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The Next Economic Revolution

In one of the buildings at NASA's Ames Research Center, within walking distance of the Googleplex, elite groups of very smart people are trying to prepare for a future so advanced we can't even predict what it'll look like. This Singularity University is a hub for forward-thinking experts to learn about robotics, artificial intelligence, and other key technologies of the next century.

What's conspicuously absent is a serious discussion of this future's economy. For hundreds of years people have brushed aside Luddite complaints and kept on creating new jobs out of the ashes of dead industries. However, the link between technological gains and employment growth is becoming frayed.

The singularity for which the university is named is one theoretical end result of all human technological progress. It's a point at which we finally create machines that vastly exceed human ability in every possible way, starting a runaway process of computer self-improvement that ends in sci-fi utopia. Man and machine will merge. Angels will sing, perhaps in binary code. Underpinning this is Ray Kurzweil's assertion, backed by numerous statistics, that technological progress is exponential, and thus gets faster and more dramatic over time.

The inconceivably computational future, Kurzweil says, is going to be our ultimate achievement, a networked nirvana. That is, if we're ready for it.

The data divide
Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for the future. Many people are barely ready for the present. Pundits talking about the possibility of a lost decade often overlook the previous decade, which was the first since the Great Depression with no net job creation. Despite the lack of hiring, real GDP grew by nearly $2 trillion, adjusted for inflation -- to put that in perspective, it's about the size of Italy's economy. What made up the difference? Productivity.

Source: Economic Policy Institute.

This optimistic productivity trajectory may be underestimated in many ways, since it's virtually impossible to calculate the productivity society gains from free digital resources like Google and Wikipedia. But wages simply haven't kept up. I showed in a previous article that average income grew far less than the income at the top of the scale over this period of time, but median income -- which may be closer to the reality for most workers -- actually fell in the last decade.

Rise of the machines
Productivity growth that doesn't correspond to a rise in employment or income has to come from somewhere. Are the workers still on the job that much more productive with fewer coworkers? The explanation, according to MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, coauthors of Race Against the Machine, is rising automation. The trend's gotten more pronounced since the recession, as you can see on the chart. Equipment and software spending is up 26% since the recession, though payrolls are essentially flat.

When you stop to consider the many things automated processes can now accomplish that were once thought exclusive to humans, this isn't so surprising:

  • Image recognition technology from Xerox (NYSE: XRX  ) accurately analyzes and ranks photos by appearance in ways resembling human judgment.
  • IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) simulated a mouse brain with 512 standard processors earlier this year, close to Kurzweil's prediction of commercially available mouse-brained computing power around the start of this decade. IBM is also working on simulating the human brain, and is about 4.5% of the way there.
  • Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is investing in robotics research, and has already produced teleconferencing robots and automated cars.
  • Northeastern University researchers have created a virtual nurse, which offers rudimentary social and medical interactions for lonely patients and has proven an effective stand-in for the real thing.
  • Remote-controlled or autonomous robotic vehicles developed by iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) are increasingly common tools in the U.S. military arsenal.

Historical moments of mechanical triumph over man now run the gamut from John Henry to Garry Kasparov to Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. You say John Henry won? The machine could keep working after the contest was over. Henry couldn't. He died.

Debunking the hype
In The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil claims that "the law of accelerating returns is fundamentally an economic theory" and predicted a tripling of stock prices from their 2005 levels. The Race Against the Machine authors claim that we can stem the tide of job losses simply by reforming education and emphasizing entrepreneurship from an early age. Human ingenuity and creativity will win the day, and we can learn to get along with the machines as they make us all rich.

Kurzweil's claim ignores the obvious fact that our economy -- and much of our market prices -- is built on consumption, and a world run by machines is one that won't support the same levels of consumption if those displaced have no easy way back into the workforce. The MIT authors, in their prescription for the future, choose to ignore a point brought up midway through their own book, which is that "Many industries are winner-take-all or winner-take-most competitions, in which a few individuals get the lion's share of the rewards."

No easy answers
Here's a hypothetical situation: someone's lost his job as a construction worker. He wants to become a solar panel installer, which is a kind of construction. This is an easy enough career change. Now, let's say there are 750,000 unemployed construction workers, and perhaps 5,000 new solar panel installation jobs available each year. These aren't hypothetical figures; they're based on numbers available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Let's say instead that the construction worker wants to become an electrical engineer. There are less than half as many electrical engineers as there are unemployed construction workers, and the roster isn't expected to grow by much over the coming decade. High-tech jobs aren't made by the millions, and when they are created, most people just aren't able to do the work.

It's easy (and popular) to talk about making education work in the 21st century, but our schools still function much the same as they did two centuries ago. Real reform would gut the whole system and start with a fresh blueprint, but even that might be too little, too late. If change, as Kurzweil says, keeps speeding up, those unemployed construction workers might graduate to find their newly specific technological knowledge bases already outdated.

Creativity and entrepreneurship are not panaceas either. If 20% of creative professionals and business owners get 80% of the work, that still minimizes the earning potential for others across a broad swath of industries. Some people can be starving artists, but when you've got a family to feed, playing a gig at the local dive for free beer and publicity just won't cut it. Selling knickknacks on eBay to make a living seems like a great idea when few people are doing it, but not when the same thing is listed by thousands at the same time.

Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind
What are we left with? The singularity has great appeal to technology's wealthy elite, but its benefits to the rest aren't as understood. Where will the jobs come from in an economy driven by computerized production? Where will the economy come from when there aren't enough jobs? Accepting a world in which human labor is largely supplanted by technological solutions requires us to radically reimagine the foundations of our economy, which is a step most are not prepared to take.

Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

A fallacy until proven otherwise
The quote above isn't from a recent book. It was written by Samuel Butler in 1863. Many have predicted a world run by machines and have been wrong before -- but machines have always been narrow in scope and limited in function before. The Luddite fallacy continues to exist because we've always had new ideas for work that computers only could assist with, not replace. There's no clause, however, that says it must exist permanently.

Maybe human ingenuity can still save the day. It always has before. Let me know your thoughts, or your ideas for sustainable change, with a comment.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no stake in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter for more news and insights. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (35) | Recommend This Article (39)

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  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 4:34 PM, nedrific wrote:

    auntie m! auntie m! its a twister! its a twister!

    yes, is a twister. i'm not a kurzweillian, but it does not take a genius to see that machines that can do the work (rather than accelerate or assist with the work) threaten our economic system. previous changes to productivity (agricultural and industrial revolutions) occurred over centuries or decades, allowing our social institutions to slowly shift and adapt. this new revolution poses two critical differences....the machines do the work autonomously and the change will happen over less than one lifetime. political institutions are built to move slowly. we're most likely screwed. we'll survive, but it will be messy.

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 4:42 PM, chokma wrote:

    The cynical answer to the job problem may be that the new jobs will come from the exponential growth of bureaucracy, oppression (pepper spraying your own citizens), security theater and war (especially war on stuff like terrorism, democracy and drugs).

    Perhaps jobs will be virtualized as more and more people strive to make their living by playing online games. Games, which do scale indefinitely in their power to occupy otherwise worthless* human time.

    * economically

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 4:49 PM, xetn wrote:

    I believe the next economic revolution will be a complete reboot of the market. This will occur after all the debt ridden economies default on their respective sovereign debt.

    Perhaps that will force every one back to a real gold standard.

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 4:54 PM, xetn wrote:

    Take a look at this list and observe that every country above #11 is essentially bankrupt. (And don't forget that most of these numbers are from 2010, and probably much worse now.

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 5:43 PM, eistha wrote:

    great article!!!

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 7:10 PM, brublr wrote:

    So now it's free food, energy, clothing, health care and basically no cares for anyone. Ask, and it will be given unto thee. Yes, it's heaven here on Earth with entertainment on demand and never a commercial word to be heard. Ok, you asked for it! And it's yours! And not only that, you're as immortal as you like! What is there to do now? You've already got it all and there's no going back! How about last month's modern miracle of non-aging mice ( for a certain implied and ominous portent? Of, say, having to live in 10 year shifts alternating with 20 years of suspended animation until galactic colonization can tidy up on humanity's excess proliferation. Or perhaps mulching the remains of those choosing virtual sublimation so as to enable interstellar colonization would be the optimal solution to Malthusian constraints. Upload colonists' consciousness to a digital utopia for the interstellar journey! On arrival, download such colonists to the optimal format required for any given alien habitat! Minimize the earthly resources required for colonization! Relieve both the tedium of interstellar 'Daddy, are we there yet?'s as well as our planetary congestion! The galaxy is ours!

  • Report this Comment On November 23, 2011, at 7:10 PM, OldOwl100 wrote:

    Wow! What a profound article. Congratulations to Alex Planes and the "Fools". It points out the need for a new socio-economic system that recognizes the contribution of automation, and develops a way to share the benefits with mankind.

    Our current system is not meeting this need. Because automation requires capital investment, the benefits inure to the wealthy 1! (?) that have the necessary capital. Certainly we need brilliant minds, but the salaries of engineers and scientists have fallen far behind the compensation of corporate managers.

    The current tax code exacerbates the disparity. 15% tax rates on investment income are far more favorable than the 25% to 35% ordinary income rates paid by professional and small businessmen. And how do we train more scientists when the 99% can barely afford education, and the government is reducing financial support for education?

    The current economic dilemma is caused by a lack of demand - because not enough consumers can afford to buy the great products produced by our technology. I don't have the answers, but it seems to me that our society must find a way to share automation benefits more fairly. I hope I can stir up some good ideas.

    "OldOwl100" (MIT '54)

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 1:28 AM, rfaramir wrote:

    The answer is that there isn't a fixed amount of work to be done, so machines cannot 'take' your work. They make work more productive, as shown on the graph.

    The free market allows anyone to serve anyone else in any way they can mutually agree on. (We don't have a free market, by the way.) The more liberty we have, less fear of machines; they only make us more wealthy.

    Government regulation, like a minimum wage, keeps us from serving each other in novel ways. A high school dropout may not be legally employable in very many current jobs due to his low productivity, but put him in front of a computer screen, and suddenly he can be sufficiently productive to legally employ. If government grows faster than technology, then we're really screwed. But, please, let's not wait that long to return to Liberty!

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 2:46 AM, quagmire39 wrote:

    Offsetting the increased productivity of industrial technology will be the decreasing productivity of the world's agriculture and the share of industrial production consumed by natural disasters. Increases in flooding, drought, spread of warm-weather parasites, and poisoning of the oceans will shrink the supply of available food. Recovery from increased catastrophes--e.g., hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, vegetation fires--brought on by climate change (however caused) will siphon off much of the "extra" industrial output. Of course, the mechanism by which the few tech beneficiaries are induced to share with the many victims is unclear.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 3:01 AM, sliderw wrote:

    Human history has taught us that vast inequality is never sustainable over the long term. Hence, don't worry that the problem will persist, because it won't. One way or another, it will be solved. Worry how it will be solved.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 5:21 AM, PeterKinnon wrote:

    Au Contraire, Alex Planes.

    The next major economic revolution, to occur at the up-coming phase transition (for which some like to use the rather silly buzz-word "Singularity) will be far more profound.

    It does, of course, depend upon our species becoming sufficiently civilized to avoid prior extinction - admittedly a rather tall order!

    The advent of Bunce, which renders money and commerce of little or no consequence, is discussed in my writings, most specifically in chapter 14 of "Unusual Perspectives".

    The book, together with my later work, "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" is available as a free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 7:05 AM, olddogfb wrote:

    Now old and frayed I remember conversations with my Dad, a Chem E, about the future.

    1. I was worried about automation replacing humans and his response was not to worry as new technologies while causing temporary pain and dislocation always provided for new opportunities.

    2. I was worried about over population and his response was not to worry as the race would simply have a die-off thus solving the problem.

    3. Now as a retired PhD physicist I hope that he was at least wrong about the second assumption and further that humanity soon freed from the mundane by machines is on the cusp of a golden age..

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 9:13 AM, ershler wrote:


    The author never said that demand for labor is fixed. Alex is saying there is a finite demand for labor that we will reach at some point which is being increasingly supplied by automation, and this will cause major problems. I agree but I don't know if it will take 10 years or 1000 years.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 9:51 AM, Gyre07 wrote:

    Great article; thank you. So should I also be investing in bullets and home freeze-drying stuff, to protect that gold that I need to be hoarding?

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 11:10 AM, gkirkmf wrote:


    A well written, thought provoking article. Regarding “No Easy Answers”…

    Easy answers are hard to come by, but I thought I would take a stab at it. What I have seen in my 50 year career is that there has been a steady and expanding partnership between the now named “HR” departments and the education institutions in this country. There was a time where a person’s ability to reason, along with a fairly small amount of basic education was all that was needed to start in a technical position. 50 years later, I see no change in this requirement. What has changed is that you now have a huge group of individuals engaged in a social Ponzi scheme I call the education mill. Managers in corporations have abrogated their responsibility to evaluate a prospective job applicant as to his fitness for a particular position. This “HR” bunch have created thousands of “standard” positions with “standard” knowledge requirements. They feed these to the education mill, and it grinds. The result is too often exactly as you said it. By the time a person obtains all the needed “education”, the job requirements have changed and he does not fit the profile. And of course, in many instances a manager ends up with a “well qualified” employee who has done extremely well on multiple choice tests, but has no ability to apply the answers to the work at hand.

    In my opinion, the “easy answer” is to go back to the future, putting people who know how to think and communicate into ON THE JOB TRAINING. Those who are ambitious and hard working will learn quickly and be productive. Those that don’t will fall by the way side. By using entry level wages, those companies which use this technique will prosper in the new age. Those that don’t will slowly disintegrate. Most small businesses use this principle now.

    Finally, Building a robot to do a specific task no matter how complicated is just a matter of patience. Building a robot that can learn to do new thinks like a human like a human learns is still a pipe dream. Recommended reading (heavy reading that is)… “On Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blake. He addresses this issue in an elegant manner which I could never aspire to.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 11:11 AM, XMFBiggles wrote:

    Some brief responses:

    First, thanks to all the readers who appreciated what this article had to say. It was not easy to come to this conclusion, but at the same time it would have been a disservice to gloss over the disruptive effect of automation, especially when paired with a human nature that seems largely unchanged from the time we came down out of the trees (whatever might be said to the contrary).

    I don't have any easy answers, but I don't think there are any.

    @ xetn -

    A mass wave of defaults doesn't address the underlying problem, only the obvious problem of too much debt. I think more is needed. People and governments have a tendency to focus on the LAST catastrophe. There's an old Mayan myth that Peter Lynch brings up in One Up on Wall Street that illustrates the problem perfectly. We'll still be building our houses on the mountainside to avoid a flood when an earthquake topples them.

    @ rfaramir and ershler -

    It's true that I never said the demand for labor is fixed. All I said was that the available demand for labor has been increasingly taken up by automated processes. Whether or not labor demand increases is irrelevant in a world where that demand can be met entirely by automation.

    @ PeterKinnon

    It's the "becoming sufficiently civilized" part that I have a problem accepting.

    @ Gyre07 -

    Only if you think zombies will come after it.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 11:14 AM, XMFBiggles wrote:

    @ gkirkmf -

    I like your ideas, and I think there's great merit to widespread changes to education. Implementing widespread change is harder than it seems, though.

    I'll add your suggestion to my reading list. Thanks!


  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 12:16 PM, wolfman225 wrote:

    Am I the only one to read this while thinking of Alstry? This is much more eloquently fleshed out than his(her?) post-and-run offerings to drive traffic to "Udderworld".

    I don't see any easy or obvious answers to the possibility of human ingenuity eventually rendering humans themselves obsolete, but I'm not panicked (yet). The results of previous revolutions (mechanical/industrial/technical) have not so far proven to be the disasters predicted; even though only a few had the vision to prepare themselves and their businesses for the coming changes (Steve Jobs comes to mind), a majority of the population shared in the benefits.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 1:48 PM, PeterKinnon wrote:

    TMFBiggles writes:

    "It's the "becoming sufficiently civilized" part that I have a problem accepting."

    Our species is characterized by belligerence.

    Unless this trait is suppressed the entity representing the next phase of the life process cannot be expected to tolerate our co-habitation of this planet.

    If you get my drift!

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 2:48 PM, HarleyJJ66 wrote:

    I work as a United Auto Worker and our production levels have risen alot since 1989. Humans still dominate the assembly line, though we have lost alot of jobs to robotics. When all the good paying jobs are lost to automation and robots. Human consumption of products will disapear. And the executives will wonder what happened. The point is "If you remove the humans you remove consumption" and this does not help any economy.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 5:16 PM, ffoolb wrote:

    Will it not evolve to a society splitted in those who have, control, life style and consumption; and a second group having economically worthless time and no consumption?

    We still assume that a minimum (lifestyle) egality will be the norm, I don't see why it would by default.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 7:56 PM, vredevom wrote:

    I am afraid that the contention that a computer may never mirror the human brain is incorrect. Human decision making is at its basic level, a regression algorithm or a multivariate statistic. Computers can be made to think, the issue is can they be made to value of attend to the relevant input variables and provide them with appropriate weights in the computational analysis. When the computer begins to appropriately choose and weight across a vast array of possible input variables then it will think (reason) like a human brain. The real issue is creativity. Can a computer make a creative leap and see something that is only suggested by the data? Will computers ever make decisions based upon the outliers in a data matrix? My suspicion is that they may be programmed to consider them, but that remote possibilities will be dismissed. It is this emotional response of "faith" or "belief" that is the fundemental human trait. We will continue to pursue a possibility when a computer would have rejected it. Every once in a while, we are right. No computer will ever make an intuitive leap.

    Sadly, how many jobs really require creativity. We have created a model of the world based upon industry and competative capitalism. Maybe we need to give more thought to this model and its appropriateness for the future of humanity.

    I am not wise enough or bright enough to have answers, but it seems to me that it starts with knowing what the right questions really are.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 9:00 PM, DDHv wrote:

    Having the job of keeping the machines in a factory working gives much job security to me. Also, there are methods of growing much more food per unit area, with the "disadvantage" that they require much more physical and mental labor, of kinds that would not be at all easy to automate! It isn't just creativity and understanding, two things we do not (yet) know how to put into machines, (and may not ever). There is also the problem of imitating the hand work. There has been research to imitate the human hand for decades - it is a much more intractable problem than most people believe it to be.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2011, at 9:08 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    I guess we just have to wait for the juxtaposition of Moore's law and Murphy's law until our robot overlords decide we are a drag on the system, lol.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2011, at 8:20 AM, gkirkmf wrote:


    I suggest that you read this book.

    “On Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blake

    Jeff Hawkins is a computer scientist/entrepreneur whose startup created the Palm line of products.

    A Von Neumann machine (which all our computers are now) is not capable of doing what you suggest, because the human brain is not a computer... it is an organic memory machine, if one can call it a "machine". We are nowhere near having all the answers as to how our brain works, let alone try and reproduce it. That is real future stuff.

    @ truthisntstupid

    I like your stream of consciousness... I have seen the same things you have. I remember reading a Utopian book 30 years ago which projected a society where you were assigned to a corporation at birth, and this is where your income came from during your entire life time. Since most goods were made by automated robotic factories there was no need to do actual work for the corporation unless you wanted to. An interesting feature of this society was that the most valuable goods were hand made items!!!!

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2011, at 1:48 PM, earthforcegreen wrote:

    Thanks for articulating what I have been thinking for a while now. I have 3 sons just starting out in the world after college and I have few words of wisdom to give them regarding careers. I am now in IT and we certainly have demand for jobs in project management, architecture and support positions in IT. ie, supporting machines. Although programming jobs are becoming less and less valuable so that is not a good future.

    I think you have identified the core problem which is causing the symtoms of inequality in our economy. My belief is that government or whatever kind of social organization you can think of has to step in a redistribute the benefits of machine productivity. What if machines did all work. If we didn't take the benefits of that and distribute that to humans so that they can survive and consume the things machines made, the whole thing would collapse. People have to give up old, old ideas of work as a sign of morality or goodness. Should the people that make and take care of the machines be the only people that deserve to live? If we don't redistribute the wealth, we are moving towards allowing everyone that doesn't take care of the machines to die out. And what happens when the machines don't need humans? Only answer is sharing the wealth.

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2011, at 12:29 PM, XMFBiggles wrote:

    I'd just like to say that this has been a very interesting and intelligent expression of opinions so far. I do think it's worth talking about and debating, and I'm glad that the responses have been so well-reasoned.

    And to wolfman225 . . . I'm aware that Alstry has been banging on a similar drum for a while on the CAPS blogs. This subject is something that's been rattling around in my head since before I began writing for the Fool, but columns by Morgan Housel and John Reeves pointing to the Race Against the Machine e-book gave me the motivation to put this together.

  • Report this Comment On November 27, 2011, at 10:28 AM, XMFBiggles wrote:

    Here's an excellent piece by the WSJ about how high-tech doesn't have always mean high employment:

  • Report this Comment On November 28, 2011, at 7:11 AM, DGPalmer wrote:

    Great article and responses.

    I haven't seen the prospect of changing our accounting practices discussed here.

    Generally, we have sought to use government intervention to alter distribution of wealth and control the direction of companies (e.g. taxes, regulation).

    However these are essentially external attempts to control the process of making a profit. There are ways of controlling and directing where money is spent through adjusting the rules of accounting for profit. Changing the rules of how profit is determined can provide automatic positive and negative feedback loops within the system itself - producing different results than our current methods.

    We have the ability to change these rules - although we might not have the will. And there is the question of what are the correct setting of rules - we can say we don't have them today.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2011, at 5:34 AM, Sunny7039 wrote:

    Where will future "jobs" be? Oh, please! In producing better propaganda. You know, the "soft skills." If you can get people to do what you want them to do, believe what you want them to believe, and react how you want them to react, you can make a lot of money in all sorts of mass media/new media/advertising/marketing jobs.

    There was another article the other day touting the life stories of "rags to riches millionaires." Of the six mentioned, four were in the propaganda business (talk radio, advertising, marketing, and so forth). Only one was actually making something tangible that people use, and the fifth was employed in logistics (i.e., getting actual goods distributed to places where people can obtain them). The remaining four were telling people what to think, what to buy, and how to live.

    I don't know about you, but I don't like those ratios.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2011, at 1:40 PM, Bootboiler wrote:

    Without regard for the wishes of men, any machines or techniques or forms of organization that can economically replace men do replace men. Replacement is not necessarily bad, but to do it without regard for the wishes of men is lawlessness.

    Without regard for the changes in human life patterns that may result, new machines, new forms of organization, new ways of increasing efficiency, are constantly being introduced. To do this without regard for the effects on life patterns is lawlessness.

    Kurt Vonnegut, "Player Piano" 1952

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2011, at 7:40 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    Creating wealth is more important than creating jobs. We are creating more and more wealth with more sophisticated machines. We can always hire a group to dig a hole and another group to fill it back up (this is how worthless government agencies such as the TSA can exist; we have the excess wealth to provide for this. It's probably better than just sending out welfare checks.)

    As the wealth of this country increases, it will take a while to catch up and for "worthless" jobs to appear to accomodate that wealth.

    For example; Playing basketball creates zero wealth. But the NBA and all the satellite businesses that depend on it (television, gaming, gambling, etc) is a multi-billion dollar re-allocation of wealth. If we went back to WWII scarcity and rationing, basketball would be eliminated as a necessity and ditch diggers would be more valuable..

    I see virtual reality, gaming, entertainment, tourism, and service industries in general always growing to help spread the wealth around and keep people busy in the future.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2011, at 9:20 PM, counterweight wrote:

    I found the article excellent and worth of a lot more discussion.

    Buckminster Fuller (the geodesic dome guy) in his book Critical Path provides a possible solution. Those who know of Fuller know he was an original thinker who redefined thinking out of the box.

    His argument: We are doing more and more with less and less. At some point it will not be necessary for people to work! To be fair people still have to work on “life sustaining activity” like picking up the garbage, manufacturing, medicine etc. which everyone would be required to participate in for five years. To cut to the chase: After five years everyone is given a new job with very substantial salary. The job description: “Do what you think is important”. Think of it as a MacArthur Fellowship (nicknamed the Genius Award).

    At first I was convinced Fuller was absolutely crazy, but the more I read, and it is not an easy book to read, the more I was convinced his ideas made sense. His arguments are well thought out and supported almost to a fault. His requirements for education alone are beyond anything the American educational system could even conceive. Oh yes, you have to be very well educated.

    I don’t know if Fuller is right. Given human nature I am still skeptical, but if you are looking for a possible answer, his is intriguing. A lot must change to achieve Fuller’s utopia. I keep on thinking what the world would be like if everyone was doing what they thought was important, rather than getting paid by others to do what the boss thinks is important.

  • Report this Comment On December 05, 2011, at 4:06 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    In an economic society where a job is essential to continued human life, then a job becomes a human right.

    Either we embrace that perspective of providing the opportunity to make a living as a human right, or we abandon the tie between a job and making a living entirely.

    Or society falls apart.

    Unfortunately, option 3 may be most likely.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2011, at 2:44 AM, punitsjain wrote:

    Machines will never cross a certain level compared to humans, because 1) They cannot regenerate (their body) like living beings and 2) Computers do what they're told to do, and have to be limited by that. If there's a game like chess, the whole thing can be simulated, and they can beat a human, but life is far far too complex, to be simulated.

    As far as unemployment issues are concerned, government policies and private sector are working at cross purposes. Is this much automation really required? Isn't it socially responsible to employ more people rather than devise a machine/ computer to do the work? Why does employing people at a business level have negative connotations?

    The government needs to encourage employment by providing tax breaks, concessions, loans and other benefits to employers.

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