The Future: Who Says Robots Will Occupy Our Occupations?
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Nobody can accurately predict the future yet today we’re being told that a humankind smart enough to create robots is too stupid to create whole new industries and institutions for itself.
People who buy into this are helping to create a perfect storm that will benefit authoritarian collectivists, progressives, social justice warriors, income redistributors and statists of all kinds.
Demanding a $15 per hour minimum wage is steadily driving fast food operators and many other businesses into the mechanized arms of robots to automate their operations. But robots, we are told, will drive low-skilled workers and eventually everyone on the planet into joblessness and hence into poverty.
And this is helping statist technocratic apparatchiks convince people that whoever is still productively employed should be heavily taxed and their money redistributed to everyone without reservation in the form of a $10,000 per year guaranteed Universal Basic Income payment so everyone can magically live at the expense of everyone else.
YOUR LIBERTARIAN OPINIONIZER’S PICK: A question on Quora, “What do Libertarians think of Technological Singularity” turned up “the rather libertarian outcome” of Daniel Suarez's "Daemon" book series. (His novel “Influx” won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Award for Best Novel of 2014). So maybe science fiction rather than science might better answer the question of whether technology will become infinitely expanding and therefore destroy humanity or whether humanity can learn to control its own technology.
Libertarians, by definition, are skeptical of authoritarianism in all its forms. The technological singularity should be no exception.
Except, of course, those same statist technocratic apparatchik authoritarians always find a way to climb into coercive hierarchical positions that libertarians have come to accurately identify as “criminal organizations,” commonly called governments. They will be certain to write tax loopholes making themselves primary beneficiaries of all that confiscatory taxation while exempting themselves from that same heavy taxation. That, after all, is precisely why governments are created in the first place and why psychopaths seek to control them.
The Robotics Revolution
The argument is that this Robotic Revolution, unlike the Industrial Revolutions of the past, just can’t possibly create more jobs than they destroy. Even though every past advancement in human creativity not only bettered society and even produced whole new and never-before imagined industries robotics won’t. Robots, we are told, will take over every human activity and leave the mass of humanity to starve to death.
In the long run, we are told, there will be nothing that people can do that robots can’t do better. They can maintain themselves and even design and build new robots that will replace even themselves, endlessly, forever. They won’t even need humans to write software code because they will be able to create stronger, better programming faster than humans can.
Movies, music, literature, art, anything based on human creativity, imagination and innovation? Future robots will even do that better than humans someday. All it takes is creating basic templates that can be endlessly modified to produce endless outcomes. Such templates, or formats, have been known to writers for a very long time. Whether all literature consists of one basic plot (conflict) or 3, 5, 7, 20, 36 or some other number as some contend, the variations are endless.
Anyone who reads the same romance author over and over already knows all about the human-created template. None of this would be the slightest problem for super advanced computer algorithms to reproduce storylines in all of their infinite variations. Same goes for music, movies, painting, sculpture, architecture and all the rest.
Who Will Boss the Bots?
In such a future scenario why would robots need humans at all? To protect us from ultra-advanced robots science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced his “Three Laws of Robotics” in a 1942 short story and popularized them in his “Robot Series” that included the SF classic “I, Robot.” The Three Laws are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The problem is, of course, that once robots get just as smart as humans they can simply rewrite the laws that govern themselves just as humans continually do. Then where are we?
The whole argument that robots will take all jobs away from humans and drive humans into poverty and ultimately extinction is the Luddite argument. The original Luddites were the people in England who broke into factories from 1811 to 1813 and destroyed industrial power looms because they were putting individual cottage industry loom-workers out of business.
But that wasn’t the end of humanity. First, many of those same people came to work in the factories. Second, the whole society benefitted from the cheaper products that resulted. Third, other people went on to create whole new industries never before even remotely imagined at the time, and many of those house-bound weavers eventually found different, and maybe better, jobs.
Those and subsequent Industrial Revolutions – we are now considered to be in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by some – eventually lead to cars, airplanes, nuclear-powered ships, space flight, artificial organs and transplants and the digital age of computing and communications. Does anyone really think that "Ned Ludd" could have possibly foreseen or even dreamed about any of these human advancements in 1811?
So why then do so many people think that robots replacing human workers is any more of a “Humanity End Game” than factory looms replacing cottage looms? Why isn’t it possible for humans to stay in charge of their own robotic creations by inventing whole industries that we can’t imagine? Or creating whole new concepts of what it means to be human.
Cyborgs and the Singularity
What if all of humanity evolves into “cyborgs,” an acronym for “cybernetic organism,” people who are a synthesis of both organic and biomechatronic body parts, of both biological and digital brain power? It’s what many are calling the “technological singularity” in which homo sapiens and sentient technology merge and become indistinguishable.
(A robot, to be clear, is not an artificial intelligent being but just one type of container for artificial intelligence (AI). Another type of container would be a supercomputer. Another, plausibly or not, would be a human being.)
And somewhere mixed into all of this is the Biotechnology Revolution, transhumanism and our post-human future.
Sound Grotesque? Terrifying? Repulsive? Cyborgs exist already. They’re all around us. People are living today as a fusion of human tissue, bone, and blood with prosthetic limbs, artificial organs like hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs, and embedded with hearing aids, optical lens implants, and neural monitoring devices in their brains.
Wheelchair-bound theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking with his computerized speech synthesizer may be the best known “cyborg” in the world. What if humanity merges with machines and become immortal? What incredibly new kinds of humanoid/human industries will emerge from that?
Nobody Knows the Future
Or, conversely, since we don’t know the future, what if humans maintain control over their robotic creations and simply continue to evolve as biological beings? What sorts of robot-immune human-only industries will emerge in that scenario?
Will telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, timewarping, shape-shifting become the new unimagined industries of the future? How would any of that work? Who knows; it’s “unimagined,” remember? Nobody today can imagine tomorrow’s unimaginables any more than a Pony Express rider delivering letters written on onion-skin paper could possibly have imagined today’s globe-straddling digital satellite-enabled texting from the palm of a child’s hand.
Nobody can accurately predict the future. Many learned critics don’t believe that artificial intelligence can ever approach the power and diversity of human thought, and others reject the very idea of a “singularity” in any of its many meanings.
And here’s the primary thing that will stop the singularity, robots, and infinitely-expanding software algorithms: When they threaten to take jobs away from politicians, lawyers, corporatist CEOs, lobbyists and Banksters. Then laws will get written and severely enforced to guarantee the elitists’ positions of power and wealth.
Social, cultural, moral, ethical and other human considerations will also come into play from authoritarians and libertarians alike.
Still, in today’s culture it’s sexier being a Robot Apocalypse Predictor than a Naysaying Doomsday Denier. But that’s no excuse to let the power-grabbing money-grubbing ego-grasping government Luddites using the same old “Automation” boogieman to panic people into giving up their rights and freedoms so they can “solve” a problem that may never exist.
End Times tyrants don’t have Magic 8 Balls. They’re manipulating people with “the seen” (job-stealing robots) and “the unseen” (a human future). In economics Frederic Bastiat illustrated this as “The Broken Window Fallacy.” It’s easy to see how a glass-maker makes money by replacing a broken store window and the things he can buy with that money, but what’s unseen is how the store owner loses money by paying for the window replacement and therefore we can’t see the things that he is therefore unable to buy.
This same seen versus unseen lesson needs to be applied to every aspect of our lives, not just economics. That means the key to everyone’s future is not allowing ourselves to be bought by minimum wages and guaranteed incomes that turn us into little more than robots ourselves.
Nobody can accurately predict the future, yet today we’re being told that people smart enough to create robots are too stupid to create whole new human industries and institutions, and maybe even a new Human-Humanoid social order in which human cyborgs with their prosthetic body parts and enhanced biological minds fully interact with robots having human-engineered bodies and self-evolved software minds.
The key is a free and open laissez-faire libertarian society with an always-open future where politicians, bureaucrats and petty apparatchiks can’t use the coercive monopoly powers of government to enrich and empower themselves while shutting down initiative, imagination, innovation, ingenuity and inventiveness.
It’s that never-ending competitive spirit, always creating new industries, new life experiences, new human interactions, that keeps all of us going toward tomorrow, forever.