Modern Assembly Line

Note to Self: Comment on Richard Baldwin: The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work: Start from the observation the the human brain is a massively-parallel supercomputer that fits inside a breadbox and draws 50 watts of power.

For 6,000 years, since the domestication of the horse, human backs, human thighs, and human fingers have becoming less powerful as sources of economic value, as animals and machines have increasingly competed with and substituted for them. Up until recently, however, every domesticated animal every machine had required a microprocessor. And the highly-productive decentralized societal division of labor of enormous extent created huge and increasing amounts of need for white-collar information processing: the accounting, control, transmission of information, and purveyance of misinformation jobs that are most of what people like us here do. Thus while human backs and thighs and fingers became less powerful as sources of economic value as time passed, human brains become more valuable. But now we have robots which contain their own microprocessors, and software 'bots that handle huge amounts of the white-collar information processing. So the job-creating aspects of technological creative destruction are now open to question

From this standpoint, we can worry along either of two dimensions:

  1. We can worry that right now we are about to have another wave of globalization—which Richard Baldwin calls "Telemigration" and "'Botic Process Automation"—that is going to expose not just manufacturing jobs but any job that can be done through a computer screen or with teleoperated waldoes to global competition. This will hit a world of absolutely enormous and extraordinary income and wealth inequality. And the shock to wages of workers around the globe will be world-shaking.

  2. Or we can go worry by reflecting on the fact that a horse is an extremely powerful, very intelligent, good natured, socially-cooperative herd animal that has been of great use to humans for 6,000 years. Up until the 1920s, if there was a horse in America, there was a us4e gor the horse—a job it could do that was worth much more than its feed. But in the 1920s we hit peak horse. Since then, the marginal horse that is born is worth more as dog food than as its highly-intelligent, very-cooperative, very-powerful, easily-socialized and agreeable domesticated animal self.

The first, I think, is a 20-year worry. The second, I think, is a 100-year worry.

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