Engineering of mass unemployment

I recently heard that Foxconn and other manufacturers are switching to a completely robotic manufacturing process for smartphones and similar mass-produced electronic devices.

This means that unqualified manual labor is to be removed from the manufacturing process, essentially meaning that instead of a dehumanized human screwing a PCB into a phone case ten times a minute you’ll get a robot doing it.

This is good news for the communists who are always fighting for the “rights” of workers, trying to “liberate” them from manual labor. However, one must ask what those “liberated” people will do? Detroit is full of people who were “liberated” from working in the automobile industry. What are they doing now, when they no longer “have to” screw car parts together and spray paint them? Are they switching to the manufacture of robots that manufacture cars? No, they aren’t qualified. Are they producing CAD/CAM software for the robotic factories? No, they aren’t qualified. They were barely qualified to screw parts together, and are simply too old and too intellectually limited to acquire skills necessary for migrating into jobs that require a high level of expertise. No, they migrated to either state welfare or crime.

And I’m afraid that it’s in all of our future if things don’t change in some radical way, because, the way I see it, the logic looks like this:

A machine takes a man’s job. A man is now unemployed and his present skillset is obsolete and not in demand on the market. The fact that he was “freed” from his work only means he was rendered unnecessary. The fact he’s free doesn’t mean that the machine works instead of him and for him. No, it works instead of him and for his employer. The worker is simply fired, the employer gets the benefits. Now, what can the unemployed worker do? One can say that a job that’s closed in car industry because of robots means a job opening in the robot industry, but it’s not the same job. It requires different qualifications. Furthermore, it’s not the same number of jobs. The math is simple – a switch to mechanical production will decrease demand for human labor, and/or raise the bar of skillset necessary for employment. This will render the least qualified workers permanently unemployed and, in fact, unemployable, because they are either too old or too stupid to really learn how to do anything other than screwing parts together in a repetitive manner. In their permanently unemployable state, they can either live from charity or start selling drugs. This model post-dicts our present situation quite well, because that’s exactly what happens.

One unimportant result of the process is that the manufacturing might migrate away from Asia and back into USA, because it’s essentially the same where you put the robotic factory, and if you do it where your consumers are, you save money on transport. Since there’s no human labor involved, labor unions and syndical protections no longer motivate companies to export manufacturing abroad, but that’s not relevant for this article because the workers are still unemployed, wherever the robot plant is built.

If you follow this logic to its limits, you get 10% of the today’s workforce employed in super-demanding jobs such as CAD/CAM software manufacturer, 3D model designer, robot designer, designer of the quantum-level amplifiers in the optical sensors, designer of computer displays, memories, CPUs and storage arrays, and then you get their servants, the guys who bring them coffee and clean up behind them, prostitutes who sell them sex and entertainers who make them laugh after work to blow off stress. The other result will be the extreme efficiency and capacity of the manufacturing process. The only problem is, who will buy all that crap? Because, you’ll end up with much more stuff than there are people with money, since you fired them all in the process. The only work remaining for the unqualified labor is basically crime – the stuff that’s out of the standard regulated economy, basically “hos and blow”; that, or they can resort to democracy and force the government to tax the robotic factory owners and give them the money.

So, how do we get out of this mess, in some constructive way that wouldn’t introduce communism (which is probably the only economic system that is scientifically proven not to work) or lead to dissociation of society into some dark Blade Runner-like dystopia with super-rich on one end and “little people” on the streets?

I’m almost inclined to shrug and leave the question open, but I might actually attempt to answer it by proposing that we change the motivational structure from a right-based one to duty-based. You see, in a right-based system you have a right to fire people so you do, and you stop giving a fuck about them there. In a duty-based system, you consider it your duty to care for the well-being of your workers. If you replaced them by something, you don’t just fire them. You look into ways in which they can remain useful, ways in which they can be compensated for their past services to your company. You either give them a good parachute or you promote them into flight attendants, you don’t just throw them out of the plane. Just a thought.

But a duty-based system might not be compatible with either capitalism or socialism, but rather with some form of enlightened feudalism, which might eventually prove to be the most resilient, humane and stable of all systems of economy and government, because in feudalism, it’s noblesse oblige. Yeah, it’s an unpopular opinion in thoughtspace where “democracy”, “human rights” and “freedom” are the words that substitute “truth”, “duty”, “dignity” and “justice”, but when “free market economy” fails, when democracy fails and the concept of human rights fails, as I predict it will, what then?

The lemming trends

There’s that thing that I find irritating in technology (and in society in general), that one could call the lemming trends. You know, the lemmings, the tiny rodent thingies that supposedly jump over cliffs in herds, because if everyone does it, it can’t be all that wrong, right? The way it happens in technology is that someone, either the tech journalists or users on the fora accept some arbitrary criterion by which they measure devices as either “good” or “bad”, and when this criterion is off, the entire industry goes off a cliff.

A notable example of that are the TN panels, that were lauded by the tech pundits in the media as the best because they had the least pixel inertia – a pixel could change its state much more quickly than on an IPS or PVA display. However, the TN display has shitty colors and even shittier viewing angles, and usually looks like a fluorescent negative image when viewed at any angle other than perpendicular, and since this type of a panel was “best”, it was widely adopted by technology manufacturers, because the buyers would not settle for the “inferior” IPS or PVA when they could get all those wonderful refresh rates. This went on for a while, until Apple started putting IPS panels on their devices and people started drooling after them, realizing fully what a horrid piece of shit a TN display really is, and now nobody wants to be close to anything that even resembles a TN display, except for the gamers and, presumably, the idiot journalists who brought that plague upon us.

Another example is the camera industry. In the 1990s, the camera manufactures started producing the autofocus cameras, which were advertised as the professional solution. Soon, most buyers went for it because they wanted a “professional” camera, and they threw away their manual focus lenses. A camera was measured by how many autofocus points it has, by how accurately it tracks a moving object, and by the ultrasonic-motor lenses it worked with. The thing is, those cameras were advertised for the professionals of a certain kind – wedding photographers, sports photographers and the photojournalists. For this target audience, the autofocus cameras are great. However, if you photograph landscapes, closeups and, basically, things that don’t move fast, a manual focus camera is as good. For things that require critical accuracy of focus, the manual focus lenses can actually be preferable, but you could never explain that to the people who just got into photography and trolled the photographic community with comments like “your camera is shit, it has only 3 AF points”, when you only wanted to photograph bugs and waterfalls and you couldn’t give a damn about autofocus in general. But an interesting thing happened lately. Some premium equipment manufacturers started producing series of brand new, expensive, super high quality manual focus lenses, such as this one:

BTW that’s a $800 lens, not an old beater from the 1980s that’s so behind the times it actually can’t focus electrically. And the tragedy is, the same zombies who used to praise autofocus are now herding around those “newest and best” manual lenses.

What I want to say is, people are idiots. They have a terrible fear of exclusion from a group, and if a group defines criteria, they will attempt to be “good” if not “best” according to those criteria. If a criterion is having a shitty TN display, they will have the shittiest of all TN displays. If a criterion is to have a shitty plasticky piece of shit lens, they will have the shittiest plasticky lens with a camera that has the greatest number of autofocus points and shoots ten frames per second, although they intend to take pictures of waterfalls. If the criterion of acceptance into a group is to bow to some psycho’s imaginary friend four times a day, they’ll do it, and make everyone else do it, and have them put to death if they happen to “offend” their bullshit. If the criterion of acceptance is to have your daughter’s clitoris cut off, they’ll have their daughter’s clitoris cut off, and slut shame everyone who doesn’t.

The thing is, it’s very nice to be excluded from most human groups, because humans are usually vile fucktards with no sense in their heads and no inherent ethics other than “I’m good and my tribe is good and if something threatens me or my tribe, it’s evil and must be destroyed”. Being excluded from a group that worships hallucinations of idiots or mutilates children is a great thing. Removing yourself from the company of idiots clears the mind like nothing you can imagine, because you no longer have to accept completely ridiculous and obviously false ideas just to fit in and not get into conflicts with fools. Just do your own thing. You can be wrong, but at least if you’re wrong you can correct yourself quickly. If you’re wrong because you want to conform with a group that’s wrong, not only will you be wrong forever, you will not be yourself. And if you’re not yourself, how can you ever learn? The groups never learn. They never, ever fucking learn. The bronze-age shepherd cults still dominate the intellectual discourse in the 21st century. People still believe in astrology, which was devised in ancient Mesopotamia together with divining from animal entrails. You just can’t make this shit up. The only way you can get rid of evil traditions, apparently, is to kill all their adherents or at least completely destroy their culture, which is why the Aztecs no longer perform human sacrifice en masse – there are no Aztecs. Is there really no better way to get rid of totally idiotic ideas and cults? Oh wait, there is: people would simply have to get rid of the concept of needing to belong to a herd. Then the need to accept the herd’s insane beliefs and practices would simply fall off, as necrotic mental tissue, because people would judge ideas on other criteria, such as usefulness, correctness and practicality. However, this is such a radically heretical idea it’s no wonder Socrates was killed for it. Accepting only what’s good, true and useful? Why, people might actually stop making human sacrifices to Poseidon! O heresy, o evil! As I said, you just can’t make this shit up.