Work and purpose

An extract from Chapter 4 of the book Transcending Politics:

4. Work and purpose

The robots are coming. In the worst case, sometime later this century, they might run amok and kill us all. That’s the Terminator scenario. It’s not as absurd as you might think. After all, software, which is the animating power behind modern robots, has a history of going wrong. And super-complex software has a risk of going super-wrong.

We’ll come back to the Terminator scenario in later chapters. For now, however, there’s a shorter-term worry to consider. Instead of robots that might kill humans, we have to think about robots that might kill jobs. Robots may become so good at doing the kinds of work that we humans currently get paid to do, that our present jobs might disappear. The short label for this process is “technological unemployment”.

Technological unemployment is a prospect which causes a lot of alarm. But the Transpolitica vision sees a larger opportunity in the rise of robots. Society should be able to welcome the disappearance of the need for people to undertake work that has often been tiresome, tedious, dangerous, or dispiriting. With the help of robots, we should all be able to spend much more of our time in activities that express and enhance our humanity.

The rise of the robots

Robots have been killing jobs, on noteworthy scale, since the first Industrial Revolution. Weaving machines were invented that could automate many of the tasks in the textile industry better than human weavers. Machines that drilled, hoed, rotated, or reaped dramatically changed the work of agricultural labourers. Assembly-line machinery transformed the work that needed to be done in factories. Word processors and spreadsheets – robots of a different kind – reduced the need for manual clerical staff. And that’s just the start…

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Recent Posts

Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment

Technological Unemployment v2

Q1 recap

Before sharing some details about Transpolitica focus during Q2 2018, here’s a quick update on Transpolitica activities during Q1 2018.

Transpolitica has made good progress during Q1 with goals identified at the start of this period:

Priority project for Q2

As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.

Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.

The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:

  1. Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
  2. Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
  3. Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc

Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)

Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:

Depending on progress, possible outcomes of the project might include a PDF research pamphlet, a video, an improved set of pages on H+Pedia, a press release, a set of slides, and/or a public event (such as a meeting of London Futurists in June and the Humanity+ Beijing event in July).

Questions that need addressing

Key to the success of the project will be the identification of the areas most in need of better understanding. These are the “major uncertainties” where we should prioritise our focus.

For the moment, it seems to me that these areas include:

  1. Potential transition mechanisms from where society is today, to a new social contract in which a citizen’s income (to give one example) is in place
  2. Possible alternatives to a citizen’s income
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of various forecasts of scenarios for the development of technological unemployment
  4. The pros and cons of various ways of raising money to pay for a citizen’s income
  5. The possible role of decentralised technologies such as blockchain in the administration of a citizen’s income
  6. The possibility of an “Apollo scale” project to drive down the costs of all goods and services needed for a prosperous lifestyle
  7. International and trans-border considerations

If you think you know at least part of the answers to the above questions – or if you think there are more important questions to be addressing – please do become involved.

To become more involved in this project

The mailing group https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica exists to to coordinate planning and execution of Transpolitica projects. To join the group, visit this page, and send a subscription request.

(There’s also a Transpolitica group on Facebook, but with a potential impending mass exodus from Facebook, it’s more important than before to use other means for project coordination.)

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