Mark Zuckerberg has set himself the task of bringing Jarvis, the robot butler of the title character of the Iron Man franchise, from reel life to real. Zuckerberg’s hope is his AI (artificial intelligence) butler, among other things, will act on voice command to maintain temperature and light settings in his house, play nanny to his baby daughter and, importantly, open the door when friends visit. Very modest expectations, one would say. But, isn’t that what many pay a human to do? So, Zuckerberg’s robot butler will taking a basic-skills job. But even those with higher degrees of skills need beware—automation already threatens jobs in 47% of occupational categories into which work is sorted, as per a 2013 Oxford study, and 15 million jobs in the UK, as per the Bank of England. There are self-driven cars already on the roads and delicate surgeries are being done by robots. There is even an algorithm developed by a former Cornell scientist (he’s now at Columbia) that explains experimental data by arriving at new scientific laws, consistent with ones known to be true—that is automated scientific discovery.
While the debate on what increasing automation portends is on, one thing is clear: We are headed towards a world where there will be fewer jobs than there are employable people. These are grounds rife for social unrest. But, imagine a future in which all jobs, big and small, are mechanised. Surely, with the value of all forms of human labour now equal—zero, that is—we would have reached a stage where we can just sit and consume what the robots produce? Ironically, then, it would have been capitalism-driven technological progress that would have delivered us the so-called utopia the Left dreams about!