Sunday, June 3, 2012

Marshall Brain — Robotic Freedom

Longish but a good analysis of what to expect in the robotic revolution that is already underway. It's relevant to the discussion of a JG/ELR and the overall MMT macroanalysis, too, since there are going to be more unemployed people as automation increases — millions of them.

Read it at
Robotic Freedom
[Part 3 of the Robotic Nation series]
by Marshall Brain
(h/t Trixie in the comments at


Dan Kervick said...

I am very skeptical that this robot displacement will ever come to pass. My feeling is that human beings will always maintain about the same proportions of work, sleep and leisure in their lives, no matter how much their technology changes. I made a comment to that effect at Bill Mitchell's blog:

Human beings are vulnerable and finite animals facing, if I might might wax poetic, the infinite abyss of their mortality and sufferings. The gap between what they have and what they want will always be effectively infinite. As they achieve efficiency in the production of goods and services needed to preserve their existing standard of living, opening up more “free” time, they will then begin to use the additional time to work on the innovative satisfaction of wants that they previously didn’t even bother to address. If they learn how to live for 100 years, they will want to extend their life span to 110 years, or 120 years, or beyond. I don’t believe human beings will ever stop working, struggling and achieving, because they are inherently incapable of permanent satisfaction with whatever their lot happens to be at the time.

geerussell said...

When I think of trade, some countries already have robot displacement and some countries are the robots.

AndyCFC said...


We will do it through other avenues, look at professional sports for instance, the rewards there for the stars are staggeringly higher to how they were 40 years ago. To get to the top in them now doesnt just take talent. How many professional sports do we have now compared to 40 years ago? Would expect it to be a far greater number.

Tom Hickey said...

The history of increasing productivity suggest that productivity increase is exponential, like population growth. This gives more people more choice over how to spend their time and energy.

The economic dichotomy between work and leisure is too simplistic, in that it suggests that only work is productive and leisure is non-work, i.e., not productive. However, between leisure as recreation and work as productive activity there is a range of activity that counts as neither.

So-called leisure can be devoted to creative play, which is quite productive qualitatively, which is what much of service is about. I have spent much of my life in the gift economy and so what I have done either has not shown up in GDP or has been undervalued.

Actually, a good deal of what I have non-produced has subsequently produced quite a bit of economic value through others, who have learned through me. Similarly, once of my informal teachers, whom I credit as far more significant than my formal ones, ever asked me for a dime and some have not even accepted gifts.

The notion that the way things are structure now is in any way natural other than as reflective of the present level of collective conscious is just wrong. This is a phase of history reflective of the collective consciousness of the time.

Moreover the level of collective conscious is more an average than an absolute. There can be a lot of deviation from the mean, both above and below. At times the tails are narrow and at others fat.

In addition, changes in collective conscious are cyclical rather than linear. The course of history is like a sailboat, sometimes surging forward with a favorable wind and at others times tacking. When here is no wind, progress can even be dead in the water for a while, as the focus turns to survival.

Leverage said...

There is is a lot of difference working for survival than working when you produce an ample surplus of production compared to what you need to have a decent living. So the concept of 'paid work' changes according to productivity.

Here what we should achieve is that no one really has to devote more than a few hours to the economic system of production to acquire the necessary goods for a decent quality of life and productivity has evolved to do so. Is absurd to enforce people to "work" X hours a week though the money system, renterism and wealth disparity/accumulation.

Off course people will continue to work, but freed of stupid useless work is when humanity will enter a new era of progress no one can imagine nowadays. When the dynamic of 'working for a living' is broken or reduced to a minor pain we will see how most unproductive power relations are broken forever and how creativity unleashes in ways we can't foresee now.

Automatization is one of the factors getting us there, but not the only one off course. The biggest limitations still are in human minds and social systems which will take effort to solve.

Meanwhile the 'destruction' of jobs thanks to productivity will continue (and contrary to pundits, this progress does not create a new equal amount of jobs, backed by data and common sense, after all productivity means doing more with less... less hours of human brainpower included).

Tom Hickey said...

Leverage: "The biggest limitations still are in human minds and social systems which will take effort to solve."

This is what I am summarizing in the rubric "collective consciousness."

We have physical labor (what most understand as "work"), metaphysical labor (knowledge work), physical capital, finance capital and metaphysical capital ( knowledge, information. Physical labor was the predominant factor in the era of subsistence living. The introduction of metaphysical labor through development of knowledge and skill resulted in a specialist class and surpluses attributable to increased productivity due to innovation,both organizational and technological.

Until the industrial revolutions physical capital was essentially land and technology was applied to agricultural production. But still most people were employed in agriculture and the increased productivity went to supporting a warrior class for protection and predation, and a ruling elite, generally a feudal aristocracy for organization.

With the dawn of the industrial era through technological innovation, i.e., inventions, based on scientific discoveries came the dominance of physical capital and the acquisitive class that owned it. This soon replaced the former feudal system as the predominant means of social, political and economic organization.

We are now moving into the information age, where metaphysical capital in the form of knowledge and knowledge producing knowledge. This is translating into both robotic and AI as physical capital, which promises to make most physical labor and a lot of metaphysical labor redundant.

Who is going to control this capital in now the question, since that will determine how the capital is employed and what social, political and economic changes this will entail. On thing is sure, the times they are a-changin'. How quickly and in what way remains to be determined.