Robotic Nation - It's Coming

Discussion in 'Politics' started by pspr, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. pspr


    By Marshall Brain

    The Iceberg

    The iceberg looks like this. On that same day, I interacted with five different automated systems like the kiosks in McDonald's:

    I got money in the morning from the ATM.
    I bought gas from an automated pump.
    I bought groceries at BJ's (a warehouse club) using an extremely well-designed self-service check out line.
    I bought some stuff for the house at Home Depot using their not-as-well-designed-as-BJ's self-service check out line.
    I bought my food at McDonald's at the kiosk, as described above.
    All of these systems are very easy-to-use from a customer standpoint, they are fast, and they lower the cost of doing business and should therefore lead to lower prices. All of that is good, so these automated systems will proliferate rapidly.
    The problem is that these systems will also eliminate jobs in massive numbers. In fact, we are about to see a seismic shift in the American workforce. As a nation, we have no way to understand or handle the level of unemployment that we will see in our economy over the next several decades.

    These kiosks and self-service systems are the beginning of the robotic revolution. When most people think about robots, they think about independent, autonomous, talking robots like the ones we see in science fiction films. C-3PO and R2-D2 are powerful robotic images that have been around for decades. Robots like these will come into our lives much more quickly than we imagine -- self-service checkout systems are the first primitive signs of the trend. Here is one view from the future to show you where we are headed:

    Automated retail systems like ATMs, kiosks and self-service checkout lines marked the beginning of the robotic revolution. Over the course of fifteen years starting in 2001, these systems proliferated and evolved until nearly every retail transaction could be handled in an automated way. Five million jobs in the retail sector were lost as a result of these systems.
    The Jobless Recovery
    The "Jobless Recovery" that we are currently experiencing in the U.S. is big news. See for example The Mystery of the 'jobless recovery':
    "Consider these facts: Employment growth at the moment is the lowest for any recovery since the government started keeping such statistics in 1939. The labor force shrank in July as discouraged workers stopped seeking employment. The number of people employed has fallen by more than 1 million since the "recovery" began in the fall of 2001." [ref]

    The Washington Post notes that we are now witnessing, "the longest hiring downturn since the Depression". [ref] The article also notes, "The vast majority of the 2.7 million job losses since the 2001 recession began were the result of permanent changes in the U.S. economy and are not coming back."

    There is no mystery -- the jobless recovery is exactly what you would expect in a robotic nation. When automation and robots eliminate jobs, they are gone for good. The economy then has to invent new jobs. But it is much harder to do that now because robots can quickly fill the new jobs that get invented. See the FAQ for additional information.

    The next step was autonomous, humanoid robots. The mechanics of walking were not simple, but Honda had proven that those problems could be solved with the creation of its ASIMO robot at the turn of the century. Sony and other manufacturers followed Honda's lead. Over the course of two decades, engineers refined this hardware and the software controlling it to the point where they could create humanoid bodyforms with the grace and precision of a ballerina or the mass and sheer strength of the Incredible Hulk.

    Decades of research and development work on autonomous robotic intelligence finally started to pay off. By 2025, the first machines that could see, hear, move and manipulate objects at a level roughly equivalent to human beings were making their way from research labs into the marketplace. These robots could not "think" creatively like human beings, but that did not matter. Massive AI systems evolved rapidly and allowed machines to perform in ways that seemed very human.

    Humanoid robots soon cost less than the average car, and prices kept falling. A typical model had two arms, two legs and the normal human-type sensors like vision, hearing and touch. Power came from small, easily recharged fuel cells. The humanoid form was preferred, as opposed to something odd like R2-D2, because a humanoid shape fit easily into an environment designed around the human body. A humanoid robot could ride an escalator, climb stairs, drive a car, and so on without any trouble.

  2. pspr


    Once the humanoid robot became a commodity item, robots began to move in and replace humans in the workplace in a significant way. The first wave of replacement began around 2030, starting with jobs in the fast food industry. Robots also filled janitorial and housekeeping positions in hotels, motels, malls, airports, amusement parks and so on.

    The economics of one of these humanoid robots made the decision to buy them almost automatic. In 2030 you could buy a humanoid robot for about $10,000. That robot could clean bathrooms, take out trash, wipe down tables, mop floors, sweep parking lots, mow grass and so on. One robot replaced three six-hour-a-day employees. The owner fired the three employees and in just four months the owner recovered the cost of the robot. The robot would last for many years and would happily work 24 hours a day. The robot also did a far better job -- for example, the bathrooms were absolutely spotless. It was impossible to pass up a deal like that, so corporations began buying armies of humanoid robots to replace human employees.

    The first completely robotic fast food restaurant opened in 2031. It had some rough edges, but by 2035 the rough edges were gone and by 2040 most restaurants were completely robotic. By 2055 the robots were everywhere. The changeover was that fast. It was a startling, amazing transformation and the whole thing happened in only 25 years or so starting in 2030.

    In 2055 the nation hit a big milestone -- over half of the American workforce was unemployed, and the number was still rising. Nearly every "normal" job that had been filled by a human being in 2001 was filled by a robot instead. At restaurants, robots did all the cooking, cleaning and order taking. At construction sites, robots did everything -- Robots poured the concrete, laid brick, built the home's frame, put in the windows and doors, sided the house, roofed it, plumbed it, wired it, hung the drywall, painted it, etc. At the airport, robots flew the planes, sold the tickets, moved the luggage, handled security, kept the building clean and managed air traffic control. At the hospital robots cared for the patients, cooked and delivered the food, cleaned everything and handled many of the administrative tasks. At the mall, stores were stocked, cleaned and clerked by robots. At the amusement park, hundreds of robots ran the rides, cleaned the park and sold the concessions. On the roads, robots drove all the cars and trucks. Companies like Fedex, UPS and the post office had huge numbers of robots instead of people sorting packages, driving trucks and making deliveries.

    By 2055 robots had taken over the workplace and there was no turning back.

    I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "This is impossible -- there will not be humanoid robots in 2055. It is a ridiculous suggestion." But they will be here. Humanoid robots are as inevitable as airplanes.
    Imagine this. Imagine that you could travel back in time to the year 1900. Imagine that you stand on a soap box on a city street corner in 1900 and you say to the gathering crowd, "By 1955, people will be flying at supersonic speeds in sleek aircraft and traveling coast to coast in just a few hours." In 1900, it would have been insane to suggest that. In 1900, airplanes did not even exist. Orville and Wilbur did not make the first flight until 1903. The Model T Ford did not appear until 1909.

    Yet, by 1947, Chuck Yeager flew the X1 at supersonic speeds. In 1954, the B-52 bomber made its maiden flight. It took only 51 years to go from a rickety wooden airplane flying at 10 MPH, to a gigantic aluminum jet-powered Stratofortress carrying 70,000 pounds of bombs halfway around the world at 550 MPH. In 1958, Pan Am started non-stop jet flights between New York and Paris in the Boeing 707. In 1969, Americans set foot on the moon. It is unbelievable what engineers and corporations can accomplish in 50 or 60 short years.

    There were millions of people in 1900 who believed that humans would never fly. They were completely wrong. However, I don't think anyone in 1900 could imagine the B-52 happening in 54 years.

    Over the next 55 years, the same thing will happen to us with robots. In the process, the entire employment landscape in America will change.


    The computer power we will have in a home machine around 2050 will be utterly amazing. A typical home computer will have processing power and memory capacity that exceeds that of a human brain. What we will have in 2100 is anyone's guess. The power of a million human brains on the desktop? It is impossible to imagine, but not unlikely.


    In the 2050 time frame, you can expect to buy a $1,000 home computer that has the computing power and memory of the human brain. Manufacturers will marry that computer with a humanoid robotic chassis like ASIMO, a fuel cell and advanced AI software to create autonomous humanoid robots with startling capabilities. It is not really hard to imagine that we will have robots like C-3PO walking around and filling jobs as early as the 2030 time frame. What's missing from robots right now is brainpower, and by 2030 we will start to have more silicon brainpower than we know what to do with.


    The New Employment Landscape

    It is easy to understand that there will be huge job losses by 2040 or 2050 as robots move into the workplace. For example:

    Nearly every construction job will go to a robot. That's about 6 million jobs lost.
    Nearly every manufacturing job will go to a robot. That's 16 million jobs lost.
    Nearly every transportation job will go to a robot. That's 3 million jobs lost.
    Many wholesale and retail jobs will go to robots. That's at least 15 million lost jobs.
    Nearly every hotel and restaurant job will go to a robot. That's 10 million jobs lost.
    If you add that all up, it's over 50 million jobs lost to robots. That is a conservative estimate. By 2050 or so, it is very likely that over half the jobs in the United States will be held by robots.
    All the people who are holding jobs like those today will be unemployed.


    This is not science fiction -- this is (already) in today's news. What we are talking about here are massive, government-controlled welfare dormitories keeping everyone who is unemployed "out of sight". Homelessness is increasing because millions of people are living on the edge. Millions of working adults and families are trying to make a living from millions of low-paying jobs at places like Wal-Mart and McDonald's. Most of those low-paying jobs are about to evaporate.


    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.

    Much More
  3. China's Foxconn has said they plan to have 1 million robots in place to do the work of former employees earning $.80/hr.
  4. pspr


    It's already happening. And, it's accelerating.

    If you think about it, the entire role of the human being in the economy is going to change. We are going to need to radically re-think how people earn a living.
  5. About a year ago a local newspaper ran a story on a local business that 20 years ago had 40 employees and had grown to 60 employees since then. The most surprising part of the article was that the company's revenues had grown by almost 500% during that time (while only increasing employees by 50%). Technological leverage allows companies to grow revenues geometrically while adding few if any employees.
  6. pspr


    I've read the entire multi-page article Marshall Brain has written. His bio is impressive and if he is right, and I see lots of evidence that he probably is, we are going to need some radical changes in our capitalistic form of an economy.

    Unfortunately, we have a government that is incapable of functioning in our interests. The government doesn't have the wherewithal to tackle any of the hard choices facing our society today from regulation, debt, spending, taxes, etc., etc. How can they be expected to anticipate a monumental shift in robotic automation and the resulting unemployment? They can't. They will just react as the economy is overtaken and the problems arise.

    Just as I anticipate a possible collapse of our society as it is, due to over regulation, over taxation on job creators, over reach on entitlements, the debt and spending spiral and an anti-business government attitude, I see massive societal disruptions as lower wage employees are replaced by automation and this robotic take over works it's way up the employment ladder to higher skilled jobs and professions.

    Mr. Brain has some solutions to the problems coming but it will be nearly impossible to enact such radical reform with the type of legislators we have today. I think there is going to be a lot of pain and possibly rebellion before we emerge in 50 or 100 years into a better society - if we ever do. The turmoil will make nations ripe for dictatorships to emerge both here and abroad.
  7. Bullshit , the robots will all organize into a collective bargaining organization and go on welfare, then we'll REALLY BE HOSED.
  8. pspr


    LOL That's nonsense.

    Once they get smarter than us and stronger than us and able to repair themselves they won't need us anymore. We'll be toast. Just like in the movies, we'll be just an annoying carbon infestation to be eradicated from the planet.

    "We are Borg. Resistance if futile."
  9. Asimov saw this coming in the fifties.

    The Three Laws of Robotics are ready and waiting to be implemented.:)

    It would you well to read Asivov's robots series.

    When US Robotics is founded, and people see the first humaniform robots, laws will be enacted to restrict their usage.
  10. pspr


    The three laws were a central theme in the movie "iRobot", too. But the point of the movie was that once machines become sufficiently intelligent they will be able to rationalize destructive behavior within the three laws context. i.e. we are doing this for your own good or the good of earth.

    Just as a child is taught the difference between right and wrong, many children and adults choose to do wrong for their own reasons and rationalizations.

    BTW, the company, US Robotics, already exists and has for some time. They are primarily in the modem manufacturing business.
    #10     Dec 30, 2012