Moshe Vardi: Robots Could Put Humans Out of Work by 2045

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SH 94_#8

Robots began replacing human brawn long ago—now they’re poised to replace human brains. Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University, thinks that by 2045 artificially intelligent machines may be capable of "if not any work that humans can do, then, at least, a very significant fraction of the work that humans can do."

So, he asks, what then will humans do?

In recent writings, Vardi traces the evolution of the idea that artificial intelligence may one day surpass human intelligence, from Turing to Kurzweil, and considers the recent rate of progress. Although early predictions proved too aggressive, in the space of 15 years we've gone from Deep Blue beating Kasparov at chess to self-driving cars and Watson beating Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

SH 94_#4Extrapolating into the future, Vardi thinks it's reasonable to believe intelligent machines may one day replace human workers almost entirely and in the process put millions out of work permanently.

Once rejected out of hand as neo-Luddism, technological unemployment is attracting commentary from an increasingly vocal sect of economists. Highlighted in a recent NYT article and "60 Minutes" segment, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT also discuss the impact of automation on employment in their book, Race Against the Machine.

The idea is we may be approaching a kind of economic singularity, after which the labor market as we know it will cease to exist.

The theory is tempting for its simplicity but hard to prove. In my opinion, though you can list anecdotes and interpret select statistics showing the negative effects of automation—the qualitative historical record, that the labor market will evolve and adapt, remains the weightier body of evidence.

Relying on modern statistics to prove something fundamental has changed is troublesome because you can't do rigorous, apples-to-apples comparisons with most of the technological revolutions of the past centuries. The data get dodgier and the statistical methodologies change the farther back you go.

SH 94_#5Are machines really replacing humans faster now than say in the early 19th or 20th centuries? And are workers really falling behind at a greater rate? We can't say with certainty.

However, we can say that accelerating technology over the last few centuries has consistently erased some jobs only to replace them with other jobs. In the short and medium term, these transition periods have caused discomfort and vicious battles in the political arena. But the long-term outcome has been largely positive—that is, improving living standards thanks to cheaper, better goods and services.

By dismissing qualitative historical evidence as newly irrelevant, you're left with a quantitative vacuum into which you can inject any number of  competing theories, fascinating but as yet impossible to prove or disprove.

As you may have gathered, I fall into the boring mainstream on the subject. To me, the technological unemployment thesis is too dire and what humans will do too hard to imagine. But just because we can't imagine something, doesn't mean it won't exist.

While microchips are just now beginning to replace human brains, machines have been replacing human brawn for years. And yet workers are still paid to perform many physical jobs that were automated long ago and a number of new ones to boot. Why is that?

Assembly line products are cheaper, but folks still place a premium on and desire “handmade” items. Some people feel good about supporting an artisan; others believe the products are better quality; many value something’s distinctiveness, looking down their nose at assembly line monotony. None of these reasons are perfectly rational, but the economy is seldom rational on the level of the individual.

SH 94_#6Further, physical activities that used to be classified as leisure activities now command an income. In the past, sports were at most an amateur activity for those who could afford the time to play them. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, as countries industrialized, a giant new market in athletics popped into existence.

I imagine a futurist at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution finding the idea preposterous. But today's best pro athletes collect paychecks that would make an investment banker blush. And it’s not just the top athletes getting paid. There are lower tiers for the less skilled too—utility players, backups, smaller market pro leagues, or feeder leagues all pay modest but livable incomes.

Why shouldn't the same hold true for activities of the mind?

Perhaps in the future, while some of us work hard to build and program super-intelligent machines, others will work hard to entertain, theorize, philosophize, and make uniquely human creative works, maybe even pair with machines to accomplish these things. These may seem like niche careers for the few and talented. But at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, jobs of the mind in general were niche careers.

Now, as some jobs of the mind are automated, more people are doing creative work of some kind. In the past, not many writers earned a living just writing. But the Internet’s open infrastructure and voracious appetite for content allows writers of all different levels of skill to earn income. The same holds true for publishing—50 Shades of Grey isn't exactly literature, but it's sold millions—and music, film, design, you name it.

SH 94_#3How will the economy make the transition? The same way it has for the last several hundred years—with a few (or more than a few) bumps. But maybe these job-stealing exponential technologies are also empowering humans with exponential adaptation.

Online courses from Coursera and edX and Udacity make education more specialized, shorter in duration, and either cheap or free. This model may allow for faster more affordable acquisition of new skills and smoother economic adaptation. The belief many people are only capable of unskilled labor is elitist to the extreme. The problem  of acquiring new skills is largely one of access not intelligence.

There are those who think our great grandchildren simply won't work. But I can't imagine such a future. The developed world could have rested on its laurels years ago, having automated the means of production for essentials like food or clothing or cars or televisions (the essentials change as they get cheaper).

But we’re working harder than ever. Why? Work lends meaning to life and leisure. When one kind of work goes away, we tend to create something productive to replace it. And life is richer when we get to trade the fruit of our labors for the vegetables or lines of code or smartphones of other people's labors.

Vardi says, “The world in 50 years…either will be a utopia or a dystopia.” But history is littered with dystopic and utopian visions, even as the world has consistently muddled along the middle path.

Image Credit: Max Kiesler/FlickrThierry Ehrmann/Flickr

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 55 Responses

  • Torgamous May 15, 2013 on 1:51 pm

    If a human can do something then by definition a machine can do it too, and probably better since machines can be more heavily optimized for specific tasks. There’s no task that only humans can do. Once we reach the point where that’s a statement of our current capabilities rather than just the theoretical boundaries of technology, once “uniquely human” becomes a contradiction, qualitative historical evidence becomes irrelevant, no matter how much you’d like to think otherwise. The developed world could not have rested on its laurels long ago because there were still things we wanted that couldn’t be produced automatically and only recently did automated transportation become feasible, but once our laurels are able to produce additional laurels while we’re resting there isn’t a lot left to do. Perhaps people will come to enjoy watching people do things within human limits that machines can do better, after all Jeopardy survived the invention of Google and there are simply too many things in the world for computers to tell every story that every human wants to tell, but that won’t be enough to substitute for a complete labor market. Past a certain level of machine capability, the only way to keep everyone fed will be to declare that everyone will be fed.

  • tevo55 May 15, 2013 on 1:53 pm

    I fall into the category of thinking our grand children will not have to work.

    We are looking at a future where machines produce not only the goods we need but also the plans, the materials, & themselves. They do not have to be sentient or sapient if we don’t want them to be. They can be as mechanical slaves just like a car is. That is up to us – their builders. Their sole task can be to produce an abundance for us that requires no Paychecks, bonuses, or severance pay for them.

    I require a pay check because I need shelter or I’ll feel cold & I need food or I’ll die. I also need fancy clothes so that I can get out & get laid once in a while. A machine doesn’t need to worry about any of that. It doesn’t have any anything like Freudian instincts. It has evolved differently.

  • Enrique Prada May 15, 2013 on 3:13 pm

    There was a time in human history when “robots” could “do any work that humans can do”. In Anciente Greece or Roman times robots (then called slaves), did most of the work needed to maintain the society, domestic servants, factory workers, shopkeepers, mineworkers, farmworkers, ship’s crewmembers,,,
    This fact did not put humans (then called citizens) permantly out of work.
    Citizens (self regarded as only humans) resolved to do other things. in Grece classical times citizens free from mundane activities, had enough free time to invent democracy (only citizens could do politics, not slaves), and set the cultural foundation of wester civilization, the roots of western philosophy, history, science, and art.
    If in a few years time a new kind of mechanical slaves replace human workers in most activities we will be again free to do politics, philosophy sciences and arts.
    And we will have plenty to do. To start with robots will not tell us how to organize a society in wich most work is done by machines. We will have to invent it. We will have to find a way to use this technology for the benefit of the people.

    • Mark Lewis Enrique Prada May 18, 2013 on 6:43 pm

      So the Greeks had a bunch of highly literate, well-educated slaves who could do everything that the citizens could do? I don’t buy that analogy. I think there are a lot of complexities that it ignores. One of the big ones being that slaves can revolt if given too much power so you have to limit what they control in society.

    • David Thomson Enrique Prada May 21, 2013 on 5:29 am

      If robots are capable of ALL current human work, doesn’t this imply the reality of strong AI?

      If so, one possible future dystopia would be the reversal of the roles you mention, with the power in the hands of machines capable of everything except empathy with their human creators. A purely rational ruling class with an agrarian serf, or leisurely artisan, human population. Utopia or dystopia?

  • Douglas Welch May 15, 2013 on 4:00 pm

    Personally, I think you’re delusional. In the past, technology that replaced humans (and I can provide examples) could be absorbed by the economy because the rise of the technology was gradual. In the eighties I predicted that Hollywood would create avatars having the characteristics of famous actors. Today, that’s happening.
    Who could have predicted that a cell phone would one day replace a dozen electronic devices, or the stock market could crash because of the behavior of a few artificially intelligent programs? Well, it’s happened.
    The rate of growth in technological innovation is becoming exponential, while the economy is not.
    As someone who’s worked in automation for over forty years I realize that the machines are only limited by the human mind. And if we can think of a way to have a machine do something, we will.
    You say that people will always find something creative to do but that’s just flat wrong. It’s Pollyanna type thinking. Not everyone can fix or program a robot, and you don’t need millions of those people. There will always be people who either by intellect, inclination, or societal status can’t or won’t pursue creative endeavors, and these people will rebel when they’re homeless and starving.
    It’s up to us to structure our society to lessen the impact of the inevitable.

    • John Bush Douglas Welch May 17, 2013 on 9:34 pm

      Be careful what you wish for, there are some pretty bad ways to “re-structure” our society to eliminate this impending threat.

    • Mark Lewis Douglas Welch May 18, 2013 on 6:47 pm

      I wish the comments had a like button or some way to vote things up. You did a great job of describing most of my problems with the article Douglas. As for John’s comment that we have to be careful about restructuring society, I completely agree. There are many ways this could play out and a lot of them are bad. Hence Vardi’s view of dystopian outcomes.

    • pdfernhout Douglas Welch May 19, 2013 on 6:17 am

      I agree that our economic systems is about to undergo a radical change, one way or another. Most mainstream economists are in denial about this. Ways forward include some healthy mix of “basic income”, a gift economy, improved local subsistence through advanced technology (like 3D printing, solar panels, and personal agricultural robotics), and better democratic participatory planning. See my website for more details.

      Sometimes I wonder if people who are concerned about “what will we do if we all are materially rich” have obviously never been engaged parents?

  • Frank Whittemore May 15, 2013 on 5:06 pm

    Also, note there is an article titled “It’s Time to Talk about the Burgeoning Robot Middle Class” dated May 14, 2013 located on MIT’s Technology Review website. The article discusses the question “How will a mass influx of robots affect human employment?”.

    Here’s the link –

  • Ian Kidd May 15, 2013 on 5:51 pm

    Can’t get here fast enough, I say!

  • JoseLuis Malo May 15, 2013 on 7:31 pm

    “But we’re working harder than ever.” Are you sure about that? The further you go back in time the more labor filled work days you’ll find. The opposite is true as we move into the future. Nowadays, full time work is becoming less prevalent. Look at Switzerland, one of the most advanced countries in the world. Its citizens are collecting signatures for a basic income initiative (of $2500 a month), and one of its main messages in French is “Un partage intelligent du travail dans une economie qui ne garantit plus le plein employ.” English translation “An intelligent sharing of labor in an economy that no longer guaranties full employment.”

    Below is a link for the French speaking site for this Swiss citizens’ initiative.

    The Swiss Legislature requires the organizers for this initiative to collect a minimum of 100,000 signatures in this small country, which they already reached last month. Now they are shooting for another 25,000 signatures by August as to ensure that the minimum requirement will be met because 10% to 15% usually gets thrown out. I really hope they succeed in passing this basic income initiative.

    • Getglobalized JoseLuis Malo May 30, 2013 on 5:07 pm

      Swiss people are really amazing fast on this recently. I also really like the income debate on max difference between low workers and CEO salaries.

      I believe there is a need for much more robotic-economic chairs like the MIT guys in Europe.

  • Robotics May 15, 2013 on 9:41 pm

    This is just another prediction

  • Franz Ternaut May 15, 2013 on 11:03 pm

    “However, we can say that accelerating technology over the last few centuries has consistently erased some jobs only to replace them with other jobs.”

    There are two problems with the reference class forecasting you’re engaged in here. First, it’s useless for predicting when a paradigm shift will occur. Will this attempt at powered human flight succeed? None of the previous ones did, so I guess this one won’t either. And since our forecasting method will return the same result for every such attempt, we can conclude that humans will never fly.

    Well, no. To answer the question of whether human flight, technological unemployment, or any other novel state of affairs is possible and what the preconditions might be, there’s no alternative to examining the issue at the object level.

    The other problem with reference class forecasting is ‘reference class tennis’. If we reach the point where there’s nothing a person of IQ 85 can do that a machine can’t do better, does he belong in the reference class of ‘humans displaced by machines’ or ‘obsolete technologies’? A human is, after all, only a kind of machine, with a large but finite set of capabilities. When we put a person of below-average intelligence in the same bucket as the draft horse, the typewriter, or the hand loom, his future looks a lot grimmer. We don’t repurpose obsolete technologies. We discard them.

    I’m not aware of any accepted method for resolving disputes over the choice of reference class, so I don’t expect this one to be settled. The takeaway is to be careful not to be selective in which lessons we draw from history. There’s rarely only a single interpretation.

  • Benjamin Allen May 16, 2013 on 5:47 am

    I guess everyone could just stop working

  • Mattagus May 16, 2013 on 9:16 am

    I don’t see the problem.
    If the work is do-able by a AI system why do we need people doing it? Is there a real goal to having humans do the work or is the morning shift digging a hole only so the night shift have one to fill?
    As it stands eventually I get replaced by other humans. The only difference now is I would have more money in my pocket to pay other humans for things I want/need however that persons job could also be replace by the AI system.

    Every generation of humanity is replaced by the next. Why is it a big deal if the next thing to replace us isn’t humans?

  • nullcodes May 16, 2013 on 3:10 pm

    1. People can own shares in companies that own robots. Those shares will pay dividends (or increase in value etc).

    2. The government can tax the profits of the robot run factories. These profits can provide a dividend check to citizens who would hopefully invest wisely in the robot companies.

    Rather than work, people’s time will be spent trying to figure out which robotic factories/ companies perform well. You can use a computer program to do it .. which will let you decide if you want to be a risky investor etc. If you want to design robots for extra income, you can do that too.

    I didn’t say products should be free. People will have to pay for the manufactured goods. Think of it this way — it’s the same as working. Instead of you physically going to work and getting a paycheck. Your robot does it for you.
    People who make bad investment choices will be worse off than those who make wiser choices. Hopefully nobody will starve, because government will have enough tax revenue for a welfare scheme that provides the bare essentials.

    Also, instead of paying $200,000 for a college education, you can get the education 100% free online (udacity, khan academy etc) and instead buy shares in a robot-using company. People will be able to pursue things they are interested in, they will just have a much greater safety net and more freedom to try out ideas.

    Of course this is the utopian vision, but at least you must concede that the reality will not be a dystopia either.

    • Richard Lewis nullcodes May 17, 2013 on 12:01 am

      Yet a monetary vision of the future is a dystopian one to me….look up the venus project and you will see another future

  • Rob Brown May 16, 2013 on 4:57 pm

    I’m a pessimist on this front. For the next generation I hardly see everyone giving up on capitalism and sharing the bounties that come with increased technology. As workers are eliminated from production of necessities such as food, clothing, housing, fewer and fewer people benefit from the sale of these items. So only the owners of these increasingly massive and global companies that dominate the industries will get money from them. Are they going to spend money on your Etsy goods? probably not, and it’s hard to make luxury goods without starting with expensive materials and expensive tools.
    Basically as technology increases, capitalism (a system to incentivise useful work) becomes less and less stable as a social system. Hopefully we start shifting soon to another flavour of social behaviour that will take advantage of this.

  • Grady Philpott May 16, 2013 on 10:11 pm

    Let’s say that the market does not adapt to advancing automation and machines do everything and the only a relative handful of people are required to code, program, and maintain machines and the there are masses of people who even if they have appropriate skills, the jobs just aren’t available.

    In that case, goods will theoretically continue to be produced in the most efficient and least expensive manner.

    Who will buy these goods? The masses will be unemployed and living hand to mouth.

    Such a scenario is what Marx predicted would be the downfall of capitalism, except for the computerized machines, I guess.

    Marx thought that unless the proletariat stole the means of production from the capitalists, the world would be doomed.

    What actually happened was that communism killed the entrepreneurial spirit and technological advances ground to a halt, because the truly gifted and motivated lost their incentives, because, well, the state owned everything.

    But the story of capitalism is one of continued advancement and adaptation and maybe even a little restraint by capitalists will emerge in the future as they realize a warehouse full of goods produced by robots is worthless without people who can purchase those products.

  • David Govett May 17, 2013 on 12:31 am

    We’ve still got the animal side, so perhaps we will become full-time sexaholics.

    • Torgamous David Govett May 17, 2013 on 12:44 am

      Unlikely. Drugs and rock and roll aren’t going anywhere, and with genetic engineering the narcotics possibilities are endless.

  • Singularity Utopia May 17, 2013 on 12:51 am

    I think the past can be instructive in some cases, but merely because something happened in the past this does not mean it will always happen. For example repeated failures at curing cancer could lead people to think cancer will always be incurable. Likewise regarding mortality, people could assume humans will always be mortal, but very likely after all the years of effort cancer will be cured and immortality will be achieved via total mastery of human biology.

    *I think we are reaching a culmination point* regarding human knowledge, where contrary to past stumbling blocks, which entailed a mere muddling along down the middle road, we will instead achieve extreme mastery thus utopia will ensue.

    Nothing is truly certain but as certain as anything can be I think utopia is certain 50 years from now. I think utopia will be achieved no later than 2045. In the future nobody will need to work because everything will be free.

  • Irritert Fyr May 17, 2013 on 4:59 am

    Read this, and you wil get a better understanding of what might happen in the future.

  • Николай Николов May 17, 2013 on 5:02 am

    In 2045 the West would not exist because Westerners do not have children. And Islam will control at least 60% of the world.

    • Irritert Fyr Николай Николов May 17, 2013 on 5:04 am

      A method to fight islam this is to become a SPERMDONOR.

  • Waxy Vernix May 17, 2013 on 7:04 am

    The year, 2045. America is a post apocalyptic wasteland. Almost all natural resources have been consumed. The electrical grid has collapsed. The latest mutation of the corona virus has taken another huge toll. People have returned to living in small farming communities. Communication and travel are limited due to spotty supplies of gas and electricity.

    The robot workers sit idled by lack of power and lack of demand.

  • Singularity Utopia May 17, 2013 on 9:00 am

    I think the past can in some cases be instructive, but merely because something happened in the past this does not mean it will always happen. For example repeated failures at curing cancer could lead people to think cancer will always be incurable. Likewise regarding mortality, people could assume humans will always be mortal but very likely after all the years of effort cancer will be cured and immortality will be achieved via total mastery of human biology.

    I think we are reaching a culmination point regarding human knowledge, where contrary to past stumbling blocks, which entailed a mere muddling along down the middle road, we will instead achieve extreme mastery thus utopia will ensue.

    Nothing is truly certain but as certain as anything can be I think utopia is certain 50 years from now, I think utopia will be achieved no later than 2045.

  • phaggood May 17, 2013 on 10:55 am

    The Great Robot Manufacturing Kickstarter program of 2021 raised over $3B (with average investments of about $100) to construct open-source robot manufacturing centers across the United States, a few automated mining centers, and some automated farming (including forestry). This $100 investment served to both provide the participants with income for life, and destroy the fortunes of the majority of the 1%-ers; most of whom invested the remainder of their assets in a re-animating machine so they could bring Ayn Rand back from the dead in order to beat her to death.

  • wmeisel May 17, 2013 on 6:03 pm

    There is quantitative evidence that (1) jobs are not recovering as fast as company’s profits or capital investment, and (2) median income is more than 5% below its level at the beginning of the “recovery” in 2009. I cite more evidence in my new book, The Software Society: Cultural and Economic Impact, and even suggest a solution that will help preserve jobs.
    But logic should be enough to concern us without statistics. The current environment encourages “hiring computers” instead of hiring humans. Humans come with baggage such as payroll tax, a requirement for medical insurance, an expectation of increasing wages over time, etc. Competitive pressures force companies to look for ways to be more “productive,” a good thing until they are so productive that no one has a job and there is no one to buy their products. Where does income come from other than jobs? Are we to start the Social Security payouts after college graduation? Logic says that productivity can be taken to an extreme. I suggest an approach to combating this trend in my book, an “automation tax” that makes the human-computer competition more balanced (or at least produces government income to support all the unemployed!).

  • Alan Light May 18, 2013 on 7:38 pm

    Some good ideas. Now my comments.

    As artificial intelligence evolves, so might we. We humans are likely to find ways to increase our own intelligence, or even merge with machines. We may find ourselves still doing all those repetitive tasks through our electronic appendages, but in an automatic way like the way we breathe, without thinking about it unless something brings it to our attention.

    Humans may not be necessary for labor, but we will still be necessary for each other. Humans have emotional needs alongside needs for physical sustenance. One of those needs is a need to be of value to others through our work, so we will probably find a way to continue work – but it may be far fewer hours, or more enjoyable work, or types of jobs we have not yet conceived.

    I like the idea of a basic guaranteed income, but I am concerned about how we structure it. If it is a wealth redistribution program, there will always be complaints about who earned it and who did not – but if we have the foresight to take a small percentage of taxes (and preferably a tax everyone pays) and invest it in the companies that are inventing the future on behalf of the public, then the public itself will become shareholders and will *rightly deserve* future dividends, while allowing those willing and able to invest more the opportunity to have even greater returns.

    Unfortunately, most efforts to ensure that everyone has an investment in the future have so far met political defeat at the hands of those who favor redistribution of resources, with a few exceptions such as in Chile. It remains to be seen if we can make such changes to preserve human dignity in time.

  • Howard Switzer May 19, 2013 on 2:28 pm

    I don’t doubt that machines will continue to extend human capabilities for a time but without the human what’s the point? You want to turn your life over to a machine? We’ve got that, pretty much, and it isn’t pretty, extending that particular human capability is in no way a positive. Will we have algorithms to determine whose neighborhood the drones wipe out next? …just enter the zip code? I don’t think the economy will last long enough to do much more on this front and computers could be used to figure that out but the humans in charge are too stupid to ask the right questions or if the computer came up with the right questions they would refuse the answers. Humans are already refusing the right answers, in fact. Just remember, machines don’t need air and clean water and you should consider why we humans, and all the other critters, are getting less and less of it. There is an anti-nature, anti-universe, mindset in power. Their psychopathic corporate human capabilities do not need to be extended, they need to be reduced asap. We need to develop systems that work with nature and appropriate tech for a self-sufficient decentralized self-governing, healthy, happy living society. Extending that kind of human capability is worthwhile. Again, without the human what’s the point?

  • Timothy Rohde May 20, 2013 on 8:54 am

    The jobs humans will have in the future will fall into one category and consume all the labor now in use: FIXING MASSIVE FAILURES caused by automation.

    • Tudorel Timothy Rohde March 19, 2014 on 8:49 am

      You forgot the fact that one day the robots may surpass human intelligence.
      I doubt they will need our help.

  • Mike Maxwell May 20, 2013 on 8:53 pm

    what happen when we kill off last wooly mammoth? where you go for food then?

  • Charlotte Jolicoeur May 21, 2013 on 10:03 am

    The only job left will be to program and take care of the computers.

  • davidflynn May 21, 2013 on 11:48 am

    With all the IT outsourcing happening to the third world, I don’t believe these programmers will have the capacity to develop quality AI for the cost, even in 2045. Look up the 5 Asimov robot rules.

  • Dennis Broseidon Ohlson May 21, 2013 on 5:53 pm

    No one wants global slavery anyways. Us as humans have been conditioned to do that or we wont survive, let robots do the stupid shit, let us focus on bettering ourselves and the emotional impact in society.

  • welcoyo May 22, 2013 on 12:08 am

    Frankly Americans have the means and communication to group together and fight for control and basic necessities right now. Yet they don’t. Why would we expect them to group together and solve their problems in the future?

    • davidflynn welcoyo May 22, 2013 on 11:16 am

      welcoyo, people won’t wake up until we have a financial collapse due to trading algos. It’s amazing that “AI” has been used for terrible reasons such as 90% market liquidity.

      Just wait till the 72 trillion dollar derivatives complex crashes due to these HFT computers. It’s a doomsday bomb the TBTF JPM has strapped to itself. Dimon’s gun to head “go ahead and regulate me and I’ll bomb us to the stone age” lol.

  • Janarl Thompson May 24, 2013 on 12:45 pm

    I believe where these discussions typically break down from my observation is that many people cannot separate the idea of work/job from the economics/ownership that underpins those concepts in our minds. In a future where robotic technology has advanced enough for robots to perform most current tasks as well or better than humans by necessity it breaks down the traditional concepts by which economics/ownership operates.

    First and foremost robots don’t require compensation outside of upkeep/maintenance which if they are human-capable then they can also upkeep/maintain each other. Human-capable robots also will most likely be able to carry out a variety of tasks and unlike human beings won’t require overtime or (additional compensation) for being required to do more than ‘their’ job because robots won’t have jobs – they will be part of an automated system.

    In my head I think of a truly automated society as being in some ways like nature – Nature itself is an automated system that runs perfectly fine without human intervention in its capacity as a mass producer of raw materials and sustenance.

    Pick an apple off an apple tree and you are benefitting from an automated process/system. However when you own the land the apple tree(s) are on, and you put up fences and hire guards and apple pickers then sell the apples what you have done is taken an automated system and given the output of that system (apples in this case) a specific value (the amount the apples sell for based on a variety of factors).
    And value is at the heart of these discussions because human beings currently have a need to place value on things. We cannot truly imagine a society where the value of everything has dropped to near zero because no society in history had a workforce (even slave societies) where that workforce had the potential to be as overwhelmingly efficient and productive as an automated robotic society.
    Currently using the above example our Apple Orchard Owner provides society a service by taking an inefficient but automated process (nature) and providing efficiency and productivity. Obviously Nature doesn’t care how many people want apples, doesn’t analyze crop conditions, etc. in order to boost apple production, etc. to insure that as many people who want apples can have apples. Basically the AO owner has to utilize manpower/intelligence to make an inefficient automated system more efficient thus UN-Automating the system for pure practicality.
    However once you can build an efficient automated system on top of our natural automated system (nature) it begs the question – what is the value of that apple now? By all rights that apple should be near the same value (eventually) as it would be in nature if you were reaching up and picking it because everything from the process for growing, picking, distributing and delivering it to you is automated – and robots don’t require compensation.
    Obviously the AO Owner is still going to want to be compensated for people taking apples off his/her land. And he will want to be compensated for his/her investments in the robots and their upkeep/maintenance. But considering this society he/she operates in as an automated system instead of simply as one individual would lead me to believe that as time goes on the need to ‘compensate’ anyone would fall by the wayside. The AO owner will eventually die but his robots will still be doing what they are programmed to do. Eventually society is going to look and realize that ‘compensation’ is an antiquated concept and will find new ways to ‘compensate’ people for doing the few things that robots can’t do or people still want to do for themselves.
    Personally I envision ‘compensation’ in the future will be like Facebook credits or the innumerable other ‘currencies’ that people hand out for participating in their particular thing. There will be hundreds or thousands of activity-specific currencies people will collect and spend by voluntarily participating in activities they either enjoy or want to be compensated in.
    In an automated robotic society (along with 3D printing) we won’t be as tied down to struggling for food, clothing, and shelter as we are now. Once robots can provide those three things – food, clothing, and shelter – for near zero cost besides material costs – which can be a shared cost across society, then just like with Maslow’s hierarchy we will likely as a society all be on that third level all lovey-dovey.

    • Mark Lewis Janarl Thompson May 25, 2013 on 5:14 pm

      Jarani, That is a great discussion, and I completely agree that what you have described fits well in the “end game” of complete automation. Where I see problems arising is during the transition. You have a period of time when some people still have to be working while others won’t have anything to do because either there aren’t enough tasks, or the tasks that remain for humans don’t fit their skill set. That is the period of time when I worry about social strain and unrest.

    • Tudorel Janarl Thompson March 19, 2014 on 9:05 am

      When humanity will evolve that much, probably people will want to travel in space in all directions. In that case where robots do everything and we have sufficient clean energy etc,
      I believe a lot of people will go to colonize other worlds.

  • John Turmel May 25, 2013 on 4:17 am

    by 2045 artificially intelligent machines may be capable of “if not any work that humans can do, then, at least, a very significant fraction of the work that humans can do.” So, he asks, what then will humans do?
    Jct: We’ll call it leisure if we all share the robot paychecks in a national dividend. We’ll call it unemployment insurance if Bill Gates owns all the robots and we survive on his minimally-taxed table scraps. Leisure or unemployment, just depends on who owns the robots.

    • Mark Lewis John Turmel May 25, 2013 on 7:50 am

      John, Is this really in question given the current social structure and wealth distribution? The bottom 50% of the US has no extra money with which to buy robots. Hence, they are completely locked out. An interesting point to note is that the argument from the top 1% that they got there through their own hard work won’t apply at all in such a future society.

  • Gaurab Banerji May 27, 2013 on 3:19 am

    i always want to quit working.. but this economy stuff is making me a slave of the system.

  • John Stapleton May 27, 2013 on 6:18 am

    I see a future for society that money is not the driving force of our lives. Therefore work as we know it will become obsolete. What will we do, what we enjoy doing, some of us will be called on to do things for the community, but not for 40 hours a week. we wont stress about money anymore. some people will want o be actors, musicians, architects. My point is yes machines can do these things, but so can I and I so enjoy making music so why can I not write a symphony? Humans will be left to ponder the universe, improve themselves to grow.
    No longer will out young be getting into trouble because they are bored, they can create and accomplish things they can’t even imagine now. But no longer will we be prevented from doing what we dream of because we don;t have the money to go the the right schools or have access to the right opportunities. One thing we have machines do not is our imaginations. We can use that.

  • aksh May 27, 2013 on 4:23 pm

    No the world has not consistently muddled along on a middle path. The world has consistently turned to hellish extremes. You have grown up in hell, so you think it is normal.

  • DallasMorrison January 20, 2014 on 2:45 am

    There will always be jobs.

    Maybe robots can reduce the value of most undifferentiated tangible products (commodities) such as grain to zero. The supply of the product could be the equivalent to air, and the demand is limited because people only want to eat so much bread.

    But that is ignoring the intangible value of goods, such as the value of a famous painting, a particularly good/famous movie or brand name. Saying that humans cannot produce products that have intangible value is like saying humans can never do anything creative.

    Increasingly the economy is dominated by intangible goods and intangible assets, and in the robot future that will just be even more so.

    • Mark Lewis DallasMorrison January 20, 2014 on 9:57 am

      Dallas, it appears that you are making the assumption that computes can’t be creative. Other than for the novelty of it, why would you choose to buy something made by a human when a computer could make something equivalent or better? That rule applies to both the physical and virtual spaces.

      I would also point out that people make lots of things that have nothing to do with a job. You don’t have to have jobs for people to choose to create things and even for those creations to be given to others.