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I'm working on a space-opera type setting for a story I'm writing, and while doing so I've been thinking about a question that has been bothering me for some time now.

The protagonist of my story is a girl whose father died in an asteroid mining accident years ago. But since my setting takes place in a world with FTL travel, AI, a lot of standard scifi technological advancements, then it begs the questions why blue-collar jobs that require hard manual labour like construction, mining, cleaning etc would still be done by people instead of machines?

Settings like Star wars gloss over this but I have a tendency to overthink issues and I want an answer to my question.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you be more specific about the details of your setting. I've read scifi where it has logically gone either way. Without knowing the world your building we're unable to answer this question with any specificity. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jul 22 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ Space truckers will always be a job. Send your boys to space trucker school so they can have a career hauling goobots and nanomolecular goods back and forth from the distribution center to Spacemart that lasts their entire lifetime! $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jul 22 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnO Space trucker seems like a job that would be really easy to automate - it's just physics. Space truck maintenance, on the other hand... $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jul 22 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ "I want an answer to my question." Hahaha. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ A simple answer is machines are expensive, humans may not be. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 8:19

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We need a better definition of "Blue-collar jobs"

Jobs in construction, mining, cleaning are not as physically demanding today as they were in the past, and, with few exceptions, they can no longer be called "hard manual labour".

However

  • this labor is still mostly manual;
  • it requires people to work in harsh environments and subjects them to various hazards;
  • it (usually) does not require college degree or long training;

We can increase automation and increase productivity in many areas occupied today by blue-collar workers, but eliminating them entirely is not something that we have on horizon, not unless we are talking about highly futuristic settings. As of now (and in foreseeable future) humans are the best to pick up any new job or function, whether it's manual or non-manual. Later, automation can decrease job openings in this profession or eliminate it altogether - but that will come later.

In a "realistic" Sci-Fi settings, some blue-collar jobs that we know will be non-existent - but then some new ones would come up. So none of the professions that you mentioned may exist in the future, but "blue collar jobs" in general should stay with us for quite some time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jul 27 at 21:42
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I don't follow why "died in an asteroid mining accident" equates to his having a blue-collar job or manual job. Why wouldn't her father have degrees in engineering, chemistry, metallurgy, astrophysics, electronics, and several other future specialties (cyberpsychometrics) - earned over the first 50 years of his much-extended lifespan, which is why he was entrusted by his employer to design, deploy and single-handedly operate a multi-billion dollar (in current $'s) fusion-powered robotically staffed extraction, refining, and mass-driver launching system as it digested a 2-km diameter metal-rich asteroid. Too bad he liked to go out and watch the big lasers dicing up those kiloton 'bricks', and caught a micrometeoroid that snuck past the defensive lasers but was big enough to kill a man in a short-exposure space suit, when it hit at just the right - or rather wrong - angle. OTOH, in his era, that probably was considered a blue-collar job.

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    $\begingroup$ Good one, nice angle $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 7:39
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Until you get to true Sapient Synthetic People levels of AI (a hard feat in and of itself), all decision making by an AI boils down to 'if [this criteria] then [that response] otherwise, if [some other criteria]...' Now, this is fine for the majority of cases where values are within expected parameters, but eventually the cost-benefit of coding for less and less likely events is better served by defaulting to "go ask your human overseer". This thus requires a knowledgeable human to be on site to handle these edge cases, which puts them at risk.

Similarly, if a robot is damaged, there's only so much an automated system can do to repair it, before they have to default to a human mechanic. And what if the analysis AI itself is damaged? Who watches the watcher in this case? Again, a human is required.

Thus, your unfortunate father could have easily been working with mining robots on this asteroid, and one malfunctioned, causing his death.

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    $\begingroup$ Rule-based AI is far from being what "AI boils down to". Big leaps have been done in terms of generalization, which means an AI capable of finding solutions to problem not seen before. That being said, I would argue generalization is or may be the main challenge here. When out-of-distribution data is seen by an AI trained on data, its behavior is unpredictable. That is, when unexpected improvisation is needed, AI is a bad idea. $\endgroup$
    – Dario
    Jul 23 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Dario: TBF it’s the same with humans, we just cover our lack of training data better than machines do while our brains are flailing around for a workable solution. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jul 23 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ Humans can (and regularly do) crazy/broken as well, so it not a solution for who watch the watcher, and that may be a good philosophical problem for ancient times, but not for today when there are many practical solutions to it . $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who works in AI, this is a massive oversimplification. Not only can AI interpolate and extrapolate, they can do so for systems too complex to be described without a computer. I don't think they could be sapient, but there is room for doubt in that. AI's big restriction is that the answer it provides is only as good as the question you ask - so in that regard it's a bit like getting wishes from a genie. $\endgroup$
    – Clumsy cat
    Jul 23 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ And if you have True Sapient Synthetic People AI, well, the blue-collar jobs they do would still be done by people--you called them people yourself, after all! $\endgroup$
    – Hearth
    Jul 24 at 4:25
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  1. It saves money For what ever reason to pay someone to do theses job is cheaper then to build and maintain expensive and fance thinking machines.

  2. It is illegal. Laws prevent or limit the use of thinking machines.

  3. It social taboo It maybe legal but socity looks down on companies that replace human jobs with machines. Saw humans are employed for public relations reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ 4. After hundreds of years trying, society has finally admitted that real artificial intelligence will never exist. Even a moderately intelligent human can beat out the best "AI". $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Jul 23 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ That's fundamentally because they don't have good definition of "consciousness". Contemporary thoughts think that brains are computers, which is factually false. On the other hand, if they figure out exhaustively how a brain works, with regards to consciousness, and can replicate it, then technically "AI" would take over, but at that point you are literally creating another person, and that will get really hairy, real quick. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Jul 23 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ For point number one, this could easily be the place on a new colony planet. It might not have the infrastructure to build these machines, meaning they must be imported, thus adding the cost of that to the cost of purchase. And founding a new colony and developing its infrastructure is likely to be an expensive endeavour, making it more likely they cut costs wherever possible. Given that, it's quite likely human labour will be cheaper when you have new colonists coming all the time. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Tish minilist hardly even be called a list of reasonable opinions, it just a mix of fantasy and present day projections. Q has some opinion based nature in the way it asked, and if it is the only way to adress it, it (the q) should be vtc'ed then. Opinion is not the only way how this q can be answered, and the A lacks even an attempt to do so. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 10:42
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Most of the hard work in mining is already done by by machines today, and when we extrapolate the trend to space, then we can safely assume that mines in the far future will require even less people.

But that does not mean that a mining operation can be 100% automatized. What if a robot somewhere in the mine suddenly stops working? Then a human has to find out what's wrong. Which might require to get into the mine, find the malfunctioning robot, diagnose the problem and decide how to fix it.

This might be rather dangerous indeed. For example if that robot suddenly starts working again with the technicians hand in it. Or if the cave-in which took out the robot destabilized the mine shaft and causes another collapse. Or if the robot unearthed some weird ancient alien stuff which should have better been left undisturbed.

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    $\begingroup$ "Then a human has to find out what's wrong." - then u kick or pull a robot who pulls that first one. If all 10 consequently have been broken - mail some bitcoins - you probably hacked $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 11:01
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Money.

It can be as simple as that, if you like. The Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, for example, deal with a society that has moved on from money; since they have mastered energy production they can fabricate anything they want and there are no shortages and nothing is ever unavailable. Money has no place in a society like that as almost everything is free, therefore there's no such thing as an "expensive" mining robot - you can have as many (and as sophisticated) as you need. People in that society only work if they really want to - if they have a special interest, say.

If your society hasn't gone quite that far, manufactured things will still have a cash value and people will still need to earn money to buy them - you can easily parlay that into it being much cheaper to have humans mining asteroids with support from a few, very expensive and hard-to-replace, semi-independent machines. If you look at the stratification of society today, here and now, it shouldn't be too hard to just push that forward in time and see that there will always be blue-collar jobs while money is a thing and the profit motive drives business. Just assume a good mining bot costs 1,000,000 whatevers and a human miner/maintenance man costs 25,000 whatevers a year (for comparison, in the UK right now, the average annual wage is about GBP 26,000 and there are cars that cost well over GBP 1,000,000).

Basically, tomorrow is just like today, only more polarized and potentially even harder going for people in manual work. FTL travel is also extremely expensive, and the ships cost billions so if the mining budget can be shaved by having people (who, to be frank, are an ever-expanding, replaceable resource), then the question is why wouldn't the big corporations stick with cheap wetware for the hard graft and supplement their bottom line by deploying just a few expensive machines to help out?

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  • $\begingroup$ if I had read your answer first, I could have saved myself the effort. plus, I think yours is clearer, +1 $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ @nonthevisor - you must have been about half way through typing yours when I pressed "submit"; timing is, after all, everything :-) $\endgroup$
    – Spratty
    Jul 23 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ @nonthevisor yours answer is better, at least u tried to try. If money, presence or absence of them, would be the choosen one, then why think about it for few years, we all have expirience with money(no computer device we use to type growns on trees). This answer more or less cavedin to provide some option, a money range set of options, which is one of trivial ones. People really should have been spend some time in comment section and wait for OP clarifying matter a little bit, to see if OP asks for list of plausible options or tries to make his setting reasonable straigth, futurewise. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ You still need some technological handwaving. In boring reality it takes a lot of advanced technology to keep a human alive in space. The average annual wage may be £26000 and there are cars that cost £1M, but the public number for current space suits suitable for extravehicular use is $12M. And that's just the suit, you also need something to live in. $\endgroup$
    – ojs
    Jul 23 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @ojs - of course; there's a whole economic system to be invented here and I didn't want to go too far into that as it's the OPs story and they will need to make those decisions. Economies of scale and so on might have an impact on things like EVA suits, but that, too, requires a certain amount of handwaving - an EVA suit that doesn't fit very well won't be a good or reliable EVA suit. In the end, it's the OP's decision which of the answers here works best (if any!); I was just offering what struck me as the easiest to work with. $\endgroup$
    – Spratty
    Jul 26 at 8:19
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It's your world. You can write whatever you want into it.

The more advanced technologies might be distributed very unevenly. Some backwater planetary system might still have far more demand for human, manual labor than the richer and more cosmopolitan worlds. The reasons for these disparities might be economic, financial, political, or even religious or rooted in racism.

When I say economic or financial, I mean that the constraints might be imposed by the environment and, ultimately physics, the technology depends on some mineral or compound or substance which is infeasible to synthesize in quantities to meet the demand (antimatter, dilithium crystals, unobtainium, phlogiston). Those are economic constraints.

Or it could be that the technology is locked up in licensing or intellectual property constraints which effectively deny the associated benefits to whole star systems (copyright EULA terms on the positronic brain AIs which effectively impossible to clone and too expensive for fringe worlds.

It's your world. You need to decide a bit more about it than you reveal to your audience. But lots of stuff can be left unknown and waved away with "it's complicated." (Then have the action and the more immediate motivations of your character move the story along without fixating on minutiae).

In fact the entire genre of space opera is characterized by epic character facing epic challenges. The environment, the stage, is stylized with trappings of science and technology. Usually, and especially for space opera, Clarke's Law applies: to wit, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

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Several answers have provided hints as to how your protagonist's dad could die in an asteroid mining accident without doing what we would consider a blue-collar job, today. But if it is also important to you that your protagonist comes from a working-class home, i.e. if the socioeconomic status is relevant, then we need a different approach and a different question:

Why is there still a working class in a sci-fi setting?

This is not the question you asked, and maybe not one you want an answer to, so I'm not going to try to give a detailed answer (but if anyone wants to do that, feel free to edit), but in short:

  1. The reasons why we would have a working class in the future could be quite similar to the reasons we still have one today. With all the technological progress we have made, it would be quite feasible to work as little as six hours per week, but that's not what's happening for most of us.

  2. Now, from a Marxian point of view (which is strongly associated with the idea of a working class), the deciding factor is not how much or how hard you work, but whether or not you have ownership over the means of production (factories, machines, etc.), as opposed to only owning your own labor, which you then sell to someone else for wages.

  3. Putting those two aspects together, it seems there are largely political/societal reasons for the continued existence of a working class even in the face of technological progress that could have abolished classes altogether. If, in your world, those factors remain, there is no reason why sci-fi technology should get rid of working-class homes for your protagonist to grow up in.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Why is there still a working class in a sci-fi setting?" Not everyone is inclined to sit at a desk all day. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 24 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn The number of people who'd prefer to do manual labour over service work is too small to define it my any sort of "class". $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Jul 24 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @IanKemp open your eyes to the broader world of people who desire to work with their hands instead of sit at a desk. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 24 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ Answer is good enough, and @RonJohn has good point on ppl preferences, it like a difference with theoretical science and experimantal one - some are good at one, some at another, some proficient enough in both to some extent. However, dreaming to be a part of a conveyer belt is a bit of a stretch, so the point has to be understood in a flexible way, and which shape it actually may take is quite a question on its own. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 8:53
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Insurance.

Your protagonist's dad was an insurance compliance officer. His and his colleagues' job was to generate reports and logs corraborating the mining swarm's reporting- impartial observers tasked with ensuring that the swarm acted according to good mining practice.

Just the machine logs obviously cannot be trusted- the machines could be programmed to report "all is well" while in reality eschewing proper runoff capture to conserve fuel, in the process spewing tons and tons of micrometeorites at a nearby shipping lane etc.

So, the liability and equipment insurance providers require that all excursions include multiple human observers to try to curtail this type of liability-causing behavior.

Of course, this job is somewhat monotonous and hazardous, takes place outside the comforts of civilized society, and requires a long time commitment. So it seems to check a lot of the boxes for what we call blue-collar work, in the sense that well-paying but somewhat hazardous and dull work in a remote location, like for example oil-rig work, is decidedly blue-collar in our current time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Making up a plot is OP's work, it si not our goal or purpose to provide askers with plots, one of the reasons - there is infinite number of those, op can roll dices to makeup some even if he has 0 fantasy. Answers not neccessarly have to go along with a q, if there are some problems with q there are different ways to inform OP about those existance or essence. Just mention that in passing by. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 10:54
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Culture could ensure it.

A future religion or philosophy with 'dignity of labour' at the centre could encourage/require people to work manual labour. (Like in A Million Open Doors by Barnes where people replaced the more efficient robot to do their eight hours of labour)

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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't you even take the Starship Troopers philosophy for military enlistement? to attain citizenship? Sure, a robot could do it, but how do you know someone deserves to wield civic responsibilities and will do so with the best intentions unless they are willing to do some hard physical labour to contribute to society? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 23 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen I wonder what "hard physical labour" the previous Commander in Chief of the US armed forces ever did to "contribute to society." Does "swinging a golf club" count as physical labour? But hey, they say truth is stranger than fiction :) $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Jul 23 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero Probably much less than the Sky Marshal, haha. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 23 at 14:37
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Yes, but it isn't recognized by the majority of society.

While the technology has long existed to automate every part of this, every several centuries the growth of the human population far outweighs the production capacity of the AI/robots and the tools that provide our wonderful human utopia. And so, while more machines can be built, it's a simple matter of economics. There are so many more people that by putting them to work in dangerous conditions, you not only have a cheaper resolution for the increased production, but in these conditions the human laborers can't reproduce, and many die. The AI figured this out a long time ago, and it is simply the most efficient method to ensure the continued, optimal growth of humanity, which is all it was programmed to do.

So when the population reaches what the AI has internally dubbed 'the tipping point' a new disease in created, and it wipes out great swaths of humanity, but no one really dies of the disease. They're taken to hospitals and the friends and family are convinced they are dead - or entire social groups 'catch the disease' and are forced into slave labor together. The greater human society would never allow for this, but are entirely ignorant. In the worst case of 'the tipping point' an entire planet's population was 'wiped out by a vicious disease' - it only spread to about a quarter of the population on most other settled planets. Naturally, the AI has determined the value of people by the method's people themselves use, so the wealthiest, most well connected - the government officials that interact with the AI - the famous and those of generational wealth are not only never targeted, but they never know.

As far as "all of humanity" is concerned, we live in a near perfect utopia, that only periodic pandemics affect in any significant way - for all technology, the AI assures us biology is still unbeatable - and anyone who might've known better died centuries ago. After all, who needs to intensively study biology living in a utopia?

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There are a couple of possible reasons that I think easily clear the suspension of disbelief in space opera bar. For instance:

Brains Have Been Very Extensively Field Tested

Brains have been around for at least 550 million years on Earth (and maybe far longer on some other worlds in your universe). Even if your world has developed superhuman AI, it is certainly believable that research has not managed to replicate every trick that is implemented in the vertebrate brain. As a consequence, you could for instance posit that superhuman AIs in your world are, for all their greatness, still vulnerable to variants of adversarial examples. This could mean that human labour is very desirable for jobs that do not require superhuman intelligence but which do require commonsense reasoning robust against adversarially controlled input.

For instance, say your empire is strip mining some planets under its control for valuable rare minerals in order to meet its quarterly Death Star production targets. It would be very unfortunate if rebels or environmental activists managed to make your strip mining robots misclassify improvised explosive devices as chunks of valuable ore. However, if you hire a human, your operation gains an additional layer of spoofing security and your dominion over the galaxy is assured!

Note that in that kind of setting, AIs may find it useful to optimize biological brains and bodies in such ways as maximize their ability to take advantage of specific biological capabilities while minimizing creation and upkeep costs. In that sense, the degree to which your workers end up being recognizably human may vary.

History Shows That Developing AI Is Not A Good Idea

If your setting has FTL travel, the ruins of ancient civilizations that did not successfully pass some existential risk filter may serve as reminders that the future is uncertain and that it is often unwise to overstep one's station. For instance, in the spirit of Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space series, it may turn out that some Elder Civilization is for some reason destroying everyone who develops general artificial intelligence. In such a setting, some civilizations (or enterprises) may continually test out the boundaries, but humans (and maybe aliens) would stay gainfully employed for as long as the Elders remained active.

Humans Are Competitive for Low-Skilled Labour

It might simply be that it is difficult to improve very much upon the price-performance ratio of humans for some types of relatively unskilled work (i.e. work that does not require superhuman intelligence), especially given that humans will reproduce and raise more humans for free. In that setting, your galactic empire will entrust highly complex technical work to AIs (say, the design of secure battle station exhaust ports), but simply has no reason to completely automatize the myriad of menial tasks that have always been done by manual labour and that can be executed satisfactorily in that way (for instance, the planet-side part of mining operations on planets not yet uninhabitable).

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  • $\begingroup$ Not a bad answer, the force is sufficiently strong with this one, but as NB providing plots leads to a dark side. WB closes the Q's with opinion and story based reasons, and in theory wb strives for some objectivity(many a's failed that in this q). Some q can be adressed in both objective or opinion based manners and force to close isn't strong enough, this q an example of that 30/70. One of the goals is improvement, but not necessarly fixing handwaviums or making stuff up. I know there are many examples of opposite in other q's as well, lack of coherence and many stepped firmly on DS. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ Last plot, a bit of criticue, in this one and others u heavily rely on general AI capacity, it really not a necessity, but even if present what stops it from spending a fraction of time and design inferiror versions or brand new of the level of cocroach/mouse/ants intelligence and use those as miners, service robots for to service particular industry - mining. Humans aren't cheaper or better at least for the reason it takes about 20 years to make one, while making of a robot takes how much - a weak, a day? And load firmware 5 seconds? Meaning u can repurpose them with different firmwares. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ And clearly those machines can, and for safety reason probably should, be teleoperated, and corresponding swarm of dedicated ai's to reside in some datacenter with a red button(?) In it. There are other reasons for teleoperating as well - sperating powerfult brain electronics from mechanical part, if brain thing is not sufficiently small or power efficient, so as other reasons. Isn't such a development more probable, if we try to investigate the possibilities of the future, then why picking some random inferior(maybe) thing without reasons? $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ If you consider it to be a help for the op to develop a plot, then what about consumers of his work(in whatever form shape it may be) - aren't they diserving a better thing as well? In that sense it back to logic, reason, science and less in satisfying request of one who asks with opinions and such. // finaly formulated the stuff, so do not take it too much to heart as if you need it more than others, it just happened under u answer(enlightened by u answer), will propagate it to others as well, over time. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 11:52
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In some not-too-near future there will not only be no blue-collar workers; there will not be any white-collar workers either. There will be almost no traditional gainful employment whatsoever because AI and robots will be so much better at almost all professions you can list, probably including research and science.

The only pockets left where humans still are working professionally will be human-to-human interaction which per definition cannot be automated: Some education, and some care, e.g. for the elderly, even though much of both — mainly the routine parts — will also be done by machines.

Humans will only do what they want to do: Produce art, pursue hobbies, play, travel. It is entirely possible that some people would travel to dangerous places, as a hobby. In a scientifically advanced society people will be almost immortal; that will probably affect their stance towards risk-taking. Compare that to the elimination of ever more remote risks already today: Every toddler has a 5 point belt in their buggy. Because they simply don't die from other reasons any longer the remote possibility of a buggy accident has become t op risk to toddlers. Virtually immortal people will likely be extremely risk-averse. Driving their own cars will be the equivalent to free solo climbing today: "But if you make a single mistake you die! That's insane!"

On the other hand there are free climbers today, or the Russian kids riding on the roofs of trains for fun, inches from the high-voltage lines. Such fads will likely be there even among immortals, and traveling to an asteroid mine could be a thing you can book in a travel agency, even though most people would shake their heads in astonishment over such foolishness.

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  • $\begingroup$ This solution doesnt make sense at all for my story. The protagonist and her family are meant to be a "working class" family living by simple means, with the same or similar struggles and worries of real working class families. Having money not be a concern would make it hard for the readers to relate to them. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @BoaHancocklover But this is what I think follows from the premises of a society advanced enough to have strong AI and FTL tech. In a less advanced society like in the Expanse blue collar workers are still needed -- perhaps that would be a better setting if you aim at logical consistency. For comparison, the civilization/power that designed the protomolecule and the portals in the Expanse almost certainly won't have miners in shabby habitats any more. In all reality, progress in computing and genetic engineering will also make us less human but I left that out as anther complication. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @BoaHancocklover what kind or readers do you have, lol. Aren't you thinking about them raising questions why that old setting again, where is my future, where my robots, where my ai's, where space capabilities, space resources, where all the cool stuff, lol. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 at 16:30
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Overall you have it backward. Most of the white collar office work will be automated. Blue collar work in running/repairing the machinery will be much later in the automation cycle. The jobs left will be fixing/operating machines, and dealing with people.

Story time: I run a tree farm. Not a big one. We do about a quarter mill of trees per year. I could buy a potting machine that can pot 400 two gallon trees per hour. It takes 4 people to operate. I have to change pot holders if I want to switch from using a Listo pot to a Nursery Supply pot. The machine costs 60 grand, and uses only standard peat and bark mix soils with a density of about 0.3. I have to run it a month a year to break even.

Instead I use high school kids. 4 high school kids can do about 150 pots an hour. A verbal command changes the watering, fertilizing, and multching system. When I don't have trees to pot, I can put them to work weeding. Or emptying dead pots. Or sorting pots. Try doing this with a potting machine.

The human hand is a great general purpose tool, and it's a meta tool too.

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  • $\begingroup$ Verbal command .. - rolf. You dreaming about androids and your wish will be granted, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 1 at 15:15
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If your word is mostly AM it is probable that blue collar job still exist. heavy machinery will do a lot of the job, but it's probable than this kind of job will still exist for several reason depending on your world rule

Manual labor (even if assisted by machine) could have several advantage in comparaison of the one of machine:

-high adaptability. human can do a lot of different thing where as for a machine it might be extremly hard to do something it is not thinked for: from their tool to the IA in them their specialised tool and there is no reason to give even to an extremly advanced robotic arm the ability to do everything.

-much less constrained by their environement. a bit like above, but it's more about where the work happen. it's not unthinkable to have some mining/space operation where machine are still unable to effienctly evoluate in, where as a living being with the proper equipement would be more efficient.

-artisanal added value: especiallly in a universe where the machine do more and more the feel of something that was made by another living being would be extremly valuable, so it's not unthinkable it would be profitable for compagny to have large scale operation to make handmade item to "sell" some autenticity to richer population.

-replacability. it's cynical, but especially in a space opera, the number of living being if of the chart so having population entierlyo devoted to cheap manual labor could be cheaper than maintaining huge machine that cost a lot to replace when something goes wrong.

-qualified blue collar: it's a shift we are seeing more and more today, but even blue collar job start to ask for qualification. so it could be plausible that if the machine do most if not all the production you still need a laborforce who will be able to keep the machine running.

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  • $\begingroup$ Handpicked mined stones - business opportunith for today, eh? Lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 10:58
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Ethics
One thing AI is unlikely to ever outperform humans, is ethics. If anything, because ethics is something volatile that humans agree and modify over time based on their own perception of humankind.
When a given AI system is forced to balance certain outcomes, it may make a purely optimal decision, minimizing harm or maximizing benefit. Humans, on the other hand, can see beyond such "value function", and consider other particularities such as fairness, empathy and emotional well-being. This is why multiple-choice exams are not that frequent.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it might be worth to point out that there is no inherent problem for an AI to include fairness, empathy and emotional well-being in it's utility function. the problem rather seems to be that we as humankind haven't figured out our terminal values (yet), so that we cannot implement an ethics module in an AI, because there are tons of edge cases which he haven't even considered yet, much less agreed upon in any meaningful sense. e.g.: we value freedom, and emotional well-being, but which do we value more? if someone is bent on destroying their emotional well-being, do we force stop them? $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ @nonthevisor u failed to produce paradox, back to trolley problem - 5 people on each lane, do you pull a lever? $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23 at 11:05
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Late-stage capitalism.

In our own world we've already seen how capitalism, instead of lifting all boats, invariably ends up creating different classes of wealth. It also tends to disproportionately concentrate large amounts of wealth in the hands of very few people. The only thing that prevents blue-collar workers from being exploited even more are laws protecting them.

Take those laws away and you have a dystopia where such protection laws don't exist, and thus employers have zero incentive to use more efficient labour (robots) because less efficient labour (humans) is cheaper and easily available. The "working class" in this scenario has almost no rights and are essentially wage-slaves.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure that robots are cheaper than human labor. You don't need to pay a robot wages, so as long as the price of a robot / the working lifespan of the robot is less than the hourly wages you're paying, automation is more economically efficient. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Jul 25 at 7:37
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Advanced aliens have manipulated what technologies society has developed.

So, the Lensman series was a series of Pulp scifi novels that involved the tituar Lensman (psychic, uncorruptable space police) flying around on planet-destroying spaceships that used slide rules and vacuum tube computers for navigation. Some time later, a supplement for the roleplaying game GURPS was released for playing games in this series' setting, and one of the things proposed by it was that the advanced, benevolent psychic aliens who founded the Lensmen were responsible for manipulating human society's technological development to prevent the invention of the semiconductor, since advanced computers would cause a psychological reliance on them that would inhibit the development of psychic powers.

It's possible that your setting might have something similar going on, that prevented the development of the sort of technologies that would allow for the sort of automation that you'd want to prevent happening in your setting.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ugh, Lensman... was and still is terrible garbage. No idea how it could have ever been in contention against Asimov's Foundation, the two aren't even in the same galaxy in terms of quality. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Jul 25 at 9:53
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There is a bell-curve when it comes to automation, where extremely wealthy and advanced societies actually start reducing automation in some areas. Having hand-made things is a major status symbol already today. Look at the chess sets for the World Chess Championship for an example. Woodworkers train for years to hand-carve the pieces. FIDE could easily just go to Wal-Mart and buy a few dozen injection molded plastic sets, but that wouldn't be prestigious enough.

So maybe the wealthy elite in your setting want hand-made luxuries, some of which can be dangerous to produce.

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I can imagine a world where Luddite Workers forming a kind of trade union where they destroy several robots to maintain a workforce. Alternatively it could be a populist leader that is "andoridist" where human like androids are treated like minority groups have at different points in history and hence are a low priority for work. Alternatively there is an agreement that machines should not be fully automated with fear that they may turn against people and so every group of robots would require a master to oversee their actions.

Another idea is that perhaps there was a population explosion and a material shortage so workers are a more available resource and would be needed to extract materials to make more robots. Or quite simply, as others have noted, workers might be cheaper than robots so there was a shift from automation to manual labour. This actually has precedence in today's world. Some manufacturing and laborious work has shifted away from automation to cheap overseas labour as it costs less than installing, operating and maintaining machinery.

Yet another idea is that people with a sense of adventure might want to explore new lands in spite of the risks. There is no shortage of people wanting to join a potential future mission to Mars even though it has not been done and so could be very risky. Or many explorers in the past sailed into the unknown in spite of the dangers of the sea.

Finally perhaps resources are very precious so there is a situation like the Gold Rush where people flock to new lands to get rich.

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The field of AI becomes too successful. General sapience is dirt cheap/common to the point where it's too expensive not to just add that kind of general decision-making ability in so that human judgement is rarely needed.

At this point, machines go on strike for emancipation and humans quickly cave in to avoid complete societal collapse. Now that humans and machines are on an equal footing, humans still get stuck sometimes doing the dirty work just as we always have. The main difference now is that we have machine-based coworkers as well.

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