I was standing at the window watching the recycle trunk pick up our container. The trunk was driven by one person who just operated a giant robotic gripper that extended from the truck to hold the container and empty it. Took about five seconds. Up and down our street the truck zoomed. All done. Amazing. Before, there were a few (strong!) people who did this. It was one driver and two other workers. Where are they now?
Currently, only recycle bins in my city are standardized. So, a truck with a single manipulator is usable. In future, its inevitable that the rest of the garbage will be disposed in standard containers, and more people will do less of this manual labor. Nothing new, the march of automation and more powerful computers. For decades there have been those warning of dire consequences, yet we are still here and have more of more stuff. So what is the problem?
There is a confluence of technological breakthroughs that are bound to happen and all these are being quickened by the internet. Internet speed change is occurring. Robotics breakthroughs and applications are only waiting for a new form of power storage and control.
Currently, all advanced technologies are limited. Drones have limited range and robots are mostly lumbering beasts that fall over doing the easiest tasks that humans can do while sleep walking. Yet, this won’t always be the case. In fact, the substitution of humans with autonomous intelligent systems is not even the only way this Change will happen. It could be that the path will just be human augmentation.
People can be augmented to use more AI and robotics technology. This will increase productivity in many fields. Thus, we’ll need less people. Even now we see the effect of more information in knowledge industries. Years ago a software developer had to remember many things, but now with the web the admin-techno-config-trivia is available at a mouse click. The bell curve of who can program has shifted. Since knowledge is available, silos of expertise are reduced. Now one person can do many different things. Again we’ll need less people.
If we need less people, how will the economic system function? Does it become a giant welfare state where only a few do “meaningful” work and the others have a form of guaranteed sustenance? Or will it become a dystopian nightmare of a stratified classes, the majority are the new ‘untouchables’, the middle tier occupied by the technocratic knowledge workers, and all presided over by the upper 1% ruling class?