Just today, I read an article on CNN.com that it’s forecasted by the World Economic Forum over 14 million jobs worldwide could be lost to automation by 2027. While I am glad that even traditional news outlets like CNN and 60 Minutes (when they interviewed the CEO of Google about AI and automation a few weeks ago) are starting to report this, I am disappointed that it seems like none of our elected officials (at least not here in USA) are discussing this. Back in the 2020 election, the only candidate that even addressed this is Andrew Yang. I highly recommend watching his interview with Joe Rogan on youtube even if it is a few years old. I also recommend Rogan’s interviews with Elon Musk.
I am convinced that mass technological unemployment is coming by the early 2030s, at least in developed countries. I’ve been convinced of this since 2013. As much as I love economics as a subject, I haven’t seen many economists discuss even the possible problems this could cause. Traditionally, automation has created more jobs than it destroyed and lead to enough resources and revenue being produced that social safety nets like unemployment insurance, public education, social security pensions, disability insurance, and Medicare could be funded. But, will this always be the case? If not, how do we adapt our society and cultural norms if it comes to where we have a society where less than half the working age citizens can even find employment that pays livable wages? Seems like a lot of people are at least 20 years behind on what the tech is already doing, let alone what it can do in the near future. Politicians are even worse, at least in my country. Then again, I don’t look to politicians to solve problems related to tech and science. Most simply can’t as most are lawyers by trade, they aren’t trained to solve problems related to tech or psychological problems associated with a loss of meaning and purpose.
Yes, tech has made it easier to communicate and learn new skills. Yet, has it made us happier and more hopeful overall? Probably not. Physically, our lives are far less taxing than even our grandparents. Yet, they are also more mentally stressful. Maybe that is why we are seeing more cases of mental illness, mass shootings, extremist politics, doomsday preppers becoming normal, and conspiracy theories becoming mainstream. Our Stone Age hunter brains are simply not adapted to dealing with issues like loneliness, information overload, abundance of resources yet lack of meaning and purpose. The human mind reacts to things like getting cut off in traffic or dealing with internet bullies the same way our Stone Age ancestors dealt with tigers and bears. Fight or flight may have been great survival strategies for most of our history, but it’s now causing us needless anguish and pain. I think one of the main reasons most people I know are nostalgic for past decades is that the world is changing technologically and culturally faster than most human minds can process and adapt to.
I don’t know how many of my readers have heard of the concept of Technological Singularity. But it’s a term for a hypothetical time in the future when our science and technology advance to the point where the changes are too fast for the human mind to comprehend and civilization is changed in ways that can’t be reversed. Some futurists, like Ray Kurzweil (chief AI engineer at Google) are convinced it will happen by mid century. Others, like Michio Kaku, think it won’t happen until the 22nd century. Others are convinced it won’t happen until centuries from now. Others are convinced it’s not going to happen ever. I imagine if our great grandparents could see the world of 2023, they would think “Aren’t y’all already there?” While I’m not necessarily worried about a Terminator or Matrix scenario, I am worried that most people simply won’t be able to mentally and emotionally keep up with changing skills and careers every few years. Being obsolete (at least in terms of job skills) is more likely than war against the machines I think, which will cause lots of problems on it’s own. Even I can barely keep up with just the news of changes in tech, culture, and geopolitics and I have the time to research these because my disability pension takes care of my basic needs. I think mainstream media is doing the public a disservice by not devoting more time to science and tech advancements. That’s why I haven’t watched 24 hour cable news since 2007.
Some people I know can’t do a proper Google search, get frustrated with automated customer service, and hate self check out at the Wal Mart. Yet I know children as young as five years old who can already use computers and smartphones, I know children who can already write computer programs and games, I know teenagers whose knowledge of internet, 3D printing, and robotics I probably will never be able to match. I worry about the widening knowledge gap even more than the widening wealth gap. Personally, I don’t bother with self check outs because I get everything delivered to my house. I even had Amazon delivery when I lived in the long term care facility. I guess my opinion on self check outs taking away jobs, well, people said the same things about self service gas stations in the 1970s and gasoline powered automobiles taking away jobs from horse stable workers in the early 1900s. Besides, delivery drivers and warehouse workers will probably eventually get automated too. As much as I love my parents and have known some really cool elderly people over the years, I fear the cynics may have been right when they said ‘science advances only one funeral at a time.’ I think the same could be said about cultural norms and social attitudes.
Speaking of funerals, there are now doctors and scientists who are researching longevity treatments and even age reversal medications. They’ve already been able to double the life span of lab mice and even reverse some aging in mice already. But this tech creeps me more than even book banning and cancel culture. Part of me hopes they fail, like everyone who has ever looked for the Fountain of Youth. I just fear that if we are successful in finding longevity medications that we will have a stagnation in culture and science. We already have wage and economic stagnation. Also, the gaps between the generations and the socioeconomic classes will become impossible to navigate. OK Boomer and Triggered Snowflake could just be a warm up for what’s to come in the next few generations. I mean, we already have 80 year old politicians and businessmen who obviously don’t need the money and past their prime who refuse to retire. I guess that power and prestige are just that addictive. I wouldn’t know. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Altered Carbon and Black Mirror. But even the Bible and ancient folklore talks about elders who lived for over 900 years. Maybe that really is possible with the right treatments. We are only in the beginnings of a new industrial and scientific revolution. Our institutions like politics, education, organized religions, legal, etc. have lost the confidence of the public at large. I think it’s because we haven’t figured out how to adapt to this new world, at least not yet. We’re just figuring this out as we go like with every other revolution. It could get real bumpy before we adapt. Buckle up.
These are just a few of the thoughts I’ve had in recent weeks even though I’ve been studying these topics for years. I am convinced that many people are not prepared for the advances coming within the next several years. We weren’t even ready for the covid pandemic even though pandemics have happened many times over the centuries. I don’t think we as citizens, our politics, or our institutions are ready for what could happen in terms of science and tech that we are already researching. There’s a Chinese saying that goes something like ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Could be both a blessing and a curse at the same time.