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Our Silicon Overlords

Entry 1700, on 2015-02-06 at 20:52:39 (Rating 3, Comments)

A recent report predicts that one in three jobs could be taken over by a computer or a robot in the next 20 years. Already computers are doing a lot of the work that humans would have done in the past. Now these tasks have started to encroach into the areas where humans might have previously thought that a lot of skill which only they possess was needed.

For example, in some law firms, junior lawyers are being replaced by programs that can quickly scan documents in search of evidence, and in hospitals some pharmacists' work is being taken over by drug-dispensing robots. Plus several teams are working on self-driving cars and in at least one case that is ultimately intended to replace taxis and other commercial vehicles driven by humans.

Many people think this trend signals the end of civilisation as we know it. Well yes, it does; but I, for one, welcome our new silicon overlords.

You see, despite what many people believe, the current arrangement we have where people have formal work is not a natural or inevitable consequence of human societal evolution. Work is in many ways an invention of the agricultural, and then the industrial revolutions. During those two huge changes in human history society changed despite what a lot of people wanted (and these people, such as the Luddites, had a point). Now we just have to accept that it's going to happen again. We must un-invent work.

I don't want to suggest that everyone should just sit around all day chatting on Facebook or watching YouTube movies - although many might want to. I think everyone has something they would prefer to do if they could and in the wider meaning of the word that could be classified as work. Some people might like writing, others might like gardening, or building stuff in their workshop, or reading, or performing music. When the machines do all the tedious stuff this is what humans should be doing instead.

People with no imagination will say "but who will pay you for doing that?" That's the problem though, people have been brainwashed into thinking that the current economic system has some inherent inevitability. But it hasn't, because it's just something that has been inflicted on the world as a result of those revolutions I mentioned above (especially the industrial revolution of the late 1700s) and then taken up as the Protestant work ethic.

If machines can do most of the work humans do now and if that then means humans are free to do the type of activities which might now be seen as recreational, does that not indicate that the social and economic systems we currently now have should change to accomodate this new reality? Why should we try to adjust the effects of the next great revolution (which we are already in and could be called the information or automation revolution) to fit in with the outdated economic system we currently work under.

Critics of this idea will accuse me of being lazy and just wanting to live in a society where I get everything for nothing, but that isn't true at all. In my spare time I do productive stuff - often more useful stuff than I do at work - such as writing programs, sharing interesting information on the web, setting up computers for people, and many other things. And I know plenty of other people who do a lot of really useful stuff in their spare time too. Work often just gets in the way of these more useful activities.

In many cases we are trying to make the old system work by just creating new, meaningless work. In my experience about half the people I know perform no useful function at all. They just have jobs which seem to exist because other useless people have created them. The world would be a better place if these people did actually just spend their life pursuing their hobbies instead. And this situation will get worse before it gets better - in fact it will never get better.

We live in a time of change but we should welcome this change rather than trying to stop it. Machines are better than us at doing many things already, and in the future they will be better at doing everything. Why fight against the inevitable?

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Comment 1 (4320) by Jim on 2015-02-15 at 19:52:43:

Typical leftist nonsense. Unless we can create greater efficiency for the economy by becoming more productive we will be buried by China and India who are prepared to work for far less than the average western worker.

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Comment 2 (4321) by OJB on 2015-02-16 at 09:51:20:

The point is that the greatest efficiency is often achieved when machines are used instead of people. Inevitably there will be a lot of people with no work, not because they are lazy but because the work simply doesn't exist. What should we do? Just pretend that the current economic model will keep working when obviously it won't? Or should we accept reality and create a new model? It has nothing to do with left and right, it is about reality versus fantasy.

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