Human Seem Stupid to Robots
Capitalist Mexican Worker Scenario
Picture a future in which a human worker has a choice as to how to spend his money. Let us
call this fellow Pedro and assume that he emigrated from Mexico in order to improve his
finances. He would prefer to live in Mexico if everything else were equal. Pedro owns a small
mobile home and drives car to work at a hamburger joint where his job is to flip hamburgers.
Pedro cannot yet afford to get married. He pays for natural gas, electricity and gasoline to
power his life. His consumption of those fuels is much greater than it was in Mexico before he
moved to the US.
Let us say that Pedro has saved up some money and has a good credit rating. Given that his
purchasing power is now $30,000.00 and he is in the process of deciding how to spend his
Two salesmen call on Pedro and present their sales pitch.
The first salesman tells him that if he spends $30,000.00 on solar cells for his roof, the energy
generated will be adequate to power his home if he doesn’t use any more than an average of
200 watts of power. This means no air conditioning and no plasma TVs. This investment
doesn’t provide fuel for the Pedro’s automobile nor replace his dependency on natural gas.
Pedro figures that he will not save enough electricity to be able to afford to make the payments
on the loan that would be needed to purchase the solar cells.
The second salesman is selling a Honda ASIMO humanoid robot for $30,000.00. The
salesman tells Pedro that the damage to ecology by the robot is much less than that of a
human worker. Pedro doesn’t know much about ecology and doesn’t base any of his decisions
on what is good for our environment. If Pedro purchases the robot he can lease it to the
hamburger joint and eliminate the need for driving to work as well as the need for doing the
boring job of flipping hamburgers.
The more that Pedro thinks about it the more his views of the possibilities change. He doesn’t
have to be a business man to see that: “The robot can replace me at work and the hamburger
franchise will have a reliable worker for three shifts rather than just one. I can contract with a
service company to repair the robot when it breaks down and easily pay for it with the money
that flows in from the fact that the robot is working longer hours. I can move back to Mexico
where the cost of living is much lower and people speak my language. (The details are that
less energy is consumed in the Mexican lifestyle, but this is not how Pedro is thinking. All
Pedro sees is the lower cost of living and the fact that he would be “going home”.) The
hamburger joint can pay me with direct deposits to my checking account. I will have a much
higher standard of living if I receive American wages and live in Mexico.” In addition, Pedro
would eliminate the consumption of most of those 3 gallons of oil per day that each American
This suggests to me that investments in robots will be much more attractive than investments
in solar cells. It also suggests the surprising conclusion that the purchase of a robot has a
more favorable impact on the ecology than the purchase of solar cells.
Note concerning the validity of scenarios: It is not necessary for the scenario to be an actual
prediction of the future for it to add knowledge to the equation. The point of this scenario is
the same whether Pedro or the hamburger joint’s owner purchases the robot.
The points are:
1. In the future it will not make sense to hire a human at minimum wage to do simple
manual labor jobs.
2. The use of a robot will be more favorable to the ecology than the use of solar cells unless
the solar cell comes down quite a bit in cost.