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Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”

I think things have looked bleak for the angels at least since Milton published Paradise Lost, but things are now beginning to look bleak for grumpy columnists, and that is serious. Angels can look out for themselves.

The threat to all that is good and right in the world (consisting in large part of grumpy columnists) is that a computer wrote the foregoing tale of baseballian angst and triumph. Specifically, a program called Quill from NarrativeScience wrote it. Worse, it wrote it in about three seconds, and worse yet, it is bruited in journalistic circles that many major outlets are using Quill and various of its brethren to spit out a lot of their copy.

I find myself worrying that if they come up with a subroutine for bile, abomination, and sedition, I may be out of a job. Which I don’t have one of anyway. The logical problems of losing a job one doesn’t have are daunting.

If one may trust the The New York Times, usually doubtful but in this case probably not, the following poured forth from the depths of an electronic soul.

“When I in dreams behold thy fairest shade

Whose shade in dreams doth wake the sleeping morn

The daytime shadow of my love betray’d

Lends hideous night to dreaming’s faded form.”

Just what this concoction means is not altogether clear, a quality it shares with much poetry. I suspect that giving the software too much credit may be a mistake, since we con’t know how much the pump was primed with emotive words.

Likewise this:

“Kitty couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. Her nerves were strained as two tight strings, and even a glass of hot wine, that Vronsky made her drink, did not help her. Lying in bed she kept going over and over that monstrous scene at the meadow.”

“As two tight strings” is sufficiently infelicitous as to suggest that a professor had written it, but otherwise it works. With tweaking it is not hard to imagine the thing writing Harlequin Romances in about five minutes each.

Sex Robot.  Credit: Fred on Everything.

Sex Robot. Credit: Fred on Everything.

I found this photo by searching on “Sex Robots.” Think how much journalism could save by replacing Megyn Kelly with this siliconical–very conical–young lady. She would have to do nothing but look pretty and talk. Silicon ages well, and never causes labor problems, though it may need patching. And there would be an “off” switch.

It is hard to distinguish stories written by some clanking awful robot, or anyway code probably with lots of ugly curly brackets, from the outpourings of real reporters. Since a great many news stories consist of electronically available information plugged into fairly standard templates, then, really, truly and seriously, jobs are going to go away–progressively as the software matures.

Narrative Science’s co-founder estimates that 90 percent of news could be algorithmically generated by the mid-2020s, much of it without human intervention. Many things are easy for machines already: obits, financial stories, routine crime reports. Goodbye, cub reporters. Few will notice, because reporters won’t be fired, just never hired. We will have more young living in their parents’ basements.

Regular readers, if I have one, know that I keep saying that pretty soon automation is going to take all our jobs and have everybody living in homeless shelters and under park benches. This suggests a boom market in park benches, briefly employing thousands. There are various ways of looking at this. On one hand, I have never liked jobs. On the other, robots only need to take some fraction of jobs across society and in the ensuing riots we will all kill each other. I don’t think we can stand too much leisure. Especially without money for buying beer and drugs.

White-collar jobs are very much in danger. Think of all the people sitting in cubicle farms, like letters in a crossword puzzle. Many, I suspect most, do things automatable, and do it far more slowly than a computer might. How long does it take an intelligent program to flash through court records to find those relevant to a particular case? There are programs in the works to intelligently handle customer-service calls, potentially unemplloying all those people in Mumbai who make life into a guessing game. Maybe a good thing. Siri at least speaks English.

Clerical jobs in particular are in imminent danger. Natalia, my stepdaughter, went to her bank months ago and found a row of machines taking deposits, goodbye several clerks–white-collar clerks. The internet makes the problem worse. Until several years ago Violeta was teaching Spanish by Skype video to students all around the world for way below the rates of Berlitz. An American friend here has a steel-detailing business for construction firms, using Mexican and Philippine detailers by internet. The jukebox in a local bar gets music over the internet automatically, goodbye to the technician who used to replace CDs and fix the moving parts, which it barely any longer has. These are little things, but there are lots of them.

Lots of scary computer-driven stuff is close, some of it real close. It’s not just self-driving vehicles, goodbye cabbies, long-haul truckers, and delivery guys. Translation of languages by computer is getting spooky good, certainly for known-context conversation. My telephone will translate English into Latin, for God’s sake. In Asia, as in America, only a small percentage of people are really intelligent, but there are a whole lot of Asians. Their lack of English is the barrier keeping them from competing for America’s white-collar jobs by internet.

Economists are puzzled by this because they have no grasp of economics. They think the solution is to retrain displaced workers to do higher-tech things. This happy talk ignores that many of the replaced blue-collars are not smart enough to become IT managers and neurosurgeons, even if we had enough brain cancer, and that the jobs for which they would be retrained are rapidly being replaced themselves. Your can’t retrain fifty replaced clerks as programmers because the company already has programmers, and anyway only needs five.

Meanwhile our patriotic businessmen want to bring in millions of prefabricated unemployables to help us be out of work. See? Robots and humans working together. Cooperation is a key to success in almost every thing. Question: How much unemployment is needed for things to get ugly? When does it boil over?

Fred can be reached at [email protected] Put the letters “pdq” somewhere in the subject line to avoid autodeletion. Due to volume I can’t answer everyone but I try to read everything.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Automation, Robots 
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  1. Great. So, we will have the 15-hour workweek with two months/year vacation. This is what technological progress is all about, isn’t it.

  2. In the 1950s there was an entire body of literature on “what are we going to do with our leisure time,” when work time declines to twenty-five hours a week. We may need to dig it out, but if I recall correctly it mostly envisioned a world in which people went to work by public transport, lived in small apartments, listened to classical music and read novels while smoking a pipe. Not sure how relevant that is to 2017.

    Over at iSteve there’s a reference to the 1971 movie The Omega Man. In that movie the villain Matthias (portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Zerbe) talks about the time when technology threatened more than it offered. We may be approaching that time; we may need a managed economy in which people are paid to do what machines could do more efficiently; idle hands are the devil’s playthings.

    And don’t get me started on sexbots! Birth control pills have already bifucated sexual intercourse from reproduction. When sexbots bifurcate sexual intercourse from humanity, we’re probably at endgame.

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
  3. MarkinPNW says:

    The impending end of jobs and labor has been a constant “crisis” since the Luddite movement at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

  4. TheJester says:

    The Finns are experimenting with a minimum income for its poorer citizens and Benoit Hamon, the likely French socialist candidate for President of France, is advocating a minimum income to allow people to cut loose with their creative juices without worrying about paying bills.

    I’m pessimistic. Necessity is the mother-of-taking-life-seriously. We already have models for what people will do when given infinite leisure time. Men are likely to sit on the front porch and drink beer; women will spend countless hours on Facebook congratulating each other on their beautiful children, sympathizing with each other over their latest medical problems, or finding clever names for a cat … and our children will rot in the basement having sex and doing drugs.

    P.S. The cat example is real: “What should we name this cat?” It drew 20 replies and 32 “likes”.

  5. Talha says:

    Ah – but did a robot write this? And is “Mr. Reed” the one tucking his wife to bed everyday?


    • Replies: @Son of Dixie
  6. Anonymous [AKA "Scald85"] says:

    Read between the lines. Luddite panics are all about the congresscritters creating problems to “make work”, up to and including genocide. The ‘spergs who literally worry about automation are the ones who would be least affected anyway.

  7. woodNfish says:

    Question: How much unemployment is needed for things to get ugly? When does it boil over?

    A question I have asked myself. I think it was Elon Musk who said we are going to have have an economy that guarantees everyone a living salary for doing nothing. Maybe we can get training from the blacks in Chicago and other leftist hellholes to learn how it is done.

  8. The Scalpel says: • Website
    @Mao Cheng Ji

    “Great. So, we will have the 15-hour workweek with two months/year vacation”

    It doesn’t work like that. People are greedy/ambtious/driven. The people who are capable will still work as many hours as they are comfortable working, and the people who are competent and ambitious will take hours from people who are less competent. The hours in the workweek are not limited by some sort of socialistic impulse, but often by a successful person’s ambition, endurance, and desires. Everyone else gets the scraps.

  9. @The Scalpel

    I think the other factor is the constant loss of purchasing power due to monetary inflation. We have been pulling value forward in order to spend it for a long time, and this may also explain why we work as many hours as people did decades ago, despite huge increases in productivity. It seems to take more money to fund a middle class lifestyle when, theoretically, we should be able to fund this with a 15-20 hour workweek. I’m open to other explanations.

  10. The Scalpel says: • Website
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    Monetary inflation only affects purchasing power if wages do not keep up with the rate of inflation. Wages are not keeping up with inflation even though inflation is low. Yet, GDP is still rising. This points to the true culprit which is ever increasing income inequality. The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

  11. @The Scalpel

    But this could still be part and parcel of the same phenomenon. Those early in the stream of new money (finance, government) are pulling away from the rest, who have to work that much harder to maintain living standards.

  12. @Talha

    Word is that Fred’s (((wife))) is tucked in each night by a young Mexican fellow.

    • Replies: @Talha
  13. Talha says:
    @Son of Dixie

    Or a young Mexican cyborg??!! Hark – our machine overlords cometh!

    Or perhaps, there will come soft rains…

  14. Automation can even “write” in cursive script, which increasing millions of increasingly ignorant young Americans no longer know how to write – or know how to read. How can they sign their names? How could they check a signature? That means it’s the end of contracts. Which means the end of lawyers! Hallelujah!

    At least no one can accuse me of not trying to look on the bright side.

    • Replies: @Negrolphin Pool
  15. @The Anti-Gnostic

    My post above touched on this, but the literature of the 1950s that discussed a 25-hour work week envisioned a very modest urban apartment-dwelling lifestyle without an automobile. I suppose if everyone wants a private jet, that’ll involve lots more work, but I don’t think the resources are there for it.

  16. @The Scalpel

    It doesn’t work like that. People are greedy/ambtious/driven.

    Well, the 40-hour week was established somehow, right?

    And in France, back in 2000, they legislated 35-hour week, no overtime. True, it’s being rolled back now, but it was established, and it was the law for many years, and there are massive protests against repealing it now…

    And, as someone mentioned above, the Universal Guaranteed Income idea is in the air; there was a referendum in Switzerland last year for a law that would guarantee $2,500/month to every citizen, whether you work or not. It failed, but they’ll try again, and one day it’ll pass.

    Things change, societies evolve…

  17. Sure. I’ve already replaced myself as musician on recordings I produce, and I did that a few years ago.

  18. I have often wondered if Martin “book-a-day” Gilbert (R.I.P.), Churchill’s Zionist hagiographer, had access to or perhaps himself developed an early program of this sort: which first arranged vast amounts of factoids in strict chronology, then inserting random adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and punctuation marks. Something like this: “and so on September 16th, 1939, at 8:30 AM, Churchill visited his barber, while several minutes later over the Heligoland Bight, 2 HE-115’s of IV/Luftkampgeschwader-6 attacked a #36 Squadron Anson on anti-submarine patrol. The fight, which lasted almost an hour, was nonetheless inconclusive. Meanwhile, in the London Central Aquarium, a starfish was prominently displayed…(etc.)”

    on the larger issue, Kunstler has advocated/predicted that we will – after an extended Time of Troubles – go back to a world made mostly by hand…though hopefully with some enjoyable tech elements like the internet, space exploration, and 3D-printing. My own feeling is as follows: if Trump, on behalf of his Zionist owners, attempts to break the Shi’a Crescent at the Iranian end (which appears likely, given the failure in Syria)…none of this is going to matter.

  19. @Auntie Analogue

    The Congolese sun shines bright indeed.

  20. Interesting to call unemployment a vacation.

    A compulsory, unpaid one.

    People unemployable, “retiring” at 35?

    The bums under the bridge are “economically independent.”

    I don’t think the rage will stop at smashing machines.

  21. Question: How much unemployment is needed for things to get ugly? When does it boil over?

    It is not the level of unemployment, but the change that triggers problems. Our ecoonomy is 70% consumer driven. People get used to a level but get antsy and stop spending when the unemployment goes up a few points – regardless of the level from which it began. If we went from the current 4.7 to 5.5 people would start to get nervous and spending would slow drastically even though a few years ago 5.5 was just great. That is why the government has spent so much effort fiddling with the numbers to keep people from slowing their spending.

    google: “Animal Spirits Elliot Middleton” for papers on the phenomenon.

    Of course this has just caused the boom/bust cycle of our economic history. Fred’s question is when does the big one come. That will come when international cooperation breaks down. Everybody who knows anything about economics knows this, that’s why Trump scares the shit out of them.

    Problem is: international trade (and cooperation) is already dropping and has been for a couple of years. Trump is not the cause of cooperation breaking down, he is the result, a step in the cycle. The establishment (both Dem and Rep) were trying to sell the idea that they could keep it from breaking down – there were not enough buyers of that idea, ergo President Trump.

    Overstressed systems usually break down from some small insult. It’s like adding grains of sand, one by one, to a conical pile. One grain will finally cause a cascading collapse, but one cannot predict which grain it will be.

    Our world is becoming far more overstressed and unstable than a sandpile. The last desparate attempt to keep it going will be authoritarian governments, far more authoritarian than Mr. Trump can manage. There is no point is fretting about it, they will be an effect, not a cause, as will be the wars that ensue.

    A system under stress reacts in a direction to relieve the stress – Le Chatelier.

    Our ultimate stressor is population, more specifically a dependent population, people who cannot subsist independently, but depend on credit fueled “growth” for their daily bread.

    People are already heading for the exits.

    • Replies: @another fred
  22. @another fred

    Everybody who knows anything about economics knows this, that’s why Trump scares the shit out of them.

    Project Syndicate bills themselves as “The World’s Opinion Page” and they do get a lot of big wheels posting articles there. If you want to get a glimpse of how scared they are of Trump check out this featured article – THE GOD OF CARNAGE.

  23. @Mao Cheng Ji

    When it boils over, death camp commandant would be a good job. All those unhinged progressives and unruly and dysfunctional minorities should keep one busy.

  24. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website

    Your can’t retrain fifty replaced clerks as programmers because the company already has programmers, and anyway only needs five.

    World already doesn’t need so many “programmers”, most of whom are merely code-writers, often without any ability to properly formulate problem. How about calibration of CNC, how about repairing those? How many robotics specialists are out there, who can tuneup and repair a line? They are all badly needed, more than programmers who over saturated this “programming” market. There are many jobs out there which pay well but require a level of expertise most of which is beyond the grasp of run-of-the-mill office plankton or even the so called “programmers”. Those jobs will come back and people will have to be retrained and that requires a real effort. Machinists are needed everywhere. Just “dialed” Monster for these jobs in around Seattle and Portland, OR–thousands of them. Well, yeah, in manufacturing environment one can not be a pothead or alcoholic and those companies require self-discipline, excellent attendance and, in general, broad understanding of fairly complex processes and procedures–not hanging around the cooler in the office and discussing rumors. But actually working it is so-o-o-o not hip. (sarcasm).

  25. When does it boil over?

    Current betting is between six and eighteen months.

    • Replies: @TMS71
  26. Maybe we could fund the Citizen’s Income from workplace swearboxes.

  27. Realist says:

    “New York Times Replaced by Black Box. World Relieved”

    The New York Times replaced by liter box is a better idea.

  28. TMS71 says:

    Unemployment is not THAT high. 6-18 months? Why? It’s not like we’re in a depression.

  29. @Diversity Heretic

    There’s an almost endless supply of Sci Fi stories about the end of work from the fifties/early sixties.

    Most devolve into some sort of dystopia, usually because solving the production problem leaves the distribution program and that inevitably seems to fall to politicians to solve.

  30. Icy Blast says:
    @The Scalpel

    Inflation is “low” only if you believe government statistics. I detect a habitual TV-watcher. Believe it or not, in 2019, there are humans stumbling around who still believe what they hear on TV!

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