Lonely Dystopia


There are some possible objections to the CI– and technology-driven solutions to the employment problem (by which I mean “working for a living” as the standard mode of existence).

We’ll cover some of these objections more fully in Issue Nine in August.

In the meantime, a reader writes:

I saw McAffee’s Ted presentation, and it brought me back to my 1976 high school sociology class. The teacher flashed an illustration on an overhead projector depicting what labor would look like in the future.

The illustration showed a comfortably well-off couple living in a pod-like structure that had an enormous picture window looking onto a large field of corn, an unmanned robot harvesting the field.

To me, it looked like one of the oddest and loneliest futures imaginable. I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable, even a bit repulsed, as I raised my hand and asked: “But where are all the people?”

Mcaffee’s lecture leaves me similarly perplexed and somewhat skeptical of this “utopia”, [in which] there is more time to “create”, rather than work, [and] we sit in our hermetically sealed, pod-like homes with our smiling spouses and field robots.

But of course, that is pure fantasy, and a unequal one at that. What we are more likely to see outside of the sterilized pod house are hoards of unemployed people, fighting for basic necessities, while a technician class competes for the rare chance [of] labor in such a scenario. For the most part, this utopia/dystopia is already well underway.

It’s a fair enough point. It was, after all, a dysopian novel that got this discussion rolling. And even from our position in the present day we can see the alienating effects of technologies of convenience.

The primary objection seems to be that nobody will do anything real anymore, that we’ll be thrust into a state of decadent and eternal boredom when meaningful work is removed.

My rebuttal would be twofold.

1) Meaningful work, for the most part, has already been removed. The majority of us live in cities, reaping the benefits of a minority agricultural community (facilitated by technology). Meaningful work still exists in some areas but it’s hardly the default career path. In this respect, the dystopia is already here. If we want to repair this, we can either radically back-pedal to a more meaningful pre-industrial-inspired economy or push on to a high-tech future in which CI is one possible solution to avoiding mass poverty.

2) Even if claustrosphere life were to become a mainstream option, we wouldn’t have to accept it, just as some of us don’t accept the prescribed life today. When sustenance labour or wage slavery is removed, we (as a society or individuals) can do anything. It doesn’t have to be pod dwelling. Depending on our prevailing interests, we could devote our new-found time and energy to saving the turtles, to putting astronauts on Mars, or to enslaving and depressing the former working classes in a whole new way. “We could explore space, together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace.” More than anything, we could think outside the confines of a consumer economy. Anything.

A secondary objection seems to be that mass unemployment at the claws of sophistcated worker robots would lead to poverty and a sense of deranged competition. But the McAfee future already mitigates against that. With Citizen’s Income.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

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