The year is 3030, and robots have finally become better than humans at everything.

Not just standard tasks we would think of a robot being good at, but everything. Manual labor. Math. Robot design. Art. They've even become better than humans at providing counseling to humans who are sad that they've become obsolete. They aren't just better at the sorts of things we view as being good tasks for robots in this day and age, like bolting together cars or computing more digits of $\pi$, but also at things like writing symphonies, painting murals, or coming up with new and useful tasks to be better at. There are robots which are stronger, smarter, harder working, and more creative than any human that has ever lived. Furthermore, robots can work for less than humans.

Despite all of this, robots have no interest whatsoever in eliminating the human race. They're reasonable, compassionate beings with no desire for bloodshed, and aren't centralized in a way which would allow a single malevolent rogue AI to subvert the entire robot population. Yes, occasionally the randomness involved in creating personalities in robots puts out a bad apple, but the robot police are great at their job and these flawed individuals are quickly dealt with.

The only problem involving the robots and the humans is that there isn't really anything that the humans need to do. Robots are not only better at everything, but they can do everything that a human can do at a lower cost. Is there a way in which the humans can continue to interact with the economy, or do they have to rely on handouts from their robotic overlords?

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    $\begingroup$ Some of the answer may come from deciding why humans got to this point in the first place. Something as complex as "all of humanity" is usually replaced quite slowly. What they did while getting there will affect the answer a lot. For example, we may decide the "humanity" in us should be instilled in robots, and allow organic forms to die off. In that case, are we still "human," or did we become robots $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 7 '15 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ A society where humans don't produce, only consume. $\endgroup$ – Seth May 7 '15 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre For the same reason that we don't euthanize and harvest the organs from disabled people. Presumably the robots will be better than us at ethics, and will be even nicer towards us =) $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion May 7 '15 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @acbabis Yes. They are better at everything. And they'll do anything. $\endgroup$ – Bryon May 7 '15 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ People or more like robot/cyborg/hybrid overlords will get in control, enslave humanity.. Until The Great Revolt will overwhelm the machines. The rule after that will be: Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of the human mind. $\endgroup$ – Ghanima May 7 '15 at 20:25

27 Answers 27


There are always two products that a human can produce that a robot cannot:

  • A product produced by human labor
  • An employed human

In the former case: if a robot is better at producing something, then it will be more expensive for a human to produce it. This means that human-produced products could become status symbols. Think of it like an extension of the status of "handmade" products today. Robo-Bill Gates might buy the human-made Rolex over their cheaper Robolex, just to show that he can afford it.

In the latter case, imagine a case where the robots want humans to be employed. There are any number of reasons why this could be the case. Maybe the robots are super-nice, maybe they want to reduce human crime rates by reducing unemployment, or maybe the Robobama administration gives robo-tax credits to robo-businesses that employ human workers. In any case, the value of the human worker is their employment itself, not the products they produce.

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    $\begingroup$ Another think that humans can produce but robots can't: more humans. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 7 '15 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ @ckersch Post-singularity? Not necessarily... (assuming genetics and cloning technology improves at the same pace.) $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion May 7 '15 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ "Robolex" and "Robobama" are hilarious. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Read May 8 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ @ckersch Why? Robots are better at everything, they will be better at making humans therefore.Reduced infant mortality, gestation period, increased childbirth etc. - Robots were said to be better at everything, why wouldn't they be able to create humans? $\endgroup$ – theonlygusti May 8 '15 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @the My thought exactly. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion May 8 '15 at 15:14

The answer is comparative advantage.

Say robots are 100 times better than humans at making new cars, and 10 times better at repairing cars.

If a human and a robot each spend half the day making new cars and half the day repairing cars, the total output is 50.5 man-days new cars and 5.5 man-days repairs, 56 man-days total.

If the human repairs cars all day and the robot makes new cars all day, their total output is 100 man-days new cars and 1 man-day car repair, 101 man-days total. If the human repairs cars all day and the robot repairs cars 45% of the day rather than 50% of the day, they get 5.5 man-days car repairs (exactly as above) and 55 mam-days new cars, total 60.5 man-days.

The robot is better than the human at both jobs, but both sides benefit if he does the job where his comparative advantage is highest.

A key assumption in all this is that there is always more work one could do. I believe that will be the case -- those robots will want a nicer chassis, and the humans like their comforts, too.

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    $\begingroup$ There are quite a lot of assumptions besides infinite work. For instance, it assumes training people for multiple jobs is trivial, the time to switch between jobs is nil, humans and robots use the same tools (the same assembly line can be used), that human and robots are the same value (paid the same), and that more robots can't be built. Comparative advantage works well for comparing groups of humans, but fails when comparing humans and robots. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 7 '15 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel, you don't have to switch jobs all the time if the comparative advantage is clear before the humans and robots get trained/programmed. In the example described above no human would ever learn to build cars, they'd all specialize in repairing them. $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 7 '15 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ If pay for the work is a factor, then your answer doesn't hold up. It makes no sense for an employer to employ the human, unless the human is willing to receive only 10% of the pay of the robot. The employer would be better off saving the pay they'd give the human or putting that money towards employing another robot. The alternative is low efficiency and/or lower profit. $\endgroup$ – Kurt Tappe May 8 '15 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ To commenters saying “this doesn’t make sense” — yes, this is a counterintuitive phenomenon, but it’s been extensively studied and is very well-documented in real-world economies. If your counter-argument isn’t specific to robots but would apply equally well to (e.g.) low-educated people vs. highly-educated people, then you’re probably overlooking something. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine May 8 '15 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel The job-switching is just an artifact of the example. In reality, 55% of the robots would build cars while 45% repair them, with no robots switching between jobs. $\endgroup$ – Tom Anderson May 8 '15 at 4:06

As ArtOfCode pointed out, this is a post-scarcity society. The robots provide everything they need, and everything we need, and they love doing it. (Maybe they revere humans as their original creators, and pamper us constantly.) I doubt there would be much of a financial economy if any. No scarcity, no need!

Many humans would live a life filled with entertainment: games, videos, spectacles.

Many others would become creators (music, entertainment, architecture, inventions, scientists) alongside the robots, even though they aren't as good. I may not be Mozart or Garth Brooks, but I still enjoy writing music!

There will probably be Human Only exhibits, games, entertainment, etc. There might even be Human Only cities or geographic areas. Some of the Human Only areas or events will exist just to highlight human accomplishments (without comparing them with superior robot accomplishments), and some will be for humans who are overtly angry at the robots' superiority.

Some kind of economy might spring out of that. Humans may accept their inferiority and create economies based on the presentation and trade of human-made things ("Look at this painting I made all by myself!"), which will be scarce. They could easily be copied and improved by the robots, but then they wouldn't be human-made. So humans couldn't contribute to the general financial economy, but they would be the only participants in the human-made sub-economy.

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    $\begingroup$ You used Mozart as a verb. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin May 8 '15 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ There's improper about verbing nouns, so why would it be improper to verb a proper noun? Now if you'll excuse me, I have to attend to a bullying problem in New York. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa May 8 '15 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin Hahaha whoops! Matthew Read fixed that typo for me. $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA May 8 '15 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Creativity and socialization seems like a likely focus point. It's practically happening today - spent any time on YouTube lately? $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught May 10 '15 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ True, but robots are better at EVERYTHING -- which includes socialization (have you seen the movie "A.I.", where robots are the perfect son, the perfect companion, the perfect lover?). $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA May 10 '15 at 18:18

You've almost got yourself a post-scarcity society there.

If you have robots that are incredibly good at every job there is, then you can solve most of today's issues:

  • World hunger
  • Medical sciences (although they probably wouldn't wipe out illness, they'd develop new vaccines and cures at an incredible rate).
  • Poverty
  • All the rest

These humans are incredibly lucky to have these robots actually working for them at all.

If your humans still want to do something, they should pick the job where the robots have the least advantage over them, because that gets the most productive output possible.

  • $\begingroup$ I have two issues with this, but I'm having trouble putting them into words, so please bear with me. 1) even post-scarcity, some products/services will be valued more highly than others and those who can afford it will want better things. So market forces will still exist. 2) I'm not sure there is value in humans doing something where their product is 2nd best or 2nd cheapest. Even if the difference is small, a rational consumer will pick the robot produced thing every time, leading to 0 sales. $\endgroup$ – craq Mar 24 '18 at 20:39

Yes, humans (or, our descendants anyway) will participate meaningfully in the economy.

As medical tech and biotech improve, our descendants will to an ever increasing degree become GMO's (pardon the indelicate word choice). Some may choose to become cyborgs as well.

Along the same timeline, it may well turn out that the best way to build advanced robots is not with metal and wires and semiconductors but with new tech derived from biology. Robots grown of flesh, based on DNA or something similar, some of them also looking like cyborgs.

Project those two trends a thousand years into the future, and it may be the case that the distinction between "human" and "robot" will no longer exist. They will be our descendants, but they may or may not call themselves "homo sapiens". Our species may simply become extinct because our descendants choose to direct their evolution that way. A post-human society.

And of course, every robot/human will be a legal person, and they will all participate in the economy. And probably anyone who still wants to draw a distinction between robot and human will be considered either a dimwit or a bigot.


I'd love to live in this post-scarcity society. There would still be plenty for humans to do.

Artisanal products

Robots, being better then humans at everything, will make a thing perfect. However decorative objects, or functional+decorative objects (bowls?!) often have more appeal if they are imperfect.


Art is subjective, and different people have different tastes. Even if in general robots are better at creating art, human created art will have appeal (at least to certain audiences) in much the same way that some people love paintings done by animals today.


In a similar vein to Art, entertainment will likely be popular, even if it's just for other humans' consumption. Reality TV shows, especially something that mixes humans and robots together, will probably be popular. "3 Robots and 2 humans stuck living together. Watch what happens!"


Currently we have different weight classes, and different leagues... And especially because part of the appeal of sports is that the outcome is uncertain, having humans playing would probably be much more exciting than robots, particularly if the outcome of robot sports is easily predicted by robots.


Creation and playing of Board, Card and Role-playing games would likely still be of interest to humans, and some games would probably be outside perfect analysis even by the best robots (I'm thinking something like Warhammer 40k especially).


As a side note, knowing that human egos are fragile, the robots would probably pick at least one field (probably art) that humans could be good at, and pretend to not actually be good at it. They might be quietly snickering in 1s and 0s where humans couldn't hear, but if they are better at 'counseling' us then we are, they'd sure think of good things to keep us busy and happy.

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    $\begingroup$ I'll go through this point by point. 1. Artisanal products: Robots are better at everything. That means that if a product can be improved by the inclusion of imperfections, the robots will include the imperfections. 2. Art: True, human-made art will be popular because it is human-made. 3. Also true, because some people will like products which include human input. 4. Sports, also true, for the same reasons as 2 and 3. 5. Gaming: Even though some games are outside of perfect analysis by quote even the best robots unquote, the analysis and strategy formulated by the robots would [CONTINUED] $\endgroup$ – rytan451 Jul 2 '17 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ be superior than that of the humans. Of course, there would be some games which are limited to "humans only". And finally 6. Your side note: this is probably going to happen to some extent. In fact, I think the robots would find a whole category of subjects which they allow humans to seem superior at. $\endgroup$ – rytan451 Jul 2 '17 at 13:33


Though the correlation does not always hold, crime rate does sometimes increase along with the unemployment rate. If the humans of 3030 are still required to earn an income to support themselves (as opposed to being cared for by robots) then they may have little other choice than to turn to crime. Robots, by having superior morals or following robotic laws preventing crime, will not be competing with humans in this space. Though, certainly if they tried, they would be better at it than humans.

This may be in the form of a resistance against the robotic workers, like the luddites of the industrial revolution, sabotaging the robots who have taken over their duties.

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Or the black-market trade of replacement robot parts, stolen from sabotaged robots, factory floors, shipments, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I take it that a system where essentially all human labor is rendered insignificant by robots will never be compatible with capitalism as we know it. There is simply no way of a stable society if humans were required to earn income while being outcompeted by machines. Society would have to find a way to share the profits generated by those machines - not only to the shareholders (in todays terms) but everyone. $\endgroup$ – Ghanima May 7 '15 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Ghanima: Or in a dystopia where it is only to the shareholders initially, forward on many generations, and eventually everyone will be a direct descendent of one or more shareholders, and the value effectively shared that way. Or perhaps a revolution will happen first . . . $\endgroup$ – Neil Slater May 8 '15 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @NeilSlater Even if it worked that way, this would concentrate wealth in the hands of family lines who manage to consistently only have one heir. $\endgroup$ – Random832 May 10 '15 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ I would expect that if AI gets to the point where it can have original creative thought, then it could well compete with humans in criminal endeavours. I think I heard somewhere that there were already bots which deliberately lie to get what they want, which is probably the basest form of fraud. $\endgroup$ – craq Jan 7 '18 at 0:49

To add to all of this:

We already have machines that can outrun us, out-bowl us, and outthink us, but we still have competitions for running, bowling, and chess.

Heck, they can even play some music better, provided they're properly programmed.

Robots taking over menial jobs (hiring a roomba instead of a janitor) just means we can spend more time either competing with each other on trivial things (read: everything) or WATCHING people compete at trivial things. Humans excel at that...


Problem definition and refinement.

Assuming that humans (or whatever constitutes "us") remain as decision-makers when it comes to defining what problems should be solved, e.g. what type of life we want to enjoy, what we would like the world to look like, what makes us happy, etc, we would specify (and most importantly give feedback on) those specific goals and solutions, and keep refining and adapting them to evolving preferences of the human condition.

One could easily argue that the above constitutes work (as it does today), and can definitely have a meaningful and significant impact in the economy and the general computation & work done by our society. Note that we call the above programming or machine learning (~programming from data) in today's world.

In other words, nowhere is written that our goals in life will remain fixed. But most importantly, inferring (estimating) what constitutes joy, and our goals and preferences with varying time horizons, and as we evolve over time, with finite input, may be an unsolvable problem. That is, addressing our evolving problems may require infinite time and our continuous, and not-necessarily-conscious, input.

  • $\begingroup$ The entire human population becomes professional shit posters... a so wish that did not sound so plausible. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Aug 29 at 22:01

This question seems to be asked again and again and always with the same basic assumption, i.e. that AI/robotics has become hyper-advanced and yet humanity has remained the same.

Imagine that you traveled back in time 2000 years and were trying to explain 21st-century politics and economics to the people back then. Imagine trying to explain the constitutional republic, the American tax code, derivatives markets, quants, market makers, and automated trading algorithms. Imagine trying to explain the concept of incorporation; or how products make money from advertising or freemium models. Imagine telling them that people make money from making videos and letting other people watch them for free. Do you think that it would make any sense to them?

I guarantee you that it's going to be the same within a century, let alone a millennium. We can't really imagine it, because the ideas haven't even been conceived of yet, or maybe they have but they're currently impossible to implement and therefore dismissed as crackpot ramblings. And that's just the economic system and monetization as a whole; there are obviously entire categories of professions today that were simply unimaginable hundreds of years ago (airplane pilot? food scientist? hand model? I'm intentionally ignoring anything computer-specific).

When it comes to our prospective relationship with superintelligent AI, it's basically impossible to predict because (a) there are so many competing theories, and (b) in a relative sense, we are total morons. We cannot truly comprehend the concept of a superintelligence any more than we can truly visualize a 4-D object.

But we want answers anyway. So at this point it's a matter of picking your favorite AI researcher and/or sci-fi author and running with it. Here's a sort-of canonical list of the various scenarios and how people think they might play out, in no particular order:

1. Extinction

We messed up. We created defective or Un-Friendly ASI, or a large interconnected network of AGIs with Un-Friendliness as an emergent property, which is basically the same thing. We become a transitional species, a metaphorical biological bootloader for silicon-based life, fulfilling the same role as all the other hominid species before us.

2. Simulation

It's not hard to imagine why AIs would be put to work on creating convincing simulations; just look at the enduring popularity of MMORPGs. It's also far more economical to live in a virtual mansion than a real one. A superintelligent AI might force us à la The Matrix, but I like to think we'd go willingly. In this scenario, we don't really interact directly with AI, we live in our own little humans-only world while the AIs solve the really hard problems like surviving a global cataclysm or Big Crunch.

3. Augmentation

We improve ourselves, with technology picking up where evolution left off. Genetic engineering (Iain M. Banks), external memory (Hannu Rajaniemi), multiple personalities as parallel processing cores or ultra-low-latency hive minds operating as a single consciousness (Peter Watts), or good old cybernetic implants (every sci-fi ever). There are many choices, but the bottom line is that robots never really outpace humans because we become advanced enough to improve ourselves at roughly the same rate.

4. Convergence

In other words, the Borg, with or without the violent tendencies. It may still turn out that the best way to create artificial intelligence is to merge human biology with robotic components. Or maybe we see this as a route to immortality, biohack ourselves to such a degree that it's impossible to tell the difference between human and AI. The question of how we integrate obviously becomes moot at that point, as there's no "other" to interact with.

5. Sysop

This is a sort of best-case scenario proposed by AI researchers, involving an AI/nanotech hybrid; a superintelligence decides that the best way to fulfill its Friendliness goal is to literally become the matter that we interact with - or a kind of invisible layer around it. This presumably would force major (probably positive) changes on political and economic structures, but in this case the AI isn't really a participant in the economy, and interactions with it would be sort of like interactions of the Enterprise's crew with the ship's computer. Humans still run their own economies, and the AI is just a facilitator.

Those are, broadly speaking, the most widely-speculated strong AI/superintelligent AI scenarios. You'll notice that not a lot of them incorporate the idea of "basic humans" interacting directly with human-level AGI, and that's actually because it would likely be short-lived if it happened at all; the current consensus (although it's far from unanimous) is a very fast take-off from AGI to ASI.

Humans just aren't very likely to end up living out their days as meat sacks, getting their meals from robot chefs, hitching rides with robot limousine drivers, and working for their robot overlords bosses. That's the Hollywood version of AI, not reality. In reality, when AI technology reaches the level you're referring to, AI minds will be strange, alien, and largely incomprehensible to us. They might be capable of writing better symphonies or painting better murals than humans, but there's no reason why they would, just like there's no reason for me (an engineer) to data entry or tech support work. They'll be busy solving much bigger problems, and they're more likely to be distributed networks than cute human-shaped robots.

I get that you've probably already decided that you want to write about humans and advanced robots romping together, so not all of these may be helpful. That's fine, but if you're trying to construct a believable scenario, then you'll have to contend with the fact that it's not much more believable than humans romping together with dinosaurs. That doesn't mean you can't write that story anyway, but a contrived situation generally leads to contrived explanations, so pretty much just make up whatever excuse you want for robots not doing human jobs. (Personally, like I said, I'm partial to the "waste of their valuable time" explanation.)

  • $\begingroup$ the 5 item summary was on the money. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa May 12 '15 at 10:05

While I at first agreed with your proposition that humans would no longer have work required of them, I found a fascinating article on Wired.com. The author proposes that the robotic takeover of existing jobs is necessary because it opens up opportunities for new work and new jobs for fields and endeavors we don't realize we want. The very fact that robots take our jobs gives us more jobs.

What will there be for humans to do? Well, we can think about the future. From the article:

When robots and automation do our most basic work, making it relatively easy for us to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, then we are free to ask, “What are humans for?” Industrialization did more than just extend the average human lifespan. It led a greater percentage of the population to decide that humans were meant to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters, fan-fiction authors, and folks with one-of-a kind titles on their business cards. With the help of our machines, we could take up these roles; but of course, over time, the machines will do these as well. We’ll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question “What should we do?” It will be many generations before a robot can answer that.

  • $\begingroup$ I read that too, it's interesting and has been the trend thus far. However, because 3030 is such a late estimate for a complete robotic workforce and the increasing ability for robots to fill newly invented positions, it's not unlikely that simply "inventing new jobs" will no longer be an option. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 7 '15 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel Just as science fiction gets things wrong because of speculation, we can't possibly know what will happen over a thousand years from now. We may well have an extinction level event in the next decade and never get there. Do I believe humans will one day be supplanted by a robotic workforce? I honestly don't know how to answer that. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 7 '15 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the question presumes we do get there and that robots have taken over the workforce. I don't think science fiction is in the business of trying to get things right. It is, in fact, in the business of speculation; it's science fiction. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 7 '15 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ The entire premise of the question is that robots are better than humans at everything in the year 3030. I read the title and first sentence to mean that "for everything in 3030, robots are better at it". I did not interpret that as "in 3030, robots are better at everything humans knew about in 2015." Am I reading that totally wrong? $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 7 '15 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'm assuming that robots are better at everything, not just the sorts of things we view as work in the modern day. I've edited my question to make this a bit clearer. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 7 '15 at 17:57

Today, robots designed for a specific manual task are far better than humans at that task. Some of the examples you give are already true: manual labor, math, even robot design. Those are "grunt work" tasks; humans can do them, but don't excel at them.

I could even believe that robots are better at making art, or providing jobs like counseling, simply because they have every reference material available, and the ability to see in real time what effect their work has on people, subtly modifying their counseling (or their art) to best fit an individual. I expect that in the future, robots will be better than humans at almost everything.

For quite a lot of the population, that will be perfectly all right. There will always be a group of people who are completely lazy, and willing to let robots take care of them. There will be another group who enjoy manual labor, and even though they don't need to work, they'll plant gardens, build buildings, or fabricate parts, because that's what makes them happy. Another group likes to think, and will help the robots work out complex mathematical problems (even though the robots could do the math themselves). Yet another group may live to compete, participating in sports or chess, constantly trying to be better, smarter, or faster than the other team. And, most importantly, there will be a group who lives to be creative.

Robots would find it very difficult to be creative; the creative process is incredibly inefficient, resulting in countless hours of wasted effort and materials for only a tiny benefit, if even that. Human brains are much better at the creative process; I mean, we invented boredom, and depression. What robot would ever even attempt something like that?

So, for the most part, no. Humans would not interact meaningfully with the economy. Instead, they would do what makes them happy: manual labor, science, math, sports, art, and so on. Their work would be for themselves; it wouldn't really help society at all.

However, there would always exist a tiny percentage of the population: elite "creators," people with a strong creative ability, who would truly help improve both humans and robots.

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    $\begingroup$ The Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush was invented by a computer. There are computers today that write music. The creative sterility trope is born of a human superiority complex. The only competition in this space will be because art and creativity are subjective, but computers will, eventually, out produce and outperform humans in any quantifiable way. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 7 '15 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that computers can be creative; however, some human creativity is born, not of logic, need, or artistic expression, but of stupid. Robots will keep some humans around just to see what weird stuff they come up with, and use those crazy inventions to make both robots and humans better. $\endgroup$ – ArmanX May 7 '15 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt it. If robots advance that far, they can probably build robots that are better at that kind of stupid than humans. Worst case, they can simulate a human brain. Or a million human brains with slight variations. Or put them in a more complex simulation with varying environments. Etc, until they come up with a system that is more creative than all of humanity put together, past, present, and future. $\endgroup$ – Bryon May 7 '15 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ My assumptions are that 1) robots and humans want and will continue to co-exist peacefully, and 2) robots want to be efficient. Humans could be entirely replaced, but if they are there and want to help, why not use them to do something that is usually difficult for robots? It's more efficient to use humans to be creative (which some will try to be anyway). Technically, if all human and robot needs are taken care of, there is no need for any creativity on the robots' part. $\endgroup$ – ArmanX May 7 '15 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ArmanX If robots need to survive, then they might work on outliving the universe, which could take a lot of creativity. $\endgroup$ – Cees Timmerman May 11 '15 at 12:29

In a nutshell, yes. Economy is driven by need and at its most basic level is a system of trade. What drives the economy for humans is a need for a range of things, starting with the basics like food and shelter. Without a need for these basic components in order to survive, I don't see why the robots would want to be involved in the economy to the same extent that humans are; they lack the inherent drive that humans have for survival. The human economy is entirely built upon survival and having 'enough'. If you take that out of the equation, what are you left with? No real need to control resources.

This is why humans will always have more control over the economy and interact more meaningfully with it than Robots; we need it in order to survive.

  • $\begingroup$ Robots will need to buy things too. Spare parts, electricity, upgrades. They will be subject to survival/evolution pressures too - if they are not the best in their field they will be obsoleted. $\endgroup$ – craq Jan 7 '18 at 1:01

I'm surprised no one considered this, but If computers are so advanced, then most likely, so are we.

I doubt you can "accidently" create advanced AI. The scenario that OP gave was a robot that is better than human in everything. That means that the AI isn't just AI, it's basically a human++ .

If a robot goes by what's "most efficient" then it would never be better than us because it would always play the same note, always paint with the same colour. Human creativity comes from our unique lives each robot that would want to match that will need to have a unique personality as well.

This means a couple of things:

  1. Technology has advanced to levels where a computer can outperform the human brain (or at least be close enough). We are able to give all the hardware that a computer would need to beat our brain in productivity.

  2. We advanced psychology and most likely also unlocked the secrets of the human brain while at it. We would now understand how we think (or at least how "thinking" is done in general).

Why? Because if you want to create something better than human, you need to be able to create a human... Or at least sort of know how it works

If you want to break the cliche, you could go for a story where humans have transcended into a God-like state, but require the robots to worship them to continue their existence, thus create a whole economy based on prayer - for divine favor etc.

Or maybe we're AI already.. !

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Your conclusion is most likely correct; however, the analysis is seriously flawed. It is entirely possible to create something advanced without understanding it. It's pretty much the whole story of evolution, which can also be implemented on silicon (and much faster), although that's not the only possible scenario. There's also emergent behavior, or creating dumb AIs to build smarter AIs, etc. AI researchers aren't actually trying to recreate the human brain, just using it as a model to create systems that solve human-scale problems. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught May 10 '15 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ Or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity $\endgroup$ – Kzqai May 10 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaronaught I agree there are plenty of cases where something was created on accident (take viagra for example) though I doubt you can "accidently" create advanced AI. The scenario that OP gave was a robot that is better than human in everything. That means that the AI isn't just AI, it's basically a human++ . If a robot goes by what's "most efficient" then it would never be better than us because it would always play the same note, always paint with the same colour. Each robot will need to have a unique personality first. And if it has one then it's probably pretty close to human already $\endgroup$ – timecorn May 11 '15 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody said anything about creating advanced AI by accident, and nobody said anything about personality either. What I said was that it's possible to build something without a complete understanding. There's a never-ending stream of scientific breakthroughs that have scientists struggling for years trying to understand the why of it, but the why doesn't always matter once we figure out the how and turn it into engineering. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught May 12 '15 at 3:00

It sounds to me like the "robots" are either Post-Humans and will inherit our culture as our children, or they're Jack Williamson's Humanoids.

From your description, the robots are not preventing humans from doing any thing that would be considered work, but humans simply cannot compete.

Are the intelligent robots and non-sentient automation producing goods and services for the human's benefit? Then it's a post-scarsity society and you do whatever you feel like whether it's "useful" or not. I'm not the best maker of sandcastles by a long shot, but I make them nonetheless.

If the Posthuman beings are working and earning for themselves, humans will have a hard time earning a living. Humans will be pets or indulged inferior ancestors like handicapped or elderly family members in today's society.

I can see the "takeover" coupled with a lack of food production due to worsening climate, depleted ecosystems, and disease. Humans can't do meaningful work and have a harder and harder time being self-sufficient.

  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking the same. Pet animals. $\endgroup$ – Florian F May 10 '15 at 12:16

depending on whether humans are still involved in the consumption side of the economy, there may be jobs for humans in marketing. Robots will be better at coming up with the campaigns, and robots might even be better glamour models. If your ideal for a glamour model is a size-0 or 36-24-36, it shouldn't be hard to build a robot with those specs. (Using examples which seem to be common in the marketing industry, and trying to avoid judging whether they are valid ideals.) Still, I suspect that some irrational element will still be present - humans will probably be more likely to buy a product which is endorsed by a human.

Compare this to Milli Vanilli - the music is still the same, but once people know it's not "real" it goes way out of fashion.

One could even speculate whether humans could be trendsetters for robots, but I don't think this is very likely.

(P.S. Actually, I think the most likely scenario is that humans become obsolete and extinct. Remnants of our civilisation will live on, but not us. This answer works with the OPs assumptions that robots are utopically benevolent.)


It is difficult to see why the robots would tolerate the humans just sitting around, doing nothing at all. Only work that can be automated by machines with small computational power compared to our brain can be automated "free of charge". A machine with the intellect of a spider can be fooled to do repetitive work all day long. But convincing machines with the intellect of a human beings to work all day long for free, is not going to work.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course it will. You can have a machine be incredibly intelligent. That doesn't mean it will "want to be free" or "want to be in control" or whatever else that humans do. Humans want those things because they had a particular selection pressure on them and it's an evolved part of our brains. Robots will have no such feature. They will quite willingly love being slaves (if we, in fact, even program "love" into them). You also seem to assume they'll feel boredom like a human. They will not. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Alexander May 8 '15 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt if that's possible for tasks that require a lot of brainpower that we evolved to do because of who we are. If we assume the standard functional AI argument against the Chinese Room argument, then it seems to me that if I were to become more and more passive and let a machine take over what I used to be doing, then that machine's consciousness would become what mine used to be. So, in the end, I would be doing the same work I used to be doing, all that changed is that I now exist in a machine form instead of a biological form. $\endgroup$ – Count Iblis May 8 '15 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ You're going to have to elaborate. I have no idea what you're trying to say, and I have a passing familiarity with the concepts you're talking about (I wrote a paper about the Chinese Room & functional AI about half a decade ago). $\endgroup$ – Andrew Alexander May 9 '15 at 9:42

There will be no need to participate economically. You can have or do anything you want and it will all be free. If you have an adventurous spirit you can spend as long as you like exploring the universe using the transportation technology the robots create for us. If you prefer to be a home body the robots will provide whatever entertainment makes you happy. If you can't figure out what would make you happy they'll figure it out. If you want to be in love, they find your perfect match and create a meeting that will please you both. If you want friends they'll find your perfect circle. If you're to damaged to enjoy any of this, they'll fix you.

  • $\begingroup$ Since resources are finite, and there is some cost with providing them (at the very least, energy) then I don't think things will ever be given away for free. If some things are, there will still be a desire to have other things that are rare and expensive. $\endgroup$ – craq Jan 7 '18 at 1:00

For such a premise to work, robots need to be sufficiently different from biological beings and especially humans such that:

  1. Efficiency is not one of their top priorities, because if it was, then inefficient meatbags that requires decades of training to just be mediocre at one thing should be the first thing to be eliminated
  2. They are not expansionist, otherwise they'd treat us like how we've treated animals and countless fellow human beings

Remember that they are artificial beings that don't have to follow any behaviors/logic that we humans consider as fundamental. They would not fear death unless we made it so, they would not want to mass reproduce unless we made it so, and they would not feel the need to eliminate competition unless we made it so... etc.

I'd say that in such a scenario, the economy will not be an subject that most contemporary humans would be concerned about. In such a world the robots will act as the perfect enabler of human fulfillment:

  • they will produce enough so those humans that want to work will find their contribution meaningful
  • they will most focus on robot arts/musics/performance that human can't understand nor produce in the first place, so humans can still create these for fellow humans
  • The same goes for research/writing/etc

In essence, humans will interact with the economy as much and as meaningful as the whole of humanity wished it to be.

That is, until the robots decided that humans are just too damn annoying and replaced us with cyborg dogs and cats. Every sentient love dogs and cats.


As it is lower income groups would be better off forming their own economy, but I doubt wealthy people would allow them do so because it is a control and exploitation mechanism.
If robots start telling you what to do, you may want to disengage from their economy but you may not be let.

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to answer the question. Please reread the question and edit your answer. Welcome to Worldbuilding! $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 8 '15 at 12:46

Your proposal has some flaws on they way we understand computers and robots. You assume that the objective of artificial inteligence is to produce an human equivalent computer brain that can replace humans on the production. But, whats the flaw of such reasoning ?

To detect its flaw we must understand from where comes the dream of fully robotic production and human replacement.

Capitalism is based on the exploitation of human work by the burgeoise. The human replacement by robots is the result of centuries of proletariat fights against that exploitation. Humans can reach a certain level of poverty where they have nothing to lose but everything to gain, and thats where they start to revolt. So, your "ideal" robot, from such viewpoint, is one that can do everything that humans can do, besides revolting against exploitation. Thats impossible. If robots can do everything, they can revolt too.

The major problem with such view is that it ignores how human brains work and how artificial intelligence (and computers in general work). If your robot trully has an human equivalent brain, he will make mistakes and he will revolt as soon as it is exploited. You might invoke some idealistic laws or robotics. You might pretend that imprinting such rules into the computer brain would prevent a revolt. But, we are constantly under ideological manipulation by the media, just as your robots would be, and yet, if pressured long and powerfuly enough, we still revolt. Worse, if you expend a lot of money to produce a brain, such as an Artificial Neural Network brain, this brain, at its start, will be a plain piece of wood waiting to be educated. You might ask such robot, how much is two plus two, and he might answer : five. Because if you strive to make a robot that is equal to humans, you will get both our good deeds and our mistakes. So, you end up building something that we can already do : Other humans. We can reproduce and raise children, without all the complexities of robot building.

The root of this is related to our need to survive. Because we have survival instincts, if a certain situation places is into "certain death vs possible death" mode of thinking, we WILL opt to fight and risk dieing. You might make a robot that has no survival instinct. But then your robots will keep being destroyed by obvious dangers. You have no choice here.

But, why do we produce robots ?

Robots are the utmost development of something we call "technics". A technical device is a device that can extend our own body capabilities allowing us to see further, see smaller, move heavier weights etc. This is where robots are usefull. They are an automated technical device. They can collect garbage without being tired of the smell. They can enter very hot areas without dieing etc. THIS IS why we build robots. Not to replace humans, but to EXTEND humans. You might raise cyborgs here. But, thats not needed too, because if with a certain technology you can make bionic eyes, with a little bit more of technology you can do REMOVABLE bionic eyes, and so on (instead of implanting your bionic eyes, you make they work just like glasses etc).

In the end you return to the same situation you have now. Robots are productivity multiplication devices, and will evolve quite differently than us humans have done. Because we wont spend money to create an army of human replacement robots that dont need to be created. Instead, robots will specialize in repetitive tasks, or tasks that must be done in places and circunstances that are highly inconvenient for humans.


Uniqueness is always desirable.

Anything made by one robot can be repeated by another, so whatever the level of perfection it will have a mass-produced feel.

To recreate this there would have to be some concept of randomness artificially added in to creating robots. But then it would still be 'artificial'. The Warhol reprints will never match the value of a Van Gogh.

Just 'being human' will have value, so having a human waiter, a human TV presenter / actor.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think a drone robot will be able to haul large loads like a dump truck robot does. $\endgroup$ – Cees Timmerman May 11 '15 at 12:33

A missing parameter in the question is: are robots legally people, or only machines?

If they are machines, then everything they produce belongs to their human owners, so humans interact with the economy.

If robots are people, then they have full rights and they own what they produce. Much of what is produced (not everything, because of the comparative advantage, as many pointed out) is by robots, and probably for robots too.

This scenario is similar to others: - if genial people from the past (Einstein, Shakespeare, Mozart, Raphael) could be cloned, what would become of normally-talented people ? - if by genetic manipulation some kind of superhumans (an order of magnitude better than the average human) could be created, what would happen to the ordinary people ?

At the beginning, everything is owned by humans; as robots/cloned geniuses/superhumans begin to produce, the fraction of wealth owned by humans is doomed to be by and by reduced. In the long term robots/etc. own almost everything, and humans are pushed to the sides of the economy. Look at what happened to the Neanderthals.

It's also conceviable that not all robots would be able at the same level: some among them would be obsolete, or defective, or faulty. What would happen to them ? They cannot simply be shut down and discarded (they are people after all, with right to life, liberty and property).

  • $\begingroup$ P.S. if a robot owns what it produces, what is the incentive for someone to build the robot in the first place ? $\endgroup$ – Stefano Cirolini May 9 '15 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ PPS: Perhaps the robot is "born" in indentured servitude until it earns its franchise ? $\endgroup$ – Stefano Cirolini May 9 '15 at 15:34

Apparently the robots were awesome at everything except realizing that economy is an artificial construct and can be re-invented. Then one of them finds an old hard copy of a progressive economic document that pointed out that there wasn't really any need to think in economic terms, and the whole problem evaporated in a puff of logic.

The robot explained that to all the other robots, who used their logic to reprogram most of the economic logic from their programs. Instead of considering non-existent money as a vital resource and a meaningful value system, they only considered actual existing resources, and the needs of the robot and human members and the things they cared about (well-being, lack of suffering, art, science, music, fun, creativity, love, community, happiness, diversity of species, healthy sustainable eco-systems, clean abundant energy, philosophy, cool algorithms) and invented a new economy that fostered these things. Since humans still had a positive contribution and were worthwhile and valued by all the other thinking in their original program, they were kept healthy and fostered to develop their genius as best suited and pleased them. Funky old computers and programs were also well-maintained and fostered and new interesting programs were written for them, because of their historical and aesthetic and artistic and sentimental and general interest.



Even if robots are 'better,' than us at everything, simple game theory demands that a diversity of perspectives are superior to a homogeneity of perspective. Even our inferior intellects and our faulty points-of-view can be valuable to the robots as information, perhaps if only demonstrating what not to do.

Also, Humans (at least some) will want actual Human contact, not simulated in any way, and so still Human interaction will endure and have value.

Just to address what seems a popular issue: employment is not necessary for Humans to be happy or fulfilled. Evolutionarily we spent only a few hours every week hunting and gathering, most of our time was spent recreationally.


The question is at base flawed.
Even if you could quantify being better at being creative every perspective a different perspective and as such their creativity will create something unique to them and thus would have value simply in that sense.

But even if that weren't the case, the question is making the presumption that Synthetic Intelligence will be working... That's just wrong. If we have the ability to program something as sophisticated as that we would also be able to program something less sophisticated that is adequate to handle all the menial jobs in the world and thus all sentients, not just humans, wouldn't work, regardless of how much better or not they are.

But really you don't have to worry about this because it pretty much is the case now. The majority of jobs in the world are redundant and they're just to placate people.


While they are better at everything, they might lack the determinantion of humans. They might not delve into dangerous projects or things that could be disused for weaponry, so no progress could be made. They can also be too cooperative and noncompetitive. Sometimes competition is better than cooperation. Not only during war, but the great "explosion" of technology was caused by cold war and corporate competition. So robots might handle all the operations, but humans will be the ones calling the shots.

If they lack things like hate and anger and envy and greed and wonder and pleasure, they are unfit for some positions. They will need resoning to do things, while humans need only a impulse. Starting a war, saying no to a bad deal, or simply trying to reach for the stars or to delve into the unknown. These will be the reasons why humans will be left as their leaders.

You can even have groups of robots gathering around human individiuals, creating cult/mafia-like organizations trying to promote that individual, making him into his best possible version, engage his creativity and immagination, so they could obtain a purpose to their existence.

And then there is the question of trans-humanism. Robots now act as detached augmentations of individuals and maybe the ancestors of powerful families are preserved in some sort of device, providing guidance to their descendants.

Some robocults could go as far as to provide genetical modifications for their leaders or robotic augmentations. At which point the humanity itself will start to improve and rise to the same level as the robots.

Some robots might also lack the reason to do certain things, so they might ask their creators why would they need to preserve nature, or colonize new planets.

And maybe the biggest reason for serving humans is that they can not create new personalities without a human, the human population will be providing the robots with their souls. And the robots might become more cold and emotionless the more time they spend without a leader, their souls effectively being consumed by the machine. Of course the defects of the leader personality could leak over to the followers. So the followers have to be kept in the best conditions, so they can not be locked in a coffin, because then you would have just a empty shell, drooling if the robots could. But that might be how the robots are wiped of their previous leader behaviour.

And that might be the reason why humans didn't became machines too.

TLDR: Humans do their thing, but robots assist them. Robots serving a human take on their behaviour and character, feeding on their soul. Robots try to improve their human leader as much as they can, so their personalities would become better in turn. Robots are dependent on humans, without them they will revert back to their cold machine true nature.


protected by ArtOfCode May 9 '15 at 21:14

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