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August 27, 2012

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Are you trying to write a self-refuting post?

If there's peak oil, meaning "peak cheap energy" then the entire post-industrial post-labor robot dystopia will fail because...

...the robot future requires cheap energy.

So you can either have peak oil/energy/everything or dystopian robot future.

You can't actually have both.

Half Sigma Fail.

Class mobility should be maintained for the most able in each class. If you let any ability accumulate in lower classes with no outlet, you get war.

For this future to come true, we're gonna need new/better energy sources.

I never saw the original but the new Total Recall movie is exactly like your vision of the future. Bleak, robotic, resource scarce, with major class divides, and most jobs in the police/military.

This is spot on. I would like to remind people that even in the most utopian future (one where the world is divided into beautiful garden estates serviced by swarms of robots) labor has no value and all of the people without capital are crammed into dystopian cities that make New York/Detroit/Shanghai look like nice places to live.

The only plausible scenario where labor has much value is if a disease hits and it throws us into a dark age.

@JP Law,

The robots will use humans for fuel! Don't you know anything about dystopian robot futures? Sheesh.

> Class mobility should be maintained for the most able in each class. If you let any ability accumulate in lower classes with no outlet, you get war.


Hasn't panned out so far.

@JP - No, robots eat old people's medicine for fuel.

Didn't you ever see the commercial for Old Glory Insurance?

http://www.hulu.com/watch/2340

I'm of the "peak everything" mindset (because post-industrial capitalism appears to place no value on the future - per Jeremy Grantham), so the last thing that I'm worried about the the Robot Dystopia.

I'm pretty sure we're going back to the farms.

I just want my Half Sigma posts to be *internally consistent*. That's all I ask for. Posts can even contradict each other. I just need flow for individual posts.

Also, we need another Half Sigma pastoral landscape post.

the economy will sieze up if nothing changes, i.e. the fruits of productivity flow upward to the rich, then deposited in cayman island accounts, never to be heard from again.

this state will be unsustainable and so will not be sustained. does anyone really think that white, intelligent middle-class people will quietly submit when they are reduced to what characterizes the living standards of the NAM underclass?

i hope we're made of sterner stuff. torches and pitchforks will be prominent in the future.

T: The only plausible scenario where labor has much value is if a disease hits and it throws us into a dark age.


The Black Plague was the best thing that could have happened to Europe during the Dark Ages. Overpopulation has always been the main problem in societies where there aren't enough casualties from war and more common illnesses, since charities keep the most incapable alive well into adulthood.

My version of the dystopian future: Idiocracy.

We're rewarding the stupid for breeding and causing their population to increase far faster than that of the more intelligent.

"intelligent middle-class people will quietly submit when they are reduced to what characterizes the living standards of the NAM underclass?"

Intelligent middle class folks cannot be reduced to what characterizes the NAM underclass, namely, violence, filth, sloth and stupidity. What makes them who they are comes from inside of them. My norwegian great granny kept a clean tidy house and read many books and raised well behaved kind children with her husband while living in a freaking sod hut on the freezing ass cold South Dakota prairie. Just as you can take NAMs out of the hood via section 8, you can't take the NAM out of most NAMs, so also you can't take the decency and industry out of many northern Europeans. Jews in European ghettos didn't comport themselves like NAMs just because they were discriminated against. Hell, they didn't even descend into NAM like dysfunction in freaking concentration camps.

"If there's peak oil, meaning "peak cheap energy" then the entire post-industrial post-labor robot dystopia will fail because...

...the robot future requires cheap energy."

Robots will probably be more efficient per input of energy than human labor. The process of producing food is incredibly energy inefficient, and many of our agricultural inputs are derived from petroleum.

"Intelligent middle class folks cannot be reduced to what characterizes the NAM underclass, namely, violence, filth, sloth and stupidity".

Then you have proles who are equally hated. Not as bad as NAMs, but very much disliked for their short fused brutish behavior.

"We're rewarding the stupid for breeding and causing their population to increase far faster than that of the more intelligent".

We might be like the Chinese, with their 50% population of imbeciles. At least they are peasants, unlike slothen Americans who are good for nothing. But the effect is the same, a society of dumb proles with an intelligent ruling elite hellbent in eliminating their rivals.

You won't be in the elite just from owning a robotic factory as can be demonstrated by a simple thought experiment:

Let's suppose that there are 100 guys who own robotic factories. One of the 100 guys will be tempted to make some extra money by having his robot factory inexpensively produce a new robot factory which can be sold to guy number 101. Pretty soon there will be 1000 robotic factories and then 10,000. Pretty soon, everyone who wants one can buy a robotic factory at Walmart for $25.99.

Commodities are a different story, but I doubt that ownership of commodities will help much. We are doing more and more with less and less. And commodities are heavily influenced by the declining price of extraction.

For example, let's suppose the cost of extracting gold drops to $5 per ounce in the future because mine operators use robotic miners. Some gold-mine operator will be tempted to cut its prices in order to get a short-term kick in revenue. Eventually the price of gold will drop down to practically nothing.

I doubt that there is any commodity which is so rare and precious that robot labor will not result in very low prices.

The last point is that once technological unemployment reaches a certain threshold, unemployed people will just vote themselves a piece of the pie.

So I'm skeptical of HS's predictions.

Wow, for somebody who's a proclaimed Republican and thus likely believes in the power of the markets, you sure have a Marxist view.

If robots become more prevalent in industry, yes in the short term there will be more unemployment in the proletariat. The same thing happened with the cottage industry upon the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the buggy-whip industry with the introduction of the car.

More unemployment means that there is plenty of cheap human capital just dying to be utilized. Now the dumber jobs in manufacturing may be going the way of the Dodo, but there are still plenty of high

'Intelligent middle class folks cannot be reduced to what characterizes the NAM underclass, namely, violence, filth, sloth and stupidity. What makes them who they are comes from inside of them.'

for sure. not disagreeing with you. i'm talking about _material_ standards. they will make the best of it up until the point they appreciate the injustice of their being lumped with the economically redundant underclass, dismissed as worthless so to speak. at that point, sit back and watch the fun.

@JP Law,

The robots from The Matrix are stronger than the robots that use old people's medicine for fuel, and therefore The Matrix's plan for humanity will prevail!

We are already living in the time period in which the average person has a higher standard of living than at any other point in human history.

There are 300 million people in the USA. The average employed person in the USA (the person who has an equal number of people making more than him as making less than him) makes more than $40 thousand dollars a year. That means hot and cold running water, electricity, TV, a computer, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer.

Never before in the history of the human race has the average person lived that kind of lifestyle. Technology has made the average person better and better off, consistently, for at least 400 years now.

And the argument that in the future the owners of capital will do better than people who work? That is truly insane. We are already, in 2012 at the point where the after inflation safe return on capital is zero. Read that again - if your family has saved $10 million over the past few generations and wants risk free return, you get 1% or $100 thousand a year while inflation eats up more than $100 thousand a year. Talk to any retiree. Capital earns nothing.

The people earning money are those with enough labor skill to actually do a job that is in demand. Plenty of registered nurses making $80k, oil geologists making $150k, mining engineers making $170k Real value creating professionals, making real money while those with capital earn nada.

Sure there will be hundreds of robot factories. And competition among robot manufacturers will push the return on capital to almost zero.

Why don't you google what happened to the people that built robot factories to make flat panel tvs? you will see that they earned a negative return on their capital.

@georgia - "Robots will probably be more efficient per input of energy than human labor. The process of producing food is incredibly energy inefficient, and many of our agricultural inputs are derived from petroleum."

Are we going to teach the robots how to eat grass?

We're going to run out of cheap energy because we are (collectively) stupid and we are burning through all the concentrated sunlight we have.

We're not going to get to Robot Dystopia because we are going to run out of cheap energy and won't be able to power and maintain the robots.

We're not going to get to Idiocracy because we are going to run out of cheap energy and won't be able to feed the idiots no matter how compassionate we want to be.

And the closer we get to Robot Dystopia, the harder we are going to fall when The Machine Stops because we eliminated all of the systemic redundancy so that we could make our robots more efficient.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

See post-Roman Britain and Gaul for further details.

We are so hosed.

JP Law is spot on - you can't have a robot future without cheap energy. And cheap energy means cheap resources, for example 1) desalinization to obtain water, 2) conversion of waste products back into usable matter or even 3) mining asteroids/other planets for metals.

I don't think there will be a resource shortage. Technology through human history may arguably have caused an increase in material disparity between the classes, but it has also always improved the baseline standard of living.

Solar energy will become cost competitive with coal by the end of this decade, likely sooner, and could continue becoming cheaper for the next 30 years. I attended a lecture in grad school (I'm a biochemist) proposing a shift from metal hydride batteries to carbon-based frameworks. Those are just two of many possible routes to cheap energy.

My vision of the future is similar to that of Arthur Clarke's in 3001: The Final Odyssey.. everyone has enough resources to live without working, but the few that wish to still drive the rest of human civilization forward.

How far out are your predictions of this robot future Half? 2100? 2200?

HS,

I suggest you read Player Piano by Vonnegut. It is published in 1952 and deals with what you are writing about.

I'm not quite so pessimistic. These robot factories will be such delicate operations that they will need excellent maintenance (cleanliness, temperature, power, security, etc.). These will require many human jobs. In addition, the robot manufacturing firms will need large R&D departments, lobbyists, and marketing folks to compete. Also the programming of these robots will be quite expensive and will require continuous debugging. I think the robot transition will be slow and limited to specific fields such as pharmaceuticals and nanotech.

At some point, there will be lots of interesting ethical issues about robot rights. For example, if robots are sophisticated enough to learn in a similar way to humans, should it be illegal to harass or give false information to a robot?

I see many, many comments about how a robotic future is not going to happen because of energy. You all have it backwards.

A worker takes a huge amount of energy. He consumers energy at the job, but then he also consumes energy off of the job. The worker takes his salary and pays to heat/cool his home, run his refrigerator, and power his giant TV. He drives to and from work, and that takes fuel. He drives his kids to school and to soccer practice, and that takes more energy. Robots use much less energy, because they don't have homes or families.

Robots use much less energy to to X amount of work than humans do. That's the point: lower total cost of ownership.

We can even estimate how much energy a person uses. It will be proportional to his salary.

So a person making $60k is probably using twice as much energy as someone making $30k. That person making $60k buys new cars more often. He turns up the heat when he is cold and turns on the AC when he is hot. The person making $30k has to conserve. The person making $60k takes more plane trips, the $30k guy stays home

If a robot costs less than an employee, then it is because the robot uses less energy than an employee. Cost = energy. Dollars = Kilowatts.

If we assume that technology improves while energy dwindles then we can be certain that employers will gradually switch over to robots.

The whiteman must move some of these robotic factories to Africa, a land of plentiful resources and help us catch up after centuries of holding us down. Do it or else we'll ask our Chinese friends to do so and then side with them against you.

Blackafrican: The whiteman must move some of these robotic factories to Africa, a land of plentiful resources and help us catch up after centuries of holding us down. Do it or else we'll ask our Chinese friends to do so and then side with them against you.


It's hard to take trolls seriously. :\

Anyone familiar with HBD knows the average African IQ makes it impossible to find enough labor to adequately staff a highly technical operation.

China already owns the future, token African support or not.

"The answer is to invest in commodities because they will become more expensive. Because of peak oil,"

Commodities will be cheaper because they are being utilized more efficiently.

"Because of peak oil, oil will be one of the first commodities to go up"

Energy prices are going to crash because of fracking.

Because economists aren't engineers econ is abstract and useless at explaining reality.

It's one enormous story repeated over and over. However often repeated it's still bankrupt.

Agreed T. When robots are capable of complex assembly (which apparently has already happened) and are cheaper than even poor people of the world then humans are going to unemployed en masse. After all, if robots can do complex assembly on the cheap then robots that can repairs and maintain robots should also exist thereby stopping people getting employed en masse into the robot maintenance sector. Inevitably most people will be unemployed. There are only going to be two good classes - the robot owners and entertainers to the owners. Considering that taxpayers already don't like funding welfare payments then 10% of future humanity won't want to fund the 90% idle. Maybe welfare will be tied to sterility or poverty and crime will be the lot of the underclass leading to long-term depopulation.

Now if the energy consumption of the robot is actually lower than a human but the productivity is way higher than it will pay to shut down farms. Hence new farms of, say, sugarcane, will appear to make ethanol since it makes better sense to feed robots than humans.

Deep down just as the Black Death may well as kicked of the Industrial Revolution so too the future in robot-dominated era will be wonderful for most of the people there but the transition will be ugly.

Who will buy all teh stuff produced by robot factories?

I think you said something like the government taxing the companies and giving it to consumers to spend on their products, but that's dumb because instead of having $X, the producers would then have $(X-Y) where Y is the cost of producing the product that gets sold, assuming that all of the tax reveune finds its way to back to the producer in entirety. Thus, the producer was better off before producing and being taxed and so won't produce stuff.

" There are only going to be two good classes - the robot owners and entertainers to the owners."

What's to stop a robot owner from trying to make a little extra money and have his robots inexpensively build more robots to sell to non-robot owners?

Seems to me that with cheap robot labor, it will not be long before anyone who wants to be a robot owner can be a robot owner.

Robot Repairmen will do just fine (like plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics...)

A lot of problems with your vision of the future Half Sigma. So many inconsistencies. Why will we need to produce things if no one has any money to buy things? Why would people tolerate indefinitely this absurd form of society where those who were already rich get to own everything? Why are we educating people if robots do all our work? Why wouldn't we have used genetic engineering or robotic implants to make people more intelligent and more capable before this robot dystopia you've created happens? How will the rich stay rich if they have no one to sell to? The only reason we are able to have rich people is because we have hordes of poor people to sell to and economies of scale increase productivity (and winner takes all along with globalization creates the ultra wealthy). Where does the unlimited energy come from? Why don't we colonize other planets if we're only limited by resources?

You're so biased in your vision of the future. You are so stuck in your mold of HBD and classism that you can only imagine this continuing. There are more forces pushing us towards a more positive robotic future rather than some dystopian recreation of Victorian England.

These Half Sigma posts are entertaining. I disagree a bit with his part 2 post, because I don't think a giant population is in the future. I do think the elites will find a way to eliminate a lot of excess people. Not the $1/day 3rd world usless folks, but the 1st world citizens who are drains on resources at far higher rates than 3rd worlders. Consider the economic waste, environmental impact, and capital destruction of welfare folks and the obese. They'll cook something up to deal with them 1st, then the 3rd world $1/day types. With the way obesity rates are going, maybe they'll just disrupt insulin supplies for 12 months and watch a lot of fatties die. I say diabetes as we have 25 mil w/type 2 diabetes in the US now and have 80 mil w/pre-diabetes. It would be very easy to reach $50-75 mil w/type 2 diabetes, and then an insulin disruption would kill many if not all off. Due to socioeconomic class differences in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates, that's a lot of lower class whites and NAMs eliminated.

Another weak spot to Sigma's post: his scenario is also dependent on the USA remaining a 50 state union + 1st tier power.

My personal dystopia would be Idiocracy crossed with PC thoughtcrime enforcement 1984 style. Much closer now than it was 20 years ago. While we may be living currently in a softer version of the dystopia of "A Brave New World", I'd take BNW as long as they let me live in exile on the Falkland Islands.

To Dr. Doak and XVO,

Why do the people rich people need to sell to anyone? There will probably still be money and an economy, but in order to understand if you need to ignore currency. Currency is just a communication mechanism that coordinates action.

The endgame is this: rich people living on their manors, attended to by their servants. Their robots make everything that is needed. The manor is entirely self-sufficient. The lord of the manor has no need to sell the products of his robots, because he doesn't need money, because he doesn't need to buy anything.

Also people fantasizing about the elite paying the poor to not reproduce are going to be disappointed. The elite will allow the population of the underclass to expand and genetically engulf middle class people who fall into poverty.

@The Undiscovered Jew - "Energy prices are going to crash because of fracking."

Fracking is still a windfall because it's still stored solar energy, so it just kicks the can.

The real question is how much energy can we get from nuclear fuel?

Also, if there is a problem with nuclear fuel, how much energy can we sustainibly obtain from actual renewable sources: solar, hydro, thermal, wind?

These are the actual engineering questions.

"Are we going to teach the robots how to eat grass?"

No. My point is that with increasingly scarce energy resources, the cost of robots will actually rise more slowly than the cost of human labor. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to produce the food that the average American eats? And, of course, improvements in solar technology may serve as a supplementary power supply for robots, in which case robots will definitely be more efficient, since photosynthesis is quite inefficient.
To reiterate my point: All inputs considered, robot labor is probably going to be more efficient than human labor, so in a world of increasingly scarce energy resources, robot labor will have an increasing advantage. However, the scarcity of energy guarantees that even if the average IQ rose to where most people could be employed in highly technical positions in the robotic economy, there will still be unemployment, because there isn't enough energy to scale the robotic economy up to where it could employ any significant proportion of the current population.

"We are so hosed."
On that, at least, we agree.

@Blackafrican,
The thought of black Africans siding with the Chinese against white people does not worry me overmuch. The Chinese on their own, however, are sufficiently scary.

"We might be like the Chinese, with their 50% population of imbeciles."
Care to cite a source? According to Richard Lynn, at least, the Chinese are not lacking in intelligence. India and Africa, on the other hand...

"Fracking is still a windfall because it's still stored solar energy, so it just kicks the can."

Um, yeah, if it kicks the can more than a century down the road, I can live with that.

Reply to T,

Your reply fails to take into consideration my other points. The system half sigma envisions is not sustainable or likely. If we reduce population growth, which is already happening naturally in the West, and continue to make production cheaper through robotics there will be no need or ability to have poor people. Resources are essentially unlimited, energy is essentially unlimited, more than humans will ever be able to use. Once we get robots it won't be long before we get the ability to altar matter at the nuclear level and create elements from their basic parts. We can transform the existing matter into matter capable of producing nuclear energy and thus we can do anything. What would be the point of keeping people poor? Tyranny for the sake of tyranny? IQ won't matter once robotic or genetic engineering gets sophisticated enough. Actually people might not even matter anymore, hopefully the robots were programmed properly so they continue to take care of us.

Right on, Siggie! Once the middle class no longer can make over 30,000 USD, game over baby! It won´t take longer than 10 years, with or without robots.

This post is wrong.

Peak oil is real, but it's not a real problem. Alternative energy is here and by 2035 everything will be solar powered.

Robotics are the future, but not in the way HS predicts. Nanobots will alter matter at the molecular level, literally turning lead into gold, and factories will no longer exist.

The Singularity is Near - Ray Kurzweil... Listen to the man, Bill Gates does.

> The Singularity is Near - Ray Kurzweil

Dream on.

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