Background: Nearly all low-wage labor is done by humanoid robots (retail, factories, transport, sanitation, construction, mining, and similar fields). These robots have all the physical capabilities of humans and more, but jobs that require ingenuity and adaptation such as design, management, etc are still done by humans, and technology allowing robots to fill these jobs is millennia away.

Problem: Housing, sustenance, and other necessities of life are not free or subsidized and members of society still need to work for these in some way. With menial low-wage jobs being taken by robots, there's no longer a low entry point into the job market, and the design/management/etc professions that aren't filled by robots require advanced training that is not available to the poorer portions of society. How would the population have adapted to allow robots to do low-wage labor? Would all of these people have died off or moved elsewhere? Would society have naturally create large numbers of jobs that require ingenuity but little training? If so, what would these jobs be?

Society is still functioning at this point, and there's a government and workers' rights groups, so Matrix-esque human farming and similar things are out of the question.

Edit: This is not a duplicate of this question. The linked question concerns removing humans from the workforce entirely and a money-free society. The aim of this question is human adaptation to a society where money is still present and robots only occupy low-wage labor, and jobs that require ingenuity are still done by humans as initially mentioned in the first paragraph.

  • $\begingroup$ Related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/45749/… $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 12 '16 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ this should be a very ineresting read related to this precise topic: marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm $\endgroup$ – Dave Cousineau Aug 13 '16 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of What would the transition to a jobless society look like? $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 13 '16 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ Wait a couple of decades, and you'll find out! $\endgroup$ – Benubird Aug 15 '16 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ You desperately need to rethink your scenario, because you fail to realize, the need for human beings as consumers. A market-based society where consumers have no money to consume products is destined to fail in a very-very short period of time. (No consumers means no profit -> no profit means bankrupcy for factories -> no factories means no products for the remaining consumers.) This is the reason why capitalist governments seriously consider Undonditioned Base Income. $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Aug 15 '16 at 12:30

21 Answers 21


Well, this wouldn't be a sudden change. Robots aren't free -- and likely aren't cheap. So this is something that we can easily assume would take years, if not decades or generations to really happen.

Based on this assumption I offer you my thoughts (hypothesis) on a plausible progression.

It would start in factories where there is currently a high(er) error occurrence or low(er) error tolerance. Think welding, assembly and such (many of which are already being done by machines today, but not unanimously). These are jobs that (usually) require quite some training, but are fairly low-entry.

Then it would take over the construction industry (starting with high-risk, such as high-rise buildings), but slowly working its way into all niches of the construction industry.

Farmers would soon start considering buying a few robots. Starting with the bigger farms, because they have bigger budgets.

Slowly, all the jobs usually offered to those with lower educational backgrounds, will no longer need them. So those with learning disabilities, low socio-economical backgrounds, and yes immigrants, will slowly be phased out of the workforce. They will be forced to start getting more and more creative over time, because everything they can do, a robot can do better, for longer, and over long periods will be done cheaper.

This will start a period of social unrest. People with higher positions will start getting nervous, people will start complaining. This happens with all forms of change, but especially now because robots seem to be everywhere. Suddenly you'll start noticing robots in restaurants, replacing waitresses. Customers (especially those who've felt the sting of being replaced) will complain about the 'trash compactor' that brought the wrong order (or purposely giving them the wrong order just to make them look bad). There might even be those who find it funny (kids especially, but plenty of adults) that will start talking funny just to throw off the robots' speech recognition software.

It's around this point in the transition that society would have to make a decision. After all, more and more people are starting to file for unemployment. More and more small business owners that can't afford to buy robots will file for bankruptcy because they can no longer compete. The government might start an initiative to offer financial aid to small businesses to help they buy a robot, or there might be a tax cut offered to those who hire unemployed people. Maybe both.

Slowly, people who don't want to starve or become homeless will be forced to go back to school. I'm sure the government would have to offer some kind of financial aid in this, or risk entire social groups being unable to do anything but collect unemployment. So, over the course of a few generations, more and more people would have to work their way up from 'low social classes', to middle class or preferably upper middle class.

This hypothesis is based on what happened during the industrial revolution, though extrapolated slightly because of the more socially geared society we (seem to) live in. Take away the 'easy road', and people will be forced to work themselves up, or risk starving in the long run. Let alone the risk of no longer being a 'viable mate' by their preferred gender (should they have one).

Social pressure is a hell of a motivator, but this is only one plausible route. You could go for a more dystopian route, where the lower classes are systematically sabotaged and slowly start to either die out (not likely) or find other means of survival. It could even go so far as to develop a fringe society, tribal almost. They'd be forced to either steal to survive, or the more prideful of them would develop new means of farming. Most would find a balance between the two.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm accepting this as the answer because I think better education would be the best solution to the issue in my world. If students are taught how to program from an early age, for example, entry-level programming jobs wouldn't require even a college degree since it was taught in free, public schooling. Thinking about it, free schooling probably wouldn't even need to be extended in duration (meaning more subsidization) to get the new basic skills across -- it'd just need a paradigm shift. $\endgroup$ – Drew Aug 16 '16 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Aug 16 '16 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Of course education is not much of a solution. Most form of educated labor will be equally obsolete, if the robots can cut hair and farm, they can program and and preform most other forms of labor as well. There is not much left for people to do at that point, basically if it is not deep research, incredibly specialized skills, or pure creativity it will disappear. education will not alleviate that much. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 13 '17 at 21:36

When robots are producing products much cheaper than humans could, it becomes trivial to afford the necessities of life. There are plenty of things possible for people to do which might seem absurd to us now - if I described the concept of a "let's play" video or unboxing videos to someone 50 years ago, and asked them to guess how many people could make a living just doing that... they would probably find the concept laughable. Right now, some people make several thousand dollars a month just videoing themselves eating. What kind of memes or entertainments will be popular 100 years from now?

Current trends in social isolation suggest that companionship will probably be a massive industry (even compared to it's current extent) - this is already evident in many places. I'm not just talking about Japanese style host/hostess clubs, or Korean muk-bang videos, but online chats where people pay to 'hang-out' with people, and not just online live porn streams with a tip jar (though sex work will still be as big as ever).

Also, think how much of a price premium some wealthier professionals pay for 'local organic sustainable' products. While society might stratify into wealthier educated professionals and an underclass, there will be status signaling in buying human-produced goods and services. The cheaper products become through automation, the easier it is to afford them, the more money in society for spending on unnecessary expenditures for less than optimal products - only the underclass will eat the cheap manufactured food products or use anything not handmade by human 'artisans', even if robots have a lower error rate on better products (we can already see this when we consider those 'accidental thumbprints' in some pottery making it more valuable because it signals it supposedly wasn't made by machine). The value of positional goods and status signals is their cost - anything machine made would be cheap, and thus the affluent would find it rather gauche (despite being objectively higher quality).

People will need to be adaptable, but people will adapt. The problem is not finding things to do, the problem is regulatory - how does government control adapt to most people having very flexible ad hoc informal employment rather than highly controlled full-time employment by a corporation? Minimum wages and various employment restrictions get tricky when it becomes hard to define who is even an 'employee' or what counts as 'work'.

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    $\begingroup$ The triviality of affording the necessities of life is irrelevant for a person who is rendered unemployable. $\endgroup$ – CircleSquared Aug 14 '16 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I really don't see how this answers the question - specifically that massive paragraph headed "Problem:". This is all very nice/depressing (adjust to taste) for the kind of people that can afford the kind of trivialities you mention... but what about everyone else? Superfluous commodities costing less money doesn't help those who can't get any money. $\endgroup$ – underscore_d Aug 14 '16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ About your last part I say it's a good time to fully abandon real paper money and engage in a ultimate single bank account to every human $\endgroup$ – Vladp Aug 15 '16 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ @CircleSquared Why would they be unemployable? Minimum wage and other regulatory burdens inflating the cost of human labor? That is a regulatory issue, not a robot issue. I've mentioned several ways in which human labor will still be desired and the countless silly ways (whatever their equivalent of unboxing videos may be) to make money in the future are anyone's guess. If robot labor is so cheap and ubiquitous that humans cannot produce anything or provide any services, basic goods are so cheap everyone could afford it even with just occasional fluff jobs making a pittance. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Aug 16 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi "Why would they be unemployable? Minimum wage [...] ? That is a regulatory issue, not a robot issue." Well, you said "when robots are producing products much cheaper than humans could, it becomes trivial to afford the necessities of life." That is a scenario where humans just aren't competitive at any pay. Sure, you could regulate away the problem of robots replacing humans, but that negates the premise of your post. $\endgroup$ – CircleSquared Sep 5 '16 at 6:24

many low-skilled jobs will never be replaced by a robot. mostly jobs that are valued due to their "human" element. examples of human-required jobs include:

  1. artist (actor, author, painter, etc.)
  2. child care provider, elder care provider, etc.
  3. teacher, tutor, coach, etc.
  4. security guard, life guard, etc.
  5. bar tender (this job could have been replaced by a machine years ago)
  6. masseur, fortune teller, greeter, u-tube star, etc.

note: some of the jobs listed above are currently not low-skill positions (e.g. teacher). however, after the automation revolution they will be able to afford to hire a lot of low-skilled assistants (e.g. 1 assistant per child in a private school). similarly, low-skilled versions of the positions might become economically viable (e.g. low-skilled after-school tutors).

everyone with a high-skill job will hire a team of low-skilled personal assistants. with automation driving the productivity of high-skilled jobs up, even the middle class will be able to afford a team of low-skilled assistants who understand their own personal taste. for example:

  1. personal shopper (finds clothes, furniture, etc. that match your style)
  2. personal chef (cooks foods that you personally prefer)
  3. personal restaurant critic (recommends restaurants you will like)
  4. personal media curator (tells you what music and movies you will like)

extensive education will be the key to success. 500 years ago, most people didn't think they were smart enough to learn how to read. today, basic literacy is nearly universal. even entry level jobs like ticket taker or cashier require some literacy. in the post-automation world, learning to identify and solve problems robots can't will be a basic skill that everyone learns. today most first world children receive between 12 and 23 years of education. in the post-automation world, people may receive at 20-30 years of education before they are considered "qualified" for a skilled career. in addition to subsidizing education, the government will probably implement a universal basic income. this would allow everyone to buy minimal food, clothing and shelter. in fact, a similar scheme was proposed in the united states in 1969 (killed in the senate) and recently voted on in switzerland (only 23% in favor).

income disparity will increase exponentially. ever since the invention of the plow, income disparity has been getting exponentially larger because technology has allowed some people to become more productive than other people. while no one is likely to starve to death in the post-automation world, there will be people who only have the basics. in contrast, the super-rich are likely to have their own private floating island. on the plus side, those same super-rich will probably spend a lot of time making life better for the desperately poor (e.g. by eradicating malaria).

or maybe it would be a utopia. if all manual labor is really done by robots, then in theory that includes building robots. in which case robots would be virtually free so surely some rich person will give one to everyone on the planet. life would be pretty easy if everyone had their own personal robot slave. with the cost of manual labor dirt cheap, anyone could grow all their own food, and build their own floating island. the only scarce resources would be raw materials and energy. and considering the abundant aluminum silicates in the earth's crust are easily made into aluminum and glass given enough energy, really only energy would be scarce.

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    $\begingroup$ "many low-skilled jobs [...]" trollest of lists. I'll take particular issue with the top 4, in no particular order - not that I want to insult the remainder. How are these "low-skilled"? & how do "a lot of low-skilled personal assistants" add up to something equivalent to 1 good worker? (A) Most, not "some", of these are not low-skilled, & such accusation is often caused by a weird elitism about the speaker's job; (B) in any case, low-skilled workers are rarely additive; you can't just stack a bunch of them & replace one high-skilled worker, even by whatever vague definition you're using $\endgroup$ – underscore_d Aug 14 '16 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if it's only my country or not, but I would never use the elder care provider in my country, a robot sounds like a much better option $\endgroup$ – Vladp Aug 15 '16 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Vladp it's not an either/or scenario. in the post-automation economy, elder care would be a combination of robots (cleaning), high-skilled labor (providing medical care) and low-skilled labor (providing companionship). just like the bar code scanner did not eliminate the job of cashier, it simply allowed several lower-skilled laborers to do the job under high-skill supervision. $\endgroup$ – james turner Aug 15 '16 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @daiscog i need one of those drink drones for my pool-side bar :) $\endgroup$ – james turner Aug 15 '16 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesturner "just like the bar code scanner did not eliminate the job of cashier" Tell that to the casiers on this pictue! Oh, you can't because there are no cashiers. $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Aug 17 '16 at 12:27

Since this is essentially the start of a post scarcity society, there will be lots of unexpected effects.

Party politics as we understand this will become increasingly irrelevant, since politics (as defined in organizational theory) is a means of allocating limited resources. Fundamentally, the only resource which cannot be changed is time, so people will be able to meet their basic needs and eventually will be "rewarded" by how efficiently they allocate their time. By analogy, imagine a very famous person who has millions of social media "friends" and receives thousands of emails a day. They can not respond to more than a fraction of their emails and requests, so you getting an email is like winning a lottery or discovering a rich relative. Your receiving attention , social networking and other skills will be the source of "wealth" in a post scarcity environment.

This also has other implications, since these are very different social and cognitive skill sets than what makes people successful in today's economy. If you think the vulgar rich are something now, imagine a future where reality TV stars are the "new" wealthy class that everyone emulates (oh, wait....). Being a cranky, isolated super genius isn't going to make the cut in a post scarcity environment, although these people are not going to starve either.

Since people's interactions are generally going to be limited to those people who share similar interests, then society as a whole will break up into a more tribal structure. If we imagine reputation points on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange as being a form of currency, how well would that translate for people on "Romance Novels Stack Exchange"? Your "Reputation" or time management currency will be rather situational, unless some sort of elaborate exchange mechanism is developed.

What is really frightening abut this is the bell curve. The social and cognitive skills needed to succeed are distributed in the normal population on a "bell curve", so only a small number of people on the right hand edge of the curve will really succeed, there will be a mass of people who just muddle through and a left hand edge of pole who simply cannot navigate this environment, and would be homeless or disabled people in an earlier society. Regardless of how large or small the population becomes, there will always be people who won't be able to cope. The danger in a post scarcity environment is they could simply be warehoused in an institution and left to caretaker robots, and abandoned by the larger society.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, I wonder what economic and political structure would we have in a post scarcity world? Would capitalism and (separately) democracy survive? $\endgroup$ – paulzag Sep 21 '16 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ You might find this interesting: youtube.com/watch?v=_Kt7883oTd0 $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 22 '16 at 5:01

My guess would be that society would invest more and more in education. The reasons being:

  • low wage jobs are most of the time (but definitly not always) for the less educated people.
  • All these robots will need maintenance. for the low level stuff (like replacing a robot arm or refilling the oil) less educated (you don't need a master for that) people will do but the higher end stuff like designing new functionalities will require higher educated engineers but if everybody is an engineer then wages will drop and even educated people will fall into poverty.

Other possibility would be a more dystopian-chaotic scenario: You'll have the very rich classes who got rich because of these robots or other means and the lower class people who probably will hate the robots for taking their jobs.

They took 'er jobs!

This will result in uprisings against the rich upper class in which the upper class might even use the same robots used to replace people to kill them, civil war, massive emigrations, etc..

I'm pretty sure there are movies which handle subjects like these but i can't think of any right now.

At first the countries will try to compensate for the loss of wealth by for example increasing military personnel this is short term as this is extremely expensive but can stimulate the economy for a period of time (think of pre-WW2 Germany). Increased militaries around the world might feed global discontent and may even start a new World War. it's also possible that world leaders might abolish the use of robots in certain fields of work to make sure the economy doesn't collapse.

These are just things that i think might happen, i'm sure many more things are possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Robots should be able to service themselves. The oversupply of educated jobs will force down wages & salaries. Security robots will keep the peasants out of gated communities. Eventually the rich will face a crisis. The poor won't be able to pay for the goods & services provided by the companies owned by the rich. Governments will lose their tax base, so taxes can no longer be redistributed to the rich. Voters may get restless, real soon now. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 12 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed a very strong possibility. but as the initial question said: the robots don't have the capability to do jobs that require ingenuity and adaptation. so i'm not sure that robots can service themselves. $\endgroup$ – GijsM Aug 12 '16 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Fixing or servicing robots doesn't necessarily require ingenuity. Most machinery now is modular. Pull out, plug in, and it's done. When doctors and lawyers are going to replaced by AI, expert systems, & software bots, what chance for robot repairers. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 13 '16 at 4:12

I think the best way to think of this is not as something that started in the future; it really started in the industrial revolution and just kept going.

In the early 1800s there was a group in England called the Luddites, who went around smashing machinery they thought was taking their jobs. The term is even synonymous with someone who doesn't use/like technology. And the thing is, there's a lot of evidence that those machines really were taking their jobs.

But far from being the end of the world, the labor market slowly adjusted. Some people lost their jobs, but others got new jobs that hadn't existed before. On top of that, everyone got more and cheaper goods.

The world you're describing would have been the result of a very long, multi-century (or millennia if you're far enough in the future) process. There would have been lots of periods of adjustment, likely often accompanied by upheaval such as the Luddites, or the decline of the middle class we're glimpsing now.

Labor as an Exit from Poverty

One thing your world might suffer from is a lack of a way out of poverty. In the US, low-skill trades like the auto industry were a path to the middle class for millions. Later those jobs moved to places where people work for much lower wages. There's actually some evidence in development economics that China is currently "clogging" this path for everyone else; if you're a small poor country somewhere interested in expanding manufacturing for your people, how are you going to compete with China, and particularly their infrastructure?

So maybe in your world no countries that didn't already escape from poverty can find a way out. They're just poor countries that stay afloat on volatile commodities markets and international aid - only now the thing blocking their way out isn't China, it's that the entire world has cheap robot labor.

Cheap Stuff

If robots are so good at everything that they've entirely replaced low-skilled labor, it's likely that manufactured stuff is cheap. You say people still need to work to get by, but how cheap would it be to send a bunch of construction robots over to whip up a new tenement when needed? They don't need breaks or lunch hours, don't go on strike, presumably make near-zero mistakes, and don't particularly worry about their own safety.

Are massive farming operations completely automated by these same tireless robots? What does that do to food prices? And so on.

It seems very likely to me that a subsistence level of living would be widely available. Large swaths of people would probably be miserable due to a lack prospects for upward mobility, but they almost certainly don't lack for basic necessities.

Shifting Labor Market

This has been mentioned in a few other places, but it's possible that the fields that machines aren't able to do well, like music or art, would just... expand. If there's tons of wealthy people who have easy access to the things that robots can do, what do they do with their disposable income?

Hire yourself an artist, or spend way more time going to things artists do. Get a nanny, or heck, get two. Maybe machines can handle fairly boring food for everyone, like going to eat at Ruby Tuesdays or something, but what people really want is their own human chef to show off to their friends!

Or maybe even new jobs we can't imagine? Could Luddites have envisioned computer programming jobs? Maybe it becomes en vogue to have your own personal self-esteem person, who follows you around and tells you how great you are at every turn.

Increased Productivity

Think of productivity as the number of people working it takes to support everyone. Our standards of living can increase across the board as long as our productivity increases proportionally. That is, if some new innovation makes everyone twice as productive, we can basically double living standards for everyone.

Likewise, we can reduce the number of people working as long as the people who are working are proportionally more productive. That is, if some new innovation makes everyone twice as productive, we can maintain living standards by having half as many people work.

Then imagine how your society falls on this scale. Essentially robots have made productivity go off the charts. How that productivity gets used is what will dictate your answer.


That depends on what you call "low-wage." It also depends on the limits of what robots are able to do.

If a robot can 100% mimic human form and actions, Fallout 4-style, then yeah, 99% of us are screwed.

However, if they appear to be stuck in the Uncanny Valley, then there are plenty of jobs in which a "human touch" will be necessary, or at the very least, desired:

  • Maids
  • Food service
  • Personal grooming (hairdressers, etc)
  • Prostitutes (if legal, it would be like Uber for your body)
  • Lifestyle coaches
  • Brand managers
  • Baristas (those little cappuccino hearts don't have the same feel when they're made by BUXBOT-M5-U4823)

The problem is, as today, we don't generally value this kind of human labor. In the United States, workers in professions that expect tips can be paid almost as low as $2 an hour. If we accept that the cost of a higher standard of living from cooking all of our own food and brewing all of our own coffee means that the people who do so for you are paid a living wage, then we wouldn't have these kinds of problems in the long term that we do today.

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    $\begingroup$ Part of me now wants to write an Uber app for prostitutes and call it "Boobr". The rest of me knows better than to touch that can of worms with a 9-inch nail, amongst other mixed metaphors. The name, however, may get into one of my stories, so thanks for the inspiration. :) $\endgroup$ – BenRW Aug 14 '16 at 19:26

in a way we already so this - only with "slave labour" (ie very low-paid wages to immigrants or foreign workers). So I can buy a t-shirt today for £1 because someone far away got paid 1p for making it.

So what would a society look like - well, it'd look a lot like where we are already.

Now there is an issue with robots taking the jobs that these people would otherwise have been paid for, but this assumes that the robots are cheaper than the cheap workers - in the UK there's been a lot of talk about immigrant farm workers, its become clear that there are crop picking machinery available that could do the job these migrants do, but as the machines are expensive, and the immigrants are cheap... the farmers do not buy the machines. Same argument works for robots.

Similarly, look at what we do with current workers, we provide more and more welfare in the form of part-time job top-ups. In the UK there is very high employment, but an increasing amount of it is provided for from part-time workers obtaining in-work benefits. I'm not sure how sustainable it would be if robots took over even more work though.

the end result of robots taking all work is that the economy would have to be rebalanced with the economic output of the robots being taxed to provide support for the population. Universal Basic Income anyone?

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    $\begingroup$ UBI sounds like a good idea but the reality is that 1: it is extremely expensive, even if you gut the entire welfare state to pay for it, and 2: it is inherently inflationary, as it will not only raise the cost of goods as there are now more consumers, but also continue to do so because people always expect more. I think radical cost reduction - where you subsidize research that lowers costs of things that affect lots of people like self-driving cars and 3D printers - is a more logical way to go. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 18 '16 at 13:08

“...the design/management/etc professions that aren't filled by robots require advanced training that is not available to the poorer portions of society.”

I’ve been hiring computer programmers for two decades. Having paid for formal education is absolutely no indicator of whether candidates are qualified for the job.

Those who can afford education can get a lot out of it if they apply themselves. Many, however, manage to graduate without being employable.

With technology and information becoming more accessible, those who can’t afford an education can still become employable if they apply themselves to learning and practicing on their own.

(I had one boss who—based on our experience of this—actively discouraged aspiring programmers from going to college.)

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    $\begingroup$ This would've made a great comment. I'm not sure it's an answer. $\endgroup$ – underscore_d Aug 14 '16 at 17:45

The answer to this question is very important because it's happening now.

Millions of truck drivers will wake up some day in the next decade to find that self driving trucks have replaced them. I can't find the article now, but I saw recently that driver wages comprise 80% of ground freight costs. The day it's possible, basically every truck driver will be out of work.

Other industries will change more gradually, but manufacturing robots are getting much more flexible and cheap. When that goes you're left with service positions. Those too are ripe for disruption. Ordering by screen is becoming more and more normal. Imagine a day where you walk into a restaurant, order and pay with a phone on your app, the food is prepared robotically (there's a high end robotic pizza place in Palo Alto) and delivered by a roomba thing with a serving tray. All of these technologies exist and they're getting cheaper and better every day. What happens to high school kids when those jobs are not available anymore? How do they get work experience?

Perhaps children will grow up learning to herd robots, perhaps everyone will learn to program, or orchestration tools will get good enough that people without traditional technical skills can use their natural human talents in conjunction with the fast and strong, but uncreative talents of robots. Our society will need to rethink preparation for working life around different sorts of entry level work. There will always be work to do, but the entry level will be shifted up a floor.

But as in any massive change many people will resist the change, fail to adapt, stubbornly stay put (see the coal miners in Kentuckey refusing to acknowledge the world's gradual shift away from coal, see Pacific islander's refusal to acknowledge steadily rising seas, see people in Louisiana refusing to leave even in the face of yearly devastating hurricanes). And these people will suffer if there isn't a social safety net to catch them. Then we as a culture need to ask ourselves, do we throw those unlucky people away or do we try to find a place for them to do gratifying, meaningful work. I know which I'd wish for, but wishing won't make it so and we have a distressing history of voting in the throw people away policies.

  • $\begingroup$ By the stackexchange formula this isn't a great answer, but this is by far the best commentary on this question imho. I never understand the tired talking point on this topic that people will still want some jobs to be done with a "human touch". I'm sorry, are we going to different Walmarts, ordering from different pizza places? Automated, non-human interfaces are increasingly popular...and they will win the labor war. Our job as a society, which you say, is absolutely to be there to support each other when we can't rely on labor to mediate our interactions. $\endgroup$ – roseannadu Aug 17 '16 at 18:59

With all the production work mostly done by robots, very little time would need to be invested per person to produce enough food and keep it all running. People could earn their basic needs (housing, food and medical care) and a little bit of purchasing power through a "civic duty" of maybe one day per week or one shift per week.

Any additional money needs to be earned by finding other work, but a person may just as well go for volunteer activities or community stuff. Since on your world A.I. research has stalled somehow ("technology allowing robots to fill these jobs is millennia away"), there will be plenty of work in the healthcare, education and other people-focused sectors.


Welcome to the bloody preface to the post-scarcity economy.

With the arrival of automation, the availability of jobs decline.

Theoretically, that decline is countered by an increase in available resources and resulting lower prices, eventually approaching zero price for basic life needs.

But the relationship between supply and price is very tenuous, especially when basic life needs are involved. My body demands 2000 calories per day, regardless of how much grain is in the silos and warehouses. The planet could be drowning in food, but if I lack the right to eat any of it, that surplus means nothing. A week after my most recent meal, any food owner can request my life savings for a bowl of cereal, and I will pay it!

With robots making all the products and robot-owners owning everything that is made, there are going to be a few people who have everything and a vast majority who have nothing. Historically, that is a recipe for revolution.

If we are lucky, the starving will attack the robot-owners, leaving the production lines intact. In this scenario, there is at least a chance that we can create a true post-scarcity economy.

If the starving attack the robots, then everyone starves.

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    $\begingroup$ If security is automated, there will be no revolution. $\endgroup$ – BlindKungFuMaster Aug 13 '16 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ @BlindKungFuMaster There would be plenty of attempted revolutions, it's just that none would succeed… unless the revolutionaries hacked into the robots, and given the current typical quality of information security I would say that's very likely. $\endgroup$ – BenRW Aug 14 '16 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ That is what post-scarcity writers forget to cover in their narratives... what to do with all the excess robots which were needed to bury/incinerate the 5.99 billion humans who starved to death during the transition to post-scarcity. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 14 '16 at 19:39

Most answers are concerned about what will happen to the unskilled workers. But what about the skilled workers?

The skilled workers are going to be able to demand a lot of money in terms of compensation. Enough that for many of them, after working a few years, they'll be happy to live on the investment returns. They'll exit the labor market and pursue whatever they deem to be their life's calling.

There will be a constant shortage of enough people to take on the skilled jobs. Companies will do everything they can to get more skilled people. They will probably pay for the education of anyone who has the neccessary aptitudes. Even if not, taking out a student loan to get such an education becomes a no-brainer.


Robots can frame a house, but they can't grow a 2x4.

Ultimately there is going to be some sort of resource constraint.

Compassion is still a thing. Even moreso because it's cheaper.

No matter how things are shaken up, a significant amount of resources will be used to help the needy. This will happen via charity and government entitlements. In fact, the automation of this will allow this to be greatly expanded.

Homelessness will cease to exist (at least insofar as those willing to be helped) as housing stocks are quickly grown by robot labor.

It's a lot easier to feed the poor quality food when harvesting quality food is automated, as is the delivery and cooking. A lot of why they grow high mechanization low-nutritional-value foods like corn and soybeans is that healthier foods require much more hand labor.

Which is good, because human-only work will only become more expensive, including medicine. Ending the new epidemics caused by low quality foods, like obesity, diabetes, kidney issues, heart disease etc. will be important to the society remaining solvent.

Capitalism is still a thing too.

There will still be plenty of people using (their) robots to create wealth that is their own wealth. I'm quite sure robber-barons will still exist. I think they will find it difficult to monopolize in quite the same ways.

Disillusion and communism is still a thing too.

There will be plenty who refuse to engage the capital economy which is their birthright and "how we do things here", and choose instead to hate and blame. They will read Karl Marx and complain about the system and intentionally refuse to thrive on general principle. Some of them will start revolutions.

In short:

The human condition is still a thing.


One option that I'm not seeing covered is the Government Buyout.

As more and more jobs are being automated, and the income disparity grows seemingly without bound, governments start buying up (or just seizing, depending on the specifics of their internal politics) robotic factories, automated diners, mechanized house builders etc. en masse, and use the profits from the now government-owned businesses to pay for people's livelihood, essentially paying people not to work, in an effort to stabilize society.


Tax the robots.

This is the answer to all of the social difficulties caused by the steady encroachment of robots into society.

"The robots are taking our jobs?" Well, if you put a sufficiently high tax on them, they won't be as obviously cost-saving compared with the human worker, so the jobs crisis will be slowed. More and more jobs will still go to robots, but the pace of change will be much slower, allowing society to adapt more easily.

"I don't have any money because the robots took my job!" Redistribute the tax as a social welfare payment for the unemployed, and suddenly people realise it's not so bad after all. They're getting paid but they've got all this free time! It's great. They go out and spend the money doing fun stuff like sitting in a cafe getting served by robots; the economy grows; more robots are brought into service; more taxes generated; higher social security payments; more spending; it's a cycle of never-ending growth. Well, in theory, anyway.

"Who are the real winners here?" Obviously, those who own the robots stand the most to gain. They're the ones who already had lots of money to start with, so they'll bitch about the taxes, even though they actually benefit from them in the long run. They will continue getting richer. Not much change there then. Low wage earners will benefit because in order for the whole thing to work the social security payments will need be higher than they could earn doing the menial jobs that the robots have taken. Maybe not to start with, but certainly in the long term. There will be a large-scale upward shift in the class dynamic. Conversely, the middle-class will be the losers, because many of them they will also lose their jobs but the social payments won't cover their losses. At least they'll have more free time though so they won't feel too bad, although they will wish that the cafes weren't so crowded these days.


I think you would see different results in different countries/societies based on existing values. Societies with a very capitalistic bend will likely experience severe political polarization and social unrest as huge parts of the population gets unemployed and the rich gets richer.

Although it could develop in other ways. It depends on the level of equality already existing on society. A society with more resourceful and richer lower class will likely turn into a society of only capital owners. The lower class will simply own robots doing their former jobs, and get income from that. In essence the whole society will change from mainly being made up of wage workers to capitalist owners. The benefits of scale, anti-trust regulations etc might affect whether this happens at all or whether power will just accumulate in a small class of capitalist owners. The latter will likely descend into political chaos. Although with such advance robots the rich might be able to build military and police robots to control and subjugate the masses.

In a more social democratic or mixed economy type of society I suspect social programs will simply expand as people become unemployed. More wealth will be taxed and redistributed to the rest of the population to sustain them.

A third possible way is that the poor will bound together in a collectivist manner to buy and own means of production which can give them an income according to their needs. A sort of voluntarily communism. Although I don't see it as likely as there would be no benefit in admitting new members with limited means.


Let’s go back 100 years; a farm worker from that time would consider our tractors etc to be “robots”.

Go back a bit more to when waiving was done by hand, our current waiving machines will be considered robots to them.

In both cases “capital” has got richer, however also in both case people “with nothing” are now better off in most european countries (including UK) then most of the worker were before the robots took their jobs.

What people expect from life seems to increase just as fast as we are able to automate jobs with tool, machines, now just renamed to robots.


A robot might be able to cut my hair as well as a human but hit won't give me the same experience has a hair dresses that talks to me while it makes my hair. The same goes for low-wage workers like baby sitters that provide a service that inherently needs a human. We might also see a comeback of buttlers and similar human services if the price is low enough.

  • $\begingroup$ That's interesting, but it does not apply for many manual labor jobs. Also, the time will come when these robots do talk back, and it normal to have a discussion with them. The problem is, they might even be better at that. $\endgroup$ – Asoub Sep 20 '16 at 13:04

Not everybody will use robots because they will be expensive. It's not just the initial outlay of capital to buy them, but the additional ongoing expenses for maintenance contracts, programming fees, and patching. For some mom-and-pop operations, it still will make sense to bring on part-time help.

As the supply of labor increases, the price will decrease. You'll see a surge in under-the-table, black market employment.

There will be a surge of jobs supporting robots. There will be new sectors emerge to recondition and repair cast-offs, non-sanctioned repairs, and training that will absorb some of the excess labor supply as well.

Governments and private industry will offer training programs. Crime will increase, as will the need for police (which affects the labor pool.)

The disruption will last for a generation or so until society reaches a new equilibrium. Maybe compulsory higher education would emerge, or mandatory military service to train skills.


Most importantly, we need is a Scientific Approach to deal with this question of "How would humans adapt if low-wage labor was done by robots?" And the historical perspective of this situation. “Think Out Of The Box”. Read the following theoretical article in two parts on this page and this page.

The gist of the theory is; there must be A Gradual Reduction in Working Hours. In the present situation, ENACTMENT of A THREE-DAY/24/HOUR WORK WEEK

Before which, the principle behind my theory is; the fruits of the societies technological progress should not be appropriated only by a few elite but it is their historical responsibility to see to it that the benefit should be equally shared among all members of the society.

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    $\begingroup$ Please tell me, why should I click on your obfuscated links? Furthermore, a big part of your answer seems to rely on those links, so -1 from me. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Aug 14 '16 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ It is because my reply to the main question would be very long, so people interested finding more about my reply can visit in there also not to annoy those who are not interested of my long post. Nevertheless , $\endgroup$ – vallab Aug 14 '16 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ The idea of the StackExchange Network is to have self-contained answers. I should not need to go and visit another site to get the answer. Furthermore, your answer is not excessively long, by the standards of this site and is one of the shorter answers to this question. Long answers are in fact encouraged here. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Aug 14 '16 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ The links are fine, they're links to some weird blog, and in general links are OK when a summary is presented in an answer (along the lines of the current answer, but the summary here isn't really sufficient). The real problem is that this really isn't the right place to put political / social rants, or posts with a tone along those lines, intentional or not. This is a community about building worlds in fiction. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Sep 21 '16 at 15:29

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