Here Thar Be Monsters!

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18.1.17

Asking The Right Questions

In concept, I have no problem with robots.  The idea of having tireless machines doing the necessary labor to free up humans for higher pursuits sounds vaguely Star Trekky and Utopian.

Suppose robots tilled the soil, picked the fruits, delivered it to your door.  Suppose they built our houses, trimmed our lawns and rattled the pots in the kitchen.  Suppose they operated the generators, purified the water and produced our clothing.  Suppose anything we wanted or needed was delivered promptly to our doors around the clock every day of the year by machines that needed no sleep or vacations.  Suppose robots did everything for us so that we were completely freed of drudgery and able to pursue self-enrichment and art for the rest of our lives.

There'd be no need for money.  Who would you pay?  Everything is done by self-repairing and -replicating machinery.  The farms and factories would run themselves with virtually zero human input - oh, maybe the occasional check-in to see if the robots' self-diagnostics were sufficiently tweaked.  Maybe a handful of folks, on a rotating basis, to scan the error reports for problems the machines couldn't handle.

If there was no human labor, no person giving up a part of their life and talents to produce some necessity, and everything one could imagine came to the door within minutes of ordering, what would things cost?  After all, machines would mine the raw materials, refine them, recreate and train themselves, constantly maintain and upgrade the infrastructure of civilization - and all without a human even batting an eyelash in the direction of manual labor.  What would there be to pay for?

We wouldn't need governments because the machines would be self-regulating.  We wouldn't need banks or financial institutions.  There would be no markets to trade goods that are automatically distributed according to whatever is needed at any given location.

Machines would feed themselves and the rest of us with electricity that they produce as a matter of course.  They would refine, process and package our goods, collect the trash, recycle it and produce something else with the materials.

The machines would routinely maintain parks and recreation areas.  They would scurry out at night to repair roads, cars and aircraft every night, so that the next day, everything was in perfect operating order.  They would operate the amusement parks, constantly swim around the oceans clearing trash and pollutants.  They would fan out across the Solar System, using whatever resources locally available to pre-build colonies that we would blithely inhabit once they were fully operational.

Humans would thus be free to study and learn, think and create art, explore and aspire.  No longer constrained by government or labor, humanity would blossom into a benign race of hyper-intellectuals, focused entirely and for life on developing our minds and souls, each of us becoming demi-gods aided and abetted by semi-autonomous creations.

When you think about it, it sounds wonderful.  There would be no elites, everything we need and want would be provided in lavish amounts completely free of cost of any kind.  Money would vanish, becoming a quaint old idea.  Every individual would be free to consume the entire creative output of humanity and then add new concepts and ideas to the greater good.

It sounds wonderfully idyllic.  It sounds too good to be true.

We must assume two possible outcomes: 1) all of humanity, collectively and individually, grows to the next level of self-actualization, or 2) an elite determines that it is the sole beneficiary of this paradise and the rest of us need to be eliminated.

Given the history of humanity, I suspect the latter scenario is the most likely.

Whatever the outcome, we have taken the first steps towards this destination.  The EU has passed legislation granting robots "electronic personhood," and the concept of universal guaranteed income is being bandied about as a solution for displaced labor.

At some point on this path, money must become obsolete; after all, who needs cash when everything costs nothing?  Governments and corporations become redundant, because the production and distribution systems are completely automated.  Eventually, a whole bunch of people become unnecessary to those who fancy themselves the rulers - and certainly more valuable than the rest of us.

It seems to me the real conversation here is NOT what will happen to humanity when the machines take over, but what will happen to the elites?

If there is no need to governments, money or economy even vaguely resembling what we know now, doesn't that really make the elites redundant?  Doesn't the complete democratization of knowledge and necessities really mean there is no place for an elite?

Perhaps we are now witnessing the end of Controllers.  Perhaps the fear and loathing many of us have noticed on the parts of the elite is really the horrifying realization on their part that they are quickly becoming superfluous buffoons who are powerless to control resources, and thus the rest of us.  What happens when there are only a few thousand self-proclaimed and out-moded elites and a few billion of the rest of us who are suddenly freed from the day-to-day grind and have time to think, read and ponder?

Suppose the Neo-Populist movement sweeping the world is just the opening salvo across the bow of the elite class, and that at some level - mostly subconscious at this point - we all realize what is coming and what it could mean for all of us?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question here.  It is not what the elites will need with us when the future arrives, it is what we will need with elites when we are all members of that class?

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