Monday, January 11, 2016

Affordability and Employability

In a previous post, there was a discussion about how alien citizens, in the short period between the robotics grand transition and the genetics grand transition, would be able to spend their time. Once the robotics grand transition had played out, with artificial intelligence being developed, most jobs or tasks in the society would be more affordable if done by robotics. Would there be any niches left for alien citizens to work?

At this point in time, alien citizens are in the evolved condition, not terribly smart nor healthy nor athletic nor anything else that the upcoming transitions will provide. On the other hand, robotics can be specialized to do anything efficiently. Is there any situation where robotics is doomed to fail in comparison with alien citizens?

Aliens would be generalists, although they could receive specialized training. For any particular specialty robot, there are start-up costs. The robot has to be designed, tested, prototypes built and debugged, exercised, prepared to meet any robotics regulations that exist, supplies found, facilities for production established, and probably a lot more. There are costs to this. Do these costs open the door for alien employment?

Let’s call the whole ensemble that does all this robotic start-up the Robotics Bureau. On any alien planet, it could be organized in countless different ways. One organization or twenty. Some particular planet might have companies or corporations or collectives or individuals or whatever. But it doesn’t matter, so let’s just label the whole thing the Robotics Bureau. That Robotics Bureau has to be established to some degree before robotics becomes widespread in the alien civilization. It has to be involved in the whole robotics business from the start, as robotics requires a lot of specialized knowledge including skills of many sorts. Once it gets going, it doesn’t puff out of existence like a dandelion seed head. It sits there doing project after project. In other words, the organization that does robotics keeps robotizing area after area, because that’s what it does. So, during the robotics grand transition, there would be niches which are not yet robotized, and as the grand transition unfolds, one after another, they would disappear because the Robotics Bureau has to keep busy.

As the robotics grand transition progresses, more experience is generated, and the easiest tasks to automate are done first, followed by the next hardest ones or perhaps the ones most closely related to the previous one. Like a juggernaut, the Robotics Bureau just keeps grinding through professions and crafts until everything is done. So, by the end of the robotics grand transition, nothing would be left un-robotized. This means that there would be no tasks or employment opportunities that demand the employment of alien citizens. How is it possible to know this? Because any alien citizen, no matter how they evolved, has the ability to do certain things, generic things, like touch, see, recognize, move, lift, and so on. None of them are impossible for robots. There is nothing a biological organism can do that cannot be done by a mechanical and electronic device. We should probably throw in optics and whatever else the alien scientists add to the robotics bag of tricks.

If capability exists, does affordability exist as well? Once the Robotics Bureau gets going, and all the functions that an alien citizen can do fall under the aegis of robotics, taking on a new profession or craft or service classification or any other employment category is just a matter of putting together the parts. An alien comes with some costs needed to maintain it, and certainly a robot does as well. The comparative cost of an alien citizen depends on the living standard which the society dictates will be granted to each alien citizen, via whatever mechanism exists in that civilization.

If the alien civilization evolved out of social insects, perhaps there are only very minimal living standards costs associated with each alien citizen, and perhaps costs could be kept down to where they were more cost-efficient that specialized robots. However, it is likely in other alien worlds, where other creatures evolved intelligence, that the living standards costs of the alien civilization will increase with time, while that of robots will decrease, as more efficient ways of designing them are invented, as well as more efficient production costs and component costs and so on. So, niche by niche, employment by robotics becomes not simply possible, but less expensive. There is no clear division that robotics cannot cross on a cost basis, compared to alien citizens.

Let’s hark back to the question discussed in those earlier posts: What would alien citizens do with their time? They are likely less efficient at any job, but that does not mean they could not do it. Suppose it costs more to have a citizen do a job. However, it costs to simply keep the citizen interested. Instead of spending his/her/its time on a profession, they might want to do art or travel or eat gourmet foods or have cosmetic surgery or whatever. These are all costs, so why can’t the net cost of employment, meaning the difference between the cost of having an alien do the task minus the cost of having robotics do the task, be treated like any other living standard cost, and simply paid for the same way.

This transforms the question of employment to that of meeting the production standards of the work. When robotics takes over a niche of employment, it might be that the standards of output are raised. This does not mean that more are produced per hour, although that is certainly likely as well. It means that a better outcome of the work can be demanded, because robotics is not simply capable of doing all the lowest level tasks that any alien citizen can do, but they can do them more precisely, if the additional costs of precision motion and sensing are included in the cost of the robots.

To see if there are some niches of employment where an alien citizen could step in and do the work in place of robotics, it is necessary to ask about output quality. Robotics would have access to shared information, which is more than an alien could memorize and use. If the alien citizen wanted employment other than the simplest work, such as moving crates around, they would face the knowledge barrier as well as the precision barrier. The cost barrier might be bypassed on the grounds that the additional costs can be subsumed under the amusement costs for the citizenry. But is there any way that lower quality output can be tolerated?

Each of the professions that can be expected to exist in this period on a generic alien planet would have to be examined to see if quality of output would be a showstopper for aliens seeking to spend their time in working. Most likely, there are some professions where it is, and some where it is not. In the latter cases, aliens could slip into work slots, and find some enjoyment in being involved with work. Obviously, this is a complicated topic deserving of more thought.

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