Robot workforce: A bright future

Artist rendering of a space mine (NASA, 1977)

Artist rendering of a space mine (NASA, 1977)

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Now the last story.

As money on a governmental level has been abolished we will have an unprecedented opportunity for great projects which are now hampered by available funding. Programs (largely) abandoned for economic reasons or just sheer technical difficulty can once again flourish. Even projects not even attempted yet can get a go ahead.

We will see permanent bases on the Moon and Mars. Maybe even on Europe, a moon of Jupiter, which is likely to be covered in a liquid ocean. Both the Moon and Mars might eventually see their population reach in the millions, even if it will take a while. We will send robots first preparing the land and building the colonies until humans can come. The moon will be a premium location for space tourism because it is close to earth and because it still has gravity. True micro gravity (which you have in the ISS for instance) makes many people sick, not what you’d want on your holiday.

We will start terraforming Mars. We will build factories which put greenhouse gasses into the air, warming the planet. It will melt the ice eventually and we will seed the first plants on it’s surface (or actually moss, which precedes plant life on earth). Eventually making Mars a relatively lush planet, at least near it’s equator. When the oxygen level gets high enough we might see cities that mirror the cities on earth. Even if, due to the lower gravity, the buildings might be a little more imposing. The hardest part might even be to create a stable biosphere with diverse plant and animal life.

New Mining opportunities will arise.  Space and deep sea mining will become normal. In space we can mine asteroids and comets for water, organic compounds and precious metals. It might be the key for interstellar travel. The hardest part of building large spaceships is getting the required materials into space.  To escape the gravity of a planet you need tremendous amounts of energy, which is why we need rockets. Of course if we used materials mined from the moon we would safe on fuel due to the lower gravity but it would still require a lot. When we have a complete production line in space there will be nearly no limit to what we can build in space. We could start relatively simple by reclaiming the space junk in earth’s orbit today having the bonus of not having to refine the mined ores you’d get from asteroids.

Deep sea mining in some ways is even harder then mining in space. Although you need not worry about extreme temperatures you do need to worry about extreme pressure. The pressure difference between space and earth is one atmosphere the difference between sea level and the bottom of the ocean can be over a 1000 atmospheres. still deep sea mining is interesting since over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in ocean’s. The first steps of mining under water are already under way. For instance off the Namibian coast the seabed is mined for high quality diamonds. The use of robots could potentially keep the environmental impact down.

We will see innovation and exploration on a scale unprecedented in human history, it can be a great time. When this will happen is impossible to know. Some technologies needed are developed as we speak. I think for instance that professional drivers (pilots, captains, taxi drivers and truck drivers) will be replaced by robotic drivers within my lifetime and rather sooner, say before 2030, then later. Other technologies, like space mines might be a little further off. But I truly think that we are one of the last generations that knows what it is to work for our money.

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Robot workforce: Education and purpose

Image by woodleywonderworks (CC BY)

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Today the fourth story out of five.

In 1979 Pink Floyd sang the legendary words “We don’t need no education.” These words might have been prophetic. When there is no more work we will not need the traditional education system any more since it is geared towards preparing you for a job. It is naïve to think there won’t be any education whatsoever however. Humans are naturally inquisitive and in a stimulating environment we want to learn. The basic premise of education will change however. From an education system which centres on what we as a society expect from students we will get an education system which centres on individual qualities and interests.

By a society driven education system I don’t mean individual tastes and preferences have no place in the current education system. Of course you can choose if you want an alpha beta or gamma education and later on you choose your own profession. But accept for those choices society expects a certain standard from you. We expect a basic understanding of math, writing, geography, history etc. and based on what level education you have and what profession you choose we expect certain skills to be more advanced and at least at a minimal professional level.

In an education focussed on the individual there are no minimal requirements. In theory if someone  would not want to learn anything he/she would not have to. But as stated we are naturally inquisitive and want to learn and therefore we will. Schools which focus on individual preferences from children already exist. A good example is the democratic school for instance where kids are free to explore any topic they want as long as they are at school. If a kid wants to fish for half a year straight it can and it will learn anything and everything that has to do with fishing on its own. Teachers are present but don’t teach in the traditional sense. They help the children to find what they are looking for but will not steer them in a certain direction.

Reading and writing skills will come more naturally. Let’s take the kid which wants to learn about fishing. If it wants to get better it will need to read a book about fish. It will teach itself to read with the help of teachers so it can get better at fishing. You will see the child will read much quicker then other kids who are more traditionally schooled because it is interested in the subject matter in stead of having to begin with some abstract uninteresting words. If the kids get certain skills at a professional level is up to them. In our society that could be a problem because if they don’t get there they need welfare benefits and cost money. In the neo communist society it isn’t a problem since nobody needs to work anyway.

After we ‘graduate’ from school we will need to find a purpose in life. Nowadays many people find purpose in their work, caring for the kids etc. But without jobs, the household being cleaned by a robot maid and a robot nanny for the kids we will have to find new purposes in life. We will become an adventure and hobby driven society.  The entertainment industry will boom and we will travel like we have never travelled before. We will try and find purpose in our hobbies trying to be best at whatever we like. Who knows, some might actually become scientists out of hobby. Our primary care will be to be happy. The irony will be that the pressure to be happy will actually cause depression for some people. Those who fail to have a purpose in life will die unhappy, often too soon. Problems with drug abuse and other addictions will become greater.

Robot workforce: The end of money

By Vmenkov (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. We are halfway now with our third story.

When (nearly) all of our jobs have been replaced by robots and computers we will find that our current economic system is obsolete. The trouble with nobody having work is that nobody gets paid. When nobody gets paid nobody has any money to spend to keep the economy running.

Well we could think about doing away with money altogether but we will find it is impractical.  The problem we have without money is that not all goods will be readily available. We only have one Earth, space will therefore still be at a premium, we just can’t all live in a villa. Other goods are limited by the available resources. The government could decide to issue certain premium goods each month in an extreme communistic fashion. This, however, would limit our freedom so much that most will find it an unacceptable proposition.And even if we were able to find a way with doing away with money we would find that trading is engrained in our core being. We have been trading for millennia maybe even for millions of years, it is part of our DNA. This means that we would be uneasy without any form of money or trade.

Best way to go therefore is a midway. Governments issue an amount of credits per person which you can spend as you wish. If you want more space you buy a bigger house but it means you cannot spend the money on the latest gadget. This allows the government to preserve the individual freedom while also controlling the space and resources available so shortages won’t arise. As a society we would all basically become upper middle class people, not just in the countries which have the power today but in the entire world. Poverty could actually be abolished.

On an intergovernmental level money could be abolished altogether. Governments can tackle any project they want provided they can get the necessary resources for the project. This will open grand new possibilities which I will examine in a later story.

This might seem like a communist idea but the difference between a true communist government and this neo communism is that it can have a multi party government. Each party with different agenda’s. The production in mining, agriculture, industry and services will be higher than ever because machines do not care if they get paid or not, how long they work and under what circumstances and just produce things as it is needed. (with technologies as 3D printing factories might even be able to switch instantly between products). Even the capitalist ideal of a true 24/7 economy will become a reality in this society.

This transition won’t come easy though. There are a lot of forces acting against it. 90% (this is a wild guess) of the world would become (a lot) richer. Trouble is the richest 10% will become (a lot) poorer. And let those 10% be the people who have a lot of power. They are politicians, CEO’s and other influential people. It would also require a new level of intergovernmental cooperation to distribute resources equally. One country might have a lot of coal while another has a lot of iron ore and a third has, basically, nothing. If the governments with natural resources do not share with governments without natural resources a new kind of poverty could be born. Some countries, like the Netherlands where I live, do not have many natural resources but can rely on urban mining (fancy word for recycling) to still participate in the global new economy if needed. Mostly countries without natural resources and which are poor today (which means they don’t have a lot of stuff to recycle which will be of value) would be left out.