Robotic Replacement Workers

Citi’s Tobias Levkovich writes about the rise of robotic workers in fast food and other service industries:

But, policy reactions to any change tend to be somewhat populist and politically expedient, especially since louder, strident and often extreme voices are heard over the apathy of the silent majority. For example, lifting the minimum wage, which affects a small proportion of the working population, while well intentioned, may perversely hasten the introduction of robots into fast food restaurants and these machines never need a bathroom break. While most of us consider robots to be more of a factory phenomenon and industrial robot sales have been on a steady ascent (depicted in Figure 3), the broadening out of their uses due to further advances in sensors and monitoring systems, suggests that factors like artificial intelligence could make their adoption expand into many other areas.

New machines are being used at various companies to move product in warehouses to the shipping docks. Supermarkets are testing machines that arrange products on shelves (one already can do self-checkout and payment) and various companies are studying self-driving vehicles.

In this context, less skilled employment may be at risk. But, before getting too comfortable about one’s own skillset being above average given a good education, it is interesting that machines can read MRIs and can replace radiologists. They can review legal contracts and only flag anomalies, replacing numerous young lawyers who might actually be relieved to not have to go over such tedious documents, but their futures get muddied by the development too. Even these arguably highly skilled workers may find themselves on unemployment lines.

In this sense, technology which has been growing as a percent of GDP (see Figure 4) could have a downside for workers even as keeping labor compensation down may be good for corporates trying to maintain earnings.In the past, cheaper prices meant more consumption but people ultimately need to have jobs to generate the income with which to spend. Furthermore, governments need tax revenues from that income to sustain their fiscal programs.


The speed at which technology is adopted means that there is less time to retrain workers for the new environment and, given an aging workforce, some may opt for early retirement though few seem to have much in terms of savings to do so. In conjunction, entitlement programs may be seeing a surge of demand and the traditional opportunities for new immigrants who do not speak English well may find the jobs they would have taken in the past (like cab driver or gardener) being replaced with robots.

Although, migrant agricultural workers probably are protected for now since fruit picking machines have had a tendency to crush the produce and such systems have been tried unsuccessfully in vineyards already but one cannot rule out engineering advances that get the machines up to par. The aspect of artificial intelligence which is pattern recognition and then reaction also might alter the dynamic in a way which is unforeseen at the moment.

… we are wary about the worker displacement effects and political pressures that may ensue from the rallying unemployed who want quick solutions. We fear that governments will look towards convenient and expedient responses rather than thoughtful and longer term ones that have greater chances of success. As a result, policy makers could end up causing more disruption and that is a somewhat unpredictable risk to our longer term bull thesis.

Matthew Weiner on America

A few years ago I started reading John Updike’s books and they really spoke to me, not in a morally uplifting way, but because they show what I think is a slice of reality regarding late 20th-century America. In the same way, I love Mad Men, not due to any moral lesson, but as a window into what the last century may have been like for some people. The near past is the hardest for us to decipher, because we are too close to it and yet so far away from it – what was 1992 like? I barely remember myself and would find it hard to reconstruct accurately. Anyway, Matthew Weiner discusses aspirational America in this interview, and I love his take on it:

Everyone loves the Horatio Alger version of life. What they don’t realize is that these transformations begin in shame, because poverty feels shameful. It shouldn’t, but everyone who’s experienced it confirms this. Sometimes people say, I didn’t know we were poor—Don Draper knows he’s poor, very much in the model of Iacocca or Walton, who came out of the Great Depression, out of really humble beginnings. Or like Conrad Hilton, on the show. These men don’t take no for an answer, they build these big businesses, these empires, but really it’s all based on failure, insecurity, and an identity modeled on some abstract ideal of white power. I’ve always said this is a show about becoming white. That’s the definition of success in America—becoming a WASP. A WASP male.

The driving question for the series is, Who are we? When we talk about “we,” who is that? In the pilot, Pete Campbell has this line, “Adding money and education doesn’t take the rude edge out of people.” Sophisticated anti-Semitism. I overheard that line when I was a schoolteacher. The person, of course, didn’t know they were in the presence of a Jew. I was a ghost. Certain male artists like to show that they’re feminists as a way to get girls. That’s always seemed pimpy to me. I sympathize with feminism the same way I identify with gay people and with people of color, because I know what it’s like to look over the side of the fence and then to climb over the fence and to feel like you don’t belong, or be reminded at the worst moment that you don’t belong.

Take Rachel Menken, the department-store heiress in the first season of Mad Men. She’s part of what I call the nose-job generation. She’s assimilated. She probably doesn’t observe the Sabbath or any of these other things that her parents did. That generation had a hard time because they were trying desperately to be buttoned-down and preppy and—this is my parent’s generation—white as could be. They were embarrassed by their parents. This is the story of America, this assimilation. Because guess what, this guy Don has the same problems. He’s hiding his identity, too. That’s why Rachel Menken understands Don, because they’re both trying desperately to be white American males.

Surveying the Internet

Here are some writings that have caught my eye recently:

Paul Anthony McGavin says that Pope Francis “…is anything but impartial, this pope. He wanted the synod to orient the Catholic hierarchy toward a new vision of divorce and homosexuality, and he has succeeded, in spite of the scanty number of votes in favor of the change of course, after two weeks of fiery discussion.

In any case, he will be the one who ultimately decides, he reminded the cardinals and bishops who may have had any doubts. In order to refresh their memory on his “supreme, full, immediate, and universal” power, he brought to the field not a handful of refined passages from “Lumen Gentium,” but the rock-solid canons of the code of canon law.”

A forthcoming book on Pope Francis says that contrary to canon law, an active campaign was behind his election to the Papacy:

“They had learnt their lessons from 2005,” Mr Ivereigh explains. “They first secured Bergoglio’s assent. Asked if he was willing, he said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.
“Murphy-O’Connor knowingly warned him to ‘be careful’, and that it was his turn now, and was told ‘capisco’ – ‘I understand’.
“Then they got to work, touring the cardinals’ dinners to promote their man, arguing that his age – 76 – should no longer be considered an obstacle, given that popes could resign. Having understood from 2005 the dynamics of a conclave, they knew that votes travelled to those who made a strong showing out of the gate.”

Charles Simic says of his father: “My father didn’t want us to have a typical father-son relationship, which wouldn’t have been possible in any case. He loved going out to jazz clubs, bars, restaurants—in fact, he took me out to a jazz club my first night in New York. Talking to him was always fun since he had a lot of good stories. Plus, he read everything: history, literature, political studies, Eastern religions, mysticism, philosophy, mysteries, sports pages, and even gossip columns in newspapers. He was one of those people who are always trying to figure out the big ques- tions. The nice thing about him was that he also had an ability to listen. He was interested in what anyone said, so it was easy being with him.”

A logbook has been found from a builder of one of the pyramids:

Over a hundred fragments make up a personal log book recording the daily activities of a team led by the inspector Merer, who was in charge of a team of about 200 men. A timetable written up in two columns records the transportation of fine limestone blocks from quarries at the site of Tura to Giza, where they were used for the outer casing of the pyramid. It took four days, using the Nile and connecting canals, to transport the blocks about 10km to the pyramid construction site, which was called the ‘Horizon of Khufu’. The logbook documents these activities for a period of more than three months.

The designer of Call of Duty is giving national security advice lectures now…Emily Dickinson’s Norway…a summary page of allegations that John Howard Yoder sexually abused women…this is a wonderful summary of one of my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now.

Who Cares About Facts?

How many people care about truth and where it leads them? Do they care even if it could cost them their job, their status, or the narrative they use to justify their stance in the world? Precious few care when it comes down to it. A TLS review of the book “The Good Spy” says that “U.S. foreign policy is not fact driven.” It goes on to quote from the book:

“You have the notion that all you need to do is get the…facts before the policy makers…and things would change. You think you can make a difference. But gradually, you realize that the policy makers don’t care.”

As Hebrew prophets from Moses to Jeremiah could testify, this is oh so true. Warnings of impending judgement or sober reality do not matter much to those with hard hearts. As Rob Asghar just pointed out, this is particularly true of cause based groups:

Personality cults end badly, because anyone objective finds themselves mauled by loyalists trying to hold the cult together. (Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer remains a pivotal resource for understanding the motivations of cult-type personalities, who often have their entire identities fused into their nation, organization or holy cause.)

Part of accepting the way the world is involves the realization that the truth just doesn’t matter to a lot of folks, despite what they say.

Pastors and the Internet

Alastair has a very perceptive post up called “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet.” The entire post is spot on and I recommend it to you. An excerpt:

All of this leaves people singularly unprepared for the world of the Internet, where they are exposed to opposing viewpoints and have to engage with them more directly. People who can appear to be brilliant in non-oppositional forms of discourse can crumple when subjected to critical cross-examination or manifest themselves to be emotionally incapable of interacting in a non-reactive manner with contrary perspectives. No doubt we can all think of many instances of this online. However, my concern in this post is to draw attention to how commonly I witness this failure in pastors and church leaders.

Stolen from Laudator Temporis Acti

Stolen from one of my favorite blogs, Laudator Temporis Acti, is this quote:

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 7, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 78:

And how few there are capable of managing debates without unbecoming heat, or dishonest artifices, how soon zeal is kindled into fury, and how soon a concern for reputation mingles with a concern for truth, how readily the antagonists deviate into personal invectives, and, instead of confuting the arguments, defame the lives of those, whose doctrine they disapprove, and how often disputes terminate in uproar, riot, and persecution, every one is convinced, and too many have experienced.

Fleming on the French Revolution

Thomas Fleming says:

The French Revolution was the seminal event of modern times, the period when Enlightenment theories of liberty and equality, natural rights and the social contract assumed a concrete form. All subsequent history in the West has been a series of attempts to extend (or resist) the principles of the revolution, and since World War II there has been no serious opposition to the ideology of 1789.

Commenting on the disdain for local or regional cultures, he writes:

Jacobin nationalists, in attempting to build an abstract and artificially unified French nation, made war on all other, more real loyalties. They destroyed the Church, waged a war of genocide against Catholics in the Vendée, and did their best to obliterate the regional civilizations of Provence and Brittany that were responsible for the vitality of French culture. The predictable results of such efforts, in France, Britain, and the United States (to name only three examples), is a mass culture in which the only “national identity” is that created by commercial entertainment and state propaganda.

Kagame and Kagame

Last year I started watching the Science Fiction show   Continuum on Netflix. Imagine my surprise when I found that the chief villain of the show was named Edouard Kagame! This wiki entry says:

In the beginning, Kagame was a peaceful activist, merely holding assemblies to influence their followers. However, some time after his son was taken away from him, he begun to accept and pursue more violent ways to achieve their organization’s goals…During a final stunt, Liber8 decides to bring down the building of the Congress to kill the 20 members of its board.


Now, the Kagame in the show is white, but he is a rebel like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame was in Uganda. The Kagame in the show is in Canada, so that is decidedly different. Continuum’s Kagame is a ruthless murderer, much like the real world Kagame.

I tried doing some research on the show’s writers to see if they had a tie to Rwanda that would cause them to use the name “Kagame” for this character but I haven’t been able to turn anything up. The name is highly unusual, particularly for a white Canadian character, which causes me to think that there might be a connection to Rwanda in naming this character. Maybe we will find out more as the show progresses over the next few years.

Kagame - Rwanda
Kagame – Rwanda




Modern Life is Rubbish, II

“We were on a school exchange in the summer holidays in a small village called Erder, in the hills behind Wetzlar. I remember it very clearly. I was watching TV when The Kinks came on – so I realized that The Kinks were my band while I was in the hills of Germany.
But that’s always been the case with me: I’ve always had key points of my musical life dictate to me while I was out of the country, just because it gives me a greater perspective being abroad. For instance, I decided that “modern life was rubbish” one Sunday afternoon in America.
I wrote a song called Sunday Sunday which on the surface seems like a grand nostalgic romp; but it’s not. It was about the scary feeling I got looking out of a Minneapolis hotel room onto ye olde, make-believe, plastic country square they’d constructed in the middle of this giant shopping mall. 

That view brought into my head all this imagery and emotion – I realized “…. I wanna be where I come from.”

David Brooks on Class

In his look at the ruling class, David Brooks discusses the wedding page of the New York Times, and writes:

The Times emphasizes four things about a person – college degrees, graduate degrees, career path, and parents’ profession – for these are the markers of upscale Americans today.