HSBC lets you earn while you snooze

With 60% of the population of the US and EU now over the age of 65, economists have expressed astonishment at the continued strength of the world economy.

“In the USA, the working-age population is now down to under 70 million out of an overall population of 500 million, yet GDP growth in last year was 6%. ” says Tony Weaver of the London School of Economics. Less than 15% of the US population is now producing all US economic output.

Thank HSBC’s Robot Retirement Plan for this. In 2089, HSBC started offering its new investment plans, based on the recent success of Toyota-Chrysler’s humanoid robot and ’embedded’ robots in cars, planes and other machines.

Instead of investing in stocks and shares, investors can now invest in one or more ‘robot retirement funds’ – funding robots which are then used in industry – to work in mines, drive buses, clean streets and in construction, especially to meet demands for new retirement complexes.

As a new investment and pension option, the funds have become a sell-out world-wide.

The US Senate is to vote this week as to whether they will pass a mandatory requirement for all retirees to purchase a robot.

“It is the sacred duty of every American to replace themselves in the work force. If they can’t do it with children, they better do it with a robot,” says Senator Jesse W Bush of Texas.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be


Robots do not necessarily have to be intelligent. They are devices programmed to perform simple, repetitive tasks. Increasing robotic sophistication will lead to robots that are able to perform an ever wider variety of tasks. Since this is a world designed by human beings for our convenience, it is likely that future multitasked robots will be humanoid.

The first company to produce an industrial robot was Unimation, founded by Joseph F. Engelberger in 1962. Unimation robots were also called programmable transfer machines since their main use at first was to transfer objects from one point to another, less than a dozen feet or so apart. They used hydraulic actuators and were programmed in joint coordinates, i.e. the angles of the various joints were stored during a teaching phase and replayed in operation.

In 1969 Victor Sheinman at Stanford University invented the Stanford arm, an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot designed to permit an arm solution. This allowed the robot to accurately follow arbitrary paths in space and widened the potential use of the robot to more sophisticated applications such as assembly and arc welding.

Interest in industrial robotics swelled in the late 1970s and many companies entered the field, including large firms like General Electric, and General Motors (which formed joint venture FANUC Robotics with FANUC LTD of Japan).

In the 1980s Expert Systems, software programs that encapsulate specialist knowledge, become widely used. In 1989 MIT AI Lab director Rodney Brooks publishes a seminal paper entitled Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, which kicks off a new era in robot making. Academics start to concentrate on small, smart useful robots rather than simulated people. Genghis, one of the first walking robots created by the mobile robots lab at MIT, makes its debut.

In 1994 a robot called Dante II, built by scientists from Carnegie Mellon, travelled around the interior of the Mount Spurr volcano in Alaska, US, collecting samples of volcanic gases as it went

In October 2000 the UN estimated that there were 742,500 industrial robots in use worldwide. More than half of these were being used in Japan.

In April 2001 the Global Hawk robotic spyplane charted its own course over a distance of 13,000 km (8,000 miles) between California, US, and Southern Australia.

The first general service robots performed some of the worst jobs then undertaken by people. That displacement will continue.

2025: The Last of the Baby Boomers
The last of the baby boomers, Mrs Hilary Johnson of Portland, Wyoming, is officially recognized in an official ceremony as the last US Baby Boomer to retire.

Behind the cheers and smiles lie pained lines of concern.

The EU economy has been contracting for a decade and the US economy is starting to show signs of strain. Tax rates have risen for the remaining workers who operate within vastly automated industries.

The US President – in a coordinated announcement with his Canadian and European Union counterparts – open the borders to their respective countries to anyone willing to come and work.

Developing countries are finally starting to get their own economies going and there is work aplenty. Employers in the developed world start offering ever higher salaries to attract workers.

Work seekers start arriving and the US, EU and Canadian economies hold.

Not so lucky Japan who are still debating whether to overcome centuries-old discrimination against foreigners.

2035: Pension Riots
Each worker in the EU now supports one retiree – 50% of their total income is paid in tax. Riots in Berlin, Paris and other major EU cities as workers confront retirees over benefits. Mass emigration results in further tightening of pensions benefits. After much debate, retirement age is raised to 75 by an EU directive.

Japan recognizes it must do something when the entire graduate year threatens to emigrate to the US if their government doesn’t bring down taxes immediately. The Japanese prime minister, Mr Hiromatsu Yamamoto, announces that Chinese guest workers will be allowed to enter.

Competition for jobs heats up when the US starts offering immigrants free plane tickets, houses and resettlement allowances in exchange for five-year work placements.

2050: World Population Peaks
World population hits 9 billion, the highest it will ever get.

Differences between developed and developing countries are at their narrowest point ever. President Olegosan Abamoyo of Nigeria expresses the frustration of many in the developing world when he says, “Stop taking our productive workers. We need them too!”

He is speaking at the UN Special Conference on Solutions to Worker Creation held in Freetown, the gleaming capital of Sierra Leone.

The politicians are upstaged by unique ranges of automated machines. Microsoft-GM unveil the Cyberdriver which can be retro-fitted into existing public transport vehicles and systems. It performs significantly better than human drivers. The company is overwhelmed by orders from around the world.

Also on show are automated street cleaning trucks, sewerage repair robots, building and construction robots, and – the total sellout of the show: autofarmer.

Autofarmer is the product of research between John Deere (a farming equipment manufacturer), Apple (a computer and entertainment conglomerate) and MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Combining sophisticated agriculture algorithms, wireless connections to weather satellites, GPS and agricultural markets, the Autofarmer manages a one acre site from turning soil, to planting, irrigating, maintaining and harvesting. Automated trucks collect the harvest.

The Autofarmer is limited to grains in this first model but it is hailed as a savior by farm owners around the world. Orders for 2 million of them are placed on the first day.

2085: The Robot Revolution
Automated and robotic devices have revolutionized production. Whole factories are run by two or three people. Ships navigate the seas entirely unaided. Planes, cars, trucks and trains – all ply their trade without human interference.

Professor Michael Chen of the Beijing Institute for Technology predicts that, inside of 20 years, no human will work outside of the service sector which already accounts for 89% of all employment.

The number of robots in action means that, for the first time in 25 years, economies are starting to show real growth and governments are starting to relax. There is still concern that there are too many people in service positions; cleaners, hairdressers, painters, motor mechanics, and – as automated as it is – construction.

At a special ceremony webstreamed throughout the world Toyota-Chrysler unveil their 1.5 meter tall Yatsuma robot. It is capable of understanding more than 50 spoken languages, can read, write and be programmed to do most automatic tasks. Four of them make up a band that performs hit songs by Freddy Mercury, Bruce Springsteen and Brittney Spears. The robots play all the instruments, demonstrating their fine motor skills. The concert is watched by 2 billion people.

By the end of the week the Yatsuma is the new must have item for the home. Its first tasks are mundane: cleaning, ironing and cooking. Sales are slow, however, as the robot is very expensive.

Sony-Siemens announce that their new robot isn’t far behind.

2089: Rent a Robot and Retire
Despite massive demand, orders for robots like the Yatsuma are thin on the ground. They are just too expensive for individuals to afford.

HSBC executives ponder this and then contact their law firm. “Could,” they ask, “robots be paid for their work if they were working on behalf of someone else?”

The answer comes back, “Of course, it is no different from hiring out a car.”

Within weeks financial advisors have put together the Robot Retirement Plan, an investment fund like no other. With $ 1 trillion the money is invested in robots who are set to work around the world. Financial consultants gather information on where their robots will earn the most and rapidly transfer their metal staff accordingly. Returns in the first year are a staggering 25%.

By the end of the year no less than 15 robot investment funds have been set up.

2093: Robot Slaves
In October a ship filled with Samsung-Toshiba personal robots is hijacked on the seas outside Korea. The robots are worth more than $ 2.5 billion and their insurers, Lloyds, demand their return. The robots are tagged with GPS transponders and, when they suddenly go live, they are rapidly tracked down to a dilapidated textiles factory in the Sudan. The robots are kept working 24 hours a day and are exposed to continual sand storms and salty spray from the sea.

Rights activists are appalled. “This is unacceptable. Robots should have the same rights as people and these working conditions are disgusting,” says Hillary Muddlestone of Action! Now!, a pressure group set up to regulate robot workers.

The robots are freed in a storm of publicity and the US senate tasks a group of retired judges to draft legislation governing conditions under which robots are allowed to work. Poor countries jeer as robots now appear to have more rights than people in developing countries.

“That isn’t our problem,” says Norma Edwards, presiding judge. “We’re setting the rules by which we wish to live. If your citizens are comfortable accepting less, then that is up to them.”

2095: Do your duty – Rent a Robot
The success of the Robot Retirement Plan causes governments around the world to pause and think.

“Why shouldn’t we insist on this being your pension plan?” asks President Valerie des Germaine of France. Why not, indeed?

Governments start considering the introduction of compulsory robot retirement policies. Senator Jesse W Bush of Texas puts forward his bill at the senate.

Less visible in the background, though, is an interesting new development.

“With the reduction of work pressure, and the significant improvement on outlook and wellbeing, more and more young people are choosing to have large families,” says Jefferson Thomas of the Family Institute at New York University.

“There aren’t any really boring, terrible, stressful jobs left that are performed by humans. Kids today are happy and optimistic. This is a world that they want to bring children in to happy in the knowledge that RoboNanny will change the nappies.”

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.