Since the dawn of market society, owners and bosses have revelled in telling workers they were replaceable. Robots lend this centuries-old dynamic a troubling new twist: employers threaten employees with the specter of machine competition, shirking responsibility for their avaricious disposition through opportunistic appeals to tech determinism. A “jobless future” is inevitable, we are told, an irresistible outgrowth of innovation, the livelihood-devouring price of progress. (Sadly, the jobless future for the masses doesn’t resemble the jobless present of the 1 percent who live off dividends, interest, and rent, lifting nary a finger as their bank balances grow.)
I doubt the rise of technology obviates the need for human brains and hands. We are thinking machines while the automatons themselves excel in action, at least for the time being.
The bigger problem seems to be the perception of jobs. Most people allow work to justify their existence when really it’s the things we do outside the office that should make us feel needed. There’s more to life than a paycheck!
The machines are going to be there like they’ve been all along, helping people get their work done more efficiently. The bots versus brain chasm is a non-zero-sum game.
But if it just so happens that all we do is push buttons all day, perhaps it’ll give us a chance to do other things like making better art.
“After World War Two, artists and advertising agencies wanted to sell a bright and hopeful future. But they were also working to produce something that their audience would recognize and find plausible. As H. G. Wells said: “Anyone can invent human beings inside out or worlds like dumbbells or gravitation that repels. The thing that makes such imagination interesting is their translation into commonplace terms and rigid exclusion of the other marvels of the story. Then it becomes human.””
But is it time or our habits that permit time to slip into the future?
Today’s perception is irreality. We spend more time looking into our devices than we do looking up at the world. What seems like 2 minutes pecking at the phone turns into 20 minutes of squandered time.
Meanwhile, the child just lives in the moment. They are driven by novelty instead of worrying about tomorrow.
Adults mull over the possibility of death and permit regret to poison their hopes. They also have the responsibility — for work, kids, their health etc. — that constricts their freedom of play in the present.
Time holds steady, adherent to each tick. It is humans who panic.
While Elon Musk is helping to combine hyperloops and space travel, the Russian architecture firm Dahir Insaat wants to build a hybrid train and plane that transports 2,000 people at a time.
The flying trains reach speeds up to 300mph, not much faster than the speediest train in the world, the 267 mph Shanghai Maglev. Even if it looks like a giant lego piece, most people would still rather ride in it than sit in traffic.
Furthermore, I wonder how we’ll look at any concept of transportation once SpaceX’s vision to fly people across the globe in 30 minutes becomes a reality.
Smart devices are getting smaller and smaller. The Xenxo S-Ring (Kickstarter) could be the latest in wearable tech to turn your hand into a phone, operate as a flash drive, act as a credit-card for on the go payments, track your steps, and more.
It’s a Bluetooth enabled remote control for your smartphone that allows you to interact with the world without staring at the rectangular glow.
We are not too far from implanting these types of smart devices into our bodies.
Technology is not neutral. FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) not only want to make all decisions for us, they want us to dissolve into all-consuming bots while the machines do all the thinking and making.
Humans are meant to work, not to be hedonistic jobless throwaways. We seek meaning and identify ourselves through our labor. But our biggest misconception is presuming that the job we don’t like also defines us.
The only benefit to people becoming tools is that they open up the opportunity to do what they’re really meant to do.
‘Try not to get a job.’
The artist Brian Eno advises us to ‘Try not to get a job.’ By not working for cash, we can follow our deepest passions, thereby subverting the Sex and Cash theory that says that we must toil in our office cubicles so we can do what we’re meant to do on the side.
“Men have become the tools of their tools,” quipped Thoreau, who was able to leave his job for Walden’s pond because he enjoyed the relief of a big bank account. As Frank Chimeo tweeted, “Thoreau had enough money to go to Walden Pond because he revolutionized production methods at his father’s pencil factory.”
Undoubtedly, there will also be a concurrent emergence of cyborgs, man blended into machines. The amalgam makes not only a brain without a body, but a machine without a soul. What will doing anything mean a world of automatons, a premonition of programmatic and unthinking disaster?