Here’s A Crazy Idea — Maybe We Should Abandon Artificial Intelligence Devices For Organic Intelligence Ones

Oct 4, 2017 · 6 min read

Might Humans Be More Cost Effective Than Robots?

By David Grace (

The other day three thoughts collided inside my brain:

  • The difficulty of designing and building an AI controlled machine to perform household chores
  • What life was like in an upper-class household at the end of the nineteenth century.
  • The coming massive unemployment of unskilled people of average intelligence.

This column is the result of that brain-crash.

Successful People Used To Have Servants

If you were a successful surgeon or architect in England around 1900 you would have at least one or two servants. If you were really wealthy your staff would include a personal secretary, a butler, maids, a cook, cleaning ladies, a chauffeur, a gardener, maybe a nanny and a scullery girl or two.

You never paid them very much beyond room and board, but in those days a job that provided a little money plus a warm, dry bed, three decent meals a day, clean clothes and work that didn’t involve a twelve-hour shift in a coal mine or a boiler room was considered a pretty good deal.

Back then, people were happy to say, “Yes, sir, it will be my pleasure to get right to work washing all those windows.”

The Struggle To Replace People With Machines

Today, human servants are too expensive for all but the top 1/2% of the population. So, we’ve tried to fill the gap with machines.

  • Chauffeur — Self-driving car.
  • Personal Secretary — Echo/Alexa
  • Cook — Freshly, DoorDash, Frozen Dinners

Notice that except for the Roomba vacuum device, the “cleaning ladies” category is pretty wide open. Yes, a staple of science fiction is the robot/android servant, but we’re probably at least fifty years away from having anything close to the general-purpose devices in I, Robot.

As for special-purpose machines, that’s a fool’s game. Are you going to build one machine to wash windows, another to make beds, another to clean the counters? That would be way, way too expensive to design, build and own.

No, what you want would be one of those very intelligent, humanoid things in I, Robot, something that you could order around and that would be able to do all the general-purpose tasks that a human could do.

The Best Solution To Performing Human Tasks Is A Human

Well, instead of going through all the trouble to design and build an artificial human, why not just use a real human? DUH!

Sure, we all know the downside of employing genuine people instead of imitation ones — they only work for eight hours instead of twenty-four; they want days off, and you have to pay them quite a lot of money.

But let’s face it: your real objection to having an organic, human servant instead of an artificial one is the cost. If people would work for free, you’d have your own personal Man Friday in a nano-second.

What If You Could Have A Human Servant?

Let’s pretend for a moment that was possible to have a human servant, and let’s call him Fred.

Just think about it. You get up in the morning and wander into the kitchen.

You tell him, “Fred, I want coffee and an egg over easy on an English muffin” and he cooks it for you! Wow, great, right?

Then, as you’re leaving for work you tell him, “Fred, vacuum the rugs, mop the kitchen floor, clean the refrigerator, make the bed, do the grocery shopping, and then make dinner for two. I’ll email you the menu. If you run out of things to do, wash the living-room windows.”

Boy, Oh Boy

Now, tell that wouldn’t be super. You could have Fred do all the stuff you could have made your wife do if it was 1901 when a married woman couldn’t work outside the house, have a career, or vote.

Think of Fred as if he were a super-duper Siri that was stuffed into a robot body, but one that could bleed if he stuck himself with the knife while he was breaking down a chicken for tonight’s dinner.

To have a robot-Fred, you’d have to write all that software, design all those joints, levers and actuators, batteries and power systems, backup protocols and all the rest of it, not to mention the multi-billion-dollar manufacturing facility you’d need in order to build an artificial Fred. And the repair and maintenance costs! Damn, they would be a killer. Imagine what just a new battery would cost.

On the other hand, somebody else will build the organic Fred for you the old-fashioned way when they realize that they’ve lost their spare condom and they decide to go for it anyway.

And with Organic Fred you wouldn’t need to provide any of that time-consuming AI training. Fred’s parents and the government would handle all that before he ever got to you.

Do you see how this is turning out to be a pretty efficient idea as far as you’re concerned? The only real problem is your cost once Fred is ready to report for work. But there’s an answer for that too.

The Federal Department Of Servant Affairs

You see, pretty soon we’re going to have millions and millions and millions of unemployed people like Fred, ones who can’t be trained for the jobs that do exist and who are only fit for jobs that no longer exist.

This mass unemployment is really bad for the country, the economy and our society. People just sitting around with nothing to do and no money to do it with tend to get into trouble, and that trouble is expensive for those people who do still have jobs. The “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” problem and all that.

That means that the government, which is to say all the people who still have jobs and who are not Fred, have a pretty strong incentive to nip that sort of trouble in the bud.

So, the government says to you, “Hey, Dave, if you would like to have your own full-time Servant, we’ll share the cost. You pay us, the Federal Department Of Servant Affairs, $400/month, and we’ll cover the rest of your Servant’s salary. We’ll issue the check directly to the Servant and we’ll handle all the paperwork. As long as you keep up your monthly payments to us, we’ll take care of the rest.”

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Well, how can you turn down a deal like that? Cheaper than a wife, and one of them wouldn’t do what you told her to anyway.

Fred is starting to look like a pretty good deal, right? Except that he won’t do the sex stuff like a wife, but you can’t have everything and, besides, those X-rated VR Holo Programs are getting pretty damn lifelike, so there’s that.


Think of it. Every day millions of Freds and Fredrickas show up for work. They load the dishwasher, clean the sink, do the laundry, cook the meals, rake the leaves, clean the oven, and, here’s the best part, they do all the other crap that you’re too lazy to do for yourself. And they never complain, or, if they do, you can just fire their ass and get another one.

They’re reasonably priced too. It only costs you $400 a month. Hell that’s less than the lease payment on your Lexus.

Everyone Wins

For their part, the Freds of this world will get a full time job at a living wage, medical and disability insurance, a week’s paid vacation, and a full contribution to Social Security for their Golden Years.

It’s a good deal for the government as well. It gets to cut almost all the other welfare programs down to nothing and the Freds and Fredrickas live their lives like good little citizens, obeying the laws, paying their taxes, consuming all the stuff they need to consume to keep the economy humming along just the way it’s supposed to.

It sounds like a perfect plan to me.

– David Grace (

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Humor & Satire By David Grace

Humor and satire with an often irreverent edge


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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

Humor & Satire By David Grace

Humor and satire with an often irreverent edge

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