Thursday, September 23, 2010

Automation Nation

So here's the deal? You can invent a robotic coal miner. Yep, no more tragic news from West Virginia. You make a billion bucks and are revered. Would be despised in West Virginia though, I promise you that.

There are no happy songs about being a coal miner, or if there are, I've never heard them. Some of the most moving American music ever written is about coal mining.
But if there's a song that goes, "I'm so happy to be right here, in the dark in constant fear" I must've missed that tune.

I've met people with grandfathers who were coal miners. Paid in company script, only good at the company store, deduction for company provided housing and utilities, such as they were. That was the bad ol' days. But nobody in West Virginia wants you to build a robot coal miner, except the stock holders in the mining company, and they probably don't live in West Virginia anyways.

That's where you always get to with automation. You want to protect people, but the obvious outcome is less direct labor. They know that too. West Virginia miners don't want you to 'safe' them out of a paycheck. People in Batesville too, know the work drag jobs and their wrists are hurting when they get home. They don't want you to 'protect' them out of a paycheck either.

So what would you do? America's only chance to compete with lower labor costs in the third world is to use less labor. You're really really good at automating human functions.

I really no longer believe the Third Wave of the Industrial Revolution will come in peacefully. I can't imagine how I'm gonna ever get all those Batesville folks in lab coats. A good number of them would likely put their lab coats on backwards, I suspect. But they want to work, so where do I send them?

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