Thursday, 10 January 2008

Rise of the Robots

A friend pointed me at a short story a while ago describing the rise of AI and robotization in two countries, the USA and Australia. In the USA, the robots forced everyone to work in shittier and shittier jobs, finally replacing the automaton-like humans at the bottom with robots, and tossing all of the poor people into, effectively, a prison.

In Australia, the robots were harnessed for good - every person was freed from having to work, because each person was awarded enough energy credits to buy enough food, shelter and warmth to live comfortably. Thus, people devoted their time to arts, philosophy, games, etc.

Now, I don't believe that either country would exactly end up like that, but it did prompt me to think, in the wake of people demanding that layabouts get jobs, that surely we already have the technical ability now to 99%+ automate the production of all food, clothes, houses and so on. We could live in such a society as the neo-Australian one, in which everyone gets enough to survive on, and spends their excess energy credits on fun things, or on entreprenurial activities that people would pay them energy credits for, aside from a small group of people engaged in the machinery of keeping everyone alive, of course.

Of course, it's probably not politically feasible. But I always think of this, now, when people suggest that the non-workers should get off their arses and get jobs - because the jobs that they can get are probably crappy minimum wage jobs that no-one wants to spend their life doing, and I think that it's pretty inhuman that the only reason that they are doing them is because it hasn't yet become cheap enough to replace them with robots.


Tristan said...

Why should people be free from working?

It doesn't matter what it pays (we should not have a minimum wage of course).
I don't mind supplementing income (via negative income tax or CBI for example) but to have people not working because a job is 'beneath them' is unacceptable, they're free riding.

At least the LibDems recognise the absurdity of the marginal financial gain from working vs being on benefits can be absurdly low due to our insane income tax rates...

sanbikinoraion said...

But isn't the idea of a CBI that it *just* pays for someone to be able to subsist at the lowest standard of life? That's what I've always taken it to mean. If that's the case, what would the difference be between it and providing that base living with robots! :)

Jock Coats said...

I only just noticed this post following your comment on mine, and I might well post myself about this, but as a quick comment...

There was much thinking about this amongst forward looking political eocnomists in the mid-twentieth century (and even in fact it goes back to the Luddites and before of course). The whole work of people like C H Douglas, and a lot of what Louis Kelso worked on was predicated on the notion that in the not too distant future there would be no need for humans to get involved in the manual stuff at all.

Though I mostly agree with Tristan, I think in reality the question is why shouldn't people be free from working if it possible for automata to do all the work they previously did?

You can bet a good few of those who own the automata and charge for their products will be happy in leisure.