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Open letter to PM Turnbull about automation

By Ad astra

Prime Minister

The people of Australia are aware of your desire that this nation and its people be agile, enterprising, and ever ready to adapt to change. I applaud your aspiration.

While some changes receive much publicity such as global warming, there is another, just as crucial, but which scarcely receives a mention. I am referring to the march of automation and the consequent displacement of humans from work they once did.

As robots progressively replace the workers who perform physical work, as algorithms make redundant people who perform cognitive tasks, the human toll increases as more and more are swept into unemployment.

The predictions are frightening. Robots are taking over jobs in manufacturing, agriculture, transport, tourism, hospitality, catering, retail, online sales, health and aged care, the service sector, and communications. Already, algorithms are being used in seventy percent of financial transactions. The trend is accelerating.

Whilst it is acknowledged that many benefits follow in the wake of automation and that productivity gains could be substantial, and while it is expected that automation will enhance national prosperity, the human cost is either being ignored or discounted by planners.

It is predicted that in the decades ahead many millions of people will lose their jobs, both here and overseas, leaving them without an income, dependent on welfare for survival.

Inequality, already high and rising, will be exacerbated.

Which brings me to the purpose of this letter.

Since it is the function of governments, civil authorities and planners to predict the future and plan for it, I seek your response to these questions:

  • What steps has your government taken to address the issue of automation and its sequelae?
  • Is there a department, a parliamentary committee, or an external body or group that has been commissioned to address the issue of automation?

If there is such a group:

  • What are the predictions about the proliferation of robots and algorithms?
  • Over what time frame has the predictions been made?
  • What effects are predicted to result from automation?
  • As people are displaced by automation and become unemployed, what provision is being made for their welfare and that of their dependents?
  • Has any consideration been given to the idea of guaranteeing all who unsuccessfully seek work or become unemployed a universal basic wage to enable their survival?
  • Does your government have a plan to manage this radical change to the work environment and the social contract of work for all?

I seek answers as a concerned citizen, deeply troubled by what lies ahead as automation takes its toll on our people.

I will anxiously await your response to my queries. In my view, in the same way as global warming threatens physical existence on our planet for all living things, automation threatens the very fabric of our human society. Both threats are dangerous; both demand the urgent attention of those to whom we have entrusted our future.

Yours respectfully

What do you think?

Have you seen any signs of Turnbull or his ministers taking any preemptive action on automation?

What action should he take?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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21 comments

  1. Matters Not

    Here’s one politician who’s thinking about it.

    Chalmers has teamed up with Mike Quigley, the former chief executive of NBN Co, to write a book about technological change, the labour force, and inequality, called Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age.

    … They believe technological change can make inequality even worse in Australia if it is left unattended. It can skew power relations for ordinary people at work, and have consequences for wages and employment conditions.

    They say there’s no such thing as “technological trickle-down,” because economic gains from artificial intelligence, automation, machine learning and robotics “will not share themselves naturally”.

    They entertain solutions as well:

    posit three broad ways in which Australians can react in the face of the coming technological revolution.

    People can be part of the “let-it-rip” crowd, that cheers on technological change without regard for wealth concentration or transitional impacts on the public.

    “This group wrongly believes, as prime minister [Malcolm] Turnbull does, that these are ‘exciting times’, whatever the consequences for those disrupted,” they argue.

    Another option is for Australians to try to resist technological change or hold it back. “This is about as likely as offices rediscovering a preference for the fax machine.”

    There is also a third way – people can try to shape the technology, correct market failures, rethink industrial relations, re-stitch the social safety net, and care about the distribution of economic power.

    It’s a publication to read. But we should face the brutal truth that politicians have no incentive to think beyond the next election. Barry Jones was the stand out exception with books and the Commission for the Future,

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/15/exciting-times-changes-in-technology-can-boost-inequality-authors-say

  2. Terry2

    The Prime Minister, whilst in India, showed enormous enthusiasm for the Adani coal mine in central Queensland – otherwise known as a stranded asset. He has said that the mine will provide ‘tens of thousands of jobs’. When asked where these numbers come from, he says they’re from a Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) report that Adani commissioned and that is not available for publication : just take his word.

    He supports the one billion dollar sweetener from the Australian taxpayer in the form of a concessional loan from the NAIF, a fund set up to encourage innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits in Northern Australia : the loan will go through by hook or by crook because Turnbull has promised Gautum Adani that it will even though there is meant to be an independent process and determination by the Board of NAIF. Of this independent Board,five of the seven NAIF board members have “strong ties” to the mining industry. Some have served on boards of mining companies while others have clients in the mining industry.

    Gautum Adani and his Australian CEO have both said on separate occasions that the mine and rail project will go ahead with or without the government loan. That in itself disqualifies them fro a loan from NAIF – the act says :

    “The Facility must not provide a Financing Mechanism unless the Board is satisfied the Project would not otherwise have received sufficient financing from other financiers..”

    BUT it will go through, folks just wait and see.

  3. Miriam English

    Nope, they appear to be completely clueless.

    I am very enthusiastically in favor of artificial intelligence (AI) solving many of our problems, while at the same time seeing the potential dangers of the transition period. Many of my stories (at http://miriam-english.org ) concern AI and its ramifications.

    We should not be scared of AI, but we should be concerned, especially if the wrong people get to control it. Luckily some of the most successful AIs, so far, are open source efforts, such as Numenta’s AIs. We can’t expect our politicians to have any inkling of what’s going on; after all, those idiots still think 19th Century steam engines are the future! Pffft! It’s up to us. We need to take hold of the future ourselves by propelling the damn fool politicians in the right directions.

    Here is a superb overview of the state of AI today by young Australian, Dagogo Altraide. (I love his videos.)
    A.I. is Progressing Faster Than You Think! (12 minutes long)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQO2PcEW9BY

  4. Miriam English

    Damn, missed your comment above, Matters Not. I’ll look further into that. Encouraging that there is at least one politician not living 2 centuries in the past.

  5. Kaye Lee

    The 2016 World Economic Forum produced a paper last year which examined employment trends.

    With “momentous change” underway, they warn that “it is our actions today that will determine whether that change mainly results in massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities.”

    “Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.”

    http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/employment-trends/

  6. Kyran

    Dear Ad astra.
    Thank you so much for your applause. Regrettably, there has not been much appreciation of my genius. Your applause is, therefore, very welcome. Albeit the sound of one hand clapping.
    Your concern is, however, unnecessary.
    It is not merely my desire that this nation and its people be agile, enterprising and ever ready to adapt to change. It is my fervent belief that they are. How can ‘the people’ have survived for so long with reduced wages, reduced conditions, reduced freedoms, reduced protections, reduced safety nets, had they not been agile, enterprising and ever ready to adapt to change? The ‘people’ have already demonstrated their capacity to live on the ‘smell of an oily rag’. How can you possibly justify a request to give them any more than their most basic of necessities?
    The weakness in your request is best demonstrated by my responding to you so quickly. Had it not been for the changes to ‘metadata’ laws and regulations, I would not have known about your plaintive plea. You see? These algorithms are here to help you.
    Your statement regarding the benefits of automation underscores your ignorance of the ‘big picture’. Whilst I loathe and detest descriptors such as ‘lefty bastards’ (ever since I was accused of being one. It was a referendum on becoming a republic, for goodness sake. Yeah, ok, I was accused of being Labor once or twice. I fixed that up by rendering absolutely useless the NBN, the most significant infrastructure this country has ever had. Surpassing Snowy #1. Which I surpassed with Snowy #2. And all I get are accusations of waffle. Bloody ingrates.), you really are a ‘lefty bastard’.
    You fail to see that the only economic benefit of workers is that they spend money. This is, after all, a capitalist society. No consumers means no business. By increasing the use of automation, we are reducing the cost of consumables. It is a matter of logic, rationale and reason, that we can, therefore, reduce the workers income.
    Admittedly, we have a few problems to overcome. The voting rules have been relaxed in a few council elections of recent years, where Pty Ltd companies get a vote. We need to be more innovative. We need to give the ‘automatons’, the ‘machines’, the capacity to vote. We are already building more jails to deal with those who require more than a vote. That McManus woman is a problem. We will throw Cash at her.
    Bearing in mind it is ‘Easter’, I have more pressing concerns. Not just the resurrection of tiny. I need to organize the crucifixion of scummo and that thing, dutton.
    Oh, look over there. If we pay the machines, who neither need money, nor can spend it, we can redirect their pay to Parakeelia or Indue. FIGJAM.
    Do you get it yet? Your concern about people is unwarranted. I am the Prime Minister. I keep telling people that. What more do you ‘lefty bastards’ want?
    Yours, nearly sincerely,
    Talcum
    (CC IPA, ACL, Newscorpse. Did I pass?)
    Thank you Ad astra and commenters. Take care. We have many rivers to cross.

  7. king1394

    As the federal government is focussed on keeping people working till 70 by denying access to the Old Age Pension, and applying more and more punitive approaches to people currently unemployed including low paid internships and longer waiting periods for so-called New Start, combined with more introductions of the cashless welfare card, it seems unlikely that this lot will be able to recognise the implications of more automation and artificial intelligence taking the physical and cognitive roles in the workplace. Expecting that the coal mining industry and coal fired power stations will continue to provide the necessary energy for the future, expecting that the private car will continue to need more and more elaborate road systems to concentrate workers in the cities shows that this is a Government well prepared for the last century, not the coming one

  8. wam

    no matter how big the lie, it is true.

    I can’t wait till AI’s cassandra obviates the need to vote because the system has already seen the result.
    ps
    kyran we survived so long because we believe there is someone worse off who deserves to be worse off.
    Even the ‘Aussie poor’ are rich enough to live well and as long as we get the occasional root, a drink and the footie on the box who gives a rat’s arse about overseas runaways climate change, political bulldust or tomorrow,

  9. astra5

    Matters Not
    Thank you for your most informative contribution to the debate. The link makes interesting reading (bookmarked), and the book reference looks valuable. I shall try to access it.

  10. astra5

    Terry2 and Kaye Lee
    Thank you for your comments about the Adani Carmichael mine. I suspect you are right and that it will be approved whatever protesters think, say or do. After all, as Guru Abbott pointed out so eloquently, ‘Coal is good for humanity’.

    The plan for automation gives the lie to the thousands of jobs that are supposed to emanate from this venture.

    We are watching a train wreck in the making, but are powerless to alter the inevitable social damage.

  11. astra5

    Miriam English
    Thank you for your addition to the debate. You are right – in the wrong hands automation can be destructive to our social fabric. But of course those who would use it for their selfish purposes irrespective of the outcomes, are not concerned about social issues, so long as those at the top prosper even more. I have bookmarked the video.

  12. astra5

    Kaye Lee
    I have bookmarked the WEF article for later reading. It looks most interesting. Thank you.

  13. astra5

    Kyran
    What a delightful piece of satire you have penned. I hope Mr Turnbull doesn’t read it before he replies to my letter!

  14. astra5

    King1394
    Sadly, I believe you are right when you say: “…it seems unlikely that this lot will be able to recognise the implications of more automation and artificial intelligence taking the physical and cognitive roles in the workplace.” Therein lies the sadness. We know automation is coming, and we can predict what the consequences will be, both good and bad, but an unprepared government that seems incapable of planning for it will magnify all the problems that emerge.

  15. astra5

    wam
    Sadly, your cynicism is not misplaced.

  16. Gangey1959

    Whilst not directly related to automation, and the many issues and problems associated with that particular bag of onions, does the cost of vegetables at the shops, especially coles and safeway, have any relationship with the cost of the vegetables in Canberra.
    Both seem to be going up in price at a far higher rate that the basic cost of living, so I was just wondering….
    Mr trumble doesn’t seem to have much of a grip on automation. About the same as what he had on the nbn I reckon. His NAFCO (Not A Fucking Clue.Org) that is setting up to have Australia pay for the destruction of the GBR to suit i.m.dumfuk, coalmerchant seems a little over the top, but aparrently it is just the jumpstart that jobson groath needs to get really wound up, and aunty gina will promise to hire more V457 truckies from north of the equator for her fully automated haulpaks just in time to cover voldemurdoch’s cuts, I suppose the headlines will tell us all how well that has worked out for us.
    Maybe we could do away with the vegetables in Canberra as well, and put in a big bank of tablets all hooked up to the http://WWW.WTF.
    (I would have suggested hooking it up to the nbn, but I haven’t got it yet.) EVERYONE in electorate X would get to debate on a site like this, reason, hanson, abuse, religious nut jobs, trumble, shortarse and all, and when the bell rings, we all get a vote. Who knows what we would decide, and it might take a few votes to get the hang of things. (A bit like it took a couple of trys before we got the P76 right)
    But think of the money Australia would save on vegetables. And flying their families around for holidays.
    PS If sliced veggies are ever required, we could always hire bronnie’s ”chopper” and use the ejector option. More money saving automation, but I think that would cause no complaints.
    Getting back to the point, it is about time that our succession of governments took up the challenge of progress from the perspective of the population. We are ALL here to make Australia BETTER. It the duty of our elected leaders to enable us to do that. It is not a political, ”Ooh there is an election in a week’s time” situation. This is Australia we are talking about. Most of us who were born here get that. Some still don’t. I thought trumbles got it, but I have worked out that he is just in this for the badges. Those souvenir cloth badges from the olden days that you used to get , from Lakes Entrance, and Manangatang, and Coober Pedy. Well, talcm trumbles has a bomber jacket that Lucy sews all of his onto. ”private school prat” ”trumble.llb” ”rhodes scholar” ”president of the Australian Republican Movement” ” Australian prime minister” ”Political Windchime” ”SELLOUT” You all get the picture.
    It’s time they all pulled their collective heads out of one another’s arses and start doing their jobs. After all, it is what they are overpaid and are screwing us more for.

    Two questions, for wiser and less tired heads than mine.
    If job ### is worth $X, and that is what everyone is happy with, should I all of a sudden be happy with a situation over which I have had NO control, where because of foreign imports and labour market competition, job ### is now only worth $50%X. Boss A and B are making 3 times as much, ye I am on half the pay. And I am now a casual. And I had better take the Union membership support sticker off my car if I want to keep the hours I am getting.
    Do I HAVE to take boss a’s mercedes down from the high racking, because I am the only one with the right forklift ticket ? It’s only a little car, and a BIG forklift, so it’s quite safe……

  17. mark

    yes,gangey.Australia,the p76 of nations.mark

  18. astra5

    Gangey1959
    PM Turnbull “doesn’t seem to have much of a grip on automation”, nor on anything else. It is hard to imagine a more incompetent government, or one that has so little aptitude and motivation for planning for our ‘nimble’ journey exploiting ‘disruption’ with innovative responses. Turnbull is simply a commentator who enjoys using contemporary cliches, with no idea of how the ideas he promotes are likely to play out in the near or distant future. It is not just pathetic; it’s frightening.

  19. Ban The Bots (@Adam_BanTheBots)

    Great letter, we need more of this. You are right, governments around the world ignore the issue because they only look in 3 or 4 year cycles, and are getting donations from the large companies that implement the automation.

    It will only be taken seriously when enough people request it. I’ve recently launched a website to help bring the question of whether automation and AI is good for humanity, or if it should be banned in some form. Human cloning was banned, so technological advancements can be stopped. Visit http://banthebots.com

  20. Trevor Vivian

    Automon and politics. Would that the future have automon politicians. Would it be any different to the present state of political Party allegiance over-riding electoral allegiance. The future is being written now via INDUE and Liberal Party fundraising. Federal ICAC a must as the shitstem is being broken deliberately by corrupt political pygmies who lie and thieve and thieve and lie with a wet lettuce for punishment while the voter does time in debtors jail. This future of wobots wobotting needs proper thought, consideration, review, education and instead we get adaily diet of headlines designed by virtue of vested interests to decieve, and a political class which wants us to believe, you know, suspend disbelief, that my interests will be taken into account. We are all learning the monstrosity that Political Liars bring after election eve is done. The truth is rather unfortunate. The shitstem is deliberately broken daily by a classless rabble of used dream salespeople who have no interest in you or I. Vote often, vote wisely.

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