"Better Than Human" -- What happens When Humans become Obsolete?

posted Jan 4, 2013, 2:42 AM by Peter Joseph Moons
"Better Than Human" - Wired.com


Comments by Peter Joseph Moons

The industrialized world is at the cusp of a revolution caused by the merging of technology, robotics, and labor.  The result, as Wired author Kevin Kelly imagines, will be "70 percent of today’s occupations will...be replaced by automation."

Several branches from this trend are worth noting.  First, as sci-fi writers have imagined for decades or longer, machines will have the capacity to create, re-fine, and repair their own.  At first, humans will provide the labor that delivers the raw materials, but that will trend downward.  

Second, the pool of unemployed will rise, slowly at first, but then dramatically, as corporations see the need for human capital as a burden on their 'net profit after operating expenses,' and subsequently no longer employs current labor nor seeks like replacements.  

Third, there are secondary and tertiary effects on societies and governments.  More displaced workers will require unemployment insurance and further demand resources from the social safety net, until, decades or generations later, a correct balance between population size and employment is met.  As Microsoft's Bill Gates has noted, education in the US has to change in order to meet the needs of the information society.  To be successful, that trend needs a hyper-boost.  

Fourth, imagine how the medical care systems in the US will be simultaneously aided by robotic agents and then burdened with new patients from the retiring baby boomer generation.  There are likely unintended effects, both positive and negative, across whole industries and societal segments that are yet imagined.

Lastly, as technology transfer pushes robotic replacement radially into the developing world, masses of unemployed, low-skilled laborers, from construction, to manufacturing, and still existing agriculture (vice agribusiness in the West) will distort economies and societies.  The question will be this: What are all the formerly employed workers going to do with their time.  Surely this question was asked in the 1800's when steam-powered machines replaced human labor.  However, the scale and density of this next wave of machines displacing humans will surpass that of the previous eras.

In terms of freedom, societies with vast numbers of idle, unemployed youthful or middle-aged workers do not portend stability.  Governments will eventually have to 'control' the time or activities of said formerly employed persons, because not every person whose job is replaced by a robot is going to take up pottery, painting, or piano lessons to fill the relentless boredom of their former working lives.

Current Control Grade: 1. Freedom Grade: 9. (Future grades could transpose.)