The Guardian has published an article on the rise of the robot economy, with some fairly dramatic predictions. Not only could the rich get richer, writes the author, but it is “perfectly plausible” that they could choose to eliminate the poor.
From the article:
Meanwhile, robotic capital would enable elites to completely secede from society. From private jets to private islands, the rich already devote a great deal of time and expense to insulating themselves from other people. But even the best fortified luxury bunker is tethered to the outside world, so long as capital needs labor to reproduce itself. Mass automation would make it possible to sever this link. Equipped with an infinite supply of workerless wealth, elites could seal themselves off in a gated paradise, leaving the unemployed masses to rot.
If that scenario isn’t bleak enough, consider the possibility that mass automation could lead not only to the impoverishment of working people, but to their annihilation. In his book Four Futures, Peter Frase speculates that the economically redundant hordes outside the gates would only be tolerated for so long. After all, they might get restless – and that’s a lot of possible pitchforks. “What happens if the masses are dangerous but are no longer a working class, and hence of no value to the rulers?” Frase writes. “Someone will eventually get the idea that it would be better to get rid of them.” He gives this future an appropriately frightening name: “exterminism”, a world defined by the “genocidal war of the rich against the poor”.
The author argues that without “substantive political change,” such a scenario is “perfectly plausible.” He also argues that a robot tax, an idea recently endorsed by Bill Gates, ought to be considered.
These dystopias may sound like science fiction, but they’re perfectly plausible given our current trajectory. The technology around robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to improve – but without substantive political change, the outcome will range from bad to apocalyptic for most people. That’s why the recent rumblings about a robot tax are worth taking seriously. They offer an opportunity to develop the political response to mass automation now, before it’s too late.