Robots and humans, working together in harmony?


Originally published at:


I, for one, welcome our new robot companions.


I like how the male-faced robot in the intro graphic appears to be robosplaining to her.


Robots and humans, working together in harmony?


What bothers me is the initial statements in these articles, and how they overlook the big picture. We often see phases saying people shouldn’t be worried, because automation cannot take over everything. That’s not what has people worried.

Yes, there will always be a gap between what humans and AI or automation can accomplish. When authors and researchers talk about humans and robots working together, I rarely see them acknowledge that we’re talking about far less people. THAT is what has people worried, and rightly so. It seems like we’re about to become the punchline of a bad joke…“How many people does it take to direct/manage/assist in the activity of robots programmed to do 80-90% of a job all by themselves?”

If you’re an expert or innovative thinker in a field where automation is already replacing people, good for you. You are likely to continue to have a career in the future. The other workers (the majority), can look forward to Universal Basic Income (or another form of gov’t assistance). However, if gov’t assistance is reduced or eliminated rather than reinvented, those workers can look forward to long-term unemployment and poverty.


I agree, but the political-economic consequences of AI/robot-human partnership (as I’ve also tended to view the future of AI – I like this term “multiplicity”) are perhaps a bit outside the scope of the article.

They are important to discuss, because a significant number of Americans won’t be partners in the Multiplicity. If automation keeps progressing as it is the U.S. guaranteed to have a permanent Depression-level unemployment rate of at least 20%+. The question will then become what kind of (if any) UBI will be put in place to keep the “unnecessariat” sheltered, clothed, fed, and healthy – as would befit any country that wants to maintain at least the illusion of being civilised.

Unfortunately, even though the powers that be are slowly being forced into acknowledging that some kind of UBI will be required, most of them are wishful thinkers who would prefer to kick that particular can down the road. Meanwhile, a lot of conservatives and Libertarians (including some Silicon Valley techno-utopians building this future) refuse to entertain the idea of anything but cuts to social welfare programmes.


Or it could be like this…

and for the QC fans out there who else out there thinks Bubbles looks great in civvies?


I have been musing about this for some time: what do we do with all these people whose skills are obviated?

I can imagine a world in which the people who want to compete in the job market still do so. They still buy BMW’s and live in big houses. The people who don’t want to, or can’t, live in communes which are largely self-sufficient, raising and farming their sustenance and subsidized by UBI. The government pays people in the job markets to run clinics and other public services for these communes.

I think things have to get much worse before this model makes sense. And of course, we’ll have to call it something other than “Communism” (for literally living in communes). That’s gonna have a branding problem.


Or short-term revolution.


I’ll drop the usual link to my comment concerning the kind of UBI only a neoliberal would love. This is, unfortunately, the most likely kind of scenario we’ll be seeing. I’d prefer to see Fully Automated Luxury Communism (with or without actual communes) as the outcome of the Multiplicity, but I doubt that the greedheads (and their religious fundie allies) will allow it.

America being America, things will have to get much worse (as in street riots that continue for more than a single fiscal quarter) before any alternative to the neoliberal consensus will make sense to our leadership class.


Only if they’re not reduced to compost. Why should the Job Creators sacrifice the hard-won earnings of their inventions to support useless drones? (As distinct from the very, very useful drones that deliver the things I want to me without having to risk surface travel in the ruins surrounding my estate.)


I notice that the author of TFM doesn’t propose alternate employment for long-haul truckers [1], most of whom will be unemployed within a decade from now thanks to automation.

[1] In most States this is the #1 employment category.


According to “future is here, just not widely distributed,” we might expect an ever increasing fraction of the population living in what Americans call “tent cities.”

Communes: Sort of.
Subsidized by the dole: Yes.
Farming: Not to any significant extent.
Self-sufficient: Of course not.


Communes: Sort of.
Subsidized by the dole: Yes.
Farming: Not to any significant extent.
Self-sufficient: Of course not.

Sure. And what can we do starting with these tent cities?

Create tax deductible organizations which will take land donations, donations of time and manpower for farming, housing builds, healthcare and training around each of these areas.

Corporations already have initiatives like this so they can appear to be conscientious and get good press. (Every company I’ve worked for does a food drive in the fall, for example) Redirecting those efforts to improve these communities would go a long way.


“The Encyclopedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing devision of the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes,”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


I’m not even sure that self-sufficient is a useful or achievable goal. Most of the means of self-sufficiency don’t scale exceedingly well - I expect most of them require more land than will be available to the people who need it.

I’m not certain if tent cities is entirely where we’re going. I’ll freely admit that this isn’t something I know a ton about, but my impression is that these are basically marginalized populations - if we get to the point where a large percentage of the population is out of employment, then shouldn’t they become a political force?

If 50% of the population basically had no hope of ever getting a job, and nothing to do with their time but organize politically, I suspect they might not settle for tent cities. Even out of pure self-interest, I could imagine the rich wanting to keep everyone comfortable enough that they don’t riot


Everybody can still have a “job” if there’s no minimum wage. As long as some of the shantytowns are considered better than others, the powers that be should be able to employ the usual tools.


True, it is out of scope. It’s just frustrating when writers preface their arguments with “don’t worry.” As the article on the “unnecessariat” explains very well, we should not only be worried, but also trying to find and pursue solutions.

Unfortunately, we have leaders in control of private and public sector organizations who have counted the sheeple and decided now is the time to thin the herd. They have no desire to maintain illusions - except among the sheeple they plan to cull, who believe these are good, religious, ethical, honest shepherds. Once the old and infirm are gone, there will be fewer pesky voters to worry about, reduced costs, and increased profits. If the healthcare industry needs more infirm down the road, those can easily be created.

Growing old will become a luxury only those at the top can afford. Too many at the top have no problem with that. This is why I doubt there will be UBI or any large-scale attempt to save those left at (or pushed to) the bottom. If the cost of living is kept high and pushed higher, the “unnecessariat” in this country will cease to exist.


Exactly. I recall once PCs overran our office, we began doing all our own letter writing and manuscript final copy and submission. Then our own timekeeping. Then our own ordering. Then our own travel. The latter three because we had computerized systems to do them (not very easily or efficiently, but that’s the government typical lowest-bidder contracts for you). The need for people to do those things slowly disappeared. Our secretary/administrative assistant/office manager went from doing lots of stuff for 13 people to doing more limited stuff for about 50.

This trend will continue I’m sure.


Yeah, the fight over minimum wage is not a trivial one