Totally cool! A humanoid type of android that can lift up to 150 pounds. I think we should all be impressed by the accomplishment, and a little bit wary. To me, it sounds a little bit too much like the “Staff” that I have described in my novel 418: I am a teapot. However, the future is coming. We can’t stop it. So, let’s take a look and see how close are we to having chips in our heads, turning us into Staff; cheap, programmable, replaceable labor.
In Praise of Elon Musk.
There is no doubt that Elon Musk is a visionary. Everyone knows he is the force behind Telsa Inc., and has done a great deal to bring electric vehicles into our lexicon if not our garages. Even Mr. Musk warns us that AI is more dangerous nuclear weapons. So, at first, it seems unusual that he co-founded, Neuralink, a company that develop neural implants that would let you interface with a computer. And while, I would not want to be a beta tester, it is fascinating technology. The potential for positive uses is great.
Also, Tesla has advanced the idea of self driving cars to a point where it seems inevitable. The newly unveiled Tesla Bot uses many of the same technologies in that are found in Tesla vehicles. The Tesla Bot is an impressive piece of engineering and innovation.
I want to be clear, we need visionaries. American technology companies have led the way on the back of their innovative abilities. We should not discourage innovation and visionaries help point the way toward progress and growth. And, truthfully, if we aren’t developing those technologies, someone else will. That someone else, may use those technologies in a way that is not in our collective best interest, so I say, “good for Elon Musk!” Please, innovate away; if he doesn’t someone else will.
So how is it like 418?
In my novel 418: I am a Teapot, human subjects receive a neural implant to interface with the immersive internet. Allowing them to see, hear, touch, taste, smell and feel, whatever has been programmed for them. A totally immersive, complete reality, experience.
While I wrote the novel before I learned about Neuralink or the Tesla Bot, it’s easy to see how my immersive internet implant combines the two technologies. We begin by programming a Bot to do the work, now we can move that programming into a human head to make a human do the same work with no training. It is a dystopia, it should be at least a little discomforting.
The Tesla Bot is a human like android which is capable of doing simple, boring, repetitive, dangerous or unpleasant work to the extent that it is programmed to do so. That’s a lot like the Staff class of worker in 418; able to receive simple ad-hoc instructions and complete them, all the while the human host is busy with online distractions.
Why would anyone want a Tesla Bot or Staff?
The short answer is, it would save money.
A Tesla Bot, which would have up front costs to purchase, would have very low operating costs. Far below the hourly wage paid to the workers it replaces. Whatever you can program it to do, especially if it can learn to do tasks like, go to the grocery store, would become very inexpensive to do. Indeed this would drive programmers to see what they could make the Tesla Bot do, and eventually it would replace workers doing what would be considered “Boring” jobs.
That was also the inspiration for my Staff class. Occupy people with enough internet to distract them and program them to do work they don’t know how to do, and don’t even know they are doing. Since, they do not know how to do anything, Staff labor becomes a commodity, paid almost nothing. In my dystopia, Staff are paid online in virtual money that can’t be exchanged for real money. Again, a big cost savings.
The problem with Staff or Tesla Bots replacing workers
Let’s look at this from an economist’s point of view by considering the Boring Job Labor Market. We must make the assumption that “boring jobs” is just a polite way of grouping the worst, least desirable jobs. Since, boring jobs are the worst jobs, there will be no substitute work for workers displaced by Staff or Bots. People get boring jobs not because it’s their life goal, but because they have to.
What happens when we introduce Staff or Bots into the Boring Job Market.
First, we will have surplus labor as workers lose their jobs to Staff or Bots, meaning that we have unemployment. At the same time, needing work, displaced workers will compete with existing Boring Job workers for increasingly scarce employment. The effect will be to drive down wage rates for Boring Job workers, reducing their real income and lowering their standard of living.
Secondly, there is a knock-on effect for those businesses who sell goods and services to workers employed the Boring Job Labor Market. Think of things like landlords, shop owners, perhaps entire neighborhoods would be affected.
I will concede, there would be increase revenues for the providers of Staff and Bots. The employers of Staff and Bots would also realize a cost savings. That implies, quite directly, that there would be an income re-distribution with the widespread adoption of these technologies. The boring job worker would become poorer and the capital owner would retain more resources.
So what do we do? The boring job labor market is clearly being threatened.
That is a hard question. We have to discourage people from entering the boring job market. Falling wages will provide natural discouragement; however, government policy, education and training will be required to keep or move workers out of boring jobs. Unfortunately a social safety net may be needed if the automation happens before workers can pivot. I discourage regulations, as they can be difficult to remove, but they may be needed. We must be objective in recognizing what we are getting from our technologies.
Whatever the solution, it is important that we start to deal with it soon. This is why I wrote my novel, I wanted to show what could happen if technologies were used in that specific way. And this is also why it’s fantastic that Elon Musk, who did say, “Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice,” has shown us a glimpse of the future. We have been warned.
As always, when dealing with boredom, creative solutions are desired and required.