Robots, Jobs, And The Post-Money Economy

I just got through reading the 2013 Roadmap for US Robotics, a guide to the current state of robotics. It includes goals and expectations of robotics for the next 5, 10, and 15 year periods.

The good news is that robots will be able to do just about everything for us. 

The bad news is that robots will be able to do just about everything for us.

The View of Robots in 2013

The 2013 Roadmap for U.S. Robotics says robotics are a “key economic enabler” that improves quality of life and safety.   

Their definition of a robot is as follows:

“Robotics focuses on systems incorporating sensors and actuators that operate autonomously or semi-autonomously in cooperation with humans. Robotics research emphasizes intelligence and adaptability to cope with unstructured environments. Automation research emphasizes efficiency, productivity, quality, and reliability, focusing on systems that operate autonomously, often in structured environments over extended periods, and on the explicit structuring of such environments.”

The report looked at capabilities of robots in the field of manufacturing, health care and medical, service, space exploration, and defense. Experts in the field looked at where things currently stand and made predictions as to where robotics should be heading in the next couple of decades. 

The quick version is that robots are getting both sophisticated and less expensive. They are also starting to become more common in business and homes. The authors point to the use of robotic vacuum cleaners being bought in large numbers to clean floors for their owners as an example of widespread adoption.

Robots Will Do Your Job

Want to know some of the predictions for the next decade or so? Read on for what they are saying can and will occur…

Robots can replace drivers of cars, and will be able to replace truck drivers within a decade. Like smart meters? Smart roads to track your movements are being planned to help robots drive safely around accident-prone humans.

Robots can replace people who help older folks with shaving, prepping meals, and getting to a restroom. They will help with surgery and rehab. They’ll be able to replace nurses and service dogs.

They can replace occupational therapists, motivators, and coaches. They can replace parts of your body, or be put into your body to swim around and provide therapy from inside.

Robots can replace your lawn mowing service. You know longer need people to clean your floors. 

Robots can replace security guards. They can replace inspectors of bridges and power plants. They can replace the people who deliver meals, bedding, and pharmaceuticals at hospitals.

Robots can replace emergency responders, border patrol agents, and people doing search and rescues. They can replace cops and firefighters. It’s safer to send a robot into a dangerous situation.

Robots can drive tractors and spray fields. They can replace harvesters and work 24 hours a day.

Robots can replace miners.

Robots can replace cooks, and wait staff.

Right now, more than 50% of pilots entering the Air Force don’t sit in a plane. They operate robots. Robots are replacing soldiers, and intelligence officers. 

Freight and delivery services are expected to be handled by robots within a decade.

In manufacturing, robots are seen as a way to be “economically competitive to outsourcing to other countries with lower wages.” Robots can replace factory workers on assembly lines. Robots can move stock to mills and lathes, and operate machines. 

All of the above comes from their predictions for the next decade or two. Really.

What Will You Do?

The report says this explosion of robotics wil create jobs to develop, produce, maintain, and train robots.

One goal of the Defense Department, though, is to reduce the number of people needed to operate and maintain robots. 

Are you good at developing and producing robots? You may have a future. 

Post Money Economy?

Assuming this all happens, most people are going to be unable to find work. It will be cheaper and more efficient to buy a robot to do the work a human used to do.

Robots don’t come in late. They won’t unionize. They are fine doing whatever they are assigned without complaint.  A $20,000 robot can be purchased right now that be trained to do most simple manual tasks, and can operate for three years. Why hire a human?

This could be a wonderful new era of assisted living. An R2D2 for everyone, so to speak.

It could also be a nightmare of poverty if we don’t figure out how to provide food, clothes and shelter for people who will no longer be able to get jobs.

Can we find a way for all to benefit from advances in robotics? 

Will there be a way to live a productive life without income from work?

It may be that we need to develop a post-money economy. That’s not in the robotics report.

Comments | 9

  • Rooting for the Home Team

    It’s hard enough for us to look around the corner, much less down the block and around the corner.

    Just imagine 100 years from now. A blink of an eye, a human lifetime.

    • There might be a robot for that

      “It’s hard enough for us to look around the corner, much less down the block and around the corner.”

      There might be a robot for that soon.

      I am intrigued by the idea of replacing most of our workforce with robots. That leaves everyone with a lot of free time for other things. In the glorious vision, that would mean that we are freed from mundane tasks and can focus on weightier issues, and we’ll be taken care of. Score one for utopias, as long as everyone can eat, wear clothes, and have a place to live. I’m all in favor of providing, say, a robot to a vet needing continual physical therapy, or sending one into a dangerous situation to prevent harm to rescue workers.

      If we end up with maximum robots for those who can afford them and great masses of unemployable humans desperate for scraps, though, we’ll have taken a step backwards.

      Rather fascinating time to be alive, eh?.

      • "It could also be a nightmare of poverty..."

        CG: “It could also be a nightmare of poverty if we don’t figure out how to provide food, clothes and shelter for people who will no longer be able to get jobs.Can we find a way for all to benefit from advances in robotics?
        Will there be a way to live a productive life without income from work? It may be that we need to develop a post-money economy. That’s not in the robotics report.”

        This is truly a salient point that is far more urgent than the P&C’s of robotics. You and Lise might be young enough to “be there” to see the paradigm change. …?…

  • sci-phob

    As much as I’d like to see a positive version of AI – UI’s (Artificial Intelligence User Interfaces), it’s hard to muster the conviction that life overall would be better for most of us. Given our track record of “advancements” despite catastrophic consequences- this robot infusion just seems like more nails in our coffin.

    We should first address why people don’t get along, why we starve, pollute, kill, etc. I won’t drone on (unavoidable bad pun) about our collective problems. No doubt there would be some cool stuff in terms of ‘just think of the possibilities’…but it’s hard to imagine our broken economies and atrophied social skills improving by replacing human labor with robots.

    It’s a fascinating story from the angle of toolmakers replacing themselves with their tools. From the POV of a species who have forgotten how to care for each other, and allows a tiny few of its members to thrive at the expense of most, I fear looking around the corner shows a dead end.

    • skeptience

      A fearful take on science is not helpful, I didn’t intend to convey that. But we have to find a way to become less credulous as a species. To bring conscience and science to bear equally on our attempts at sustainable living.

      in warfare too- tribal, urban, digital, international- we have to take our task as vertebrates seriously, show some backbone.

      It’s telling to me that in the Paleolithic era- the age of tool making revolution- there was no tool invented explicitly for warfare.

      • A great big beautiful tomorrow

        Most people raised in the mid to later 20th century were taught that the future would be bright.

        World’s Fairs featured exhibits and programs showing off the wonders of technology. We were shown elevated highways spanning the nation, hover cars and jet packs, and labor saving devices that would give us incredible amounts of free time compared to our toiling ancestors. The space age, picture phones, fabrics made of chemicals, world-wide communication networks, and TV dinners were on the way.

        The Carousel of Progress at the NY World’s Fair (later moved to Disney World) had a theme song that hung on the phrase “a great big beautiful tomorrow.” It was optimistic. Robotic audio-animatronics from Walt Disney were used as actors, able to perform this show from the early 60’s until today with minor refurbishments.

        There was a can-do spirit, and a sense that these innovations were under our control like an electronic team of horses. They would provide power, but we would steer and stay out of ditches.

        By the 80’s the future was so bright, one needed shades.

        But by the 80’s, we also began to notice the doubling of computer power every 18 months, and corresponding reductions in size. Moore’s Law was in full effect, and technology became less like a stable of horses ready for our commands and more like a temporary crutch to get us to the next new innovation. Technology started to become more disposable, and tools more temporary.

        Still, we looked to the “future”, which we all know was the year 2000, the date when our towns would have monorails and our machines would do our work for us. We’d be able to drive on roads that prevented crashes for us.

        Maybe part of our problem now is that we have no date we point to as “the future” anymore. 2012 served as a marking post of sorts, but we seem unable to imagine a future date certain, especially one decades away.

        Technology isn’t necessarily good, nor bad. And for at least a short time into the future, we’ll still be making the decisions as to how and when it is used or not.

        We’re suckers for gimmicks and not very good at seeing the long-term ramifications of today’s thoughts. We’re easily amused and distracted. We like to be told what to do by the TV, we numb ourselves with jogging, drugs and alcohol, and about 20% of the population is on soma-like prescriptions making them unable to do much more than be passive observers of what goes on around them.

        Looking ahead 100 years as spinoza suggests, what will the robots think of us?

  • The Elite have a plan for

    The Elite have a plan for this, too. It’s called population reduction. (see the Georgia Guidestones).

    • We may be obsolete

      Well, if we can’t buy anything from corporations, and all we do is cause trouble and use up resources, what good are we to capitalism?

      If X wants all your money and gets it all, what reasons would X have to keep us around?

  • In their own primitive vernacular

    While also not denying a positive side to AIUI’s, I’m inclined to agree with Spinoza. The notion that it may be too late to save our miserable butts carries an uncomfortably high probability. Spinoza’s POV that “a species who have forgotten how to care for each other, and allows a tiny few of its members to thrive at the expense of most…” is and has been the SOP of the human condition.

    Not even tech advances (robotic, etc.) can undo that. Tech advances and advantages will merely benefit those few members who “thrive at the expense of most.”
    In twenty years, with 9+ billion people gobbling up the dwindling resources, those “few” will take living at the expense of the “most” to new and frightening levels.

    This is not engaging in fear-mongering here. In twenty years people will be just as primitive in their reckless base emotions and belief dependences as they are now. Those “elite” few will increasingly use the glorious fascinating tech stuff to live in the clouds and leave the troglytes to fend for themselves.

    In their own primitive vernacular, god help them all…

    {the Guidestones implication “that humans are a cancer upon the earth” also is uncomfortably close to the truth. Too bad, we human graciles are probably one of the most sensuous, wonderfully-able bodied creatures in the Galaxy. I’m almost sorry our two brain-hemispheres started communicating with each other back when. Too much mush, and not enough reason..}

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