Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Comment on this entry

Robots will steal your job, but that’s OK: how to survive the economic collapse and be happy

Federico Pistono

Ethical Technology

February 10, 2012

You are about to become obsolete. You think that you are special, unique, and that whatever it is that you are doing is impossible to replace. You are wrong.


Complete entry


Posted by CygnusX1  on  02/10  at  08:59 AM

Excellent article!

This is the kind of reflection and forward thinking we need to help change world view and ensure that future sufferings are minimised.

I have commented here before regarding my views on what humans could possibly do with their time and to supplement work and personal aspirations in future times of mass unemployment, so I won’t bother repeating myself - see my references in earlier articles to Jaron Lanier.

In case anyone missed it first time round, the excellent video presentation below aligns itself with this article perfectly.

‪The Great Scam of Human Labor


Posted by Peter Wicks  on  02/10  at  10:30 AM

Fortunately the paradigm shift is taking place, to some extent. Increasingly people are questioning aspects of “employment” that we have taken for granted. The concept of the “lifelong career” is fairly clearly on its way out. Hierarchical professional relationships and abusive office environments are tolerated less and less, and we are voting with our feet. Financial insecurity remains a huge disincentive for most, but at least some of us are managing successfully to decouple our sense of worth, and belonging, from the five-day-a-week office job (or similar). Gradually, people start to take a more distant approach to money. It is still there, but its influence (except obviously in the financial sector and in times of financial stress, sadly and unnecessarily prevalent today) is less direct. The buzz in business is on the non-monetary means of motivation, marketing, building of client bases and partnerships: from the transactional model to the relationship model.

Too optimistic? Perhaps. But these trends do exist, even if there are also (arguably more powerful) countervailing ones. The problem is that progress is too slow, and the stresses, whether due to further automation or other causes, may overwhelm them.

Posted by Pastor_Alex  on  02/10  at  11:19 AM

As I may have commented elsewhere, Asimov suggests a system in which only the wealthy have meaningful jobs while the poor spend their time madly consuming goods to keep the economy going.

The problem with suggesting that work will be eliminated by automation is that it is likely all the wrong jobs that will be eliminated. The low end slave wage jobs will probably remain because it is cheaper and easier to use humans than to build and program a robot to flip burgers and serve customers. This will eventually change, but it is slow. The service industry and McJobs are among the fastest growing segment of employment.

The article also doesn’t account for the developing world and the slave labour employed there. Change will happen, but it will be slow and uneven. As Frederico says we need to start thinking and planning now.

Posted by technocratic  on  02/11  at  05:37 PM

I like this article, but some portions are uncomfortably close to Kurzweil’s talk entitled Exponential Learning & Entrepreneurship, presented at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference last month.

Posted by ptitus  on  02/12  at  04:24 PM

Great article! I featured it on our facebook page: The Automated Economy.
You might want to check it out as you’re writing your book. We’ve posted every web article we could find about automation technologies as they relate to unemployment. One thing I’ve noticed is that most authors rarely discuss solutions- and if they do, they often don’t make much sense. Marshall brain has a great article called Robotic Nation where he outlines a really elegant solution that could be implemented now and ramped up over time, yet I’ve never heard anyone discussing his ideas anywhere. Maybe your book could help get the discussion going.

Posted by Curt Welch  on  02/12  at  10:06 PM

Great Article!

My response got too long, so I turned it into a blog post:

Lets Light This Fuse!


Posted by Bruno Coelho  on  02/13  at  01:19 AM

The idea that economy market will solve the unemployment problem is old, and i don’t buy it. It’s fairly simple to see why people get fired because of robots, they do the job and don’t blame, or ask for rights.

If regulation is the respond, then fine, someone trying to protect the citizens is a good thing. But, the technological progress will not stop, and complex machines can do the jobs of much more men now than in the past, and tha’ts is something governments have to do something about.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  02/13  at  08:50 AM

@Bruno Coelho

OK but we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past and call on governments simply to protect uncompetitive ways of doing business (i.e. not using robots). That’s a recipe for sclerosis. We need some means of managing the transition, and turning threats into opportunities. And opportunities there are: as the author notes, there is a lot to be said for not being a wage slave any more.

Posted by Jock Doubleday  on  02/15  at  03:12 AM

If your job is drudgery, it’s good that robot technology is stealing it.

One solution to unemployment is to create your own joyful job - in your backyard.

Create a thriving, rewarding, bird- and bee-filled garden to grow the food you usually buy, at great expense, at the store.

If you don’t have a backyard, create a sprout forest in your house, using containers. Sprouts contain the highest nutrition anyway, so urban dwellers could end up being the best fed.

Use extra sprouts/veggies to trade for things you need. Form community.

Don’t let robots get you down.

Posted by Kelly Balthrop  on  04/02  at  04:23 PM

An excellent article Frederico. I have blogged about the same subject. I also offer a solution, as a Resource Based Economy. It involves the elimination of currency, and a restructuring of all our institutions to provide every person on Earth access to the resources they need.

The employment Problem:

Description of a Resource Based Economy:

Implementation Plan:

Posted by rodrigo  on  12/30  at  08:23 PM

I too have thought about this for a long time and can’t say I have a solution, but here’s one naive-sounding view worth considering, which is this: perhaps this is nothing new.

Back in the day there were only very basic jobs: hunting, gathering, raising babies, cooking. Then technology came along and people developed more sophisticated jobs: farmer, trader, soldier.

Technology kept going and now there is an large percentage of people providing of sorts of service that were unthinkable until recently. The entertainment industry comes to mind, as it is huge and very varied.

So an extrapolation is that, as technology keeps going, the cultural industry will keep growing. Note that only humans can produce these cultural goods (books, plays, movies, art, designed objects), since they are based on ultimately primitive emotional drives that are unique to human evolution. The only AI able to replicate these would be machines that replicated these drives as well. Perhaps that will happen in time but that seems to be really far away.

At the end of a process in which every mechanical and routine job is automated, there should be enough wealth to support a population where most people are either a cultural producer, or a dependent of one. Mechanical and routine jobs would be a thing of the past, as remote-sounding as the job of hunting for food.

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