Community Scale Automation
Dani Eder 
1309 Stroud Ave, Gadsden, AL 35903
Community Scale Automation
Increasingly capable automation is tending to replace human jobs faster than people can be retrained for new ones. The owners of automated factories have no need to keep surplus workers, so they get laid off. The end point of this trend would be fully automated production owned by corporate shareholders, and a mass of unemployed people. Despite high levels of automation being able to support everyone at a decent quality of life, the capitalist structure appears to lead to a two-class society, with the poor unable to support themselves. We assume this is an undesirable state of affairs.
There are ways to avoid extreme poverty, such as taxing the rich to provide sufficient benefits for the poor to live, but that has moral issues and perpetuates a two-class structure. We propose an alternate approach, Community Scale Automation (CSA), which if implemented early enough, would prevent creation of a destitute class, or at least not worse than it exists today. In simple terms, CSA uses the same kind of automation technologies developed for factories, but at the community level, to provide at least the basics of food, shelter, and utilities. Community level as used here is anywhere from individuals up to cities. The equipment would be owned by the residents, and they get the outputs it produces. As owners they are not in danger of getting laid off and losing their homes or be unable to pay for food and utilities. Residents can still do work beyond the basics required to keep the automated equipment running. That would be either because they want extra items that can't be made locally, want services that can't be automated, or just enjoy working for it's own sake.
How do people get from their current state to a CSA structure? First, we feel it should be voluntary, rather than imposed by a local government on people who don't want or need it. Next, the cost of the larger and more expensive equipment would be beyond what individuals can afford. Individuals can create an association like a Credit Union to pool their funds and efforts to build or buy such equipment. Next, current technology is not yet good enough to fully automate the basics, and local communities are not presently designed to make use of even what automation exists today. We therefore propose that individuals and small groups start by adapting existing technology to starter projects, experiment with ideas, and share resulting designs and software between communities, so that other groups can benefit from and improve on them. Some small scale examples would be a community brick press or wind turbine, to displace part of the cost of building a new house or generating electricity. We don't know if those particular examples make economic sense, that will take further work, but they are the kind of starter projects that one or a few people can work on them.
Such starter projects would be part time, in addition to existing jobs. Over time, as equipment accumulates and becomes more sophisticated, it can start to displace full time jobs. For example, one of the community owners could manage a farm and greenhouses full time, and another could manage construction and remodeling. These benefit from having experienced people managing them, and other community owners helping when needed. A robotic greenhouse or brick-laying machine would be a different kind of work, though, than today's manual versions of those jobs. A network of community projects with different equipment can also trade with each other to fill in gaps in what they each can do. Multiple communities and individuals across wider areas can contribute to developing more advanced hardware and software that would be too complex for single communities to finish. Open source software is a model for how such distributed development projects can be managed.
When you have a sufficient collection of equipment with a variety of output types, and surplus capacity beyond supporting basic needs, it can start expanding itself in a near-exponential way. An already existing example are CNC machine tools, which are the conventional way accurate metal parts are made. If you visit a factory where such machines are made, you will find it is full of the same kinds of CNC machines, so they can partly copy themselves. They don't, however, do painting of the hardware, or make the electronics, you need a painting robot and a pick-and-place circuit board machine for those tasks. If you have all three machines, however, you can have them make parts for each other and more nearly make full copies. They can also build parts for new machines you don't have yet and expand the range of things you can do.
With such a starter kit, along with designs for how to expand them with new machines and equipment, you can rapidly grow to larger scale production. This would support more people over time, and only needs some human work to fill in tasks not automated yet, and some parts from outside for things you can't yet make yourself. Such a starter kit only needs to be developed once to initiate exponential growth, although it can be improved afterwards for even better results. With such starter kits available, not only can communities become layoff-proof and self-supporting, but they can help other communities reach the same condition.
- Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org.