Robots have loomed over the future of labour for decades—at least since robotic arms started replacing auto workers on the assembly line in the early 1960s. Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labour force will see their employment options automated out of existence.

Each has a point, but there’s another way to look at this seemingly inevitable trend. What if both are right? As robots start doing more and more of the work humans used to do, and doing it so much more efficiently than we ever did, what if the need for jobs disappears altogether? What if the robots end up producing more than enough of everything that everyone needs?

The redefinition of work itself is one of the most intriguing possibilities imagined in a recent Pew Research report on the future of robots and jobs. Certainly, the prospect of a robot-powered, post-scarcity future of mandatory mass leisure feels like a far-off scenario, and an edge case even then. In the present, ensuring that everyone has enough often seems harder for humans to accomplish than producing enough in the first place. But assuming a future that looks more like Star Trek than Blade Runner, a lot of people could end up with a lot more time on their hands. In that case, robots won’t just be taking our jobs; they’ll be forcing us to confront a major existential dilemma: if we didn’t have to work anymore, what would we do?

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