24 July 2003

Robotic Nation

Marshall Brain, founder of the web site How Stuff Works, proclaims that by 2050, robots will hold half (over 50 million) of the jobs in the United States. Brain cites Moore's Law in his argument that increasing computing power makes full scale job automation inevitable. And he presents a detailed breakdown of job categories that will be significantly transformed by robotics.

Future prognostications are always fraught with the inherent errancy in applying present day frameworks on an open, uncertain future course that nobody, except God, can see with a prescient scope. Disciples who extol the virtues of technological progress dismiss concerns of job loss by countering that new jobs are created. But, one truth is indeed clear - it does take less work and less workers. Even before the recent economic downturn and widescale job migration to the third world, job totals at Fortune 500 companies were measurably lower than they were a decade ago. While I don't subscribe that the charted future Brain sees is gospel, he is on the mark in identifying a trend that leads in that direction.

Spoils of grandeur matriculate to those at the top of the economic ladder, but at the cost of a shrinking middle class. The low cost of labor in developing nations will forestall automation and hinder the evolution of automated jobs, but it won't keep it in check forever.

The chaotic social upheaval that will erupt from such a metamorphisis requires new solutions and to apply the same doctrines of government and law will be no more than a recipe for doom.

The term "worker productivity" in this quote means "robots". We are seeing the tip of the iceberg right now, because robotic replacement of human workers in every employment sector is about to accelerate rapidly. Combine that with a powerful trend pushing high-paying IT jobs to India. Combine it with the rapid loss of call-center jobs to India. When the first wave of robots and offshore production cut in to the factory workforce in the 20th century, the slack was picked up by service sector jobs. Now we are about to see the combined loss of massive numbers of service-sector jobs, most of the remaining jobs in factories, and many white collar jobs, all at the same time.

When a significant portion of the normal American population is permanently living in government welfare dormitories because of unemployment, what we will have is a third-world nation. These citizens will be imprisoned by unemployment in their own society. If you are an adult in America and you do not have a job, you are flat out of luck. That is how our economy is structured today -- you cannot live your life unless you have a job. Many people -- perhaps a majority of Americans -- will find themselves out of luck in the coming decades.

The arrival of humanoid robots should be a cause for celebration. With the robots doing most of the work, it should be possible for everyone to go on perpetual vacation. Instead, robots will displace millions of employees, leaving them unable to find work and therefore destitute. I believe that it is time to start rethinking our economy and understanding how we will allow people to live their lives in a robotic nation.


I think you need to add more "robot stuff."
My family has a sony robot dog. Robots are replacing pets too.

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