Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Asimov world

One of the things that struck me about the universe that Isaac Asimov created was the economics of the different worlds. Colonized planets often had a dozen robots for every human being and the humans all lived like millionaires. Earth, on the other hand, had only a few robots and the people had to bust their butts. But this was by design. Earth had too many people. They couldn't figure out how to switch to an economy where people didn't have to work. To keep the jobs they outlawed most robots.

More and more this seems like a problem that we'll have to address soon. A properly built car factory can be run with only three people. Some already do. Those three people only needing to shut things down if the robots screw up. This story is common as manufacturing starts coming back to the United States. Few jobs come back with them.

It's conceivable that even fast food joints could go mostly automated. The people taking the orders don't have to be literate. The screens show pictures instead of words. There's no reason we can't work those ourselves. And the kitchens can be largely automated. You just need someone to be there if the computers go wrong and to refill the machines. Wendy's could become a large vending machine. Heck, once cars become self driving fast food could become like ice cream trucks. Just cruising the neighborhoods by themselves looking for someone who wants a mass produced hamburger.

Henry Ford made sure that his workers got paid enough that they could afford the cars they made. If the factories are automated and the fast food joints are automated and the driving is automated and paper pushing is automated we're quickly running short on people who can afford these or many other services. We end up with a bunch of people who need assistance to afford food, shelter, and health care. I mean more than we do already.

This article talks about how a load of jobs people thought were safe may soon be automated. If you open the PDF you'll want to scroll to the end to see the list of at-risk careers. I've had a bunch of similar articles in the last year that have either been lost or went in Friday Links. I'd been wanting to put them in a post like this.

How do we move from an economy based on work and paying for services to one based on very little need for work? Essentially a Star Trek economy? How do we get there without large scale rioting? We have a hard enough time providing health insurance for everyone.

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