Thursday, May 05, 2005

The robotic Wal-Mart

There is an eye-opening post on the coming of the Robotic Wal-Mart in the robotic news this morning. Interesting that it is 5/5/05.

Comments:
Less workers means lower prices
 
Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the country. Most of their employees are in their target demographic (low paid). If they lay off a majority of their workers they will be able to cut prices, but there won't be anyone shopping in their stores because many of their customers are out of work.

Check the economy of '30s to see what happens next. The main cause of the Great Depression was reduced labor spending as a result of automation (called industrialization back then).
 
There were many contributing factors to the Great Depression, but automation was not one of them. Automation creates wealth, it does not destroy it.

- In the 1920's the Federal Reserve increased the money supply, creating artificially low interest rates.
- 1929 the stock market crashed bringing some short-term pain to the economy
- In the early 1930's the economy began to recover, but government policy inacted steep tarrifs on trade. In addition, the New Deal placed an additional burden on the economy.
- Tarrifs caused international trade to grind to a halt.
- Finally the federal reserve tightened the money supply in the 1930's, causing high interest rates and putting many compainies out of business.

Check out the wikipedia for a nice history of the Great Depression.

Many economists believe that if the federal government and the federal reserve had not meddled with the economy, the depression would never have occured. It probably would have just been a short-term recession. Let the free market work.

In the future when all the Wal-Mart workers are laid off, the same principle will apply. No government regulation or intervention will be required. The market will solve the problem if we let it.
 
I'm not positive, but I think that when Walmart goes robotic, the workers will find employment elsewhere. I don't know where right now, but I'm sure they will...

Which leads one down the chain of thought- what if Walmart went *completely* robotic? The chain's decisions could be made by an expert-system/artificial intelligence (ES/AI), as directed by shareholders, who won't actually be there, but will be represented by their own ES/AI system that will vote and make decisions for them.

Currently a corporation is a legal entity, somewhat like a person. What about when the company is completely run by one computer (which controls the others)?

It leads down an interesting road, that is for certain.
 
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