© Copyright 1991
by: James Wm. Lewis

 

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So that's what we'll call our near future world. Robotopia.

Robotopia is a world red-blooded capitalists would napalm.

Comment to
the Author

Robotopia now is only an idea. Robotopia is a place where no one works, yet everyone on the planet eats what he or she wants, lives in spacious, modern homes wired with the latest high-tech gadgets, and the closets are gorged with expensive-looking, latest rage theads. No one works for pay, yet everything is free. Obligatory, worldwide welfare is the law of the planet. Robots do all the work, grow the food, manufacture endless varieties of flawless consumer goods and deliver to homes all over the globe, and even in outer space, absolutely free. Education, entertainment and medical services cost nothing. Anyone can live anywhere and move anytime. There are no passports, no immigration laws, no smuggling, no customs agents and no national borders. Airlines, buses, trains, taxies, automobiles, space tranports...all forms of transportation are fast, safe, reliable, clean and free...from anywhere to anywhere. Human labor is as rare as mules in Manhattan. 

Human labor simply does not exist.

 
Robotopia? More Questions.

Is Robotopia remotely possible, or is it obligatory? Is Robotopia simply a science fiction fantasy, an author's prank, or a crackpot socialist scheme? Or is Robotopia the place Earth is headed, hell-bent for leather...and doesn't even know it? And if Robotopia is the human race's near destiny...how do we get there from here? Will we just wake up some morning and discover Robotopia, or will there be rough times ahead, or will Robotopia be leapfroged all together by the sudden appearance of intelligent devices of some sort that will make direct uploading of human consciousness immediately possible?

 
Collapse of communism

On Veteran's Day Eve 1989, Germans drank champagne atop the Berlin Wall as it crumbled around them. Communism itself was crumbling. In a few months, after an ill fated military coup attempt, the Soviet Union was disbanded. Did all this carrying on mean that capitalism had won? Or was that simply the playoff for the final Big Battle? Will capitalism soon be rotting in an adjoining grave, while yet another system brings order, paradise and happiness to humankind?

Collapse of capitalism

What are capitalism and communism, anyway, once we clear away all the abstract, intellectual sounding, rhetorical armor plating? Aren't both groups lead by powermad cheerleaders rooting in the same, ages old game called production of goods and services, with a few scary weapons thrown in to amuse the cheerleaders. Don't both economic teams goad, trick, bribe, lead, entice and threaten human laborers into producing or buying more and more of whatever it is they grow, make, invest, deliver or do? Don't both clubs reward game players with money and perks...which they use to purchase services and do-dads..the whatchamacallits others of their species have churned out in exchange for money and perks? Over simplified. Of course it is, especially for Adam Smith and Karl Marx purists, but close enough to explain Robotopia.

Insulted economists and snivelling investors will be quick to note that capital investment in mining, factories, machines, energy, agriculture, banking, communications and transportation equipment were never mentioned. True. All in good time.



Life under Robotopia

Some say Robotopia will be heaven on earth for lazy slobs, beer guzzlers, dope fiends, welfare chislers, fisherpersons, artists, writers, bookworms and happy-go-luck globe trotters. Lots of fun. No bedtimes. Total economic security. No responsibilities. No bill collectors. Who could squawk?

Bankers, stockholders, securities dealers, accountants, attorneys and entrepreneurs... That's who. They will all scream in unison. Then they will become extinct, or at least their saintly titles will, and they will all be missed about as much as Lords and moat engineers. The same robots that will spew out all those nice things free...will eliminate all need for money purchases... and all need for capital for throwing up new factories because robots will build them free.

That could never happen, a friend says. The Money Bags wouldn't let it happen.

Think again, friend.
 

 

 
 

They have played a bloody joke on themselves. The Moneybags built the first computers which will eventually, in a generation or less, become very intelligent robots. Business people are building these smart contraptions to cut costs and increase efficiency. Optimization they call it. What is optimal today won't be optimal tomorrow. The need for greater profits and market share demands ever faster, more efficient, fantasically productive machines to beat competitors who are doing the same thing.

Cut costs. Downsize labor forces. Cut costs some more...etc. Over and over until, guess what? The ultimate optimal efficiency is unlimited production with no expenses. This is the economic equivalent of superconductivity. Thus, each new timesaving, labor saving invention, each cost cutting move, and each new high-tech assembly line moves industry, services and delivery systems one step closer to that total efficiency, which is Robotopia. Now that doesn't sound so bad, now does it?

The Internet is an example of competition forcing corporations to offer lots of free stuff. The Internet instantly juxtaposes competitors, forcing them to take notice of each other while potential customers are watching. Major magazines and newspapers have free online versions of their publications, while most of them are simultaneously experiencing major drops in circulation of their print versions. Thus, sounding like Marx paraphrasing Hans Moravec, capitalists will evolve technology competitively, and in so doing, compete themselves out of existence.

"Now wait a minute," hurumps my friend again. "It's got to cost something. There's no free lunch. You just can't make all those cars, houses and golf clubs for nothing."

Okay, let's try this thing one more time. In Robotopia, everything is free in seemingly endless quantitites, sort of like air on earth before polution. Without ringing cash registers, distributors and producers garner no profits to pay off shareholders, lenders and suppliers. That eliminates all the financial boys and girls plus the corporations, and with them, everything faintly resembling capitalism. Why?

Try thinking like a machine. If someone dangles a few zillion beaners under a robot's tin nose, it will ignore the inducement the way a calculator ignores fertile soil. Robots can't be bought or bribed. Robots also don't get drunk, steal, sleep, get pregnant, or demand retirement benefits and profit sharing. Robots, even now, don't work for money. Instead, they slave their binary brains out for electricity. That electricity can eventually be produced in powerplants staffed by robots, repaired by robots and fueled by robot coal miners, oil drillers and uranium processors. If a robot architect needs help modernizing an old plant or erecting new factories, its robot buddies will assemble new robots with whatever numbers of eyes, arms, legs, wings , faculties and skills are needed, while other robots will supply all the necessary building materials, machines and parts...all without selling a single share of stock, without borrowing from Uncle Louie and without investment tax credit incentives or tax auditors.

 
In a world without money, revenue collectors around the globe will collect no taxes, government treasuries will sell no bonds, and governments will be without funds which won't buy anything anyway, because everything will be free. Don't worry. Things are now happening too fast in too many areas for sluggish bureaucrats and load mouthed politicians to ever figure out what is happening in the high tech world in time to ever stop it. What are they going to do? Call an air strike against a non-conforming Internet?

When will Robotopia be operational?

Robotopia will be operational:

  • 1. When individual robots are intelligent enough to do assigned jobs and mutually communicate needs and performance data without human assistance, and
  • 2. When robots operating in concert can replicate either themselves or design, make and program all the other needed types of robots directly from raw materials without human assistance, and
  • 3. When robots can have access to endless supplies of electrical energy by controlling at least one major energy source, such as solar power, wind power, coal or oil, a few power generation plants, and the grid, and
  • 4. When robots have unfettered access to the Internet, and can understand any topic on the Internet.
  • 5. When robots can evaluate production facilities, assess and project product demands, then control, adjust and/or build those facilities themselves in advance of need and without human assistance.  

If this senario holds true, then three choices will soon face all of humanity:

  • 1. Robotopia : replaces all human labor and entrepreneurs with global welfare and all humans live happy lives.(or)
  • 2. Technological Freeze : a new Dark Ages of sorts preserves human jobs and capitalism.(or)
  • 3. Mass Annihilation: elimination of non-producing humans eliminates free loader demand.

So, we humans seem to have a tiny little problem. How do we get to Robotopia and beyond before the capitalists chop up the robots or kill the would be freeloaders? Does collision lie dead ahead?


Now that the Berlin Wall has tumbled and communism no longer preoccupies civilization, it is time to figure out how to get from capitalism to Robotopia without mushing each other during the changeover.

Future Shock: Uploading

Post humanism represents the most radical change biological humans, or any life form has ever faced. Uploading our consciousness from these meat brains to faster, more sensible containers is more revolutionary than all the great wars, plagues and pestilance combined. Fear of biological death, the will to live built into our bodies through millions of years of evolution, will be a substantial force to subdue when the time comes.

Even the smartest, in-the-know techies are going to have shaky knees at times, regardless of their bragadocio.

For many years before uploading becomes practical, our smart creations, many of them weird, are going to continue invading our lives, bringing rapid, often unexpected, and unsolicited changes. Even if a complete Robotopia never materializes, many elements of the Robotopia envisioned here will share our environments, assisting us, protecting us and providing information and services that even now don't seem possible.

Artificial Intelligence today

We routinely confront forms of artificial intelligence every day: telephones, electronic fuel injection systems, sophisticated burgular alarms and calculators.

Already, many devices are smarter than humans when dealing with limited subjects. Chess programs, autopilots, collision avoidance systems, web routers, calculators, Martian robots, GPS devices, radar imaging systems, CAD/CAM, etc. None of these things really scare most people yet, because these gadgets have a limited intelligence focused on specific tasks. They are still controllable by their human masters. However, if all our smart gismos were hooked together, and somehow worked well together, most people, even professional A.I. researchers, would get a queezy feeling. Sooner or later, using the Internet or some other networking system, large numbers of these already existing savant devices will be connected.

Robotic Commerce Today

Today, as you read this on your computer, you are connected by who knows how many computers to the Internet, which is connected to my server which is also a computer, all acting without much, if any human assistance.

At some point you become bored from reading about Robotopia and find an online store and look for a book. A bookstore computer answers and searches the store's 2.5 million titles for your one special book, looking by subject, title, author, or ISBN, and then serves you a list of books to ponder. You find your sweet book and order it online using your credit card. Then you wait for a truck driver to deliver your book.

Wait! There is more! The book you just ordered leaves only three of that title in stock. The bookstore's inventory program discovers this shortage by monitoring cash register data and subtracting sold books from its running inventory. This program now dials a telephone which is connected by modem to phone company lines , switching stations and deep space satelites, all operated by computers, and sends a purchase order hundreds of miles away to computers at a publisher or distributor's warehouse, depending on the best price and availability. One of these suppliers' computers receives the order, evaluates it, checks the bookstore's account history, then dials up credit bureau computers and obtains online approval of the bookstore's corporate credit card. Next, the supplier's computer transmits the purchase order to warehouse computers. Robots pull this inventory and assemble it for packing, print a bill of lading and invoices, and call the freight company. Elapsed time: twenty-three minutes and fourteen seconds.

Up to this point, no humans have been involved, except you, the purchaser, who triggered this chain of events.

Robotopia is not here yet. However, many key components of Robotopia have already been designed, tested, and constructed. They are already in place. You use these components every time you make a telephone call, surf the web, or pop out a credit card, and generally you find the experience quite acceptable.

After Robotopia. . .Then what?

After Robotopia is fully implemented and we have gotten accustomed to a world that functions fine, thank you, without money, we can then use all that spare time immediately in starting to worry about uploading (ourselves) and what we really want to be doing with our lives for the next thousand years or so. Be nice to both friends and enemies.

You, me, all of us, may be stuck with knowing each other for a long time.


Your Comments?

Bright ideas? Glaring flaws in my reasoning? Data or links I've overlooked? Anything serious. I'm hungry for knowledge and ideas, but I share what I learn. My intellectual interests are ecclectic and often unpredictable.

James Wm. Lewis, Author

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© Copyright 1991, 2012, 2014. All rights reserved.

By: James Wm. Lewis