Robots will steal our jobs...Really?!Submitted by salberty on Sat, 08/10/2013 - 17:54
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.