"No one should do work that can be done by a machine"

Two "rise of the robots" stories from the US. But the situation pertains in the UK too. And under our current assumptions about the primacy of work, in these conditions of hyper-competition and hyper-efficiency, some areas of the workforce are facing permanent irrelevancy.

(Do we hear about this in the current General Election stramash? Not from parties, but from Bill Gates, proposing a tax on robots).

The evidence for their effect is mounting. See this from a Bloomberg article yesterday: 

Computers and robots are taking over many types of tasks, shoving aside some workers while boosting the productivity of specialized employees, contributing to the gap.

“Technological developments have increasingly replaced low- and mid-skilled jobs while complementing higher-skilled jobs,” said Chad Sparber, an associate professor and chair of the economic department at Colgate University.

This shift is predicted to continue. About 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be at high risk of automation by the early 2030s, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The “most-exposed” industries include retail and wholesale trade, transportation and storage, and manufacturing, with less-educated workers facing the biggest challenges.

And see an earlier report last month, also from Bloomberg

Industrial robots have had a "large" and negative effect on U.S. employment and wages in local labor markets, according to new research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Daron Acemoglu and Boston University's Pascual Restrepo.

One additional robot per thousand workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio by 0.18 percentage points to 0.34 percentage points and slashes wages by 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, based on their analysis. To put that in context, the U.S. saw an increase of about one new industrial robot for every thousand workers between 1993 and 2007, based on the study. 

"The employment effects of robots are most pronounced in manufacturing, and in particular, in industries most exposed to robots; in routine manual, blue collar, assembly and related occupations; and for workers with less than college education," the authors write. "Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, we do not find positive and offsetting employment gains in any occupation or education groups." 

Worth noting: the authors estimate that robots may have increased the wage gap between the top 90th and bottom 10 percent by as much as 1 percentage point between 1990 and 2007. There's also room for much broader robot adoption, which would make all of these effects much bigger. 

Nothing requires more of an Alternative than our acceptance that radical automation can only be introduced under conditions of extreme competition - with many millions of former workers losing out. 

Our favourite philosopher Roberto Unger puts the Alternative very well: "No one should have to do work that could be done by a machine"