32 votes

Robots will steal our jobs...Really?!

Just a week ago, I had a lengthy conversation with someone claiming robots will "steal our jobs", and to my surprise, the same arguments thrown at me then have been showing up here on the DP.

Time for a full-post rebuttal...

So the argument I'd like to refute goes something like this:

As Robots (could just as easily be "tools", "machines", "factories", "technology", "automation"...the premise is the same) get more advanced, human work won't be needed to produce goods and provide services. This means:

a) humans won't have any jobs
b) humans won't be able to afford any goods because they have no income

I'm going to start with debunking (b), because it's the easiest to understand and once it's debunked, the concerns from (a) are no longer concerns...

At the heart of (b) exists a paradigm that goes something like: work => income => buying stuff. The best way to bust up this paradigm is to ask three questions:

1. How many hours did you work last year to afford electricity?
2. How many hours did you work last year to afford food?
3. How many hours did you work last year to afford gravity?

I know exactly how many hours you spent on No. 3: ZERO, just like every other person on the planet. So what's different between gravity and electricity/food? The difference is your use of gravity doesn't require any other human work to create it or supply you. The same is true for daylight, air, sunsets, clouds, etc. And just like gravity, we all spend exactly zero hours of work to afford those things.

Now in this robot world in which robots can produce everything with no human work, everything becomes just like gravity, free in the literal sense. That's not a world in which we "can't afford anything"...it's a world in which we don't NEED to afford anything.

When you "buy" something, you're exchanging the productivity of your work for the productivity of someone else's. But if the things you want didn't require anyone else's productivity, you can just have it without exchanging your own productivity...because there's no one to exchange with...like gravity.

It basically boils down to a trivial statement: when work is no longer required (to create), work is no longer required (to have).

Now on to (a)...

If you define "jobs" something like "the work needed to sustain ourselves by producing goods and providing services", (a) is absolutely true...to which I say "GREAT! Where do I sign?"

Since work is not needed to "afford stuff" that requires no work to produce, getting rid of "jobs" frees up our time and efforts for other more enjoyable pursuits: creativity, art, exploration, entertainment...the pursuit of happiness.

Where people go wrong is to assume that if we don't need to work, there would be nothing to do...maybe sit around and eat grapes all day.

First off, we already have the technology to do that right now...and we don't because that type of life isn't enjoyable.

More importantly, that assumption stems from the premise that there is some limit to the ways in which we can use our skills and efforts to make the world better. I just don't buy that at all. I don't even think we've scratched the surface of the possibilities of ways we can make life better...on THIS earth. When I look up at night and consider the entire universe, it becomes clear that we haven't even scratched the first piece of dust off of the surface of possibilities.

Ironically, it's exactly the increase of technology that expands our ability to serve each other in new and creative ways. There was a time when basically everyone was born a farmer. Thanks to agriculture equipment "stealing" those jobs, people now have way more options of how they apply their skills and efforts. Again, the benefit not being the "work" created by technology, but the ever-increasing amount, variety, and quality of goods and services created by the work.

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Forgive me for pointing out

Forgive me for pointing out that I already fully understand the economic argument that says greater productivity and efficiency (from more capital intensive production) can create more output per labor input. That is the definition of productivity.

What I said, and was never addressed, is that if the income lost to the laborer or a large number of laborers is not replaced by other income, he his poorer. Unless John can find something to trade for the output of Bob's capital, that also cannot be automated by Bob, who after all is the owner of the robot, not John, than John will not have income to purchase any of the output.

Pretty straightforward concept. Almost a tautology.

What you're suggesting is that it is a law of economics that John will, somehow, no matter what, have something to offer Bob of economic value.

In a world of total automation, there is no reason to assume the typical person will have any good or service to offer that can secure him a share of the output. He might demand a share by political means. But economically he might have no value. You haven't dealt with the possibility of there being people with no economic value.

People get by in the world by trading their labor for consumption goods, or by drawing an income from the ownership of capital, or by getting state entitlements.

If a person's physical and most, if not all, intellectual labor is worthless, than very few people will be able to make a living.

If you think a person with a hungry mouth will automatically be entitled to a share of the output, regardless of whether he has anything to exchange for it, you probably haven't integrated political reality into your economic paradigm.

Technology helps the poor too.

I know this is from a while ago, but I re-read our discussion and would like to offer the following comments.

Looking at Bob and John, this is what I believe your misunderstanding is...

You feel that any new robots that automate their (or just John's) labor will be owned solely by Bob and that John will never be able to see any benefit from them.

I don't think that holds water, though, when you look at actual results of actual history.

Every major automation and technology eventually (usually pretty quickly) became available to the masses.

From the wheel and fishing nets, to the automobile, airplane, computers, internet, telephones, smartphones, air conditioning, medicine, etc., etc., etc...

Not ONCE was the rich able to solely reap the benefits of those advancements in technology.

Even an average (or even poor) person today can at any time jump in their car, drive to the grocery store (with the AC on and while talking to their friend on their smartphone), and buy some mangoes.

Rockefeller couldn't have done any of that at any time in his life.

Automation made that possible, and the benefits are reaped by everyone, not horded by the rich. They might have liked to horde the benefits, but they couldn't.

In other words, Bob has never in history been able to use the fish catching machine only for himself.

Once you understand that all these super amazing future technologies that replace human labor will become available to everyone (in the same way that the telephone is now available to everyone), you'll understand why people will no longer need to derive their "making a living" from providing labor for others.

This is a world of complete abundance for everyone. In a world of complete abundance, you don't need to exchange your work to make a living...

In the same way that you NOW don't need to exchange your work for gravity, sunlight, or air.

once upon a time, people

once upon a time, people lived without property in land, because the technique and capital of agriculture had not yet been developed. there were some status inequalities in society, and there was not total liberty, let alone peace, but pretty much everyone was a hunter and no one really belonged to anyone else as an economic tool or piece of property.

technology changed all that, the physical capital and technique of agriculture bestowed economic value on land by the acreage, and to people by the cart-load of slaves.

a whole new era emerged of wars for the capture of slaves to produce economic surplus, and inequality increased alongside capital.

don't get me wrong. civilization and humanity advanced because of this. i am not condemning this process. but a simple technological development ushered in millenia of slavery. and the political means and apparatus to enforce it had to develop to keep the system going, providing stability and justification for the new social order technology had enabled.

technology is inevitable. but take off the rose colored glasses. the political impact a new technology has is completely unpredictable.

as much as gun powder, printing, mobile capital and the internet advanced individual liberty, so much so can other technologies suppress it or even make it impossible.

technology that makes privacy impossible, or which strips the average person of economic value, or allows inequality of wealth to balloon 100 or 1000 x its present state, are entirely possible. there is nothing written in the law of things that liberty and individualism will always prevail.

welcome technology, understand that it blazes its own trail and once it emerges will be adopted by all, due to competition. but don't try to pass a moral judgement upon all technology as inherently good. there is no basis for such a judgement or such assumptions.

Asclepius's picture

I agree that technology is just a tool ...

I agree that technology is just a tool that can be used for good or bad purposes. The internet for example as pointed out by Ron Paul offers unprecedented opportunity to educate the masses on the merits of liberty over the dictates of tyranny.

But, if we continue to allow our technology to be governed by global corporatism, the consequences are crystal clear. Don't take my word for it, listen to the corporatists themselves...

In the documentary, We Feed the World, then-CEO of Nestlé, the world’s largest foodstuff corporation, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, shared some of his own views and ‘wisdom’ about the world and humanity. Brabeck believes that Nature is not “good,” that there is nothing to worry about with GMO foods, that profits matter above all else, that people should work more, and that human beings do not have a right to water.

“We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and we still go around as if we were in mourning for something. At the end of the video, while watching a promotional video of a Nestlé factory in Japan, Brabeck boasts, “You can see how modern these factories are; highly robotized almost no people.”

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. - Bob Marley



End the Fed. End the Wars. Problems Solved. Ron Paul.

That graph at 8:32

To me it looks like we're headed for an asymptote. And it's coming Real Soon Now.

Freedom is my Worship Word!

Quite the opposite

What you're seeing (at 8:53) in population growth is an exponential curve. Regardless of where you catch it, they will always look like a hockey stick when viewed on a linear scale. If you want to see any sensible info, you must view it on a logarithmic scale where it will look like a straight line of growth.

Seeing that graph (the real info) correctly, you will notice that the slope of the growth line has been leveling for quite a while. This is the growth trend being replaced with a reduction trend as your other reply mentioned.

The hidden aspect that has yet to be discussed in public circles is not that population will peak and settle. It's that once it peaks, it will dive bomb violently. You see, having certain numbers of children is a sacred choice that evolves over many generations. It cannot be increased by decree as China decreased it.

When the peak happens, it may simply crash for more than a generation. This can happen due to a very likely chain of events. News for decades will advocate lower birth rates.
Developed nations will drop way below replacement rates. (already have)
Developing nations' birth rates will only be artificially high due to patches of inequality.
Global inequality will be dramatically cut in those patches simultaneously.
This leads to much lower than replacement rates in those countries who formerly covered for the entire planet's under-replacement rates.
With nominal population ranging from 8-12 billion people by then, it will be nearly impossible to change the mindset on child numbers in less than 1 generation.
With 1 entire generation having a 1.5 birth rate (per female) instead of a sustainable 2.1 rate (required replacement), the population could drop from 10 billion to 5-6 billion in 3 decades.
It's for the reader to decide if this is bad or ok. Either way, it has major implications.

No, not really.

There's another video that explains the human population will naturally cap out at around 10 billion people. Some experts even say less than that, due to economic uncertainties children worldwide are being born on a lesser scale than in previous generations. However, life expectancies are much longer, so these variables all toy around with each other.

Then there's the possibility of WW3. That would throw a curve into those curves, eliminating the asymptote as you previously mentioned.

End the Fed. End the Wars. Problems Solved. Ron Paul.

I can't wait when we have

I can't wait when we have robots to "steal" our CURRENT ways of productivity.

The idea that we have a finite amount of work to do is preposterous. I can name two things off the top of my head that are concealing so many undiscovered things that would benefit society. The ocean depths here at home, and the big one, space. But reaching space in an efficient way and exploring it in a simpler way, would require a ton of human productivity. Good thing people want to stop those evil robot job killers... >_>

Your in Love

with Tech. so you refuse to see that when evil men rule they bend the tech to thier own ends.
The do not think you and I are equal to them at all and will do what ever they want to the environment and the populations of the planet. Depopulation is the name of the game and if you think that the nerds will save you , well you are sadly mistaken. God will not intervene and save us, the truth is we save ourselves or we are lost. There is a truth that we all are missing and that is what many constantly pontificate about, What is the End Game?
With the advances in tech humans are loosing value in the equations of the powerful at what point do individuals lose all value.

Tasers are Torture, Deism.com

when you denounce tech as evil... it's only becuase you are not

when you denounce tech as evil... it's only because you are not participating in making it.

Tech is only a tool and only serves to amplify one's potential, good or bad. As long as the liberty community calls it evil and refuses to participate in guiding it, then those who guide it become the rulers of us all. They will gain the amplifying powers of tech because we are not helping to guide it.

Tools of war are not always obvious. The worst weapon is an idea planted in the mind of man. Prejudices can kill, suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has an everlasting fallout all of its own.


Imagine if we were having a similar discussion in the 1980s (say, at a local Libertarian Party meeting) but instead of talking about automation we were having a discussion about the upcoming internet. I guarantee that many would be providing the same concerns as they do here: The military's developing it, crony-corporate institutions will control it, etc. But look at what its given us.

Without the internet, the mainstream media would have said Ron Paul doesn't exist, we would have never been able to YouTube his debates, and none of us would be here. Where are the evil men controlling the internet? What evil men are controlling the DP? They don't exist... because its design is decentralized.

As things like open-source software and open-source robotics become more and robust and as technology becomes more and more affordable, the potential becomes great.

My suggestion is to not be overly pessimistic or optimistic about the situation, but as firefox said, to contribute to it, if you want to see it succeed and benefit us all.

I am going to debunk your

I am going to debunk your debunking. The difference between gravity and food/electricity is that gravity can not be monopolized and controlled. Why is someone going to produce electricity and food, and give it to you for free? If someone had a way to shut off sunlight and sell it, they would.

As far as jobs, sitting around and eating grapes would be awesome, speaking for myself. Most likely I would pursue hobbies like learning how to do some fine woodworking, or going fishing with my son. We don't refrain from a life of relaxation because its not enjoyable, we do it because we have to pay bills, and have some money to enjoy ourselves in our limited personal time.

When our military becomes fully robotic, do you really think that out of the kindness of their hearts the elites would not commit genocide? Ever looked down on a person in a lower social economic class as a waste of space? Ever thought an unhappy drug addict was worthless? How is that not amplified when you are at the top of the pyramid? They wouldn't have to watch the slaughter anymore than Adolf Hitler in his palace while others ran operations at the concentration camps. Easy to rationalize something away if you don't have to look at it. Robots do not resist immoral orders, and the elites won't see it as killing us, they will see it as saving the earth. I bet there is more than one person reading this that thinks there are too many people, however those people seldom think they themselves are one of those too many.

several things

1. The military already could commit genocide. Quite easily, actually. This has been true for a long time...if that was the "elite's" plan, what are they waiting for?

2. It's too difficult for corporations to monopolize technology in the long run. Inevitably, technology and competition drives costs down, despite corporations desire to gouge their customers. Here's the cost of 1 hour of reading light over time in terms of the hours needed to work at the average wage to afford it:

1750 BC - 52 hours of work (sesame oil lamp)
1800 AD - 6 hours of work (tallow candle)
1880 AD - 15 minutes of work (kerosene lamp)
1950 AD - 8 seconds of work (conventional filament bulb)
2012 AD - 0.5 seconds of work (18W compact-fluorescent bulb)

For all practical purposes, reading light is now free...like gravity. I'm sure studies of transportation, communications, medical treatments, food, drinking water, etc. over time would show pretty much the same thing: dramatic reduction in cost and dramatic increase of availability for all people.

The evidence is overwhelming: increasing productivity (technology) allows more people to have more. I mean, seriously dude, open your eyes...it's self evident. If you disagree with that, you really ought to ditch technology altogether and go live like people did 1000 years ago...no, actually 10,000 years ago.

A few of us have been talking about this in chat for a while

You should come join in on the convo.

Remarkable things are talking place in the world and its just now starting to come into focus.

I fully agree with your assessment. What most people fail to see is how much cheaper everything will be with increased automation and reduced energy prices(via solar, tidal etc)

My theory holds that an ever increasing amount of people will become content creators(artists and programmers). Like making FIVR computer game environments, google glass like apps, ect. Basic needs will be so cheap that they become a constitutionally amended natural human right.

The problem right now is education, fear and regulation.

Tools of war are not always obvious. The worst weapon is an idea planted in the mind of man. Prejudices can kill, suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has an everlasting fallout all of its own.

Hmm How many imagine Mr. Data when they think of robots?

Or the musing of Issac Asimov and his Robot stories.

Politicians find it expedient to make people fear for their livelihood.

They stir this pot often demonizing, what they want destroyed, by color, origin, religion and so on. And 'robots' are a way to demonize capital.

Government promises to save the day, government run by politicians.

The role of government is to preserve and protect individual liberty.

Free includes debt-free!

but...but...but...they may kill us all! OMG! OMG! LOL...er.. .o(

STOP Killer Robots.org: The SkyNet & the Terminators are Already Here! Stop Them, before It gets Worse!


Don't say Paul Verhoeven & ED209 didn't warn ya!

LOL...er.. .o(

Predictions in due Time...

"Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once it's realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy." - Dr. Ronald Ernest Paul

gravity is not a good

gravity is not a good analogy. gravity can't be owned by anyone. gravity doesn't have to be distributed through some organized system of social interaction in order to be consumed. the amount of gravity can't be changed. gravity does not directly provide for sustenance and increase of life.

if the world had unlimited abundance of food and energy because of some technological innovation, that tells us absolutely nothing about who would own the apparatus that produces the endless plenty (the state, agri-biz / state conglomerate, agribiz cartel alone, distributed small businesses, family permaculture farms).

it tells us nothing about how the food (or energy) is distributed to every individual from its owners. tokens? govt tickets? is it a civil right? monthly allowance? how does someone get their share if they can't provide something of economic value to others, sufficient to justify another mouth the feed. you do realize the surface of the planet is limited, right?

it tells us nothing about who controls the amount of food and energy available, or what amount would made available at any given time, and on what basis.

finally, it gives us no insight into how these factors would come together to determine how population would be managed, when the means for sustenance and increase of population become unlimited.

do you think the fact that technology makes something potentially unlimited means everyone will be entitled to an equal and unlimited share without cost?

in the world we live in now, power derives from the fact that many things are indeed scarce, and economic competition under the market order provides the battlefield, so to speak, for earning wealth and influence. this is ultimately expressed through power in politics.

but in a world of unlimited plenty, the impulse toward competition and gaining higher status than others wouldn't disappear. it would have to find other channels to be expressed.

do you really believe that in a world were the average person has no economic value, endless mouths will be fed just by charity, or free availability of food and energy?

do you really think people who are smarter, shrewder and more capable will not find ways to control the necessities of life and make them 'scarce' by artificial means, if necessary?

at some point along the curve, an additional mouth to feed would not only have zero economic value, but negative value, as a source of possible instability, and a blight on an overcrowded planet for the rest of the people. space on the planet will always be scarce regardless of whether food or energy become unlimited.

do we really want to create conditions in which billions of people who have no economic value to other people crowd the globe to the point that no other way of existence is even possible. all dependent on some technological system that could at any point be disrupted?

the economics of unlimited abundance as are dismal as the those of scarcity. malthus wins again.

If you have a job that can be done by a robot...

... then you are existing and not living. You are denying yourself the fruits of observation and imagination which are not fund i any machines; despite expressed (and overblown) hopes for AI.

The more we rely on "robots" aka technology

the more we become slaves. You see a world where we don't have to work and have everything we want because of technology but you fail to address the enslavement that comes with it. Not to mention the fallacious belief that everyone can have what they want without working for it.

Robots do take jobs but more importantly they take our freedom.

Robots make humans obsolete.

Robots make humans obsolete. The elite need humans in order for them to transfer the value created by workers to themselves, making their lives more comfortable at the present time. Why have humans complaining that they want their share of the profits, when you can just get rid of most of them? Why not reduce human slaves down to a more easily managed level? Why not get rid of all the unattractive people and only keep around a small population of hot slaves to serve you?

Or are you going to out of the goodness of your heart let billions of people go on permanent vacation, and use up the planets resources? The fallacy in the arguments that technology is going to be awesome for the future, is the inability by some of the DPers to understand how ruthless people think. Many of you guys are looking at things through the biased eyes of a good person, not through the eyes of a sociopath. Sociopaths run things, not nice people.

Hey. You wont get any argument from me.

I concur pretty much %100 with what you are saying. Technology is a double edged sword and though some think of "good" things to use it for it will always inevitably be used for evil. Most DPers refuse to acknowledge the dark side of human nature and the fact that it is always seeking to control. That is why a lot of the grandiose idealistic proposals of anarchy, libertarianism, communism, constitutional republics, etc... are unworkable in the real world. Man is evil and mans rule over other men always turns evil.

screw guns, power saws, new

screw guns, power saws, new cell phones with internet, microwaves, etc... they are the "robots" they dont make us slaves they make life easier to live. If people think advances in technology will destroy the market they need to go back and read henry hazlitts' "economics in one lesson". Besides "walking robots" wont be growing and cooking our food or building my house for me for a looooooong time. Which life will continue even if they were doing that stuff

They took ur jobs!

who will build these robots?

who will build these robots? who will service them when they need repaired? Who will sell robots to these establishments? Who will build and sell new robots to replace the old obsolete ones?

A robot might displace 20

A robot might displace 20 humans from their manufacturing jobs, and create 5 new jobs in sales and robot repair/manufacturing. An initial net loss of jobs. Eventually robots will build and repair robots. Also humans are trending towards not wanting to deal with human sales people. Ever shopped online and read consumer reviews, instead of going with a salesman's recommendation?

Couldn't robots perform

all of these functions?

lol robots already build robotas


BEWARE OF THE T1000 liquid metal

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords

I personally can't wait for robotics to become ubiquitous. I'm seeing it approach faster every day and I think it's great. Why? Because I'm seeing it happen fastest in the 13-18 year old demographic. These kids are joining organizations (lower case) online that collect and connect various modules of code together that can be used for major robotic tasks. They use extremely cheap hardware and with every increasingly intelligent code, they are able to achieve previously unheard-of accuracy and speed.

Since their code snippets are modular, they can be used in thousands of new combinations to perform tasks that just yesterday weren't even dreamed of. In just a couple years, their flagship project - the quadcopter - has far surpassed the flight capability and maneuverability of any professional aircraft, human or computer driven. These things are amazing in their agility and they can recalculate their flight path as often as hundreds of times per second. They even have helicopters effectively hovering vertical by waving them back and forth very fast.

The point is that this is the real robotic revolution. The advertised one is made of expensive, highly accurate machines programmed by even more expensive engineers with decades of experience. Metaphorically, this new, real revolution is effectively throwing millions of rocks at the target (with +/- 1' accuracy) instead of one million dollar high tech, smart bomb (with +/- 6" accuracy). The difference is massive, considering the smart bomb costs the equivalent of hundreds of billions of rocks.

What does this lead to? It won't be putting those masses of robots in the hands of the elites. Sure, they'll want to jump on board but for every task they buy into, the masses will just create a better solution and then throw huge numbers at the problem. If you want to think in terms of drones, picture a million dollar drone that is finally autonomous and can identify it's target (for surveillance or attack) fighting off a thousand $80 drones that can literally fly circles around it.

Just like this technology is rapidly migrating from the elites, company owners and power mongers back out to the people, so will all other technologies. What's the result? The only obvious result is that everyone will end up with affordable means to fully self support their families. We will have onsite production of power, a majority of our food, communications, entertainment, education and even the means to produce the very equipment required for those things.

The short answer then becomes that we won't be mandated to work because we won't need much money because we won't need to buy a month's subsistence at a time. We can acquire the equipment once and pass it along to each other while completely avoiding that debt scam that is our current fiat financial system.

The Luddite Technological Corporation.

Robots are people, too!