What Will People Do When Robots Take Everybody's Job?
This robot agriculture Ppen linked to in the Free Swim post is pretty amazing.
I think vertical farming and robot farming are so cool:
"The robots will do everything from re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming and harvesting crops."
Another Ppen linked to:
You can't help but notice that this would be an answer to the claim that we can't deport illegal immigrants here, because "who would pick the crops?"
At a think tank dinner I went to this week, there was talk of jobs going away -- those of drivers, retail workers, etc. One guy complained about how irritating self-checkout is. I agree. They put the work they used to do on you. We're used to them doing the work. However, I pointed out to him, it's probably a short time before self-checkout involves walking out of the store with a bag and having a sensor charge you for everything in it.
And Uber may, before long, be robot-car Uber. I think having a robot car would be cool -- but I absolutely love riding with Uber drivers and hearing what they're doing and what they think.
The question is: What will all the retail workers, drivers (Uber and trucks) and crop pickers do when the economy eats their jobs?
Gregory Ferenstein polled tech leaders about where they think things are going, writing in the OC Register:
The answers I received made clear that Silicon Valley's elites envision a world in which an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial "gig work" and government aid.
The way the Valley elite see it, everyone can try to be an entrepreneur; some small percentage will achieve wild success and create enough wealth so that others can live comfortably. Many tech leaders appear optimistic that this type of economy will provide the vast majority of people with unprecedented prosperity and leisure, though no one quite knows when.
Ferenstein also notes something interesting about the politics of the tech leaders:
What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists.
On the capitalistic side, tech founders were extraordinarily optimistic about the nature of change, especially the kind of unpredictable "creative destruction" associated with free markets. The tech industry's obsession with innovation is, at its core, a belief that the future gets better.
But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren't individualists. Indeed, in my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism.
The tech people I interviewed valued contribution above all. Unearthing the latent talent of each individual is the top priority. The government's role is as an investor, rather than as a regulator, that taxes the wealthy -- and gives everyone else lots of cash.
A number of Silicon Valley luminaries, including Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, have begun investigating the possibility of a government-provided universal basic income. A no-strings-attached mass cash transfer will ensure that no matter what happens in the future, everyone will have a reasonable income. How would such a massive new entitlement be paid for? By taxing the innovators in Silicon Valley.
"You give this money to a lot of people," says Y Combinator president Sam Altman. "Most fail at whatever they do, and some are these wild outlier successes. And if you can enable a lot of people to take a swing, most will fail and some will generate incredible economic value. And, tax the hell out of that and do more basic income."
Thus, the government serves an essential purpose in not only helping people become "wild outliers" but ensuring that such success gets more widely shared throughout society.
People at this dinner also talked about Universal Basic Income -- giving people a baseline income from the state. All people. This would, perhaps, be cheaper than the welfare programs we have now.
One big problem with this: People get meaning and feel they are valued from work. Take that away, and unless you have a booming barrette business on Etsy, and what do you do for work and for the feelings of value that come with it? Will we just have a nation lying on the couch all day, sneering on social media?