Mostly I avoid politics but something has caught my attention. This video by CPG Grey offers a vision of a fearful future where the robots take over. Nah, I don’t mean take over like Skynet or Colossus, but more like the humanoids in Jack Williamson;’ stories “With folded hands” or The Humanoid Touch. The robots aren’t even sentient, just tireless and efficient. More and more industries use automation and more jobs go away, done better and faster by automation.
It’s not just factory workers either. He mentions things like truck driving (automated vehicles being test now), doctors (actual day job of IBM’s Watson), and even creative pursuits such as music and writing.Nobody is safe from their job disappearing.
What happens if there really are no jobs for people? Unless you're a superstar enginee or software programmer you have no chance at getting a job. What kind of society do we have? At one end of the political spectrum would be the folks who say “People who don’t work are just lazy and should starve. Hurry up reducing the surplus population.” At the other side are folks nattering on about “The post-scarcity economy where we wont have money and everybody will have food, clothing and send their days in voluntary useful vocations.” The latter idea is unworkable and the former brutal, cold and too close to what might happen.
Would we have some sort of Universal Basic Income? Probably. Back in the depression unemployment hit 25% and the country elected FDR. Who would they elect if unemployment was at 40% and rising? The country might pass it just as a way of getting cash into consumer hands to get us out of the depression. On the other hand, most places with high unemployment have high crime and drug use. Is there a way out of that trap? I don’t know.
Would people on UBI turn to sex as cheap entertainment? It seems possible. The result would be more children raised in poverty. Another possibility is a requirement of sterilization to accept UBI. I loathe this idea, as then some government bureaucrat would decide who gets to have children.
Will people turn to artistic pursuits? Maybe. If everybody is trying to write a great novel or become the next Rembrandt, the market will be flooded with art, some good, a few great, most terrible. Only a few people will have money to pay for this art, so there’ll be a lot of art in a market with fewer buyers.
Many writer’s will self-publish and some give their work away as a marketing promotion. If you have a bunch of writer’s giving away novels, the average reader will have a lot to read without spending any money on art.
And again, humans would be competing against writing software that can crank out a novel in a week or less. Or all these artists would use the writing software and flood the market with even more novels that no one can pay for, or even notice.
Could an artist set the price as $1 for the unemployed or $100 for those with a job? Not sure how you would set up the marketplace for that. Hordes of peddlers would besiege the employed, all trying to sell their geegaw at an inflated price that would be a week’s sales for them.
Another idea is that people get shares in the local robot factory and they live off the dividends. Some people would invest themselves in the local factory, hoping that any small thing they did would help increase their dividend payout. The factories might take the emotional place of sports teams. Local groups of volunteers would form, offering improvements or new designs. The company would have to employ people (or people bossing software) to evaluate stuff. Maybe the volunteers would get a few extra dollars, or have a chance at a coveted employment slot, similar to how some game companies hire developers from the player ranks. This idea has merit, in that it gives people a goal to work towards, and some incentive to actually work. The downside is the creation of a tournament economy, which the boss rich people always love.
Another idea is that without jobs to offer, businesses have no leverage over the local communities. The robot factories would have to pay enormous property taxes, because no city would grant them a permit. The days of companies demanding tax breaks and other benefits because they bring jobs to the community would disappear.
You can see I have more questions than answers about the post-humanoid future. It may never come to pass. Fusion power was supposed to be commonplace by now, but we’re still perpetually thirty years out from commercial fusion plants. Perhaps the best thing to do is show the video to ninth graders and ask them, “What will you do for a living when you grow up?”