The Robots Are Already Here
Tim O’Reilly’s rosy picture of the future is missing a few details.
The 100,000 warehouse jobs created by Amazon expansion are temporary. And they are horrible jobs, picking boxes and putting them in bins under insane time pressure. It’s the kind of brainless, mechanical work that machines would excel at. There just aren’t robots mechanically dexterous enough to do these jobs. Today. There are engineers beavering away at relieving this problem even as we speak. And when they succeed, poof go all these jobs. Anywhere labor is a cost, the centrifugal force of Jeff Bezos’s relentless flywheel will throw off human labor like hot sparks from a grindstone.
The insurance companies who profit from the US healthcare system are clearly eyeing robots and AI in general to improve the productivity of healthcare delivery, where the biggest cost is labor. Their profit motive will not deploy expensive AI so that labor can be delivered at a more casual pace. What foolishness does it take to think that would happen? Instead, they will squeeze as much cost out of healthcare as possible, and capture that savings as profit. Insurance companies, not patients, are the customers of the modern healthcare system.
The Luddites of 1811 knew their jobs were going away. Tim O’Reilly thinks that the low-skill, low-wage factory workers who replaced the well-paid master weavers after 50 years was a win. I am, to say the least, unconvinced.
One thing Tim O’Reilly and I have in common is that we will both probably die peacefully in our sleep before the turds from this future really hit the turbine. We won’t have to take responsibility for the accuracy of our predictions.