Paul Krugman discusses Bob Gordon’s essay in which Gordon describes three industrial revolutions humanity went through in the last few hundred years. Gordon suggests we’re at the end of the third industrial revolution and the fourth one is awaiting us in the coming decades. The suggested fourth industrial revolution will introduce robots in manufacturing and millions of people will lose their jobs. All the money from the lost jobs will go to the rich who will own the robots.
In my opinion bunching various inventions together into distinct industrial revolutions is too broad of a generalization. Certain inventions did influence quality of our lives, such as hygiene, tap water or vaccines. Other inventions changed the way we travel, such as steam engine or jet engine. But all of the minor “revolutions” overlapped and we can’t just draw a straight line between them.
The suggested future, the one which is coming very fast, in which robots will take over manufacturing, is not that dark at all. Major manufacturers in the US are already planning bringing manufacturing back to the States by creating factories full of robots, which are cheaper even than the proverbial Chinese worker. More and more people will be losing their jobs, but an economy in which everything is dirt cheap but nobody has money to buy it is not going to be sustainable. Eventually tax and social laws will change, even in the US – although it’s hard to imagine for most Americans, the US will have to be come more like Europe – and taxes on manufactured products will increase while income taxes will decrease. In fact people will be paid money just for living in a country or state and the money will come from taxes on manufacturing.
In my previous post I contemplated the future of humanity. There is still a lot of inventions on the way before we get there. The inventions which we can already predict include:
- Robots – used more and more at factories, stores and eventually in homes.
- 3D printers – everybody will be able to download plans from the Internet and make their own goods at home.
- Nanotechnology – from health through manufacturing through new kinds of materials, etc. – it will improve every aspect of our lives.
- Brain engineering – will help us transcend our biological bodies and become interstellar beings.
There is probably a lot more of exciting and significant inventions awaiting us, of which we can’t even think yet, just like the Internet surprised everybody and was not broadly predicted.