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I am always astonished at how technology has made our lives so much easier in such a short period of time. My grandmother grew up in a time where there were no televisions, no commercial air travel, no washing machines, and life as a child meant lots of manual labour and taking care of your younger siblings, and long bike-rides to school! When her grandmother was growing up, there were no radios or cars, and much of the American west was still wild and free.
I don’t think we appreciate enough just how much the world has changed in just a few generations and how this change is accelerating; when else in history have things changed this quickly? If you were living in Roman times, your great-great grandparent’s lives were probably not much different than your own. If living in prehistoric times, there was probably no discernible difference at all. Now, change is measured in years and months.
What’s next? All of these technological solutions come with their own set of problems. Within a couple of decades, most cars will be automated and electric, and cost less than gas-powered vehicles. How will we deal with the huge increase in traffic that will come about? Automated driving can help, but to a certain extent. How will we deal with the existential risks posed by bio-engineering and nano-technology?
What I think is the biggest issue to come: How will we humans deal with a world driven and powered by machine intelligence? As a software developer, I fully expect that most humans will be unemployed by 30 to 40 years out, and that while my profession will be one of the first to get hit, no profession will be immune, whether it be white collar or blue collar.
- Do you drive as a living? Robots will replace your job with their unwavering attention and accident-free driving.
- Do you work in construction? Robots will be able to get the job done more quickly, and without losses from workers’ compensation or unions.
- No profession will be left out. Haven’t you seen what Jude Law was up to in the movie A.I.? 😉 As weird and far-fetched as this seems right now, every culture has done things that seem quite bizarre to other cultures, and I do think that this will become a reality for many people. Why not? Robot partners will never nag, complain, or be selfish.
How will we humans survive? How do we ensure that AI doesn’t kill us all? While people are focused on nuclear weapons and terrorism, I actually think that it’s artificial intelligence that poses both the prime existential risk and the salvation for our species. If you’re working on AI (to a certain person that might be reading this post, yes, I’m directing this at you!), you could either be complicit in the death of billions, or responsible for the one thing that can solve all of our world’s problems. Are you taking your work seriously?
Let’s say that AI has taken over most professions. What then? How do we survive?
- World output will be huge. Humans need never work again, but…
- How will this output be distributed? If it’s based on property rights, what happens to people who have no property? If it’s based on socialism, what happens to those who fall out of favour with the central dictatorship? And…
- AI will out-think us in every possible way. All rights and morality are pleasant fictions that derive both from our evolved behaviour and our reason; they help us to coordinate and avoid descending into a hellish nightmare of all against all. When power disparities are great enough, all that matters is what the universe allows. The universe allows us to destroy the habitats of monkeys and violate their “rights”. Why would a vastly superior intelligence have any interest in respecting our rights, when there’s not much we could do to actually defend them? We would be like monkeys or ants to them.
I understand the appeal in living for the moment, enjoying a nice ski run, a vacation on the beach, and I do love all of that stuff. 🙂 However, our future and the future of our unborn children includes a world where this stuff is going to become a reality, so I do spend a lot of time thinking about this. Will we make it through? What will the world be like on the other side? Will it be a utopia on Earth, or are all the sci-fi writers right about their pessimism?
A special thanks to Rob Carrick for featuring IIW in his personal finance reader!
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Have a good weekend, all!