Notes About Automation

Automation scares people these days: driverless cars, robots doing housework and manufacturing parts, devices that listen and talk to you.

Automation means a machine of some sort does the work instead of humans. “Machine” is a generic term that changes depending on the situation. Consider something you may be familiar with, for example, automatic payments to pay some of your bills. Do you pay your cable, electric, mortgage, rent, credit cards, or insurance electronically? That’s automation. You no longer manually write checks or send cash and there is no person on the receiving end opening the envelopes or counting the cash. There is no mail delivery to transport the checks or cash. Imaging yourself having to write 15-20 checks per month. No frickin’ way. The convenience is too good to give up.

Well, automation is taking place elsewhere, and that’s what we see. Do you have an electronic account with the medical center or hospital? Let’s you see your lab results, schedule appointments, pay bills.

And that’s only you as a consumer involved. How about business-to-business or within an organization? That’s robots or just some computer software to automate calculations.

Technology, of whatever type, is important to automation because that is the physical thing doing the work. But technology is useless without human action to invent the ways in which it could be used. Even a chainsaw is an improvement over an ax. And a car is an improvement over a horse.

If you’re worried about people losing their jobs, well, automation takes over the repetitive tasks humans can do. It may seem better to have a job where you perform repetitive tasks over-and-over, but after a while you’ve perfected the movements, what’s left? You’d feel like a machine, a cog in the wheel. That’s not good for your mental health.


Bashing Trade with Mexico

Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the WSJ on Trump’s bashing of trade with Mexico:

Exhibit A is his promise to shred the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) on the grounds that Mexico, his favorite bête noire, is stealing American jobs. It is technology, not free trade, that is behind the shrinking number of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Beating Nafta like a piñata worked in the Republican primary. But it is likely to hurt Mr. Trump and GOP candidates further down the ticket in the general election. Mexico is, after all, the U.S.’s third-largest trading partner and second-largest export market.

. . .

Indiana, the home of GOP vice-presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, exported some $4.8 billion of goods to Mexico in 2015, making it the state’s second-largest export market.

. . .

Exports to Mexico were over $1 billion in 31 states in 2015. It’s the largest export market for California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It ranks second for 25 other states.

. . .

Trade wars will also damage U.S. competitiveness. As former Mexican deputy trade minister Luis de la Calle explained in a conference call to investors in New York earlier this month, Carrier Corp.’s production move to Mexico from Indiana—much-assailed by Mr. Trump—means that the company can survive Asian competition and can retain U.S. jobs in research, development, marketing and high-end components.

. . .

Mr. Irwin cites a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, which “found that productivity growth accounted for more than 85 percent of the job loss in manufacturing between 2000 and 2010, a period when employment in that sector fell by 5.6 million.” This 85% compares, according to the study, with 13% of job losses attributed to trade during the same period.

. . .

It is “high-education” and “low-education” jobs—requiring “interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability and problem solving”—that are most difficult to automate Mr. Autor notes. Traditional middle-education jobs have been the easiest to replace with technology.

Whoops, the unintended consequences. This same problem goes for Hillary Clinton and any other critic of trade.

I wondered what “competitiveness” meant. The above quote contains an example.

Not a neat situation that lends itself to a government program.

Behind firewall here.

Netscape Co-founder Marc Andreessen: Why Software Is Eating The World

But both moves are also in line with a trend I’ve observed, one that makes me optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies, despite the recent turmoil in the stock market.
. . .
My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.
. . .
Why is this happening now?

Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.

Awesome stuff, Marc.

Commerce: Source of Positive Change

The lesson in lasting 100 years: “We always moved to the future.” That was one message IBM Chief Executive Sam Palmisano gave Thursday night in a warmly received “IBM Centennial Lecture” at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum. In June, the historic company officially celebrated its 100th year at HQ in Armonk, N.Y., where, Palmisano told the West Coast crowd, 35 Watsons attended.

Here. IBM is a well-known firm but its products are not household consumer brands. The firm contributes behind-the-scenes — “deep analytics, big data, cloud computing and smarter planet (as in smart grid, green buildings, etc.)” — that helps other firms succeed. That lesson? Many American firms, and foreign ones for that matter, are creating wealth, products and services, jobs, and generally making our lives better do so out of plain sight. You do not see the name on a thing you buy in the store but the stuff on store shelves gets there with business-to-business commerce.

More Education Might Not Help Unemployment and Future Jobs

The title seems counterintuitive but read on. Enticing quotes:

Advances in computerisation do not increase the demand for all “skilled” labour. Instead they reduce the demand for routine tasks, including many tasks that we currently perceive as skilled and require significant formal education for a human being to carry out effectively.
. . .
The routine jobs of 20th century manufacturing and services that were so amenable to creating mass employment are increasingly a thing of the past.
. . .
As Autour et al note, routine human tasks have gradually been replaced by machinery and technology since atleast the advent of the Industrial Revolution. What has changed in the last twenty years with the advent of computerisation is that the sphere of human activities that can be replaced by technology has broadened significantly.
. . .
Hans Moravec identified that it is much easier to engineer apparently complex computational
. . .
To say that our educational system needs to focus on “creativity” is not to claim that we all need to become artists and scientists. Creativity here is defined as simply the ability to explore effectively rather than follow a algorithmic routine, a role that many of our current methods of “teaching” are not set up to achieve.
. . .
This does not mean that full employment is impossible, simply that any job that is routine enough to employ a large number of people doing a very similar role is likely to be automated sooner or later.

Any job that is rules-based can be automated, not just by sophisticated AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems but by relatively simpler computer systems where rules can be identified.