When robots take over much work previously done by human beings, how will the distribution of wealth be decided?
After decades of Western nations "offshoring" manufacturing to the Far East (so causing growing financial and social strains at home), the trend has begun to reverse in recent years, but without necessarily improving the prospects for well-paid industrial employment. Automation is taking over, not just on the assembly line but increasingly in the back office as well.
Now, the Engineer magazine reports on a "reconfigurable modular robot" that can change its shape and functioning to adapt to varying tasks and conditions (htp: Demetrius.)
This has implications for blue-suited management, too: “I want to tell the robot what it should be doing, what its goals are, but not how it should be doing it,” said Kress-Gazit, the leader of the research team. (Over 40 years ago operational analyst Stafford Beer held that management should set goals and provide resources, but leave it to the relevant department to decide how best to use those resources - a lesson still to be learned in many quarters!)
It could be argued that human labour will be re-employed in other fields but that is not guaranteed - did the Luddite weavers find other work in time to avoid destitution? - and the alternatives may be menial and lower-paid. I seem to see a lot of tattoo parlours and nail bars, fast-food outlets and discontinued-line shops in my neighbourhood these days. Billionaire Hugo Salinas Price predicts somewhere (I haven't found the reference yet) the return of domestic servants.
It may become harder to criticise the unemployed when work is not available. The question of economic justice will raise its head.
And at that point we will wonder how to restrict the multiplication of "useless mouths," limitless payouts of financial benefits and social-worker support etc., before the weight of public debt causes the economy to collapse.
Will the franchise revert to property-owners only? Will we need a militia to keep down the unfortunate? Will there be Chinese-style rules on breeding?
Or will Red Santa overthrow the whole system for a millennial age which will certainly never arrive?