Human built robotics are becoming mainstream; the advent of self driving cars is a perfect example of this. President Trump has tasked his Secretary of Transportation with evaluating the regulations for self driving cars that were set out under President Obama. Unlike many of Trump’s policies, this action seems genuine. This may be because no one on planet earth knows what to do about the rise of automation.
The difference that automation is beginning to make in our lives is significant, and most people don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. In the case of Trump, the SOT Elaine Chao and self driving cars, the changes to the economic landscape are profound.
Moving in New Ways
Probably the most important part of this whole issue is jobs, and what automation does to the current employment environment. While the technology is new, the dynamic is very old. We have been dealing with the unemployment that new tech creates for a very long time. Skipping the origin of the term “Luddite” will be done for the sake of brevity, but feel free to follow the link.
Surprisingly Trump’s pick for SOT isn’t a total shill, unlike most of his cabinet. And for once both the President and his appointee seem to get that driver-less cars will have a huge effect on the world economy.
If we expand the technology to commercial trucking, the effects become even more profound. A very large percentage of the people who are currently employed in the logistical sector will be unemployed if driver-less vehicles take off in a meaningful way.
A Social Question
When we look at the effects of automation, we have to be aware of its present potential. Up to this point in history, the idea of an economy that is utopian was a goal of social development.
It was something that we had to work towards.
Now, most of the vital systems in the advanced world are mostly automated, and the ones that aren’t will be soon. We are rapidly approaching a new era in human society when labor as an asset is largely obsolete.
We have power systems like wind and solar that need little more than construction and maintenance, and no need for the constant extraction of new fuel. Farming is mostly mechanized, and what labor is needed can’t contribute to social development. Automated systems build the technology that allow most of these other advancements to exist, so the need for labor in that area is minimal as well.
When we look at where people fit into this new economy, we really don’t see many places where they can participate. There aren’t many jobs in a mostly automated economy, so we are left asking what are all the people to do?
The Danger of Cheap Work
If a person can’t provide for themselves, they will soon find their situation intolerable. Our present economy relies an a consumer that can continuously purchace new items for the system to continue to function.
We can look at the automation at Amazon, and use it as an example of the dangers we face. This is a company that deals almost exclusivity in consumer products, and they are doing everything they can to employ as few consumers as possible. From the perspective of a single company, this makes a lot of sense. But when this philosophy is expanded to the entire economy, it begins to look self-defeating.
The other issue that emerges is what our consumer culture has engendered. The amounts of waste and stupidity that currently exist are sizable. If you look at what the average person in a developed country does with their “development”, we are forced to wonder if this is a situation that should be automated.
History shows us that automation makes anything more efficient, so what we are talking about in this case is a more efficient way to be stupid and lazy. Information has never been easier to access, and yet people are getting dumber with alarming speed.
We use our media outlets to show competitions among people who aspire to be famous, or record spectacles that add little to our body of knowledge. There is a tenancy to look at this situation in a conspiratorial light, but that suspicion is misplaced.
People choose to watch trash media, eat toxic food, and support businesses that make our situation worse. There isn’t some magic formula that allows 8 people to control half the world’s wealth. They are just good at giving people what they want. And people want to be in this situation.
If we want things to improve, we need to see this situation for what it is. People are just inherently bad at making decisions at a group level, and automating those bad decisions is going to make things a lot worse.
Have you noticed what people compete to do on these dreadful shows?
It’s always something like a singer or dancer. There are no shows where someone competes to be the best Andean potato farmer, but there should be. The traditional cultures of the world know how to survive, and the same can’t be said for the people in the midwest watching “Be America’s Next Famous Snack Cake”.
There was a time when they could, but it was more than 100 years ago. Now the situation has changed significantly, and the dollar store is seen as a means of survival. This is more or less the case in many areas of the developed world.
While we have the ability to automate an utopian society, we are actually automating a toxic social paradox that most people are completely blind to. The information is available, but watching kids sing and drinking noxious beverages is more fun.
The Value of Wealth
What is perhaps the most important thing to examine is how we view money. Automation has been pursued in human society because it is seen as creating more value with less work.
Automation has been seen as a benefit to humanity.
Sadly in the present situation, the potential that automation gives us is being used to create ever more powerful smartphones, so that people can stream “Be America’s Next Famous Snack Cake” in high definition while they shop at a dollar store for their food.
It is somewhat terrifying to take this era in history as the starting point for a fully automated society. We clearly have no idea how to allocate resources, and even worse, we don’t put value into education or healthy progress.
If the 8 richest people on planet earth did just go ahead and order their Amazon nightmare bots to slaughter the masses of consumers while “Be America’s Next Famous Snack Cake” droned on, I don’t think I could reasonably object.
Let’s take advantage of our potential, and learn how to build a society that isn’t toxic. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know what we have right now isn’t it.
The only optimism that I can muster in this situation is a hope for our potential to be realized. We have the ability, we just need to make choices that take advantage of it.