General Automation Thread

N&P: Discuss governments, nations, politics and recent related news here.

Moderators: Alyrium Denryle, SCRawl, Thanas, Edi, K. A. Pital

Post Reply
Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-10 02:49pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-10 12:00pm
Wrong assumptions lead to wrong conclusions.

First of all, the share of labour in income - both national and corporate - has been, is and will be steadily declining. Therefore the labour costs are only a small share of the total expenditures of a successful corporation,
This does not follow.

Moreover, even if wages are, say, 40% of a company's expenses, if wages rise by 20%, the company's expenses increase by 8%. This is often enough to wipe out a profit margin. And I'm not even saying that's bad, but we should hardly expect the company to sign up for it voluntarily, any more than we would expect a sneak thief to stand bravely in the open and return the stolen goods.
...and if exists using wage slaves, maybe something's wrong with the business model?
Please define "wage slaves" rigorously, so that I can respond.
Secondly, corporations engage in creative accounting. The cash flow must be there and so must the profits to support insane valuations. Problem is, investors know the dirty schemes and the corporation leaders know. The rest seem to be misled by the "poor cowmpanys" play.
Just to be clear, you are arguing that corporations in general, and Jack in the Box particular, are underreporting their income or overreporting their expesenses, so as to conceal a large share of their profit margin?

In industries where there is direct competition (such as fast food hamburger sales), this usually results in someone trying to drive the competitors out of business by undercutting their prices. Systematic conspiracies to maintain the price of fast food hamburgers 20% or more above what they need to be to keep the burger franchise running strike me as unlikely.
Thirdly, there had been a massive decoupling of the minimum wage from everything - GDP indicators, profit indicators, etc. For years. In terms of purchasing power, the minimum wage American worker is now poorer than in the past.
This is entirely true, but has nothing to do with the question I was asked.
If under these conditions corporations can't pay a decent wage, well, they should really die.
I don't disagree. I have no problem with the claim "corporations have become so bad at distributing resources that they are no longer worth having in our society." Civilization has just as much right to tell corporations they are (so to speak) fired for being unprofitable for civilization as the corporations have to fire workers for not doing enough work to justify the cost of paying them.

See, I don't mind the idea of living in a world where corporations get abolished for being terrible. I'm not sure we'd be smart to do that, but I don't mind the idea. I do not love corporations or even particularly approve of them.

At the same time, they do not now and never had the mandate to be charities. We should not be surprised that they do not behave as charitable organizations. If we put them under certain systems of incentives, their reactions are predictable, just as a man who is overheated will predictably take off his coat, or a man who is cold will predictably put it on.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-10 04:22pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-10 12:00pm
Wrong assumptions lead to wrong conclusions. First of all, the share of labour in income - both national and corporate - has been, is and will be steadily declining. Therefore the labour costs are only a small share of the total expenditures of a successful corporation,
This does not follow. Moreover, even if wages are, say, 40% of a company's expenses, if wages rise by 20%, the company's expenses increase by 8%. This is often enough to wipe out a profit margin. And I'm not even saying that's bad, but we should hardly expect the company to sign up for it voluntarily, any more than we would expect a sneak thief to stand bravely in the open and return the stolen goods.
I agree they won't raise wages voluntarily (when have they ever had done so out of sheer goodwill, anyway)? But fact is, labour's share of costs is on the decline. Or at least it seems so. And note that a ridiculous amount of production is done in China and India, bottom of the graph with a 12% and below-10% share.
Image
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
Please define "wage slaves" rigorously, so that I can respond.
Members of the working class who compose the precariously-employed at minimum wage, below min-wage or around min-wage levels, where a large overlap with the working poor category exists (I'd say there's almost an equivalence).
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
Just to be clear, you are arguing that corporations in general, and Jack in the Box particular, are underreporting their income or overreporting their expesenses, so as to conceal a large share of their profit margin? In industries where there is direct competition (such as fast food hamburger sales), this usually results in someone trying to drive the competitors out of business by undercutting their prices. Systematic conspiracies to maintain the price of fast food hamburgers 20% or more above what they need to be to keep the burger franchise running strike me as unlikely.
Corporations in general do underreport incomes and engage in "tax optimization" on a global scale, sometimes letting a huge part of their business to even run with a paper loss to let a conveniently tax-haven located entity accumulate more profit. Those who are more honest just accumulate the profits in a most convenient jurisdiction (not a tax haven but say the core country where business is conducted, or the country where company had been created initially). But that is common practice.
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
This is entirely true, but has nothing to do with the question I was asked.
If this is true, why do these businesses work only by employing people at minimum wage levels? Are you saying that over the decades of stagnating real median wages and declining minimum wages, they've actually structured their businesses in such a way that there's no buffer to raise wages, and it is a race to the bottom? I guess then something has to be done, the sooner the better.
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
I don't disagree. I have no problem with the claim "corporations have become so bad at distributing resources that they are no longer worth having in our society." Civilization has just as much right to tell corporations they are (so to speak) fired for being unprofitable for civilization as the corporations have to fire workers for not doing enough work to justify the cost of paying them.

See, I don't mind the idea of living in a world where corporations get abolished for being terrible. I'm not sure we'd be smart to do that, but I don't mind the idea. I do not love corporations or even particularly approve of them.

At the same time, they do not now and never had the mandate to be charities. We should not be surprised that they do not behave as charitable organizations. If we put them under certain systems of incentives, their reactions are predictable, just as a man who is overheated will predictably take off his coat, or a man who is cold will predictably put it on.
Yes, you're right, if we consider the aspect of how they react and behave, it is probably natural. In that, I've got no disagreement.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

User avatar
Ziggy Stardust
Sith Devotee
Posts: 2754
Joined: 2006-09-10 10:16pm
Location: Research Triangle, NC

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2018-01-10 05:13pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-10 04:22pm
But fact is, labour's share of costs is on the decline. Or at least it seems so. And note that a ridiculous amount of production is done in China and India, bottom of the graph with a 12% and below-10% share.
That figure, to me, does not seem very convincing. I don't deny necessarily that the basic argument "labour's share of costs is on the decline" is generally true, since I don't claim to know enough about the topic, but simply that this figure does not seem to stand on its own as strong evidence of such a claim.

The only lines on that plot that seem to show an unambiguous decline are Germany and "S. Europe" (which is so nebulous that, without a more specific definition, I would postulate is pretty noisy data). They each appear to decline ~10% from 1992 to 2011. All of the other lines, with the exception of China, appear to modulate cyclically and end this time period at approximately the same level at which they began. China shows a sharp rise and then a sharp fall, but there is also far less data on them then for any of the other regions, and I think you could make a strong argument that China from 2005-2011 is an economy undergoing a rather radical amount of growth and change and it is difficult to generalize that trend without further context.

(If anything, the most interesting trend that I notice on this graph is the relative homogenization of labor cost share in Europe. The between-country variability is far lower in 2011 than in 1992, with some countries, like Germany, decreasing and other countries, like UK, increasing, until the costs are all within a relatively narrow range of each other. Which I think speaks more to the integration of the European economy post-Cold War, than it does to any supposed universal trend towards greater disenfranchisement of labor)

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-10 06:47pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-10 04:22pm
I agree they won't raise wages voluntarily (when have they ever had done so out of sheer goodwill, anyway)? But fact is, labour's share of costs is on the decline. Or at least it seems so. And note that a ridiculous amount of production is done in China and India, bottom of the graph with a 12% and below-10% share.
Based on this graph, labor expenses are declining, but slowly, And not to low enough levels that questions like "what happens if wages rise by 20%" can't be a major incentive that drives corporations to change their hiring practices. Say, by paying four men ten dollars an hour instead of five men eight dollars an hour, and buying a robot to make up the lost productivity while keeping labor expenses constant.

Also, bringing up China and India is totally pointless in this context, because this discussion was specifically about corporations in the US (and by extension, other developed countries).
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
Please define "wage slaves" rigorously, so that I can respond.
Members of the working class who compose the precariously-employed at minimum wage, below min-wage or around min-wage levels, where a large overlap with the working poor category exists (I'd say there's almost an equivalence).
A large part of the issue is that many businesses in the US operate using relatively marginal labor. They need to be able to function with employees who have minimal education and very possibly below-average levels of intelligence, motivation, and aptitude for any given task. That is, yes, potentially a flawed business model, if you charge people enough money for the benefits of hiring some of the least desirable workers in the job market.

Which is how you get corporations deciding to change their business model, hire fewer and possibly more carefully selected people, and use automation to make up the difference.
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
Just to be clear, you are arguing that corporations in general, and Jack in the Box particular, are underreporting their income or overreporting their expesenses, so as to conceal a large share of their profit margin? In industries where there is direct competition (such as fast food hamburger sales), this usually results in someone trying to drive the competitors out of business by undercutting their prices. Systematic conspiracies to maintain the price of fast food hamburgers 20% or more above what they need to be to keep the burger franchise running strike me as unlikely.
Corporations in general do underreport incomes and engage in "tax optimization" on a global scale, sometimes letting a huge part of their business to even run with a paper loss to let a conveniently tax-haven located entity accumulate more profit. Those who are more honest just accumulate the profits in a most convenient jurisdiction (not a tax haven but say the core country where business is conducted, or the country where company had been created initially). But that is common practice.
Okay. Do you have any indications of what the real numbers are on what percent of a corporation's income it manages to keep in the form of profits? Especially for the kind of companies we're talking about here, such as retail chains and fast food restaurants?
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-10 02:49pm
This is entirely true, but has nothing to do with the question I was asked.
If this is true, why do these businesses work only by employing people at minimum wage levels? Are you saying that over the decades of stagnating real median wages and declining minimum wages, they've actually structured their businesses in such a way that there's no buffer to raise wages, and it is a race to the bottom? I guess then something has to be done, the sooner the better.
There's a buffer, but the buffer is simply to hire fewer people and buy more robots.

All free markets tend to race to the bottom, that's one of the best AND worst things about capitalism! It's very hard to sustainably reap very large profits from anything in a free market, because as long as a competitor exists, they can always decide to cut their profits a bit to put you out of business. Profit margins can only go so high on a sustainable basis before someone starts undercutting you on price.

Correspondingly, it incentivizes all agents in a market economy to cut every corner they can get away with. Even if they don't, someone else will... and that someone will end up putting them out of business.

But if a business like Jack-in-the-Box were actually sitting on, say, 20-30% profit margins or something, it would be relatively easy for someone to start franchises that charge 10% less for hamburgers across the board and choke them out of business.

It's sort of like how natural selection ensures that there is not normally any species of animal that "has it too good,' that prospers so much that it can grow fat and happy and secure from all threats. Any species that finds a safe, prosperous enough niche to do that will immediately create niches for predators and parasites seeking to drain away some of the benefits.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
His Divine Shadow
Commence Primary Ignition
Posts: 11841
Joined: 2002-07-03 07:22am
Location: Vasa, Finland

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by His Divine Shadow » 2018-01-11 02:47am

I think it's not that simple but we can still express the problem in a simple way, namely poor people gotta get more money, and for less work too since americans are basically working themselves to death as is.

That way the economy will grow and the growth will offset the increased wage costs. Like in the postwar boom of WW2, that rising tide lifted all boats, even the rich- Poor people got mo money! More money in peoples pockets, more spending, more growth. All that money in tax paradises is doing nothing useful and extreme luxury consumption is not enough to drive an economy. Poor people though they will spend that money.

We've completely and totally shat on the demand side of the economy since the 80s, but it does exist and needs attention too, many economists have mentioned the global growth is due to lack of demand, people consume less because they have less money and credit's not working naymore to fill up the gaps. It's arguably far more important to growth than all the venture capitalists and other wealth critters.

Mo money or you'll get mo populism.

Still gonna be hard to ge that working when capital is allowed to free flowly and they can just escape with their ill gotten gains, free movement of capital should be permanently abolished on a global level IMO.
Those who beat their swords into plowshares will plow for those who did not.

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-11 11:14am

I think this expresses the issue very effectively. I think it is a sound justification for minimum wage increases, though I think such increases should be at a moderate rate each year rather than in a single big 'whack.'

Saying "corporations fire people and automate jobs because they're greedy" is pointless. Corporations are predictable creatures that react predictably to predictable stimuli.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-11 12:17pm

Simon wrote:It's very hard to sustainably reap very large profits from anything in a free market, because as long as a competitor exists, they can always decide to cut their profits a bit to put you out of business.
It is very likely that free, perfect competition does not exist anywhere except the most newest, nascent sectors of the economy.

The rest seems to be oligopolic and the oligopoly consolidated and entrenched. Oligopolic competition does not behave like theoretic perfect competition; cartels, price wars and everything else are significantly different.

There is a possibility, due to oligopolic entrenchment, that most sectors of the modern capitalist economy engage in not much more than mundane rent-seeking.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-11 03:07pm

There's an ongoing balance between oligopolic entrenchment and competition.

Perfect competition results in very narrow profit margins. In the extreme limiting case, monopoly becomes rent-seeking. All non-monopoly market sectors lie somewhere between these two extremes on the sliding scale. Different sectors almost certainly occupy different places along this scale.

So speaking in generalities about this is not helpful. The relevant question is, is the "fast food hamburger franchise" niche sufficiently oligopolic that it would be realistic to claim that specific companies such as Jack in the Box are secretly making dramatically higher profit margins than they report? I would argue "no." My reasons are as follows:

1) While there are barriers to market entry, the barriers are not huge. In the US, the restaurant business is a relatively easy one to enter. Getting a franchise is not very hard. Even without a franchise, individual businesspeople can enter it on their own, and successful restaurants routinely expand into small franchise chains or even national franchises within no more than a few decades. It would be difficult to maintain an oligopolic price cartel in the face of this much 'churn.'

2) Because they are effectively a vast array of individual local businesses, it is going to be relatively hard for a US-centric fast food corporation to conceal its profits. A global one like McDonalds might have more options for that, but Jack in the Box doesn't operate internationally on that kind of a large scale.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-11 03:25pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-11 03:07pm
There's an ongoing balance between oligopolic entrenchment and competition.

Perfect competition results in very narrow profit margins. In the extreme limiting case, monopoly becomes rent-seeking. All non-monopoly market sectors lie somewhere between these two extremes on the sliding scale. Different sectors almost certainly occupy different places along this scale.

So speaking in generalities about this is not helpful. The relevant question is, is the "fast food hamburger franchise" niche sufficiently oligopolic that it would be realistic to claim that specific companies such as Jack in the Box are secretly making dramatically higher profit margins than they report? I would argue "no." My reasons are as follows:

1) While there are barriers to market entry, the barriers are not huge. In the US, the restaurant business is a relatively easy one to enter. Getting a franchise is not very hard. Even without a franchise, individual businesspeople can enter it on their own, and successful restaurants routinely expand into small franchise chains or even national franchises within no more than a few decades. It would be difficult to maintain an oligopolic price cartel in the face of this much 'churn.'

2) Because they are effectively a vast array of individual local businesses, it is going to be relatively hard for a US-centric fast food corporation to conceal its profits. A global one like McDonalds might have more options for that, but Jack in the Box doesn't operate internationally on that kind of a large scale.
I do agree on the specific example, but I kind of wonder about the accounting, its impact on profits and the valuations. Overall there is a noticeable decline in profit rates even in the last few years. But valuations are still increasing.
Image
It seems that there is some fudging going on. I can only speak of global corporations; of course, as a local, mostly national franchise, it would be harder to conceal profits. Though methods still exist (offshore entities holding intellectual property rights and receiving compensation for that, etc.).

In general when considering this topic, I do wonder if late capitalism is just broken enough at this stage of accumulation, so that nothing can fix it - minimum wage rises would be either driving companies bankrupt and leading to precarious labour being automated away, "basic income" would just get eaten away by inflation and become another form of poverty, and so on with any solution, because the market is a self-regulating system with a tendency to repeal externally-assigned solutions and find its own balance, which is normally not needs-based, but rather means-based. :lol:
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-11 03:36pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-11 03:25pm
I do agree on the specific example, but I kind of wonder about the accounting, its impact on profits and the valuations. Overall there is a noticeable decline in profit rates even in the last few years. But valuations are still increasing.
Ever heard of the South Sea Bubble? Valuation skyrocketed for years, but the company never made a penny of profits as far as I know.

The summed-up valuation of corporations isn't a measure of how much a corporation's assets are worth, or of how much the combined assets of all corporations are worth. It's a measure of how large a share of the world economy is owned by people who make the bulk of their money through the financial sector and trading in stock.

Corporate valuations have been rising not because the corporations have all the money, though they surely have some of it. They've been rising because rich people plus corporations, collectively, have an increasing share of the money. Corporate profits aren't necessarily the only, or even the main, vehicle by which this process takes place.
It seems that there is some fudging going on. I can only speak of global corporations; of course, as a local, mostly national franchise, it would be harder to conceal profits. Though methods still exist (offshore entities holding intellectual property rights and receiving compensation for that, etc.).
In general when considering this topic, I do wonder if late capitalism is just broken enough at this stage of accumulation, so that nothing can fix it - minimum wage rises would be either driving companies bankrupt and leading to precarious labour being automated away, "basic income" would just get eaten away by inflation and become another form of poverty, and so on with any solution, because the market is a self-regulating system with a tendency to repeal externally-assigned solutions and find its own balance, which is normally not needs-based, but rather means-based. :lol:
Given that many of the solutions are not ones that have been tried and failed, but that have been found to require high taxes and not tried, I don't think there's much evidence for this hypothesis.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-11 04:01pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-11 03:36pm
Corporate valuations have been rising not because the corporations have all the money, though they surely have some of it. They've been rising because rich people plus corporations, collectively, have an increasing share of the money. Corporate profits aren't necessarily the only, or even the main, vehicle by which this process takes place.
No, I understand that - even in absence of a market, there can be production going on by companies/organizations with assets, so the valuations only reflect the perception of those who operate in the stock market; as these perceptions are always shifting, bubbles can and will happen, it is natural. But it seems that the bubble is being driven - at least in part - by a perception of greater profitability of assets (which are corporate stock, for the most part).
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-11 03:36pm
Given that many of the solutions are not ones that have been tried and failed, but that have been found to require high taxes and not tried, I don't think there's much evidence for this hypothesis.
Perhaps. We'll see them tried soon enough.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-11 11:04pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2018-01-11 04:01pm
Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-11 03:36pm
Corporate valuations have been rising not because the corporations have all the money, though they surely have some of it. They've been rising because rich people plus corporations, collectively, have an increasing share of the money. Corporate profits aren't necessarily the only, or even the main, vehicle by which this process takes place.
No, I understand that - even in absence of a market, there can be production going on by companies/organizations with assets, so the valuations only reflect the perception of those who operate in the stock market; as these perceptions are always shifting, bubbles can and will happen, it is natural. But it seems that the bubble is being driven - at least in part - by a perception of greater profitability of assets (which are corporate stock, for the most part).
Stocks are profitable in that their prices rise rapidly, if you pick the right stocks and react correctly to shifts in the market. It's been conventional wisdom for a long time that if you can afford to hire professionals to keep track of your money, and you want to make money quickly, you put it in the stock market.

Stock prices have always been subject to a boom-bust cycle; the fact that they've been rapidly increasing for the past several years is not unusual, and does not necessarily mean that corporations are secretly hiding drastically greater shares of their profits than they were in 2008 at the depth of the last recession.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-12 04:41am

No, it is not that. What I meant is a much-discussed in the economist/trader circles “profit breakthrough” where it seems US corporations on the average started to generate more profit than normally. According to some metrics, but not other metrics. Which, and of course personal knowledge, is leading me to conclude that mass fudging is a thing. Long story, but it is not related to sheer speculation.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30092
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-12 08:13am

The question is, if some metrics show a profit boom and others don't, is it because all corporations significantly increased their income and managed to conceal this fact (from some metrics but not others)?

Or is it an example of the general case of Goodhart's Law in action, whereby if you use a metric long enough to evaluate the success or failure of an organization, eventually the organization will figure out how to game the system, exaggerate the metric, and make themselves look good...?

In the former case, we'd expect to see certain other things. Chief among them would be a sudden spike in inflation as corporations charged individuals more for goods and services, or paid them significantly less for labor. When do you think this started going on, and how sudden was the onset?
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-12 01:51pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-01-12 08:13am
The question is, if some metrics show a profit boom and others don't, is it because all corporations significantly increased their income and managed to conceal this fact (from some metrics but not others)?

Or is it an example of the general case of Goodhart's Law in action, whereby if you use a metric long enough to evaluate the success or failure of an organization, eventually the organization will figure out how to game the system, exaggerate the metric, and make themselves look good...?

In the former case, we'd expect to see certain other things. Chief among them would be a sudden spike in inflation as corporations charged individuals more for goods and services, or paid them significantly less for labor. When do you think this started going on, and how sudden was the onset?
Image
Image
Image
It's been going on for a while now, and the onset was gradual.

Inflation metrics have been somewhat adequate at capturing the situation (stagnant incomes; declining wages and a declining minimum wage, which say in the food & service sector seems to be very prevalent as a type of employment), but perhaps still not good enough.

Corporations definetely spend less on labour now than before. I've read an interesting paper on how this happened (at least in the advanced economies): the "natural selection" mechanism led to the weeding-out of corporations that were giving pay raises to their employees. Only "efficient corporations" who could create value-added with the same or barely-growing headcount and stagnant wages, survived. It was a logical continuation of the concentration process, especially in markets which weren't new.

As for inflation, the mass of goods and services may not have changed that dramatically; but rather, the weeding-out of inefficient "more humanitarian" corps and the ability of "efficient" ones to pick up the slack created a depressed wage environment and also at the same time enabled greater profits for these "efficient" companies.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

User avatar
FaxModem1
Sith Acolyte
Posts: 6497
Joined: 2002-10-30 06:40pm
Location: In a dark reflection of a better world

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-01-21 09:52am

Vice News

TOPICS
VICE News Tonight
Money
Donald Trump
Technology
Immigration
Drugs
Features
Terrorism
ABOUT
Featured reporters
Where to watch
Watch VICE News Tonight on HBO weekdays at 7:30.

VICE NEWS TONIGHT
This bricklaying robot can build walls faster than humans
This bricklaying robot can build walls faster than humans
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare via email
By VICE News Jul 26, 2017

Meet the Semi-Automated Mason, or SAM, a robot that’s so good at building walls it could take over the construction industry. Created by New York-based Construction Robotics, the bricklaying robot promises to both increase productivity while reducing overall labor costs.

While the efficiency rate at construction sites has been stagnant for the past 20 to 30 years, manufacturing efficiency has increased significantly due to robotics and technology. Construction Robotics created SAM to solve that problem. SAM requires a human partner to smooth over the works, but the heavy lifting is left to the bot.

ADVERTISEMENT

The robot can lay bricks at least three times faster than humans — and it never gets tired or makes mistakes. VICE News went to a construction site in Virginia to see SAM at work.
Video segment can be found here

How long would it take for SAM, the Semi Automated Mason, to become a Fully Automated Mason? As one of the workers noted, it wouldn't be that hard to make a machine that feeds Sam the bricks and mortar.
Image

User avatar
Gandalf
SD.net White Wizard
Posts: 14410
Joined: 2002-09-16 11:13pm
Location: A video store in Sydney, Australia

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Gandalf » 2018-01-22 01:58am

TechCrunch wrote:Inside Amazon’s surveillance-powered no-checkout convenience store

By now many have heard of Amazon’s most audacious attempt to shake up the retail world, the cashless, cashierless Go store. Walk in, grab what you want, and walk out. I got a chance to do just that recently, as well as pick the brain of one of its chief architects.

My intention going in was to try to shoplift something and catch these complacent Amazon types napping. But it became clear when I went in that this wasn’t going to be an option. I was never more than a foot or two from an Amazon PR rep, and as Dilip Kumar, the projects VP of Technology, convinced me, they’d already provided against such crude attacks on their system.

As you might have seen in the promo video, you enter the store (heretofore accessible to Amazon employees only) through a gate that opens when you scan a QR code generated by the Amazon Go app on your phone. At this moment (well, actually the moment you entered or perhaps even before) your account is associated with your physical presence and cameras begin tracking your every move.

The many, many cameras.

I wondered when the idea of Amazon’s cashierless store was first proposed how it would be accomplished. Cameras on the ceiling, behind the display cases, on pedestals? What kind? Proximity and weight sensors, face recognition? Where would this all be collated and processed?

Amazon’s approach wasn’t as complex as I expected, or rather not in the way I expected. Mainly the system is made up of dozens and dozens of camera units mounted to the ceiling, covering and recovering every square inch of the store from multiple angles. I’d guess there are maybe a hundred or so in the store I visited, which was about the size of an ordinary bodega or gas station mart.

These are ordinary RGB cameras, custom made with boards in the enclosure to do some basic grunt computer vision work, presumably things like motion detection, basic object identification, and so on.

They’re augmented by separate depth-sensing cameras (using a time-of-flight technique, or so I understood from Kumar) that blend into the background like the rest, all matte black.

The images captured from these cameras are sent to a central processing unit (for lack of a better term, not knowing exactly what it is), which does the real work of quickly and accurately identifying different people in the store and objects being picked up or held. Picking something up adds it to your “virtual shopping cart,” and you can pop it in a tote or shopping bag as fast as you like. No need to hold it up for the system to see.

This is where the secret sauce is, Kumar told me, and I believe him. As banal a problem as it may seem to determine which similarly dressed person picked up which nearly identical yogurt cup, it’s very difficult to get right at the speed and accuracy level needed in order to base an entire business on it.

A student, after all, with the resources available these days, could probably design a version of this store in a few weeks that would work 80 percent of the time. But to get it right 99.9 percent of the time, frictionlessly and instantly, is a challenge that requires a great deal of work.

Notably, there is no facial recognition used (I asked). Amazon perhaps sensed early on that this would earn them rebuke from privacy-conscious shoppers, though the idea of those people coming to this store strikes me as unlikely. Instead, the system uses other visual cues and watches for continuity between cameras — you’re never not in sight of a lens, so it’s easy for the system to see a shopper move from one camera to another and make the connection.

Should there be a technical problem with a camera or it gets sauce on its lens somehow, the system doesn’t break down entirely. It’s been tested with cameras missing, though naturally it wouldn’t be long before a replacement is put in place and the system re-re-calibrates.

In addition to the cameras, there are weight sensors in the shelves, and the system is aware of every item’s exact weight — so no trying to grab two yogurts at once and palm the second, as I considered trying. You might be able to do it Indiana Jones style, with a suitable amount of sand in a sack, but that’s more effort than most shoplifters are willing to put out.

And, as Kumar noted to me, most people aren’t shoplifters, and the system is designed around most people. Building a system that assumes ill intent rather than merely detecting discrepancies is not always a good design choice.

There is in fact a human in the loop should the system find itself in a bind, but Kumar said this was rare enough that it hardly needed to be considered. He also said that the difficulty of monitoring the store doesn’t increase with square footage, though of course you’ll need more cameras and more processing power.

It’s also been tested with serious crowds; we were there during a slow time in the mid-afternoon, but shortly before that was the lunch rush, they told me, when dozens rather than a handful of people could be found walking in and out without doing anything more than showing their phone to a sensor at the entrance.

There may not be cashiers, but there are staff: stockers who replenish inventory; an ID checker (and erstwhile sommelier I’m sure) in the wine and beer section, and chefs in the back throwing together fresh sandwiches and meal kits. Someone also hovers in the entrance area to help people with the app, answer questions, and take returns.

The selection was mainly grab-and-go lunches and snacks, with the usual handful of household items you grab at the bodega on the way home. Prices were what you’d expect at a supermarket rather than a convenience store, though.

As for the expected Amazon gambits that leverage its existing properties and hooks, few are to be found. The app is self-contained, and your purchases are tracked there rather than on your “main” Amazon account. Prime members don’t get lower prices. Whole Foods has a little section of its own but there’s no broader partnership (and no plans to convert any of those stores to Go, though I can’t imagine why not).

Overall I’m impressed with the seamlessness of the system, and I can see these things successfully operating here and there.

On the philosophical side, I’m troubled, of course — a convenience store you just walk out of is a friendly mask on the face of a highly controversial application of technology: ubiquitous personal surveillance.

It’s a bit overkill, I think, to replace a checker or self-checkout stand with a hundred cameras that unblinkingly record every tiny movement. What’s to gain? 20 or 30 seconds of your time back? Lack of convenience has hardly been a complaint for this market — it’s right there in the name: “convenience store.”

Like so many ways companies are applying tech today, this seems to me an immense amount of ingenuity and resources being used to “solve” something that few people care about and fewer still consider a problem. As a technical achievement it’s remarkable, but then again, so is a robotic dog.

The store works — that much I can say for it. Where Amazon will take it from here I couldn’t say, nor would anyone respond meaningfully to my questions along these lines. Amazon Go will be open to the public starting this week, but whether anyone will find it to be anything more than a novelty is yet to be seen.
Good thing everybody fought so hard in the Cold War to save this glorious capitalism!
"Oh no, oh yeah, tell me how can it be so fair
That we dying younger hiding from the police man over there
Just for breathing in the air they wanna leave me in the chair
Electric shocking body rocking beat streeting me to death"

- A.B. Original, Report to the Mist

"I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."
- George Carlin

bilateralrope
Sith Marauder
Posts: 3683
Joined: 2005-06-25 06:50pm
Location: New Zealand

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by bilateralrope » 2018-01-22 09:46pm

What happens when a shopper takes an item, sees something better, then decides that they don't want the first item ?

User avatar
Gandalf
SD.net White Wizard
Posts: 14410
Joined: 2002-09-16 11:13pm
Location: A video store in Sydney, Australia

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Gandalf » 2018-01-23 12:09pm

bilateralrope wrote:
2018-01-22 09:46pm
What happens when a shopper takes an item, sees something better, then decides that they don't want the first item ?
I think some articles mention an attendant of some sort at the end of the store. Presumably it's squared up with them.

At least until the sensor technology improves and they fire that person, then maybe there's an automated appeals process?
"Oh no, oh yeah, tell me how can it be so fair
That we dying younger hiding from the police man over there
Just for breathing in the air they wanna leave me in the chair
Electric shocking body rocking beat streeting me to death"

- A.B. Original, Report to the Mist

"I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."
- George Carlin

User avatar
Bedlam
Jedi Master
Posts: 1255
Joined: 2006-09-23 11:12am
Location: Edinburgh, UK

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Bedlam » 2018-01-23 06:25pm

bilateralrope wrote:
2018-01-22 09:46pm
What happens when a shopper takes an item, sees something better, then decides that they don't want the first item ?
My understanding is that the system can tell if you put something back, although you might need to put it back in the right place.

bilateralrope
Sith Marauder
Posts: 3683
Joined: 2005-06-25 06:50pm
Location: New Zealand

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by bilateralrope » 2018-01-23 10:22pm

Now for a thought about shoplifting: Don't try to trick the system while grabbing stuff off the shelves. Swipe stuff from another customers cart. They will still be paying for it, so the store will have much less incentive to try and stop you.

User avatar
FaxModem1
Sith Acolyte
Posts: 6497
Joined: 2002-10-30 06:40pm
Location: In a dark reflection of a better world

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-01-25 06:48am

NPR
'Don't Think A Robot Could Do This': Warehouse Workers Aren't Worried For Their Jobs
January 25, 20185:02 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition

ALINA SELYUKH

Twitter

Listen· 4:52

Queue
Download

Embed

Chris Beatty, 26, works at a Radial warehouse in Burlington, N.J.
Claire Harbage/NPR
The wheels of a tall, metal cart squeak as Chris Beatty, 26, pulls it through a maze of aisles inside a cosmetics warehouse in Burlington, N.J.

A hand-held scanner helps Beatty find specific items, such as face cream or lipstick — to be sorted, packed and shipped to online customers. In his industry, this is called picking.

Asked if a robot could do his job, Beatty responds with a long pause. "That's a tough one," he says eventually, "but I don't think a robot could do this."

Or, maybe he just doesn't want to think about it. "I love my job too much," he says, with a smile.


Beatty reads from his scanner where to find each item, and then where to place it in his cart. Each slot in the cart corresponds to a single online shopping order.
Claire Harbage/NPR
His optimism matches the findings in a new NPR/Marist poll. The survey shows 94 percent of U.S. workers — across all industries — say it's unlikely they will lose jobs to automation.

Interviews with numerous warehouse workers at Beatty's employer — Radial — and others employed by Amazon revealed their confidence about the future.

But many forecasters aren't as sanguine. They point to giants like Amazon and Walmart speeding up warehouse work with machines.


The warehouse is a new fulfillment center run by Radial, handling some of the biggest brands in cosmetics.
Claire Harbage/NPR
Thanks to surging online shopping, retail warehouses are booming, and so are jobs. But the unavoidable buzzword is automation. Labor economists say the industry is quickly learning the same lesson that reshaped manufacturing — intense competition and larger scale lead to a big push for efficiency to keep down costs.

The warehouse companies tend to say that robots will supplement and ease human labor, not replace it. For example, Amazon, which has rolled out thousands of robots, maintains a massive workforce and is perpetually on a hiring spree. Amazon says it has more than 75 fulfillment centers, the majority of which employ at least a thousand full-time hourly associates. "Our 25+ robotics fulfillment centers employ 2,000 to 4,000 full-time hourly associates," an Amazon spokeswoman told NPR.


Top: Bibiana Ramos, 29, works with precision, folding tissue paper inside a special box, placing cosmetics on top and gently affixing the shipping label. Bottom Left: Many different kinds of boxes are used throughout the warehouse, some for bulk items, and other more delicate boxes that are sent to consumers. Bottom Right: Painted footprints help direct employees safely and efficiently.
Claire Harbage/NPR
And warehouse employees themselves believe it will be hard for automation to squeeze them out of work.

"There's a lot of jobs in here that could be taken over by machines, but who's going to run the building?" says Marc Munn, who manages the department where Beatty works. "If something breaks ... I don't think we'll have other machines in here to fix that, so that's where my job comes into play."


Alex Economos, who runs this Radial warehouse, says investing in a lot of robots makes more sense in a large million-square-foot Amazon facility than a small or mid-size operation like his.
Claire Harbage/NPR
Packer Bibiana Ramos points out the precision and care of her work. "I know there's machines that make boxes, but not this kind of boxes," she says. Ramos folds tissue paper inside a special box, placing cosmetics on top and gently affixing the shipping label. "It has to be kind of ... meticulous," she says, "so it could have a good presentation."

Alex Economos, who runs the Radial warehouse, says investing in a lot of robots makes more sense in a large million-square-foot Amazon facility than a small or mid-size operation like his — robots aren't cheap.


Economos says in more than 30 years working in warehouses, he hasn't seen automation fully eliminate a job. "Automation isn't always the right answer," he says. "I'm open to both."
Claire Harbage/NPR
He shares the story of RFID chips — little tags that started popping up in warehouses years back, when he worked for Walmart. They held the promise of easy, instantaneous automated accounting of all the items in a pallet, for example. But they didn't take off, he says, because of the cost of tagging every single item, especially cheap common goods like toothpaste.

Plus, the machines for now aren't really that skillful.

"You could never say never," Economos says. "But at this time ... you would literally need a robot with the dexterity, with the fingers to pick up something light, as small as a ChapStick, and as large as a bottle of shampoo."


Alvine Bunch, 23, used to work at Amazon as a picker, but now does the same work at Radial. She says she does expect more robots in warehouses of the future "but not to the point whereas there's just no work to do."
Claire Harbage/NPR
One Amazon warehouse worker says her job includes making boxes for items that the scanners can't handle — like a fishing rod that's too thin for the lasers to recognize.

"A lot of the machines I see or deal with in the warehouse really aren't that great," she says, speaking anonymously not to violate the terms of her employment. "There are just so many things that you need a competent human to deal with in our warehouse."

But she's actually eager to see robots deal with heavy lifting and the messy parts of the job.


A conveyor belt, one of two types of automation at the Radial warehouse, fetches boxes from the packing station and sorts them by shipping type, depositing them directly into bins with labels like "USPS".
Claire Harbage/NPR
That appeals to Beatty, too, once he learns that Amazon has robots to bring the shelves to workers, instead of workers walking the aisles in search of products.

"That would be pretty cool," he says, "to see a robot bring some of your work to you."
Warehouse workers, at the mid-level, don't seem to be worried, mostly due to how much dexterity is involved. Plain simple denial, or do they know something we don't?
Image

User avatar
Zaune
Sith Acolyte
Posts: 6073
Joined: 2010-06-21 11:05am
Location: In Transit
Contact:

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Zaune » 2018-01-25 07:23am

From my own experience working in a warehouse? I don't think it would be technically difficult to fully automate it, but the technology would have to be really mature and readily avbailable before it became competitive with badly-paid, expendable day labourers.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


Like my writing? Tip me on Patreon

I Have A Blog

User avatar
K. A. Pital
Glamorous Commie
Posts: 20224
Joined: 2003-02-26 11:39am
Location: Elysium

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-25 07:35am

Most of the easy automation gains at warehouses already happened. But the ease of automation is also being reduced, so fully automated picking lines are around the corner. Dexterity is a requirement due to the design. A warehouse built around fully automated picking lines will function differently and people will not be needed.
Lì ci sono chiese, macerie, moschee e questure, lì frontiere, prezzi inaccessibile e freddure
Lì paludi, minacce, cecchini coi fucili, documenti, file notturne e clandestini
Qui incontri, lotte, passi sincronizzati, colori, capannelli non autorizzati,
Uccelli migratori, reti, informazioni, piazze di Tutti i like pazze di passioni...

...La tranquillità è importante ma la libertà è tutto!
Assalti Frontali

User avatar
Elheru Aran
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 12130
Joined: 2004-03-04 01:15am
Location: Georgia

Re: General Automation Thread

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-01-25 05:05pm

Zaune wrote:
2018-01-25 07:23am
From my own experience working in a warehouse? I don't think it would be technically difficult to fully automate it, but the technology would have to be really mature and readily avbailable before it became competitive with badly-paid, expendable day labourers.
The picking small items is definitely a bit of a challenge, but that can be circumvented by creating a sort of automated dispenser that you load the small items into. Someone orders a Chapstick on Amazon, an envelope is spat out at one end of the warehouse, robot arm picks it up and zooms down to ChapDisp1, which spits out a chapstick into the envelope, robot zooms to MailBot 4 and drops envelope, MailBot picks it up, closes it, pastes a shipping label, and drops into a mailing box. When dispenser runs out, a loader-bot pulls it out and slots in another straight from the Chapstick factory.

Of course that depends on the exact item, and as noted, economies of scale do come into play. For example, take hand tools. The cheap hardware-store tools could certainly be shipped from such giant automated warehouses, but higher end, better quality tools produced by small boutique manufacturers are still likely to be handled by human hands simply because they aren't sold in such a manner-- they're more likely to be bought directly from the manufacturer or from companies that carry that manufacturer's range.
It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.

Post Reply