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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Should we be planning now for the immininent arrival of robot slaves?

Hattie Tinfoil reports:

Are we all agreed that the human race will eventually develop robot servants?

Now, we already have robots in factories doing jobs which would in times past have been done by people, we have domestic help in the form of robot vacuum cleaners (I want one of those purely to freak the cats out) and automated control of devices ranging from jet airliners to tunnel boring machines. 

But by “robot servants” I mean something a bit more versatile. Robots which can identify broken equipment in a workplace, diagnose it, grab a tool and fix it.  Or perhaps a robot which can help in the house by doing our laundry from laundry bin, to washing machine, to ironing board, back to cupboard.

Assuming we don’t nuke the place and let the apes take over, such robots are on the way at some point, right? Good. Because I believe in them - they're mankind's hope for a better future. If we have free labour, the possibilities are huge and not just because we won’t have to pick our own socks up any more

The cost of everything will drop through the floor because, for a reasonable one-off cost, any manufacturer will be able to replace their meatbag employees with cost-free, trouble-free, 24-hour labour. Mining and refining materials, assembling the goodies and loading them on a train will all be virtually free - will we be paying for anything other than mineral rights and cool design? Well, yes, we will also still be paying for manufacturers’ advertising budgets.

Of course, employees (aka meatbags) who work in these jobs in today’s world will be less keen on customers’ "savings" - which will of course be their "disappearing income". But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. All through the ages, history is full of jobs becoming, ahem, history, as efficiency improvements reduced human labour. Each time, there’s a short-term cost of lay-offs but in the long term unemployment levels have stayed remarkably reasonable.

And just look how good it’s been to us (in the first world, at least) - even today’s jobless are more comfortable, more healthy, live longer and have fancier toys than the wealthy merchants of 200 years ago. A quick search on eBay shows that, in 2010, £14 can get you a 4GB mp3 player - I bet the Luddites who smashed the machines never saw that one coming.

So, since we’re going to have a robot slave army, let’s plan how to deploy our troops. Since manufacture will be much cheaper than mining rights or land (because they’re limited by nature), solar power will become a financially attractive power source to the great benefit of the environment.

Sunny countries - including most of the developing world - will find they have a natural energy resource. It’s unlikely to become precious like oil or coal, but combined with diminished costs, it should lead to infrastructure (roads, electricity, irrigation, communication networks) in Africa, India and so on blossoming at an impressive rate.

The future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades. Fortunately the shades were made by robots and so are very reasonably priced.

Hattie Tinfoil is a guest writer on slightlyrightofcentre.com

1 comment:

  1. To me it kind of asks the question why aren't we building an economy in anticipation of this, because it will happen.

    In fact we should maybe re-open the factories in the West Midlands and the Yorkshire coal mines because, in 5 years max, we'll have robots to mine and graft and we won't be so bothered when 33 lumps of steel and silicon get stuck down a 2,000ft well.

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