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Editorial The Almighty Buck United States

Distribution of Wealth in a Robot-Driven World 900

An anonymous reader sent another piece by Marshall Brain. He continues his examination of a society where most manual labor is performed by machines, idling a large fraction of the current workforce. See his previous piece for background.
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Distribution of Wealth in a Robot-Driven World

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  • by Shaklee39 ( 694496 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:43PM (#6840336)
    I went to McDonald's this weekend with the kids. We go to McDonald's to eat about once a week because it is a mile from the house and has an indoor play area. Our normal routine is to walk in to McDonald's, stand in line, order, stand around waiting for the order, sit down, eat and play. On Sunday, this decades-old routine changed forever. When we walked in to McDonald's, an attractive woman in a suit greeted us and said, "Are you planning to visit the play area tonight?" The kids screamed, "Yeah!" "McDonald's has a new system that you can use to order your food right in the play area. Would you like to try it?" The kids screamed, "Yeah!"
    The woman walks us over to a pair of kiosks in the play area. She starts to show me how the kiosks work and the kids scream, "We want to do it!" So I pull up a chair and the kids stand on it while the (extremely patient) woman in a suit walks the kids through the screens. David ordered his food, Irena ordered her food, I ordered my food. It's a simple system. Then it was time to pay. Interestingly, the kiosk only took cash in the form of bills. So I fed my bills into the machine. Then you take a little plastic number to set on your table and type the number in. The transaction is complete.

    We sat down at a table. We put our number in the center of the table and waited. In about 10 seconds the kids screamed, "When is our food going to get here???" I said, "Let's count." In less than two minutes a woman in an apron put a tray with our food on the table, handed us our change, took the plastic number and left.

    You know what? It is a nice system. It works. It is much nicer than standing in line. The only improvement I would request is the ability to use a credit card.

    I will make this prediction: by 2008, every meal in every fast food restaurant will be ordered from a kiosk like this, or from a similar system embedded in each table.

    As nice as this system is, however, I think that it represents the tip of an iceberg that we do not understand. This iceberg is going to change the American economy in ways that are very hard to imagine.
  • The Future: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:45PM (#6840349)
    There is only one certainty, and that is that we will run out of money. Corporations gather money faster than any force on the planet, and eventually, they will have it all sewn up. The consumer will have less money to throw around, because McDonalds, Microsoft, and Major Movie labels will have gobbled up the entire economy in their attempts to keep stocks rising, even as the balloon's dimensions stretch into dangerous proportions.
  • I don't think so Tim (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeffkjo1 ( 663413 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:47PM (#6840362) Homepage
    So service based industries where employees of companies communicate face to with customers are going to become robots communicating with people?

    More than anything else, people just won't accept this. As mammouth as Walmart is, they made the right decison in deciding against automated checkout. I've used automated checkout on a few occasions when it was absolutely necessary, and hated it. "So I'm checking myself out, therefore eliminating the need for you to pay a cashier $6 an hour.... and I don't get a discount?"

    Consumers, by and large, aren't going to accept robots as waiters and robots as cashiers and target sales people. Now, certain positions will become robots.... but the vast majority of people will continue to keep their jobs.
  • by meldroc ( 21783 ) <meldroc@@@frii...com> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:49PM (#6840377) Homepage Journal
    Looking at the example of J. K. Rowling in the article, I've had a brainfart.

    Farming has been mechanized. So has manufacturing, and as the article predicts, service sector work will be done by machines as well. There will always be some demand for IT, though that's being filled more frequently by workers in countries like India with cheap labor. Same goes for accounting, call center and other formerly safe white collar jobs.

    Essentially, almost the entire workforce will be replaced by machines.

    So what's left that can't be done by machines?

    Art. All art - writing, painting, music, computer games, etc.

    That's how J. K. Rowling adapted, by writing books. So far, we don't know how to make machines that make art, thus we have to make art ourselves. Granted, there's a lot of competition out there for artists, but there are still many people out there who can make money through selling artwork and performances.

    So are we entering the Artistic Economy? Maybe...
  • 40 hour work week (Score:3, Interesting)

    by prichardson ( 603676 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:52PM (#6840397) Journal
    The only way the 40 hour work week will be done away with is if there are another series of huge strikes against the 8 hour day. Dropping "full-time" to 6 hours would do 2 things. It would decrease unemployment and it would cause such a shortage of labor that businesses would be forced to innovate more efficient manufacturing. The only way to have more automation actually cause people to work less is if the people work less first. Otherwise everyone will continue to assume that they have to work 40hrs/week.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:53PM (#6840408)
    So are we entering the Artistic Economy? Maybe...

    If you consider advertising as art, definitely! Whenever you buy a product, you are almost certainly paying a heavy chunk of change for the artists, models (whether athletic or voluptuous), and musicians who put together commercials and other advertising materials that promote the product.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:55PM (#6840420)
    He continues his examination of a society where most manual labor is performed by machines, idling a large fraction of the current workforce.

    You mean, say, a society where:

    • 3-story high dumptrucks cart entire hill's worth of rubble
    • Automotive frames are almost entirely assembled(welded) by robots?
    • Construction sites have pneumatic nailguns, automatic laser levelling systems, GPS GIS survey equipment, bulldozers, cranes, etc? In Japan, robot use at construction sites is extensive(and unfortunately, every once in a while, someone gets flattened or pushed off a building by one)
    • Cars have automatic cruise control units, not to mention engine and climate control units smarter than their owners
    • Commuter trains are (almost) entirely controlled by computers
    • Supermarkets have automated checkouts
    • Robotic vacuums, lawn mowers are available on the open market to consumers for (fairly) reasonable prices
    • Guided missile heads can be strapped to virtually any bomb to enable it to drop on any 1m-square area your heart desires

    Interesting that in almost every case, the robotics work WITH and ENHANCE the capabilities of the humans that operate them. Not 'take over their jobs'.

    The author also makes the asinine assumption that robotic labor is always better- cheaper, more efficient, and so on. Maybe he should take a trip to some third world countries, where for the cost of one robot, you could employ a hundred factory workers for years upon years.

    Oh, and all these robots-take-over-the-world philosophers always seem to forget:

    • Programming errors
    • Manufacturing/component defects
    • Maintenance needs
    • Mechanical breakdowns

    Just like computers, robots aren't foolproof, they're not magical, and they're not going to simply save your business a shitload of money. They come with their own entire set of other problems, often many times worse.

    The very concept of "machines which just 'work'" goes against the way almost every business in the world tries to keep their revenue stream- by forcing people to buy parts, hire company repair staff, and/or simply replace machines.

    Nevermind that we still haven't made machines that can even approach understand human language as well as a human can, read handwriting as well, or move efficiently over ground as well as a human can...

  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:55PM (#6840426) Homepage
    Cost savings. It's about cost savings and separable sources of value.

    People will view getting their hamburger as a distinct value from getting face-time with a person, and pay for each separately. Providing face-time will be the value, not the delivery of a hamburger.

    Which, essentially, makes whores, therapists, clowns or a combination of all three, of most of us.

    Insofar as women tend to thrive in customer-service people-time situations, I wonder what this will do to the future of gender politics?
  • Robotic Miners (Score:4, Interesting)

    by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:00PM (#6840455) Homepage
    I've been thinking about having robotic miners for about 20 years, but one thing I think about is the loss of high-paying mining jobs to the local economies. Even in emerging countries mining pays many benefits. On the other hand, labor is very expensive, and most of the machines could easily be converted to automatic operation. Plus robots don't have a union, never need a smoke or piss break, or steal gold when they are supposed to be working. Think of the advances in sensors and computers within just the last 10 years. Raw resources, which we all require, could be had far cheaper than they are today. Likewise, exploration could be done by robots, especially using a UAV with sensors built in, like the Mars project I read about recently. Then, robots could follow up by collecting samples from targets located by the UAV and analyze them on the spot. This would eliminate bias, and reduce other errors and salting as well. We already use the software we need, and most of the hardware is off-the-shelf stuff.

    I would welcome robotics in mining, but I have a job no matter what.


  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:02PM (#6840462)
    "I doubt that most buisnesses consider the effect on employment or workers morale in buisness decisions"

    If a robot can do my job then giving the job to a robot would greatly improve my morale.

    Yes, even if that means getting canned.

    I'll go find something human to do with my life.

  • Doubtful... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YllabianBitPipe ( 647462 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:04PM (#6840480)
    Seeings how people like downloading their music, movies and books for free off the web, I don't think your prediction has much hope of coming true. There will be tons of artists out there, probably even more than ever before, but they won't be making nearly enough money to make ends meet.
  • by gmhowell ( 26755 ) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:13PM (#6840532) Homepage Journal
    The poor unwashed masses in those three cases were doing the bidding of the middle and upper classes, who wanted to replace royalty with themselves. True peasant revolutions are rare. (I know there's one or two important historical examples, but I can't think of them right now).
  • Re:why read it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by The Old Burke ( 679901 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:21PM (#6840580)
    Based on the article I will estimate that most people will consider a world where they only had to work (take) 15 hours a week a good thing.
    The old wisdom that work is good for you is mostly bullshit; a mantra that the mostly socialised government constructed so they could controll the masses. The truth is that whats good for the economy are good for you. As long as we can have sustained economic growth over a long period of time (200 years+)that wil be good for the economy and then for most people.

    So more robots will be A Good Thing(TM); they will make it possible to automate repitive work and increase productivity. That would be good for most bussiness whom can pass the savings down to the workers at the consumer level. Several industry surveys and economic teories supports this.

    Let's face it most people would like to not work in such a boring job, and its only pure arrogance to be against such a development. I can allready hear the some wellmeaning well educated techies; "Save the Wal-Mart jobs help thhose people from getting sacked"
    Truth is that most workers are lazy people who would could want nothing better than a year or to off before they get their next job.

    Unless we want to go back into some socialist form of economy the only way to the increase wealth is to increase productivity and its pretty deterministic that sooner or later those people at Wal-Mart just need to get replaced.
    Separating those that produce the good and those whom makes most of the money is a good thing. Not because we like it but because its the best for the economy; if you look at historic growth rates you will see that the fastest growth came when this happened. During the 19th century, the 1920's, 1940-65 and the 90's. Most bussinesse will benefit by this and this will help distribute the wealth in the right direction. But of course some worker unions will try too turn back time by issuing toll barriers that actually hurts bussiness and by supporting regulations that limits the flow of capital non-developed countries to the US.

  • by bersl2 ( 689221 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:27PM (#6840605) Journal
    So shouldn't the remaining 5% of the population (like many of us here (wow, is that statement elitist or what!?)) try to do something for/with the others?

    I've always felt that trying to eliminate the undesirable and banal jobs for which you need little skill and intelligence is good for society; of course, I consider myself in the 5%.

    OK, so we won't allow them to work, because they would screw everything up then. What next? What else can they contribute to society? What do we do with those people who have by our decisions been reduced to mindless blobs and leeches to society?

    it's not hard, picture a world where everyone is on welfare, with a minimum stipend, that allows for near 0 opportunity for anything beyond mundane existance, for some television to watch

    Or would you rather not feed them at all?

    This whole vision of a mostly workless society is the logical conclusion to a sentient species' destiny; however, it seems to contradict every human principle ever devised.

    In conclusion: I, for one, welcome our new vagrant underlings!
    (/me ducks projectile fresh produce)
  • by WinPimp2K ( 301497 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:32PM (#6840636)
    Read the article.
    Take a moment and THINK!

    What the author is describing is the advance of machines to the point where people on the left side of the bell curve will be unable to compete with robots.

    What new jobs will the people who lose their relatively unksilled jobs do?
    "But am I certain that something will come along next to consume our collective labor"
    The problem is that "our collective labor" is going to include ever more efficient macines.
    Now, as a potential employer, why would I hire people to do this job when I can buy or lease a robot to do it for a heck of a lot less money - plus I won't have any nasty labor relations issues.(Remember that if I were to hire people anyways because I have some strange "humans first" mentality, I will soon be out of business becasue of my more rational and less compassionate competitor.)

    I don't know if the approach suggested in the article will work - it sounds an awful lot like the approach Mack Reynolds came up with back in the 70s (with his "Guaranteed Basic" - which was a pretty dystopian society), but any approach that does not come up with some permamnent method of dealing with the folks on the left side of the bell curve will guarantee a non-viable society.

    If you think you are on the right side of the bell curve, just wait - think about how long it will take for the machines to reach intellectual parity with you? with your children?

    And if you think that engineering smarter kids (which I think is a good idea- just not a solution to this problem) will stave this off, consider:

    How long to get from "Specialized Machine Intelligence 1.0" to SMI 7.0? (12-15 years using Moore's Law?)

    How long to get from Natural Human Intelligence 1.0 to Enhanced Human Intelligence 6.0? I could see new human enhancements that double human intellectual capability coming out every couple of years ( call it WinPimp's Corrolary to Moore's Law), but how long does it take before our enhanced human comes "online" (ie enters the economy as a producer rather than just a consumer)? The machines will still have a massive economic advantage over humans. If we don't start dealing (and dealing properly) with the problem no, how will we deal with it in 15-20 years?
  • by rmdyer ( 267137 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:37PM (#6840666)
    People are born, live, and die. If you are lucky, you will have the bare essentials of life during that time. We need water, food, and shelter. We also need a host of other "things" which make life bareable, even bring happiness.

    When I was younger and more of an idealist, I thought that we were all working towards a higher goal, towards a world where we will solve pressing problems of society, culture, and knowledge. As I've grown older and more jaded. I find that "we" as a whole, really have no goals in mind other than what seems to be personal gratification. This is sad.

    I'd like to use science and technology to build a world where the basics of life are essentially free. I would assume the first place to use robots and automation would be in the production of free clean drinking water, and food, then on to shelter, etc.. But what do we use robots for? Vacuming, charming kids with robotic dogs and cats, cell phones for communicating frivilous chit-chat. We as a society seem to have no direction and appear to be going nowhere faster and faster.

    Those who do well in the world don't seem to be reaching back to give others a hand. I suppose this is the way its always been. To each his own, and survival of the fittest mentality. I suppose giving creature comforts like food, water, and shelter to every fool on the street might actually make things worse. I don't have the answer to that. But it seems that the entire system could be automated somehow so that those who support the system get the just rewards for free. Hmmm, sounds a bit like open-source eh?

    I suppose I long for something like the Star-Trek culture, without the geeky nature that this involves. Can't we all just work towards a future that brings happiness for everyone? Why is there so much hate and personal vengance in the world?

    -2 -2 +3 +1
  • Re:why read it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by agingGeek ( 625969 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:39PM (#6840676)
    There are definite problems to overcome. The initial outlay of capital expenditure to create and maintain those robots will greatly outweigh the cost of labour. This means that for the first few years until the use of robots becomes economically efficient that there will be a large rate of unemployment and no benifit to the consumer.

    Even when the potential benefit to the consumer exists, it doesn't mean that giant corporations are going to leave their profit margins the same for the sake of lowering the cost of their product to the consumer.

    Why do that when they can show growth and increased profit margins to their shareholders?

    You can never leave out the human factor, whether it is driven by politics or economics, or plain human emotion. When an OPEC nation finds another trillion barrels worth of oil in the ground, do the prices go down? No. They cap it and claim a shortage and artificially inflate the prices of crude.

  • You got it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bmac ( 51623 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:42PM (#6840691) Journal
    This is exactly why Europe has such a lavish welfare system -- Hitler capitalized upon uncared-for Germans who were jealous of the wealthy overclass (with a significant amount of Jews). This was only 60 years ago and Europe is not going to make the same mistake again, though the economics of welfaring a section of the population which have a significant percentage of people who just want to drink beer and sleep around has got serious problems too. Paying people to be slackers isn't good for the country, though bloody revolution (you better be careful, corporate America) is a poor solution, offered up by the people who want to be the next aristocrats.

    IMO, the solution involves the "haves" having compassion for the "have-nots" which means welfare only for the purpose of getting them a niche where they can be productive (and relatively happy doing it) for themselves, their families and the aggregate society. Ted Turner, you fuck, are you listening?

    Peace & blessings,

    True peace and happiness are only a wish away -- www.mihr.com
  • by Phantasmo ( 586700 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:51PM (#6840747)
    Very few people actually make anything anymore.

    You're assuming that the majority of humans living outside of the United States are not people.

    For fuck's sake, we're living in an automated society - it's just that the robots doing all the work are people, given less care than most machines receive, worked to death, and barely making enough money to feed themselves, let alone their families!

    For the love of God, if you care at all for the well-being of your fellow human, elect a government that will take away some power from big business. They're enslaving people - they know it, and you know it, too, except that you've been conditioned not to care.
  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:51PM (#6840748)
    As you noted, a government has no money of its own. The only way a gov can do ANYTHING is to seize and redistribute from the citizens.

    Well, actually a government can own its own industry and thus generate its own wealth. The USSR did that. But that is arguably seizure, by seizing the marketplace.

    The only government which never redistributes wealth does NOTHING; they call that anarchy.

    You are right in a literal sense. But merely seizing money and spending it is not at the core of what is commonly called redistribution.

    Largesse is.

    When the government seizes money and doles out largesse to those it deems worthy, and NOT to those it deems unworthy, that is true redistribution for redistribution's sake. Right or wrong. Heck, the US government is now in the sorry state of handing out tax rebates to citizens WHO HAVE NOT PAID FEDERAL INCOME TAXES! But it doesn't have the integrity to call those payments what they are: Federal welfare payments.

  • by hauntfox ( 152706 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:58PM (#6840787)
    Perhaps a more relevant historical comparison is between the assignats (money) the National Assembly printed up under King Louis and the $25K the author of the above article wants created (somehow) for every person.

    Louis et al. created too much money. It became worthless. The number of assignats it took to buy bread went through the roof. The resulting hyperinflation made the masses _very_ miserable, and was an impetus for the revolution. People lost their heads.

    I don't think printing up money for people to spend is always a good idea.
  • by rsheridan6 ( 600425 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:04PM (#6840816)
    The article didn't really address the fact that the rich will be super, super rich beyond the wildest imaginations of today's rich if this comes to pass. The arts could be a way to make a living, but I you'd make the money by finding a rich patron to sponser you. Today most successful artists become famous and lots of middle-class/poor people buy CD's/books/movie tickets, and the artist gets a small cut from each of them. If the middle-class and poor are destitute, you'd have to get money from the rich. If the rich are extremely rich, sponsoring an artist would be pocket change to them. That's the way artists made their living during the Renaissance and before.
  • Re:why read it? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:21PM (#6840907)
    ... and some would say this has already happened.

    If you work from home and have a decent cache of groceries and other basic supplies, you can approach this without too much effort. Find some way for those resources to be resupplied and you're even closer. It's not too far from the truth.
  • by cryptochrome ( 303529 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:31PM (#6840953) Journal
    Exactly. Art can be automated. Who's to say AI or even dumb creativity algorithms won't be improving in the near future, along with everything else? There's a very good possibility that EVERY kind of job will ultimately be done better with automation. Science. Art. Even business. In which case, humans are no longer useful as labor at all and exist only to consume the fruits of the automated economy. Which they will in abundance. I believe there was something in that article about letting the people profit off the exploitation of natural resources - what better way of encouraging the people to allow exploitation?

    In fact, the only usefulness to the economy that people would have is their investment level. As he rightly pointed out, it's the stockholders who reap the profits while the employees are paid a relative pittance for their efforts. The implications are obvious. The new economy would become based on dividend-paying stock directly, rather than money per se. Not a bank account, but a paying portfolio.

    Although the automated economy could probably easily support everyone at a comfortable level, it probably won't, because the market forces will still be at play. As the economy transitions, the lowest-level workers will be left floundering while the ones that are next higher will quickly demand to be paid in stock to get on the bandwagon. Rich people/countries will stay rich and in all likelihood tend to get richer. The converse is true for the poor. The government/world could level it out a bit with taxation to support benefits, but without directly increasing the portfolios of the poor their fortunes will not improve. And since rich people run the government, it's unlikely to ever do anything to decrease their fortunes.

    As for what people will do with all that spending power they didn't need to do anything to earn... well, look at the independently wealthy. They play around, get bored with it, and then play around in a somewhat more extreme fashion to relieve that boredom. Then repeat the process and move towards wholehearted debauchery. They practice a particularly vicious form of social politics (government, incidentally, being another thing automation could probably handle MUCH better than humans do, but never will thanks to politics). Most significantly, they buy/do things not because they are better (quality/value/entertainment) but because of who's name is on the label. They spend a lot of time sucking up and being sucked up to.

    That's right. The economy will become fad-based and chance-based. A constantly shifting maelstrom of cults of personality, self-absorbtion, and petty games of domination. Gambling, especially of the stock market variety, will become a crucial means of economic mobility. People will become increasingly isolated, victims of their own success. Sport becomes even more significant than now. The value of life will decrease, leading to a rise in risky behavior and conflict. War may be waged over increasingly trivial things, with extinction and genocide becoming increasingly more accepted.

    Until the day some disgusted AI or human gets sick of our shit and puts us all out of our misery, leaving the machines to their own devices and problems.
  • yeah, right (Score:2, Interesting)

    by photomic ( 666457 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:41PM (#6840994)
    "There is no reason to expect that the economy will suddenly figure out a way to create high-paying, exciting, fulfilling jobs for these tens of millions of people displaced by robots. If the economy could do that, it would be doing it now."

    Of course, this is assuming our economy won't be run by a bunch of super-genius robots.
  • by defile ( 1059 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:41PM (#6840996) Homepage Journal

    Those put out of work by robots will go on welfare, or similar wealth redistribution systems. They will have cable TV, high speed internet, be able to afford 10 times their daily dietary needs. The drug industry will rise up to the challenge and soon each man, woman, and child will have three drug prescriptions each. And two cars per household.

    And they will do better good for the economy sitting at home all day unemployed spending the redistributed wealth of the employed than they would by being in the job market.

    We will have reached the apex of civilization, where capitalism will be so close to accomplishing its goal. An economy of plenty where almost no one has to work. We'll spend our days high as a kite, fucking like rabbits, and being entertained by moving images and sounds with a push of a button.

    I can't wait.

  • A-Ha! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:45PM (#6841013)
    This is something I've been very interested in for a long time. I agree with the article's premise. This situation IS coming. It's a matter of time.

    If it's a good thing or a bad thing depends on how we handle it.

    This will end labour/capital as we know it. In fact, this may change how we view wealth and society.

    The fact is, we will need to find some other way for contentment and to "keep score". Move away from a money-filled world to one where we have the time and the resources to try and achieve what we want to achieve.

    The only problem is that I think that non-economic routes will need to be subsidized somewhere. In fact, in such a world, most pursuits will be rather non-economic.

    This is the question the human race will need to answer.
  • by M. Silver ( 141590 ) <silver@phoe n y x . net> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:49PM (#6841022) Homepage Journal
    We're headed towards the "Paperless Office".

    Darnitall, I can't remember where I saw the article (hope it wasn't here... my memory insists it was a deadtree magazine) that pointed out that it hasn't been the office that's become paperless, but the warehouse. The days of multiple-carbon picklists and that sort of thing are fading, replaced by barcode readers and wireless. Kind of an interesting point.
  • by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:10PM (#6841126) Journal
    When I was reading the article, the blurb about giving everyone $25k per year, no strings attached, smacked of welfare/socialism. Although the intent was to inject funds into the economy, no work was expended to obtain that money on the part of the recipient (ie, I Exist, therefore I am Entitled.)

    A better way of handling it would be to couch the disbursment of funds as grants (artistic, research, or otherwise.) At least then there would be the idea of creative/scientific pursuit to benefit society, rather than mindless (and potentially inflationary) consumption.

    Also, instead of just handing money over to spend, you could make university-level education available to everyone (a GI grant for retraining, for example) that would pay for room, board, and books for the 4 (or more years) you'd spend. This would be a big boon for universities, companies, and society in general, as it would help shift those put out of work into more advanced fields. In fact, why not give access to university labs and engineering facilities for those so inclined, and encourage more grant money for basic and applied research?

    Unfortunately, it is clear that the government will have to control more of this new wealth (in terms of collection and disbursement), unless the corporations suddenly decide to be generous, and start sending rebate checks to everyone. It's either that, or the rise of the megacorporations and a revolutionary-minded underclass.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:19PM (#6841163) Homepage
    Very few people actually make anything anymore.

    You've missed the point slightly. They do something worth their wages to the company they work for. You've heard the phrase "Time is money"- well it's not quite true, it's more like "Money is time x marketability"; but it's close. They get wages for the work they do.

    That's really the flaw in the articles analysis of the economics- it's nothing much to do with robotics- mankind has had robotics since the industrial revolution.

    No, the real point is that people continue to remain employed because the companies perceive that employing more people will make the company more money. It won't necessarily make more money per employee- but it should make more money over cost. So there is a force that encourages the company to employ more people.

    The graph of wealth concentration has been misunderstood- ever since the collapse of the British patriachial empire that existed around the 1900s after the shakeup of the two world wars we have gradually been returning to that state but with Americans in charge (for various reasons mostly relating to economic power)- the people with power have been collecting power and money around them- forming dynasties and gaming the laws and the economics to their advantage.

    The robotics is a complete red herring- well almost- robotics is just another game that these guys and gals play.

    lawyers, as far as I can tell, have no function at all

    Lawyers are like soldiers and armies that companies point at other companies. They are there to try to game the laws as a way to take money off of companies, or prevent other companies taking money off them. Don't forget that laws are just a set of semi-arbitrary rules, and the rules that get made are often up for purchase.

  • by SunPin ( 596554 ) <slashspam@@@cyberista...com> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:39PM (#6841264) Homepage
    I hope your intentions are good. I will elaborate. Marx intended his economic work, i.e. Das Kapital, to reach industrial societies. The minute agricultural Russia declared themselves "Marxist revolutions", the whole project essentially fell off a cliff. Like Democracy, capitalism evolves. Marx wanted to identify the various stages of capitalism and how it related to industrial Europe and America. As I understand it, Marx was kind of unstable (genius and geek.) He felt like nobody was paying attention to his work and decided on the ridiculous marketing stunt of the 50 page Communist Manifesto. The fallout was severe. He attracted lunatics that discredited his entire life. It's much easier to read 50 pages of troll feed than it is to read a well-developed scholarly work like Das Kapital. He never recovered from it and "I am not a Marxist" was his famous statement on his death bed. Definitely look it up if you have the time.
  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:48PM (#6841311) Homepage
    The article poinpoints a problem that I have absolutely been worried about for some time now -- that fact that robots, automation, will turn a large sector of employees out of their jobs and radically increase the concentration of wealth in our nation.

    The sci-fi hope for new technologies has always been that it will "relieve humans of dreary jobs and increase leisure time". However, this has not turned out to be the case, and frankly it cannot, because the people who buy the technology (robot) will simply do without another worker after that point -- no businessman is going to pay a salary for work that someone isn't doing.

    In different language, this has been talked about for quite a long time. Modernized business has "centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands" as one text put it in 1848 (namely, the Communist Manifesto). In truth, I've long thought that the Marxist criticism of capitalism is right on target -- even if the solutions it proposed were almost entirely unworkable.

    In very much the same way, I find myself agreeing with the linked article's criticisms (robots will permanently displace masses of workers), and find its proposed solutions pretty much totally impossible.

    (1) I agree that a big concentration of wealth is a bad thing for our society, but frankly I don't think most people are actually bothered by that very much at all. I think it's too abstract an issue for much political interest these days. (Is there much difference to the average voter nowadays if CEOs earn millions of dollars, or tens-of-millions of dollars? Any difference if the richest quintile own 40% or 60% of assets?)

    (2) I don't think there's any way the U.S. public would accept cutting every citizen a check for $25,000 per year, or any amount. Our culture is adamant that pay without work is immoral. Right-wing rhetoric has really been precisely fine-tuned over the years to make any possibility of payments like that, or even discussion about it, sound totally absurd. The political environment today is marching directly away from social-program-type funding, not closer to it.

    (3) I'm cynical enough to even be a bit skeptical that global income payments would be beneficial, psychologically, to the majority of people. As an example, most lottery winners wind up with ruined finances and marriages. The single anecdote of "Harry Potter" being the product of a welfare mother cannot be extrapolated to a universal creative renaissance. (I can't remember which SF book took it as a possibility, some Stephenson or Gibson novel, but I was skeptical of that when I first read it.) As someone else pointed out, government payments on this magnitude would also probably create skyrocketing inflation (much like college tuition).

    (4) The possibilities of funding a global payment are, at best, just tricks to make an expanded social benefit not look like it. You can't disassociate checks to every citizen from money taken in by the government, as the article tries to argue. (a) Advertising on every dollar bill, road surface, and public space? Bleagh! (That's his #1 idea.) (b) What most resemble his "extreme income taxes" (like big inheritances) are right now being rolled back to zero in the U.S. (c) Lotteries, fines, and auctions are notorious for being sucked in to the general budget even when "earmarked" for specific expenses. (d) The most likely example is the Alaskan oil-payment fund, but I would think that too could evaporate as soon as some political interest wants it used for a different purpose, especially on a national stage.

    (5) To complicate matters, I agree that lower-class service jobs can be automated, and that middle-class technical jobs can be outsourced offshore. However, I see no compelling argument that classic "esteemed" jobs like doctors and lawyers can be downsized in the same fashion.

    So in conclusion, I totally agree that increased automation of service-sector jobs will work to increase unemployment and lower wages -- robots will no
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:49PM (#6841318)
    That society is a zero-sum game. For every robot that takes a job, one worker will never work again. +1 and -1 come to zero. I gain, you lose, zero sum.

    People who are displaced can always find another job. They can always improve themselves. The country has been built by rational, intelligent people. The robots were made by intelligence, not brute force.

    There will always be a place in a HUMAN society for human workers. Even on star trek, based in the socialist future, has humans piloting star ships and making decisions.

    People have the ability to improve themselves, to think, to be rational. Why bow down and worship the brute force of manual labor? Why be luddites and destroy technology and rational intelligence to move backwards towards manual labor?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @08:19PM (#6841438)
    The anime Hoshi no Koi is a 45 minute movie, animated entirely by one man on his computer. The original version had him and his wife doing the voices, but a studio bought it and created a profession soundtrack.
  • by DrMrLordX ( 559371 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @08:29PM (#6841485)
    I've often thought about the impending wave of unemployment that will result from a mass-adoption of robotic automatiion in manufacturing, service, shipping, retail, etc. The only reasonable thing I can think of to do with the unemployed masses is to use them as human billboards. Hell, we're already doing it. We currently sell them shirts and mugs and stickers and all manner of products that help them advertise products, brand names, companies, etc. All that really has to be done is to reverse the flow of money. Pay THEM a salary to promote products aimed at the other 50% of human society that will still have jobs. All of their clothing, food, furniture, entertainment, personal transportation(from skates to skateboards to scooters to cars), and tools can be branded, and they can be used for periodic staged or spontaneous photo-ops. If anything, the market has already shown that "reality" programming can be very popular. Why not "reality" advertising? Who wants to see some damn actor in an ad hawking the latest, coolest thing, when you can see a whole slew of real people making use of these products(and pushing a number of other brands at the same time)?

    And, if any of you think this would be demeaning, do you think it would be any worse than working 60-70 hours per week between McDonald's and Burger King?

    The only downside to this is that genuinely ugly people will be less useful for these ad campaigns than attractive, fit, and healthy young people. Ugly people, the physically deformed, or older individuals that are not well-trained enough to get jobs will be in some trouble unless they can pitch products or services intended for ugly people with money. I guess they could do before/after ads for plastic surgery clinics.

    But, in summary, the one thing that the soon-to-be-unemployed public will WANT is some legislation on the books protecting their right to "take their business elsewhere" if their patron corporation(s) give them a raw deal or stick them with shoddy products. All invididuals making a living by mass-advertising all day and all night should have the right to act as an ad contracter and sign on with the firm(or group of firms) that offers the most attractive line of products to advertise. This would promote competition as corporations/conglomerates/whatever would try to win the hearts and minds of the largest number of the most desireable ad contracters for advertising purposes. Contracts locking contracters into a specific line of products at a fixed salary for too long a time should be outlawed to give contracters more flexibility to work wherever they so choose, and legislation tailored towards giving contractors more leeway when filing greivances against their patrons in court should also be drafted to protect the new contracters of the future.
  • Re:why read it? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @10:43PM (#6842102)
    Indeed I can testify that this has happened. In the good US of A anyone can now be declared unable to work and receive a monthly check, kept low enough that you wont go on a drug spree and instead be forced to spend most of it on housing and food, thus benefitting the local economy, but high enough that you wont be starving and ready to start a revolution.

    Drugs (legal) are included in the package, just to make sure you are kept happy where you are.
  • by Cyno ( 85911 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @11:02PM (#6842220) Journal
    What incentive does anyone have to work in a system that treats them like an employee?

    And a welfare system would be very generous. I'll believe it when I see it. Honestly I don't think people care that much for eachother.

    I don't see how anyone like me will be able to afford $1500 rent on welfare. And I don't see how a system would allow 80% of the population to stay at home while expecting the other 20% to work. I bet it would become unstable and those on welfare would be living in the slums.

    Because we just don't love eachother. Sad, innit?
  • by AmericanInKiev ( 453362 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @11:42PM (#6842412) Homepage
    The author suggest giving families $25k for every child. This would remove the current constraint on women-as-chattel cultures (in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant) which is desperate poverty (Caused by overpopulation) and in 20 years the vote would be controlled by churches with high-growth policies.

    Population control and the tendency of women-as-slaves cultures to dominate democracies must go hand in hand with child based subsides.

    I would rather have the money in the hands of a few people, than to turn over all control to a generation of (insert high-population growth culture here)

    Education is what occurs when you restrict population growth. Quality of life requires education. Encouraging overpopulation is not self-destructive, but it will lessen the average quality of life. In a conservative to-each-their-own economy, it will lessen your quality of life the most. In the authors 25K per child economy, it will have the reverse effect - benefitting the man who's quiver is full at the expense of those less virile.

  • Re:why read it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by digitaleus ( 654331 ) on Monday September 01, 2003 @01:00AM (#6842701) Homepage

    I don't know what you are reading but work is good for you is a CAPITALIST argument. If anything, socialism calls more minimizing work (hence the stereotypical view that socialists are lazy and don't do anything). Capitalists are the ones that are against reduced work weeks, etc.

    I disagree. Capitalism provides a reward for working hard, because it knows people are inherently lazy - it's efficient. Socialism provides equal reward no matter how hard people work - so, people don't, and national productivity stagnates. Instead, you get a whole lotta propaganda to brainwash people into working.

    That said, in my experience people tend to need *something* productive to do in order to stay sane; the question is what. a lot of people want to spend their time persuing less profitable things such as art, music, non-commericalisable science and research. it's difficult to do this under pure capitalism, so we have university grants, artist benefits, etc, instead (well we have the AB in New Zealand)

  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug AT geekazon DOT com> on Monday September 01, 2003 @01:08AM (#6842730) Homepage
    This article didn't answer the question that immediately occurred to me when I started reading it, namely:

    What's the difference between a robot getting my job and some guy in India getting my job?

    In spite of discussing the subject of cheap foreign labor, the author didn't explain why robots are fundamentally different. I also had a big problem with her scenario in which the workers are taken out of the picture and all of the money flows to the executives. If robots were to take away all the minimum wage jobs, I predict that the worst impact will be on those very same businesses. In my own experience the people who work at the low-paying jobs tend to also buy the most cheap crap. It doesn't make sense that companies like WalMart will be doing business as usual after putting a lot of their best customers out of work.

    But then along comes the magic wand of handing everybody $25,000 to spend. I'll admit her ideas for raising that kind of money with things like advertising and lotteries are creative, but does she really believe that something which is basically a gigantic welfare scheme would fly in a country where we can't even get a national health system?

    While we are fantasizing about saving the economy, let's look at a saner approach based on historical experience. The economic boom of the 1950's came about because of the shortages created during WWII. The government diverted industrial production to the military and bought enormous quantities of everything, which simultaneously created lots of jobs but also widespread shortages of consumer goods. They paid for it by selling War Bonds, in effect borrowing back the money. People had jobs and good incomes and not much to buy other than the necessities, so they throttled back their lives for a few years and either saved their money or invested it. The government managed all this strictly, by rationing goods and selling War Bonds. It was Big Brother to the extreme. But when the war ended and production switched back to consumer goods, people had tons of money to spend. The boom followed, and the ensuing taxation paid the tab for the war.

    A war is only one way to create such a situation. Large, long-term public works projects might do the same trick, but the required ingredient is to create shortages and force people to save their money for a while. This wouldn't work unless the citizens were fully committed to the plan. For that they would have to be treated like Citizens as opposed to Consumers. The threat of terrorism comes to mind as a great driving factor, in fact it's almost tailor-made for the job. But our current government's approach so far has been, "Don't let terrorists keep you from shopping."

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray