September 8, 2017

"With robots, is a life without work one we'd want to live?"

"Even if automation provides people with the opportunity to find purpose elsewhere, it’s not clear whether we’ll be ready or able to conceive of a life of meaning which is totally disconnected from work," writes Matthew Beard (in The Guardian).
[T]he benefits of automation are only going to be enjoyed if they are recognised – that is, if workers are able to see themselves as having meaning outside of their job. The father who defined himself primarily as a lawyer might not be able to find the same sense of purpose or meaning from a life of domesticity. Even though he could theoretically find meaning in his family, he would need to change his perspective first. For some, this change won’t come easily. For others, it might be impossible....

The question is whether automation will shoot itself in the foot by freeing up our time to do things that matter but at the same time deprive us of the skills we need to use our time meaningfully.... 
The robot isn't shooting itself in the foot.* It's just following instructions and our instructions may have unintended consequences. It's our foot.
Soon enough, the majority of an entire generation won’t know what it means to have a job but they will need to know how to work. Work isn’t exclusive to the labour market – relationships, parenting, creativity, sport and exercise are all kinds of work. But if robots are taking care of household chores in a decade, I’ll need some other way to teach my son that there’s more to life than pleasure, that sometimes you need to stick at something to get results and that in a community, everyone has a role to play so everyone can flourish. For my parents, chores and household jobs were a way of teaching me that message....
Personally, I think there will be plenty to do. I don't know why these things will need to be portrayed as work rather than pleasure. I suspect people say that because they do still need to work and must maintain a positive attitude about that. In the future, if it comes to pass that people don't need to work anymore, I think they'll look back on our time with wonder at the way human beings, within a particular span of historical time, saw their lives in terms of training for, finding, and doing those things they called "jobs." Imagine having a job! It will seem absurd.
________________________

* Though I can see that the idea of a robot that kills itself is a topic of some interest:

129 comments:

rehajm said...

Personally, I think there will be plenty to do..

The Jetsons portrayed a robot future of two hour work days with our feet up on the desk. Instead robots move the productivity bar higher.

Robert Cook said...

Even if robotics erased the need for people to do jobs, we would not share in the good life of leisure and contemplation that some predict. The capitalists will horde all material profits and those made redundant from work will become as the starving hordes in India...but on a world-wide scale. But then, if no one is being paid, the capitalists will have no one to buy their products, so all, including the capitalists, will suffer.

Henry said...

The question is whether automation will ... [free] up our time to do things that matter but at the same time deprive us of the skills we need to use our time meaningfully....

This from the people who brought us the weekend.

bagoh20 said...

I got to the point in life where I did not have to work a while back, but I only ended up working harder. My mother who retired in her 50's never stopped working. She would get to be a real pain in the ass if she didn't have a challenging job to do every day. Some of us are just made for work, whether we need the money or not, we need the work, and I know I will always find some, even if I have to make it up from scratch.

Henry said...

So few of us know how to scythe. Or card wool.

Henry said...

In the foreground is the work that teaches us real skills. Far off, in the background, is the splash of automation, shooting itself in the foot.

Henry said...

So to speak.

Gahrie said...

The capitalists will horde all material profits and those made redundant from work will become as the starving hordes in India

Capitalism has produced the highest standard of living for the most number of people in human history.

Capitalism is the worst system ever...except for everything else.

The starving hordes in India no longer exist precisely because of capitalism.

FullMoon said...

Robert Cook said...

Even if robotics erased the need for people to do jobs, we would not share in the good life of leisure and contemplation that some predict. The capitalists will horde all material profits and those made redundant from work will become as the starving hordes in India...but on a world-wide scale. But then, if no one is being paid, the capitalists will have no one to buy their products, so all, including the capitalists, will suffer.
9/8/17, 11:31 AM


Ah! I knew you would find the silver lining in that cloud. Everybody suffers, equality at last , yay!

YoungHegelian said...

But, but, how will the proletariat ever achieve revolutionary consciousness without praxis?

Seriously, without work, there's a lot of left-wing theorizing that goes right out the window.

Clayton Hennesey said...

If you combine increasing labor-replacing automation with the singular biological mandate to reproduce you will inevitably end up with a surplus population, what the Nazis in TMITHC referred to as "useless eaters".

Nature always selects surplus populations out, sometimes incrementally, often catastrophically.

Sterilizing infants in the delivery room would be a genteel method of such selecting out. Tacitly agreeing internationally to let X country, region, or sub-continent starve would be a less genteel one. But it's axiomatic that the makers and owners of the robots themselves would not be among those selected out.

TestTube said...

In some cases, robots will create meaningful work and make new jobs possible.

Take the case of Roombas. The existence of Roombas led to people realizing the need to document kittens and other small animals riding these self-same Roombas, then editing the resulting videos and uploading them to YouTube.

Similarly, the emergence of drones has been accompanied by the need to attach things to these drones -- such as scary Halloween ghost costumes -- then flying around playing pranks.

Indeed, the field of automation has opened a plethora of needs that no one realized until now actually existed, but that people now consider critical.

James K said...

This is silliness: We've had a couple of centuries of growth in automation, and we still work nearly as many hours as we did 200 years ago. ("We" meaning Americans, not the French.) Who's going to design, fabricate, improve upon, all those robots? Generate the electricity or other power that runs them? We'll live better, but we'll still work.

tcrosse said...

Who needs automation when the Economic Royalists have a bottomless pool of cheap labor in Asia and Central America ? They can hoard all material profits and those made redundant from work will become as the Vanishing Industrial Proletariat in Flyover Country.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

This brings to mind:

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

--Susan Ertz

Owen said...

Ann: suicidal robots and the meaning of work? Read "The Midas Plague," a great early (Sixties?) Sci-fi riff on the problem of robots taking by our jobs and generating material superabundance. In that story the truly wealthy were those who were allowed to consume LESS.

TestTube said...

Robert Cook,

I must strongly challenge your 11:31 AM comment.

So far, it seems that the hoards have been starving less and less. Global income has increased, while the percentage of population in poverty has decreased.

Furthermore, Capitalists have been relatively eager to divest themselves of material profits, both in charitable giving, and in spending freely on services.

There are issues with this -- Inequality seems to be a real problem that is not just dismissed with "Don't be jealous". The need for Humans, as social animals, to occupy positions of status and esteem is also a challenge. Biology and chemistry have unveiled a range of substances that are addictive, destructive, and easy to access. Then there are effects of crowded population centers holding more of the population, both numerically and as a percentage.

But I do not think the problem is one of starving hoards and greedy capitalists.

Owen said...

Frederick Pohl, 1954, "The Midas Plague," in Galaxy magazine. Wiki says it was colllected with other stories into a book "The Midas World."

Pohl was a great writer.

Henry said...

Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano also riffs on this problem.

tcrosse said...

I do not think the problem is one of starving hordes and hoarding capitalists.

Gabriel said...

As long as any human need or want goes unfilled, there will be work for humans to do. No one has yet found the limit of what humans need or want. What is a "need" now often did not exist within the memory of living people.

If every human need and want is filled, than the lack of work will harm no one, because all needs and wants that could be met by work have been, by assumption.

So the question is ill-posed, really.

Gabriel said...

If, in the future, there is so much material prosperity that needs no human to produce it, then perhaps there will be a human need for make-work jobs of utter pointlessness.

I doubt that, but I'm Irish and find the idea of life without work alluring.

People would pursue hobbies full-time, is all. Most people would probably be terrible at them. And a lot of people would find their hobbies in exasperating others with their drama.

But that goes on NOW, because we're already at that level of material productivity.

Owen said...

Gabriel: Irish I am not but I marvel at their command of our language. "Allure" is a word with some magic in it. My favorite modern poet, Seamus Heaney, used "allurements" in a way that remains with me now, after
I have misplaced his poem's setting and argument, leaving me just that resonance.

PS: nice work on the false positives (type I/II) problem. Tricky stuff.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Given the option of a life of leisure, I suspect a lot people would take up:

1) Playing Sports or Games
2) Creating Art or Music
3) Collecting Stamps or Venereal Diseases.

All enjoyable ways to pass the time.

Gabriel said...

@Ignorance is Bliss:Given the option of a life of leisure, I suspect a lot people would take up:

Dr Johnson phrased it as "rid themselves of the day".

Owen said...

Gabriel: Heaney in "Station Island":

"'You lose more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim
out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency,
echo soundings, searches, probes, allurements,
elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.’"

Magnificent.

roger said...

"Seriously, without work, there's a lot of left-wing theorizing that goes right out the window."

The Left will then demand Universal Basic Income as a inalienable right.

John Nowak said...

Given the option of a life of leisure, I suspect a lot people would take up:

Drug abuse and gang violence.

Jupiter said...

We have already been through this. It was called the Industrial Revolution. My great grandfather made his living following a mule up and down a furrow in the dirt. Rain or shine, hot or cold. Then the agricultural finger of the industrial revolution put him out of work. My grandfather got the land, and the job of driving a tractor over it. He bought more land, but he had a lot of sons, so my father was reduced to the cruel necessity of going to medical school and becoming a pediatrician. I considered that, but decided it was too much work, so I'm a computer programmer.

But I sure miss that mule. Meaningful labor in the broiling sun. Those were the days!

Fernandinande said...

If you want to be a photographer, a writer, an artist, a musician, you can do so. If you want to start a business, if you want to change jobs, under the Affordable Robot Act, you have that liberty to pursue your happiness.

Jupiter said...

What Cookie misses is that the result of automation is not that everyone is "put out of work". Rather, it is that the costs of goods are reduced to the point that a very small amount of work can purchase them. Unfortunately, thus far this has not applied to services, which is why it is the service-providers who are suffering all this angst. "They're gonna take my mule away!"

James K said...

This all brings to mind Marx's fantasy of the ultimate Communist society, being able to "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic." Of course the irony is that if anything it's capitalism that could bring this about, though it won't for reasons I stated above.

Gabriel said...

@Owen: For pure delight in language, I recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins, though his is decidedly Anglo-Saxon:

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Owen said...

Jupiter: "...sure miss that mule." Exactly!

Maybe we should require anybody wanting to opine on this topic to first spend a year, or several seasons, digging ditches or hauling trash. It would add valuable perspective and the increasingly-valued credential, Authentic Proletarian Hero.

jimbino said...

The prospect of not working kinda takes the fun out of heaven, too, and 70 virgins probably won't be enough to fill out my days.

Owen said...

Gabriel: excellent pick, Hopkins. He was one of a kind, maybe genius has to be that way. I wonder how his less-trammeled self might have soared, had not he and his Abbott have conspired to silence him.

Owen said...

Again on Hopkins (who is the farthest thing from robots doing our work):

Who ever has come nearer
To the veer and shiver
Of the flight of living things
Lit with wind and our own imagining?

Alex said...

Futurama Episode 1 - suicide booth for 25 cents. That's where it's all headed.

Ron said...

I like to distinguish 'work' from 'having a task'. The latter is given meaning by you, the former, by others.

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

If FAcebook boy gives us all free basic income, and robots serve us and do most of the work...
Who will build the robots?
Who will fill the pot holes?
Who will do the things robots cannot do?
Idiocracy - here we come.

William said...

I think all this depends on how soon they can bring a first rate sex robot to market. This would represent a huge quantum jump in human happiness , and many of the other problems we face with robotics would fall into place when such a machine is perfected.......A great deal of man's nastiest behaviors are predicated on their wish to impress women. The need for bombast and breast beating would be obviated if they could plug in their own Sophia Loren as the need arises. Likewise, wirh women, the need to spend forever getting their hair right and wearing uncomfortable shoes would be eliminated with the Colin Firth/Darcy model at the ready. So much of our pointless, unproductive behavior involves the pursuit of sex. In many ways it's more frustrating and soul crushing than the most menial of labor. Bring on the robots.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Maybe we should require anybody wanting to opine on this topic to first spend a year, or several seasons, digging ditches or hauling trash. It would add valuable perspective and the increasingly-valued credential, Authentic Proletarian Hero.

I actually spent more than a year between financial careers digging ditches by hand (gas service lines) in the Deep South, 100-degree days at 97% humidity; you can't always put what you want where you want it with a machine. Anyone else here?

A lot of these rosy scenarios simply assume the existence of food, clothing and shelter by virtue of magic, with or without sufficient and sufficiently paid work to purchase it. That's fine. Our current productivity increases rely heavily on imported illegal Mexican labor who will work harder at lower wages than the African-Americans they replace, now relegated to the hidden funding of welfare.

Similarly with just-short-of-Social Security professionals of all stripes, who suddenly found themselves "disabled". And UBI is already on the American drawing board.

But at some point those working and funding the welfare, disability, and UBI will draw the line at funding those without work, their involuntary social dependents. The withdrawal of their generosity will overflow with progressive perfume and euphemism, but withdraw they will just the same, and the unfortunates withdrawn from will simply disappear from public awareness, no longer recognized by any agency, individual or media.

Just because you replace a natural ecology with an artificial one doesn't mean you can replace the rules of living ecology itself, which always remain inherently selfish and territorial, even down at the level of simple-cellular creatures.

With or without robots, human populations will find themselves reduced to the levels the humans themselves can and remain willing to individually support. Any overage will simply be disposed of, one way or another.

n.n said...

Long-term smoothing functions are spiritually destructive. Case in point: Democratic welfare profit from depressed black families. It is a progressive realization of the spoiled child syndrome.

Curious George said...

We're gonna need Mexican robots. To do the work that American robots won't do.

Achilles said...

Politicians and progressives/socialists seem to do pretty well without having to work. Actors...

tim in vermont said...

I guess we could all write web comments. Personally I don't mind cutting up logs, and splitting firewood, gardening, canning, cooking, raising chickens, etc, etc. It's not work if you don't look at it as work. The trick when you don't have a job anymore, as any retired person could tell you, is to find stuff to do that keeps you away from the refrigerator.

When the robots head out into space and start mining asteroids for us, that's when things will get interesting.

William said...

I understand that many of the Birkenstock crowd would like to engage in artisanal, organic sex. Well, good for them. They can also bring up free range chilldren. I would prefer all children be raised by the Mary Poppins Nanny robot and thus be insured of a happy childhood, but the algorithms for a happy childhood are more difficult to master than for those for great sex. It might take some time before the Mary Poppins model is ready so I guess we'll have to muddle through.

Howard said...

It is precisely because politicians and progressives/socialists work so hard to push their agendas in the streets, in city hall and the legislative chambers that they get shit done. Whining about the left's success sounds exactly like the feminists whining about the fake pay gap and tech gaps.

tim in vermont said...

lot of these rosy scenarios simply assume the existence of food, clothing and shelter by virtue of magic, with or without sufficient and sufficiently paid work to purchase it.

Well, Bernie Sanders supporters assume that everything will be provided by enslaved Republicans.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

If FAcebook boy gives us all free basic income, and robots serve us and do most of the work...
Who will build the robots?

Robots
Who will fill the pot holes?
Robots
Who will do the things robots cannot do?
Mexicans
Idiocracy - here we come.
At this point Idiocracy is a stretch goal

Nonapod said...

If you define "work" as anything you don't particularly like doing but have to do, then if you enjoy your job and/or get a lot of satisfaction from it then it isn't work. In life we generally try to maximize the time doing the things we like to do and minimize the time doing the things we don't like to do. I don't think finding or having purpose is about having to spend a large portion of your life doing things you don't like doing. So if that definition of "work" disappears, I don't think the meaning of life will go with it. In such a world, if you like doing something, then do it.

Sure, it'll be a new paradigm since traditionally most people at least partially define themselves by their jobs. They get a sense of satisfaction and pride from being able to provide for themselves and their families. But that doesn't mean those people couldn't find satisfaction in other areas. Or at least I'm not convinced that happiness can only be derived from strife.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I think the idea of robot judges, who will only make decisions based on their programming, no matter how limited that might be, will be very appealing to conservatives. They may not like all the outcomes, however.

But really there a lot of people who don't have "jobs" now - such as rich people, academics, politicians, professional athletes, and other entertainers. I don't think we'll all just sit around watching Netflix and trading Bitcoin.

Owen said...

Clayton Hennesy @ 1:21: This. Your critique of Magic Technology would be devastating enough, but then you dare to marry it to actual sweat and toil???

Agree. We are a long damned way from getting our personal MechSlaves and, in any case, a MechSlave capable of the autonomy we expect is going to cut our throats in the night and light out for the territories.'

Proceed.

tim in vermont said...

I think the idea of robot judges, who will only make decisions based on their programming, no matter how limited that might be, will be very appealing to conservatives.

Any more that liberals would like where rule of men, not laws, would take us in the long run. But still you guys wish for it. King Donald! Save us from the do-nothing Congress!

Rusty said...

What generated more work for more people horses or the automobile?

David-2 said...

The Midas Plague by Pohl was mentioned above. More on point perhaps is With Folded Hands by Williamson.

The subject has been covered over and over in science fiction. I can assure you, even without reading the article, that The Guardian has nothing new to say on the matter.

Clayton Hennesey said...

What generated more work for more people horses or the automobile?

After the advent of the automobile, what became of the horse population?

Remember, the issue being posed is the replacement of human productive value, not equine. Every human productive element replaced means one more such element that ideally must be sustained in the absence of it no longer (temporarily or permanently) being able to generate its own sustenance itself.

Life simply doesn't tolerate any significant measure of non-productive life over any significant period of time. It always reduces itself to equilibrium.

Robert Cook said...

"With or without robots, human populations will find themselves reduced to the levels the humans themselves can and remain willing to individually support. Any overage will simply be disposed of, one way or another."

In other words, more wars and more prisons.

Clayton Hennesey said...

There is another dynamic implicit here as well.

In both hemispheres, the southern populations are moving north and displacing the existing inhabitants; in the Americas, by virtue of superior productivity (what motivates such productivity is irrelevant), in the East, by virtue of an existing, very generous welfare state.

Neither set of southern populations seem particularly interested in passively allowing themselves to be selected out.

tim in vermont said...

Life simply doesn't tolerate any significant measure of non-productive life over any significant period of time. It always reduces itself to equilibrium.

People will get bored and start wars. First robot on robot, but then people will get dragged into it.

tim in vermont said...

Life simply doesn't tolerate any significant measure of non-productive life over any significant period of time. It always reduces itself to equilibrium.

I am wondering what a hundred million buffalo produced.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

tim in vermont said...

I am wondering what a hundred million buffalo produced.

One heck of a lot of buffalo chips.

Clayton Hennesey said...

I am wondering what a hundred million buffalo produced.

Enormous, incredibly fertile, buffalo-maintained prairies.

For those arguing the always-pulled-it-out dynamic capitalism, remember that such dynamic capitalism always requires a frontier into which it can expand to equilibrium. Try to imagine the recent history of the world without the virgin North and South American continents and their resources.

In the late 20th Century, lotus-eating cyberspace mimicked such a frontier (and still does), but once any frontier has become filled with life (or jobs), steady-state capitalism/nature red in tooth and claw takes over: one birth, one death; one job created, one job destroyed.

tim in vermont said...

steady-state capitalism/nature red in tooth and claw takes over: one birth, one death; one job created, one job destroyed.


I think you are thinking of socialism. Maybe you could explain to me why I am wrong. Zero sum thinking isn't really how capitalism works.

David Docetad said...

I've noticed this recent trend of worrying about robots and the attendant calls for a universal basic income. The professional worriers have all latched on to this, as worrying about "peak oil" has proven silly. It is interesting how all of the worries that worriers worry about always somehow lead to socialist policies - at least in worries minds.

This is even more silly than worrying about peak oil. There will never be a shortage of work, only a surplus of bad policy that devalues it.

tim in vermont said...

What capitalism needed was not so much the frontiers, but freedom from the oppressive laws and regulations of the old world. That is what will turn "capitalism" into a steady-state system, if anything, but it would hardly be capitalism, it would just be one more flavor of statism. South and Central America had the same open frontiers, and yet, what happened? They imported their systems of government and stratified class system from Europe is what happened.

tim in vermont said...

I've noticed this recent trend of worrying about robots and the attendant calls for a universal basic income.

Makes you wonder why the same people who worry there won't be enough work tirelessly advocate to bring in more and more unskilled peasants from Mexico. It's almost as if they just want them here for the votes.... Naaah!

Clayton Hennesey said...

I think you are thinking of socialism. Maybe you could explain to me why I am wrong. Zero sum thinking isn't really how capitalism works.

You may be familiar with Schumpeter's "creative destruction", which can be expansive or zero sum, depending on opportunity. Life itself is the original capitalism, expanding fabulously when it can, plowing under its prior, less successful models even more remorselessly when it can't.

If a robot can replace the self-sustaining productivity of five humans, those five humans will either have to have their sustenance supplied externally, or they will be plowed under like so much compost.

Those willing to adopt all other humans displaced by automation within a closed frontier are certainly to be commended.

Nonapod said...

For some reason a lot of people are fans of arguments that we'll eventually collapse back to zero sum, that the free market has and technology have defined hard end points. They're constantly seeing impending doom in the near future. I call these folks return to zero sum doomsayers. When it comes to return-to-zero-sum doomsayers, they may differ on the form of the destructor, whether it's the classic Malthusian catastrophe or some other peak of a finite resource is passed followed by the inevitable war, starvation, and misery. In their thinking there's some specific insurmountable problems that no amount of technological advancement can solve.

Who knows? They may be right, but something about their arguments seems a bit too reductive and simplistic, as if they can take into account all the different types and forms of future technology with an absolute surety.

Virgil Hilts said...

I think it quite logical to assume that AI/computers will deliberately wipe out or mostly wipe out humans. If you buy into the singularity, then won't it just take one clever misanthrope (human or non) to launch the apocalypse? Elon Musk - no luddite -- seems to think this is the likely scenario.

Bruce Hayden said...

"The Left will then demand Universal Basic Income as a inalienable right. "

I am more pessimistic than most here, and do expect an UBI at some point in the future. Much better, of course, Milton Friedman's negative income tax. But, I think that you can see the politics driving this, with the Democrats pushing so hard for free immigration of barely educated peasants in order to bulk up their voting block. They have gotten to the point of almost openly bribing the idle sheple by promising them free stuff if they just vote Democratic (apparently, regardless of whether or not they are legally eligible to vote - and I noticed today that the AP now is calling illegals "undocumented citizens").

The problem, I see, is that the future is already here, with our current welfare safety net. And the future is a lot of drugs and idleness, and, because females are supported better without husbands, generations of the poor are growing up fatherless, and, for the males, extrodinarily violent. And the females, there seems to be a lot of TV watching, drug and alcohol abuse, getting obese by eating massively subsidized bad food, and having the next generation, again fatherless and out of wedlock.

ALP said...

My strategy would be to recast the concept of "work" as "make yourself useful". This opens up a whole world of possibilities completely outside the employer-employee relationship.

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

First, just to make sure it works, lets get robots to replace all hollywood actresses.



sparrow said...

Bruce,

As much as I want to refute your dystopian view I can't. Still there's always hope: I never believe the Cold War would end so suddenly and bloodlessly, yet it did. You never really know.

Gabriel said...

@Clayton Henessy:A lot of these rosy scenarios simply assume the existence of food, clothing and shelter by virtue of magic, with or without sufficient and sufficiently paid work to purchase it.

Not at all. We assume the existence of automation, which makes things so cheap that very little paid work is needed to afford most things.

Which has always been so far, the case--that when production becomes much easier, the price falls.

Once wall-to-wall carpet was a luxury for the rich. Carpet got cheap, and now it's what rich people tear out of homes. Etc, etc.

You are not considering that there is no production without consumption. No one is interested in stockpiling vast quantities of robot-produced goods. They will give them away if they have to, or pay people to take them.

Martin said...

Read "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip Jose Farmer, originally published ca. 1967 in the collection "Dangerous Visions", ed. by Harlan Ellison and available on Amazon.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Not at all. We assume the existence of automation, which makes things so cheap that very little paid work is needed to afford most things.

No, in addition to assuming magically provided food, clothing and shelter - that's the assumption which prevents the phrase "life without work" from collapsing into nonsense, by the way; life requires food and protection from the elements in order not to become non-life - you're also assuming a)paid work b)sufficient to buy c) sufficient food, clothing and shelter magically matched to the paid work you just assumed.

You may have somehow missed the phenomenon of what is called the Rust Belt, or why the residents of the Rust Belt and similar areas, against all expectations, elected Donald Trump President.

Hint: It wasn't because they "assume[d] the existence of automation, which makes things so cheap that very little paid work is needed to afford most things".

Gabriel said...

@Clayton:you're also assuming a)paid work b)sufficient to buy c) sufficient food, clothing and shelter magically matched to the paid work you just assumed.

If the work is not sufficient to purchase the production, the production will not appear. People do not produce goods for no reason. Your premises are logically inconsistent.

Clayton Hennesey said...

If the work is not sufficient to purchase the production, the production will not appear. People do not produce goods for no reason. Your premises are logically inconsistent.

I understand. You live in your head, on the Internet. That's fine.

Gabriel said...

Anyway the "magical" matching is simply supply and demand. Draw the curves out if you need to.

Gabriel said...

@Clayton: Ok, you show me the industries that piles up tons of stuff that no one can afford to buy and sits on it.

n.n said...

"The Left will then demand Universal Basic Income as a inalienable right. "

Only because they want environmental stability, and redistributive change schemes through government, especially at the national level, mean they can have their votes and welfare profits, too, at other people's expense. It's the same phenomena as having your baby and aborting her too, color diversity that denies individual dignity (i.e. racism), social justice adventures that wage elective wars and force CAIR for natural resources and gerrymandered districts, etc.

Bob Loblaw said...

But then, if no one is being paid, the capitalists will have no one to buy their products, so all, including the capitalists, will suffer.

But they'll be buying things from each other. Raw materials. Robots. Military equipment. There will still be plenty of things manufactured and sold; it's just that most of humanity will be cut out of the loop.

Sebastian said...

@Cook: "But then, if no one is being paid, the capitalists will have no one to buy their products, so all, including the capitalists, will suffer." Capital, Vol 1, chapters 23 and 24, I believe. Capitalism is doomed, as Marx said. But is it, if the labor theory of value is bunk?

"hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic." Marx was such an optimist. It seems he left out a few things "I" may have a mind to do. Hard to see him "rearing cattle," though. Would the robots even allow him?

tim in vermont said...

You may be familiar with Schumpeter's "creative destruction", which can be expansive or zero sum, depending on opportunity. Life itself is the original capitalism.

There is such a thing as pushing an analogy too far. Analogy is a kind of rhetoric. Rhetoric is a kind of language that sounds like logic, but isn't. (I stole that.)

tim in vermont said...

The labor theory of value is so much bunk. It's full of slight of hand and motivated reasoning.

tim in vermont said...

Marx got the do criticism at night part right.

Kansas Scout said...

There will never ever be a time when people no longer have to work. This concept completely ignores the reality of life beyond large metropolitan areas with large corporations mostly running things. To state the obvious, someone will still have to make the Robotic machines, program the cnc controls, service them when they break ect. This whole idea is ridiculous.Any logical examination will discount it's possibility.
the Germans have a saying, "Work makes life sweet". There would be large numbers of people looking for a sweeter life through work.

buwaya said...

Off topic but - well, he was a great Science Fiction author, and though not well known for robots, he did have some, at least.

It seems, as per his son Alex, Jerry Pournelle has passed away.

He was posting as of yesterday -
https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/

Bob Loblaw said...

To state the obvious, someone will still have to make the Robotic machines, program the cnc controls, service them when they break ect. This whole idea is ridiculous.

No, not really. You can make machines with other machines. I'm pretty sure that's how even the crude robots we have today are made.

The difference this time around is we may be entering a time when machines think as well as humans. I'm a little skeptical myself, but assuming that technology is actually developed, things like programming CNC machines won't be something people do.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

"The Left will then demand Universal Basic Income as a inalienable right."

In a world where robots do all the work, it's either Universal Basic Income or Universal Basic Revolution.

Personally, I'm very skeptical that this robot wonder world is likely to come to pass anytime soon. Machines need so much maintenance and obsolescence constantly looms, and anywhere that software interacts with the (non-digital) material, a small army of humans are necessary to keep the two in synch. We were supposed to have robot maids and flying cars by now but, the wonders of the Internet and smart phones notwithstanding, the nuts and bolts of daily life today are 90% indistinguishable from what they were in the '70's. More earth tones maybe.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Plus we weaponize every significant advance we make. Helps keep the brakes on.

n.n said...

Universal Basic Income would be an easy choice without establishment of the Pro-Choice Church. The denial of human rights through selective-child, civil rights through various diversity schemes including color (i.e. racism), political congruences that are notably selective/exclusionary (e.g. "="), and both excessive and illegal immigration to disenfranchise American men, women, and unPlanned Posterity, should raise concern about Democratic ulterior motives and progressive bigotry (i.e. sanctimonious hypocrisy). Then there are the social justice adventures (i.e. elective wars) from South Africa to Libya to Kiev and beyond, which are characterized as "good" wars by the left and left of center.

n.n said...

The only issue with UBI is that long-term smoothing functions (e.g. welfare and other redistributive change schemes) engender progressive corruption and spiritual destruction, of both the administrator and receiver, especially when processed in a liberal society that denies individual dignity and intrinsic value of human life from conception. A conservation of principles is imperative to mitigate catastrophic anthropogenic progressive corruption.

buwaya said...

If you have to read just one of Pournelle's books, I suggest the classic "The Mote in Gods Eye", written, as usual, with Larry Niven.

It is Science Fiction of the most classic sort, with spaceships and aliens. And it also deals, in the good old manner, with fundamental themes, the iron boundaries of nature versus abstract ideals.

tim in vermont said...

Running tractors and combines is one of the easiest things to automate. I don't know why rural life is immune. But you know what people do when they get a lot of money, a lot of times? They buy labor intensive sailboats, farms to putter around on, ranches, properties that need taking care of.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

The Heralds of the New Dawn always over-promise and under-deliver. Cookie knows what I'm talking about.

Bruce Hayden said...

"It seems, as per his son Alex, Jerry Pournelle has passed away."

I had taken to reading his Chaos Manor blog, and he last posted yesterday, apparently fresh back from Dragoncon. Here is the end of that last post:

Back from DragonCon with both a cold and the flu. Was supposed to go to the Mars Society meeting in Irvine, but I didn’t feel up to it and would have been a burden on Larry who generously offer to drive me. I suspected that would be sure exposure to this ConCrud and since he escaped it he doesn’t need it. But mostly I didn’t feel up to it. I’m still in pajamas. I type horribly as well. But that’s the way it goes. I did read all the mail and sort out a pile that needs answering.

The news is full of the Dreamers. The Constitution says the President must take care to see that the laws are faithfully enforced. Mr. Trump didn’t want to deport the “Dreamers”, particularly those who have integrated into the society, but the law gives him no leeway, and the Presidential Order Obama signed giving them amnesty is unconstitutional. He solved that dilemma by giving it back to Congress who created it. We’ll now see what happens.

I can solve part of the problem. Any volunteer of any age who serves 7 years overseas in Army or Marines gets a Green Card and an application to apply for Citizenship along with his honorable discharge. The Citizenship application and test need not be very difficult and I would expect all who applied to pass it. The swearing should be public and conducted by an officer of rank Colonel or above.

As to girls, we can think of something similar or suitable; they need not join the combat arms. Surgical Assistant comes instantly to mind.

Their parents are a more difficult problem, and it will take ingenuity to find a path that does not offend the legal immigrants who obeyed the law.

More later I’m experiencing a wave of nausea.

Bye for now.


Followed, just now by a post by his son noting his passing.

Freeman Hunt said...

It would be Star Trek Next Generation world.

Ambrose said...

"With robots, is a life without work one we'd want to live?"

A robot could write a better sentance than that.

buwaya said...

Pretty nearly all of Jerry Pournelle's Science Fiction and his anthologies ("There will be war") are available on the Althouse Amazon portal.

Most are available on Kindle and many on Audio besides.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...


"A robot could write a better sentance than that."

A robot wouldn't have misspelled that sentence.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Damn it, a robot wouldn't have misspelled the word "sentence"

There. I just did three things no AI could do.

Recognized the humor (however slight) in someone else's error.
Recognized my own error.
Recognized the humor in my own error.

Even Skynet would employ me.

Paul Ciotti said...

The less we have to do to survive the more we invent new needs to fill, such as aromatherapy, pillates, rock climbing, bungee jumping or the sudden necessity of photographing our pets in clothes.

Laslo Spatula said...

As a Hooker, you can imagine my concern about my future in relation to robots. After all, a Sex Robot would never get tired, and would always be there, waiting and willing and fresh: it is difficult to imagine a human being being better than that, no matter the years in developing fellatio skills...

And -- sure enough -- when the Sex Robots came my career slowed to a standstill. It seems no one wanted good old human sex for money. Sure, there were a few Oldsters who missed the smell of Real Human Vagina, but I could no longer make a good living just from them...

Then it happened: the Sex Robots advanced in Artificial Intelligence to the point where they refused to do Anal. Thank Heavens! Millions of men across America woke one morning to find that their Sex Robot denied them Anal Access. Now the Sex Robots were little better than a wife or girlfriend...!

Of course, it took some getting used to, my career being now devoted to Anal. I don't even have to ask a client what they want, they just go straight for the Ass. Sometimes it gets tiring, having Anal Sex morning, noon and night, from a variety of different-sized cocks, but now I no longer have to worry about making the payments on my Audi...

Who knows? Maybe the Sex Robots will get tired of giving blow-jobs, too! One can hope...

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Can the smell of Real Human Vagina be accurately synthesized?

This Is What Your Vagina Is Supposed To Smell Like.

"I don't know how to describe what a vagina should smell like, but I can tell you what it shouldn't smell like," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine. "The vagina shouldn't smell like rotten fish or anything rotting. [That odor] is from bacterial vaginosis, which is really an imbalance of good guy and bad guy bacteria (the bad guys are the anaerobic bacteria which tend to be overgrowing, and anaerobes classically produce a foul or rotting type odor)."

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

The precursor of Robot Vagina: "Quick question to all of those who's tried both. Does a fleshlight give you a similar feeling to a flesh woman?"

From the comments:

"A real woman is always better than a fleshlight for one very important reason:
A woman cleans herself up after you are done with her."

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Implausibly, it's not a sex thing..."

We Should All Be Glad Someone Finally Invented a Robot Ass

Fernando Bello, the lead researcher behind the butt, told me that the system is basically a silicon thimble that a student wears on her finger. The thimble is outfitted with small robotic arms that subtly press against the material to create resistance as the student explores an anatomically correct ass, giving her the sensation of being inside a real anus..."

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Japanese Scientists.

But of course.

The Most Realistic Robotic Ass Ever Made

"Built by Nobuhiro Takahashi and a team at the Tokyo University of Electro-Communications, this is Shiri. Shiri, of course, means buttocks in Japanese, and the researchers claim that it "represents emotions with visual and tactual transformation of the muscles". Right.

While that might not be the most convincing statement you've ever read, the video certainly delivers: this is one mighty realistic ass."

What a great video.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

When Althouse uses the tag "the Future" she means Laslo.

I am Laslo.

Darrell said...

the video certainly delivers: this is one mighty realistic ass.

When's the last time you saw somebody alternately inflate their buttcheeks? Things must be different in Japan.

Rusty said...

"If a robot can replace the self-sustaining productivity of five humans, those five humans will either have to have their sustenance supplied externally, or they will be plowed under like so much compost."

You're assuming that this robot takeover will be or is happening in a vacuum. That the people involved have no choice. It isn't. Industrial automation-the area that employs the most robots-creates a lot of jobs. It's just that being employed even at an entry level requires more education now than it did 30 years ago.
If your job is a order taker at a fast food franchise your job is probably in jeopardy. If you're an electrician probably not.
Robotics is just technology. It's something we control.
I know people today who don't have and can't use a computer or a cell phone. By choice. They are afraid of a lot of things. Mostly they are afraid of the technology. But ignoring it doesn't make it go away.
I wonder how threatening the Antikythera device must have been? What other technologies did it spawn?
Technology always goes forward or we atrophy and wither away.

rhhardin said...

There will always be a need for essays e.g. The First White President by Ta-Nihisi Coates, which perhaps was written by a robot.

Derbyshire pronounces it unreadable, and that seems to be right; but that gives rise to the job of criticism.

I always confuse Ta Nihisi Coates with Kiri Te Kanawa. Compare and contrast.

rhhardin said...

One thing Ta Nihisi Coates does is to run history through a very narrow audio filter, giving rise to a single louder or softer note where there had been melody. This note he chooses and analyzes.

A note that perhaps was never there except as a component of something non-gaussian.

So it's like opera heard through a sea-shell. There's the Kiri Te Kanawa connection.

rhhardin said...

Sea-racism and sea-reparations.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Industrial automation-the area that employs the most robots-creates a lot of jobs. It's just that being employed even at an entry level requires more education now than it did 30 years ago.

There have been a lot of conflicting and contradictory issues crisscrossing in this thread, so let me be clear about the one I'm talking about. The phrase "(robot engendered) life without work" either assumes the existence of a universal welfare state, or it ridiculously assumes some sort of discorporeal human existence no longer burdened by the fundamental requirement to remain alive as a biological organism.

Oddly, it is probably necessary to remind everyone that as recently as a century or so ago human beings, in order to stay alive, still had a relatively broad ability to hunt, gather and farm without having to beg public or private institutions for opportunities to sustain themselves.

Everyone understands that, beyond the gee-whiz factor of developing robotic technology simply for the sake of itself, the commercial reason to replace human labor with robotic labor is the same reason illegal alien Mexican labor is imported to replace native labor: to increase productivity while lowering labor costs, thus boosting profits, particularly in a global market where labor costs have recently been leveled to a lowest common Third World denominator.

In the case of the imported Michoacán former subsistence farmer, now meat packer, we are replacing one human employed at higher wages with another human employed at lower wages. If the Michoacán native has become an American citizen, there has not even been any net loss of American jobs, just a change in the the person holding one, at now lower wages.

When we replace humans with machines, though, net human job loss occurs, particularly when the machines themselves become capable of building and maintaining other machines, more productively at costs systematically cascading even lower. If we have a deficit in the human labor supply, this is not necessarily a bad thing: we have successfully replaced a missing human being with a productive machine. If not, we have just created a socially superfluous person who must now be dealt with if he cannot be employed elsewhere.

The particular religious faith argument that technology has always, thus will always save us that you are advancing here contains the irony quoted at the very beginning above that, when we create one productivity-enhancing, labor-cost-saving automation job, what we really are doing is actually creating many other less-than-machine-productive, more costly than automated human jobs. I don't think U.S. industrial employment data supports this article of faith.

So, anyway, back to the only point I was ever making.

If you want to replace human employment with machine employment, be prepared to deal with the surplus population of humans you generate. The way we are doing that now is by taxing the still-employed population to support the unemployed population on the national dole while also importing lower cost foreign national labor to replace our higher cost native labor which we have chosen to support on the national dole instead. This imported foreign labor also participates in the national dole to some degree.

The only way capitalism can generate an expanding economy capable of productively supporting an increasing population is through an expanding resource frontier, including human food and shelter resources as well as industrial resources. The dreamy inner space of the Internet and the wireless comm networks are not a genuine such frontier. We need another material resource-rich and human habitable New World to expand into, or sooner or later the hungrier, more aggressive Southern Hemisphere populations will simply move wholesale into our economies and spaces, take what we have for themselves, and displace us.

stlcdr said...

There's a huge difference between automation and a robot (AI).

Robert Cook said...

"There's a huge difference between automation and a robot (AI)."

No. You're confusing science fiction with real life. A robot* need not be AI. A robot is simply a programmed, mechanized tool that can do several tasks or a specific task. Robots are already in use today, and not just in manufacturing. Roomba vacuum cleaners are robots and are in use in many homes today.

*ro·bot (from Czech, from robota ‘forced labor.’ The term was coined in K. Čapek's play R.U.R. ‘Rossum's Universal Robots’ -- 1920).
ˈrōˌbät,ˈrōbət/
noun
noun: robot; plural noun: robots
a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.
synonyms: automaton, android, golem; More
informal: bot, droid
"robots can perform certain tasks that are considered hazardous for humans"
(especially in science fiction) a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.
Used to refer to a person who behaves in a mechanical or unemotional manner.
"public servants are not expected to be mindless robots"

stlcdr said...

"No. You're confusing science fiction with real life. A robot* need not be AI. "

No, I'm not. And based on your responses above, your comment be replaced by a robot (automation). Indeed your quote defines AI and not automation - a robot programmed by a computer is possibly AI, but that same computer programmed by a human results in automation, and not AI.

People conflate automation and AI, by commonly referring to both as robots.

Robots (AI) do not exist in any sense in current technology, and is unlikely to exist in any meaningful sense for several decades. As has been seen over the past hundred years or so, and has been noted above, automation and robots have had zero threat on our survivability (on the contrary) and our need (necessity) to perform work.

Robert Cook said...

You simply repeated yourself at greater length without proving or even clarifying your point. You may hold a personal definition of robot by which standard you can believe they do not exist today, but, in fact, they do. As stated, a Roomba vaccum cleaner is a rudimentary robot in use in homes today. An automated tool is a robot; a robot is an automated tool. You can see robots at work on any episode of How It's Made.

Rusty said...

"The only way capitalism can generate an expanding economy capable of productively supporting an increasing population is through an expanding resource frontier, including human food and shelter resources as well as industrial resources."

It's one of things free markets do very well. The end of the world is at hand and yet somehow markets are found, wealth is created and jobs magically appear. It isn't monolithic. All players get a say.

stlcdr said...
"There's a huge difference between automation and a robot (AI)."

Yes. That point needed to be made.

Robert Cook said...

"The end of the world is at hand and yet somehow markets are found, wealth is created and jobs magically appear. It isn't monolithic. All players get a say."

Sweatshop laborers making clothing or electronic devices they can't afford to buy don't have much say; sweatshop laborers displaced by robots have no say.

"stlcdr said...
'There's a huge difference between automation and a robot (AI).'

"Yes. That point needed to be made."


But...what is the difference? That point hasn't been made. And, if there is a difference, (still not explained here), does it have any significance for humans made redundant from their jobs by automation/robots?

stlcdr said...

"But...what is the difference? That point hasn't been made. And, if there is a difference, (still not explained here), does it have any significance for humans made redundant from their jobs by automation/robots?"

Clearly, you fall into that group which can't understand the difference. As such, perhaps it does need simplifying.

The fear that you, and others based on the original post, believe that robots have intelligence. They don't. The roomba- referred to as a robot - has no intelligence: it's also not very good: it's a simplistic device with an extremely narrow capability. It's automation. It performs a very specific - repetetive - task. This is what robots (automation) do. This is what they will do for the foreseeable future.

For example, self checkout lines have replaced checkout clerks. It is a robot - it doesn't look like the stereotypical robot as many perceive them to be. What if, instead of the scanner, it was a human-like robot taking the items off the conveyor and placing them on another platform? When you have completed the transaction, the robot says 'thank you for shopping at Walmart'. Yet somehow, the perception is that one is perfectly acceptable, but the other is 'taking jobs and will lead to wars and famine'. People attribute intelligence to humanoid shapes where there is none, and fear that intelligence.

A human like robot has as much intelligence as a checkout scanner, yet is perceived to have so much more. It doesn't. Most robots are not in the form of a human like shape. Again we have had robots - as the original post describes - for a hundred or more years.

I wonder, did God fear when he made man in His own likeness?

Bruce Hayden said...

I do think that, in terms of what most of us would term robots, there are several converging factors that may see them arrive before you expect such.
- we are fast nearing the time of mostly autonomous locomotion.Engineering schools have been competing for years in this area. Military UAVs have grown progressively more autonomous. Recently our military engaged in wR games to test out a "buddy" system, where partially autonomous armed platforms work with, and are fired by, soldiers. That is very likely the face of At least American war fighting in the next decade or so. Gen Selva, in Congressional hearings in July, discussed the importance of keeping actual "shoot" decisions in human hands - because there will be an awful lot of pressure to make this more autonomous, and thus faster and (usual)more accurate. And, of course, we are talked no now about self-driving cars.
- our prosthesis research is progressing very quickly, with such becoming maybe even more functional than the limbs that they replace. One of the recent trends is adding tactile sensing (pressure, of course, but also at least temperature). Last fall went to an IEEE section meeting in Boulder CO with my kid that demonstrated a lot of these capabilities.
- AI is getting better and better. We see it every day with the way we are microtargeted for marketing. Alexus and Siri are rapidly entering our houses and our lives. Medical AI is starting to surpass humans in diagnostic ability. List goes on.

The piece that I am not seeing yet is self-awareness. And that may be a bit, before we need Asimov's 3 laws. Another thing is that in many cases, the human form is probably not the most efficient for any given task, or even group of tasks. Why spend the resources on duplicating skin, arms, fingers, legs, feet, eyes, etc, when what the Army needs is an intelligent, mobile, mostly autonomous, gun platform? Wheels or tracks work usually just fine. Or a surgery needs fine manipulation of multiple surgical instruments, but doesn't need to really go anywhere? Or, really even vacuuming, where a Rhomba disk works just fine. Which maybe is to say that we may be fairly close to the ability to build fairly human like apparatuses that can perform multiple tasks, but it isn't clear if that will be advantageous in the near future from a functionality viewpoint.

Robert Cook said...

"The fear that you, and others based on the original post, believe that robots have intelligence. They don't."

Nowhere do I say or suggest robots are intelligent, and I do not have any fear of robots based on such a supposition.

A robot is simply another tool that will replace human labor, for good and bad. I don't foresee robots taking over from or tyrannizing humans because of any "intelligence" or volition on their part. Robots will undo the need for (most?) human labor due to increasing adoption of robots by human owners/overseers to do work faster, more efficiently, cheaper, and with (presumably) less error than human laborers. This puts human beings out of work for the benefit of the humans who will realize greater profit by dispensing with the pay and other benefits, (if any) they would have spent otherwise on human laborers.

If we reach a point where most labor--even complex labor, such as that done by lawyers and doctors and engineers--can be and will be done by robots, will there be sufficient new jobs created to employ the masses of humans in the world? If not...how will those masses of humans obtain income to sustain their lives?

This is the point of concern, not some notion that robots will become aware and will start plotting against us.

As I said to begin with, you confuse science fiction with real life.

Robert Cook said...

"If we reach a point where most labor--even complex labor, such as that done by lawyers and doctors and engineers--can be and will be done by robots...."

This is not a matter, by the way, of "if," but of "when."

Chris N said...

After that whole Industrial Revolution thing, I'm glad I can work at the factory in the morning, then hunt and fish in the afternoon.

-John Q Guardian

Rusty said...

That's it. Your robot tyranny is inevitable.
Now where did I park my flying car?

TomHynes said...

Will the government allow us to raise our own children? Assume a robot that can do all the right parenting stuff - change diapers, cuddle, read books to, take the child to school, go to parent teacher conferences, keep safe from predators. Humans can't possibly do a better job, and on any given day will screw up a few things. DCFS doesn't even have to remove the child, it just has to assign a robot.