Reasonable Words: John Lanchester “Here Come the Robots”

Great piece by John Lanchester in the LRB about the coming era of even greater automation, and its economic implications. Not rosy.

“That is a worrying trend. Imagine an economy in which the 0.1 per cent own the machines, the rest of the 1 per cent manage their operation, and the 99 per cent either do the remaining scraps of unautomatable work, or are unemployed. That is the world implied by developments in productivity and automation. It is Pikettyworld, in which capital is increasingly triumphant over labour. We get a glimpse of it in those quarterly numbers from Apple…”

The whole piece is well worth reading (as are most things by JL, including his great book on the financial meltdown, I.O.U.)

Shortly after reading this, I encountered the not surprising (but still mind-blowing) news that SanDisk has announced a microSD card that has a 200GB capacity.  (Those are the storage cards that go into phones and other devices.)  That’s nearly as big as the computer I’m writing this on (a relatively beefy MacBook Pro), and the equivalent of 25 DVDs, thousands of music files, hundreds of thousands of books, and god knows how many pictures of my cat.

As Lanchester points out, neither increasing storage nor upping processing power has proven to be so difficult. (The limiting factor, as a friend pointed out? plain old batteries…moving the atoms still takes a lot of work.)

A work by artist Sol LeWitt (who provided instructions for the works, which were often executed by others, and dazzlingly so.) This is a photo from Flickr by Marc Feldmann.


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