Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Speculations On The Future

Predicting the future can be difficult, but not impossible if you are willing to make a fool out of yourself. You can extrapolate on the trends of the past and extend them into the future. For example: the weather will continue to get worse year by year as global warming pumps more heat into the atmosphere.

I believe there is a trend in robotics with robots becoming more intelligent and useful. This trend will continue until robots are as common as mobile phones. Humans will lose the monopoly on work with robots doing almost everything. Robots will be competent in an increasing number of tasks. Robots will be building robots, from mining the ore out of the ground to polishing the robots chassis as it sits in the showroom.

The question is what happens to the world if the price of labour drops to near zero. This means that the fruit of this labour will be very cheap, because robots do not need to be paid. More robots can simply be made to fill vacancies no training necessary.

It might be possible to create a world where every need of every person is easily catered for. You wouldn’t have to do as anything at all except have fun. Currency wouldn’t exist. I actually don’t think such a world would work - just have a look at children who are given everything they asked for with no limits or discipline. Or think about how useless you feel playing computer games all day and not doing anything constructive.

It could also go the other way with robots labour being used by the powerful to keep our current democratic capitalist society. The cheapness of robot labour could be used to return even bigger profits to shareholders while at the same time causing mass unemployment. Robots could be used to supercharge surveillance with police quad copters watching everything, artificial intelligences being used to churn through the gigabytes of data collected to find anything incriminating - a task far too boring for any human. I think that a change is in order to prevent such a dystopia.

I believe a new information economy will form, where people do not labour unless they wish to. The majority of people will be artists, engineers, designers – makers. It will be our knowledge and how to use it that will earn our existence. Tourism and recreation will also expand. Currency will always exist; it is capitalism that motivates people and I don’t think that will change soon. I think we could temper capitalism, with a further expansion of volunteerism. With the necessities of life becoming dirt cheap people will have more time on their hands.

In the coming decades it will be a hard transition. I think there will be sometimes violent resistance to the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. Knowledge will be increasingly free I think the patent system will eventually collapse. This could be a difficult time for the human race with the vast economic change, global warming taking hold, the rise of artificial intelligence and robotic weapons.

One thing I don’t think will happen is robots taking over the world - not in a military sense anyway. I don’t believe robots have a motive to violently overthrow their creators. We are the best friend of machines and computers, it us that has driven the massive uptake of information technology. If machines ever do turn on us it will be a human who programed them to do it.

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