Upcoming O'Reilly conference on the future of work: WTF

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the future of work in an age in which most of the former jobs are done by machines? unless a drastic change in our political climate occurs the future of work will be personal servants to the 0,01%, prisons, and penury. i’m hoping i can retire from teaching before we get there.


Cory, are you going to this conference? It sounds very interesting.

A minimum wage like the 1970s. Unprecedented!


Human beings will still be required for prostitution, torture as amusement, and cannibalism.


but I heard there wasn’t going to be a next season of Hannibal?

OK, I read that as “Upcoming Bill O’Reilly conference on the future of work: WTF” and it still made sense. :smile: [in my defense, I recently read ‘The Lies and Legends of Bill O’Reilly’, so…]

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I came here thinking that O’Reilly had said something outrageous and that “WTF?” was Cory’s reaction.


i’m hoping i can retire from teaching before we get there

I’m hoping I don’t need to retire because the age of automation has already ended the need for me to work and I can spend the end of my life doing what I love rather than doing what needs to be done.

You’re a teacher? How different would your job be if scarcity were no longer an issue? Need paper or computers or bunsen burners? No problem. Want a class size of 6 kids rather than 26? If you don’t need a paycheck, people who teach because that’s what they love will be able to do so. Total automation might mean we can finally stop pushing STEM and move to a liberal education focused on creativity and personal improvement.

200 years ago, many kids needed to understand more about agriculture. Today, we are pushing STEM. Maybe tomorrow we focus on imagination.


I don’t think all work will be done by machines but we are moving to where most of it will be. Heck 95% of my last position is now basically done by robot/script as most servers are now VMs and so we just go gimme windows or linux with these specs then just make sure things are in the right AD container, backups are working, monitoring is good and that will probably be made magic in a few years. So outside of the few physical builds and remote sites we don’t need admins to load the OS anymore and this is a good thing. I have seen some proof of concept for warehouse bots that would automate much of the moving/gathering/etc about. That is also a good thing if it can be done.

The problem is what do we do with all the humans this displaces? We can’t all give each other massages and server each other lattes and we can’t all be robot repairmen either as it is gonna take a lot less people to maintain the automation than what it replaced. The future is going to not just need a minimum wage but a guaranteed minimum income and we can work for anything above that if we want, and with the protestant work ethic so ingrained in the USA and elsewhere it is probably going to be a hard hard change.


This is a bit of techno-utopianism that I think is a little reckless. In order to transition to a post-work society, we’re going to require a new social ethic that supplants the centrality of capital and labor in our moral world. Social ethics change much slower than technology does.

It’s also dangerous to conflate the business success of a company like uber or airbnb with the living standards of the people whose cars/apartments/etc. are up for grabs - ennabling a sharing economy is useful, but a world where we’re all uber drivers is a grim, depressing world.

Or, tl;dr: The Protestant Ethic Hates You.



“WTF” is actually used as a narrative device (or structuring rhetoric maybe?) on the conference website, almost like a bullet:

WTF? In San Francisco, Uber has 3x the revenue of the entire traditional taxi and limousine industry.
WTF? Without owning a single room, Airbnb has more rooms on offer than some of the largest hotel groups in the world. Airbnb has 800 employees, while Hilton has 152,000.
WTF? Angel syndicates and Kickstarters now deploy amounts of capital that once required top-tier investment firms.
WTF? A fabled union organizer gives up on collective bargaining and instead teams up with a successful high tech entrepreneur and investor to go straight to the people with a $15 minimum wage initiative.

edit: … aaand I just realized it’s the acronym of the conference, lol


i don’t see that rosy glow of the future you describe coming true. any benefits are going to flow into the hands of the 0.01% and the rest of us will be damned to a life of poverty and obeisance to our oligarch overlords and those who won’t obsequiously bow to them will be jailed. this is inevitable with our present political and economic system.


In order for the Day Job Rapture to arrive, gleaming, we’ll need two things:

  1. Complex computer systems that work reliably well in practice, not just in the brochure.
  2. People who understand how to use said systems and apply them practically.

In the mediocre meantime, I’ll be over here punching a timeclock.

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If all the benefits are flowing into the 0.01%, why on earth wouldn’t the other 99.99% use their vote to change the system?

What is this “retiring” and how does it happen?


What makes you think you’ll be allowed to? How do you use your vote now to subvert the 0.01%? I mean, sure, you get to choose one of their two anointed candidates for president (or senator or …) but that doesn’t seem to change anything.


With the enourmous gap in technology and science between countries, here’s the scenario:

  • We have a machine that makes 1000 widgets per hour at barely the energy cost to run it
  • ok, we have 300 million peasants that can do the same for free and you don’t have to worry about composting your garbage anymore.
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Make your own political and economic systems. That’s what DIY is really about, not printing plastic knick-knacks.

I’m waiting for your example of such. Have you finished your project in this yet? Solved the problem of the police and the state within which you live not recognizing your desire to “opt out” of their system?

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