Thursday, June 1, 2017

Possible Futures – Work as jury duty

The way things currently operate, people mine some materials, other people process them into components, and other people use those components to build power plants.  Still other people work in those plants, others maintain the powerlines, and in some cases other people mine the fuel for those plants.  All of these people need to be paid, which is why you get a bill from your electric company every month.  But what happens when robots start doing those jobs?

In a future – most certainly closer than many people are comfortable with – there will be robots that can mine the materials, make the components, and build the power plants.  And there will be robots to maintain the plants and powerlines, as well as to build all these robots.  (These power plants will most likely be solar, wind, tidal, etc. so there won’t need to be other robots to get the fuel.)

There will probably still be people in the loop somewhere, so the cost of electricity may not become zero, but at what point will it just be easier to give everyone free electricity than to maintain the billing department?  “Dear Mr. Smith, last year you used 564,982 kilowatt-hours.  You owe us $1.37.”

I bring this up because there are some people out there who will scoff at the idea of free electricity as a socialist dream or whatever, without acknowledging that automation will drastically effect the economy.  I believe it is very likely that automation, 3D printing, genetic engineering, etc., will bring about a world where the basic needs of everyone will be easily met.  Bread, water, electricity, stuff like that will just be free because it will be more efficient.  Money will only be needed for luxury goods like caviar, yachts, or a ticket up to an orbital brothel.

But does that mean that the majority of people will just sit on their couch eating chips and playing video games?  Some will, but others will paint, make hand crafted furniture, play sports; things you would do if you didn’t have to worry about money.  If you needed money, you’d get one of the few human jobs, which may only be a few hours a week.  In such a world, I’d still be writing and selling my books.

To help foster an element of community spirit – and maybe throw a bone to the “If you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat” people – every few months people may get a notice, like for jury duty.  But you’d have options, like cleaning up litter, or going to a classroom and teaching the kids what you know on whatever subject, or whatever future forms of community service there are.  Your work at these things – maybe a hundred hours a year or so – would go towards your free food, electricity, whatever.  Instead of sitting in a cubicle for forty hours a week to get a wage which you’d then spend on food, shelter, internet access, etc., you’d get all that stuff because you spent time at a retirement home listening to the old libertarians chaffing under the “tyranny” of getting top-notch medical care without having to pay an arm and a leg.

Many people figure that even if automation takes away jobs from humans, there will always be new jobs for the humans.  I think that’s being overly optimistic, but why does there have to be new jobs?  Is there some unwritten law that humans need to work forty hours a week?  I mean, it’s possible to give everyone jobs, but is full employment worth people just sitting in a cubicle hitting a button whenever a light flashes?

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