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Are We Already At The "End Of Work"?

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

The Python That Ate Your Job

We are already well into the "end of work."

The more accurate title would be "The Python (Script) That Ate Your Job." Python is a computer language whose core philosophy is summarized by "PEP 20 (The Zen of Python)", which includes aphorisms such as:

  • Beautiful is better than ugly.
  • Explicit is better than implicit.
  • Simple is better than complex.
  • Complex is better than complicated.
  • Readability counts.

(source: Wikipedia)

As I understand it (from a non-programmer POV), Python enables rapid development of scripts that may not be optimized by some metrics but which work perfectly well in terms of solving a problem in a cost-effective manner.

(Programmers can be highly partisan, i.e. emotionally attached to their preferred language, so I am trying to be as non-partisan and careful as possible here to avoid arousing the ire of either Pythoneers or Python detractors. I am just an ignorant bystander; please don't shoot the piano player, etc.)

A senior manager at a small tech company recently related a story that illustrates 1) the power of Python (and other scripting languages) and 2) the changing nature of work:

The company had some time-consuming data analysis that needed to get done on a regular basis, and the manager was considering recruiting a (paid) intern to do the work. Instead, he spent four hours writing a Python script which did the work in a few minutes. He named the program "Intern."

This story is repeated thousands of times a day across millions of tasks. Virtually all of my self-employed friends use technology to enable one person to produce output that would have taken three people in the 1980s.

As management guru Peter Drucker noted, enterprises don't have profits, they only have expenses. If you are self-employed or own/manage a business, you will immediately grasp the profound truth of this insight.

If you can replace an expensive worker (and every employee is expensive nowadays, due to the high cost of labor and general overhead) with a Python script that can be crafted in a few hours, financial fact compels you to do so: your business has no profit, it only has expenses.

This dynamic is scale-invariant, meaning it is true of all organizations, from one-person businesses up to global corporations and entire nations. A non-profit group only has expenses, and so do churches, cities and nations. Once expenses exceed income, the organization goes bust.

Could I be replaced with a Python script? In some ways, yes: a script could be written that mined the thousands of entries and essays I've written for repeating words, phrases and themes, and the script would rehash the material into "new" entries.

But since the script isn't logging "experience" in the same way as a human does, the script would not be able to replicate dynamics such as changing one's mind or taking a new direction, although it could randomly generate such behaviors to mimic human development.

Would the script be "good enough" to attract readers? Perhaps; but attracting and keeping readers is not necessarily a problem-state that can be solved with data-mining and pattern matching, as readers seek not just novelty and expressive writing but insight. Any script that rehashed existing material would not be generating new insight; it would simply be repackaging previous insights.

For highly partisan blogs, this might well be "good enough," since partisan readers actually want to read the same rehashed material again and again: in effect, a script that repackaged "it's the Demopublican's fault" with new headlines and slightly different content would closely match the human content generator's output.

I have no doubt some clever programmers have already played around with generating rehashed content and posting it as a blog written by a human being, an artifice masked by an avatar ("Hi, my name is J.Q. Public and I write about politics."). It would almost amount to sport to generate a phony history and cobbled-together quirks to fill out the illusion of personhood.

(Some readers have even wondered if "Charles Hugh Smith" is such an avatar. The answer is no, because the history and quirks of "Charles Hugh Smith" are simply too implausible to be believable. Also, the cost of maintaining such a complicated avatar isn't worth the paltry income generated by the blog. What machine intelligence would be dumb enough to maintain this idiotically complicated enterprise for such a paltry return? Only a human would be compelled to do so.)

Could a robot and standardized scripts replace everything I can do with a Skil 77 wormdrive power saw? It could certainly do a great many repetitive tasks at a work bench, but it would not be able to do non-standardized, on-the-jobsite tasks such as cutting out the rotten sections of a wood window frame. The robot might be able to execute the cuts (presuming it was light enough and mobile enough to stand securely on a scaffold or slope), but it would need a human partner to program the cuts in the real world and in real time.

In other words, "work" is increasingly a partnership of humans and technology. If one's skills and experience (i.e. labor) can be replaced with a Python script, it will be replaced by a Python script. Organizations that fail to replace costly paid human labor with a script will have much higher costs than those organizations that replace paid labor with scripts.

The paid human labor that can't be replaced by a script will increasingly require the knowledge and skills needed to collaborate with technology as an essential work partner.

We are already well into the "end of work." Digital pythons have been eating jobs for some time now, and because organizations only have expenses, they will continue to do so indefinitely until the only paid jobs left are those that cannot be fully replaced by a script or a robot operating on standardized scripts.

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Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:22 | 4236517 New England Patriot
New England Patriot's picture

A new study shows, no, we are not.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:34 | 4236565 Ying-Yang
Ying-Yang's picture

Can CEOs be replaced by Python scripts?

Can Fed Heads be replaced by Python scripts?

Can Python scripts be replaced by Python scripts?

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:38 | 4236596 knukles
knukles's picture

Ned Ludd was right.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:39 | 4236603 jbvtme
jbvtme's picture

the lost art of shoe making   http://pages.uoregon.edu/connolly/FRsandals.htm

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:17 | 4236787 Urban Roman
Urban Roman's picture

Working on a Charles Hugh Smith replacement.

A Python script and a random number generator should do the job..

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 16:38 | 4237390 tickhound
tickhound's picture

Any for profit system-ism by its very nature benefits from reduced costs. Human labor is a cost. For those still battling which WAGE SLAVE model best suits us, your 2nd awakening is long overdue.

The article is poorly titled... Should read "End of Labor." How an economic model based on scarcity for profit through wages and consumption survives is the "problem." But rather than change this obsolete model, we suppress technology to support the consumption side of the equation. So INVENTING jobs and SUBSIDIZING consumption will continue simply because it benefits the model.

The debate shouldn't be capitalism or socialism... Neither will "solve" our problems as both require the human wage driven consumer. Both will look to GROWTH to solve problems. Both are profit models and derivatives of monetary-ism. And monetarism is proving increasingly fantasy and obsolete.

We can't all be scientists and technicians. "It's the MODEL, stupid."

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 17:14 | 4237535 malikai
malikai's picture

As a programmer of python and a bunch of other languages, I can assure you that we are nowhere near the 'end of work'.

But like the steam engines that came before us, we (programmers) will change this world.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:39 | 4236613 Rainman
Rainman's picture

Have you hugged your machine today..??

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:49 | 4236648 firstdivision
firstdivision's picture

No, but I do regularly masturbate in front of it.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:04 | 4236720 GeezerGeek
GeezerGeek's picture

I hope you disabled the webcam first. 

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:19 | 4236798 beaglebog
beaglebog's picture

I hope that he doesn't disable the webcam.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:28 | 4236858 firstdivision
firstdivision's picture

Web cam on, and make sure to send emails with trigger words to NSA.gov before hand.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:57 | 4237002 wee-weed up
wee-weed up's picture

Anthony Weiner, is that you?

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:42 | 4236945 wee-weed up
wee-weed up's picture



This article is ridiculous!

Did the "end of work" happen when all elevator operators, typewriter repairmen, punch card operators, adding machine repairmen, etc etc went away?

Gimmie a break!

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:42 | 4237178 insanelysane
insanelysane's picture

"The world needs ditch diggers too."

- Judge Smails

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:53 | 4237220 SeattleBruce
SeattleBruce's picture

And what will happen when peak oil necessitates that we have to start plowing, planting and harvesting fields manually again in order to eat?  Sounds like a good day's work to me...

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:40 | 4236607 Skateboarder
Skateboarder's picture

Here, use this CEO class as a template for your journeys.


class CEO : Douche

    def __init__(self, name, org, pay=1000000, douchelevel=10):
        self.name = name;
        self.org =  org;
        self.pay = pay;
        self.douchelevel = douchelevel

    def squander(self):
        self.org.balance = 0

    def steal(self):
        self.pay = self.org.balance

    def give_self_raise(self):
        self.pay += 1000000
        self.douchelevel += 1

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:17 | 4236793 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

My one pet peeve about Python is relying on whitespace indentation to convey semantics.  Why not use semicolons or more keywords?

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:51 | 4236984 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

One day I'm going to sit down with Python, Perl & Ruby and decide which one looks more elegant or gets the job done easier.
python (and gtk used with it) seems common (in Linux), Ruby seems highly able to be integrated to c++ or vice versa & even for web pages but isn't common at all.
its developer is Japanese so maybe Fukushima will force its end or take over by someone who won't be wiped out by radiation.
Just about anyone who's used Perl swears by it & quite a lot of installs use it too.
Still on the fence as I have mostly just copied & modified snippets of any script in any script language as a situation mandates.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:59 | 4237009 aerojet
aerojet's picture

Indeed.  After spending years debugging makefiles with buggered up whitespace in them, I one day started looking at Python and said to myself "what is this fuckery?"



Wed, 12/11/2013 - 19:43 | 4237072 SafelyGraze
SafelyGraze's picture

[begin reply]

[begin paragraph]

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[end sentence]


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[begin capitalization]


[end capitalization]

[begin space]

[end space]


[begin space]

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[begin space]

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Wed, 12/11/2013 - 17:15 | 4237554 malikai
malikai's picture

Most elegant? Definitely not ruby.

You can write pretty code in perl if you know what you're doing.

But javascript always wants to be beautiful.

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 05:08 | 4238972 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

hm, I guess my definition of 'elegant' is "easily readable, modular and one line of code"

Given that Ruby is object-oriented, and I strongly prefer that, I find it elegant.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 16:11 | 4237258 css1971
css1971's picture

Because it keeps it readable, and readable is more important to the reader than the writer.

Or put another way:


@P=split//,".URRUU\c8R";@d=split//,"\nrekcah xinU / lreP rehtona tsuJ";sub p{
($p{$_})&6];$p{$_}=/ ^$P/ix?$P:close$_}keys%p}p;p;p;p;p;map{$p{$_}=~/^[P.]/&&
close$_}%p;wait until$?;map{/^r/&&<$_>}%p;$_=$d[$q];sleep rand(2)if/\S/;print

is why not.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 16:57 | 4237482 SafelyGraze
SafelyGraze's picture

yeah, this was taking a long time to run and so we went ahead and got rid of the 

sleep rand(2)

part and now it's running a lot better, so if you could go ahead and use the new version that would be great.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 17:40 | 4237643 GeoffreyT
GeoffreyT's picture

As someone who routinely forgets to type in fucking semi-colons at line ends (in PHP), I take the opposite view: whitespace indentation in Python is a small price to pay (for me) to just have a carriage return to end a line.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:40 | 4236608 fonestar
fonestar's picture


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:42 | 4236630 Sixdeuce062
Sixdeuce062's picture

Is fonestar a bitcoin trolling python script.......... will he be replaced with a new faster better bitcoin trolling python scipt

on can only hope

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 17:46 | 4237658 BigJim
BigJim's picture

You beat me to it.

Damn - are you a Python script or something?

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 19:38 | 4238014 Scarlett
Scarlett's picture

Fonestar == Xenofrog 2.0, a fucking paid shill who hates bitcoin.  I hold a number of btc and I can't fucking stand fonestar talking about it.  And the fact that fonestar doesn't link to informative, valuable, information about btc, and just screams about it all day long, goes to show how much this shill account is moronic.

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 02:39 | 4238887 fonestar
fonestar's picture

Fuck you idiot (member for 47 weeks).  I have linked to several artices and helped many people here get set up with Bitcoin.  I doubt you own any BTC at all.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:41 | 4236609 DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Will Bearing Analyst Guy be replaced by SQL and statistical software?

Will Bearing Buyer Guy be replaced by a Python script?



Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:59 | 4237250 Exponere Mendaces
Exponere Mendaces's picture

Guess what, this is the precise mechanism that will replace a lot of "Financial Services" jobs as well. I look forward to the whining and bitching when the sharks actually have to work for a living. Of course, I won't be able to hear them too well, being out at sea on my boat bought with bitcoin.

The tables are going to turn, and a lot of those parasites aren't going to know what hit them.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 16:23 | 4237335 JuliaS
JuliaS's picture

FTA: "As I understand it (from a non-programmer POV)".

Translation: "I have no idea what I'm talking about".

And it shows.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 18:29 | 4237808 Offthebeach
Offthebeach's picture

Worm drive saw? Haven't seen one used in decades.
I wanted to leave some ladders, ladder jacks, OSHA staging planks up. Owner was worried 'utes would climb up the ladders after work. I said I can't get 'utes to climb ladders for pay.
Anyway, on the water, New England, working outside as many hours as I can get. Tools frozen, breakers popping, etc. Not to worried about code threats.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:22 | 4236522 rtalcott
rtalcott's picture

 time-consuming data analysis that needed to get done on a regular basis


Which is exactly what people have been using computing for for decades...nothing new here.  Python, R, SAGE the list is huge....get a real job and experience how things work and you will soon see this is nothing new.  OK..maybe the gubbermint would hire an intern or a more expensive Ph.D.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:34 | 4236585 Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill's picture

Why I got out of engineering in the 1980's.All the thinking had gone, and Pe's

had become overpaid data enterers.The newer engineers are helpless without their PC's,

couldn't build a teepee without  them,let alone design one.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:51 | 4236663 Jethro
Jethro's picture

I'm in the civil field, and precisely why I am willing to cover as many different "bases" as I can.  I intend to be so useful, that it would difficult, if not virtually impossible to replace me.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:57 | 4236685 Steaming_Wookie_Doo
Steaming_Wookie_Doo's picture

Well Charles, if it makes you feel any better, even the guy writing the Python script has to worry about being outsourced to Satish in Bangalore if he can't keep coming up with "money saving" scripts. The only twats that never seem to get replaced are f*cking MBAs/beancounters/serial masturbators in upper mgmt.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:56 | 4237242 css1971
css1971's picture

The MBA beancounters can be replaced too.

Most of what management does is assign resources in a top down fashion. Well we already have a mechanism to do that automatically from the bottom up.


Create an internal token money within your organisation, give it to whoever is driving the company direction/products/services; marketing or whatever,

Create "tickets" representing everyone's time and existing resources and auction them on an internal forum. Then you "tax" everyone to the value of their salary in tokens.

The people with the money need to "buy" the services and skills to achieve the goals of the company and the people with the skills and resources need the money to get paid real cash. The company will "self organise"  around the most efficient way to produce the products/services that are desired.

Many layers of hierarchcal management are removed.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:24 | 4236525 wisehiney
wisehiney's picture

We are there. It has been the same shit over and over and over and over for years now.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:24 | 4236532 10mm
10mm's picture

Learn a trade and get a real skill.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:51 | 4236556 BLOTTO
BLOTTO's picture

A millenial born in 2001 says, "Im lazy, i can't construct a proper sentence, Ive been brainwashed by the illuminati controlled media and i dont fuck'n wanna fix refridgerators, lay bricks or learn plumbing or any of that other horse shit...i just wanna twatter"


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:41 | 4236928 ponyboy96
ponyboy96's picture

That would be incorrect.  Most have been brought up to believe that they should get a degree and do something better.  Shuffling paper or digital text pays more these days.  Why would I get a job laying bricks if I can get a job paying four times more in an office?  That wouldn't make much sense would it?  Besides, what would all the illegals in this country do?

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 14:42 | 4236931 BKbroiler
BKbroiler's picture

well give em a break he's only 12.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:07 | 4237044 W74
W74's picture

You're insulting 12 year olds?  Your real target should've been those born in 1991.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:47 | 4237197 insanelysane
insanelysane's picture

I had the opportunity to become a stone mason, passed on it, and got an engineering degree, switched to programming a couple of decades ago.  I tell the kiddies to become electricians and plumbers.  It is difficult to outsource the plumber since they kind of need to be at the location and you technically need a license in most places which limits the illegals.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 13:52 | 4236656 fonestar
fonestar's picture

Hopefully the ideas of "trades", "work" and "skill" are better thought-out than your definition of "tangible" lol.

I have skills and they don't produce anything you can physically hold in your hand.  I guess that should all be worthless in your post-apocalyptic SHTFing fantasies.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 15:53 | 4237229 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

entirely worthless.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!