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2040? The robots will have taken over

Written By: - Date published: 8:59 am, March 8th, 2017 - 53 comments
Categories: superannuation, unemployment - Tags:

Bill English’s new super plan falls between 2 stools.  The super cost crisis that he’s trying to summon up, is before 2040 if it exists.

The solution was most probably continuing to pay into the Cullen Fund, which English suspended paying into in 2009 to pay for top-rate tax cuts.  That extra cash invested would have got us over the baby-boomer hump until 2040.  But instead, we’re billions out of pocket from some very nice returns that the NZ Super Fund could have received over that time.

By 2040, the large demographic lump that is the baby-boomers are dying off.  It’s GenX & the millenials who pay for it, as they paid for tertiary education, unaffordable housing, lower benefits when between jobs, climate change etc.  It’s intergenerational war.

Also by 2040 – a lot of jobs are disappearing to robots.

Secretaries are already gone, retail jobs are being lost to internet shopping, US manufacturing has lost 5 million jobs since 2000 of which 88% is to robots – this will continue, as IBM’s Watson is better than your GP, Xero is better than your accountant and most law tasks are automatable.  The largest sector of employment, in the US at least, is transport – and self-driving trucks & trains, buses & taxis are all just around the corner.

So by 2040 we’re not going to need more people aged 65 & 66 to add to our dole queues.  We’re going to need something like a Universal Basic Income – so why would we be reducing the number of people who qualify for the one we already have: NZ Super?

53 comments on “2040? The robots will have taken over ”

  1. Antoine 1

    Personally I think we’ll need a lot more people working in 2040 than we have now. What with environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change, having people sitting around not working will likely be a luxury we cant afford.

    But hey, we could both be wrong. Closer to the time, NZ can adapt as needed. Including introducing a UBI if we find ourselves in a robotic post-scarcity utopia…

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Closer to the time, NZ can adapt as needed.

      No you fucken moron, we won’t be able to adapt at the time as it requires a massive investment in infrastructure and that investment needs to start now and it needs to be done by the government.

      If we don’t do that investment then we’ll find our productivity doesn’t keep up with what we need, doesn’t keep up with the other countries of the world and we end up becoming a basket-case economy with massive poverty and inequality.

      • RJL 1.1.1

        @Draco T Bastard: “No you fucken moron, we won’t be able to adapt at the time as it requires a massive investment in infrastructure…”

        Exactly.

      • Antoine 1.1.2

        > we won’t be able to adapt at the time as it requires a massive investment in infrastructure and that investment needs to start now and it needs to be done by the government.

        For once I totally agree! We are going to need new infrastructure and it should already be happening. (Unfortunately I don’t think we know what infrastructure – I’m sure you’ll disagree with that – and there’s no political will.)

        But the post is about UBI and _that_ should be able to be brought in in a matter of weeks if necessary.

        A.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.2.1

          But the post is about UBI and _that_ should be able to be brought in in a matter of weeks if necessary.

          Arguably, it’s necessary now.

          And it’s always better to do the research and planning for such an implementation and thus getting it right rather than doing a botch up job as an emergency reaction to a bad situation.

          • Antoine 1.1.2.1.1

            Bit of research would do no harm, but (arguably) there’s no great rush

            A.

            P.S. If and when robots run everything, we can ask _them_ to plan it :p

      • coffeeconnoiseur 1.1.3

        What infrastructure investment are you thinking will be needed?
        Arguably we won’t need much so long as we make the necessary changes to the financial systems and Labour systems.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.3.1

          Also by 2040 – a lot of jobs are disappearing to robots.

          This infrastructure.

          Also by 2040 – a lot of jobs are disappearing to robots.

          NZ is way behind on development and implementation of the factories (yes, that's infrastructure) and supply lines to feed them. We've become reliant upon the idea that we'll just grow more food to export but we're already at the limit there and arguably need to decrease the amount of farming that we do already.

    • Carolyn_nth 1.2

      Actually, it’s not true that most retirees sit around “not working”. They do lots of unpaid community work. Especially recently retired people in their late 60s, with many skills and a lot to offer the community.

      The neoliberal approach has been to pay fewer and fewer people doing community and home caring work, and to try to rely more on unpaid work by charities and community groups..

      • Antoine 1.2.1

        RIght, I appreciate that. But with a UBI (as per the subject of the post), “not working” would be an option for able-bodied people under retirement age.

        (Assuming the UBI was sufficient to live on)

        A.

        • Carolyn_nth 1.2.1.1

          Yes. But younger people also could be doing caring and community work. There’s many things robots can’t do – humans respond to caring from other humans. A robot would be no substitute.

          And people not in paid work need to be engaged with their local communities. that takes some organising and participation by people – basically, the state has to enable people to undertake these activities, and they require funding and support.

          • Antoine 1.2.1.1.1

            > There’s many things robots can’t do – humans respond to caring from other humans. A robot would be no substitute.

            I agree!

            One of the reasons why I don’t think there’ll ever be mass unemployment. There will always be plenty of ‘service’ (a dry word I know) jobs for humans.

            But hey, I can’t see the future so I could be wrong.

            A.

            • coffeeconnoiseur 1.2.1.1.1.1

              I can see the future and service jobs are where much of the automation is going to come in replace people.
              Yes they can’t replace all jobs but they can and will replace far more jobs than we need under the current economic model where you need to work to earn a living.
              If we are stupid enough to stick to the paradigm the current economic model sits in then we will need to make a couple of changes.
              We will need a UBI that will decouple the need to work from wages.
              At the same time we need to give the function of creating money to everyone rather than just the Elites who have it now through banking.
              If we do this we will be ok.

              • Antoine

                > I can see the future

                Really, you can’t.

                A.

                • coffeeconnoiseur

                  Time isn’t linear
                  and the future, it isn’t that hard to see when you are one of the ones building it.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  In 1972 a book was published that made no predictions but did foresee what was going to happen now quite accurately.

                  So, yes, it’s possible to see the future. And we do it all the time at a subconscious level. It’s part and parcel of the algorithms that high speed trading machines use to make money without producing any value (Could actually say that they’re destroying value as they’re using resources that produce no social return).

                  So, you’re talking out your arse again to try and support your failed ideology.

    • RJL 1.3

      @Antoine: “… having people sitting around not working will likely be a luxury we cant afford.”

      You don’t understand the problem. The problem of automation is that there is nothing to do. It’s uneconomic to employ people.

      • Antoine 1.3.1

        Of course I understand that automation replaces people.

        In my scenario however, the productivity improvement from automation is overshadowed by the productivity loss from environmental damage. Thus, it ends up taking more people to do the same amount of work.

        One way this could happen would be if we weren’t able to make the capital investment in automated technologies. Or if the world economy as a whole had simply gone to crap.

        A.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.3.1.1

          In my scenario however, the productivity improvement from automation is overshadowed by the productivity loss from environmental damage.

          Which sounds like you’re Making Shit Up to suit your agenda of not doing anything.

          • Antoine 1.3.1.1.1

            Of course I’m making stuff up! I defy anyone to talk at length about what’s going to happen in 2040 without making stuff up!!!

            A.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.3.1.1.1.1

              We can see quite clearly a lot of what’s going to happen as the future is shaped by the past.

        • RJL 1.3.1.2

          @Antonine: “Thus, it ends up taking more people to do the same amount of work.”

          I’m not sure that the real world works like that.

          But nonetheless, you seem to mean productivity loss in the real world (i.e. food production) rather than simple productivity changes in the office.

          Sure, if there is a massive contraction of food production, there will be a problem. But the solution won’t be for everyone to work a bit harder. The solution will be a massive contraction of population. See, for example, “The Death of Grass” by John Christopher.

          • Antoine 1.3.1.2.1

            As we are talking about a future decades away I can’t be certain you’re wrong, but I would have thought that if we were going through a massive contraction of population, paying a UBI would be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

            A.

      • Phil 1.3.2

        You don’t understand the problem. The problem of automation is that there is nothing to do. It’s uneconomic to employ people.

        … and you don’t understand the opportunity!

        Through history people have feared that every step of automation and technology would be the death knell of some part of civilization or culture. The invention of the radio would destroy piano makers. The introduction of cars would render huge swathes of horsemen unemployed and destitute. The internet will force us to close down libraries. People even feared that letting women learn to read and write would lead them to want careers (shock! horror!) and not just blast out more and more babies.

        In every single case, those fears were completely unfounded. New ideas and technology do, absolutely, lead to some pain and disruption in the short term. But they also become the platform for the next thing that occupies the time and energy of humans.

        I, for one, am incredibly excited for our robotic future. Specifically because we’ve got no idea what might come after it.

        • Antoine 1.3.2.1

          Well said!

          > Specifically because we’ve got no idea what might come after it.

          Agreed

          But I highly doubt it’s going to involve lots of able young people sitting round with no jobs to do.

          A.

          • SpaceMonkey 1.3.2.1.1

            I would change your last statement to say “I highly doubt it’s going to involve lots of able people sitting round with NOTHING to do”.

            All “jobs”, across every aspect of our society, could very well become a thing of the past. It’s what we do with our time and energy after that that matters.

        • coffeeconnoiseur 1.3.2.2

          If we are smart what comes next is more freedom than we have ever had for ourselves and for future generations. We will no longer need to work in order to survive but we will need to change the system to enable this.

    • saveNZ 1.4

      We should also ask ourselves why our government is deliberately sabotaging our future by bring in 100,000’s people per year for low skill jobs that are going to be automated or at minimum wages, such as petrol attendants…

      • coffeeconnoiseur 1.4.1

        in an attempt to lower the cost of living through lower prices in much the same way that they have made it illegal to discriminate against the elderly with jobs because the pension is no longer enough to live on.
        Or
        legalized prostitution so that with all of this automation your daughters and wives can still earn a living. (sorry but it is the reality)
        Or
        legalized Freedom Camping to hide the growing homelessness problem.
        Or
        blamed parents for child poverty so they could vote to keep the problem rather than fix it.

        Welcome to what the slow and painful collapse of Capitalism looks like.

  2. mickysavage 2

    Good post.

    The more I think about it the weirder the announcement is. It is like they were provided with advice that something had to be done but then weakened it and drew it out to the point that its effect is very muted. The baby boom bulge will be well and truly over by then.

    And taxing robots is the thing that our leaders should be grappling with now, not in the medium to long term.

    About the only benefit the Government’s announcement has is they can say they are doing something.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Sounds like typical National then – an announcement about doing something that, in reality, achieves nothing but kicking the can down the road and leaving it to someone else to clean up the mess.

    • Carolyn_nth 2.2

      I have wondered if Bling;s super announcement was just another variety of dead cat.

      Dead before it was thrown into the ring. A do nothing policy, just a lot of smoke and mirrors.

    • Bill 2.3

      Kind of connected to what you’re saying…

      What if airbnb type apps and ubertype apps were given away for free so there was no ‘owner’ of the app taking a cut and then people got taxed on their income just as happens now? What would the effect of that be?

      I understand that airbrb is the largest hospitality company in the world. And it owns nothing at all bar the proprietorial rights attached to an app. Is uber the largest personal transport network?

      There’s nothing to stop a government department or an individual developing similar apps and just giving them away.

      • AB 2.3.1

        Governments should feel obliged, on behalf of their citizens, to destroy or prevent parasitic business models.
        So yes.

      • coffeeconnoiseur 2.3.2

        There is nothing to stop this. There is also nothing to stop from automating the services that hang off those apps and delivering those for free also.
        A free on demand system if you will.

        If your worried about overconsumption and the effect on resources from such a move, fine retain a monetary system and give debt creation back to everyone or move to a non debt based monetary system.

    • Siobhan 2.4

      “And taxing robots is the thing that our leaders should be grappling with now, not in the medium to long term.”..that’s the best thing I’ve heard all year.
      And I’m assuming by that you are including all the companies that just function as the ‘interface’, basically giant robot driven computers hoarding all the wealth..

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/hamish-mcrae/facebook-airbnb-uber-and-the-unstoppable-rise-of-the-content-non-generators-10227207.html

  3. Bill 3

    So by 2040 we’re not going to need more people aged 65 & 66 to add to our dole queues. We’re going to need something like a Universal Basic Income – so why would we be reducing the number of people who qualify for the one we already have: NZ Super?

    If a proper UBI is put in place, then bosses, businesses and corporates lose power…and most of everything’s about power – establishing it and maintaining it.

    Better to have a population that’s scared and a precariat that’s worked to death returning lower overall profits from production within an environment of unassailed power than a world that’s pleasant for most.

    Oh. And 2040. CC. Big elephant. Ignore the elephant…Robots and finances.

    • Ben Clark 3.1

      Climate change will affect the robots less – they’ll be able to work underwater 😈

      but seriously, more floods / famine / storms / higher seas… I’m not sure it’ll result in more paid employment like Antoine suggests.
      but then more jobs being automated probably doesn’t equate to the post-scarcity utopia that he suggests either.

      But you’re right – if you’re trying to solve 2040 problems, there is a much bigger one to be working on than Super costs. (actually, probably more than 1 ‘n’ all…)

      • Antoine 3.1.1

        I’m not sure either, that’s pretty much my point. The future is uncertain. We shouldn’t plan for a single future that we envisage, rather for robustness over a range of futures.

        A.

    • AB 3.2

      “most of everything’s about power”
      And there has been a huge persuasive effort to make that insight disappear from our minds

      • SpaceMonkey 3.2.1

        To me, in a nutshell, this is the issue – power. Where the technology is being applied is being determined by the people who have it. Are they aware that the technology has the capability to even replace them?

    • coffeeconnoiseur 3.3

      Yes they do lose power. It returns to the people where it should be and the push then becomes for greater efficiency, better products and better service.
      leading to better usage of resources.

  4. fisiani 4

    National assumes that it will be in government in 2037 and beyond. Is that a reasonable and realistic assumption?

    • Poission 4.1

      After the target of selling of everything in NZ by the national government in 2037 ,the new owners (Guangdong tractor and real estate company #5) decided they did not require a government in NZ and made them all redundant.

  5. Skeptic 5

    Those of you who are old enough will remember a documentary called the Ascent of Man, written & narrated by Jacob Bronowski. In the final episode of the 13 part series, which aired in NZ in 1974, he issued a dire warning predicated on the rise of computers and robotics/androids. The precis of his warning was that eventually AI would displace manual and clerical/managerial work to the extent that all of Western Society will have one of two choices; a) share the work and generated income/wealth equitably through a guaranteed livable income with extra benefits – but not extensively so – for those who contribute more, plus much reduced working hours so the work gets shared evenly, or b) run society at bayonet point!!
    It is well worth revisiting this to see how everyday jobs we take for granted could and probably will within the next two decades, be taken over by remote viewed robotics, nanobots, artificial self-aware decision-making androids. Medical, Police, Fire, Law, Public Infrastructure Maintenance, Cleaning, Building & Construction, Design are all on the list of “replaceable” jobs. What the program was light on, was how humanity was going to occupy itself – if I remember rightly, there was a lot of airy-fairy stuff about arts and inventions.
    The main point being, extending super to 67 – even with a 20 lead-in – is not the answer to future proofing. It’s merely passing the buck onto the next generation to confront the reality of AI impact on Human Society.

    • Craig H 5.1

      I watched this doco at some point the past 5-10 years, and it was excellent – I highly recommend it.

  6. SpaceMonkey 6

    Great post!

    From my perspective, and in the stuff I do, automation has the potential to replace “judgement” roles (as Mai Chen referred to them on Radio NZ recently) as well.

    Cognitive reasoning technology (such as IBM’s Watson) has the capability to learn, and it is getting more powerful and better. In time, it has the potential to impact on EVERY part of our society. Not even the executive layers of an organisation will be immune to this new paradigm. (Actually… in my experience the machines would probably do a better job in many cases)

    As for banks… they are going to head the same way as the creative industries in time. Cognitive reasoning tech combined with nextgen blockchain, for example, can enable intelligent management of any peer-to-peer transactions, making any intermediary function redundant.

  7. BM 7

    For anyone who may be interested

    https://flipboard.com/topic/robots

  8. One Two 8

    Who will these robots be working for, is it imagined?

    Currently humans are ‘obliged’ to work to function inside of a paradigm which has been designed and maintained by the ‘very few’…Ergo the human energy resources are expended largely for the benefit of ‘very few’…

    When the human resources are no longer necessary for the ‘very few’ to maintain their position at the top of the triangle, then what?

    Politicians who are ‘selected’ as gatekeepers will not be addressing this or any other serious issue. It’s not the function they are ‘selected’ to perform

    Turn away from politics, and turn towards family, friends and those who are not yet part of your life…

    It’s going to be necessary, if not life saving!

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