Geek Culture, Writing and Other Junk from Writer C. A. Wilke
The Rise of Humanity

The Rise of Humanity

(This is Part 2 of 2 articles on The Future of Labor and The Human Race. Go here for Part 1.)

High quality production photos of Robonaut (R2) in Building 14 EMI chamber and R1/EMU photos in Building 32 – Robonaut Lab. Photo Date: June 1, 2010. Location: Building 14 – EMI Chamber/Building 32 – Robonaut Lab. Photographers: Robert Markowitz & Bill Stafford.

In my previous post I laid out all the doom and gloom for the employment cliff the U.S. (and the rest of the world, in fact) is headed for. In short, the inclusion of AI into automation will create the largest job-extinction event in human history because it will hit everything.

Okay, that’s a bit bleak. Now for the bright side.

As I said in the previous post, lower production costs SHOULD result in retail costs, making it easier for people to buy things. This is what’s called a post-scarcity world. Of course, it’s not TRULY post-scarcity, since certain materials themselves will still be scarce.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about corporate greed. I’m just skipping over that one for now. Personally, I think legislation will have to be in place to certainly allow for profits, but excessive cutthroat greed will need to be reigned in. That’s the hope, anyway.

Let’s look at the reality of a post-scarcity world. Most jobs, at that point, will be relegated to programming. I’d include machine maintenance, but that will probably become automated too shortly thereafter. And, in truth, programming may, in large part, become automated. Sure, not the fine details, but much of the drudgery aspect will be.

Here’s the deal. And this is not a knock on anyone, but programming is not for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I think most people could learn to code, at least at a basic level. The hard-core programming needed to handle machine functions, though? Yeah, no. I don’t think that’s a bridge I could cross myself.

Now don’t get me wrong, there will always be some jobs. I think. I mean, small businesses won’t be able to fully automate everything. There’s always still teachers, politicians and janitors. (Actually, I imagine there will be Roomba’s on steroids for that). That’s not enough jobs for everyone.

So what then? What happens when there are simply not enough jobs for everyone? Do we just automatically move into a Star Trek-like economy? That would be nice, but I doubt it.

Personally, I think humans, and more specifically politicians, will have to think long and hard about this, because it involves the S-word most of them truly fear. At least here in the U.S.


Oh… Crazy liberal! USSR! Communism! AAAHHHRRRRRG!

Got that out of your system? Good. I’m not coming at this from a left or right scenario. This is not about politics. This is about where humanity goes next. And in my view, if there are not enough jobs, we either move into a form a socialism or we let billions of people die until we only have enough people for the jobs that are left. (Hint, that won’t work either.)

And, by socialism I mean something very specific. I’m not talking about the government running everything. I’m not talking about nationalizing the fast food industry. I’m talking about a much more moderate form of socialism.

Look, here’s the deal. You have complete free-market capitalism on one end of the spectrum and Sovient-style communism on the other. Everything in between is socialism. So, sorry to burst your bubble, but the U.S. is ALREADY a socialist state. If the government collects ANY taxes from people or corporations, then it’s a socialist state. And taxes are necessary to create roads, fund the military, to run the post office, to pay the police officers and keep the parks safe.

The next step, that I think is necessary, is what some call Basic Income. Generally speaking, Basic Income is a modest monetary amount provided by the government to each citizen, regardless of employment status. Where does this money come from? Well, it has to come from taxes. On companies, financial transactions and resource distribution.

What this results in, is a world where most people never have to work. Some people will say that companies are just paying people to be lazy. And to some extent, that is true. The cycle of money will change. Instead of businesses paying workers, they’ll have to pay more taxes, taxes that governments will then use to pay the citizens so the citizens will then use to buy products.

This will, almost inevitably, result in huge swaths of the population spending all their time doing nothing but playing video games and watching the boob tube. An article from last year in The Atlantic made the point that unemployed and retired people actually spend the majority of their time just browsing the Internet or watching TV.

I honestly think that this post-work shift will require the largest cultural adjustment in human history. For thousands of years, people have been defined by their work, and in order for people to have meaning in their lives when there IS no work… Well, we’ll need to think of some way to help everyone figure that out.

When people don’t have a predefined purpose in their lives, like having to go to work, they often go out and find one of their own. Will it be art? Or invention? Or learning? Who knows? But the fact is, with people not having to focus all their time on the daily drudgery of a job, people will be free to figure out their own lives for themselves.

What about all those people who still have to work? Ah, here’s the rub. They still get paid. It’s not like they make less. In fact, the Basic Income would not be enough for everyone to just live totally fat and happy. It would be a living wage, but not super comfortable. Those people who work though? Well, they get their living wage AND a paycheck. That means their lives are even MORE comfortable. And those people are the ones who really want to be there, not just those who need a job.

In reality, it will make a more dedicated workforce because it will weed out the people who don’t really want to be there.

Certainly, there are some issues here. I’m not predicting some kind of utopia. I don’t see this shift really being a return to the
metaphorical “Garden of Eden”. It will just be a change, for good or bad. This will actually put more power in the hands of fewer people. There will be fewer chances for whistle-blowers and oversight. This presents its own set of problems that we’ll have to address when the time comes.

The truth is, we may not have another path to go down. Automation will go up exponentially, to a point that even people like Elon Musk think that there might not be any other real option. This will frighten some people. After all, it means the big, bad S-word! But, change of any kind scares some people. But, we humans are adaptable creatures, and in this too, we will adapt.


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