Are technological solutions that increase systemic efficiency by huge leaps, but also make large sections of the society redundant, a good thing or bad?
Historically, such dramatic improvements have led to a surplus of human capital, which have then ushered a new age for mankind. Agriculture, steam, electricity, computers, etc all led to completely new lifestyles for most of the world’s population. But such technologies were NOT owned by just a single corporation (or two, or three). The new technology would slowly, but definitely, spread across different populations. The power that these technologies accorded to those who possessed them was limited. And that is not true of the new breed of disruptions – Uber / self-driving cars / AI / etc.
Earlier systemic improvements took a couple of generations to spread worldwide. It gave individuals enough time to see, learn and adapt the new technologies over a couple of decades. But the new disruptors, like Uber have only taken a couple of years to not only spread worldwide, but become a dominant force in the local economies. These disruptions threaten the lifestyles of millions who are not equipped with any of the tools to defend themselves against them. Even if they wanted to, they simply cannot in a few years get up to speed with the depth of the technology required. Governments the world over have already failed at providing them the tools to upgrade their skills – to empower them to compete at the same game. Would the human surplus that would be created today be able to sustain itself while they adjusted to the new ways of life?
Should individuals be sacrificed in the short term, for the possibility of a longer term improvement in mankind’s condition? It’s easy to say yes, until you realize that you yourself will most probably be made redundant in next decade or so by AI, irrespective of your job today. It is also easy to say no, until you realize that if you don’t aid in creating the next technological disruption, some one else will, and you will then definitely be made redundant in the next decade or so.
If you play the game, you lose. If you don’t play the game, you lose.
The only way to win, is to create the game. Or at least, fundamentally change it.
One answer to this might be the open source movement – and their equivalents in the future.
Could there be an open source, community owned Uber that distributed the costs and the profits from operating it amongst the people of the community?
Could there be an open source self-driving car that could be leveraged by people all over the world that is owned, operated and governed by the community that uses it?
Could there be an open source, benevolent AI that keeps Asimov’s laws in “mind”, and teaches every child and unemployed person everything that is required to be fundamentally productive in the new world?
Could “technologies of the people, by the people, for the people” move us from away from “technology vs humans”?