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Automation and You

by Dennis M. Myers, 03/11/2020

When Andrew Yang jumped into the presidential race, he brought an interesting message to the debate. Considering the ongoing shift from labor intensive manufacturing to automated systems and advanced robotics, where does that leave those of us who work for a living?

I have family and friends who are truck drivers. Soon, even their jobs will be largely taken over by self driving freight haulers. Taxi drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers, all are barreling down the path of automated vehicles picking people up and driving them to their destinations.

We are heading into a future of fewer jobs, and more wealth created by automation. What does that mean for people without any ownership?

When I was developing the society I wrote about in my first book, Final Assembly, I wanted it to be a nice place. Full of hope and freedom. I decided that everyone was an owner in the Lunar Sustainability Cooperative (LSC), and the dividends were enough for everyone to live in comfort. This highly automated society is one where people do what they want to do, driven by their own desires for creative expression. There are few things the automated services cannot handle. For example, food production and distribution. Anyone can go to an automated cafeteria and grab food grown or manufactured by automated systems. But there are also people who love growing food, or cooking meals and sharing them with others. So there is this whole parallel system that exists for people who want it. The guy serving you Tycho style sushi loves the feel and taste, and takes pride in what he's doing. People stop by because it's delicious and they enjoy his company. No one cares about the automated systems behind the scenes transferring money back and forth. It's a nearly forgotten aspect of their society. It still runs on money under the surface, but because everyone is quite wealthy by our standards, it's not something people think about.

I don't know if we could ever really get there. It would require a huge shift in personal priorities. There is still this attitude that we need to have poor people, or that poor people are poor because they did something wrong. In truth, being poor is a trap. It is very difficult to escape that trap. And unless things change, there will be a lot more poor people as a percentage of the population in the future, than there are now. But that's getting close to being political.

Yang's solution of a universal basic income is one idea of many. My cooperative idea is another. I presented it because I wanted to tell the story of a really nice place, with a nasty problem. One that the automated services couldn't handle. I'm also setting things in motion that drive stories I intend to write that happen thousands of years later. But that's getting ahead of myself.

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