Finn Murphy, The Long Haul

A presentation by Finn Murphy is offered below we titled “Dead Man Driving”. It is well worth reading by anyone and particularly so for those concerned with the impacts of Artificial Intelligence and robotics on work and economic systems as well as the harms those technologies are imposing on a wide range of societies including the US, Western Europe, China and Japan. Murphy is the author of the New York Times best-selling book The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road (W.W. Norton, 2017).  About two years ago I read in London’s Guardian newspaper a discussion of The Long Haul where Murphy penned an op-ed about what he saw happening to the world in which he had spent his professional life, one where many truckers would soon see their work and livelihoods disappear.  He wrote:

The only humans left in a modern supply chain are truck drivers. Today’s cutting-edge warehouses buzz with automated forklifts and robots that load and unload trucks while drivers stand around sipping coffee – and getting paychecks and health insurance. That’s the kind of thing that drives corporate finance types crazy. The best option is to eliminate drivers.

I’ve been driving big trucks since shortly after my 21st birthday in 1980 and I always figured I’d be able to stay on the road until retirement. Now I’m not so sure. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Daimler, Tesla, Uber, Ford and Toyota are all investing billions of dollars in driverless vehicles. … [D]riverless trucks will be here before driverless cars because that’s where the early money is going to be made. With some of the world’s most aggressive and best capitalized companies racing to be first with a viable driverless vehicle, I don’t give myself very good odds on choosing when to hang up my keys. (Guardian, 11/17/17)

We strongly recommend The Long Haul to any reader who wants to experience being drawn into a richly-presented world offered by a master story teller.  For me, the book relates directly to the messages presented in a book co-authored with my son Daniel Barnhizer, The Artificial Intelligence Contagion: Can Democracy Withstand the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth and the Social Order (Clarity 2019).  Contagion deals with the rapid introduction of Artificial Intelligence and robotic systems into US society and the warning that as many as 47 to 50 percent of US jobs could be lost to these technologies over the next ten to fifteen years.  This incorporates the development of autonomous cars and trucks, including, believe it or not, the trucks and drivers that are at the heart of Murphy’s The Long Haul.  

Murphy offers a fascinating and unparalleled look at the life and times of big rig drivers including their independence and entrepreneurial spirit.  It is this attitude that sets many truckers a breed apart from the rest of us.  It is a type that is vanishing from the American landscape along with the true individualism in the process of being buried beneath the weight of a conformist society where, regardless of our rhetoric about diversity and difference, we are being told what to think, say and do.  

The unfortunate and growing truth of American and European culture is that if we violate any of the numerous webs of PC norms created to empower identity groups, then the forces of a strange Orwellian public/private 1984 police state operating through the power provided by modern information and Internet data mining, surveillance and communication networks in ways uncomfortably similar to lynch mobs descend on us with threats, sanctions, boycotts, insults and ostracism, and other forms of intimidation and punishment.  Democratic political systems long thought of as the means to empower each of us to develop our highest potential as free and free-thinking individuals and to enrich the total community by doing so, are being increasingly converted into instrumentalities of oppression, thought control and groupthink.

Murphy presents his message through a powerful and descriptive narrative of the diverse culture of the long haul trucker, one that is often raucous and crude but that operates according to its own conventions.  By itself Murphy’s perspective is worth a deep read.  The culture of the long haul trucker is complex, including conflicting levels of status that seem stunning to those of us who have considered the nature of the job even though we have no actual knowledge of its dynamics.  Murphy provides all this as he describes a life in which truckers who move heavy duty commodities such as steel consider themselves “better” than truckers like Murphy who spent much of his life packing, loading and then transporting 30,000 pound loads of commercial and residential furniture and possessions throughout the country.  

Such messages about the inevitable discrimination that emerges in all areas of human activity—bias driven by our need to feel superior relative to others—provide useful insights about the tragic inadequacy of being human and the damage our “dark side” causes in so many contexts.  But even more important in the context of the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence and robotic systems that threaten the future of human work is Murphy’s message that at the heart of the long haul truck driver is the need to be independent from the control of bosses and a rebellion against being trapped in corporate cubicles like rats in a maze.

Among the powerful messages of The Long Haul is that this is where the world of work is heading—not only with trucks, cars, busses, boats and even airplanes—but in an amazing array of activities from the most labor-intensive to professions such as finance, medicine, corporate middle management and law.  Among the central messages of The Long Haul is his understanding of the dignifying power of human work, not only as a means to “put bread on the table” but a warning that taking away the opportunity to test and prove ourselves against the challenges we face denies us the chance to develop and succeed that Murphy (and Daniel and I) consider a fundamental part of being human. 

The vital importance of preserving and developing human work experiences and opportunity is something that Dan and I wrote about in The Artificial Intelligence Contagion and we are “spot on” with Finn Murphy in that regard. Succumbing to a culture of endless ennui and becoming fully dependent on the gratuities and the inevitable stifling control of governmental actors regardless of how well-intentioned some of them might be must not be the future of human democratic societies. 

We are grateful to Finn Murphy for eloquently describing his fear that long haul truckers are a version of the “canaries in the mine” whose early demise provided miners with a warning of dangerous gas leaks with enough time that the worst consequences could be avoided.  We want to express our appreciation to Finn Murphy for his grant of permission to post the presentation set out below.  It is a wise, rich and poignant analysis that captures the rapid destruction of human work and opportunity that is now undermining the fabric of work, freedom and democracy essential to American and European societies.

“Dead Man Driving”

Finn Murphy

October 20, 2018

I received the request to speak at the Rocky Mountain Literary Festival only a week after the publication of The Long Haul. It was the very first communication I had from any organization asking me to appear. You’ve no idea how exciting that was. A week or two later I had a nice review in the New York Times, and then the New Yorker, the Paris Review and many more. I had the distinct honor of being a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross and have been invited to and attended more than 150 book events. It’s been a great ride for a first time author.

I know there is pent-up curiosity about trucking, truck drivers, and the moving industry. Here with me, you’ll have a reasonably tame long haul driver to help unravel some of the mystery. I’m a fun guy and I think we’ll have some fun in the question/comment section but this first part of our journey together is going to be serious. 

My book can certainly be read as a fun little ride inside the cab of a big-rig, but my intention was something more thought provoking than a mere romp down the highway.     

For openers, truck drivers are not a homogenous group of atavistic rednecks. We’re a diverse bunch with families, aspirations, and emotional lives. The fact that many drivers are lacking modern economy skills can’t be denied but that doesn’t make any of us less a human being or discounts our desire to participate in this economy. We’re mostly just regular folks who derive our livelihood, and a lot of our self-worth, through our work. In other words, we’re just like you.  

As a truck driver and furniture mover, my work reality can be difficult, occasionally life threatening, but also sublime. People are always asking me how a reasonably sentient guy like me does what I do. My answer is that moving families long-distance is highly gratifying and driving the country in a big truck for months at a time is a daily smorgasbord of the American cultural landscape. My pleasure mostly comes from doing the work, which requires specialized knowledge, a strong back, organizational skills, with a good dollop of diplomacy thrown in. Diplomacy is the key element in moving families. I have diplomacy. In fact with a name like Finn Murphy, I have Irish diplomacy. In case you’re wondering what that is, Irish Diplomacy is the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to the trip. That’s my last joke. 

The fact that my job is held in low esteem by society doesn’t cause me a twinge and never has. 

A lot of my book is about dealing with authority and a lot of it is about work. I like bringing my skills to work and I like watching other people work. In my leisure hours I read about work. In fact, I’m obsessed with work, especially manual work, and have been ever since I was a teenager, after actually having done some real work. Labor can be an internal world filled with all sorts of satisfactions. I’ve always wanted more work but it seemed like most people wanted less. Indeed the entire world around me has been taking away work since my youth with gadgets that continually increase their efficiency and speed. 

Make no mistake, I’m no proponent of the back-breaking, soul crushing labor of times past. Robert Caro in his masterpiece The Path to Power about the emergence of Lyndon Johnson, has several revealing passages detailing the domestic workday of a matriarch in the Texas hill country before electrification. That description had me fashioning a noose and nosing around for a handy ceiling rafter. Books such as How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and anything by Charles Dickens have all served to help me appreciate many aspects of the modern world. 

I‘m interested in how manual work can be a choice-worthy occupation and the notion that manual work, and what goes along with it, has been devalued over my lifetime. It was Matthew Crawford’s wonderful book Shopcraft as Soulcraft that crystallized my vague disquiet about all this. Crawford points out that working with tools and machinery allows a person to fail at their own pace and celebrates how someone can recover from failure using their mind. In physical work there are constraints that won’t yield to any fabrication of an undeserved self-esteem or self-serving narrative. In short, work is a reliable demonstration of reality

As anyone who’s done real work knows, it’s not mindless at all. It’s mindful. Crawford gets on a pretty high horse about what he’d no doubt call the infantilization of our relationship with machinery. He laments that many modern car models no longer have a dipstick to check the oil. Apparently such a sophisticated mechanical operation is now beyond the skills of a modern automobile driver. I’m not a fanatic on the point like Crawford, but I’ll vouchsafe that unfreezing a brake line with a burning flare, lying on my back in slush, on a freezing highway, will not diminish my self-confidence. 

Quite the contrary. With work I earn confidence, bruise by bruise, to the point where I might actually know something about something. That might lead to some independent thinking about other things. Crawford’s main point is that dumbing down our machinery and neglecting mindful work materially affects our capacity for critical and independent thinking. I agree with that, and this is where the authority part of my book kicks in. Independent thinkers are not easy fodder for charlatans, demagogues, or self-appointed guardians of some invented public good. Independent thinking creates solid citizens who can distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality.  

If you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. Well I know where I’m going. I always know where I’m going, because driving a big truck requires it, or I’ll end up under an overpass or in a ditch. Putting a tractor-trailer under a low bridge and cutting off the roof (What truckers call getting a haircut) may also be described as a reliable demonstration of reality. 

Being a trucker who’s also a mover means that I don’t drive a dark line on the interstates going from terminal to terminal. I go where the moves are which means private residences. A morning backup into a suburban cul de sac where landscapers have trouble operating a riding lawn mower much less a 75 foot tractor trailer is a typical aspect of my daily work. I’m proud of that. Unlike freight hauling truckers, movers drive smack into the middle of towns and communities and I get to have a short but intimate relationship with the places I’m in and the people I move. 

America has about 15,000 towns and I’ve been in or through a good portion of them. Over the decades I’ve seen hundreds of once thriving town centers decompose in the face of the big box retailers on the outskirts. I’ve watched Kansa and Nebraska become denuded of people. I’ve seen self-serving land use transform the prairies and valleys of Colorado, California, and Oregon into swaths of auto-dependent, low density housing. I’ve watched our roadways fall apart. 

The heartland is empty now except for meat-packing plants set well away from prying eyes, a corn mono-culture where I can drive for hundreds of miles and not see a sign of human habitation. I’ve seen the environs of almost every interstate exit infested with national chain restaurants and motels that clone themselves like anthrax spores. It’s happened everywhere but you only get to see the contagion in its contemptible saturation if you’ve crisscrossed the country over and over. That phase of the homogenization, or standardization, of America is now almost complete. But it’s not over. It’s just beginning. 

I’m a dead man walking. Pretty soon a machine will be supplanting me as a driver. Sooner than you think. Intel’s recent purchase of Mobileye and Alphabet’s purchase of WAYMO are only the latest grabs in the scrum to develop autonomous vehicles on a mass scale. Those two behemoths are joined by Amazon, Apple, Daimler-Benz, Tesla, Uber, Ford, and Toyota. The world’s most aggressive and well-capitalized companies are racing to be first with a viable autonomous vehicle. We haven’t seen this kind of capital intensive technological focus since the 1960s when we were hell-bent on beating the Russians to the moon. I don’t give myself very long odds against that kind of juggernaut and truck drivers will be first to go because that’s the where early money is going to be. 

The only humans left in the modern supply chain are truck drivers. Today’s cutting edge warehouses buzz with automated forklifts and robots that load and unload trucks while drivers stand around sipping coffee. The most efficient option is to eliminate drivers. Now I understand that global industry is constantly being reinvented to reduce inefficiencies. New technologies will not be denied because if we don’t do it here, they’ll do it in Shanghai or Singapore or Dusseldorf and we’ll be left behind. I also understand that human error is responsible for almost all vehicle accidents. One and a half million people are killed worldwide every year on roadways. 40,000 Americans are killed every year. There are over 3 million injuries in the US alone and let’s not bother calculating property losses. I’ve no doubt that when the technology is perfected and critical mass is achieved, those millions of deaths will be reduced to a trickle. 

But what’s the endgame here with all this technology? It’s not a new question. I’m sure it was asked 35,000 years ago by the cave artist who emerged from his workday to see someone drawing on a sheepskin with a piece of charcoal. He probably complained that this new technology would ruin their culture. Well, it did. Nobody draws on cave walls anymore. Nobody has phone calls put through by an operator. Nobody pulls a wagon with a mule. But the question of the endgame remains, and now that the pace of change is measured in months instead of centuries it’s a much more pressing question to answer. Are we supposed to resign ourselves to the inevitability of the march of progress and keep any concerns to ourselves? Where did this assumption that eliminating work is axiomatically beneficial come from? Does this assumption have a goal other than some blurry ideal of efficiency? Is it simply an evolutionary imperative? Wherefrom comes this Will to Efficiency and what is its ultimate objective? I think it’s reasonable to have some kind of answer to that before autonomous vehicles toss 2 ½  million truck drivers into idle penury. 

I’ve not yet encountered a satisfactory answer to any of the questions posed above. Nor have I seen any credible vision of what a healthy society might look like that is buffeted daily by runaway technological expansion. 

There’s certainly no shortage of what an unhealthy society that worships at the altar of technology might look like. Post-apocalyptic literature is bursting with any number of dystopian scenarios where the labor issue is solved by machinery but the human issue regarding purpose is not. There’s a lot of excellent and creative current literature out there on this but my three favorites are oldies but goodies, they being Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In these novels social order has no goal other than order itself. The role of humankind is to act as a kind of protoplasmic teletubby ingesting whatever consumer goods are on offer. In Brave New World when John the Savage tries to take away the Soma drug everyone is issued, he enjoins the mob:

“Do you like being babies? Yes, babies. Mewling and puking. Don’t you want to be free and men? Don’t you understand what manhood and freedom are?”

He receives no answer. 

Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953 and Bradbury’s depiction of the Fireman’s wife, addicted to interactive television, is chilling in its foresight. 

Another, and perhaps more important facet in these books is how societies deal with those iconoclasts who insist upon continuing with meaningful work. Huxley soaks these misfits with the soporific Soma and exiles them. Vonnegut puts manual laborers on public assistance and everyone calls them the Reeks and Wrecks. Bradbury’s police state violently purges outliers. Apparently hard work, especially lone work, is dangerous to totalitarian social orders. Indeed it is, and any budding authoritarian knows this instinctively, because lone work begets independent thinking.  

I’m not at all confused by the general surge in populism we’re seeing. I’m not one of them, but I have certainly noticed that the tail of technology is wagging the dog of the social contract. We’re leaving millions of citizens in poverty professions and out of any economic progress or upward mobility. It’s precisely this segment of supplanted workers where populist growth is happening. I see these people every day. As one truck driver said in the New York Times: “We’re throwaway people.” Another driver added: “I live and breathe and take up space. I have to be somewhere, but nobody wants me anywhere.” 

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a panacea for displaced workers but that misses the whole point of what I’m saying today and what I wrote my book about. People like me, peering into the abyss of ineffectuality, actually want to be responsible. We want to work and support our families. We want to hold our heads up high. We want to pay our taxes. We want to be a part of it all. UBI is just a nice way of telling us all we have no economic value. Well, nobody wants to hear that about themselves, nor should they, in any society worthy of the name. 

We need to examine our attitudes about technological change and labor. Where’s the private sector in all this? Can it toss a couple of million truck drivers onto the dole and then reap the financial benefits with no accountability at all? Apparently it can. It has before and will continue to do so unless the process is interrupted. I’m a solid American and I believe in work. I also believe in cleaning up after myself. That doesn’t make me a left-leaning softie or an unreconstructed Luddite. That makes me a responsible citizen. It’s long past time the private sector became one too. You only have to drive a few miles west of here to see the mess the gold strikes left with their slag heaps and chemical dumps. Maybe the days of leaving that kind of mess are behind us but there’s been no change whatsoever in how human beings are left behind. 

An even bigger idea is that we look ahead and actually think about what kind of society technology can help shape. Right now, it’s the other way around. This might help us navigate the social effects of the technological ocean we’re currently drowning in. Social order for its own sake is no place I wish to live and technological change for its own sake isn’t either. Without some kind of vision about where this is going we’re destined to be the slaves of technology not its masters. We already are. 

Automation is also running a parallel track in eliminating bankers, lawyers, accountants, indeed all sorts of professions. When that starts to happen in earnest we might see some push back about the social costs of technology. So long as it’s only truckers and factory workers getting sacked, well there’s always Walmart, McDonald’s, and food stamps for us. Well, my view is that we’re the canary in the coal mine. You’re next. If this trend continues, and I see no reason why it won’t, soon enough the ‘throwaway people’ will outnumber everyone else. Then we’ll see a real dystopia. 

I myself don’t have any answers to these questions but I don’t think enough people are asking them. In an automated world, what’s to be the role of human beings? To quote Cotton Seiler in his book Republic of Drivers, “The belief in self-directed motion as an agent of liberation is powerful and venerable in American culture.”

I don’t want to give another inch on that kind of freedom. The interstate highway system is a great example of what I’m talking about. It appears to be the road to freedom but, like runaway technology, it’s can also be an agent of social control. The limited access and homogenized services on the highways create an illusion of freedom in the same way a build-a-bear creates an illusion of creativity. Like in Brave New World, the options are broad to buttress the fantasy of autonomy, but it may turn out to be a prison, no matter how comfortable. 

AI/ROBOTICS, JOB DESTRUCTION, AND GROWING HOMELESSNESS

The core theme of THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CONTAGION: Can Democracy Withstand the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth and the Social Order [CONTAGION][1] is that effective strategies demand a clear understanding of the interacting elements that taken together must be dealt with to mitigate the worst of the effects that we are producing through AI/robotics.  These include job loss, the “decoupling” of human labor and economic productivity, income insufficiency, age demographics, and the inability to meet the expensive promises governments and corporations have made to millions of people who have been counting on those resources. 

Homelessness cannot be separated from causative factors such as the elimination of jobs, the stress and uncertainty of a rapidly changing economy relative to future opportunities, drug addiction, serious health problems, aging, bankruptcy and foreclosure, and the rising costs of living that Americans are experiencing even to the point that many young adults are living with their parents.  CONTAGION details the significant impacts of AI/robotics on employment that have already been created and goes on to indicate the massive job destruction that numerous experts are predicting over the next five to fifteen years and beyond, with some estimates ranging up to fifty percent of current jobs by 2030.  The point is that we are already experiencing the “contagion” and rising homelessness is among the devastating consequences.

Growing homelessness in California, New York, the Pacific Northwest, Denver, many other urban areas and even rural settings.[2] In “America’s homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession”, Alastair Gee cites a government study finding 553,742 people were homeless, and that anti-homelessness “advocates lament a crisis that shows no sign of abating”.[3]  A 2017 report indicated that New York had 20,000 more homeless people than even Los Angeles.[4]  Although LA officials have spent huge sums on attempting to rectify homelessness, $619 million in 2018, the area’s homeless population increased by 12 percent.[5]  This is an early indication of what will develop as job loss and addictions increase.[6]  Estimates are that half of American families live paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t compensate for even a short-term loss of income.[7]  Many older Americans are dipping into their limited retirement savings to help support their adult children.[8]  Studies indicate an increasing number of Americans are working into their 70’s and many have no plans to retire because they can’t afford to. [9]

We are witnessing a steady increase in the numbers of homeless in the US.  Anaheim declared a “homeless emergency”.[10]  Portland, Oregon is facing a growing problem with an aggressive homeless population about which officials seem to be at a loss in figuring out ways to cope.  In fact, much of the homelessness problem in cases such as Portland, Oregon is actually caused by local command and control approaches to zoning and urban planing that sumultaneously limit new development, decrease the willingness of police and local officials to enforce the law, increase the cost of living, and lack of the political will to tackle tough problems.[11] A recent report argued that “Seattle is Dying” and that $400 million annually is needed to place that city’s homeless in housing and provide other essential support.[12]  The problem with such “solutions” is that there is already a dramatically reduced ability on the part of city, state and federal governments that are already cash-strapped to the point of bankruptcy.[13]  When future financial commitments are taken into account involving public pensions and health care the picture is dire across the board. 

Many have found themselves homeless due to the loss of employment, health conditions and overwhelming psychological stress.  Homelessness has become an epidemic visible mainly on the streets, parks and alleys of our cities.  We are in the early phases of the homelessness crisis and already have a serious problem of an inadequate social safety net, coupled with an unwillingness by politicians to create and enforce anything other than superficial “feel-good” policy approaches to the crisis.  From the perspective of societies that have the stark option of condemning a significant part of their populace to living “on the street” as jobs disappear, democracy simply cannot cope with the stresses.  Added to this homelessness crisis is pension insecurity and the prospect that our most vulnerable members of society will end up betrayed, bereft and ignored.  The provision of care for the elderly and the growing ranks of the less fortunate is vital if our society is to save its soul.

Rising homelessness is not only occurring in big cities.  Jake Bittle recently wrote in The Nation that rural America is experiencing a significant increase in “hidden homeless” in rural areas, noting that hundreds of thousands, including nearly 162,000 grade-school children, are lost in the cracks of a system of counting and support that often does not even realize their existence.  He also notes that the problem of the hidden homeless is growing at a faster pace than in the cities.[14]

Growing homelessness is an early warning signal.  What we are facing is real, extremely serious, complex and tragic.  As jobs continue to disappear—particularly but not solely at the manual labor and repetitive information management levels—very large numbers of people will find themselves without the means to provide for basic needs.  Some will find support from government programs, parents and extended families but many will find themselves on the streets, living in makeshift shelters, vans, cars, “squatting” in vacant buildings, or huddling under cardboard and newspapers trying to keep warm and dry.

Although sources are provided concerning the nation’s homeless crisis at the end of this analysis and in endnotes, a limited sampling of reports released just over in late-April to early June 2019 demonstrate quite clearly that the situation is getting worse.  Several reports are offered immediately below.

  • http://www.fox5ny.com/news/homelessness-at-record-highs-in-nyc.  “Study finds homelessness at record highs in NYC”, Luke Funk, 4/30/19.  “A new report gives the city and state an “F” grade for handling the homeless crisis in New York City as the numbers of people in the street continues to reach record numbers.”
  • “Officials at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) are evaluating how to best address the growing issue of homeless people taking shelter in the air hub, the latest challenge stemming from the northern California city’s homelessness crisis.”

Homelessness will be further expanded as an aging population experiences significant increases in health problems.  As discussed in CONTAGION, the US, China, Europe and Japan are all experiencing what Pope Francis called the “Age Curse” with births dropping dramatically and a significant percentage of the population in those nations skewing toward the upper age limits. Older Americans are experiencing serious health challenges that include dementia, Alzheimers and drug addictions.  Such diseases will result in millions of people falling into poverty, bankruptcy and dependency at the same time labor earnings on which many local, state and federal government institutions depend for the tax revenues that fund their assistance programs will decline as economic activity increasingly replaces human labor with AI/robotics systems.[15]

Many public and private pension systems are already significantly underfunded and this will become worse as returns on investment flow much more to capital owners than human workers. The interlocked complexity of US, European and Asian economies means that as they move into a downward spiral within the next decade, as numerous analysts predict as a result of the effects of AI/robotics, public pension funds will be forced to reduce or eliminate promised benefits.  Numerous private pension programs will disappear. 

Counting the Numbers and the Costs

California is facing an epidemic of homelessness that appears to be well beyond its ability to cope.  The increase in homelessness is partly due to people suffering from addictions to drugs or alcohol.   Others have serious physical or emotional health problems.  A recent report indicates that the Los Angeles area has at least 59,000 homeless.  The number is increasing year by year.  LA has voted to create a $1.2 billion program to build housing for its homeless population and a recent proposal advocated guaranteeing decent housing for all of LA’s homeless.  A proposal has been offered suggesting that Los Angeles homeowners could be subsidized for converting parts of their homes or garages into living quarters for homeless people.

Even though LA’s homelessness reduction efforts allegedly helped 21,000 people find ongoing shelter in the past year, the people working to reduce homelessness were stunned and “heartbroken” to find out that the homeless population continued to grow and is now estimated to be 59,000.[16] LA’s ability to provide even basic health, sanitation, and other humane services to such numbers is grossly inadequate.  The city has recently been condemned for its inability to even collect garbage, leading to an infestation of rats, fleas and disease.  In late May 2019 there was an intense debate over what to do with the homeless encampments surrounding Los Angeles’s City Hall, a situation creating conditions one critic stated would be an embarrassment to a Third World country.[17] 

Speaking of “gross”, a dangerous and growing outbreak of Hepatitis A is directly linked to LA’s homeless residents since many have taken to defecating on streets and sidewalks and lack sanitation.[18]  One “solution” that has been proposed includes expanding the number of restrooms including toilets and showers for the homeless population.  A recent study indicates that while it could help take care of some the problem if the homeless individuals actually used the facilities, it would cost the city $57 million per year to provide, monitor, clean and maintain restrooms for all of LA’s homeless encampments.[19]

Another aspect of the problem, one that is likely to expand dramatically as AI/robotics joblessness takes hold, is the emergence of what has been called the “voluntary” homeless.  This group is made up of people who will never be full contributing members of society but will require and demand assistance.  They will also impose negative impacts on the areas in which they circulate.  This brings Yuval Harari’s warning in Homo Deus about the emergence of a “useless class” to the forefront.  Unfortunately the phenomenon appears to be considerably more than being a matter of merely useless. Destructive behavior too often is the norm, and can be expected to increase.  This results in significant health care and policing costs as well as a sense of social insecurity.  A recent report indicates aspects of the problem.

“From the parks of Berkeley to the streets of Brooklyn, and in most every large city in between, they have become an almost inescapable part of urban life.  Known by many names – “crusty punks,” “crusties,” gutter punks,” “crumb bums” and “dirty kids,” to list but a few – this group of young adults has rejected a more traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle in favor of train hopping, panhandling and voluntary homelessness.  And while traditionally tolerated by police and urban residents, these transient groups of the unshaven and unwashed have been involved in a series of incidents in recent years … that has municipalities across the country puzzling over how to address the problem.” [20]

The problem of the homeless is not limited to urban areas or to the West Coast.  One report indicates an expansion from the cities into California’s rural areas and as Jake Bittle noted above, rural homelessness appears to be increasing more rapidly than in the large cities.[21]  Another analysis indicates the intricate and complex problems contributing to the growth in homelessness.  This includes the aging of that population demographic with a resulting increase in health issues.[22]  As jobs continue to disappear, the ranks of the homeless will swell even more dramatically.

The challenge in finding solutions is that we use an all-encompassing term such as “homelessness” and act as if it represents a single condition, that of not having a relatively decent place to live, rather than the diverse complex of causes and effects that more accurately describe the situation.  The idea is that if a “home” is provided the problem of “Homelessness” is solved.  Behind the general idea of homelessness are such things as economic homelessness, drug and alcohol derived homelessness, mental illness, health issues, rebellion and alternative lifestyle, natural disasters and more.  One critical form exists when homelessness involves entire families and young children. Another is created when children flee their families due to abuse or anger, or are failed by the bureaucratic systems of child welfare and foster care that created to save and nurture them.  Some forms are temporary while others are chronic or permanent. 

The core challenge is that lack of housing and shelter are outcomes and conditions much more than they are causes of homelessness.  The issue is how to deal with the array of underlying factors that end up leaving people in a state of homelessness and despair.  The reality is that we do not seem to have much of a clue in far too many of the contexts that drive the growing challenge of homelessness in America.  In a recent interview Dr. Drew Pinsky described his frustration with governmental efforts to deal with the homeless crisis.

“[T]he government is somehow insisting that housing is the problem when in fact we have chronic mental illness, we have addiction, we have people who don’t want to leave the streets,” Pinsky said. “They literally won’t take the housing if we give it to them. And that’s the population that’s vulnerable, and is going to get so ill this summer. It scares me for their well-being.”  Asked why the liberal politicians aren’t doing more to alleviate these conditions, Pinsky said they are “disgustingly negligent.” “[23]

Recent Reports on Rapidly Growing Homelessness

  • America’s homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession:  a new government study finds 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, as advocates lament a crisis that shows no sign of abating”, The Guardian, Alastair Gee, 12/5/17.
  • “ ‘America’s new Vietnam’: why a homelessness crisis seems unsolvable: Despite approving billions in funds to fight the problem, Los Angeles has seen its homeless population continue to grow.” The Guardian, Andrew Gumbel, 3/16/18.
  • “L.A. County’s homeless problem is worsening despite billions from tax measures”, Los Angeles Times, Doug Smith, 2/19/18.
  • “Homelessness soars on West Coast as cities struggle to cope”, San Francisco Gate, Gillian Flaccus and Geoff Mulvihill, 11/6/17.
  • “L.A. County wants to help build guest houses in backyards — for homeless people”, Los Angeles Times, Gale Holland, 4/11/18.
  • “LA Considers Ambitious Proposal To Provide Housing For Every Homeless Person”, CBS Local Los Angeles, 3/23/18.
  • “ ‘National disgrace’: Community fights back as California overrun by homelessness, human waste, needles”, Fox News, Tori Richards, 2/26/18.
  • “Deaths among King County’s homeless reach new high amid growing crisis”, Seattle Times, Vernal Coleman, 12/30/17.
  • “Bay Area cities face growing crisis as RVs become homes of last resort”, East Bay Times, Louis Hansen, 12/17/17.
  • “Columbia Sportswear may close Portland office over death threats, public defecation by homeless people”, Fox News, Travis Fedschun, 11/27/17.  
  • “Homeless people defecating on LA streets fuels horror hepatitis outbreak, as city faulted”, Fox News, Tori Richards, 11/22/17.
  • “The Silicon Valley paradox: one in four people are at risk of hunger: study suggests that 26.8% of the population qualify as ‘food insecure’ based on risk factors such as missing meals or relying on food banks”, The Guardian, Charlotte Simmonds, 12/12/17.
  • “California’s homelessness crisis moves to the country: California housing costs are spiraling so high that they are pushing the state’s homelessness crisis into places it’s never been before — sparsely populated rural counties.” San Francisco Chronicle, Kevin Fagan and Alison Graham, 9/8/17.
  • “More Homeless People Live in New York than Any Other City”, WNYC Report, Mirela Iverac, 12/6/17. The number reported by the federal government is 76,000 compared to Los Angeles’ 55,000.

[1] https://www.claritypress.com/product/artificial-intelligence-contagion/The Artificial Intelligence Contagion, Can Democracy Withstand the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth and the Social Order?  David Barnhizer and Daniel Barnhizer (2019).

[2] https://www.denverpost.com/2018/12/17/colorado-homeless-families-hud-federal-report/. “Colorado singled out in federal report for high number of homeless families with children compared to other states”, Elizabeth Hernandez, Denver Post, 12/17/18.

[3] The Guardian, Alastair Gee, 12/5/17.

[4] “More Homeless People Live in New York than Any Other City”, WNYC Report, Mirela Iverac, 12/6/17. The number reported by the federal government is 76,000 compared to Los Angeles’ 55,000.

[5] https://www.foxnews.com/us/homelessness-jumps-12-across-los-angeles-county.  “Homelessness  jumps 12 percent  across Los Angeles County despite  $619M in spending”, Louis Casiano, Fox News, 6/5/19.

[6] http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Homeless-explosion-on-West-Coast-pushing-cities-12334291.php. “Homelessness soars on West Coast as cities struggle to cope”, Gillian Flaccus and Geoff Mulvihill, 11/6/17.

[7] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/half-of-americans-are-just-one-paycheck-away-from-financial-disaster-2019-05-16.  “Half of Americans are just one paycheck away from financial disaster”, Jacob Passy, 5/16/19.  “Missing more than one paycheck is a one-way ticket to financial hardship for nearly half of the country’s workforce.”

[8] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/adult-children-are-costing-many-parents-their-retirements/.  “Adult children are costing many parents their retirement savings”, Megan Cerullo, 4/24/19.  “Half of American parents have cut back on their retirement savings to help pay their children’s bills, a Bankrate.com study shows.” 

[9] https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/retirement-four-in-10-americans-don-t-see-it-ever-happening-1.1269777, “Retirement? Four in 10 Americans Don’t See It Ever Happening: Almost 40% of Americans lack confidence they will ever save enough money to retire. That number climbs even higher among older Americans, age 54 or more.” Alex Tanzi, 6/6/19. “On average, monthly benefits for a retired worker from the Social Security Administration are $1,468.39 or only about $17,600 per year.”

[10] http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-anaheim-homeless-emergency-20170913-story.html. “Anaheim’s emergency declaration sets stage for removal of homeless encampment”, Anh Do, 9/14/17.

[11]https://www.oregonlive.com/projects/portland-homeless/. “Our Homeless Crisis”, Anna Griffin, 1/17/2015.

[12] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/amazon-led-tax-rebellion-later-100002810.html.  “Amazon Led a Tax Rebellion. A Year Later, Seattle Is Gridlocked”, Matt Day and Noah Buhayar, Bloomberg, June 10, 2019. [This concentrates on Seattle’s homelessness crisis and argued that Seattle “needed to spend $360 million to $410 million a year to help people experiencing homelessness get a permanent roof over their heads.”]

[13] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/cities-drowning-debt-chicago-study.  “America’s largest cities drowning in debt, with Chicago leading the way, study finds”,  Frank Miles, 5/14/19.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-budget-deficit-grew-38-in-first-seven-months-of-fiscal-2019-11557511203.  “U.S. Budget Deficit Grew 38% in First Seven Months of Fiscal 2019: Federal revenues increased 2% from October through April despite lower tax rates, Treasury says”.  https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/irs-50219667-tax-return-filers-paid-0-or-less-income-taxes.  “50,219,667 Tax Return Filers Paid $0 or Less in Income Taxes”, Terence P. Jeffrey, 4/15/19.

[14] https://www.thenation.com/article/rural-homelessness-housing/.  “The ‘Hidden’ Crisis of Rural Homelessness: Until the federal government tackles rural homelessness as a distinct issue, the problem will only get worse”,  Jake Bittle, 3/28/19.

[15] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/04/alzheimers-disease-rates-rising-baby-boomers/1106292001/.  “Aging baby boomers are about to push Alzheimer’s disease rates sky high”, Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, 5/4/19.

[16] https://theweek.com/speedreads/845376/los-angeles-officials-say-are-stunned-by-heartbreaking-new-homeless-numbers“Los Angeles officials say they are ‘stunned’ by ‘heartbreaking’ new homeless numbers”.  Catherine Garcia, 6/4/19.

[17] https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-rats-homelessness-city-hall-fleas-report-20190603-story.html.  “Filth from homeless camps is luring rats to L.A. City Hall, report says”, Dakota Smith and David Zahniser, 6/3/19.

[18] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/11/22/homeless-people-defecating-on-la-streets-fuels-horror-hepatitis-outbreak-as-city-faulted.html. “Homeless people defecating on LA streets fuels horror hepatitis outbreak, as city faulted”, Tori Richards, 11/22/17.  Richards details the challenge.

[19] https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-homeless-bathroom-restroom-feces-skid-row-pit-stop-20190610-story.html.  “$339,000 for a restroom? L.A. politicians balk at the cost of toilets for homeless people”, Emily Alpert Reyes, 6/10/19. 

[20] http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/06/11/voluntarily-vagrant-homeless-youth-crusty-urban-challenge.html.  “Voluntarily vagrant, homeless youth a ‘crusty’ urban challenge”, Andrew O’Reilly, 6/11/18.

[21] http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/California-s-homelessness-crisis-moves-to-the-12182026.php. “California’s homelessness crisis moves to the country”, Kevin Fagan and Alison Graham, 9/8/17.  They report: “California housing costs are spiraling so high that they are pushing the state’s homelessness crisis into places it’s never been before — sparsely populated rural counties.”

[22] http://www.rawstory.com/2016/01/older-and-sicker-how-americas-homeless-population-has-changed/.  “What policymakers and the general public need to recognize is that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S. This shift in the demographics has major implications for how municipalities and health care providers deal with homeless populations.”

[23] https://www.foxnews.com/health/dr-drew-says-third-world-countries-would-be-insulted-to-be-compared-with-los-angeles.  “Dr. Drew says LA public health in ‘complete breakdown’: ‘No city on Earth tolerates this’”, Bradford Betz, 5/31/19.

The Internet, Artificial Intelligence, and the Destruction of Our Democratic Ideal

The AI-driven Internet has caused us to become more intolerant as well as committed to the use of words as weapons and slogans as propaganda.[1]  This has affected media and our behavior on other levels.  We have become a culture of lies. We lie a lot.  We lie in politics.  We lie in business.  We lie in our journalistic reporting.  We even lie in our academic activities.  At this point many of the worst offenders don’t even know they are lying because rather than think through what they are saying they rely on stereotypes and slogans chanted in unison with others who share their superficiality. 

We are increasingly creating illusions and delude ourselves into thinking they are actual truth.  Although many people have conducted themselves in this manner throughout history AI and the Internet has created a situation far worse and more pervasive.  With the coming of the Internet, along with its anonymity and the power granted by its ability to link similarly oriented people in collective movements that legitimate ignorance and bias, the lies have become worse and the ignorance and hostility far more prevalent. 

AXIOS just reported the results of a Pew Research Center survey highlighting the fact that at this point more Americans view “fake news” as a more serious problem than terrorism.  Sara Fischer writes: 

“Americans view made-up news and information as a bigger problem than other critical issues, including terrorism, immigration, climate change and racism, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.  Why it matters:The survey finds that Americans feel more worried today about fake news because it’s undermining their trust in key institutions, like government and the media. … [Fischer adds] An overwhelming majority of Americans (68%) believe made-up news and information has a big impact on their trust in government, according to the survey.” [2]

Joel Stein sought to explain what has happened with the rise of the phenomenon of Internet “trolls”.  He writes about how anonymity creates a destructive disinhibition effect that allows us to say things that we would never say in “polite conversation”.

“They’re turning the web into a cesspool of aggression and violence. What watching them is doing to the rest of us may be even worse. … Once it [The Internet] was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now the web is a sociopath with Asperger’s. If you need help improving your upload speeds it’s eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself.

Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.  The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. …” [3]

At the heart of the “problem” is that a look at the content of even a limited number of the billions of Internet-based messages sent daily demonstrates that many people should never have been empowered to speak. At least they should not be able to speak while hiding behind a mask of anonymity.  Concealed identity removes any real accountability because the “internal censor” of common sense and decency that tends to control our face-to-face communications has been destroyed.  Philip Hensher explains: “The possibility, and the dangers, of anonymity started to become apparent long before we all went online, and both have only continued to grow.”[4] 

A legitimate counter argument to the anti-anonymity concern is that the Internet has become such a poisonous cesspool that the individual trolls, fanatical ideologues, and intensely politicized identity groups who are newly empowered by the Internet are, in fact, not interested in any exchange of thought and evidence with those who have different views.  Doxxing involves obtaining documentary information about another poster including such things as addresses, telephone numbers, and work relationships and releasing that data onto the Internet with the intention that others conduct malicious attacks on the individual or organization. Legitimate defensive anonymity thus becomes understandable in an atmosphere of Internet lynch mobs and trolling “crazies” who will dox, “out”, condemn, threaten and otherwise attack anyone they disagree with.

The result is that we are pretty much “between a rock and a hard place” on this issue.  The other reality is that given corpus linguistics tools, you can match pretty much anyone with the text they write as long as there is a big enough sample.  Corpus linguistics has been described by the University of Essex and other sources as, “the study of linguistic phenomena through large collections of machine-readable texts”.  This means that a poster’s written statements incorporated into a format on the Internet, whether through original direct entry by the individual or loading from external sources can often be used to “unmask” a poster.  Plus in many instances some people have become quite skilled in spotting posters’ IP addresses and unveiling their identities through that method.

The individual “loner trolls” are not the worst problem even with their vicious and malicious behavior.  A worse form of “trolling” is found in the behavior of fanatical groups of true believers and activists who see themselves as part of heroic movements.  Anyone who opposes them, questions the accuracy of what they say, or even simply fails to support or agree with whatever it is they are advocating, is an enemy. 

No attack by these gangs of true believers on anyone who does not completely share their views can be too savage.  They are engaged in a “holy war” in which the demonized enemy must be destroyed.  This has converted our political sphere into instantaneous “lynch mobs” who mobilize at the speed of light to condemn, shame, humiliate and destroy anyone with different views.

One tragic result is that we no longer even attempt to have reasoned discourse but seek to control and dominate through propaganda, shaming and condemnation. Wikileaks editor Julian Assange put the danger in the following terms.

“Speaking about the future of AI, Assange told a panel … that there will be a time when AI will be used to adjust perception. “Imagine a Daily Mail run by essentially Artificial Intelligence, what does that look like when there’s only the Daily Mail worldwide? That’s what Facebook and Twitter will shift into,” he said.  The main concern in Assange’s eyes centers around how AI can be used to advance propaganda. “The most important development as far as the fate of human beings are concerned is that we are getting close to the threshold where the traditional propaganda function that is employed by BBC, The Daily Mail, and cultures also, can be encapsulated by AI processes,” Assange said.  “When you have AI programs harvesting all the search queries and YouTube videos someone uploads it starts to lay out perceptual influence campaigns, twenty to thirty moves ahead. This starts to become totally beneath the level of human perception.”[5]

In his classic pre-Internet book, Propaganda, the brilliant French philosopher Jacques Ellul noted that we function through the use of stereotypes, explaining how the process works and why it is so successful. Ellul wrote:

“A stereotype is a seeming value judgment, acquired by belonging to a group, without any intellectual labor…. The stereotype arises from feelings one has for one’s own group, or against the “out-group.”  [He adds] Man attaches himself passionately to the values represented by his group and rejects the cliches of the out-groups…. The stereotype … helps man to avoid thinking, to take a personal position, to form his own opinion.”[6] 

The impacts of our stereotypical culture are vastly multiplied when we put what was already occurring in Western societies, as warned by Ellul and others, together with the power and anonymity of the Internet and the growing powers of Artificial Intelligence and its vast range of applications.  Converting everything to stereotypes that prevent us from thinking and understanding creates greater vulnerability to oppression and uniformity.  Too many people consider that condition of certainty and true belief to be a blessing.  Certainty releases us from any obligation to even try to think deeply about issues.  It provides a comforting sense of security.  But even if we do seek to question assumptions and claims we will soon find ourselves condemned by angry and aggressive mobs of true believers, whether the Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, pro and anti abortion advocates, or those who condemn as “phobic” anything at odds with their desires.  

Oppression is the result, whether done by governments through the development of hate speech rules or increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens, by the impenetrable “Community Standards” of the businesses such as Google and Facebook controlling the Internet platforms, or the subjective political correctness cultures of powerful identity groups whose members are provided certainty, meaning and security by submersion in a group of like-minded people thrilled by their sudden ascension to power over others and willing to savage anyone who offends or threatens them. Max Lerner brought this out this oppressiveness as a core principle warned about by JS Mill, writing: “Mill was a pioneer in seeing, with the growth of social egalitarianism and mass culture, the shadow of “an oppressive yoke of uniformity in opinion and practice.” [7] 

A result of the “trolling”, savagery, and various forms of mental illness and “groupthink” fanaticism that permeate the Internet is we are discovering, contrary to democratic theory, that many people should be quiet. I’m not saying they should be suppressed, although some should and others should suffer sanctions due to their threats of violence and deliberate attempts to cause mental suffering on the part of their victims.  For many others you can mostly wish they would understand their “voice” does not in any way enrich our dialogue. Self-repression has its virtues, but the anonymity and mob mentality of the Internet has removed all inhibitions from the speech of those who want to attack others simply because they can.  The problem with such an approach is that as we see with political correctness, discretionary Community Standards enforced by faceless censors with unrevealed biases and preferences, and hate speech rules, the overall effect is almost inevitably the elevation of subjective standards and choices that follow a version of “beauty” or “hate” are in the eyes of the beholders and the “beholders” are fully prepared to suppress the speech of anyone with whom they disagree.


[1] On such themes, see, Max Lerner, Ideas Are Weapons: The History and Uses of Ideas (1991). 

[2] https://www.axios.com/americans-fake-news-problem-terrorism-da565b6c-6ab3-42a1-ae08-3400d68ab99c.html, Sara Fischer, 6/5/19, “Poll: Americans view fake news as a bigger problem than terrorism”.

[3] http://time.com/4457110/internet-trolls/. Joel Stein, “How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet”, 8/18/16. “A 2014 study published in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences found that the approximately 5% of Internet users who self-identified as trolls scored extremely high in the dark tetrad of personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and, especially, sadism.”

[4] Philip Hensher, “The bigger a community gets, the easier and more virulent anonymity becomes”, Guardian, 8/23/13; http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/23/bigger- community-easier-virulent-anonymity. He adds: “We are now much more anonymous than we used to be. We are less and less likely to know even our most immediate neighbours – one survey found that over 50% of us don’t even known their names. Robert D Putnam, in his celebrated 2000 study, Bowling Alone, found that everyday personal interaction had been on the decline in North America since 1950.”

[5] https://www.rt.com/viral/392119-assange-humanity-ai-propaganda/. “Future of humanity under threat from AI-controlled propaganda – Assange”, 6/13/17.

[6] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda 

[7] Max Lerner, Mill’s Essential Works, 250 supra, n.1.

The Accelerating Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics on Human Societies

The Artificial Intelligence Contagion contains numerous analyses and extensive research notes about how AI/Robotics is interacting with, triggering, and affecting the human world.  This includes work, economic activity, wealth distribution and inequality, resource sufficiency, health care and addictions, homelessness, financial uncertainty, invasions of privacy, and surveillance systems that are expanding the power of governments to control their populations.  And these challenges are only a part of what is taking place.

A core part of the message in Contagion is that the changes are accelerating. Nonetheless, at the level of individual awareness, those not directly affected by the AI, machine learning, and other automation developments may perceive only tangential changes – some of them positive such as Alexa or Siri getting better at recognizing voices, facial recognition making it easier to board an airplane, on-line shopping and scanning. But at the macro level the challenges presented by snowballing technological developments are coming upon us with increasing speed, pervasiveness, and power. 

We are poorly prepared to anticipate, mitigate and respond to what is occurring.  Our leaders and populations lack the grounding necessary to understand the nature of the ongoing transformation.  Nor do they seem able to figure out what to do about the incredible challenges of AI/robotics by means of solutions that can buffer the worst of the impacts.  Such concerns are at the heart of Contagion.

Over the next several weeks we will post annotated material that appeared in published articles and reports just during the month of May 2019 on issues such as jobs, homelessness, technological developments in AI/robotics, privacy and surveillance, economic impacts and trends.  The point is to reinforce our awareness of the speed of the developments and the certainty of the impacts.  Even though Contagion contains almost 900 endnotes, they reflect the AI/robotics developments between 2013 and 2018.  It is vital we understand that the effects of Artificial Intelligence and the evolution of linked robotic systems is an accelerating phenomenon that is likely to impact our social and economic systems even more rapidly than predicted by many experts.

It is unlikely that we possess the wisdom and the will to resist short-term complacency regarding the extraordinary challenges posed by AI and automation.  But if we fail to do so, we face a situation far worse than climate change or terrorism.  If we fail, the potential long-term impacts threaten social disintegration and collapse, expansion of intensely authoritarian and repressive political systems (including in the Western democracies), rising poverty, homelessness, starvation, and violence.  Soon enough, we will find that global economic systems will be degraded to the point of being unable to provide work, sustenance, and support for their people.  This is the message of Contagion.  Solutions must be found, and soon.

Reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Job Loss Published in May 2019

https://scottrasmussen.com/57-see-artificial-intelligence-as-threat-to-human-race/.  “57% See Artificial Intelligence as Threat to Human Race”, Scott Rasmussen, 4/24/19.    

https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/774779/robot-news-ai-jobs-take-over-uk-OECD-humans-artificial-intelligence.  “Robots will ‘wipe out or drastically change’ millions of jobs: Millions of jobs could be wiped out or changed almost beyond recognition as robots swoop in and take over, experts have warned.”  Lucy Domachowski, 4/25/19.

“The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has issued the stark warning estimating robots and AI will eliminate almost one in six roles completely, while a further third will “change radically”.  That brings the total of affected jobs to a massive 46%.  Experts from OECD say new jobs will be created to replace the lost posts, but traditional full-time, permanent employment may become a thing of the past for most workers, and those with the fewest skills and least training are most vulnerable.  An OECD report says: “Individuals will face deep and rapid changes: many will have to change not only their job but even their occupation, and most will have to modernize their skills and working practices.  “These transitions towards new jobs and occupations might be difficult and costly for a number of workers.” “

https://www.lmtonline.com/business/article/Retail-apocalypse-now-Analysts-say-75-000-more-13755644.php.  “ ‘Retail apocalypse’ now: Analysts say 75,000 more U.S. stores could be doomed”, Abha Bhattarai, Washington Post, 4/10/19.  “An estimated 75,000 stores that sell clothing, electronics and furniture will close by 2026, when online shopping is expected to make up 25% of retail sales, according to UBS. Roughly 16% of overall sales are made online.”

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-hsbc-deploys-robot-to-assist-customers-20190529-b73uhzbngfbtlmoctg5kgh5h54-story.html

Rise of the robots: Bank deploys ‘ Pepper’ to assist customers”,   Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel, 5/29/19.

“Don’t be afraid, but a robot is being deployed to serve you at one of the world’s largest banks.  Its name is Pepper. It’s a humanoid robot with a tablet for a chest and wheels that let it get around on its own. It’s shiny and cute. It has arms and it has hands that it can tighten into a fist.  But it doesn’t want to hurt you or take anyone’s job, say officials of HSBC Bank, where Pepper is being put to work.  …. SoftBank has deployed more than 15,000 Peppers across the globe since 2014, mostly to Asia — where they can be found in retail stores, restaurants, schools, and banks — and Europe, where, among other functions, they greet visitors at museums, libraries, and auto dealerships….”

https://www.bendbulletin.com/business/7192925-151/robots-are-taking-on-more-warehouse-jobs.   “Robots are taking on more warehouse jobs”, 5/28/19.

Human workers are confined to opposite edges of this 17-acre roofed space: delivery bays and shipping bays about a football field apart. The vast concrete area between them belongs to 225 electric powered, eerily silent robotic Butlers that perform tasks people used to do.  …  Companies setting up ready-to-ship warehouses [in Georgia] last year included Target’s furniture line, Wayfair home furnishings and Dynacraft bikes and scooters. Amazon has four “fulfillment” centers scattered from Braselton to Macon.

It’s clear the industry is changing. What’s less clear is how much that will translate into a jobs boom or bust as automation and artificial intelligence increasingly take over the work.

The low-slung Butlers are manufactured by GreyOrange in Alpharetta, Georgia, the American headquarters of the Singapore company. … Products that arrive at one door can be stocked and on their way to buyers in as little as two hours, touched by human hands only two or three times.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2019/05/26/robots-becoming-more-normal-retailers-roll-them-out/NWKMrr1XyrDOUd8X9vSUZM/story.html.  “Robot in aisle 3: Retail turns more and more to machines”, Hiawatha Bray, 5/26/19.

Marty is not some teenager working an after-school shift. It is 140 pounds of plastic and metal, with glowing lights atop a towering frame with big cartoon eyes, and cameras and lasers to spot garbage, spills, and other stuff that shouldn’t be in the aisles of a supermarket.  The $35,000 machine is one of about 500 robots that Stop & Shop’s owner, the Dutch company Ahold Delhaize, has deployed in some of its US grocery stores. And in the process, Ahold is doing its part to normalize robots in public places.  … Walmart, for example, is deploying hundreds of machines to scrub the floors of its stores and take inventory by scanning the shelves. Companies such as Starship Technologies and Amazon.com are testing robots that roll down sidewalks delivering pizzas and soda pop in Seattle, London, Beijing, and other cities.  Meanwhile, Agility Robotics of Albany, Ore., recently announced a partnership with Ford Motor Co. on an automated package delivery system that combines a self-driving van with a two-legged walking robot. The van will drive itself to the destination; the robot will pick out the correct package and walk it to the customer’s doorstep. The only humans involved will probably be awestruck spectators. … [T]he rise of robots may threaten the jobs of millions of workers, such as those who went on strike earlier this year at Marty’s home base, Stop & Shop. Erikka Knuti, communications director for the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, said her group is all for technological innovation, but she said the company should invest in people first.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/01/robots-take-our-jobs-amazon-go-seattle.  “Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late”, Larry Elliott, 2/1/19.

The opening of the Amazon Go store in Seattle brings us one step closer to the end of work as we know it.  A new sort of convenience store opened in the basement of the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle in January. Customers walk in, scan their phones, pick what they want off the shelves and walk out again.  At Amazon Go, there are no checkouts and no cashiers. Instead, it is what the tech giant calls “just walk out” shopping, made possible by a new generation of machines that can sense which customer is which and what they are picking off the shelves. Within a minute or two of the shopper leaving the store, a receipt pops up on their phone for items they have bought.”

https://www.apnews.com/d416ba3945d64975994805db55467744.  “Walmart experiments with AI to monitor stores in real time”, Anne D’Innocenzio, 4/25/19.

https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/news/5-ways-robotics-will-disrupt-construction-industry-in-2019/.  “5 Ways Robotics Will Disrupt the Construction Industry in 2019”, Kayla Mathews, 1/23/19.

https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/construction/more-than-7000-robots-will-work-in-construction-by-2025-report-says/.  “More than 7,000 Robots Will Work in Construction by 2025, Report Says: Worldwide market for construction robots to reach $226M over six years”, 5/7/19, RBR Staff.

https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/ford-layoffs-7000-jobs-worldwide-job-cuts.  “Ford layoffs hit 7,000 jobs worldwide, hundreds in US”,  Thomas Barrabi,  5/20/19.

“Ford Motor CompanyOpens a New Window. on Monday informed employees that it would lay off about 7,000 salaried workersOpens a New Window., or 10 percent of its global workforce, in the coming months in a cost-cutting measure that officials said would save about $600 million per year.”

https://www.seattletimes.com/business/technology/as-seattles-new-hotels-roll-out-automation-to-serve-guests-workers-worry/.  “As Seattle’s new hotels roll out automation to serve guests, workers worry”, Melissa Hellmann,  5/18/19.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-10/robots-thrive-in-the-forest-on-jobs-that-humans-find-too-boring.  “Robots Thrive in the Forest on Jobs That Humans Find Too Boring”,  Jesper Starn, 5/10/19. “Swedish forest companies are using AI for tedious tasks”.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/06/more-than-6m-workers-fear-being-replaced-by-machines-report.  “More than 6m [UK] workers fear being replaced by machines – report: Government and trade unions urged to do more for those at risk from new technologies”, Richard Partington, 8/5/18.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/15/one-in-five-uk-post-offices-could-close-in-next-year-survey-finds.  “One in five UK post offices could close in next year, survey finds: Biggest concerns for postmasters include falling incomes and higher costs”, Angela Monaghan, 4/15/19.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-postal-service-starts-testing-self-driving-trucks-11558432801.  “U.S. Postal Service Starts Testing Self-Driving Trucks: The 1,000-mile run between Phoenix and Dallas is part of a program aimed at making intercity mail transport less expensive and more efficient”, Jennifer Smith, 5/21/19. “The move comes as investors and vehicle makers are spending millions on trucking automation.”

https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/20/facebook-ai-robots-curiosity-tactile/. “Facebook Research is developing touchy-feely curious robots: We’re tantalizingly close to AI with all five senses”, Andrew Tarantola, 5/20/19.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/robots-coming-walmart-making-employees-154527191.html?.tsrc=fauxdal.  “Robots Are Coming to Walmart and Making Employees Scared for Their Jobs”, Jennifer Calfas, Money, 4/12/19.

https://futurism.com/boston-dynamics-spot-mini-robot-dogs-truck.  “Watch a Pack of Boston Dynamics’ Creepy Robot Dogs Pull a Truck: Spotmini isn’t just nimble, it’s super powerful, too”, Victor Tangermann, 4/16/19.

https://www.ndtv.com/science/in-video-humanoid-robot-crosses-narrow-balance-beam-like-a-cakewalk-2034978.  “In Video, Humanoid Robot Crosses Narrow Balance Beam Like A Cakewalk”, Peter Holley,  5/9/19.  “[T]he robot carefully moves across a series of narrow cinder blocks and a balance beam, revealing a degree of body control that many humans would struggle to maintain.”

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article230533194.html.  “Miami’s flying car port is almost finished. And the flying cars are not far behind”, Rob Wile, 5/17/19.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/may/16/electric-flying-taxi-prototype-unveiled-by-german-start-up.  Gwyn Topham, 5/16/19.  “A new “flying taxi” has been unveiled by German start-up Lilium, which claims the vertical take-off craft could be the basis for an on-demand air service within six years.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/robots-wheel-autonomous-farm-machines-210000476.html.  “Robots Take the Wheel as Autonomous Farm Machines Hit the Field”, Ashley Robinson, Lydia Mulvany, and David Stringer, Bloomberg, 5/16/19. 

Robots are taking over farms faster than anyone saw coming.  The first fully autonomous farm equipment is becoming commercially available, which means machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks. Tractors will drive with no farmer in the cab, and specialized equipment will be able to spray, plant, plow and weed cropland. And it’s all happening well before many analysts had predicted thanks to small startups in Canada and Australia.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-03/robots-edge-closer-to-unloading-trucks-in-amazon-era-milestone. “Robots Edge Closer to Unloading Trucks in Amazon-Era Milestone: New Siemens, Honeywell devices work at least as fast as people. ‘The job is miserable inside that trailer.’” Thomas Black, 5/3/19.

https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/ai-transforming-humans-robots.  “AI is transforming humans into robots, right now”, Julia Limitone,  5/2/19.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-23/alphabet-s-drone-delivery-business-cleared-for-takeoff-by-faa.   “Google Spinoff’s Drone Delivery Business First to Get FAA Approval”, Alan Levin, 4/23/19.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-lower-paid-workers-the-robot-overlords-have-arrived-11556719323. “For Lower-Paid Workers, the Robot Overlords Have Arrived: Software and algorithms are used to screen, hire, assign and now terminate workers”.

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/push-back-against-algorithms-apple-ceo-tim-cooks-tulane-commencement-speech.  “Apple CEO [Tim Cook] tells college graduates: ‘We have failed you’ “, Sheila McClear, 5/20/19.  “Today, certain algorithms pull toward you the things that you already know, believe, or like, and they push away everything else. Push back!”

Fast Forward 2030: Large Scale Job, Fiscal and Social Disruption

David Barnhizer

Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace concludes: “The next 15 years will see a revolution in how we work, and a corresponding revolution will necessarily take place on how we plan and think about workplaces.” [1]  Fast Forward adds:

“Artificial intelligence will transform businesses and the work that people do. Process work, customer work and vast swathes of middle management will simply disappear. [One key conclusion of the Report is that][n]early 50 percent of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. New jobs will require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and ability to leverage artificial intelligence.” [2] 

The researchers behind Fast Forward 2030 are far from alone in their predictions.[3] Something is happening that is transforming the world of work and destroying human jobs across a wide and diverse spectrum while shrinking the middle class on which strong democracies depend. One recent prediction states a “disruptive tidal wave” in the workplace will begin by 2021.  Brian Hopkins of the market research company Forrester warns: “Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services.”[4]

The Forrester analysis adds: “These robots, or intelligent agents, represent a set of AI-powered systems that can understand human behavior and make decisions on our behalf. … For now, they are quite simple, but over the next five years they will become much better at making decisions on our behalf in more complex scenarios.”[5]

Although the seminal 2013 report by Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, The Future of Employment, focuses on the loss of repetitive low-skilled jobs, no area of work is sacrosanct.[6] Work opportunities are being eliminated from the most “intellectual” activities down to the basic areas of services and labor.  Some analysts predict that fifty percent of jobs currently done by humans could disappear in the next ten years.[7] One US-based study predicts the loss of 12,000,000 American jobs in less than ten years.  Another projects a six percent permanent US job loss just within the next half-decade.[8]   The 2016 World Economic Forum projected that 5,000,000 jobs could be lost in major developed nation economies by as soon as 2020 due to automation.[9]

The Frey and Osborne report includes the almost de rigeur claim that other jobs will be created to replace what is lost.  To a limited extent that is true and the issue of what jobs will remain, which will have the highest priority, and what new forms of work will be created is discussed in the final chapters of Contagion.  But the critical point is that far fewer jobs for humans will exist, regardless of what they are. Of course some new jobs will come into being such as “robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators” but they won’t fill the emerging job and skill competencies gaps. [10]

The problem with The Future of Employment’s optimistic assessment is that the future is coming sooner than anticipated.  Some of those “higher level” or “customer-oriented” roles are already being filled by AI/robotic systems, with more to come. An almost amusing example is found in an Italian hotel that is testing Softbank’s Pepper robot as a concierge and receiving good reviews. Pepper, a visually unthreatening humanoid robotic model, is also being incorporated into customer work with insurance clients in Japan. 

One report indicates: “SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which is currently available in Japan costing 198,000 yen (£1,220), is close to what Asus is looking to offer, with articulated arms, cameras and sensors in a head and a screen on its chest….” [11] Use of robots as nursing home assistants and assisted living and home care workers is close enough that the claims that such jobs will be secure for future human employment are a delusional mirage.  Softbank is also deploying its Pepper robot in insurance work, using it to explain relatively simple options to consumers.[12]  Not stopping there, an Associated Press report describes how an Italian resort is experimenting with “Robby Pepper” as a concierge.  Initial reactions are positive.  The AP report relates:

“Robby Pepper can answer questions in Italian, English and German. Billed as Italy’s first robot concierge, the humanoid will be deployed all season at a hotel on the popular Lake Garda to help relieve the desk staff of simple, repetitive questions.  During one of Robby’s first shifts, Mihail Slanina, a guest from Moldova, congratulated the robot on his skills.  “He’s like a real person, he’s really good,” she enthused. “He talks, he shook my hand.” ” [i]

The Japanese appear to be more comfortable with robots than other cultures and a diverse variety are being used to assist Japan’s large elderly population in assisted living facilities.  China has reportedly developed a child-friendly babysitter robot currently for sale for $1400.  A consequence of China’s “one child” per family limit is that children generally lack brothers or sisters and this robot is designed to fill the “companionship gap”.  The report indicates:

“It speaks two languages, gives math lessons, tells jokes and interacts with children through the tablet screen in its chest—China’s latest robot is the babysitter every parent needs.  … The humanoid device stands as tall as a five-year-old, moves and dances on wheels and its eyes keep track of its charges through facial recognition technology. Parents can also remotely talk to and monitor the children through the iPal, which is linked to a smartphone app that allows them to see and hear everything. “The idea for this robot is to be a companion for children,” said Tingyu Huang, co-founder of AvatarMind Robot Technology. “When a child sees it, he or she will think of the robot as a friend, as another child in the family.” …  AvatarMind will soon launch another robot that can talk to seniors, remind them to take their pills and call the hospital when they fall.  Beijing has invested money and manpower in developing AI as part of its “Made in China 2025″ plan.” [14]

The development of “friendly” humanoid robotic aides and companions is just one sign that millions of jobs thought to be reserved for human workers will be taken by increasingly sophisticated AI/robotics systems. While some new types of jobs for humans will be created and others preserved, there is only so much “room in the tent”.  Far too many people will be left out in the cold because the new AI/robotic technologies are “force multipliers” that allow us to do much more with less while other AI/robotics systems replace human services altogether. There simply will not be the same need for human workers that we would wish or need if we are to maintain a healthy society.

We have already seen a shift away from agriculture and manufacturing jobs previously filled by human workers and, as more jobs become automated, many repetitive and low-skilled jobs will vanish or shrink to occupy specialized niches.[15]  The expanding development of robotic farming systems has particular implications not only for US immigration policy and what to do with several million migrants who enter the nation to work in agricultural employment, but for developing economies heavily dependent on agriculture for their economic development. [16]

Given that we are in a society where many people are mainly or solely qualified to work in those “repetitive, low-skilled” jobs and are unlikely to suddenly develop the ability to do higher end innovative, technical, scientific and conceptual work, the inevitability of massive job loss on the basic levels of work poses an extreme challenge.[17]  A fundamental issue is what do we do with millions of people who have lost the opportunity to engage in the only types of work for which they are qualified or capable? 


[1] “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace”,CBRE.http://www.cbre.com/o/international/AssetLibrary/Genesis%20Report_Exec%20Summary_1029.pdf. And http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/50-of-occupations-today-will-no-longer-exist-in-2025-report-114110701279_1.html.

[2] “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace”,CBRE.id.

[3] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/10/12/administrations-report-future-artificial-intelligence. “The [Obama] Administration’s Report on the Future of Artificial Intelligence”, 10/12/16, Ed Felten and Terah Lyons.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/13/artificial-intelligence-robots-threat-jobs-forrester-report.  “Robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021, report says:  Employees in fields such as customer service and transportation face a ‘disruptive tidal wave’ of automation in the not-too-distant future”, Olivia Solon, 9/13/16.

[5] Solon, “Robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021,” id.

[6]http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” 9/13/13.  

[7] http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/.  “2 Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030”, 2/3/12:  Date Modified:  9/4/16.

[8] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/07/the-robots-set-to-disrupt-white-collar-work.html.  “The robots set to disrupt white collar work”, Luke Graham, 7/7/16.

[9] https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/32240/10000-jobs-could-be-lost-to-robots-says-citi.  “10,000 jobs could be lost to robots says Citi”, 6/12/18..”

[10] Graham, “Robots Set to Disrupt”, id.

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/20/robocop-robot-mall-security-guard-palo-alto-californiahttps://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/31/asus-zenbo-robot-price-smartphone-voice-face. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/baig/2016/05/08/personal-digital-assistants-rise-and-they-want-talk/83715794/

[12] http://www.standard.net/World/2016/07/21/Pepper-robot-gets-new-job-selling-insurance. “Pepper robot gets new job selling insurance”, 7/21/16.  “Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. has announced plans to deploy 100 Pepper robots, made by SoftBank Group Corp., at its 80 branches in October. Pepper will explain insurance products and services, and accompany sales people on their rounds.  … Pepper will explain comparatively simple, reasonably priced insurance products in customer service areas at branch offices.”

[13] https://apnews.com/2d0c6beaa290430fbf2dce2e69bb49b2.  “Italy’s robot concierge a novelty on the way to better AI”,

Colleen Barry and Charlene Pele, 4/2/18. 

[14] https://phys.org/news/2018-06-ipal-robot-companion-china-lonely.html.  “ ‘iPal’ robot companion for China’s lonely children”, Kelly Wang, 6/14/18.

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/may/11/robot-jobs-automated-work. Charlotte Seager, “After the robot revolution, what will be left for our children to do?” 5/11/16.

[16] https://www.wsj.com/articles/now-cropping-up-robo-farming-1527854402. “Now Cropping Up: Robo-Farming: Agricultural-equipment makers gear up driverless tractors, combines in quest to produce more food, more sustainably”. Vibhuti Agarwal, 6/1/18.

[17]For one example, see, https://www.wsj.com/articles/next-leap-for-robots-picking-out-and-boxing-your-online-order-1500807601. “Next Leap for Robots: Picking Out and Boxing Your Online Order: Developers close in on systems to move products off shelves and into boxes, as retailers aim to automate labor-intensive process”, Brian Baskin, 7/23/17.

Paul Craig Roberts reviews “The Artificial Intelligence Contagion”

Many thanks to Paul Craig Roberts for this review (https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2019/05/07/are-you-ready-for-a-worse-dystopia-than-1984/):

Are You Ready for a Worse Dystopia than 1984?

Paul Craig Roberts

May 7, 2019

I have been lonely in my concern with the dire economic implications of robotics, but now Clarity Press has provided me with some company by publishing The Artificial Intelligence Contagion by David Barnhizer and Daniel Barnhizer.  It is telling as to the irrelevance of the economics profession that the coauthors are lawyers. 

The concerns about robots and artificial intelligence have come from scientists who express worries about killer robots with super intelligence taking over from dumber humans with less capabilities. Possibly, but it is more likely that these kind of concerns stem from an incorrect model or understanding of mind, consciousness, and creativity.  I do wish that Michael Polanyi were still with us to give us his take on our proclivity to attribute intelligence to machines.

The coauthors briefly mention these threats as well as the very real and already present  threats from governments armed with the intrusive surveillance and control that the digital revolution and artificial intelligence make possible.  Warnings from Stephen Hawking, Nick Bostrom, and Elon Musk of an immortal godlike superintelligence, amoral at best and immoral at worse, that will determine our fate are speculative, but the adverse economic impact of robotics are already upon us. Thus, the main focus  of the coauthors is on the massive economic dislocation that will result from making people superfluous. 

Recently, I read about a smart machine that displaces warehouse workers and also the workers at the plants that make the mechanical forklift machines that warehouse workers use to move and stack the crates and boxes. As the smart machines themselves are made by robots, the forklift production workers are also displaced.

According to the latest job report, there are 1,192,000 people employed in warehouses. Unlike the forklift, the new smart machine does not contribute to increasing the productivity of labor. Instead the smart machine displaces labor by eliminating the need for people to do the work.  Every dollar that would have been paid in wages goes instead into the profits of the warehouse owners. This is the great difference between earlier innovations that increased human productivity and living standards and the AI robotic innovation that eliminates the need for humans and makes them redundant. 

Robotics will not be implemented everywhere all at once. it will come upon us in stages. The 1.2 million displaced warehouse workers will look for other jobs. The lucky few will find one. The rest will join the unemployment ranks until they become discouraged and are dropped out of the unemployment measure.  State, local, and federal tax revenues will decline as a result of the lost jobs. But unemployment compensation and other social welfare benefits will rise. With constrained or nonexistent incomes, 1.2 million people will have less participation in the retail market. Car sales, home sales, restaurant, clothing, and entertainment sales all decline. The Social Security and Medicare payroll tax revenues decline by the earnings of 1.2 million Americans as do pension contributions. Social Security and Medicare are funded by the current work force paying for the retired work force.  As robotics eliminates the current work force, payroll tax revenues collapse.  

For an unknown period of time, as the US dollar is the world reserve currency, the federal government can print money to fill in the gap in the difference between Social Security and Medicare benefits and payroll revenues.  But large parts of the world (Russia and China) have already been driven away by sanctions from using the US dollar, and this means that the dollar will lose its reserve currency role.  Then what do we do when there are untold millions of Americans expecting Social Security pensions and medical care and there is no work force to pay the payroll tax?

These kind of questions, and there are many more, should be the primary focus of every economist, not that it would do much good as neoliberal economists are indoctrinated beings incapable of thought.  Nevertheless, that there is no concern among economists shows their irrelevance and uselessness.

Many years ago I pointed out that under present law and practice, the entirety of the GDP would flow to the handful of owners of the robotic and AI patents.  There would be no income for anyone else.  Such a situation is not possible, because it would mean that the patents would produce no income for the owners as no one would have jobs and incomes with which to purchase the products of robots and artificial intelligence.  The obvious dilemma I described received no response.

One way of looking at our dilemma is that we need artificial intelligence because those bringing us the AI revolution have no intelligence themselves.  How intelligent is it to make humans useless? How intelligent is it to have robotic production lines when no humans have incomes from jobs with which to purchase the output of robots?  

Well, you might say, we will make the owners of the robots pay the payroll taxes from their sales revenues. We will guarantee sales by socializing the patents and sending everyone a check for their share of the GDP.  And so on.  

But why?  Why eliminate the need for human labor when no gain can accrue to the elite as there would be no consumer market for their products? The cost savings from robotics and artificial intelligence are meaningless when there are no consumers at the other end. When the patents have to be socialized in order to support a population displaced by robotics, what is the point of the robotics?

The coauthors of Contagion, and that is what artificial intelligence is, understand that humans with their limited awareness and intelligence have found intellectual interests in developing the means for their own self destruction.  Nuclear weapons, for example, are an insane accomplishment of mindless idiots, because they can not enter general use without destroying all life on the planet.  A doomsday weapon is a pointless weapon.

The same for robotics and artificial intelligence.  What is the purpose of producing threats to humans from police states and by taking away all purposes for human  existence?  This is a mindless act.  Those responsible for it are the worst criminals the world has ever known.  Yet these destroyers of humanity bask in public approval for all the benefits they are bringing to mankind.

Read The Artificial Intelligence Contagion and then tell me about the benefits.

Paul Craig Roberts has had careers in scholarship and academia, journalism, public service, and business. He is chairman of The Institute for Political Economy.

Dr. Roberts was awarded the Treasury Department’s Meritorious Service Award for “his outstanding contributions to the formulation of United States economic policy.”

In 1987 the French government recognized him as “the artisan of a renewal in economic science and policy after half a century of state interventionism” and inducted him into the Legion of Honor.

Dr. Roberts has held academic appointments at Virginia Tech, Tulane University, University of New Mexico, Stanford University where he was Senior Research Fellow in the Hoover Institution, George Mason University where he had a joint appointment as professor of economics and professor of business administration, and Georgetown University where he held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy in the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He has contributed chapters to numerous books and has published many articles in journals of scholarship, including the Journal of Political Economy, Oxford Economic Papers, Journal of Law and Economics, Studies in Banking and Finance, Journal of Monetary Economics, Public Choice, Classica et Mediaevalia, Ethics, Slavic Review, Soviet Studies, Cardoza Law Review, Rivista de Political Economica, and Zeitschrift fur Wirtschafspolitik. He has entries in the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Economics and the New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance.

He has contributed to Commentary, The Public Interest, The National Interest, Policy Review, National Review, The Independent Review, Harper’s, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Fortune, London Times, The Financial Times, TLS, The Spectator, The International Economy, Il Sole 24 Ore, Le Figaro, Liberation, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. He has testified before committees of Congress on 30 occasions.

Dr. Roberts was associate editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He was a nationally syndicated columnist for Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles. In 1992 he received the Warren Brookes Award for Excellence in Journalism. In 1993 the Forbes Media Guide ranked him as one of the top seven journalists in the United States.

President Reagan appointed Dr. Roberts Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and he was confirmed in office by the U.S. Senate. From 1975 to 1978, Dr. Roberts served on the congressional staff where he drafted the Kemp-Roth bill and played a leading role in developing bipartisan support for a supply-side economic policy. After leaving the Treasury, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

We Must Create Strategies to Protect Human Workers as an “Endangered Species”

Barnhizer the Elder: Our “bottom line” in The Artificial Intelligence Contagion is simple.  If we do not get a handle on the processes of change and make strong, fast and accurate decisions that at least slow or shape the transformation, then Western society as we know it is going to collapse. [BTY – or change irretrievably into a culture that will not support Western ideals such as democracy and the Rule of Law]. A mix of aggressive public and private initiatives are required to respond to the significant and growing challenges of AI/robotics.

We are experiencing quantum leaps in AI/robotics capabilities, including surveillance, military and weapons technologies, autonomous self-driving vehicles, massive job elimination, data management and privacy invasion, medical breakthroughs and even human augmentation through such things as implants, “add-ons” and the merging of people with AI and robotics. Science fiction has already become fact and the AI/robotic evolutionary process is accelerating beyond anyone’s control.  As this occurs it is transforming us as individuals, and our societies as collective entities. These changes are undermining democratic cultures and destroying jobs in extremely large numbers.  According to intellectual and business leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Yuval Noah Harari, Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark, Elon Musk and others, the rise of Artificial Intelligence accompanied by robotic systems could ultimately end up with the destruction of the human race.  Long before this happens, however, our cultures, societies, selves and political relationships will be altered profoundly in ways we are not prepared to adequately understand or cope.

There have been three major industrial revolutions before what some are now referring to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution being driven by AI/robotics. The first of the three revolutions harnessed steam power. The second was based on electricity. The third industrial revolution developed through electronics, computing power, and the Internet. In each of these previous industrial revolutions, the process took place relatively slowly compared to what we are now experiencing with the linking of Artificial Intelligence systems and robotics controlled and directed by AI. The first three industrial revolutions generated what was described by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter as “creative destruction” in which although significant economic and social turmoil occurred as the transformation unfolded, the eventual outcome was increased productivity, jobs, and wealth. Destroyed jobs were replaced by needs in other areas, often utilizing skill sets similar to those required in the lost jobs. 

With AI/robotics—the Fourth Industrial Revolution—destroyed employment is less likely to be replaced by new forms of work in sufficient numbers. In a 2013 study of the massive impacts of computerization on human jobs, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne indicate that the AI/robotics shift is not like others we have experienced.  Unlike other economic transformations, there won’t be a significant employment recovery on the other side of the downturn.  They highlight this fact by observing: “This raises questions about: (a) the ability of human labour to win the race against technology by means of education; and (b) the potential extent of technological unemployment, as an increasing pace of technological progress will cause higher job turnover, resulting in a higher natural rate of unemployment.” [i]

The 2013 study by Frey and Osborne put probable US job loss by 2030 at 47 percent. No society is equipped to deal with such an economic nightmare.  This is particularly so in extraordinarily complex systems such as in the US and EU. Such systems have expensive subsidy and safety net obligations that cannot be met if predictions of job loss are anywhere close to being correct. The only rational answer is to develop policies and programs that prevent or at least mitigate the impending collapse of human employment.

Like Frey and Osborne, Howard Schneider concludes that what is occurring with AI/robotics is different from past economic revolutions. [ii]  In that regard, he asks: “has the nation’s ability to generate well-paying jobs in manufacturing and other sectors been fundamentally scarred by changes in the global economy that may predate the 2008-2009 economic crisis but were more starkly revealed in its aftermath?”[iii]

Schneider then goes on to indicate that, as observed by an Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President, we are facing something outside human experience.  The result of what is now occurring could be “a workforce based on large numbers of lower paid workers, with a few highly paid managers, professional and technology workers, and a permanent hollowing out of the middle class.[iv]There are numerous signs this radical transformation of work is real and accelerating.  The feared hollowing out of the middle class with former members of that socioeconomic niche sliding downward continues apace. Rolls Royce is cutting 4,000 middle management employees in addition to another 600 senior management workers cut loose only months ago.[v]  Citi Bank just announced that it was considering eliminating 10,000 “tech and ops” staff due to developments in AI and robots. Deutsche Bank already warned that half of its 90,000 employees could lose their jobs due to AI.[vi]  General Motors is following the same path and Ford just announced in May 2019 that it was cutting 7,000 jobs, 10% of its global managerial workforce.  

Tesla just announced it will cut 9% of its 40,000 worker staff and that those losing their jobs will be in salaried and management positions, not production.[vii]  China is in the process of eliminating 1.8 million jobs in its steel industry, shifting a significant part of its production activities to AI/robotics systems, and roboticizing significant parts of its higher tech production industries, cutting 40 to 50% of the workers in those sectors.  This pattern continues in many large companies.  Given that many production line workers have already been cut loose as companies adopt AI/robotics manufacturing systems, continuing improvements in AI systems have allowed manufacturing and service companies to eliminate substantial numbers of middle managers. The normally optimistic Jack Ma, the CEO of the Chinese technological giant Alibaba, recently stated that Artificial Intelligence will cause people more pain over the coming decades rather than bringing them happiness and a feeling of social and economic security.  Ma warns: “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life. … Ma adds: “A key social conflict will be the rise of artificial intelligence and longer life expectancy, which will lead to an aging workforce fighting for fewer jobs.”[viii]


[i]http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” 9/13/13.   

[ii]http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/11/today-s-tech-oligarchs-are-worse-than-the-robber-barons.html. Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Tech Oligarchs Are Worse Than the Robber Barons”, 8/11/16. 

[iii]http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-employment-insight-idUSKBN0GB0NF20140811.  Howard Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, 8/11/14.  

[iv]Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, id.  

[v]https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/10/rolls-royce-set-to-announce-more-than-4000-job-cuts.  “Rolls-Royce set to announce more than 4,000 job cuts: Aero-engine maker attempts to increase profits by losing middle-management posts”, Simon Goodley, 6/10/18.

[vi]https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/32240/10000-jobs-could-be-lost-to-robots-says-citi.  “10,000 jobs could be lost to robots says Citi”,6/12/18.  “US bank Citi has warned that it could shed half of its 20,000 tech and ops staff in the next five years due to the rise of robotics and automation.”

[vii]https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/12/tesla-staff-cuts-restructuring-model-3-elon-musk. “Tesla to cut 9% of staff as Elon Musk’s electric car company seeks profitability: CEO says thousands of job losses are part of a ‘difficult, but necessary’ restructuring.”  Julie Carrie Wong, 6/12/18.

[viii]https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/24/alibaba-jack-ma-artificial-intelligence-more-pain-than-happiness.  “Alibaba founder Jack Ma: AI will cause people ‘more pain than happiness’:”, Olivia Solon, 4/24/17.