As machines outperform their human counterparts and take their jobs unemployment will rise to such an extent that solutions, like universal basic income or universal basic services, will become a necessity. In Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s father loses his job to a toothpaste machine but happily becomes the engineer to fix the toothpaste machine.
But machines are fast becoming so efficient as to seldom need repair, with the advent of artificial intelligence, they may even become able to repair themselves, to self-correct their software. Charlie’s father in our soon future will perhaps have nothing to do, no means to provide if provision comes from individual labour earnings.
Economic development has roughly followed the pattern of transition from agriculture to factories to services. (Though the best mix these as I touch upon here). In London, for instance, a lot of jobs are marketing and finance instead of phone production, as in Nanjing. And people in China now are transferring to cities and factories on the way to becoming competitive in services and manufacturing. A pace their compromise between socialism and capitalism makes the most rapid growth in all of history. Where that path will head with mechanisation, where skilled and less skilled jobs alike are overtaken by machines is pessimistic to foresee. Banking, the stock exchange, material goods are exchanged between countries, but the wealthier nations and their wealthy people dominate such exchange by owning more. For all reason it will be the same in widespread automation: there is no capitalist reason to share with the unemployed or impoverished. Moreover, the path of development will be in jeopardy because the usual model of labourers serving rich countries appetites as developing countries become wealthier will no longer be feasible: the factory workers that make our screens and phones will be unemployed by better, faster, stronger, tireless machines.
The scale of mechanisation making so many jobs redundant will literally change the world economy, inevitably. Luddite protectionist policies where machines are prevented from taking jobs as in Bill Gates’ proposal for a robot tax, or people being jobless yet provided for seems to be the only hopeful result. Both of these are government-led and will be, of course, debated; the real fear is a country breaking the rules to get ahead and then that spinning out of control, as nuclear weapons have in North Korea.
There are voices that say robots will create new jobs for humans, but without much suggestion as to what they could be since relying on past trends assumes that trend will come to an end in the way this exponential will not. The displacement of workers would mean socialism, (not communist utopia) or the middle classes made into a disenfranchised proletariat. As capitalism came from technological forces – the industrial revolution, – perhaps this machine revolution will be its end as we know it.
The world became capitalist from the 1770s steam industrialisation of Great Britain. European nations economically competed in trade, while conquering the world and forcibly exporting the capitalist system and Christianity to the world. Americas, India, Australia, Africa were sliced up into empire. The New Empire, the U.S.A, used government to build infrastructure to compete with The British Empire via The Infant Industry argument. Having taken over already occupied land from France and Spain including Texas, California, Missouri, Indiana and so on, to make the states (Alaska, Hawai’i were over later on). Japan was forced to trade with America or Tokyo be bombed by American ambassador Commodore Perry, In 1905.
Eurocentrism spread across the earth with Democracy, The Individual, and Rights lifted from British philosopher John Locke’s writing and put down by the American founding fathers. Empirical science laid out by David Hume became the measure of assumed progress in medicine, and superstition free lives; but also became the means to oppress non-nations and beat other nations via improved weapons.
What Will The Future Hold?
The ever expansion of capitalism and the associated ideas of selfhood, individualism, rational self-interest, the necessity of work, will be inevitably challenged, if not upended. Human work will likely become what it always has been–the means to societal made ends, rather than objectively needed.
It could be the end to wage-slavery and a socialism envisioned by Marxism and Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism. Or apocalyptic anarchy and existential anguish as people are at a loss of how to spend their time.
The reluctance to change the status quo even to instigate a worldwide carbon tax to economically save the planet would suggest anarchy is more likely. Stephen Hawking agrees.
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
The reluctance to adopt universal basic income will make a jobless future probably more disaster, with innumerable victim to existential dread at the exposed arbitrary nature of non-necessity or necessity of our work and play, but that dread feeling could well be edited out of our D.N.A by then, with Crispr–
All in all, I like to think it will be the start of Star Trek; an ideological utopia but that would be wrong. What a tremulous thought, that what we do could well be automated to an extent beyond chauffeurs and taxi drivers becoming mapped self-driven cars. A computerised future will be dim before it is bright – if it is ever bright at all. And perhaps Luddite policy will be the only solution, as it already is for preventing the use of killer robots in war.