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We won't survive the robot revolution with $15/hr jobs

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By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
1/5/2016 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (

We will need to rethink everything as robots take over the job market.

Within just two decades, most of our jobs will be taken over by robots. What will happen as the world undergoes the biggest economic shift since the industrial revolution? There are two possibilities, but the time to choose is now.

The first prototypes are already built--and working flawlessly. It's just a matter of adoption now.

The first prototypes are already built--and working flawlessly. It's just a matter of adoption now.


By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Catholic Online (
1/5/2016 (3 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: robot revolution, guaranteed basic income, work, jobs, economics, industrial, revolution

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Ask any fast food worker what they think about those new kiosks that take customer's orders and you'll get a dubious endorsement. They'll repeat the company line about how wonderful they are for customers, and how they save work, but in the back of their minds they know the kiosks are replacing them.

It may only be a matter of years before robots that can cook patties and fries to perfection while navigating the grease-spattered kitchen of a fast food restaurant. The technology already exists, it's just a matter of bringing it to market. When fast food workers want $15/hr and minimum wage is on the rise, robots are very close to being economically competitive.

Like the personal computer of twenty years ago, robots are undergoing a revolution of their own. They're becoming more intelligent and more affordable by the month. They excel at repetitive tasks in stable environments, but there's not much more work to do to adapt them to more dynamic workspaces, such as a kitchen.

Imagine a robot waitress that doesn't miss your order or spill your drink. Many restaurants already allow you to pay at the table using tablets. Most servers take orders on tablets instead of on paper. All that's left is to replace muscle with servomotors.

Robots are not dumb. They already perform surgeries, drive cars and produce almost anything. They are being employed on farms. They can fly airplanes with much better precision than humans. They make fewer errors.

Robots are becoming so good that the city of London is developing a plan to replace bus drivers with robots within the next decade or less. Millions of transit jobs are about to evaporate. Truck drivers, taxi cabs, even first responder vehicles may become automated. Why pay a brain to do what an algorithm can do for free?

Several reports have circulated around Wall Street and between big banks and other financial interests. Those reports provide extensive research and make predictions about robots and the impact they will have on the labor market of tomorrow. They all seem to agree on the timeline, setting the big shift sometimes between ten and 25 years from now, at the latest.

This shift will change absolutely everything. Even education will need to change because the jobs we prepare people for today, will simply not exist tomorrow.

The industrial revolution took place around the world at different times. In England, it was during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the USA, the eighteenth. In China, the twentieth.

Every industrial revolution had two significant features. The first was economic shock. Workers and the poor suffered the most as their jobs evaporated and wages plummeted. Why pay workers when steam engines do better? And what is the value of human labor when everyone is left competing for the same shrinking jobs not yet taken by the steam engine?

But then there's an upside. With the arrival of the steam engine, for example, many new jobs were created. Entire industries even. Railroads are a great example. From railroads came an explosion of economic activity. Factories produced so much bounty that things that were once available only to the wealthy became commonplace for all.

After an initial period of trauma, quality of life eventually rose across the board. Of course, there was a legal and humanitarian component to this rise. Unions and laws developed to ensure the working class got a share of the bounty they were producing. Even the tycoons realized that workers needed to be paid enough to consume what they produced. And so the progressive era was born.

Today, progressivism is more concerned with human sexuality and marijuana legalization than with wages. Unions hardly exist and where they do, corruption is rife. The progressive movement has seriously atrophied into a parody of its former self. The call for a $15/hr wage sounds ridiculous to most, and even if granted, it would only be a late, temporary fix.

Nonetheless, true progressivism may need to make a serious return.

In the decades to come, as jobs are lost to robots, the numbers of unemployed will rise dramatically. Wages will fall, even in well-established human industries, because robots and algorithms will threaten every line of work. Competition will increase among workers. Even white-collar jobs will be subject to these pressures.

While new industries may develop, these new industries might be staffed with robots as easily as with people, making this revolution unique. Humans will compete with robots for the new jobs too.

A guaranteed basic income is one possibility to ensure people can sustain themselves and achieve their working potential. A guaranteed basic income means every citizen is given a check, presumably funded by taxes on those who are making the most profit off displacing workers in the first place. The nation is wealthy enough to do it, with the United States being the most productive nation in the world.

Such a development would allow displaced workers to retrain themselves without fighting for mind-numbing jobs that pay well-below sustainable wages. It would also force wages to rise, because they would compete with the guaranteed basic income. The artificial minimum wage could be abolished as well as several expensive government bureaucracies.

The other, darker, alternative is to create a massive underclass of people who have virtually nothing to subsist on. To prevent chaos, the government will have to feed and house these populations, and even then, collective upset will be a constant threat. A guaranteed basic income may be more costly, but it will be less costly than a hard leftist revolution bred in super-slums.

Robots will make our lives easier. The workweek will become shorter. Imagine your household chores done for you. The explosion of leisure will allow people to work, learn, pray, play and think about things that matter to them. The world will be revolutionized. But the outcome of that revolution is up to us.

We can turn ourselves into desperate, impoverished slaves, or we can make ourselves into a comfortable, leisured class of people who have more time to invent and create and to be ourselves entirely.

The choice is ours, but the time to make it is closer than we think.


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