The Future Part 1: The Part Where We all Lose our Jobs

Notice: This article likely contains hyperbole for either effect or humor. And in order to make things brief, it may over-simplify or make bold statements. If it seems like I am attacking you I assure you I am not, and if you disagree with any statements made or wish to elaborate some, feel free to do so in comments.

After reviewing this article before its publication, I have realized that I may sound a bit hard-lined or rash in it. I assure you I am not, at least to the severity it may appear. But I do believe that in order to get something said one must make up their mind to say something and then say something, and I think something should be said about this topic. This does not mean that I can’t change my mind later, though, and definitely does not mean I shouldn’t. Opinions exist to be discarded for better ones, and if you don’t agree with something being said, feel free to try and change my mind (politely if you can).

This is a topic on which I will write many more related articles, because the future is a scary place. And I find it interesting what conclusions I have come to “on my own” in regards to other people’s conclusions about the matter.

I’m not saying that anyone else would agree with me entirely on where we are going and how to fix future problems (or agree at all). But I have noticed some parallels in my thinking and that which I have been reading/watching. It is for this reason, though, that I won’t name any names.

I recognized some time ago that I was in the minority when it came to how I wanted copyright to be handled. In other words, I actually respected it, unlike a good 95% of the population does in some way. This is not to say I was perfect in doing so, but that is a tangent I won’t dive into. I recognized very quickly that people pirating things would slowly degrade the entertainment industry (enjoy your ads!). And it has, to some extent.

After some research and thinking, however, preserving the entertainment industry seemed more important to me than many other things. And this is because it will likely be the only industry in a few decades. And the decade after that it’ll be gone forever.

This is because we are approaching a pseudo-post-scarcity-economy (because a real one is technically impossible, but the real limitation isn’t that technical impossibility, but the many impossibilities before that). This is starting to take shape in post-scarcity-markets, where workers (or as I’m really discussing, machines) are in ready supply and at not much cost. Stores are now filled with self-checkout lines and security cameras. Sure, we still need people to restock shelves and to catch anyone who steals things (or, as in most cases, not to catch anyone who steals things). But, if you’ve been in a supermarket in the last few years you’d know that that is not really happening. Things aren’t really being cleaned up or properly restocked in most locations, because as the machines creep up, the value of these people’s work goes to 0. Both to them and to you.

A better example will be coming in the near future, when self-driving cars (that is a clunky name) start replacing taxi drivers, bus drivers, etc. Limo drivers will either be the first or last affected, I can’t tell. This seems wonderful, even though your citizen-taxi apps are now worthless you can be driven anywhere for minimal cost. You don’t even have to have a car. And the cars can be electric, and pollute the earth in less obvious ways. It’ll be great.

And a few years ago I’d’ve said that was great. I hated cars then: I still do, mostly because I was in high school and realized that if some of my classmates were driving, the world was not a safe place. So I stayed off the road. I didn’t want one of those idiots to kill me.

At the time I would’ve said self-driving cars (or the more train-like system I envision) would’ve been the savior of civilization. But then I saw their beginnings in television commercials: new cars that parked for you, stopped when you were about to hit something, and alerted you to potential problems. They had GPS and knew where you were at all times so they could call for help, and you didn’t have to worry about a thing. And I was immediately repulsed. I hated it. I wanted nothing like those things on the road. And if they became the norm I might not even ride in a car again (which would make my already difficult life even more difficult).

Now this is just my gut reaction, and based on no fact. And I likely hate this with more energy than its deserves. But that doesn’t make it a good thing. First off, if a manufacturer is to sell such a car, they have to make sure it follows the law. The problem would arise when the people who abide by the law and sit in their regular cars would be at a disadvantage to those who modified or used older cars to break the law. You end up with the gun problem, where the only people that have guns are the bad guys or the cops, and there aren’t nearly (nor will there ever be) enough cops to protect you.

It was a good idea by the state of California to require a steering wheel in the Google car, but that will only get so far before it’s eliminated. Then, suppose it happens in a life-and-death situation that you indeed need to run into something, and then your car suddenly stops short. You suddenly can’t veer off the road as someone comes screeching up behind you with an assault rifle because your car won’t let you. And what will self-driven cars do with the more benign desire that people like me have to go out into the desert or the forest sometime, away from paved roads? That’s someplace that the new self-driving cars would never go.

But the real problem here isn’t the fact than a minority of people like me might hate it, but that the majority of people will like it. And that cars that drive themselves are the future of all transportation. And they will eliminate the large portion of the workforce that I mentioned earlier. And those jobs are irrecoverable: these people will be unemployed forever. And I mean forever, because there is literally no new job market that needs those people. Every job market is already bloated. Everyone already wants your job, or your friend’s job, and now these people will, too. They will quickly be joined by everyone from the supermarket, because if a robot can drive a car it can stock shelves. In a decade or two (starting right now: I mean right now) the majority of the people you know will be unemployed. And no new market is coming to save them.

But this is where pusedo-post-scarcity comes in. If we have robots making our food (farm equipment is already starting to run itself), delivering it to the store, stocking the shelves, and driving us there (why doesn’t it just drive the food into our mouths?) then why couldn’t we just all take what we need and share the cars, and live a happy little small life? To which I reply “The reason I didn’t share my toys in Kindergarten is because other people are absolutely terrible at taking care of things”, or “People suck and are selfish and will always want more than they have”, (but I only say the latter during parties I don’t want to be at).

1984 is an uninteresting book that I hate, (it’s one of the few books I won’t keep a copy of, but that’s more because of the memories associated with reading it while my feet nearly froze off) but it contains a wonderful example of this. If you’ve read it, you remember when Winston is remembering his childhood, and his Mom is struggling to get food, they’re barely getting enough, and Winston is still eating more than his share even as his family starves. Things like that happen in real life. They are probably happening right now. And we might think we’d never do that, or that he was starving and not in his right mind. But think for just a bit more about that. Problems scale up with living conditions. We still think that the problems we have are as bad as problems that we’d have if we were much poorer. Our brain can only compute two types of problems: very bad, and life-threatening. That’s why first-world problems haven’t disappeared, even after we started mocking them. Our brain is still interpreting them as terrible problems.

Winston was in his right mind, as the human brain is selfish in many ways. So what’s to stop someone who’s more hungry on one day than the next from taking more than his fair share? If your answer is the store regulations, then he can just take it from someone else. And if your answer to that is an ever-present robot police force, congratulations, you’ve just graduated to tyranny.

But that’s just taking it by brute force. Why would you want to do that if you could just convince people (and the people bit is important, not the machines) that they should give you more? That’s really what Winston did, he convinced his mother to let him have more than he needed. There are always going to be people who want more and can convince people that they need more for various reasons. I’ll admit that I’m one. I do like having things and knowing things just to say that I do. And the way you get things is half the fun (read: haggling). I’m not saying I’d ever want anyone to suffer so that I can have more, but being able to have more than some other people is a key factor in keeping me moving. I wouldn’t be the one to be taking from people (and if everyone has the same thing, there’s always room to take), I’d likely just die, but there are people out there who want more than their fair share a lot more than I do, and they will use every trick at their disposal to take it.

But that’s beside my main point (although likely a more convincing argument), which is that I absolutely hate sharing things, and sharing my transportation, and goods delivery services, would again just make me curl up and die.

When I moved to the city I budgeted for a bus pass that I never got and never will. Why? Because public transportation is horrible, just like public restrooms, and public parks, and public everything (even libraries, despite that fact that no one goes into them). They’re all filthy and torn up, covered in God knows what. Public anything is terrible. Beaches and parks are covered in litter and clogged with people. I would never want to go to any of them, or use any public services, because some people are disgusting and stupid (and it not being theirs makes it easier for them to tear up someone else’s good intentions). That self-driving car that now belongs to everyone is going to be covered in not only whatever crap you had in your car (admit it: it’s a lot) but in what tens or hundreds of other people had in theirs. It’ll be awful. People don’t take care of their own things, and they’ll never be able to take care of a public thing.

The over-arching point of these last few paragraphs is that a post-scarcity economy with no jobs isn’t really that great in the immediate future, which would come as a big shock to the middle-school me who thought that was what we were all working toward (but that was before I got to high school and realized I hated people). People, when left to their own devices, are terrible. Many people will tell you that humans are naturally violent or selfish, while other, more optimistic people will tell you we are naturally good and will always move toward peace and helpfulness (I’ve got a few history lessons here). Either of these statements is like saying we’re born dead. They’re true if you give them enough time and the right circumstances. Studies show that a human’s first instinct is to help, but if they are given time to think over their actions, they will come to a more selfish conclusion. If you had to divide a cookie between you and someone else and they were in the room, you’d be likely to give them half. But if you were each shown the cookie and taken to a different room for a while to think about how to divide it, you’d be more likely to try and take the whole thing for yourself.

That isn’t the best example. So I’ll try another: say the world is ending (metaphorically: there is a disaster), it’s the first day, you’re trying to escape as average Joe Person, and you hear someone who is hurt calling for help as they’re being bandaged by someone who is well-prepared with a basic supply kit. You’d likely try and help them, maybe join their group and get out together. After all, you weren’t prepared, so this guy who is prepared will benefit you. Bam, right there; the thought of the supplies came after helping this person get out. When given time to think, your decision to help makes more sense for more selfish reasons (unless you didn’t try to help in which case you better have a very good reason).

But fast-forward a few more weeks into the disaster and that person won’t be calling for help, because instead of a friendly, helpful person like you on day one, they’ll find you partially starving, alone, and with a lot of time to think. And that version of you would kill them and take the supplies, because someone else would just slow you down, and you’re barely making it anyway. The more time you have to think, the more selfish things make sense.

Now that I’ve said why the new world with all of the jobs being replaced by machines won’t be wonderful, I guess I’ve got to say something about how to fix it. And I’d say that at the moment we have no real way to fix it (except the super easy one which I’ll cover later). Many people will be unemployed by these machines, and there won’t be some utopia for them to go to. And, with most of the jobs the machines are going to take, there won’t be any reason to start using humans again. The first part of the future, as in the next few decades, will begin to fill with unemployable people that we don’t have the systems or the culture to handle. I don’t have a solution, really, and I know that seems like a lame way to end an article. But the real point here is that we are going to need to find a solution: we absolutely have to. And maybe if I think and talk a little more, and you think and talk a little more, then we can find a solution to this.

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