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Time for a robotics fund!
The robots are coming and it's only a matter of time before we all lose our jobs. Sounds horrible. But what can we do about it?
Don’t worry: in this week's column, I won't bother you with a long discussion about robots or whether their proliferation will be disastrous for all the workers who will be laid off. That is almost a daily topic of discussion and could be summed up with: no one really knows for sure. The optimists say new jobs will be created, ones that we are not yet even aware will be necessary, while the pessimists assert that robots are already competing with physicians, chauffeurs, lawyers and restaurant staff and that this will cause social problems. These ideas are entrenched and are not producing a lot of fresh insight. If I had to pick a side, I would probably be with the moderate pessimists, but I'm more than happy to be convinced otherwise. But preferably with facts (what new jobs would there be?), rather than references to the past and a comment that all horse-drawn wagon coachmen eventually found jobs in the automotive industry. Past performance is no guarantee of future results...
But leaving that aside... For the sake of convenience, I am going to assume in this column that robots are indeed taking over and that that will gradually erode the job market. How do you keep all profits and income from going only to a small, select group of robot makers, while the rest of us lose our jobs and are doomed to beg for our livelihood? Recently, Bill Gates suggested that robots should be taxed in order to make their advancement (and the resulting loss of jobs) affordable for society. This idea didn't meet with much support. Not only would it place an undesirable constraint on technological development, but people couldn't see how robots were really so different from computers. Then, others argued that instead of imposing a tax, governments should actually invest in the robot manufacturers. The idea being that governments would be part owner of the robot makers and get a piece of the pie and share of the profits. The profits could then be put towards training or financial support of the unemployed. Establish an investment fund and acquire a stake in the new class of robots set to conquer the world!
That's what went through my head when I came across the graph above. It comes from Bank of America and shows how much money has gone into robotics funds over the last three years. This graph leaves little room for argument: investing in robotics is hot. Time for robotics funds!
As nice as this idea sounds, in practice, I mostly see problems:
In short, a nice idea in theory, that unfortunately won't work in practice.