About three years ago Stephen Hawking took time out from his usual work to say this sort of thing: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” I think that’s not entirely likely, but I’ve come up with a horrid variant on the idea that I want to share with everyone. For fun!
Using this science-fiction-apocalyptic-horror-movie premise and throwing in some routine character development and some distracting side-plots, I’m thinking you might imagine your own movie synopsis and save yourself a couple of denominations by skipping a trip to your local cinema.
This may come as a small relief to you as you come to the end of my argument, which contemplates that movies won’t exist before long, because almost no one will have jobs to pay for tickets, and no one will be around to care. We’ll all be in prisons eating algae burgers.
There are actually two premises, one riding the other. The premise grunting at the bottom is that robots will replace almost the entire workforce of the world.
Of course they will. Fleshy employees are a pain, and if corporations can replace them with machines, they will. And they can. I’ve already talked at length here about this. If Uber gets permission, they’ll use AI-driven cars and cut out drivers. Bus drivers will be next. Supermarkets are phasing out human cashiers. Smart meters are going to eliminate human electric meter readers.
New jobs will be created but not at the rate that jobs are eliminated. For example, a janitorial crew might go from a team of four janitors to one specialist to manage multiple robot assistants. Don’t expect the one specialist to get paid four times what his predecessors were paid. The whole point is to not pay as much.
As human workers become inessential, many professional jobs will also become superfluous. When most of the jobs performed at financial institutions are done by machines, gleaming skyscrapers to house what were mostly just paper pushers will be unnecessary and replaceable by utilitarian structures to house the machines themselves. The demand for architects to create unique structures to appeal to humans will drop. The utilitarian structures will be designed by machines and built by machines, and won’t require aesthetic appeal.
The driverless cars will morph into driverless trucks shuttling machines and machine parts.
Thus springs up the second premise, to stand on the back of the first premise, and jump up and down like a monkey and hoot. The second premise is the elimination of most consumers.
It’s the inverse of Henry Ford’s idea that if you pay people a decent wage they will buy your goods with the earnings, so you’ll get it all back in the end.
Present-day corporations are not into that. They are setting their bottom lines above the heads of normal consumers. By eliminating the workforce they will eventually only need to trade with each other. No workers mean no consumers, no consumers mean the global economy can stop selling goods and services to humans, and can just feed itself and its corporate directors. For as long as there are corporate directors. And then the machines can just feed themselves.
And how are they going to deal with all the former consumer classes that will no longer be convenient?
Look around you. See all those homeless people around you? They’re the vanguard. They’re what everyone will be, temporarily, in the future.
I say temporarily because there is no way that the powers that remain will tolerate the numbers of homeless people we’re talking about. We’re talking about homeless populations more than a hundred times the size of what we see now.
They won’t have to tolerate them, because the art of criminalizing the inconvenient survival of humans has gotten advanced, having been practiced and honed on the vanguard, and because there is one more twist to take you to the end of your movie.
Prisons will be automated, too.
Oh, and when we’re all in prison charged with being inconvenient, we won’t be fed beef. We’ll get algae burgers.
Your automated wardens will be programmed to say, “If you wanted better, you should have gone out and got a job.”
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his weekly dry verbal romp of the absurd column, Adventures in Irony.
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