RE: the abolition of work

Tony Belding (
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 20:11:21 -0600

Dan Fabulich <> wrote:

DF> Unless, of course, the robots are sentient, in which case you still pay
DF> a laborer to toil for you, only this laborer happens to be made out of
DF> diamondoid polymers.

Right. But a system with non-sentient robots is preferable.

The assumption I'm making is that people would like to avoid working if they
can. They would prefer to live by selling some economic resource other than
their own labor. (I know I would!)

DF> The burden of work could only be lifted if supply increased so fast that
DF> it outstripped the demand for labor.

Or the demand for labor could decrease. Or both. The demand for labor could
decrease due to the availability of capitial (i.e. robots) which can be
readily substituted for labor. And if we assume such robots can be
mass-produced "on demand" in huge quantities by nanotech factories...

This begs a more basic question. An economy is a system for distributing
limited resources among people with unlimited needs and wants. But is it safe
to assume that needs and wants are unlimited? What if they aren't? What if
the number we are looking for is very large, but not infinite?

Every time you add a sentient robot to the work force, you are adding
production, but you are also adding a CONSUMER. Then you need to add more
robots to serve the needs and wants of those you already have. It becomes a
never-ending cycle! Where does it stop?

DF> If I had to choose (from an economic standpoint) between creating
DF> mindless robot slaves or sentient robot employees, I would choose the
DF> sentient robots hands down. A sentient robot could participate in the
DF> economy,

And non-sentient robots couldn't?

DF> performing labor and buying goods,

Why couldn't non-sentient robots do this?

DF> creating jobs and filling them,

Of course, the non-sentient robots would also fill jobs, by definition.

DF> making everyone better off in the process.

Same here. The only difference is that the sentient robot also becomes a
consumer. We don't need more consumers. I would rather let my non-sentient
robot do the producing, and I'll do the consuming.

DF> Also, if you consider utility a form of wealth, as I do, then we can
DF> immediately see that a sentient robot would be able to create many kinds
DF> of wealth which a mindless slave could not; art, for example.

What makes you so sure a non-sentient robot couldn't do this?

DF> Empathy. Love.

If you want to create sentient machines for this purpose, that's fine. That
seems to me like the moral equivalent of having children. I'm only saying it
doesn't make sense to create them for the purpose of doing work. I've already
admitted that I don't want to work; why should I want my children to?

   Tony Belding