When Robots Replace Human Workers (Harvard Business Review)

Here’s a topic that we’ve discussed here before: the impact of robotics on society. We hope that new energy technology can bring down the cost of electricity and therefore expand its availability — and if that happens it will only speed up the use of robotics (already expanding rapidly) and make robotics cheaper.

An article titled “What Happens to Society When Robots Replace Workers?” in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone looks at the future impact of robotics and paints a picture of a world where things could be very different, and potentially very challenging. Here are some of the authors’ main points:

Progress in information storage and processing have made possible the creation intelligent machines at amazing speed that will soon dominate the world economy and devalue human labor:”This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value.”

There is a term now used called “the Second Economy” which describes that portion of the economy where machines/computers interact only with other machines/computers. Economist Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute predicts that by 2025, the Second Economy may be as large worldwide as the First Economy, and 100 million workers will be displaced.

Today robots are only capable of doing the work the work of a person of average intelligence, but if the rate of increase of robot IQ is only 1.5 per cent per year, by 2025, robots could have IQ levels higher than 90 per cent of the US population.

Already robots have been shown to be superior in performance than anesthesiologists and radiologists, two jobs in the medical field that have required highly trained (and expensive) workers.

A common response to the issue of job displacement due to new technology is that technological advances have taken place throughout history, with old jobs being made obsolete — but new jobs are created to manage the new technologies that come along. That may be the case with robotics, however the authors doubt that in this current situation, the rate of creation of new jobs will keep pace with rate of obsolescence of old old ones:

“A sizeable fraction of those replaced jobs will be made up by new ones in the Second Economy. But not all of them. Left behind may be as many as 40 million citizens of no economic value in the U.S alone. The dislocations will be profound.”

I often wonder about the future of society in the light of what I see as an imminent technological shift of tremendous proportions which I think is already upon us — and which I believe will only accelerate. I think LENR (and other energy advacements), along with robotics, material science, and continued computing advances will be profoundly transformative and will actually change the way we think about economics, politics and civilization itself.

I think the main reason technological advances often make people nervous is that our sense of financial security is threatened. None of us wants to think of our jobs as being the ones that are going to be lost, and people will often fight tooth and nail to preserve their own livelihoods.

However, I think the coming technological revolution has the potential to make us more materially secure and comfortable than the current situation. The cost of everything can be greatly reduced with cheaper and cleaner energy, stronger and more versatile materials, and more efficient and smart automation and communication systems. I really think we have an opportunity to make a much peaceful and prosperous world.

The real question and challenge at hand that I think we will have to deal with, is how to deal with such a monumental societal transition to a new type of world in such a way as to benefit rather than harm the human race — and I’m not sure that in today’s world with all its competing interests and philosophies that can be done smoothly. I think it will take a whole lot of wisdom and creativity to handle well.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.