Pricing Pollution Can Limit Jobs Lost to Robots

Robots Take Our Jobs

If Robots Take All the Jobs

Imagine a future without many jobs; a world where robots and artificial intelligence handle most all human needs – from providing our food and manufacturing our goods with machines to analyzing data and scheduling our lives with AI. Sounds like a pretty cushy existence, but what would the world look like? Would our lives be better?

I think we can all agree that we are a long way by any stretch from a singularity, and I would argue, a long way away from human level artificial intelligence, but I’m just a guy that has thought about this topic for the last few years. I don’t know how far machine learning has progressed besides IBM’s Watson and other public algorithms and chat bots, and while these software pioneers are extremely impressive at concept and implementation, they are not thinking beings and robots that can match humans in life. They can be programed to do specific tasks and make accurate assumptions based on data and decision models.

It can be safe to assume, though, that they are getting more accurate every day. I’m also sure we don’t know the most recent progress of artificial intelligence and machine learning – it could be a decade ahead of where we think it is, some secret computing center, miles underground, calculating non-stop.

Business leaders and many technologists are calling it the rise of robots overtaking human work an inevitability. Currently, robots and other machinery are property – the property of consumers or of businesses and corporations in the form of capital. Typically, they make jobs easier, or flat out do the job as in automation for manufacturing. This increases productivity and makes certain jobs obsolete.  As the skills and abilities of robots continue to increase, more and more jobs will become obsolete as price for automated processes decreases. The only part of this equation that has not been factored in is the cost of pollution and the value of our environment, so let’s do it now.

Dirty Little Robot

Pollution from machines and robots – what no one is talking about. To me, it is quite obvious, but the resources in manufacturing and energy use to create and operate said robots would be enormous. Robots take materials and manufacturing to repair while humans need food and occasional medical care if healthy to bring to life and raise. Robots and machines don’t heal, they must be repaired.  In all fairness, it is a benefit for the robots to be less likely to “die”.

Much Materials Needed – Steel is incredibly resource consuming to produce. Stronger and lighter materials like titanium and even more exotic forged metals use even more energy. Most of that energy is polluting. Even worse, is it is in a way that often cannot be reduced by collection during the smelting process. Where it can, it is expensive. Competitive markets demand tight pricing, so it is usually advantageous for companies to use the cheapest sources, irregardless of the environmental impact.

Not only do robots require a tremendous amount of physical resources to build and maintain, but they consume grids worth of energy and infrastructure such as charging stations and disposal/ recycling of batteries, broken and obsolete parts. What may consume more energy is processing the terabytes or more of computer code required to move the robot, operate with partial or complete AI, servers, communication and ever component that would go into creating and artificial form of life.

Machines are dirty, but robots are worse.

Move Over, Human

Yeah, you heard me right. We say it to wild life everyday when we cut down trees to put up track homes and pollute their ecosystems with our waste. Throughout history, superior technologies, cultures, thoughts and ideas have always prevailed (sometimes it takes a while – see political/religious interests).

Robots and Artificial Intelligence need only energy to survive, not human labor or life, if at a point of human superiority. It would be in the robot’s interest (or it’s owners depending on how this subject plays out) to feed itself the maximum amount of productive energy at the lowest price. An example would be a coal plant with absolutely no emission controls as it costs energy and resources to reduce any of the coal exhaust.

What is considered “productive energy” is determined by the price of that energy and what it is used for. Robots or their masters surely will have different needs, goals and incentives than both you or I.  For instance, cheap, dirty energy doesn’t affect robots, it only makes them stronger. Fossil fuels are actually compressed organic remains, or stored up life for them, depending on how you look at it.

We Need to Price Pollution Before It’s Too Late

As we head into a more automated future, we need to consider the implications a poor environment have on the health and happiness of humans and other life on earth. In our current world we are already seeing the impacts of pollution on our health and environment worldwide. With Climate Change caused by greenhouse gas emissions to smog and heart disease from physical pollution in our communities, it is easy to see the effects of industry in our everyday lives.

These side effects of the great convenience and wealth many of us enjoy will only compound as robots become more a part of our everyday lives. We must plan ahead for a future of more convenience and avoid less forests, environmental degradation and poorer air quality. I know I’m not the only person that thinks about these issues, or at least, I hope I am not.

I strongly believe that there is no other sensible way to get people and businesses to reduce their pollution output than to reward reduction and penalize pollution. We can achieve this with an Emissions Tax, having groups and individuals willingly (as willingly as they pay their taxes) use or reduce their use of pollution generating products and services. Income Taxes will be reduced, benefits will be increased, and people will have more choice on how their money is spent. Most people will make better choices when the decision is as clear as price.

There Will Always Be Pollution

Robots can be extremely helpful. Machines and fossil fuel energy have taken much of the drudgery out of making a living and pushed productivity to all time highs. Machines can do things that humans never could, or reduce risks to human life. Still, there is a limit;  point where productivity and progress destroy the capital in the world we live.

I really enjoy my warm home, vegetables in the winter, lights on a night and all the other wonderful things this modern world has to offer. I’m sure you do too. That is why we can’t just ban them but instead need true sustainability. There are a lot of conservation opportunities to find and implement, but the point is that we have to get to work now researching and identifying these opportunities to reduce the sources of pollution.

Let me know your thoughts? Reach out – lets get it done!



  • I get why companies would choose to use Robots. Faster, more efficient, and no worry of injury or stealing are top things that come to my mind. But I hate that it’s going to take away from jobs of people and that scares me. This world people keep wanting things faster and cheaper and I agree it’s really doing a number on our environment. If done right I think an emissions tax is a great idea!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Please remember that robots are NOT more efficient, that they are only cheaper because the pollution they create and damages to our health are not accounted for. If they were, many robots would be too expensive to operate.