The first is commonly known as the (technological) Singularity. Put simply, it refers to the moment in which a machine emerges that is not just smarter than humans, but smarter than the collective intelligence of all humans. The average prediction of various experts places this occurrence at about 2045. Which means it could happen much sooner, or much later – depending on the rate of technological progression. I won’t bother with references. You can look this up if you choose.
For me, the consequences are simple. And about three-fold. One: humanity will be capable of achieving a type of immortality, through people being able to upload their minds to what we now call the cloud. This will possibly also permit downloading minds into bodies of any imaginable type, not unlike in the Netflix series Altered Carbon. Whether one would actually want to be immortal or not, is worthy of an entire book. Two: machines will replace humanity as the dominant species of Earth, and possibly the universe. This might happen through the direct destruction or dying out of humans, or because humans fuse with technology to the point in which the cease to be explicitly human (cyborgs). Such an occurrence could be seen as evolutionary – as in the next logical step in human evolution is superior beings originally of our creation taking over.
And three (which leads me to the other thing I’m obsessed with): the current ownership class (the bourgeois) of humans (think Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch et. al.) use their ownership of the increasingly automated means of production to render the vast bulk of working class humans obsolete, perhaps homeless, or even liquidated by the very machines which made them obsolete. Frankly, as things currently stand, I think the third scenario is the most likely. Wealth inequality is at catastrophic levels, and the super-rich are showing no signs of either intending to, or actually balancing things out. While I admit this possible future might solve the problem of overpopulation, I also venture that technology advanced enough would solve the problem of overpopulation (and associated resource shortages and pollution and climate change) itself.
The second thing I’m obsessed with is called Universal Basic Income. UBI involves giving everyone, from poorest to wealthiest in society enough money to live on. Say four or five or six hundred dollars per week. Without any obligations in return. The idea is that they can then work or create/expand a business for more money. Or they can travel the world eating banana sandwiches. Or they can become the artist they always wanted to be. And etcetera and etcetera. When I mentioned UBI to a narrow-minded but intelligent friend recently, he gave a cliched response, something to do with that it wouldn’t work because people need an incentive to work and excel and achieve. Unfortunately, what he didn’t grasp because he clearly hadn’t read into the issue is that, yes, UBI is not an incentive. It’s a tool. Much of the world is too impoverished to be really of any use to their fellow humans. You have to spend money to make money, as the old adage goes. But if you don’t have any to start with, then you can’t make any from it.
Current welfare systems across much of the developed world already seek to achieve this purpose. The problem is they provide a subsistence, not dignified, level of income. And they require recipients to look for work – ignoring the absurdity of such a requirement in a rapidly automating labour industry which is increasingly prohibitive of the sort of low skill, low wage people on unemployment benefits. UBI gives people enough financial power to not just survive, but live a comfortable life, and also possibly live an even more comfortable life if they wish to work/innovate/invent for it. UBI gives people choice. Freedom. Freedom they’re otherwise denied, whether they’re working or not. It gives them the ability to achieve their dreams – even if their dreams involve sitting around at home, ordering in pizza and buying products from the internet.
Another criticism of UBI is the cost to taxpayers. Firstly, it’s a “basic” income. They’re not going to be squirreling away much of the money. The vast bulk of it will be returned straight to the economy, and into and through again the hands of taxpayers. Secondly, even if they are saving a lot of the money, eventually they will make a big purchase with it. Maybe use it to create a product beneficial to mankind that wouldn’t otherwise had appeared. Third: the cost of current welfare systems are bogged down in their complexity. Their bureaucracy. The myriad different payments to and requirements from welfare recipients make up a sizable bulk of their cost. The argument goes that UBI would eliminate this complexity by giving everyone a flat basic income. Any losses of employment in the public or associated private sector would be mitigated by the fact that said unemployed would be receiving the UBI, and would now be free to pursue activities or work surely more enjoyable than sitting in an office unnecessarily managing the lives of society’s worst off.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophic event, or perhaps a foreseen one in the event of climate change, technological progress will only continue to accelerate. Humans will become, in a productivity sense, more and more redundant. Artificial immortality is an at the moment science-fictional ethical dilemma for individuals and their families. If humanity is replaced or absorbed by machines, then by then we won’t have much to whine about. But if the vast bulk of humanity is not just enslaved, but made redundant, homeless, starving by a tiny clique of super-wealthy elites who own all of the machines that produce everything, that would be the worst option for me and any children I might have (that currently I don’t want to have because I believe that’s exactly what might happen in their lifetime). Wealth will always be limited, depending on how much of the universe’s resources we eventually have access to, but it has never been more abundant. Why is it not psychotic that this world has several billionaires, while millions starve to death? We need to start asking ourselves, and our elected representatives, one simple question: is it necessary, or even humane, for people to be forced to work for water, food, housing, clothing, and small luxuries such as technology and travel, or otherwise languish in poverty?
I say no. Certainly not. And I hope for ever more agreement.