Seems to me that once computers are capable of doing anything humans can do then there is no reason at all why anyone should work. We then face a problem of resource allocation, presumably to a population that will be at leisure 24/7 - how do we do that?
One obvious way is to give everyone a salary from the state, which they can spend on whatever they like, with the prices set by supply and demand.
Another way is rationing.
In any case I dont’ see any real argument for wanting inequality in that society. But would it emerge anyway? Should we allow investments?
If everyone gets a salary from the state, that means that the state controls all the magical machines that produce all the goods and services everyone needs.
But why? If there’s a magic fabricator box or team of robots that can make anything, then you don’t need the state to give you a welfare check every week, you can make anything you want for yourself. You don’t need the state to control the means of production when the means of production are available to everyone.
It means that the goods that churn out of these magic boxes will be essentially free, so you won’t need to ration how much people consume. Why would you need to ration all this worthless crap? People can collect as much as they want, but they aren’t going to bother collecting it unless they’re mentally ill, because they can get and have as much of it as they want.
People today throw out perfectly good bottles and cups and bowls and paper and cardboard and plastic. Why? Because it’s worthless junk. But it wouldn’t be worthless junk to a peasant farmer in 1492. Same with all the varioud gadgets and geegaws and whatever that pours out of your magic fabricators. This stuff will be worthless because it costs nothing to produce, so there’s not much need to ration it.
This is already an issue that I wonder about. Machines and computers have surely already rendered many human jobs unnecessary. But they also have created jobs such as programmers, so I’m not sure what the overall score is. I’m not sure what the effect has been so far, whether it has increased wealth inequality and/or raised the standard of living for everyone. I definitely agree that after the tech singularity resources would ideally be distributed equally. But I’m more concerned with what happens during the lead-up, when presumably the very wealthy and powerful robot-controlling overlords will oppose attempts to redistribute wealth.
There will always be work to do. Eventually all the work left to do may be intellectual, but that’s still work. Even if the computers are able to do the intellectual work better than the humans, humans will still engage in trade (it’s instinctive–cf some studies about early childhood somewhere…) and to have something to trade, one has to do work, whatever “work” turns out to mean.
What will be awesome is when there’s plenty of work to do but no one is in actual physical need of anything. That will be the point at which all the work everyone is doing is super-interesting.
I do think that an extremely Socialized form of governance will be appropriate at that point if not before.
Well, there’s a few problems with that. For one, you’ll still need raw materials and energy - maybe you can get by on solar for energy, but you don’t want people digging up parkland to feed their replicators minerals. I think with a fully automated economy the government would own or watch over at least the sources of raw material - rather like national parks. The ecology in parks runs on its own, but there needs to be a legal caretaker to keep someone from moving in and indiscriminately chopping & burning & shooting things; by the same token there’ll need to be a legal caretaker for the automated economy to keep people from screwing around with the machinery if nothing else.
The same goes if you don’t have a “magic replicator box”, but a building or factory sized replicator system - something too big for most individuals to own. Someone needs to be legal owner and have the land to put it on - and that “someone” might well be the government.
There is however an important difference between all of this and Communism - control. Communism wasn’t just about the government owning “the means of production”; it was also about controlling what those means produced. In the future society I’m talking about the government would again, have a role more like it does with parkland; it doesn’t try to control most of what goes on there, it’s a caretaker. The government would make sure no one breaks anything and that all the machinery is functioning properly, but it wouldn’t be micromanaging what the system produces any more than it tries to control where every seed falls in a national park.
There are always limits. No resource is infinite. If the limitation isn’t industrial capacity, then we’re still stuck with either finite energy or finite industrial inputs. SuperFactories mean iPods are cheap as air, but actual physical land shoots up in price. If one rich industrialist first comes up with the schematics for the SuperFactory SuperMonopoly, undercutting all competitors for all major manufactured goods, you can bet your ass he’ll be plowing the profits into real estate. Having an expensive car or nice house won’t mean anything to him. His SuperFactory can make him whatever car or crib he wants. To increase his status and power, he’ll want property claims to vast tracts of land.
I normally say this is a recipe for a robo-commie paradise, but there is actually an argument to made for continued private control of property. If the world of technology can produce anything we want, then the last obvious limitation is nature. In that case, wilderness itself becomes a status symbol, if you happen to own it. Industrialists become conservationists overnight, since that’s the last obvious realm for bragging rights.
This is, of course, assuming that the robots don’t cannibalize the entire world, including humanity, for more processing power as they turn the earth into one giant computer.
How do you make money producing goods and services where the marginal cost of production is zero?
A guy who owns a factory that produces five cent toys for McDonalds isn’t a capitalist overlord. He makes almost nothing, because those toys can be produced by any factory anywhere in the world, and if he doesn’t like his margins they’ll find someone else to make their crap.
So we have products produced by the millions, yet the manufacturer barely makes a profit.
Now multiply that by automated production where just about anything can be manufactured for the cost of raw materials. Even if the factory itself is kind of expensive, there’s not much profit in running the damn thing.
And when your customers are average people who don’t have jobs because all the shitty jobs in the world are now done by automation the problem is even worse. Your factory can make any damn thing in the world in whatever quantities you like, and there’s absolutely no way to make money by owning the factory, because there are thousands or millions of factories with the exact same capability.
Wealth in such a system doesn’t come from owning a factory, or creating something which can be copied over and over again. Wealth means owning or controlling something that can’t come out of a factory. They aren’t making any more land in Manhattan for instance. So there will be a real economy in the future, but it will resemble our current capitalist industrialist economy about as much as we resemble the feudal system. And it certainly won’t resemble communism or socialism very much, because there won’t be any reason for the government to own the means of production, or outlaw private property or private factories.
There won’t be any need for that, because the manufacturing economy will be a tiny insignificant fraction of the future economy. Not because there won’t be a whole bunch of junk created, but because those mountains of junk will only be worth a few pennies. Having the government issue vouchers for rationed manufactured goods would be like handing out vouchers for air. Yes, there will be a lot of government or social activity in making sure that manufacturing doesn’t create negative externalities for others. But no one will care how much air you breathe or how much manufactured crap you collect, as long as you aren’t spewing toxic smoke or otherwise ruining things for others.
It would be wealth in the sense that it allows you to be away from other people.
And what do we do about population growth? Do we assume that a higher standard of living means fewer births, or do we limit it in some way?
Art is another differentiator. Even if computers can write and paint, it won’t be the same as humans. Ditto for handicrafts. You can replicate the Mona Lisa all you want, but the original is still going to have more value.
I don’t see this happening without lots of robots as well as computers - and then we had better hope they don’t get greedy.
But “robots” are much more likely to look like a car that drives itself, or a door that opens itself, or a lawnmower that runs itself, than a mechanical man that drives your car, opens your door, and mows your lawn.
Or take shipping. We don’t have armies of robot longshoremen nowadays, we have one guy in a crane. And to automate his job you don’t stick a robot in the crane operator’s seat, you automate the crane.
So a lot of “automation” isn’t figuring out ways for robots to do human jobs, it’s figuring out ways to accomplish a function without requiring a human in the loop. A dishwashing machine doesn’t wash dishes the same way human dishwashers would, an email system doesn’t deliver messages the way human messenger boys would.
But we can pre-empt that by cutting off their source of power as soon as they achieve sentience. Since we will inevitably have run out of fossil fuels by then, the robots will most likely run on solar power.
You don’t need computers to have a society so affluent that very small numbers of people actually need to work to maintain, arguably, most First World nations are approaching that status now though of course no one has reached it. And you don’t need to convert from communism to capitalism. Just set up a really decent safety net so everyone in your society has minimal shelter (maybe an 8x12 room with sufficient heat and air conditioning to keep it comfy, which of course would vary by climate) enough nutritious food to thrive on, basic cable TV and internet or equivalent (so you can stay electronically plugged in to your society) and decent by whatever standard your society measures it clothing, without lifting a finger.
My feeling is that many if not most, hell, probably just about all people would want more than that. To get more you would have to work, which would be definable by producing some goods or services – anything, really, that others find useful. Capitalism would exist, it just would not have the threat of homelessness and starvation as a spur. People would make things, others would buy it or approve it in some way, and the producer would benefit. For example, my blog gets 1000 visitors a day. I imagine that might give me some nice perks in such a society. It gives me practically nothing in our present society, because we’re not organized that way … yet.
Of course, human beings being human beings, many would still seek power over others, they would just have to find some other means of controlling them than denying them the basic means of existence, which is how capitalism works now in the US and most Third World countries. There will be much pain and strife to get past this: it will not be given up easily by the one percenters or their lackeys and wannabes. But we’ll get there, eventually. And not too eventually, because I predict that in Asia as soon as the one percenters there figure out they don’t need average folks, mass starvation will ensue. Riots, war, death, famine, etc. And First World nations, even First World nations as dumb and recalcitrant as the US, will figure out they don’t want that.
The similarity occurred to me, but another take might be Joan Vinge’s “demarchy” from her Heaven’s Belt stories, where human colonies are smeared across an asteroid belt, leading to a decentralization that makes governmental controls impractical, if not impossible.
Well I think we’re talking about several different scenarios in this thread.
The OP mentions the technological singularity. This isn’t the point at which computers become sentient, or we get some cool nanotech or something, it’s the point at which accelerating progress shoots off towards infinity. It’s very unlikely that humans will continue to exist in their current form post-singularity.
But if we’re talking about just a high-tech future (not the singularity), I do think that a general-purpose humanoid type robot would be quite useful, in addition to machines for specific purposes.
And we shouldn’t be too concerned about robots tekkin r jabs. The day when there are no useful jobs for humans to do is the day when all our needs and ambitions are catered for, and no-one cares about employment any more.