Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Thoughts on “Rise of the Robots”
Perversely, I actually draw some hope from the staggering wrongness of Riesman’s and Keynes’ predictions. They were very smart people who wrote books that captured important truths about their times, but they got the future badly wrong. As smart as they were, they couldn’t capture the entire picture, and the cracks in their systems let in so much water that the whole thing sunk. If we’re lucky, fifty years from now, someone will say the same about Martin Ford.
Sadly, organized labor and the middle class in general are losing power at a steep face.
After reading Ford's book, I am certain that robots could do at least as good a job, and probably a better job, than nearly all the English composition teachers, full-time and part-time, at your college. While they should eventually replace them after the full-timers retire, leaving the adjuncts to other work (if they can find it), community colleges should start using robots to grade first-year students' essays as an aid to instructors and a bridge to getting rid of the instructors.
(Now, before I press "Publish Your Comment," I am being asked to put an "X" mark next to the statement "I'm not a robot." I'll lie and do it.)
Perhaps a bit from the intro on the Wiki page will help you see its relevance: "The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines."
From - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Piano_%28novel%29
The only missing context for you (explaining why 2022 is the near future of a book from 1952) is something more important than Baumol: Moore's Law. That is what tells you that your phone, which is already a supercomputer, will be able to grade papers better than you in a few years because it will rival the power of IBM's Watson. Remember, it was 4 years ago -- two doubling times -- that Watson was on Jeopardy. It is now an MD and could easily replace every pundit on TV if you wanted it to.
Little employers may want productivity, but they're not entirely rational, so . . . yeah.
Mondragon, man. Mondragon.
This problem is especially acute in academe. Software packages are now beginning to replace a lot of face-to-face classroom teaching. At Proprietary Art School where I used to teach, the math curriculum has almost entirely been replaced by Pearson’s software. Just about every college course can in principle be moved online, resulting in a need for fewer and fewer classroom teachers. Only research superstars at R1 universities and particularly charismatic teachers at SLACS will survive in the future, with the few surviving faculty of lesser ability being reduced to the status of teaching assistants watching over students hovering over computer terminals.
In the not too distant future, we may see even more stratification into a two-class system, with just a few people who manage and create all of this automation doing quite well and prospering, with the rest of us doomed to descend into the underclass, doing menial low-paying work such as flipping burgers at Wendy’s or bagging groceries at the neighborhood supermarket.