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New Year Lesson: Connections & Redundancy

This is a story like none ever before in human history. More radical than the Industrial Revolution. Let’s imagine you have a plastic bottle of Tropicana orange juice in your fridge. There is a chain of events and people needed to put it there. Until you understand that chain, you can have no understanding whatsoever of how the economy works and what the future holds. And if we look at this backwards, it may be easier to understand.

The bottle is in your fridge. The bottle is made of plastic. You carried the bottle from the supermarket (transportation, gas, car amortization, your time). The supermarket stocked it on the shelf in a refrigerated section. That means they have amortization of the shelf unit, the cost of running the electricity for the cooling, the cost of the labor to stock the shelf, the cost of the warehouse behind the scenes to keep the item in stock, the cost of the truck that brought it, the cost of the truck’s driver, the cost of the forklift to load the truck at Tropicana’s warehouse, Tropicana’s warehouse building amortization, the cost of staff at the warehouse, the cost of refrigeration in the warehouse, the cost of the truck from the orange juice bottling plant, the forklift at the bottling plant, the cost of the warehouse of empty bottles at the bottling plant, the cost of the bottling machinery and amortization of that machinery, the cost of the operators of that bottling machinery, the cost of the tanker truck carrying juice from the juicing processing plant, the cost of that plant, the cost of storage of juice at that plant, the cost of the workers at that plant. Add to this the cost of a plastic bottle manufacturer, their warehouse, their employees, the bulk plastic pellets they buy to injection or blow mold the bottle and cap, the plastics manufacturer who buys plastic resin in bulk (trucking) from a refinery, the refinery and all their employees, the oil they buy to refine into plastic, the oil well operators, amortization of all that equipment and pipelines... and always there is the truck or train bringing fresh oranges to that orange juicing plant, the cost of the equipment to load the oranges into those trucks, the cost of the labor to pick the oranges and load them into trucks, the cost of the farmer to grow the oranges, the cost of the farmer’s equipment, the cost of the fertilizer (and remember that means oil refinery again), the cost of planting and maintenance of the trees, and, not least, the cost of the land (including taxes for all the above).

Oh, and how about all the staff required to arrange bank loans, pay taxes, arrange financing, run the companies and schedule maintenance of the equipment, to estimate and judge the amount of oranges needed, and how about the advertising people who are needed to help market Tropicana?

How many people does it take to put a quart of juice into your refrigerator? My guess is that at least 10,000 people are involved in that process, each one doing a small portion of the task until it narrows down to just you stocking your fridge.

Now, think automation. Think Artificial Intelligence computers. Sixty percent of those people quickly become no longer necessary. Here’s how: If you put a Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chip on the Tropicana bottle, a single AI computer can track the bottle from the second it is made in a plant that is run by the same AI computer. Everything streamlined, organized, planned and run by computer – from the moment the farmer loads the self-driving truck delivering oranges all through all the plants, indeed the way to the supermarket warehouse that has robotics controlled by the same AI computer that listens to your fridge telling it you are almost out of juice, putting a bottle into your self-driving car that delivers it to you on a schedule pre-arranged between your Alexa and your phone that calculate when you will be there to unload the groceries. As you put the bottle into the fridge the RFID will tell the computer it is safely delivered and then the AI computer will monitor your next purchase need.

Think that is impossible? Here’s a little story. The master painter at Rolls Royce, just before he retired, was paid to teach the computer how he painted the flawless perfection onto their cars. That was 10 years ago. That same computer program and robots (plural) are still painting that man’s perfection. He died a few years back. Couple that “training” across all the disciplines above with the new AI computers (China is ahead of us here, beware folks) and the need for humans for these tasks becomes quickly obsolete.

Now the question is: Why? Yes, it will make corporations money and it may seem to make your routine easier. But what are 60 percent of the work force supposed to do instead? That’s the future we are facing and the leaders around the world – as well as deep thinkers – better start asking the big questions before it is all too late.

 

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.