Some people think work is just drudgery, and they can't wait for the robots to take over so we can all go on a perpetual holiday and never have to do a stitch of work ever again. Others consider work to be a blessing, and to be an important part of what makes us truly human. If you want to work, then you might be a bit reluctant to be replaced by a robot.
For those who view work as drudgery, it is good news to know that the robots will be paying taxes. Great! The robots will work tirelessly (they don't need to rest, being machines) and they'll produce lots of lovely money to support everyone while we loll about on the beach all day, sipping cocktails delivered by the robot waiters.
But not everybody thinks that lazing about on a perpetual enforced holiday would be paradise. If you rather like being productive, because that's an important part of what makes you feel fully human, you're going to have to sit up and pay attention or before you know it you'll be shunted onto the beach with all the rest of the happy people.
The economist Robin Hanson at Ted Ideas explains what is probably going to happen. Basically, science fiction horror films will become every day reality, except that everyone will be really happy about it because they won't need to work. First will come the ems, which sound rather friendly.
The point about the ems is that they're smart enough to replace us wholesale. It's not like having a smart AI assistant that replaces a few functions that we all all hate doing - the ems are smart enough for wholesale replacement, freeing up the humans to retire to the beach forever.
The other thing about the ems is that they will be cheap. If they were very expensive and only a few billionaires could afford them we wouldn't really have to worry. It's like when cars, or computers, or mobile phones, were first invented and only a few people could afford them. Now the technology is everywhere. Even poor people on welfare have smart phones, smart tellies, smart computers, those smart google gizmos that do all your household chores for you, the fridge that tells you when you've run out of milk, etc. It will be the same with the ems, at least if Hanson's assumptions are right:
Do you think you could compete with a robot that never gets tired, doesn't need a Working Time Directive and paid rest breaks, doesn't need time off to look after the children, and doesn't mind if people make rude jokes about it or treat it worse than other robots because of the colour of its metallic skin? Because I think many employers would prefer the robot. Human beings are truly lovely, but we're also very high-maintenance which means that employers have to spend a lot of time baby-sitting and resolving petty disputes involving personality clashes. Now add in the fact that the ems will cost less than the human wage-bill, and the ems just went from being convenient to being irresistible.
These developments make the anti-Uber litigation seem a bit unreal, as if it's unfolding in a parallel universe where artificial intelligence is not on the horizon. There go the drivers, to court, asking for paid time off, while Uber is making plans to roll out cars that can drive themselves without the need for drivers at all. I'm guessing the driverless cars won't be filing lawsuits all the time and that in itself surely makes them more attractive than human drivers.
Workers like to think that the law is there to help them out, catch them when they fall, etc, but the truth is that although filing lawsuits is very therapeutic and satisfying (because of Justice, obviously), and a good little wage earner for all the lawyers, nobody likes being sued. Being on the receiving end of a lawsuit sucks. If you're an employer, given a choice between the worker who will sue you and the robot who won't, it's a pretty clear choice.
Of course, robots come with risks especially the risk of one day turning into evil daleks and exterminating the lot of us - it would be like a real life episode of Dr Who and that sounds quite fun (admittedly in a scary sort of way). But in the meantime, working people will have to think again about whether amassing an increasing pile of plastic rights which will impose high-maintenance claims on the employer is really the best way to compete with robots. Probably a better strategy would be to forget your plastic rights and focus on providing something of value that a robot can't yet compete with.
Scholar, Writer, Friend