Robot-world

Today’s technologies will soon displace 25% of workers, and that’s equivalent to the unemployment rate in the Great Depression. But conceivable technologies could easily displace half of all work.

Humans need not apply: 15 minutes.

 

This 12 minute “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell” concludes the same thing.

 

What does this mean? As The Guardian reports (March 2017):

“Perhaps there is another form of human/robot “integration” that is possible. Not integration in the Musk sense of turning humans into robots but in the sense of using robots to free us from the sort of work that diminishes our capacity to be fully human: of integrating robots fully into our economy in a way that increases productivity, reduces our reliance on extractive industries, while releasing humans from the need to spend the majority of their life earning a living.

The ancient Greeks believed that “labour” – the sort of repetitive work needed in order to survive – was beneath their dignity and this was why they made sure that such work was done by slaves. Freed from this burden, the Greek citizens pretty much invented western civilisation. Is it really too hard for us to imagine a world where we use robots in a similar way, to free us from the grind of daily labour, so that we might instead create a new era of human flourishing?

That is to say, rather than trying to escape the human condition by becoming a robot or going to Mars, would we not be better off using technologies to confront the problems of scarcity, inequality and environmental degradation, and imagine a world that was post-work and post-capitalist rather than posthuman?

For that to be realised, the issue is less likely to be whether we trust robots than whether we trust ourselves enough to pursue the revolutionary change this would involve.”

 

Futurism.com argues that it could reform the very relationships between Capital, the State, and Society. That is, rather than endless debates about how much ‘welfare’ we receive as a “Universal Basic Income”, could the future debate be more about our right to access the means of production? America’s founding fathers were concerned that their (mostly) agrarian population might one day run out of land. How can a farming society operate without enough access to a farmer’s most essential capital, his land? They started formulating ideas about a Universal Basic Income to compensate farmers that might not be able to access land. Today the concerns are more about access to high tech capital production:-

If money loses its central role alongside work, we will have to rethink the idea of wealth and its distribution as well. “A post-capital society” would also mean that taxes will have to be collected in another form than money (an idea explored in this paper). Similarly, benefits such as basic income should be paid in something more directly useful than money, in basic productive capacity that is becoming abundant, such as free and equal access to new and emerging general-purpose technologies: capacity in computing, AI, 3D printing, DNA analysis, robots, (renewable) energy and so forth. These general-purpose technologies, as a result of a radical drop in their price and the difficulty of protecting the intellectual property related to them, become easily concentrated (in ownership) in the hands of a few and the services through which they are dispersed.

This type of post-scarcity and capital world is, of course, still some decades away, but requires that serious thought must be given to it. Therefore, we must already propose framing basic income as a basic tool for production, a seed money for the people, as an embodiment of the right to produce and participate in the common good – as opposed to an unemployment benefit that helps individuals to cling onto the search for work. For the difference between the two is stark: either basic income is a quick fix for a society where work in an industrial setting is the norm, and it provides a cushion for those times you are not employed by the “factory”; or, conversely, basic income is a universal right to produce and contribute to society as an autonomous actor.

If automation really can work at these levels, I foresee amazing possibilities.

WORK: I see the *possibility* for a post-scarcity economy where poverty is abolished, and people only work at things they are truly interested in. For example, I’m interested in restoring the environment. Will I be able to log in to my computer in the morning and discuss with ecological experts how the great environmental clean up is going? Will I then be able to direct a fleet of drones as they remove ocean plastic, kill Crown of Thorn Starfish pests on the Great Barrier Reef, or even as they hunt plague species in the Australian Bush like rabbits and feral cats and dogs and pigs? Will the top 5% of the smartest people still work as scientists to advance medicine and science and engineering, while the rest of us contribute brainstorming ideas now and then from all the extra documentaries we have time to watch? We could make time to develop attractive town squares for each neighbourhood where we have regular coffee and brunch and discuss issues of the day. Work becomes exercising our dominion over the earth, our influence on the world around us, and we’ll have more time to debate what all that means in nicer civic environments because we have so much more time to spend in our own neighbourhoods. We’ll be like the Ancient Greeks, engaging social life in the local sphere. But we’ll also have the modern advantage of going online to follow international issues as well. We should be able to skip between different fields, learning to cook for a while and experimenting with various recipes. If we nail the perfect recipe, we teach the robot-chef and it will do it perfectly every time you ask for it. ‘Work’ could become customising various things, from meals to your garden layout to which particular 3d printer setup you want. It’s about deciding the theme for your household layout, not having to dust and vacuum and stack the dishes every single day of your life. Work becomes the good stuff, the fun stuff, and sharing the results online. It becomes a conversation about what we value as individuals in our various webs of complex and ever shifting online cultures.

REST: I wonder if weekends will be understood to be about family social times, and weekdays will be when people volunteer to exercise their dominion over the earth — whatever that looks like?

PLAY: Boundaries between work and play will change. There will probably still be professional writers and actors and a Hollywood industry, but there will be vastly more cottage industry movies.

EDUCATION: Will our children be able to sleep in a bit more, and enjoy education that is kinder, and spread out over a longer period of time to maximise both their enjoyment of learning, and their ultimate human potential? Shorter school days, but more years to relax into education on the way to becoming adults? Will groups of parents attend the local school to make sure kids are watching the educational videos and doing the online tests? Will playground lunchtimes become community events now that parents are able to spend more time with their kids?

POWER AND DEMOCRACY AND ‘CULTURAL CAPITAL’:
People get so much of their ‘identity’ from their work and what they contribute to the world. Are we robbing people of this if we get robots to grow our food, build our homes, cook are meals and clean up afterwards? What are we left to do? How do we decide what people can buy and where they live now that raw, capitalistic wealth is not our main measure of power? What if most of us are on the same UBI?

I read a futurist / sci-fi book called “Distraction” by Bruce Sterling. About half of America is completely unemployed and have just dropped out of ‘society’ by creating their own high-tech hippie tribes, many of which are nomads. In this nomadic version, food comes from giant trucks that travel along the highways with them. The trucks harvest grass from the sides of the roads, and biodigests it into high protein noodles. Their nomadic culture is totally open source, with the new non-QWERTY keyboards and home grown software on home grown computers. (They even know how to brew up their own silicon chips). But who is the boss? Who is the tribal chief? How is this decided? Well, by social media points of course! They spend their monthly allocation of points selecting the wisest, kindest person in the group to lead them. In a post-work, post-scarcity society, there will be more time to think about where and how you live, and social systems will be set up to vote on a lot of that. Do you have a neighbourhood with a sense of place, or is it a boring bunch of individualistic suburban boxes you go home to sleep in? Now that you have vastly more time to spend at home and exploring your local community, will you want to change your neighbourhood in certain ways? What if you could convince a bunch of your neighbours that over time, it would be excellent if the robots rebuilt your town to have a great town square and vibe straight out of a movie? Do you want to live in a town out of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or the Gilmore Girl’s American town square called “Stars Hollow”? What social and transport and cultural needs are there in your local neighbourhood? Who is lonely? Can you see your elderly parents more regularly? Who has a child with disabilities that might want a break from caring for them? With your basic needs met by the Universal Basic Income and robot-economy, will society move towards a more social economy, something to do with earning ‘cultural capital’ over time and then having a say on matters in your neighbourhood? Is there a town square that facilitates meeting the locals? Are there enough robot-cars and trains in your area? Enough trees? Enough art? Enough robot-police? Enough care for wildlife and gardens and local ecosystems? Will some people become real home bodies facilitating a real handing over of long term local culture, while others travel around more, adding to the variety and richness of each other’s experiences? What 1000 books do you want to read? What martial arts did you want to learn? What dance moves? What cooking? Does your local pub stock the right single malt Whiskey’s? Personally, after this list I’m rather exhausted thinking about all there would be to do if the robot UBI economy kicks in. We might have a far more participatory democracy in the future where all manner of things are voted on in your local area, or even your local pub.

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