Journalists warn us about the coming revolution, but we don’t listen

Summary: We have little confidence in journalists, although they have warned us well of past perils. Now a new challenge arrives, the 3rd industrial revolution. We refuse to prepare for its dangers. Here we review some of the many news articles about what’s happening, so we cannot say we weren’t warned.

A woman in the robot office
The last office worker



  1. Journalists report, but we don’t listen
  2. Journalists report: long-form analysis
  3. The daily news tells the story, in chapters
  4. For More Information
  5. The Robot bedmate is coming

(1) Journalists report, but we don’t listen

We have low confidence in the news media (see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions Poll), but perhaps the fault lies in the audience as much as the journalists. Nothing demonstrates our broken OODA loop (observation-orientation-decision-action process) as vividly as our inability to see what journalists tell us.

Our invasion and occupation of Iraq began with lies; it ended with our ignominious eviction — having accomplished nothing of value to the US. Journalists reported each step of our folly (amidst much chaff from the hawks). Yet three years later many American remain unaware of these — often belligerently holding to their lies and myths.

So it also goes with climate change. The pause in warming of the atmosphere since roughly 2000 has been reported by journalists (fitfully, amidst much chaff from alarmists), telling us about its recognition by climate scientists (followed by their research into its causes and likely duration).

In both cases journalists reported both the key information, and the chaff by activists seeking to conceal this information. As citizens, consumers of news, we have a responsibility to sort the news to see the facts, not just whine that we were misled. Now this information cycle begins again with the start of a third industrial, widespread automation of white-collar jobs.

(2) Journalists report: long-form analysis

Here are articles about the great changes about to come, reshaping America. Everybody will be affected, even professionals who smirk at job losses in the lower class. Astonishing changes. But not so amazing as our blindness to them, even as the clock already runs.


Robot band
Christian Science Monitor, 13 February 2012

(a) The Rise of the Machines“, Gavin Mueller, Jacobin, April 2013 — “Automation isn’t freeing us from work — it’s keeping us under capitalist control.”

(b) The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?“, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, Oxford, 16 August 2013 — This sparked scores of news articles.

(c) Delusions of the Tech Bro Intelligentsia“, Peter Frase (Ph.D. student in sociology), Jacobin, October 2013 — “The fight at the heart of the BART strike isn’t over whether or not to innovate – it’s about innovation that improves transit service without degrading and disempowering workers.”

(d) The Office of the Future“, Jay Monaco, Jacobin, January 2014 — “A view inside C&S Wholesale Grocers, America’s secret corporate empire, home to the future of white-collar exploitation”

(e) Most of what your doctor does, a robot can do better“, Gina Siddiqui, Quartz, 1 April 2014 — “Gina Siddiqui is a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her company, Remedy, builds wearable technology for health providers.”

(f) The rise of MOOCs will make this oversupply far worse: “Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature“, Modern Language Association (2014). For a summary and analysis of their findings see “Self-Delusion Spreads from Professional to Graduate Education; Consternation Curiously Absent“, Bernie Burk (Prof Law, U NC), The Faculty Lounge, 20 June 2014 — More education is no panacea. Excerpt:

{T}he tenure-track academic appointments for which a doctoral degree is the traditional and necessary preparation are available for only about 60% of the recipients of doctorates in language or literature (a number chillingly reminiscent of the 56%-57% of the last two law-school graduating classes who managed to find a full-time, long-term job requiring a law license within 9-10 months of graduation, though when you exclude school-funded and self-employed positions as well as a few other confounders and irrelevancies, that number is closer to 53%).

Robot Journalist

(3) The daily news tells the story, in chapters

Here is a stream of the daily news. These report the march of progress, unfortunately trampling people underfoot. Unless we see the big theme, these individual stories can easily get lost in the clutter. Note how many of these deal with automation of the professional classes, the people unconcerned by the previous waves of automation that hit the unskilled and blue collar classes.

  1. Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software“, New York Times, 4 March 2011
  2. In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column“, New York Times, 10 September 2011 — “In five years a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize”
  3. Clothing Giant H&M Defends ‘Perfect’ Virtual Models“, ABC News, 6 December 2011
  4. A Robot Stole My Pulitzer!“, Evgeny Morozov, Slate, 19 March 2012 — “How automated journalism and loss of reading privacy may hurt civil discourse”
  5. Can the Computers at Narrative Science Replace Paid Writers?“, Joe Fassler, The Atlantic, 12 April 2012
  6. The new reporter on the US media scene takes no coffee breaks, churns out articles at lightning speed, and has no pension plan”, Wired, 24 April 2012
  7. The Robo-Doctor Will See You Now“, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), May 2012
  8. New reporter? Call him Al, for algorithm“, AFP, July 2012
  9. Robot Professors Come With Singularity U’s Massive Upgrade“, Wired, 22 August 2012 — this will be big!
  10. Coming soon: Robots that help build buildings“, Los Angeles Times, 13 November 2012
  11. High-School Video Gamers Match Physicians at Robotic-Surgery Simulation“, Slate, 21 November 2012
  12. Robots are taking your job and mine: deal with it“, Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, 1 January 2013
  13. The robots are coming. Will they bring wealth or a divided society?“, Gavin Kelly, The Guardian, 4 January 2013 — “Driverless cars, robo-ships and delivery drones are likely to become commonplace in the decades to come. One labour market expert argues that a ‘second machine age’ will test our ability to spread the rewards fairly.”
  14. Practically human: Can smart machines do your job?“, AP, 25 January 2013
  15. Bad news for creators: “As Music Streaming Grows, Royalties Slow to a Trickle“, New York Times, 28 January 2013
  16. Raging (Again) Against the Robots“, New York Times, 2 February 2013 — “The robots are coming! Word is they want your job, your life and probably your little dog, too.”
  17. Obama must face the rise of the robots“, Edward Luce, Financial Times, 3 February 2013 — “Technology will leave a large chunk of the US labour force in the lurch”
  18. How to Freak Out Responsibly About the Rise of the Robots“, Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 5 February 2013 — “It’s fun to imagine an economy where machines are smarter than humans. But we don’t need an artificial crisis over artificial intelligence.” Typical contrarian pretending not to see the future.
  19. The robots are coming and will terminate your jobs“, Tim Harford, Financial Times, 27 September 2013 — “In future, there may be people who – despite being fit to work – have no economic value.”
  20. The Tipping Point (E-Commerce Version)“, Jeff Jordan (Partner, Andreessen Horowitz), 14 January 2014
  21. The onrushing wave“, The Economist, 18 January 2014 — “Previous technological innovation has always delivered more long-run employment, not less. But things can change.”
  22. Could robots be the journalists of the future?“, The Guardian, 16 March 2014 — “In this digital age, even journalism is being automated. Now over to GUARBOT for the news …”
  23. The First News Report on the L.A. Earthquake Was Written by a Robot“, Slate, 17 March 2014
  24. Most of what your doctor does, a robot can do better“, Gina Siddiqui, Quartz, 1 April 2014
  25. Robot doctors, online lawyers and automated architects: the future of the professions?“, The Guardian, 15 June 2014 — “Advances in technology have long been recognised as a threat to manual labour. Now highly skilled, knowledge-based jobs that were once regarded as safe could be at risk. How will they adapt to the digital age?”
  26. This Artificial Intelligence Company Could ‘Eradicate The Spreadsheet’ And Do The Work Of A $250,000 Consultant“, Business Insider, 7 July 2014 — More about Quill, discussed in the articles above about automated journalism.
  27. When will robots do to football what computers did to chess?“, The Economist, 19 July 2014
  28. Last Call: The end of the printed newspaper“, Clay Shirky, Medium, 19 August 2014

Robot hand holding the 21st Century world

(4) For More Information about the 3rd Industrial Revolution

These posts link to a wealth of information and speculation, helping you to prepare for what is to come.

(a) See all posts about the Third Industrial Revolution — now in progress.

(b) Dynamics of the robot revolution

  1. The coming big increase in structural unemployment, August 2010
  2. The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
  3. The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
  4. Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, September 2012
  5. The coming big inequality. Was Marx just early?, 27 November 2012

(5) The Robot bedmate is coming

New tech is often applied first to satisfy primal urges.

Robot bedmate
It is coming: the Robot bedmate. From Wired, 24 Dec 2012



15 thoughts on “Journalists warn us about the coming revolution, but we don’t listen”

  1. Sadly, FM, I’m afraid that it isn’t as simple as that. Part of the challenge with fixing the problems in this society is the fact that so many things are interconnected. One of my favorite writers, Douglas Adams (author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”) compared life to a piece of wallpaper that has been put up badly with the result that it has bubbles in it — push one bubble down, and it pops up somewhere else. (This does not mean that he, were he still alive today, would say that trying to solve problems is futile — and that’s not my opinion either — but I think he would say that doing so requires a much greater investment of thought, effort, and caution than most people are willing and prepared to put forward, and I would say that goes double for Americans.)

    The idea that solving one problem tends to create a problem elsewhere (i.e., the law of unintended consequences) is actually one of the underpinnings of systems theory, which is one of the reasons why I’m in favor of making a basic overview of systems theory (such as Draper Kauffman’s rules) mandatory instruction at the secondary education level alongside the scientific method. In much the same way that the scientific method is about more than just science, systems theory is about more than just systems…both represent a practical, realistic approach to problem-solving that is based heavily on logic.

    So how does systems theory apply to the issue you’ve presented? Well, for one thing, it’s thought that the reading comprehension of the average American is not at twelfth-grade level at present — but closer to eighth-grade level. Yes, the American people themselves are partly to blame for that — but even this is a problem which is more complex than it appears on the surface. The best that the educational system can really hope to do is offer people an opportunity to learn — it cannot force them to do so, especially if the student lacks motivation. If parents do not teach their children the value of reading (and learning in general) for its own sake — especially if they don’t value it themselves — they cannot really expect the teacher to accomplish that task for them -since the parents are their children’s primary role models for what they can expect from the world and what the world expects from them. Another factor which needs to be taken into account is technological development, which is unfortunately reducing people’s need (and hence their motivation) to move beyond basic skills and also appears to be affecting their ability to sustain attention over an extended period of time.

    I would also question your statement that journalists “reported each step of our folly (amidst much chaff from the hawks).” How soon they forget…retroactive continuity is something we can’t afford, remember?? With all due respect, FM, I don’t remember it happening quite that way. The way I remember it, the hawks were extremely successful in convincing (or probably, more like tricking or intimidating) a significant percentage of people in the American mainstream media into supporting the war. Am I the only one who remembers Stephen Colbert’s scathing remarks at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner??? Rightly or wrongly, when faced with the possibility of being denied access to sources — or worse (regardless of what people may think of Judith Miller’s journalistic ethics, let’s remember that she was *jailed* in 2005 for refusing to identify a source) — many American journalists chose to toe the line rather than risk their careers. Was that ethical? No, it wasn’t…but regardless of profession, it is the rare individual who has the courage to continue standing his or her ground when doing so could mean a threat to or loss of livelihood.

    1. Bluestocking,

      Look at the Reference page on the right-side menu bar “About our wars: Iraq, Af-Pak…”. The sections about Af and Iraq document clear and accurate reporting on those wars from 2003 onward.

      You just don’t remember them. Just as most people then focused on the chaff, not the accurate reporting. The difference was quite obvious even then. We just didn’t want to see.

      As for the average reading level, that’s a problem. But what’s the excuse for the educated classes, who also wield almost all the political power in America?

      So I see your comment as excuses for us, not analysis. We see what we want to see, the essence if a broken OODA loop — the defining characteristic of easily led sheeple.

    2. @Bluestocking:
      “The best that the educational system can really hope to do is offer people an opportunity to learn — it cannot force them to do so, especially if the student lacks motivation.”
      Are you sure about that’s true, for basic skills like reading and math? Eastern education systems seem able to do this.

    3. The education system wouldn’t have to “force” the student to learn anything, if it was a learning environment geared to accommodating the majority of the students participating.

      Right now, it isn’t overall.

      1. Joseph,

        Agreed. It’s especially hostile to boys.

        On the other hand, the education system of 1920 was even more so, but seems to have worked quite well at instilling basic 3-R’s.

        There has probably been some good research on these matters, which would be interesting to see. It is an important subject.

  2. Looking around randomly after following some of the great links in this article, I was struck by a line in the another Jacobin article (about women in PR). It said that publicists in the US outnumber journalists 4 to 1. Maybe that has something to do with it.

    Part of the skill set for a modern day man, and woman, is figuring out when you’re being sold something, and trying to separate the factual information out from the sales pitch. Is this even something that is ever taught, rather than learned from scratch by each person once they start buying things?

    1. Petteybee,

      Great catch! I missed that interesting factoid.

      The flip side of this imbalance is that news media increase the productivity by forcing them to publish as a large fraction of their stories what are re-hashed versions of press releases.

      I often google thru from news to the underlying press release (esp for stories about new climate science research). The press release is almost always superior in style, organization, and content to the “news” article about it.

      They don’t even give links to the press release.

    2. @peteybee It makes sense that there are 4x more PR than journos. PR is hired to sell something, and there are plenty of companies that have something to sell you. Journalism never really was about news reporting…it was really about selling print ads or TV commercials, not the articles themselves.

      I was listening to a TED talk recently about technological disruption in various industries, and the person giving the talk said something like the newspaper business was never a news industry, it was a trucking and light manufacturing business supported by ads. And a lot of it has gone away.

      @editor of FM website: These links are really great…looking forward to exploring more of them.

      Many people have already found their skill set less financially lucrative than it once was, or soon will. Some techie folks are the eternal optimists. “Don’t worry. Tech will save us. Buggy whip manufacturers weren’t needed in the age of the car. Clerks weren’t needed in the age of the computer. So many other jobs won’t be needed in the age of robotics and automation.”

      What if this time it is different? What if there is no good idea that will sustain employment in the manner which we had become accustomed?

      I think about these issues a lot, and so far I haven’t created or discovered any good ideas for how society can really right itself. People a lot smarter than me haven’t come up with anything either. I keep searching the internet hoping to stumble upon some seed that I might be able to help nurture and grow, but keep coming up empty. There is a lot of “fall of the mighty empire” type writing out there that rightfully points out the problems, and so little in the manner of what might be possible to make it better.

  3. Editor of FM,

    You have a very selective memory regarding “journalists” role in Iraq (and regarding the Oil for Food Scandal). Lest some readers stoop to using my open Libertarianism as evidence of my bias, Ad Hominem, here is a link to coverage of CNN’s misbehavior and misreporting in Iraq, which itself has links to an Op-ed from a senior CNN editors admission of guilt in the NYT, as well as other associated links assembled by a writer working for The New Republic (hardly publications known for their oozing Conservatism). It also touches on a tactic used by the PLO to pressure reporting done in that conflict… although in my PERSONAL experience, the Palestinians are neither the innovators of this tactic, nor even particularly exceptional abusers of journalists. (Please note this story is from 2003)

    During my early and mid twenties, I was a professional Documentarian and journalist. I would certainly concede that the PLO were quick to make threats, but actually carried OUT those threats much less than many imagine. Mostly the journalists working the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were exceptional wussies! LOL. I can name half a dozen other conflicts where the ‘players’ were much more dangerous and serious about what they’d do if a journalists coverage wasn’t colored a flavor they cared for… My own opinion has always been that DISCLOSING one has been threatened, one way or another, is the important part. Journalists RARELY disclose that they’ve been physically threatened or abused, and that’s what I think the real ‘sin’ is, as it effectively deceives their readership who might unknowingly presume an intent of objective reportage, but, were they fully informed, would at least be able to better judge for themselves how much (or how little) the journalist was effected. (Editors RARELY allow their writers to disclose threats or beatings in the final story, to be fair).

    During the Cold War, is was very common for the CIA and MI6 to have their field operatives adopt a cover identity as a ‘journalist’, although to the best of my knowledge this isn’t very common for the CIA post-Cold War (the same CANNOT be said of MI6 and either the BBC or ITV). I find it very ironic that, knowing this historic fact, so few Editors in our era pay much attention to either the backgrounds or the behavior of most of their “stringers” or local “production managers” (who escort their news crews or reporters around conflict areas with great ease). Having just watched the Documentary, “Dirty Wars” directed by Richard Rowley, and narrated/written and produced by Jeremy Scahill, I actually broke out LAUGHING when I saw their section on Somalia… as it was very obvious to me that they were being manipulated and ‘managed’ there (by whom, I couldn’t say). To be honest, much about that documentary amused me, as although it was released in 2013, it had obviously been written and produced and filmed years earlier… and recent events have colored much of it’s impact in a manner I doubt it’s creators intended or anticipated.

    Lastly, Editor of FM, allow me to present you with a point you might not have considered regarding people who report/film in war zones, who aren’t ’embedded’ and don’t have armed soldiers with them as they work. In order to actually RECORD/film some horror or atrocity or brutality, the person behind the camera is themselves in a great deal of physical danger and undergoing a terrible moral and mental trial. For to CAPTURE some Khat stoned illiterate bunch of collage age bandits cutting off innocent women and children’s limbs, the journalist MUST DO NOTHING if they want the image or horror they’re documenting to survive (let alone to survive themselves). With one important exception/qualification… Would YOU be able to do nothing while half a dozen (or ten or whatever) mutilated the women and children of some random village, except take their picture as they laughed and joked over their rapes and murders? Or would you do SOMETHING to stop them? One cannot reason with drug addled bandits, so ‘stopping’ them would probably result in your death, (and not ‘stop’ them at all)… it’s not the sort of thing one can KNOW ahead of time. Still, people who have never been in that sort of situation imagine they’d have courage, when in truth almost no one ever does.

    Let’s say someone DOES find the courage to act. Let’s say they even survive, and succeed. Do you imagine their ‘success’ is other than temporary? That they’ve merely given most of one village of many anything other than a reprieve? One has acted based on their convictions to a circumstance THEY put themselves into in the first place, either cowardly, telling themselves “the World must Know”, yet knowing themselves that the ‘World’ really doesn’t care… or bravely, insanely, perhaps, telling themselves, “this ONE time THIS ONE village will not go the way of so many others…”, or perhaps, “the World will not care, but I DO CARE…” So? Does it matter? To the people in the village it matters very much. To the bandits, most likely murdered in cold blood, it mattered very much. My point is: Don’t be so quick to put your faith in the integrity of journalists.


    A. Scott Crawford

    1. Scott,

      I don’t believe you understood what I said. All of what you say is correct. But then there have been and will always be people seeking to deceive us. What matters is the existence of reliable information in the news media.

      Which there was in during the Iraq and Af-Pak wars (the latter still ongoing), as I documented in real time during since November 2003. Clear and reliable information from authoritative sources. We didn’t listen because we preferred the tales spun by the hawks.

      A free people must have some ability to see through the chaff to the truth, and to distinguish those aid to deceive us from those attempting to inform us. It’s not difficult, if only we would try.

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