During the next 100 years, what happens to humans that get replaced by machines for basic labor and menial tasks? What happened in the past, during the industrial revolution, when something similar happened? It's a fact today that over the last several decades we've lost a lot of low-skill manufacturing jobs overseas (see: car production, electronics production). Similarly, we've lost "menial work" tasks to outsourcing, like customer service phone support, and you can very easily "rent" a programmer who lives in India who'll work for next to nothing.
We've also begun (over the last twenty years) to lose jobs to automation, both on the mechanical side (robots building cars, or gadgets) and on the white-collar side (robots performing stock trades faster than any human possibly could, algorithms on Google and Amazon trying to sell you things in ways no human ever could). More automation means fewer jobs overall: specifically, a drastic decrease in low-skill jobs, but a relatively small increase in what I like to call "meta" jobs. These "meta" jobs (and yeah, meta is probably a terrible word for it) create/design/engineer more automation to put even more humans out of work.
In the past, "efficiency experts" would walk into a bloated manufacturing plant, streamline the build process, and cut 20% of the employees as a result. Nothing wrong with that, it needs to happen in most every business at a certain scale. However, now we have engineers who can replace an entire population of employees with a mechanical/algorithmic process. As more technologies converge, we're seeing interesting ways you can cut whole departments and replace them with technology. That's all great news for people trying to make money with less overhead (see: humans), but what about the rest of us?
We think it sucks when blue-collar people get laid off thanks to a flashy new automated process, but that's old news. That was the industrial revolution, and it resulted in more people moving to cities and going to college. But what happens now? White-collar people getting laid off because of new technology trends sucks, too, but that's news now. But enough about us
what happens down the line when a whole country of workers in the third world get laid off thanks to new technology? Apple is famous for employing hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers to build their devices, but they're trying to bring some of it back to America. How can that be profitable? The use of automation and technology replacing the need for humans to physically construct things, most likely.
But that's technology, we can get even more basic. What happens when we stop needing Vietnamese workers to sew our clothes, because it's cheaper to build machines to do it? What happens when we stop needing Fair Trade workers in Latin America to grow our coffee, because we've genetically engineered a coffee plant that can grow cheaper in America, harvested by robotic farming? What happens when corporations no longer need to exploit those third-world countries' cheap labor, and instead rely on a new invisible population of robots? I'm not trying to get all "I, Robot" here, because I'm not worried about an AI taking over the world. I'm worried about the revolution that may be sparked by taking away millions (billions?) of jobs and replacing them with automation.
Really, think about it: while we are typically appalled by "sweatshop-like conditions" and "cities built for manufacturing iPhones" that are found in places like China, Vietnam, etc, what happens to them when they go from shitty job to no job? What happens when those sweatshops are the only steady means of income powering the backbone of a country? As terrible as we think it is, most capitalists are correct in that one hippie screaming "exploitation of the masses" is another entrepreneur screaming "economic opportunity". The reason our iPhones and our Hollister shirts and our bananas are so cheap is they rely on equally cheap labor from the developing world. Regardless, that's money going to developing regions of the world, which is globalism, which wouldn't be happening if Americans didn't expect tropical fruit all year 'round.
So what happens? More revolutions in the third world, powered by the need to keep the jobs that robots begin to take away? What will our response be when the over-a-million Foxconn employees that we're trying so desperately to free (because we're so worried about them) start rioting when they're laid off after Apple decides it's easier to spend its hundred billion dollars in excess cash on robotic iPhone-building factories? Is it possible that China, which has a lot of economic growth currently because they're making so many things for America, devote some of its cyber-military to sabotaging such automation-takeover plans? Are they already?
Will we have to tell them â as we're starting to tell many college graduates in America â that the job they decided to take is oversaturated, irrelevant, obsolete? As the world shifts away from needing menial-task-workers, the competition for "idea/creative" jobs will increase. (It is already, but if you're a programmer today it's hard to stay unemployed.) This new super-white-collar space (I think it's above white collar, but maybe I'll write about that later) is a highly subjective one, and can't really be taught. You can teach the technical stuff, but today's programmer will be tomorrow's plumber â the real money is in creative problem solving. Where do you see these people working (and getting paid a lot) today? Automation, specifically in the financial market. The rich continue to get richer, and the first world gets even more orders of magnitude further away from the rest of the world.
Here's another way to frame the whole dilemma: think of the socioeconomic and philosophical distance between the One Laptop Per Child project (which aims to make technology cheap, reusable, and accessible to the developing world) and the Google Glass project (which aims to put an expensive heads-up display of your Twitter feed in everyone's vision). Think of the sociological, economic, psychological differences between the user of a OLPC computer and a Google Glass user. It's rather insane where our priorities have gone.