Imagine an economy run entirely by robots that generates enough wealth to support the entire human race without needing many humans to intervene or even work.
This is the promise offered in a recent study by some of the world’s leading social economists.
“We have taken the two existing mega trends of the current era – economic stagnation and the explosion of the robot population – and put together a future solution for society where robots drive an increase in economic activity to the benefit of humans”, explains Prof Ernest Simpson, the British lead of the study.
“It started with the understanding that economic activity in the digital world is a series of electronic transactions. Take for example a barista serving a coffee or a tutor teaching an overseas student. When paid for by a bank transfer of some kind, both events trigger electronic payments that when aggregated with other transactions form the basis of the modern economy.”
As the study report explains, in the foreseeable future robots will replace many of the activities performed by humans. For example, the barista will be replaced with a coffeebot and the university tutor will be replaced by a profbot. The cost of these services will reduce due to improved efficiencies, but the economic transactions still happen as the services are consumed triggering the tax payments and various economic flows that in total become the economy.
“Our insight was to take this a step further and replace the coffee drinker and the student themselves with robots removing the human element all together from the transaction” continues Prof Andrea Stunson, the study co-lead. “We see the coffeebot paying for lessons with the profbot. Likewise the profbot buys coffee from the coffeebot. Each robot earns and pays just like in the real economy. Also like the real economy, the transactions count towards economic activity and attract taxes that go to fill the country’s exchequer which then in turn can pay for human social payments and other country costs.”
The team argues that there is no limit to the number of robots that we can develop, so there is no limit to the amount of economic activity we can create.
“In our latest models, we are looking at a further stage of virtualisation, where the robots are simply programs running in a computer without physical form. “Virtual robots” earn salaries, “virtual robots” make payments and taxes are still transacted making it even easier to generate economic returns” adds Prof Simpson.
“Now that what I call automation!” Prof Stunson exclaims.