March 18, 2018


Let the robots have the damn jobs -- all of them! (BEN DICKSON, 3/17/18, Next Web)

In today's world, we value most products (or services) by their scarcity and the human labor that goes into them. For instance, diamonds are scarce and that's why they're so expensive. But in most cases, we're paying for the human labor that goes into creating goods and services. For example, when you buy grocery, you're not paying for the scarcity of food. You pay for it because a lot of human labor goes into producing it, packaging it, transporting it and selling it to you in the store.

By human labor, I do not necessarily mean physical toil. It can also be cognitive functions. When you acquire a software or an online service, you pay for it because a lot of human labor goes into programming it and maintaining it. Those services in turn must pay for other services that support them and are running on human labor.

Each of us has a specific set of skills, which we sell to afford other people's skills. For instance, I develop software and write articles to earn money and buy food and pay the rent. These activities account for a considerable part of our everyday lives. We're still in a better situation than our ancestors, who had to spend the entire day hunting for food.

With artificial intelligence and machine learning earning a more prominent role in every industry and domain, the need for human labor, both physical and cognitive, is dwindling. Self-driving trucks will eventually replace truck drivers, and smart vending machines fast food workers. Robots can flip burgers just as well as cooks and harvest crops better than field workers. Amazon's automated retail store will obviate the need for cashiers, and smart drone deliveries might even make stores excessive. Even doctors, lawyers and news reporters can someday surrender their professions (or a large part of it) to artificial intelligence. We're already seeing the glimmers of AI algorithms that create their own AI. Maybe one day, even AI researchers will go extinct.

In every case, we can expect robots to perform faster, better and cheaper than humans. They can work for longer periods (sometimes incessantly), improve their skills over time, and pass on their experience to their peers in real time.

As automation removes humans from the loop, the costs for human labor will gradually fade. A transportation company doesn't need to pay its self-driving trucks as it used to do its truck drivers. However, it must pay for their maintenance (which still costs less) because the task still involves human labor. That too will cost next to nothing once the development and maintenance of the trucks and their AI software become automated as well. The same goes for everything else.

Posted by at March 18, 2018 3:58 AM