Posts Tagged Technology
About ten years ago, Wall Street laid-off 100,000 highly compensated securities professionals; because, their jobs were being performed by computer-based algorithm-reading machines. (An algorithm is just a complex set of mathematical rules and formulas.) Eventually, many local retail brokers might very well suffer the same fate, especially as brokers voluntarily send accounts to be similarly managed by computers.
When I retired as a financial advisor six years ago, there were three basic types of brokerage accounts. The securities firms, however, were encouraging their brokers to use mostly one type, rather than the other two.
Our Regional Manager suggested that the brokers could work more efficiently—and earn greater commissions—by just packaging the paperwork, and shipping the accounts off to the home office. The various investment portfolios would supposedly be managed by a team of analysts at that point.
Personally, I wonder if that “team” really meant the same type of algorithm-reading machines. Perhaps, I could be wrong; however, why couldn’t a similar computer program be managing retail client portfolios, just as it has been managing institutional accounts on Wall Street? With such accounts, the clients have no no one-to-one contact with any person who is involved with the management of their accounts.
Also, the securities brokers have no chance to add personal value to the situation, which is an important quality for individuals to establish in order for them to prevent the automation of their jobs. The firms suggest that the brokers can generate greater commissions; because, they spend less time on each account, as they pass them up-the line. But, there is little chance to add anything to the relationships as the brokers act somewhat like a worker on an assembly line.
The old traditional commission-based accounts have long since fallen by the wayside as they are felt to offer few chances to generate commissions. Additionally, once the accounts are initially invested, many lie unchanged for years to come–earning nothing for the brokers.
The third type of account is a fee-based one, like the first; however, with these, the broker manages the various portfolios in consultation with the clients. Sure, they consumed more time, and reduce potential revenues; however, these accounts enabled brokers to work with their clients and their portfolios. Additionally, why would a securities professional want to get involved in the securities markets if it were not to spend their time helping clients understand and invest in those very same markets?
In essence, brokers who just send the accounts to the “home office” become a paper-pushers, and they remove themselves from the real business at hand? And at some point, the firms will begin to reduce commissions, and eliminate some brokers, since fewer can push more paper than before.
I’ll take dealing with clients and stocks, bonds and mutual funds, any old day. Lastly, my value-added will protect me somewhat from such computer-generated automation!
There have been various calls, from different quarters, to break Amazon up. Those have been mostly due to the Seattle behemoth’s eating into the retail business of many others—big box stores, stand-alone businesses and even mall stores, such such as venerable Macy’s. In essence, however, Amazon is just doing what Wal-Mart, and other big boxes, did to smaller retailers, years before.
Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on the retail sector; rather, it had just anticipated that Americans, as well as overseas customers, were ready for a new way of shopping—On-Line. Most of the other stores in the sector; however, can certainly invest in similar advanced systems, but they haven’t. Wal-Mart, for instance, would cause massive layoffs in the various job occupations from which it draws its customer base. And, the mall stores and stand-alone retailers mostly have long-term store leases at their current locations.
My suggestion that Amazon split into two separate corporations—let’s say Amazon and Amazon Web Services—is due to, what I believe are, significant operational differences between the two business segments. As shown on the chart below, Amazon has two different sectors. Most Americans are well aware of Amazon’s retail business; but, few know how active, and expanding, it is in technology—Amazon Web Services.
Amazon is the largest provider of cloud computing, has its own robotics company—which has improved its own logistics systems, as well as provides robotics to other companies globally. It has also been been expanding its Artificial Intelligence operations. To me, the retail and AWS segments should be totally split into two different corporations, with Amazon shareholders receiving their proportion number of shares in each.
First off, the mindset for managing retail is quite different from that of the AWS segment. So would the occupational skills of both the employees and management of the two. The chart below shows the differences between retail and AWS, regarding Revenue and Operating Profit.
Revenue, between North America and its International operations was $123, 768 million in 2016. AWS, on the other hand, was a mere $12,219 million—or just 10.0% of Amazon’s Total Revenue. Operating Profit was even more revealing. AWS had $3,108, as compared to the net combined retail profit of just $1,100 million.Lastly, AWS had a Profit Margin—operating income divided by net sales or revenue—of 25.4%, while that of Retail was only 1.03%.
I am an Amazon shareholder; however, I still believe that the break-up, between the two dissimilar business segments, would make good sense. There are so many dissimilarities between retail and AWS, that the split is certainly called for, in order to improve the overall Amazon operation.
Currently, AWS distracts from the retail operations and, I believe that retail also holds AWS back. In summary, this is truly a case where the two halves would be more effective—and more valuable—than the total!
Over the past 50 years, automation and the machines (robots, machine-reading, big data, artificial intelligence, etc.) have been creeping into our workplace, replacing workers in performing various routine job functions. And, unlike other historical labor disruptions, the advance of machines—performing the tasks they have been programmed to do—is being felt throughout the entire industrialized world.
To better understand the advance of the machines, both in memory and speed, let’s review “Moore’s Law”. Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, 50 years ago remarked that the capacity and speed of silicon chips will double every two years, over the next ten. Well, fifty years later, that hypothesis is still on target, and it is often used to describe the exponential advances of computers as their capabilities accelerate over time.
For instance, the computer that took the astronauts to the Moon in 1969 was merely comparable to the Nintendo of that era. The capacity of today’s iPhone, however, is considerably faster, and can perform more functions, than the fastest super computers of even 30 years ago. So, how are schools preparing our children for the labor market of the future?
It seems that that many school systems, over the past ten to fifteen years, have emphasized the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while de-emphasizing the Arts and Humanities for college bound students. Such a focus can make the job skills of such employees similar to those of the machines, and thus easier for the machines to displace.
Skills that reflect the humanity of the worker—such as intuition, relationship building, good writing skills, an ability to cope with adversity, creative thinking–may set him or her apart from their co-workers, in similar jobs. “This is Money” provides a fairly in-depth list of job occupations that are most, and least, likely to be replaced by automation.
For the most part, school curricula, through the 12th Grade, appear to have changed little over the years. As the advance of the machines continues at an ever-increasing speed, school administrators and teachers need to be honing their skills, and begin to plan for the challenges of the Twenty-First Century, which has already arrived. Business, government and labor also need to be part of the planning process.
Many computer engineer jobs have already been outsourced to India. And, this time, many white collar jobs, requiring college and advanced degrees—such as associate attorneys and some radiologists (yes, M. D. s), who perform many routine functions, may also be at risk. That’s why it would be important for the employee to set him or herself apart from their colleagues.
Since automation will impact the entire labor market, to one degree or another, the number of displaced workers could easily outnumber the available jobs, and probably drive the pay scales. That’s where the Arts and Humanities skills may set some employees apart from the crowd, and help them keep their jobs!
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS ALREADY HERE! THE OVERALL DISRUPTION COULD BE WORSE THAN THE GREAT RECESSION (4Q07-1Q09)!
NOTE: This is a follow-on to my prior post, as well as a response to most scientists, engineers and technologists, who believe that the machines will only be advantageous to humanity.
In 2010, the Federal Government bailed-out GM, Chrysler and their parts suppliers, saving 1.5 million jobs. That action enabled the employees to stay current on their mortgages, pay taxes, and continue contributing to the economy by spending money in national and local stores. Also, let’s not forget the added impact of auto dealership closures and lay-offs, finance companies, insurance companies, etc.
Several states have already authorized self-driving, or autonomous, cars and trucks for usage on their highways, with other states sure to follow. The impact of human drivers being replaced by computers, as they gain acceptance, will eventually have an even greater impact on our economy than the failure of two major employers.
Remember, also, that similar forms of machines are replacing workers in numerous industries throughout the economy. But, let’s look at some potential numbers for just the automotive industry.
There are currently 3.5 million truck drivers on the road, as well as another 5.0 million support staff. For trucking companies, it would be more cost-effective to replace drivers with computers, since the machines can drive 24 hours per day, and they do not receive pay or benefits. Thus the direct impact of autonomous trucks would be approximately six times as great as if two of the Big Three were not bailed-out by the Federal Government.
Now, let’s look at personally owned automobiles and small trucks. American households own, on average 2.1 autos, which spend 95% of the time sitting in garages or parked in driveways, or on the street. As people become more comfortable riding in self-driving cars, entrepreneurial companies will offer year-to-year plans, enabling members to use an App to call for a ride when needed.
Consumers would pocket the difference, between enrolling in a plan, and the expense of personal auto ownership—the purchase price, and maintenance and insurance expenses. It has been projected that family auto ownership would plummet, from 2.1 per household, to 1.2. Over a gradual period, say five or ten years, think of the potential impact on the automotive industry. Oh, and don’t forget the taxi drivers, and their support staffs, who would probably be laid-off, as well.
While scientists, engineers and technologists debate over the pros and cons—of whether artificial intelligence might be beneficial or harmful to mankind—at some indeterminate time it the future, AI is already here! The technicians are missing the point, at least for the present! The overall disruption of the American labor market could be even worse than during The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09)!
Machines have already taken over many low and high-paying jobs throughout the American labor market, and their march is accelerating at an ever quickening pace. The artificial intelligence community needs to set the potential outcomes of the future aside, and work with community groups to respond to any near-term risks, both to society and the economy. Forget the long-term, will we be ready for tomorrow, next month, next year?
NOTE: The linked Pew Research Report describes how many Americans view Labor Market Disruption.
ALSO: In today’s (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, there was an article about Auto Nation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, forming a partnership with Google’s autonomous driving subsidiary, Waymo Corp. In time, they expect to offer as-needed access to a fleet of self-driving autos. Also, as car buyers become more comfortable with autonomous vehicles, Auto Nation will offer them in its showrooms. Auto Nation’s stock skyrocketed, partially on the news.
WITH THE ACCELERATING ADVANCE OF MACHINES INTO THE WORKPLACE, WHAT WILL THE JOB MARKET LOOK LIKE 10 YEARS FROM NOW? TWENTY YEARS?
Full disclosure: I am neither a scientist nor a technologist; however, I have researched this topic quite extensively, and am also include somer economic, political and sociological considerations, which I believe are relevant to the topic..
Fifty years ago, ATMs began to appear outside of banks, and “Bar” Codes appeared on most grocery items. Although they quickened a customer’s ability to withdraw cash, or speed through the supermarket check-out line, those enhancements cost some bank tellers and grocery cashiers their jobs.
Around that same time, Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, suggested that silicon chip capacity would double every two years for the following ten years. Well, fifty years later, Moore’s “Law” is still on target, ad widely-cited. Just try to write the number “1,” and double that (compounded) over those 25 time frames. There would not be enough room on the page to write those numbers toward the end.
To put it another way: the capacity of a recently outdated iPhone 4 has the same computing capability of a Cray 2 super computer, which was the world’s fastest computer in 1985. Moore’s Law is an important concept to know in order to appreciate the acceleration of the computational speed, and the capacity of today’s machines.
By Machines, I’m including the total range of computers, from: automation; robotics; algorithm-reading machines; artificial intelligence, etc. Presently, computers are not as “intelligent” as humans; however, as their speed and capacity grow exponentially, they will soon catch up. Then what happens when their mental capacity surpasses ours, and they are able to re-program themselves to accomplish more and more-advanced chores?
In past transformations—from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, to the Industrial Age, to service industries, then the Digital Age–new jobs and industries arose. and now, to whatever increasing-advanced technology brings our way. Will the computers of today be subservient, partner with us, or will they take over—making us their slaves?
Let’s just focus on the growing interest in autonomous, or self-driving, cars and trucks. A few states have approved them for driving on their roads. What will happen to the 3.5 million truck drivers, and their 5.0 million support staff, who might lose their jobs? And, what about the millions of taxi drivers?
Similarly, as the general population becomes comfortable with self-driving cars, the average ownership per household might drop from 2.1 cars, to 1.2. Most autos spend 95% of the time sitting in the garage, or on a road somewhere.
Entrepreneurs would offer some sort of an annual contract that enables customers to call for a ride using an App. Savings on the cost of the car, insurance, and maintenance could be significant. But, just think of the many people in the auto industry, as dealerships close, millions more could lose their jobs—auto manufacturers, parts suppliers, dealerships, salespersons, mechanics, insurance companies, etc?
There have been various studies, which have projected which positions might be the first to succumb to the machines, and which might be among the last. So, what is America’s game plan? The world at large?
Politicians and other leaders need to address this oncoming situation; but, no one seems willing to tackle it, since they don’t seem to think for the long-term. But, it’s not really a long-term problem, and we should be planning for it immediately!
Even many scientists and engineers who are working within the technology industry seem to believe that, after a short disruption, new jobs and industries will magically appear. But, what if that doesn’t happen? Workers need assistance in learning new skills, even while they are still working on their old jobs. Students need to be directed toward the jobs skills that will keep them employed in the years to come. But, someone needs to provide that guidance!
In years past, job disruption generally arose within one major corporation or industry, and many people found that they could just take their skills to another company, or a similar industry. This time, however, the machines will be everywhere. And, don’t expect to take an interim job in a minimum wage job; because, even burger flipping now can be performed by robots.
Also, the technological impact of the machines that can perform many of the routine tasks that, fir instance, an associate attorney does. In fact, machines have also shown that they can read medical charts more accurately, and faster, than most radiologists.
Every time a hurricane heads toward Florida, the locals stock-up on water, flashlight batteries, canned food, and prepare their homes, boarding-up windows, trimming hanging tree limbs. So, why shouldn’t we prepare for whatever the Technological Age brings our way?
Community leaders—politicians, business, labor, educators, academics, economists and sociologists—should be called together to study the situation and recommend the various possible outcomes. The local population of the various job classifications is most important. Actuaries and financial analysts can than project the range of work force disruption—from worst case to best—with a probability for each.
Additionally, a greater awareness, and understanding, of Artificial Intelligence must eventually become pervasive throughout our society, at least to a basic extent. Otherwise, we would be back to “square one”! For instance: when computers were first introduced into elementary schools, many teachers didn’t know how to use them. And, how can government, school administrators, business and labor leaders, have an appreciation of the potential impact of AI, if they do not understand labor force disruption?
This study should be performed over a period of months, and be assigned a reasonably high priority.
Over the past decade or two, educators have recommended that students focus on the STEM subjects. That approach, however, would not be the magic salvation, since it would make workers more like the machines. By adding some Arts and Humanities—shifting to STEAM—the worker would exhibit such skills as: creativity; intuition; relationship building; flexibility; coping; an ability to work comfortably with change, etc.
No one has all of the answers; but, if we devise a wide-ranging plan to deal with the potential impact of work force disruption, we will have alternative options already in our Game Plan!
NOTE: For additional information, I have listed several books on the Books That I Recommend Tab. The two New Additions and the two listed under Technology, toward the bottom.
Today, I added “Rise of the Robots”, by Martin Ford, to my Books That I Recommend tab. Mr. Ford is a technology entrepreneur and a Futurist. As I begin this post, there are two points that I should make: 1. The terms Robots or Technology both include Robots, Algorithm-reading machines, and other forms of Automation; 2. Moore’s Law, an off-handed comment in 1965, which predicted that technology will double in both speed and capacity every couple of years, has been relevant ever since. That means that speed and capacity grow exponentially!
Whatever happened to secretaries and office pools, or afternoon newspapers? Why do some old downtown bank branches have many more teller windows than are ever opened? Your desktop word processor made clerical workers unnecessary, and who needs the afternoon newspaper when CNN, and the rest of the 24/7 news cycle is more up-to-date? And, many teller positions became unnecessary, once customers began to use ATMs and on-line banking from their home.
Consider IBM’s Watson Computer that beat Chess Grand Champion Gary Kasparov, and then went-on to beat Ken Jennings, the All-Time Unbeatable Jeopardy Champion—twice. By 2013, Watson—now twice as fast—has been assisting the Cleveland Clinic and University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Clinic diagnose problems and refine patient cancer treatment plans. Watson can sift through the 9,000 global medical journals, building its resource database, at light speed. No group of physicians can match that!
So far, robotics is only considered a threat by those in the industrial sector, where different versions install car doors, lift heavy aircraft engines into place, and apply paint to a varied range of home appliances. Robots are best-aligned with routine jobs, and are often regarded as potential threats to low-end jobs such as monotonous warehouse or assembly lines jobs. But, they have mastered various high-end jobs, as well.
Algorithm-reading machines have demonstrated that they can sort through voluminous boxes of documents, weeding-out those that will be relevant to coming court cases, faster than any junior attorney, and more cheaply. Radiologists too might also feel the threat since computers can read charts just as well as them, and they don’t sleep or ask for a salary. Writing newspaper articles are already among algorithm-reading machines’ everyday jobs, while composing symphonies are still in the test stages.
Back in early 19th Century England, the Luddites rebelled against the outsourcing of weaving to India; however, in time, these workers found employment in other occupations. This time, jobs at all levels—even burger flippers—are slowly being replace by robots, and in multiple industries.
We often think of Amazon as a retail corporation, which has been causing many retail companies to fold; but, it is also the largest player in cloud computing, and it has a robotics companies that sells its products globally.
Initially, many people thought that some people would still be able to work with, and “supervise”, the robots. The article (at bottom) describes a woman who is currently doing that at Amazon; however, she realizes that she is actually teaching a robot to do her warehouse job!
In the book, Mr. Ford draws from his own technology background, history and very sound economics. Over time, as more and more businesses automate, eventually they reverse the outsourcing to lower pay-scale countries, bringing the work back. Basically, many robots work more cheaply than overseas low pay-scale workers!
Many Americans have insufficient retirement funds set aside, and much of credit had been tapped-out in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09). As unemployment increases, college graduates and middle-income employees displace minimum-wage workers. Also, if banks continue to make bad loans, there could be anther banking crisis.
China cannot become the global economic locomotive, since its economy is 65% based on export. But, to where? As the number of workers who are unemployed, or underemployed increases, there will be few consumers left to buy anything other than the bare necessities. Benevolent business owners who refuse to automate, and keep their current labor forces, they will lose business to the competition, which can undercut them on price. But even there, without middle-income consumers, who will businesses sell their products to?
Mr. Ford does offer some possible solutions, such as a Guaranteed Income Credit; however, they will take a cooperative bipartisan Congress, and a rational President, to pass any such legislation into law. Customer-interface businesses, such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers, would be the last to automate. The most vacant professional positions are nurses, since they provide one-on-one patient care. But, even these business and occupations cannot prosper in a vacuum!
Now, none of this is going to occur this year, or next, but like ATMs and desktop computers, the range of robots will infiltrate the workforce gradually. So, if you are currently employed, begin to separate yourself from the pack. Get your credit straightened out, and build that retirement fund. And, as I wrote in my last post, add some focus on Technology and Health Care in any investment funds that you might have.
Consider picking-up Rise of the Robots at your Library, or buy the paperback version. Hopefully, we might see a new day–one of cooperation and common sense–in Congress. There are solutions; but, it would help to have the whole thing sorted out ahead of time
I expect to be writing a post tomorrow, which describes a report on Global Warming, which scientists leaked, fearing that it was too important for the Donald Trump Regime to just cover it up. This re-post cites the fact that, beginning in 1977, Exxon scientists strongly believed that Global Warming is a man-made phenomena, caused by our use of fossil fuels. The company’s Chief Scientist briefed the Executive Management Committee, in 1977 and again in 1978, and management just ignored it.
EXXON KNEW THE MAJOR CAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN 1977, AND IT HAS BEEN SPENDING MILLIONS, MAYBE BILLIONS, EVER SINCE DENYING IT.
Way back in 1977, Laura Shaw, a 12 year-old, won her class science fair, in Cranford, N. J, with an experiment about the so-called “greenhouse effect”. She filled two identical vessels with water and a thermometer. Then, Ms. Shaw covered one with plastic wrap, and turned a lamp on them.
After a period of time, the vessel with the plastic wrap registered a higher temperature than the uncovered one. She surmised that the plastic wrap created the same effect as carbon dioxide, which traps reflected heat from the Sun, thus warming the Earth.
You or I might have thought that our children were young geniuses to have found that relationship, between a plastic cover and global warming; however, Ms. Shaw had some expert assistance. As it turns out, her father is Henry Shaw, and at that time, he was one of the Exxon scientists who were specifically researching the effects of global warming—more specifically, that which was caused by carbon dioxide, created by man-made emissions.
Exxon (now ExxonMobil) was aware of climate change as early as 1977, eleven years before the problem became known by the general public. In fact, besides formulating various climate models, the oil company also outfitted a tanker to study how much CO2 was absorbed by the oceans. And, in July of 1977, Exxon’s senior scientist, James Black, delivered a sobering message on the topic.
Mr. Black advised Exxon’s executive management committee that: “… there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.” One year later, he warned the same group that there was general scientific agreement that the “…doubling of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would influence global warming by two or three degrees.” Black than suggested—now in 1978, mind you—that mankind had a five to ten year window in which to make hard decisions, since energy strategies might become critical. Exxon needed to act!
Rather than make the hard decisions—developing cleaner-burning fuels, teaming with the coal industry to follow suit, and considering renewable energy–Exxon, Chevron, Mobil, Shell, BP, and Peabody Coal, just stuck their collective heads in the sand. They formed a the American Petroleum Institute, a non-profit organization to manage the disinformation of declaring that “Climate Change is a Hoax”. In fact, they hired the same public relations firm that Big Tobacco had hired to deny tobacco’s link to lung cancer, some years before.
To use the old cliche about Nero fiddling while Rome burned would be a very serious understatement. Considering that five of those energy companies were in the Standard and Poor’s 500, money was of little consequence, especially when it comes to fighting for the Industry’s very survival.
Energy lobbyists convinced Washington not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, from the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (as of 1990 emission levels). As one of world’s two biggest polluters, along with China, it is imperative that the U. S. ratify the Protocol, set meaningful CO2 reduction goals—and stick to them! Will there be more success this week—now 25 years later?
Currently, both Houses of the U. S. Congress, have appointed loyal climate change deniers, from oil-dependent states, to head the various committees that are supposed to oversee science and the environment:
Senator James M. Imhofe (R-OK) is Chairman of the House Committee on the Environment. Last February, Senator Inhofe brought a snowball into the Senate Chamber under the false assumption that that proved that “Climate Change is a Hoax!” (Remember the API Mission Statement?) On the contrary, however, the snowball merely demonstrated the opposite, as described in a prior blog post.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and also a GOP candidate for President, heads the Sub-Committee on Space, Science and Competition. Cruz’ sub-committee delayed the updated NASA satellites, which provide vital weather information worldwide. Smart move, huh?
And, Congressman Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) is Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. When faced with broad testimony by earth scientists that man is definitely accelerating global warming, Smith began investigating the scientists, and thus taking them away from their important research. Attacking the messengers, in other words.
Oddly enough, when those who deny Climate Change wish to provide their own “expert” scientific testimony, they have turned to Wei-Hock Soon. Although Dr. Soon is a respected scientist, he is currently employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Over the past decade, Dr. Soon’s research and his funding ($1.2 million) have come largely from fossil fuel interests. Some of that funding has allegedly been linked to Southern Company (a large utility) and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. (Mr. Koch is a co-owner of Koch Industries, a very large privately-owned energy company.)
Aside from all of the claims and counter-claims, on both sides of the Climate Change issue, there is basic evidence all around us: melting glaciers; rising tides; wildfires and droughts worldwide; erratic weather patterns; etc. And, the idea that Big Energy interests would seek “expert” opinion from an astrophysicist, on matters pertaining to earth sciences, is simply ludicrous. So, if the probable cause behind climate change was so obvious to 12 year-old Laura Shaw, way back in 1977, why can’t many in the U. S. Congress, Big Energy and other climate change deniers still realize that today?
NOTE: For readers who wish more detailed information on Exxon, its Energy Industry co-conspirators and Climate Change, the attached report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, should prove quite informative.