I bought a droid. His name is Barry, and he’s quite the shocking bit of technology — presets included such joys as ‘litter cleaning’ and ‘sandwich crafting.’ Yeah, he’s good with some bread and mayonnaise; even better with a pooper-scooper. Thank God for Barry.
When I bought him, I had only a few minutes before class started, so my fellow collegians got to meet their first droid. You know, that was actually a good thing. He got some social interaction.
Now, I was nauseous with the flu so I was so eager to get home and eat something. Something good. Something like fried rice and potstickers. What better day to try my hand at a new dish, what with having an artificially intelligent droid at my side? Barry watched as I made magic, what was possibly my favorite dish of the year.
Then came his first test. My pet dog, Coco, decided that the best time to demonstrate the result of her bowel movements was right as I began eating. This was it — moment of truth!
As I looked away, I waved to my droid friend and said, “Barry, clean that up.”
He stood there, gazing upon the turd as if it were something from Tibet. Then, right before I spewed more words and rice his way, he moved. Such grace! Curvaceous moves! A bard couldn’t have described his waste-handling so well. In that moment, I realized the fantastic choice I had made — as well as the possibilities lain before me.
I needed only to teach him how to recognize the warning signs of an impending asteroid flurry so he would act quickly to take the dog outside. Once I did that, I could rest easy and enjoy having a perfect dog-walker. But I also realized this could apply to anything. Not just mundane household chores, but even harder things such as cleaning the outside of the house, and filling out the drive-way. If I could obtain a strong stream of resources, Barry could keep fixing and building onto my house forever, making sure it never falls into disrepair. Imagine that: a prole who lives in a mansion!
But hold on… I’m a writer, what one would call an ‘intellectual.’ Ignore the ratty trailer, damn it! Point is, if this were the 1760s, I’d be wearing a (bare) frock coat and culottes. I shouldn’t sully my artisan hands with, gasp, manual labor! Barry should also be the one who procures said resource stream.
“Where could Barry work?” First thought was McDonalds and similar fast food joints. However, I doubted his reflexes were up to speed. I needed somewhere slower paced, more suited to a newborn droid.
Wait! Why not a supermarket clerk? There’s an Albertson’s about ten minutes from my house, and better yet, my mother worked there. She could teach Barry all the basics.
I spent a few weeks training him to be a housedroid first before sending him off to the store, and then we spent a week more practicing the ins and outs of supermarketeering.
First day on the job! Better be ready, droid. I dropped him off at Albertson’s and met with my mother to exchange anxieties. She wouldn’t be at her second job clerkin’ for a few more hours, so she would be just as ignorant as me. It was all Barry.
You have to realize, this was a new frontier for humanity. A droid working in a very people-centric environment? I was surprised there weren’t news cameras everywhere.
Maybe I worried too much (which is about right for a GDSA, general-depressive-social-anxiety millennial), because his first day went off without a fraction of a hitch. I hugged the thing, I was so happy. I could… do some other things to it, but never mind that. And like I said, maybe I worried too much. All he had to do was exchange money and put things in bags. Yeah, simple for us, but simple things have a bad habit of escaping the capabilities of machines.
Then, two weeks later, something even more magical happened — Barry got a paycheck. It was payed out to him, but delivered to my mother (who gave it to me, don’t fret). $490! What was I gonna do with myself that night, I wondered? Maybe buy a taco? No, two tacos! Oh, so wealthy… I swear, I took Barry out with me to the nearest Mexican restaurant and partied till the wee hours of the early evening.
Whoa. I just earned money without actually earning money. Everyone knew this was a shady little thing, as the manager wasn’t exactly sure if Barry should be paid or not. Do you pay a droid? Legally, he was tied to me, so they’d potentially have a lawsuit on their hands if they didn’t pay him/me, but surely that would incentivize them to automate away their cashiers and clerks.
How would their ex-employees be paid, then? They’d just have to get new jobs, right? Well wait a sec — what if other businesses automate their labour? That squeezes the workforce down to a bare minimum. No one can pay for anything if no one’s earning anything…
Wait! These machines will eventually break down eventually, or at least require repairs and maintenance in some form. The new jobs can be all about — Whoops, sorry, what was that? I just upgraded Barry to feature some self-repair programming. He can even repair other droids!
We’re not at that point yet. I just have a check, and it may be the most important check in human history. In a manner, it’s both the problem and the solution. It’s a problem in that it’s proof of the changing times. But how is it a solution? Surely it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch…
So what if Albertson’s fires Barry and replaces him with their own droid? Or skips the droid entirely and automates the whole process? That puts my mother in a bind more than me, since she’s entirely dependent upon her own labor. I can always sell Barry’s labor to someone else, and he’ll fast learn what he needs to learn. My ma? It’s different for her. She can only learn so quickly, and she has needs of her own. She can’t just get any job out there and expect to be productive. Luckily she’s skilled in social work, something I feel Barry’s about a generation or two away from mastering by his very design. Still. That’s not very long of a time.
Barry’s an ASIMO. They typically release new iterations every four to five years. Artificial intelligence progresses even more quickly than that. Fact is, there’s no guarantee she’ll be employed in a decade.
What should be done? Well there are quite a few options to consider. I know many Statists who desire to implement a Unconditional Basic Income. It seems like a great idea to pursue, but I just have one fear — who exactly decides to distribute the money? Undoubtedly the people who are going to be taxed will be the ones paying for said UBI. What, you think poor working people run the government?
So I’m sitting here with Barry, thinking about my ma, wondering how much she’s worth to the bourgeois bureaucrats. And even ifthey decide she’s worth enough of their coffers to let her live comfortably, will they actually let her live comfortably or will they raise the prices of their goods to offset any benefit a UBI could bear?
Don’t get me wrong, I want that sweet UBI implemented ASAP. Completely wipe away all welfare and replace it with a simple UBI. Seems fine? Yeah, it kinda collapses in a post-labour society since that basic income becomes one’s only income. Unless you think droids will create new jobs we can’t imagine (which is a stupid assumption considering the nature of artificial general intelligence), you’re gonna realize we have a societal problem.
Barry’s caused a bit of a problem, hasn’t he? What started with him cleaning up minpin poop has resulted in societal meltdown. Fitting.
Well society hasn’t actually collapsed; we’re just tense. But everyone knows I’m the freak who keeps screaming about ‘technostism.’ What is technostism? Basically, I’m saying we should profit from droid labour. Do as I do, not as I say — get a droid and let it do your work.
Sounds nice, but there are so many problems with that, it isn’t even amusing. For one: what work? What if all the existing businesses automate first? We could always create new businesses, but doing what? I just don’t have an answer. Two: how do we get droids? With what capital? Three: what kind of droid? General purpose droids like Barry are nice, but some jobs need specialized robots. Droids like Baxter sometimes just aren’t as good as factorybots.
It sounds good, though. If you factor in swarm intelligence, we could create a society free from slums and poverty with robots catering to humanity’s every need and desire. Remember my prole mansion? I could have twenty Barrys constantly touching up any imperfection that arises, or building onto my house as I see fit. They’ll learn from their own experiences as well as each others’. If my drive-way and yard happens to contain issues, they can address those as well. Any trash that comes onto my property (likely through my own laziness), they’ll remove. Imagine that on a society-wide scale.
But again, there’s no explanation of how I got twenty Barrys. Sure, the first Barry could work until I could afford nineteen more, but what if he’s fired before then? I’d need access to the raw materials to create more ASIMOs.
It’s all so very confusing! And while I do have some possible answers for a few things (automated worker cooperatives!), I don’t have all possible answers for everything.
But in the end, I’m still happy — after all, I bought a droid. I just need to realize I opened Pandora’s box.