Peter Schiff, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, recently summed up the conservative position about the value of human life:
I'm not going to say that we're all created equal... you're worth what you're worth.He also said that "mentally retarded" people might only be worth "$2 an hour" and that the minimum wage should be eliminated to make this possible.
This is one vision of the human future. It is a vision in which the wages of most people -- not just those with intellectual disabilities -- eventually decline to the level of bare subsistence, or even lower than that required to continue living in poverty.
The conservative economic vision is a vision of mass death for the human race.
I realize this sounds like an exaggeration, but there's a reason it's not. We are entering an era unlike any before in history, because we are living on the cusp of the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent robotics. In a few decades from now, most human labor could be performed more cheaply and efficiently by self-learning computer programs or robots. An Oxford University study estimates that "about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk" from these new technologies. What this means is that the value of human labor is in terminal decline.
As MIT physicist Max Tegmark wrote in a recent article, Humanity in Jeopardy:
Exactly three years ago, on January 13, 2011, we humans were dethroned by a computer on the quiz show Jeopardy!. A year later, a computer was licensed to drive cars in Nevada after being judged safer than a human. What's next? Will computers eventually beat us at all tasks, developing superhuman intelligence?In an economic system in which the value of a human being is defined by the economic value they can create through their labor, human beings themselves will be increasingly devalued in the age of advanced robotics and AI. There's a saying that "life is cheap." If we continue to live in an ultra-capitalist economy, that is about to become more true than ever.
I have little doubt that this can happen ... After this, life on Earth would never be the same. Whoever or whatever controls this technology would rapidly become the world's wealthiest and most powerful, outsmarting all financial markets, out-inventing and out-patenting all human researchers, and out-manipulating all human leaders.
I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to say that jobs for humans will be one of the greatest moral issues of this century. We are only at the beginning of the turning point that might be called "peak jobs." The labor force will continue to shrink as more and more jobs held by humans will become the province of AI and robotics.
This is what capitalism dictates will happen. We have to understand that capitalism is based on maximizing profit, and one of the most obvious ways to do that is to eliminate as many jobs as possible. When cheaper alternatives to human labor become available, human jobs are cut. Robots and computers don't require salaries, vacations, health care, sleep, lunch and bathroom breaks.
The technological "singularity" is every wealthy capitalist's dream. It it everyone else's worst nightmare, if living in a capitalist society as we know it.
The extremely unequal distribution of wealth in the world is soon going to become the big issue, rather than income inequality. This is how bad it is already:
The bottom line: 29 million, or 0.6% of those with any actual assets under their name, own $87.4 trillion, or 39.3% of all global assets.Or as reported recently by Oxfam:
The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.And that's while it's still possible for most people to have a job and earn an income. After the economy is thoroughly roboticized, most people will be unemployed and won't be able to make money anymore. In such a situation, the few people (and "corporate persons") who already own the assets of the world -- land, real estate, factories and machinery, patents and other intellectual property, and the robots and AI programs themselves -- are going to have absolute power. They won't need to employ many people anymore to do work, so there won't be any way for significant amounts of wealth to be distributed to non-asset-owners. The ownership class will be able to sit on their wealth and let the rest of humanity die in destitution.
What are the arguments against this nightmare scenario unfolding? They usually fall into two basic categories: the "new types of jobs will be created" argument, and the "people will rise up in revolution" argument.
Here's the problem with the claim that lots of new jobs will be created in other fields to replace the jobs being lost to robots and AI: The types of jobs that may be created will require a high level of creative intelligence and/or artistic ability -- the few things that will be more difficult to replace with machines -- yet most human beings only have an average level of those attributes. A functioning human-based economy requires ample jobs for people of average talents and abilities; not only jobs for the small minority of people who are very intelligent (engineers, software developers) or highly creative (arts and design). AI will render obsolete almost everything that the average human can do for profitable labor -- which means most humans. There will still be some jobs, but mostly the kind that most people will not be able to do.
As for the claim that people will rise up in revolution if most jobs disappear... how, exactly? How will people be able to fight back against police and military forces that will be comprised mostly of intelligent robots with superhuman athletic abilities -- robots programmed to execute the mission of the people in power without being hindered by a human conscience which sometimes stops human police and armies from brutally repressing people who are fighting for freedom? Furthermore, the power grid and the communications and transportation infrastructure will all be controlled by AI. Everything that people say and everywhere they go will be monitored by AI (think NSA domestic surveillance on steroids). Whoever owns the AI will be able to use it to suppress any attempts at revolution -- easily, literally no contest.
The only thing that can save humanity is a new type of economic system that includes aspects of moral conscience, human judgment and democratic decision-making -- an economic system that respects universal, progressive, humanistic moral principles such as:
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;From a materialistic standpoint, capitalism is perfectly suited to the age of robotics, because the central concept of of capitalism is the "invisible hand" making economic decisions automatically without the need for human deliberation and planning. In other words, capitalism is by nature a robotic economy. We are soon going to discover that we will be living in a world of robots, competing very efficiently, according to the principles of capitalism, to make humans go extinct. That is the natural endpoint of capitalism: the elimination of the human aspect from economic production and distribution of resources. If left unchecked, it eventually culminates in the elimination of human beings themselves, because humans are inherently "less efficient" than machines, and therefore (by capitalist standards), "worth less."
2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Capitalism as we know it will either devour the human race by the end of this century, or it will no longer be the economic system of this world. I'm betting that people will wake up and see this before it's too late, while they still have the power of the vote to elect a government that will rein in the excesses of capitalism and introduce a greater degree of thoughtful human planning, regulation, and conscience into the economy.
New technology is not going to go away, but how we deal with it is the issue. If our destiny is for most people to be out of a job -- for technology to do most of the labor -- then resources will have to be allocated to people in some way other than by "earned income." It's not as though that's some kind of revolutionary idea; the rich have been gaining most of their resources from passive income (i.e. wealth ownership and the fruits it naturally bears) since the dawn of history. This principle will simply have to be expanded to people in general, rather than only the rich.
The question is, will we have the intellectual courage to see this and the moral courage to demand it? How long will it take for enough people to see the dystopian, inhuman future we face without a new type of economic system that values human beings inherently rather than based on the economic value of their labor? How long will it take for people to demand a better future, one in which humans have the power to make the economic system serve us rather than serving a robotic economic system until it finally has no use for us and discards us in pursuit of its own nonhuman goals?
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