Well, apart from the fact that it’s two seven- and a twelve-letter words.
Imagine a world in which a single mammoth machine, controlled by a single operator, handles . . . everything. The machine is distributed around the world, with “parts” everywhere, but all connected to a central brain that essentially provides for all our needs — with vehicles that drive themselves, picking up finished solar panels from the local plant, installing them as needed to power local parts of the machine, which powers our homes (that are built by robots) and delivers anything we want from Amazon — as UPS does now, but without the need for humans — and stocks our pantries with robotically picked fruit and vegetables . . . and on and on.
Hard and dangerous and boring work would be a thing of the past. Machines could do all that, leaving us free to spend all our time strolling, singing, and snuggling.
But if there were only one job, and only one guy owned the machine, how would anyone else get any money to BUY those robotically picked peaches and tomatoes? Only the inventor/operator of the machine would have any real money unless we could figure out a sensible, equitable, and dignity-respecting way to redistribute the wealth that inexhaustible energy from the sun, paired with another few decades in technological advance, had brought us.
Okay, so I have not mastered the art of science fiction. But I have mastered the art of the hyperlink. (See the two below.) And I have previously noted Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that the next 50 years will be 32 times as dazzling in their technological advances as the last 50 have been. And the last 50 were pretty damn dazzling. So the real challenges, it seems to me, are not so much figuring out how to have “nearly free energy” as we now have “nearly free communications” (free Skype video calls to China? who would have believed 50 years ago any such thing could be possible?). That stuff will come. The real challenges are, first, avoiding the kind of cyber-terrorism (or cyber-accident or wars) that could unleash Armageddon, and, second, finding a way to share all that unimaginable prosperity, should it materialize. Spread the wealth. Redistribute the income.
First hyperlink, courtesy of my big brother (no metaphor here, my esteemed big brother), who writes: “Interesting and a bit scary. Automation is already putting so many people out of work, and this piece forecasts a big leap forward. How will the wealth it creates be distributed?”
Second hyperlink, wherein this talk of robots and artificial intelligence ramps up yet a notch further.
What a time to be alive. Many of us may actually live to see the end of the beginning. But how will it end? In chaos and calamity, with the cockroaches chuckling at our demise (“remember those sticky-floored motels they built for us? like that was really gonna work”). Or with the species having solved the basic problems of “sustainability,” “prosperity,” and “getting along” — leading to a whole new galaxy-wide aeon of opportunity (following the first couple decades of which the robots might still take over, leaving the cockroaches to pine for the days of a master species that left crumbs everywhere).
Have a nice day.
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Quote of the Day
I don't understand a goddam thing about insurance, except that I don't want to have any.~ex-Harvard Treasurer Paul Cabot
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