Resolution: Automation and technology continue to increase quality of life
I Argument: Countervailing: The offsetting power
I.a Countervailing is the offsetting power of a displacement effect by countering with something of equal, or, in fact, increased force. Alarmists of the growing factor of automation in our workplaces are raising the issue that a working human labor force is being displaced by automation, and that automation will ultimately eliminate the human workforce.
I.a.1 The argument appears to have merit, because we see how automation can produce a product at a cheaper cost than human labor, but sometimes not.
“The problem is that we are now living in a bipolar economy, with a traditional economy at one end and an autonomous economy at the other. The traditional economy is prone to inflation; the autonomous economy toward deflation.”
I.a.2 However, this ends up being a myopic view of what is really happening in automation that opponents to automation just do not, and, in some cases, refuse to see: the offsetting power of countervailing effects:
“A telling example of this process comes from the effects of the introduction of automated teller machines (ATMs) on the employment of bank tellers. Bessen (2016) documents that concurrent with the rapid spread of ATMs, a clear example of automating technology which enabled these new machines to perform tasks that were previously performed more expensively by labor—there was an expansion in the employment of bank tellers. Bessen suggests that this is because ATMs reduced the costs of banking and encouraged banks to open more branches, raising the demand for bank tellers who then specialized in a range of tasks that ATMs did not automate.”
I.a.3 Countervailing also affected farming. One hundred years ago, fully one-third of Americans were farmers.
Food was expensive due to the pronounced labor costs to produce it. “The typical U.S. household spent 50% of its income on food.”
Automation brought lower cost to consumers by greater productivity of farmers. By 1960, less than 1 in 10 Americans worked on farms, but the transfer of work to factories and offices kept those displaced farmers working, and working more productively. In fact, by automating farming, instead of a single crop, farmers were able to grow more of a number of crops on an annual basis, at an increase in income.
II Argument: How myopic arguments against automation duplicate short-sighted arguments for Marxism
II.a In 1848, when Karl Marx, with Friedrich Engels, published The Communist Manifesto,
Marx argued a limited scope of the manufacturing factory which had but two factors: a Bourgeois factory owner and the Proletariat labor. It was “short-sighted” because, contrary to the assumed genius Marx exhibited to a growing industrial age, not only had he never operated a factory; he never ran a lemonade stand. Are we to believe he just “knew this stuff?” We can easily see what to believe; we don’t have to guess.
II.a.1 Let’s use the simplicity of running a lemonade stand, Marx-style. The same basic elements apply to both a simple child’s street corner stand and a factory producing life-enhancing products. However, is it simply a matter of making lemonade and selling it? That’s the Marx model, by his own description. In Marx’s model, the Bourgeois had the Proletariat make the lemonade for the equivalent of $2, and the Bourgeois sold it for $5, pocketing $3. In economic parlance, the $3 is “net profit.” Looks, indeed, like a sizeable profit of 60%. Not 100%, because the Proletariat absorbed 40% in payment for the labor. In economic parlance, that is “direct labor.”
II.a.2 However, the Marx model accounts only for direct labor and net profit. In economics, there are other factors Marx ignored. Well, after all, it is just a lemonade stand. But is that all there is to making and selling lemonade? Since Marx never ran a stand, that’s all he perceived. He ignored all the indirect labor [R&D, human resources, marketing, raw materials purchasing, warehousing, sale of finished goods, customer service, warranty…] he ignored the raw materials [lemons, water, sugar, and, maybe, a secret ingredient like a splash of lime], and he ignored the facility expenses [the stand, a pitcher [both a mixing a dispensing device], a spoon, glasses…].
II.a.2.A All of that expense must come out of his $3. So, the $3 is not “net profit,” in the Bourgeois pocket, is it? The $3 is what is called, in economic parlance, “gross profit.” Indirect labor, raw material, and facilities expenses paid, the Bourgeois is lucky to have a net profit of 50 cents, though that is determined by a plus-or-minus degree on the efficiency of operation of the enterprise, and that accomplishment is effectively on the shoulders of the factory owner.
II.a.3 Marx proposed that at $2, direct labor was being short-changed, thus the whole purpose of his revolution, when direct labor actually had the largest single glass of the gross profit lemonade. It’s easy to over-simplify what is going on when one does not account for all ingredients that should be in the glass of lemonade, and all that contributes to achieving it.
II.b How does that compare to myopic arguments against automation? By seeing only that, with automation, there appears to be displacement of human labor in favor of a machine that does not even argue that it should be paid a living wage. So much for the fear of “AI.”
II.b.1 We have introduced a new term, A.I., is if it is synonymous with automation. A back-step, please. While A.I. may figure into the function of automation, they really are two separate terms defining things with two separate objectives:
“AI is often confused with automation, yet the two are fundamentally different. Dr Mark Nasila, FNB's Chief Analytics Officer for Consumer Banking, explains the key difference is that AI mimics human intelligence decisions and actions, while automation focuses on streamlining repetitive, instructive tasks.”
Let us keep these distinctions in mind, and recall that the debate centers on automation,not A.I.
II.b.2 Therefore, there must be additional elements in play if the Resolution is to be demonstrated as a BoP by Pro. There are additional elements, just as there are to the full complement of activity in a production factory than just the factory owner and the labor force. It is even a demonstrated truth for a child’s street-corner lemonade stand.
II.b.3 Lest we forget some unintended consequences of the Marx model of production and sales, the Proletariat and Bourgeois, in some local jurisdictions, that kid must first obtain a permit, even a business license in some communities, to set-up that street-corner lemonade stand. Really? Yes, by myopic interpretation of regulations.
II.b.3.A In the official parlance of that jurisdiction, the street corner is neither owned nor rented by the kid. No, however, also in the parlance of that jurisdiction, that kid’s parents, by home ownership or by rental, pay property taxes, some of which are dedicated to public infrastructure, such as the street corner sidewalk.
II.c Did Marx ever consider the complications involved in lemonade stands? No, and, therefore, not for the production factory, either. Yet the Marx model, expressed in Socialism/Communism, by virtue of the Manifesto, figures the only complication is that the Proletariat [remember, that only applies to direct labor] is not paid enough when it is truthfully, by percentage, given the largest glass of lemonade, and, by extension, automation’s only result is displacement of human labor. Wrong.
III Argument: Some examples of countervailing offsets
III.a Refer back to arguments I.a.1 and I.a.2. These were arguments that, first, explained the apparent dichotomy, or bipolarity of economies: traditional, and autonomous. This is, primarily, a Marxist view of economy because Marxism primarily views inflation as a measure of the supply of money in the economy, and the relative demand for it.
Additionally, they view the money supply as effectively limited; there is a ‘ceiling,’ and the majority of the money supply should be in the hands of the actual laborers. Hence, the statement by President Barack Obama, to Wall Street, in April, 2010,
“I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.”
III.b The second argument explained the offsetting power of countervailing effects, by citation , using the example of the banking industry’s initiation of the ATM [literally, “Automated Teller Machine”], assuming that the population of bank tellers would be displaced. However, in reality, the net result has been an increase in the number of branches of banks, and an increase in bank tellers, who are now performing different tasks, along with sometimes performing the same tasks as the ATM.
III.c Another countervailing effect is the need of human intervention in consideration of automated visual go/no go decisions since automation, in the quality assurance realm, views product by the strict standards of, in the case of features of size, texture, color, etc., the nominal specification plus/minus a tolerance factor. Designers are very good at establishing the nominal [expected] quality of a feature, but are not so good with determining the appropriate acceptable tolerance band.
III.c.1 A designer’s preference, of course, is that all features meet the nominal design, and would prefer to throw tolerance out the window. But that demands perfection, and as that is typically not achieved, and designers should know that, the assignment of tolerance is not an exacting science. Automation is not so accurate when it comes to evaluating tolerance, not nearly as effective as human sight and touch, not to mention additional features the automation is not taught to recognize, that will, nevertheless, occur to the human eye and hand when the tolerance may be either excessive, or recessive.
III.d Another countervailing effect is the reduction of the fear that the automated process of inserting multiple screws into two separate components to secure them together will displace a human worker, doing so faster and more efficiently than the human. While the improvement of the specific process of screw insertion is demonstrated, can the auto-threading device determine the batch of screws fed to it are the correct size, material, rating, etc? Perhaps other automation can determine some of these features, but can the automation maintain itself, correct itself when the tools it employs wear out, or provide the autonomous supply of screws? Or determine that there may still be further process improvements that could be made? Unless all, and other potential issues are answered for by the automation, humans must intervene. So, what displacement?
III.e When I was an automotive industry engineer, then manager, I was confronted, every few model years, with complete re-design of the skin and bones of an automobile. “Re-tooling,” we called it, demanding an easy nomenclature to describe, what was, after all, a very complicated and time-consuming process for each element of the industry from design to after-market customer care. Automation, for all its accomplishments, is hard-pressed to accomplish what could be said, alleviating a lot of human headache: “Hey, Machine! Time to re-tool yourself.” Need I say more? How many times did I wish I could say that, and it would be done?
IV Conclusion, R1
IV.a “The term automation was coined in the automobile industry about 1946 to describe the increased use of automatic devices and controls in mechanized production lines. The origin of the word is attributed to D.S. Harder, an engineering manager at the Ford Motor Company at the time.”
IV.b That was 75 years ago, a scant three years before I was born. In that time, show me the automation, or A.I., for that matter, that has conceived, modeled, produced and set in operation a practical invention autonomous to itself. And, one that can replace itself as needed. Until it has done so to rival the ability of the human mind, heart, and hand, I declare automation to be sub-standard to human ability to duplicate its effective abilities to think and act autonomously to the standard set by humans.
IV.c Displacement of humans? No. “Re-tooled” might be the better vernacular, as an automated device might refer to it. “Re-tooled,” of course, means re-employed.
IV.d In the process of increased automation and the technology to achieve it, rather than being a detriment to society by increasing the anxiety humans imagine is the result of automation by displacement of their quality of life, their lives are enhanced by elimination of mundane tasks.
IV.d.1 Imagine life 200 years ago: 1821. How many homes had indoor plumbing, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, a car, a television? These are the gifts of technology.
IV.d.2 Imagine life 100 years ago: 1921. How many homes had touch technology plumbing, or no-touch; water, ice dispensing, and grocery-list displays on refrigerators; smartphone-controlled, variable in-process temperature variation, and automatic detergent dispensing washing machines; self-initiating robot vacuum cleaners; self-driving cars; and smart televisions? These are the gifts of automation.
IV.d.3 Does society, on the whole, enjoy more or less quality of life, and greater ability of life choices now, or 100 to 200 years ago? The Resolution is, therefore, true.
I pass R1 to Con.
Marx, K, and Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto,
The Communist League, 1848