As a literary genre, I find science-fiction to be tired and lacking vitality. The generic conventions so constrict narrative freedom that most science-fiction books I’ve read seem replaceable and repetitive.
The same applies to most science-fiction movies.
Whenever I watch a sci-fi movie, especially ones populated with robots, I just can’t help but think: what the hell do all these humans actually do?
The history of the human race can be traced in the history of its occupations. To give an example I’m intimately aware of, the much maligned caste-system in India was originally devised as a means to delineate occupations according to abilities. Thus, the strong were made warriors, the intellectually inclined became scholars, and the craftsmen picked up vocational trades. Soon, these occupations became ossified, and some, stigmatized. Consequently, the modern-day Indian caste-system was born.
Other than a brief introduction to Indian cultural history, this detour serves as a reminder that for as long as we’ve existed, we’ve tried to seek out useful employment. From the stone sharpeners and hunters to modern day engineers and manual laborers, largely, we all seek something to do – for money, for food, for sanity.
The Human Cost of Technology
The 2008 recession brought into sharp focus something we all knew but never cared to consider: that there aren’t enough jobs to go around. And there won’t be, anytime in the near future.
This recession felt different and has been difficult to get out of not merely because of the banking cluster-fuck, but because something fundamental had changed about our economies: we simply can’t create enough jobs anymore. All the talk of investing in progress and education and whatnot ignores this essentially, stark reality.
Technology has been gnawing away at jobs for the past three decades now, and it has finally bitten off enough to create a permanent void that can never be filled, unless we pull a Kaczynski and turn luddites. Manual work is being automated and outsourced; what took 100 men locked in a room 1 year to do can now be done by one computer in 1 month.
And as startup founders, we directly impact and lend a hand in this permanent job-downsizing. Greater productivity, efficiency, better, faster technology: all staples of every tech founder’s vision, point to one thing – that there will be fewer humans, more machines in our offices in the near future.
10 Billion Jobs for 10 Billion People
Given that all prognosis points to a future with artificial intelligence and robots capable of human tasks, is it inconceivable to imagine few employment options for a planet already bursting at its seams?
Even by conservative estimates, our population numbers should hit 10 billion by 2050. We are also expected to develop fairly intelligent and capable robots in the next four decades, perhaps robots not too dissimilar to the machines in iRobot. Conflate the two scenarios, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
Considering that we already find it difficult to employ the 7 billion people who populate our planet, how do can we possibly find enough work to do for 10 billion people when we have machines to be our maids, our plumbers, our manual laborers and construction workers, our farmers, our IT staff, and heck, even our writers and painters?
I know I sound like a fear-mongering paranoid Luddite, but think about this every time you see a new technology that promises to change the world. What it really promises is to increase efficiency by removing a human from the employment chain. Which is appropriate because that’s how technology must work – efficiently. But I can’t help but think that in 2050, I might be made redundant by a machine. And so will be my children.