class
These are the folks who will make or break the plan and also the ones who should benefit the most if it is done right. The cheese will move (different jobs) but the RMWP should work to ease the pain and encourage the transition. The amount and disbursement of the minimum wage must be targeted to those who are most affected but the amount should not be enough to deter ambition.  

The Working Poor
Families who are just scraping by are the ones who need the most help because ... they are just scraping by ... and their jobs are the most at risk by automation in general. The RMWP disbursement amount should be designed to lift them out of poverty and give them a chance to improve their standard of living by taking on basic work to add money to the minimum amount they receive. The trick will be to recognize value and monetize basic care-giving work because this may be an area where these folks can best be employed. People helping people. It may even be that many of the jobs available would be shared / part-time positions but if the RMWP can provide enough for basic survival then the additional work need only do light lifting to improve lifestyle.

Disabled, Unable to Work, Unwilling to Work
There will always be unfortunate or unwilling people who cannot or will not fend for themselves. The RMWP should give them a minimum income on which to survive. Other existing or new government support programs would still be needed to cover the multitude of special needs of this sector of society. With the RMWP however, the cost of this support should be reduced.

The Future - Our Children
If the RMWP can raise the average standard of living, the most benefit should go to the children. They would grow up with a different set of values based on different upbringing and career goals. Not having to scrape out a living should improve the attitudes of their parents. The children themselves should see a more open playing field and better access to education and opportunity. 

OK, enough from me. Please send me your thoughts on this plan and if you know others who may be interested please pass it on to them. Especially if you know the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or other influential thought provokers out there who see and care about the future of their country, children and society. 

Please take a moment and comment with your impressions (just click on the comment link below). This is meant to be a brainstorming session so your opinions are what will keep it going.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Robotic Process Automation & AI

In case you have not had a chance to see my short scenario describing The Robot Minimum Wage Plan (RMWP) please take a minute to read it to get up to speed on the concepts we are discussing here.

If your only vision of robots taking jobs conjures up a silver humanoid beast working in a factory then we need to look further into our definition of robots and expand it to include artificial intelligence (AI) and a swiftly growing industry called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). If we think of computers as robotic brains then the processes they perform are related to our dilemma. Computers have been replacing humans for years and yet they have enhanced our existence and made many things commonplace that would have otherwise remained impossible. 

Part of the reason that computers have not hurt the job market so far is that we have still needed to feed data into the computers to make them useful to us. Initially punch cards were used to communicate our needs to those transistors ... then keyboards and now more than ever sensors input the data directly. With AI and a bunch of sensors and logic the robot brains can now experience the environment and learn cause and effect from that. Connect all those brains to the cloud (a huge central brain) and the body of experiences grows exponentially. Now add a bunch of very smart programmers whose goal is to teach that huge brain to use its knowledge (data) to think for itself (AI) and find and solve business problems that we did not even know we had. Voila ... RPA!

And guess what one of the main goals of RPA is? Look deeply into our business models and figure out how to improve efficiency and make more money. Why is this industry growing so fast? Because it can save big money without adding expense. A company can make more widgets, sell them at the same price without adding cost = more profit. 

Now guess how RPA improves efficiency ... replace the weakest links, namely those humans that need care and attention and can only work 8 hours a day. The game changer here may be the kind of workers that are displaced by RPA. Not the factory workers we are used to hearing about but how about lawyers, accountants, managers and the like. Business processes can include just about everybody so no one is immune.

Here are a few articles I have recently read about RPA:

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) - The Future of Outsourcing

The good side of RPA is again that it releases humans from repeatative work and enhances the output of businesses that make our lives better in many ways. It will lead to leaner and more productive companies that will in turn build us more products and services at lower cost. RPA and AI will also improve the essential services such as health care and public safety.

Imagine a scenario where you walk into a clinic and are recognized by a scanner which alerts your doctor and the big brain that holds all of your information plus everybody else who has ever been served by it. The big brain is in the room with you and your doc. He plugs you into a batch of sensors while you describe your symptoms. Big brain runs your sensor data plus verbal and image info through his AI system which compares you to thousands of other similar cases and comes up with the most probable diagnosis and treatment ... within a few minutes or even seconds. Nice. Oops, what did we need that doc for again?  Hmmmm. Could it be that we find simple human interaction becomes a commodity that we need and will pay for just to be there for us?

So how do we get there and still maintain the dignity and upward evolution of the human beings being served by the robots and robot brains.

Going back to my RMWP scenario, here is how I see it. If we start soon and introduce the concept of paying robots a wage, then we can gradually evolve the system. We would start with robots and jobs that are easily identifiable and work out a program that suits both the workers and the companies. Base the solutions on capitalism so there is a built in motivation on both sides of the coin. 

The company that makes robots generates as much or more revenue by leasing them to the company that uses them. The user company spends less to rent and pay the robots and produces more than it did with humans thus increasing profits. The displaced humans work less time at more satisfying jobs while earning the same overall income supplemented with the RMWP. The government receives the same tax revenue. 

Again, if we start with simple solutions, over time we could develop systems to handle other workers as problems arise. In fact using RPA and AI systems from the start would help do design the best possible solution models.

But, we can't just keep ignoring the problem and hope that it will go away or that retraining will simply solve it. We're not too big to fail but I hope that we are too smart to keep walking  down the road to failure.

The next and most important questions are about the logistics of this concept. How much government action is needed? Who designs the programs? How and where does the first application get tested and evaluated? 

Got ideas ... please send them to me via comments so I can share them and build on them next time.

Please take a moment and comment with your impressions (just click on the comment link below). This is meant to be a brainstorming session so your opinions are what will keep it going.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Who Will Lead the Way in the New Era of Automation

In case you have not had a chance to see my short scenario describing The Robot Minimum Wage Plan (RMWP) please take a minute to read it to get up to speed on the concepts we are discussing here.

Last time we talked about defining the problem and decided that indeed there is one. Since then I have seen several news stories about robots and jobs that seem to agree with that:

Robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs within about 15 years, report says

U.S. workers face higher risk of being replaced by robots. Here's why

Robots, not immigrants, are taking American jobs

And a few more:

So far we're seeing lots of stories and not many ideas for solutions. Unfortunately the current government does not even see the problem yet:

Mnuchin on robots taking US jobs: 'It's not even on our radar screen ... 50-100 more years' away 

Not a good indication for workers in the US. There is definitely a disconnect.

Here is a relevant comment received last week:

Gideon A. MarkenMarch 22, 2017 at 6:05 PM
Your comments regarding the McDonald's example reminds me two points in today's current environment - President Trump's son can't find people to pick grapes in his winery and is requesting work visas for individuals from Mexico to do the job. Coal miners in Kentucky say they are disappointed that the President hasn't yet taken actions to put them back to work but they are certain he will.

The rust belt and environmentally damaging jobs won't/can't return just as some won't work at McDonald's short-term jobs because they are beneath them.

This isn't a political observation at all but it points to a trend where there will be a growing gap between the haves and the have nots and at some point we have to do more than just encourage people to enrich their education/expertise or they will be left even further behind. There is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done to bring our national infrastructure - transportation, communications, services - globally that has to be done and much of it admittedly will have to be manual labor intensive providing a bridge work/income flow for perhaps the next 10 years. That can/should be enough of a buffer to raise the income and educational levels of segments of society in the short term.

This will give the governmental and educational sectors some time to develop/implement programs to enable people to be equipped to handle system support positions, data management/movement jobs and skills that will be needed tomorrow.

As you noted our transition from an agrarian society and activities involved in growing/harvesting food shifted people to communities of people who ultimately evolved to data processors/handlers/movers. The key is not whether robots are good/bad for business/society but how do we prepare and move into the next phase of humanity.

Programs will have to begin - coordinated effort of government/business/education - to view what workloads will be best carried out by augmented intelligence and robots and what will the human - reasoning - factor be in this new environment. The challenge is it won't happen by accident and planning for displacement is also not a popular agenda...until it becomes a crisis!

Thanks Gideon, you hit the nail on the head. The RMWP is one idea of a program that could work. There are many other ideas out there to examine. Bottom line though ... we need to pay attention to this issue before it becomes a crisis as Gideon says.

Who Will Lead the Way in the New Era of Automation?

Based on what the current administration in the US saying, let's assume we are out of the running for the time being. Maybe if we are lucky the quote from Winston Churchill will hold true - "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else." 

Most likely countries like Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Canada will take the lead and in fact there have already been a few experiments in the direction of Guaranteed Income for ALL. OK, I can hear the screams of socialism from here :-)  Well, lets face the facts. Modern socialist countries are nice places to be humans. Just look at any of the multiple articles about the best places in the world to live and they are always near the top.

But, I don't think the pure socialist solution is a good option either, so, rather than going for a virtual handout paid for by taxes, why not incorporate a capitalist element to help pay for it and spread around the success. In fact the RMWP should enhance the lifestyles of society by encouraging advances in technology and automation. 

China is another country that may advance this idea as their middle class grows and the economy settles into one where competition for jobs becomes more important. It would be fairly simple for China to take over the ownership and production of robot systems and rent them to industry under a RMWP type system as Gene suggested a few posts ago

India is big into software and service for business and they export much of that to other countries via call centers etc. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure ‘software robots’ to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. This may be something that impacts India and forces some changes in this industry. How they handle that is beyond my knowledge of their politics but the question is relevant to the future.

It's a big world out there and I'm sure there are other places that are already talking about these issues as well. As technology advances it's interesting to note that new companies (or countries in this case) will have an advantage over the established ones in that they do not have to tear down existing infrastructure or embedded capital structures in order to implement new strategies and systems. I think it will only take a few successful adventures into the realm of robotic taxation in order to start the ball rolling in other societies. I can hardly wait :-)
Help us out if you have insight on this topic from the point of view of another country or this one (US) by commenting below.


 Now, here is another comment received last month:

NidsiTales / NidsipoetryMarch 23, 2017 at 12:32 AM
The human vs. machine debate raises head time and again. It is an inclusive discussion and instead of us pondering on the versus aspect, we must look at the complementing aspect. Neither can survive or thrive without the other, so lets stop pitting one against the other.

Moving on to the minimum wage discussion - the premise that organizations may be penalized for improving efficiency and productivity is contrary to the principle of business. The answer lies in upskilling and improving employability of the workforce. Giving them handouts is both insulting and crippling them for future.

If you look at the RMWP scenario you will see that I don't talk about human vs machine at all. In fact I am looking for a system whereby humans can benefit greatly from the work of machines while still advancing technology and human ingenuity. What I do believe though is that we can't just ignore the sector of society that is unwilling or unable to "Upskill". For that reason I propose a minimum wage for all and offer increased living standards for those who seek that via careers in a modern society.


OK, that's it for me today. Thanks for listening and please let me know what you think.

Please take a moment and comment with your impressions (just click on the comment link below). This is meant to be a brainstorming session so your opinions are what will keep it going.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Defining the Problem ... If there is one?

In case you have not had a chance to see my short scenario describing The Robot Minimum Wage Plan (RMWP) please take a minute to read it to get up to speed on the concepts we are discussing here.

A few of the comments that I have received talk about whether or not the advancement of robotics will or will not actually put people out of work. Here for example is an article on the topic:

A few quotes from the article are typical and worth discussing:

Digitization may challenge established processes, jobs, and companies. But for every job that may fall victim of innovation and digitization, new jobs will be created instead. 

Over 150 years ago we had more than 70% of the population work in the agriculture sector. Today, this is 5% or less. And this shift didn't mean that we have everyone else without a job. In turn, consider new employment that come with startups and digital companies such as Uber. 

At RoboticsTomorrow we have published many articles talking about the same issue and there is a valid argument to agree. In fact to a certain extend I do agree. Skilled workers can probably be retrained to fill the new jobs created by new companies and new technologies. 

Is There a Problem?

I'm just very unsure whether unskilled and under educated workers will be able to cope in new and highly technical workplaces. For example, I think many of the agricultural workers mentioned ended up performing unskilled labor in other fields or assembly line work that did not require special skills. Also, the breadth of the future changes is vast and in my opinion will decimate jobs in many industries almost simultaneously (i.e. within a decade or so). 

Nor do I think that the proportion of unskilled labor to skilled labor can evolve at a pace that would compensate for the disruption. Maybe someone reading this can enlighten us on the historical shift in labor skills.

Lets look at MacDonald's for example, and maybe this will help us decide not only if there is a problem but also give us a broader definition of what a robot is in the context of our scenario. Suppose MacDonald's decides to install kiosks where customers can place their orders, as well as automatic burger makers and dispensers. This is not far fetched at all and points to several somewhat scary job facts:

  • Is a kiosk a robot?  I would say in our scenario, yes it is. It is an electronic device which replaces a human being, in this case the order taker.
  • The automatic burger maker is also a robot and combined with the dispenser probably replaces another human being.
  • A normal MacDonald's could probably reduce its staff by at least 2/3rds and maybe more with these technologies. What industries are there that would create the new jobs for these people, given that if MacDonald's can do this so can every other fast food outlet.
  • A new fast food outlet starting from scratch would most likely be based on using robots for as many tasks as possible with available technology. It's business model would only include humans where absolutely necessary to manage the robots.

So, for our discussions, lets take the position that yes, there is going to be a problem. Given that, we should take the engineering approach and spend some time defining the problem before we get too far into finding solutions.

Defining the Problem(s)

  1. With the advance of digital technology many jobs done by humans, especially unskilled jobs, will disappear and will not be replaced by jobs requiring the same skill and education levels.
  2. Without action by society (business and government) there will be widespread unemployment leading to poverty and unrest.
  3. Lack of employment will lead to a shrinking marketplace for goods and services and a widening demand for social services and support. 
  4. While retraining will provide a partial solution, it may also lead to a widening of the have / have not gap in society.
I welcome other comments that would help us further define this problem. (just click on the comment link below)

Here are some recent comments to discuss:

Gideon A. MarkenMarch 13, 2017 at 5:58 PM
The idea of a minimum wage which goes into a mysterious pool to benefit all is intriguing but not totally practical because the distribution/use is not fully defined. I agree with the concept of a tax as we levy for all equipment, people employed by an organization. Part of the resolution in this area is really a better definition of AI because it is not really artificial intelligence, it is augmented intelligence which means to be completely effective it is a joint learning process where the robot gains from the individual and the individual gains information, insight from the robot enabling him/her to break from ingrained habit and think about processes and activities in a different way. Ultimately - some will say simplistically - it is a symbiotic relationship that helps the individual do more, better, more efficiently, more effectively. Will there be some displacement? Certainly but the tax can then be used to assist the individual in learning, gaining new skills because most people want to learn, experience and grow and yes they want to have a feeling of self worth and value in their lives. For some the augmented intelligence provided by the robot will provide that permitting them to both grow. In other instances, the technology will have passed them by - such as in the mining industry requiring fewer people to do the task - and they can can gain new skills.

Again, while I agree with this in some cases, it is the unskilled and under educated workers that will need some form of financial assistance more than others because I do not feel that retraining will be enough to bring them into a new, more technological workplace. The question then becomes, what kind of jobs will society create for this sector of its population? In the RMWP scenario I describe a situation where working part time in personal care and service jobs could provide a partial solution but for this to occur, values may need to shift away from pure profit motivations. 

For those who can benefit from retraining the future is brighter than today in my opinion. I doubt that many doing tedious repetitive work would resent learning a more interesting job. But could we extend that to reducing work hours for all so that more people could work with less jobs in the marketplace? 

Mark March 15,2017

Personally, basing the payments on whether the person was displaced by a robot or another society challenge is too complicated.

I believe that we should offer a basic living allowance to anyone (including healthcare). If they don’t want to work, they can get enough money to survive. If they want to stay home, watch TV, play video games and smoke pot all day long, that is fine. It keeps them from getting into fights and committing crimes.   One of the few jobs that robots cannot replace is entertainment. (or I don’t think so). 

If they get bored or want to contribute to society, we provide education so that they can get fun, interesting and challenging jobs in society.

I know many young adults that play (or try to play)  video games 24/7. Why don't we have games that actually provide a society advantaged function – helping to calculate solutions to real world issues…

I think it's important to develop a system that supports capitalism and is not overly socialistic. Paying taxes so the unemployed can play video games will not sell in my opinion. I know I would certainly resent it. Having robots pay into the system however seems to me a palatable solution. My thinking in developing the RMWP scenario is that eventually the system would evolve to cover everybody, but it would need to start with a problem that we could identify and solve and gradually change the thinking of our society while observing the outcomes and changes to the way the marketplace responds. 

OK, that's it for me today. Thanks for listening and please let me know what you think.


Please take a moment and comment with your impressions (just click on the comment link below). Could it work? I’d appreciate 2 points of view. Your first impressions and thoughts (positive or negative) followed by the opposite argument. If the first impression is positive (this could work because) then the second should be a rebuttal to the first (this will never work because).