When Robots Replace Human Workers (Harvard Business Review)

Here’s a topic that we’ve discussed here before: the impact of robotics on society. We hope that new energy technology can bring down the cost of electricity and therefore expand its availability — and if that happens it will only speed up the use of robotics (already expanding rapidly) and make robotics cheaper.

An article titled “What Happens to Society When Robots Replace Workers?” in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone looks at the future impact of robotics and paints a picture of a world where things could be very different, and potentially very challenging. Here are some of the authors’ main points:

Progress in information storage and processing have made possible the creation intelligent machines at amazing speed that will soon dominate the world economy and devalue human labor:”This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value.”

There is a term now used called “the Second Economy” which describes that portion of the economy where machines/computers interact only with other machines/computers. Economist Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute predicts that by 2025, the Second Economy may be as large worldwide as the First Economy, and 100 million workers will be displaced.

Today robots are only capable of doing the work the work of a person of average intelligence, but if the rate of increase of robot IQ is only 1.5 per cent per year, by 2025, robots could have IQ levels higher than 90 per cent of the US population.

Already robots have been shown to be superior in performance than anesthesiologists and radiologists, two jobs in the medical field that have required highly trained (and expensive) workers.

A common response to the issue of job displacement due to new technology is that technological advances have taken place throughout history, with old jobs being made obsolete — but new jobs are created to manage the new technologies that come along. That may be the case with robotics, however the authors doubt that in this current situation, the rate of creation of new jobs will keep pace with rate of obsolescence of old old ones:

“A sizeable fraction of those replaced jobs will be made up by new ones in the Second Economy. But not all of them. Left behind may be as many as 40 million citizens of no economic value in the U.S alone. The dislocations will be profound.”

I often wonder about the future of society in the light of what I see as an imminent technological shift of tremendous proportions which I think is already upon us — and which I believe will only accelerate. I think LENR (and other energy advacements), along with robotics, material science, and continued computing advances will be profoundly transformative and will actually change the way we think about economics, politics and civilization itself.

I think the main reason technological advances often make people nervous is that our sense of financial security is threatened. None of us wants to think of our jobs as being the ones that are going to be lost, and people will often fight tooth and nail to preserve their own livelihoods.

However, I think the coming technological revolution has the potential to make us more materially secure and comfortable than the current situation. The cost of everything can be greatly reduced with cheaper and cleaner energy, stronger and more versatile materials, and more efficient and smart automation and communication systems. I really think we have an opportunity to make a much peaceful and prosperous world.

The real question and challenge at hand that I think we will have to deal with, is how to deal with such a monumental societal transition to a new type of world in such a way as to benefit rather than harm the human race — and I’m not sure that in today’s world with all its competing interests and philosophies that can be done smoothly. I think it will take a whole lot of wisdom and creativity to handle well.

  • Charles

    God has given us an object lesson in how to do well materially. He built a machine that takes two raw material items, for which the machine has to do nothing but use the items as input, and converts the input, through its own internal processes, into an extremely useful product for humans. In the process, it uses one of the inputs as fuel and product raw material and the other input as a catalyst and product thinner. Adam named it: cow.

    Man is now engaged in the same process trying to build a self operating machine that produces a useful product without human assistance, other that just taking the offered product. Man named it: robot.

  • Charles

    The Republicans only have trouble with taking the results of the labor of one man and giving it to another for doing no labor. It is doubtful they will feel that way about taking the results of the labor of a machine (a communist machine of course) and giving it to a human for use..

    The DemonRats (oops, sorry – double typo – n s/b c and R lower case) would be well advised to begin the development of communisticly owned machines that totally independently develop items for human use using no human labor or private ownership materials/equipment.

  • Fortyniner

    … unless they are Korean dogs.

  • LilyLover

    …And also, if we ourselves are robots, then the question becomes, why aren’t humans more cruel than they already are?
    Do you ever wonder if you are a robot or do you take offense to such a comparison?
    I consider myself beyond AI-Enabled-Robot. Do you?

    “Btw, creativity does not create an economy.”
    Perfectly agree.
    I guess, Rossi agrees with me on this topic it seems, per his new comment.
    Even he calls a spade a spade, or parasite.

    Present-day Economy is much more distorted than the nature of money itself is.

  • LilyLover

    Consider this: Robots evolve through the similar intelligence pathway as we did, but much faster. Now, why would their behaviour be any different than ours? Our own nateure, typically good as an individual can be collectively cruel, so, the integrated intelligence, if it arose, is more likely to morph into well meaning creature as opposed to human-terminator. The premise that allows you to imagine sudden evolution of the networked computers, necessarily allows higher than 51% probability that the AI-such evolved will be benevolent. Also, the AI such evolved can be assumed to be 99%+ benevolent for a simple fact that smart people write the initial codes, smart people also tend to be nice – especially in their work, and there are plenty of positive written text than negative text on the internet for all the negative people would rather have their minds unwritten.

    “Lastly, whether a robot is conscious and has a soul is irrelevant. That philosophical question does not matter.”
    Soul or lack of soul could be irrelevant, but consciousness is not irrelevant. It’s the essence of the argument. Those who get easily tired, quit the thought process early. Please don’t.
    Why would anyone want to die to get away from robots?

    “Third person’s point of view” is the classic mistake most make. Just because excel can outperform calculations, do you think it is human? Similarly, no matter how humanoid a robot may look, even a dog or a cat recognizes them as an object as opposed to living being – and they very well recognize a turtle as a living being. And then again, with the antonym box, that’s what we are showing very clearly – if a third person can readily identify the antonym box from a human being, and thus is not fooled, refutes your own argument. This is what I mean by when it comes to AI – people speak things that they do not know of.
    Early enthusiasts are the loudest, veterans are aloof, defeated by the elusive problems and then, those who understand the problem, simply accept what I’m telling as truth.

    The word zombie in your repertoire tell me that you believe in them or their existence, which is another huge work in progress by the nano-roboticians to convert humans into docile objects. Zombification efforts need to die down before any real AI-progress is started. Understand that possible future zombies will be mad made creation; they do not occur naturally.

    • LilyLover

      Oh, on the pop star issue – I consider it to be an insult to my cat, calling them creative. In my opinion they deserve half the hourly wages of a walmart worker. Im not opposed to their riches, but they must be earned through deserved means. And yes, there can be millions of pop stars but then everyone will be equally worthless. That’s my goal – Let quality prevail. In present day – connections more than quality makes one a “star”. In the open source world – let there be millions of pop stars – let 20% of our disposable income be allocated to all the pop stars. Let all the music be free. Then, the pop star who is heard the most (count downloads and count number of second-hearings) in an amazon-alike rating fashion, get the money in the proportion they are listened to. This will yield us the best use of our time and save us from being distorted in our taste based on bank-funded advertizing campaign. Show me a new-Elvis and I’ll show you a worthy pop star.

  • LilyLover

    Relying upon Turingism leaves you decades behind in understanding the debate. Not to be off and sive but you do not seem to grasp ‘what was even tried’. And furthermore, if applied Turingism correctly, the third person surely will differentiate between A person and an antonym box. Unless you are OK with antonym look-ups then it is external help i.e. another man vs the other man – it isn’t Turingism anymore… it’s indecision between who amongst two wo/men is not human. Pointless. If cheating is accepted in Turingism, then it defeats thew purpose. Hence passes the Turing test, but fails your love. Even Turing himself won’t cheat on his test. So, you shouldn’t either, in his name.

  • bitplayer

    To have feelings an entity has to have a feeling function, which is, I propose, a combination of Becker’s (Body Electric) neural sheathing voltage signaling, acupuncture meridians, the phenomena attributed to Jung’s definition of the feeling function, and related neural wiring. The feeling function generates attractions/aversions/ignorings, emotions, values and physical performance states (“Run!”).

    But there’s nothing impossible about programming a robot to have an imperative to attain supremacy, in terms of material status dominance, control over the behavior of other entities, and making other entities (who had feelings) feel subordinate.

    Considering the incredible suppression and disregard of the feeling function in current patriarchal cultures (i.e. the entire world), I’d say we have about 3.5 billion of those types of robots running around now.

    • Bernie777

      Love it..maybe the valley could do a better job creating non patriarchal mothers

  • bitplayer

    “Hard” is relative. However, I agree it’s kind of pointless. On the other hand, there are related practices that can be quite useful:


    • bachcole

      I am in favor of anything that promotes inner spiritual growth, compassion, peace of mind, etc.

  • bitplayer

    Balance includes moderation in the use of exceptions to negate useful generalities.

    Using exceptions to negate useful generality, when used immoderately, can result in not identifying effective action points, resulting in not advocating effective action, resulting in the acquiescence to conditions that create suffering.

    Women are *statistically* more collaborative; men are *statistically* more competitive.

    And there are always exceptions.

    • Bernie777


  • Fortyniner

    I find it scary enough that there are people who believe as you do.

  • bitplayer

    Or, like Robert Monroe describes in “Journeys Out of the Body”, we’ll spend our days sleeping under trees while playing mind games on the astral plane, and let the robots tend the grass.

    Which maybe gets to the real point, “What is the purpose of the human race?”

  • bitplayer

    We can make our own machines. Nothing can stop us. And perhaps that’s the real danger.

  • bitplayer

    Frank’s prejudiced.

  • bitplayer

    So, we’ll have to print our robot parts at home.