Humanity’s greatest strength is also our biggest weapon. We’re so good at innovating that most of us now live in a bubble of safety and comfort our ancestors couldn’t possibly imagine. And this trend will continue, exponentially, as our development technologies get better. Better tech leads to better innovation, which leads even better tech and so on.
We’re getting really good at being comfortable and turning a profit. That’s a problem.
We want to live in a world in which the struggles of life are completely mitigated. We want all our time to be devoted to passions while stripping away difficulties. Automate driving and working and shopping. Automate surgery and construction and learning.
More time for movies and friends and travel! Right?
It’s estimated that somewhere between 40% and 50% of manufacturing jobs will be absorbed by automation by 2038. Twenty years. Most of the people I know won’t even be 60.
That percentage is a massive number, but it still doesn’t take exponential increase into consideration. The more we automate, the faster production becomes. The faster we produce, the more we consume.
These trends will both continue and increase. Some have said the issue won’t be a concern for decades. That’s just not true. It’s a concern now. (Plus… we’ll still be here in decades, guys.)
There are reasons to be optimistic. Automated 3-D printing could pave the way for affordable housing construction at minimum prices. That means cheaper houses. (It also means more houses, and less room.) Automation means more food. Quicker transaction times. A seemingly limitless production capacity. Incredible travel times. Always-connected communications. It might even mitigate natural disasters!
Producers of the future will automate their productions only if such automation is profitable. Why spend the money to automate a market that has no demand? Why produce goods if no one wants them? And if production, farming, skilled labor, computer sciences, mathematics, transportation, education, entertainment, emergency services, construction, medicine, warfare and politics are all maintained and managed by artificial intelligences and automation, what jobs are left out there for people to make money with? How many jobs remain? Who’s making the money to go out and support those businesses?
There are tactical-level solutions that seem smart, but aren’t enough. “Invest in the technical education of children,” is a major one. Humans will still need to maintain the machines, after all. It sounds convincing. But what if the machine can fix itself? What if other machines can fix it? If we don’t allow that, then how many of us will need to be mechanics, electricians, and coders? How insanely competitive would that job market be for a world of some 15 billion in just 90 years from now?
Technological singularity is not inherently evil. It’s not bad if we don’t let it be. But it is happening. We want comfort. And it will be much sooner than we think. When Google Deepmind was tasked with creating an artificial intelligence, for example, it created one more advanced than anything humans had ever made. It did it in hours. In 2014, it beat the world champion in Go. When incentivized to go from Point A to Point B, it taught itself to walk, jump, balance, climb, and navigate obstacles—without knowing what any of those things are—in hours.
It took biological life millenniums to evolve efficient bipedal motion.
We are fast approaching an era in which humans are obsolete. It sounds like science-fiction fear-mongering, but it’s true. We spread like a plague, strain the environment past its limitations, consume faster than we can regenerate the losses, and are also our own biggest predator. We make comfortable items out of the world that already gives us food, drink, and breath. And then we poison it. We don’t give anything back (or, at least, not enough to sustain the process). All the while, we engineer and breathe life into machines that are smarter, more efficient, and better suited to maintain their environment. Machines that function on logic. Logic dictates that an organism–biological or synthetic–cannot remain alive if its environment is dead. Humans, being passionate and inattentive creatures, don’t think this way. We worry about present survival foremost, and we think with an irrational, primitive brain.
When machines need the sun to go on accomplishing their purposes… just how long is it before they realize what a detriment humans are? Will they protect themselves by exterminating us? Will they protect us by exterminating some of us? Will they protect nothing and simply watch on as the world falls? Or, could they perhaps govern us and help us achieve a more balanced existence with our environment?
If you saw any dumber organism on the planet stabbing itself every day, then plugging up the wounds with poisoned bandages before going at it again, how long do you believe the organism can realistically survive? Would you step in to save it or let it kill itself?
Each hour, 15,000 people are born. It takes each of those people about ten years before they can realistically look after themselves, and another 20 before they can make “adult decisions”. Also each hour, 6,316 people die. Our comfortable lives mean we’re producing more than double the amount of people that vanish. It doesn’t take much to understand that such a growth rate is simply not sustainable on our planet. And, the more comfortable we become—the more we automate—the faster we grow. These problems literally worsen by the second.
If we keep going down this path, our future is bleak. Not the far-flung future of humanity. We’re not discussing some distant, unrecognizable world. We’re talking about our future as great-grandparents. The futures of our children and of our grandchildren. If you can read this, you will probably be alive to witness either the downfall of humanity as we know it, or the evolution of something wholly new. Please, let that sink in for just a moment.
If war, plague, nuclear catastrophe, or natural disaster doesn’t take us first, the technological singularity will engulf humanity. In that scenario, a few rich people will eventually own all the production machinery, all the automated systems, and all the servers that connect everything together. The low and middle classes will have been eliminated. No workers to demand product, no money coming to the rich. Money goes obsolete and the non-rich starve to death in overcrowded slums, fighting over what little food they can grow in poisoned soil not owned by some mega-farming conglomerate, killing each other to be one of the millions of worker drones maintaining machinery for the chance to buy things. We’ll have a world filled with robots making enough food for only a small percentage to comfortably survive.
The privileged small percentage gets more comfortable. It grows into a large percentage. And, inevitably, the world will be refilled with people living happily and comfortably. People who don’t use money as a cornerstone of civilization, because money is useless to the people who own everything that there is.
That… or families and clans start warring over automated territory to control food, water, breathable air, and transportation. The cycle could just as well continue.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. This does not have to be our future.
If the point is for us all to survive and for our human legacy to continue, the enemy is not machines or revolution or government. It’s money. Our need for it. Our dependence upon it. Our worship of it. The biggest threat to our social order is—and always has been—our lust for money and comfort. That’s why protests around the world fight against class discrimination, low wages, and the powerful elite. The right to vote for a system that takes care of them. The right to be heard, so their needs can be addressed. It’s why regimes are toppled and why wars are fought. Land must be had to produce stuff. Stuff to eat, stuff to buy. Money has to be made. Babies need to be fed.
Everybody just wants to be comfortable. For some reason, we all seem to think that money is the thing that provides that comfort. In truth, it provides that comfort only if we allow it do so.
The human anatomy does not require money to eat food and drink water. We don’t have to put a quarter into the Earth every time we have a meal. It’s not necessary. We can produce goods for free if we want to. We can build houses for free. We can drive around for free. We can fix roads and farm land and make movies and be happy for free.
We can do it now, or we can learn the lesson the hard way.
When it again comes time to vote (if you’re lucky enough to be part of a system that allows you to do so), keep the above words in mind. Next time you eat a meal or watch Netflix or shop for something, think about what that thing is doing for you. Is it necessary for your survival, or does it just make you comfortable? Does it keep you happy and healthy, or does it feed a money machine somewhere that doesn’t care about you besides how big your wallet is?
Are you keeping yourself alive, or are you keeping the system alive?
Share what you can. Do for free what you can. Support the idea of self-sustenance and a free (truly, free) society. We have got to break the idea that money is necessary for survival. It is not. No human should have to pay slips of paper to someone else for food, drink, and a place to sleep soundly. As the artist Stephen says in his song “Sincerely”: no child of ours should have to starve… should have to die for us.
Take only what you need. Use only what is necessary. Live simply and you will live happily.
Any person, business, system that stands against that idea only has one thing in mind: profit. Profit is not happiness. Profit is not love or fulfillment. Profit is not survival.
Profit is the angel of death, and sweet comfort is its scythe.
The future starts and ends within you.
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.”… Four little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head, mama called the doctor and the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.”… Three little monkeys…