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Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050? 1457

Posted by michael
from the metal-man dept.
Anonymous writes "Marshall Brain (the guy who started HowStuffWorks) has published an article claiming that robots will take half the jobs in the U.S. by 2050. Some of his predictions: real computer vision systems by 2020, computers with the CPU power and memory of the human brain by 2040, completely robotic fast food restaurants in 2030 (which then unemploy 3.5 million people), etc. It's a pretty astounding article. My question: How many people on /. think he is right (or even close - let's say he's off by 10 or 20 years)? Or is he full of it?"
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Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050?

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  • by sweeney37 (325921) * <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:24AM (#6520445) Homepage Journal
    I will make this prediction: by 2008, every meal in every fast food restaurant will be ordered from a kiosk like this, or from a similar system embedded in each table.

    Yeah, I'm going to go with a no on this one. Everyone said the same thing when ATMs came around, "Oh no, they're going to replace actual tellers!" But it didn't, banks still hire quite frequently for bank tellers.

    I'm not saying these kiosks aren't going to become more prevalent, but they won't replace actual human contact. Having previously worked in many service related jobs I know that people (especially older adults) will not allow this to occur. We all need to be able to talk to an actual human every once in a while. Computers don't care if you yell. Could you imagine the amount of complaints McDonalds would get?

    With this being said, I love automated services such as "Pay-at-the-Pump" and especially self-checkout at the grocery stores. It's not that I'm some hermit who likes no human contact, but who wants to make idle chit-chat with some register jockey?

  • by yoey (247125) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:24AM (#6520448) Journal
    "Who will be the first large group of employees to be completely automated out of their jobs by robots? Chances are that it will be pilots."

    Uh, uh. No way, no how. In case of an emergency onboard an aircraft I will literally bet my life on the instincts of a human being over the computational prowess of machine.
  • Brave New World (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mandalayx (674042) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:26AM (#6520461) Journal
    The arrival of humanoid robots should be a cause for celebration. With the robots doing most of the work, it should be possible for everyone to go on perpetual vacation. Instead, robots will displace millions of employees, leaving them unable to find work and therefore destitute. I believe that it is time to start rethinking our economy and understanding how we will allow people to live their lives in a robotic nation.

    Does anyone else see Brave New World here? Artificial industries created in allowing humans to be free of worry and work...merely players in a game whose goal is to increase consumption.

    Worrying stuff. Now where's my soma..
  • Don't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by deman1985 (684265) <`moc.enotsappak' `ta' `sdrawded'> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:27AM (#6520475) Homepage
    The problem with most of these predictions is that there are claims of robots taking over service jobs, which I find highly doubtful. People don't like interacting with robots-- that's why automated call answering systems piss people off so much when they call their favorite stores or businesses. I can see robotic technology taking over some other hard labor jobs once the intelligence is there, and perhaps assisting in some of the engineering areas, but not in the numbers he's talking about, and not as soon.
  • Moore's Law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by s20451 (410424) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:27AM (#6520479) Journal
    Pretty much all this analysis assumes that Moore's Law will keep going indefinitely. As soon as that runs out of steam, computer technology will advance far more slowly, and any advances that seemed to be just ten years off will be shunted off to the far future.
  • Things will shift (Score:2, Insightful)

    by craigtay (638170) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:28AM (#6520491) Journal
    And then think of all the jobs that will go to maintaining the robots, creating them, programming them.. etc.. Jobs will shift as they have in the past. Jobs will be lost and jobs in other sectors will be created.
  • 3.5 million (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roalt (534265) <[] [at] []> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:29AM (#6520501) Homepage Journal
    Some of his predictions: (...) (which then unemploy 3.5 million people), etc.

    In other news, the estimate number of people in development, production and support of intelligent robots in the year 2030 is ... 3.5 millon people.

  • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:30AM (#6520511) Journal
    I'd have to agree with this. I'm sure that we could have the technology on the timescale suggested, I have full confidence in human ingenuity we could quite possibly have human brain level processors in 40 years. The real question is would we allow them to take over 50% of all jobs?

    Just because the technology is there does not mean people will want to use it.
  • by diersing (679767) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:30AM (#6520516)
    ATM replacing bank tellers. eTickets replacing airport personnel. Self checkout at the grocery store. Sure, it has prolly reduced the number of people working those teller/clerk positions and I'm sure on a very small scale its contributed to the unemployment rate. Aside from businesses trying to reduce costs, the government will be trying to create jobs elsewhere. If we, has a people, can automate the mundane, in theory, it would free the rest of us to create, inspire, and innovate. Ahh, its just a theory.
  • by dachshund (300733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:34AM (#6520569)
    Everyone said the same thing when ATMs came around, "Oh no, they're going to replace actual tellers!" But it didn't, banks still hire quite frequently for bank tellers.

    What bank do you use? Many of the banks in my area have reduced teller hours to the point where most working people can't use them. Some have instituted fees for seeing an actual person.

    Others (my neighborhood Washington Mutual) have so completely automated the process of withdrawals and deposits with special kiosks, that actual human presence in a bank is much lower than it ever was when I was growing up. You go to one kiosk to prepare your deposit, and another to withdraw cash. The actual teller transaction, if necessary at all, is minimized. And tellers double as customer-service people, opening new accounts and the like-- one of the few remaining tasks that isn't machine automatable.

    Then there are online banks like ETrade, which seem to do ok with no human contact at all.

    So no, humans haven't been written out of the equation. But their numbers have been substantially reduced, and the process is a long ways from complete.

  • Re:Moore's Law (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IWorkForMorons (679120) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:36AM (#6520592) Journal
    Yeah...until quantum computer comes along. Same goes with a lot of the non-volitile memory work being done. Changing the properties of plasics and other materials at the molecular level to increase it's usefullness is going to be a major area of development. The next revolution will not be computers. It will be nanotech. Computers, and a whole range of other products, will just be a beneficiary of the discoveries.
  • by TopShelf (92521) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:36AM (#6520595) Homepage Journal
    The common mistake when people talk about efficiency improvements that result in "lost jobs" is that the same dynamic forces that made those changes also open up opportunities for new jobs that were previously unanticipated. Who would have thought years ago that today we'd have airline customer service reps who work out of their own home (ATA, I believe), supply chain specialists coordinating the efforts of several companies in the creation of a product, or a niche industry of boutique personal PC manufacturers who create customized and stylized computers for the consumer market?

    In short, the story's much more complicated than simple "jobs lost."
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:37AM (#6520601) Journal
    Yes, we will eventually see a lot of the jobs that are currently performed by humans performed by robots. Yes, vision systems will increase the number of jobs they can do. Also, we'll eventually see a cure for all forms of cancer, private space travel, and practical nuclear fusion.

    The thing is, these will not happen overnight. We're not going to wake up one morning and be told that all jobs are going to be replaced by robots. They'll replace them as technology become appropriate, and society wil have time to adapt and find other mundane tasks for us to do. Society is robust like that.
  • Its very possible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mnmn (145599) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:37AM (#6520608) Homepage

    While they wont replace ALL employees of that sector, its easily possible the number of fast food robots will exceed employees in numbers. Robotics have made lots of advances and with powerful CPUs and languages to deal with them, sophisticated tasks can be handed over to them more economically than to a high school student.

    Computers potentially already have more cpu and memory than a human....... can anyone remember 2 terabytes of text, graphics and audio??(our memories are very low resolution), and can you compete with a 386 in arithmetic and general logic? The deep blue bested the best of chess players and approximately that level of cpu power is already available on desktops. However many key features of the human thinking will remain missing from computers for a while, the biggest of which is learning and associating concepts. How many computers can listen to two foreigners talk and learn the language by listening alone?
  • Less drama maybe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BigGerman (541312) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:38AM (#6520623)
    Yes there will be more and more self-order-and-pay kiosks.
    I imagine kitchen automation at the restaurant is possible (steak cooking robot).
    But general-purpose robots? I don't think so.
    Roomba the vacuum cleaner is out already. Robotic lawn movers will be next. Robotic gas-pumps, construction site robots, etc are definetely to come.
    But a general purpose walking and talking robot will never be justifyable to build and market.
    I think we will end up with millions and millions of highly specialized robots networked together and dynamically provisioned and allocated by AI control systems.
    Yes, lots of people will have to retrain. No, it will not result in 50% unemployment. And someone has to program all those things so /. crowd will be all right ;-)
  • by trix_e (202696) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:42AM (#6520669)
    yeah, I'll buy this... they could automate 1/2 of what we do now.

    it's the same automation story we've been hearing since the industrial age started (or before).

    how many less jobs are there in the lumber industry now than there were 100 years ago? Farming? Metal workers? Technology, regardless of whether it is deemed 'intelligent' or not changes the face of the workplace.

    The flip side of it is that there will be new jobs for humans... how many programmers were there 100 years ago? Just as my great great grandparents couldn't even imagine nor understand the concept of what I do for a living, we probably can't concieve some of the tasks that humans will be doing 50 or 100 years from now...

  • by noah_fense (593142) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:42AM (#6520670)

    if robots take over 50% of the jobs, the robot industry will need millions of workers who performed these simple to complex tasks to program/design/manufacture their replacements, thus creating a multibillion dollar robot industry which will create millions of new jobs (maybe not 50% as much).

  • by javatips (66293) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:42AM (#6520672) Homepage
    Even if we have all the nice technology to create a humanoid robot that have the same physical capability as a human, they factor that will dictacte if they will replace humans will always be a cost/benefit ration which need to be lower that the human worker.

    Such advanced robot will surely cost a bundle to produce and then maintain. Energy consumption (we are still far away of from the energy effeciency of an organic lifeform in any mechanical/electronic devices) will also be much higher than that of a human being (it will prbably cost more to McDonald to provide the proper amount of energy for the robot to function for a day that to give free lunches to it's employee).

    We have the technology to create a complete automated McDonald (using specilized robots)(from ordering to delivery the food to the customer). We are not doing it because human are a lot cheaper worker. That's not going to change anytime soon!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:42AM (#6520675)
    The next thing will be automated refreshments

    v-e-n-d-i-n-g m-a-c-h-i-n-e, say it with me, vending machine!

  • The real question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by missing000 (602285) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:47AM (#6520744)
    Is why anyone would care what a dot com god like this guy [] preticts about anything.

    Yeah, advertising will make a lot of money and we can all retire. Thats going to work.
  • by DanDwig (658279) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:49AM (#6520766)
    Read R. Heinlein's "Friday" it has a strong argument agreeing with the parent statement. Admittedly it's primarily talking about biological constructs rather than computers/automation, but it's still applicable. The upshot is that a human will do their level best in an emergency to save the passengers/plane. A computer can only do what it was programmed to do and this limits its ability/desire to react to an unforseen situation. For that reason, in critical applications, I'll still fly with the airline with a human pilot.
  • by dachshund (300733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:49AM (#6520767)
    How do you make a connection between a kiosk where you can order food at McDonalds and robots taking over every job in the United States?

    The question is, how do you not make this connection?

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    1) Is there a compelling reason to believe that computer/robot technology won't reach the point where most basic service jobs can be (almost) entirely automated? Think food service, janitorial, banking, etc.

    2) Is there a compelling reason to believe that this technology will remain too costly or inconvenient for employers to adopt it?

    3) If (1) and (2), is there some compelling reason why employers will choose not to adopt a cheaper, more convenient technology for these purposes, in order to increase their profits?

    If you can't answer with confidence to any of these questions, then it's probably not a matter of whether robot technology will absorb these jobs, but of when it will happen. The 50 year prediction may be off by quite a lot. But over some reasonable time span (less than a couple of centuries, barring global disaster), the technology will be available and-- assuming our economic system remains similar to what we have today-- it will be in use.

  • by Nutcase (86887) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:50AM (#6520774) Homepage Journal
    Why not just make robots that work in the robot factory?
  • No Humanoid Robots (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davemoller_nz (209338) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:50AM (#6520777)
    Why would we bother to make them humanoid. You'd just have a machine that constructed the appropriate item. Whether it was a fast food shop or a watch shop, you're item would be built on demand in a machine, like a 3d ink jet printer.

    As far as replacing the service industry... in some areas yes, but in others like restaurants, I think you'd have people serving you but these fabrication machines would replace the kitchen.
  • Re:Moore's Law (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf&yahoo,com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:53AM (#6520803)
    I don't think we lack the pure technical knowledge to do this now, just the knowledge of making a practical application.

    I'm sure someone could build a humanoid robot with state of the arts sensors today. It's actions could be controlled remotely by a Beowulf Cluster of processors in a system with many Gigs of RAM. It would have all the physical capabilities and processing power you could possibly need to do any household or manufacturing chore you like.

    Now all we need is 500 million lines of code required to make a program that runs it correctly. That's not a question of advancing technology, just a huge software development requirement.
  • by diersing (679767) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:53AM (#6520804)
    Where did you work in high school?

    My mundane position was at an amusement park. I'm sure the adults that came through looked down on me because I wasn't from an affluent area or had secured my education at an important university. But that mundane job allowed me to attend a state school. No one flipping burgers or scanning your Fruit Loops is thinkging they've reached their potential or go home at night thinking "I've finally arrived"

    I'm not saying we don't need the menial (sp?) or support jobs. We do and we will, they will just change from filling your Biggie Drink (c) to patting your pockets looking for metal items while entering the public library. Shift Happens.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Robspiere (587603) <robspiere@ao[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:56AM (#6520844)
    "Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050?"
    That's the /. headline, not the article's. The author's numbers are a bit more realistic. In any case, nobody is predicting that all lost jobs will be lost overnight. It will be gradual, of course. A McDonalds employs thirty people, but you can replace three of the six cleaning staff with simple roving robots, four of the ten order takers/preparers with kiosks, and all of the sudden you've cut McDonalds labor force by 10% or 20%. McDonalds alone employs over a million people. 200,000 of them are replacable with technology that is not hard to imagine.
  • by dachshund (300733) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:56AM (#6520856)
    It takes at least 5 years for a human brain to be "programmed" to do most simple, coordinated tasks.

    Yes, but you have to program each and every human being to do these tasks. With a machine, you simply teach it once and then clone the resulting "mind" as many times as you need. So even if it takes us an additional 50 years to develop a machine capable of doing many human tasks, we could produce millions of them the next day, and every day from there on out.

  • by bc90021 (43730) * <bc90021@bc90021S ... net minus distro> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:01AM (#6520924) Homepage
    Computers are getting into everything, and robots build most things now:

    Most people who have commented are saying "I'd never trust my life to a robotically controlled plane" and "Oh, no way will I want to interact with a robot". But what you're missing is that this already happens.

    As for interacting with robots, all Al Gore jokes aside, it won't be that difficult. People interact with computers all day (for Gen Y it is as natural as breathing). Automated voicemail was mentioned, but while it may be frustrating, when well designed it is more efficient and cheaper (hence why businesses use it!)

    And that brings up the other point: most posters have ignored the economic aspect of it. That same factor that is driving jobs to India is the one that will make it so that Marshall Brain is completely correct. Companies need to save money wherever possible, and replacing labourers with robots will be a very big way to do that.
  • by b-baggins (610215) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:08AM (#6521004) Journal
    The author's premise is that an economy is a zero-sum game. If a robot takes a job, that means a human must lose a job.It's the same idea that many liberal politicians have. If one man gets rich, it's because another man has become poor.

    The truth is, economies are not zero-sum. If robots do become a large factor in our economy, then people will move to other avenues to provide for themselves. Heck, the economy may even shift again. We used to be a manufacturing based economy. Now we are more a serviced based economy. Who knows, in a 100 years, if robots can do it all, our economies may focus around land (where we can live with all our robot servants), art, and knowledge and other things that are uniquely human.
  • by joshv (13017) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:08AM (#6521005)
    Ok, why the hell does automation have to present itself in the form of a humanoid robot? The best shape for a robot that vaccums the floor, is - well - the shape of a vacuum cleaner. The only reason to create humanoid robots if for the sake of backward compatibility with existing tools. In the time frames we are talking about it's probably more economical to think about redesinging the entire system, with automation in mind, rather than just plopping a humanoid robot behind a cash register.

    In fact that is what's happening. If you've ever used an automated checkout, you dealt with a robot that is far from humanoid. It's a squat little brushed metal dealy with a minimal complement of sensor devices and a reasonably dumb computer brain. With some adjustment on the part of the consumer who is using it, the new system performs just about as well as the old - at least for small purchases. Now if they can just come up with an automated bagger that puts the eggs on the bottom of the bag...

    Furthermore, much of the automation we are going to see replacing human won't take any sort of a physical form. My job is implementing automated business systems that do the work of a department of dozens, even hundreds of people. Anyone rememeber how payroll was once processed? Clerks manually calculated every check. Today the payroll for 100,000 people with complex benefits, deductions, bonuses, etc... can be run in about an hour - with the attention of a few trained humans to pick up and correct errors.

    If you believed the author of this article, the payroll department of the future would look like hundreds of humanoid robots staffing calculators. Not going to happen. Robots and automation will eventually replace most humans at work, but whatever form it takes won't look like us.

  • by TrippTDF (513419) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:11AM (#6521042)
    The only time a civilization or humanity has been "displaced" has been because the people self-destructed, not because of their inventions, mechanical creations, or otherwise.

    Why can't technology be the mechanism for the self-destruction?
  • by ManDude (231569) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:11AM (#6521053)
    For economics to work production needs to become more and more efficient. The economy needs to produce more for less. (This also means that there needs to be more consumption) In many industries efficiency gains are coming from delinking production by human input and replacing it with automation, be it robots or something else. Further, to compete with foreign slave labour in a country without slaves, means you need to come up with something slave like to compete, i.e. robots.

    If you believe in the present economy it is necessary to have robots eventually doing much of what people do today. You would also have to believe that people will have to be much fatter to consume efficiency gains found in the food industry. We are seeing this in spades right now. How far will food producers be able to go? I doubt it can last much longer. I see a lot of fat people either ready to burst or die from getting out of their chair.

    It is hard to say if this will all happen by 2050, but why not? The weather man can see the system coming, but speed and another system bumping it out of the way make timing hard to predict. I don't see futurist having any greater power.

    I can't resist, from the Animatrix, "Your flesh is a relic; a mere vessel. Hand over your flesh and a new world awaits you. We demand it!" said the robot to the UN.
  • Shorter workweek? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:22AM (#6521208)
    I think a flaw in all of this is: if essentially everyone is unemployed, they will have no money to buy the products that are automatically produced. There will be no market. It will become self-defeating. It is in the interest of the producers to maintain a market for their products.

    Instead, what I think will happen is that the typical workweek will slowly get shorter and shorter, in part because there will be so many leisure activities and interesting things to do outside of work and that's what people will demand. Our quality of life will increase dramatically. Actual human labor will become very expensive, and we will only need to work a few hours a week to earn enough to reap the rewards of all the automation. Of course, there will be those who will still work 80 hours a week, if they want, and they'll probably become richer than most.

    I guess there are alterate distopian possibilities, such as a massive imbalance of wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer people, which they article seems to be predicting. We should be wary to try to take steps, whatever they might be, to help prevent that from happening. Without draconian government measures that trample on freedom.

  • by Lolox (643678) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:22AM (#6521210)
    I don't wanna be mean here or anything, but you have to realize that the percentage of the population that actually thinks, creates, innovates and so on, is incredibly small. You don't get a million Nietzsche's from eliminating mundane jobs.

    Humm, maybe because they didn't get the opportunities? Doesn't it strike you how (for instance) many great things are being invented this century in comparison to the last? May this have to do with said scientists not having to work their backs off at coal mines or 19th century sweatshops?

    Saying that *some* jobs may become obsolete has little to do with having half the population on welfare. There will be different jobs, probably less demanding (anyone heard of 35 hours?). And certainly more rewarding for those who have them.

    The idea of shelving all the unemployed to state-run concentration camps makes no sense. From an economical standpoint, it would be much better to keep them as consumers, and integrate them into the mainstream economy.

    In developed countries, the percentages of population working in agriculture have dropped to 10%, while almost everybody was working there few centuries before. Industry has yielded to services, and now 70% of the workforce is there. The type of services is also changing: the second largest US export is entertainment, IIRC.

    So, yes, maybe there will be less clerks and waiters and construction workers. And the future will have an entertainment industry as we've never seen before, the economy will keep growing, and the sun will keep coming over the horizon every day.

    Yes, I'm an optimist.

  • Re:Simply, NO. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:37AM (#6521406)
    1: How does the brain work? We're learning that...

    No, we're not. We're making progress into which areas of the brain do what, but we're still stuck in the brain-as-a-hardwired computer metaphor.

    A better question is "what is thought"? What is thinking? People doing brain research still can't answer this question..
  • Progress (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vagary (21383) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:40AM (#6521447) Journal

    There's this thing called capitalism, which is what will get us the robots in the first place and it's an implementation of a thing called natural selection, which is what got us you in the first place. And what these things say is: if you choose not to use the robots, the world will choose not to use you.

    All it takes is for a very small minority of humans to vote robot and by meme or by gene that small minority will become a big majority. (And believe me, no matter how taboo something is, you can always find a small minority who'll choose it for step 1 if step 3 is profit.) Then the robots take over.

    Sorry, but the only way to prevent you being replaced by a robot would be to prevent your creation in the first place. The same forces that giveth, also taketh away.

  • by anshil (302405) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:43AM (#6521479) Homepage
    Who will be the first large group of employees to be completely automated out of their jobs by robots?

    The weavers will be the first large group of employess to be completely automated out of their jobs.

    And guess what, it has happened already!
  • I sure hope so (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:45AM (#6521510) Homepage

    If technology can render human labor unnecessary, then that's exactly what it should do. The problems that come from technology replacing humans all stem from an economic system that is at odds with our real goals as a society. It is the economic system that needs to be replaced. The more technology is capable of doing and the cheaper it is to use that technology, the stronger the pressure is to make the economic system match our real goals.

    To put a finer point on it, for the vast majority of people, capitalism is a means to convert time and effort into a living. The real goal, however, is to have a living without needing to apply time and effort. That goal has not been reachable due ti limitations of technology. However, in the future, the goal will be limited more by capitalism than by technology.

    Looking at the job situation, how many people really WANT to work in fast food? Other than a few retirees who just want something useful to do with their day, I can't think of anyone off hand. Of course, those retirees don't have to put up with a bunch of crap from the manager since they don't actually need the job in the first place. Even amongst professionals in careers that match their interests, most would probably prefer to pursue their interests as dedicated hobbiests rather than as an employee if that were a viable option for them. If technology can make that possible without forcing other people to take up the slack, then it should. If our economic system stands in the way, it should be changed. If our economic/educational systems are inadequate to the task of transitioning, then they must be fixed.

    A sort of steam engine was invented in the Roman Empire, but was never put into use because it would have resulted in idle slaves. My fear is that our modern "fearless" "leaders" will be just as short sighted or attached to the idea that labor is a virtue in itself rather than one of several virtuous means to an end

  • by coupland (160334) * <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:46AM (#6521522) Journal
    I won't quibble over details (like number of years or if computers can ever be "smart" like humans") but the fundamental flaw in his argument is that while he acknowledges technology will continue to mutate and change, he assumes industry and jobs will remain stagnant through 2050. So as robots take over menial jobs nothing is created to take their place. It's like someone saying in the year 1950 "if textiles and commodity manufacturing moves to Mexico and China, then by the year 2000 50% of Americans will be unemployed." Sure, if no other industries are created to replace him. But changes in industry dynamics cause jobs to migrate from one industry to another, not vanish.
  • by MarcQuadra (129430) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:48AM (#6521539)
    Wron on the unemployment factor. Automation is only implemented where it INCREASES output/dollar, AKA PRODUCTIVITY. Higher productivity is GOOD for the economy on the whole, it has a huge ripple effect. That money that would normally go to 'register jockeys' or tellers has gone to technicians for the automated systems and reduced costs for the store/bank. Reduced costs mean reduced prices, and that means more money in the economy for stuff people want, like better cars or computers. This is how it REALLY works, folks; Automation is our FRIEND.
  • by CanadaDave (544515) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @10:53AM (#6521611) Homepage
    You're right, as old jobs disappear, new jobs will be created. Like we will need lots of programmers and engineers to create the robots. This is good news for me! But eventually those jobs will disappear too, as we figure out better ways to make programming easier and easier. Pretty soon the computers will be auto-generated all the code based on just answering a few questions and hitting "next", like a Wizard.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:04AM (#6521754)
    Farming is a really bad example. Mechanization has decimated the agricultural labour force for most crops.
  • by IthnkImParanoid (410494) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:05AM (#6521770)
    At least their probably managers see them that way. But then again, don't ours?
  • by Musashi Miyamoto (662091) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:10AM (#6521835)
    Great idea, but that will never happen in a capitalist society. The big businesses will build and buy these expensive robots and they will be the sole ones to profit from them.

    As an employee, you get paid ONLY for the work you do.

    As a business, you can replace yourself or your equipment with more efficient people or equipment. (read: forign workers and robots) and you get to profit from it.

    If it were a perfectly fair society, you could hire a lower cost Indian that does better work to replace yourself and make the profit. Instead, only your company can do that now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:16AM (#6521913)
    777s currently can land, fly and take off and I have been on a flight when after we land they say the computer just landed the plane. All of our cars are built by machines with some human help, but that is getting less and less. People loosing jobs to machines is not new at all how long have we had the factory system with machines. The difference now is we are concerned about loosing service jobs. Lets think about this differently if all of the food was farmed by machines, then we don't need farmers right? Well if half of the population is unemployeed then what great things can they be working on instead of doing stupid jobs!?
  • by chrystoph (89878) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:16AM (#6521923) Homepage
    While I agree that we will not, as a society, allow robots to render 50% of the populace unemployed, I find it far more likely that a rising unemployment rate would kill off the robots' deployment.

    Consider this: We deploy robots (3.5 million was bandied about), thereby rendering a large portion of the populace without jobs. We now have all of those people that cannot afford to eat at McDonalds, go to the amusement park, etc. Why? Welfare/unemployment compensation is not designed to support that kind of lifestyle.

    Until, and unless, the world can employ the menial labor populace in some fashion that robots cannot be used for, robots in the work force are financial suicide.

    As a closing thought, I don't care how efficient the robot is, I will NOT go to a hospital that uses robots for bedside tasks.

  • Re:Progress (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dnoyeb (547705) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:23AM (#6522014) Homepage Journal
    Yup yup yup.

    I know a certain one of the Big3 automakers that told a certain supplier exactly this;

    "We don't care where you build your parts, we will be paying you as if you built them in mexico."

    Of course its also the auto inductry that discovered people are a lot cheaper than robots. And 3rd world 'inhabitants' are a lot cheaper than people.
  • by drdrs (582450) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:33AM (#6522151)

    Look at history people. The only time a civilization or humanity has been "displaced" has been because the people self-destructed, not because of their inventions, mechanical creations, or otherwise

    Ok, this is just silly. Never in the past has a civilization had the technology to create something with the ability to displace it. We still don't have that ability now. In the future we might, if we can make something "better" (i.e. stronger, faster, smarter) than we are. I don't see any fundamental reason why science should be unable to create something more capable than the products of evolution if given enough time.

    Also, in the past civilizations have been replaced when something better came along. Usually another civilization with better technology and maybe superior intrinsic abilities in the case of Neanderthal vs. Homo sapiens.

  • by Exedore (223159) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:38AM (#6522218)

    Why not pay me for the work my robot performs.

    Why would corporations (or whoever) pay you for work your robot performs? Wouldn't they rather just pay once to buy their own robots?

  • by smilingirl (608655) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:42AM (#6522251) Journal
    Self check-outs in grocery stores don't really reduce the number of employees. They still have a cashier or sometimes two at my grocery store at the end of the self-checkout lanes for those people that want to pay with cash. And that cashier often is doing the scanning for the person because they don't know how to work it, and they often help them bag because some people are really slow at it. And even if they are doing the scanning themself, the self-checkout cashier is supposed to watch to make sure they actually scan everything. So, as far as self checkouts go, I don't believe they've reduced employment at all.
  • by doconnor (134648) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:44AM (#6522278) Homepage
    The economies will likely focus around creativity and intellectual property. That is the one thing that not only robots aren't able to do, it is the thing that humans enjoy doing, and they wouldn't give it up even if robots could take over.
  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:58AM (#6522430) Journal

    However, when that kid gets displaced by some robot, I'm sure he'll find some other means to buy himself that rice-burner.

    At some point that might not be true. At some point artificial intelligence might exceed the intelligence of the average kid. That's not a bad thing, but it is something which the economy would have to adapt to.

    What if someone is just too stupid to get a job? Right now that threshold only excludes a very small percentage of the population, but in the future it could reach much higher numbers. Three solutions come to mind. Artificially create jobs for these people, give these people some sort of welfare/disability, and let these people just die. None of the solutions are particularly good. It'll be a brand new problem which requires an ingenious solution. But maybe we'll be able to build a robot to figure out the solution for us.

  • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:03PM (#6522469) Homepage Journal
    It is for this difference in design philosophy that I will never fly in an Airbus. A human should always have the final say in matters of life and death and not delegate them to a machine.

    So, would an Airbus allow a suicidal pilot to, say, crash a plane-load of people into the Atlantic Ocean? Or is that just a feature of 767s?

    For reference, I don't see any Airbuses in the list of accidents by pilot-induced dive [].

  • Re:Great! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by michael_cain (66650) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:09PM (#6522544) Journal

    Another follow-on thought.

    Many sociologists now assert that the long-term success of a society is dependent on its ability to socialize its young adult males -- in the sense of finding gainful employment for them in order to keep them busy and useful. Failure to do so -- for example, in inner cities in the United States, or in several African countries -- results in increased crime, civil unrest, etc. Apparently having a large number of testosterone-crazed individuals hanging around idle is a Bad Idea.

  • by stonewolf (234392) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:13PM (#6522585) Homepage
    First off, this is not new. These predictions have been made many times over the last 40 years. Anyone who understands Moore's law can do it. I have seen the same predictions, with the same dates (plus or minus 5 years) several times since the late '70s.

    Personally, I think the guy is a pessimist. The robots could be taking large numbers of jobs in as few as 5 years.

    The Soviet Union (remember them?) was so worried about automated systems taking jobs away form people that they banned the development of that technology. Kept them 20 years behind the west for decades. That one decision could have been the nail in the coffin that lead to its down fall...

    So what happens? Speaking as someone how has now lost three (3) jobs because it was cheaper to do them in India, I can tell you that change happens. When it happens it happens quickly. Those companies that adapt survive. Those that don't die. A technology like humanoid robots can reduce labor costs by 90% (or more) and once those jobs are taken by robots they will be gone forever.

    Sure, a few people and a few new companies will get very very very rich implementing this technology. But many many people will lose everything to the robots.

    So what happens? People get upset when they can't eat and in the US the starving can vote. Expect to see rising taxes placed on the robots. Property taxes, value added taxes, even an out right labor tax. (The increase in taxes will slow the adoption of robots by artificialy increasing there cost, but it won't stop it.)

    The tax money will at first be used by governments to offset lost income tax revenue. Then, it will be used for "retraining" programs and extended unemployment benefits. Eventually, large parts of the tax money will be sent directly and indirectly to people who can't find jobs. We could easily get down to where less than 10% of the population is able to find a traditional job. The rest of us will be paid to keep us from rioting and burning the robots.

    At that point the closest thing possible to "true" socialism will have arrived. A few of us will do all the brain work, robots will do all the physical work, and the rest of us will watch TV and do drugs at the expense of the robot owners. The RoboCapitalists will be the only ones with lots of money.

    The next phase is physical immortality and the rise of the megaminds....

  • by TobascoKid (82629) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:13PM (#6522590) Homepage
    Nothing can replace a really great waiter/waitress that you have interaction with.

    Yeah, but we're talking about McDonalds and other fast food resteraunts here, where I would welcome ATM style ordering if only for accuracy. Not only that, but I live in the UK where 'customer service' is a joke - especially at fast food places.

    For instance, I usualy want an extra drink with my meal (large isn't that large, and 'super' size isn't available everywhere). What happens when I ask for "A large nugget meal with a coke and another large coke"? Pretty simple you would think. Surely the staff will blindly take my order as I say it and then repeat it back to me for confirmation. More often than not they don't. As such, confusion often results as they seem to need to interperate what I'm asking for and when they do they often get it wrong (the usual outcomes are no second drink or a second meal gets ordered), which wouldn't be too bad, but since they don't bother with the confirmation bit I often end up in arguments about what I ordered.

    Or even better, one time I asked for a hamburger meal. The guy taking my order said "we don't do hambuger meals". "Ok", I said, "give me a cheeseburger meal, but give me hamburgers instead of cheesburgers" (why McDonalds don't have a hamburger meal is beyond me). "I can't do that, I'll have to order you a special cheesburger meal without cheese" was the reply. As soon as the 'special' order flashed up in the cooking area the mangager came rushing round and shouted at the guy "What's a cheese burger without cheese"? Order guy went into 'duh' mode and the manager (after looking at me apologetically) said "it's called a hamburger".

    And here's another one - one day I walked into a place and asked for a hamburger. The guy said "We don't sell hamburgers". "Since when?" I asked, "I had one yesterday". A quick glance at the menu solved the confusion, they were selling beefburgers. I'm not sure how I avoided going into a blind fit of rage.

    I would quite gladly forgo the human contact if it means getting my order right. It's why I love dominos pizza's online ordering (, when I want a pepperoni I get a pepperoni, not a meat feast, not a pepperoni plus, not whatever the guy thought I was asking for, I get a pepperoni. If McDonalds, Burger King, KFC (especially KFC, they're worse than McDonalds - they have difficulty with a bog standard no extras order) et al were to have ATM style ordering my life would less stressful (I go to these places a lot) and would enhance my 'meal experience'.

  • Re:3.5 million (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Houdini91 (588691) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:18PM (#6522641)
    But remember, the manual labor jobs will be slowly going away over a period of time. During that time the older manual labor work force will retire, leaving just the younger manual labor work force. And while some of those will keep what manual labor jobs and left, others will go back to school for a higher education. And of course the new generation entering the workforce will be required to have a higher education to get a job.

    It will all work itself out.

    - Houdini
  • by BobBoring (18422) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:21PM (#6522677) Homepage
    You say:

    This means there will be an extensive period of time where the vast majority of the earth's population (who perform "unskilled" labor) will be without jobs or a means of providing themselves with income. Without a massive welfare system set up to feed, clothe, house, and (re)educate these folks, there will be widespread poverty as the humans won't be able to find jobs doing anything.

    There is a profit motive to reduce costs; however, markets need demand to produce a profit. If a significant proportion of the population is 'out of work', no one will be buying the products manufactured in the robotic factories. High supply and low demand means no profit. The companies with the robots will have to continually shift production to a profitable area. The cost of retooling will eventually bankrupt the smaller companies. Once that starts to happen companies will very seldom automate themselves out of a market. As the manufacturing market evolves two things will occur. The cycle of over supply will drive prices down to the point where a few specialized companies can satisfy all the populations raw material production needs and most of the population will acquire access to personal self replicating robots which can satisfy all their personal manufacturing needs.

    IMHO the best welfare system is human ingenuity combined with personal responsibility. People find ways to satisfy their needs. I believe here will be a gradual shift of population from cities back to rural areas where people can engage in subsistence farming. The deployment of robotic labor will be incremental and take decades. People will invent new jobs as robots displace them in factories. Handcrafted artistic works, e.g. furniture, decorator items, real paintings (not prints), music, novels will be manufactured in home and cottage industry.

    The economy as it currently exists will revert back to state similar to before the industrial revolution. In the preindustrial age people didn't work in factories and 'earn an income'. People worked at whatever tasks they could find mostly growing and harvesting basic food items. There were very few specialists that made items. People either worked at communal substance farming or starved.

    In the future robots will do all the specialized jobs and the drudgework. At first there will be a technical elite that knows how to keep the robots running but eventually they will be obsolete as well. The robots will mine raw materials and manufacture their own replacements. The genera population will not have an income. Homegrown organic vegetables and 'free range' meat products will be bartered in farmers' markets. Tools and shelter will be free for the asking from the robots.
  • by default luser (529332) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:22PM (#6522689) Journal
    I've actually thought on this subject quite a bit, because like the author I believe it's only a matter of time before the robots take over a large percentage of the workforce.

    Gentry Lee ( co-author of the Rama series ) once gave a talk at my university on the subject of this fundamental change in society.

    Computers are useful for two things:

    - Aiding humans
    - Distracting humans

    The same computer technology that is powerful enough to replace an entire factory of humans is also powerful enough to create a complete virtual reality.

    In the same way that people escape into multiplayer online games today, an entire welfare state could be built around a simulated world. As they said in the matrix, "we accept the world around us", so constant immersion into the world could be more satisfying than reality, where the robots do everything.
  • by ozborn (161426) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:41PM (#6522886)
    I'd like to agree with you, unfortunately the workweek has been *increasing* in the last few decades (France with the 35 hour work week is a recent exception).
    In the 19th cenutry most people were working the 12 hour workday, it wasn't until there was a huge political campaign, strikes, protests, etc... that the 8 hour workday was won. What makes you think it will be any different in the 21st century?
  • by Genus Marmota (59217) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:46PM (#6522968)

    It is in the interest of the producers to maintain a market for their products.
    Sort of. Slavery works pretty well too, as long as you have the muscle to keep the slaves in line.
    I guess there are alterate distopian possibilities, such as a massive imbalance of wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer people, which they article seems to be predicting.
    Predicting? Here in the US the imbalance is already massive and getting bigger. It looks like an optimization problem to me: what's the minimum number of consumers you need to keep the elite in caviar? And if the number of super-wealthy get's smaller and the efficiency of your system goes up, well, the required number of consumers goes down.

    As the elite get more removed/alienated from the general riff-raff, the efficiency of slavery (or whatever combination of repression, mis-education, propaganda, diversion into racist wars & reality TV seems to work) get's more appealing.

    This sounds more like the morning news than sci-fi to me. Fifty percent seems pretty arbitrary but the current numbers are pretty horrific if you're looking at it from the bottom rung. Even now, here in WA, we're at ~8% unemployment. That's a lot of people.

    The problem is already with us, and globalization is just going to rub our noses in it harder. We (society) have some serious thinking to do about labor, value, and how we're going to live and work. That is, if there's anyone left who still believes in things like "society" or "public discourse."

  • by bentcd (690786) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:04PM (#6523197) Homepage
    What job can a newborn baby perform?

    It can bring its mother unparalelled joy. Better enjoyment than "Friends" :-)

    It can also entertain any number of nearby adult humans for a lengthy period of time.
  • this is unique (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:06PM (#6523239) Homepage Journal
    in that the thing taking our jobs will also be able to take any new jobs.
  • The one thing I haven't seen is people discussing the power of lobbyists to curb the rise of robots. There will be huge battles between unions and business as robots become able to replace humans, and the battles will take place on the political playing field.

    Remember the huge dockworkers strike on the West Coast recently? Much of that was over the replacing of old-tech workers with new-tech workers controlling the ever-advancing machines on the docks. The union didn't so much try to stem the tide of technology, but make sure that the new higher-tech jobs would still be under the union's umbrella.

    The unions will be joined by neo-luddites who fear distopian prophecies to lobby Washington to legislate limitations on intelligent robots... what jobs they can legally do, requirements for minimum levels of human supervision. There won't be an entirely-robot staffed McDonalds, because there will have to be at least three human supervisors watching the kitchen, dining area, and janitorial areas to ensure that the robots are doing their job without error, ready to hit a panic button that sets off a failsafe power-down in all the robots at the first sign of danger to people or property.

    Will it really require three people to oversee the robots in one McDonalds on a realistic need-based analysis? That won't matter, because the "need" will be established by congressional committee or state labor boards. Those standard-setting organizations will be lobbied heavily by the labor unions trying to preserve jobs and by wealthy corporations, trying to increase profits.

    Despite that, no technological innovation has had the widespread ability to replace such a wide variety and large amount of human laborers as the robot, and it is quite possible some of the author's predictions could come to pass.

    So what do we do with the displaced workers? The author's vision of 25-50% of the population living in welfare dormitories is ill-informed. When the mass becomes that large, welfare riots will happen. Cities will burn. The rich will be dragged from their homes... not necessarily en masse, but at least where the rebels can break through. And you just won't be able to employ a police force large enough to pacify that huge a number of unhappy people.

    So we look toward other concepts...

    Distopian: Sterilization incentives for the poor to decrease population, "Soylent Green", powerful placating drugs (i.e. Huxley's Soma), Logan's Run style "mandatory retirement"...

    Utopian: Shifting population off onto new planets where manual labor will be more valuable during colonization phases, the "information economy" evolves into the "intellect economy" and the value of labor becomes replaced by the value of thought...

    Will robots effect radical changes in how our society is constructed? Sure. But our society has been undergoing radical changes for hundreds of years as political, technological, and dogmatic upheavals have changed the ways that we think, organize and make money. There are always difficult periods of adjustment at flashpoints, but we get through them and come out a better society for them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:17PM (#6523383)
    I hope you're right. I can't count the times I've said to myself (rather smugly) "Well, there's ALWAYS going to be work for programmers."

    The problem is that blacksmiths once said the same thing. And then the Industrial Revolution came along and metalwork was done by machines. What happens when AI advances to the point where it is self-programming, and the robots are capable of building more robots?

    Dave Storrs
  • by TwistedGreen (80055) <twistedgreen@g m a i l . com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:23PM (#6523452)
    But people will never just let themselves die. That was the whole point of The Matrix!

    Maybe we can look at Star Trek for a more optimistic model... once robots do most of the work, then there would be no need for monetary motivation and culture would change dramatically away from the individualistic capitalism and more towards a socialistic, wealthless society.
  • by SWiTlik (692160) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:39PM (#6523671)
    Socialism will start to work when the robots produce so much the value of items approach $0. There will bew no rich men, and if the rich cling to there factories, then yes the poor will get poorer. What happens when the poor get so poor they simply can't survive? the whole system comes crashing down violently. So we have a choice. embrace the power of unlimited labor via robot, use it to help feed the planet, communicate with the rest of the planet, and hopefully come to terms that the fact we are all
    • HUMAN
    . and in this together. OR the Ruling classes will hold back the technology to better them selves till the masses will eventually rise up and overthrough them. remember the US dollar is based on faith in the US. if the people stop believing that the US is doing things for the good of all it's people the dollar will become a figment, a number with no meaning. The winds of the next great revolution of thought is growing nearer and nearer.
  • by PsiPsiStar (95676) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:40PM (#6523689)
    But also, consider that in 1870, virtually noone had a college degree and illiteracy rates were ,
    above 20 percent []

    despite the fact that the criterion for literacy at that time was much more lax. (the ability to read and write one's own name, as opposed to the ability to read and write simple sentences). Today illiteracy is between 5% and .5% depending on the source cited and the definition of literacy used.

    In the past, as manual labor became less necessary people have adapted (to some degree) by becoming more educated or by learning new skills. By displaying information directly into people's field of vision via special glasses and other forms of what will eventually be cheap computer aided training, people currently working menial jobs will be able to handle things more complex.

    Perhaps part of the reason there are so many people working menial jobs is that we NEED people to work menial jobs.
  • by plasticmillion (649623) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @01:54PM (#6523848) Homepage
    It is ashame that the author should lay out what is an intriguing vision and the spoil it by infusing it with such a gloomy Malthusian spirit.

    The author's assertions about progress in robotics and artificial intelligence are bold, but seem defensible. On the one hand, intelligent people have vastly exaggerated the speed of progress in AI for decades (Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey was meant to be an accurate portrayal of the state of technology at that time). On the other hand, the inexorable progress of Moore's Law does point to the kinds of changes postulated in about the proposed timeframe.

    Which is ridiculous is the assumption, not even questioned in the piece, that workers displaced from one industry will remain jobless. At most 300 years ago 90% of all workers in today's developed economies were employed in agriculture. Today it is more like 2-3%. It would have been easy to argue at the time that most of the world's workers would be unemployed in a matter of decades (and plenty of people did argue that -- remember the Luddites?).

    The reality is that the working week shortened from 80 hours/week to 40 (ok, maybe not for software developers) and the type of work performed by humans has become vastly more intellectual, on average. The author is right that driving a cab or cleaning a hotel room is not fascinating work, and in the future no one will do it.

    If robots end up doing half of the work we do now, which seems plausible, chances are we will work only 75% as much as today and have 1.5x the economic output, and unemployment won't change a whit.

  • by Tailhook (98486) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:05PM (#6523965)
    it would free the rest of us to create, inspire, and innovate

    Yes it would. Unfortunately, this is bad.

    Humans require a certain level of ambient drama in their lives. The amount differs from one specimen to the next but all humans need it. When the world fails to provide the necessary amount of drama, individual humans create it for themselves.

    How many people can you have sex with in one day? How many piercing can you have done before it kills you? Who's oppressing you and exactly how do you plan to kill them? How many cults can you be a member of and which is the most extreme?

    "Idle hands do the devils work." For most people the stress induced by "work" is necessary to prevent them running amok and ruining themselves or those around them. Sheeple need work.

    This is the greatest danger posed by automating away work. Billions of bored people trying to entertain themselves.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:07PM (#6523992)
    I can see 3 flaws in your reasoning:

    1 - Robots could do a much better job of manufacturing robots than people can;

    2 - Programming and design jobs are already being lost to countries where labor is cheaper, and could potentially be done by the robots themselves eventually;

    3 - How many times have you encountered idiots in service jobs? Now ask yourself, "Do I want these people designing Sales Droid 3000?" Didn't think so. Which do you think is more important when creating the Hygenetron: an electronics degree or 30 years experience scrubbing toilets?

    The problem is that even if average human intelligence increases, 50% are still below average. I don't mean to be unkind, but the reality is that there are a lot of people who will never have the ability to get work in this field.

    Remember the "gods and clods" philosophy from South Park - what happens when the "gods" no longer need the "clods"? The trickle-down effect (which is questionable at best) only seems to work when the wealthy can afford to hire others for the dirty jobs. If robotics becomes a billion dollar industry, what mechanism will exist to prevent that wealth simply being consolidated, given that the menial work will be done by the robots?
  • by delcielo (217760) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:20PM (#6524129) Journal
    You're fighting a learned or intuited behavior in that case.

    After time, you're first reaction will be to drop the nose, because the instinct at work here is survival, and survival means lowering the angle of attack below critical.

    I for one, don't want the computer to override the pilot. After all, the computer is programmed to fly the airplane in its day to day environment. Any well paid airline pilot will tell you that most of the time the flying is routine and even boring. They get paid for those unexpected emergencies, during which time I think the pilots should have the ability to fly the airplane beyond its design limits with the understanding that it only needs to be done once. They can junk the thing when it lands.
  • by chef_raekwon (411401) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:22PM (#6524154) Homepage
    its quite amazing how we have coped for many hundreds of years, yet, in the next 20, we'll go belly-up.

    come on people - -the market regulates do people buy machines if there is NO INCOME?

    do machines buy machines?
    not bloody likely.

  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:25PM (#6524187) Journal
    I don't see how capitalism could survive.

    would it need to at this point? It seems to me that the more capitalism is over taken by technology that the more tords a fully for filled social/communist economic system we would be able to sustain. Once we get to the point were everyone can get pretty much what every they want at almost no cost there will be little need for people to work. Things will focus more on social interaction and gifting rather than labor force and work status. With enough things being done for us the world will work more like open source software. where the many can benefit from the volunteer work of the few.

  • No way (Score:2, Insightful)

    by burbilog (92795) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @02:26PM (#6524197) Homepage
    I've heard a lot of people saying that worktime will shrink, everyone will be happy, etc everytime a high-tech breakthrough appears. That's not the case. Look into the past. People had to work hard to produce food to feed themselves. Now what? Little percentage of the population (modern farmers) produce more than all people of the Earth can consume yet we still have to work hard to buy that food. Little has changed, only medical conditions... we will punch keys/fix and monitor robots/clear rooms/whatever the same 12 hours/day as farmers of the past did.
  • by budgenator (254554) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @03:29PM (#6524830) Journal
    My Cousin manages a group home for mentaly disabled, and I can tell you we a great deal of confidence that they can do jobs that you or I as normal or above intellegence can not. At the extremes of the intellence scale, specific skills are often exagerated, imagine having the fine motor skills and low boredom threashold to thread needles 8 hours a day.

    I'd like to see a robot pick tomatoes with a ROI that's better than hiring a migrant farm worker.
  • by Kapsar (585863) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @04:13PM (#6525357)
    I think that he's right, the robots may not be on the same level as us mentally, however, i do believe in a few years they will be able to perform the menial tasks that most of us don't really want to do. I think that since people do have a fear of robots taking over the world, the average joe does anyway, that there will have to be atleast one human as an overlord to the robot, just so there can be some human interaction if there is an unsatisfied customer, and just to ensure everything is working properly.
    I also do see a sort of compitition between private programmers and corporations where these people design more personal programmed personalities for these robots.
    I think that if this happens people will want something like Asimov's I, Robot series in affect to protect them
  • by zaphod_es (613312) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @04:17PM (#6525420)
    if robots take over 50% of the jobs, the robot industry will need millions of workers ......

    Probably not, most of the manufacturing will be done by other robots, maybe even a lot of the design. What will happen will just be an extension of what has been happening for years.

    The lower level jobs have been disappearing for a long time. It is ages since I went into my bank, had an attendant put petrol in my car or seen someone sweeping with a broom in a store. Nobody digs holes any more, buses and trucks have a single driver, no more ticket collectors or driver's mate. I could go on.

    To a certain extent new jobs are created such as in call centres and fast food restaurants but nowhere near enough.

    The world is dividing into the high powered high paid corporate class with all the money but little leisure time and the underclass with few prospects. It makes me think of Romanov Russia.

    Being a pessimist I reckon that the danger is a re-emergence of communism and revolution.
  • by Clockwork Apple (64497) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @05:15PM (#6526250) Homepage
    It will be quite a while I think before we will have the hardware power AND the software tools to program Asimov like inhibitions into our robots.

    Asimov's Laws of Robotics:

    1: A robot may not injure a human being, or,
    through inaction, allow a human being to come to

    How much power will it take to let a robot decide what is and isnt going to be harmful to a human? Then have it do that in realtime while going about its business.

    2: A robot must obey the orders given it by
    human beings except where such orders would
    conflict with the First Law.

    This first part (A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings) is about the best I think we will see for a good long time. When they (robots) get to the point that they CAN do what you ask then we add on top of that the same processes it takes to maintain the first law.

    This is one hell of a jump in processing. Imagine how many probability calculations it will take to see if painting a wall may impact a human that is near by. So as far as I can guess the best we can hope to see any time soon is a robot that obeys the first half, of the second law.

    3: A robot must protect its own existence as
    long as such protection does not conflict with
    the First or Second Law.

    This is really asking a lot of the robot designers.

    I dont think Asimov was really thinking about robots very practicly, he wanted a good framework to tell his stories, and the popularity of his work is witness to how good that framework was.

    Moore's Law has lots of time to work it's magic in 50 years though, so who really know's?

    I do think that we will be using robots in ways that will put lots of people out of work in the near future though. One reason being sited for phasing out human jobs may be the safty of the workers themselvs. When a factory (or wharever) gets to the point that any job COULD be done by robots then there may be enough robots that are too simple for "Asimovian Inhibitors" to risk humans coming in contact with them while in operation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @05:53PM (#6526607)
    There is a way out of this ... one of the key population groups that would lose out here are people with lower IQs. Isn't it high time that we offered people a decent sum of money to get sterilized before they have any kids if their IQ is below a certain threshold? There will be basically nothing for someone with an IQ of 80 to do for work in the future (or at least this one) and we cannot afford to deal with 45% of the population unemployed because they cannot comprehend their job, but we could always care for a much smaller number as a welfare issue until they all died off, including make-work jobs designed to let them keep their self respect. The first jobs that smart robots will replace will not be the ones that interact with people, they will be crop pickers, dish washers, floor sweepers, and so on, and the people losing those jobs will be least able to retrain and so on.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @06:02PM (#6526682)
    You are forgetting some basic demographics: as populations grow richer (normally), they grow smaller, and as a population declines, it normally becomes dramatically more wealthy. The Black Death actually enriched Europe, for instance. As the industrialized world becomes richer, the population will start breeding well below replacement and the upshot will be over about 50 years most people will wind up with more assets. And people will find things to fill the time, if only recreationally.

    Also, you are not taking into account the wild card of unrestricted Third World immigration, which promises some serious problems with assimilation, educational issues, and so on. Everyone isn't going to become June and Ward Cleaver tomorrow, not by a long shot. In the US, if we had not has post-1968 (the Immigration Reform Act of 1968) which changed immigration to the US from a primarily quota-based European deal where the vast majority of immigrants were educated, sharper than average, and far likelier to succeed that natives to the present system which allows in people without regard for their qualifications and likelihood to succeed and if we had not essentially abandoned the inner cities in after the late 1960s/early 1970s, the stratification of American society that exists now would not have happened. This has not been inevitable -- it happened because of specific decisions (largely by people trying to "help" the poor people of the Third World at the expense of Americans and by the cheap suburbs making cities less of a draw due to subsidized road construction).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @06:23PM (#6526924)
    You know, if you took away the legal and illegal "post-1968" immigration into California of people without college degrees, we would have 50% less crime and the state wouldn't be close to a budget deficit because right now 70% of educational and health care costs are going to these folks (about 20% of the people here). This is way, way, way out of whack. If we had not opened the immigration floodgates to anyone at all back in 1968, the US would be a different place.
  • by Anonym1ty (534715) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @07:02PM (#6527261) Homepage Journal
    Of course they would.

    It's called RENTING EQUIPMENT and corporations have already been doing that for years

  • Economy as wetland (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @07:22PM (#6527444)
    I have a very simple robot in my basement that reads the meters and sends them off to the power and water companies. Now, no one has to come to my house to read meters.

    When I was growing up, doctors used to send their dictation tapes to a lady who lived down the street and she would type them up. She made a pretty good living. Today, those dictations are wired to India and typed up there and wired back the next morning.

    Those two examples represent nice little pools of lower middle class existence that have since disappeared. Those little incomes supported families, paid taxes and bought cars.

    I would like to know what will take their place.
  • by davidbailey (661395) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:03PM (#6528068)
    Why would they need to to starve or freeze to death? Robots could produce food and maintain electrical plants at very low cost.

    Wealth and poverty would have a very different meaning in this kind of future. All wealth would get you is greater access to resources for entertainment and self-actualization. Extreme poverty wouldn't cause death, but would create a consumer of cheap food, products, and media.

    Hmmm, this doesn't sound all that different from today.
  • by eatdave13 (528393) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @09:25PM (#6528203)

    We came here, we beat them because we were superior (technologically or genetically I don't care, one way or the other you can't argue it wasn't true), now we own their country.

    It's a bit different now. By allowing inferior people in and taking care of them, and again, technologically or genetically it doesn't matter, if it's a matter of environment they still won't be productive people for 3 generations, we are spending ourselves.

    Call it racism if you want, but people are NOT created equal, and I didn't have anything to do with taking the NA's land away from them, nor do I feel guilt for my great-great-great-great-great grandfather doing it.

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.