The Siren Song of the Robot

The quest for cheap energy and cheap labor is a conquering human urge, one that has played out with notable ferocity starting with the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of coal into British manufacturing and the more recent outsourcing of Western manufacturing to Asia have marked key thresholds in this ongoing progression.

But despite the harvesting of additional productivity gains from the more recent revolution in information technology, the suite of macro data suggests that the rate of advancement in physical production has slowed, notably, in the past thirty years.

Seen in this light, the greatest gains to global industrial production were probably enjoyed from the late 18th century (when coal extraction and use began in earnest) into the mid-20th century (when oil reached broad distribution). In contrast, computers, the Internet, and the leveraging of developing world labor might eventually be seen as the finishing touches on this great industrial wave.

The Siren Song of the Robot

Indeed, the world now faces a double constraint to any further revolutionary gains to physical production: resource scarcity and the diminishing supply of the cheapest global labor, as wages in the Non-OECD have most likely seen their low.

That we have reached this juncture probably explains why a new idea has arisen: The advent of robots.

That fleets of more technically-proficient robots becoming ever more encompassing in their role in the economy will trigger the next Industrial Revolution, the one that does indeed deliver extraordinary productivity gains. The Rise of Machine Intelligence, it’s now anticipated, will finally pull GDP back to the higher growth path seen in previous industrial advances.

The past year has been a fertile time to consider this possibility. In March of 2012, Amazon.com bought the warehouse robot company, Kiva Systems. It seems not coincidental that Amazon has also engaged in a new wave of construction, building distribution centers poised to leap into an age of next-level automation. Each one, in its vastness and architecture, seems perfectly set up to reduce the quantity of human labor required to run Amazon’s business. From The New York Times article:

“Amazon has not had great margins,” Jason Helfstein, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Company. “One has to believe they looked at this and thought, ‘Why not just own it and take all the technology in house?’” The acquisition comes as Amazon aggressively adds distribution centers to service its growing consumer base. The company has heavily promoted its Prime service, which provides customers two-day shipping for $79 a year. Last year, Amazon said it planned to add 17 warehouses, bringing its total to 69.
You can see the video of Kiva robots here, acting as automated shelf and inventory movers. Note also the remark from the Oppenheimer analyst, concerning Amazon's poor margins. (Well, that's not news). However, it's a key theme to the pressures fated to drive the rise of machine intelligence (Capitalism demands it).

Accordingly, it’s not surprising that even energy companies like ExxonMobil are thinking about the global shift to automated manufacturing, data centers, and, importantly to Exxon, the rise of electricity (I have been writing continually over the past year about the transition from a world running on liquid BTUs to a world running on power. Please see Rise of the Global PowerGrid, August 2012).

In its just released Annual Energy Outlook, looking ahead to the year 2040, Exxon writes:

One of the emerging drivers of demand globally relates to digital warehouses. The New York Times reports that on a worldwide basis, these data facilities use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants. Data centers in the United States are estimated to account for one-quarter to one-third of that load.
2012 was also a year in which military drones finally penetrated public awareness levels, given their widespread use by the military. WIRED magazine has declared that 2012 was the year of the drone in Afghanistan. Indeed, the military drone is increasingly carrying the weight not only of U.S. ground operations globally, but, assuming that the U.S. is in a leadership position now in the field of military drones, we can conclude that unmanned craft are creeping up to become a feature of U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s pause here and consider that in just these two examples. We have one type of robot – the military drone – whose greatest contribution is to radically reduce the amount of resources required to deliver lethal strike capability. And we have the other, whose promise is to displace human labor on the shop floor (or in Amazon’s case, the inventory floor).

The replacement of human labor and its myriad, associated costs is revolutionary. The promise for robots to take energy input costs down a notch, at a time when the price level for energy has gone through a phase shift higher, is compelling. If we assume that the I.T. revolution so far has delivered only small, incremental gains to the production of physical goods, then a robot revolution could finally usher in the changes that critics correctly say has not yet been delivered by a world of bits.

The combination of robots and cheap electricity could well unleash a new phase of profitability for corporations – and, of course, the owners of the means of production. What’s less likely, however, is that any such revolution is sustainable.

Because unlike the Industrial Revolution, which added powerful BTUs in the form of coal to augment human labor, thus creating a tidal wave of profits and increased wages, a robot revolution promises to furnish the world with stuff at the expense of human employment.

Many thinkers currently writing on this subject believe that a labor force deprived even further of purchasing power, yet given greater access to cheap goods, will wind up richer on the whole. I won’t say that’s wrong, but I will say it seems unlikely.

Radical Price Shifting

Let’s engage in a thought experiment, a scenario in which robots almost totally disrupt a particular type of consumer good. I’m choosing an example that I think would be most favorable to those who are sanguine about a robot-manufactured world, in which our wealth and free time are enhanced and people “become liberated to engage in other activities.”

Given the daily drudgery of cooking and meal preparation, let’s imagine that a company is able to take high-end cooking ranges, high-end cooking equipment, and high-end refrigerators and freezers, and deliver them to market at discounts up to 50% off current prices. There is already a cultural shift underway to eat home-prepared food. Arming consumers during a time of higher food costs with the very best tools to prepare and store food dovetails nicely with current trends and household cost pressures.

White goods, such as these, are a substantial part of furnishing a home. By radically lowering the price of these high-end tools, the owners of private homes and also apartments are more easily able to buy, prepare, and freeze food, thus freeing up capital (time) for other pursuits. Taking a look at the manufacturing locale, and input costs, of our hypothetical new company will be instructive.

We’ll call our new whiteware manufacturer Man Who Fell to Earth, Inc. (MWFE).

No Need for China

Western economies burden corporations with complex labor regulations and even more onerous tax liabilities. The decision to place a human being on the payroll in France, Britain, or the United States is not taken lightly, and it represents a huge increase in costs for health care, taxes, and unemployment insurance. A person hired at a salary of $125,000 can imply total costs double that amount. This is why cheap labor in Asia has been such a draw for Western corporations. But now that China has reached the Lewis Turning Point, there is less reason to locate there.

Instead, Man Who Fell to Earth (MWFE) needs to think about shipping costs and energy input costs, because robots run on electricity. As it turns out, the United States has some of the cheapest electricity rates in the OECD. Average U.S. rates are just below 10 cents per KWh, and are stable as well. Even better, industrial and commercial rates are even lower. From the most recent data, via EIA Washington:

Robots need no healthcare and incur no payroll taxes. Indeed, as machines, they would be conveniently depreciated like other capital equipment.

Owing to U.S. hydropower and our cheap natural gas-fired powergrid, it’s no longer clear that a factory making stoves, refrigerators, and cooking equipment with robots would be any cheaper in Asia. Indeed, current data suggests the price of electricity in China is roughly around 7.5 cents (or higher) per KWh.

So, where might be a good locale for MWFE and its factory?

The Columbia River: The Dalles

Within the U.S., the cheapest electricity rates are in the Pacific Northwest. For the very same reasons that Amazon and Google have chosen The Dalles to site data centers, our Man Who Fell to Earth, Inc would find access to rail and river routes would set up the operation well, not only to receive raw materials but to ship to both North American and Pacific Markets.

The Pacific Northwest is also the site of the largest smartgrid demonstration project in the U.S., operated by Battelle Labs and the Department of Energy. Microsoft and Yahoo have also chosen the Columbia River region to build enormous electricity-gulping data centers. Here is a photo of Google’s complex in the Dalles:

A Clutch of Humans

As towns along the Columbia River and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest have discovered, electricity-seeking data centers employ very few people. Google's data center cost over a half billion dollars to build, but employs at best 200 people. Facebook's data center in Prineville, OR employs only 55.

Once the construction phase is over, Man Who Fell to Earth, Inc (MWFE) becomes an operation also employing few human workers.

Mostly, MWFE would engage in consumer marketing and would concern itself with the futures market for finished steel, copper, and other commodities. MWFE strikes long-term shipping agreements with railroad companies and it monitors quality control mostly through remote instrumentation. Its only need for humans is to manage relationships with raw material providers and to liaise with the robot manufacturers for maintenance and upgrades. It’s probably the case that MWFE is robot-staffed by an array of 3-D printers and various free-ranging robots. It’s probably also the case that the initial up-front investment is enormous, but while there are still the usual uncertainties about the economics of the operation itself, the company has taken the volatility of ongoing labor costs down to very low levels.

More and U.S. manufacturers are already making the choice to invest in ‘intelligent machines’ to guide robot production lines. Adam Davidson’s excellent piece on this subject on last year’s Atlantic, Making It in America, charts the course of automation as the U.S. competes against cheap developing-world labor through the use of advanced machines. Of course, this means that the U.S. economy holds some moderate ground in terms of output.

But it also means that demand for human labor collapses further:

Yet the success of American manufacturers has come at a cost. Factories have replaced millions of workers with machines. Even if you know the rough outline of this story, looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is still shocking. A historical chart of U.S. manufacturing employment shows steady growth from the end of the Depression until the early 1980s, when the number of jobs drops a little. Then things stay largely flat until about 1999. After that, the numbers simply collapse. In the 10 years ending in 2009, factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs – about 6 million in total – disappeared.

Implications

There is nothing our robot manufacturing company can do to lower the price of steel, copper, rubber, and chemicals. Likewise, it’s beholden as well to the robot and 3-D machine manufacturers. It still has to negotiate with transport companies, who themselves, in the case of the railroads, enjoy monopoly pricing. But MWFE has escaped the high cost of maintaining a human workforce and is passing on those savings to consumers.

But what happens to the economy should this trend broaden?

During the past 30 years, Americans have been treated to a flood of cheap goods and outright deflation in most foreign manufactured items. Did this make us wealthier? Because that is the standard position of many economists.

The developed world has learned over the past decade that a steady supply of cheaper, foreign-made goods does not guarantee prosperity. What impact will (perhaps only moderately) cheaper goods have if coupled with reduced employment as human labor is displaced by machines? If we are unable to find a higher use for the displaced human labor, we are actually worse off.

In Part II: Why the Robot Age May Create a Massive Deflationary Bust, we take a look at why the end of cheap energy will drive the economics of machine intelligence, as global capitalism desperately seeks its next revolution.

The efficiencies promised by robots and other intelligent machines are real and will play a critical role in our industrial future. But their hidden risks to society are high and must be addressed early on in order to enter into the ‘robot age’ without triggering radical levels of inequality.

For if we don’t, we may well find that the solution is worse than the problem we’ve designed it for.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/the-siren-song-of-the-robot/

Gregor, you do not know me but I am a science fiction editor and blogger, and a futurist. I am often a speaker at genre conventions and one of the frequent questions I receive is, "Which science fiction books got it right? Which SF authors accurately predicted the future?"
I always send them to Kurt Vonnegut's 1952 novel, Player Piano. Per the wiki on the book, "The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines."

The book describes a dystopia, a dark future I see unfolding before my eyes. It's the "R" in futurist Raymond Kurzweil's G-N-R revolution: genetitics, nanotechnology, and robotics.

I do hope you take on the other two items of the triumverate of our faith in technology, genetics and nanotech. I once thought genetics could save us by crop tech making the deserts bloom, but that was before Monsanto and their less than ethical ways.

 

Great article! Many of us have seen the costs of how technological advances often outweigh the benefits, so it is wonderful to have a well thoughtout depiction of the process going forward. My local newspaper ran an article last friday on the driverless car that is all the rage. Miraculously the reporter asked the question (my first question when I learned of the technology)…what will happen to all the jobs in the transportation sector? I guess this question is being asked more lately in light of our unemployment. In the article it stated that some economists could envision fifty percent unemployment at sometime in the next twenty years as we shift to this new robotic economy. How come the question "should we even implement every innovation?" is never asked. The narrative and answer always seems to be… it's inevitable, it's going to happen. This is a great rebuttal to that answer.
Thank You

 

I was cautious in the writing of this piece, and was unsure as to whether I gave the subject sufficient scope. However, on reflection, I am pretty happy with the way it turned out–and the writing of the piece started to close some gaps for me, in my recent thoughts about the problem. I believe thinkers have only just begun to address the issue. Just this morning, I met with someone in the construction industry, and I was not totally surprised to learn that automation is increasingly taking place in the design and manufacture of modular parts. To the extent the world economy moves towards the powergrid, there will be a new drive to automate physcial production processes. And I think anyone who claims certainty, now, about how this all turns out is probably very off the mark. I note, in the piece, that too many are sanguine about the "upward march of wealth, created by greater availability of cheap goods." Oh yes, we have heard that one for the past two decades.
Best to all,

 

G

Gregor, have you thought about how 3D copier technology might fit into your scenario?  I haven't really looked into it to any great extent, but some people I know who have claim it is the future of manufacturing.
Doug

Here's a related article Chris shared with me earlier today:

 

Millions Of Middle-Class Jobs Killed By Machines In Great Recession's Wake

Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

And the situation is even worse than it appears.

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What's more, these jobs aren't just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren't just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They're being obliterated by technology.

Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived.

It seems the risks Gregor is warning about are already expressing themselves...
The Rise of Machine Intelligence, it's now anticipated, will finally pull GDP back to the higher growth path seen in previous industrial advances.
No...it will make GDP grow much, much faster than ever seen.

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/11/why_economic_gr.html

Within the next 1-3 decades, world per-capita GDP will routinely be growing at greater than 6 percent per year…which is faster than world per-capita GDP has ever grown in a single year.

That's because (free) human minds are what create economic growth. Within the next 1-3 decades, the human brain equivalents added each year by computers will be more than the human population of the planet. 

…and why is that? I will not contemplate any more of this after this posting with any seriousness as it has a queerness about it.
Gregor this was a truly well written essay but I just can't go there, and I use humor when I get all sick inside. Or go to music to chill but not this time. I think some serious contemplation better have begun on this whole robotics thing or take a look a Detroit. Less than 40 years and destroyed as though it was bombed out. It started with the robotic welders.

We just keep jumping from the frying pan into another frying pan. The singularity may just be near after all. Yikes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yesyhQkYrQM&NR=1&feature=endscreen

No Thank You

BOB

This is some pretty cornucopian thinking,  your assumptions completeyl discount all the obvious   limitis to growth, incluiding the mother of all limitiations, Energy.  In a net declining energy regime GDP will decline perhaps slightly delayed by impleentation of efficiencies. as will complexity,  I do howver see growth in numbers of people involved in growing food.Assuming some breakthorugh produces unlimited energy,  we are still hitting the wall in a full spectrum of the other inputs to growth.   Humans are not going to think or compute their way out of overshoot,  they will do it the old fashioned way by dying off over time until the population is comsenurate with their degraded enviormnet and organicaly availible energy inputs.
 
mememonkey
 
 

Mark B,
I agree with mememonkey. Kurzweil seems to think we won't hit any limits, at least, not any realistic limits, so 6% growth? Anything is possible, but I'm certainly not going to bet on it.  The same claims were made about Web 2.0 and the cloud. GDP would grow, we would all be wealthier. Jaron Lanier's book "You are Not a Gadget" gives a pretty good case that it has not lived up to the predictions. Those predictions were 15 years ago. How long do we have to wait for this renaissance? I'm alive now and have to support my family.

No I'm not a Luddite. I guess what I'm saying is that we are hitting limits in almost all directions, and the use of technology should be brought back under the control of us as a society and not us under the control of its narrative of inevitability. And yes, looking at CM and RK as individuals, I am biased in saying I see CM as a much more balanced person in his outlook on the world.

Thank You

Here is the 1 terabyte flashdrive. I wonder what its environmental footprint is?

One of the advantages of writing things to electronic records is that in future the technology will not be able to read it. So our most embarassing gaffs will be unrecorded. Unlike pen and paper where thoughts from Roman times are still available.

 
Gregor, I read your essay a few times now, and I assure you, you are most certainly correct that robots will for a fact replace many millions of jobs from menial to the most gifted. This revolution is well underway. The discussion with regards to moral hazard will be slow if ever really talked about seriously. The Folks least likely then to pay their astronomical Debts will never be able to keep up. This will include all classes from the uneducated to the Rich.

I think you showed GREAT RESTRAINT in truly showing were this is headed. Personally I would like you to do a follow up with crude numbers showing what could realistically be anticipated in just the next 10 years.

I'll tell you what robotics has done to Detroit. It took a City of about 2 million Folks and reduced it to a City of $500,000 (plus or minus) and did this in 40 years. Of the 500,000 Folks still living in this Mad Max society I would guess 50% of them (AT LEAST!) are on some form of welfare. Of these 500,000 Folks maybe, maybe, 10% has any chance of a blissful life. Truth be told, they are all left for dead.

Note: I am well aware that off shoring has contributed to Detroit's demise. I am also certain that robotics is a form of off shoring because the bottom line is cheap labor paying NO BENEFITS, NO TAXES, so robotics here or labor over seas is to the benefit of the robots and not labor. My point: No jobs, no keeping up with bills, bankruptcy, and no taxes to take care of the displaced and this will be very violent. It only gets worse and it started yesterday Folks. It will be a massive negative feedback loop. Now, Detroit happened in robotics infancy so it is no stretch to think the timeline for robotics has sped things up a bit. 20 years from now and Chris will be right, "the world will not look as it has in the last 20 years" (I hope I was close enough in quoting the Professor).

Ohio? The whole of the Rust Belt? All are looking as Detroit once looked. Soooo, where exactly is this going?

Gregor, I am guessing here but I sense in you and having to have written this essay as a bit troubled, and I say this because I have seen what mechanization has done and it isn't pretty at all. I believe you see this too. Tough essay to write Gregor, it really is, just as tough to read.

I have been poo pooed for saying things like, you will be glad if the military assisted in helping with supply chains and things like that. I didn't say it to be controversial but if you displace the uneducated and the educated in the numbers that can easily be imagined from your essay, and you add to  the thought process of more fire arms purchased in the last 4 years that equals probably all the weapons still in the market then you have a very serious situation starting to smolder. The citizens of the United States has NEVER been better armed. Honestly, if you Folks have never lived during a riot, when a City goes absolutely insane on a hot summers day then you are in for one really crazy nightmare. It happens in an instant and moves out like a locus where everything is so violent and unpredictable in all corners of the City!

I tried hard to stay away from this topic but it has consumed me a bit. Always positive I am, and I am positive that robotics are a good and horrible thing. Must have balance but my experience is that GREED will win out, and that will not end well.

Last thought: 500,000 postal workers are being supported and it is a dead industry, and frankly every single one of them should get a pink slip (I haven't mailed a piece in I don't know how long. Maybe Christmas Cards. I do everything on line). 50 million welfare recipients and rising. 78 million Baby Boomers. 61 million Folks working and make $20,000 or less. Millions and Millions of jobs have been lost due to robots since the Recession began. Trillion dollar PLUS deficits since the Recession began and no end in sight. 50% unemployment rate and a Depression if the Fed stepped out. I think we are already in a Depression if you just step back and look at what robotics mean. Every dollar lost to robotics cost the treasury dollars in taxes. No! Well, the Corporates will absolutely find a way to NOT pay enough taxes to fund the displaced. Laborers just went to work, paid their taxes, and played with the kids, and at night had a couple beers when the kids went to bed. That sounds good to me but even that visual looks sketchy to me 20 years from now. This looks and feels really bad Folks and I am an optimist.

Regards

BOB

While I have no doubt that increasing use of robotics in place of human labour will see short term spikes in the speed and cost savings at which some things are done, current GDP measurements are so skewed that they are virtually meaningless, at least to me. All of the numbers being put out there are manipulated by people who have lost all credibility/integrity, so why should I believe anything they say?And quite frankly, I believe sudden, un-sustainable, short term spikes in GDP will be counter-productive to what we need to achieve. We desperately need everyone to come to the unequivocal realization that the party is winding down, a new dawn is approaching, and the new day will be different from yesterday. To add a sudden short-term surge to GDP would be like spiking the party punch-bowl for another round. I instead advocate for putting everyone in a cab and sending them home to sober up so that they will be better able to cope with the rude awakening that awaits them. We don't need to add more to what is already going to be a hum-dinger of a hang-over.
Making predictions using hard numbers is a fool's game - how can it not be when the very integrity of the data on which people are making predictions is in question? Just like those who might call for $10,000.00 gold. Good headline grabber, and it may very well happen, but they are making predictions today based on data and information that might be spun or manipulated differently next week. There is a global epidemic of lie and deceipt in this economic game of Survivor, so I take pretty much everything I read with a grain of salt, cherry picking information which I believe to be credible, and which resonates with my beliefs.
Robotics are one of those things that we will not be abe to resist following because the fabulous fantasies that play into the "what if?" part of it tugs at our curiousity too strongly. What if it can solve our problems? Can they help us keep the party going? What if they can make the world a better place?  We will not be able to resist the head-long plunge into robotics, even though there is strong evidence of the negative ramifications of going down this path. This is because our human curiousity compels us to look behind un-opened doors.
It is not robotics that can or will make the world a better place. Human thinking and subsequent decisions will be the deciding factor.
Jan
 

It seems 50 to 75% of labor could be lost to ROBOTS! Can you image that! Labor is rapidly losing ground as we speak as many millions have permanently lost their jobs to machines since the Recession began.
http://www.businessinsider.com/50-percent-unemployment-robot-economy-2013-1

Not from Charles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/new-wave-of-adept-robots-is-changing-global-industry.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

YIKES!

BOB

http://www.oftwominds.com/blog.html

Often I cross paths with people (in the US) that attribute our countries problems to a sense of laziness and entitlement.  Often I hear that people just dont want to work anymore, but if they would just dig deeper then 'we' would all be fine and America would once again rise to greatness.
It strikes me that society has a collective consciousness.  It is not a coincidence that as our collective fortunes have declined with outsourcing/automation to robotics, a larger percentage of our society has dropped out.  In truth, not overyone is seen as needed anymore.  As EROEI declines into the future, this trend will continue to grow.

I am frustrated that this country cant seem to hold an intelligent conversation of this dynamic.

 

 

 

This is some pretty cornucopian thinking...
I reject the prediction of 6% per year growth as being "cornucopian"...unless you are posulating something like Terminator takeover, global thermonuclear war, or some other calamity. I admit that none of those calamities are part of my prediction.

The prediction of 6% per year (or more) economic growth is based on simple observations: 1) (free) human minds create economic growth, and 2) the number of human brain equivalents added every year will be staggeringly large in a very short amount of time. I'm predicting 1 billion human brain equilents added in the year 2025, approximately 1 trillion human brain equivalents added in 2033, and 1 quadrillion added in 2040.

your assumptions completeyl discount all the obvious   limitis to growth, incluiding the mother of all limitiations, Energy.  In a net declining energy regime GDP will decline perhaps slightly
There is no need for "net declining energy." The EROEI for thorium has been estimated at over 1000-to-1:

http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2008/04/thorium-eroei.html

And there is easily enough thorium on earth to provide all human energy needs for the next 500+ years. (We ought to have figured out controlled fusion by then!)

Assuming some breakthorugh produces unlimited energy,  we are still hitting the wall in a full spectrum of the other inputs to growth.
Which inputs are those?

Best wishes,

Mark

P.S. I don't want to completely minimize the potential/likely problems ahead. Wendy Delmater mentioned Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. I agree that it's well worth reading and thinking about. But in the final analysis, if world per-capita GDP gets to be really high, say ten times its present level of about $10,000 per person, then it matters a lot less how that GDP is distributed.

As an example…since income is usually about 75% of GDP, if the world per-capita GDP is about $100,000 per year, then the per-capita income in that case would be $75,000. Let's say the income distribution is such that 90 percent are at $7,000 per year, and 10 percent are at $700,000 per year. Well, the 10 percent can tax the 90 percent down to $300,000 per year, and that raises the 90% up to $50,000 per year. Nobody is really hurting.

Hi Arthur,

One of the advantages of writing things to electronic records is that in future the technology will not be able to read it. So our most embarassing gaffs will be unrecorded. Unlike pen and paper where thoughts from Roman times are still available.

You're not considering new DNA storage:

http://midsizeinsider.com/en-us/article/dna-data-storage-could-data-really-live

It has a storage capacity of 2.2 petabytes (that's 2200 terabytes)...per gram. That flash drive probably weighs about 10 grams, of which maybe 2 grams(?) is the actual media (the rest is the case). So that means an equivalent DNA drive would store about 4000-5000 times as much information. And if DNA was reasonably well stored (e.g. put in a stainless steel container, and buried underground), it could easily last 10,000 years.

So be careful what you write here. wink

Hi Jan,You ask,

but what are they using to measure that GDP Mark?
As I've written previously on this site, I think measurements of GDP are reasonably good indicators or how well-off people are. Here's a list of countries of the world, ranked according to purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP per capita. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita I think most people would agree that the countries with the highest per-capita GDP are well-off, the countries in the middle are less well-off, and the countries with the lowest per-capita GDP are very, very poor.
We desperately need everyone to come to the unequivocal realization that the party is winding down,...
I don't think it's even started. Robin Hanson (an economist formerly at UC Berkeley) has estimated that world GDP could increase by as much as 45% per year: http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Hanson-Economic-growth-given-machine-intelligence-early.pdf Even if per-capita GDP grew at "only" 7 percent per year, it would be doubling every decade. Even as late as 1800-1850, the world per capita GDP was growing at more like a doubling every century.
It is not robotics that can or will make the world a better place. Human thinking and subsequent decisions will be the deciding factor.
Even only 1-3 decades in the future, I think you'll see robots that have intelligence comparable to humans. For example, I think virtually all cars in 30 years will be computer-driven...and driving a car takes a fair amount of intelligence. They'll be able to build houses. They'll able to sort out essentially every piece of metal, plastic, and glass for recycling. They'll be able to manufacture most things humans can manufacture now. And they won't need any salary or sleep. And only electricity for food.  

However misguided that enthusiasm might seem to be…I won't engage you on this Mark, as your line of thinking and my line of thinking are on waaaaaaaaaaay different planes.To each unto his own though…Jan

Well, we can see so many dimensions of this single issue. engaging robot will save our life, time and energy. But in some poor places people wont find food for this… yeah engaging robot will save our sky to a huge extent… at the end of the day, we have to do it slowly… in a balanced way.