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Oct 26 2013

The singularity approaches

One important fundamental difference in value between a diamond ring and an armful of kindling is man-hours, one takes a lot more to make than the other. But it’s conceivable, one day, with sufficient advances in hardware and software, that man-hours will be rendered moot. Which would mean money as we know would cease to matter and that sounds great to those of who don’t have much. But there could necessarily be a phase along the way that might not be so appealing:

But a funny thing is going to happen when the machines start taking the jobs of doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, managers and professors. We’re not quite there yet, but the day is coming very soon when many of what had traditionally been considered untouchable jobs will be done just as effectively or better by machines. .. When the machines and the Internet start taking the white collar jobs, look for a moral panic and rethinking of the capitalist bargain that should have started 30 years ago, but didn’t because blue collar workers have no political power.

I imagine two things might happen: Many of those displaced white-collar workers will suddenly discover that social safety nets, food and housing assistance, and unemployment payments matter after all, and many politicians paid by the owners of profitable AI run corporations will just as suddenly discover their conservative leaning white-collar suburbanite base was a bunch of lazy, socialist, commie leeches. That’s one possible version of the approaching singularity anyway. Another is the AIs might not have anything against us per se, they just might see humans and our artifacts as made of atoms that could be recycled to make something way more useful in a new world order of machine axioms: the opposite of love or respect is not hate or contempt, it’s indifference.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Pen

    Errrmmm… I think it’s not the white collar workers who are the specific problem here but the property owners – the ones who own the land, the buildings on it, the means of production of food and everything else. Already most of us, white collar workers included are forced to rent the long-term stuff and buy consumables off these owners.Some white collar workers become small fry owners, which doesn’t stop them being often the most outspoken socialists (at least in Europe). But the first thing that would happen in your scenario is that they would be forced to trade out. They would immediately become politically powerless and it won’t matter a damn what they discover at that point to those who have actual power.

    Then what will we offer the property owners as a trade if money no longer matters and human labour, white collar or otherwise is worthess? Do you think they will organise a universal supply for everyone out of the goodness of their hearts? Give up on the concept of private ownership because everyone can have anything a reasonable person would want? If so, what are they waiting for? Something like the scenario outlined in Elysium is what springs to my mind.

  2. 2
    jimbaerg

    Perhaps it’s time to have a wealth tax that starts modestly at total national assets divided by population, & approaches 100 % marginal rate for 1 person owning everything.

  3. 3
    lorn

    There is a way through this without eliminating capitalism. Reallocate the work. The eight hour work day and overtime laws, combined with minimum wage laws, were essentially a reallocation of work and wages. IMO the relatively recent shift toward longer hours and failure to enforce overtime laws, not to mention the shift toward considering people salaried or sub-contractors, has made unemployment a lot worse. Shifting the calculation of overtime from a daily eight hours to a weekly forty was a move in the wrong direction.

    A 100 hour work-week often comes down to doing two and a half times as much work for only slightly more than you should be making on 40 hours.

    There will likely, at least in the near term, be work for humans to do. Figure out the total hours per year needed, divide it evenly among the humans and set the minimum wage high enough to make that number of hours work as a living wage. Who knows? It might work out to be a four hour work week with a $200/hr minimum wage. Any hours of overtime, anything over one hour per day in the four day work-week, might be double or triple time. The actual numbers don’t matter as long as the system is balanced and keeps the money moving.

  4. 4
    Alex SL

    Fascinating how many different doomsday scenarios we are pondering. You worry that we will all be unemployed because the machines take over all the jobs, others worry that the economy will collapse because we will run out of the fossil fuels we have become so dependent on.

    The reality is probably going to be somewhere in the middle. I assume that once we have to use renewable energies with a return on energy invested of about a fifth or less of what we are used to, many more of us will be again be doing things that are now done by energy intensive machines.

  5. 5
    The Beautiful Void

    Wasn’t there a German dude with a big beard who wrote about what would happen when, thanks to automation, all investment went towards equipment and not towards labour, and thus the people had nothing to lose by revolution?

  6. 6
    notyet

    You have overlooked a potentially interesting possibility to your theoretical scenario. Professionals looking for work would first look to poorer, less computerized countries to work in. I can imagine some of the anti-immigrant group in countries where they did not speak the predominant language, trying ton find work among a hostile population. Kind of warms your heart in a schadenfreude sort of way, no?

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