Apr 082013

Robots Welding, Machining, Painting, and Drilling – Sexier than You Imagine
No, no really! As a matter of fact, there are some interesting historical and social issues behind Japan’s industrial robotics story. And it kinda serves up a metaphorical smack-down to all the technological conservatives crying about how increasingly capable robotic labor is going to bring the sky down on what remains of the human labor force. As the handsome, creative, funny, and entirely self-deluded author of the linked piece says:
“The thing is, jobs change form. The rise of PCs, for example, it didn’t eliminate, but rather evolved office work.”

And don’t even start with that “Oh, well what about Japan’s struggling economy” crap. You know who refers to the world’s 3rd/2nd-largest-economy-depending-on-how-you-measure as “struggling?” Unreasonably growth-obsessed economists and the morons who repeat what they say – that’s who. Have a visit to Japan. It’s like the richest, safest place on earth. It has a massive, dominant, affluent middle class. It has almost no ultra-poor or ultra-rich. Almost all national debt is publicly held (as opposed to the America-China ouroboros situation thingy). Does Japan experience breakneck economic growth year to year? No – but come on now – sure, you gotta love some capitalism, but you gotta have some reasonable context as well, son.

Anywho, a plurality of the world’s industrial robots are located in Japan, and it’s become a perfect example of how robots replaced a human labor force and then the humans got different, better, safer jobs, and all the naysaying anti-robo-automation economists from the 60s & 70s got season passes to the All-Crow Buffet in heaven.
(Rita, do you think people will get that?)

Okay Now Go Read the Whole Thing 
So yeah, Anthrobotic.com’s founder, CEO, admiral/janitor continues contributing at Akihabara News, and this piece on Japan’s industrial robotics situation is actually like 10 days old so it’s kinda embarrassing to just now be informing the 7-9 regular readers, but hey… well, nothing. If you didn’t catch the announcement via Facebook, jump on over:
Japan’s Industrial Robotics Situation: it’s Interesting. Seriously!

Lastly, an Important Question:
Is Armitron really the only toy inspired by industrial robots?
If you the reader are aware of more – please feed some comments.

Robots for Japan: talk with them, move with them, live with them… All in time.
An Upside to Fukushima: Japan’s Robot Renaissance
Technological Utopianism is Way Better than Technological Apocalypticism. Robots, Robots.
3D Printing, the Invigoration of Industrial Robotics, and China Gets a Bit Nervous
Save the American Economy with Robotics & A.I. (and a Revolution in Energy Tech)


  1. DigitalGalaxy says:

    I’m not quite so convinced this is the case. The problem is
    there has always been a different sector for the uneducated masses
    to “jump” to when their jobs became obsolete. Where are they going
    to move to now? Mechanization destroyed all our farming jobs? It’s
    k, we’ll just move to the city and work in factories and
    construction. Robots replaced all our factory jobs? It’s k, we’ll
    just move to the service industry and construction. 3D printing
    made construction jobs obsolete? It’s k, we’ll just go back to
    factories…oh wait… Well, we’ll just go to the service industry
    then…oh wait, robots are making our food at low-end restaurants,
    doing laundry and cleaning hotel rooms…and other kinds of
    rooms… Where are they supposed to “jump” to next? Educated people
    can keep ahead of the tide much easier…but those who don’t care
    or don’t have the opportunity to get educated are going to be
    stuck. Until college education is free and/or just as compulsory as
    K-12, we will have a larger pool of uneducated people compared to
    educated ones, and they are the ones at risk in a robot world. At
    the end of your article you said we needed to teach kids to code.
    That’s very good, but coding isn’t for everybody. It takes a
    certain kind of mind to understand code, or care enough to get
    through the mental hurdles of understanding complex loops and even
    more complex mathematics. Not everybody is wired that way. We can’t
    all be technicians, we can’t all be coders and we can’t all fill
    rapidly dwindling human-on-human only jobs, like reception or
    caretaking. Eventually I think we will need to move away from a
    “work-based” model in general and just automatically distribute
    robotically produced food, housing, a other consumer goods. The
    model we have now of “do your 8-5, then get a check, then spend
    that check on things you need” can’t survive too long in a world
    where robots can do just about everything that humans can, without
    asking for a check.

  2. anthrobotic says:

    Hey, thanks for the comment!

    This is interesting:

    “…there has always been a different sector for the uneducated masses to “jump” to when their jobs became obsolete.”

    What’s important to bear in mind here is that which was jumped into didn’t come about by dumb luck or serendipity – it wasn’t a system just waiting for workers, it was kinda planned that way. What is so very different about the rise of robot labor? Do we really have any reason to believe that we’ve somehow lost the ability to redirect our collective potential energy?

    Now, while asking where our labor force will “jump to” next is a valid exercise, let’s not forget how impossible it would have been to predict, even in the late 70s to mid-80s, our now massive and continuously growing global IT economy. Yeah, some giant brains at DARPA and a young Tim Berners-Lee might have considered vague notions of such, but there is no path to clearly imagining, let alone articulating where new technological developments will lead humanity. That being said, we do get to push up against the threshold of understanding and realizing new opportunities, and visionaries take us places we never knew existed.

    Doom & gloomers want readers. They want attention. They have an agenda. And to that end, they are often either blinded by dogma, or just full of shit. “OH GOD, OH GOD, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” gets a lot more pageviews than “Patience People, There’s a Lot of Opportunity Here.” Technological conservatard Andrew Keen, by the way, is the poster child for capitalizing on such sensationalism, and it’s enjoyable to make fun of him: “Your Mobile Phone Will Murder Your Face and Andrew Keen is a Genius!” – http://goo.gl/u5bJJ. Even Paul Krugman’s on the wrong side of this one.

    We squishy primates love drama, but we’re lukewarm on history. It’s silly to ignore the long and born-out precedent of humanity embracing and integrating and building upon new technologies to create new markets and new standards of living. Someone should at least make an effort to point out, despite the very real and serious speedbumps we’re bound to encounter, the resilience and innovative potential of the human animal. When given lemons, we often turn them into rocket fuel for jetpacks, so to speak.

    There will be new jobs, and there will be different jobs, and yeah – maybe if we’re lucky, someday we really will transition to a true economy of ideas where the prestige of knowledge is the only true currency. But for now and for example, coding isn’t necessarily writing C++ at a terminal. Drag-and-drop “coding” of sorts is already at work with the Baxter robot, and eventually robotic coding, or more accurately, “configuration,” could become doable in more of a CMS-style interface (think typing raw HTML vis-a-vis our friend WordPress here). Consider who had the capability to build a functional website 10 years ago, and who can do it now. For free. On a cell phone. A lotta jobs and an lotta money has been made there – and 15 years ago we knew a whole lotta nottagoddamn thing about it.

    At the-End-of-the-Day Question:
    How often do predictions of disaster come true?
    How often does technology find a way around it?

    Isn’t a bit of faith in ourselves is in order here?

    For an interesting discussion on technology obviating an irrelevant industry or economic sector, I highly recommend Barry Eisler’s “Be the Monkey,” a free ebook about how print media is dying and how they don’t understand that they’re dying.

  3. DigitalGalaxy says:

    You’re welcome! :)

    A lot of what you are saying is quite correct, but I don’t think you can just say “new technology will provide the solution” without giving a few specifics. Maybe we can’t predict everything, but we should still look out for those who seem to be in trouble. The problem is that all of those new and different jobs you are talking about require education and the context of computers being second nature; not everybody has those in the aging developed world, or at any age in the developing world.

    I think we are looking at less a prediction of global disaster and more a prediction of “the uneducated masses are going to get screwed again, as usual”. Even with your insightful example about anybody being able to produce a website now, when ten years ago you needed to learn complex HTML code, problems still arise. You can’t take people who have been at a factory or McDonald’s or third world slum their whole lives and expect them to adapt to coding, even if a lot of the hard parts are smoothed over by a nice, easy visual interface.

    All the examples of “new jobs” you point to are examples that require a certain mindset; coding (even easy coding) and web design are not for everybody. The trend has been towards requiring more education, not less.

    We’re not talking about the educated masses who have grown up on computers since their birth; they will be fine. We’re talking about the uneducated masses who have been at McDonald’s and warehouse docks since high school, and have never left that mindset. When McDonald’s finally decides that robot cooks are cheaper than human cooks, and warehouse docks become fully automated, where do THOSE people, those people specifically, go? You can’t realistically expect to plop them down in front of a computer, even with a nice, shiny, intuitive graphical interface, and say, “Ok, guys, go ahead! Here’s the code we need!”

    You also can’t just say, “Well, there will be a miracle solution because everything changes so fast.” Maybe that’s true, but maybe the changes will just leave the uneducated in the dust; that’s equally likely, and some provision should be made for that contingency. How do you think we should plan for that? Can the Khan Academy fill in the gaps?

    (on an unrelated note, my last post lost all its page breaks, but your post has page breaks. Is there a trick to them? I didn’t mean to submit a wall of text!) :O

  4. anthrobotic says:

    Well, I’ll try keep this one brief.

    Basically, the reason public education took hold and began to be mandated by law wasn’t due to the altruistic big-picture dreamers who wanted to elevate the human condition, it was that everyday people were too undereducated or feral even for menial factory or otherwise large-scale labor. The system had a problem, the system fixed itself. Not everyone did intellectual stuff, but the machine actually needed fewer of those cogs, and those other cogs found homes because it was profitable for both parties to make that happen.

    Was that a product of labor-exploitative capitalism? Maybe. But what the hell else were/are people going to do for money & stuff? The world has for quite some time been waiting for an answer to this fill-in-the blank question: “__________ is an economic system that functions better and is less barbaric and provides a greater good for a greater number than democratic socialized capitalism.”

    …which, when combined with the further liberalization of educational resources and access to increasingly powerful technology, is a profound force of broad social change and advancement. It’s of course gradual though – even if we have robots at human-level intelligence in 20 years, there will still be a menial, un-to-under-educated labor class shoveling poo somewhere. Smaller, sure – and that’s a good thing. And hey, maybe they’ll be shoveling poo wearing a powered exoskeleton! Things get better – they always get better.

    Lastly, and this may seem a bit of a cop out, and perhaps it is – but quite exactly and specifically, people like you are, YOU are the stop-gap! People who take a moment, raise the good questions, and say “Hey, uhhhh… guys, maybe we should put some thought into where this might take things?”

    Thanks again for all the comments!

    Oh, good ferociously related piece from Robohub.org today:
    “Ability to do creative, non-routine work will be a must in the coming automation era. Is this realistic for most workers?” – http://bit.ly/ZrTONt

  5. DigitalGalaxy says:

    You’re quite welcome! I hope you keep blogging, your posts
    are always amusing and interesting! :)