‘Humans need not apply’ (through exemption or threatened extinction?)

A colleague recently sent me a link to the above video. It’s a ‘sobering’ video, but I don’t think it needs to be seen as depressing, rather a ‘call for action’ – it’s coming, whether we like it or not, because it’s ingrained in our capitalist (competitive) systems that mean we search for increasing productivity, to have more for less, and search for differentiation, to be part of the organizations and networks that gain most from this.

Two things, perhaps, can save us:

  1. regulation, to slow, control, re-direct, or channel ‘growth’ / ‘change’ (but may be difficult to manage / ensure everyone adheres to regulation, and the existence of nation states means that there may never be true global collaboration; and anyway, why wouldn’t we pursue increasing productivity?), and
  2. innovation (not just technological, but also social) to develop a viable way forward – one early suggestion is a universal basic income or some variant thereof, but that comes with its own challenges, and doesn’t solve extreme inequality, the likes of which we are maybe only starting to see (and the consequent social unrest that also arises).

At some point we need to realize that humans aren’t horses, so the metaphor [from the video] only goes so far; we (still) control the robots, and can dictate a future where robots serve humans, and increase our quality of living – holistically, there’s abundant resources, and 7-9 billion people in the foreseeable future; what’s in between is either labor or automation; the rest is leisure or sloth (or squabbling/aggression), and if we’re smart and equitable we can make that a choice, not fate.

We may be about to go through a challenging couple of decades, possibly not dissimilar to the close of coal mines in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s (and the impact that had on a need for ‘re-skilling’ the workforce, social welfare, etc.). The good news is that humans have proven themselves to be incredibly resilient in the mid-to-long term, so ‘stiff upper lip’ and all that …

What are your thoughts?

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