The Human Element of Robotics

KUKA_Industrial_Robots_IRIn one of my classes, we were discussing what will happen when robots and automated manufacturing mostly replace people. What will we do with all of the unemployed? I pondered this, and I had this idea. What if the nature of our economy changed? Right now, a large part of the economy is centered around products which help make/buy/sell other products. Let us think about a world many years from now where products have become so cheap that they have very little intrinsic worth because the manufacturing and selling process are extremely efficient. Where will the economy go? Where is the transfer of value in our society? I am guessing that the economy will shift to art. Yes, art. With our basic needs satisfied, people need to produce something unique that others will buy. Art or artistic elements can highly differentiate a product or be the product itself. Think of it this way, if all toasters are inexpensive and toast bread, which toaster will you buy? I think the answer to this is that you will buy a toaster that you “like.” Products that people “like” tend to be more design, and thus art, oriented. Taking this even further, we can think of groups of products with similar design languages; ahha! we just created a brand. Branding is essentially the industrial version of art.

Looking at an individual level, we will be able to focus more on creativity and on creating experiences that please us. Think of someone designing t-shirts on a computer. She hits  “print” which automatically sends the design to a virtual shopping arena. The design then moves to a manufacturing facility, and finally the physical product is sent to a distribution chain. What could we focus on creating?