Automation, robots and our society

Articolo aggiornato il 7/3/2014. Article updated on 3/7/2014.


It is becoming more and more obvious that automation, robots, mechanization, and other forms of productivity increases will warrant a change in our economic system. Though outsourcing and people lacking adequate skills for certain jobs is also part of the reason, technological unemployment, eventually leading to structural unemployment, is not given much attention and will become more of an issue as we move into the future. If we don’t prepare for it and allow the issue to grow while trying to preserve the obsolete model, there will be systemic collapse. We can either do this the easier way or the hard way. We can smoothly transition and the issues will be minimized, or we can continue with business as usual and things will surely get worse before they get better.

There are plenty of reasons people are replaced with machines and robots as they become cheaper and better than the person. A robot does not get tired, can work 24/7, can be much cheaper than hiring and training someone, can cause the lowering of prices of the good or service, they don’t show up late, don’t need vacations or bathroom breaks, can make less errors, don’t show up late, don’t quit,  don’t complain or argue, are more precise thus minimizing waste or material, increase productivity, don’t misbehave, bad customer service is a non-issue, and don’t goof off, etc.

The only real way to change the system in a general sense is to find ways to shorten the mandatory 40 hour workweek in an affordable way to both small business owners and employees. A basic income guarantee combined with a shorter mandatory workweek could do this combined with tax breaks for small business owners, so they would be encouraged to hire more people. A basic income guarantee or unconditional basic income of $10,000 to $12,000 or beyond (depending on the cost of living) for all citizens is the way to go, but raising it slightly more might be necessary. It could be funded through gradually replacing our broken welfare system where much of the money is wasted on admin costs. Also by making our government institutions more efficient to make them cheaper and more effective, and it would reduce crime, thus reducing prison costs. Automation of certain government jobs would also save tax money which could also be diverted to the BIG, like how they are automating the military and want to automate construction. It would also give more people incentive to work than our current welfare system in the USA since you don’t get it taken away if you get a job and don’t risk not being able to get it back. It is also better than our welfare system in the sense that you don’t have to worry about all the complicated rules and big brother getting in your way, and if you quit or lose your job for whatever reason, you don’t really have to worry much about homelessness, which helps balance the power between employer and employee (having some workplace democracies would help too in our society). It could perhaps even be vouchered on card to an extent, similar to food stamps or SNAP. Maybe $8,000 can be vouchered while $2,000 isn’t depending on how much rent costs, in order to give some additional freedom to the person. Ending the war on drugs to a degree can also help fund it, as well as less wasteful military spending. Tax increases on the wealthy may not be necessary in the short term. A person could work 20 hours a week on a minimum wage job (Oregon minimum wage of $9.10/hr, for example) and make slightly more with that income combined with a basic income guarantee than they would if they worked 40 hours a week without one. It would make many programs, such as homeless shelters obsolete, and more people would choose to do part time work (1 part time job instead of more than one) since it would be more affordable (one day it would become the standard work week), and raising minimum wage would not be an issue. The EU is currently in the process of petitioning for the BIG, though it may not pass this time around. It isn’t a perfect system, but better than our existing system.


We may also need to change our healthcare system to replace medicare with a universal healthcare option while leaving the private healthcare companies intact; otherwise the BIG alone wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost for those with medical issues who have to pay insurance in a private manner and may not have a job. Combining the healthcare system in such a way along with preventative healthcare, people would have the advantages of choice, universal access, but also the universal option would be much cheaper since many would still choose to get their insurance from a company, either because they are happy with what they got and don’t want to risk getting something worse, or simply because they mistrust government. Maybe a manageable constitutional electronic direct democracy would be the way to go in the future to reduce government corruption and admin costs and make it more for the people.

As automation increases, we would continue to raise the basic income guarantee or a stimpent for each citizen while shortening work weeks. As Marshall Brain puts it, we could distribute the wealth and also gradually shorten work weeks, similar to how we changed our system during the great depression where the 40 hour work week became standard in the USA and when social security and retirement in the USA came into being. Increasing the basic income guarantee too much may disincentivize people from working through employment, so you would try to raise it to correspond with the decrease in demand of human workers per capita. Maybe one day far enough into the future, you would have a world similar to Star Trek in the sense that the number of volunteers would exceed the number of positions available, even if each worked only 2 or 3 hours a day, and with all our basic needs supplied to us as well as most luxuries and people owning nano-fabricators as well as nanobots that can self replicate, we would have close to unlimited free time. The motivation for working for those who want something to do would just be because they want to find meaning, not because they need to be a wage slave or corporate slave, and the dehumanization and objectification that is so common within our system as the term ‘human capital’ or ‘civil servant’ makes apparent would be drastically reduced. Maybe we would tax the robots in order to put money into people’s pockets so they can have the purchasing power to buy the stuff that robots produce. We would likely have to find ways to change the tax code too, of course automation in government would reduce taxes too, perhaps. But at this point, our idea of economic growth would have to become obsolete since big corporations run by robots would have a difficult time growing unless demand increased; of course corporate owners can trade among themselves as well if demand in one company increases at the expense of another. But the fact is that growth cannot continue forever assuming we are stuck on this planet for a much longer time and it isn’t sustainable, which would collapse the system as well. Also, factories may become obsolete to a large degree when people have advanced 3D printers, or better yet nano-fabricators. 4D printing (self adapting structures created by 3D printers) along with the other tech mentioned would make the profit motive pretty much obsolete.

We cannot be sure what the specifics of economic change will be, but it is at least obvious we will need to have some form of a BIG and shorter mandatory workweeks to employ more people in the short term to reduce social unrest and keep the system going, and also with more free time means more freedom, so those who want to work more can always volunteer, do yard work, do hobbies, write articles and freeware, help out in a community, or some jobs would offer overtime, or they can spend time with other responsibilities that are neglected, like being there for loved ones, exercise, research, creativity, hygiene, or keeping the place clean, but we will one day have robots and new methods on a much wider scale that currently exists to make these chores faster and easier and perhaps even have nanobots in our bodies to keep us healthy and live longer, if the individual chooses to want these things.


Robots and other forms of productivity increases has the potential to free humanity from the servitude of a boss and increase the well being for all. Many people miss the point when they worry about being automated or replaced by technology, but it isn’t the tech that is bad, but the system and the user of the tech that is the true concern. Worker rights also need to be improved at the same time, and we are lacking compared to many other 1st world nations. We need to stop bashing technology and automation and change our system to benefit more people instead of just the owners of capital, and in the long run, it is in the best interest of the owners because if people don’t have money to spend, they will lose sales and downsize themselves out of existence, not to mention massive social unrest.

The rate of change and technological advances makes this an interesting time to be alive and it would be nice to live as long as possible to see where it is all going. The future is a question mark waiting to be unveiled.

Related links:
Marshall Brain speech on technology and unemployment:

Why a basic income guarantee should become a human right:

Problems with current system video and recent robotic advancements:

EU Basic Income:

4D printing:

Gary D.

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7 risposte a Automation, robots and our society

  1. Pingback: Automazione nel trasporto aereo, quale prezzo e quali sviluppi? | The Lightblue Ribbon

  2. Pingback: Problematiche attuali e margini di miglioramento nel settore musicale | The Lightblue Ribbon

  3. Gary ha detto:

    That is why we need more democracy, and by the way, it is in the best interest of the corporations to be taxed or they won’t have a customer base and they will downsize themselves out of existence and there will also be riots, which are both bad for business. but more corporations being owned collectively by employees helps too (workplace democracy). Also eventually all countries will be more automated. China is doing it right now, so corporations are coming back since they feel they save more by automating here at home vs paying Chinese workers a low wage + travel costs. They won’t have a choice but to comply in the long run or they will collapse too. Besides, being taxed from capital and robots is still cheaper than hiring people in the long run once the automation get really cheap and also you don’t have all the other cons of hiring a person.

  4. Tea Monster ha detto:

    Basically, we will have a huge welfare state, where large numbers of people live on state handouts, that are taxed from the profits made from industries that have switched to machine labour over a human workforce.

    Industry hates paying taxes. Unless draconian laws are introduced, industry will flee the 1st world and move to where they are allowed to keep their profits. The people in the 1st world countries will then be on ever dwindling rations handed out to them by a progressively impoverished state. With most of their citizens on shrinking benefits, who will buy these new shiny robot-manufactured goods?

    Eventually, it may come to pass that to keep the industries inside the country, the government may agree to tax industry more than necessary, but then to give that extra amount to the citizens to buy the goods to keep the economy rolling.

    Who knows, if that does transpire, there may come a time where frugal people are imprisoned for not buying a new washing machine every 2 years.

  5. Gary D. ha detto:

    When I first looked at the following, it kept me occupied for hours. It is an assumption of a future timeline year by year:

    TLR – Gary

  6. Gary D. ha detto:

    When we create a device that can let us download info directly to the brain, and for example, learn a language in a matter of seconds or learn anything in the same manner, then training or doing something lower skilled to move up wouldn’t be an issue. Say goodbye to teachers too and inefficiency associated with current ways of learning. It is the system that is the problem, not the technology. It will have to change, either through a peaceful transition or a collapse. An interesting time to be alive.

    Nano bots within our bodies can make healthcare obsolete in the long run too, and can make repair men obsolete, but that stuff will no doubt be much further in the future. Let’s hope we live long enough to receive therapies for life extension and it isn’t monopolized if we want to see this far into the future.

    TLR – Gary

  7. Matt Weber ha detto:

    This has been an interest of mine for a long time. As a society, we need to confront that fact that the economic model that we have been pursuing, is about to fail. Now, the specific model that’s going to fall over is debateable – certainly the post WW2 consumer and growth driven model, arguably all the way back to the industrial revolution. But the reality is that there simply will not be the kind of (often) low paying, low skilled jobs through which people A) Enter the workforce and B) Support themselves if they aren’t well educated, or educated in a relevant, useful skill (Hello people with BAs!).

    Think about the kinds of jobs we’re going to lose just in the next 10 – 20 years. Anything related to driving for one – self driving technology is already pretty good, it’s regulation that needs to catch up. Cars can also self park and navigate – once regulation catches up, taxi and truck drivers will go very quickly. Train drivers too, I suspect – trains are likely much easier than cars, though they may take longer due to the inertia associated with much larger infrastructure. Driverless mining vehicles (Dump trucks, water trucks etc.) are working right now in mines across the world – when they become the standard, the unskilled mining workforce will plummet, which will have a massive impact on my home state, and lots of other mining areas.

    Automated checkouts at supermarkets are pretty much standard now – how long before they become standard everywhere? Sure, a lot of retail is about the shopping experience, so things like clothes stores and maybe electronics and that will still have people, but the corner store? The Petrol station? The cinema? There’ll still have to be a person or two floating around to make sure people aren’t just walking off with stuff (although there are technological ways to solve that issue too, at least in theory) but the numbers will be way down. Add that to the ever growing online market share and you’re looking at big and accelerating job losses over a long period of time. Even stuff like food service – do you really need someone to take your McDonalds order, or can you press the buttons on the screen yourself? Sure, a high end restaurant will still have waiters, but the definition of high end may well vary – does someone really need to take your order at the cheap(ish) restaurant you take your date to before a movie? I don’t really think so.

    Even high skilled jobs aren’t immune. In my own field, geology, you normally get started straight of uni doing a lot of logging of core and RC chips. But the CSIRO’s new HyLogger is getting better and better at doing that hyperspectrally. There’s still a place for geos looking at core, but if you can get accurate mineralogy from a machine, you need far fewer lower level guys in the field.

    Those are just the examples I can come up with off the top of my head in five or ten minutes. Think about it for awhile and there aren’t many low level jobs that can’t be replaced (or have their human staff levels slashed) by improving technology. Build a better roomba, lay off thousands of cleaners worldwide. Build better hospital robots (and they already have them), lay off thousands of orderlies worldwide. Some jobs will take longer – anything requiring rapid or dextrous manipulation, or uniquely human interaction – but millions of low skill jobs will go in the next several decades.

    And this is a massive problem. Think about how many young people rely on jobs like these to get themselves through uni, so they can be educated up to get one of the remaining high skill jobs? Or start in these low level roles to gain the kind of workforce experience that is essential for more advanced skills? Or the millions of people who have perfectly respectable jobs and then feed into the economy with what they earn. Without a solid working class base, the economic cycle grinds to a halt. Worse yet, history shows that when you have large numbers of economically disenfranchised, unemployed people – especially men – violence doesn’t take long to follow.

    In a lot of ways, the “Industrial Revolution” that we associate with the 17th and 18th centuries never really ended. It’s come in fits and starts, but now that we’ve reached a point where we can see (on the realistically close horizon) the day where the combination of mechanical muscle and digital intelligence will make most human labour utterly irrelevant. Without some kind of economic reformation, our society simply can not survive that. I don’t know if this is the answer, necessarily, but we need an answer, and sooner rather than later.


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