What happened

It's late 2017, and aliens finally arrive on earth.
They're very happy to meet us because we're the first civilization their generation ship encounters, and they freely share the two technological devices that allowed them to travel for thousands of years: the "Zero-Point Engine" and the "Energy-Matter Converter".
The instructions to build them are given to every single state, and they can even replicate themselves, so they quickly become widespread in the whole world (but are still government-regulated, a private citzen can't own one).

New technology

The "Zero-Point Engine" generates a constant amount of electricity from nothing.
The "Energy-Matter Converter" is an electric device that (almost) instantly materializes any blueprint, no matter how complex (think limitless 3D printer). It has no problems producing food or organic matter, in fact you don't need to create blueprints from scratch, as it is equipped with a scanner and will be able to produce exact copies of what you scan. It also has drones to make big things like buildings, cars and such.

The problem

Humans obviously need regulations on what they can/can't build, so I need some sort of "Replication Credits", to regulate the usage of EM Converters.

However, most people are left unemployed: all of manufacturing, ore extraction, agriculture (and more) is now useless.
There still are careers that resist and are even required: administration, research and developement (any field), hospitals, programmers...

So I am in a society that still has the need to work, but the majority of people are unemployed and they're not even expected to find a job.

How can I distribute credits in a fair way?

Things I already thought:

Daily amount of credits:
This would be unfair to those that work. Why should I work if my neighbor that does nothing gets the same? If we introduce paid work instead, we get inequality in the other direction: How should I get a job to gain more credits, if there are no jobs for the great majority of the population?
And let's get real: most humans must be forced to work for profit. Voluntary work exists, but is usually not long-lasting and not what society really needs in that moment (I still have to see voluntary data entry clerks or voluntary cleaners).

Job rotation:
This would allow me to retain paid jobs, but would introduce a huge amount of problems, as there would be an immense hit to productivity and quality.

The end result

The great problem humans would face is lack of space and regulamentations on how to use your own ground. My story will see humanity trying to overcome that by building giant space "shells" around earth, and will revolve around the colonization (and building) of those first giant ecodomes. It's particulary important for me to figure out what exactly people on earth are doing to earn their abitable space and build things, as this will heavily influence how and why people get the right to colonize this new environment.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How about a small daily amount of credits and more if you work? It sounds like looking at how different countries handle unemployment might be a good start. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why would you "obviously" need to limit what people can/can't build? There seem to be some hidden expectations there. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BgrWorker with infinite energy, space isn't a very limited resource anymore. The earth is huge and you've made all of it inhabitable. Also, who cares if someone removes your home? Just make a new one somewhere else. The real problem is people trying to kill each other, but even that will probably stabilize quickly (either because everyone is dead or because everyone realizes it's pointless now since there's nothing to gain from it anymore.) $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How big are these devices? You say "government regulated", but it only takes one person anywhere in the world to bring a fresh copy outside and it's in the wild and never going back. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 I edited my question to specify how EM Converters are distributed. Regulations would vary from nations to nations, and there would probably be places where citzens are denied usage, but most first world countries would experience the problem I'm trying to solve. $\endgroup$
    – BgrWorker
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:43

5 Answers 5


As a whole, I think you are overestimating the impact of your invention on employment and you are painting a picture that is worse than what it actually might look like.

Europe is currently heavily debating basic income: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income . If a human is useless for whatever reason, you can still give him some credits, but maybe not as many as others get. Even though I'm not an advocate myself, I don't think it's as bad for a society as you think.

Please be aware that this might even create new jobs. Just because we can make up things doesn't mean we immediately do it in the most efficient way. This might actually be more of a "3rd world problem". I think it might even be worth discussing this for the 3rd world specifically, but I chose not to because we would be here all day. But here are some general thoughts:

a) Make up jobs. Several countries have done this in the past and continue to do so. Just give people meaningless jobs. Here for some inspiration: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/man-skipped-work-for-6-years_us_56c1d32ae4b0b40245c72512

b) Do not use technology. This is what for example the Nazis did. It's kind of similar to a), but you still do some actual work - it's just not as efficient as you have to.

c) Restrict the access to that technology. This happens somewhat with genetics in agriculture for example, people hold back to "save jobs", but it's a bit of a stretch maybe. Somewhat related is market protection. Countries sometimes try to restrict products from countries that produce cheaper in a number of ways. This still could be done in your case.

d) Subventions. I'm sure politicians didn't die out over night. The EU is keeping its whole agricultural sector alive that way even though it would not survive in its current form in a free market.

Now directly related to your idea:

e) You would still need a lot of people. Concerning the things you replicate and so on: there will be waiting periods, there will be trial periods, things will break and you still need to develop stuff. I think it's obvious that what those devices will create a lot of jobs long term, but even short term you still need for example plumbers or electricians and so on that know what those machines need to create. People will not end up on the streets overnight with your idea.

f) Consider that you need to redo your infrastructure. That would employ a LOT of people pretty quickly. We might actually be dealing with too few people.

g) You will need a lot of jobs for communicating what is needed. Every field has its own "world of discourse". You need experts on one side that tell people what to produce with those machines, you need people to operate your machines and replicate stuff and you need the middle man that speaks the language of both parties or things will go horribly, horribly wrong.

h) There will still be a lot of jobs in retail or even wholesaling. Just because things are available for very cheap and very fast doesn't mean everyone knows any product and what to buy to solve what problem and what is on the market. Even restaurants might still work because blue prints can still be secret - and now the same goes for factories.

Look, this can go on and on. There are so many ways which means your question is a bit broad atm. One could address the situation in mining communities in Chile or in the suburbs of London and so on and the answers would always be different. Also keep in mind that long-term planning might be very different from what is needed short term, I read your question as mainly short-term because of how you put it. I tried to keep it as general as possible, I hope it is somewhat helpful


The resulting economy might not be that different after a little stabilization process.

You still need (and want to pay credits to):

  • politicians, diplomats
  • public administration and regulation (where what to print for whom to use) including patent attorneys
  • printing and distribution of goods and accompanying consultation (a government printing shop in each street?)
  • health and care worker, teacher
  • firefighter, ranger, gardener
  • police, surveilance and military jobs (especially if all countries can now print nuclear weapons)
  • creative jobs (designer, scientists, architects, writer, composer, singer, dancer, terraforming engineers ...)
  • craftsman ("rich" people will want to have something unique handmade like a wooden table, a ceramic coffee pot or a paved driveway)
  • construction worker (even if you can print out highways and airports, someone has to work the printer)
  • pilots, chauffeurs, guides for airplanes, trains and museum visitors and many more.

But the "stabilization process" might be longer or shorter, simple or complicated, with no or billions dead, depending on your story.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget template makers and inventors: Someone still needs to make the first one of a new item. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ this are the designers and the ... ;-) but I will add some $\endgroup$
    – Henning M.
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 16:09
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Recycling all the dumb things people make when they first start playing with this replication technology will be many full time jobs. $\endgroup$
    – Mazel
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 16:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Mazel You mean, the half billion of 3D-printed dicks? $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:45

You know what would be the first thing some states produce? Weapons. A lot of weapons. Bio-weapons, chemical ones. I think some even would try to duplicate fantasy guns and prototypes.

Anyway, I think that P.K. Dick wrote a novel about exactly same scenario. People were paid for doing things. Like getting 8 hours of sleep - which gave enough credits to pay for rent. Brewing own coffee instead of buying one at a machine. Cutting grass by themselves and so on.

Of course they could get additional "regular" job to have more credits but just sleeping and doing mundane task gave them enough to pay for rent and food.

But to add to that the jobs that would be most valuable would be the ones that make unique things. Artists, writers, poets. Something like the clique of youtubers that spend their trust money on fast cars and then make 100 videos about how fast it is.


I have the impression that the replicator is not the most important of the two gifts, but the generator is.

We can already fabricate next to anything, and definitely can produce anything any ordinary person needs almost all of the time. But what we all need, all the time, in (virtually) limitless amount, is energy.

Energy in the form of food, or fuel for heating, fuel for moving, both us and the goods we (think we) need, to light up the darkness, to cool on hot days... it all boils down to energy.

Creating anything that is needed is just a nice commodity compared to limitless and clean energy.

Admittedly, I would still love to get one of those replicators...

But to your question: How would jobs change?

Jobs in services will be unaffected. This means teachers, nurses, doctors, bankers, salespeople, you name them.

Jobs in manufacturing will see some change, and a lot depends on the constraints of your replicator. Today, additive manufacturing is really cool, but it's not economical for large quantities of simple things. You can 3d-print your own plastic cup, any shape you can imagine, any color you can get the filament, any size your printer can handle. Printing time will be a couple of hours, a day max. Or you buy 20 plastic cups at the next store for half a dollar or such...

Additive manufacturing excels at very complicated shapes, and very small amounts of objects, but it's fairly slow for ordinary shapes. So, depending on how (and how fast) your replicators work, it might still be more sensible to create steel bars for construction in the old way.

But I assume we will soon see the death of the entire fossil fuels industry, like coal mining and oil and gas drilling, shipping, and refining. Also, energy efficiency will all of a sudden be hardly any concern, only for off-grid devices (like mobile phones, aircraft, ...), but at the same time we might still keep wind and solar power generation, not only because we already have it and see no point in dismantling a working power plant that does not pollute anything, and for plain old backup.

What we might see is actually less military jobs. We even have a potential for fewer wars and crises. Digging up uranium for your nuclear power plants simply doesn't make sense any more. What little of the stuff you need for spacecraft and medicine you can create nice and clean and hazard-free in the replicators, saving you all the hassle of corrupting other people's governments to cut a profit from the resulting unrest. While some people might complain about the loss of a market for small arms and ammunition, I find it at least conceivable that the general public might frown a bit more on such actions when the price for their convenience goods is no longer dependent on other people's loss of human rights.

So, to sum it up: the energy sector will change beyond recognition, some industry will change, and the services sector will remain unaffected.


Daily amount of credits: This would be unfair to those that work. Why should I work if my neighbor that does nothing gets the same? If we introduce paid work instead, we get inequality in the other direction: How should I get a job to gain more credits, if there are no jobs for the great majority of the population?

But replication credits only give you replicable items. So given empty land, I can build a mansion. But without the empty land, I have nowhere to site my mansion. So along with replication credits, you still need real currency to get land, etc.

You would get a job to purchase things that can't be replicated practically. Or access to such things.

Jobs would primarily be scientific and engineering. Given the design for a new robot, you could replicate it. But who would design it? And who programs it afterwards? Those design and programming jobs would be where the money would go. And most people would want to learn how to do that. Because even if you don't do it for others for pay, you want to be able to design and program a robot of your own.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .