terminator

There’s an old anecdote which tells that Milton Friedman visited a foreign country where workers were digging a canal with shovels. He asked an official why they weren’t using heavy machines, bulldozers or other earth movers. The official said the project was part of a jobs program. Friedman quipped that, if jobs were the goal, they ought to be digging with spoons.

The story has been retold many times, and the details vary. But the underlying principle remains the same. The object of production is value, not jobs.

As we contemplate the imminent advancement of robotics, and the capacity of machines to produce more of the value in our lives, the Friedman anecdote applies anew. MailOnline reports:

Experts are predicting a ‘jobocalypse’ as robots take over manual jobs, while scientists at Cambridge warn that machines should have their intelligence limited to stop them outsmarting us.

A new version of the movie RoboCop (out February 12) shows us a future where technology [revolutionizes] law enforcement, but that is just the tip of the iceberg for robotics.

‘I believe we are the inflection point where robotics are going to change everything you know and do,’ says Ben Way, author of Jobocalypse, a book about about the rise of the robots, told MailOnline.

He says everyone from bartenders to drivers are at risk.

‘They will have the impact to take away 70% of all traditional jobs in the next 30 years,’ he said.

That prospect seems less shocking when you place it into historical context, as I’ll explain on the next page.

For instance, if you went back in time to the dawn of the automobile and heard someone say 70% of jobs related to the care and distribution of horses would be gone in 30 years, would you freak? Of course not. Being from the future and such, you would understand that the loss of those jobs would pale in comparison to the increase in quality of life made possible by the new technology. You would also understand that the proliferation of automobiles would lead to the development of new jobs which those around you could scarcely imagine. If someone suggested that automobiles ought to be banned or that their development ought to be throttled in some way in order to preserve the horse industry, you would understand them to be a fool.

The same applies to robotics today. The only difference between scenarios is that we cannot see into the future. We cannot see what life will actually look like when robots dig our ditches, pour our drinks, and change our infants’ diapers. All we see are the “lost jobs.” We must imagine the higher quality of life and as of yet inconceivable jobs which will emerge in a society where so much can be done so cheaply.