Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Economics of Robots Replacing Human Labor

A commenter on my Youtube channel, though leftist, did indeed make a comment that made me think.  He said that, ideally, and hopefully in the near future, robots will replace human labor resulting in everybody's needs being met.  This would wipe out nearly all jobs, but would allow for and mandate a guaranteed income for most humans, even those that did not work.

Though idealistic, poppycock like this can only come from leftist 20 somethings steeped in academia and too much reality TV, there were strains and elements of his point that did make sense, or at least intrigued me, and thus merited a full thinking through.  And so I donned my motorcycle helmet, put on my gloves, and hopped on the ole Cappy Capp Cycle and headed out west to think this one through.

And think through it I did.  So permit me to share the results.

The first thing to point out about a utopia in which robots do all of our labor and we loaf around like Roman emperors is that it is never going to be possible.  Human labor will still be required for tasks that robots are just not ever going to be capable of.  Most obvious of which is who will program, build, and maintain the robots?  Relatedly, robots not being sentient and incapable of identifying a need in the market will not know what robots to build in the first place to meet the ever changing and evolving demands of humans.  Also, robots are incapable of trouble shooting and doing complex diagnoses such as a "ghost" in your motorcycle, a medical problem, or an active crime, let alone coming up with the solution to fix such problems.  Finally, humans also want the human touch.  This could be anything from a massage, spa treatment, or waiting tables to books, movies, art, and umm....*ahem* the eldest profession.

Because of this, the best of my thinking leads me to believe that there will be at least THREE general types of human labor that will never go away:

1.  Programmers and builders of robots
2.  Tradesman that require non-programmable skills that can solve randomness (surgeons, plumbers, lawyers, mechanics, etc.
3.  Personal human or "vanity" services

There could certainly be more and no doubt we could debate about the above, but in the "Robot Economy" one thing is for certain - what human jobs do exist will be classified into two general cateogies:

High skill


Low skill

You will either decide at the age of 15 "Eh, I just want a life of leisure and will live off of my mandating income, maybe working a shift as a waiter" or "No, I want to go the extra mile and become a surgeon."  This will result in a heavily skewed or asymptotic labor market with two very distinct classes within:

So far there is nothing technically wrong with this theoretical economy.  If robots and technology are efficient enough you only need a small percentage of "high skilled" workers to support the robots which in turn supports the much more numerous "low skilled" workers.  Matter of fact, this would indeed be ideal and I'd be all for it.

There just a couple problems...as there always is with ideas coming out of academia.

1.  Some Humans Breed to Resource Capacity

If we could be assured that humans would only have a certain amount of children, this idealistic economy may work.  Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to breed to the point their resources are stretched.  Admittedly, not ALL humans do this, some living within their means, but noticed how I said, "some" humans and not "all."  The reason why is that it only takes SOME humans to outbreed past the productive capacity of the entire roboticized economy.  And before you jump to conclusions about which humans those are, I would say nearly all of them.

Africans are the most obvious of this example.  Trillions of dollars in aid didn't increase the income per capita of Africa in large part because just more capita were made.  It is NOT a coincidence that the poorest countries have the highest birthing rates.  Regardless, more money doesn't result in increased standards of livings with some humans, just more capita.

But what of those responsible suburbanite SWPL people only having 1.4 children per couple?  See they're not breeding past the productive capacity of said roboticized industries!

Oh, you mean the people who "have to" buy McMansions they can't afford, lease cars that cost more than my mortgage, wear clothes that will be out of fashion in 6 months, and keep those monstrosities of debt-fueled spending frenzies called "malls" in business all while majoring in sociology thinking that career will pay for their outlandishly expensive dreams?

You mean those fiscally austere and responsible people?

Yeah, right, they'll NEVER out-consume the productive ability of the roboticized economy.

In short, it really doesn't matter your race is.  The point is even if you come from the poorest classes on the planet or hail from the richest, it is human nature to consume to the point your finances are stretched.  This will put pressure on not just the roboticized economy to constantly produce more and more, but insane demands on the humans on the back-end of said economy to keep up with the insatiable demands of the low-skill class.

2.  The Human Ego Will Not Abide a 95% Low Skill Class

If there's something I've learned in the past 4 years about humans, it's that they need ego just as much as they need food, clothing and shelter.

Let's say you magically get it to where 5% of "high skilled humans" can build, manage, and maintain a roboticized economy that supports the remaining 95%.

In that 95% what percent are going to accept a life and career as a waiter, a backrubber, a smiley hotel bell boy, or just nothing?  Can you see the DudeBro's being told they aren't going to become investment bankers?  Can you see the 30 something independent single woman being told she is not going to have a career in social work?  Can you see the Millennial kid being told he's not going to be needed as a lawyer?

They'd all throw temper tantrums.

What you need to realize today that nearly 40% of the employment we have today (most of which is in government, non-profit, and academia) is NOT for some kind of productive purpose that serves society, but is there SOLELY to benefit the ego of two full generations of adult children who are talentless, but are too emotionally fragile to accept it.  The HR ditz, the social worker, the teacher, the fireman, the life guard, the non-profit director, you name it.  But not only are they too emotionally fragile to accept this reality, they are also too egotistical.  They will NOT sit idly by, getting the "High Skilled Person's Test" in this theoretical utopia, finding out they failed, and are condemned to merely collecting a check or being a spa person.

In other words, not only will the Roboticized Economy need to produce enough to provide for the basics of the 95% low-skill class, it will have to have a surplus production of (what I'd estimate to be) an additional 40% GDP to create entire faux "Ego Employment Industries" so millions can make believe and play pretend "professional worker person"...much like we do today.

3.  Class Envy

If you think income distribution, class warfare, and class envy is bad now, just wait till the robots take over!

The irony is of course those who clamor for such a roboticized economy and things like "guaranteed income" would be the first to be protesting the "unfairness" and "economic injustice" that those surgeons and robot programmers were making so much more than they were.

Never mind that their food, clothing, and shelter is paid for.
Never mind no human in the history of the world has enjoyed such a life of leisure.
Never mind the above-mentioned system would be as close as humans could get to a genuine "Utopia."

It would be a matter of nano-seconds before the leftists' human nature of envy, greed, and hatred would forget their enviable life of leisure, and start coveting what the high-skill class of humans have.

The truth is that while this utopia is impossible to attain, society has constantly been moving towards it asymptotically the entire time.  The West has made amazing, jaw-dropping advances that would no doubt seem magical to people alive just 200 years ago.  People back then would have killed and been thankful for what we have today and wouldn't care that they live in the lower skill class.  But as is human nature, particularly of the leftist variety, if you grow up surrounded by it, you tend to envy and then villainize the productive people in your society.  Ergo, the roboticized asymptotic curve will always forever move towards a perpendicular right angle, providing the masses ever increasing standards of living, but they'll only focus on what the producers have and they don't.  Thus, while technology and innovation may in theory make such an economy a possibility (one can say it already has), it is human nature that will prevent it from being realized.

Enjoy the decline.


Anonymous said...

In a way robots are already here. They are computer numerically controlled(CNC) machines. The day will come when they can build other robots.

I have an interest in CNC machines and have for some time. I am working on getting an old one going as a business. However should production above my capacity be required there is a simple solution. I will add a second machine. One person can run 2 or if skilled and ambitious enough 3 of them.

The next step is "lights out machining". The machines are fed automatically and you just walk away when the hoppers are full. Your purpose at that point is to load in the raw material and remove the finished parts. Of course you will have some snags and issues along the way. All solvable with a little thought and work.

My point is though that no new jobs will be created in many cases. The money these robots produce will be retained by the business owner as it should be.

Second point is why does anyone think they should be supported by the production of the robots if they do not own, operate, or repair these machines?

Sanelity said...

Where does this "guaranteed income" come from? With fewer income generating entities, the tax revenue would plummet.

Unless the robots are much cheaper to train, use, maintain, and replace than humans. That could drive corporate profits up, but I still don't think it would be sufficient to fund government.

A.B. Prosper said...

Sanelity, the guaranteed income will almost certainly come from the State. If necessary the State will either own the means of production (aka a lot of land, materials and robots) or will simply use control over currency to mint the needed income. Need 24k per adult? no problem. The USG mints 4.8 trillion.

If businesses don't comply and try to take only cryptocurrency or whatever, they'll actually be much less competitive than they ones taking State Buks

I think the welfare state will embraced as Walmart has and in some sense actually prove to save markets

Why? Because no consumers mans either being out of business or hyper-deflation. The minted money will basically be the bulk of demand along with BS makework jobs.

Also as to the issue of labor, once programmed robots can in fact perform surgery better than humans and are more than capable of self repair and repairing other robots.

They can once software is written even self program.

Other than junk work or boutique jobs (aka handwork or living servants)there will essentially be no use whatsoever for human labor.

Now will need programmers for a little while but software is already adaptive and it won't be that long till we don't need them. Instead of training the H1B guy, you train your machine

Capital (aka whoever owns the machines) or the State will have a conundrum. Most likely they'll embrace socialism, social credit or something like that but its plausible they may prefer a genocide option

In that case they'll either use the robots to kill by the hundred of millions or to make plague weapons or the like.

Call that the the Hunger Games route, just kep a few comely members of the lower classes for sex toys or servants

If they lose or the energy runs out (highly likely fracking is too short term) they will be exterminated and the world will end up with something akin to the Butlerian Jihad. We'll be lucky if general literacy survives that.

That'a about 50 years off at the earliest though so to borrow our hosts line, you've plenty of time to enjoy the decline.

Jeremy said...

There's another reason that a robot-utopia cannot happen. Human biology. We're just starting to hit the first real negative effects of modernization, with staggeringly high rates of diabetes and other negative health effects because non-motivated humans are just sitting around doing jack shit when they're not at their 9-5 pile-of-shit corporate job. If robots suddenly start replacing humans, humans will learn *VERY* quickly how important it is for their own longetivity to engage both the mind and the body to keep themselves alive long enough to enjoy their robot servants.

Basically, robot assistance is a zero-sum game with human health. The more we replace ourselves with automation, the sicker we become as a species.

Now, if you're affluent, you can pay robots to work for you, while you go to the gym. But this is inherently inefficient already as you could get both the workout, and firsthand knowledge of the actual work situation if you simply did the work yourself.

Robots will only be used (ultimately) in either extremely boring jobs (repetitive) where human hands just can't do such a perfectly repeatable quality of work for 20,000 times and do the same thing the next day, or where human strength is just incapable of doing the job. That's about it as far as I can see. If humans ever tried to get to a situation like "I Robot", you would have massive reduction in human lifespan, and humans would likely immediately respond by deciding that doing their own work each day (be it creative or otherwise) is actually best.

TroperA said...

Government would have to take over the robots and all means of production to make this hair-brained scheme work. (And we all know how well the "government taking over things" thing has worked in the past.)

RobertW said...

A world where robots did everything and most people could sit around doing nothing sounds like hell to me. (Although to be accurate, we already have a country where a large percentage of the population sit around doing nothing having all their needs tended to by others.)

I also think the instinct to go totally amoral and tyrannical on the part of the people at the top would be irresistible. (Again, to be accurate ...)

A.B. Prosper said...

Jermey, there is no reason to suggest that the general health of the species is any concern to the ruling classes.

Also most of the health fixes aren't that hard and can be met with a small garden, some exercise and avoiding pharm phood.

Another thing that occured to me, some societies might consider soft eugenics (not the US) in a post labor reality. Just pay people not to have kids,

This won't be a popular option with most as it's no fun to rule over no one but you never know.

As for the anon at 1:29, the retort to that is "you only have private property by suffrage of your neighbors."

In reality there are no such thing as inalienable rights,. only power and if the mob or the .gov or whoever has more power than you and your bots,do as they say or face the consequences.

Most people would rather give in that simply be executed and its a sound choice. You may have to share what you have but you'll still have plenty and you'll have your life.

Ultimately power after all is truth.

Goober said...

Such an economy would result in the most widespread rates of depression that anyone could imagine.

Humans need to create, and innovate, and be useful. Our entire societal structure is based on this. No one gives a crap about anyone else outside of their family structure, except for what service that person can provide for them, and that is entirely just and fair. Why else would I care? It’s no mystery to me why the most depression ridden people are the same people that perform no meaningful tasks and accomplish nothing with their lives.


A quick excerpt from the link:

“It is my firm belief that the onset of depression and unhappiness in western society came about in full force right around the time that the majority of our time was spent accomplishing little, and rather was spent just being entertained. Instead of building a tree fort or a bow and arrow with your pals from the neighborhood, you played a video game or watched TV. You built nothing. Learned nothing. Accomplished nothing. And so you feel like nothing.”

This is not a societal thing. It is ingrained in human nature. To eliminate the need for human labor through robots will eliminate the need for humans.

And so it will never, ever happen. For exactly that reason.

Past that, I’m getting so goddamned tired of leftists bending reality to find ways to make it okay to be lazy and worthless. Guaranteed incomes, income equality, “fairness…” All of those are just coe words for “I am lazy as fuck, don’t want to produce anything useful to anyone else, but still would like to get paid.”

Parasites. Every goddamned one of them.

A.B. Prosper said...

Goober, the so called parasites feel the same way about you.

Also the need for human labor has been eliminated to a high degree replaced with equally useless makework. Its already happened

In the past everyone had work to do now children under 18 don't work, half of all young people in some countries don't work, many people are no longer expected to work and live off state pensions and many more do useless make work jobs so that women can consume more instead of being home makers

Heck even the 40 hour work week is an admission there really isn't much to do

As for depression, is caused by modern atomization not lack of work. Hunter Gathers work maybe 4 hours most days and generally don't suffer from as much depression as modern people.

Why people are sick is simple, they aren't encouraged to faith, nationality and kinship but are treated as atomized consumer units who only matter for next quarters profits.

This is because of a combination of greed (less sharing, more consuming) and fear (kinship is powerful and the multi-cult hates it) That anti human pressure is what causes the mental illness.

It as Charlie Stross put it "the world is occupied by aliens in the form transnational corporations


His words

Corporations do not share our priorities. They are hive organisms constructed out of teeming workers who join or leave the collective: those who participate within it subordinate their goals to that of the collective, which pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance. (The sources of pain a corporate organism seeks to avoid are lawsuits, prosecution, and a drop in shareholder value.)

Corporations have a mean life expectancy of around 30 years, but are potentially immortal; they live only in the present, having little regard for past or (thanks to short term accounting regulations) the deep future: and they generally exhibit a sociopathic lack of empathy.

The multi-cult is another invasive species as well

There is no guarantee that state distribution will enable well being, a lot of people won't use it wisely but it's the only route to preserving modernity in any form otherwise demand drought or wage arbitrage will tank all of it.

With good teaching and a little luck though, some people can take htos eresources, get off the grid and start to live. Thats all that really matters anyway.

Keith Swanson said...

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Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?

Anonymous said...

"Post scarcity" is ruined by r-selected sluts, who will always succeed in breeding better idiots. Those women are the single reason why there can never be a utopia.

Notice how fertility crashed after colonialism, fascism, communism, and even Kemalism ended. Nice guy democratic socialism is only a collapsing demographic transition to the next group of fertile badboys, which looks like Zionists and Islamists. You can't win in this world.

Maybe we could go back to being fascists and bring down the divorce rate. Must have been those sexy uniforms, and the violence and cruelty. There's no point in playing fair if women won't go along with it!

Alex B. said...

Much of what you're calling "poppycock" is in fact EXACTLY what's happened. Sure humans will still have to work, but much less. To live on the exact same living standards as in the 1970's middle class in the US today only requires about 17 hours of work a week. This was achieved due to efficiency. How that efficiency is achieved doesn't matter. It means you devise some way to move your hands faster or if you invent a machine that moves faster. Either way, the results are the same: more stuff with the same or less amount of human effort. Supply and demand ensure the price of things continues on their millenia long decline.

The reality that you seem to be missing is that people's wants and desires is FAR greater than needs. No matter how much is produced, people will ALWAYS want more, so people will work more. And of course people will have to work to get stuff. No one just gives their stuff away. But people don't have to work as hard to get the same amount. And can actually work less and get more, as we do today vs. Americans in the 1970's, who worked more hours on average and had less on average.

And you miss the point that many things are virtually free. Clean water, both hot and cold were incredibly expensive for most of human history. Now, absolutely no American anywhere in this country worries about whether or not they can have a hot shower whenever they want.

The fact that we have zero worries about this basic necessity is an indication that your poppycocked idealist is more right than you.

Brett said...

Talking about egos and the politics of envy reminded me of that old thought exercise.

Imagine you have a job making widgets and you are paid $20 per hour to do so.

Your boss comes to you and says I have an offer for you. You have a choice. I will give you a $20 per hour pay rise which is a 100% raise and at the same time I'll give all your widget making co-workers a $40 p/h rise which is a 200% raise. You will be $20 dollars per hour better off but also the lowest paid of all the widget makers.

Your second choice is I give you and you alone a $10 per hour pay rise which is a 50% increase and you will be the highest paid of all the widget makers.

Which option would make a normal person happier in the long term?

Most people would take the 100% raise because it is obviously the better option but it wouldn't be long before resentment at being the lowest paid widget maker would set in I'm sure.

outsider said...

Parasite . . . or paradise? Also being the lowest paid widget maker would make me feel better for some strange reason.

evilwhitemalempire said...

Actually technology IS eating away at all jobs.

But it's doing it very slowly.

By the time our machines can do EVERYTHING we can do and do it better (I give a couple more centuries) we will likely have become machines ourselves.

Not far fetched at all really.

There are already artificial hearts, kidneys, etc. not to mention (functional) prosthetic limbs.

If the old CAN someday escape disease and death by basically becoming 'Robocop' they WILL.

Will Brown said...

These responses (and Cappy's post) miss the point of this thought exercise, which I find surprising given how long its been a "hot topic". As robotics develops greater capability, the individual price of any given capability will reduce (ask an economist, assuming we can find one here :)). As that process occurs, more individuals will become robot owners and make products for their personal use. Cost economies being what they are, these people will very quickly arrange contracts with a marketing outlet for as much of their favorite whizz-bang as they can - thereby reducing their personal cost of whizz-bang usage to some amount they can afford (or go broke trying).

The idea that a market economy is dependent on any given historical model is the main problem most people have with this concept; they can't see past their existing consumer assumptions to visualize an alternative arrangement. We order items from Amazon, and some of us sell items through Amazon. A few creative types among us develop items (stories/films) through Amazon. How is robotics applied to some portion of this arrangement all that difficult to comprehend and extrapolate?

Real World Example: my employer used to manufacture all the components that comprise our product. Over the years it was discovered that other companies employees could make many of these constituent items less expensively than we could ourselves. As a result of us having fewer jobs making components, the total number of jobs available to humans (and their mechanized/robotic cohorts) overall increased.

Now, apply this progression of events to every industry entering into contractual partnership with (potentially) every individual. Machines that permit fabrication of specific items to a stipulated standard are already commonplace - and becoming more so every day. That's the economics of robotics "replacing" human labor, more people doing less actual labor to produce more items (or more likely, components of items) at less cost while still creating more jobs (if you will allow paying work = job) since all of this stuff will need shipping and handling (for a given definition of "hand" :)).

I predict the entrepreneurial urge will rise again in the human spirit, if only because the existing mega-corps (and their nefarious mega-bankers) can't afford the historical labor/production model for much longer.

Anonymous said...


We can tax value added natural resources instead of people.

There is not enough rich people and those people are not wealthy enough to pay for the government spending and debt.

Somehow, the government has managed to borrow more money than there is money available to be lent.

There is not enough real economy to honor all the money in circulation.

So it's now time to tax something.
I have a plan.

monster221 said...

I left that comment quite a few months ago. I am in no way shape or form a leftist. To clarify, i did not mean, when telling you my outlandish science fictionesque theory that humanity would collectively live off the labor of machines, i saw it more as a capitalist endeavor where people would privately own machines that could get work done and contract with each other and that, as a result of the mundane work being performed by machines whereas skilled labor cannot be, employed indivoduals would be left to perform more skilled and thus mentally rewarding work leading to a general higher sense of well being and standard of living.

Also i believe that the topic was on how the bottleneck of production at some point stops being the scarcity of resources or competition for them and becomes the capability of acquiring these resources if the outlandish idea that people fly around space ever becomes a reality because of the likely lack of competition there. This part is a for now impractical theory, but the machines doing work.portion os becoming a reality in our time.

My main point though was that people who unionize to prevent the toothpaste company from buying machines to screw the caps on because they dont want to be out a job are wothless parasites who would rather stifle development just to keep their boring useless jobs than actually see the world become a more efficient and thus rewarding place where they actually have to bring some skill to the table.

Aside that i am an avid reader, listener and watcher. Love your stuff. You make more sense than anybody i know even personally.

Lucky Lothario said...

Don't forget there is still competition for sexual partners. SMV is all relative(particularly for women) and if you didn't want to get left with a land-pig then, as a man, you'd find ways to raise your status. Men would create non-productive work for themselves in order to acquire more resources.

And people would still complain. Just think about today where the standard of living of Western society is orders of magnitude better than 200 years ago and people complain louder than ever because, inevitably, some people at the top also have more. With an increased standard of living for the masses comes greater inequality with the top few percent. Instead of realising that's an inevitable consequence, the mainstream will always complain. And, with their base needs taken care of, they have even more free time than ever to do it in.

The living coconut said...

This whole post reeks of denial. It's a very valid point. Why pay stupid workers and unions when you can just automate everything? People trying to prevent robots from taking jobs doesn't sound like a very free market to me. And this isn't idealism, it inevitable. Accountants, doctors, farmers, pharmacists, taxi drivers are all easily replaceable when (not if) we discover advance artificial intelligence. The only people who won't be affected are artists, inventors, and maybe (and that's a big maybe) the engineers who design the robots. "Computers will never take my job as a cashier!" said the fool in denial. It's only a matter of time. Tick tick tick tick....

Anonymous said...

Yeah but if the government provided essentials like housing, food, and other shit, what the fuck are you going to do all day?

Play games, watch TV, or shop? Yeah right. Who the fuck would provide all of the "non-essential" stuff if there is no point in working. It's a paradox.

Socialism would still fail because it's a fucking crappy system. So would corporatism. The best system would be a free market economy with a very small government. Let people create, and open mom and pop shops that would be ran by robots. Think local, not global.

It's every libertarian's wet dream for production to be almost nothing in cost and instantaneous. Your naive if you think the government will even guarantee to provide you the essentials. It can't even balance the fucking budget. But I don't expect retarded leftists or even more retarded academicians in the ivory tower to ever figure this out.

Anonymous said...

No matter what version of this scenario your own biases lead you to believe......we need to start planning for it......in the next twenty years population week double and available jobs will plummet.....founding on who you ask between 30 and 60 percent.....capitalism as we know it doesn't work with.50 percent unemployment......we are going to change.....just no-one is planning how to make the transition....err are rearranging chairs on a dining ship arguing about which bathroom someone should use