Last July, "Robotic Nation," by Marshall Brain, the founder of HowStuffWorks.com, initiated a lively discussion on Slashdot, "Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050?"
Now, in a commentary published by the Los Angeles Times, "Relax, Wage Slaves -- Robots Promise You an Endless Vacation," he turns into an utopist. [Free registration needed]
Vacation is true freedom. What if you had that sort of freedom every day? We should be considering this possibility because we are now standing on the threshold of the robotic revolution. Primitive robots are already taking jobs all around us.
Around 2040, he says that robots will be able to accomplish almost all human tasks.
For many millenniums, Earth has been the home of a single intelligent species. Humans are now engineering the second one. It will take only a handful of breakthroughs to open the floodgates of the robotic revolution, and intelligent robots will directly compete with humans for jobs. As time passes, the new species will get better and better, cheaper and cheaper.
So what will be the possibilities for us? Brain sees three possible paths.
We may see massive unemployment, with robots taking so many jobs that millions of unemployed humans end up in government welfare dormitories. Or perhaps we will create mundane new jobs to replace the old ones. The third option is the revolutionary one: What if we let the robots have the jobs, while we all attain actual economic freedom for the first time in human history?
Of course, this would require fundamental changes to today's economy model.
In the current paradigm, millions work to make the rich richer. For example, 3.5 million fast-food workers get minimum wage so executives can make billions of dollars collectively. We see that same formula throughout today's economy. More and more money concentrates in the hands of the mega-rich.
With their wealth, the mega-rich buy candidates, lobbyists and lawyers to amass immense economic power. So chief executives' salaries have risen by a factor of 10 since 1980. [..] Meanwhile, the minimum wage has not changed since 1997, and workers' wages are stagnant
Brain has a proposal to break this model.
Instead of letting the mega-rich swim in an ocean of money created by robotic productivity, we should tap that ocean to provide a swimming pool of money for each person. Give everyone a generous stipend -- $25,000 or $30,000 per year, with the amount increasing along with robotic productivity. Let people live their lives in freedom while the robots do all the work.
The most common objection to this proposal is, "Without work, people will have nothing to do." Here is the easiest rebuttal: If you, personally, received $25,000 per year, what would you do? If you are an artist, you would work on your art. If you are a writer, you would write. Inventors would invent, dancers would dance. Given true economic freedom, human creativity would explode.
It sure is a nice dream, isn't?
Source: Marshall Brain, for the Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2003
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