Slavery is Coming Back -- But Not How You Think

In the not-too-distant future, we’ll all have personal servants.

They’ll clean your home, tend to your garden, harvest your food, manufacture goods and fight your battles.

The slaves won’t be human, fortunately, but they will be machines. Every new advance in machine intelligence and electronic sensing, along with other diverse and converging fields of technology, is hastening the adoption of these machine servants.


Robots are a big, high-growth field investors need to pay attention to.

Getting in on the next wave of robotics now will be like getting in on Intel, AMD, Apple or Microsoft in the 1980s.

Incidentally, the word “robot” comes from a 1920s Czech science fiction play. The Czech word for servitude, robota, entered the English language as “robot” and has been with us ever since as a description for autonomous or semi-autonomous machines.

The name for this field of technology, robotics, also is the product of science fiction — Isaac Asimov first coined the term for a short story in the 1940s.

Although the words date from the 20th century, the idea of self-operating machines is far older. Ancient myths first described artificial and lifelike machines in motion in legendary tales.

Later, in the quest to measure time, intricate clockworks — run by weights or springs and self-regulating with mechanisms like pendulums and escapements for accuracy — were developed.

By the early 20th century, electrical controls allowed self-regulating machinery to come into industrial use. After WWII, of course, the invention of modern electronics, based on semiconductors and integrated circuits, meant that industrial automation could become truly “robotic.” Microprocessors and sensors allowed the creation of industrial robots and computer numeric-controlled machinery. By the 1970s, the first microcomputer-controlled robots began to enter factories.

Today, the international automotive industry depends entirely on robots, as do several other manufacturing fields. Chip manufacturing, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies rely on robotics to perform precise and repetitive functions in environments intolerable to humans.

Industrial robots can be hard to recognize, although the International Organization for Standardization has a working definition: “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes.”

Whatever appearance modern robots take, they form a swiftly growing market.

Advanced robotics are helping to solve our most vexing problems.

Robot adoption is also being aided by a simple economic fact: While cost of production for goods has generally declined over time because of automation, prices for services generally don’t fall quite as much, because they aren’t as easily automated.

Consider this: for the performance you receive, your computer costs a fraction of what it did two decades ago, but the technician who repairs it has generally remained quite expensive to hire by comparison.

But automation has solved problems like this for us in the past. Food prices have fallen steeply in real terms over the last century. This is not only due to better agricultural techniques, but also because of increased automation.

From John Deere and Allis-Chalmers, from balers to combines, mechanized agricultural equipment has drastically reduced what we have to pay for our food. Now we don’t generally worry about going hungry in countries with advanced economies. We worry about consuming too many calories. Automation made this possible.

With the leading edge of the boomer generation entering retirement, there will be huge financial incentives for improved service ‘bots. There will be great demand for anyone who can build an affordable robot that can help with housekeeping and basic care. Families that want to keep older members out of assisted care facilities and closer to home will look to robots for help.

In light of this, the famous Japanese enthusiasm for new robot technology is understandable, since more than a fifth of its population is over 65 years old, and the Japanese government is heavily funding robotics projects to provide care and plug holes in the workforce. There are simply not enough young people to take care of an aged Japanese population.

However, it is in manufacturing that robotics is making its presence felt the most right now. Whole factories are being automated, and “lights-out manufacturing” is becoming a reality. A production line can be set up and operated with very little human interaction. “Set it up and turn the lights out,” so to speak.

Economic demand will require that anything that can be automated will be automated.

To a bright future,

Ray Blanco
for The Daily Reckoning