Welcome To The Future
I just read an interesting article that made me say, “OK. I think that’s enough.”
The article was a breathless description of how technicians at the Stuttgart University Institute for Computational Design are at the leading edge of “the rapidly evolving field of robotic architecture.”
Apparently these guys have designed robots that “make not only the components of building but also assemble the buildings themselves.” They claim that using the robots “could reduce the construction time and manpower by as much as 90%”
How cool is that?
Or not? The pace at which human jobs are being eliminated, or are about to be eliminated by robots and machines is increasing. No one is safe. Excited technocrats talk about doctors, lawyers and even policemen being replaced by robots. Even airline pilots may go the way of taxi and truck drivers. If a robot doesn’t take your job, Big Data will.
What are all those people going to do? is a legitimate question to ask. And if you are comfortably confident that your job it safe, it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and say that they should go back to school or upskill. Or worse, you may think that technology really will solve all our problems and come up with some new and exciting solution we haven’t been smart enough to foresee. But that has a sort of “I’m not in Aleppo, why should I care?” attitude to it.
The fact that there are tons of jobs for new IT graduates does not solve the social problem of millions of unemployed and possibly unemployable people.
And that’s the other point. This is a social issue, not a technical issue. We can’t rely on the technocrats to solve it. We can’t expect people who are comfortable and excited by technology to understand the two cultures that we are creating.
I know that arguing against technological advance is like peeing in the swimming pool. Totally unacceptable and a sign of deep seated problems. But is it so unreasonable to ask what people are going to do if machines are doing everything?
If all humans are equal and have human rights, it seems to me that when one group benefits at the expense of another, there should be some way to equalize things. We aren’t barbarians who raid rival villages and kill and enslave our neighbors any more. Are we?
The best solution I’ve heard is one that is both fair and makes sense. If the people rolling out the technology are making the money on it at the expense of others, why not make it fair by taxing those gains and using the money for training or support to people who are adversely affected by the technology? After all, if a person were doing the job, they’d be earning income and paying tax. So a robot doing an equivalent job should pay tax. But since robots can do just about anything but pay taxes, the check would be written by the person employing or manufacturing the robot.
I can hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth already. Another tax to transfer money from hard working innovators to the lazy. Companies will tell us that it will make robots too expensive. They will have to pass the cost onto us the customer. And that will make the technology too expensive.
I doubt if taxing technology will slow down the pace of change, but I’m not as concerned about that as I am about the social cost. Remember, the economy is driven by consumption and robots don’t consume. People do. If they don’t have any money, that’s not going to happen.
Not only that–and here’s something to think about,–your pension gets funded by the contributions of current workers and I don’t think there are going to be enough programmers and server-farm tenders to keep Social Security running forever! So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have robots help out with that.