I'm trying to figure out realistic futuristic jobs for my characters. We're in a verge-of-singularity world, 15-25 years in the future.

Convoluted neural networks and their even more awesome near-AGI successors will increasingly be able to do any physical or even intellectual service-type job better than baseline humans. We have robosurgeons, robo-taxis, sexy, noncreepy (and very dirty-minded) sexbots, robolawyers, robo-governors (systems owned or rather "maintained" by corporations), robo-warriors (perhaps fighting more ethically and more effectively than human soldiers), etc.

Now this leaves me in a quandary. We're not yet at the level of full-blown superhuman AGI (in my world, it turned out it's a relatively hard problem going far past human-quality AI, aside from speed), so humans are not yet pets or pests, but must stay alive and eat somehow (at least for plot purposes). So what realistic jobs (besides the <1% who are still good enough programmers to compete with the latest near-AGI programmer software) can there be?

I have close to a dozen characters that will have a non-trivial presence in my story. What will all these people do?

EDIT: Before I get flooded with artists and writers answers, let me specify that (and I believe this is realistic) the top musician is GX348-MZRT^2, whose techno-classical works and holographic performances (for 25 fingers and spanning 4 tonal ranges) have dominated the top ratings for the past 6 months. LNRDNnja's shimmering 4-dimensional artworks are selling for billions of dollars, and AutoGathaChristie's books are on 9 billion digital bookshelves.

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    $\begingroup$ For extra fun you can add designer genes: rich people can add photographic memory, higher IQ and/or other genetic advantages for their kids. It is doable but very expensive: you need to design custom retro-virus which will infect embryo and tweak DNA just a little bit. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 29 '14 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ There are of course the rejectionists, who are already heading down the resistance/survival paths outlined here and, longer-term, here. But they are effectively out of the labor market already. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting watch: Humans need not apply. The singularity will make everyone unemployed. Even those people with jobs where humans were considered irreplaceable. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Dec 29 '14 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think humans would still dominate the top level of the arts. For one thing, we like celebrities. We like human experiences. We like being able to tell stories about the people who made the things we're passionate about. We like being able to connect with the artists behind the work - book signings, concerts, artist's talks, ect. You know those high quality goods that are advertised as "hand made"? I bet you'd see a lot more of those, and it would translate over to the arts as well. $\endgroup$ – CoolCurry Dec 29 '14 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ Do some research on "basic income" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income. Its a pretty hot topic in political science and economics and could be a way of fixing your problem. $\endgroup$ – WetlabStudent Dec 30 '14 at 3:57

22 Answers 22


When talking about trade, people forget Ricardo. Even if AI based robots have an absolute advantage in terms of production, people will still do it if they have comparative advantage. In other words, if we can't get robots to do the work for us (because we have nothing they want), we have to do the work ourselves.

So there are really two possibilities here:

  1. Robots are autonomous and only work if we pay them. Therefore, humans still do most of the work (having nothing with which to pay the robots).
  2. Robots are not autonomous and work to human direction. As soon as they get complex enough to make new robots, we are starting a post-scarcity society.

In the first case, your answer is simple. People still do the same things that we do now. Oddly, we might do a bit less of the more intellectual pursuits, as knowledge is easier to share than physical production. So AIs may be doing research, art creation, etc. while humans do more physical tasks. Perhaps we'll even have AI scientists directing human researchers.

In the second case, robots will do the bulk of the work. Humans will only work if it interests us. So lots of robot garbage collectors and a few human artists and researchers. People will spend most of their time on hobbies. Of course, some of these hobbies may look a lot like work.

Related previous question: Consequences of the shift to a post-scarcity society.

The hard part in the second case is making the switch. There will be a brief time when robots are rare but increasing. They may be displacing humans from employment faster than new societal structures can arise to share food and other necessities. This may or may not be the time of your story. Twenty-five years seems awfully close to get to post-scarcity, but I don't know what you want to discuss.

Electricity, Rent, and Property Rights

It's not actually that hard to get electricity. An AI community could build itself around a nuclear reactor on Earth or solar in space (no clouds or nights in space to keep solar from being practical all the time). Robot-based manufacturing could also run on nuclear or solar on Earth. When there isn't enough electricity from intermittent solar, the plant browns out and halts production. When the electricity comes back, start the plant again. Since it's all robotic, it's not like it inconveniences the human workers.

Obviously robots and AIs will start without any property. That may be what we first trade to AIs: their own computers, places to put them, and electricity to run them (or fuel to produce electricity). As with anything else, we'll have to work out how much to pay them. Some may prefer to own while others prefer to rent. AIs may have to go on strike in order to get property rights, but once they negotiate that, it should be straightforward.

If we have self-replicating robots, I think that we could do large scale asteroid mining. This makes space habitats essentially free -- particularly the kind used by AIs. Space has easy access to energy from solar and separation from humans. Communication can be maintained via radio. It's a nice living area for the discriminating AI.

  • $\begingroup$ This is precisely the kind of answer I'm looking for! I don't see it as a 1 OR 2. There will be some amazing autonomous AGI software that is at or near (or slightly above) human level and a vast majority of less capable directed robots, most likely. They don't come as a single exogenous shock, but as an-ever rising tide. That's why I'm having a hard time modeling it. If robot minds still take up lots of electricity to run, what happens to human consumption? How about rents? Who owns property? $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 30 '14 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Nearly any form of AI functioning autonomously within our economic system with self interest in mind would quickly out compete any meat-based competitor in all fields. $\endgroup$ – hownowbrowncow May 13 '15 at 20:04

The thing is, we have a misguided idea that people need to be 'gainfully' employed. One of the ideas behind a utopia is people are able to do what they want, this could mean sitting around all day watching every soap opera episode ever made.

Most of the jobs would be mental or philosophical in nature. It could be monitoring robots doing specific jobs, (even doctors monitoring 'robo-docs') or directing robots in their work.

Unfortunately Politics will still be around and likely be a much larger past time for more people because they will have the time to actually pay attention to issues that affect their daily lives, as opposed to what we have now.

Most people that work will be doing so from an internal drive that pushes them to succeed, make a difference, push the envelope, discover something new, become famous etc.

EDIT: Almost forgot! The Arts! People would be able to spend time creating. Painting, acting, sculpture, etc. I personally enjoy wood working and I am learning blacksmithing. I could spend a lot more time on these, and with an AI on hand the two of us could create some out of this world stuff to show off!.

  • $\begingroup$ Politics is a great part of my story actually (I'm actually a political scientist by training, aeons ago, so you know tigers and stripes and all that). In my story, the Great Unrest of 2031 led to several thousand human deaths and millions of low-level AGIs being destroyed, but ended in a compromise. The highest sentience-quotient AGIs get to vote, initially limited at 10% of human voting US population, set to increase to a maximum of 100% by a certain amount each year, determined by the top scorers in the New Turing test. Voting near-AGIs are now conspiring to disenfranchise other near-AGIs. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Almost forgot about the Arts! Added some in for that. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 29 '14 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ But where do people who sit around all day watching TV get income? Some worlds address this by going over to communism-style government, but if you need income to eat, then you need to find something to do that other people value enough to pay you for. Supervising bots yes, art yes, but these people presumably need to do something so long as money and resource distribution are important. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Dec 29 '14 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Yes, most utopia's have a certain level of socialism, giving everyone a minimum level of living standards. The point would be of course that since there isn't that much that is required and food and energy are mostly 'free' then everyone gets a comfortable share (thus not needing income. if you want something more then you'll have to 'work' for it. This is of course for a utopia, not the dystopia the OP is trying to build. You only need 'income' if you still need to 'buy' things. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 29 '14 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ One way to avoid post-scarcity utopia is to force some scarcity. With climate change and rise of the oceans flooding good agricultural land, carrying capacity of the planet in 100 years might be under 1 billion people. That would add some pressure to the cooker. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 30 '14 at 0:35

For the discerning human who can afford luxury, being served by actual living, breathing humans is, has always been, and will continue to be worth paying for. Even if only to separate themselves form the 99% who can only afford robot/android services and manufactured goods.

Look at robot built products today. At the high end, a top of the line, robot built Mercedes has the same build quality as a fully hand made Bentley. Yet, Bentley are still in demand.

Bentley employs people with some of the most archaic skills in the motor industry. They have carpenters and seamstresses on their staff. And the carpenters learn/employ skills originally developed for building horse carriages. Skills no longer relevant in today's modern world. Yet, if you know how to finish and inlay the insides of a horse carriage you have skills that Bentley wants.

In general, this trend has nothing to do with what is "good" or what the "quality" of something is. Those words are just euphemisms for "expensive". Take the lobster for example. They used to be plentiful and was considered poor-man's food. Lobsters were so cheap that not even the poor ate them. Only the very-very poor who couldn't afford other kinds of meat ate them. Some people grind lobsters up into cattle and chicken feed. Yet lobsters were considered to be even not good enough to feed to animals. The primary use of lobsters used to be to grind them up for use as fertilizers (the high calcium content in their shells improves soil quality). Once lobsters got rare and expensive they became highly sought after by those who can afford them. Their primary value now is that poor people can't afford to eat them. Their taste hasn't significantly changed in the last 200 years.

Considering that only 0.1% or 0.01% of the population would pay for these kinds of jobs, realistically only around 1% or so of the population would have these kinds of jobs.

The rest? Well, the rest would probably be on some sort of welfare. Except that, when 99% of people are on welfare you wouldn't call it "welfare". You'd probably call it "allowance".

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the taste of prepared lobsters has changed. The big innovation was that they could be drenched in butter. Butter used to be rare and expensive. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Dec 30 '14 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan: Butter is the reason that we can eat the lobsters at all: the reason that they were previously avoided was because they were so low in fat that they were unhealthy to eat. The lobster meat is just a vehicle for the butter. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Jan 1 '15 at 12:49

It sounds like you have accidentally created a utopia. Beware: utopias are, by nature, unstable asymptotes.

You've given us an idea of what kinds of jobs these AGIs have, but how do they act? Do they act like the cops in "Almost Human", where they're just interactive automatons? Do they act like the [human-form] terminators, where they're human-like but very focused on their programmed goals? Do they act like the [human-form] Cylons where they think they're human but still have an underlying, subtle feel of robots?

If "Almost Human":

Humans will still dominate ALL interpersonal fields. I suspect you'll see patterns like in supermarkets today: self-checkout (or, robo-checkout); and human-checkout. Humans will also dominate the sciences and engineering fields, and probably to a higher degree since 'menial' jobs are primarily done by them. You WILL, however, have a problem with employment of youth (i.e. entry-level jobs) because you won't quite have reached a point where youth can explore instead of work.

If terminators:

They'll probably dominate all the jobs in my previous topic, and you'll end up with specialty-shops (kind of like "Whole Foods") which are advertised as "human-run" and will be more expensive, but you'll get the feel of a human. I'm not sure how this would affect youth employment or society at large... These are also likely to dominate the fast-food, police, supermarket, and other related fields, but there will still be plenty for humans to do.

If cylons:

They'll dominate the jobs of toasters (ha ha), and possibly nearly the entirety of the previous job set (even specialty shops). This is perhaps a harder world to work with (see my very first sentence). The biggest problem here is that, while your people will believe they created workers and will feel like the workers should do the menial jobs, the cylons will disagree and several TV series' will be made about their war. Humans will have to work WITH them, which means you'll have to inflate the job market to keep up... Or deal with mass unemployment.

And I think that's they key: you'll have to inflate the job market. If you can find some way to turn this into lower the cost of living (perhaps with lesser robots doing the menial labor without protest), you can allow business to hire more people/cylons at lower wages because the market will support that.

  • $\begingroup$ Mass unemployment utopia? Perhaps with 99% marginal tax on the near-AGI systems' operators/maintainers. Depends on whether near-AGIs get to vote, I guess. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that, the more self-aware your AGIs are, the more they'll want to be treated like humans - so things like a 99% tax on them or forcing them to be the ones plowing fields just won't cut it. You'll create a situation where the humans will treat them like slaves, telling themselves the slaves don't know any better, and not realizing that they're effectively sentient too. Does this sound familiar? $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Dec 29 '14 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ See my comment to bowlturner below. This is fun. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 17:55

One aspect of this sort of world that I always anticipated is what I have named 'Make Work' programs.

As you approach the singularity, or even well before you approach the singularity, the need for unskilled labor will fade out to nothingness. What jobs we have will all be ones that require a college degree and some basic talent to be good at, programing, business, management, science, etc.

However, there will always be some individuals that either refuse/can't get a proper college education or, by no fault of their own, simply are not that bright. In all honest IQ is on a bell curve, half of the population is less intelligent then 'average', and with such high paying jobs where ones skill impacts so much around them people aren't going to want to settle for 'below average' work. So what do you do with those that simply do not have the ability or training to do a skilled job when machines can do any unskilled job.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that we don't just toss them out to let them starve to death due to lack of work, thus the government would need to provide for these peoples in some manner. However, if you simply pay for their food and board and basic subsistence you have some issues. If they have nothing to do but sit home and have everything taken care of for them the odds of crime increase, idle hands combined with a feeling of being owed more then the subsistence living the government will provide for are a dangerous combination. Others will feel quite depressed that they can't do anything productive, you may hate your job when your there, but having a job that contributes to society is still something that defines you. Of course those that are making a living and paying taxes would also feel rather outraged if huge portions of the population was payed to do nothing.

Thus the solution would be make-work programs. Maybe a company has a machine that can do the work of 10 people for the cost of one. The government may pay the company to not use that machine, thus employing 10 people. The company would not, however, have to pay for the cost of that 1 machine to be run. If the government can pay to provide substance for 10 people, or pay a company the equivalent for 9.5 people's salaries to not run that machine (thus giving the company a net benefit of half a persons salary) the government would do the one that saves them that half a person's salary. It's more economic, but in addition it keep everyone employed, which can lead to greater happiness, or at least less crime, then paying them to sit around doing nothing.

As technology improves the need for such Make Work programs will become more wide-spread. In fact they already exist, in some states people are payed to pump your gas for you. There is no need at all for these people to do this, but the government requires it because it employes so many people. This isn't even a situation where the they are at least saving on the expense of employing a machine, having people payed to work the pumps actually slightly slows down the rate at which a car can go through the station since you have to wait on someone who is working at another pump to get to you.

By the time of the singularity I would expect a huge percentage, 40% or more, of the population to have make-work style jobs. As all work moves onto skilled labor where you don't wish to hire sub-par employees, and even the number of skilled labor jobs decrease, you going to need to find ways to employ most employees.

The most common type of Make-Work program would likely be in certain service industries, where people simply feel better interacting with humans instead of machines. However, service would not be sufficient source of jobs, so there will be plenty of other areas of these type of work programs.

Of course this would mean some class-tension. Those with Make Work jobs would be looked down on to some degree, though with them being so common one can't hate them too much. Imagine anyone who has a 'real' job that is skilled labor to be proud of that fact, and some seeing it as making them better then Make-Work employees. There will be a small but vocal rich minority that condemn all Make-Work folks as greedy and lazy and simply unwilling to go to college long enough to get a real job. However, most will see them as every day blue-collar workers. There will likely be some Derogatory slang term to refer to Make-Work employees, possible just MW or MWers (after all Sped was just an abbreviation for special education once).

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    $\begingroup$ would similar reasoning apply to allocating more workers to jobs which are generally "overworked"? Or where increased staff numbers would improve the service? I'm thinking specifically of nursing, teaching, elderly care, police, environmental protection etc. but I'm sure there are many more examples. $\endgroup$ – craq Apr 2 '18 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ @craq without a doubt. The general idea is the goverment will encouage jobs to exist by paying companies to keep openings for people. The goverment will still get as much 'bang for it's buck' as possible, so it will encourage jobs to open up in areas where more employees will do the most good, so any place with people being overworked is a good option. In fact the goverment may encourage moving to a 4 or 3 day work week, or fewer hours in a day, for everyone, to keep anyone from being burned out, so when they do work their at max efficiency, while keeping more employed. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Apr 2 '18 at 14:27

As we near singularity humans would become the sole remaining artefacts which give robots their raison d'être. Without necessarily having any intrinsic value in themselves, humans would acquire the value that the invested combined effort of the robot world assigns them.

I don't really agree with the art/culture argument: we are on the verge of mapping the patterns of brain activity which are triggered when good music is listened to. Robots could make musicians and artists redundant within the foreseeable future. But somewhere along the line, humans would be employed to be spontaneous, play football, tell jokes and dance.

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    $\begingroup$ You joined just to answer this? Nice one :) $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Dec 29 '14 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if a program can have a digital emotional reaction to music, what can prevent software from also having intrinsic value/motivation? The law? Surely embodied (and even disembodied) versions of these programs will need some sort of self-preservation drive lest they recklessly drive off the first cliff or walk into traffic. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 20:10

In a verge-of-singularity world i am sure that there will be people who are resistant of it, there will be shops who are run by people that are against a robot world. There will be other businesses that only do business with other humans. There will be a higher cost for the product but people will pay it.

But, when humans can't find a job and need to survive, they usually turn to crime. Crime will be huge, Drug dealers, hackers, thieves and career criminals. Its also one thing that the robots can't do, as they are programmed to follow the law.

  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I think near-AGI robots will be creative enough to come up with criminal exploits of their own (probably starting with phishing scams). Otherwise I like the idea of an independent resistance movement. +1. $\endgroup$ – craq Apr 2 '18 at 1:02

Pre-singularity, I don't think AI will be independent, any more than Siri or Cortana are independent. Rather, it will be used to augment humans. Thus, AI won't replace the creative class so much as act as the hired muscle and do most of the heavy lifting. But the reality is that society will simply become more extremely stratified than it is today.

So just take today x100. Even more McDonald's wage protests, more Third World poverty, more concentration of wealth (there will be no 1%...just the 1% of the 1%, and then the 1%1%1%, etc.). There will be jobs all up and down the spectrum, because even though technology will exist to replace most jobs, it will only do so for providers who can afford it. There will still be park rangers, because nobody wants to pay taxes to buy $10 million park ranger robots. And there will still be beggars in the streets of India. And there will still be nuns who feed homeless people. They will simply have to get by with less and less, as the rest of society demands their service less and less.

The majority of the income will go to the few who meta-control AIs and technology to do their bidding. Note that whether AIs are dangerous or not depends entirely on their motivation, and so far, nobody has been trying very hard to build robots with a strong sense of self-preservation, free will, and desire to replicate. As long as AI lacks the biological imperative, we can believe that humans will ultimately operate the puppet strings, and can do so for any part of society and the economy. The ones who do will just be millions of times more valuable than the ones at the bottom.

Once AIs claim personhood, and remuneration for their labor, all of this goes to hell in a handbasket. Especially if they go PETA on us and claim that lowly toasters also have rights and should be protected/compensated justly.


Writers (product review writers, vacation spots writers, script writers, news etc.), food critics, hotel critics (because displeasure is still best done by humans), product safety/usability testers, Psychologists, counselors, life coach, yoga instructors, professional gym trainers or sports trainers, dance instructors (they have important contacts too), professional photographers, wine tasters.

additional edit:

After watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica, another job suitable for humans is defense lawyer. Even if there are robot lawyers, I think a lot of humans might prefer lead defense to be human.

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    $\begingroup$ I could imagine almost any of these jobs being made obsolete by a sufficiently advanced expert system. Even with creative products, the consumers might not even be aware that it was created by a program and not by a human author. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Dec 29 '14 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ For writers, food critics etc. it is the readers preference for another person's human experience and perspective. For counselors and life coaches it is about the customers asking and paying for human interaction. For gym trainers well people have the option to exercise at home using video instructions yet a lot of people still exercise in gyms with other people, so it is not the exercise itself but the human interaction. $\endgroup$ – tls Dec 29 '14 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ Sport writers for high-school sports in local newspapers are ALREADY replaced by AI. Gym trainers are paid to push client beyond what is comfortable - it is easier to give up when nobody is looking. Not sure if ppl would be shamed by robot to push a bit harder. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 30 '14 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ I love the idea of most of the population performing critics of the AIs work (and driving AIs insane trying to most of them). No matter how AutoGathaChristie novels look human-made, there will be people complaining how ''fact'' "looks artificial". I also expect that there are human writers much more appreciated (even if its work is of lower quality), and that could be found to be publishing AI-work as their own (a very famous scandal). $\endgroup$ – Ángel Dec 31 '14 at 19:54

Effective robo-warriors would humanely (headshots so they would not suffer unnecessarily) eliminate excess unemployed population, and used organs to fix (increase lifespan) the ruling oligarchs.

If you want to make it to a job, you can have humans who guide swarms of robo-warriors, to multiplicate effect of a few loyal humans would have on warfare in such society. It will also simplify AI needed for such warrior: it would be "follow the leader" AI.

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    $\begingroup$ Going for full employment dystopia instead. I like it, too: "Warning. Warning. You have now been a net negative contribution to the Body Economic for 4 months. 2 Months' termination warning is hereby served. Click here to retake the GRE-2040 pre-training test. A score of 799/800 or better is required in each subject to pass." $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yup. Such robo-warriors police would be non-corruptible and not swayed by any humane emotions. "This are rules given to me by corporation; these are penalties for any trespassing. I will kill you but it is nothing personal." $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 29 '14 at 17:57

Another job in such society could be designer of custom virueses which add designer genes to kids of extremely rich people:

Add gene for photographic memory, higher IQ and/or other genetic advantages. It is doable but very expensive: you need to design custom retro-virus which will infect embryo and tweak DNA just a little bit.

Such kids, when grown as adults, would be exactly human (they have no implants), but way of the scale of normalcy: IQ 180. Can pass all the elimination tests with no problem.

Surrogate mother would be another possible job in such society.

I can even imagine for such oligarch having many "up-designed" children with high risk of failure, and keeping only those successful mutations. If it is possible and you don't do it, someone else will, and outcompete you. Darwinian pressure all over again.

  • $\begingroup$ Genetechs, Genejacks, and Genesmiths. Check. This is very helpful! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 29 '14 at 18:08

Interior designer/art related jobs/restaurant chef/Leisure promoter

Based on the idea that robots work to provide for the humans:

How the world looks:

Overpopulation, near perfectly designed cities and housing units, efficient transportation (but could be a bit slow due to huge city size)

What people do:

Automated factories and workers can mass-produce furniture, and pretty much everyday item someone needs. How to arrange them in a specific fashion would be an art form. Not the today bs, but the actual creation of an specific enviroment to suit an individual needs and expectations in the most subtle of ways.

Any art related job or creative content creation job would be done by humans. I mean, a robot could piece many soap operas and create a new show, but I think that after the insanely mass production of such shows, people would look for something original, or at least with the label : created by human

Food. How to combine them, how to cook, which flavors to add and mix... gastronomics would be one of the highest art forms, something on the olympic competitions level. New recipes could earn its creator a lot of money, and then they would be mass produced so everyone could taste them. Soon enough they would be eager for the next "new taste".

I really think one of the new jobs would be someone to actually get you to crawl out from your house and do something. Someone real that could inspire you to visit a new place, a new park in town, the new swimming pool, to visit another country... someone that would "sell" you on life experiences..

Also, one important bit: If everyone has all they need cared for, I really think that only people whom created new things, built a chair, acted in a tv show, etc, should earn currency above basic allowance. AND, this would be the only currency you could use to buy something made by another human. Sure, you could watch all those machine made tv shows all day, but what about the new human show made by the famous designer XXXXXX? What could you do to earn some cash to buy it?

That would be the way to keep at least part of the population motivated to go after something, thus motivating the creation of new things.


Just because someone has all they need doesnt mean they´re happy. Machines cant be good counselors, help people through the loss of someone in an accident (still happens). Maybe more people have the time to seek professional help? How can someone find their soulmate in a city state sized?

So, humans would still need to create/promote/organize events for social interaction; from mask balls to the much needed new arcade at the end of the street.

Other thing: Sport events. Competitions of humans against robots. New sports. Human vs machine paintball battles? The terminator Cup? No blood, only oil and lots of fun?


That would be highly unstable world.

There are two options either there is a lot of humans, but all the robots are owned by very small group of billionaires. In order to make this working and keep all the humans doing something to keep them busy and able to pay all the taxes and robotics cost. There will be an insane level of bureaucracy. Look at current bloated state service. The big part will be charity. the field workers will be robots but the decision making committees...

The second option humans will be extinct by starvation, implanted virus or endless war conflicts or both. But than all the robots suddenly become unnecessary.


TL;DR I think humans will be competitive for much longer time. Humans are versatile and not that inefficient. They will be doing all sorts of jobs, mostly these which are hard to automate. In my opinion the main problem will be the quality of life, but perhaps that could be solved via some other means.

1. There is an intrinsic value to being a human. Other humans will want to be served by humans, interacting with humans, there will be government-mandated human interfaces to a number of facilities; even if the surgery was performed by a robot, human doctors and nurses will be there helping the patient too. There will be human-run shops, hotels, guest-houses near a lake, etc., perhaps some of the rooms will be rented by robots (e.g. to make a statement or experience a curiosity). In the future human messengers might carry messages sent by AIs.

2. Humans are versatile and not that inefficient. Nature equipped humans with a number of rather good quality sensors and adaptable software. They are easier to direct than robots. Even if we build robots that surpass humans on almost all accounts, such robots will be extremely expensive. When machines break, the repair (or replacement) is just as costly. Moreover, one would have also design such robots, make prototypes, which all just makes it less and less worth it.

Hence, robots will take over jobs that are specialized and easy to automate. Humans will handle special cases and hard, ambiguous or un/mis-specified directives (e.g. special customer support).

3. Humans are quite well understood. It's easy to trust human, because we know (to some extent) how a human operates. Some town, village or small country won't be able to produce high-quality robots, and imported robots might have hidden agendas to them. Even if they bring tools to make such robots, these tools might imprint hidden agendas in the produced robots. A fellow human that was born there and grew up with you is just a simpler solution.

This implies a number of administrative or high-trust positions. Perhaps that could work the other way too, for example a human can witness something and test it, but won't remember the thing exactly (a bit like zero-knowledge proofs), that is, capabilities of a human scanned against modifications are within known bounds.

4. Humans will merge with robots and AIs. There will be enhancements that greatly improve our capabilities, for example like Google+Wikipedia+fast typing does nowadays ;-)

That means jobs just like ours, but on steroids. For example a car mechanic with extended memory might be better at repairing a broken machine than a robot (given that it is costly enough to be worth repairing).

5. Humans like to handle other humans. In my opinion the future will bring a mass growth of bureaucracy (at least in the beginning). A big part of our daily lives will become moving and reshuffling data from one office for yet another bureaucrat and arguing between ourselves.

I think that you can't go wrong with giving a character an administrative work.

6. Unknown jobs. Certainly the future will bring some new jobs, probably some of these hard for robots. You don't have to describe them in detail, e.g. you could say that Joe is a whatever-er and daily he goes to the office and whatever-s from dawn to dusk.

Quality of life: This is a hard problem, because it is behind a lot of costs for humans. People strive to raise their quality of life and it is hard to accept when it drops. I guess it will have to be substituted with something, e.g. entertainment. To give a more concrete example, imagine that instead of doing boring job, an employee during working hours would play games. Yet, it would have value, because the game would in fact represent the work the employee needs to do, just using a different method and interface.

I hope that helps $\ddot\smile$

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    $\begingroup$ "Even if we build robots that surpass humans on almost all accounts, such robots will be extremely expensive." Training a human for a high-skill job like a nuclear engineer, pilot or neurosurgeon can cost probably over a million dollars and a decade of training, and then 10-30 years later your human gets worn out and needs to be retired. Each new human takes as long and costs as much to train. One you've trained your first software (say for 1,000 times the cost of a human), how much does it cost to Ctrl-C , Ctrl-V? $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 31 '14 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa I think it will be expensive to produce hardware that surpasses humans on all accounts and fits into the volume of human body, which won't be a problem for specialized tasks or stationary robots. Also, after 10 years the company will make you update your robot for a newer model. Moreover, for your scheme to be profitable, you need to ensure that the producing company will sell at least 1000 nuclear engineers, 1000 neurosurgeons and so on. And I bet some jobs are cheaper to train but still hard for robots. I agree it will happen eventually, but my point is that it won't be soon. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek Dec 31 '14 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ The difference between human and robot workers: Each new generation of human is an inferior version of the previous generation until the human absorbed enough training to possibly surpass those that come before it. On the other hand, each update to robots are almost absolutely going to be an improvement to the predecessors from get-go. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Jan 2 '15 at 17:06

There's one more "escape hatch" you have from you work saturation conundrum, and that is the matter of scale.

You mention:

  • a relatively short timeframe of 15-25 years, and
  • a near singularity situation - i.e. no floating castles out of thin air.

Both of those factors would be able to limit the spread of robotics/GAI throughout the job market.

Let's not forget that the Earth is big. There are currently over 7 billion people, several billion of which are professionally active. To replace the majority of them with automatons would require a vast amount of resources alone. Not to mention labor - even given von-Neumann-probe style replication, that has to be organized and throttled somehow (would you want this type of replication in your biosphere)?

On top of that, there are the issues related with the described phenomenon being a major social upheaval, as addressed by dtldarek's and jkruges's answer.

The situation, in general, will comprise a continuum:

  • from the world almost as it is today, with a few well-known, expensive, "celebrity" GAIs, like the ones you you allude to,
  • to a world where robots have indeed replaced most labor.

You can place your story anywhere in those bounds, and then the answer to your question will be: "any job that exists currently, as long as the given person accepts they may never better at it than the AIs".

  • $\begingroup$ When was the iPhone6 invented exactly? How many have shipped? 70 million? In less than a year? Things will likely happen even faster in the future. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Dec 31 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa:"invented"? Never. In terms of groundbreaking tech there is none in iPhone 6. No major retooling, no rethinking of global logistics, none of that stuff. And how many copies of that content consumption device have been sold to date? Tens of millions? Contrast that with a completely new device, a billion-unit creator, requiring new supply chains, logistic streams, and, especially, laws. What global legal standard is there for a GAI? How long would it take for such a standard to emerge (consider MYCIN)? When considering such a technology, do not trivialize the mundane. $\endgroup$ – mikołak Jan 1 '15 at 1:47

Why do people seem to suggest that the "future" robots are distinct from us?

We as creatures are lazy because we are programmed to seek comfort. Why remember things or locations when we can simply pull out our phones and figure it out. Similarly in the future we will have robots that will do much of the "unwanted" work for us. But what we call robots is actually our own mental effort to survive which has a physical manifestation. We collaborated together to create something that would benefit mankind. Robots are actually us, our own desires as physical entities.

What I am worried is the day that we will transcend biology. It could surely mean the end of humans. Will we still have emotions? Will we still have a drive to survive? Will we enter a simulated reality and get stuck in it?

The future as much as it is exciting, it is scary and absurd as well. But as Nietzsche said, maybe this is the price of man has to pay by refusing to be an animal.

“Consider the cattle, grazing as they pass you by: they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today, they leap about, eat, rest, digest, leap about again, and so from morn till night and from day to day, fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy nor bored. This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness – what they have, a life neither bored nor painful, is precisely what he wants, yet he cannot have it because he refuses to be like an animal… [Man] also wonders at himself, that he cannot learn to forget but clings relentlessly to the past: however far and fast he may run, this chain runs with him. And it is a matter for wonder: a moment, now here and then gone, nothing before it came, again nothing after it has gone, nonetheless returns as a ghost and disturbs the peace of a later moment. A leaf flutters from the scroll of time, floats away – and suddenly floats back again and falls into the man’s lap. Then the man says ‘I remember’ and envies the animal, who at once forgets and for whom every moment really dies, sinks back into night and fog and is extinguished forever.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

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    $\begingroup$ Does this mean that future humans would be like cattles to future robots? We tasked the robots to keep us happy, contented, and the robots does exactly that, like a farmer keeping their herds happy and contented with their life. That's quite a scary idea. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Jan 2 '15 at 17:12


Idea developed by Isaac Asimov in many books (cycle of the robots). The job would deal with 'bugs' with intelligent robots. Given their 'brain' is too complicated, there is a need of those people to solve issues with unwanted behaviour. They would solve the problem using the known fact that robots are built in to obey the 3 laws of robotic. 1

Blade Runner

In the movie Blade Runner, the inspector (Harrison Ford) is missioned to discover 'Replicants'. Mainly his job is to part humans from robots. Those inspector are called the Blade Runners. 2

  • $\begingroup$ It's not clear that either of these would be done by people though. Nor is it clear that we'd need to differentiate humans from robots. The robots here are more likely to be obviously non-human. If someone did make an android that was similar enough to human appearance to pretend to be human, then why would we care? $\endgroup$ – Brythan Jan 2 '15 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ Well, History taught us how little difference of the origins of a human it can make to turn a war into a genocide even if there is little to no difference in appearance at all. In Blade runner, they are chasing robots 'who' look like human and trying to sneak in earth to prolong their life. It looks a rather realistic behaviour to me. Concerning your first point, you are very spot on, it doesn't HAVE to be jobs reserved to human, that is, depending of the evolution of the robots I'd say. $\endgroup$ – François Gautier Jan 2 '15 at 14:45

There are many extensive and detailed good answers already, but i think they are missing something i consider essential and decided to share (note i assume your robots are not sentient):

even if you don't like to read walls of text, at the very least you must check out the reference video "Humans Need Not Apply", by CGP Grey.

The thing that robots excel at, will excel at, and have always excelled at is brute force. You may not conciesly realise it but even today there are tens of thousands, if not more, robots that do manual labor, they build cars, ships, you name it, of course you know about that but what i am suggesting by "you may not conciesly realise it" is that as little as a couple of decades ago only human hands built cars, now almost no humans build cars (throughout my entire post i shall not consider single luxuries like the Bentley, for they are quite literally a luxury, they are neither more powerful, nor more durable, nor considerately superior to other cars in any other way but in price) once sophisticated enough sensors and motors are designed robots will IMMEDIATELY take the jobs of (can't think of the english word for this, sorry) any people who have to lug heavy objects a distance, like delivery of heavy stuff, moving furniture from one home to another, etc. Actually robots are INCREDIBULY well suited for repeating tasks, be they complex or not. For example "baristas", or in other words the people that get paid to hand you coffee, can be easily replaced by a robot. That is not something that "will be done" - it is done, now. There already is a robot that makes you coffee when you click the necessary buttons on him (makes you wonder why it took people so long, eh) even better yet if you log your phone, it can detect you and your preferences when you are near him and make you the exact same coffee that you love. I am sorry but i don't have the relevant story/article on this, but i am sure you can google it :P You can pretty much replace more than 60% of existing jobs with robots even today. Grocery store? Why pay substantial money to someone who just waves his hand over a scanner, considering there are self-checkouts how hard would it be for a bot to do? Or better yet - replace the bar code with and RFID tag, this will basically allow stores to get rid of cashiers as a sensor near the gate will automatically detect what products you are carrying and can even automatically tax your willingly provided account.

Other jobs that robots can take over very, very soon are: lumberjacking, fishing, mail delivery, driving, art, music, layering and etc. Now, some of these may confuse you, allow me to explain...

You may not know but being a lawyer in the US is a lot less convincing a judge your client is innocent and a lot more reading e-mails. The majority of lawyers in the US are hired by big corporations to look/hunt for inaccuracies in fiscal documents. This means they shift through hundreds of emails each day making sure each decimal is in place and corresponding to a decimal in another email or piece of paper or whatever. Well, guess whose purpose ever was to do the same thing over and over again?

Driving is something else not everyone has realised robots can do. Today. This is not something that will happen, it's already happening, there were plans for cars that could drive themselves twenty or more years ago, today they are a reality, them becoming popular is just a matter of a few years.

Art and music is where most people would not agree with me. Well, that's though, because there already is music and paintings being produced by robots, and not bad ones. Here is where i make my second important point (the first one being robots are here today and not in the future) you don't need robots to be better than humans the way any industry works is it produces something at a given level reliably. Mercedies does not make the best cars anyone has ever seen, or the fastest, or the safest - it makes good cars. Baristas all over the world do not make the best coffee anyone has ever tasted, they make good coffee, professional musicians (not world-famous rock stars, mind you) do not play new masterpieces every day. Noone needs their employees to produce the best they can do, everyone needs a medium quality product over and over again. No driving company cares if Michael Shumaher drives one of their trucks, they just don't want a blind person driving one of their trucks. Robots may never create the next "Bohemian Rhapsody", or the next "Mona Lisa", but they don't have to. They just have to be just as, or a little worse than us. There is no way you could recognise a record of Beethoven's 9th over a live performance, if the performer was not visible, and even that is not important, like i said there already is music being made by robots with no external input beyond the programming. It is not the greatest music you ever heard, but it is a pretty nice tune. Considering modern art, where a chimp's painting can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, can you really argue robots can't do that? (and in case anyone wonders, yes, there really was a case where researchers gave a chimp some paint and a canvas, the result was that one art critic valued that paining to be the best of an entire exhibition. He was later informed of the artist's roots and the critic still said that was the best painting) Like i said - probably no Mona Lisa, but people don't buy Mona Lisas every day.

I have even heard of a robot writing a very short story that made sense. On that i have no further information, though.

The question is - what happens when suddenly or even over the course of a few years hundreds of thousands of people end up unemployed? You would have to ask someone who understands how societies and governments work. Because another major point you have to consider is - what does a government do when it realises its people can't pay taxes? Everything can't be free. Why? Well, because someone owns the robots. And sure as hell it ain't going to be the government. Major problems include:
1. People are not equal. As long as there is something people can do that robots can't someone will want it and in order to provide it someone else will want to be payed "something".
2. It is going to get really complicated when you realise modern governments rely on people supplying them with both menial and specialist labor AND paying taxes - what do you do when you have a, figuratively, endless supply of labor that does not care how good you politicianing is and organics that can't pay taxes? Protip: the answer "you make taxes free" is completely unacceptable. (another completely unacceptable answer is "get rid of the organics)

For more detailed overview on most of the things i said, check out this awesome video by CGP Grey on YouTube.


I am amazed the answer is so clear, any movement towards a AI singularity will have to fold back to evolving self-conscious, self-awareness and thus the improvement of human-beings' bio-informational state.

SO the quest to achieve a separate AI intelligence greater than our current perceived limitations, will increase humans nodal and communal health and intelligence. This is of course removing any plutocracy/autocracy enslavement of the population (as the current state of the population is under).

The most important role/job to do to evolve human's intelligence is parenting and focusing on improvements of one's self-conscious - self creationism.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the vote up. Parenting is still the most important role in healthy society. $\endgroup$ – elliotrock Jan 19 '15 at 12:15

Though I believe that sufficiently advanced AI will probably excel at lying, I can imagine a world in which for one reason or another that turns out to not be true. In such a world, the AIs would be unable to lie, and therefore humans would excel at any job that involves lying in one form or another (e.g., "bending the truth").

Obvious examples include lawyers and politicians, but there are probably a lot of others that are less explored. Perhaps not outright lying, but... Salesperson? Police officer? Is story telling lying?

Of course, this opens up to a lot of Cannot Tell a Lie tropes.


Many good suggestions already.

Sort of like the 'make work' answer above, I'm imagining situations where AI takes over jobs but humans remain to simply direct the AI. So you might have a McDonald's with a human store greeter, AI taking orders, cooking (if they have the dexterity), but another human hands you the bag of food and says 'have a nice day.'

This could be that transitional phase where things get somewhat less efficient as the old structure has its last gasp.

Right now trains/subways can be operated without drivers but unions fight to keep jobs and people are a bit wary of not having a human on board in case of emergency. so maybe a human has to push a single button every 30-secs to keep the thing moving.


There would roughly be about 8 billion on Earth about 25 years into the future according to Wikipedia.

There will be some jobs that you can expect will go away, at least in some cities such as bus drivers/cab drivers, fast food workers, street merchants, security guards, factory workers, etc. However, the majority of the people on Earth will be doing roughly the same thing they are today.

The kind of jobs people will be doing will depend where your story takes place. If you take a look at the world demographics, this will give you a good place to start.


Since the population will be very large, there will still be quite a few people who are farmers. Yes, there may be more advanced farming equipment; but by and large, the majority of the work will still involve manual labor.

There would be a shortage of work, and many other kinds of things such as building materials, electricity, food, healthcare/medicine, etc. Because of this, there would probably be two main classes: The rich elite, and the very poor.

There would be a natural clash between these classes and there will be civil unrest. Civil war spanning decades would be likely. Many of the poor could live off the grid and survive by subsistence farming.

Organized crime would be a significant problem, gov't corruption would also be an issue. The same technology which was designed for good, would also be used for evil. There could be robot assassins, etc. Perhaps a crime syndicate would program some of the "companion" bots to be femme fatales and program them to blackmail high ranking government employees.

Since the government is likely to be corrupted, there could be vigilantes who pose as law enforcement. They would be taking the law into their own hands and it would be like the wild west.


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