Productivity, Robots, and Marshall Brain

I’ve posted a couple of times about recent
big increases in productivity
, where productivity is defined as
economic product per person-hour worked. In the past 150 years, we’ve
seen automation displace jobs from agriculture to manufacturing, then
from manufacturing to service. In our lifetimes, we’ll see AI and
robots start to automate service-sector jobs? Whence then the
minimum-wage employee when Wal-Mart, Home Depot and McDonalds are all

Marshal Brain has thought
about this problem much more than I have. In his Robotic Nation
essay, he discusses the impending robotic takeover. In Robotic
, he brings up the idea that the amazing amount of
productivity provided by robots should allow us all to be on
“permanent vacation” while the robots do all our work for us. To
achieve this, though, we’d need to massively change our economic
system, essentially getting rid of the idea that work =
. I proposed
something like this when I said that the government would have to pay
people not to work, the same way it pays farmers to leave their fields


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