Bryan states "we need to brace ourselves for the age when no one really *has* to work" and I don't know what it means. I used to -- it means that robots, or universal assemblers, can produce whatever we want -- at minimal energy and resource costs. Like downloading a picture or an MP3 today -- it isn't a zero-cost transaction (electricity, computers, bandwidth) but it sure seems that way. What if books were like that? What if groceries were like that?
The traditional extraction become that the important resources at that time become those that are limited -- often reduced down to land. I may be able to synthesize a house, a solar energy collection system, etc, but if I have no where to put it, it doesn't do me any good (and I'll still need a source of raw materials). And the argument leads to whether we go back feudal style (I'll share my land if you
help defend it), communist utopia (I get my 1/6billionth of the earth), etc. But this isn't what I'm interested in, not right now.
The question is the emergence, and what it means when no one really *has* to work. I think the statement fails, and it does so by ignoring the historical industrial precidents.
What does it mean to have to work? Many could argue -- and particularly if I were to address a crowd a hundred years ago, when the unions were fighting for existence -- that what I do is not at all required. That I do what I do for the resources to provide the things I need for survival (and then some++), but that nothing I do for "work" directly contributes to my (or anyone else's) survival.
In some sense, I don't have to work. Nor do most of the people who read this blog, if not all.
But wait, you argue -- my research could contribute important results leading to the development of some technology to solve some fundamental concern of human survival. You are too generous, but the basis of my research is not the point. The thing is that as a species, we have embraced the luxury afforded by labor saving technology... and continued to hunt for relevancy. The personnel it takes to run a high-production farm is a small fraction of the population it feeds, and the requirements will continue to decrease.
This ends up leading to my concern with a strong blue-collar constituency, as seen in Pittsburgh (and Boston...). Steel jobs are not coming back, because it just doesn't make sense for them to. Jobs that are shifting to Mexico, that are now shifting to Asia instead -- these are not coming back either. Because what we are looking at are jobs for which the individual doesn't matter, the procedure can be reduced to an algorithm that can be replicated anywhere. The jobs will leave the Asian workforce, or whereever the economic minima is, when it becomes cheaper to do through robotics (or whatever technology). McDonalds' isn't automated yet because the technology requires more capital resources (for R&D and social costs) than hiring the young, the old, and the otherwise unemployable.
It is not a blue-collar only phenomina. We're seeing the same problems with outsourcing to India (and China), and it is indicative of the same problems. Sure, the programmers are probably equally talented over there. But we're competing on an easily defined commidity, and the economic energy game is going to end up with the lowest cost solution -- probably automated code generation of some form.
Does this mean as a research programmer at an elite university that I'll be one of the few people whose job remains? No. Jobs are going away -- it is that job descriptions are. There are millions more IT worker than there were a century ago; there are far less steel workers, etc. Before the steel production machines were developed, there were less steel workers and more of other jobs that generally don't exist now.
As Fuller wanted it, we continue to do more with less. Not on the scale that he wanted, and not in the uniform way of raising everyone's standard of living, but we're doing it. Parts of Africa may still not have running water... but they have access to cell phones and helicopters. Like Southeast Asia (more cellphones than landlines), when the next big, say energy, technology comes along, they will be in a unique situation to benefit from it by lacking existing infrastructure.
My point is that as long as our standard of living (domestically and globally) has room for improvement, there will be reallocations of labor to strive for it. Intellectual property, or at least, intellectual development, will play a critical role. I will consider our culture a failure if I no longer have work because everything is provided for me by my granted Universal Assembler, but the best TV I can build is similar to what is available in stores today, and the content similar.
Besides, how will we adequately compensate our professional athletes and media stars if everyone else doesn't have to do anything?