Automation and the death of employment

I’ve been pondering some more about how automation and AI are going to affect the world of work. One question that’s come to mind is: should we expect business owners to share the benefits of automation with their employees?

I’ll say right at the outset, I don’t have the answer, and this is in many ways a simplistic and naïve view of innovation. It’s not intended to be a scholarly article, more a sharing of concerns and something I invite other greater minds to both tear down and contribute to.

Buckminster Fuller’s vision of a world in which labour is no longer required is, it seems to me, predicated on the benefits of the labour-saving inventions being shared by the whole of society. Greater productivity means that overall we all have to work less to get the same output, and that should mean we all have more ‘leisure’ time (or at least time not involved in production of our physical needs & wants).

So let’s bring that down to the level of a single business. The owners calculate that an investment in automation will allow them to produce the same quantity of goods with fewer employees on the production line. By having fewer worker hours to pay for, they can recoup their investment in a certain period of time. For most businesses, that’s likely to be maybe a 3-5 year payback period, after which the automation adds profit straight to their bottom line.

That’s how it works with the current shareholder-led system, with all the gains accruing to the business owners.  Great for business owners – less hassle from employees, and after the payback period, more profit. But it’s not so great for the workers who get laid off.

There is still a need for the same amount of production, but now we need fewer worker-hours to produce that. We have choices to make, at a societal level, about how we handle that situation in a way that is fair to everyone and doesn’t simply throw workers on the scrap-heap of things that have been superseded by technology.

The business still has an amount of revenue coming in, but fewer hours are needed to produce it.  One option might be to still pay the workers the same salary, giving them time off to do other things. That would have the benefit of avoiding unemployment, and of enhancing workers’ lives. The downside is it could take away the business-owners’ incentive to invest in improved productivity in the first place.

Or we might say that as the employer now only needs to purchase a certain number of hours labour, those hours should be shared out equally between all the existing workers. The benefit is nobody is thrown on the scrap-heap, they all still get to be useful, and they all still get to earn.  A downside is that all the workers’ incomes would fall, possibly to an unsustainable level, putting more of them into the benefits system.

In the current arrangement, the business-owner makes the investment, and the workers suffer the reduction in jobs.  In the first option above, the business-owner carries the cost (putting in the automation) and the workers get all the benefit (shorter working hours). In the second, the workers take all the pain, having less in wages to share between them, and the business-owner gets all the extra profit.

Some might say that it’s right that the owners get all the profit – after all, they made the investment. And in classic capital-led economics, that would be correct. But the problem is, only the owners get to make that choice.  The workers have the choice thrust upon them. Under current rules, the owners take the lion’s share of the gain and the workers take pretty much all of the pain. For a choice they didn’t make.

Maybe what we need is a way for the workers to have a say in how automation is applied, to share in the gain, and to choose to share in the pain. Maybe during the payback period they take a lower wage, investing in their own future by contributing to making the investment worthwhile for the owners. But that’s only ever going to work if it’s a choice they make themselves.

From there, we get into the unique and potentially vastly different situation of each worker. The young man at the beginning of his family life, with kids in school and a big mortgage, is going to be less able to take a drop in his income than the guy who’s approaching retirement and has paid off his home loan. And even that is a massive over-simplification.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that the current ‘owner-takes-it-all’ approach to automation will create enormous problems for society as a whole, and for the ‘working classes’ (whatever that means these days) in particular. Failing to deal with it will almost inevitably lead to massive social unrest, as jobs become increasingly scarce. It is not an issue we can afford to ignore, and we cannot leave it to capital-funded* government to resolve it.

I’d love your views – share them below, or use this as a conversation-starter on social media. The more we talk about it, in an open an respectful manner, of course), the better the solution that emerges.

 

* That’s a whole other article, but make no mistake, governments are not funded by taxation of their citizens. Taxation only occurs because of commerce, and commerce is funded and controlled by capital.

Photo by Daniel Apodaca on Unsplash

Illusions of separation

I’ve noticed for a while now that whenever I start writing, my natural inclination is to talk about what ‘we’ do, and how things affect ‘us’.

And copy-writers are always nagging me horribly about using ‘you’ instead.

Just lately I realised why that doesn’t sit comfortably with me – I don’t think of myself as separate from the rest of the world. We are all one. Or to be precise,  we are all expressions of one infinite being, doing a better or worse job of pretending to be separate.

Having said that, I expect I shall continue to talk to “you” in my published writing. It does seem to work better for attracting work and money.

I suspect that’s because the expressions of us who are best able to pretend to be separate are also those who are best at accumulating the bits and bytes we call money. Of course, that may be because we need that illusion of separation to believe in the scarcity that would make accumulating money a useful thing to do. I don’t know.

Be aware that I am not saying the people who are good at attracting money by pretending to be separate are in any way worse than those of us who struggle with being separate. I am certainly not assuming that they are unaware of their infiniteness and connection to all the other expressions of us.

They are simply behaving more like they are unaware, and for all we know they may be doing that consciously.  And if anything, that means they may be the superior beings, because they are better at playing the game.

Whatever the game is!

Photo by Grace Madeline on Unsplash

It’s all you …

If you really believe that you are an infinite being, then it follows that there cannot be anything that you are not.

So when you are seeing behaviour and beingness that you don’t approve of, it can only be an aspect of you. All the anger, meanness, greed, lack of caring, war-mongering, cruelty … all of that, all YOU.

Trump, May, Johnson, Corbyn, Putin, Kim Jong Un, even Farage … all aspects of *you*

Crazed jihadists, fundamentalist Christians, flat-earthers, and rabid priests of science … all aspects of you.

But don’t be too hard on yourself, you are also all the good things in the world – the mother’s loving smile, the baby’s chuckle, the artist’s fine appreciation of the world, the selfless caring of the relief worker – all you.

Everything you criticise or admire in “others” … all you!

And yet, we’re always being told to be compassionate towards others because we don’t know what’s going on in their lives. Surely if they are an expression of your infinite being, how can you not know?

The answer that works best for this particular expression of Us, the one experiencing being an English man in his 50s called Andrew Horder, is that we do know, we just choose, for some rather perverse and as yet unexplained reason, to close ourself off to the knowing.

So the question then becomes, what would it take for us to acknowledge that knowing?

And how might that make the world a better place?

Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

The Sin of Certainty

“… let me tell you that the one sin I have come to fear more than any other is certainty. Certainty is the great enemy of unity. Certainty is the deadly enemy of tolerance. … If there was only certainty, and if there was no doubt, there would be no mystery and therefore no need for faith.”

(Cardinal Jacopo Lomeli, in “Conclave”, Robert Harris)

That quote really jumped out at me when I read it on Christmas Day. It seemed to sum up so much of what is wrong with the world today.

Certainty is the great enemy of unity”. That makes sense to me; if one is certain about something, then only that thing can be correct. And all other opinions must be erroneous. Instant division – either right or wrong, nothing in between.

Certainty is the deadly enemy of tolerance.” Same thing – if you’re certain about something, you’re not going to be particularly tolerant of those who don’t share your view.  At best you’re going to pity them, at worst despise them. Again that separation into the right-thinkers and the wrong-thinkers.

The trouble with Certainty is that it’s an absolute; it doesn’t allow for any shades of grey between black and white, between correct and incorrect, between right and wrong. And my experience of the world is that it’s a technicolor dream, with every possible shade available, depending upon your particular perspective.

Remember that Facebook post, where someone got the world arguing about the colour of a dress? Was it black and blue, or white and gold? Each side was completely certain about their view, based on the empirical evidence they experienced. Only later did it come out that because we each process colour differently both views were capable of being correct.

So it’s not just the airy-fairy stuff like opinions, morals and ethics – and dare I say it, religion – that is subject to unreliable perceptions, and therefore doubt. We can’t even rely on what we can see with our own eyes.

And that brings me to the last part of the passage: “… there would be no mystery and therefore no need for faith.” We need to understand that the vast majority of our experience of this reality is based on our own perception.  That means we take pretty much everything on faith. That might be faith in some higher being, or faith in what we are told by scientists, or some combination of the two.  That’s for each of us to choose for ourselves.

Because unless we have observed the behaviour of the quantum particles of an atom for ourselves, and with our own senses (hint: not with an electron microscope – that uses the very things we’re using it to observe!), then we are reliant on what the priests of the science dogma tell us is going on. Just as the churchgoers of the middle ages were reliant on their priesthood for their understanding of the world. And as the warriors of ancient times were reliant on the medicine man to explain the things that they experienced.

We have faith in science. Or in religion. Or in mumbo-jumbo. Whatever works for you.

The problems come when the adherents of one set of priests start to believe that their lot have got it all right. In other words, when they become certain. Because that means they have to tear down the followers of all the others.

History has shown us that there’s always trouble whenever anyone thinks they have all the answers. And especially if they think they’ve found The Answer. Because then they feel they have to defend their Answer, and impose it on those too stupid to see it for themselves.  And some new knowledge or perspective always pops up later, proving them ‘wrong’.  The sensible ones back down, and shuffle, shamefaced, into the canon of ‘people who got it oh so wrong’. The less sensible battle on, desperate to save face, thus taking the world into dangerous schisms, and even into war.

If you ask me, so far at least, only one entity has ever got The Answer right.  The Deep Thought computer (in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42 – which just happens to be the ASCII code for the asterisk. Which happens to represent, well, whatever the hell you want it to be!

To me, the mystery that pervades all of life, that uncertainty about the world, that doubt that makes faith necessary, that’s what makes the world such fun. If there was one single, certain truth, then there would be one single, certain, inevitable way to get on in the world.  Like robots – or denizens of The Matrix.

And I thank God, Yahweh, Allah, Gaia, Spirit, and the Scientists – that there isn’t.

Because that would be so boring!

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Photo by Léa Dubedout on Unsplash

Step away from the sound-bite, Sir!

Ever since Facebook introduced the ability to make a short status update look more interesting by putting it in big text on a pretty colour background, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to put up short provocative posts.  And many of these posts provoke quite a lot of discussion – I suspect that’s the aim, to increase FB reach by tricking the algorithm into thinking the original poster has created something of value to the other platform users. After all, loads of them responded, didn’t they?

And, to a large extend, the algorithm is right.  More responses does mean the audience think the post was worth commenting on. Even if, as is often the case, to say it’s utter bollocks.

I would love to be able to say that the problem is that both the algorithm and the people commenting are rewarding behaviour they don’t really value. Because no-one sees value in truncated click-bait provocation with no thinking behind it, do they?

Except that’s not the case. As far as Facebook is concerned, pretty much ANY interaction with the platform is good. Unless it’s a baby with a nipple in its mouth, but that’s a whole other issue. Because people doing stuff on FB are people it can show ads to. WE are the product folks, never forget that!

That the algorithm rewards crap posts is bad enough. But the worse thing is that the people who respond are ALSO rewarding crap posts BECAUSE THEY LIKE THEM.  Posting sound-bite nonsense is serving a certain part of the FB community by giving them something to pontificate about.

Facebook is a great place to have a go at people, and to demonstrate our superior intellect/financial position/business acumen/spirituality/consciousness/general worthiness (select all that apply). So people posting poorly-thought-out click-bait are providing us with an opportunity to make ourselves look good.  And the fact that we get to do it at the expense of someone a bit dim – well, that’s even better, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a lot of very good conversations on Facebook (and other social media), where we‘ve been able to fully explore a controversial subject in quite some depth.  Most of those discussions have led to me understanding more about the world, and the shallowness of my previous grasp of the topic.  So I’m not saying there’s no value to arguing on Facebook (though it must be said that Mrs H disagrees – frequently).

But very few of those meaningful conversations have started from a brightly-coloured sound-bite click-bait post.

When the opening post has some depth (even if it’s deeply erroneous, in my world-view), those who bother to read it tend also to have sufficient depth of appreciation of the topic to bring cogent arguments to the discussion.  There’s less ‘yah-boo’ and ad hominem, and more reasoned and courteous argument – which is, in the end, what changes minds and informs debate.

The danger is that we become so used to the click-bait stuff, and get so much fun out of scoring silly points in a shallow and divisive argument, that we leave ourselves insufficient time to think deeply about anything.  And that harms the whole of society.

So please think before you respond to a click-bait provocation: would my time be better spent finding someone to engage with who can actually be bothered to develop a cogent thought?

I suggest that we all start right now to boycott all posts that seek to distract us with psychedelic  backgrounds and pithy, but essentially empty, sound-bites.

Why You Can’t Trust Facebook

I’m reading an article in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/) about the effect Facebook (may have) had on the 2016 election of Donald Trump as the USA’s 45th President. The article itself has many reasons for us to be very wary of the information we are presented with in our social media bubbles.  And it got me thinking about all the ways it can be ‘gamed’ (or worse) to skew our view of the world.

Let’s start by saying I’m not a massive conspiracy theorist. I choose to believe that the algorithms the social platform geeks cook up are genuinely intended to serve up valuable content that we will be pleased to see and will enhance our lives.  That’s not to say I think they always get it right though.  At best it seems to create an ‘echo chamber effect’ where everyone’s preaching to the converted, and we don’t get to see a real diversity of opinions and attitudes. And at worst it can lead to views becoming increasingly entrenched, coupled with massive cognitive dissonance when we finally do get to see some conflicting material.

Fans of the US TV show “Homeland” will remember the “Sock Puppet” plot, where hundreds of geeks sat in a darkened room, controlling thousands of online profiles, inciting their social media “friends” to outrage about political issues. It’s not far-fetched; in the Atlantic article, ad agencies admit to using FB Ads to skew political results in specific swing counties. So we know what people see on their social media feeds can either change or reinforce their views.

And what that means is that if a foreign government wanted to affect the result of a democratic process, they wouldn’t need to hack into anything. They could simply set up a massive sock puppet operation.  OK, they’d need to be a bit clever with their routing – it’s fair to assume that a whole load of connections from Moscow or Beijing servers befriending US voters in swing states might raise a digital eyebrow or two in Menlo Park. But that’s a whole lot easier than hacking a mainframe.

The trouble with (and the effectiveness of) sock puppet campaigns is they appear to be people like us.  And we tend to have an inherent trust of ‘people like us’.  In many ways that’s not too much of a problem when all it does is create the “echo-chamber effect” – our social media feeds being full of stuff we already agree with. That simply reinforces what we already think. It might save the odd ‘swing voter’ from flipping, but the overall effect is limited.

But there’s a much bigger potential danger in the combination of sock puppets and the ‘people like us’ effect. ‘Sock puppets like us’ if you like. And that’s when our sock puppet friends start to subtly change their views.  We like them, they’re people we get on with, we have shared interests. If they start to have doubts about our favoured candidate/policy/party, maybe we should also have doubts? When they ‘come across’ some convincing argument to weaken our position, we’re probably going to take more notice. More notice, even, than if we came across that new information ourselves.

All sorts of things are going on here, from Cialdini’s consistency to Maslow’s belonging. I wrote a blog some years ago back in my Ecademy days (the first real business social media platform, sadly now defunct through lack of funding), called “Where should you focus your efforts for greatest effect?” about how we are more likely to be swayed by our moderate opponents, especially if we consider ourselves to be moderate too. And that’s even more likely when they used to be just on our side of the argument.

That social media connection of yours may appear to be a socially-conscious mother of two from Wisconsin, with ideas and attitudes you can align with.  But for all you know you could be getting subtly influenced by Boris from Bratsk, or Supremacy Steve. So my advice is to be very wary of any online connection who you haven’t met in person. You really have no idea who they are, so before you allow someone’s reasonable argument to sway you, pick up the phone or jump on skype, and find out what they *really* stand for.

Learning to unlearn

Thinking a bit more about my post the other day, about the brevity of human life in the context of an infinite existence, I found myself wondering how come we don’t have memories of the other parts of our beingness? Those previous lives, or parallel experiences, that we might perhaps expect to subtly inform the way we work on this iteration on the human plane.

Then I realised that maybe memories are something our infinite being selves simply don’t need. Why would we need to have a store of experiences if we can simply do them again, at will? Why would we need recall of our mistakes, or of our successes for that matter, if we already had a knowing of the best things to do to achieve our aims?

When you know everything, and can do anything, you don’t need to rely on memory. It’s just there.

That got me thinking, that sounds like a pretty cool way of being – I wonder what I need to learn to be that way.

D’oh! Learning is based around memory.

Being is just … well, being.

So I don’t need to learn and remember what to do to become the infinite being I truly be. I need to UNlearn and forget everything this reality has told me about being limited. And go back to that child-like wonder before the world told me there was stuff I couldn’t do.

Simple, eh?

Not easy though!

Maybe time really is flying?

Do you remember when you were a child and sometimes a day felt like a week and a week felt like a year, because the possibilities felt so endless, and the adventures you could have were so vast and varied?

During my morning meditation the other day it occurred to me that what if, as infinite beings having a human experience, what we see as a lifetime is really, in the context of the existence of an infinite being, just a day or so of grand and glorious adventures?

What if for our real selves, the things we allow to upset and frustrate our human selves are like those little tears and tantrums we experienced as human toddlers? And instantly forgot when the cookie jar opened, or we found something else to explore.

What if, to our infinite selves, the world is one big cookie jar, open and ready to sustain us as we venture out into this brief reality with gleeful curiosity?

How much joy could we spread then?

Why local representation makes for bad democracy

The picture below shows the level of support in my local area for my political views – pretty much the lowest possible!

Source: uk.isidewith.com

So what, you might ask? Well, what it means is there is a very high possibility that my local representative will (1) not share my views and (2) be responsible for representing more people who disagree with me than agree with me.  It’s just isn’t possible for someone to do both.

I have posted before that the need for local representation was originally created in previous centuries, when your representative living a long way off meant that effectively only the very rich, who could afford to travel, would have their voices heard.  But that is not the case in the early 21st century – we regularly hold long and meaningful conversations with people on the other side of the globe, never mind the other end of the country.

You could argue that I can always move, if I want to be adequately represented.  After all, a quick trip down the South Coast line, and I’d be in sunny Brighton, where there is the strongest support for my views.  Even a little shuffle sideways into Kent would get me pretty strong agreement with my views, and a much greater chance of being well-represented.  But there are two issues with that: the first is, why should I (and all the other people of all political hues) have to move to get decent democracy? And the second is, that would create even greater division within our country.

I know I’m a bit weird, a bit of an outlier, but does that mean I lose my right to representation?  And what about all the other outliers – to left and right of me – do they not deserve real effective representation too?  Or is it only the middle ground, those willing to toe the various party lines, who get to have democracy?

The answer, as I have said before, is to move away from a party-based system of local representation, and instead have our representatives elected on the basis of the issues that they are willing to take up. Here’s the post where I first suggested this: http://life7bn.com/are-we-truly-represented/

 

Don’t be fooled …

The new US President is no fool.

It seemed inconceivable even as little as 6 months ago that he could really become POTUS.  A loud, ignorant, brutish man, with little political savvy and even less sense of decorum.  And yet, here we are, with Executive Orders seeing long-term, legal, US residents getting removed from their flights home, and facing a three month wait before they can return, if ever.

But do not make the mistake of believing that Donald J Trump is an idiot. He has made a career – and a fortune – out of a negotiating style that uses bluff and bluster, and not a little sleight of hand, to get his way – to enrich himself.  This is what he has brought to the White House.

With his close team doing all manner of strange things, from eviscerating departments to describing blatant untruths as “alternative facts”, or seemingly mistaking a living civil rights leader for his dead father, we are kept on the hop. We just don’t know what’s real any more – and that’s the way they want it.

I would urge you to take a look at the similarities with the way Vladislav Surkov has used misdirection and confusion to hobble opposition to Russia’s President Putin (see http://clamour.co.uk/surkov-and-the-politics-of-confusion/ for more).  Trump’s team are showing many signs of using similar tactics; he may not be sophisticated, but he is not stupid.

When we focus on Sean Spicer’s (apparent) incompetence, or on Trump’s (apparent) thin skin; when we make pejorative reference to his (apparently) tiny appendages, or his (apparent) ire about unflattering photos; when we call him things like “orange man-child” (amusing though that is) – when we do any of that, we are playing into his hands, and allowing ourselves to become focused on the minutiae.

This level of “resist-and-react” opposition is not going to work. A pull back to the previous political landscape is destined to fail – the old politics was already failing, that’s why we needed a Trump, and we cannot go back.  The only way forward from here is to a different politics altogether, one where people of like mind can come together for particular issues, then dissolve and regroup in different ways, to create other things that matter. The days of bi-partisan “align-and-agree” are numbered.

Make no mistake, one way or another, we are watching the end of the current form of democracy.  It can go many ways from here – to a Trumpian dictatorship designed to enrich just an oligarch class of billionaires, or to a utopian experience of universal care and compassion that enriches the whole of mankind on many levels. Or anything in between – and how it pans out is up to us.

Just don’t underestimate The Donald – that would be a dangerous mistake.