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Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains? 622

Posted by timothy
from the tell-me-when-neo-takes-his-pill dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times that information technology seems to be reducing, not increasing, the demand for highly educated workers (reg. may be required), because a lot of what highly educated workers do could actually be replaced by sophisticated information processing. One good recent example is how software is replacing the teams of lawyers who used to do document research. 'From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,' says Bill Herr, a lawyer at a major chemical company who used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. 'People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don't.' If true this raises a number of interesting questions. 'One is whether emphasizing education — even aside from the fact that the big rise in inequality has taken place among the highly educated — is, in effect, fighting the last war,' writes Krugman. 'Another is how we [can] have a decent society if and when even highly educated workers can't command a middle-class income.' Remember the Luddites weren't the poorest of the poor, they were skilled artisans whose skills had suddenly been devalued by new technology."
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Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?

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  • by Anrego (830717) * on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:13AM (#35404348)

    We don’t need less skilled and educated people. What we need are more skilled jobs to put them in. Obviously way easier said then done. As technology advances, certain jobs, even entire trades, are going to become obsolete. I don’t think technology is even close to a point where we can’t come up with something for the more intelligent chunks of society to do.

    The whole damn system is broken! Everything has to be immediately profitable or at least have demonstratable potential for future profitability. We are very good at improving on the stuff we already have because of this, but we seem to suck at coming up with completely new stuff. A lot of the cool stuff we have now came out of the cold war, because the powers were throwing money at scientists in the hopes of getting something cool before the “other guy” did. We need some more of that. We need ridiculous amounts of money thrown at scientists and engineers with no stipulations or requirements to show progress. You’ll have some serious waste.. but I think you’ll come up with some neat stuff as well.

    I also think as a society it’s time to move away from the 5+ day work week. We have enough technology now that there is no reason for the majority of the population to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week working. How we get the ball rolling on this one I don’t know. The economy seems to be geared more towards people working more than less. Remember back when having a two income family really put you on top. Then everyone started to do it and the economy adjusted. Now you need that just to get by. We need to do that in reverse then keep going!

    • by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:24AM (#35404414)

      Yes, the whole system is broken. I've been saying for years that we need to racially reform society as less and less work is available. Even though it will be a very long time (if ever) before computers can take over research for instance, they can take over pretty much any repetitive taks in the medium term, including many white collar jobs. I'm an advocate of instituting a basic income, so that everyone can can have a decent life even if there is no work available. The arguments against has always been that people won't want to work, but really those very few who don't want to work at all in a world were very little work is available shouldn't, leave it to those who do, they will be much more motivated.

      • by jabjoe (1042100)
        Kind of like social benefits or welfare?
        Have to say, even unemployed I'd still program, and I'd be doing much more open sourcey stuff than now.....;-)
        I also have to say, what I see of people living lives of welfare, is there is a kind of hopelessness there. Like mass depression. The nasty-party/people-on-right say they are work shy or lazy, but I think many are depressed as much as anything. I know a few of the welfare kids on our street, and future jobs doesn't register. Even one, clearly mechanically gi
        • by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:11AM (#35404862)

          Basic income would not be welfare, everyone gets basic income, regardless of whether they have an income or not. It's a guaranteed basic income that is there regardless, no means-testing. One of the benefits of such a program is that people can if they want to dedicate their lives to a hobby that isn't necessarily profitable, they can work part time if they want to and still have enough money to get by. It also makes it easier for people to start a business, there's always the basic income to fall back on even if the business is not profitable right away.

          It's a pretty old concept and has been implemented on trial basis in a few places, with generally good results. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_guarantee [wikipedia.org]

      • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:12AM (#35404864)

        Yes, the whole system is broken. I've been saying for years that we need to racially reform society as less and less work is available.

        I'm old enough to remember the sci-fi promise that more and more automation would allow humans more leisure time without sacrificing the necessities and comforts they were accustomed to. But that hasn't really come to pass, even with machines taking over human jobs. Instead. fewer people have work, many who still have work feel compelled to work more (so it looks harder) to keep their jobs, more people don't have jobs, and the ownership class has more and more in relation to the rest of us.

        So how did that happen? I for one blame the Puritan Ethic. Those who have more are clearly blessed. Those who have less have less because they are less deserving: they are shiftless, lazy, unworthy. Even non-believing or not-particularly-religious people (at least here in the US) believe this philosophy, even if they don't know that's why they feel that way. Those with better jobs just know they are more deserving, simply because they have the job they do, the resources they do, the blessings they have. Ask almost any Libertarian-type here on Slashdot and you'll learn that they have what they have based solely on their own merit. Of course it's true, the very fact they have what they have proves it.

        And here we are, still wanting a 20hr a week job and a robot butler, but instead we get to work 40+ hour weeks and some other guy gets 0 hours. At least it averages out to the promise of technology -- kinda like how a 60.2F annual average temperature in Oklahoma City amounts to a really comfortable climate.

        • by graymocker (753063) on Monday March 07, 2011 @11:52PM (#35415518)

          Ah, ignorance of basic economic science on Slashdot once again. If productivity (automation, 1 man can do the work of 4, etc.) created unemployment, we would be at 99% unemployment or so by now. Instead, unemployment has been mostly stable, on a historical scale. 10% is actually about the unemployment pre Civil War, IIRC. So why, even though the avg. worker is 20x as productive as we were 200 years ago (a guess, I'm too lazy to look up the actual figures, but suffice to say our productivity has gone up a LOT thanks to automation) are we are not working 20x less hours? we have lots of extra stuff and services. Obviously this extra productivity hasn't stolen jobs yet. No, the extra productivity didn't disappear, it went into more stuff ("higher standard of living", for economists)

          I'm not joking. On the macro level, all of that excess productivity gets channeled into making extra "stuff" that people want to buy. If everyone were happy with a 1810 standard of living, there would be no one to buy this extra stuff, and there would be much less work (because that excess productivity is wasted). But since we like having a standard of living higher than that of the average 1810 worker, there is demand for extra stuff. That's where the extra productivity goes. So while it takes fewer people to harvest food/make industrial widgets than it did in 1810 thanks to machines, the people who would have been working on the farm in 1810 are instead hard at work making cars, computers, telephones, and providing services that weren't cheap/widely available in 1810 like modern medicine, tour guides, or yoga training.

          But ok, you want to take this extra productivity gain and translate it into more free time, not more stuff. It is still possible to do this, if you can find the right part-time job. Let's say you work for $10/hr for 20 hours a week, that's a half work-week.. That's $800/month. If you're willing to downsize to a 1810's lifestyle, it's very possible to live on $800/month. (For the purposes of this discussion we're ignoring gov't assistance). No telephone, no electricity, smaller house (a shack in the woods is nice), cheaper food (McD's probably more cost-efficient calorie- and protein-wise than an 1810 meal - meat was EXPENSIVE back then because they were more valuable as farm animals). Of course if you have medical bills you are sunk, but they didn't have modern medicine in the 1810's either. You can do this because you live in a high-productivity economy, and you have chosen to trade that extra productivity for free time, not for higher standard of living. As it happens, most people like a modern standard of living, and enjoying the benefits of modern science, so they work a full work-week instead.

          On a national level, we can see a similar pattern in other countries. Underdeveloped countries still have low productivity and low levels of automation. People in these countries work full hours and have a low standard of living - they're basically 100 yrs behind us. There are some socialist developed countries that have, on a national level, decided to trade productivity for more free time, not more stuff. So the French worker gets 3 months of vacation a year, but has less stuff than the average American worker - smaller car, smaller house, smaller TV, less stuff (this is reflected in consumption statistics), less food (probably a good thing all in all). America didn't go that route, because we're not lazy like the French. Also, we kind of like being the biggest kid on the block, and that means work. But if YOU want that kind of lifestyle, if you make the right kind of decisions/are smart with career planning it is possible to downsize your life and trade excess productivity for time. Instead of devoting your education/work life to climbing the career ladder, devote it to engineering an exit into a decently compensated part-time, contract, or freelance position. Then reap the benefits of extra time. No robot butler yet, though, sorry. Of course if you WANTED a robot butler, you'd have to work full-time to af

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I've been saying for years that we need to racially reform society as less and less work is available.

        I'm hoping you meant "radically" here. Otherwise, what you're saying is bordering on the scary.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        You missed the important part:
        Anything that reduces the number of lawyers must be considered good for mankind.

    • Just reducing 5 work day week to 4 days could increase employment by 25% (and possibly more because you will have more going on in backoffice departments in every industry).

      That is huge. That means workforce *shortage* even because very few countries have 20% rate on unemployment. No more busy-work even.

      IIRC, Society actually went throught similar changes - saturday used to be work day too and 40 hour work week is considerably shorter than what was usual for factory workers 150 years ago.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Sure, and if we start breaking windows, the glaziers will have an economy!
      • I'm not sure I follow. Why would working one less day result in more employment? Why would more going on in back-office departments (I assume HR/CBO?) be good for the economy? It sounds like you're suggesting we produce less and spend more resources on management rather than producing useful goods/services or am I missing something?
      • by WombatDeath (681651) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:06AM (#35404802)

        Wasn't a shorter working week the promised outcome of technology? "If machines can do 40% of the work, we can all do a three-day week for the same money!"

        Which, with hindsight, was naïve to say the least; the actual outcome is "If machines can do 40% of the work, I can lay off 40% of my work force. And then I can pay less to the remaining 60% because there's more competition for jobs!"

        I don't know what the solution is, but I assume it involves either a sudden collective burst of altruism in employers (ho ho) or some truly massive government intervention (hee hee). Presumably most /. readers are in jobs which won't be machine-replaceable any time soon, but I do feel sympathy towards those who would have been productively employed on an assembly line had they been born fifty years earlier.

        On an entirely different note, why does previewing a comment take the best part of a minute?

    • Your saying we need a major war to waste ridiculous amounts of money on, and there might be some incidental invention going on.
      I'd rather IP laws were updated for the information age, and back to their roots of encouraging innovation.

      As for your 3 day working week, forcing that by law would make your whole nation uncompetitive, and it won't happen any other way because it appears to be in equilibrium. That is most people are willing to work 5+ per week.

    • I suspect that the ball is already rolling on this sort of social reform. There seems to be a trend back towards artisanal products and services - like artisan bakeries, or CSAs, or such - and it looks like people are getting more into the whole 'support local business' thing. In these cases, people are knowingly choosing products or services that are theoretically less efficient and less productive, but which has more emotional investment.

      • I agree with you. 30 years ago, if I were into making some crafty widget, I could sell it around my neighborhood and maybe take it to a few arts and crafts fairs. With the internet and sites like eBay and Etsy, I can make something and sell it globally.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pandrijeczko (588093)

      Dare I say it, we also need to have imposed limits on childbirth.

      People are living longer, therefore they are spending more of their retirement years reliant on state pensions and social care - to cover that additional expense, governments are raising the retirement age by a year or two.

      That means that as well as there being less jobs due to technology, there are also less jobs because people work longer.

      It's definitely the time to start restricting birth rates - maybe the planet can cope with a few billion

      • The planet is a different problem. If we consider just this country (the United States), birth rates are very low. Most of our population growth is via immigration. So that's not the problem here.

        Attempting to fix the entire planet's problems through social engineering will require a world government. That might be an answer, although it brings up additional problems.

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      We need ridiculous amounts of money thrown at scientists and engineers with no stipulations or requirements to show progress

      I immediately declare that I am a scientist / engineer and I need ridiculous amounts of money, because obviously, this is what's going to create more jobs for people - throwing money at some of them.

    • by Onuma (947856) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:00AM (#35404748)

      Remember back when having a two income family really put you on top. Then everyone started to do it and the economy adjusted. Now you need that just to get by. We need to do that in reverse then keep going!

      Part of the problem (if perceived as such) is that people expect certain non-necessities as par. There is a lot of wasted spending. No one needs 500+ channels of satellite television, costing $150/mo or more. A family does not need two brand new cars, paying $300+ for each note or monthly lease payment, when they could have slightly used vehicles for far less. Even buying an efficient hybrid car is actually less economically feasible. It costs around $32k for a Prius -- that could be a $500/mo bill depending on money put down. When you consider how much fuel most use in a month...definitely not more than a hundred gallons on average (I think I use about 30-35 gallons a month, with a V6 engine), the cost of the car outweighs its benefit of mpg. Even a 1-year-used Prius can cut the price down by over $10000, and thereby the monthly payments by about a third. No need to even venture into the savings on insurance for used-vs-new!
      Your average household will never use 50 Mb/sec of bandwidth internally or externally not even if they've got all of the cousins and friends over to have a LAN party -- maybe some of the /. community would find a use for that, but that'd be a lot of traffic to consistently occupy. These are just a couple of examples where people could cut out or significantly reduce their spending. Maybe too few children are learning basic economics from their parents or school systems.

      I understand as well as anyone that technology can improve the quality of life, but there is a point where it goes beyond improving and becomes a burden. I don't believe everyone will lead spartan lives just to save a few bucks, nor should that be necessary. Really, it is a point of personal responsibility and accountability. My old security chief said it well: "Buy what you need, save for what you want."

  • by chill (34294) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:14AM (#35404358) Journal

    I'm sorry, but if you're trying to garner sympathy for workers being displaced by technology, you're going to have to do better than lawyers.

    Paraphrasing an old joke,

    Q. What do you call an out of work lawyer?
    A. A good start.

    • I'm sorry, but if you're trying to garner sympathy for workers being displaced by technology, you're going to have to do better than lawyers.

      Lawyers are just overhead costs: they don't produce anything, but you need a few around to keep everything running... But if you can safely reduce the costs of overhead, that's supposed to be a good thing.

      The day that engineers can be replaced by computers we shall talk again. Until then, I just advise law-students to choose a new study while they can.

    • If so much of their "work" is not automated, you'd kinda expect that each one who hasn't been replaced by a regular expression to get through a load more "work" in any given time. Since we're STILL producing lawyers, how come the law of supply and demand hasn't kicked in? By now they should be charging pennies per hour and fighting each other to answer the phone when it rings.

      Since this hasn't happened, there's obviously a flaw in the assumption. The demand for lawyers still seems to be as high (higher?)

  • by tomalpha (746163) * on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:17AM (#35404370)

    If the article is explaining how lawyers are being replaced with programmers. Someone's got to create and maintain the software that replaces these "educated" people. Surely these are just a different set of educated people? That really does sound similar to the Luddites. It's not that there's no longer any demand for skills, it's that there's a demand for different skills.

    And just to take an (only half joking ) swipe at lawyers, surely this means an increase in demand for brains?

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)

      You might not be right about your point; it's all a quantitative question. By your pattern of reasoning, technology could never put people out of work because people are necessary to create the technology. That's obviously absurd. How many workers are employed developing the cotton mill that so offended the Luddites? I think the answer today is somewhere close to zero. Yet their invention long ago means that the Luddites' positions are never coming back. Invention is a bit like that. You don't need to inves

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If one team of programmers and a single IT professional for each law firm replaces a team of layers and paralegals at every law firm in the county, the increase in IT professionals will be orders of magnitude smaller than the decrease in legal professionals.

      Also there is no reason that programming, and infrastructure maintenance would be guaranteed to be safe in the future. Most software today is applications of long solved problems and is developed in high level development environments that do most of th

    • by varcher (156670)

      Writing lawyer software will not scale with the number of "lawyers" required. As demand for lawyers service increased (due to more people), new jobs were created. However, for software lawyers, it just means you run an additional copy of the software.

      You still need to sell those services, though.

      So, instead of lawyers, we need... salesmen? Did we gain that much? :P

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:59AM (#35404738)

      Overly-simplistic analysis: you forgot about scalability.

      Q1: What happens when a small web cluster and 5 programmers can create software that can replace hundreds or thousands of lawyers?

      A1: You get hundreds or thousands of lawyers who are now unemployed.

      Q2: Can't those lawyers be retrained as programmers?

      A2: Some of them -- it really depends on whether the lawyer thinks in the manner necessary to do so. Do they know how to use a keyboard? The younger ones do. Do they understand the basics of their OS? Virtually none do. Do they have math skills and/or algorithmic skills? Very few do - that's often the reason they become lawyers in the first place! [1] Most lawyers are people who came from non-technical majors, like history or English -- fields they studied precisely because they didn't like math or science.

      Conclusion: The lawyers, then -- like the factory workers before them -- are not retrainable into these newer, higher-skilled jobs that are "moving their cheese". That this was ever an option is one of the great intellectual frauds of economists. [2]

      But the problem does not go away merely because we do not want to think about it. What do we do with this swath of unemployed sharks? What do we do with the swath of unemployed blue-collar laborers, whose jobs are being/have been roboticized? These are groups that exist, or are beginning to exist, NOW.

      And what about in 5 years? 10? 20? What do we do with the maids when homes and offices are all fully-cleaned by robots? What do we do with the truck drivers when Google's autonomous car AI controls the semis? etc.

      The only people with a realistic answer to this other than the Social Darwinists (whose answer I consider unrealistic) are the socialists... and I say that as a largely anti-socialist, moderate left-libertarian myself.

      [1] With apologies to a close friend, who is a Java developer turned grad-school mathematician turned lawyer. They deride the idea that most lawyers are intelligent, and they routinely point out to me errors in their logic that any freshman CS student would not make... but which are nonetheless regularly made in court, and which may be responsible for locking-away clients for years or decades.

      [2] Disclaimer: I'm both a professional developer, and have undergrad academic credentials in both CS and Econ.

  • most tasks that are perfect for computers are repetitive work of finding the right data in a warehouse. just program it to find the right data and it will work until done. people hate repetitive work, people want something interesting that always changes.

    the lawyers will just get put to work doing something else that needs to be done but wasn't affordable because companies that needed the document searches done would pay more

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      I think a chunk of the problem is that a lot of that boring, repetative work was how people got into various industries. Seems like most industries, people have to slog it out doing some chore for a few years before they build enough experience to get into the cool stuff.

      People are now seeing that work vanish. Hopefully employers will realize this and find ways to get new people into their respective industries without the use of "shit jobs". There is probably gonna be a huge period of suck before that happ

      • I don't think this kind of progress obviates that slog work. I mean, we have completely automated basic arithmetic and analytical functions, so no one needs to learn how to do them? Well, not quite. You still have to learn them so you can debug (in the broader sense) the system that's supposed to be automating your work so you know when it's errs and why it's erring. Initial "slog work" would still exist in such situations, it's just that it would be "verify this document search, see if there's anything

    • by GaryOlson (737642)

      ..people want something interesting that always changes,

      No, not all people want interesting challenging work. Many people want work which makes them feel safe and secure. Many others want work which is redundant and repetitive so they as an individual never have to take any risk. Many others want work which never changes because change makes them afraid. Many others don't want interesting or changing work because they are incapable of change themselves.

      Just because your work environment is composed of people who want interesting work don't equate that to all

  • The printing press put millions of scribes out of work, because machines could do the same job. Of course we still needed scribes (later renamed secretaries) --- just not as many.

    Same with lawyers - we still need them; just not as many as currently exist. These persons will just have to learn new skills. Like maybe programming the computers which do document review.

    • There... there weren't really millions of scribes at any given time. More like tens of thousands, tops. There simply wasn't much demand for books when they were so labour-intensive to make. One thing that's fantastic about truly "disruptive" technologies is that the world becomes vastly more accessible once they're commonplace, and the artisans have moved on or died off.
    • Anyone know of anyone replacing front facing staff at fast food places with touch-screen terminals yet?

      I'm thinking they could save a lot of money on staff, and improve customer satisfaction because any messed-up orders will actually be their own fault.

      In fact, the kitchen could probably become more automated too, with just one or two guys to make sure everything's running smoothly, but that would be a lot more expensive in the short term than a few terminals.

  • I would tend to agree that software is driving down demands for brains.

    I went for my very first job interview for coding, and the "human resources" interviewing me said that my knowledge of and ability to write code in a text editor was irrelevant, because "We have templates for that". Maybe they liked their bloat code?

    • by PJ6 (1151747)

      I've watched that attitude devastate quality in the software industry over the last decade.

    • Those who can, do.
      Those who can't, work in human resources.

    • by aug24 (38229)
      They might have a point: it's far more important to understand the problem than to be able to code the solution. You can train up coders, you can code review, you can regression test. What is much harder is the ability to analyse and document the problem.
  • ...can just fall fast enough keep up with the falling supply perhaps there will be some hope of relieving the shortage.

  • Ultimately, not everyone can get a job, and it may not be their personal faults.

    When technology advances, old jobs are eliminated and new jobs are created. But one day, there won't be enough new jobs to fill the hole. Machines and now, computers, replaced manual labours one by one. Capitalism will fail. And a significant amount of people will be born to live by social welfare, not because they are lazy, but because they have no choices.

    • Computer programming: futureproof.

      Everything else, given the existence of enough computer programming: not futureproof.

      Amusingly, this includes things very near computer programming, like robotics. You can, after all, and with enough expert interviews, design a program to design anything else. Veni.
    • Capitalism will fail? Fail to be replaced by what exactly? I think it more likely that society will just have to adjust, perhaps doing as Japan did and cutting down on the number of allowed children, etc.

  • The article seems to be concentrating only on Law as a business which has been deeply affected by the revolution in searching documents.

    Here one may take a leaf out of RIAA and the leading Music labels' book which has also seen the role of middle men being made largely obsolete by the advent of Internet.

    The solution, hence, is simple: just sue the ... oh .. wait.

  • So when technology replaces low-education workers, like robots replacing chain workers, it's fine. But when it replaces educated people, somehow it's not such a fine thing anymore ? I guess this article has been written by... well you can figure it out by yourself. </SARCASM>

    The deep issue is the increase in productivity. Science fiction writers of the golden age did forecast a year 2000 where we'd all be working 2 hours a week and enjoying life the rest of the time. But what we got is a world where

  • by jockeys (753885) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:29AM (#35404456) Journal
    Mr. Bucket had a job at the toothpaste factory screwing lids onto tubes of toothpaste. A shitty job. One day, they bought a robot that did the same thing, only betterfastercheaper and so Mr. Bucket got the sack. So what did he do? He learned how to fix the machine, and thus got a job fixing the machine that paid better.

    What is the moral of the story? If your job is in danger of becoming redundant because a robot (or piece of software) can do your job, you'd better start educating yourself so that you can get a job fixing the machine (or piece of software) that does your old job. Humans need to focus on work that humans are good at, and not try to compete at tedious repetitive things (screwing lids onto toothpaste, parsing long contracts with fixed logical rules) which machines (and software) are inherently better at.
    • by gblackwo (1087063)
      So how many robots does it take to provide enough work for one robot repairman? It certainly is not a 1:1 ratio.
      • The story was about the one smart guy who evolved not the 20 who griped that they were losing their shitty job to a robot.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          The story was about the one smart guy who evolved not the 20 who griped that they were losing their shitty job to a robot.

          The story was about the one success story and completely ignored the 20 who lost their jobs and there was no robot-repairing job for them. You know, just like our government. We have more jobs now than a decade ago, but less of them are full-time and employment is down because people now have to work multiple jobs, meaning there are actually less available jobs, and less jobs capable of supporting a western lifestyle overall. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is as long as it's illegal to be poor,

      • by boristdog (133725)

        So how many robots does it take to provide enough work for one robot repairman? It certainly is not a 1:1 ratio.

        YOU'VE never worked in a high-tech factory. It takes a LOT of people to monitor, care for and repair everything in a modern fab. Even a "lights out" fab has hundreds of people working to keep it running. Those chips don't get cheaper by themselves.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sir_Sri (199544)

        That's oddly, how you increase productivity in the long run. If 1000 workers create 1000 cars a year, and you find a way to automate that, so that now 500 people can make 1000 cars a year. The other 500 then could: make a second car company, that in turn produces 1000 cars a year, and reduces the price of cars for everyone, they could make better cars, and compete on quality, or they could go make something else entirely.

        Either way, where there was once the value of 1000 cars split between 1000 workers, i

        • by tepples (727027) <tepples@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday March 07, 2011 @02:40PM (#35409806) Homepage Journal

          The other 500 then could: make a second car company

          And buy the land how? And buy the necessary government regulatory licenses how? And license the essential patents how? (Unpatented cars are not street legal due to increases in government standards for safety, fuel efficiency, and emissions control, all of which require patented processes.) And fight covenants not to compete how? There are entry barriers against laid-off workers starting their own business to compete with their former employers.

  • Sure, Lexis-Nexus made document research much easier for the layman to do. However, they still need highly intelligent software engineers to design it and highly capable web designers/developers to keep the site going. Automation and workflow improvements have always been in-demand, even outside of IT (the industrial revolution being one prominent example); jobs being cut/simplified have always been a consequence. It's part of the workflow cycle.
  • Strange, I was just thinking about how we're apparently experiencing a falling SUPPLY of brains. Won't the two kinda cancel out?
  • Using computers to replace auditoriums full of lawyers? ... how can I help?

    • by corbettw (214229)

      The problem with doing away with auditoriums (auditoria?) full of lawyers is, now you have to hunt them down individually rather than just tossing a few grenades. Much more time consuming.

  • As a species we are always pushing boundaries and technology is a manifestation of that urge. Certainly it means humdrum occupations requiring some skill and education become less relevant. But to suggest tech replaces people is fallacious. It is merely a platform upon which we can develop further.

  • Let's be open here -- these people were highly educated, yes, but where they using their education in this role?
    I think not.

    What they were doing was simply reading through mounds of material looking for something that could be interesting to the case. It requires some deduction, some common sense, a good grasp of the concepts of the problems they are trying to solve, etc. But, it does not require a law degree. This is grunt work. One could easily imagine a situation where several legal assistants do the sam

  • I thought anyone trained in economics would understand that technological innovation increases productivity and overall wealth through capital investment, whether that comes from machines which weave fabric, or engines that search for legal precedent, thus making the same goods available at lower cost.

    There is an adjustment to the economy's structure as these are introduced, but without the benefits of specialization and diversification of the labor pool, married with capital equipment, we would never enj

  • I've often wondered what will happen to the economy and employment levels as technology approaches the sophistication and intelligence of human beings. The singularity [wikipedia.org] is supposed to occur in my lifetime. Does it even make sense for me to save for retirement if that's true? What meaning will money have when no human can earn any? Will we finally be well cared for at no cost, or will we simply become obsolete?

  • by trout007 (975317) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:43AM (#35404580)

    This author has a completely backward way at looking at things. Income is only half of the equation. What you can buy with that income is the other half. What things can you get with the work you do. Productivity increase is good because you can create more with less work. This means things get cheaper and you can earn less and live better. This is called deflation. The problem is the financial industry and politicians refuse to let deflation happen. They see it as an enemy that must be conquered. So they inflate the money supply and give that money to politicians to spend. So what ends up happening is productivity increases are given away and the citizens are never able to gain their benefit even though their income is lower.

    I like to use StarTrek as an example. They have a replicator. Once you have a replicator you never HAVE to work again. Anything you want including another replicator can be made. Are the people all of a sudden poor? Technically yes since they no work for money. In fact they are flat broke. But are they living better? Of course.

  • While it's true that a profession can be oversaturated due to swings in the market - Law and finance are suffering a glut right now, just as comp-sci grads started working at coffee shops to get by in 2001 - these ebbs and flows even out over the course of time.

    Auditoriums full of attorneys are massively inefficient and error-prone. It's not a good use of a law degree - come to think of it, billable hours and the organization of the law firm are both obsolete. Prix-fixe legal billing is the new school, and

  • Zombies (Score:4, Funny)

    by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:44AM (#35404602)
    "Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?" Yes, I have heard Zombies are starting to eat software instead.
  • Not really (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:45AM (#35404614)

    What is currently being eliminated are jobs that do not require imagination or deeper insights. On the high end, people of all qualifications are even more in demand than ever, because the computers cannot do their job without them. Working AI is not even remotely on the horizon, it is still completely unknown how it could be done. And this also means it is completely unknown whether a working AI would have issues like motivation, etc.. What is also completely unknown is whether an AI would actually be as smart as a human being and how much computing power it would need to even get to human average level. There is some indication that when you look at interconnect, the human brain is within one order or magnitude of what is possible in this universe. Get larger, and you get slower because of longer ways. Get smaller, and you cannot fit in as many interconnects.

    Coming back to the job market, the problem is with a lot of jobs that can be learned and do not require very smart or flexible or imaginative people. As these are where the middle-class mostly takes its income from, these jobs vanishing is a huge problem. As it seems there is really no way to prevent that, I think the solution must either go into the direction people starting to share jobs, while retaining their before income (otherwise spending power of the population goes down the drain), or something radical, like a base-income provided from tax money (corporate taxes, really) that you can live off reasonably well. Obviously, the time for the latter has not quite come yet, but it is one of the very few options how the economy is not going to implode in the longer run. The high-skill jobs would still be filled. Talented people want to exercise their talents. The question is what the medium skill range will do. However, the absolute worst approach would of course be to let them all slide into poverty. That could only lead to massive destabilization, finally ending in disintegration of society. It is absolutely imperative that most people have a good chance at a reasonable life.

  • Good thing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:46AM (#35404620)
    What I do all day long is write/maintain/modify software that does exactly what this article is talking about. The problem is in what the article is defining as "brains." In my experience the type of worker that I'm able to replace with software is the type of person that probably shouldn't have their degree anyway. You've got the kind of person that gets their degree and does great... really knows their stuff, wins a lot of cases. Then you've got the people that barely graduated, maybe paid someone to write their term papers for them, have a degree but are actually very poorly skilled. Those people end up in what I've always called "Professional secretary" positions. They do all the menial work that the real highly skilled employees can't be bothered with. You'll find a plethora of people like this in the IT industry.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:46AM (#35404622) Homepage

    We live in a society that begrudges good pay to workers who actually make things. Many people regard the medical profession as damn near crooks for, *gasp*, actually wanting to be paid very well because of the risks that come with their work and the amount of real education they need to get in the door.

    So what in the hell would make lawyers think they'd be immune? Most of the "complexity" of their education is self-created by their profession. It used to be that anyone could read the laws of their state and become a lawyer; today you need a juris doctorate to get in the door. A degree that is closer to a PhD than a high school degree.

    Our legal system needs a reset on its entire code. There are over 4,000 federal crimes; to whit, there were only about 620 total laws (religious, civil and criminal) in the Old Testament. That means that there are likely more felonies in the federal criminal code than there were total regulations on every aspect of civilized life back then. Heck, the Roman law of the 12 tables, on which many of our ideas are based as well, is practically a foot note compared to just our personal income tax code.

  • by johnbr (559529) <johnbr@gmail.com> on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:50AM (#35404650) Homepage
    There are a lot of jobs (and I mean a _lot_) that do not require lots of brainpower, but, because of guilds/cartels/monopolies/licensing/etc, are priced as if they did. For example, researching a patent for novelty is a much more brain-intensive task than reading documents, looking for keywords. But lawyers gamed the system, and made it appear that both activities were equally time-consuming and difficult. (patent research must be difficult, because they get it so horribly wrong) Do not weep for the destruction of false barriers to entry.
  • The Earth is in the middle of an ecological meltdown, and on an unrelated note, apparently we're running out of jobs worth doing.
  • by glatiak (617813) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:03AM (#35404784)

    Over my working life the trend has been to devalue a liberal arts education and replace it with very specific skills training (at great cost). But the student is making a bet that what they are learning will still be needed when they graduate and seek to pay off their education loans. Problem is that in the old days the employers expected to train new hires to their specific needs and industry -- but today that is all on the prospective employee. This is a sucker bet at best. The problem is that the jobs that supported the middle class are more or less gone and the employment needs of the moment are transitory.

      I would suggest that one of the real disservices that HR departments have inflicted on employers is that they have no responsibility for their work force -- someone else should do all the training so the company gets the interchangeable skills they need at the moment, and discards them just as quickly. Problem is that to quickly re-train takes time and is best supported by a broad-based rather than narrow education. That ain't what we got.

    The real question is more one of social engineering -- what kind of society do we want and how do we get there? For example, do we need or want a vast army of under-employed in a neo-feudal society? In reality, do people need to work at all to live a decent life? And if they don't, what do they do? Endless reality TV? Or a resurgence of dilettantism? Being retired, I would vote for the latter. But that requires intellectual skills of some sort -- in my view the product of a 'liberal arts' education. Not sure our profit-based fee for service model can get there.

    One thing is clear -- more of the same just is not going to cut it. Particularly since the deck is stacked against the prospective job seeker.

  • All of us are glad to that we can reap the benefits of the industrial revolution. We all in the advanced countries live greatly better lives than those of 300 years ago. Even the poor of the world have benefited from public health advances.

    Still we have to recognize the the industrial revolution was pure hell for the artisans and farmers who lost their livelihoods at the time.

    We may be in the same situation with the information revolution, with a great long term outcome but a large amount of short term pain. I realize, as Keynes said, "In the long term we will all be dead".

  • by LegoEvan (772742) on Monday March 07, 2011 @09:06AM (#35404806) Homepage
    So that when the Butlerian Jihad [wikipedia.org] comes I will be ready.
  • Upon succefsfully returning with the time traveler to his home era, I difcovered that farming, which ufed to employ the vast majority of my countrymen, is now accomplifhed by mechanical clockworks under the supervifion of only a few percent of the populace! Surely the vaft majority of people in the colonies are now out of work!

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