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October 11, 2015


An Alien Visitor

This is not new, it is the reason why the typing pools no longer exist. All that is being described here is technology replacing people, but with a few buzzwords to make it sound fresh. It is a shame there is no cloud that can make the likes of Sarah O'Connor disappear forever (speaking purely in occupational terms of course)!

"If a task cannot be divided from the bigger job, or if it requires constant tweaking and teamworking as job specs change, then there'll still be a place for employees"

I suspect the majority of jobs currently fall into this category. It won't be the cloud that gets them but the blanket.


This view of the future assumes that everywhere has equal access to the Internet, thanks to BT and it OpenReach arm that is far from true in the UK and rural areas and many urban ones will continue to have such poor internet access. Places like rural Wales or the south West this sort of work is just not an option and won't be for some years on the current path of travel.


The cloud is more likely to depress house prices in Birmingham or Manchester than in London, because of the polarisation you note.

(You may not like living in cities, but lots of people do.)


Regarding point 4 rentier activities outstrip wages therefore if you live up North and get a "near" London wage you still miss out hugely as the banks are debasing your currency by issuing debt against land without the hedge of being in the housing ponzi scheme.


The same old cities have become more important than EVER in the age of the internet, not less, despite work's ability to be done from anywhere. NYC, SF, not the cheap places, loom larger than ever.


Not the Virtual Organisation again!

This is so much froth. I am with the critics.

B2B barely works, with offshoring, and outsourcing, been subject to onshoring and rightsourcing.

But it will work at the individual level...
I am with the critics.

Zero hours contracts and pseudo self-employment, are just exploitative of labour and this is another extreme example.

Just look at the evolution of taskrabbit, and these are simple atomic tasks.


From choice and bidding for Jobs, to the allocation of jobs to workers even outside their area of expertise with onerous conditions like 30min response time.

The costs of co-ordination and control are too great even for the most trivial of tasks, yes I am fully aware of crowdsourcing and opensource (a much better model - not referenced in the article).


If you want labour you have to pay a reasonable rate for it, and provide security and continuity, unless it is trivial things like TaskRabbit.

Next you will be using people as furniture, it has a name forniphilia the artists are ahead of you.



Yes, I am better informed than your great piece, which is a retread of the virtual organisation, and just froth. This is not the future.

The system does not even work at the high level. People are not SKU's, and the system is reductionist, people cannot be artisans, even at the top level. I am aware Chris works from home, and the system might suit him, but he is the exception, in an industry where pay is particularly high and the task rewarding (Journalism). he can even do it for it's intrinsic value (This blog).

Money needs to be exchanged or the economy (capitalism) collapses, and we have indentured servitude (slavery).

Oh wait, have you seen Jobseekers allowance recently, and the requirement take any suitable job regardless of the degree of exploitation, along with mass immigration of low skilled workers...

I don't know what kind of distopia you want to live in, but this is Deja Vu all over again.


p.s. Forniphilia.info is NSFW.
See also:


At the risk of causing offense we have the Jeremy Hunt Tax Credit row (I am not an MP like Helen Goodman).


Mr Hunt's comments came at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

"We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal," he said.

"My wife is Chinese and if we want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years time there is a pretty difficult question that we have to answer which is, essentially, are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in a way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in a way that Americans are prepared to work hard?"

Foxconn is an example to us all of the sort of good employment practices.


"However, the publication noted that overtime, in excess of the 36 hours a month allowed by Chinese law, was routinely demanded from employees"

"Employees have to work long days and many of the staff were working at least six days a week. So it was very common to hear of people being burnt out."

The FT piece is right, employment rights have been hollowed out and the result is monstrous.


the mythical man month by fred brooks has something to say about this.

the more menial admin jobs might get chopped up and parcelled out, but once you've done the chopping up you're half way to computerizing the process...

Dave Timoney

The "chopping up" of whitecollar jobs into discrete projects predates the widespread adoption of the Internet, having started in the 1980s in the form of business process reengineering (BPR). Arguably, this just promoted Taylorist "scientific management" from the shop-floor to the office, so it is - pace McAfee and Brynjolfsson - a transformation with a lag of over a century.

As an ideological construct, i.e. a justification for an a priori commitment to outsourcing, BPR combined Coasian theory and financialisation with the techniques of the "quality revolution" (SPC, CQI, Six Sigma etc). The latter was intended to provide cover for the former - i.e. an emphasis on quality obscured the focus on cost reduction as the driver of increased profits. BPR modularised clerical work so it could be outsourced. The addition of the Internet allowed outsourcing to be extended to offshoring. It's a two-step.

The Internet certainly "reduced the costs of market transactions", but the bigger change was that ICT reduced the skill levels required for many whitecollar jobs and enabled supervision (requiring co-location) to be replaced by software rules. In other words, roles requiring judgement and a second opinion became little more than data-entry. The key dynamic here is the relentless downward pressure on wages, which is ironically impeding capital investment. The "human cloud" is akin to booking a manual car-wash via a smartphone app.


I've spent some years of my career trying to automate white collar jobs that took skill and judgement only because they required matching data that was hand entered into different systems. The tools hadn't been designed to allow an automatic reconsilliation, so a group of professionals had been employed to do the task (and supervise those doing the task and report metrics on how the task was done, and do meta analyis to show thta the tasks had been don correctly, etc.)

What frustrated me was that it was clear the jobs could be automated out of existence, but what people waned was just automation to make the jobs easier.


"My wife is Chinese"
Aha. Expert! At least he's not the health minister and pushing his crazy homeopathic and anti-government beliefs. Wait...

Bill Posters

I could be wrong here but some comments and possibly the post itself show that people have not read.

Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century
Book by Harry Braverman

Sometimes books are better than the internet. If you work outdoors away from a WiFi or 3G you can still read a book on your break.

What most bosses want is control. The trouble is it's a messy old world because there are people in it.

One of the drivers of outsourcing, rarely mentioned, is responsibility avoidance. It's a hell of lot easier to send off to china to get something made than the hard business of running a factory to make it.

Sometime soon they will make a robot that can do what I do. One day on the job the robot will say stuff this for a game of soldiers I'm off and I will be back up the ladder.

Spare a thought today for the hot metal guys in Redcar. Looks like one of the great blast furnaces of Europe is starting to cool down for good.



Avoiding responsibility has proven short sighted in the extreme.

Companies like Dell have found their outsourced manufacturer has become a white box competitor for their brand. Of course IBM sold it's PC brand (Thinkpad) to it's outsourcer Lenovo.

We should retain a indigenous (sovereign) steel manufacturing capacity. Not just EAF.
(Remelting scrap).


"The US fired the first shots last week when the Department of Commerce imposed duties on the imports of carbon and alloy steel wire from China after complaints of dumping made by several North American producers. According to the ruling, some Chinese exporters of steel wire to the US will face anti-dumping duties of as much as 110.25pc."

"However, according to Wolfgang Eder, chairman of the World Steel Association, the US is much more aggressive in challenging price-dumping activities than the European Commission."


"Eurofer said: "At present, China does not meet the MES criteria, a view echoed not only by the steel industry but also by many other manufacturing sectors. Were MES to be granted under current China’s non-market economy conditions, EU anti-dumping measures would no longer be effective because the EU would no longer be able to find real dumping margins on the exports of its artificially low-priced, subsidised steel products.""

An Alien Visitor

"One of the drivers of outsourcing, rarely mentioned, is responsibility avoidance. It's a hell of lot easier to send off to china to get something made than the hard business of running a factory to make it."

Problem with this is that whether you stay at home or go abroad someone else is making the stuff. You are simply getting all the profits! You can invest a a local company and not have to run the factory!

And even when you do when the shit hits the fan you can delegate all responsibility to others. It is called management. And even the top managers can delegate when the shit hits the fan.

Remember Rebecca Brooks who was the News of the World manager who never slept, the manager who was all seeing and all knowing and worth every penny, until the shit hit the fan and she suddenly claimed she knew absolutely nothing!


«The key dynamic here is the relentless downward pressure on wages,»

One of the key drivers of this, and I think not many have figured this out, is that *governments* try to push down wages, because their consultants tell them that the official unemployment percent drives in part election victory.

Therefore any governments wishing to be re-elected would rather have lower wages than higher wages, and in particular quite low wages, because it is much easier to create bullshit jobs at low wages than high value added jobs at high wages.

Plenty of minimum wage jobs does the trick of pushing down the unemployment percent figure.

Because voters and columnists are idiots, and don't look at the growth of the total wage income, but solely at number of jobs, regardless of pay.

Then there is that many if not most voters are property speculators and rentiers in general and vote for lower wages too, especially for the less-than-median-income jobs.


«Avoiding responsibility has proven short sighted in the extreme. Companies like Dell have found their outsourced manufacturer has become a white box competitor for their brand.»

It is much worse than that... All that this "free agent", "human cloud" business model amounts to is just a marketing rebranding for "piecework" in the factory and even of "putting out" (cottage labour), a pre-industrial practice of great duration.

As a very good business book pointed out piecework used to be very popular with british management because it avoided them having to deal with labour and shopfloor management issues, leaving work organization to the cheap disposable "human cloud" of labourers.

But this responsibility avoidance even *within one's own business*, without any outsourcing and offshoring, drives bad work practices and bad productivity, as coordination is essential for productivity and even more so for consistent and high quality.

To the point that Adam Smith was arguing like others in his time that the government ought to drive cottage labour to bankruptcy with high taxes and other troubles, in order to push cottage labourers into factories where they could be squeezed much harder, and organized from above more productively.


«employment rights have been hollowed out and the result is monstrous.»

Look at it from the point of view of a middle aged or retired median income or higher property owner in the South, the typical "conservatory building class" election-deciding voter: the result is *fantastic*.

Cheap hired help is much easier to find, and much more docile, especially with immigration from countries with a much lower wages level like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria.

The downward pressure on wages from ever lower employment rights also means that interest rates can go lower driving up property prices and the real value of pensions and other savings.

Plus middle aged and retired people, especially in the South, don't care very much about their own wages or employment rights; for retired people obviously not all, and middle aged or older workers mostly have safe jobs and are well settled in their workplace social environment, they can say "blow you Jack, I'm allright". And they are making a lot of money with their property speculation anyhow.


«Next you will be using people as furniture,»

This used to be very popular in older times, the rather common profession of "lackey" involved being human furniture standing around a room holding candles or stuff that their masters would want on hand. When labour is cheap enough, just having a few dozen standing around your palace for your convenience also shows how wealthy you are.

«Money needs to be exchanged or the economy (capitalism) collapses, and we have indentured servitude (slavery).»

The dream which is popular with the upper classes and most middle-class-middle-aged or higher voters is the "plantation economy", where they live in nice mansions in the "sunny uplands", and the "human cloud" of serfs toils hard for low pay in the swampy plantations below. Which swampy plantations may be asparagus or strawberry farms, or more often the Amazon warehouses, or the prepared-food assembly lines, or the kitchens of McDonald's, where cheap immigrants who live 4 to 8 a room paying top rent earn minimum wage (or often less via various tricks).

What the "plantation model" middle and upper classes want is more, cheaper hired help to enable them to live like lords and ladies in their mini (or not so mini for the upper classes) manors. George Osborne and David Cameron are there to deliver on that dream.


«*governments* try to push down wages, because their consultants tell them that the official unemployment percent drives in part election victory.»

Also central banks of course: when they have a target for inflation and employment, favouring the conditions for cheaper wages is anti-inflationary, and also boosts employment.

Plus it drives arguments for "wealth effect" boosts, that is for helping to create big capital gains for property holders that might trickle down in part as higher demand, and central bankers seem to love that as much as George Osborne and the Southern English or Sydney suburbian middle income "conservatory building classes".

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