Assuming such a scenario ever comes about, what happens to wages? Such a question was asked in the early 1980s by James Albus, who headed the automation division of the then-National Bureau of Standards. His suggestion was to give people stock in trusts that owned automated industries, thereby allowing them to live off their stock income. However, Moravec argued that ownership might not be reliable as a source of income in the long-term. Any company that chose to re-invest everything in productive operations would drive companies that wasted resources by paying owners out of business. Better and cheaper robotic decision makers would squeeze owners out of capital markets as surely as labourers would be replaced by robotic workers.

Moravec sees the eventual demise of ownership as bringing about the end of Captialism itself, but then goes on to argue that ‘capital enterprises will thrive as never before. Some companies will die, but others will grow. Those that grow especially well will be forced to divide by antitrust laws. Some companies may decide to cooperate in joint ventures that are a mix of their parent firms’ goals and skills. With no return on investment in a hyper competitive marketplace, the effort may kill the parents. But, if the offspring grows and divides, the parents’ way of thinking may become more widespread…The ultimate payoff for success in the marketplace will no longer be monetary return on investment, but reproductive success’.

As mobile robots develop more graceful limb movements and navigate their workplaces more intuitively, the boundary between machine and living thing may well appear to blur. Furthermore, if Moravec’s vision for success in the marketplace in the age of intelligent robots is accurate, this mashup between technology and nature may not apply only to individual robots, but to whole companies. This trend was also noted by Chris Meyer and Stan Davis in their book ‘It’s Alive’: ‘What we learn and codify about adaptation and evolution will, first, be modelled in digital code, so that we can simulate adaptive systems for specific purposes…Next, software itself will become evermore like an ecology…As the rules of evolution combine with the connected economy, our business world will become…continually adaptive- in other words, alive’.

Actually, to a very limited extent there already is a blurring of the living and the artificial in the world of business. Some of the rights of people are given to corporations, such as the right to own property and make contracts. But, in other ways, we treat our coporations very differently. Most especially, whereas a person’s right to life is seen as fundamental, no such right is given to corporations; they may legally be killed by competition or legal or financial actions. Also, corporations don’t have the rights to vote on the laws that govern and tax them.

If fully automated industries run by intelligent machines become ‘alive’ as some have suggested, will we see the same legal rights that people have being given to these new forms of life? Moravec hopes not: ‘Humans have a chance of retiring comfortably only if they themselves set corporate taxes, and all other corporate laws, in their own self-interest’. By the time robots are approaching the 4th generation, the pivotal role that humans will play is likely to be in formulating the laws that govern corporate behaviour. There is a danger that if robotic industries were allowed to develop in a completely free marketplace, by competing mightily among themselves for matter, energy and space they would drive their price beyond the reach of humans, therefore squeezing us out of existence by making the basic necessities of life unaffordable. It’s easy to mock this notion of robots causing the extinction of the human race as being nothing more than hokey Hollywood science fiction, but bare in mind that the theories that drive biology are being adapted in the way we use information and in how our enterprises are managed. Biology, information and business are converging on general evolution and this can only increase as biologically-inspired technologies become ever-more prevalent in our networked civilizations. It might be worth remembering, as we look to evolution to help grow our roboticised corporations, that species almost never survive encounters with superior competitors.

Fortunately, this nightmare scenario assumes a completely free marketplace, but through such activities as collecting taxes, Government coerces nonmarket behaviour. Raising corporate taxes could provide social security from birth for the human race. This would make humans the main repository for money, and in order to raise sufficient funds to pay their taxes, the robotic workforces would need to compete among themselves to produce goods and services that people would want to buy. According to Moravec, ‘automated research, as superhumanly systematic, industrious, and speedy as robot manufacturing, will generate a succession of new products, as well as improved robot researchers and models of the physical and social world’. One likely outcome of this, is that the robotic corporations will develop and refine models of human psychology, using them in order to accurately guage our tastes. In Singularity discussions the point is often raised that we won’t fully understand the minds of artificial super intelligences. But here we see an even more humbling prospect; we won’t know our OWN minds as well as the Ais will know them. Moravec reckoned that ‘the super intelligences, just doing their job,  will peer into the workings of human minds and manipulate them with subtle cues and nudges, like adults redirecting toddlers’.

At this point, a problem with the idea of controlling such powerfully intelligent systems becomes apparent. How are we to ensure that they won’t use their superior knowledge of human psychology in order to trick us into removing artificial constraints on their growth? The old idea of pulling the plug on a machine if it gets out of control assumes there is a plug to be pulled, or that pulling it will not have consequences as serious as leaving the machine running. But, if artificial intelligences do indeed become an ecology supporting our networked civilizations, such highly decentralized systems might not have anything like an off switch and if they did, we wouldn’t dare touch it because modern civilization would soon break down without those multitudes of robot workers and other systems toiling away behind the scenes in order to keep things ticking over.

Furthermore, it is a convention in futurism to take the several possible routes to Singularity and concentrate on each one in isolation to the others. This approach is necessary because the sciences underlying each path are complex and it is hard enough to cover the R+D occurring in the fields driving one possible route to Singularity, let alone all of them. The reality, though, is that the many pathways to Singularity are connected together. This complex web of biologically-inspired technologies and technology-infused biology presents yet another problem for restricting the development of robots. There is a certain ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ mentality at work here; one set of laws for the humans and another for the robots. But while today it is easy to separate humans from robots, in the future advances in brain/machine interfaces, prosthetic limbs and artificial organs will result in hybrids that confuse the issue. At what point does the number of artificial body/brain replacements that a human has, result in that person becoming a machine that must be denied fundamental human rights?

It is not just the varying quantity of cyborgization that complicates matters, but also the varying quality of body/organ replacements. Let us suppose that progress in developing artificial substitutes for body parts (including the brain) does not stop at matching the capability of natural body parts but improves upon them. Your body and brain can be upgraded, and when the next generation of replacements roll off the production line, you can upgrade yourself still further. No transhumanist would deny a person the right to improve any part of their body or mind beyond natural limits. It is, after all, the fundamental principle of their movement. But some transhumanists insist on imposing strict limits on the self development of robots. Again, this assumes we can easily distinguish super-smart robots from super-smart cyborgs.

‘A good compromise, it seems to me’, suggested Moravec, ‘is to allow anyone to perfect their biology within broad biological bounds…To exceed the limits, one must renounce legal standing as a human being, including the right…to influence laws- and to remain on Earth…Freely compounding super intelligence, much too dangerous for Earth, can blossom for a very long time before it makes the barest mark on the galaxy’.

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