Robot sentences to ponder

by on February 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm in Economics, Education, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

Ironically, given all the concerns about robots destroying jobs, Mr Tsuda said one of the main constraints on the market’s growth was a shortage of human engineers.

“To use robots — not just to make them — you need quite a level of engineering,” he said. “If anything, for us and the market as a whole, growth is held back by the number of engineers who can do that.”

From Robin Harding at the FT, there is more here.

1 Clover February 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm

“If anything, for us and the market as a whole, growth is held back by the number of engineers who can do that.”

Well, an engineer might only make 100,000$ a year, while a CEO might make in the millions. Since the amount of wealth created for the economy is exactly proportional to the size of the employee’s wage, these CEOs must be many times more productive than engineers. We could rapidly increase the size of our economy by figuring out how to produce more CEOs. All good capitalists know that people are blank slates, so it shouldn’t be hard to find out a way to do this. Yet it is strange that I hear a lot of noise about how The Economy needs us to ‘train’ more engineers and import more fruit pickers, but not much about how we need to ‘train’ more CEOs. Sure is a mystery.

2 Al February 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Yeah. They have the story upside down and backwards.

Almost every tech startup fails, and it’s not because the engineers did a poor job. It’s because they were poorly led. The execs made poor decisions and choices.

They deployed their company into an unrewarding or weak market, failed to specify a product that truly addressed the needs of the potential customers, failed to carry out a rigorous market analysis, didn’t know how to manage a team, pissed away their cash on foolish publicity stunts and parties, etc.

The right story to tell is that the US needs thousands more high quality tech EXECUTIVES to displace the current crop of uninspired hacks and fat slackers.

The US should be able to create a hundred more Apples. These companies should be able to train and employ hundreds of thousands more existing domestic engineers, STEM majors, and technically inclined people who lack a college degree.

Taken as a whole, the exec layer of these companies not only lacks deep understanding of their markets, real business acumen, and a compelling detailed product vision, it actually has the audacity to insist that engineers provide those things.

3 Matt February 22, 2015 at 5:56 pm

You’re confusing “tech” startups with genuine technological breakthroughs. Technological breakthroughs are what’s ultimately important.

The US and the world and economy in general need technological breakthroughs, not more Apples. Apple is nice, but they haven’t pioneered tech breakthroughs. Tech breakthroughs are things like reusable rockets, which SpaceX is working towards. SpaceX is unique in that it is led by an engineering type, not an MBA exec type, in Elon Musk. Tech breakthroughs require engineers, not salesmen.

4 So Much for Subtlety February 22, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Technical breakthroughs are nice, but actually we need companies like Apple who can turn them into transformative products. France has had more than its share of breakthroughs. A French engineer has a good claim to inventing the PC. They came up with a workable internet before anyone else. However the French have not been able to commercialize any of these breakthroughs. They have the Wozniaks. They don’t have the Steve Jobs.

5 Matt February 22, 2015 at 10:04 pm

That just isn’t true. Pretty much all the major technical breakthroughs of the IT revolution were developed in the US.

6 Eric Pobirs February 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Minitel? You have to be kidding. That was essentially a government sponsored version of CompuServe circa 1985. They forced it on the citizenry by ceasing the printing of phone directories. That was its essential function for most people. It was not remotely the internet as became mainstream in the mid-90s. It was just a socialist version of what America produced over a dozen versions of without involving taxpayer funds. The most memorable thing about Minitel was its use as a punchline on Archer a while back.

Likewise for the French claim of inventing the PC. Every advancement in integrated circuits lead to a smaller computer hitting the market. Many were simply premature as they offered little value for practical use. The remarkable thing about the 8-bit Apple was that Steve Wozniak did integrated circuit design on his own (most notably the disk controller) without the facilities of a large company that would have considered critical to such an effort. This allowed Apple to compete against much larger and better funded companies in its early days. A big factor there was that they were operating in an environment where entrepreneurs could flourish, pretty much the opposite of what France had become by the 1970s.

7 So Much for Subtlety February 23, 2015 at 6:20 pm

A big factor there was that they were operating in an environment where entrepreneurs could flourish, pretty much the opposite of what France had become by the 1970s.

So basically you agree with me, Matt missed the point completely and neither of you read or understood what I said?

8 Thiago Ribeiro February 22, 2015 at 7:18 pm

“Apple is nice, but they haven’t pioneered tech breakthroughs. Tech breakthroughs are things like reusable rockets, which SpaceX is working towards.”
I would prefer useful things, thank you.
Seriously, “breakthroughs like reusable rockets”, not, say, cures, cheaper and cleaner energy generation, (even) faster and cheaper computing power?

9 Matt February 22, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Reusable rockets make things like solar space satellites (cheap reusable energy) and space settlement economical and possible.

10 Anonymous February 23, 2015 at 4:12 pm

We are still one or two centuries of technological advances away from making space settlement possible.

11 Al February 22, 2015 at 8:04 pm

I am not seeing why my comment makes you think I am confusing tech startups with genuine technological breakthroughs.

Genuine technological breakthroughs, are great, but are not the only source of new jobs.

A great many jobs come from successful productization of existing technologies. e.g. Japan was quite masterful at creating large numbers of middle class jobs by productizing and incrementally improving existing technologies like cars, cameras, VCRs, and stereos better than anyone else back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Yet, a lot of the genuine technological breakthroughs in those product areas happened in the US.

I agree that a lot of successful companies are led by “engineering types” and SpaceX is by no means “unique” in that way. It’s pretty easy to find more examples that.

Google (Brin and Page are computer scientists).

Microsoft (Satya Nadella, electrical engineer, Steve Balmer, math major, Bill Gates – total Harvard computer nerd who wrote a record breaking sorting algorithm as an undergrad before dropping out).

Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, computer science/psychology major).

Yahoo (Jerry Yang, Electrical Engineer).

I think these companies have created jobs in large numbers, but their record on creating genuine technological breakthroughs is mixed.

In the 1990’s IBM used to criticize Microsoft as a good “marketing” and software company but not much of a technology company. And IBM had a point. Nonetheless, Microsoft went on to create tens of thousands of well paying jobs and thousands of millionaires.

12 Matt February 22, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Having an engineering degree is not the same thing as working or running a company like an engineer.

Technological breakthroughs, not “jobs”, are the ultimate source of wealth.

13 Cliff February 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Yeah, because an invention siting in someone’s basement is creating exactly as much wealth as that invention in the hands of the millions who can use it.

14 Matt February 22, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Yeah, you’re right. We don’t need any more inventions. As long as we can produce more people and make sure to get spoons in their hands, we’ll be producing more wealth.

15 Dan Hanson February 23, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Microsoft Research is a massive enterprise. Last year its budget was 9.8 billion dollars. That’s significantly more than the entire NSF budget, and about half of NASA’s budget.

16 Clover February 22, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Perhaps, but you must ask the question, how to create more CEOs? Many businessmen make obscene loads of money, but the typical business school graduate from State U is seeing wages lower than that of the typical engineering graduate from State U. Either those skills are not in that much demand or something about State U or the State U students makes them unable to learn those skills. I think the former is more probable.

Libertarians, neocons, and other types often make the assumption that the amount of wealth the worker creates is roughly proportional to the size of the employee’s wage. When cornered they will often say that isn’t what they claim, but their economic theories are based on it, as is their moral objection to progressive taxation. I think it’s absurd to claim that a company CEO is worth a hundred of it’s engineers. But if you believe that, the “logical” conclusion is that the real shortage is in CEOs. But the neocons and others aren’t making that argument. One reason is that the high wages of CEOs is really based on barriers to entry for potential competitors, and they don’t want competition. People might suggest doubling the class size of Harvard business school to train more future CEOs. And most people intuitive grasp that a CEO isn’t worth a hundred of his engineers even if he’s payed like one.

17 Al February 22, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Yes.

I don’t know how to create another Steve Jobs. These people are born not made.

But engineers — we stand a much better chance of creating them, whole armies of them, from existing people who are here already.

Since we cannot manufacture a new Steve Jobs, let’s steal these magical business visionaries from all the continents on earth, people who can create the companies and industries that employ the masses. Who are already here. Looking for work.

18 Michael Cain February 22, 2015 at 9:09 pm

But engineers — we stand a much better chance of creating them, whole armies of them, from existing people who are here already.

From time to time you read pieces about how many engineering (used broadly) students China is graduating, relative to the US. What concerns me more is that China seems to make a conscientious effort to employ those graduates as engineers. If companies are hiring, universities will produce engineers. If companies are not hiring, incentives given to universities to produce more graduates in particular fields are just “pushing on a string.”

19 Thomas February 22, 2015 at 8:15 pm

The President of the United States might be the most powerful man on the Earth. To create more power, we should create more Presidents of the United States.

Seriously though, # CEOs < # companies. The joke kind of falls apart because of this.

20 Prakash February 23, 2015 at 2:30 am

Seasteaders, Neoreactionaries and other advocates for competitive governance actually believe that we should have more countries/cities in the world created today. With more opportunities to borrow from the state of art in economics and government, they would prosper and there would be a LOT more economic growth in the general world around them as well.

So, yes, more “presidents” of genuinely independent nations may be a very good thing.

21 Komori February 23, 2015 at 11:21 am

As a libertarian, I can safely say that no, we do not assume “that the amount of wealth the worker creates is roughly proportional to the size of the employee’s wage”. We would like that to be the case, but should is not is.

22 Hazel Meade February 23, 2015 at 3:33 pm

I wouldn’t even want that to be the case. How are you supposed to incentivize people to learn skills that are more in demand if they don’t get price signals in terms of higher wages?

23 Komori February 24, 2015 at 10:26 am

Wouldn’t the highest wealth producing skills be the ones most in demand?

24 Hazel Meade February 23, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Actually the latter is more probable. CEO skills are in very high demand, as evidenced by their salaries. problem not very many people are good at doing those jobs, and we don’t know how to make more of them.

The wage of a person also isn’t proportional to the wealth they create. In order for that to be true, all workers would have to be interchangable in terms of their skill sets. They would have to be instantly retrainable. The fact that there are shortages of people with certain skills sets, and excess of people with other skills sets will always mean that wages for high-demand occupations will be relatively higher and wages ofr low-demand occupations will be relatively lower.
The amount of marginal wealth someone creates is merely a *cap* on their potential salary, since nobody is going to pay someone more than they are worth.

25 Hazel Meade February 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

This is a pretty good point. I do think it would do wonders for our economy if we were able to train more people capable of being CEOs.
I think it would require a very different educational paradigm though. Conventional public schools teach kids to follow a procedure or formula in exchange for praise from superiors. It makes them very good at being other people’s employees, but not neccessarily good CEOs.
I honestly have no idea what alternative would train more people with CEO like skills, but I suspect it would probably involve a lot less classroom learning and a lot more unstructured group collaboration on projects.
Like, if you have to build a robot, and you don’t get points for “effort”, you either make the robot work, or you fail.

26 JWatts February 24, 2015 at 7:32 pm

“Like, if you have to build a robot, and you don’t get points for “effort”, you either make the robot work, or you fail. ”

Yes, but it would have to be a different model that the current US education system where the team is locked and the grade is shared. Granted, there are caveats to that, but we’ve probably all been on projects where we’ve carried one member across the line. Because it’s easier to just let them free ride than get them kicked off the team.

27 mulp February 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Employers want more engineers and scientists, but not higher taxes to pay for educating more students in those fields. So, given the number of students who are willing to pay the high education costs of engineering and science chose to go into business management so they can get the high salaries and incomes of financial people looking to cut wages and costs and dodge taxes because its easier and pays more faster, employers want to import engineers and scientists who were educated by high taxes in Europe and Asia. But they do not want them to be free of the restrictions on H-1B visas because they don’t want competitors poaching their immigrant workers, but they do want more H1-B visas and lower fees so they can get the number of handcuffed by government workers. After all, paying for big pensions and other benefits is expensive and thanks to the cost cutting of the MBAs those benefits are no longer tied to long service to a single employee, so hiring a new grad and training him on the job for five years just means you have trained your competitor’s work force.

I am old enough to remember the 60s and actually be one who benefits from the leftist policies of high taxes paying for the high costs of science, engineering, and trade education, plus the employers hiring workers with any hint they can learn on the job to do engineering or science work as technicians if nothing else with the opportunity to move up to engineer on the job, with paid tuition as an benefit to workers because a better educated worker was a company asset.

All the conservative theories on jobs, employment, education funding, benefits, taxes, unions, have progressively been implemented since 1980 and the problem of a lack of trained workers of every sort have developed and then gotten worse and worse.

28 So Much for Subtlety February 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

mulp February 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

What makes you think that higher taxes would result in more engineers and scientists? We have done this experiment. Spending on education has increased massively since the 1970s. The results have not increased one little bit. It is your particular obsession to think that more taxes would help, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Companies are forced to import engineers and scientists from Europe and Asia, well, Asia mainly, and those Asian countries do not have higher taxes. Those Asian countries are much lower taxing. What they do not have is a large underclass that sucks up so much time, attention and resources from students who could achieve. What they don’t have is progressive education policies which means students learn virtually nothing about Marcus Garvey but absolutely nothing about anything else.

That is why they are producing engineers, not taxes.

If you remember the 1960s you will also remember that taxes were actually lower and welfare spending concentrated on functional children from actual functional families. The underclass was much smaller. Which meant that when you spent money on education, you did not waste two thirds of your time trying to make the eight year olds stop fighting, sit down and shut up.

And of course companies invested in educating their workforce because they were allowed to use IQ tests to determine which employees would benefit from promotion or further education. Now they are not. Now they have to hire people from expensive universities with mediocre educations who may or may not be up to the job. Not an improvement.

The conservatives have not had one single element of education policy under their control since the 1960s. People like you have. You have ended real education. Testing. Discipline. Streaming. Standards. It is not the Republicans who have made Asian visa holders necessary for Silicon Valley. It has been the Supreme Court’s decisions, the enforcement of those by local politicians, the management of the universities and schools themselves – especially their refusal to up hold standards – the Democratic Party and their policies, the Unions.

People like you are the problem. So don’t blame anyone else.

29 John Smith February 23, 2015 at 5:22 am

Well. Said.

30 chuck martel February 22, 2015 at 6:07 pm

” hiring a new grad and training him on the job for five years just means you have trained your competitor’s work force.”

Gee, that’s only been the case since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In fact, training him may well have meant that he became your competitor, not just a member of it’s workforce.

31 John Smith February 23, 2015 at 5:31 am

While I don’t buy the original argument, I don’t believe employee poaching has ever been as easy as it is right now. IT and social networking innovations are obvious motivators, but the true enablers have been: Vertically Integrated companies spinning off non-core businesses
Dissemination and adoption of best practices
Proximity has become less important to families and tribes

It used to be you were a GM or a Ford man for life. Not out of loyalty, but because yoi had no idea how things operated outside your business. That’s not the case anymore.

32 Just Another MR Commentor February 23, 2015 at 8:08 am

It used to be you were a GM or a Ford man for life. Not out of loyalty, but because yoi had no idea how things operated outside your business.

This is still mostly true in the auto industry today.

33 JWatts February 24, 2015 at 7:34 pm

“This is still mostly true in the auto industry today.”

LOL, that’s just completely wrong. Oh granted, very few hourly workers are going to leave, but that’s because getting a UAW gig at a major 3 is like winning the lottery. They’ll make twice as much money as their peers for the given amount of work.

34 Clover February 22, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Your comment is wrong. Government spending on education has consistently gone up since 1980. Some of those “conservative” theories have been enacted, some haven’t. If there was a shortage of trained workers you would expect to see their wages increase by basic supply and demand, this hasn’t happened. Employers want immigrant engineers from Asia because they are cheaper than American engineers.

35 Silas Barta February 23, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Kinda like how I want more carpenters, but I don’t want public schools to get more money so they can teach carpentry?

36 Feg February 22, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Weak article

37 daxie February 22, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Despite claims of free will, human is also supposed to be using latent operational algorithms, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Script_theory

38 The Engineer February 23, 2015 at 8:59 am

I don’t know what a “robot engineer” is. It doesn’t fit in the traditional silos of engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical), which is probably the problem.

Having been a Lego Robotics competion coach at the middle school level, robotics is a mixture of electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as serious computer programming. You have to understand sensors, motors, control systems, statics, dynamics, communications, and a lot of other stuff like programming in Python or C++.

Some of this is taught in traditional engineering programs, but not all of it, and certainly not all in one program dedicated to robotics itself.

39 Eric Pobirs February 23, 2015 at 1:25 pm

A few decades ago nobody knew what a Computer Science degree meant. Everybody in the field started out somewhere else like Math and took an interest in computers because there was nobody else to do the job and they wanted the machines for their work. Those people formalize the discipline of Computer Science and it became a recognized field unto itself. The same thing is happening with robotics. As it becomes more of a real product thus it also becomes more of a recognized specialty for study.

40 Hazel Meade February 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm

The correct word is “roboticist”.

Robotics is an interdisciplinary field merging elements of electical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science.

41 cthulhu February 24, 2015 at 12:59 am

UC Santa Cruz has a robotics program that, last time I looked at it, pretty much put it all together. They do a fair amount of partnering with Silly Valley too.

42 Eric Pobirs February 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm

This article is fairly meaningless. This is like saying the prosthetic limb business is golden forever because regenerative medicine is in its infancy. Nobody yet knows how to grow a replacement leg but that doesn’t mean there isn’t evidence of the potential and that nobody is working towards that goal. General purpose robotics is far closer to reality. As this video points out, just self-driving cars alone would cause a major loss of jobs orders of magnitude greater than the number of engineers needed to produce those cars.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

43 Lars Lentz February 23, 2015 at 3:08 pm

I can’t read the FT article. It requires a subscription.

44 Donald Pretari February 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm

“If anything, for us and the market as a whole, growth is held back by the number of engineers who can do that.”

Soon enough, only robots will be competent to work on or deal with other robots. At that point, game over, man. You can kiss humanity goodbye. Humans talk so much bs that robots simply won’t be able to take it.

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