2013 WelcomeRobotOverlords

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Subject Headings: Mass Technological Unemployment.


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... where computers keep getting smarter and smarter, and clever engineers keep building better and better robots. By 2040, computers the size of a softball are as smart as human beings. Smarter, in fact. Plus they're computers: They never get tired, they're never ill-tempered, they never make mistakes, and they have instant access to all of human knowledge.

The result is paradise. Global warming is a problem of the past because computers have figured out how to generate limitless amounts of green energy and intelligent robots have tirelessly built the infrastructure to deliver it to our homes. No one needs to work anymore. Robots can do everything humans can do, and they do it uncomplainingly, 24 hours a day. Some things remain scarce — beachfront property in Malibu, original Rembrandts — but thanks to super-efficient use of natural resources and massive recycling, scarcity of ordinary consumer goods is a thing of the past. Our days are spent however we please, perhaps in study, perhaps playing video games. It's up to us.


WHAT CAN WE DO about this? First and foremost, we should be carefully watching those five economic trends linked to capital-biased technological change to see if they rebound when the economy picks up. If, instead, they continue their long, downward slide, it means we've already entered a new era.

Next, we'll need to let go of some familiar convictions. Left-leaning observers may continue to think that stagnating incomes can be improved with better education and equality of opportunity. Conservatives will continue to insist that people without jobs are lazy bums who shouldn't be coddled. They'll both be wrong.

Corporate executives should worry too. For a while, everything will seem great for them: Falling labor costs will produce heftier profits and bigger bonuses. But then it will all come crashing down. After all, robots might be able to produce goods and services, but they can't consume them. And eventually computers will become pretty good CEOs as well.


... it's time to start thinking about our automated future in earnest. The history of mass economic displacement isn't encouraging ...