"After Your Job Is Gone" is a recent piece on Tech Crunch by software engineer and columnist Jon Evans. He paints a grim picture about the future of employment globally, warning that all professions are in danger because advanced technologies are destroying jobs faster than they are creating them. "The relatively few people fortunate enough to work in technology (or have the capital to invest in it) will grow steadily wealthier, even as more and more jobs around the world are replaced by software and drones and robots."
You've heard all this before, I know ... but here's where it gets interesting. Evans says he's looking forward to this future. Why? Because "the endgame of all this wealth creation, some generations hence, isn't a world of full employment. Instead it's a post-scarcity world of no employment, as we understand the word." He longingly describes a quasi-socialist future ... where super-technology eventually ensures that all societal functions are handled, basic human needs satisfied and most people can opt out of traditional work/labor altogether. In this future, the great mass of humans are provided a basic income for subsistence living, while a small minority — "tech workers, finance barons, and those who inherited their wealth" – live in opulence, naturally, for innovating us all to this amazing ... "utopia."
This is the stuff of science fiction novels/films and there's a community of people who believe that this future is not just likely, but something to be welcomed. Let's be clear, this particular post-scarcity vision of the future is not only unlikely, it's horrific — and here are 4 reasons why:
1. Anti-Social Culture
If artificially intelligent machines do eradicate the need for human labor, there is no reason to think that powerful institutions (present or future) will respond by providing for the general welfare. Evans does understand this, and says, "we'll need some pretty wrenching adjustments to [our] paradigm to deal with the changes to come." This is a gross understatement. The problem is not what he describes as a societal "assumption of mass employment," but that our culture is built around huge myths about "job creators" and "rugged individualism." It will take much more than a few progressive barons in Silicon Valley to push the culture toward facilitating a minimum income for people to NOT work.
2. Scarcity is Profitable
If our future selves manage to overcome that first huge obstacle through a mass cultural revolution ... we'll then face a powerful ownership class bent on preserving their status. Unlimited loaves of bread? Vaccines for everyone? Not if they can help it. Scarcity keeps prices high and keeps people wanting – there's no profit in being "post scarcity."” It's why Monsanto engineers seeds to self-destruct, and why publishers have their digital e-books self-delete over time. If technology does help us transcend scarcity, capitalist owners will need to remain relevant by refining tried and true techniques in marketing, planned obsolescence and Forced Artificial Scarcity (FARTS).
3. Democracy Anyone?
The good news is we beat obstacles 1 and 2 ... but the bad news is we've been pushed out of our jobs (and we don't control the means of production anymore). The good news is we might receive free subsistence income from the world's wealthy tech innovators ... but the bad news is that the consolidated wealth among a powerful cabal of too-big-to-fail tech giants (even worse than the present case) will have myriad negative results. With unprecedented power in so few hands to mold the world in ways that cannot easily be predicted, it would be foolish to assume that only benevolent, globally beneficial initiatives would arise from that situation.
4. What Wealth?
Evans says, "if jobs keep disappearing, while the overall wealth of America and the world keeps increasing, then we can expect initiatives like [federal disability/welfare] to keep expanding." Huh? Shiny products don't create wealth on their own. Nick Hanauer explains that wealth is created through a continuous feedback loop of consumers who can afford goods and services. Better hope that society's "basic income" will provide enough for us to afford the trendy floating skateboards and teleportation devices of the future.