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21 March 2008


Wayne Hullett

That's an amazing video. I almost felt sorry for the thing when it stumbled. At this point in its development it probably is unable to get back up when it falls.

As you correctly point out, the introduction of robotics will result in massive job loss and very probably cause a luddite backlash. Any number of opportunistic politicians will undoubtedly jump on the bandwagon and attempt to garner votes by promising to institute drastic legislative measures to protect the displaced workers. (Look at the rhetoric about outsourcing.) We have been substantial worker displacement many times before, but not on the scale that the potential robotics revolution promises, especially if the development of AI keeps pace.

On the other hand, I would expect robotics to make economic sense, and thus only take hold when it becomes less expensive than the cheapest human labor on the planet. So it is likely that it will not become really wide spread before the standard of living of third world countries is raised so that they are more expensive than the amortized cost of robots. Like so many other technologies, I expect its early introduction will be in military applications. This of course will tend to subsidize the early R&D costs, thus lowering the bar that the third world countries will have to reach.

It might be worthwhile to look at ways to smooth the introduction of robotics. For example, it might be a reasonable thing to require (or subsidize) early robots to be more oriented toward tasks that would provide for basic human needs. It seems to me that at some point the world's demand for human labor is going to drop dramatically and eventually only a small portion of humanity will need to be employed. Robots will eventually do the work needed to feed and house the unemployed (early retired?) humanity, or at least those unable to pursue more intellectual efforts (but again that bar is going to be raised as AI progresses). It seems to me that we are headed toward a massive change to a new and totally different type of economy. (Or is it going to be closer to the slave economy of earlier years?)

As far as I know, there is no effort underway to study how the introduction of robotics will effect the socio-economic system, and which policies would cause the smoothest transition. The Foresight Institute is doing something of that nature for nanotechnology. I suggest that it would be a worthwhile undertaking to do something similar for robotics.


I agree with Wayne, the transition is going to be problem, but the demand is going to be huge as the nation ages. As aging nation is a big problem in Japan, as they are not replicating, and the number of old people out number the young by a huge factor. Being an insular nation Japan is not going welcome outsiders to provide the needed care. Robots provide an effective option and Japan will lead the development of socially acceptable robots. In the US military operations will lead the way. Helmets with embedded brain sensor are entering the gaming market, it will be an easy transition to robotic control using though patterns. We are entering interesting times.

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do you think that there are robots among us that live among us and we don't know, I hope so!!

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