Automation and post-scarcity

The vision

By 2040, computers the size of a softball are as smart as human beings. Smarter, in fact. Plus they're computers: They never get tired, they're never ill-tempered, they never make mistakes, and they have instant access to all of human knowledge.

The result is paradise. Global warming is a problem of the past because computers have figured out how to generate limitless amounts of green energy and intelligent robots have tirelessly built the infrastructure to deliver it to our homes. No one needs to work anymore. Robots can do everything humans can do, and they do it uncomplainingly, 24 hours a day. Some things remain scarce—beachfront property in Malibu, original Rembrandts—but thanks to super-efficient use of natural resources and massive recycling, scarcity of ordinary consumer goods is a thing of the past. Our days are spent however we please, perhaps in study, perhaps playing video games. It's up to us.

- Kevin Drum, Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us? | Mother Jones

The reality

[R]obots are never going to take all the jobs. The problem with trying to envision "a world without work" is that it asks us to envision an unrealistically large change.

The more likely outcome is a world with less work. And that's a world we should welcome rather than fear. It's a world in which we can make some policy decisions we want to make, rather than decisions we really don't want to make.

The "normal" Social Security retirement age in the United States used to be 65. Currently it is moving up to 67. Many prominent politicians, from Jeb Bush and Christ Christie to the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission on deficit reduction, say that to keep the system solvent we need to move it up even further, to 70. In a world of more productivity and less work, instead of doing that, we might move it back down to 65. Or maybe even cut it back to 62.

Some more ideas:

Right now the average American gets 10 paid vacation days and six paid holidays. We could emulate Germany, where 20 and 10 are the current minimum. Or go really nuts and copy Austria, where it's 22 and 13.
We could reduce the high school and college dropout rates, and slightly increase the number of college graduates who go on to some form of graduate school.
We could emulate Sweden's 480 days of paid leave for new parents.
We could give college students more generous grants so more of them could focus full-time on their studies rather than dual-tracking school with work.
Right now, 44 percent of mothers with full-time jobs say they would rather work part time. We could make that happen.

These are just illustrative ideas, of course, not a comprehensive program. But they go to show that given decent public policy, an automation-driven productivity surge is nothing to be afraid of. For any given item on that list, the natural objection will be that "we can't afford it." If productivity accelerated, we could easily afford it — and more — reducing the total amount of human toil while still maintaining the basic life-cycle concept of a career.

- Matthew Yglesias, The automation myth - Vox

Sources

These look promising:

Also see:

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