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Old 01-09-2012, 05:43 AM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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What happens when the robots (peacefully) take over?

Let's leave aside for the moment all the dystopian visions of doom from an automated future (The Machine Stops, The Terminator, The Matrix, etc.), not because they couldn't happen but because I have another question in mind.

When we look around us and see ATMs, Roombas, GPS operated farm combines, iPhone's Siri, etc., it's not so hard to imagine that if we were to jump forward a few more decades or a century, we could find ourselves in a time where the vast majority of drudge work (from janitorial services, to construction and agriculture, to cooking and waiting tables at a restaurant, to manufacturing everything including the manufacturing robots themselves) is done by "robots". Not C-3PO or R2D2, but computer-guided machinery of one sort or another. Perhaps there will be a few humans needed to guide things (almost like George Jetson, pushing buttons), plus of course artistic and creative vocations like political punditry or ballet; but the stuff that maintains people's basic Maslow hierarchy needs (shelter, food, etc.) will be taken care of without human labour, as will additional layers of luxury.

Further, this level of automation should mean that no one is wretchedly poor, that everyone will be able to live in at least reasonable comfort without having to "work for a living". Right? Again, maybe those who do "extra" could have additional reward for doing so, but if robots can do all the stuff I described, and assuming population is under reasonable control, no one should want for the basics.

So here's my question: what does the transition to this state of affairs look like? Before we get to the point where people say "duh, this is obviously stupid to make people work for paychecks and pay for everything", it strikes me that capitalist tech entrepeneurs will try to enrich themselves by taking over sectors of the economy that used to require human labour. After all, when washers and dryers and dishwashers were invented, they weren't just passed out to families with a benevolent wish that housewives liberate themselves from drudgery. They were (and are) sold at a profit, just like those automatic GPS-driven farm combines.

So when the janitorial robots become cheaper than hiring people, janitors and hotel housekeepers will be thrown out of work. Same thing for taxi drivers when automated cars are perfected. And so on and so forth. At what point then, and in what way, does it cross a rubicon from creating mass unemployment (which is bad) to obviating the need for employment at drudgery (which is good)? Will the robot-making companies find themselves increasingly with fewer and fewer customers because no one will have a job? Will governments just take over, Tea Partiers be damned? Or will it somehow happen organically without great turmoil? I can see the end result, but that transition is a muddle. Whaddaya think?
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:56 AM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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This is somewhat what is posited if we allow (as we already have) for underpaid immigrants to take the jobs that nobody here wants to have.

Perhaps we can project from that to a future that you imagine.

An underclass that is hated and yet preserved.

If you don't grant your postulated robots greater abilities than humans, why give them rights at all?
They are slaves.
Right?

Last edited by Gagundathar; 01-09-2012 at 05:56 AM.
  #3  
Old 01-09-2012, 06:21 AM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is offline
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Further, this level of automation should mean that no one is wretchedly poor, that everyone will be able to live in at least reasonable comfort without having to "work for a living". Right?
Heh. That's funny.

Look back a couple of hundred years ago, and folks were saying exactly the same thing. As soon as technology progressed, we wouldn't have people toiling on farms and slaving away in factories. Utopia was right around the corner.

We have huge machines automating much of our farm work and robots fill many factories, and Utopia isn't anywhere in sight. It's not technology that's holding us back at this point.

There needs to be some sort of drastic social change for anything like the above to happen.
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Old 01-09-2012, 06:24 AM
samclem samclem is offline
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:04 AM
chrisk chrisk is offline
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Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
Heh. That's funny.

Look back a couple of hundred years ago, and folks were saying exactly the same thing. As soon as technology progressed, we wouldn't have people toiling on farms and slaving away in factories. Utopia was right around the corner.

We have huge machines automating much of our farm work and robots fill many factories, and Utopia isn't anywhere in sight. It's not technology that's holding us back at this point.

There needs to be some sort of drastic social change for anything like the above to happen.
Unfortunately true. That's the way capitalism works. The benefits of having robots in the factories don't go to the workers who used to slave away in the factories, or even to the remaining workers who can't be robot-replaced yet. The benefits go to the rich man who paid for the robots.
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:16 AM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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Heh. That's funny.

Look back a couple of hundred years ago, and folks were saying exactly the same thing. As soon as technology progressed, we wouldn't have people toiling on farms and slaving away in factories. Utopia was right around the corner.

We have huge machines automating much of our farm work and robots fill many factories, and Utopia isn't anywhere in sight. It's not technology that's holding us back at this point.

There needs to be some sort of drastic social change for anything like the above to happen.
But doesn't there have to be drastic social change of some kind when robots can tend a farm automatically, build a house with no human carpenters, and manufacture anything (including more robots) in a factory with little to no human oversight?

The people who predicted there would be a drastic lessening of need for farm labour were right: today's agriculture requires only a tiny, tiny fraction of the labour it once did, which is why farm country has mostly emptied out over the past century. So that in itself did cause a big social change. But there was still plenty of work that needed doing in the cities, plus a certain amount of rural work driving (and loading) trucks, maintaining infrastructure, etc. It's easy to imagine those tasks and pretty much all other manual labour being taken over by robots within a century; at that point it will be possible to maintain human's needs in a pretty comfortable way without any human effort.

Now as I say I can totally see there still being rich people who come up with the latest equivalent of the iPhone, or the new hit song, etc. And there will be things that are still scarce for rich people to buy--land, for instance. But for the average schmoe, what jobs would be available to them, and why should they be expected to work?

I suppose it could simply be that there will be very few jobs available (and very high qualifications for them) but that those who have them will be paid extremely handsomely, will pay a lot in taxes, and there will be most everywhere a generous social safety net of the contemporary European variety.
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:20 AM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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Unfortunately true. That's the way capitalism works. The benefits of having robots in the factories don't go to the workers who used to slave away in the factories, or even to the remaining workers who can't be robot-replaced yet. The benefits go to the rich man who paid for the robots.
But there's got to be a tipping point eventually where everyone's put out of work and no one therefore has money to buy the products the robots make. Then the rich guy who paid for the robots isn't so rich any more. Or he is (because his robots can make anything his heart desires), but the unemployed masses start rioting outside his mansion. Or the government says "this is ridiculous, you can't just hoard these tools that could provide unlimited prosperity" and nationalises the robot factories just like happened to banana plantations after leftist revolutions in Latin America. When inequality gets too extreme, the social fabric must give way, either peacefully or otherwise.
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:24 AM
Hellestal Hellestal is offline
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If you don't grant your postulated robots greater abilities than humans, why give them rights at all?
They are slaves.
Right?
I don't understand this question.

Let's say I somehow program a computer with the task to maximize a societal utility function. Pure hypothetical here, so it's got plenty of computing resources to crunch out this baby, figure out what it needs to do to help max out everyone's collective happiness. Nobody forced to be happy, it's just helping us out with what we want to do. And it's plenty smart about it, smart enough to program little drone machines to do its work or do any current industrial work, smart enough to make robots that can repair robots, even smart enough to understand law and crime and enforce legal statutes, or maybe more general golden rule type stuff if statutes are no longer necessary, if we wanted it to do that sort of job, too. The whole AI package, all focused on allowing us the possibility of living happy, free lives.

But it's got no emotions. No sadness, no drudgery, none of that. It's a quicker thinker than any human for any given problem, but at core, what it's doing is continually working on a math problem, doing its best to maximize a utility function that was programmed into it.

Is it a slave?

Seems to me that machines capable of designing new machines, repairing them, testing the modifications, and then redesigning to create even more, are a recipe for a robo-commie paradise. Or human extinction. One or the other. Slavery does not even begin to apply. They're not going to be Star Trek 'Data's walking around, all wanting to be human. They won't be evolved creatures at all. Intelligent, but not remotely human. They'll be optimizing the functions they're originally given, the problems they're programmed to solve. If we plug in the wrong problem without realizing, then sucks to be us. If we plug in the right one, then life could be pretty swell.

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Unfortunately true. That's the way capitalism works. The benefits of having robots in the factories don't go to the workers who used to slave away in the factories, or even to the remaining workers who can't be robot-replaced yet. The benefits go to the rich man who paid for the robots.
This is contrary to centuries of history, and even the most introductory economics.

Even when some workers do lose out -- which can absolutely happen, yes, if we're not on a super-long-term time frame -- the owners of the robots are not now, nor have they ever been, the only winners. The remaining workers benefit loads, as does the rest of society. We've had two hundred years of evidence about this since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It is helpful to learn a little bit about these events and economic processes that led to our modern technological world in order to comment sensibly about it.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:49 AM
Tristan Tristan is offline
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There is a fundamental flaw in the "no work" utopia that I have seen expressed before, that there is something in Humn nature that will rail against "the other guy" not having to work for his bread.

Which is to say, someone who does not work, but is still provided with food, shelter, and other essentials to live will be hated. Much as we see segments of the American population looking down upon those that are surviving via AFDC or other means of governmental support.
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:00 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:07 AM
heathen earthling heathen earthling is offline
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There is a fundamental flaw in the "no work" utopia that I have seen expressed before, that there is something in Humn nature that will rail against "the other guy" not having to work for his bread.

Which is to say, someone who does not work, but is still provided with food, shelter, and other essentials to live will be hated. Much as we see segments of the American population looking down upon those that are surviving via AFDC or other means of governmental support.
Workers are conditioned to hate non-workers, but non-workers generally don't hate other non-workers. If everyone is a non-worker, what's the problem?
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:30 AM
Tristan Tristan is offline
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Workers are conditioned to hate non-workers, but non-workers generally don't hate other non-workers. If everyone is a non-worker, what's the problem?
There will always be workers though. If nothing else, there will be humans designing new robots, or artists, or humans that oversee sensitive things that no matter how advanced, we can't/won't trust robots to do entirely by themselves.

Or politicians.
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:07 AM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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There is a fundamental flaw in the "no work" utopia that I have seen expressed before, that there is something in Humn nature that will rail against "the other guy" not having to work for his bread.

Which is to say, someone who does not work, but is still provided with food, shelter, and other essentials to live will be hated. Much as we see segments of the American population looking down upon those that are surviving via AFDC or other means of governmental support.
This is sort of covered in the 'Jupiter' series by Charles Sheffield [and a couple other cowriters]

There is a small oligarchy, 'Families' associated with manufacturing empires, military/political empires, and so forth. Somewhere around a few hundred thousand ultra rich people. They have human servants, a point of conspicuous consumption that they do not use robots/machines. Then there are people who have jobs, a few million or so more, they are the managers and pilots and such. They run the factories, work in stores and such. Then there is the 'Pool' - the great unemployed unwashed. They apparently are all on the dole - in one story the parents of one guy get 900 credits a month for him to stay in school. This pool also supply the criminal element.

I do believe that the world is headed for a similar situation, as computerizing, robotizing and mechanizing everything keeps reducing the jobs available, corporate farms take over from small holdings, factory mass production of everything. Handcrafted items will be made by a diminishing pool of craftsmen, and being sold to the ultra rich. At some point, if you do not have a job, you will end up in that pool of unemployed on the dole. And it will not matter if you have the brilliance of Einstein, and a PhD, you will be sitting i your flat, watching the TV and on the dole, unless you can winkle your way into one of the ultra rare jobs.

Wonderful future.
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:12 AM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
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Or he is (because his robots can make anything his heart desires), but the unemployed masses start rioting outside his mansion.
"Release the robot hounds."
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:16 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is online now
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If you don't grant your postulated robots greater abilities than humans, why give them rights at all?
They are slaves.
Right?
I don't think the OP is talking about sentient artificial people like Cylons or Blade Runner replicants. He is talking about highly advanced industrial automation. IOW, why would you design an advanced automobile factory robot to want to "become human" like in the Sci Fi movies? You'd design it to want to stamp car bumpers all day.


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Originally Posted by chrisk
Unfortunately true. That's the way capitalism works. The benefits of having robots in the factories don't go to the workers who used to slave away in the factories, or even to the remaining workers who can't be robot-replaced yet. The benefits go to the rich man who paid for the robots.
It actually isn't the way capitalism works. The benefits also go to people who can buy products they previously couldn't afford.
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Old 01-09-2012, 06:09 PM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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Seems to me that machines capable of designing new machines, repairing them, testing the modifications, and then redesigning to create even more, are a recipe for a robo-commie paradise. Or human extinction. One or the other.
Completely agree with this. And since the "human extinction" side has gotten so much attention, I wanted to explore the "robo-commie paradise", but specifically how the transitional phase would look.

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Originally Posted by aruvqan View Post
This is sort of covered in the 'Jupiter' series by Charles Sheffield [and a couple other cowriters]
That sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the tip, will look for it ASAP!

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Workers are conditioned to hate non-workers, but non-workers generally don't hate other non-workers. If everyone is a non-worker, what's the problem?
Agreed--and even if a minority of workers hated the non-workers, the non-workers are the majority and could just not associate with the workers. Besides, my guess would be that given human nature, most people would still want to feel they were doing something productive (or "productive"). So just as we see that most ultra-rich people today do not live a complete playboy/dilettante lifestyle (though some certainly do), but serve on foundation boards, edit literary magazines, or at least intensely pursue some kind of hobby, that would likely still be the case.

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"Release the robot hounds."
LOL, touche.

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I don't think the OP is talking about sentient artificial people like Cylons or Blade Runner replicants. He is talking about highly advanced industrial automation. IOW, why would you design an advanced automobile factory robot to want to "become human" like in the Sci Fi movies? You'd design it to want to stamp car bumpers all day.
Exactly right. Although if we give in to the temptation to have robots/computers take over jobs that do require more subtle forms of judgment (doctor, lawyer, teacher, cop) there is definitely the risk of sentience and all that implies. But that avenue has been explored so much, I'm more interested in the scenario you describe, which has not.

So it looks like a lot of people responding are like me in having an easier time imagining the end result, but not a lot of comments about the transition. What does the economy look like a decade or two before we get to this state where most everything is automated? High unemployment or underemployment seems a given (or reduced hours, or reduced importance for each employee to do their share to keep society functioning). But would that lead to turmoil in the medium term, or would the massive increases in GDP make it fairly easy to use taxation to provide a comfortable safety net? (I should add that my scenario assumes the problem of energy is also solved, by controlled fusion or somesuch mechanism; the whole thing becomes much more problematic if that's not the case.)
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:07 PM
robinson robinson is offline
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We have huge machines automating much of our farm work and robots fill many factories, and Utopia isn't anywhere in sight. It's not technology that's holding us back at this point. There needs to be some sort of drastic social change for anything like the above to happen.
What evil lurks in the heart of man? (The shadow)
Idle hands are the devil's workshop. (Mrs. Grundy)

I pondered this a long while back. Especially in the face of finite natural resources, the default outcome (as we observe) is chaotic and unsatisfactory. In the absence of economic drivers, only powerful social controls can save us from ourselves. The army motto "Be all you can be!" is to the point. The naturally talented 10%in any line of endeavor might be able to discipline themselves, but the rest of us are going to need strong social programming. In addition, some captivating social goal(s) (Survival of the human race! . . .) would be needed to keep the herd moving.

If we are not to succumb to chaos and misery, I could envision an array of quasi-military organizations (like the CCC or monastic or Masonic orders) that could achieve appreciable results, provide for distribution of the goodies, and develop the potential of their members.

Perhaps the criterion for graduation would be the demonstrated capacity for artistic or academic self-discipline. Of course, there would be a lot of Professional Students. Maybe only a few would graduate.

Yep, pretty commie. Except more like a combination of Hitler Youth and a large university.

Comment?

Last edited by robinson; 01-09-2012 at 08:10 PM.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:23 PM
robinson robinson is offline
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[quote] Further, this level of automation should mean that no one is wretchedly poor, that everyone will be able to live in at least reasonable comfort without having to "work for a living". Right? Again, maybe those who do "extra" could have additional reward for doing so, but if robots can do all the stuff I described, and assuming population is under reasonable control, no one should want for the basics.[unquote] Your end-state is reminiscent of the cities in Logan's Run (1970s movie).

Last edited by robinson; 01-09-2012 at 08:24 PM.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:23 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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In addition, some captivating social goal(s) (Survival of the human race! . . .) would be needed to keep the herd moving.
Space colonization. It makes no obvious sense economically, but it will ensure the long-term (as in, up to 10 billion years) survival of the human race. And our robot overlords too, of course.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 01-09-2012 at 08:24 PM.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:25 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Another possibility is that someday there will be no meaningful difference between robots and humans.
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:18 PM
Arjuna34 Arjuna34 is offline
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So it looks like a lot of people responding are like me in having an easier time imagining the end result, but not a lot of comments about the transition. What does the economy look like a decade or two before we get to this state where most everything is automated? High unemployment or underemployment seems a given (or reduced hours, or reduced importance for each employee to do their share to keep society functioning). But would that lead to turmoil in the medium term, or would the massive increases in GDP make it fairly easy to use taxation to provide a comfortable safety net?
The book The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future is about this transition, and the end result (assuming technology results in this scenario, of course). The book argues that, unlike the progress in the last 200 years, technology will eventually make many jobs obsolete without new, different jobs to replace them. Without jobs for everyone, there are very few consumers, and thus our system breaks down.

According to the book, the massive increases in productivity and drastically lower labor costs allow much higher taxes on businesses, ultimately resulting in business taxes on business comparable to the original labor costs. These taxes are then distributed back to the people, allowing them to be consumers. Hopefully this would be a gradual occurrence, as specific jobs and sectors were affected.

Tough to predict how our society will actually react to disruptive technological changes over the next 50-80 years.
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:29 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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So the "ultra-rich" are the capitalist owners of robot factories, yes? And these robot factories churn out every product imaginable, yes? And the ultra-rich are rich because they provide these products? And everyone else become welfare bums? Except, who are the ultra-rich selling products to? Each other? There are no consumers in this scenario. Therefore, how does owning a robot factory make you rich?

A guy with his factory churing out every product imaginable isn't rich. Sure, he can make anything he wants. So what? What does he do with those piles of stuff? He can't sell them, can he? What would he sell them FOR? What would he exchange his worthless piles of junk for, that he wants?

When the marginal cost of producing a product is essentially zero, then you can't get rich manufacturing that product. It becomes free. It doesn't matter if the product is diamond necklaces or digital watches or luxury cars or plastic toys or soybeans. In fact, the example of agricultural products is entirely analgous.

Back in the feudal era, what was the basis of wealth? Land. And why? Because serfs worked the land to produce agricultural products that everyone needed to live. Wheat, grapes, olives, wool, and so on were the basis of every aristocrat's wealth. And the surplus food supported a small class of artisans and priests and so on. But the vast majority of workers were agricultural workers.

So suppose there is an agricultural revolution, and agricultural products can be grown at a fraction of the cost using a fraciton of the labor. What now? The feudal aristocrats become fantastically rich, and the former serfs now become beggars dependent on the scraps from the lord's table? Is that what happened? No, what happened is that the amount of wealth you could generate from agriculture plummeted relative to the amount of wealth you could generate by manufacturing. We produced much more food than ever before and the food was worth less and less. The Earth has 7 billion people today, and never in human history has each person been so well fed.

So consider the poor capitalist factory owner. When the marginal cost of production drops and drops and drops, do the products of his factory retain their value? Of course not. The flood of manufactured products means that manufactured products become cheaper and cheaper, and eventually so cheap that you can barely give them away.

And we're already beginning this process. Do the thousands of new factories in China make the factory owners fantastically rich? No. Oh, they make money, especially compared to the starving communist peasantry of a few decades ago. But ownership of a factory that makes goods for dirt cheap doesn't make you rich, any more than ownership of a farm that produces a flood of cheap corn and wheat makes you rich.

But won't the industrialists use the political process to keep the workers/former-workers-now-beggars enslaved? But to what end? The agricultural aristocrats tried to hang onto their privileges too, but when mass production knocked the floor out of the value of agriculture, how could they? Those who control valuable goods and services control society, not those who control formerly valuable goods and services. Yes, the people of the future will need manufactured goods, and there will be a flood of manufactured goods. But the people who control the factories that produce those goods won't be rich any more than modern farmers are rich.

Go to any city in America, and if you stand in the right line, someone will hand you a free meal. People used to literally starve to death when they couldn't find jobs and didn't have land to work. Nobody starves nowadays, because the cost of food is so low that we just hand it out. Yes, we have so much food nowadays that the poor are fat and the rich are thin.

And so in the future, the guy whose giant house is stuffed with gadgets and gizmos and diamond necklaces and clothes and cars and fountains will be considered poor and crazy, just like the rich today don't have giant pantries bulging with packaged snack cakes. The meaning and value of these things will be different.

And as for the value of information, well, the marginal cost of making another digital copy of information is already zero. The cost of making the information in the first place isn't zero, but once we've already created it then copying it over and over costs nothing. And so basing a fortune on control of information seems pretty unlikely as well. You have to continually create new information to stay in the same place, because very soon the information is worth nothing, because the marginal cost of copying it is nothing.
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:48 PM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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Arjuna, that book looks fantastic--I have put it on my Amazon Wishlist at highest priority--thanks!

BrainGlutton, the idea of space colonisation "keeping the herd moving" is intriguing. Makes sense.

Lemur866, your whole post is very well observed. But isn't the difference this time that in those other revolutions, there was still stuff that human labour was needed to do to keep the new orientation of society working? The labour force moved from farms to factories to service positions; but if those are all automated, what then? I can see a big expansion in people working in the arts, research, etc.; but what of the common folk who aren't so intellectually oriented? What will they do? And do you see upheaval along the way, or just a steadily larger and larger percentage of the population living on welfare until at some point that seems obsolete and unnecessary?
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Old 01-10-2012, 01:41 AM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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I believe that great proponent of robotics Isaac Asimov thought a lot about these questions.

Many years ago I read an essay either by Asimov or by someone else who was discussing Asimov's ideas on this. (Sorry, no cite, this was many years ago.) Asimov's idea was that robots would take over most of mankind's productive work, creating a mass leisure society. He envisioned that there would only a minimal amount of work requiring human hands. This would be done by a very small work force, perhaps working only a small number of hours a week. Pretty much everybody else would live lives of total leisure.

That small workforce of very-part-time workers, plus all the robots, would produce all the goods (and services?) that everyone might need.

I don't recall anything said about how we would make the transition to such an economic model. But it might be plausible if it happened gradually, as the above description seems to imply. As robots become increasingly commonplace and productive, more and more people would work fewer and fewer hours (or not at all), but there would be enough goods produced to maintain everybody. As long as the robots and minimal work force kept the supply of goods adequate for everybody, prices would stay in line with what people could pay. A massively welfare-economy would evolve to provide for those who don't work at all. This is the part that I think would be difficult to achieve. I think creating a massively welfare-based economy would be very difficult -- or at least, it would require a major paradigm shift from the capitalist economy we have now.
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Old 01-10-2012, 03:57 AM
Untoward_Parable Untoward_Parable is offline
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The result will most likely be hyper-fascism. A small number of wealthy families will control this labor pool that have no rights and do whatever is necessarily to eliminate any threat to their new royalty system, IE eliminate the vast majority of the human population (99.9% or so).
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Old 01-10-2012, 08:15 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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So the hyper-rich slaughter billions of threatening unemployed people. And how are they hyper-rich better off after they murder everyone? OK, they have their automated factories that can produce whatever goods and services needed, so they don't need the useless proles. And now what? They aren't any better off. And now they aren't hyper-rich anymore, are they?

Because to be "rich" you need to have a better standard of living than the guy next door. When the aristocrats kill off the peasants, they aren't aristocrats anymore, even if they have the same luxuries as before. Now the peasants are dead, and everyone on earth is a hyper-rich owner of an automated factory. How is that different than just allowing the peasants to own automated factories?

Again, automated manufacturing means that the marginal cost of production drops to zero, which means that the value of owning an automated factory drops to zero. Take a look at how products are produced nowadays. Some guy or some firm comes up with an idea for a product. They set up a factory in China. The factory churns out millions of widgets. But how much wealth stays in China? The majority of the profit goes to the designers. And this is because the factory has no leverage. If the factory tries to claim a greater share of the profits, then the company will just find another factory in another part of the world to produce the widgets.

In other words, the factory itself adds almost no value to the product. Of course somehow somewhere the company needs a factory to produce the widgets. But since the manufacturing itself is dirt cheap and a small fraction of the cost of producing the widget, the location and owner of the factory doesn't matter. The factory owners become the equivalent of day laborers who get orders to produce such and such and get paid a pittance, because there are plenty of other hungry factories who need the work.
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Old 01-10-2012, 10:41 AM
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I don't see how a robotic laborforce equals robots taking over. If robots take over they will do so on their own accord, not by replacing manual human labor. We already have those to a certain degree.

Still raw materials and energy will be as scarce as they are now if not more. And the need for human interaction will rise with all these robots, so maybe there will be lots of jobs for ppl entertaining/catering others.
So in the end there will always be a reason to go make/earn a living, even if it is beyond the basic human needs and totally artificial. And then ofcourse there is the need for (personal) consumption. I don't see a scenario where no human will think : "I want it, and I want it for me myself and I alone." No robotic laborforce will ever be able to fulfill those wants and haves, and even if it did we'll just create some new ones.
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Old 01-10-2012, 11:18 AM
Untoward_Parable Untoward_Parable is offline
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So the hyper-rich slaughter billions of threatening unemployed people. And how are they hyper-rich better off after they murder everyone? OK, they have their automated factories that can produce whatever goods and services needed, so they don't need the useless proles. And now what? They aren't any better off. And now they aren't hyper-rich anymore, are they?

Because to be "rich" you need to have a better standard of living than the guy next door. When the aristocrats kill off the peasants, they aren't aristocrats anymore, even if they have the same luxuries as before. Now the peasants are dead, and everyone on earth is a hyper-rich owner of an automated factory. How is that different than just allowing the peasants to own automated factories?

Again, automated manufacturing means that the marginal cost of production drops to zero, which means that the value of owning an automated factory drops to zero. Take a look at how products are produced nowadays. Some guy or some firm comes up with an idea for a product. They set up a factory in China. The factory churns out millions of widgets. But how much wealth stays in China? The majority of the profit goes to the designers. And this is because the factory has no leverage. If the factory tries to claim a greater share of the profits, then the company will just find another factory in another part of the world to produce the widgets.

In other words, the factory itself adds almost no value to the product. Of course somehow somewhere the company needs a factory to produce the widgets. But since the manufacturing itself is dirt cheap and a small fraction of the cost of producing the widget, the location and owner of the factory doesn't matter. The factory owners become the equivalent of day laborers who get orders to produce such and such and get paid a pittance, because there are plenty of other hungry factories who need the work.
A certain number of the poor would be kept alive for use as prostitutes, artists, informants, ect. Mostly though you don't want a large, conuming, polluting, potentially revolutionary population around. Being rich in this context will be to have one's individual desires and ambitions multiplied many times by robot labor. Though many of this new humanity would not consider themselves rich but perhaps some kind of destined minority of perfect citizens in a grand new era of democracy and prosperity.
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Old 01-10-2012, 11:22 AM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
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So the hyper-rich slaughter billions of threatening unemployed people. And how are they hyper-rich better off after they murder everyone?
The slaughtered will no longer be a threat.

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Now the peasants are dead, and everyone on earth is a hyper-rich owner of an automated factory. How is that different than just allowing the peasants to own automated factories?
Such peasants could be a threat.
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Old 01-10-2012, 01:36 PM
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There will always be workers though. If nothing else, there will be humans designing new robots, or artists, or humans that oversee sensitive things that no matter how advanced, we can't/won't trust robots to do entirely by themselves.

Or politicians.
True enough, but a) they would be in a minority and b) they would do so by choice. If everyone is guaranteed house, feed and entertainment by the robots, then only those motivated to have more or do more would work.
Which, in my mind, is a different situation from having to work a job you mostly loathe because there ain't no such thing as a free lunch and seeing other people getting free fucking lunches that you were just told there ainten't.
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Old 01-10-2012, 01:41 PM
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I don't think the OP is talking about sentient artificial people like Cylons or Blade Runner replicants. He is talking about highly advanced industrial automation. IOW, why would you design an advanced automobile factory robot to want to "become human" like in the Sci Fi movies? You'd design it to want to stamp car bumpers all day.
The answer to this question is obvious to any engineer. Why would you design a factory robot to want to become human ? Because you can, and it would make the other engineers go "Cool !".
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Old 01-10-2012, 07:50 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is online now
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Think of it like this. A couple of hundred years ago, most people worked in agriculture. Since most wealth was generated by the production of crops or livestock, it was a direct function of who owned the most land.

A hundred or so years ago, the Industrial Revolution created a new form of wealth. The ability to make shit and lots of it. People got rich by making lots of stuff or inventing new ways for people to make stuff. It also had the effect of transferring the work force from working on farms to working in factories.

In the past 50 years, it's been about information. As technology and automation has made it easier to make stuff, the focus has shifted to figuring out what to make and how to make it more efficiently. Again, much of the work force has shifted from working in factories to working on the systems that run them.

It stands to reason that in the future, more and more decision making will be handled more cheaply and more efficiently by decision support systems. The company I work for makes software that analyzes data to tell salespeople who they should sell to. A lot of companies have systems that tell them when they should buy. How much longer until those systems are linked and you don't even need salespeople at all?

So when the drudgery of working on farms, factories and IT development centers becomes a thing of the past, what would be the next step? With the ability to produce so much so quickly, society would likely be highly socialized. After all, what does capitalist cutthrough efficiency matter when you can cheaply produce more than most people can ever use?

But what would pass for currency in a society where wealth was no longer based on land ownership, production capacity, or even intellectual property? The only thing left is the ability to amuse and entertain the masses of interchangable carbon blobs sitting in front of their 3D vid walls eating massive piles of cheap food.

You wouldn't teach kids to study math or science or even law or medicine. I would no more want my kids toiling in a data mine than my parents wanted me toiling in a coal mine. You would tell them to spend extra hours at the gym, tanning salon and laundrymat. Your "resume" would be the assorted clips posted on whatever future version of Youtube and Facebook exist.

The world of the future would look a lot like Idiocracy. The difference is that people wouldn't have bred themselves stupid. They would just be stupid because there would be no reason to not be.

Future generations would look at Snookie and The Situation the way we look at Henry Ford or Bill Gates.
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Old 01-10-2012, 10:45 PM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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These responses are fantastic--beyond what I could have hoped. You guys deserve great credit as provocative thinkers. Kudos. I just thought of another sci-fi type scenario, though more of a truly hypothetical one, which I shall post forthwith.
  #34  
Old 01-10-2012, 11:02 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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The slaughtered will no longer be a threat.



Such peasants could be a threat.
What "threat"? Owning an automated factory will mean nothing. It won't give you any power. This is like a medieval peasant imagining that the drivers of combine harvesters would be the most powerful people of the modern era. After all, they control the food! Think of the power!

Except the driver of the combine isn't rich, is he, because anybody could do his job. The owner of an automated factory isn't going to be rich, because the first thing someone's going to build with their automated factory is another automated factory. Wait, second thing. The first thing will be a fully functional sexbot. The second will be another automated factory.

A magic factory that produces an endless cornucopia of goods and services would make you a wealthy man--today. A factory in the future that produces the exact same cornucopia, except there are millions of other automated factories would be worth nothing. What good is it? If can make you anything you want? Yeah, and so can any other factory. You can produce piles and piles of diamond necklaces? Yeah, and so can any other factory. Those diamond necklaces are worth nothing, because it costs nothing to produce them. The goods and services pouring out of your factory are worth nothing, and so your factory that can produce literally anything you can imagine is also worth nothing.

By that I mean, if you take a hammer and carefully smash your factory to bits, you won't be any worse off than you were before. Yeah, you won't have a river of manufactured goods pouring out any more. So what? You can get any manufactured good you can imagine for free, there are piles of them everywhere, or would be if robots didn't follow around behind people scooping up their discarded trash and dumping it back into hoppers to be used as raw materials.

In a world where every material good costs nothing to produce, material goods are worthless. People who have ownership of factories that make these material goods will be as rich and powerful as people today who have all the air they could ever want. It's the abundance of air that makes air worthless. Yes, you'll die in minutes without air. On a planet where air has to be laboriously manufactured by hand, the people who controlled the air supply would control the world. On a planet with a blanket of air a mile thick, it's ludicrous to speak of controlling the air.

Yes, there will be times and places where future people in a world of prosperity will have to work hard to make sure they have the material goods and services they need to live, just like there are times and places today where people have to work hard to make sure they have enough air. If you're in a submarine, or a burning house, or climbing Mt Everest, or visiting the Moon, you have to laboriously carry your air with you. That doesn't mean that the air barons rule the world.
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Old 01-10-2012, 11:04 PM
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But what would pass for currency in a society where wealth was no longer based on land ownership, production capacity, or even intellectual property? The only thing left is the ability to amuse and entertain the masses of interchangable carbon blobs sitting in front of their 3D vid walls eating massive piles of cheap food.
Nah, there's a lot of stuff that people need/want and robots can't quite do besides Hollywood. Restauration, politics, religion, security, police, journalism, sex, science... just off the top of my head. Keeping the damn robots in check too, 'cause you know you can't trust them. Shifty. Scheming, dead eyesphotosensors. Don't like 'em.

Skill is its own form of currency. You maybe can cook a mean gumbo, but I sure can't. All I can make is a slightly antagonistic mush with fish in it.

Last edited by Kobal2; 01-10-2012 at 11:05 PM.
  #36  
Old 01-11-2012, 12:31 AM
Untoward_Parable Untoward_Parable is offline
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What "threat"? Owning an automated factory will mean nothing. It won't give you any power. This is like a medieval peasant imagining that the drivers of combine harvesters would be the most powerful people of the modern era. After all, they control the food! Think of the power!

Except the driver of the combine isn't rich, is he, because anybody could do his job. The owner of an automated factory isn't going to be rich, because the first thing someone's going to build with their automated factory is another automated factory. Wait, second thing. The first thing will be a fully functional sexbot. The second will be another automated factory.

A magic factory that produces an endless cornucopia of goods and services would make you a wealthy man--today. A factory in the future that produces the exact same cornucopia, except there are millions of other automated factories would be worth nothing. What good is it? If can make you anything you want? Yeah, and so can any other factory. You can produce piles and piles of diamond necklaces? Yeah, and so can any other factory. Those diamond necklaces are worth nothing, because it costs nothing to produce them. The goods and services pouring out of your factory are worth nothing, and so your factory that can produce literally anything you can imagine is also worth nothing.

By that I mean, if you take a hammer and carefully smash your factory to bits, you won't be any worse off than you were before. Yeah, you won't have a river of manufactured goods pouring out any more. So what? You can get any manufactured good you can imagine for free, there are piles of them everywhere, or would be if robots didn't follow around behind people scooping up their discarded trash and dumping it back into hoppers to be used as raw materials.

In a world where every material good costs nothing to produce, material goods are worthless. People who have ownership of factories that make these material goods will be as rich and powerful as people today who have all the air they could ever want. It's the abundance of air that makes air worthless. Yes, you'll die in minutes without air. On a planet where air has to be laboriously manufactured by hand, the people who controlled the air supply would control the world. On a planet with a blanket of air a mile thick, it's ludicrous to speak of controlling the air.

Yes, there will be times and places where future people in a world of prosperity will have to work hard to make sure they have the material goods and services they need to live, just like there are times and places today where people have to work hard to make sure they have enough air. If you're in a submarine, or a burning house, or climbing Mt Everest, or visiting the Moon, you have to laboriously carry your air with you. That doesn't mean that the air barons rule the world.
the owners of the combines and the land were very rich, but sure they didn't actually drive them themselves, that's peasant work. Whichever mechanism you use to control the means of production and therefore select for yourself as much benefit as is possible from it is only specific to time, place and culture, the result is the same and not that hard to understand.
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Old 01-11-2012, 01:28 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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the owners of the combines and the land were very rich, but sure they didn't actually drive them themselves, that's peasant work. Whichever mechanism you use to control the means of production and therefore select for yourself as much benefit as is possible from it is only specific to time, place and culture, the result is the same and not that hard to understand.
How do you "control" the means of production when every good or service you can imagine comes pouring out of a magic box at the touch of a button? Actually, you have your robot butler press the button for you, no sense getting off the couch.

Yes, there will be things in scarce supply in the future world of the future, and the people who control or supply those things will be fabulously wealthy beyond the dreams of the Pharoahs, or the Gateses. But these fabulously wealthy masters of the future universe won't be wealthy because they own worthless factories, any more than the megawealthy of today own vast agricultural estates. The objects won't mean anything, the boxes that make objects won't mean anything, and so the megawealthy of the future won't concern themselves with worthless junk like material goods that any hobo can have.

This is why the spartan aesthetic of Star Trek makes perfect sense to me. Why would people who come from a society where any good you want can be materialized out of a magic box care about decorations or fine clothes or fancy silverware or fast cars? You want a diamond necklace just ask for one, and when you're done you throw it away. And the fact that you can have one anytime you want one means you won't ever want one.

It isn't hard to see that the wealthy are those that control scarce goods and services. If goods are pouring out of robot factories, then those goods have little value relative to other things. We see the effects even today. 300 years ago a man who had a dozen suits of clothes was incredibly wealthy. How many pairs of shoes and pants and shirts do you own? Nowadays you can't pawn your overcoat to buy food the way they do in old movies, because your old overcoat might sell for a few dollars at Goodwill but you'll never find a pawn shop willing to buy your warm coat made of space age polymers for more than a few cents.

Just because you produce something that everyone wants and needs doesn't make you rich. I can think of dozens of products that you use every single day and would die without, yet you pay a pittance for them. Again, supply and demand. It doesn't matter that you'd die without air, the air is all around you and you don't need to pay for it.

A future where the ultra-wealthy have a stranglehold on a few jealously guarded automated factories is about as plausible as a future where the ultra-wealthy declare that they own the air, and have installed choke-collars on everyone, and if you don't pay your air bill the collar strangles you to death. In this scenario the wealthy don't really own the air, they're just able to kill you if you don't obey their every whim.

And a world where there are automated factories that produce essentially free goods, yet the supply of goods is artificially limited by the powerful makes no sense, because what do the powerful get out of it? They don't get more goods for themselves, they get less. A world with a million capitalist oligarchs who own everything and 7 billion beggars who own and produce and consume nothing makes no sense. An industrialist only has wealth when people buy his products. An industrialist who has no customers isn't an industrialist, he's a guy with a pile of junk in his backyard. There are billions of people who want the stuff, but have nothing the industrialist could want in return. Therefore since they have nothing of value to him, not even their slave labor, there's no point in producing the goods. He shuts off his factory, closes the gates, and throws away the key, because his factory is now worthless. His "control" and "ownership" of this factory didn't allow him to trade his goods for anything of value to him, and so his goods have no value and the factory has no value.

But can't we imagine that a couple of body servants to the old industrialist breaking in to that worthless factory and turning it back on? After all, they're utterly destitute, since no work they can do can compete with automation. So they could use clothing to cover their naked bodies, and some sleeping bags since they're living on the streets, and maybe some shoes, and some food would be nice too. So this factory, valueless to the industrialist, has value to the neo-peasants. And what the heck, they keep the thing running full blast, because, get this, it costs them nothing to keep it running.

It works just like file-sharing. It costs you nothing if some random dude from Russia or Florida makes a copy of your copy of Justin Bieber's latest. After all, you didn't pay for it yourself, you copied it from some other random dude. The marginal cost to you of creating another copy is zero. This is the key concept. When the marginal cost of production is zero, you might as well leave the tap open for anyone, especially if never have and never had any hope of getting any return from that production in the first place.

There are people around the world who make a living writing. Yet here I am on the Straight Dope, writing for free, in fact I'm paying a tiny amount. And I'm not trying to restrict how many people read my inane ramblings, in fact, the more people who read what I write the happier I am. And this is because I know I could never ever hope to charge people for what I write. There are people who can, but I'm not one of them.

And so, when industrialists cast aside their worthless factories and give up their dreams of amassing wealth by producting worthless material goods, those factories will still be there, and could still produce worthless material goods that are vital to the survival of billions of people. It's just that no one will be able to make money buy supplying those vital goods to those billions.
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Old 01-11-2012, 04:38 AM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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What "threat"? Owning an automated factory will mean nothing. It won't give you any power.
True--and a great post overall--but my one quibble would be that overcrowding could still potentially be an issue. That said, I'm still not sure that drastic level of genocide would be likely.

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The owner of an automated factory isn't going to be rich, because the first thing someone's going to build with their automated factory is another automated factory. Wait, second thing. The first thing will be a fully functional sexbot. The second will be another automated factory.
Ha, this made me literally LOL.

Kobol wrote a good list of things people would still get paid for. Then of course there's entertainment, which I think was mentioned above. Being a land speculator might be a big one too, as people would be able to have any kind of house they like, but location, location, location will still be huge--either a scenic one, a central location, or something near cultural resources. I'd think being a concert promoter could be lucrative too.

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And so, when industrialists cast aside their worthless factories and give up their dreams of amassing wealth by producting worthless material goods, those factories will still be there, and could still produce worthless material goods that are vital to the survival of billions of people. It's just that no one will be able to make money buy supplying those vital goods to those billions.
What I wonder is whether these industrialists will be extremely frustrated that they don't become the richest people ever (since as we've noted, there will still be things that have value even if it's not material goods), or will just be glad to have created the means to enrich the whole world. It does sort of seem like it would be unfair if they find themselves without any money to speak of, not being able to go to the nicest restaurants or have a house on Lake Como, while the actual rich folks are pro baseball players, land speculators, pop singers, and the descendants of the Khardashians. If I were around when such a scenario came to pass, I'd be all for saying that the people who were responsible for creating these robots/factories should get a big fat check from the government every year making them fabulously wealthy. Although upon further thought, I suppose it's likely they could make a lot of money giving speeches (another vocation for famous people that will probably survive).
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Old 01-11-2012, 04:20 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is online now
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Nah, there's a lot of stuff that people need/want and robots can't quite do besides Hollywood. Restauration, politics, religion, security, police, journalism, sex, science... just off the top of my head. Keeping the damn robots in check too, 'cause you know you can't trust them. Shifty. Scheming, dead eyesphotosensors. Don't like 'em.

Skill is its own form of currency. You maybe can cook a mean gumbo, but I sure can't. All I can make is a slightly antagonistic mush with fish in it.
I've underlined the stuff that I consider a subset of "entertaining people".

Not that it's a bad thing. Ideally technology should allow people to do more fun stuff and less boring, tedious, dangerous grunt work.



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This is why the spartan aesthetic of Star Trek makes perfect sense to me. Why would people who come from a society where any good you want can be materialized out of a magic box care about decorations or fine clothes or fancy silverware or fast cars? You want a diamond necklace just ask for one, and when you're done you throw it away. And the fact that you can have one anytime you want one means you won't ever want one.
I thought it had more to do with the fact that were, you know, on board a space ship.

Obviously, there would be less clutter in Star Trek since you only really needed to keep items around for aesthetic or sentimental value. Anything else can be replicated when you need them. Except for maybe replicator repair kits.

All the captains in ST did have decorations and whatnot in their private quarters.
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Old 01-11-2012, 06:35 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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While I don't absolutely disagree with classifying politics or religion as entertainment, I think many a stick-up-the-bum would. Politics is Serious Business, apparently

But yeah, I get what you mean, and I agree that it'd be a good thing if everyone could just write that one good book they have in them instead of filing data entries. Then just fuck around a lot. The issue I could see here would be the dreaded Roman decadence where, as the first world parties on like crazy because of the robot utopia, the starving masses from across the border sharpen their knives.
The robots can do a lot, but I don't think they can quite do away with inequality entirely - there's only so much land and resources to go around. I suppose we could always keep them away with armies of firespewing deathbots, but building firespewing deathbots is a Very Bad Idea. I've seen that movie.
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Old 01-11-2012, 06:39 PM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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The issue I could see here would be the dreaded Roman decadence where, as the first world parties on like crazy because of the robot utopia, the starving masses from across the border sharpen their knives.
The robots can do a lot, but I don't think they can quite do away with inequality entirely - there's only so much land and resources to go around. I suppose we could always keep them away with armies of firespewing deathbots, but building firespewing deathbots is a Very Bad Idea. I've seen that movie.
LOL...but this raises a serious question. Would the industrialised world spread this technology to the less developed world, or just kind of put up a wall and let them fend for themselves?
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Old 01-12-2012, 08:11 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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LOL...but this raises a serious question. Would the industrialised world spread this technology to the less developed world, or just kind of put up a wall and let them fend for themselves?
It's not like they'd deliberately spread technology because they're nice people. It's just that putting up a wall to keep goods that cost nothing and therefore have no value out of the hands of poor people seems like a lot of work. So worrying that third world people get a flood of free junk is like worrying that those bastards are breathing our air and not paying for it.

Again, things that cost nothing to produce have no economic value and therefore people won't value them. Nobody will care if people get worthless junk.
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Old 01-12-2012, 05:05 PM
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I think massive unemployment and poverty will lead to massive riots. That will lead to increasingly violent and totalitarian means of control, until the government/replacement government concede to the demographics and create a welfare state.

Control of resources and means of production will be taken over by the government in order to create the welfare state. They will trade with other governments for resources that they don't have.

The welfare states will probably resemble corrupt totalitarian oligarchies.

Places with no resources to trade will probably resemble Somalia.
  #44  
Old 01-12-2012, 09:57 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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It's not like they'd deliberately spread technology because they're nice people. It's just that putting up a wall to keep goods that cost nothing and therefore have no value out of the hands of poor people seems like a lot of work. So worrying that third world people get a flood of free junk is like worrying that those bastards are breathing our air and not paying for it.

Again, things that cost nothing to produce have no economic value and therefore people won't value them. Nobody will care if people get worthless junk.
That would be true if the OP concerned matter replicators or nano-production that could break anything into a pile of grey goo and build anything from it. But we're "only" talking about nigh-infinite free labour here. For one thing, we'd always seem to be short on robot-building materials, for another all these neat goods the robots make for us are made of stuff. Can't go around spreading all of our stuff !

I daresay the first world would possibly guzzle less stuff away, because with the robots doing all of the work and barely any need for money, workforce or army, our natality rates would plummet. Still, as I said, there's still only so much raw materials, grazing land, ripe pastures and hallucinogenic sexbots to go around.
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Old 01-12-2012, 10:09 PM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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I don't think I have seen the phrase "hallucinogenic sexbots" before.
Kudos.
  #46  
Old 01-13-2012, 07:59 AM
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Wow the title of this thread is really misleadjng. What you're asking about is "how do you think the early transitional effects of a post-scarcity economy will be handled?" It's got nothing to do with robots. I really think you should ask to have it changed.

I personally think we will see mass starvation in the hundreds of millions, possibly exceeding a billion will occur, mostly in Asia, because that's where all the people are, and in Asia they have a LONG tradition of not giving a rat's ass about average folk. But it will be bad in the US as well, you only need to look at the recent financial hi-jinks to figure out that our one percenters would gleefully watch the rest of us starve to death. Serve us right, we non-job creators!

I have no idea how African countries will manage a transition to post-scarcity, but I'm pretty sure it will be awful. South America, some countries awful, some not. Antarctica might be OK.

The thing is, post-scarcity won't start with magic widgets that can make you rich. It will start with what we have now, big, expensive factories owned by large corporations managed by crony capitalists. They will become increasingly automated, as is the trend now, and eventually they'll get that little software problem that involved getting video cams and robotic manipulators run by a computer to work as well at repetitive tasks as hands and eyes run by a human brain. Repetitive tasks put the ball very much in the computer's court, I'd be surprised if they didn't figure it out in the next decade or two. (It IS a surprisingly difficult problem, but nothing on the scale of true A.I., more like a very advanced expert system.)

When that happens, manual labor of all kinds will become obsolete. Just. Like. That. And the number of people required to produce goods is gonna become very, very small. But it will still take large amounts of capital for the machinery that extracts the goods, processes them, and distributes them. It just won't take all that many people.

Of course with vast numbers of people economically displaced, the market for goods is going to get increasingly restricted, but it will take a very long for this to manifest on a global scale. After all, the American economy has been stagnant or worse since 2008 but the big corporations are rolling in cash by selling goods overseas -- you know, the places they've been exporting American jobs. This will keep things going for a while in terms of having a market for mass produced goods and the one percenters will show the same fine compassion for displaced workers they have shown all along, which is to say, none. They will try to shift all the responsibility for coping with the effects of their economic activity to government, and accept none of the blame, just as they have done in the current economic debacle, and they will be aided by the howling masses of conservative one percenter wannabes, just as they are now.

As a result, it's going to be very difficult to make the profound changes in our society that will be needed as we transition to post-scarcity, because the libertarians and conservatives are very weak on social cohesion. They will be fine with displaced workers going homeless and without health care, and possibly even food, especially if they are, well, kinda brown. But a lot of white people will be displaced too.

I suspect there will be mass riots and violence, certainly an increase in crime.

In Asia, Africa and South America, this will be much more pronounced, much more violent, much nastier. Europe, which has developed a pretty good social cohesion, might be able to avoid it entirely, or at least, have a very much milder transition.

After things settle out and everyone is either benefiting from post-scarcity economics or dead, things will be much nicer for human beings. But that will probably be little consolation for the dead and their loved ones ... though they may also be dead ...
  #47  
Old 04-19-2012, 12:56 PM
SlackerInc SlackerInc is online now
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The American Prospect's website did a little piece on this same subject, although I'm not sure they examined the issue with as much thought and attention as we did, frankly:

http://prospect.org/article/rise-machines
  #48  
Old 04-19-2012, 02:54 PM
Mnemnosyne Mnemnosyne is offline
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If we're talking about manufacturing more efficiently, there's an upper limit to where that's going to get us with the resources we have here on earth. Granted, I think the resources here are sufficient to maintain a stable population with minimal work in perpetuity, but since that situation won't come about overnight, looking at the road by which we get there is a big deal - the arguments by Lemur866 only make sense to me if it happened overnight, and if costs actually got down to near-zero, which I don't see happening without energy to matter conversion, if such a thing is even possible at any point in the future.

First, we see products get cheaper and cheaper, but at the same time less and less jobs are available. Manufacturing jobs mostly vanish entirely - at some point even slave labor would be less efficient than having the machine do it (in many industries that's already the case, in the rest it will be eventually). Service and entertainment jobs are all that remains, and many of those start going to the robots too. Eventually, the cost of having a robot flip a burger and serve it to the customers is less than the cost of hiring someone. At this time, we're still running on increased amounts of government welfare most likely, but there's increasing resentment to that from all the corporation owners and higher ups.

Still, there's a large number of jobs that still needs doing - business, science, and software engineering, and entertainment. Most of the robots still need people to write their initial programs for them and so on. These are the companies' real customers at this point, since they're the only ones still making more than welfare (which we'll remember, is being taken from the companies in the first place - they'd rather keep it than give it away and then be given it back in return). Eventually, people write programs that can automate the entire business sector (technically, this may have been an even earlier step, but it still happens at some point or another). Some time after that comes the real trick - someone comes up with a program that can program other programs. Robots no longer need people to write their programs for them, that process is automated. Software engineering goes away as a sector of employment, we're left only with the scientists and entertainers - these would eventually be replaced too, but societal unrest is likely to change things before that happens.

By this time, we've probably got 75%+ of the population unemployed, producing nothing, only consuming. Those who are still employed are resentful of them - they don't want these people taking what they have. Why? Human nature. Logic suggests that everyone could have 'enough' easily by this point, but most people seem to want way more than 'enough'. A multi-billionaire today has no need to increase their assets, yet they continue to do so. The same will apply at this point - those who are still making money will want to make more money, and they won't want to give away their money to people who are completely useless to them. Since government is primarily made up of the rich, the government will be on their side. The idea will be that anyone can be a scientist or an actor/writer/other form of entertainer. Those who don't do that are lazy, they don't deserve as much welfare as they're getting. Goods still have value, because we're not creating them from essentially limitless energy, star trek replicator style, and although their value is low enough that everyone could theoretically have most things they want, those who are still earning money that's being taxed and redistributed want to reduce what they're paying.*

Welfare and taxes are slowly reduced, or perhaps money is devalued through intentional inflation - inflation that goes up faster than the welfare numbers. Prices go up since there's more money in circulation, but the welfare remains the same numerically, so the masses of unemployed can afford less and less of the luxuries they want. Widespread unrest probably follows at this point. With increasing violence from the unemployed masses, stricter laws are put into place, and pretty much everyone still making money gets themselves a little army of private security bots to ensure their safety. Eventually, the unemployed will probably revolt. Unfortunately by this time, the security bots are far too advanced and commonplace for them to have a chance. Millions or even billions will probably die in unsuccessful revolutions - eventually the survivors would be either imprisoned or simply exiled to undesirable regions. Some of the earners would sympathize and perhaps even side with them, but it seems unlikely to be a large enough number to turn the tide in their favor.

The remaining earners would continue to exist as they do, their workload probably diminishing more slowly at this point. Eventually entertainers or scientists are replaced - hard to say which - when the robots are able to take over those fields. Programs will eventually be written to discern human tastes, and robots will be able to create entertainment based purely on the data they receive. It may not be as creative as some of what we have seen, but it will be satisfactory. Science too, will eventually be a robotic field, since it is primarily concerned with studying empirical data, something computers do well. New ideas will still have to be thought up by people, but they will be along the lines of 'hey robot, I want a thing that can do <insert neat thing the human just thought of>' and the machines will determine how to implement that request.

By the time entertainers and scientists are replaced, there will likely be minimal friction in simply allowing the robots to continue taking care of them. Besides which, everyone will have sufficient money to continue 'paying' for their upkeep for a significant amount of time, at this juncture. Land is the only thing that will still have value, and this will primarily go to those who owned and produced the robots throughout this entire transition. As population rises again, the land will be broken up into smaller and smaller chunks as it is divided among children, then grandchildren, and so on. And life will be good, at least until they run out of room and/or resources they can't figure out a way to replace or do without.

*Again, for the same reason that billionaires today continue to acquire more wealth even though there's no real need for it: someone who has 10 billion could stop earning money forever, and spend $273,972.60 a day for 100 years - with a more reasonable expenditure of $27,397.26 a day, the 10 billion would last a thousand years, or drop down one more decimal to $2,739.72 a day to make it last ten thousand years. Enough for them and all their foreseeable heirs - and inflation seems unlikely to take us to the point where that much daily expenditure will provide anything less than an 'extremely comfortable' lifestyle for centuries. Yet, people with billions keep trying to make more billions.
  #49  
Old 04-19-2012, 03:35 PM
Ambrosio Spinola Ambrosio Spinola is offline
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There's a short science fiction story available online which deals with this issue:

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

The first four chapters are really quite scary, and then from there it veers into bizarre utopianism, IMHO. But this idea that most people will be considered useless and herded into welfare compounds as security risks seems frighteningly plausible.
  #50  
Old 04-19-2012, 04:18 PM
rat avatar rat avatar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisk View Post
Unfortunately true. That's the way capitalism works. The benefits of having robots in the factories don't go to the workers who used to slave away in the factories, or even to the remaining workers who can't be robot-replaced yet. The benefits go to the rich man who paid for the robots.
The benefits also go to the people who figure out how to fix, spec and install the robots.

Those who still bet on making buggy whips do pretty poorly.
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