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How increased automation could lead to a happier and more egalitarian society

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First, watch this video titled ‘Humans Need Not Apply’.

Now answer this question: what would happen when all jobs that humans perform today will be automated?

The scenario of nobody having a job might seem fancy and theoretical at first, but it’s becoming more realistic with each passing day. Google, Uber, BMW, and a lot of other organizations are on track to release self driving vehicles as soon as next year. And as the video demonstrates so beautifully, this is not just happening to the transportation industry. Automation will impact every sphere of human activity – be it creative, mechanical, cognitive or managerial.

We live in a world of machine learning, APIs, exponentially improving technology, billion dollar disruptions. A lot of such innovations are about making humans redundant.

What will millions of jobless people do?

Taking transportation as an example again, as self-driving cars become commonplace we will rapidly have millions of jobless drivers who are unskilled. As manual labor gets replaced with automation and machines, such unskilled people would find it increasingly difficult find other jobs. Even if they get skilled, gradually automation will reduce the number of jobs available for skilled people. I concur with the video that this wave of people with no jobs will swell into a huge tsunami. Are governments prepared to handle this? In the short term, this will have a very real impact of worsening standard of living for a lot of people. They simply wouldn’t have any money to pay for even basic stuff.

What governments need to do?
Automation leads to concentration of wealth into certain corporations and individuals. A single innovation in automation by a specific company or individual can replace thousands and millions of jobs. Where income earlier used to go to many people doing the job, now the same (somewhat reduced) income will go to one company that developed that specific automation. This concentration of wealth will be sharper because of the network effects (the winner takes it all) and rich getting richer. Consider how Google is using technology to swell its cash reserves and revenues quarter after quarter. If earlier many thousands of cartographers used to get paid to map cities, now Google can just pay for fuel and have its self-driving car + maps software to automatically generate city maps at a detail no human cartographer can match.

Governments will eventually realize the irony of companies like Apple and Google having billions in cash reserves while millions being jobless due to no fault of their own and being unable to afford basic amenities of life. Governments could realize this fact by themselves or protests, activism or even vandalism can make them wake up to this fact.

Higher taxation and “Citizen wage”
As wealth gap increases (more so due to automation concentrating wealth in some hands), governments will have to step in to rectify the situation. I side with the (semi-popular) view of higher corporate and individual taxation. The taxes that are collected from wealthy firms will go back to individual citizens as a wage just for existing. Consider citizen wage like a basic income that everyone gets from the government. This re-distribution of wealth from wealthy corporations to individuals will be justified because lack of jobs is a situation that corporations created. Poverty is not a choice people opt for.

Will higher taxes stifle innovation?
The main argument about capitalism is that it promotes innovation. The lure of money leads people to compete, innovate and provide better services. If taxes are high, why would any corporation care to bring new products in the market? If a government guarantees a good standard of living to everyone for free, why would anyone do anything? Won’t this lead to a lazy, complacent society?

I doubt that people will get lazy. Individuals drive corporations and individuals are typically driven much more by non-monetary factors like satisfaction and having an impact on society. Think Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Larry Page – are they doing this for money or they’re doing this for their own satisfaction? Imagine if everyone is satisfied with a basic standard of living, won’t people come together and still innovate because they like innovating? In fact, if we take money out of the equation and have some other metric to track individual and societal progress, it may increase overall happiness and accelerate the pace of innovation because everyone will be guaranteed a decent standard of living, so people can do what they’re best at without worrying about how they’re going to pay for dinner. Think of all the poets who are forced to drive taxis.

Co-operation between countries
Countries are increasingly interdependent for their economies. Outsourcing of services and manufacturing has left many countries dependent on exports. What would happen when automation causes some countries to become self sufficient? Take India’s scenario – millions of young engineers are dependent on outsourcing of IT services and BPO, both of which are easy targets for automation. This would lead to disproportionate job losses in India. Same would happen to China if manufacturing cost due to automation gets cheaper than the human labor.

Even if one country recognises the inevitability of automation and gives its citizens a wage for existing, other governments might not be in agreement and their citizens will suffer (due to automation-led job losses). I’m not sure if any outside government would be concerned about loss of jobs in India due to automation. India would have to tackle this problem by itself. This tackling could happen in two ways: one is to recognise that automation is real and is here to stay. This means establishing “citizen wage” (just like other governments are doing). The other way for government would be to shut its door to all “imported” automation. This is a very real possibility – there are potentially hundreds of millions of jobs stake and some countries (like India) that are very labour driven could succumb to this. This “banning” of automation will make some countries go backward, become more and more inefficient and less productive, while other countries march forward, becoming more and more productive.

We will reach there

Automation is a strong force and I think the possibility of most human jobs getting automated is very real. This would lead to citizen wage, where people will work whatever they feel interested in, rather than being forced to work in order to survive. However, in the interim, as pointed out in this reddit thread, there will be chaos. In some countries, it might take vandalism and violence to drive home the point. Others might just handle this very smoothly. A perfect outcome requires individuals, corporations and governments work together and admit that basic human survival is at stake.

Possibly related posts (automagically generated):

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chachra
2098 days ago
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The 40% Rule

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I was catching up on Brad Feld’s blog this morning and saw that he had posted about the “40% rule” for SAAS companies.

I was at the same board meeting as Brad and came away similarly impressed by the simplicity of the rule and the logic behind it.

Here’s the 40% rule and it is aimed at SAAS companies:

Your annual revenue growth rate + your operating margin should equal 40%

So, if you are growing 100% year over year, you can lose money at a rate of 60% of your revenues

If you are growing 40% year over year, you should be breaking even

If you are growing 20% year over year, you should have 20% operating margins

If you are not growing, you should have 40% operating margins

If your business is declining 10% year over year, you should have 50% operating margins

I have never seen growth and profitability so nicely tied together in a simple rule like this. I’ve always felt intuitively that it’s OK to lose money if you are growing fast, and you must make money and increasing amounts of it as your growth slows. Now there’s a formula for that instinct. And I like that very much.

Thanks Brad for posting it.

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Security Advisory: Pillow security release

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Yesterday, Pillow 2.7.0 was released fixing potential denial of service attacks using compressed text chunks. Pillow is the library used to back Django's ImageField. If you are using ImageField, and particularly if you accept uploads from untrusted users, we encourage you to upgrade as soon as possible.

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Bugfix releases issued

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Today we're issuing the second bugfix release in the 1.7 release series (with nearly 60 fixes!), along with bugfix releases for each of the other supported release series (1.4 and 1.6), plus another "final" bugfix release of the 1.5 series. Although Django 1.5 is technically already past its end-of-life, another regression discovered in the last 1.5 release prompted another release.

Details can be found in the release notes for each release series:

The release packages and checksums are, as always, available from our downloads page, as well as from the Python Package Index. The PGP key ID used for this release is Tim Graham: 1E8ABDC773EDE252.

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Eating As A Contact Sport

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We drove early this morning from Barcelona to San Sebastian. To be more accurate, the Gotham Gal drove and I sat in the passenger seat amazed at the vastness of the landscape where for large parts of the drive there was 20 to 30 kilometers between towns. It was desolate and a bit depressing for someone used to seeing a new person every ten feet in NYC.

We got to San Sebastian in time for lunch. After checking into our hotel, we walked to the beach where there were boat races going on, and then walked into the old part of town in search of lunch.

It being Sunday afternoon, the streets were mobbed.
street crowd

We found a few tapas bars that looked good and pushed our way in, and I do mean push. Eating in these bars on a sunday afternoon is a full contact sport. I was thinking I could have used some shoulder pads.

Here’s a selfie I took in one of the bars we pushed our way into.

selfie in bar

In each bar, we got a beer to split and one or two tapas.

While it was work, and we had to push and shove a few times, the payoff was well worth it.

pulpo

We got this Pulpo A La Planxta Con Membrillo in the first bar we went to.

gambas

And we got this grilled shrimp bruschetta (although they call it something slightly slight different here) in the second one we went to.

We are going back to the bars tomorrow night for more contact sport. I have to say it’s a lot of fun.

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BBC News - Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes

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4 June 2013 Last updated at 06:15 ET By Helena Lee BBC News
Baby asleep in one of the maternity boxes

For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.

With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

Mother and daughters look at a pack from 1947A 1947 maternity pack

Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.

The tradition dates back to 1938. To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.

"Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy," says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela - the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland's nascent welfare state.

In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high - 65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed.

Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, gives several reasons for this - the maternity box and pre-natal care for all women in the 1940s, followed in the 60s by a national health insurance system and the central hospital network.

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Contents of the box

Contents of the 2013 pack
  • Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt
  • Box itself doubles as a crib
  • Snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties
  • Light hooded suit and knitted overalls
  • Socks and mittens, knitted hat and balaclava
  • Bodysuits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colours and patterns
  • Hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, wash cloth
  • Cloth nappy set and muslin squares
  • Picture book and teething toy
  • Bra pads, condoms

At 75 years old, the box is now an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.

Reija Klemetti, a 49-year-old from Helsinki, remembers going to the post office to collect a box for one of her six children.

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Box anticipation

Mark Bosworth and baby Annika

Mark Bosworth Finland


My partner Milla and I were living in London when we had our first child, Jasper, so we weren't eligible for a free box. But Milla's parents didn't want us to miss out, so they bought one and put it in the post.

We couldn't wait to get the lid off. There were all the clothes you would expect, with the addition of a snowsuit for Finland's icy winters. And then the box itself. I had never considered putting my baby to sleep in a cardboard box, but if it's good enough for the majority of Finns, then why not? Jasper slept in it - as you might expect - like a baby.

We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika. She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it's nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.

"It was lovely and exciting to get it and somehow the first promise to the baby," she says. "My mum, friends and relatives were all eager to see what kind of things were inside and what colours they'd chosen for that year."

Her mother-in-law, aged 78, relied heavily on the box when she had the first of her four children in the 60s. At that point she had little idea what she would need, but it was all provided.

More recently, Klemetti's daughter Solja, aged 23, shared the sense of excitement that her mother had once experienced, when she took possession of the "first substantial thing" prior to the baby itself. She now has two young children.

"It's easy to know what year babies were born in, because the clothing in the box changes a little every year. It's nice to compare and think, 'Ah that kid was born in the same year as mine'," says Titta Vayrynen, a 35-year-old mother with two young boys.

For some families, the contents of the box would be unaffordable if they were not free of charge, though for Vayrynen, it was more a question of saving time than money.

She was working long hours when pregnant with her first child, and was glad to be spared the effort of comparing prices and going out shopping.

"There was a recent report saying that Finnish mums are the happiest in the world, and the box was one thing that came to my mind. We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little," she says.

When she had her second boy, Ilmari, Vayrynen opted for the cash grant instead of the box and just re-used the clothes worn by her first, Aarni.

A boy can pass on clothes to a girl too, and vice versa, because the colours are deliberately gender-neutral.

Infant mortality in Finland

The contents of the box have changed a good deal over the years, reflecting changing times.

During the 30s and 40s, it contained fabric because mothers were accustomed to making the baby's clothes.

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More from the Magazine

Pram in snow

Would you put your baby or toddler outside in the freezing cold for their lunchtime nap? Most Nordic parents wouldn't give it a second thought. For them it's part of their daily routine.

"I think it's good for them to be in the fresh air as soon as possible," says Lisa Mardon, a mother-of-three from Stockholm, who works for a food distribution company.

"Especially in the winter when there's lots of diseases going around... the kids seem healthier."

But during World War II, flannel and plain-weave cotton were needed by the Defence Ministry, so some of the material was replaced by paper bed sheets and swaddling cloth.

The 50s saw an increase in the number of ready-made clothes, and in the 60s and 70s these began to be made from new stretchy fabrics.

In 1968 a sleeping bag appeared, and the following year disposable nappies featured for the first time.

Not for long. At the turn of the century, the cloth nappies were back in and the disposable variety were out, having fallen out of favour on environmental grounds.

Encouraging good parenting has been part of the maternity box policy all along.

"Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop," says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. "Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them."

At a certain point, baby bottles and dummies were removed to promote breastfeeding.

"One of the main goals of the whole system was to get women to breastfeed more," Pulma says. And, he adds, "It's happened."

He also thinks including a picture book has had a positive effect, encouraging children to handle books, and, one day, to read.

And in addition to all this, Pulma says, the box is a symbol. A symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.

Continue reading the main story

The story of the maternity pack

Pack from 1953
  • 1938: Finnish Maternity Grants Act introduced - two-thirds of women giving birth that year eligible for cash grant, maternity pack or mixture of the two
  • Pack could be used as a cot as poorest homes didn't always have a clean place for baby to sleep
  • 1940s: Despite wartime shortages, scheme continued as many Finns lost homes in bombings and evacuations
  • 1942-6: Paper replaced fabric for items such as swaddling wraps and mother's bedsheet
  • 1949: Income testing removed, pack offered to all mothers in Finland - if they had prenatal health checks (1953 pack pictured above)
  • 1957: Fabrics and sewing materials completely replaced with ready-made garments
  • 1969: Disposable nappies added to the pack
  • 1970s: With more women in work, easy-to-wash stretch cotton and colourful patterns replace white non-stretch garments
  • 2006: Cloth nappies reintroduced, bottle left out to encourage breastfeeding

Additional reporting by Mark Bosworth.

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook

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popular
2349 days ago
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chachra
2350 days ago
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5 public comments
happosade
2342 days ago
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#torillatavataan
Kalasatama, Southern Finland
Cafeine
2349 days ago
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Love it ❤️
Paris / France
kleer001
2349 days ago
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I love it! On so many levels.
satadru
2346 days ago
Can this box be bought yet by non-Finns?
ryanbrazell
2350 days ago
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What a great idea.
Richmond, VA
srsly
2351 days ago
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This is a really cool government program!
Atlanta, Georgia
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