People will want and need a way to achieve their goals in life without becoming idle wards of the state. They will want/need some kind of productive endeavor in which to apply themselves, something that people can do better than robots. Or that only people can do... a list which will become smaller and smaller.
Why do I keep getting the feeling that most posting in this thread lack imagination?
- Are there more or less robots and automation than there was 200 years ago? 100 years ago? 50? 25?
+ That would be more, more, more, more
- Are there more or less occupations, job fields and opportunities than there were 200 years ago 100? 50? 25?
+ More, more, more, more
The dumb task of unskilled labor is going away and has always been replaced by something cheaper, better and faster. As society becomes more complex, more complex jobs are created.
I get it. Change is scary. That does not make it a bad thing.
I don't think there's a "lack of imagination". But I think maybe you are not thinking it all the way through.
Wheelbarrows get invented, allowing one man to carry the same load as two guys with buckets. So one of the guys who used to work carrying buckets all day, goes and gets another equally unskilled job... whatever that is can ride for the moment. Maybe he works in a wheelbarrow factory, putting tires on wheelbarrows... not substantially more complex than the guy who is pushing the wheelbarrow.
Now if we assume that in the very near future, robots or automated systems are going to be doing most of the truly menial jobs, that means that all the people who were doing those unskilled jobs need to upgrade to more complex occupations... not everyone is capable of doing that due to their innate capacity, but let's let that ride for the moment... So the person trains for a few months or years, and is now capable of holding a somewhat more skilled occupation, assuming there are actually openings hiring... they just increased the competition for those jobs. Five years down the line, the computers/robots have gotten better and are doing most if not all of the entry-level skilled jobs.... so those workers again have to elevate their skill level... how many months or years does that take? And how long before the pace of change increases to where jobs are becoming obsolete in less time than it takes to train to fill them? This is where the machinery's true hole card gets played... with flash memory and ability to copy from one unit to the next, training takes next to zero time or investment. Just download the new skill, boom, can you start work now Mr Robot? Oh, Mr. Wetware, we're sorry, we really can't afford to send you to hazmat training for a few weeks, but that's ok because we have an applicant already filling the position...
This labor pool forms a huge pyramid with the largest number of workers doing the least skilled jobs. The level above them has more complex jobs, and there are fewer people employed at that level. The next level up, same deal, more complexity, fewer workers. Finally you get into top tier workers who typically have very narrow specialties like Rocket Surgery that very few people have the ability to master at a professional level. Every time you wipe out one tier of jobs (complexity level wise) you SUBSTANTIALLY increase the competition for the next level up jobs.
And yes, you are correct, there are more different kinds of jobs today than there were way back when. When you reflect on it though, those jobs, though they are diverse in nature, are not significantly different in innate complexity. You can program a robot to serve french fries with about the same amount of software/hardware as it requires to push a wheelbarrow. Maybe less, even. The thing you will notice though is that mechanization and automation have reduced the number of jobs in the lowest complexity levels. It's a trend I would expect to see continue as automation and robotics expands it's capabilities in coming years.
If a computer can understand vocal questions, and come back with meaningful/correct answers fast enough to beat the best Jeapordy players on earth, it doesn't matter much how much hardware and software they threw at it to make that happen... it's a matter of time for it to become smaller, faster, cheaper and more sophisticated. Within 10-15-20 years you're going to have systems that drive people to work, clean house, read books to toddlers, hell, WRITE books FOR toddlers, and compose songs as good as half the stuff on the radio today.
And when you have systems that are good enough to handle the mental and physical requirements of the jobs that is presently occupied by the lower half of the current work force, there aren't going to be enough "new jobs" springing up with the same level of complexity those people were capable of handling.... because the factory that makes those robots is just going to program them a little differently for each job at the same level of complexity the robot is suited for. No weeks, months or years of training... you copy over the operating system and program instructions onto the freshly built chassis, bing, another unit ready to start working, sir!
The jobs that will be safest the longest are the most challenging and skilled. Which only a very small percentage of the population is suited for. You can't take a guy who was pumping gas one week and train him to be a corporate law attorney or a brain surgeon in a few weeks,months, maybe never. If you could, there wouldn't be enough surgeries to keep most of the brain surgeons employed.
You are right, there are different jobs now than there were in the middle ages, but people and their ability to handle tasks of varying degrees of complexity largely haven't changed in any fundamental way.