Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 5th Dec 2016 21:08 UTC
In the News

Amazon Go is a new kind of store with no checkout required. We created the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line. With our Just Walk Out Shopping experience, simply use the Amazon Go app to enter the store, take the products you want, and go! No lines, no checkout. (No, seriously.)

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you're done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we'll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I find this absolutely fascinating and immensely desirable.

I live in a small rural town in the middle of nowhere, and only very recently did we finally get a brand new supermarket with the latest self-checkout and contactless payment technologies (voted most beautiful supermarket in the country, I might add, and a 73-year old family business - we're proud of our own), and it's just so much more convenient than old-fashioned cash registers. I know a number of people prefer being served by a cashier, but honestly - to me it's just wasted time I could spend on something useful.

In any event, the idea of just taking stuff off the shelves, without even having to scan them or pay for them at a terminal seems like the next logical step. I don't like the idea of online grocery shopping (I want to see how fresh my produce is before buying it), so this is an excellent compromise.

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Anon
Member since:
2006-01-02

.... and a huge data centre of servers to do the computing.

I can't see this happening at your local supermarket any day soon. No doubt Amazon have a hundreds cameras tracking your movements in such a store, and are sending this information to their cloud for processing.

They can make such a concept viable at the moment, as they have the raw computing power and money for the initial capital outlay.

Makes you wonder what jobs uni/college students or lower-class will have in the future, given everything 'remedial' is being automated.

Reply Score: 3

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

Automation comes only if it is cheaper than manual labor, however margins fall with competition, so prices fall as well. In the end, part times jobs can provide similar living conditions that we have right now, and the situation will stabilize.

Though it is not natural, or at least not natural now to work 4 days, I could do that, but 1 days of extra work seems to worth the price. I wonder sometimes, what would I choose: 25% percent of pay raise or 4 days of work week with same salary? I am afraid I would choose the first one.

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

feamatar,

Automation comes only if it is cheaper than manual labor, however margins fall with competition, so prices fall as well. In the end, part times jobs can provide similar living conditions that we have right now, and the situation will stabilize.


In theory, sure, but that's not what actually happens. Automation displaces workers, who are left competing for fewer jobs and less income. The automated cashiers here have not brought down prices, at best they might stop prices from rising as fast. I'm paying significantly higher prices for food now than ten years ago before automated cashiers. For example bread I was buying for $0.99 is now $2.50. Same with fruits and veggies. Sometimes I walk out of the grocery store without what I walked in to buy because it's too expensive when it's not on sale. Between fewer opportunities, consolidation, and wage stagnation, those who've been displaced are doing exceptionally badly paying higher prices and making less income. Obviously it's not just grocery stores but any occupation that faces the threat of automation.


The government steps in and gives assistance to 20% of the population in the form food stamps to make sure nobody physically starves, but the fact that this is necessary is a clear sign that things are broken. The thing is america is not poor by any stretch of the imagination and is setting records for GDP, the problem is purely economic imbalance - one that is largely caused by automation and the fact that owners simply don't need hired labor anymore. Instead of redistributing revenue in the form of paychecks, they just keep it themselves. Because, why not.

This is why Trump's motion to slash corporate taxes by half isn't going to work...sure employers will have more money to theoretically afford more labor. But in reality owners aren't suddenly going to be charitable, if they spend it at all, they're going to get the best bang for their buck with more cost-saving automation.


Just to be clear, I'm not against automation. In a utopia almost everything related to work could be automated. However this is fundamentally incompatible with capitalism, when you really think about it. If all work is automated and you don't own the means of production then you have absolutely nothing to offer to produce income for yourself.

So while I know automation could do a lot to make our lives better and be a net gain for humanity, it will be a destructive force for a great deal of the population if we fail to fix the economic models that disproportionately distribute the wealth to the upper class owners at the expense of lower class workers.

Edited 2016-12-06 00:55 UTC

Reply Score: 6

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

I very much agree with you.

Reply Score: 1

Dispute
by WorknMan on Mon 5th Dec 2016 22:01 UTC
WorknMan
Member since:
2005-11-13

I wonder how you'll be able to dispute charges when their 'deep learning' computers screw up. 'Honestly, I didn't buy a box of rubbers that day ...'

Reply Score: 2

RE: Dispute
by Morgan on Tue 6th Dec 2016 02:54 UTC in reply to "Dispute"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Or worse, you remove an item from the shelf to read the ingredients but the system hiccups when you decide to place it back, and only registers that you removed it. You get charged for it; how do you prove that you didn't take it?

The only thing I can think of is serial numbered individual items, but that's a massive burden on Amazon's part. They would have to slap an RFID tag with a serial number on every single item in the store, which is cost prohibitive especially at the current scale. It's either that, or Amazon deals with incidents case by case which gets expensive quickly, certainly far more costly than the individual item is worth.

This has a long, long way to go before it's good enough to displace standard supermarkets and grocery stores. To quote Marty McFly: "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it!"

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Dispute
by kwan_e on Tue 6th Dec 2016 03:51 UTC in reply to "RE: Dispute"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

The only thing I can think of is serial numbered individual items, but that's a massive burden on Amazon's part. They would have to slap an RFID tag with a serial number on every single item in the store, which is cost prohibitive especially at the current scale.


Is it? I hear Amazon's warehouse automation is lightning quick.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Dispute
by Morgan on Tue 6th Dec 2016 04:26 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Dispute"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Well, it's a pilot program for what they hope will become a large scale empire, so maybe they would bother to retool for it. My point was more that it would be a huge initial outlay for such a small store, with no guarantee that the whole concept would even take off. Tons of money and time to burn there.

Then again, this is Amazon we're talking about; they are known for crash-and-burn moonshot ideas (Kindle Fire Phone, anyone?).

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Dispute
by Alfman on Tue 6th Dec 2016 05:04 UTC in reply to "RE: Dispute"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Morgan,

The only thing I can think of is serial numbered individual items, but that's a massive burden on Amazon's part. They would have to slap an RFID tag with a serial number on every single item in the store, which is cost prohibitive especially at the current scale. It's either that, or Amazon deals with incidents case by case which gets expensive quickly, certainly far more costly than the individual item is worth.


I think you were speaking hypothetically, but Walmart is an interesting case study as a retailer that actually tried it:
http://www.zdnet.com/article/did-wal-mart-love-rfid-to-death/

Anyways, I'm a bit unclear how Amazon intends to cope with produce like corn or potatoes that traditionally need to be weighed? Would they only sell pre-bagged items?


Or worse, you remove an item from the shelf to read the ingredients but the system hiccups when you decide to place it back, and only registers that you removed it. You get charged for it; how do you prove that you didn't take it?


It seems kind of lame that you'd have to wait for amazon to charge you only once you leave. Not that I think amazon would deliberately try to mischarge customers, but logically if the technology actually worked, then it should let you see items added in real time and let you review the receipt before you leave the store. Otherwise all of the disputes necessarily have to happen once it's too late to actually verify anything in your possession.

It makes so little sense to charge afterwards that I'm thinking their reason for doing it is because there's a bit of mechanical turk at play. Then it makes sense: rather than over-provisioning human observers to eliminate wait times during peek periods, amazon decided to staff the human observers for average periods, allow it to backlog, and simply defer charges until the observers can catch up.

I'm saying this without evidence, but considering that amazon actually have their own mechanical turk services, it isn't that far fetched.
https://www.mturk.com/


For a pilot program, mechanical turk makes sense, the rates are likely much lower than a normal cashier. Boy I never imagined this kind of work could be offshored, but it might be what's happening, haha.

Edit: In case not everyone knows what a "mechanical turk" is: Turk was originally the name of a machine that demonstrated the ability to play chess against many human players, but in actuality was under the control of human operators.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turk

Edited 2016-12-06 05:20 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: Dispute
by shotsman on Tue 6th Dec 2016 06:54 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Dispute"
shotsman Member since:
2005-07-22

Just say NO to Amazon.

They want to take over our retail lives.
They want to know everything we buy or browse for or talk about at home so that they can send up adverts for these items even after we have either bought one or not looked at that type of item for months and months.
{I looked at childrens toys 6-9 year old several years ago. I recieved an 'we think you might like' ad for those toys yesterday. The Boy concerned is well past the age for those toys}

Sorry. I do not want their version of the future.

As a result, I shop more and more locally and pay cash thus not leaving a digital trail.
If I do shop online I buy from a number of different suppliers and my Amazon spend this year is around 40% of what it was last year. I'm aiming to spend very little with them next year and nothing costing more than £10.00 i.e. e-books only.

You can make a difference.

Reply Score: 5

RE[4]: Dispute
by Morgan on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:12 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Dispute"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

You know, people say that Google will be the company to give us the "Star Trek" future, a world of voice controlled computers managing every aspect of our daily lives. I'm thinking that while Google will continue to grow and contribute to such a future, it's really going to be Amazon that pushes hardest in this space. After all, Google is just a search and advertising company at its core, with no real products. Amazon is and always was a physical sales company that eventually branched into digital products and services. Google knows how to make money off of our searches and location data, but Amazon does that while selling us physical products every day as well.

I see things like this[1] and I have to wonder how the future will look even 20 years from now, when perhaps Google and Amazon merge into a juggernaut controlling our entire digital experience from search to data storage and retrieval to product purchases delivered by drones and robots. We will wake up to an alarm set by Google Now based on our monitored normal daily routine, our coffee pot will start perking because it got the signal from Alexa that our alarm went off, the TV will turn on and tune to the channel we always watch the news on (the Amazon News channel, of course), and what's that? An Amazon drone is wirelessly ringing the doorbell, bringing our piping hot breakfast from the bistro down the street. And of course, we are charged microtransactions for each and every one of these "life changing" events, meanwhile GoogleZon sells our lifestyle data to companies who will advertise to us about even more products for GoogleZon to sell to us tomorrow.

[1] https://chrisuehlinger.com/blog/2016/08/20/voice-controlled-smart-mi...

Reply Score: 3

RE[5]: Dispute
by darknexus on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:31 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: Dispute"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

Amusing, but you left out a way to automatically grind and fill the coffee pot first. It can perk all it wants to but if there's nothing in it, no coffee will ever come out of it. This is one place where I think we're going overboard in all these interconnected devices. There's no point to having an IoT coffee maker/toaster/dishwasher/whatever, because in the end you have to prepare everything first anyway. What good is an IoT coffee pot if I still have to fill it up manually? It's easier not to have to have it be IoT in that case, because I'm already physically in front of the device anyway.

Reply Score: 2

RE[6]: Dispute
by Morgan on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:59 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: Dispute"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Why, the house robot will do it of course! ;-)

I get it though; I never understood why my parents spent so much money on a coffee pot with a clock and timer if they had to put the grounds and water in it the night before. By morning the grounds have oxidized and lost most of their flavor.

I guess what we're all really waiting for is the food replicator to be invented. Only then will the IoT household really take off!

Reply Score: 2

RE[7]: Dispute
by darknexus on Tue 6th Dec 2016 18:49 UTC in reply to "RE[6]: Dispute"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

I guess what we're all really waiting for is the food replicator to be invented. Only then will the IoT household really take off!

Well, if it can't even get hot, plain, tomato soup correct...

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Dispute
by piotr.dobrogost on Tue 6th Dec 2016 19:52 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Dispute"
piotr.dobrogost Member since:
2011-10-04

While you are at it just say no to motor vehicles, too.

Reply Score: 1

Wasted time
by jessesmith on Tue 6th Dec 2016 02:29 UTC
jessesmith
Member since:
2010-03-11

I found the "wasted time" comment with regards to dealing with human cashiers odd. Self-serve checkouts where I live are always much slower than dealing with a human cashier. And ther terminals are a huge pain to navigate interface-wise. I find it faster and more pleasant to deal with a human than a machine that's going to (slowly) get me to scan things and place them in/out of a bag three times each. Plus I generally like people and I'd rather say hi to a cashier than push buttons on a screen.

Reply Score: 6

RE: Wasted time
by jal_ on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:04 UTC in reply to "Wasted time"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Self-serve checkouts where I live are always much slower than dealing with a human cashier.

It depends on the type of checkout. In the Netherlands, after experimenting with end-of-the-line self-checkouts, "scan while you shop" systems are the norm. When finished, all there's left to do is pay. It works quite well and efficiently.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Wasted time
by Ibrahim on Wed 7th Dec 2016 17:10 UTC in reply to "Wasted time"
Ibrahim Member since:
2016-11-03

Agree, self check-out is a PITA with kids. Bless their little hearts, but their willingness to help, slows down the process drastically. Constant "Please remove last item from bagging area" when they lean or sit on the scales. Followed by "Please wait for assistance".

I prefer human cashiers. I just don't need to know their life story while they're scanning my groceries.

What I would like to see is cash-free stores. I haven't carried cash in over 15 years. Yet my business is still being turned away because I don't carry cash.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Wasted time
by Alfman on Wed 7th Dec 2016 18:09 UTC in reply to "RE: Wasted time"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

lbrahim,

Agree, self check-out is a PITA with kids. Bless their little hearts, but their willingness to help, slows down the process drastically. Constant "Please remove last item from bagging area" when they lean or sit on the scales. Followed by "Please wait for assistance".

I prefer human cashiers. I just don't need to know their life story while they're scanning my groceries


The usability of self-checkout depends alot on implementation, but in general I prefer humans too. If/when grocery stores start charging differential pricing for the human cashiers versus self-checkout lanes, then that will raise quite the dilemma for me and I suspect a lot of others who don't want to pay for the luxury of human help that we've always taken for granted before.


What I would like to see is cash-free stores. I haven't carried cash in over 15 years. Yet my business is still being turned away because I don't carry cash.


I don't understand, unless I'm at a fair with street vendors or something odd like that I never have trouble buying with credit.

Edited 2016-12-07 18:20 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Big Brother Lite
by kwan_e on Tue 6th Dec 2016 03:49 UTC
kwan_e
Member since:
2007-02-18

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you're done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we'll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.


Not that I have anything against this, but it is funny in an ironic way.

I keep my budget down by only buying in cash, and keeping as little cash as I need on me. At least with a credit card, there's still some limiting factor. But with Just Walk Out, I think a lot of people are going to overspend.

And I wonder if the technology can even keep up with Black Friday sales. Surely it can't be easy to keep track of thousands of people taking and putting things off and on shelves and walking in and out of the store.

And what about people who have the disability that prevents them from putting things back on shelves where they found it?

Reply Score: 2

RE: Big Brother Lite
by Sauron on Tue 6th Dec 2016 06:56 UTC in reply to "Big Brother Lite"
Sauron Member since:
2005-08-02

And what about people who have the disability that prevents them from putting things back on shelves where they found it?

You mean shoplifters?
A automated gun turret should take care of that little problem! ;)

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Big Brother Lite
by kwan_e on Tue 6th Dec 2016 07:19 UTC in reply to "RE: Big Brother Lite"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

"And what about people who have the disability that prevents them from putting things back on shelves where they found it?

You mean shoplifters?
A automated gun turret should take care of that little problem! ;)
"

No, I'm talking about people that takes things off the shelves, then decides they don't want it, then place it on a random shelf somewhere else because they were too lazy or stupid.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Big Brother Lite
by oiaohm on Tue 6th Dec 2016 08:51 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Big Brother Lite"
oiaohm Member since:
2009-05-30

Computer tracking of what you pick up and where you put it means Amazon might not exactly care instead charge you a restocking fee for every miss placed item that they have to send a staff member/future robot to put back in the correct place.

The Amazon system is a check in system with person tracking. Person tracking means they can now in fact detail who is the lazy people who don't put stuff back in the right place.

Welcome to big brother. Please note the customer tracking system is not exactly new.
https://www.cnet.com/news/high-tech-software-for-retailers-discreetl...
This is 2013 it was that bad but it has been improving.

kwan_e people putting stuff in incorrect places has been normal retail since forever but what Amazon has might in fact end it. Evil would be a restocking fee of 50 dollars per item incorrectly placed would not take long for people to be either bankrupt or learn how to put stuff back or only take what they will buy.

Biggest reason why a person who puts item back in wrong place never gets punished if the fact it not tracked.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Big Brother Lite
by darknexus on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:02 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Big Brother Lite"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

No, I'm talking about people that takes things off the shelves, then decides they don't want it, then place it on a random shelf somewhere else because they were too lazy or stupid.

They deserve what they get, and they sure as all get out aren't disabled either. If such a basic skill as putting something back where they found it is beyond them, they need to go back to kindergarten.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Big Brother Lite
by kwan_e on Tue 6th Dec 2016 23:20 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Big Brother Lite"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

and they sure as all get out aren't disabled either.


That was called: a joke. Calling something a disability when it's not is a joke.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: Big Brother Lite
by darknexus on Wed 7th Dec 2016 13:00 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: Big Brother Lite"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

"and they sure as all get out aren't disabled either.


That was called: a joke. Calling something a disability when it's not is a joke.
"
Usually I pick up on jokes, but that one went right past me. I actually thought you were serious because they actually do try to claim that very thing sometimes.

Reply Score: 2

'Immensely desirable'
by boblowski on Tue 6th Dec 2016 13:46 UTC
boblowski
Member since:
2007-07-23

Thom, I share the love and fascination for technology with most users here, but this eagerness to replace basic low skilled jobs with technological solutions is a bit unsettling. Especially since you're talking about jobs that you and I assume your friends probably never will be depended on.

Of course the world changes and basic jobs have always been replaced by technological advances, but a triumphant 'absolutely fascinating and immensely desirable' seems to be a bit out of place to me. Recently a co-worker mentioned to me that he 'would be grateful if we could finally get rid of those postal services that nobody needs.'

It all sounds a bit too Messianic to me.

Living (I believe) in the Netherlands, what good is it to you that the income of somebody that could live in your street is replaced by dividends paid to the shareholders of an American company? What makes you so grateful about that?

It's a serious question, because I really don't get this sentiment.

Is it because you don't like watching a person doing work for you? Do you want to limit the time you spend with people you don't directly connect to? Is it a step towards a brighter labor-free future you envision?

For me as a customer at least, the benefit of many of these technological advances seems very limited. In most cases it means existing jobs are not replaced by technology, but by the free labor of the customer or client.

Reply Score: 2

RE: 'Immensely desirable'
by jal_ on Tue 6th Dec 2016 15:07 UTC in reply to "'Immensely desirable'"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

As a consumer, I do not want to pay for letting other people have a job, I want to pay for services and/or goods. If it's cheap for me, that's good. If it's more expensive just so my neighbour has a job, that's not good.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: 'Immensely desirable'
by darknexus on Tue 6th Dec 2016 19:15 UTC in reply to "RE: 'Immensely desirable'"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

As a consumer, I do not want to pay for letting other people have a job, I want to pay for services and/or goods. If it's cheap for me, that's good. If it's more expensive just so my neighbour has a job, that's not good.

Remember that you said something this heartless when you are the one out of a job.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: 'Immensely desirable'
by jal_ on Wed 7th Dec 2016 08:20 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: 'Immensely desirable'"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Remember that you said something this heartless when you are the one out of a job.

That's not heartless. I'm perfectly willing to pay more taxes to make sure everybody has social security to fall back on, and I'm all for a social government. But I think it's ridiculous to pay extra in a store just so other people have a job. If you extend that, you can have every job hire twice or thrice the number of people, and you pay 80 or 100% more for the goods or services.

Reply Score: 3

RE[4]: 'Immensely desirable'
by darknexus on Wed 7th Dec 2016 13:02 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: 'Immensely desirable'"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

So wait, you're perfectly fine to extend taxes, guaranteeing we all have less money, but... you're unwilling to pay extra to actual people for them to do work to get said money? You'd rather have them sitting around doing nothing, and paying the same amount (or more) of money in the end only to the government instead?
The lack of logic baffles the brain.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: 'Immensely desirable'
by jal_ on Wed 7th Dec 2016 13:25 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: 'Immensely desirable'"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

The lack of logic baffles the brain.

I'm in no mood to discuss this off-topic stuff here. But yeah, I'm not willing to pay for gross inefficiency just so people can have jobs. That creates communist-style economies. We all know how that went.

Reply Score: 2

RE[6]: 'Immensely desirable'
by darknexus on Wed 7th Dec 2016 15:28 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: 'Immensely desirable'"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

I'm in no mood to discuss this off-topic stuff here.

Ah, did I touch a raw nerve? You're the one who brought it up, after all. I notice that not being in the mood to discuss it often happens when one is backed into a corner. It doesn't strike me as off-topic either, given what this article and the discussion going on around it are about.

Reply Score: 2

RE[7]: 'Immensely desirable'
by jal_ on Wed 7th Dec 2016 15:43 UTC in reply to "RE[6]: 'Immensely desirable'"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Ok, fine, let's discuss it some more. What I hear you saying, though I don't wanna pull a strawman so correct me if I'm wrong, is that we should put a limit on trying to automate things because otherwise people that have a job now will be unemployed. If so, you do realize that this reasoning is at least as old as the Luddites, right? And that this trope has been used for every step of automization the world has seen since? I'm not saying it's completely without merrit, but the industrial revolution didn't make us all out of a job. It just changed the type of jobs available. So did the rise of computers. And so did the rise of self-service super markets.

Reply Score: 2

RE[6]: 'Immensely desirable'
by Alfman on Wed 7th Dec 2016 15:49 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: 'Immensely desirable'"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

jal_,

I'm in no mood to discuss this off-topic stuff here. But yeah, I'm not willing to pay for gross inefficiency just so people can have jobs.



Nobody wants to pay for inefficiency, the challenge is making sure everyone can prosper in an efficient economy. Capitalism only works well when everyone has a productive role.

Now you can suggest that it's everyone's own responsibility to find a productive role, however this makes a crucial assumption that there are productive roles to be had for the general population and that we are willing to pay them for something. Otherwise we'd just be blaming them for the lack of opportunity they have no control over. Saying that everyone should invest in a tech education, as some suggest, doesn't scale because we're already quite saturated and every couple thousand jobs in tech has the potential to displace millions of other jobs.


This point is worth elaborating on: In a factory comprised of human workers, the number of workers is directly proportional to the units of output. When that company's market grows, so does employment by the same amount, and so growth is good for everyone. In an automated factory, production can be drastically increased by machines with only a modest increase in human workers. This relationship between workers and output is more logarithmic:

jobs = ln(output)



It gets even worse when you consider the effects of mergers where two companies are converted into one with the same output, but the logarithmic employment curve indicates employment is far less than the sum of employment at the two former companies:

jobs_a = ln(output_a)
jobs_b = ln(output_b)

jobs_ab = ln(output_a+output_b)

jobs_ab much smaller than jobs_a + jobs_b



I understand you don't care about those jobs, probably because it doesn't affect you yet, but I think it's crucial that we at least acknowledge the fundamental weaknesses of capitalism itself as automation continues to displace the workforce.

That creates communist-style economies. We all know how that went.


Times are different now. Capitalism works well for growing markets, however once they mature the positives of capitalism are gone and the negatives dominate. In other words, the incumbents get all the wealth and control not because of merit, but simply because they already own everything and everyone else's costs to displace them is far greater than their own costs to just sit there as an incumbent.

Consider a game of monopoly, at the beginning the board is filled with opportunity. Towards the end there's no opportunity for new players. While the real world is much bigger & slower than the game, it's still a model of how power consolidates and opportunity dries up as markets become mature. Many people want to think these economic downturns are cyclic, but the end game for capitalism is not cyclic, it's a sustained long term state wherein few own and control everything.

There are opportunities in new markets, like space travel and autonomous vehicles. But these are either out of reach for middle class entrepreneurs (do you like my pun ;) ) or they will represent a net loss, like middle class trucking jobs.

So, barring some new market that makes capitalism useful again, the best years for it are behind us.

Edited 2016-12-07 15:52 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[7]: 'Immensely desirable'
by jal_ on Wed 7th Dec 2016 16:09 UTC in reply to "RE[6]: 'Immensely desirable'"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

So, barring some new market that makes capitalism useful again, the best years for it are behind us.

I fully agree. However, we should always be careful not to turn into a bunch of Luddites.

Reply Score: 2

Sense of place
by rhy7s on Thu 8th Dec 2016 02:23 UTC
rhy7s
Member since:
2008-08-04

I live in a small rural town in the middle of nowhere, and only very recently did we finally get a brand new supermarket with the latest self-checkout and contactless payment technologies


I just found this mildly amusing, I don't associate the middle of nowhere with having a supermarket. I don't consider that I live in the middle of nowhere and we have to drive an hour to get to the supermarket and we only do that every month or two. Unless items were RFID tagged or you could scan into the trolley, I think the current cashier system is faster for us as you have one of us unloading the trolley/s someone scanning and someone packing. We'd just be holding things up or the supermarket would have to have much more floor space dedicated to self-checkout to get throughput for a fair few large volume purchasers.

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