Monday, December 27, 2010

The future of work

As I mentioned back in 2007, I believe that we will eventually enter an age of leisure, largely due to robots and technology. We are seeing this trend accelerate in the United States currently, as companies are finally beginning to see real cost-savings from technology. In the initial ramp-up, technology improvements employed a ton of engineers and programmers. In its later phases, these contractors will be out of work. Martin Ford has written a lot about this and his blog Future Economics and Technology keeps up on the developments in that direction.

It seems to me that this view is quickly becoming more common. A few days ago I saw What happens when we have enough technology that there is no need for a work force? on Reddit. There were some people who said this could never happen, such as "skeeto", but when pressed it was noted to him that the robots could be designed to be identical to humans (the Japanse are already making humanoid robots - see video). It's true that there will always be some demand for workers, but I think it's naive to think that more than a small percent of potential workers will be needed in the long-run. We'll have to figure out some way to keep the rest of people occupied, and we'll have to have a system which supports them.

I do not expect the unemployment rate in the United States to drop back to 5% in the next few years, and possibly never. I actually expect it to be in a slow uptrend, although we'll probably see a dip if the baby-boomers actually retire like they should. We might have to figure out a different economic system sooner than people think. The Reddit thread directed me to an interesting story called Manna which describes the possible future. It's not exactly as I see the future, but fundamentally a lot of it is plausible.

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