The Solution to Humanity’s Greatest Problems

28 May 2022

Introduction

What could Elon Musk have been thinking when he told us that we are coming into an “age of abundance”? How could anything “obviate what an economy even means”?

After watching Elon’s speech from the April 7th Texas Gigafactory grand opening event, these questions lingered in my mind.

I’ve been watching Elon for years and have never found him to be someone who speaks frivolously. When he makes a profound statement or sets out to accomplish something unbelievable, it is no longer surprising to see it happening.

I have given some thought to these words and discussed my ideas with some friends, and I think I’ve figured it out. Or at least I think I’ve found something which answers both of those questions elegantly. And which concurrently cures several of the most important problems currently faced by humanity.

To recap, here is what Elon said at that event:

And of course, we’ve got the Tesla robot, Optimus. I think Optimus will obviate what an economy even means.

Basically, anything that humans don’t want to do Optimus will do it. And it’s going to be an age of abundance.

It may be hard to imagine it but as you see Optimus develop – and we are obviously going to make sure it’s safe, no terminator stuff, that kind of thing – but it’s really going to transform the world, I think, to a degree even greater than the cars.

Perhaps the results of my contemplation are similar to what Elon had in mind when he said those words, perhaps not. Either way I think these are thoughts worth considering and so I have attempted to convey them in the form of this paper.

An Age of Abundance

What would an age of abundance look like?

In history we have reached certain points we have described using the term “age”. Iron, industry and information have each had tremendous impact on humanity. Each has brought us to greater ability to survive as individuals and as a species, increasing our resources, freedom and leisure. Albeit not without certain accompanying liabilities, particularly affecting other species and the planet.

I have come to believe that an age of abundance has the potential to provide dramatically greater benefit to humanity than any previous age, and to concurrently repair all of the environmental harm previously caused by humanity in the past.

Abundance is a state or condition where there is plenty of what is needed, such that a person or group would not have to worry about obtaining more. An abundance of food would mean that people would have enough to eat, and individuals in the group would not suffer starvation.

By terming it an “age” of abundance, it seems appropriate to scope the group as the entire population of Earth.

For what I am considering to be a true age of abundance, I would propose that the abundance would not be limited to just things like food – a vital necessity. Shelter and clothing and other vital necessities would be readily available to anyone who needs them. Transportation would also be available as needed and without delay. Other desirable goods and services would be available abundantly. Electronic equipment, computers, entertainment devices, domestic services, information – such things would all be available in abundance. I propose that the abundance would extend to all goods and services which might conceivably or reasonably be needed or wanted by any person, within the realm of our skills and technology to produce.

The method of achieving such abundance described in this paper would, as you will see, inherently come with many distinct advantages to humanity as a whole. Call them by-products, even though the term seems terribly inadequate.

Many of these by-products might make the entire endeavor worthwhile in their own right.

The list may be hard to believe, but I assure you the initial reasoning seems sound, as I will explain later. Examples:

  • End world hunger, poverty and homelessness.
  • Eliminate pollution of our land, oceans and atmosphere. Eliminate all landfills.
  • Correct all existing damage caused to our climate by human activity.
  • Reforest and restore damaged ecosystems and end the need to ever again impact them negatively.
  • Massively reduce crime, by perhaps 90% or more. (Crime will still depend on social policies to some degree, but a major portion of crime will vanish as a matter of course.)
  • Permanent economic and societal immunity to any future pandemic or similar threat to humanity.

There will be many more ramifications, some lesser and some perhaps as great as the ones listed above. Other minds will probably think of more than I have, but I believe this is enough to make the point.

How Could We Get There?

The first part takes no stretch of the imagination. Achieving such abundance is simply a matter of making enough stuff that everyone can have everything they need or want.

Why don’t we have such abundance right now? Because we don’t have enough infrastructure to produce it. Why? Infrastructure is costly and it takes a lot of labor to set up. Our labor resources for creating infrastructure and operating that infrastructure to produce such goods and services are limited. Plus our modern economy is terribly inefficient at it (more on this later).

Feasibility aside, the path from here to there is pretty clear: Produce enough infrastructure and ramp up labor sufficiently that we can then produce all of the goods and services that anyone would ever need or want.

And how would we get there?

  1. Create general purpose robots capable of navigating the environment and doing useful work
  2. Use robots for all labor involved in creating and maintaining robots

That’s it. There are a lot of details to consider, but essentially if we accomplish 1 and 2 above, the path to an age of abundance is wide open to humanity.

The Problem of Scalability

It is a bit of a stretch to imagine the volume of infrastructure needed. Perhaps one way is to consider the relative value in terms of money. I’m no statistician but I’m sure someone could calculate the price of all of the goods and services a single individual might need or want, and then multiply that by the number of people there are.

Comparing that result to the current collective output of goods and services by humanity might provide a rough idea. There would probably be orders of magnitude of difference between those two figures.

The biggest problem, then, is one of scalability.

Simply adding additional people to the population could certainly increase the global output, but would it increase the output sufficiently to offset the needs of the additional people? If one additional person added to the system required X additional dollars’ worth of goods and services, would that person’s contribution to the system result in additional output greater than X dollars’ worth?

Let’s assume for a moment that the answer is yes; a person’s contribution leads to production of approximately X dollars’ worth of good and serves. Even if that is the case, simply adding more and more people into the current system will still not bring us into an age of abundance for at least two reasons:

1) Our society and system are currently so far from outputting enough goods to satisfy the needs of all people that it seems infeasible to bring the equation into balance. In other words, we have generated more “debt” than we could make up for in any reasonable amount of time. And:

2) There is simply way too much waste in our current economic system.

We would probably run out of planet before getting there by this strategy.

Parasitic Economic Impact

There is far too much “extra” cost added by our current economic system, costs that have little or nothing to do with providing a person with the things they want or need, costs that automatically increase as populations increase.

For example, consider the costs related to paying taxes. Each additional person must spend time preparing their tax return, requires the services of accounting professionals or tools to calculate the taxes, and requires labor and resources on the part of tax authorities to ensure the taxes are paid properly.

Similarly consider compulsory costs related to banking, insurance, legal services, etc. Do these services provide the individual with something needed for survival? Not really, not in the way that food, shelter and entertainment provide benefit. But they are a mandatory element of our modern society.

Further, there are whole industries that don’t really seem to contribute toward improving the lives of the people. Take an example like the stock market. What valuable good or service is provided to individuals in society through the trading of stocks and bonds? What tangible benefit does anyone receive from the activities of a short seller? Perhaps an economist will argue with me about this, but I maintain that the whole system is an artificial construct that really does nothing toward making humanity better. And yet massive amounts of resources, labor and money are poured into this subject.

Insane Systemic Redundancy

Imagine you sell a line of wrist watches, but each time you want to start offering a new watch design you must come up with not only the design, but also an entire new facility with a full set of manufacturing equipment, find and establish a new supply chain for the parts, hire a new team of employees and maybe even re-develop large parts of the technology of modern watch making. For a company trying to sell watches profitably this would make no sense at all. You would just re-use the existing resources and infrastructure you’ve already set up, saving thousands or millions of dollars and years or decades of research and experience.

And yet, as a society, this is what we are constantly doing. We do not just have one soda manufacturer developing formulas, sourcing materials, manufacturing, marketing and delivering soft drinks. We have perhaps 50 major soda manufacturers, each one with their own competitive and independent R&D, supply chain, facilities, equipment, marketing, transportation, etc.

Such redundancy of activity adds tremendous cost to our society, along with its full share of contribution to rising problems like waste disposal and increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

And yet we do it this way because that is how our economy works: The company that makes and markets their version of the product the best gets the most profit. Each company inherently must invest the same types of resources into striving to beat out the competition. It’s terribly inefficient.

What Will Bring This Change

I’m not advocating that some authoritarian regime should come in and force a change to our economic system. That would take an infeasible power grab with so much accompanying resistance and violence as to completely offset any benefit with virtually guaranteed failure. And perpetrators of such an atrocity would make for very unfit leadership.

But change, the system must. And this is change which I believe can and will come naturally; as naturally as when humanity moved from a hunter/gatherer society to a society of agriculture.

Introduce: Robots

The solution to the problem lies in increasing output without concurrently increasing our requirements.

General-purpose robots which can perform useful work are what make it possible to imagine these ideas. Robots can do work and do not need pay. They can work continuously without rest, can function in conditions which are hazardous or deadly to humans, and they will never get bored with tedious or repetitive work.

At first robots will be expensive. I suspect Tesla’s Optimus version 1 will cost tens of thousands of dollars each and will be available in numbers like hundreds/thousands for the first couple of years.

As the technology evolves and production scales up, the price will decrease as is normal with manufacturing anything. Tesla might get to the point where Optimus robots cost just thousands of dollars and are available in the order of magnitude of millions.

There is the factor to consider that these robots will need maintenance and will need to be replaced when they reach the end of their useful life. That, again, equates to additional cost.

As robots are introduced into industry, companies will find that it does not cost as much to produce the goods or services they provide and the price to the consumer will fall. Similar to the way goods became cheaper with the advent of the assembly line. Similar also to the way goods made in China are modernly cheaper than goods made in America (but without labor exploitation).

While reducing costs is a very good thing in its own right and will allow individuals in our society to extend their paycheck further, all of this is still much too small scale, and much too costly if we are trying to bring about the age of abundance described above.

Game Changer: Robots Making Robots

The key to this idea, the point where we can finally move from a society limited by humanity’s collective output ability into what I’m thinking of as this age of abundance is the point where robots start providing 100% of the labor for creating and maintaining robots.

Think about it: If robots are tasked with all labor related to creating robots – from gathering the needed resources, making parts, assembling those into robots, maintaining the robots and replacing them as needed – then there is no longer any need to buy things on a supply chain, no longer any need for corporate capital or profits.

What I’m getting at is this: There would no longer be any need to have money involved. The robots would be completely self-sustaining. A corporation with normal corporate concerns could only get in the way.

Control mechanisms and policies would have to be put in place of course, so that we don’t end up with a Terminator-type situation. But that hurdle can be overcome.

With a self-sustaining workforce of robots, suddenly we would have the ability to make any number of robots and any volume of resources and goods for humanity. Given a little time, of course.

To nerds: Think SCVs.

Unlimited, Costless Labor

It would virtually no longer matter how much work it takes to do something. Robots could always make more robots, sufficient to get things done.

Essentially, we will have entered an era of unlimited, costless labor.

Currently in the United States we buy a tremendous amount of goods from China. Many Americans – perhaps most – acknowledge that this is a bad thing, that buying American-made goods is better, and yet we hypocritically continuing consuming our China-made goods.

Why?

Because the goods made in China cost less. Yes, we know they are cheaper because of China’s labor exploitation practices, where labor is paid at a rate something like ¼ that of US labor. And yet most of us still do it.

Imagine instead that our society had a source of goods with a $0 labor cost, a $0 cost of materials on the supply chain and a $0 cost of transportation.

Instead of paying $20 for the item made in America or $15 for the version made in China, we theoretically could obtain that item for zero cost. And with zero labor exploitation on our conscience.

This will take a gradual process of building infrastructure and transitioning from traditional methods to robot infrastructure. Human labor will still be involved in the process probably for decades. The entire transition might take 100 years or more.

But during the process, we could see the price of goods decreasing closer and closer to zero as costless robot labor is infused into industry.

What Would the People Do?

I have discussed this idea with a few people so far. One of the most common objections raised is, “So the robots will take away people’s jobs?”

I suppose there may be some truth to that. But it is not really the right way to look at it.

Why do most people go to work? Usually, it is to earn money. Some people are driven in their career by passion or purpose, but let’s focus here on those who do it just to make a living.

What do most people do with that money? Attempt to buy all the goods and services they need to survive plus the goods and services they want. I used the word “attempt” because most people are not successful in achieving that. Some can obtain what the need to survive, but more rarely are people successful in obtaining everything they want as well.

In a society where producing goods and service is essentially costless, what use would people have for dedicating their entire adult life to earning money?

Of course, during the ramp-up period as cheap, robotic labor is introduced into industry there will be a gradual transition of humans away from the labor force. But I propose that we will see a parallel decrease in the price of goods which will concurrently positively impact people at all levels, particularly at the lowest pay rates. Imagine a vital commodity which used to cost $10 decreasing in price to $8 and then $5 and $2, gradually over the course of years, and eventually becoming costless. To a rich person it probably doesn’t matter too much. To a poor person, that change could dramatically affect their lifestyle.

One person I discussed these ideas with offered the opinion that, if we were to make a sudden transition from human to robot labor, the people affected could lose motivation in life and dive into depression or depravity. Drug use could become more prevalent, people could feel that their lives lack purpose, suicides could rise, etc. There may be some precedent to support this this in considering examples of people who achieve sudden riches (winning the lottery, inheritance, etc.)

I think there is merit to this possibility. Not for everyone, since I think many people would see such an event as an opportunity to pursue their real passion.

But would the same be true if, rather than experiencing a sudden transition overnight, it happened over a period of decades? People would probably be pleased to have their money go a bit further each year and would probably experience a commensurate reduction in stress as a result. Job markets ceasing to hire for low-level and undesirable jobs might instead be hiring for a wider range of the types of jobs which require human skills.

But what if a person really doesn’t want to be forced out of their job? My answer is: Don’t force them. Implement a policy or condition as we make this transition which permits any person who wants to keep their job to continue at that job for as long as they like. If a person enjoys flipping hamburgers or mowing lawns and wants to keep doing so and getting paid for it, why not permit them to. It will make little difference in the big picture, and a corporation which has recently adopted cheaper, robotic labor for some portion of its operations is probably doing well enough financially to accept the small concession of permitting such people to keep their jobs.

As far as motivations for working go, money is a poor one. People spend the majority of their lives working, and if the activity of that work is not something the individual is passionate about, but instead is something they “must” do in order to survive, that is a bit of a drag.

What would people do if they didn’t have to work for a living? Probably the easiest way to answer that is to ask the question: What do they do now in their free time?

For some people, that would simply mean “work”. That would mostly be the person who is passionate about their work – perhaps an engineer who wants to design structures and leave a lasting impression, or an artist who enjoys creating works of art.

For others the answer might lead them to traveling the world or seeking adventure climbing mountains or traversing dirt bike trails or engaging more strongly in some hobby or sport.

Many would probably spend much more time with family, doing all those things they’ve always talked about wanting to do together as a family but which they never could because of work.

Humanitarian or volunteer or religious activities would sometimes be the answer.

For still others, the answer might simply be playing video games or engaging in other forms of entertainment. That can be criticized by some as an unfulfilling life, but in a world where people have the freedom to choose how they live their lives, who is another to judge? Is the alternative really better – to systemically force that person to spend their time at a job they don’t like, flipping hamburgers or collecting trash? Might that be viewed in similar light to how we currently view companies or countries who practice labor exploitation?

There will be categories of work which will never fall within the skills of robots. At least, not the type of robots envisioned here. Such things, I suspect, as:

  • Dreaming up new ideas
  • Advancing technology
  • Science
  • Exploration
  • Software development
  • Design of new products
  • Engineering and Architecture
  • Creative activity and art
  • Administration and Politics

There would be many more, of course. Baring the advent of human-like artificial intelligence (which may or may not be possible or desirable, and which this paper does not include as a necessary element) there would always be things that require a human mind which cannot be done by a robot. And in these capacities, humanity would need to remain active.

This doesn’t mean that everyone must become a rocket scientist or painter. Those who have a passion in some field will have the freedom to pursue it as they see fit. Others who have other ambitions or interests can do whatever they are inclined toward.

And of course, there will be people who will simply lead a more debased life. Alcohol and drug abuse, idleness, trolling people on social media, etc. This will happen, but how much is the question. I am no expert in the field of human behavior, but I would wonder if some of the stress or depression which might drive people into such a life would possibly be eliminated by removing from society elements like forcing people to work at a job they don’t like.

And again, I think there would be a dramatic difference between suddenly transitioning to this new societal model and doing so gradually over decades. I suspect a generation raised in a world where robots perform most of the low-level labor will suffer fewer negative consequences than would people who suddenly had their low-level jobs taken away from them.

What about people who don’t want to live in a society of advanced technology and robots? They wouldn’t have to. The Amish lifestyle could persist – there would be nothing preventing a rural and simple life devoid of such technology.

Similarly anyone who is inclined to grow their own crops or make their own food or goods certainly will be at liberty to.

And What Would the Robots Do?

All the things that robots are capable of doing which humans do not want to do. And that is all. Ever.

There would never be need for robots to take away the job that a human wants to do. Why? Frankly, there is so much that can/should be done that isn’t being done, there is no shortage of work to assign to a robot workforce. If a human wants/needs to perform any job, there is no need to try to push that human out and fill the slot with a robot.

What things should humanity currently be investing labor in that we are not? Recycling all waste. Solving world hunger. Reforesting. Cleaning up the atmosphere. Cleaning the oceans. These are all things which we humans are morally obligated to do but which we are not doing enough of because we are too busy trying to personally earn money, or because doing them costs too much.

There are other things humanity should be doing but which we are not doing sufficiently because we are preoccupied with money. Things like curing cancer. It is not likely that robots could take on this work, but with enough human minds freed up from focusing on earning money to survive, perhaps we will collectively be able to develop cures or handlings for human problems we currently mostly just endure.

Looking again at the example of a person who serves hamburgers at a restaurant; if the person is satisfied with that job and wants to keep doing it, he simply does. Perhaps another server at the restaurant would prefer to pursue a career as an artist or working to cure cancer and does so. Perhaps that person’s replacement is a robot, serving burgers alongside the human.

In general, such examples will probably not even happen much until later in the transition process. Decades. There would be more immediate and more important tasks to transition, and in the meantime, humans could continue to hold the fort with serving hamburgers. Such higher importance things might include:

  • Mine for resources
  • Manufacture goods
  • Build robots
  • Maintain robots
  • Transport goods and resources related to robot work
  • Transition the world to sustainable energy generation
  • Recycle all waste
  • Restore the environment and planet
  • Anything/everything too dangerous for humans to do

There is plenty of work to do in these areas. A tremendous number of robots can be kept busy for decades as our current economic system transitions and the cost of goods/services gradually approaches zero.

During the inevitable ramp-up period as robot are first produced by for-profit companies and as robot technology advances, there would certainly be a lot of adoption of robots by existing industry. Thus, robotic labor would exist in a significant way in other areas not listed above. Probably mostly in industry. But when the point comes that we have a fully self-sustainable system of robotic labor and thus access to costless labor, it would make sense to invest that labor heavily in the above list.

What if we end up with too many robots? This is a future possibility that should be easy to handle when it comes up. Simply store the excess robots in a powered off state until needed again, or recycle them and use the materials for something else.

What would be the limitations on what should or should not be produced by the robots? Would robots produce drugs upon request? Weapons? Nuclear weapons?

The general policy could be something simple like “What can be produced is that which matches the law”. If the possession of drugs or weapons are illegal, then the robots cannot manufacture or distribute them.

If beer is illegal in an area, it cannot be produced or distributed to that area.

If laws differ by state or country, then the manufacture or distribution of goods must match the local laws.

In this way, if a population believes that something should or should not be made by robots, they only need to persuade lawmakers to pass the relevant laws, or move to a more desirable region.

What of Our Economic System?

In simple terms, our current system is based on the premise that things cost money. People must work to earn money so they can buy the things they need. Other people make the things so they can sell them to earn money so they can also buy things they need.

What happens when things no longer cost money? The whole economic system becomes obsolete. What use for money would people have if they have ready access to all the goods and services they need or want?

What about all of the other associated aspects of our economic system? Stock trading? Insurance? Debt? Taxes? Accounting? Credit Cards? Engineered obsolescence? 401ks? Financial damage lawsuits? Social Security? Bribes? Banking? Wealth? Financial greed? Imperialism?

All of it vanishes. Gradually, to be sure. But eventually, as we make this decades-long transition, it all becomes obsolete.

Why would you need a retirement account if, in your old age, you will have ready access to all of the goods and services you might want or need?

As for-profit companies themselves become obsolete, the stock market would fade away.

What value would there be in invading a neighboring country if the citizens and administrators of both countries already have all the goods and services they need and want? (This is a question I’d like to hear your thoughts on: I so far cannot think of any line of reasoning not motivated by money that would fit here, although I have not ruled out the possibility.)

What of intellectual properties like patents and copyrights? Again, these will probably fade away as the need for money diminishes and vanishes. If an artist creates a song and has no need to collect royalties, what objection would that artist have to anyone reproducing and spreading that song? The likely motivation to publish a song at that time would be to gain fame. Obtaining a CD with that song on it would be a matter of getting it at no cost using costless labor. So what harm does it cause if a private individual creates and distributes a duplicate?

Similar would be true for patents. Eventually or gradually, I would imagine that all patents would become freely open as a matter of course. The good ones would probably get turned over to a central open-source product database so that, if anyone is interested in obtaining that item, costless labor can be used to fabricate it. Or an industrious individual who is so inclined could construct one.

(And speaking of waste, there is so much accumulated and potentially useful human knowledge simply tied up in “preventing thy neighbor from having it” in our current patent system. In a modern capitalistic society, I guess it makes some sort of sense. In an age of abundance – what need could there possibly be?)

The original purpose of money as a medium to facilitate barter exchanges may still exist, but if so it will no longer be vital to survival. There may still be some smaller niche market where money is used. Perhaps in the trade of unique goods like works of art. Perhaps one of the cryptocurrencies of our current age will persist and will serve that function.

Maybe it goes without saying, but in eliminating money and all of its related subjects, so goes away the vast majority of crime. See the later section below specifically on this subject.

But this leads to one question or concern I personally have: If some form of money still exists, even if it is barely used, will it cause some degree of persistence of some of the negative elements associated with money? Greed for accumulation of wealth or power? Money-motivated crime?

It seems possible. But still, decoupling money from the general survival needs and desires of the people would at least, I suspect, reduce the potential for such greed and crime by a major percentage.

Possession and Ownership

What of individual ownership? Would everything be owned by the state, like in some political ideologies?

Personally, I think that would make whole concept unpalatable to many. Those opposed to such ideology would resist. Trying to force people into such a structure against their will would be difficult, tragic and entirely unnecessary.

I would propose that the ownership of most things continue pretty much in the same way as it has been until now. Even where goods can be obtained without cost, they can still belong to the acquirer of those goods. Things will not be in such short supply that greed or government intervention need to creep in and take control.

During the transition period and ramp-up period as robots come up to the required scale there might be need to impose temporary limitations. For example, a general “limit 1” or “limit 5” on common types of items might be needed until basic demand for such items is met globally. As sufficient robot infrastructure is put in place such restrictions would be removed.

What if a single person tries to hoard goods of some type? Stockpile nonperishable foods for the apocalypse? Build a collection of shoes or clothes which is orders of magnitude beyond what anyone really needs? There should be nothing wrong with that. Once robotic labor has been ramped up to the required scale there will be no shortage of either labor or resources to make goods to fulfill even frivolous desires. Perhaps permanent general restrictions can remain in place to prevent unintelligent or insane people from breaking the system (like “no more than 100 of this item to one person without good reason provided”). But in general, such frivolities still fall within the realm of “everything a person might need or want” and can ultimately be provided without harm to the rest of society.

What about unique goods not made by robots, like artwork or antiques or hand-made items? Again, I suggest that the current owner remains the owner. Until that person decides to give it to someone else or trade it (or sell it if money is still a thing).

Real estate could also follow the pattern of remaining the property of the current owner until given away or traded. In a society of unlimited costless labor, houses and structures could freely be built and demolished and moved from one piece of property to another.

Land, on the other hand, might require special provisions in such a society since that is not something that can be manufactured at need. Here, government would possibly need to remain active in setting up agreeable policies regarding how land is distributed. Perhaps a county will issue parcels to residents who need them according to some criteria. Diversity is favorable in things like this, so that any individual who doesn’t like the system developed by the local political body can be free to find a more desirable political structure by relocating to another county or state or country.

There would also be common infrastructure still which should probably remain under the control of the state. Roads, parks, water utilities and the like. The cost of maintenance, however, would vanish with costless robotic labor.

Distribution of Goods

How would it be decided who gets what goods?

Ultimately, the goal is that everyone can have access to everything they need and want. Framing it in modern context, I imagine that there will be an Amazon-like website where a person can select goods they need or want, place an order with no payment involved and receive a delivery shortly thereafter.

There could also still be shopping centers just as there are currently, but where shoppers can obtain what they need/want without cost.

Prior to that final goal being reached, there would probably be a gradual transition where goods are obtained in usual manner but where the cost gradually decreases. Perhaps as robot labor takes over the production and providing of specific goods at no cost, those goods become available on the Amazon-like website.

Ending World Hunger

The biggest barrier to ending world hunger is quite simple: Food costs too much.

Targeting food as an early aspect for transition to costless labor would be smart. Everyone needs food and people are dying for lack of it. If 9 million people die of starvation every year, shouldn’t we fix that? By comparison motor vehicle deaths number around 1.3 million per year, and total cumulative deaths attributed to the recent pandemic currently number 6.3 million.

How many of those 9 million people dying annually could be contributing to solving other world problems like curing cancer? That question is quite in addition to the simple fact that those 9 million people (1/3 of which are estimated to be children) could be leading happy lives. If we, as humanity, have the power to give them that opportunity, shouldn’t we?

The goal would be to use costless labor for all of farming, food processing and transportation. Initially it would be a matter of injecting robots into existing infrastructure. Farmers could still make a living during the transition so they do not suffer. Eventually robots could take over 100% with infrastructure designed specifically for robot efficiency, minimization of land requirements and decoupling from climate/weather constraints. Advanced greenhouses, hydroponics, lab-grown food items, things like that.

The initial goal could be a complete, costless system of producing and providing basic food items globally. Corporations will still exist in the market for an overlapping period of time, while robotic labor is scaled up planet-wide. Gradually corporate activities and products (such as brand-name items) could be transitioned to costless as well, to the result that consumers could obtain all manner of familiar goods without cost.

In discussing this particular idea with a few people, one person raised an interesting potential objection to having an abundance of food. The argument was that America perhaps already suffers from an over-availability of food, which leads to health issues (obesity, diabetes and such). The idea of an age of abundance could, perhaps, trigger an exaggeration of such problems.

I think there is another theory which may, perhaps, better explain obesity problems and which might potentially be solved automatically by moving into an age of abundance. Another by-product. I’ll explain more on that later in the section on Marketing.

Eliminate Pollution

Why does humanity pollute our land and seas? In our endeavor to produce the goods and services our society requires, there is inevitably waste. Disposing of that waste requires labor and resources, and currently the most economic form of “disposal” consists of transforming it into a different form of waste or simply piling it up somewhere.

Why don’t we currently recycle everything? It’s not that we couldn’t. Certainly it is possible to meticulously sort each different piece of trash in such a way that it can be repurposed or transformed back into valuable resources. Even liquids and gasses.

The problem is just that doing so costs too much. It is cheaper to burn stuff or pile it up in heaps, so that is what humanity does.

With an unlimited source of labor, we could quite literally recycle everything. Picking apart a piece of trash into its separate components would be tedious and time consuming. But robots wouldn’t mind.

Plastics can be separated into specific types, compostable items can be composted, electronics can be deconstructed in detail with heat or chemicals used where needed for disassembly, liquids and gasses can be recaptured and refined, etc.

Meticulously fishing all of the trash out of oceans could also be done by robots. We would have to decide if we want to venture down to the depths or just call it good enough once the upper oceans are clean. But if we decided to undertake cleaning plastic from the depths, then robot labor is probably the only sensible choice in order to withstand that extreme pressure environment.

Tediously filtering water and atmosphere to remove unwanted pollutants also moves into the realm of feasibility.

Even undertaking the monumental task of dismantling and recycling existing landfills would be within our grasp. It might take a while, but it could certainly be done. Humanity’s future waste situation does not have to be like what is depicted in the movies (e.g. I, Robot and Wall-E).

With an unlimited source of labor, the planet could be restored to a pristine state and kept that way virtually indefinitely.

Reforestation

Why haven’t we already handled our deforestation problem? I propose that it is not because people or business don’t care, I think they generally do. The problem is that, again, replanting trees takes labor and resources. In other words, it is costly.

In a world where labor is unlimited and costless, there would be nothing to stop humanity from correcting this gross error as well. Simply set a robotic workforce to the task of reforesting the lands impacted by past human activity and, within a few years, lost forests could be growing once more.

It has also been proposed that planting a trillion trees could combat climate damage by recapturing CO2 which has been released into the atmosphere by humanity. This seems like a good idea, so why not let the robots do that too?

Crime

As the system of money and all of its associated industries fades away, so too will vanish the vast majority of crime.

What purpose would illicit drug manufacturers have in continuing to produce drugs if they had no need for money? If that drug supply ran dry, what would happen to illegal drug usage worldwide? How much crime is drug-related?

Would there be bank robberies or convenience store heists or cyber scams?

Would it even be possible to shoplift goods from a store?

What of the wide array of corporate financial crime? It would be hard to play those games if that particular playground has been retired into the history books.

Dirty politicians might have trouble finding reasons to be dirty. We might find that a greater percentage of the people in politics actually have the best interest of their voters in mind.

This is not to say that there would be zero crime. Crime which is not motivated by money would still likely exist, and there would still need to be a system of laws, law enforcement and penalties to account for it. But even crime not motivated by money sometimes stems from money, or from issues which would otherwise be handled by moving away from a money-based economy. Would physical abuse between marital partners be as prevalent if the element of financial stress is removed from the family unit?

Perhaps criminologists can evaluate this subject better than I can. But I strongly suspect that more than 90% of crime would vanish by moving to a society devoid of poverty and hunger and which no longer depends on money.

Pandemic Immunity

Recent experience has given us greater understanding of the impact and ramifications of a pandemic on our modern society. Any controversy aside, it is clear that broad measures like shutting down commerce and industry can have dramatic, undesirable and expensive consequences.

In a world where essential and non-essential production and services are provided using robotic labor, what would be the impact of humanity deciding to stay home to stop the spread of a pathogen?

Supply chains would not be disrupted, essential goods would continue to be produced and delivered, people would not suffer for lack of the things they need (or even the things they want) and life could go on pretty much as normal.

Unlike the experience in 2020, in this hypothetical scenario it would even be possible to arrange a much more effective society-wide quarantine period. With the 2020 situation, essential workers still had to go to work and interact. If such essential work is performed by robots instead, then having everyone participate in the quarantine becomes a much more realistic possibility.

It is theoretically possible to stop the spread of a pathogen completely by simply giving it no opportunity to transfer from one host to another. In this way we might, as a society, be in a position to take full control over unwanted pathogens.

Marketing

American culture is rife with marketing. Products like Coca-Cola are heavily advertised to the American population, and generations of Americans have been raised believing that sugar drinks are the correct way to handle thirst.

Why?

Because of money. Corporations like the Coca-Cola company must be profitable and so they work hard to educate people to buy their product.

I grew up with this same education and belief. Fortunately I was educated differently in my later life.

I personally believe marketing is the primary reason for weight-related health issues in America. Whether you agree with me about this or not, this point is pretty clear:

Without corporations seeking to make a profit, marketing will fade away.

Without the TV and billboards constantly driving home the message that you must eat or drink this or that unhealthy item, more subtle positive education will gradually become more effective. It might take a generation or two, but as people realize that there is a better way to eat, I believe the junk food culture, the rampant obesity and obesity-related illnesses will diminish.

Food and drink are not the only areas where marketing has influenced society in directions that are not necessarily based on what is best for the people, but rather what is profitable for corporations.

All such marketing will disappear and people will rely much more on the education they receive from parents, advisers, health care professionals and teachers in order to learn how to live their lives.

Education

In a society where getting a job to earn a living is no longer mandatory, will people still go to school?

I think this question, again, can be answered by looking at how people act currently. Do people who have no need to get a job (perhaps because of family wealth) still go to school? Do people currently go to school only for the purpose of getting a job to earn money? Or do some people go to school to learn a subject they are passionate about?

I think the answer is that people will go to school if they want to. If society and parents continue to instill the importance of education, it will continue to be important.

But even if people chose not to go to school, the ramifications of such a decision will be much less extreme than they are now in modern society. Currently not being educated means greater chances of ending up in a low income bracket or being without a job, which could lead to unhappiness or even death. In an age of abundance, there would be no such risk. A person could still lead a happy and even successful life without formal education, depending on what activities they chose to engage in and what education might be required for those activities.

There will still be many technical fields to learn in schools and many people who are interested in those fields. Science, engineering, health care, software, and many more.

Who owns the robots?

This is one of the most important questions and possibly the most difficult to answer.

Would it make sense for control to remain in the hands of a for-profit corporation? Or an individual? Or some particular government? How do you pick an entity to trust with something like this?

Whatever selection might be made will be met with tremendous numbers of objectors. And probably with good reason.

It will be necessary, during the early stages of this process, for one or more for-profit companies to begin the manufacture and distribution of robots, and the advancement of the technology. Tesla has already begun, and hopefully other companies will join.

But when the time comes, it will be necessary for corporations to make a move that makes sense for humanity and not for profits. And this is probably the touchiest piece of the puzzle to handle. But here is what I propose:

The robots and the entire self-sustaining system of robots will be owned by all of humanity. It might be treated like a corporation, each human having a share in ownership, with no human having greater ownership interest or control than any other.

The total number of shareholders would be equal to the total number of humans. Upon death share numbers reduce by one, upon birth they increase by one.

A share of ownership gives each person benefits like:

  • Full access to any goods and services produced by the robots without cost.
  • One share of say in directing activities of robots and the entity. For example if there were 10 billion people and thus 10 billion shares, then each share would be worth 1/10 billionth vote.
  • Of available robots not busy with handling common infrastructure and production, each shareholder would be able to direct the activities and output of a portion equal to their shareholder interest. If there are 20 billion available robots and 10 billion people, then each person would effectively be able to direct two robots worth of output.

Ownership will be conditional upon certain requirements like:

  • Following the law. Committing crime can result in suspension or revocation of ownership and a reduction of the available shares by one.
  • Observance of the specific corporate laws laid out by the entity. Violation of such could also lead to suspension/revocation of ownership.
  • The choice of the individual. Anyone could opt out, which would reduce available shares by one.

I would further propose that anyone who is not a shareholder (due to crime or any other reason) would still have access to all basic goods/services necessary for survival.

By this system it would be possible for people to initiate larger projects by gaining the support of other individuals to pool their resources together. Thus any arbitrary group of people could undertake a project like building a research facility or embarking on a space mission.

This entity and structure would exist independently of any specific country or government. Such governments would still exist and operate as they will, save only that each of their citizens and administrators would each also have one ownership share of the entity.

Robot Territory

It will be possible to keep industrial noise and activity away from humanity. Perhaps certain lands or districts could be allocated to robot concerns like industry, energy production and recycling. Perhaps some of this could be moved underground to minimize environmental impact.

Any structures made for robots would be part of the robot system, owned by the shareholders of the entity.

Visibility & Security

The entire structure of this system and all of its elements should be fully exposed in such a way that all software and hardware and platforms and hosting solutions and all of their code and structures are 100% visible to anyone. This would apply to corporate policies, actions and decisions as well, everything related to the robots and their directions and activities. Let people scrutinize and test and search for signs of malicious intent, back doors and the like in any of it.

This will be necessary to promote trust in this system. There will be concerns that robots might be seized for personal gain or power, and so it must be possible for any private individuals or groups acting in a watchdog capacity to scrutinize and make sure things are as expected.

There will need to be mechanisms in place to secure the system and prevent a criminal hijacking or a potential robot uprising. For example, Elon suggested unalterable programming so that something like a “stop stop stop” command would cause any robot to stop immediately. Robot CPUs and hardware might need to be made to approved specs only, with measures taken to minimize the possibility of unapproved changes that could compromise security measures. Perhaps blockchain technology could be used to further secure critical design specifications, shareholder voting information and other aspects of the system. Perhaps regular inspections of robots could be performed by other robots, detecting robots that were tampered with and returning them for recycling (and the humans who did the tampering disciplined for violation of corporate laws).

Resource Limitations

What of concerns that we will eventually use up our available resources? Having “unlimited” robots and goods implies that we must also have access to unlimited resources.

Energy already comes to us virtually limitlessly from the sun. Setting up some square miles of solar panels with batteries for storage will generally keep us in business for a long time before we need to think about better sources. Better sources may come along (nuclear fusion, Dyson swarm), and if they do then so much the better. But solar will probably work fine for centuries unless our consumption needs change in some dramatic way.

What about metals and minerals? We will continue getting them out of the ground as we do now, only we can probably devise cleverer ways of getting them using robot labor. Robots can survive in situations dangerous or deadly for humans. With safety considerations kept out of it we can probably obtain such resources with much less environmental impact than we do currently.

But what happens when we eventually want to stop depleting the resources on the surface of the planet? We could start mining asteroids. We are not very far from having the technology needed to send a robotic workforce to some nearby asteroid, mine the resources from it and then ship them back to Earth.

Note that, regardless of moving toward this age of abundance, Humanity is already heading into this question of resources. It is not something new in this paper. What is new is that limitless costless labor gives us access to some pretty good possible ways to handle the resource question.

Potential Pitfalls

There are probably many ways this could go terribly wrong. It will be important to discuss them and think of ways to avoid letting this go down dark paths.

Skynet

I don’t think there is any need whatsoever for these robots to have advanced artificial intelligence. Technology just moderately in advance of current self-driving vehicles technology is probably sufficient. We do not need to even come close to making robots that have self-awareness like what is depicted in Terminator, Matrix and dozens of other apocalypse movies.

Safety precautions should still be taken, but there is no need to dramatically over spec the brains of robots intended to do simple labor.

Transitional Unbalance

What if there is an unbalance between the gradual decrease in cost of goods vs the availability of money to the individual for the purpose of purchasing goods? The potential trouble: Perhaps people would not be able to obtain money readily enough to meet their needs.

The current situation is that many people have jobs and some percentage of people make enough money to pay for the things they need.

The final situation will be that all people have costless access to all the goods they need or want with no need to earn money.

If it is a smooth progression from one situation to the other, there would be no problem. But will we experience a swing somewhere in the middle toward the undesirable state of people being less able to obtain the goods they need?

Greed

This is probably the most concerning potential pitfall to me. The greed and shortsightedness of humans. There was a good satirical depiction of this in the recent movie Don’t Look Up.

Corporate or political greed could slow down progression away from our current system of money and economy and toward this age of abundance.

Destructive efforts of humans to acquire wealth or power for themselves could intervene. There is tremendous value in this idea of a self-sustaining system of robots. A situation of some authority trying to seize that value for themselves could get ugly. Imagine a legion of military robots under the control of some insane political leader.

Objectors could try to kill the idea of costless robotic labor. It is odd to think this might be necessary to combat. Compared to a faint opportunity to solve world hunger and pollution and crime, who would object? Would the world’s billionaires object? Perhaps a society not controlled by money would lower their standing and influence intolerably. Would politicians who stand to lose political power object? Certainly without money and economy and with less crime there will be much less need for government and governmental power.

It is frankly hard to imagine rational reasons to object to this. If there is even a chance of achieving these long-sought after goals once and for all within the space of a couple of lifetimes, wouldn’t it be obvious to everyone who has a free hand to lend that they should put their shoulder to the wheel and assist in overcoming obstacles and make it happen?

I think it is important to try to think of any possible pitfalls and discuss them to come up with solutions. We are not just talking about empty political rhetoric here, but actually making come true hopes and decades of political promises for billions.

Precedent & Politics

This level of abundance and obviation of money is not a new idea.

It is not an uncommon theme in science fiction for an author to imagine a futuristic society where money is no longer important. Star Trek is an example. I’ve personally always – until recently – considered such fictious scenarios to be nothing but wild and impossible fancy.

Perhaps such fictional societies can be compared to socialism. And perhaps there is truth to that. Perhaps an age of abundance is simply the realization of the dream of socialism – a society in which all people are treated fairly and in which there is no ruling class which receives greater benefits than everyone else.

I believe capitalism has played a valuable role and has helped bring our society and technology to its present level. Probably without capitalism it would not have been possible for technology to advance to a point where an age of abundance is possible. But perhaps there will soon come a time for humanity to take the next evolutionary step as a society and turn capitalism over to the historians.

I am very interested in obtaining different perspectives on this subject of an age of abundance. What do people who politically lean to the left or to the right think of this? I welcome feedback from people with strong convictions in either direction.

Inevitability

One thing about this is that there is no vital element to this idea which is infeasible. Sure, there are some advancements of technology which are required, but these are not major. There will be need for dramatic scaling, but this is not a new challenge for humanity. In fact, I am pretty sure the nature of our free-market society and economy will push us toward this ultimate outcome regardless of what we, as a society, decide to do.

My point is that progress in this direction is inevitable, whether we like it or not.

It is ironic that the biggest barrier to making it happen sooner rather than later might be resistance from the very people and society who will benefit from this so dramatically.

Perhaps reluctance can be mitigated by putting it into perspective. “Would you rather leave pockets of people around the world starving to death? Would you prefer to allow the resources of our planet to continue to be depleted and piled up in heaps, possibly eventually rendering our planet uninhabitable?” There could be some very good counterarguments posed to objectors.

But assume for the moment that no concerted effort is taken to strive toward achieving an age of abundance. What would happen instead?

Tesla will proceed with designing and producing Optimus version 1 and will then start producing it at scale. Perhaps other companies will do similar, perhaps not.

Robots will be adopted by industry, briefly increasing profitability, but ultimately (due to the competitive nature of the free market) making the cost of goods and consumables cheaper. Objectors will complain about jobs being lost, but as the price of goods and services gradually decrease due to the decrease in manufacturing costs, people will start to realize that their paychecks go further. People will observe that there is no shortage of jobs that require human minds and human skills. And as the current population decline starts to impact the workforce, the availability of jobs will continue to make up for turning over menial work to robots.

Capitalists will continue to benefit from the cost savings available through using robot labor, and the price of goods and services will continue to decline. As a matter of course, the building and repairing of robots and the obtaining of the resources to build robots will eventually become tasks performed by robot labor, thereby creating a self-sustaining source of costless robots.

There may be hiccups encountered when it comes time to decouple the automatic production of robots from the capitalistic greed of one or more companies. But that decoupling will occur, given time for people to realize the benefit to be gained by it.

It will eventually be observed that robot labor can be set to tasks like reforesting our rainforests and cleaning up trash broadly. It may be slowed by some corporation insisting on obtaining profit from the endeavor, but progress would be made toward these objectives anyway.

It may take longer, but (baring catastrophic political intervention) society will follow down this path toward an age of abundance whether we want it or not.

In a way, this paper could be said to be pointless, purposeless. I believe that evolution of technology and society will eventually lead to this result regardless.

Conclusion

If what is discussed here is possible, it is my intention that we, as a species, do whatever we can to make it happen as fast as possible.

Scientists, businesspeople, statisticians and economists, please stress test this idea, try to poke holes. Please offer feedback and counter opinions. I would hope to receive not just criticisms, but ideas that help fill some of the gaps and solve some of the problems with this proposal.

Many people talk about solving humanity’s problems like world hunger, crime and pollution. This is the first time I am aware of that an opportunity has come up for us to actually consider accomplishing these things.

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