This going to be a long post, but please bear with me. I have a series of questions as a bit of a thought exercise and discussion that doesn’t often get discussed in public, not even by futurists: How soon do you think it will be before we see mass technological unemployment and the 21st century version of The Luddites? Only in the last few months has the mainstream media started even talking about AI replacing and augmenting human workers even though I first read about in on futuretimeline.net back in 2013. Read Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity Is Near and all the works of Peter Diamandis shortly after. Neither of these guys, nor any other techies I’ve read in the last ten years, have discussed in detail how we as a civilization manage this transition. Every mainstream economist seems to think automation will create more jobs than it eliminates because that’s the way it’s always been. High rollers like Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger say AI will amount to nothing, at least publicly. But these are the same guys who missed out on the computer and internet revolutions years ago. Their investors missed out on a lot of profits by these two not putting even a few percent of their holdings into Silcon Valley firms like Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, and Google when they first went public. I was telling everyone I knew to buy a few shares of these companies back then. I would have but forums like robinhood didn’t yet exist. God forbid peasants like me make a few bucks through the stock market.
Been trying to tell everyone I know about this ever since 2013. Most people outside my facebook techie groups, until recently, thought I was a hopeless dreamer at best and a liar at worst. It’s only a matter of time before the mainstream media starts discussing technological unemployment as a daily lead story. And I am convinced the public at large will panic in unexpected ways, like people hording toilet paper during covid. But far worse.
Been recently reading about The Luddites in early 19th century England burning down textile plants and killing factory managers. These skilled craftsmen were suddenly without means to support themselves even though they spent years working on their craft. Imagine if college educated white collar workers with tens of thousands in student loans and hundreds of thousands in mortgage debts find themselves unemployed by the millions over the course of several years? Half of Americans already have less than 500 dollars of emergency savings. Almost half of current retirees have zero saved up besides social security in my country. Social security is a “pay as you go” system. Has been ever since it was instituted in the 1930s. And it’s funding comes from taxing current workers to pay for the retirees and disabled like myself. There are US government projections that the social security fund could run dry by 2035 if massive changes to the tax system and funding aren’t implemented. Since congress seems determined to fight among itself and do nothing, this could become a reality.
If this industrial revolution we are currently living through destroys more jobs than it creates, like some in my techie groups on facebook have been predicting for several years, how do we get the displaced workers and fear driven public on board? In my country, debt to gross domestic product (think annual wages if nations were individual workers) is already over 120 percent. Granted this isn’t as bad as many places, but my congress already wants to massively cut programs. That’s why it’s very possible the US could default on its loans eventually. Over half of this money is owed to US citizens. Only 4 percent is owed China anymore. They, along with dozens of other nations, have been slowly getting out over the last several years. So even foreigners know something is fishy about US money. Discussions on raising taxes haven’t gone anywhere for decades. We’ve actually been lowering taxes for years. My countrymen still complain about taxes even though are tax rates are lower than most developed countries. In theory, we can print money as long as people are willing to us it. Granted that’s how hyperinflation happens (meaning money becomes worthless). It happened even in the very advanced nation of Germany in the 1920s. Currently happening in Argentina, Turkey, among others. That economic collapse ultimately resulted in the Nazi Party taking power. Don’t think it can’t happen again in other rich and advanced nations. I’ve been scared of something like this happening in my own country ever since I read ‘1984’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ twenty five years ago. I’m more scared of it than ever now.
How do we handle the displaced hundreds of millions workers who simply don’t have the skills to level up or self educate? Do we try to institute a UBI system with our current economics and politics? Knowing my countrymen like I do, this will probably not be popular even if 50 percent of the workforce loses their jobs to automation. We can’t even get Universal Healthcare or High Speed Rail even though most developed countries have had these for decades. Do we drop the prices on everything so even people living on part time gig work and welfare can afford the basics? Do private foundations pick up where government can’t go? Do we just put 3D printers in every home, vertical farms in every town, and make money as unnecessary as possible? The ‘Not In My Backyard’ attitude is strong in my nation. We’ve known we have a shortage in affordable housing for years and we still won’t build cheap housing in most places. Personally, I’d rather live next door to a nuclear power plant than a cattle yard or oil refinery. Can we solve homelessness with rapid 3D printed homes and just sell these homes for cheap or even outright just give them away? Knowing my countrymen’s attitudes towards the homeless and poor, this doesn’t look like that will fly either even though we already have the tech to make this work. Most people in my society simply have no empathy towards the struggle of others until tragedy effects them directly. It’s why we had over one million people die from covid even though we were among the first to rapidly produce vaccines and effective treatments. A significant chunk of the populace, including most people I personally know, still feel lockdowns and mask mandates were a violation of personal freedoms. This is the case even though most people in my social circle know at least one person who died from covid. Some people are epically heartless and soulless. And most people in my social circles are regular church attenders.
I don’t know the answers to any of these. I haven’t seen any of this discussed by the public at large. This isn’t even on most politicians’ radar. Andrew Yang discussed this in 2020 only to get one percent of the primaries votes and dismissed as a communist. I still remember the press and his political rivals dismissing him as Comrade Yang. This isn’t the first time a fringe candidate was dismissed but years later proven right. In 1992, Ross Perot warned that globalization and free trade would destroy the middle class in America and most developed nations. He was dismissed as a crank by everyone from CNN to Saturday Night Live. Sadly, he was proven right years after the fact. We can’t count on most governments as they are decades behind the curve. It wasn’t until recently that the Biden administration appointed an “AI czar.” They are about ten years too late. I’m interested in hearing how other nations are planning on dealing with this. I truly believe we can have a great future as a species where even the poorest of poor people live well. But we seem to have no plans to manage the transition. Any thoughts? I always enjoy hearing from my readers.