IEET Fellow Marshall Brain spoke on his projections of widespread structural unemployment as a result of automation, and the need for a basic income guarantee, at the Singularity Summit in San Jose.
Brainy Robots To Lead To Longer Unemployment Lines?
By Priya Ganapati
Robot lovers and outsourcing opponents could soon have something in common: the fear that their jobs are at stake.
In the future robots will take over many tasks performed by American workers today potentially leading to increased unemployment, says Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works and author of e-book Robotic Nation.
“In theory we should all be able to go on a perpetual vacation as robots do all the work,” Brain told attendees in a presentation at the Singularity Summit in San Jose. ” Instead because of the way the economy is structured right now, when robots arrive it will have devastating effects on all of us because there will be so many unemployed people.”
The implications of an increasingly automated economy could be dire for society unless we restructure our economy, he argues.
While productivity has risen over the year, worker compensation has not kept pace and there is increasing concentration of wealth, says Brain.
Developments in robotics means that technologists could be creating a second intelligent species, claims Brain. “So far no credible evidence to indicate that there is more than one intelligent species in the universe, which is us,” he says. “But that changes with the robots.”
Computational power has significantly increased in the last two decades and is growing exponentially. In 1992, computers could perform about 300,000 operations per second. By 2022, it is likely to jump to a trillion operations per second and by 2042 it could be a quadrillion operations per second, predicts Brain.
“A $500 machine that can do that, whenever it happens, combined with vision and natural language processing could change how we look at robots,” he says.
Potential applications of robots could then be in use as automatons in fast food restaurants, transportation, education, construction and retail among other areas. We will have robotic cashiers, robotic stocking, sweeping, help and cart retrieval at Wal-Mart,” says Brain.
To deal with that version of the future, he suggests society should redesign the economy to get the benefits of automation.
His solution? Spread the benefit of productivity to everyone by breaking the concentration of wealth, increase pay and reduce the work week. Sounds a lot like socialism, doesn’t it?
The idea provoked a question from attendees. When industrialization first occurred there were fears of massive unemployment which never panned out. Why will the integration of robots into the workforce be any different?
“We didn’t create a second intelligent species 150 years ago,” says Brain. “Now we are doing that with intelligence that will get better and better.”