Nov 24, 2010

Singularity Economics

Posted by in category: economics

“Jobs for every American is doomed to failure because of modern automation and production. We ought to recognize it and create an income-maintenance system so every single American has the dignity and the wherewithal for shelter, basic food, and medical care. I’m talking about welfare for all. Without it, you’re going to have warfare for all.”

This quote from Jerry Brown in 1995 echoes earlier fears that automation would cause mass unemployment and displacement. These fears have not materialized, due to surging economic growth, the ability of the workforce to adjust, and the fact that the extent of automation is largely limited to physical, repetitive tasks. This is beginning to change.

In recent years, before the current recession, automation in already well established areas has continued to make productivity improvements. “Robotics and other computer automation have reduced the number of workers on a line. Between 2002 and 2005, the number of auto production workers decreased 8.5 percent while shipments increased 5 percent. Assembly plants now require as little as 15 to 25 labor hours per vehicle.” The result of these productivity gains has been a higher quality, less expensive product.

As machines become smarter, less repetitive “white collar” jobs will become subject to automation. Change will come so rapidly, the workforce will not be able to adjust, with real opportunities for alternative work decreasing. The earlier fears of mass unemployment will become realized. This mass displacement could lay the foundation for civil unrest and a general backlash against technology. The full extent of this change is unlikely to happen for another generation, with strong growth in China and other emerging economies. Regardless of exact timing or mechanism, the fact is that this transition to full automation has already begun, and micro economics dictate that it will continue. The choice between an inefficient, expensive, human labor force and an efficient, cheap, automated labor force is clear at the micro level, which will drive the pace of change.

What is needed now is a new economic paradigm, new theories, and a new understanding for the new coming age. We are not far away from a time when it will be possible to provide every human with a clean, safe place to live, with excellent healthcare and ample food, through the provision of automated labor. If it is possible to provide these things as a birth right, while not infringing upon the rights of others, then it should be done. As long as we are human, no matter how virtual our world becomes, we will still have basic physical needs that should be accessible by everyone, as owners by heritage to this offspring of our species. The correct lessons from the failures and shortcomings of Marxism and Austrian Economics must be learned. The introduction of something never before possible, an intelligent omnipresent and free labor source (free once machines are able to replicate themselves from the mine, to design and manufacture, without any human input), is a game changer.

Jerry Brown was right. The trick is to not be too far ahead of your time.


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. jared.daniel says:

    As you were writing this post, think about the current economic situation in the US. Record corporate profits and sky-high unemployment. Maybe the transition to permanent lack of need for human labor is happening now.

  2. I saw this article today that’s predicting 10–40 percent decline in lawyers in the near future. That’s progress!…-35-years/

  3. robomoon says:

    “What is needed now is a new economic paradigm, new theories, and a new understanding for the new coming age.”

    Espc. a new understanding is needed. Just look at SENS:…s-for.html

    Can a Monty Python theme of the above hyperlinked article help to understand SENS better; a new theory that offers rejuvenation biotechnologies to allow a move away from increasingly niche and expensive treatment development based on metabolic or pathologic interventions?

    Such engineering strategies extending economically-productive lifespan are based on a new socioeconomic paradigm with the benefit of reducing social welfare costs. Can enough people in many countries sufficiently understand their methods of financial planning in hindsight to the upcoming limits of growth in China and other emerging economies?

  4. Edgar Swank says:

    The key phrase in the article is, “If it is possible to provide these things as a birth right, while not infringing upon the rights of others…” It is not! Taking by force from the productive to provide positive “rights” to the unproductive is a big infringement. If you want to solve unemployment in a very short time, just get government out of the way. Repeal minimum wage, OSHA, unemployment “insurance,” etc., There is a job for (almost) everyone at a sufficiently low wage. Automation is expensive. People are plentiful. They just keep making more of themselves. One thing automation can’t replace, at least until realistic human-level AI androids arrive, is personal service. Any wage above zero is a “living” wage if room & board are included.

  5. Mentifex says:

    This economics issue troubles me immensely even as I code and release the AI software which I believe inexorably leads to a Technological Singularity. As an undergraduate I took twenty-five credit-hours of economics classes to try to get a grip on this issue. Although I release my open-source artificial intelligence as the economic basis for a Prosperity Engine, I am troubled by the dilemma residing in the fact that I must give my AI away in order for it to succeed, while I fear that the big corporations will take the AI and use it to oppress the masses. Solving AI was relatively easy, but solving the economic mess seems nigh unto impossible/

  6. robomoon says:

    Enough Gas Is Secure Enough

    AI as a Prosperity Engine works on computers, not in gas clouds. Computers must be produced and run by utilization of power.

    What is actually showing under the header of economic theories: “That economic conditions have stimulated war in all ages is a commonplace of history. In this view wars begin as a pursuit of territory for natural resources and for wealth.”

    Because of modern weaponry, war and the risk of terrorism are beginning to merge in some cases. Who would act like an immortal now? The phrase “immortality forum” at got me to IMMORTEK where a thread about population density states: Overpopulation? It is not a problem!

    While population density is increasing, there must be more tall buildings “skyscrapers” where those many people can be dwelling, learning, and working. Better structures would be required for vertical farming, but also for prisons.

    The security study CORRECTIONS IN A NEW LIGHT: DEVELOPING A PRISON SYSTEM FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY by James Houston and Dragan Stefanoviae is referring to the demand for more prison space with the following finding: “States that have a larger population density tend to have a higher incidence of crime and consequently require more prison capacity than states with a lower population density.”

    So it does not work to build and maintain all those tall prison buildings without sufficiently useful and secure energy resources. There must be hope that nobody wants to subject inmates to less life quality and finally to a higher risk of capital punishment, not for better justice, but only because of scarce energy resources. Yet, without better justice, some dangerous terrorists will only find more reasons to come forward with their violent attacks on our society.

    One of the great misconceptions about energy is our current dependency on fossil fuel. This is mostly political interest, PR, and hot air, nothing more. How many times have we people been warned by popular risk theories about Peak Oil, Global Warming and Ecological Footprint while most people are uncertain about a real reversal of those footprints? How many times have we been fooled with misleading information that there will be solar satellites, clean atomic energy, and whatever green nonsense to replace mineral oil? Often too much!

    Forget Peak Oil! Why are the global corporations so reluctant to talk about gas, just natural gas, biogas, whatever gas? Think, because there is more than enough natural gas obtainable at the bottom of the ocean! Some biogas can be even produced and harvested by farmers. That is why.

    Global corporations obviously support energy scarcity to sell their power for higher prices. Anyone wants to become a global monopoly with this trick, but all will be tricked by scarcity itself. Now, enough is enough! We must get more thermal solar power at daytime and whatever gas power at night. Break free for our right and duty to supply this power outside and inside our prisons, just for higher security!

  7. Penny Stock says:

    I think we should stay hopeful. Jerry Brown was not aware of what’s commonly referred to as human capital. The automation and production may not need manual laborers but they need educated thinkers. and so ppl are more likel than ever to get higher education and pursue better jobs!

  8. That is one scary assessment of the future! While collar jobs are gonna be replace by robots? yuck! creepy! Great article thought! Very thought provoking indeed!