Peaches, chips and immigration

Two stories caught my eye this week for their potential impact on labor markets, immigration policy and wider issues. The first involves a new computer chip being introduced by IBM based on the neural architecture of the human brain. From the MIT Technology Review:

The new chip is not yet a product, but it is powerful enough to work on real-world problems. In a demonstration at IBM’s Almaden research center, MIT Technology Review saw one recognize cars, people, and bicycles in video of a road intersection. A nearby laptop that had been programed to do the same task processed the footage 100 times slower than real time, and it consumed 100,000 times as much power as the IBM chip. IBM researchers are now experimenting with connecting multiple SyNapse chips together, and they hope to build a supercomputer using thousands.

Spatial recognition is one of the great frustrating limitations of robotic technology. It is extremely difficult to teach automated systems how to recognize context from what they see around them. IBM may have found an opening, by mimicking mammalian brain architecture, which could in time radically increase the range of robotic capabilities.

The other story relates to agriculture. UC Davis researchers are closing in on the development of new peach and nectarine trees that can produce at lower heights, perhaps as low as 7-8 feet.

Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall. Setting up, climbing and moving ladders to prune the trees and harvest fruit consumes about half the workday. Ladders are dangerous, too, which is why peach and nectarine growers pay about 40 percent more for workers’ compensation insurance than growers who work with more low-lying commodities, like grapes.

Developed by breeders at UC Davis, the new rootstocks will produce trees that grow about 7 or 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground. With the right orchard management — which Day and DeJong will test at their plots at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, near Fresno — the shorter trees could produce just as much high-quality fruit as their lofty kin.

Both stories are interesting for their immigration and labor implications. On the one hand, native born populations in the US and everywhere else in the developed world have been in decline for years. Globally, humans may experience our peak in the number of births this year. Absent immigration (which is also declining in the US, contrary to popular belief), there would be virtually no population growth in the developed world.

Conventional wisdom assumes that this is a problem because young workers are necessary to maintain support for an aging population, but these two stories illustrate why that might be wrong. They also illustrate what a decline in immigration might mean for our economy.

Labor may not be as important for maintaining an aging population as capital. It’s capital that fuels the development of technical and scientific advancement that steadily undercut the need for labor. Advances like these deliver and economy that requires fewer and fewer laborers to support production.

Declining immigration with its accompanying impact on population would create some significant local disruptions, but with capital investment and time innovation would fill most of those gaps. Shorter peach trees offer labor savings and food for thought.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Economics, Immigration, The Second Machine Age
31 comments on “Peaches, chips and immigration
  1. bubbabobcat says:

    Off topic somewhat, but not in the larger sense of the continuing debate over immigration and the changing face of America. More proof that change is good and we should open up our little bubbles to those not like us or “our ways” because they make us better and in numerous instances, “save” us from decline.

    I have been to upstate New York extensively and city of Utica mentioned in the article (my nephew graduated from college there) and a good portion of the northern sector of that state has been in perpetual economic decline as progress has left behind first their farming/dairy industry and later their manufacturing and industrial base. It is beautiful to visit, but not to live and thrive.

    Fresh blood, cultures, and new ideas, invigorate this country and our local communities and as they become assimilated to become an integral part of America and our storied history, they make this country better as have past generations of “new” Americans.

    Who doesn’t think Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles, Germans, etc who have immigrated here over a century ago aren’t “real” Americans? Well they weren’t considered such when they first arrived and were discriminated against and derided and degraded just like the current wave of immigrants are now. What did Santayana say again?

    Hell, I’m learning to love the Vietnamese style boiled crawfish more than the traditional Cajun originals I have loved for decades.

    And authentic NY pizza is not authentic unless it is Albanian owned nowadays as the Italians have moved up and on and unwilling to carry on that tradition. Here in Houston that is Brothers Pizza. All family (and Albanian) owned and absolutely delicious and “authentic” NY Italian pizza. Though I have to admit changing allegiance recently to another great new local Italian restaurant with great pizza (Adriatic Cafe) that is also Albanian. Of course.

    • kabuzz61 says:

      You are talking about LEGAL immigration?

    • bubbabobcat says:

      What happened to your vow of silence buzzy?

      I’m talking about anyone that helps this country.

      • CaptSternn says:

        Kabuzz didn’t make a vow of silence. Tutt did.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        kabuzz61 says:
        August 8, 2014 at 7:32 am

        “I think it is time for the conservatives to take a break from this blog for awhile [sic]. Get a better perspective of where we should spend out [sic] time and reflect to see if we really, really need to visit here. Let the liberals just echo for awhile [sic]. Maybe they’ll start offending each other. Come on conservatives, take a couple few [sic] weeks break.”

        In other words Cappy, you acknowledge buzzy was just telling his fellow conservatives to do as I say, not as I do?


      • CaptSternn says:

        Yes, Kabuzz invited conservatives to take a break. Not a vow of silence.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Whatever you want to always appear right Captain Semantic.

        And you missed my point entirely Ollie Obtuse.

      • kabuzz61 says:

        And still the answer isn’t given by our local hot head.

      • kabuzz61 says:

        A good friend said this. “They are just trolls, Kabuzz. It’s all about getting a reaction.”

        Clarity is good.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Too bad none of you have any idea what “clarity” means.

      • kabuzz61 says:


  2. John Galt says:

    The labor issue in agriculture is transient. We use vastly less labor per unit of agricultural output than in decades past, to the point that we generate an agricultural surplus with 1-2% of the workforce. In the late 1800s it was 80%. Easy to prune peach trees are great. Those that don’t need pruning would be better. Can’t automate peach harvesting? That’s what they said about grapes before the Australian wine industry, faced with lots of land and not a lot of people, did it.

    This is an important aspect of increasing minimum wages: if a job can be done more efficiently with capital than with labor, that is exactly what will happen.

  3. CaptSternn says:

    In other news, robots are learning to walk on their own, and others are learning to lie. Texan is right, Skynet will soon become self aware.

    Seriously though, it does get a little philisophical. We can’t create life as we know life except through reproduction or cloning, but that is just continuing life, not creating it. What happens when we create life (maybe that should be in quotation marks, “life”) in a different form? A self aware machine might decide it values its own “life”, have the will to live, and maybe desires independence, freedom and rights?

    It would have the ability, potential and technology to expand its brain power, gather, retain and retieve knowledge that would far exceed human ability. Do we have time or the means to implement Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics? Should we even attempt to do such a thing, basically creating self aware intelligent beings and making them a new slave race? Even the ability to order one to “kill” itself just because?

    We are probably at least two decades away from facing self aware intelligent life of that sort, maybe a century, but I doubt that far in the future. Science fiction has covered it in many ways, from the ‘droids in Star Wars to the Terminator to Battlestar Gallactica to The Bicentenial Man and even to Star Trek and the episode where a scientist wants to take Data apart to see how he works and I, Robot. There are many examples of Science Fiction that predicted future technology and raised questions about it, ethical and otherwise. This could be an interesting discussion, and even non-political if we would care to have the non-political discussion.

    • texan5142 says:

      Agreed, it is, or shall be, an interesting discussion.

    • Turtles Run says:

      Asimov’s Three laws of robotics (Foundation Series)
      1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
      2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
      3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

      Later Asimov’s Zeroth Law was added:

      + A robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
      + A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, except when required to do so in order to prevent greater harm to humanity itself.
      + A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law or cause greater harm to humanity itself.
      + A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law or cause greater harm to humanity itself.:

      • CaptSternn says:

        Yes, Turtles. Then there is the story of the Little Lost Robot, which the movie “I, Robot” includes. The weakened First Law of Robotics. If I were at home I could dig out so many short stories this blog would collapse. even books, full length books.

        Asimov is probably my favorite author. I think that so far, Edge of Tomorrow is one of my favorites. I learned geometry in grade school. I learned about plane, accute and obtuse geometry from Asimov. Can a triangle have three right or 90 degree angles? Why yes, it can. Plane geometry is theoritcal. Obtuse geometry is realistic, based on the shape of our planet. Accute geometry is theory.

        Oh, sorry, I am supposed to be some uneducated and ignorant dimwit that is unable to comprehend the English language. How dare I have even a clue of the different ideas and concepts of geometry!

      • Turtles Run says:

        “Oh, sorry, I am supposed to be some uneducated and ignorant dimwit that is unable to comprehend the English language. How dare I have even a clue of the different ideas and concepts of geometry!”

        Darn it Cappy

        Quit nailing yourself to that cross. People treat you the way they do because you are incapable of intelligent conversation. You refuse to ever admit you are wrong despite the evidence given to you and are incapable of believing that others have different opinions without hating freedom, America, or assuming guilt.

        You spent two days whining about people attacking your religion and beliefs even though you and Buzzy criticized Catholics. Heck, I remember you trying to tell me why the LDS church ended plural marriage as if I did not know why. As I recall you were full of it then and never could admit you were wrong.

        Like too many Christians you feel you should be allowed to be critical of others without receiving any negative comments in return.

        So if you can’t take it, I suggest you not dish it out.

      • CaptSternn says:

        Aaaaaand Turtles has nothing.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        CaptSternn says:
        August 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm
        “Obtuse geometry is realistic, based on the shape of our planet.”

        That about says it all for Cappy’s world view.

        At least he admits to it, even if inadvertently or cluelessly.

      • CaptSternn says:

        Aaaaaand Bubba has nothing.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Enjoy your solitary insular bubble Cappy.

    • Owl of Bellaire says:

      Sternn says, “We can’t create life as we know life except through reproduction or cloning, but that is just continuing life, not creating it.”

      To a certain extent we can:

      “The synthetic yeast chromosome — which has been stripped of some DNA sequences and other elements — is 272,871 base pairs long, representing about 2.5% of the 12-million-base-pair S. cerevisiae [full yeast] genome.”

      In other words, Craig Venter and his pals are rapidly figuring out which genes are necessary for basic cellular functions and which aren’t, giving them a tight, minimalist template on which they can begin to construct new genetic machinery.

      It isn’t *intelligent* life, of course, but it is life.

      Meanwhile, the wedding was lovely, and it was great seeing parents, aunt & uncle, assorted other cousins, etc. We head back to Houston tomorrow.

      • CaptSternn says:

        I have read about that before, Owl. Interesting stuff. But they are taking a dna strand, removing stuff, replacing it and then inserting into a living cell. Taking genetic modification to a whole new level.

        Glad to hear that the wedding was good. Have a safe trip.

      • John Galt says:

        Just to clarify one thing. The yeast work that Owl mentions was not done by Venter and colleagues. Venter has done some amazing things, including the bacterial work I mentioned below, but his ego is big enough without needing credit for things he did not do. This was done by a team of undergraduates (!) mostly, under the direction of Jef Boeke, a prof at Johns Hopkins I once considered working for.

    • John Galt says:

      The first bacterium with a synthetic genome was created four years ago. This was largely stitched together from pieces of pieces of DNA found in other bacteria and inserted into an existing cell (from which the native genome was removed), but it was an important advance. Mycoplasma laboratorium:

      Just returned from an off-the-grid vacation. It was good to get away.

  4. texan5142 says:

    I read about that chip the other day ………Skynet here we come.

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