Last night I had an interesting and perhaps prescient dream about the future transition to automation. No doubt inspired by watching ‘Ghost in the Shell’ before bed.
In my dream I was being lectured about buying a shirt at full price when everyone was telling me about some fantastic sale they’d seen – $5 shirts at one store, $1 shirts at another, and a crazy sale for $0.01 shirts somewhere else. Meanwhile, even though I still had a good paying job, others around me were fighting tooth an nail for menial work.
The growth of automation, robotics and AI is a fascinating thing to ponder about and attempt to forecast the future. A vertically integrated production of something like shirts could in fact result in radically cheap prices, if the synthetic fibres can be produced and turned into finished shirts without much land or human time, and made in a factory that itself was designed by AI and built by robots and the shirts were delivered by autonomous cars built by robots powered from electricity sourced from solar panels built by robots then perhaps a $0.01 shirt isn’t so crazy.
The economic theory of Cost Disease suggests that a future of automation will transition us to a service based economy as the cost of goods shrinks. I think economic theory has a reasonable model for the broad strokes of how the future may play out, but the on-the-ground experience is less certain.
In my dream there were still things that were expensive. It was in the transition period where big sales were surprising and jobs were still necessary. People were clinging to their notions of how the world has worked in the past – a t-shirt should cost at least $10 so a good sale price was a limited time offer instead of the new normal. Despite there being fewer jobs in areas people had skills for, people still needed jobs.