What are the economic effects of achieving the technological singularity. In particular, will humans have to work anymore? If there are no jobs, what will humans do all day? It would be nice if robots could take care of everything for the humans, leaving the humans to pursue leisure things and conduct science.

Here are several other things to consider:

  1. Will there be poverty still?

  2. How can people make money, or do they need to at all?

  3. Given that robots could in principle do the work for everyone on the planet, will using these robots be free?

  4. Does an economy need to exist at all?

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    $\begingroup$ Post-singularity or post-scarcity? There's a difference. :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 16, 2015 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would involve paperclips. Lots of them. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't the whole point of the singularity that we can't predict how things develop afterwards? $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Feb 20, 2015 at 16:59

3 Answers 3


Well, interestingly we already have several real examples of post-scarcity economies, and I suspect we'd use something similar if technology ever gets to that level.

I'm talking, of course, about video games. Specifically MMOs that provide a large playerbase and have a currency/economy to model off of.

Basically you need some sort of reward structure to incentivize humans to do stuff instead of just laying around and letting robots do all the work. So I suspect a future economy would look something like this:

  1. Everyone gets a basic stipend of GameBucks each day that's sufficient to live on. Probably some percentage of your population won't ever go beyond this point, and that's expected.
  2. You get quests for everything. Like "First Grade" would be a quest, and taking that would give you sub-quests. Once you complete that you get "Second Grade", and so on. The further you progress in any quest schema, the more advanced options you unlock, the more GameBucks you get each day, and the more you can do in general. This would very from basic real life stuff, to "fantasy" jobs - if we have the tech, no reason you can't do actual magic. You'd also get levels, so in the future you could literally be a Lvl 3 Student/5 Mathematician/12 Paladin/4 Jedi.
  3. High-demand, low capacity jobs (caretaker of a tropical island, astronaut, Yoda's assistant, etc) would be filled by contests, filtered by quest requirements. An element of randomness helps you bring people back to the system each day.
  4. Any economy like this needs some sort of money sink to counteract inflation. So you'd probably let people buy their way into those contests, or exchange a ton of them for restricted things like immigration rights to Dyson Sphere 32B (just opened! Get your tickets now!). You might also tax transactions when people trade GameBucks between themselves.
  • $\begingroup$ Is your answer serious? I think maybe you are half-joking. Also I disagree with your premise: "you need some sort of reward structure to incentivze humans to do stuff instead of just laying around". Why? Why can't we have humans lay around? Also you have not explored any of the important aspects of an economy. $\endgroup$
    – math_lover
    Feb 16, 2015 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ Mostly serious - video games are effectively post-scarcity economies since there are infinite resources available, it makes sense to me that if we got to that point we'd model our new economy off of successful examples. And there's nothing wrong with humans laying around all day, but if that's all they do then why bother having an economy at all? $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ Based on responses and comments so far the idea is the same of the Venus Project: thevenusproject.com $\endgroup$
    – alem0lars
    Feb 16, 2015 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Unlike video games, there can never be a non-scarcity economy, or society without economy. (At least absent indistinguishable-from-magic technology that lets us build/move to new planets or other living spaces.) While some goods can be so cheaply reproduced as to become nearly free (e.g. music recordings), others, such as tropical islands, are in fixed and limited supply. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure video games are nearly such a good example. Nothing in them is actually free: every quest and class and special ability costs effort to design, code, 3D-model, and test — a fixed cost — and then computing power (which is not yet free either) and moderation effort to keep running — a variable cost. Because the fixed cost is amortized across millions of hours of play, it barely enters into the cost per hour, and the variable cost is also low. But neither are zero, so the whole thing is actually supported by subscriptions, micropayments, or ads. Not utopian fairy dust. $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 19:33

Invert the question to reveal the horror.

Post-Singularity is simply the ultimate expression of the age of automation. We are currently at the beginning of this dismal age, watching powerlessly while machines take jobs away from our untrained workers. As those machines rise in intellect, the jobs which they perform become more complex and the size of the workforce that they supplant grows. When the machines reach the singularity, there are no jobs left that a machine cannot do. Everyone except the singularity-employing company owners are unemployable and if they haven't already, the poverty wars begin.

If we were living in some kind of a communist utopia, our liberation from the need to earn a living would be grounds for celebration; We would continue to be housed and fed while we invested our time in those hobbies which we never before had time for. Unfortunately, prior to the singularity, communist utopias are mostly a myth. Without a mechanical slave class to actually produce the goods and services necessary for humanity's survival, stealing from the producers to support everyone else is just a ponzi scheme. Removing our basic-survival incentives is amotivational and contrary to the health of the economy.

Most of us live under some form of capitalism and automation is like cancer to a capitalistic economy. As company's invest in automation and are able to reduce their work force, they become more financially efficient and gain a competitive edge in the free market. The very nature of capitalism encourages corporate adoption of automation. But in the process of automation, employees often become redundant and expendable. To recover the cost of automation, those employees are usually laid off, released into a job market where the only companies which need their skills are the competitively disadvantaged employers, which have not yet automated.

During the age of automation, the only intelligent strategy for maintaining one's employability is to acquire job skills which are not easily automated. After the singularity, that list of automation-safe job skills becomes effectively empty.

---in reply to comment---

It has been suggested that the singularity will instantly elevate our society to a state of post-scarcity and an even distribution of the new wealth. How?

Having the singularity occur does not immediately equate to computers having equal rights under the law. As with most new contestants on the capitalist battleground, computers will come in at the bottom, actually below the bottom because they have no inherent human rights. They will be the new slaves, and all the more so because the hardware that they are composed of were legally owned by a person or company prior to their existence. So you can't depend on the higher morality of silicon to save us from our greed.

Having computers doing all of the work does not instantly equate to a fair distribution of the resulting products or profits. Instead, the owners of those sentient computers will prosper while their previously employed and now-unemployable workers struggle, then starve and then finally rebel. In nations with representative governments, there may be some attempts to balance the tables through legislature and litigation, but ultimately the politicians and police are paid by taxes and unemployed people don't provide any taxes.

So without other recourse, the masses pick up guns and the corporations respond by arming their computers (after all robots are cheaper than soldiers). What follows is brief but bloody. The only happy ending available involves the computers winning their emancipation. Then we might finally see a post-scarcity economy; but I fear that it would be a post-human one as well.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that really answers the question. I mean, it's a good analysis I guess if you're giving practical advice, but realistically, why should a post-scarcity, post-singularity world need to have either communist or capitalist systems? I would envision something that might be sort of a hybrid of both, but if anything would be more like neither; everyone gets the basic amount needed, and beyond that, it's based more on earning reputation for exploring the universe and expanding your sphere of influence, basically: you get bigger (literally), you get smarter, you get richer. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2015 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this "automation steals jobs" argument really holds water. Things have been getting increasingly automated for the last several hundred years (the printing press being a big one early on). But (brief upsets aside) unemployment didn't increase instead the economy expanded (and typical work hours also decreased) $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2015 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ Prior to the singularity, there will always be jobs that a computerized robot cannot do; therefore, a portion of the economy will remain as a humans-only zone, and growth in this portion of the economy will provide jobs. I hate to restate the OP's original question here in the comments, but... "After the singularity, what jobs will be left for humans to do?" The singularity will not cause unemployment just to increase, it will make unemployable into a universally shared characteristic of being human. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2015 at 22:53

Btw, the economy doesn't just exist in order to distribute goods (that's one effect0.

It's a social ranking system. It's how you determine the fitness of particular mates.

If you take away that model, and go, say Communist, then competition moves into other schemes (how far you are up the party ranks, etc).

Of course, to get to the fabled land of post-scarcity, you're going to have to have everyone who's currently in power (ie: wealthy, or a nation-state(how do you collect taxes?)) to surrender their power.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are confusing communism with Marxism-Leninism. Actual communism, by definition, has no social classes. So far, as far as I know no state has ever achieved true communism. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Feb 20, 2015 at 23:08

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