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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  1. MacroRodent Silver badge

    Deja vu

    Reminds me of discussions in Europe in the 1980's, same debates. Then globalization happened, and instead of robots taking over the jobs, the Chinese and Indians did. And no, it did not increase the leisure time in Europe, unless you count being on the dole as such.

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: Deja vu

      "And no, it did not increase the leisure time in Europe, unless you count being on the dole as such."

      That's just an inequitable distribution of leisure, isn't it? But this is exactly what Tim is talking about - how do you sort out distribution of "stuff" in a low labour society? Even is we dismiss (as I do) the Malthusian doomists, we aren't all going to be able to live in a huge mansion on Malibu beach, so there does need to be some way that we control consumption of goods and work, and in this future we may be less concerned about the inequitable distribution of leisure than the inequitable distribution of work.

      And although we could relatively quickly move to a low labour society, it isn't going to be a labour free society for quite a few decades. I could be wrong, but I don't expect computers to be doing "creative" stuff, which means that there's a few jobs for artists, designers, musicians, and a very small number of engineers (maybe even a few programmers). Will those jobs be paid, or will people pay to do them? How will humans cope moving rapidly from having to work to get what they want to a world of largely idle leisure? Many pensioners cope, and hardened career doleys, but will that suit the rest of us?

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Deja vu @ledswinger

        I can't see the need for teaching, nursing and caring disappearing any time soon. Ditto plumbers, builders and electricians who are doing repairs (effectively, creative tasks). We might still engage in some face-to-face-shopping and want human assistants.

        1. Heisenberg

          Re: Deja vu @ledswinger

          I would suggest that those tasks would be handled internally, i.e. between myself, my wife, grandparents, neighbours etc. After all, how do many of us spend our weekends already?

        2. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: Deja vu @Brewster's Angle Grinder

          We can argue about the detail, but the advance of the machines is undeniable, and I wasn't suggesting a labour free world, merely a low labour world (and probably continuing to move lower).

          For the forseeable future I agree that the low volume and low standardisation of property maintenance, nursing et al make them weak candidates for automation, but ultimately all are rule and process based activites. We glamourise the "judgement" that we add to our daily grind, but if you can explain to an apprentice how to diagnose, repair and remediate an electrical fault, then you could program a machine to do the same, but with better quality.

          The tasks you mention will probably remain human tasks until machines have the versatility of a human. Not sure how soon we'll see cybermen knocking on the door to do home repairs, but the functional basics of these tasks are very simple. And I'll bet my electrician doesn't know the Regs inside out, a robot would have them programmed in by default.

      2. monkeyfish

        Re: Deja vu

        we aren't all going to be able to live in a huge mansion on Malibu beach

        Unless we all live in same huge mansion on Malibu beach! See you by the pool.

      3. Uncle Siggy

        Re: Deja vu

        > How will humans cope moving rapidly from having to work to get what they want to a world of largely idle

        > leisure? Many pensioners cope, and hardened career doleys, but will that suit the rest of us?

        You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.

        Resistance is futile.

      4. Tom 13

        @Ledswinger

        The most important experiment in this utopianist fantasy thinking was conducted about 385 years ago by a group of Englishmen. It has been assiduously ignored by commies and other parasites ever since. It proved that all redistributionist fantasies are ultimately doomed to failure because they do not account for rudimentary human behavior. When the masses can take without producing they do so to the point of threatening the destruction of the societal group engaged in the redistribution. You might have heard of it, but not thought it through. It was called the Massachusetts Bay Company and it founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Given that they were Puritans they really should have known better. The Bible clearly lays out that part of the consequence of original sin is that man must work by the sweat of his brow for those transgressions.

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Deja vu

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

      That'll be why energy prices keep going up, food prices keep going up, and things like the cost of mobile roaming only go down when the EU whacks the carriers with a big legal stick.

      Of course, it's nonsense. Corporates compete to tout their profits to shareholders, not to lower their profits by selling more cheaply to customers. Customer cash and worker sweat are the products, not the economic end point.

      As for robots - didn't we hear this kind of thing before in the 60s? What actually happened is that working hours have risen steadily since the 70s, and most of the income from increased productivity has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

      Since we know corporates never willingly share profits unless forced to, only someone who knows nothing about history could pretend that suddenly this will change and there will be free stuff for everyone. Yay.

      Or something.

      And yes, globalisation was the trial run. We know how that worked out, don't we, boys and girls?

      1. Joefish

        Re: Of course, it's nonsense.

        Quite right.

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

        Yes, which just means the money goes into the pockets of 10 capitalist heads out of a 100 million population rather than 1 out of 100 million. That's 9 more people out of a 100 million that you've raised out of poverty - all hail the free market.

      2. Someone Else Silver badge
        FAIL

        @The OtherHobbes Re: Deja vu

        "Electricity will be too cheap to meter"

        Remember that old saw lie about nuclear (or, as one well-known dufus says it, "nookewler") power. How well did that work out?

    3. Alfred

      Re: Deja vu

      "And no, it did not increase the leisure time in Europe, unless you count being on the dole as such."

      I think it did. The amount of time I had to work to continue to buy all the things I was buying went down a lot as all the things became so much cheaper. It's all so cheap now that I can quit my job every few years and just take a few months off.

      Most people choose to not to work less, but to simply take the savings they make and waste them on more junk; they could have had more leisure time, and chose instead to keep working.

    4. Allison Park

      Re: Deja vu

      half of the comments on the reg are from robots.

      I am perceived therefore i am

  2. Bernard

    It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

    otherwise things might not be quite this easy.

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

      We don't need infinite energy and natural resources because there are a finite number of people each wanting a finite number of fondleslabs.

      Some rationing of certain resources may be required, though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

        > Some rationing of certain resources may be required, though.

        Tim might have looked into this: http://www.thevenusproject.com/

        where a guy is looking into solving all of these problems.

        His theory is that we work and have money because of scarcity. The key is to eliminate scarcity by the application of technology.

        It's a nice idea and it could work. The problems as I see it are:

        1) We don't currently have the technology to make this a reality. We do have enough stuff and energy to do these things, but we are very wasteful.

        2) Politically it would be difficult to implement, i.e. progress to the final solution. It would have to be implemented across the entire globe. I'm sold but there're an awful lot of whack jobs around the world that think that a paradise here on earth would be a sin and therefore evil, not to mention the incumbants in power who would not like to see their empires crumble.

        We do unfortunately see the reality of what happens when technology makes our lives easier: longer working hours, increased stress and the perception that "unemployment" is a problem, when in actual fact, "unemployment" is the solution and what we all ultimately desire.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: His theory is that we work and have money because of scarcity.

          That's not his theory. That's the basics of all non-utopianist economic theory. Capitalism is all about maximizing the output of scarce economic resources. The political troglodytes just don't like the allocations that result from it.

          And you should be careful. People who are looking for "the final solution" tend to miss that things have already gone sideways.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: His theory is that we work and have money because of scarcity.

            > That's not his theory. That's the basics of all non-utopianist economic theory. Capitalism is all about maximizing the output of scarce economic resources. The political troglodytes just don't like the allocations that result from it.

            I think you're missing the key point and you're confusing capitalism with money. You can have a system based on money that is not capitalist. Communism can use money to distribute scarce resources but it is not capitalism.

            The point being made is that we only have money because of scarcity. Without scarcity, there is no need for money at all.

      2. Bill Neal

        Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

        I see a correlation between scarcity and the desire to breed. How do you convince people to limit population growth to something sustainable? Should we all just pretend that we can reproduce as much as we want without consequences?

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

      We have a solar system and a star to power it.

      They amount of energy and resources (potentially) available is far beyond what a finite population can consume, much of which will (in one way or another) be recycled.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

        Sadly, while extracting power from the great fusion power plant in the sky by means of photovoltic cells is theoretically attractive, in practice it actually takes more power to build the average solar panel than it generates in it's working lifetime. (Certainly in the UK, although solar farms in sunny deserts actually do make more power over their lifetime than it took to build them)

        Nobody would build a society with 100% of the power generation from renewables if they wanted the lights on 7 days a week, let alone 24/7- if you read the stats we already import more energy than we generate from renewables, a shocking incitement of renewable power and a recommendation for France's nuclear program!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

          in practice it actually takes more power to build the average solar panel than it generates in it's working lifetime. (Certainly in the UK, although solar farms in sunny deserts actually do make more power over their lifetime than it took to build them)[citation needed]

          Compare and contrast with http://www.resilience.org/stories/2006-06-16/energy-payback-roof-mounted-photovoltaic-cells

          1. Ledswinger Silver badge

            Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

            "Compare and contrast with http://www.resilience.org/stories/2006-06-16/energy-payback-roof-mounted-photovoltaic-cells"

            If my scan read was accurate, they didn't take into account the not inconsiderable resources of an expensive inverter that only lasts ten years, nor do they take account of the fact that the solar PV output must be offset by marginal energy cost of continuous grid support (unless you're prepared to live without a grid connection).

            So although people trousering a big fat feed in subsidy might delude themselves that they are saving the planet, the reality is that somewhere there's a big fat gas turbine spinning continuously on hot standby, burning gas, and after ten years they'll have a thousand quid bill to replace the inverter.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

          "Sadly, while extracting power from the great fusion power plant in the sky by means of photovoltic cells is theoretically attractive, in practice it actually takes more power to build the average solar panel than it generates in it's working lifetime. ("

          When I talked about a star and the whole solar system I'd expected that people would realize I was talking about all resources in the home solar system, which (since all production is automated) would become accessible at reasonable cost.

          But obviously you read that as "My roof".

          First off above the Earth's atmosphere or Air Mass 0 the raw energy is about 30% higher.

          Second off above 800Km the sunlight is virtually continuous

          Third off the energy extractable by any structure in Earth orbit, rather than solar orbit is probably less than 1/ 1000 000 000 of the whole output of the sun.

          But you're probably right. The energy a PV panel sited on an English rooftop can't recover the energy used in its mfg.

        3. Tim Parker

          Re: It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots

          "Sadly, while extracting power from the great fusion power plant in the sky by means of photovoltic cells is theoretically attractive, in practice it actually takes more power to build the average solar panel than it generates in it's working lifetime."

          While that may have been true in the past, i'm not sure it holds any longer (and is not immediately translatable to the economics of production and operation). The last energy payback figures i've seen for _current_ technology are under 3 years (panel) and under 4 years (system) for multi-crystalline, and about 1.5 years (panel)/3 years (system) for thin film. That would seem to indicate that energy of production should be well below output, even if the figures are off by a factor of 2 or even 4 - there's a PDF over at the NREL that has some useful links to papers giving various payback timescales using different costings and assumption (e.g. from not taking into account manufacturing the original silicon that ended up as scrap used to make the panels, to full production including wafer and frame energy costs).

          http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf

          If you have some other resources indicating otherwise, i'd be interested in hearing about them. All this doesn't take into account infrastructure costs etc, but that wasn't the point being made I think.

  3. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    diet

    Esteemed Author» and the diet is considerably better too

    Is it? Sugar and salt in everything, live animals being hauled hundreds or thousands of kilometers for the sake of a better profit, less fresh fruit being consumed, greater quantities of mass-produced "food" (for want of a better word) being consumed. No fish left in the sea.

    I'm not so sure that our diet is better, let alone considerably better.

    1. LaeMing Bronze badge

      Re: diet

      I guess it depends how you define 'better'. Economists tend to measure it in calories. But, as you said, that doesn't really tell the whole story.

    2. Flatpackhamster

      Re: diet

      Why don't you give the 18th century diet a try, then, and see how you get on? Since salt was the only preservative available, you'll find far more of it in an 18th century diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables were only available at certain times of the year, otherwise it was salting and pickling.

      You only need to look at the average height of today's human compared to one from a century ago to see the difference in diet quality.

      1. cortland

        Re: diet

        Height? Do include girth.

    3. Marvin the Martian

      Re: diet

      Yes, diet is much better. Not only measured in calories, also measured in the disappearance of malnutrition and related conditions (Ricketts, e.g.), and average adult height, etc.

      Just think of the prevalence of fruit: you'd have apples (fresh one month a year, and progressively less so over the next ten, to then run out) and that's about it to a city dweller. Even the poor can afford to buy bananas now (at about half the price per kg of apples -- apples that grow locally and can store almost endlessly, as opposed to bananas that are fragile and grow on the other side of the world and have to be transported under controlled atmosphere to stop them ripening).

      1. Marvin the Martian

        Re: diet

        As poster said above, salt consumption is much down since the proliferation of fridges. Stomach cancers are about the only class that have gone down significantly over the last decades, mostly due to less salt intake AFAIK.

    4. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: diet@deadlockvictim

      "I'm not so sure that our diet is better, let alone considerably better."

      But the choice is there. The fat proletariat may choose to live on salty, fatty burgers made with mechanically recovered meat, in fibre-free white bread rolls, swilling down litres of sugary drinks, but that's a choice they've made. As a society we have better knowledge of what we should eat than at anytime in human history, better information on what is in our food and how sustainably it is produced, and that food (both good and bad) is more affordable than ever before.

      Healthy, sustainable food is not more expensive than pre-prepared meals or fast food restaurants, except for those daft enough to define healthy and sustainable solely as premium cuts of locally sourced organic meat, and matching organic veg.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @Ledswinger

        "Healthy, sustainable food is not more expensive than pre-prepared meals or fast food restaurants, except for those daft enough to define healthy and sustainable solely as premium cuts of locally sourced organic meat, and matching organic veg."

        True.

        Having seen what a "low income" is I cannot understand how anyone could live on "junk food" at the prices currently charged, when you can live for weeks at a time a much lower amount of cash.

    5. mmiied

      Re: diet

      we have the option of eating healthley for as much or even less than eating badley (compart the price of raw fruit and veg tot he price of ready meals) because a lot of chouse not to dose not mean we can anot

    6. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: diet

      By diet, I understand it to mean what we eat, not what is available.

      The previous posters are correct. The availability of food has increased massively. The choice of food has increased greatly. These are good things (although they have bad as well consequences). The mechanisation of agriculture and food-processing as well as a clever use of new fertilisers and pesticides lead to much greater harvests than ever before.

      However, the national diet in the First World has collectively deteriorated. Look at the increased numbers of obese people. Look at the increased incidents of circulatory conditions, diabetes and depression [1]. To be sure, we in the First World do less exercise and we have not adjusted the quality or quantity our food intake to offset this.

      We need to be reminded on a constant basis to eat "5-a-day". Up until the 1970's, one didn't need to be told this because it was a part of life. Children got fruit in their lunchboxes, vegetables were cooked for meals. Office workers went to restaurants for lunch. We didn't eat pre-processed meals as a matter of course. Chocolate and such like were treats and not hourly snacks. We consumed less alcohol per head.

      This is all based on personal observation. If anyone can provide a link with objective evidence that contradicts what I've written, I shall admit that I'm wrong and go over and grumble in the corner.

      [1] I'm not sure about this one. Flame me please if I'm way off here.

      1. Flatpackhamster

        Re: diet

        There's certainly more obesity around but that doesn't point to a poor diet. Rather, it points to an a greater availability of food. Yes, there are people who live on junk food, but that isn't the case for the majority.

        As for the increased rates of illness - these are occuring for many people at an age where they would have long been dead had they lived around WW1 and had a WW1 diet. (Hope that sentence makes sense). We're seeing more disease because we're living far longer - and part of the reason for that is diet.

        Re: Five-a-day campaigns - I've yet to see actual proof (rather than bizarre warped surveys from bullying so-called-charities) that people aren't eating as much fruit and veg as they were 40 years ago. Incidentally, the national diet in the 1970s was atrocious.

        Re: alcohol consumption - IIRC it has been falling since the 1970s and continues to fall. Figures somewhere around, I forget where. As has smoking and related diseases. Not that you'd know it from the relentless bullying campaigns from the Temperance League (or whatever they're calling themselves these days).

      2. Tim Worstal

        Re: diet

        Hmm.

        "We didn't eat pre-processed meals as a matter of course. Chocolate and such like were treats and not hourly snacks. We consumed less alcohol per head."

        You might want to check your Orwell on the working class diet pre-WWII. Even more shitty than it is now in fact. And 19 th cent, dear God it was awful: and alcohol per head was higher than today (BTW, did you know that alcohol consumption has been falling recently?).

        It really wasn't all that long ago that white, processed, bread (they bought it by the gallon loaf!) was the majority of calories for the average working man. If not that, then potatoes. Within the lifetime of my great grandfather, certainly.

        There may well be people eating what we , today, do not consider a healthy diet. But damn even that shite of frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets beats the average diet of a century ago (OK, maybe 150 years ago).

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: diet

          "There may well be people eating what we , today, do not consider a healthy diet. But damn even that shite of frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets beats the average diet of a century ago (OK, maybe 150 years ago)."

          Another small data point.

          Average life expectancy in London around 1870 35. Average life expectancy in villages about 45.

          Which (I'm guessing) given where most El Reg readers live and their ages would mean the readership would be a lot smaller and the local cemetery a lot fuller.

  4. Suricou Raven

    I see a flaw.

    You assume that robotics bring the cost of production down to zero. That isn't going to happen: There are still raw materials to buy and energy costs.

    So perhaps food will come down to the equivilent of just a few pounds per week to feed the family, with robots making it from planting to processing. But that's still a few pounds that the newly-unemployed masses won't have. Markets can only function if the consumer actually has some income, even if only a tiny amount, to spend.

    It could well lead to a positive feedback loop: The robots take a few jobs, which increases unemployment, which decreases consumption, which leads to a further reduction in jobs.

    While a robotic work-free utopia is possible in theory, it's hard to see how the current market-driven economic model could function in such a situation. You can't expect manufacturers to simply give away goods out of altuism.

    There are some solutions. The government could issue a basic income, perhaps, though funding it would be a great difficulty. Or abandon market solutions entirely for the most vital goods like food and go full-on communist, nationalising production.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

      If you are considering a robot economy, you can use the robots to solve its problems: robot recycling, robot mining, robot manufacture of power stations. The flaw I see is population growth. If resources become more available, the population will grow until some resource becomes scarce - or until we use killer robots to cull the population.

      1. Denarius Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

        @Flocke,

        Ah, either a Malthus or Aynn Rand disciple, thus wrong. As living standards rise, birth rate drops. Most of Europe imports its children via migrants as the locals don't breed much. You might console yourself with the thought of a flu pandemic in some crowded hellhole. Europe for instance.

        1. Pete 2 Silver badge

          Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

          > As living standards rise, birth rate drops

          Quite. That's an observation that appears to be universal. However, it just tells us the "what" not the "why". The reason birth rates drop seems to have something to do with city life. The other side of rising living standards is that more and more people live in cities. They / we need to do that, as that is where the jobs are (don't talk about telecommuting, see later) and most people are pressured for living space in cities - as well as not having many child-friendly open spaces, facilities and a fear of letting their kids near strangers.

          However, take away the restrictions of cities, whether by letting people work where they live, not having to work at all or doing their job remotely (there's that telecommuting bit) and all those limitations regarding children and wanting a nice environment for them to grow up in, they all go away.

          Therefore it's reasonable to assume that once we are free to leave the cities behind, there WILL be an explosion in the birthrate (esp. if we have lots more free time ;) )and the number of children and therefore the population WILL become limited, as Malthus predicted, simply by our ability to feed all those open mouths.

          1. Steven Raith

            Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

            Actually, it's been hypothesized (although not proven to my knowledge) that the main reason for having lots of children is to ensure income should little Third World Timmy get pulled apart by a loom, or little Third World Tommy gets killed in a mining accident. You need to have children to look after you when you are older and can't work in the looms and mines. And little Third World Chris may have to join his brothers and fight in a war at some point.

            If Timmy and Tommy are doing office jobs in an established economy, even if they are lower/lower middle class, they have far less chance of dying by and large, and even if they do, in a developed economy, you typically have a benefit system of some kind which means you won't starve. They're also less likely to have to fight for their lives in a territorial or religious war in a developed economy due to little things like democracy and the fact that most large deveoped economies are for the most part fairly secular - so they don't tend to go on bigoted rampages (with obvious convenient exceptions - but you get my point - towns don't tend to go against towns because one has a sect from Religion B in it as opposed to religion A, kicking off civil wars)

            Hence as as income/comfort grows in a society, and formal government has real control and influence over that comfort and can influence and increase income to the wider masses, birthrates drop. Because you don't need so many kids for pragmatic reasons.

            Hence it's suggested that it's little to do with the countryside or cities, it's about avoiding starvation in old age and the survival of the community/state in times of potential war - most studies tend to support this view AFAIA aware?

            Interesting concept overall. Are we really getting that close to a post-scarcity society?

            Steven R

            1. Ledswinger Silver badge

              Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

              "Interesting concept overall. Are we really getting that close to a post-scarcity society?"

              I'm not sure this is a post scarcity world, more of a post labour world .

              Automation costs have been dropping steadily, and there's likely an inflexion point where suddenly the costs of automation drop much faster relative to labour costs as volumes rise, capabilities and techniques improve. In a sufficiently constrained environment we already use robots - for example fully automated warehouses, or welding car bodies. 3D printing is revolutionising high end manufacturing, enabling people to make things quicker, cheaper, or to make things that simply weren't feasible to make before, and that could well be an important part of this change, as it becomes cheaper, better understood and more widely applied. The step change comes when it becomes practical to have semi autonomous robots doing jobs that currently we have to use people for - cleaning toilets, making burgers, assembling motorbikes. Tim mentions the idea of robots making robots, which is essentially this point.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

                "The step change comes when it becomes practical to have semi autonomous robots doing jobs that currently we have to use people for - cleaning toilets, making burgers, assembling motorbikes."

                One thing we've learned in the automation push is that robots tend to be at their best when the process is controllable. You always assemble the car the same way. you always build microchips the same way.

                When the environment becomes less controllable, then Murphy strikes. There's debris in front of the toilet (including possibly a passed-out drunk) that confuses the robot heading for the toilet, or the burger doesn't flip right and instead flops elsewhere. Ever noticed there aren't really robots for picking tree fruits or for picking grapes without breaking a bunch of them? Many kinds of crops have such natural randomness to them that even our cleverest minds can't build robots that can handle them: especially when a soft touch is needed (thus they tend to compromise on man-machine interfaces where the machine provides assistance only--a simpler way for human pickers to collect the crops).

                1. Ledswinger Silver badge

                  Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

                  "Many kinds of crops have such natural randomness to them that even our cleverest minds can't build robots that can handle them: especially when a soft touch is needed"

                  I disagree. We can build these machines, but currently they would be far more expensive than manual labour. There is no part of (say) fruit picking that I can see could not be automated, from recognising ripe fruit, manipulating it without damaging it through to packing it - we don't employ rocket scientists to pick the fruit, just minimum wage labourers who follow certain rules. We have the capabilities for optical recognition of ripe fruit, for the positioning of a manipulator arm with sub-millimetre accuracy, the sensors to detect the pressure applied by arms, the material for soft manipulators etc etc.

                  Your comment about Murphy's law and unplanned eventualties is more pertinent, but that doesn't require the machine to sort the problem out, merely the ability to recognise a problem and call for meatsack intervention (like modern aircraft do).

                  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
                    Happy

                    Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

                    " There is no part of (say) fruit picking that I can see could not be automated, from recognising ripe fruit, manipulating it without damaging it through to packing it - we don't employ rocket scientists to pick the fruit, just minimum wage labourers who follow certain rules."

                    I'll offer a data point, see what you think.

                    A while back an engineering company one an award for a robot end effector (hand) that can pick up a ripe cherry and lower it onto the top of an individual cake.

                    Obviously this is in a factory environment but the future is sometimes closer than we think.

                2. Dave_Muk

                  Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

                  True for fruits maybe, where randomness is build into the growing, however, when you look at grain, Combines and tractors... This is already pretty much done by GPS enabled machines, with the human more of a safety mechanism, Give it 5yrs, and machines will harvest all of our grain, Leaving the farmers to focus on apples.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

              The flaw in the birthrate dropping appears when you throw religion into the mix...

              Unfortunately the fact is, no matter whether there is a god or not, the religions are ran by cronies who want followers and power... Catholics, why do they say no to condoms? because if they approve contraception their followers stop growing in number...

              And if you really want to bring in god to the mix, he/she/it (what DO you politely call an omnipotent being?) must have one hell of a sick twisted sense of humour or is really really dedicated to a hands off role when it comes to earthlings!

              1. John Bailey

                Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

                "The flaw in the birthrate dropping appears when you throw religion into the mix..."

                Nope Also accounted for. The flaw in your argument is that you apply religion to a place with a high birth rate, and see what you want to. The theory of low birth rates linking with better standards of living is as close to water tight as can reasonably expected for a societal generalisation.

                Affluence and education also counteract the worst excesses of religion. So double win. When you know where your next meal is coming from, you get the time to ask why?

                Religion is not compatible with why.

                Ireland is a very catholic country. Why is it not standing room only? Before I left, over 20 years ago, contraception was only available with a note from the priest. Yet the norm was not to have dozens of kids. Hasn't been for generations.

                Only the few fools who took family planning advice from an officially celibate bloke in a frock have excessive amounts of kids.But even they figure out what causes it eventually.

          2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Meh

            @Pete 2 Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

            "The other side of rising living standards is that more and more people live in cities. "

            I think you'll find that improving tax funded support systems mean people feel less pressure to have upteen kids because they will a)Suffer 50% infant mortality by the time they are 5 and b)Parents want someplace to have a chair they can spend their declining years drooling in.

            For counter examples you might like to look at countries that have wealth, populous cities but fairly poor welfare provisions. I'd suggest India, China and Pakistan to begin with.

      2. John Bailey

        Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

        So in the most well off countries in the world where plenty is the norm.. How come the birth rate is in all cases, declining?

        When did the average UK family number two adults and a dozen kids last?

        I grew up in rural Ireland, and knew a few families with 7 or 8 kids, and one with an even dozen. But now.. It's so rare to have such a big family, it's positively freakish. But couples with no kids, and no intention of breeding.. Increasingly common.

        Sorry mate.. You got it exactly wrong. Better access to facilities and education actually lowers birth rates, and affluence leads to smaller families when people do not need half a dozen kids to just survive.

        So to reduce the global population, we don't need killer robots, we need better wealth distribution.

      3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: If you live in a lake, it takes longer to walk to the well

        @Flocke Kroes the population will grow until some resource becomes scarce

        That's been a widespread assumption since Malthus, but it's not what happens in the real world. Rates of human reproduction are on the whole lower in well-provisioned societies and higher in societies suffering scarcity.

        From the perspective of evolutionary genetics, this makes sense. When fewer offspring survive to breed, an organism has to produce more of them to ensure the survival of its genes.

    2. Denarius Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I see a flaw.

      @Suricou: See Beyond This Horizon; Robert Heinlen where this economic situation was discussed, over 50 years ago.

      However, this article reminds me of the automation will shorten your work week fad of the 70s. instead I worked longer and lost paid overtime. As others have commented, when I had to work, I wanted to work and often, despite the worst the PHBs could do, enjoyed it. I liked solving problems and coming up with a better answer for the challenges of the organisation. As it is, I am still finding things to fix and improve.

      A final response on food is to suggest the author is half right. Food has dropped in price, risen in quality (generally) and is much more available. For how much longer is the issue. Emptying oceans, chemically flogged soils and cities built on good dirt instead of semi-useless terrain. None of these issues are insurmountable, despite the best pessimism of New Scientist and Limits to Growth groups, but I see no real effort to implement workable solutions. <irony> Greenies and other hysterics are the biggest hindrances to developing a sustainable high quality life. No matter how good the technology, humans will stuff it up if the mass media get involved. </irony>

    3. James Micallef Silver badge

      I see another flaw

      "But we don't have monopoly capitalism: we have capitalism combined with free markets". This is only partly true, current capitalism has a heavy base of 'crony capitalism' with insider information, favours passed in and out between corporations and governments and a privileged elite that have been getting richer while median incomes fall. Also, the kind of roboticisation discussed here implies very high startup costs, limiting the number of producers and possibly leading to a monopoly or oligopoly.

      So at least initially (a few decades or so?), it would just be a continuing of current trend with top 1% getting higher and higher %age of total stuff and complete leisure time, while quality of life and leisure time for everyone else improves only very gradually.

    4. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I see a flaw.

      "There are some solutions. The government could issue a basic income, perhaps, though funding it would be a great difficulty. Or abandon market solutions entirely for the most vital goods like food and go full-on communist, nationalising production."

      Until then, however, some of our most precious resources are still limted. Food, water, energy. Without them, we're basically dead, destitute, or otherwise in dire straits. While reading this article, I thought back to Star Trek's universe and recalled some of the things that allowed its society to function. Two things in general allowed what was essentially communism to both be accepted and work there: ubiquitous energy (so much energy ordinarily they never felt much of a concern it would run out except in specialized circumstances--we're talking routine compact generators capable of multiple GW) and the ability to use that energy to fulfill the other needs (synthesizers and replicators--the ability to convert energy into different forms of matter). We would need that level of ubiquity to be able to accept what's proposed in the article. Otherwise, the potential for it running out will always keep us, at least nominally, at the neighbor's throat in the event of a crisis.

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: I see a flaw.

        .. the ability to use that energy to fulfill the other needs (synthesizers and replicators--the ability to convert energy into different forms of matter).

        That's where the problem arises. In a capitalist/ free market economy, everything is driven by cost. Without dirt cheap/free energy, although we have the capability to produce all the fresh water we need through desalination, it's far cheaper to go to war to nick someone else's. It's the reliance on a system based on profit that is going to be the biggest hurdle for us.

        I don't have a solution, just saying.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually, if my life were 100% leisure like this article suggests, I'd be bored out of my brain.

    As much as I despise certain aspects of it, employment does mean I get to exercise the grey matter in ways I otherwise wouldn't do.

    1. Lis 0r
      Trollface

      If you can't think of ways of engaging the grey matter without a day job, then you're probably not in that much need of the exercise anyway.

    2. mmiied

      define a job

      I currently have a job witch I do to buy things but if I had more free time I would "work" by writing books or painting pictures. if things where cheep I would not need to do much work to get a fondle slab or food but the price of created stuff (somthing robots are bad at) might not fall

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Stick to painting pictures

        If you're going to "work" by writing books, you'll need to know in which context to use the word "witch", and how to spell cheap.

      2. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Title is now Optional. Huzzah!

        ... have a job witch I do ... if things where cheep ... somthing robots are bad at

        I would "work" by writing books

        Remind me not to buy any of your books.

        ;o)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > As much as I despise certain aspects of it, employment does mean I get to exercise the grey matter in ways I otherwise wouldn't do.

      Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, the leisure of the future will involve doing what we want, not doing nothing.

      Instead of having to toil at EA games under the cosh, you will be free to write whatever software you desire, whatever takes your fancy. It feels a whole lot more enjoyable when you're doing something you want to rather than what you *have* to.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We work because we *have* to

    And it's not because of how much it costs to put food in our mouths, it's because of the cost of having somewhere to live: something which requires almost zero ongoing input of labour (bar a small amount of maintenance), but which has a huge scarcity premium.

    Many people are borrowing 5-10 years taxed salary up front, added to their life savings or their parents' life savings, just to give it to the person who owned the house before them. And renting is even more expensive, so the poor stay even poorer.

    Maybe if none of us needs to work, we won't all want to live around London where all the jobs are. But I doubt that.

    In practice, the advent of technology has meant people have felt more pressure to work. Instead of switching off at 5pm or going away for 2 weeks' holiday, they are staying in contact with the office all the time. Rather than increasing free time, each individual is expected to use the new tools to deliver more for less money. I don't see that changing either.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We work because we *have* to

      "And it's not because of how much it costs to put food in our mouths, it's because of the cost of having somewhere to live: something which requires almost zero ongoing input of labour (bar a small amount of maintenance), but which has a huge scarcity premium."

      An interesting thought that, too. And there is a tradeoff to the rural/city equation. It's easier in cities to find what you need because everything's closer, but BECAUSE of that, space is at a premium, leading to what you describe (you can see it in any big city--New York is notorious for it). OTOH, rural space is perhaps underutilized in terms of human capacity--likely because being sustainable there is more complicated.

      And since we are not in an age where vital resources like energy are ubiquitous, there's no cure-all solution as of yet.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    A robot that can make other robots.

    Here's the thing.

    For this vision to come true it requires a completely robotic supply chain, and the problems of doing that with conventional technology were what lead KE Drexler to the idea of nanotechnology.

    It also seems to sidestep the way capitalism has of finding new things for consumers to consume.

    I'll not argue with a well trained economist, just as I would avoid dispute with a Jesuit, and for pretty much the same reasons.

    1. Denarius Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: A robot that can make other robots.

      @ JS19: >>I'll not argue with a well trained economist, just as I would avoid dispute with a Jesuit, and for pretty much the same reasons.

      >>

      What are your reasons ?? Both can be taken on the same way.

      a) why aren't you rich

      b) how do you know that ?

      The only sure thing is that experts are going to be wrong when it counts mosts. We have been saved from disasters more by good engineers, canny business men (Tommy Sopwith for instance) and eccentrics than experts.

      Who will be the next Barnes Wallis or Tesla ?

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: A robot that can make other robots.

        "a) why aren't you rich"

        great question to ask an economist :)

        With respect to "richness", I find the best definition to be not a $/£/€ amount, but the amount of time it is possible to live at a desired lifestyle without needing to sell your time for money. If the answer is 'infinite' for your desired lifestyle, then you're rich. Or to put it another way, a rich person is someone who has 100% leisure time AND the means to fully enjoy that time

    2. Tim Worstal

      Re: A robot that can make other robots.

      "I'll not argue with a well trained economist,"

      Please note that I do not claim to be an economist. Informed on the subject, yes. But no advanced degree in the subject and I've never been employed as an economist.

  8. Ketlan
    Thumb Down

    Oh,ffs...

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

    That, frankly, is bollocks. What we have is the "appearance" of a free market, nothing more. Shop around a bit (particularly in utilities) and the monopolies become obvious. Wherever one shops for rail travel, gas, electricity or water supply, telephone lines, mobile phone deals and, to a large extent, access to the internet, costs to the consumer are remarkably similar over the whole country - manipulated that way in the same way that oil cartels back in the States used to co-operate and manipulate the price of oil so they all got to maximise their profits at the expense of the customers. Exploitative scum, the lot of them.

    1. Denarius Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Oh,ffs...

      agreed, the word you need is in economics 101 courses and almost invisible in modern free market cant. Its oligopoly.

    2. Mike Wilson

      Re: Oh,ffs...

      We also have artificial scarcity enabled by intellectual property rights. There are many choices of smart phone, for example. Many humans are attracted to high status objects and Apple have done some genius marketing to make iPhone a high status, high price and highly desirable (by many) object. We could probably remove much scarcity already, some of what remains is artificial, created to keep prices high. (And no, mine isn't an iPhone).

    3. Tim Worstal

      Re: Oh,ffs...

      " costs to the consumer are remarkably similar over the whole country"

      There's a slight problem with this observation. Which is that the appearance of prices will be the same whether we've a monopoly, an oligopoly or a free market. All three will provide the same pattern of prices, remarkably similar for the same goods across the economy.

      So we can't look at prices being the same and assume that we've got any one of the three.

      We can however look at returns to capital to decide which of the three we've got. Monopoly and oligopoly should provide higher returns to capital than a free market would.

      Current costs of capital for, say, a mobile phone airtime provider, are around 9%. The actual returns to capital they're making are around 7% (on average, across the various companies). That's a free market result, not an oligopoly or monopoly one.

      BTW, "free market" as in being entirely and wholly free doesn't exist and never will. We're always talking about tendency to be freer or less free.

    4. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: Oh,ffs...@Ketlan

      "What we have is the "appearance" of a free market, nothing more. Shop around a bit (particularly in utilities) and the monopolies become obvious. "

      You are Mad Ed Davey, and I claim my five pounds. Or you are a berk (or both).

      Where there are monopoly assets (because the economics will not support duplicate infrastructures) you have government regulation of the monopoly. So that's the case of water, of electricity distribution networks, gas pipes, rail networks. These companies are very highly controlled by regulators like OFGEM, OFWAT and ORR. And that control isn't just price control, it's actually control of the investment levels, investment objectives, service levels, even the financing of the companies. I have spent many years working for regulated companies, and there's no free hand for managers or investors, no excess profits, not vast inefficiency, and no cartels. And the recent price increase in energy are not wholesale electricity market price rises (these have been stagnant, and nobody wants to invest in new plant), but because of global primary energy prices (the inputs), weakening exchange rates, and government impositions to pay for their stupid, useless renewable toys, and to create a duplicate welfare state through mandated company handouts to the officially poor.

      Where there is the potential for competing assets, as in most telecoms, electricity generation & supply, or gas supply, then they have to pay the same for using the regulated monopoly assets, and there other costs will converge because being more expensive in a commodity market is not a sustainable position. They also use broadly similar technologies and suppliers, operate within the same environment and legal constraints, source money from the same capital markets, and offer the market similar levels of commodiity service. Everybody complains that they want better service from utilities, but when push comes to shove people won't pay for what they say they want, so there's little to choose between them.

      This is actually a market that works. Now take mobile handsets, and there's a market that doesn't work. The costs of assembling a iPhone are near the same as those of a Nexus 4 or a Lumia 925. So why is the sim free price range from les than £200 to well over £400? Is that a market that works well for consumers? Lots of choice and a range of prices? Actually that's a market that doesn't work as well, because the use of brand and low tangibility differentiators keeps the market from operating as well, enabling Apple to make huge margins selling essentially the same phone as the other two mentioned.

      1. Ketlan
        Unhappy

        Re: Oh,ffs...@Ketlan

        Similar points made, but Tim was rather more polite than you. What a shame - some of the points you made were actually interesting but who can be bothered to debate with someone who calls them a berk (and we all know what THAT means) simply for having a different view.

        1. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: Oh,ffs...@Ketlan

          "who calls them a berk (and we all know what THAT means) simply for having a different view"

          Your righteous indignation and weak attempt to claim the high moral ground is rather undermined by the fact that you started off by using the expression "exploitative scum".

          There's many hundreds of thousands of people working across the sectors you mention who will object to twerps like you using deliberately offensive & emotive language to parrot Daily Mirror presumptions that all these big companies operate cartels to manipulate markets and fleece consumers. Go look at the accounts of these companies, see how much they actually make. And ignoring the employees working to keep your lights on, your home warm, and your taps running, if I were a regulator I'd be saddened to see that you really don't understand what the regulators do for you, and how well the system generally works (excepting OFCOM, I'd admit).

          So I wasn't calling you a berk for having a different view, I was calling you a berk for not being able to recognise that prices converge when the markets work, and diverge when they work less well, and for your rabid, poorly expressed and inaccurate accusations.

  9. Sampler

    It's nice to think we'll get a tipping point where machines can do everything and usurp us all, but as the past few decades have shown, such robots are short coming.

    Instead, it's going to be a matter of degrees - train drivers are already being replaced, next the drivers as google car (or whoever) replaces taxis, truckers and bus drivers. Pilot's after now drones are proving reliable (plus, imagine the sales pitch, who can hijack a plane with no stick?).

    Machine's will start to replace most manual labour jobs given time, anything production line has mostly switched to bots already, I could foresee more people going when their role becomes cost efficient.

    But Doctor's, going to be a while before they're redundant and I can't imagine many volunteering in the new work free utopia, or at least I wouldn't feel comfortable being operated on by someone who's biggest qualification is they're stupid enough to work when they could be exercising their minds with bigger issues as the world's now their oyster.

    Hell, even what I do, the lofty title of Data Account Manager for a Market Research firm (basically, move numbers around and try not to lose any) can be vastly automated, as I've already started writing my own scripts, but there's still an area of critical thinking involved where judgement calls have to be made and until you've got an AI that can do that (ie, a long way off) I'm still going to be a slave to the wage.

    So we're going to end up in a world with fewer and fewer jobs due to increasing automation but still be a long way from a work free utopia, at which point I believe we all go to hell as the proletariat do what they do best and think with their fists against those deemed valued enough to be employed and it all gets burned to the ground.

    The upshot with that though is at least we can all go back to work.

    1. paulll

      I'm curious ...

      Why, "pilot's," "doctor's," and, "machine's," and not, "taxi's," "trucker's," and/or, "driver's" ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm curious ...

        'Why, "pilot's," "doctor's," and, "machine's," and not, "taxi's," "trucker's," and/or, "driver's" ?'

        Obviously the poster is a greengrocer.

    2. Identity

      Doctors? Where?

      Here in the States, while there are still doctors, much of the day-to-day work they used to do is done by Physician's Assistants (PAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Meanwhile, the practice is swamped with (what used to be) paperwork, though now it's all digital...

      A nurse said, "Nurses cure. Doctors diagnose."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > It's nice to think we'll get a tipping point where machines can do everything and usurp us all, but as the past few decades have shown, such robots are short coming.

      This is quite a thoughful comment. My view is that the tipping point will be resisted not by the technology or its capability to give us leisure, but that change is required simultaneously across the board politically to move us to a leisure economy.

      Here's an example that we all recognise: Technology now allows anyone who wants it a copy of a musical recording. No longer do we have to have physical media, no-one is required to duplicate the recording, we can do it ourselves. However, we have a system based on there being scarcity so our laws change to maintain that scarcity. Or scarcity-based economy is actively trying to subvert the progress of technology to perpetuate itself.

      But musicians and producers and internet service providers etc all need to live and we have a scarcity-based system. So we will see a gradual introduction of technology to assist and simplify various aspects of life and our scarcity-based system will continually try to resist and subvert it.

      The tipping point might be subtle, but we would need an enormous and possibly unsurmountable sea change to complete the tipping itself. Those kinds of things require bloody revolution and I won't see it in my time.

  10. Charles Manning

    Just close the loop entirely

    Have robot consumers too, then we don't need any people.

    This crap is dreamed up by people who really have no clue as to how primitive robots really are. Today's robots can't out think birds, let alone mammals. It's going to be a long time before they get to anywhere near humans.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Just close the loop entirely

      Do not insult the birds. We can do the tool use thing too.

    2. craigj

      Re: Just close the loop entirely

      We don't want them to think! We just want them to make our stuff.

      If they could think they wouldn't want to do our boring monotonous jobs for free so that we could have spare time.

      Has the Matrix, Terminator, Battlestar Gallactica et al. tought you nothing?

    3. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: Just close the loop entirely

      "This crap is dreamed up by people who really have no clue as to how primitive robots really are. Today's robots can't out think birds, let alone mammals. It's going to be a long time before they get to anywhere near humans"

      You'd have a point if the jobs most people do actually used their intelligence and involved creativity. However, most manual, and even semi skilled jobs are repetitive, and are easily automated, but hitherto not at a cost that people can pay.

      Watch a car welding robot, doing what started out as a skilled task, became a semi-skilled task, then gravitated to essentiall manual status, and was finally automated. Could a machine that dexterous lay bricks? Could it clean a toilet? Could it make burgers? Could it change a hospital bed? Could it put up a streetlight? Of course ***ing it could, its just too expensive and a little bit specialised to do that at the moment.

      White collar jobs are at similar risk, albeit without the physical robotic needs. If you set up your processes and systems right, then you don't need the armies of accountants that most big companies employ. If you make good use of digital assets then you can get rid of (most) of your call centres because you have fewer billing or payment errors, account set up and closure can be automated. Administrative roles vanish if the systems work properly. And when I undertake (as I currently am) a process analysis of a white collar function, I find people doing the same things year after year - repetitive tasks, duplicate tasks, checking other people's work, correcting the same old errors.

      Even for a highly skilled role like an air transport pilot, the reality is that computers fly the aircraft most of the time - they can take off, route and land. The pilot sits there as a fall back for the systems (in the case of AF447, not a very good one, and flying on some basic fallback rules would have been better).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just close the loop entirely

        > If you set up your processes and systems right, then you don't need the armies of accountants that most big companies employ.

        Interestingly, if you have no scarcity, then what would we need money for?

        What about Fairness? Well, what does that mean if everyone can have whatever they might reasonably want?

        So, no accountants, no tax, a very large part of government is just gone. They're not needed.

        A comment above was very revealing about how gradually this process is ongoing. I live in Vancouver and we have the Skytrain rapid transit. There is no driver or conductor. There is a control centre and staff wandering about making sure people are alright. But this would be unthinkable just a few years ago. Now, we don't think about it at all.

        1. Rukario

          Re: Just close the loop entirely

          > I live in Vancouver and we have the Skytrain rapid transit. There is no driver or conductor. There is a control centre and staff wandering about making sure people are alright.

          And the staff have to take over the controls and actually drive the things whenever there's anything more than a light dusting of snow.

          They want to do the same to buses and make them driverless (Translink + Google now there's a scary combination).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Just close the loop entirely

            > And the staff have to take over the controls and actually drive the things whenever there's anything more than a light dusting of snow.

            You do realise that the track beds are heated don't you?

            I've been using Skytrain every day for the past 6 years, and I've seen a train manually driven exactly once and that was because the train had broken down.

            When we have a problem with the system people whinge and whine about how unreliable it is. How quickly they forget how awful buses can get when the flu does the rounds and wipes out the drivers. Contrary to popular belief, people breakdown a lot more frequently than most of our well-designed machines.

      2. Zack Mollusc

        Re: Just close the loop entirely

        A great deal of the car welding robot's apparent dextrousness is down to the process being simplified for it. When a skilled human welder was used, he would have to get his welding rod from stores, adapt his welding technique to the quality and thickness of the materials availible etc. Changing a hospital bed sounds easy, but it might not be in a particular room. It may be in a corridor, it may have a patient in it, or a doctor catching a quick nap, it may be damaged, or it may be being used to transport other equipment as a makeshift cart etc. Good luck outperforming the human, welding robot.

  11. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Free time! And then what?

    Okaaay, let's wind this scenario forward.

    FF to the time when we have all we need in terms of physical stuff. Hungry? press a button and a robotic shopping cart will deliver the hot pizza of your choice. Thirsty? Same cart will bring you whatever carbonated beverage you desire. Repeat from age #1 to age #99, daily. Every day. For your whole life. For ever. All the friggin' time. Just press the button. That's it. All you do is press the button.

    Next to "the button" is another button labelled "Kill me now". You can press that one any time you please, too. Maybe that one would just about help us avoid a Malthusian disaster.

    The basic problem is human nature. To start with, we only value what we earn. Whether it's the satisfaction of standing back and thinking "I made that", Whether it's the knowledge that you're a "provider" and other people respect and depend on you. Whether it's saving up to go and see that band you like.

    We also earn a status from being in work, whether it's productive work or merely IT (which, truth be told hasn't really improved the quality of life much at all. It certainly hasn't done a simgle dam' thing to get the country, or the world, out of its current recession). Meet a stranger and one of the first questions they will ask you is "what do you do?" Hands up anyone who hasn't embellished their answer, even just a little bit.

    So, work is necessary. Not just to get us the stuff and the mental state that we value. It also sets our standing in society. Even if work became unnecessary in orer to get us the pizza de choix, we would still wish to fill our time, just to give ourselves something to talk about at all those soirees that our excessive free time would require we attend just to fill the empty void before bed.

    Plus work allows us to get away from our children (and them from us).

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Free time! And then what?

      Carrying on on this theme...

      If you were to remove work and implement a living allowance you'd have to vastly improve the average level of education in society so that people can contribute in some positive way while enjoying their leisure time. You'd still have to give people opportunities to discover something they'd like doing in place of work.

      Then you'd have the problem of deciding if one person contributes more to society than another person. Should someone who likes being a doctor receive the same living allowance as someone who likes making pizzas which are delivered at the press of a button and should someone who likes making pizzas receive the same living allowance as someone who likes spending the whole day down the pub?

      If you decide to vary the living allowance, you're back where you started, that's called 'work'.

      And if you don't improve the level of education or give people opportunities to discover something they'd like doing instead of work, society would end up like an episode of Shameless which is not viable in the long term.

      By the way, religions like Calvinism, Protestantism and Lutheranism made people want to contribute (everyone had a bible in their home and were responsible for serving God in their own way as best they could) and in a way managed to help solve these questions that are coming up again now.

      Catholicism, on the other hand, well that's more about convincing people to wait down the pub until an important man comes along and tells you what you've got to do.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Free time! And then what?

        With one difference: In this 'society of plenty,' people would have the choice between making pizzas and spending the day down the pub. No more people enslaved to eight hours a day in a job they loathe just to pay the rent. Perhaps work would give a few extra privileges, but it need not be essential to survive as it is now. That opens up a lot more time for things people enjoy doing.

        How many great artists have we not seen because their most productive years were instead spent stacking the shelves at Asda?

    2. Tim Worstal

      Re: Free time! And then what?

      "We also earn a status from being in work,"

      True that we currently do. But there have been human societies where status was determined by how religious you were. how much land you owned, how good you were at chopping someone's head off, which vagina you popped out of.

      That there will always be status games in a human society is clearly true. But there's no particular reason why status has to be determined by job.

  12. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    They'll always need people for the Army!

    Somebody has to fight all the self-aware robots.....

    (Also, I'd be careful about saying automation is going to result in an incredibly low cost of living. Automation and robotics have significantly reduced many jobs in industry and services. Think of the number of cashiers who have been replaced by scanning technology, as well as factory and utility workers that have been replaced by sensors and real-time controls. To date, none of this replacement of labor has resulted in a virtuous cycle where standards of living are even staying stable vs. inflation. Instead, real wage growth has been flat to negative in most of the developed world, and those who's jobs can be automated are moving to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.)

  13. JDC
    Thumb Down

    Hardly new idea

    Perhaps the author ought to read a bit more SF, this is hardly a new idea - Iain M Banks' Culture closely resembles this type of economy, for example.

    1. Steven Raith

      Re: Hardly new idea

      You mean the Culture he directly referenced in the article?

      Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought of as a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. ;-)

      (there are parallels, but there are issues that the Culture don't have to overcome that I recall - limited space for building of property, natural resources, etc)

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Hardly new idea

        "Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought of as a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. ;-)"

        Trouble is, that adage falls apart when the presumption of idiocy is already beyond the point of doubt. At which point, you have nothing to lose anymore and might as well speak out on the chance of removing the possibly-erroneous assumption.

        1. Steven Raith
          Happy

          Re: Hardly new idea

          And Charles 9 spoke, and thus the Youtube Commenter was born...

          Steven R

  14. Matthew Glubb

    Sounds like automated farming of humans

    This article assumes that all humans will be content with leisure, consumption and procreation. It glosses over the fact that some people may want to have influence beyond their domestic spheres. The rules of the game will be carefully guarded by the capitalist robot wielding classes and woe betide any individual who wishes to challenge them. They'll come down on them like a ton of robots.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I seem to be there already.

    Not so much by automation but by rationalising my wants. I can live quite happily having everything I need and reasonably want on what social benefits pay where I am (and apparently what benefits pay isn't enough to live on, so there is always bleeding-heart-liberal pressure to raise them -- which suits me fine in case I one day choose to utilise them: I may not need the extra dollars, but I won't turn them down, at worst they would pad out my savings account for unexpected happenings).

    Oh, I do work full time at present. Sometimes I detest my job (though I have to be careful to separate my feelings for my job out from my feelings for my existence in general - I suffer severe depressive illness, which medication mostly-but-not-quite manages). Other times I find my job smile-inducingly satisfying (I smiled compulsively all yesterday afternoon at work and all the way home on the bus due to something I was able to achieve for a customer in urgent need of assistance). At all times, my job is better than stewing at home on sickness benefit.

  16. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    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?

    1. Rukario

      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?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Tim Worstal

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            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?

  18. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    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.

  19. Sander van der Wal

    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.

  20. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    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_/

  21. Crisp Silver badge

    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?

    1. Tim Worstal

      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.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  23. Chuunen Baka

    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.

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge

      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.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        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?"

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Bleak

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

        1. Ledswinger Silver badge

          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.

  24. Frankee Llonnygog

    Yes, please

    And soon - I'm knackered

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    two words

    Battlestar Galactica. You have been warned.

  26. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
    Joke

    I know you lampshaded it..

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

  27. Faye B

    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.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      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

      1. Faye B

        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.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  29. 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.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      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).

  30. Evil Terran

    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

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: further reading

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

  31. Spoonsinger
    Coat

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

    IGMC.

    1. Spoonsinger

      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.

      1. Rukario

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

        You'll also need a matching surfboard.

  32. 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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  33. Matt Bradley

    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.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Various of the concerned intelligensia"

    Article not written by one of the intelligensia then

  35. 96percentchimp

    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.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  38. Ramazan

    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.

  39. Neil 34

    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.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  41. Amorous Cowherder

    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. )

  42. This post has been deleted by its author

  43. Identity
    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

  44. Terrence Bayrock
    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.....

  45. J.G.Harston Silver badge
    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.

  46. This post has been deleted by its author

  47. Fat Northerner

    Forget retirement.

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

    1. Spoonsinger

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

      Ahh that's what the kids need today - a looming threat of nuclear annihilation. It worked for me, and as far as I can tell, my parents. Tends to focus the mind. The whole 90's new world order thing was just a bit of a breather in doomsday terms - which lead to the eco bods creeping in with their "whole world is going to end due to weather" thing. However nothing inspires a person more than being able to earn enough to escape potential drop zones, (regardless of how meaningless that is).

  48. heyrick Silver badge

    Smoking what?

    You're right. Work sucks. I'd rather sit on my ass and watch animé and write pointless messages on forums.

    However you miss one critical thing, and it is nothing to do with robots.

    How does one expect to pay for stuff? Think about it - if I am to watch animé, I need something to watch it on. That isn't free. I will need a working internet connection to download, and that isn't free. Then there will be the electricity to run the equipment, plus heat me up in the winter. That isn't free. Then a building of some sort to call home, whether a castle or a garden shed, it won't be free. Plus, perhaps the most important of all, some sustenance for my increasing fat ass sitting there. That too will carry a price tag.

    How do you think these things will be paid for? Don't bullshit me about some future utopia where robots do everything and everything is free. That won't happen, not least because it is comically unrealistic.

    This is where work comes in. I trade an amount of my time for the services I provide, in return for an amount of money. Given the number of jobs versus the number of people, the situation is weighted evermore in favour of the employer, however it is still a trade off - I give time and ability, they give me numbers.

    And with that, I can live. I can pay for services, I can buy the latest Kalafina CD, I can do a lot of things with freedom within the scope of how much I am willing to spend. I could even go out and buy ten pairs of ballet-style shoes (I think they are called "pumps", for some reason...). Okay, people will think I'm pretty damn weird, but the point is, it is my money and it isn't illegal, so I could if I wanted to. Or blow the money on big speakers. Or an ancient 8 track off eBay. Or cupcakes. With Hello Kitty design. Yes, cupcakes are always good. Do you understand? My disposable cash is limited only by the crazy stuff I can dream up. I could even do something as esoteric as crawling the bakers all around looking for The Perfect Croissant.

    It is asked - do you live to work or do you work to live? I think the two are intertwined. The alternative, I guess, is to either live off rich parents or live off handouts. And it might come to handouts of robots do everything and there is no work any more but things still cost money. And where, I ask, is the handout money from? And how much? I can see this turning into a social disaster much worse than that which surrounds us today.

    If the things you write are an idea for a future utopia, then please count me out. Ultimately going to work, although it consumes huge amounts of my time, rewards me with freedoms and abilities that wouldn't be possible if I had no work to go to. It is a trade off that I am happy to make.

  49. ecofeco Silver badge
    Windows

    Droll. Very Droll

    This is probably some of the finest bit of satire I have read in years.

    Well done.

    "Free" indeed. Well played sir. Well played.

  50. Tom Hagan

    No need for communism

    This piece is almost right.

    But it's not in the future, it's now. We have already arrived at the point where only a few need to work - almost everything we need could be built for us by robots. But many robots are idle, out of work themselves. It's known as the Global Financial Collapse. The collapse happened because displaced workers can't buy what the robots could produce, if they were producing.

    And the owner of a robot makes a profit only if the robot is working.

    Gotta get them robots back to work!

    Two ways: communism, as you suggest, or capitalism.. We know from the Soviet Union that communism does not work. But a recovery can be effected under capitalism.

    That would require that income be redistributed downward, reversing its direction of recent years. Inequality must be reduced, to let those displaced by robots buy what the robots could produce - if they were working.

    Since the robot owners also own our politics, only if they see it to be in their interest will it happen. And it IS in their interest, both to get their robots back to work so they can earn profits from them, and more importantly, to save their own skins.

    Because the inexorable rise of inequality will reach a point where displaced workers will no longer be able to feed their families, and then they will revolt. It's where we are heading. The robot owners can instead give us a government that has a truly progressive income tax, to fund a Citizens Dividend for all, sufficient to reverse the direction of the flow of income from bottom to top.

    Then the robots can get back to work. The inevitable revolution can be avoided. And the oligarchs who control it all can save their skins.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: No need for communism

      "That would require that income be redistributed downward, reversing its direction of recent years. Inequality must be reduced, to let those displaced by robots buy what the robots could produce - if they were working."

      Sonuds like dirty pinko communism to me, sonny!

      "Since the robot owners also own our politics, only if they see it to be in their interest will it happen. And it IS in their interest, both to get their robots back to work so they can earn profits from them, and more importantly, to save their own skins."

      No need to extract profits from selling things when the government is quite happy to print all the money you'd ever need (see recent news concerning QE non-tapering). They do seem to have forgotten about the "saving their own skins" part, unless they're betting that the sheeple will be sedated by reality TV and junk food.

  51. Tom Hagan

    Help!

    My ufinished post got away prematurely. What can I do about that?

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Help!

      You should be able to copy/paste it via your user control panel and finish it off manually - I see you've withdrawn the half finished comment.

  52. TopOnePercent Silver badge
    FAIL

    Logic fail

    The authors logic doesn't work. Someone has to own the business that makes things, even if thats just the business that sells raw materials that robots process.

    If we assume a socialist utopia where everyone earns the same, lets say £100 per year. We have 3 savers, who regularly put by 25% of what they earn. We have 3 savers who put by 10% per annum. And we have 3 people that spend everything they earn as soon as they have it. The tenth person owns the business.

    After a decade, 3 people are still living hand to mouth. 3 people have a years salary in the bank. 3 people have 2.5 years pay put aside. And then there's the business owner. He has spent every penny of his 100 pounds a year having fun, but the business is still worth almost 90 years salary.

    The numbers used are simplistic (for the Guardian readers out there), but the principle isn't. For as long as money exists in any form, you will always have relatively rich people, and comparatively poor people, with most people doing ok. The reason for this is simple - some people understand how money works, and others don't bother to learn.

    Once financial and time constraints are removed you will get an increase in the birth rate. The limiting factors in how many children my wife and I can have is a function of time (due to working) and money to pay for them - remove both limitations and we will have more children than we have now. Extend that down the generations and before long you need more worlds to input raw materials / land, a birth rate cap, or killer robots.

    People comparing falling birth rates in western economies with the 3rd world are overlooking the time spent at work issue.

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