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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