If robots do all the work, who gets paid?
A few weeks ago, I took our family on vacation to Disneyland. Say what you will about the house of mouse, but I am a sucker for everything Disney. I love their animated movies, I love star wars, marvel, Pixar; if Disney owns it, chances are - I love it! I even like the theme parks;
long lines and all (that’s why God invented ‘fast-pass’).
On our third day at the park, I was sitting with my 7-year-old son, who asked me one of those 7- year-old questions: “Why does everything cost money”? “Why isn’t this Mickey Mouse shaped pretzel free”?. I carefully explained to him how the farmer has to grow the wheat and harvest it, how the grain is turned into flour in the flour mill, how the baker has to make the pretzel, and the nice lady has to sell it to us, and how each one of those people has to get paid.
My son listened carefully and nodded. After all, this system makes sense. But being a robotics nerd, I had to add a twist: “One day,” I said, “There will be robots that willgrow the wheat and harvest it. There will be an autonomous flour mill to make the flour and arobotic baker to make the pretzel, and even the nice lady will be replaced by a smiling robot.
And then, because robots don’t need money, the pretzel will be free”. My son listened carefully and nodded again. After all, that system made sense too. If robots do all our work for us, everything should be free. Robots will be the end of poverty and should be the end of money in general. But then, because 7-year-olds are much brighter than us, he added, “But the fast-pass will still cost money.”
It took me a few seconds to think about it and realize that, yes, the boy was right. No one has to work to make a “fast-pass.” It’s not a commodity. When we buy a “fast-pass,” we exchange money for time; we pay to cut in line legally. In general, we don’t just pay for goods and services; we also use money to “cut corners,” we use it as a status symbol, we use it to get a better education for our children, and we even horde it “just in case.” Having more money makes us feel safer. So even if the robots do everything for us, if they grow our food, make our clothes, build our houses and take care of us when we are sick. Even if they do ALL of that, there are still some things we will use money for.
But how will we earn that money? If robots do all the work for us and produce everything for
free, what could we do to get a paycheck? How will our “worth” be measured? Will we get paid for good deeds? Will we sell new ideas? Will companies like Twitter or Facebook pay us to use their platform?
Honestly, I don’t know. I should probably ask my 7-year-old son as soon as he finishes his
Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzel.