WHAT WILL WE DO
WHEN THE MACHINES TAKE OVER?

A friend recently sent me a link to this video, “Humans Need Not Apply.” Brilliantly done, the video concludes with this (emphasis added):

This isn't about how automation is bad -- rather that automation is inevitable. It's a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable -- through no fault of their own. What to do in a future where, for most jobs, humans need not apply.

It’s a fascinating topic, which has also been taken up recently by Larry Page.

I find the apparent conclusion misguided. Yes, we are steadily moving away from hard labor, disrupting the status quo. But that means we are increasingly engaged in what only humans can do — create, cause and originate. Machines and computers can’t originate anything.

The video compares people to horses. Yet a horse is a fungible converter of calories to motion. People are the only entities capable of creation. The more we free ourselves from menial tasks, the more creative we can be.

No horseplay. Children literally used to pull carts in coal mines.

No horseplay. Children literally used to pull carts in coal mines.

Will we “run out” of creative jobs? I don’t know what all of those creative roles will be, but I’m certain that there is an unlimited need for creative abilities. It’s a little bit like the patent office commissioner who in 1899 said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Just because we can’t list everything that will be conceived doesn’t mean that nothing else will be. The world is already seeing a steadily increasing number of working artists, writers, coders, scientists and others doing what we do best. 

Jobs will be lost to drones, robots, software and automation. Yes, that’s nothing new. It’s lead to a steadily increasing level of abundance in food and the basics — and increasingly, our displaced workers won’t struggle to feed their families while retraining to new jobs spurred by all this opportunity. New jobs that use their minds.

In a very possible future where food and energy are provided in abundance, the most important resource will become intelligence and ability.

Another friend said to me recently

The really exciting thing about a future where technology has freed us completely from the struggle for basic survival is that we will then be free to create an entirely new concept of what it means to survive.

Children today use contraptions to teleport messages to their friends and summon goods and services to their homes. They ride in machines that let them fly through the air like gods. 300 years ago, they’d actually be gods. Today, an airplane, an iPhone, the Internet and Amazon -- we take these miracles for granted.

With human intellect and creativity unleashed from the yoke of manual labor, someday we will be able to heal any injury, extend life to centuries, travel to colonies on other planets, and our art, music and literature may approach the sublime.