Monday, April 24, 2017

Working Towards No Work - Part 1

Two weeks ago, I wrote about why I think laws requiring a percentage of the work force to be human is a bad idea, using it to transition into a vision of a "Post-Work" world.  This week I want to continue on that theme and expand it a bit, focusing on the momentum towards it, the reasons why we need it and some thoughts on how to get there.

/Open (aside)

Last week, I did not write, but took the Middle School Daughter Unit camping.  Or, rather, her school did and I was allowed to tag along as long as I drove and fed the teachers leading the expedition.  We visited a Wolf Sanctuary and then went caving in lava tubes in and around El Malpais National Monument.  Visit both if you can, but definitely have a guide for the caves: it is easy to get lost.

/Close (aside)

Post-Work, not Post-Scarcity

Most people who talk about life in a fully automated society label it "Post-Scarcity".  This is not what I'm talking about.  Or at least, not yet.  To get to a full on Post-Scarcity world, we need to go beyond automation into the realm of matter reconstruction.

With work place automation, we are off loading the work to machines, but we are still dealing with the same resources.  The same amount of arable land to grow food, the same amount of water in the same occasionally convenient places.  All the automation does is help us maximize our use of those resources.  This is Post-Work.  The available resources are still limited.

For Post-Scarcity, we need to be able to build food, water and consumer packaged goods from things that are not food, water or goods.  Like breaking a rock down into its constituent atoms and then re-assembling them into other goods that are more useful to the people in the immediate location.  I'm not talking about vat-growing a steak.  Instead, this is building the steak atom-by-atom in the back of the restaurant, already cooked, on demand.  The current state-of-the-art for working on that scale has a long way to go, but is not outside the realm of 'eventually.'

Post-Work is a landing on the staircase that leads to Post-Scarcity, but does not get us all of the way there.

It is Inevitable, Mr. Anderson

With annoying definition pedantry things out of the way, let's talk about why work automation is going to happen (oh, let's!).  The reason is simple: the short, medium and long term gains for employers are just too high.

Robots don't sleep.  They don't need vacations.  They don't complain about work hours or have families or needs outside of the work place.  They have the potential to get sick (break), but their medical plan does not cringe at fire-and-replace if the repair cost is too high.  And that's for the high cost, physical world automation.  Many of us, myself included, will lose our jobs (if I had one) to software.  Then all of the ills of the mechanical world are tossed out (to be replaced by bugs and viruses, to be sure, but still more reliable).

Beyond the world of HR, automation adds one other significant factor: consistency of output.  We humans with our five imperfect senses cannot repeat tasks down to the millimeter consistently.  Those that can are considered savants or somewhere on the autism spectrum.  They are not sitting in the middle of the bell curve with the rest of us baseline humans.

As I said in my piece two weeks ago, those companies that automate quickly and completely will have a significant edge over those that do not.  If those companies find themselves in jurisdictions that attempt to force human labor on them, they will lobby against them, eventually moving to someplace that will allow them to operate as they want.

Next Week - I Promise

So, this rant is already subjecting all five of you who read this to a longer article than I think your patience can handle.  I'm going to push the rest of this to next week's installment.  The two topics left are:

  • Why work place automation MUST happen (Hint: there are 7.5 Billion reasons and growing).
  • How we make the transition to Post-Work with the least amount of pain (I don't have a clue, and this is the real reason it's getting pushed to next week).

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