Monday, January 09, 2017

In which, with a detour through the robots, the pond contemplates the business model of the reptile robots ...

The question is what was the harder struggle? For Sussan Ley to admit the bleeding obvious, long after the matter might have been nipped in the bud and been a one day media wonder, or for the Donald to admit the bleeding obvious, and own up about the Ruskis?

Ley probably deserves the prize for building a mountain out of a molehill - refund the money, refund the money at the start of the fuss - but in view of the Donald's legendary status,  why not start off with a Baldwin meme,...

Occasionally, just to shake things up, the pond sometimes likes to start off with intelligent and perceptive analysis.

This immediately rules out the reptiles of Oz, but happens to include a recent short piece by the alarmingly capable Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker, Our Automated Future, which - happily for the bludgers who don't stump up for the magazine like the pond does - is currently outside the paywall.

A few relevant quotes ...

During the recent Presidential campaign, much was said—most of it critical—about trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The argument, made by both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was that these deals have shafted middle-class workers by encouraging companies to move jobs to countries like China and Mexico, where wages are lower. Trump has vowed to renegotiate nafta and to withdraw from the T.P.P., and has threatened to slap tariffs on goods manufactured by American companies overseas. “Under a Trump Presidency, the American worker will finally have a President who will protect them and fight for them,” he has declared. 
According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee, such talk misses the point: trying to save jobs by tearing up trade deals is like applying leeches to a head wound. Industries in China are being automated just as fast as, if not faster than, those in the U.S. Foxconn, the world’s largest contract-electronics company, which has become famous for its city-size factories and grim working conditions, plans to automate a third of its positions out of existence by 2020. The South China Morning Post recently reported that, thanks to a significant investment in robots, the company already has succeeded in reducing the workforce at its plant in Kunshan, near Shanghai, from a hundred and ten thousand people to fifty thousand. “More companies are likely to follow suit,” a Kunshan official told the newspaper. 
“If you look at the types of tasks that have been offshored in the past twenty years, you see that they tend to be relatively routine,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee write. “These are precisely the tasks that are easiest to automate.” Off-shoring jobs, they argue, is often just a “way station” on the road to eliminating them entirely. 
 In “Rise of the Robots,” Ford takes this argument one step further. He notes that a “significant ‘reshoring’ trend” is now under way. Reshoring reduces transportation costs and cuts down on the time required to bring new designs to market. But it doesn’t do much for employment, because the operations that are moving back to the U.S. are largely automated. This is the major reason that there is a reshoring trend; salaries are no longer an issue once you get rid of the salaried. Ford cites the example of a factory in Gaffney, South Carolina, that produces 2.5 million pounds of cotton yarn a week with fewer than a hundred and fifty workers. A story about the Gaffney factory in the Times ran under the headline “U.S. textile plants return, with floors largely empty of people.

Well yes, but now it's time for someone willing to take the Donald seriously, and for that the reptiles offer up the thoughts of a certain Rob Johnson, together with the usual pandering pieces about coal and oil that have become a staple of the lizard Oz house style ...

Well yes, no doubt it's going to be a fracking good year, if you live in Oklahoma, and you'd like some supersized earthquakes to go with that,

As for Johnson, it turns out he's a little torn, but the pond has a reason for re-cycling him.

You see, he's part of the tendency of the lizard Oz to use Project Syndicate as a column/opinion page stocking filler ...

You see, you could, if you like, read Rob Johnson at Project Syndicate here,  or you could, if you like, fish one of those gold bricks the reptiles love and send it off to them, and read Johnson re-badged as part of the reptile chatter machine ...

Talk about a business model. Take what's free elsewhere and mark it up for the marks, the rubes and the johns ...

Oh dear ... the pond feels a cartoon coming on ...

Meanwhile, in relation to the social and economic problems that are coming down the line, see The New Yorker above, and good luck with all of that, and good luck for those who can manage to take the Trump reign seriously ...

But it gets even better when Johnson imagines that somehow the Republicans and the Donald are going to go all FDR and Keynsian and New Deal and socialist while also slashing corporate taxes and hiking tariffs:

Triple good luck with that ... but the pond has never read a more delicious set of fantasies - at least until it last read Malware boasting about how he'd fixed broadband down under. Not fixed, as in totally Malware fucked, but fixed in the sense of actually delivering it ...

Trump and the GOP as the new FRD? So that's why children can be persuaded to believe in Santa Claus.

Frankly, the pond has as much hope for Trumpian America as it does for a reptile business model that involves taking opinion pieces from a free source, re-badging them, and then demanding payment for the pleasure of reading them ...or for people who refuse to accept that the coming eras of automation and consequences of climate won't have a profound impact on the world ...

But what, you ask, is the pond's solution?

Well, just as Dustin Hoffman was urged to get into plastics, the pond suggests there's a future in robotic repairs.

It's not a new idea, it's been around for yonks, and so to the reading of the day, from Kurt Vonnegut's first 1952 novel Player Piano.

Spoiler alert, this comes from the final chapter, and follows a revolution, and an attempt to destroy the machinery that has displaced jobs and ruined lives.

And then, in a typical Vonnegutian twist, the people gather around the broken machinery, and do what comes naturally ...

...A faint hubbub came from around a corner, from where the railroad station had been, where it still was after a fashion. 
Finnerty turned the corner for a better look at the celebrators. In the station's waiting room, carnage was everywhere. 
The terrazzo floor, depicting an earlier slaughter of Iliumites by Oneida Indians, was strewn with the guts and internal secretions of the automatic ticket vendor, the automatic nylon vendor, the automatic coffee vendor, the automatic newspaper vendor, the automatic toothbrush vendor, the automatic shoeshine machine, the automatic photo studio, the automatic baggage checker, the automatic insurance salesman . . . 
But around one machine a group had gathered. 
The people were crowding one another excitedly, as though a great wonder were in their midst. Paul and Finnerty left the car to examine the mystery, and saw that the center of attention was an Orange-O machine. 
Orange-O, Paul recalled, was something of a cause célèbre, for no one in the whole country, apparently, could stomach the stuff - no one save Doctor Francis Eldgrin Gelhorne, National Industrial, Commercial, Communications, Foodstuffs, and Resources Director. 
As a monument to him, Orange-O machines stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest, though the coin-box collectors never found anything in the machines but stale Orange-O. 
But now the excretor of the blended wood pulp, dye, water, and orange-type flavoring was as popular as a nymphomaniac at an American Legion convention. 
"O.K., now let's try anotha' nickel in her an' see how she does," said a familiar voice from behind the machine - the voice of Bud Calhoun. 
"Clunkle" went the coin, and then a whir, and a gurgle. 
The crowd was overjoyed. 
"Filled the cup almost to the top that time; and she's nice and cold now, too," called the man by the machine's spout. 
"But the light behind the Orange-O sign didn't light up," said a woman. "Supposed to." 
"We'll fix that, won't we, Bud?" said another voice from behind the machine. "You people get me about three feet of that red wire hanging out of the shoeshine machine, and somebody let me borrow their penknife a second." 
The speaker stood up and stretched, and smiled contentedly, and Paul recognized him: the tall, middle-aged, ruddy-faced man who'd fixed Paul's car with the sweatband of his hat long ago. 
The man had been desperately unhappy then. 
Now he was proud and smiling because his hands were busy doing what they liked to do best, Paul supposed - replacing men like himself with machines. He hooked up the lamp behind the Orange-O sign. 
"There we are." 
Bud Calhoun bolted on the back. 
"Now try her." 
The people applauded and lined up, eager for their Orange-O. 
The first man up emptied his cup, and went immediately to the end of the line for seconds. 
"Now, le's have a look at this li'l ol' ticket seller," said Bud. 
"Oh, oh. Got it right through the microphone." "
I knew we'd be able to use the telephone out in the street for something," said the ruddy man. "I'll go get it." 
The crowd, filled with Orange-O, was drifting over to encourage them in their new enterprise. 
When Paul and Finnerty returned to the limousine, they found Lasher and von Neumann looking extremely glum, engaged in conversation with a bright-looking teenager. 
"Have you, seen an eighth-horsepower electric motor lying around anywhere?" said the youngster. "One that isn't busted up too bad?" 
Lasher shook his head. 
"Well, I just have to keep looking, I guess," said the youngster, picking up a cardboard carton jammed with gears, tubes, switches, and other odd parts. 
"This place is a gold mine, all right, but it's tough finding exactly what you need." 
"I imagine," said Lasher. 
"Yep, if I had a decent little motor to go with what I got," said the youngster excitedly, "I'll betch anything I could make a gadget that'd play drums like nothing you ever heard before. See, you take a selsyn, and -"

And so it goes, as Kurt and Bob Ellis liked to scribble ... and so it will go on as the age of robotics lands with a thud, even though everyone knew, or should have known, it was coming ...

And so to a final pleasure, which the inimitable David Rowe dubbed "only fools and horses", and more inimitable Rowe here ...

1 comment:

  1. U.S. textile plants return, with floors largely empty of people.”

    Well here's a favourite question of my own which I've only been asking for about two decades: when we make everything as fiendishly efficient as we can, then what will we do with the 85% of people for which there is no longer any use except as passive consumers ?

    Well, apart from the thought that it would have to be about 95% of humanity now, I did have an answer back then when I was a working stiff too: pay me $1million pa and tax me $900k - that way, I actually get increased take home pay and the government gets $900k pa to help pay the UBI. So simple - and years ahead of Trumpelstiltskin !

    Do you think I could sell that idea to Theresa May and her reconstructed Worker's Party ?


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