back to article I, for one, welcome our robotic communist jobless future

Various of the concerned intelligensia seem to be worried at present that the computers and the robots are going to come and take all our jobs. None of us will have anything to do, we'll starve and the capitalists who own the robots will end up with everything. Often, the solution offered is that we should therefore tax …

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Bad for us?

I, for one, noticed something as missing from this rosy picture - someone will still need to design and build all those robots that will make food and clothes and skyscrapers and fondleslabs. And someone else will have to fix them when they break in completely unexpected ways.

So the general population will not need to work to get fed, clothed, and housed. But we, the poor El Reg community and our brothers in ARMs, will need to work extra hard to keep the robots functioning, learning new skills (someone needs to decide what new skills robots should learn and what new products they must make, too), and keeping everyone else on the planet (and beyond?) content. Will the associated hard work become a really unpopular way of leading one's life? Can we discuss incentives and compensation now?

Another thing that is missing from the utopia is what everybody is going to do with all that leisure time. My guess is, the population will need to be entertained. Can't see robots doing that any time soon, so more work for those who create movies, TV, games, books (one fervently hopes, in some incarnation at least)... What else?... Porn?

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Re: Bad for us?

> I, for one, noticed something as missing from this rosy picture - someone will still need to design and build all those robots that will make food and clothes and skyscrapers and fondleslabs. And someone else will have to fix them when they break in completely unexpected ways.

I was watching the movie "Idiocracy" earlier in the week, and was thinking the same thing. With the population having been dumbed down to the extent that a totally average person from 2005 is the smartest person alive, and with a world basically run on technology, then who is designing, building, and maintaining all of this technology, like the Carl's Jr "food" dispenser and the automatic barcode tattoo machine?

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Anonymous Coward

Not going to happen

"As the world gets richer then we'll increase our production of goods and services and we'll be able to assuage the desire for them."

That assumes that desire for more is finite. For a great many people is isn't. Having more simply raises the level of what they think of as poverty. To feel wealthy, they need to have more than their neighbours.

That's why anyone chases their second billion - there's no rational desire that the first one could not assuage - and its a basic biological drive from several billion years of Darwinian competition for resources.

Hence the Hitchhiker's Guide quote: " no one was really poor - at least no one worth speaking of." There will always be important people who will want to be rewarded for being important and those who are not worth speaking of will always aspire to becoming important so that they too can be rewarded. Even if those rewards are completely nonsensical they will be pursued as status symbols.

Short version: human nature will ensure that Utopia remains exactly where its name says it is.

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Re: Not going to happen

"That assumes that desire for more is finite."

Economics does assume that the desire for more is infinite. But it also assumes that the desire for any particular thing can be satiated. There's only so many apples that one human being is going to desire.

So we're not going to satiate all desires, no. And given that human beings are status seeking creatures it'll be positional goods (ie, those that are limited by definition, beach houses in Malibu, and which confer status by their possession) that the demand for cannot be satiated.

But food, clothing, housing, electronic tat, all the non-positional goods, the desire for these can indeed be satiated. Which is rather what Keynes and Marx (and Veblen etc) were talking about with the problem of scarcity.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not going to happen

"But food, clothing, housing, electronic tat, all the non-positional goods, the desire for these can indeed be satiated."

No they can't. That's just wrong and the evidence is all around us. Most people when asked "how much do you want" really, deep down, think "all of it". What it is hardly matters at all.

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Re: Not going to happen

"No they can't. That's just wrong and the evidence is all around us. Most people when asked "how much do you want" really, deep down, think "all of it". What it is hardly matters at all."

But then, after the think it over REALLY really well they realize, especially for some things, "Well...maybe not ALL of them." I mean, having ten million T-shirts is one thing...until you notice the size of your closet. Imagining having all of the cake sounds nice until you actually get around to eating it (otherwise, the buffet business wouldn't be viable). There ARE limits. Part of our life experience is learning them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not going to happen

"But then, after the think it over REALLY really well they realize, especially for some things, "Well...maybe not ALL of them." I mean, having ten million T-shirts is one thing...until you notice the size of your closet."

Well, you don't have them all at the same time. But where we have wealth we invariably find waste, such as t-shirts and shoes and so on that are bought and worn once and then discarded. Many very rich people have closets of clothes they have not worn and which will be discarded because they are no longer fashionable.

The real whole in this utopia is that the robots are generating the wealth, but they are not in charge of distribution. That's handled by exactly the sort of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Tony Blairs for whom there is no limit. They do not want to share and if they're in charge it will be a case of "10 for me, one for them. Actually, make that 11 for me".

"Part of our life experience is learning them."

The rich and powerful of this world are almost exclusively drawn from the sort of psychopaths that do not learn but instead spend their lives in an infantile state demanding to be looked after. Jobs was exactly this personality type and it worked for Apple because the boss was a giant child demanding (NOT designing) new toys, and it happened that those toys were popular with other people. But would you want someone like that deciding how your housing allowance was going to be calculated?

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Requires a minimum basic income as well...

...possibly funded by Land Value Tax, in order to ensure that everyone has the means to live well and can afford the leisure time to do what they want. Otherwise the situation described here may well ensue:

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

Oh yes, big LOL at "free markets". At best it's neo-feudalism. Check out the Citigroup Plutonomy Memos as well (if you can find them online - they tend to disappear quickly for some reason) for more on what the 0.01% think of the rest of us.

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The end state is desirable, but how about getting there?

Right now there are already a lot of people living in that end state: everybody on welfare, social care, pension, or whatever this is called. And everybody still working hate this, as it is their tax money that is paying for it. The next wave of lay-offs will make matters much worse. All kinds of paper-pushers will be automated away, there is not enough to do for them anymore, they will end up unemployed on welfare and everybody still working will be taxed even more. And quite possible, they will need to work longer to be able to afford all that taxation. So, to pay for the transition period, you cannot just tax the people still working.

Secondly, a free market is something that must be forced upon producers, and possibly on certain consumers too. If producers get free reign, they try to destroy free markets. And so do certain consumers.

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Déjà vu all over again

I think we already covered this subject pretty comprehensively here:

http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2013/04/12/something_for_the_weekend_robots_and_/

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Often, the solution offered is that we should therefore tax capital more

We don't need to tax capital. What we need to do is raise the tax entry level above the minimum wage.

Seriously, what's the point in spending all that bureaucratic overhead on paying people a wage they can't live on and then taking tax off them only to give some of it back to them in the form of tax credits?

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Re: Often, the solution offered is that we should therefore tax capital more

"What we need to do is raise the tax entry level above the minimum wage."

Something that I have been shouting about for years elsewhere in my more formal economic writing. Managed to persuade two political parties to get it into their manifesto so far. Only two more to go. Even managed to get Oxfam to agree to it once.

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Anonymous Coward

Communism failed, capitalism is failing and robotic leisure will too

It's already possible to feed, clothe and house the entire planet - but hasn't happened. Why? Basically a lot of people have an innate need to want to feel powerful and superior to others, which they achieve by rising up the social hierarchy and driving others down. The end result is that a lucky few control most of the resources, forcing everyone else to struggle to a lesser or greater degree. Maybe one day people will be able to overcome this urge, but given the current rate of progress with racism, superstition and personality cultism, I won't be holding my breath.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Communism failed, capitalism is failing and robotic leisure will too

Don't know if we'll be able to on a civilisation timescale. After all, the competitive urge is a SURVIVAL INSTINCT and therefore has been honed over millennia.

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Bleak

I only see a dystopian future of a workless underclass controlled by robocops and drones. There will be a continuing erosion of human work while politicos bang on about "hard working families". Too many people and not enough jobs will push wages down so the plebs can't afford the bounty the robots produce.

The masses used to be useful as workers and consumers. They will be failing on both counts soon.

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Re: Bleak

"I only see a dystopian future ...."

What you describe is largely where we are now. What the article refers to is the upside of where we might go as even more blue collar and white collar jobs are automated, and presumes that society manages the transition from a world where most people have to work, to a world where few people work, and then out of choice.

You could posit that we won't manage the transition, and we arrive in an automated version of the mediaeval world, of many poor serfs, and few obscenely rich overlords, but as the turmoil in the Arab world shows (and the demise of the USSR before it), you might not get a clean and quick solution, but even with a police state you can't oppress people for ever.

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Re: Bleak

But it speaks to a bigger problem. Humans have a maintenance cost (we eat, drink, require space to live, etc.) which taxes into currently-limited resources: resources that robots can't improve anytime soon. What the unrest in the Middle East (and occasionally in Europe with the odd rumbling in North America) tells me is we are approaching a "danger zone" where the population is tipping beyond a sustainability threshold that can trigger resource conflicts (which historically tend to spawn the worst wars). When you need fewer people to sustain the world, the question eventually goes to, "Do you really NEED that many people on the planet?"

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Re: Bleak

Can you oppress people forever if you control a huge army of expendable robots?

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Re: Bleak

"Can you oppress people forever if you control a huge army of expendable robots?"

Why would you? If you were that way inclined, then you just get the robots to do some cleansing on whatever ethnic, religious or other guidelines you have in mind.

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Yes, please

And soon - I'm knackered

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Anonymous Coward

two words

Battlestar Galactica. You have been warned.

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Joke

I know you lampshaded it..

But, only a man would dare claim it takes "two hours" to do all the housework....

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Overheads!

The article seems to ignore the fundamental process of production where 100% extra is slapped on at each stage to cover "overheads" which are the costs of sales and marketing, plus the management needed to supervise them and their attendant flunkies. Even if robots could reduce the cost of production to merely the costs of materials and energy to produce (which in many third world countires it almost has done already) the mark up at each stage of getting from base material to package in the shops will have far outsripped the savings made. Not to mention transport costs or R&D costs (we all want the next new thing!) and sales commision.

So NO, robots won't save the world or make us all rich, it just makes it easier for the rich to get richer, as robots don't go on strike or need maternity pay or leave and work for higher pay. They are the new slaves, and we all know that only the rich can afford slaves.

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Re: Overheads!

Transport, warehousing / distribution and retail space can mostly be automated too, including virtual retail spaces that cut down on the need for premium physical locations. The only thing more difficult to automate would be marketing, and one would hope that in an ideal robotic future (a) all products would be really really good so that none have unique selling points over the other and (b) "crowd" information would have developed enough that there wouldn't be any marketing in the current sense, just crowdsourced recommendations.

So the t-shirt that cost 10p to make in a sweatshop will end up costing maybe 20p instead of £20

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Re: Overheads!

Just because something is automated doesn't make it free. Robots cost, warehouses cost, transport cost. So it ain't free. Secondly if you think there is only one step from some poor slob in Bangladesh sewing a tee-shirt to it appearing on your doorstep, you must be living in cloud-cookoo land. Buyers, sellers, importers and exporters all want their cut. Just go into Primark and see what you can get for 20p in there (not in a sale).

That's also ignoring the multibillion pound advertising business that lives off the production of stuff. That parasite is never going to go away. Someone has to make you want to buy their stuff and no one elses. I would say at least 30% of TV content is now advertising, very little of which is done by robots. Take your head out of your computer for a minute and look around you.

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Anonymous Coward

Why not visit a few former pit towns and see what they make of automation and / or job losses? I assume the residents of Merthyr Tydfil are living in paradise?

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CBN

Nice article, but way over-simplistic

There are so many problems that I don't know where to begin. Here are a few:

1) Not everyone wants to sit around and have leisure when they can sit around and control other people. You assume everyone has the same motivations, desires, aspirations, and goals. (only your robots are identical - humans aren't).

2) Even if you achieve this "utopia", I predict the suicide rate will increase, as will early deaths through natural causes. Remove the will to live (which is forced upon us currently) and there is no reason to live. Again, some individuals will just give up, while others will find it inspires them. I predict most people are in the former group.

3) Who is going to design better "things" we will consume? The robots? You either end up with stagnation or you end up with robots ruling the world and having no use for their former masters.

4) Research will be needed on human diseases - both current and future ones. Who will do this? Your robots won't be much good in drugs companies doing this research unless they have AI... but why would they bother if they have AI and don't need us?

5) Related to 4: antibiotics will fail before we reach your Utopian dream, I'm afraid.

6) Without oil the world won't run (think of all the plastics needed for your shiny new "things", for a start). It's debatable when it will run out, but it's a given that it will.

7) For your Utopia to work it would require a world government and for this event to happen everywhere to everyone at the same instant. It won't. Wars will be fought on the back of it.

8) Crime, hackers, and "getting one over" on your neighbour will still happen. It's human nature. See point (1). Who will police this? What will happen to the justice system when careers don't matter any more because we're all too lazy to care?

I'll stop now. You get my point (even if you don't agree with some points): it's horrendously complicated and I doubt very very much there will ever be the Utopia that this article describes. It's human nature to always shoot ourselves in the foot and never remember lessons until the mistakes have been made countless times. Robots won't alter that.

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Re: Nice article, but way over-simplistic

1) Isn't that what the criminal code is for: to weed out dangerous elements like power-mongers?

2) There's the condition of "ignorant bliss". Unless you say the desire to live is innate and fixed, there may be a point where people enter the world not knowing better.

3) There will still be a desire to improve things. The thing is, the best designs tend to come from people who can devote their energy to the task. Thus why we value masterpieces and such. Even in the past there were people like artists who found natural talents and made use of them.

4) There will still be a need for doctors, but the economics of medicine will change. Doctors would be doctors because they WANT to be doctors, not out of any economic pressure. I will concede there may be a point where the desire to be a doctor could be too weak, so another thought process would be needed.

5) Don't be so sure. We're clever little ticks and since pathogens needs to interact, there will always be ways in. There's current research into Quorum Sensing disruption, for example (though I concede the supposed adaptation-free QS disruptors might still be evolved beyond perhaps by rotating QS indicators).

6) Did you know they are researching ways to produce sythetic hydrocarbons using the excess energy from nuclear reactors? Navies in particular are funding this research since it reduces logistics for aircraft carriers. This goes to the bigger problem of needing more ubiquitous sources of energy.

7) Explain why it would require complete and immediate world cooperation for this to work.

8) Like with doctors, there will still be a need for policemen (think career cops; some people WANT to protect and server).

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further reading

As well as the other great minds already mentioned, Bertrand Russell also expressed similar ideas in "In Praise of Idleness" (one of my favourite essays):

http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html

Much more recently, I like the 2003 novella "Manna", for its takes on both distopian and utopian possible post-labour societies -- and that's a free read on-line, too:

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

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Re: further reading

Yes, Russell's good on this. But I didn't want to overburden the piece with references.

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Coat

Still waiting for my consumer level jetpack and silver suite from the 70's.

IGMC.

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Re: Still waiting for my consumer level jetpack and silver suite from the 70's.

Ok that might be suit. But just think with a silver suite and a silver suit I could be as invisible as a south Korean office block.

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Re: Still waiting for my consumer level jetpack and silver suite from the 70's.

You'll also need a matching surfboard.

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Stu

The Roddenberry dream

Ahh the good old Roddenberry vision of the future. No poverty, no need for currency, throughout the world. Trading of commodities and services taking place between alien races. It's presumed all the menial labour and all production is done by automation (and replication) whilst everybody else goes out and explores the galaxy in starships.

Well he didn't say quite how it transitioned to this way of operation, save perhaps for world war 3 upending everything.

As far as I'm concerned, the super rich and powerful today aren't going to give that life up for equality for all, and they've got all the lobbying power and have the ear (and pocket) of the politician to prevent this particular dream from happening. Besides our current leader, isn't he a multi-millionaire too?

Besides, you can't entrust a community Bugatti Veyron to your average essex chav for the weekend can you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Roddenberry dream

They covered it to a point. Soon after World War III, First Contact occurred, forever altering humanity's universe-view and technological access.

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Nice to know I'm no the only one.

I've been boring people with this line of thinking for some time. It is nice to know I'm not the only one who thinks this.

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Anonymous Coward

"Various of the concerned intelligensia"

Article not written by one of the intelligensia then

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Free markets tend towards capitalism

"But we don't have monopoly capitalism: we have capitalism combined with free markets"

What we have (thankfully) are regulated markets where the natural tendency of any free market to concentrate power and wealth is restrained, and mostly what economists do is argue about how much restraint there should be, and how it should be applied.

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Meh

Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Any technological revolution has its winners and losers.

Industrial revolution, processed goods, computing revolution... 3D printing?

For example; People that were in the cotton industry re-trained to adapt, thanks to a well meaning government policy. A large influx of labour and a relatively small amount of experience in their new fields saw to them receiving a much lower income they would of otherwise expected.

The price of cheaply produced goods will be driven down to near the cost of raw materials, maintenance, shipping, energy and licensing. So for the latest, greatest gadget great news, you can own it for less than a potato.

The price of food, property, raw materials and energy may well go up since these will be seen as more valuable. You'll need these to a) live and b) produce gadgets.

So everyone will need to work in fields not easily done by machines. A nurse will do brilliantly out of this, however a mechanic would need to re-train since it'll be cheaper to replace than to repair.

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Anonymous Coward

If it was true that an increase in technology led to fewer working hours I wouldn't have gone home last night and worked until 10. My brother wouldn't have been getting calls from his boss on a Sunday evening when I visited him last and my former neighbour, a farmer, wouldn't be doing the 6am till 2.30am shift during harvest.

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Bronze badge

Cheap or not, you've got to fight for your right to have it. Otherwise food might constitute anything from 0 to 100% if you surrender manufacturing rights to capitalists.

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Great article ... enjoyed it

Reinforcing the author, what we need in our society is wealth. Capitalism raises the level of wealth, government taxes and regulation restrict and destroy wealth. Profit is not bad. It is required.

Regarding jobs: the cave men had full employment. Everyone worked from dawn to dusk but they had very little wealth in their society.

Regarding communism: I believe the definition of communism is the state owns the means of production. In the hypothesis of the article the robots are not owned by the government but by individuals. Competition is allowed. May I predict if the state (gov't) owned the robots (communisim) the euphoric wealth of lots of stuff for everybody would very short lived.

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Anonymous Coward

"...we'd have seen all the farmers becoming gloriously rich as we mechanised agriculture. Which isn't what happened at all."

Of course the farmers didn't get rich. Monsanto, however...

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Anyone ever seen animated Matrix films? Robots took over, Humans fought back and then robots beat the cack out of us and turned us into living slaves to power them. Alright we all know the flaws in the story but I can well imagine a future with riots where lots of modern luddites(*) smash the modern "looms" to assert control.

( Point of interest the Luddites weren't against mechanisation, they simply wanted to ensure workers weren't exploited by company owners and that people got a fair wage for fair work. )

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Boffin

You haven't thought this through, Tim, have you?

The one item missing from your analysis is money. When we automate jobs, displacing people from factory workers to cashiers to —who knows?— maybe drivers, we still insist they have an income in order to buy goods and services, but those jobs for the less skilled are dwindling to gone. Meanwhile (here in the States, though much less so over the pond) the cost of education has resulted students leaving college hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, looking for a dwindling number of jobs to pay it off. One analyst recently predicted that college will be only for the rich. Medical expenses have risen exponentially, such that they are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Obamacare may take care of this, but I doubt it. It's too complex and is, in my estimation, an insurance industry subsidy. Food and fuel costs, over the shorter term, have risen greatly. In my neighborhood, food has gone up 50% just in the last year or so. In 1965, my mom fed a family of four and a dog on $10/wk. It costs me, today, $50—60/wk to feed just myself. While fuel is down from previous highs, and natural gas from fracking has increased supply and held down costs, compared to pre-1973, costs have risen some 1200%. 'Alternative' fuels and conservation have made inroads (more than some would like to admit) and have room for growth, so there's hope there... Housing, too, has risen. Mortgage costs used be considered to be 25% of income; they're now 33%. The house I bought in 1978 for $57,000 (which left me feeling cheated, as three years previously, a friend bought one for $23,000) is now worth around $150,000. The one I bought in 1999 for $110,000 is now worth around $175,000 — and this WITH the great housing collapse. In real terms, worker wages have not increased since 1974 (this does not apply for CEOs, et al. While over the span of nearly a century, your statistics are true; over a shorter period (since the 1970's) they are dead wrong.

All this goes to show, further, that (if we consider the intrinsic value of things to remain stable — the house is still the house, a pound of cod still has the same nutritional value), that what has changed is the value of money. My stepfather was fond of telling how his father took him to the best men's store in Baltimore and bought him a complete suit of clothes, including shirt, shoes and tie for a $20 gold piece. With the change, they went to dinner and a show. It's still true, as he said, that if had that $20 gold piece today, he could do the same thing! Maybe he'd even go home with money in the pocket!

But the larger point is that we still require some means to acquire the medium of exchange, and until society changes (drastically), that means work or the dole. When the number of jobs decreases, while the population increases, the pressures are obvious. The Government is currently debating just how much of the social safety net we should eliminate. The cutters think we should work, but the jobs are lacking and we are not all so entrepreneurial. A study released today shows that the income of the top percentiles has increased, that of the dwindling middle class has remained steady or fallen, and the bottom percentiles have all fallen back. A bit of Googling will prove this.

The future you describe could be bright, if we can get our act together. I've written at length about this topic, and you can read it at http://www.lulu.com/shop/c-alexander-cohen/the-root-of-all-evil/ebook/product-17377866.html

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Go

This may ( or may to be) relevant but I'll throw my 2 bits in....

Somehow I am reminded of a saying that my grandfather conveyed to me (in the form of a joke):

What is the difference between Capitalism and Socialism?

In Capitalism, man exploits man and in Socialism, it's the other way around.....

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FAIL

I don't work in order to consume. The plain fact is that being alive costs money. I work (when somebody deigns to get off their fat arse and actually pay me to work) in order to stay alive.

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Forget retirement.

There'll be world war three in under 10 years.

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