Robots – the working class

Rage Against the Machine
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I have found myself considering whether doom would really befall the world if we mass employed robots to do all of our dirty work. Would we be overrun by machines which rose up and challenged their creators? Would our environment be destroyed and over polluted? I think not. In fact our lives would be much more comfortable and we would have a lot more time.

Life on earth got a lot better around the 1800s, the dawn of the industrial age. In the two centuries following 1800, the world’s average per capita income increased over 10-fold, while the world’s population increased over 6-fold [see Industrial Revolution]. Essentially, machines, aka. very simplistic robots made human lives much better. With steam power and improved iron production, the world began to see a proliferation of machines which could make fabrics, work mines, machine tools, increase production of consumables, enable and speed up the construction of key infrastructure. Importantly, it is from the industrial revolution from which the term Luddite originated, those who resisted machines because their jobs were offset.

We now find ourselves 200 or so years later, many of us in very comfortable homes, with plenty of time to pursue hobbies and leisure. There does however, remain scope for continued development, allowing machines and robots to continue to improve the lives of people. It is understood that one or more patents actually delayed the beginning of the industrial age, and of course is why I advocate the Technology Development Zones which have relaxed rules regarding patents. However, I believe there is a very entrenched Luddite culture embedded into society.

Now being the organiser of the campaign NBNOptions.org, I have been accused of being a Luddite myself. However no progress has lasted without a sound business case. Furthermore, Luddites of the industrial revolution were specifically those put out of business by the machines.

Therefore the current Luddites are currently or potentially:

  • The Automotive Industry status quo. – Movement to Electric Cars will make hundreds of thousands redundant. Consider how simple an electric car is {Battery, Controller, Motor, Chassis, Wheels, Steering}, and how complicated combustion engines are with the addition and weight of the radiator, engine block, oil, timing, computer,… And all the component manufacturers, fitters, mechanics and further supporting industries that will be put out of business.
  • The Oil industry (and LN2) – Somewhat linked to the Automotive industry. Energy could very well be transmitted through a single distribution system – electricity – at the speed of light. No more oil tankers, no more service stations, no more oil refineries, no more oil pipelines, no more oil mining, no more petrol trucks, no more oil spills. (The replacement for oil needs to be as economical or more economical – no ideologies here).
  • Transport industry – Buses, Trains, Trucks, Taxis, Sea Freight and even air travel all currently employ many thousands to sit in a seat and navigate their vehicle. Technology exists to take over and do an even better job. It’s not just the safety concerns delaying such a transition but also the Luddites (and patent squatters).
  • Farming – The technology is possible. We could have economical fruit picking machines, and many mega farm operations already have automatic harvesters for grain. Imagine all those rural towns having already under threat of becoming ghost towns having to contend with technology taking replacing hard workers.
  • Manufacturing – Is already very efficient, but we still see thousands of people on production lines simply pressing a button. Most manufacturing jobs could be obliterated with only one or two required to overlook a factory – how lonely.
  • House Wifes – Are possibly not Luddites, given many would relish even more time for leisure and their family, however so many of their tasks could be completely centralised and automated. Cooking and associated appliances could be completely abolished, why buy an oven, dishwasher, sink, fridge, freezer, cupboards, dinnerware, pots, pans, stove, and then spend 1-2 hours a day in the kitchen and supermarket when you could potentially order your daily meals from an industrial kitchen where all meals are prepared by robots for a fraction of the cost and time?
  • Construction – It’s amazing how many people it takes to build a skyscraper or house. Why does it still require people to actually build them? Why can’t houses be mass pre-fabricated by machines in factories then assembled by robots on-site? How many jobs would be lost as a result?
  • Services sector – There are many services sector jobs where software and robots could easily be designed and built to relieve such workers from their daily tasks. Accounting could be streamlined such that all business and personal finances are managed by software completely, with robots now aiding in surgery why can’t robots actually perform the surgery or give a massage, or pull a tooth? Why are there so many public servants dealing with questions and answers and data-entry when we have technology such as that found in WATSON able to take over such tasks? Even many general practitioners are resisting the power available for self-diagnosis – do you think they’ll fund the further development of such tools?
  • Mining – Is as crude as grain farming and could easily be further automated, making thousands and thousands redundant in mines, and even those surveying future mining sites.
  • Education – How important is it to have children learn as much as possible while they’re young (beyond simple skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic), when the whole world could be run by software and robots? When complicated questions can be answered by a computer instead of a professor? Why lock children behind desks for 20 hours a week when they could be out playing?
  • Bureaucracy – With no workers there would be no unions and no union bosses, no minimum wage, no work safety inspector…
  • Military – (Ignoring the ideology of world peace) We already see the success of the UAV, an aircraft which flies autonomously only requiring higher lever command inputs for it’s mission. Why enhance soldiers when you can have robot soldiers? War could even be waged without blood, with the winner having enough fire-power at the end to force the loser to surrender outright (quite ridiculous in reality – I know).
  • Care – There are many employed to look after sick and elderly. Even though the work can be challenging and the pay often low it’s still a job, a job that robots can potentially do instead.
With time such a list could easily be expanded to encompass everyone. Are we all collectively resisting change?
With a world full of robots and software doing everything, what do humans do with 100% unemployment? Do we all dutifully submit our resumes to Robot Inc three times a week? Would we all get on each others nerves? Do we need to work? Would we lose all purpose? Ambition? Dreams?
To best understand how a robot utopia works, just simplify the equation to one person – yourself on an island. You could work everyday of your life to make sure you have enough water, food and shelter or if you arrived on the island with a sufficient compliment of robots you could enjoy being stranded in paradise. Every step in between from doing everything yourself toward doing nothing yourself, sees your level of luxury increasing.
There’s no doubt that the world will be divided into two classes, those that are human and have a holiday everyday, and those that are robots – the working class.
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