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AI vs. Jobs
Episode 1114th November 2023 • The Boss Rebellion™ • Free Agent Source
00:00:00 00:20:05

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Steve Pruneau and Asher Black consider the future of employment and the work week in light of artificial intelligence. Differences of opinion as to the potential impact. The #bossrebellion doubles down on its side of the equation.

Discussed

  • Human labor as a value
  • Job losses not only offshore
  • Global economic ecosystem at risk
  • Prosperity requiring intelligence

Talent

Transcripts

Asher:

So I read an article in the Washington Post about a company that fired, it's an Indian based company, uh, Indian based company, but they fired their entire customer service, uh, workforce and replaced it with, um, an AI bot. And it was largely because they said the AI bot consistently gives faster and more accurate answers than, you know, our, Uh, the majority of our people, uh, more reliably.

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A lot of people just aren't as good at finding the correct answer to somebody's solution. Uh, obviously something that indexes a database can do that. And especially it's going to be better than somebody that just does cut and paste answers, although that's essentially what an AI bot does. And I think, uh, this brings up a lot of issues.

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I, I tie it to an article that was in Bloomberg where... Uh, Jamie Dimon said that, look, you know, I'm predicting a three and a half hour work week, uh, for the generation of the future that people are going to work, uh, fewer hours because bots are going to replace a lot of the labor, et cetera. I don't really, uh,

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share Dimon's view.

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I think of it like all bets. Uh, it's sort of a hypothetical fantasy that, It is an approximation of something, but it's sort of like saying one day humans will have, will sprout wings. And what we really do is build airplanes. We're flying, but the way we got there is completely different. Uh, so I'm not sure that, that replacing a percentage of our labor is, is what we're in store for.

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And that, um, that CEO and that company is saying, look. You know, don't automate immediately, look at what you can augment with first. Don't replace all your customer service people, just replace the lowest hanging level. But the train is clearly there. We're going to knock out everybody we can possibly knock out.

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For one simple reason, it's cheaper. And in the end, the ape will keep going back to what's cheaper. So I don't see this as some of our customer service people will work a shorter work week because the bot will do their work. It's more like... The customer service people won't be there because the bot will

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do their work, so I don't agree with Jamie.

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That said, uh, the question that it brings up for me is whether or not we're going to treat human labor as having a value. I think that's the question this puts us on deck for. Because in the end, what we're going to do is what's cheaper. And I can't really imagine a corporate America where we decide, Nope, it's more expensive.

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But consistently, it's more expensive. But human labor itself, there's a value to having human beings do something to being meaningfully employed, etc. And so the last bit of that is, I think we're looking at Sort of the, the last nail in the coffin of the optimism of neoliberalism, the world is flat, Thomas Friedman, you know, the whole NAFTA, GATT, Clinton era stuff that says, look, you know, people will retrain themselves.

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They'll, they'll do other work. They'll find new things to do. They'll get re educated. The jobs will move around, but the greater net prosperity. Uh, will happen

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because in the end, yes, you can do all of that, but you're looking at a lot of people that won't have time to become really good at something else that AI can't also do.

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And so I think we're at that juncture. Is human labor valuable or is cost savings more valuable?

Steve:

Well, I think that for sure hooks into this notion of... What is the 3. 5 hours of work in, in this example? And it reminds me of the old story of, of a guy who comes in to repair a ship's engine, spends an hour on it, and he charges a huge bill for it.

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And the person says, well, you didn't, you only worked an hour. Why am I having to pay you, you know, these thousands of dollars? And the answer is, you're paying for my 20 years of experience. You're not paying for the hour of work. And, uh, so this will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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So if people really only work 3.

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hours a week, uh, are we gonna reduce wages down to 3. 5 or 4 hours a week? Or did he mean, no, we're gonna hold wages constant, but you're actually probably only gonna be working that much. I'm in the camp, and I don't know the actual amount of work, but I'm in the camp that says, as we replace. Physical labor, which we have been doing for 150 years.

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Uh, and now we're starting to aggressively replace data processing work, people using PCs and spreadsheets and typing and this and that. Uh, it. It forces us as a society, in general, I'm not referring to some individuals who opt out. In general, it forces us as humans to provide greater value in areas that machines, and I'm specifically now referring to computing machines, that computing machines can't do.

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And

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so, in this case, I don't know about the definition of work, but I think we're certainly going to be engaged as normal. Still an approximate normal work week, although actual hours, you know, I'm not defining, but so, for example, I think the work is going to shift as it has done, uh, in the last 100, 150 years towards things that human provide, which is, uh, compassion in health care.

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Designing future systems and processes, things that, you know, that are coming from human imagination and caring. Uh, so I've made two points, um, what I think the work is going to shift to. And, and then a little bit about the quantity.

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Asher: Yeah, I, I can't see if cost is a value. I can't see somebody saying, you'll work less hours, but I'll pay you more per hour in the average net in order to do it.

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I think what it'll be is as long as I can get somebody to work what I was paying

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before for hours per hour and pay less hours, I'm going to do that. So unfortunately, if everything all happened at once, if we did not live in the artifact of time. But if all things occurred simultaneously, then we wouldn't have to worry about, um, you know, the transition period where somebody basically.

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loses out because they're not retrained in a skill that is, you're now Counselor Troy, what you really bring is empathy. Or they're not, they're not in a situation where there's nobody else available who will work for that rate. As long as we are in time, though, there's always going to be somebody that'll still work for 25 bucks an hour instead of 75 bucks an hour and will do the same work, and I'd rather have that guy for three and a half hours than I would the other guy for three and a half hours.

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So I'm concerned about, we saw this with NAFTA and GATT, you know, the theory was in neoliberalism that if we just open the walls, remove all the protections and controls, allow jobs to be exported, get everybody to outsource, that there will be greater

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net prosperity for everybody, that ultimately some people will get retrained in green jobs or whatever else, and we'll have a booming economy.

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What really happened is we got greater polarization of wealth. Uh, we got whole swaths of the United States that turned into rust belts, and we got the inevitable rest of the ecological response to that, which is a militantly angry ecosystem of people who are going to try to take this back, even by insurrection, et cetera.

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And even if it's not recoverable, um, but we're going to, we got a culture of mass shootings out of this. We got a culture of, you know, all kinds of crazy stuff. So I'm looking at the potential for this to go wrong. And my concern is this. We've just, let's just say that we accept the New Deal. Neoliberalism is not going to go back in the genius bottle.

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Well that means that, uh, a couple of generations of people in developing nations like India, Pakistan, other places, uh, have You know, come up on this

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notion of I'm going to be doing customer service, I'm going to be doing tech support, I'm going to be doing things like this. They're not all Oracle developers, and even then, the Oracle developer has reached such a level where that's a fairly commoditized job, pretty soon AI will do that too.

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So, the idea of taking them, because of the artifact of time, and consigning them back to essentially pre development poverty. You guys are out of the workforce is a much more likely scenario than that they're going to be retrained and suddenly become Azure developers or high powered consultants or something like that, or engineers, uh, in the, before they're going to, they're going to reach impoverishment.

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And what I'm concerned about is not just the social injustice of, hey, we built you up, but then we replaced you. And so you're, you're dumped back to, to dirty streets where there's no running water. But instead it's the ultimate impact of that on the ecosystem because if developing nations are, uh, are consigned

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to a level of poverty and economic floundering that they were once again, this is going to affect the global economy.

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It's going to affect us in the first world. This, this stuff that the shit runs uphill.

Steve:

Well, I, I do think it's going to force us to confront this question either deliberately or, or by, by force of consequence, which is like, like you said, uh, from the, from the Clinton era, uh, approach to, to free trade, which essentially shipped a lot of labor jobs overseas and the, I don't know if they just wanted to dodge accountability for it, or it was an assumption, or what, but essentially say, okay, well the market will figure it out, people will retrain voluntarily, or they'll figure out their way, and, and people did not.

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And so, it's gonna force us to say, alright, so AI and other, other computing machines create an

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enormous amount of value that is superior to what humans can do. Are we gonna take that money, uh, to the witch? If you focus purely on increasing shareholder value, and are you going to basically take that money off the table and put it into the coffers of the corporate treasury or, or distributed to shareholders?

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Or are we going to say, this is an opportunity to take some of that money and somehow invest in, I don't know, the retraining that you were talking about, education and so forth. Uh, because if we don't, we get... some of the social consequences that you're, you're describing. And that's where I'm suggesting, well, uh, it'll probably just take, get taken off the table like you're saying, but, um, one way or another, this is going to be addressed that as, as society gets pushed into creating higher value work because the lower value work is now being done by machines, we're gonna have to figure

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out how they get there.

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They meaning myself included.

Asher:

Yeah, and I, I think the best predictor of what we apes are gonna do is what we've always done. That habit is, uh, the best indicator. You know, people, when they get powered, don't tend to give up power. The instances are, are, the instances are rare. Less than one out of a hundred.

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Uh, people, when they have the ability to control other people, don't usually... Just lay that down if they can profit off of their backs, et cetera, right? So in the end, I see the answer to that question as being well, you know, we can attempt a controlled economy But we'll typically what we'll do now the the momentum of the last 600 years has been to break out of that and have a free economy where people can kind of do what they want Um, so the idea of a command and control economy where we're just going to tax 80 percent of it because we put so much of that money, automation put so much of that money back in your coffers, now you can afford greater taxes, whatever that, I don't see that lasting.

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And on top of this, uh, I do see people essentially putting the money back in their pocket because that's the best bet. If I can get more money off you and put it in my pocket, I'll do it. So what's the... What's the resulting consequence? Well, typically in the long span of human civilization, it's greater enslavement or greater war or greater dictatorial government or something fairly unpleasant in the social environment that allows the polarized order of the haves and have nots to persist.

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You know, the only other way to really do it is to limit what AI is allowed to do. And effectively, AI is coming in, and it's funny, right? Because there's a whole group of people marching in, in Virginia, uh, under the last presidency. saying you, you shall not replace us. You shall not replace us. And what they should have been worried about is not the immigrants, but AI.

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AI is threatening to replace even the immigrants and everybody else as well.

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And in essence, that, that nightmare that they had in their heads, which only exists in their heads, but is largely a response to the. The NAFTA and GATT neoliberalism, uh, not a justified response, but certainly a response. The real location of that nightmare is in AI.

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And I think it will be ironic if we find ourselves looking at, uh, a system that replaces human labor and we don't actually want to hire a bunch of counselor Troys, or we actually look at it like. The, the, the only people that are going to have foreseeably safe employment are going to be the smartest people, whether we call that emotional smarts or IQ, or they have a skill.

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This is certainly what I rely on, uh, in order not to have a W2, nine to five, 40 hour week job. I rely on my wits, but the notion that. At a mass level, we're going to sort of elevate people from a level where,

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hey man, they're lucky to be doing customer service to a level of, ah, Bill's now an engineer, uh, within even a decade.

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I, I just don't, I don't think that gap is going to get filled and I'm worried about the social consequences of the gap.

Steve:

Yeah, it's, we certainly saw a version of this. It's, uh, coming out of the nineties, um, but you know, there were, there was a time when, when we didn't believe the climate was changing either. And there was a lot less support for changing, uh, our ways as a society and as, as individuals to try to do something different with climate change.

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And, and so I, I agree. The weight is on your side. The weight of tradition, that we may not do something different, but, um, I'm hoping, not betting, I'm hoping this kind of understanding that you're [00:15:00] expressing is, you know, maybe we can do something different, um, again, that's a hope, not a prediction, um, there is, let me shift to, to, uh, the concept of open source, you know, some people involved in the AI community are, are interested in open sourcing some of this, making it available, uh, I think with the understanding of what you're saying.

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And so at least if we can level the playing field so that some designers with their own, the force of their own creativity and imagination can do other things with AI and create other businesses. And rather, rather than AI being solely owned and controlled by established companies, um, I don't know if either of those things give you any hope or what your take is on it.

Asher:

No. No, I try not to hope. I, uh, so, or I, I

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just think the artifact of time plays in the notion. I'm very skeptical of the notion that jobs are just going to sort of redistribute themselves. People will be doing different things. The adaptability of the ape is, uh, microscopic compared to what we assume it is.

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We like to. I think that we can handle a lot of change, but that was the, that was the evidence of the Obama era. The reason we had such a backlash, look, I like President Obama, but the reason we had such a backlash is, you can change, you can take a group of gorillas, and, uh, we're just apes, and you can change, Something about the environment and they'll be okay.

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Uh, you start changing five or six things about the environment and they're gonna start raping rhinoceroses and, you know, committing cannibalism. They're gonna go nuts, right? You change one or two things about the environment, but you change them really fast. Uh, and they do the same thing. So what, what we see is apes can handle a little bit of [00:17:00] change, uh, or a lot of change very slowly, but we can't handle much change very quickly.

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We're just not good at it. We tend to melt down. And the best predictor is that it's just not going to happen. We, we have our society designed, uh, in such a way, uh, intense. This is how we build every society and always have. We have always built societies that... Minimize opportunities for incredibly rapid, sudden change in large volumes.

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And somebody can point to a historical instance and say, Well, they changed really rapidly here. Yeah, but they didn't change everything. Well, they changed everything here. Yeah, but it was very, very slowly, you know. So I look at it like there's just not enough time without a whole lot of suffering and starvation, a whole lot of people that are...

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Sitting out in the workforce, wondering what to do. I could be wrong, but I'm just betting on that. I wonder

Steve:

if what you're saying

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means, and I'm trying to extend, you didn't say this, I wonder if what you're saying means, therefore, we hold people, even more people in... Cubicle farms doing bullshit jobs that don't matter so that at least they have

Asher:

employment No, I don't think that's the solution.

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I think Look, the solutions that we typically have come up with are very traditional also, right? There's people that say, let's do a new deal approach, let's create jobs, just fabricate them out of thin air. So you got the guy that becomes the curb sweeper, and he doesn't interfere with the guy that's the street sweeper, and he doesn't interfere with the guy that's the sidewalk sweeper.

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We have a park polisher and a tree hugger. We pay them a salary so there can be jobs and this is how we stimulate the economy. What we don't account for there is our desire as apes that the work we do actually matter at all to anybody. And so, and it's not really sustainable because we don't live in a permanent dictatorial government, you know,

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done by succession of kings.

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So what happens is the next guy comes in and just does the obvious thing. These are bullshit jobs. Let's get rid of them. So that doesn't work. A command and control economy doesn't work, fabricating jobs doesn't work, retraining doesn't work. So far, we haven't come up with a system that works when a whole group of people are supplanted very quickly.

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And the proof of that is the, the Rust Belt. That whole notion, that whole notion was, yeah, they're all going to get green jobs. Cindy, who, uh, works on a line, you know, uh, rolling steel in a steel producing factory, is suddenly gonna become, you know, a handler of nuclear fission materials, you know? It's like, alright, really?

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And how long will that take? Before she does that. How likely is it, versus she's gonna wind up at Walmart, uh, labeling things, you know? So I, yeah, I'm not optimistic about it just

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because I haven't seen an invented mechanism for overcoming the nature of the ape.