Monday, October 27, 2014

The robots are coming


It is often said that robots, computers and automation will eventually destroy great swathes of employment. There will be little left for humans to do as the machines take over. 

Fear of automation has been common since the Luddites of course, so how should we react to these concerns? 

One response is that new businesses will spring up as old ones die, providing new goods and services as the old ways are automated into oblivion. Human ingenuity is boundless it is said. Nobody should bet against it.

Certainly human ingenuity deserves great respect for its sheer fecundity. Economic optimists have been right so far, although millions of unemployed in the eurozone may have a different perspective. 

Perhaps as the future is unpredictable we may as well extrapolate from the past and remain optimistic. It’s healthier for one thing.

And yet...

Suppose we turn the question around and ask how many worthwhile human activities there are and how many are suited to financial transactions. If the number, however inexact is limited, then we’ll eventually run out of worthwhile things to do for money. We’ll have to base at least some new businesses on things that in one sense or another aren’t worthwhile.

Well that's not new either. Patent medicines for example, psychoanalysis for another. So perhaps it doesn't matter anyway. It all depends on how we choose to define worthwhile activities, how relaxed we are about creating new needs for the sake of creating new needs, whether exploitation really matters if the exploited are happy.  

If customers can be found then maybe it's not for anyone else to judge. Tattoo studios? Nail bars? Recycling? TV soaps? War?


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Paddington said...

With enough to live on, I have plenty to do without a job, including writing. But what about the people who don't have hobbies, other than drinking?

Sackerson said...

It's the wrong people who are unemployed, I've often thought.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - maybe those people die slowly in front of the TV.

Sackerson - I can guess who you mean.