This page contains the opening portion of Chapter 10 from
Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist invitation
10. Towards abundant creativity
As discussed in the previous chapter, greater machine intelligence and task automation have the potential, not only for triumph, but also for disaster. Alongside their potential to positively accelerate human flourishing in multiple spheres, these systems also have the potential to malfunction, catastrophically. These systems might give rise to what has been called “killer robots” – automated agents that unexpectedly kill vast numbers of people.
A key complication with killer robots is that it may be difficult ahead of time to appreciate the full extent of the dangers they pose. There could be an initial period in which automated systems demonstrate apparently smart decisions and stunning improvements in operational effectiveness. These systems could be involved, for example, in creating remarkable new medical cures or novel mechanisms to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. During this period, human observers would come to feel confident about the technology involved – and about increasing the resources at the disposal of automated agents. But this could be a prelude to these systems veering badly off course, in an adverse reaction to some unforeseen circumstances. Adverse outcomes could include an all-consuming escalation of fake news, a meltdown in our global electronics infrastructure, the inadvertent destabilisation of the entire planetary climate dynamics, or an accidental nuclear holocaust. The confidence that humans had developed in machine intelligence and pervasive automation would turn out to have been utterly misplaced.
This category of existential risk evidently needs far-sighted management, via, amongst other measures, the rapid development and wise enforcement of lean safety frameworks. But killer robots are by no means the only major concern raised by the growth of machine intelligence. We also need to give serious consideration to the possibility of “job killing robots” – automation that performs workforce tasks much better than humans, and deprives humans of employment.
Both sets of threat need to be assessed and managed in parallel. To add to the considerations of the preceding chapter, the present chapter looks at the threat posed to options for human employment by greater machine intelligence and more pervasive automation.
The threat from job killing robots may be viewed as less cataclysmic than the threat from killer robots. However, as this chapter highlights, the way society responds to huge numbers of people being deprived of employment could itself trigger a spiral into an increasingly tragic outcome. As such, there are no grounds for complacency. At the same time, there are grounds for real optimism too.
The opportunity for creativity
The threat to employment from automation has long been foretold. Up till now, these predictions seem to have been premature. However, the closer AI comes to AGI – the closer that artificial intelligence comes to possessing general capabilities in reasoning – the more credible these predictions become. The closer that AI comes to AGI, the bigger the ensuing social disruption.
How will humans cope, if their income from work is materially reduced, or perhaps disappears altogether? Should greater automation be feared, resisted, or slowed down?
To state the conclusion: rather than fearing this development, transhumanists look forward to the greater freedom that it can entail – greater opportunities for all-round human flourishing. Humans will no longer need to invest such large portions of their time in occupations that are back-breaking or soul-destroying. We’ll be able, instead, to participate in the creation and exploration of music, arts, sports, ecosystems, planets, and whole new universes. This will happen because the immense bounty from greater automation will contain plenty for everyone’s needs.
But before this abundance of creativity can be attained, some significant adjustments are needed in the human condition – changes in mindset, and changes in our collective social contract. These adjustments will be far from trivial. A great deal of inertia will need to be overcome, en route to realising the full benefits of improved automation.