The End of Backbreaking Labor

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Living in the Future | 0 comments

Job posting from 2040:

  • Entry level construction job
  • Will be supervising 20 employees
  • No physical limitations

You’ll be building bridges and skyscrapers, paving roads and digging canals. In your grandparents’ day, a hundred men would be out there, sweating and straining for a meager paycheck, retiring with aching joints and chronic pain.

But not you. You’re a supervisor. Your robotic team needs human direction, but the heavy lifting is performed by hydraulic pistons and servomotors. While concrete is poured and girders swung into place, you watch from a golf cart with a tablet in hand monitoring your robots.

You’re not an architect or an engineer, just a fresh high school graduate with a basic understanding of modern computers and a two week training session. Your skill: your human mind.

Right now, a startup called Sanctuary AI is on the verge of this breakthrough. Their prototypes already come close to human physical capabilities on a number of continuums. They can lift 55 pounds, which is almost enough for most shipping/receiving jobs. They also have hands with 20 degrees of freedom and the sensitivity to pick fruit without making juice out of them.

They’re even working on getting them to respond to voice commands, eliminating the need for clunky interfaces that would raise the barrier of entry for users. Whether this company gets to the finish line or another comes along to bridge that gap, we’re about to see the first of a generation of robotic “employees,” versatile and capable, willing to do anything that needs doing—so long as someone does the thinking for them.

At some point in the future, whether in 2040 or 4020, humans will no longer be employed as manual labor. Of course, anyone who wants to start a backyard farm or a handyman business will be welcome to do so, but the main workforce harvesting crops, hauling boxes, and building cities will be mechanical.

In a past that’s still the present for many, parents took grueling, physically punishing jobs that no one wanted because that’s what work they could find. They did it because it paid them enough to provide a future where their children didn’t have to work those jobs.

But somebody always worked those jobs. The goal was to boost your children into a life where it wasn’t them.

With robots on the verge of tomorrow, that dream might become universal. And for once, the ones who escape won’t simply be passing along the burden to someone else.

Like any change of this magnitude, it won’t happen overnight. There will be a shift over generations. By the time the labor force is entirely robotic, children won’t have grown up expecting to work in fields and in ditches.

Freed from the generational trap of physical work, more and more humans will be free to pursue careers that leverage the one thing that machines and computers might never match, not matter how well they try to mimic:

The incomparable human mind.

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