THE ROBOTIC REVOLUTION:
MOORE'S LAW, & ROBOTICS
- DEPRESSION... OR LIBERATION
- THE ROBOTIC TAKEOVER
- ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTION
MOORE'S LAW, AND ROBOTICS
Visionary, and co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, made a prediction in 1965 that would ultimately have a profound effect on the world. Popularly known as "Moore's law," his theory states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit computer chip doubles roughly every 18 months to 2 years. In the near-term future (5-15 years,) we will reach a point at which Central Processing Unit (CPU) power rivals the power of the human brain. CPU power happens to be the limiting factor that is keeping robots too stupid to be of much use, yet. Robots with "brains" running on faster computers are obviously more capable. In order to create a general multi-purpose robot, you need to have an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) computer system in control of the mechanics. This requires a very large number of calculations per second, and hence a very fast CPU. ATMs, automated checkout lines, and automated voice response systems for telephone support are the very first signals of a massive, imminent change. As a level of computation that begins to rival human intelligence is reached in small, inexpensive (nano)computers, it will be married with fully articulate, humanoid (android) robots. Robots that can see, hear, feel, and communicate like humans are just around the corner. A humanoid form is desirable because a human-shaped robot, or android, can work with tools, drive vehicles and use anything designed for people. These robots will be capable of doing many jobs, of rapidly increasing sophistication, that are currently human-only. Robots will be an attractive, even essential, option for many companies because they will be less expensive, require only initial monetary outlay instead of continual wages, and will be far more precise and less error-prone than human workers.
Moore's Law means that robotic evolution will proceed millions of times faster than human evolution has, and we will go from having robotic AGI systems half as intelligent as humans to twice as intelligent as ourselves in just a few years. This is either very good news, or very bad news for us. Keep in mind that this is unlikely to be the "us vs. them" scenario played out time and again in science fiction. Human beings will merge with technology through cybernetics and begin to extend our own limitations in conjunction with technology, ultimately becoming trans/post-human.
THE ROBOTIC TAKEOVEROne of the first industries expected to automate much of its workforce is the airlines. Pilots are very expensive (with senior pilots costing up to $250,000/year) and their jobs are already largely automated. Airlines are also very cost sensitive. As soon as the first airline decides to do away with its pilots and automate its cockpits, it will be able to operate significantly less expensively. This will translate into lower ticket prices and therefore more business and profit. Other airlines will quickly be forced by this competitive advantage to either follow suit, or go out of business.
Just as ATMs have already replaced many human bank tellers, automated checkout lines will become the only way to pay for items at most large retailers by as early as 2015. Competitive pressure will again force all competing retailers to do the same. Any retailer who chooses not to automate will be at such a large pricing disadvantage that they will be put out of business.
The workforce in the Unites States is currently over 100,000,000 strong. People-powered industries such as transportation, construction, restaurants, retail stores, etc. represent fully half of all jobs in the U.S. Robots will be ideally suited to these largely non-creative jobs.
DEPRESSION... OR LIBERATION
By around 2015, retail stores will begin using robotic systems that specialize in various tasks such as cleaning (floors, parking lots, etc.,) stocking shelves and managing inventory, helping customers (via vision and voice recognition systems,) returning shopping carts, and of course automating checkout lines. The first completely automated retail stores will become a reality around 2020. All of the large retail chains will start to adopt these various forms of robotic automation at roughly the same time, dumping upwards of 10 million workers in just a few years. These jobs will not all be filled immediately. In order to recover, the economy will have to invent new jobs and retrain human workers to fill them. In reality, it is unlikely that all (or even most) of these people will be able to find employment. Unfortunately, as it is currently structured, the largest portion of jobs currently in our economy is in the unskilled labor, "service sector." These are the exact type of easily automated jobs that will be the first to go to robots.The same phenomenon of robotic takeover will occur in every sector of the economy in a span of just a few years or decades. This is a familiar story with one unfamiliar wrinkle. Industrialization has been making many jobs obsolete for over a century. In the past, jobs replaced by industrialization were in turn filled by more people. That will not be the case with the "robotic revolution." Robots will displace millions of workers, but people will not be employed to build robots, more robots will. There will be very few people employed in the production of robots. You might expect that the economy will react to this sudden influx of unemployed workers by creating new jobs for them. The objective of any business, however, is simply to make as much money as possible. This is exactly why robots - which will eliminate labor costs and reduce the overall cost of business - will rapidly spread throughout the workforce. They will be a cheap and effective solution.
Economies depend upon people spending money, which in turn depends upon people making money. Massive unemployment in our economy, as it is structured today, would be a very bad thing indeed. It would result in a downward spiral that would virtually destroy our economy. During The Great Depression, unemployment in the United States rose to 25% at its height. "The Robotic Revolution" will put as many as 50% of workers (all those currently working in the "people-powered" industries) out of their current jobs. Within 50 years, robots will perform all tasks that are essential to human survival. They will produce and distribute all of our food, build our houses, and manufacture all consumer products.
So, what can we do about this situation? Is it possible to restructure the economy in a way that truly works to benefit everyone equally? Can we 'see' into the future far enough ahead of time in order to plan a strategy that avoids a repeat of The Great Depression, or worse? In short, can we design a future in which we not only avert catastrophe, but actually take advantage of the freedom created by robots doing all the menial jobs that very few people actually want?
Clearly, now is the time to begin planning for the robotic takeover, not once it begins to disrupt the economy and displace people from their jobs. The exponential nature of Moore's Law will cause robots to start replacing human workers in many jobs all within a very narrow timeframe. Many people will undoubtedly feel quite threatened by this takeover, however the potential exists to not only avert catastrophe, but to actually use the inevitable robotic takeover to launch a new and much improved economic system.
ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONOne possible solution, proposed by Marshall Brain in Robotic Freedom, is to very simply give consumers money to spend, in order to keep the economy going. This way, robots would do all of the work that must be done but currently wastes human potential, and people would be free to pursue creative endeavors such as literature, art, music, inventing, planning, etc. If a "central account" were created that collected funds from a variety of sources such as advertising (on paper currency and public places for example,) fines, taxes (VAT, property, sales, luxury, SIN, income and especially "extreme" income) lotteries, email postage, mining of natural resources, or other sources that redistribute money taken from the people evenly back to the people. This would enable an economic system where every citizen has enough money to survive, and enough time to contribute to the betterment of society as a whole. This system has the advantage of giving people the time they might not otherwise have to be able to find alternative ways to earn an (additional) income once robots have taken all the simpler jobs. This system could potentially result in a post-industrial age of leisure - if we play our cards right.