I have been doing some housesitting lately. I’m not an experienced cleaner and was intimidated by the challenge of keeping the floors clean. Fortunately, the house has a robotic vacuum, an iLife A4s.
It’s a small, humble-looking device. It’s quiet and unobtrusive. But it delivers clean floors in the background, without requiring me to disrupt more interesting, fulfilling tasks, like writing or programming. The automatic nature of the vacuum made every manual task seem like a frustrating waste of time: moving the hose to water different parts of the yard, getting drinkable water from the store.
As humble as it seems, the robotic vacuum represents a powerful positive trend in history: the development and diffusion of labor-saving devices. Humans have spent so much time on sheer drudgery. Fetching water, sweeping floors, watering plants, picking plants. The less time and mental and physical energy humanity spends on these tasks, the better. The better we can take advantage of our special capabilities as humans. Our imagination, our creativity, our ability to conceive and implement unbelievably complicated machines like computers.
Continually reducing the share of time humanity spends on drudgery is a moral imperative. It’s a matter of unlocking more of the abundance of human potential. Of enabling us to have more opportunity to create more labor-saving devices. To enable every human to have the opportunity to do interesting, fulfilling work. To deliver ever higher standards of living. Every small advance like the humble robotic vacuum is meaningful for humanity.