Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The robots will serve us well, but first we have to reorganize our society to accommodate them

Girl, you don't know what you're missing!
A high-median-age society will need lots of automatic machines to help its old and frail members. However, under current social arrangements, if robots are to take over most of our jobs, there will be very few salaried humans left. Which means no more consumers who buy what the robots produce? Which means an epic economic collapse? A robotic capitalism thus logically calls for more, not less, social welfare. Does that mean a Scandinavian-style guaranteed minimum income for the rest of the world?

From the Globe and Mail, an interview with MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson: "Products without people: will robots make us all redundant?"

What are some common misconceptions about robotics and other forms of automation?

EB: Too many people fall into one or the other kind of technological determinism. There are those who point to some of the problems we have with inequality and employment, and they become very pessimistic. They say that we just have to get used to it, that the future’s going to be one where average people don’t have anything they can contribute. And then there are others who try to counter that by saying, “No, no, no, technology always creates more wealth and abundance, and everything’s going to be fine because technology is so powerful.”

Ironically, both of those groups make the same mistake: They assume that there’s this predetermined future we have to sit back and let unfold. The last line of our book is, “Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny.”

When we had relative success with the economic effects of the first machine age, that was in large part because of some enormous structural changes we’d made in the economy – things like universal mass education and a complete reinvention of the tax code, and of course the creation of entirely new industries and ways of organizing work. Without those complementary changes, the technology would not necessarily have been beneficial for the mass of people.

It’s very important to be active in thinking about how to adapt to the technology. Otherwise there’s not a preset positive outcome.

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