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    It’s strange and disappointing that this post does not reflect the nuance and mix of experience documented on a related Lobsters thread created by the post’s author.

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      Seems like he’s been exploring that space quite bit more these days:

      I reached a dark night of the soul with regard to software and technology. There were moments when I looked around and realized that my total contribution to humanity, by working for an increasingly maleficent industry, might be negative. The 21st century’s American theatre has featured the dismantling of the middle class, and I can’t say I had nothing to do with it.

      I’ve worked on many features and enhancement that have caused back office people to lose their jobs. One project was “online return” functionality for a medium sized, online retailer ($300M in it’s hayday). FIve people worked returns, then zero. It’s not a good feeling.

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        I’ve written software that made friends of mine redundant, and it’s definitely a terrible feeling.

        I feel like there’s an important distinction between

        • Creating productivity improvements (which can result in redundancies but could also increase the total amount of work available) - eg designing electric drills, vs
        • Enabling impersonal mistreatment (of a kind that wouldn’t happen personally) - eg uber automatically routing work away from underperforming contractors instead of employing/training staff
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          There’s a neat game where you play the villain– a paperclip maximizer– and it captures how I feel about working in the tech industry.

          My experience has been invaluable. I’m building an AI to test some “final” design changes to a card game, Ambition; I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t been a programmer for 10 years. Programming is a great skill set to have, and it really disciplines the mind in a way that’s opposite to what happens to most people in their 20s and 30s (the imprecision of thought that is typical of Corporate America infects them, and they lose their sharpness). I also couldn’t write Farisa (a mage/witch heroine in a world with a complex magic system) without experience of other-than-neurotypicality, nor could I write my first-book villains (in a steampunk dystopia, the Pinkertons win and gradually become evolve into Nazis) if I didn’t have painful experience with what people are when the stakes are high enough.

          All of that said, I look at what I’ve accomplished to date, and I think I probably come up just barely on the right size of zero. It’s really unsettling. Like anyone else, I could die tomorrow. Corporate America only persists because people forget their own mortality– it would become a ghost town within hours if people fully realized that they, some day, will leave this world for the utterly unknowable– but also because they lose all sense of moral agency. Fuck everything about that.

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        Part 1 covers familiar ground for those who have been on Lobste.rs for a while and read Michael’s comments here. Part 2, however, is a broader analysis of the impact of technology on our society, and I thought it was great, especially the point about the flow-on effects of technologically driven unemployment on jobs without an immediate risk of automation. Everyone will be affected.

        However, having been in the business of automating people’s jobs, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Is there a way to avoid it without rejecting technology altogether? I think at this point it’s too late to revert to a low-tech civilisation, which is one way to avoid job loss and surveillance. We are locked into the use of technology by the magnitude and urgency of the environmental problems, and indeed, we likely need many further technological advances to fix the current mess.

        But how can technological development be directed to avoid negative social consequences (or even better, to have positive consequences)? The obvious answer is that that’s what governments are supposed to do, but just as obviously most of them have been doing a poor job over the last few decades.

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          However, having been in the business of automating people’s jobs, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Is there a way to avoid it without rejecting technology altogether?

          I think we need to accept it. Two centuries ago, the majority of Americans worked on farms. Now, about 2% of the population is directly involved in food production. We adapted to this shift, although it was painful. In the US, we had the Civil War (over the fate of slavery in an industrial economy) and the Gilded Age (unregulated capitalism, late-Reformation squabbles reflected in our insistence on a conservative so-called “protestant work ethic”) and then the Great Depression (ill-managed prosperity, leading to poverty) and finally World War II (caused by many things, but one of them was the military mobility available in a food-rich world).

          But how can technological development be directed to avoid negative social consequences (or even better, to have positive consequences)? The obvious answer is that that’s what governments are supposed to do, but just as obviously most of them have been doing a poor job over the last few decades.

          Right. One problem is that the world’s wealthy can essentially pit governments against each other. If the US raises its taxes on the rich to a reasonable level, there’s a fear of capital flight. (More likely, the wealthy will stay here; if they can’t cheat legally, as they do now, they’ll cheat illegally… that doesn’t make the rules pointless.) In the 1950s, it was possible for the US to be a low-corruption, wealthy society with a large middle class, even while the rest of the world was stuck in squalor. It no longer works that way. Globalization is both desirable and inevitable, but we have to make sure it’s done right– in a way that lifts up the rest of the world, rather than one that plunders the OECD middle class for the benefit of the rich.

          I think some governments are doing a decent job of this: Canada, Germany, and the Nordic countries. However, you’re right that the bulk of them are not, and the 5 most important countries right now are the US, Russia, China, India, and Brazil, all of which have huge problems with government corruption and economic inequality. (Next, I’d argue, is Japan. Not a lot of corruption or inequality, but their work culture is a nightmare.) It’s also important to note that the EU is no utopia either. They have slow GDP growth, low salaries for technology workers, an increasing North-South divide (recall: Grexit crisis), and far more difficulty assimilating immigrants than we do. So, there’s a lot of room for improvement everywhere… but also a lot of opportunity for things to get worse.

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            Japan has practically no unemployment, and the workers and their families are well taken care of for their troubles. It might even be blissful, depending on your personality, to focus on one thing only and off-load your woes and all else; be it long days on the farm and trust in God or long days at the office and trust in the management.

            The work is also made harder by employing people who drag the team down, who would not employed for long anywhere else. People also need to work things the West automated decades ago because people are inefficient and expensive. My understanding is that at the end of the day this is fine by “everyone” in Japan.

            To me it sounds like what a social democracy with strong unions would end up looking like, if they got their will, even here in the Nordics.

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              Japan appears to me to be held together by strict archaic codes of behaviour, homogeneity, and conformity enforced by shame. It’s great for clean streets and un-smashed vending machines (and alcohol sales), not so great for human flourishing.

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              I think we need to accept it.

              If we accept it, then I’m not sure there’s a good outcome even past the turbulent transition period. Once most jobs are gone, we arrive at the idea of universal basic income, but my concern is the word basic. The current social and economic order doesn’t encourage providing anything more than a minimal standard of living, even if machines could provide far more on the basis of an equitable distribution of resources.

              Some people think that new jobs will eventually emerge based on historical analogy, but my view is that (a) the change is happening far too rapidly for replacements to appear in a timely fashion and (b) this time is actually different because once both physical and knowledge and creative jobs are replaced, what else is there for us to do?

              Globalization is both desirable and inevitable

              I tend to think that automation is likely to have more impact than globalisation over the coming decades. Automation could even reverse globalisation in some industries because labour costs are no longer an issue. The trend towards localised energy production might also have an anti-globalisation effect.

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            We write code to do stuff that people are currently doing faster / cheaper. And we also write code to make it so that tasks that are currently too expensive to do at all with meat can be done.

            Some organisations will use this leverage to cut costs, and some will use it to do more useful work for their customers. This second group should, over time, succeed over the first. There can after all be only provider of the cheapest widgets. There can be many providers of the best widgets, because different customers value different things in their widgets.