Friday, March 23, 2012

The Robots Are Coming for Good

Awesome image from Mondolithic Studios

Below is the entirety of my rambling response to the excellent HBR post written by Andrew Mcafee. Thanks Andrew! 

The Robots Are Coming for Your Job

If I ramblingly extrapolate on the point made in the HBR article The Robots are Coming for Your Job - that robot manufacturing will increase gdp and be best for a nation. 

Then we might also think that increase in national wealth will "trickle down" (grain of salt here) into things like reeducation, free education, increased resources (time, energy), also less resources required for manufacturing. Like less power required to heat / cool factory, less lighting required, robots work all the time, they can work in denser spaces, so smaller factories, and there is no down time except for inspection and repair. And the factory could be modular. So it's doesn't just build cars, it also can build anything less complex than a car- dishwashers, furnaces, washer, dryer. Robots don't really need to learn new skills. They simply execute their program. So things are assembled faster and with less error. 

Manufacturing is going in a pretty interesting direction. Additive manufacturing. 3d printing. Automated manufacturing. we will only need manufacture things on demand. So the model of creating goods for an anticipated market is actually no longer required. Stock piles of goods won't really be necessary. A car building factory will take orders from people remotely. You order your car based on a 'live' model. Then your car is built by automated factory and delivered. Heck it could drive itself to your house autonomously (thanks, google x prize urban challenge).
Additive manufacturing

It has me rambling over to thinking of my dishwasher. I fill through out the day and then it cleans my dishes. It saves me and my family 45 minutes a day? What does that added time give us? time together, sure. Time to converse, yes. Time to contemplate. Time to do whatever we want. The explosion of entrepreneurial spirit I think stems from this added time. I could not have started my own business before I owned a computer, because my job (animation) took a very long time to do by hand. Now it takes vastly less time. A magnitude less. from 1000 hours to make a minute of animation down to 100 hours or less. This hasn't been a detriment, it's been great for the business of animation. Greater diversity of content, animation has been applied to other sectors from gaming to, almost every commercial you can think of, to corporate training videos and that's the tip of the iceberg. 

How will this added time increase the quality of life for the labour force? Not sure. Aggressive DIY could enter. Human hand made, high quality goods could enter. A resurgence of hand crafted, high quality goods? That would be cool... I have to now ramble over to thinking about the folding proteins video game. That many human hands tackling a big task that a computer cannot yet do is yielding results.

I guess it will take the right incentive, platform, initiative to harness the free time of the labour force. Like the protein folding game, like wikipedia. I know these are not examples of physical labour, but physical labour will one day soon be looked upon the same way we think of physically farming the land, or hunting our food. Physical labour will become an optional past time. 

I know that a large percentage of the world still does farm by hand and still does gather their food. But i have to drop Peter Diamandis here and his book "Abundance" saying the world is improving, quality of life is getting universally better, the book "the angels of our better nature" violence has been declining for centuries and despite our assumptions empathy is increasing, and Umair Haque's excellent essay "Betterness" that there is so much more wealth to measure than just gdp.

What will you do with your free time?

To expand on Umair Haques vision of total economic and business paradigm shift... Once we acknowledge these other forms of wealth - intellect, health, social, creative, to name a few. How wealthy we will be? That GDP is the sole determinant of wealth is archaic. The gold in the kings coffer was not always reflected in his subjects quality of life. The same holds true today. 

But if we turn around and think to ourselves - clean running water, access to the internet, TV, temperature controlled shelter. How poor are we really? The modern world is freaking out because we aren't excelling in the same direction as we have for the past 60 years (which gives very liitle back in return actually) and we think something is wrong. And yes something is wrong. The methods of our prosperity have been to the detriment of our neighbours and the fabric of our very world. 

A new language is emerging, a new set of symbols, a new lexicon. And your thinking "language is not change. Language is just talk. hot air." And I say to you, language and lexicon shape culture, lay down concepts previously unimagined, and when the symbols resonate with a passionate few they can spread aggressively through a network. New symbols are more than hot air. New symbols rest on the mashed up pillars of previous definitions. New symbols can be very very powerful. They can incite genocide. eliminate slavery, strip away apartheid, or usher in an era of prosperity, the scientific method for example. 

Today paradigm shifts are happening at an ever increasing pace, we are on the threshold of not understanding our rate of change. That's the point I started with really. What will robotics mean to human culture? We can project in many different directions. Most visions of the future are fearful. An analogy that just jumped into my head is that of the old testament and the new testament. 

The God of Moses was hardcore. So is the Terminator. 
The God of Moses and Abraham was a brutal, short tempered god who would thrash you down to hell if you crossed him. The God of Jesus forgave all sinners and relaxed about it all and recognized that if you lighten up people will eventually do unto their neighbors. This was a huge philosophical and societal paradigm shift. From one of brutal consequences to one of understanding and openness. I mean okay it was still a brutal world, but a lighter philosophy was in place so that action and the world we know today could follow.  Perhaps this is the cross roads we are about to enter with technology. A lot of concern, fire and brimstone followed by grace and understanding. 

Hah, of course this grace will likely stem from a mind - computer interface (currently lot's of research in this area and also an x prize i think). So that the human mind can again comprehend it's place in the universe. Balance via embracing our utmost fear.