If you're a dork like me, there's a good chance that you believe humanity is fast approaching the Singularity, which, speaking conservatively, will probably occur within the next 100 years (assuming we survive that long). This is the point when artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence, whereupon it can rapidly improve itself at accelerating rates beyond our comprehension. Lots of geeks all over the planet are looking forward to the rapturous enlightened time when we will be able to commune harmoniously with our future machine friends and benefactors and everything wrong and outmoded will be changed for the better.
It sounds great to me too. But hold on...
Before we reach a machine-intelligence singularity, we are surely also about to hit another major period in human history, which I will call the obsopocalypse. The obsopocalypse is a coming explosion of the obsolescence of the human workforce brought about by technological sophistication -- such as automation, robots, narrow artificial intelligences and perhaps artificial forms of life. What the heck is society going to look like if we reach a point where 50+% of humans have no means of adding value to the workforce?
Most mainstream economists and futurists I've seen who are questioned about this concern do not appear to take the possibility of technological unemployment seriously. But I've found that their responses tend to be faith-based more than anything else, believing, or perhaps pretending, that there is nothing to worry about since the 'market' is an infallible system that will correct itself in any way necessary to benefit mankind.
As an alternative to traditional jobs, the word 'innovation' is bandied around greatly by economists speculating on the future, as though everyone whose job has been lost to a metal claw is expected to become a successful entrepreneur instead. Such economists never, to my knowledge, manage to specify realistic sources of work that will be able to absorb the displaced billions.
If the obsopocalypse is an accurate prediction, then the event will completely alter human civilization beyond recognition, for better or for worse. There is a great danger that humanity's utopian dreams of abundance, formerly a common theme in the popular science fiction, will be permanently crushed in this period, for reasons I will go into later.
I believe the obsopocalypse will happen within 50 years -- a pretty conservative estimate compared to what many celebrated futurists come out with these days (if Kurzweil is accurate in predicting the Singularity in 2045, then the obsopocalypse is likely to be closer to just 25 years away). In any case this is absolutely an issue of our times, and of our childrens', something that needs to be
urgently considered. Mobilizing any kind of global political response to the issue is naturally going to take years. Walking blind, the disruptive effects could be catastrophic.
If the current economic paradigm is still in place, the obsopocalypse will mean a huge swelling of the ranks of the desperate poor as wages are depressed and human jobs evaporate. It will also mean an
even more gigantic gap between the world's poorest and richest people, with dire implications,.
I hope that this blog will make a contribution to discussing possible futures we might create over the next few decades, and to catalyzing some steps towards change if they are needed.
Welcome anxious masses! I'd love to get a discussion going here, whatever your views. Don't be shy to comment on the guff I post... : )