It is misleading, however, and philosophically falsifiable, if you will, to claim that we know what’s going to happen in the long run because we’ve seen it all in previous technological revolutions. We can’t predict the future accurately relying on the past.
In the coming wave of technological unemployment, it seems intelligent systems will replace not only blue collar workers but also white collar, previously with high wages and higher skills. Collaborative robots that work alongside humans are a thing now, but are they still going to need human babysitters in two or three decades?
As machine vision improves, and combines with more balletic sensorimotor performances, where will hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees, now in their 40s and 50s, be redirected to next?
One possibility may be their humanity. However imperfect their accuracy, vision, speed and versatility relative to a system touting machine intelligence, their provenance as human will be perfect. (No machine can ever have a perfectly human provenance. Not at least, until humans become machines.)
In that future world, robot-made will be ubiquitous. That high supply of goods and services borne through automated, mass-available, 24/7, highly efficient systems will drive their price down. Somewhere, still, human imperfection will gain value. One trait humans all the way longed to hide and exterminate, will now be the savior of human purpose. Food, art, clothes, furniture and else will be a luxury if touched by human hand — the hand so prone to making mistakes. I can imagine going into a supermarket and seeing on the shelf products labeled “not touched at all by a robot or machine.”
This is artisan economy. Humans will lose their repetitive warehouse jobs, but we’ll get an opportunity to excel at intimate and experiential. At least, some will.
Many of us might not adapt. Taking crumbs of jobs with lower dignity, pay, and security. Or the economy might only support so much artisanal cheese or hand knitted sweaters. If that’s the case, a new social consensus for allocating society’s rewards will be required (whether it is Universal Basic Income or something else). Complete unemployment draws, perhaps more complex, uncertainties other than income. Work is a socialization process, part of one’s identity. How are we going to fill this gap? There are plenty of questions like this that we have no answer to. But, there are even more questions that we yet don’t know we need to ask.