How do we respond to the Robot Revolution?
Summary: The productivity of the next industrial revolution — based on semi-intelligent machines, with sensors and manipulators — will create fantastic abundance. Perhaps on a scale and nature we cannot imagine. The question is choice: how we divide the results. Here are two extreme outcomes, with a thousand points between them.
(1) Feudal dystopia
The rich might prefer a form of feudalism: a very hierarchical society, people in the upper layers linked by personal relationships (networked), with massive inequality and limited social mobility, divided into classes. Marx described a version of this.
- the inner party (the haute bourgeoisie) of upper echelon leaders and the wealthy,
- the outer party of middle managers, small business owners, and professionals (the petite bourgeoisie), and
- the remainder of the working class (the proletariat, proles)
- the underclass (the lumpenproletariat) — criminals, poor workers (many in the grey economy), those subsisting on meager fixed incomes (pension, disability, welfare, and social security — plus social services).
Maintaining this will require sophisticated internal intelligence and security services to prevent and suppress insurgencies, and keep social order (low levels of crime at the top, minimal levels at the bottom). The security services and military would recruit strong intelligent people from the lower class — their only path to advancement — which also deprives the lower classes of their natural leaders.
We’re on our way to this future:
- the crushing of the unions, one of our major social mechanism to reduce inequality;
- the degradation of the public education system, decreased quality of the grade schools and higher cost of the colleges;
- the vast expansion of the US domestic “law enforcement” and intelligence apparatus since 9-11. Especially the growth of SWAT teams. Such as the SWAT in Johnston RI (29 thousand people). A 1997 survey of towns of 50 thousand or more people found that roughly 80% had SWATs; 20% of those without SWATs planned to start one in the next few years.
A 21st century form of Fascism might adopt a feudal-like social structure, with nationalist ideology or religious fervour helping to keep people in their assigned slots. Perhaps with internal structures, like guilds, to divide the people and maintain the social structure.
Like the post-Civil War South, such a society sacrifices growth to maintain its social structure. It wastes much of its human talent, and devotes much of its national income suppress its people. The increased productivity of the next industrial revolution will generate the income to sustain such a society (far greater surplus income than available to a medieval society) and the mass unemployment to fill the lower classes.
For more about this see:
The nations of northern Europe have taken another path, experimenting about new forms of society. We can only guess where this will go, and what social innovations new forms of technology will make possible. New family structures. New government measures to minimize inequality and more equally distribute the abundance from modern technology.
While not utopias, these nations are portals to the future. America’s leadership devotes considerable energy to prevent Americans from learning about these experiments. About their successful education systems, and their health care systems. Their benign grand strategies which, as the late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) recommended, multiplies their friends and diminishes their enemies.
Their low fertility suits a future world with automation destroying jobs. Their concern with the environment might stand themselves well as the world moves through its period of peak population — and environmental stress — during the mid-21st century.
Which path will America take?
Post your estimate of the odds — and other visions of the future — in the comments.
For More Information
About the Robot Revolution
- The coming big increase in structural unemployment,
7 August 2010
- The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
- The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
- Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, 23 September 2012
- The Robot Revolution arrives & the world changes, 20 Apr ’12
- The coming big inequality. Was Marx just early?, 27 November 2012
- In Friday’s job report you’ll see early signs of the robot revolution!, 5 December 2012
- Krugman discovers the Robot Revolution!, 9 December 2012
About inequality and social mobility: once our strengths, now weaknesses:
- A sad picture of America, but important for us to understand, 3 November 2008 — Our low social mobility.
- Inequality in the USA, 7 January 2009
- A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
- The latest figures on income inequality in the USA, 9 October 2009
- Graph of the decade, a hidden fracture in the American political regime, 7 March 2010
- America, the land of limited opportunity. We must open our eyes to the truth., 31 March 2010
- Modern America seen in pictures. Graphs, not photos. Facts, not impressions., 13 June 2010
- Why Americans should love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – we live there, 13 December 2011
- News You Can Use to understand the New America, 14 March 2012 — Articles about rising inequality
- The new American economy: concentrating business power to suit an unequal society, 27 April 2012
- How clearly do we see the rising inequality in America? How do we feel about it? Much depends on these answers., 27 September 2012
- Ugly truths about income inequality in America, which no politician dares to say, 2 October 2012
Our lords live in palaces
We’re docile, so no high walls needed. Here’s the palace of Bill Gates, a next-gen American prince. Built on a hillside overlooking Lake Washington in Medina WA, it is 66,000 square feet on 5.15 acres. Assessed value $200 million.