We’ve been predicting it for years, since even before the first robotic arms debuted at assembly lines in the US back in the 1960s – one day most, if not all, of our jobs will be done by robots.
Some of us dread this future – will be become slaves to our own creations? Will we become the organic underclass, desperately scrabbling around in landfill for scraps of our previous lives and even the occasional seagull for dinner? No! Of course not! As yet, robots haven’t achieved consciousness and most of our worker-bots will be glorified machines; a smart conveyor chain, an even smarter sorting machine. No one bot will have the full gamut of abilities, or even the nous to realise it exists, let alone plot revolution!
A freer future
A future in which a lot of routine jobs and tasks are done by machines and robots doesn’t mean people will become obsolete – that’s a very old-fashioned idea indeed. Just think – these machines are doing all this work, but they don’t need a salary! That value, that money generated by the bot can go to a person instead. How this will look we don’t know yet – it could be that you buy into a bot and receive its earnings in return for paying a maintenance tax.
We’re already seeing the first stirrings of people being paid just to exist, with Ontario in Canada and several European countries trialling a citizen’s income system.
The best thing about this is that people won’t be paid just to exist; they’ll be paid to live! Many of us feel we’re already being paid (badly) just to exist! Fewer working hours means that everyone’s freer to pursue creative outlets, hobbies, jogging, playing canasta with Granny on a Thursday afternoon.
Repairing the damage to the planet
One way in which us humans can keep busy, however, is to do some land, air and sea remediation. This latest industrial revolution comes on the heels of a somewhat messier one and it’s time to clear up. At the moment, most of us are way too busy making a living and paying the bills to have any real impact on the environment. OK, we recycle, we swap out old filament bulbs for LEDs, yaddahyaddah. This is great, but does it grow a tree? No it doesn’t.
It’s entirely possible that part of the new social contract is that you have to spend, say, two hours a week planting trees, or helping to pollinate plants if the bees really do decline. Those of us with a more scientific bent can come up with and implement new ways of removing harmful chemicals from the soil, or spend more time on citizen science; who knows, this could take us to our second home in space.
Robots aren’t set to be our overlords, any more than the automated loom was, or the car. These inventions made life easier in the long run and, with the benefit of hindsight, improved human rights and a bit of elf and safety, we’ll adapt much more easily than previous generations of workers.
So no throwing your sabots at the robots, people, let’s have a bit of blue sky thinking here!