Will Robots Destroy Our Economic System?

I don’t count myself as a visionary, but there is a specter looming over mankind’s collective head, and I’m not sure if I can see how we can avoid it.

In my opinion, creating good artificial intelligence is just a matter of time. Already researchers have created a robot that uses a rat’s brain, and the future consists of computers that can think just as we do. The field of robotics is also growing rapidly, and powered by a human brain, we can have robots that walk, talk, and comprehensively pass the “Turing Test”.

Now I’m going to make the following assumptions:

  1. A time will come when a robot’s capabilities will outstrip those of humans.
  2. Robots will steadily become more and more affordable.

It’s important to understand that I’m not suggesting that robots will take over the human race. Surely we are not so stupid as to allow that possibility. We can always ensure laws like the “Three Laws of Robotics” are in place before allowing the robots any sort of autonomy. I’m still firmly insisting that the robots will not be “Conscious” and cannot have a will of their own. At least not in this article.Robots

Image Credit: Vaguely Artistic

The first thing that will happen, given the above assumptions, is that corporations will lay off their employees and use robots instead. The forte of humans lies in their capacity for judgment. All other repetitive work can be delegated to simpler machines. But once robots can replicate that as well, the need for humans vanishes. Robots are preferable to humans because

  • You do not have to pay them a salary. Only their running and repairing costs.
  • I’m assuming that the knowledge of one robot can be easily transferred onto another thereby obviating the need for the lengthy training that humans need.
  • Easier to manage, no ego hassles, etc.

So the first results of artificial intelligence will be massive layoffs. The corporations will do this because market forces will pressure them into doing so. However, when more and more companies lay off their workers and replace them with robots, who will have the money to buy their products or services when everyone has lost their jobs?

It’s like the Prisonner’s Dillemma. Each company will be forced to do the rational thing by hiring robots, but collectively they doom the economy to destruction. End of first stage.

Act two. As robots get cheaper and cheaper, everyone will find a way to own their personal robot. This robot will be like Jeeves on steroids. It will do all the chores, cut your hair, and mend your clothes. I’m also assuming that it will have the sum total of all human knowledge in it’s head and infinite dexterity in it’s fingers. Given this, it will probably make clothes for you, grow your food, and take care of every other small convenience that you would normally have paid for. This is very important because you must remember that no one has money or a job thanks to the logic in Act 1.

Robot ServeImage Credit: potarou

To complete the loop, robots will be able to power themselves by building their personal dynamo or some such device.

So the stable outcome will be:

  1. Everyone will own a robot.
  2. Occupations like tailors, lawyers, accountants, and even doctors will disappear.
  3. People can just sit at home and let their robots take care of them.

In my opinion, certain services that robots cannot supply like amusement park rides and movies will still be provided for by corporations, but they will be free! What’s the point of charging money? They will anyway be run by robots, and what will people do with money? No need to buy anything as robots will provide everything for us.

I’m fairly sure I’m not getting the complete picture here. I get the nagging feeling that I’m missing out on some other consequence that I can’t yet put my finger on.

What do you think?

6 comments to Will Robots Destroy Our Economic System?

  • Bhagwad, good article but I have a few problems with some of your assumptions.

    First of all, you are totally removing creative work from the economy. Movies, new production methods, etc. need creative people to think them up and probably need a salary to work.

    If simple repetitive jobs go away, then more people can concentrate on innovation.

    Will robots make your clothes and grow your food? Even when the robots are working 24/7, they only have so much time. Why wouldn’t robots want to take advantage of economies of scale?


  • Bhagwad Jal Park

    Dear Carl,

    Thank you for your comment!

    In my opinion, if robots can pass the turing test, then that makes them undifferentiated from humans. As of now of course, they can only do work that is clearly rule-based, but a time will come when they can mimc a human perfectly.

    Also, what you say about them having not enough time is true. In which case, they will link up with other robots who and will work together to achieve economies of scale.

    This is my opinion. What do you feel?

  • [...] imagine being able to be in a world where you are God. Artificial intelligence that will pass the Turing Test will already be so advanced that you will be able to have a family [...]

  • I think that you bring up some great points in this article. The way we work will definitely change, no doubt about it. I think however there will still need to be some sort of trade that would be engaged because of geographical limitations. For instance my robot would not be able to go out back and pick me up an orange because I don’t live where orange’s are grown. So some sort of trade will still have to exists. So I would guess that this trade would be accomplished with money so the owner of the robot will in fact still need to have some sort of it.

    Now as for where the owner gets the money, is something that I don’t have the answers for.

  • @Jason

    That’s a good point. I guess that trade should still take place where services are simply unavailable and can be got elsewhere.

    But as you rightly pointed out, where will money come from? And more importantly, what will the receiver of money do with it? My opinion is that the concept of money will be phased out as not worth the candle, and services will be free.

    What do you think?

  • Job destruction is permanent and escalating. The owners of the means of production are using the 3rd Industrial revolution to automate ALL jobs on this planet – which will result in 95% human unemployment by the year 2050 A.D. The owners of the means of production will NOT share their newfound wealth with the unemployed workers of the Lower Class (the Middle Class has been destroyed).
    If one doubts this just consider that banks and businesses today are sitting on $1.5 trillion and are NOT giving out loans to small businesses nor creating jobs except for wage slaves in 3rd World countries. Federal governments around the world will have no choice but to provide the necessities of life for free to the unemloyed 95% of the world population or risk social unrest, civil strife and violence. Even today violence is breaking out all over this planet.

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