The Ethics of Automation
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    Default The Ethics of Automation

    Not to put a damper on Progress, but I think it's good to take a step back sometimes and make sure we're going in the right direction.

    Is automation good or bad?

    Some points to consider are as follows:

    Pros:
    • Automation can make things cleaner, safer, more efficient, and improve quality.
    • Automation can eliminate boring, tedious, or dangerous tasks.
    • Automation can be an alternative to sending jobs overseas where labor standards are lower.


    Cons:
    • Automation can eliminate low-skill jobs, meaning poor, under-educated, or otherwise disadvantaged people now have no way to contribute.
    • Automation can put more and more control in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
    • Automation work puts us increasingly in front of computers, reducing the physical engagement of our whole bodies and all our senses in our work.

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    Indeed. And under "Cons", don't overload the vulnerability automation had due to disruption (cyber attack or conversely, loss of Internet access, acts of war, etc.), and increasing the imbalance of wealth (adding to your second con).

    For pros, one could say the overall increase in "material" wealth that can be accessed by the average person, but do we need 5000 versions of ear buds?

    We've had the topic come up on occasion within a conversation, but I don't remember a robust thread on the subject itself.

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    Automation is neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.
    For the short side of the question, ask the Luddites; perhaps we should eliminate all cnc machine tools.
    Perhaps a topic for advocates of Locke, Hume, and Kant though philosophy was never my strong suit, just a fascination.

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    I am automating the crap out of our plant. I’d feel a whole lot better about the temps that have an opportunity here to learn and get pay increases as they learn and move up if they could simply come in to work. They get an extra buck an hour if they are there for whole 40 and still they miss Fridays and Mondays. The full timers aren’t being affected, we still need brains, flexibility and teamwork.

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    I started working in tool and die in the late 70's and built and serviced automation for the next 30 years. At first I felt like I was doing something kind of bad, knowing that I was eliminating jobs but I had also worked on production and knew how tedious that was but I still felt a little guilty about it.
    Then one day I was talking to one of the old guys in the trade about it. He told me that we have competitors and if they automate and we don't, they will be eating our lunches. It never really bothered me after that.

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    When the automates demand that they do all their own design and build we all better watch out.

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    I work in a large casting plant. We do have some automation but it's mostly for stuff that humans just can't do efficiently, like dipping assembled wax patterns or assembly of patterns that require extreme accuracy and repeatability. We make castings that are within a few thou of the net model. All of the wax molding is done by hand and most of the assembly of the casting patterns. I wish I could show stuff we do because it's pretty amazing. We employ almost 800 people. From the casting furnace to out the door (except for cmm machines, which are hand loaded) is all hands on. We don't produce finished product though.

    They have tried automating some processes but the same results as human interaction couldn't be reached.

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    It's not just manufacturing that can be automated.

    The technology exists to put hundreds of thousands of long haul truckers out of business.

    Computers now do a better job of reading medical scans than your average $300K a year MD radiologist. Many radio stations have electronic disk jockeys. AI is now writing some of the news (and idiots some of what's left to conspiracy minded humans).

    We could likely program an Atari game console to do a better job legislating than our Congress critters -- at least up until the point that vested interests started writing the code. Our most successful crooks are now both "globalized" and highly automated.

    We've been on a long march automating things. No more elevator operators, typesetters, stenographers, travel agents . . . Lots of big box stores we're our own sales help, cashiers, and baggers.

    Hard to know where this long march ends. One guess would be an increasingly lopsided culture with a few very rich at the top, a somewhat threatened but still thriving professional class, and a whole lot of formerly middle class wondering what happened?

    Add in periodic booms, busts, pandemics, WMD events, climate-related disasters, strong-man populism, millions of desperately poor displayed and looking for new homes, deteriorating infrastructure and trust . . . and we're giving our kids one hell of a box to start seriously "thinking outside" about.

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    The questions regarding automation provoked discussion when the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Art Institute were first unveiled in 1933. They are amazing to look at and ponder the artists intent.

    I expect there is no real good answer that makes everyone comfortable.

    Only sure thing is to accept and exploit automation if a business wants to be competitive.

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    how many times does it need to be said? "If its jobs you want, take away the backhoes and give the men shovels." Do you think that would improve the economy?

    Automation has always improved humans' lot. Labour like any other resource is finite, free some up from one task via automation and you get use it for another..... so now two things get done instead of one.

    For example, 120 years ago most people in NA were part of the agrarian economy. Today, after 120 yeas of incredible technology and automation only a few percent are, yet we have more abundance of food, better social systems, higher standards of living, more leisure time and full employment....at least we did pre Covid, but its extraordinary and should be excluded from the discussion of automation and employment

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    This has been a concern of mine for years.

    Automation can either increase the productivity of individual workers and increase their value to an employer or it can be used to replace them completely.

    This SHOULD be part of a badly needed national conversation on our values as a society and whether we will abandon the most vulnerable while attempting to lull them with guaranteed income and other "giveaways" that can later be withdrawn

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
    Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life."

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    I worked in automation in the 90's at a firm that made some of the best automation machines I've seen.

    Some products have to be built on automated machines.

    This firm was the first to make a a machine that succesfully assembled the very thin stainless blades to plastic maoldings to make the first disposible razors. It's inconievable that this could be done by hand.

    The firm had multiple pattents on a machine that assembled IV drip assemblies, from the component parts, to putting them in a plastic bag. A human couldn't safely assemble these components without risk of contamination, at 30/min.

    ------------------------------

    The last machine we made was a big dumb machine that assembled rubber bungs into a Canon connector. It was huge, slow, and at the speed it was required to run it was possible that a human or humans could have competed with the machine.

    We asked the Canon engineer,
    "why do you need this machine when humans could assemble the bung and connector just as quickly?"
    He said.
    "For what we can pay we can't find humans who are drug free, don't drink, and turn up to work consistantly on time, if at all"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mcgyver View Post
    how many times does it need to be said? "If its jobs you want, take away the backhoes and give the men shovels." Do you think that would improve the economy?

    Automation has always improved humans' lot. Labour like any other resource is finite, free some up from one task via automation and you get use it for another..... so now two things get done instead of one.

    For example, 120 years ago most people in NA were part of the agrarian economy. Today, after 120 yeas of incredible technology and automation only a few percent are, yet we have more abundance of food, better social systems, higher standards of living, more leisure time and full employment....at least we did pre Covid, but its extraordinary and should be excluded from the discussion of automation and employment


    No question that living standards and wealth have risen over the past two centuries due to industrialization. Most of us couldn't have found a better time to be born.

    The question is how long we can keep doing it - especially if we intend to keep growing our economies and population, say, 3% a year?

    It's the energy that automation puts to work that is largely responsible for the growth of the past 200 years. And increasing automation and its resource and energy requirements, just like human labor and good old fashioned horsepower, are a limited resource. This is true for energy in agriculture (mechanization, fertilizers, transport) and energy in industrial and personal (transportation etc.) consumption. As just an esoteric high tech automation example, just the cost of electricity to "mine" one Bitcoin is now around $6,000. And that's at 4 cents per KwH. My power cost is 5x that, even with solar.

    We're beginning to see the limits of everything from phosphates for fertilizers to topsoil, favorable climate, fossil fuels, clean water, fish stocks, the right sand for concrete, rare earth metals for batteries, etc. Even as far back as the 1970's momentary disruption of oil caused a deep recession. Now that we have billion plus people economies (China, India, maybe the Arab world and Africa) determined to power their way to the top we'll be placing heavier demands on not-so-infinite resources. It's a recipe for conflict and maybe collapse.

    It's a gnarly problem - people are thinking about it but don't yet really have solid answers: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/the-decoupling-of-gdp-and-energy-growth-a-ceo-guide

    Might add that economists and politicians of all persuasions think the solution is to keep growing the economy and (generally) to keep growing the population. As some point, the math simply doesn't work out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    No question that living standards and wealth have risen over the past two centuries due to industrialization. Most of us couldn't have found a better time to be born.

    The question is how long we can keep doing it - especially if we intend to keep growing our economies and population, say, 3% a year?

    It's the energy that automation puts to work that is largely responsible for the growth of the past 200 years. And increasing automation and its resource and energy requirements, just like human labor and good old fashioned horsepower, are a limited resource. This is true for energy in agriculture (mechanization, fertilizers, transport) and energy in industrial and personal (transportation etc.) consumption. As just an esoteric high tech automation example, just the cost of electricity to "mine" one Bitcoin is now around $6,000. And that's at 4 cents per KwH. My power cost is 5x that, even with solar.

    We're beginning to see the limits of everything from phosphates for fertilizers to topsoil, favorable climate, fossil fuels, clean water, fish stocks, the right sand for concrete, rare earth metals for batteries, etc. Even as far back as the 1970's momentary disruption of oil caused a deep recession. Now that we have billion plus people economies (China, India, maybe the Arab world and Africa) determined to power their way to the top we'll be placing heavier demands on not-so-infinite resources. It's a recipe for conflict and maybe collapse.

    It's a gnarly problem - people are thinking about it but don't yet really have solid answers: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/the-decoupling-of-gdp-and-energy-growth-a-ceo-guide

    Might add that economists and politicians of all persuasions think the solution is to keep growing the economy and (generally) to keep growing the population. As some point, the math simply doesn't work out.
    Pete,
    You clearly do not understand American business.

    Where there is a wall, the industrials will climb it.

    Pete, you have not been in business have you?

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    Quote Originally Posted by otrlt View Post
    Pete,
    You clearly do not understand American business.

    Where there is a wall, the industrials will climb it.

    Pete, you have not been in business have you?
    Otrit, I've had P&L responsibility in my own two companies, a Fortune 100 manufacturing company, and two other startups -- one of which grew by leaps and bounds. I also know that nothing depending upon finite resources can grow forever.

    You wouldn't be the guy, in some past life, who told everyone on Easter Island to keep cutting down the all the trees because it would help grow the economy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    Otrit, I've had P&L responsibility in my own two companies, a Fortune 100 manufacturing company, and two other startups -- one of which grew by leaps and bounds. I also know that nothing depending upon finite resources can grow forever.

    You wouldn't be the guy, in some past life, who told everyone on Easter Island to keep cutting down the all the trees because it would help grow the economy?
    Pete.
    look back on all of your replies to my comments
    Your words acknowledge the fact that you are a novice.

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    Men at work, they sweat, get tired, then go home to wash, eat potatoes, and rest. They consume soap among other things. Soap makers can produce and sell.

    People at desks barely sweat, don’t get tired physically. They pop in already perfumed. Don’t consume soap but shower gel, perfumed. Eat industrially made pizza.

    Automation implies complication. The question is whether we want to live simple lives or entangled. They can wrap soap bars with their hands, pack them in the classic wooden boxes. Shower gels are pumped into blow-molded plastic bottles that have a little pump on top themselves. Bundled in shrink plastic foil. We make things increasingly more complicated and expensive for what? Ah, yes, for the financial accomplices. All those who live a parasite life, who don’t earn a wage for making something useful. Automation is here for the non-machinists, for the talkers.

    I can be happy with files and soap.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mechanola View Post
    I can be happy with files and soap.
    And a computer and internet connection, apparently.

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    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
    Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life."

    The problem in "teaching him to fish" is that he needs taught daily how to fish, keeps getting distracted with his smart phone and lets the fish run off with the bait, forgets to bring the pole and hooks to go fishing, if he shows up in the first place, however he still expects the fish prepared how he likes it on his dinner plate at meal time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Punkinhead View Post
    computer and internet connection
    Knew something like that would come.

    It’s about paid labour.


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