Let’s talk about robots and homelessness! Robots have been around a long time. But they used to be big gadgets bolted to the floor of an assembly line. Now they’re getting to be just about everywhere.
Uber has plans to provide fleets of driverless robot cars wherever local governments let them, and that is probably going to happen most everywhere in five years or so. A Chinese firm has built robot pilotless flying taxis that visitors will be able to use in Dubai. I imagine the price will be over my head (ha ha) but way cheaper than hiring a flying taxi with a human pilot, if only because not having a pilot makes the load lighter.
You may not think of it that way, but every time you use an online translator, you’re using a kind of robot. It’s software that’s doing what only humans used to do. OK, not as well, but they’re getting better.
I used to be a cab driver. In fact, I was homeless by day and drove cab by night in Seattle for about eight consecutive months back during the Reagan years. In the future those jobs will be in short supply. Because robots will do that work.
I predict robots will be harvesting most of your produce in 10 years.
A company called Boston Dynamic has been engineering mobile robots for years and now has human-sized models that can walk with you and carry heavy objects, picking them up and setting them down where you want them. Bye-bye shelving jobs. Inventory is a robot activity thanks to bar codes. Amazon wants to use robot drones to deliver packages.
Robot luggage porters should start appearing at airports in a year or two. You will wear an electronic device around your waist so that the robot will know to follow you as you navigate the airport.
Bill Gates just came up with a terrific idea that will probably never get implemented in this country. When a company saves money by using robots to do what humans used to do, Gates wants them to have to use some of the savings to offset the lost tax income of the human workers. That money could then be used to support the resulting unemployed people.
Otherwise we are going to see nearly universal homelessness, because robots will be doing so much.
Gates’ idea won’t likely happen because, by the time we get the political will to do anything so intelligent, global warming, pollution and the depletion of resources will have destroyed our civilization and the robot problem will be solved. There won’t be any working outlets to charge them.
Meanwhile, I expect robots will have interesting relationships with the vast numbers of homeless people created by our failure to take care of humans.
Not only will robots cause homelessness, people will become homeless with robots. Robot companions will become common. They’ll have everything smartphones have: internet, GPS, cellphone capability. Plus they will carry your stuff.
Of course, there will be problems. Shelters will ban the robots. Municipalities will try to criminalize the homeless use of robots on the grounds that they are ugly and take up too much public space. Housed citizens who keep multiple robots out of sight in their own homes will complain about having to walk around identical robots standing with their homeless masters on sidewalks.
Flaky do-gooders will admit that having robots outdoors and carrying burdensome loads for their masters can’t be said to be directly inhumane, because the robots aren’t actually alive. But they will say it fosters a “culture of exploitation” that diminishes our own humanity. Totally forgetting about the culture of exploitation that made the homelessness happen in the first place.
Finally, and this will happen right off, there’s going to be the inevitable reaction, “If they can afford a robot why can’t they get an apartment?” No matter how affordable they get and no matter if the government gives them away rather than spend money building houses, no matter that the cost is nothing compared to the unending monthly expense of rent, the robot will always be seen as a luxury.
But in a world where all the jobs are done by robots, you are going to need one or need to be one.