Slide 00, Introduction, Short Synopsis, Definition of Terminology
I am Khannea S. Dirven, member of the Hague chapter of the Basic Income society. My philosophical home is the IEET, or Institute of Emerging Technologies in the US and I have spoken and written about this topic (technological unemployment and resulting displacement of humans, humanism and human morals) for some time.
So, Synopsis – today’s topic is largely a matter of the language we use – what is actually happening? The problem at hand is now widely referred to as “Technological Unemployment”, and that problem has been with us to an ever increasing degree since for centuries. Technological unemployment started a long time ago with mechanization, but became an ever more pressing problem in the last few decades. Mechanization gave way to automation, and this process has now evolved to robotization, and within years the main driver of job destruction will be caused by implementation of Artificial Intelligence. This is a potentially gruesome problem that has capacity to literally cause massive suffering and political instability, far worse than any conflict in the 20th century. I can even argue that it has the capacity, if left unchecked by politicians and democratic infrastructures, to prematurely cause the death of (literally) billions of human beings, somewhere later this century. This may seem overly alarmist, but do consider what people in Greece, people in poor midwestern states, or completely desperate people fleeing the Middle East and Africa are now enduring. These ordeals only needs magnifying this by, say, ten and you have a fairly good idea of the visual horrors that can be directly and causally attributed to technological unemployment.
So I say it is extremely shortsighted or downright dangerous to keep perceiving this displacement problem in strictly Netherlandcentric or Eurocentric terms. If “we” in the Netherlands or Europe decide to curtail the progress of automation, robotization or AI in some manner, “we” will also suffer in traumatizing loss of global economic competitiveness. There simply isn’t an opting out in this area, and countries that do try to opt out are invariably left impoverished, politically unstable or isolated from wide progress.
As with most other power point presentations, I am a dwarf standing on the shoulder of the giants I will quote. I don’t consider myself anything more than a Bard singing other people’s tunes.
• Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies – Link;
My IEET profile.
• An Exhaustive list of reference links collected over the last decades, on “Human Displacement”.
• An Exhaustive list of reference links collected over the last decades, on “Basic Income”
Slide 01 – How to Convey the Immediacy and Urgency of Imminent Change
When you begin describing a future danger, there’s always the risk of being interpreted as “alarmist”, or “grandiose”. So in illustrating sudden and catastrophic change I was looking for a particular example in geological history, where relatively placid processes on the planet resulted in the accumulation of sudden and catastrophic potential for change. The best example I came across was the Zanclean flood, an event (or series of repetitive catastrophic events) where through relatively slow moving processes the Mediterranean got cut off from the Atlantic. As it turns out, it doesn’t take long for the Mediterranean to dry up, only a few thousand years. A dry Mediterranean would be mostly tropical rain forest surrounding inland salt flats, kind like the image in the slideshow. No doubt there would be extensive and humid rain forests along the slopes of this hot, dry and arid inland basin, unique animal species, and even populations of early hominids, such as now extinct branches of Ardipithecus. We can easily speculate about whole types of early hominids who only lived in these massive sprawling lowlands. For these ecologies there was sudden and quite catastrophic change as, maybe on account of a minor Earthquake, the Gibraltar straight opened up, and a river flooded in to the Mediterranean basin by means of a waterfall. This waterfall would have quickly opened up into a deluge, and in a matter of days a region with the combined surface area of six times Spain would have become flooded, most plant life and animals in the area left extinct. For these early hominids living there the sudden disappearance of all their habitat completely submerged by kilometers of sea would have been unthinkable, as much similar imminent catastrophic upheaval is patently unthinkable for most people alive today. Yet nonetheless, today we live with similar unstable situations, and imminent and highly disruptive change is arguably mere years away.
• What did much of the Earth look like in the Pliocene?
• Earth in the Pliocene
• The Zanclean flood
• BBC documentary on the flooding of the Mediterean
• This Article Won’t Change Your Mind
• He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.
Slide 02 – Denial, and ‘Vested Interests’
In the history of humanity, most progress is of a disruptive character and hence a threat to vested interests. Hence, certain self-appointed paragons of status quo declare themselves champions of common sense and resist what they regard as unacceptable by all means possible. The above image showcases a particularly iconic such episode, i.e. the sentencing of Galileo by an elaborate papal court. To the pope and his ilk, the very idea that the Earth revolved around the sun was an unacceptable idea. Finding truth in periods of heated debate remains always problematic, and most people only gradually change their mind, and only when evidence has become incontrovertible. As we staggered in to the 20th century, we seen increasingly troubling number of such debates. There are parties that still opt to defend what soon after turns out to have always been indefensible. There are many examples where factions have seen their position, power or sources of income threatened by novel ideas, and some keep sowing disinformation long after the fact. Whether it is the insistence the Earth is flat, the balderdash idea of evolution being a fad, US southern states treated slaves quite humanely, women are unable to have the reflective powers to be able to vote, cigarettes are a perfectly fine treatment for asthma, there’s be no such thing as a Shoah, AIDS is caused by drug use, deviancy or poverty, climate change is a ridiculous idea, lowering taxes always creates more economic growth and wealth does indeed trickle down, or the advance of technologies has always created new types of employment and will do so in the future.
The unifying theme here is fear of the powerful for change that tends to reduce their power, prestige and affluence. Hence in these paradigm shift we tend to see that progress in understanding of reality is quite often interwoven in processes of emancipation and an increase in societal justice.
• Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data.
• Here, kid, have a cigarette, these things are good for you
• Study: Whites Think Black People Feel Less Pain
• The Tories have voted that animals can’t feel pain as part of the EU bill, marking the beginning of our anti-science Brexit
• There’s little evidence that corporate tax cuts create jobs
• Trump’s corporate tax plan will probably not create a job boom, report finds
• The Earth is Flat (ironic)
• America’s flat-Earth movement appears to be growing
• Bill Nye debates Ken Ham
• An Inconvenient Truth
• New science suggests the ocean could rise more — and faster — than we thought
• HIV is not a real disease – Russia, Africa
• Inoculation is a “western conspiracy”.
• The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism
• Health Care is a “job for women”, Health Care is “not a manly profession”.
• Thomas Kuhn
• Japanese woman ‘dies from overwork’ after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month
• Peter Joseph Educates Stefan Molyneux on Market Violence
What happened after the start of the industrial age was partially counter-intuitive. Increase efficiency triggered the start of what we may label consumerism. In short, automation and product standardization made products so cheap compared to previous products, previously impoverished people were effectively impoverished no more. The category of producers that were able to automate production, streamline efficiency and ondemand production and standardize respective product categories were able to offer their staff higher pay, thus creating a demand-production cycle. This in turn was possible because of increasing energy concentration of petrochemical products, and it was catalyzed in turn by advertising and marketing. This signified the advent of a new kind of “consensus building” kind of “managed” democracy.
The 20th century was in significant part about the confluence of corporations and governments, and especially in the US – making the electorate docile, complacency industry, creation of dependence, consumerism and the active culling of revolutionary thinking. A lot of rich early in the 20th century were quite concerned about socialism, revolution and communism. Mass production allowed the ‘capitalism’ system to offer a viable ideological alternative to communism by making life a lot better than it had been in earlier ages. This was by and large a good development, even though there were eventual losers to this change in terms of the environment, and people in the developing world. But life got better for most people in developed countries. So it bears to reason to conclude that the underlying mechanisms of automation, industrialization, mobilization were good, and would continue to be good. For a long time the capitalist ideologues fiercely resisted the notion this utopian state would be anything but. For capitalism the mere idea that technology would make jobs go away was functionally anathema. So when this started occurring, in the 1970s, free market liberals (and thus neo-liberals) agitated with characteristic lack of patience when people started protesting against capitalism, globalization (and arguably neo-colonial conditions) and unbridled technological progress (including climate change). Francis Fukuyama argued that Liberal Capitalist Society was effectively the endpoint of history.
Something did in fact change in the 1970s. In all of the developed world the increase of over a century and the linked increase in electoral income became decoupled. We can argue long about why this happened, but happen it did. The undeniable effect was that those who held capital started making more income, in absolute terms, and in nearly all cases constituents and consumers made about the same or less, in absolute terms. Capitalism occasionally acknowledged this fact, but defended status quo by claiming people could obtain services and goods for ever cheaper. At the same time technology started accelerating faster and faster and it was no coincidence that the trend in the below graph started breaking not long after Moore’s defined his law (1965). So, is this time different? Is technology now, a good 40 years after the first recognition of doubling rates in computational hardware/price relationship, starting to eliminate jobs faster than new types of employment it is creation?
Is this time different? The answer is a resounding yes. This time is different. Technology has entered a new kind of potential to instill change in society. Jobs that are destroyed will never come back, and if they come back new jobs (a) require extremes of talent and training, (b) several orders of magnitude less people are needed to provide the same of corresponding services. There appears to be a consensus on this destruction of jobs in reality-based technical professions, whereas the denial such a process is occurring is prevalent with the more theory-centered economical professions. In essence, the economical professions have reverted to become a type of clergy of capitalism, to put it cynically, a branch of marketing or “cheerleading” of the capitalist ideal itself. Decreasingly the established science of economy is dealing less with reality and is evolving to become a pseudo-science that is interested only in providing arguments in favor of status quo. We have of course seen this before in all status quo defending, progress resisting publicity movements of the past. The longer latter-day economists keep defending the blessings of globalism, keep denying things like climate change, or technological unemployment, the longer we get to address these major confluence of crisis.
• Martin Ford on the Rise of the Robots
• Yes, this time is different
• The Fallacy of the Luddite Fallacy
• New Jobs will not be Enough to Mitigate Automation Unemployment (A bit of an understatement).
• Why Technological Automation is Different this Time
• Humans Need Not Apply
Any objective extrapolation of trends in the next decades produces results that are completely absurd. I can make this a very elaborate story with lots of caveats, but the only conclusion I need to share with you, and one I stand behind, is that any trend we can as humans make understandable breaks in no more than 75 and no less than 25 years. That is – the future becomes to inconceivably strange in “about” 50 years, we can no longer extrapolate meaningfully using only our arguably limited brains. This is where most audiences give up and revert to denial, dismissal, feeling deceived, etc. The simple statement – “everything flies of the rails in about 1-2 generations” is unacceptable, and as a consequence people do not accept it. Technology is a force amplifier. That means that the entities wielding the force, be it corporations, governments, multi-billionaires, oligarchs, facists, putin, trump, skynet, Ze Germans – it matters not, the force or “will” gets amplified, and as years go by exponentially more so. And this is true of the reality mere decades ago. Most preedictctions I would have cared to make to your parents in the years ranging from 1968 to 1992 (50 to 25 years ago) would have entailed completely ridiculous (and subjectively, “insulting”) imagery of the year 2017. The years 2042 to 2067 will be substantially more absurd in comparison to 2017. What’s even worse, I can not paint you any road map to altering this process, changing it or making it manageable. People at these kinds of presentations often ask me, “what should we do”, or (even more silly) “what does all this mean to my position as account manager for the second half of calender year of 2019” and I simply have to shrug. In any increasingly turbulent system of outcomes near future trends tend to be the most banale extrapolations of current trends yet the further we go, the more things we currently find important quintessentially lose any meaning we currently attribute to them.
• Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
• Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey On US Treasury Secretary’s View Of AI: ‘Stupid, Irresponsible’
• We Need to Talk About the Robots – How Can Society Survive after Automation?
• Elon Musk: Say ‘Sweet Dreams,’ Humanity
Having looked at the (potentially shocking) bigger picture, there is a need to chart out short term trends. The long term trends (2030+) can be best summarized as “a complete end to all normal”, the short term trends are all about fast deteriorating societal disruption. The first thing we need to look at is competition. As jobs diminish, it stands to reason to anticipate the negotiations position of typical employee’s deteriorates even worse than it has deteriorated today. Right now we are already intimately familiar with zero hour contracts, one-person businesses making less than minimum wage, constant reorganization, a ruthless management culture, high stress environments, ‘bullshit jobs’ (and why they emerge) and massive burnout.
If workers were rational, they’d organize in to unions immediately but for some reason this doesn’t happen. It may be the case that deliberate neoliberal policies have made unionization untenable – for example, it is a long known maxim that workers with a mortgage do not strike or protest as readily. The overwhelming theme here is “divide and rule”, where the revolving door of politicians and private sector executives may exude an institutional and pervasive contempt for workers, voters, consumers, constituents.
Average workers need to come to terms with the fact we are being played, and that situation is not likely to change or get better.
• Number of workers dependent on zero-hour contracts jumps 13% to record 905,000
• How zero-hours contracts hide real unemployment
• The rise of technological unemployment and its implications on the future macroeconomic landscape
• Automation and anxiety
Technological Unemployment, without much doubt, is here. It is destroying jobs, and its capacity to make sure new jobs do not emerge to replace old jobs is diminishing. Even in highly imaginary theoretical realms there is little reason to believe the current geopolitical neoliberal stranglehold on international capital and policies will allow for systems to emerge in the very short term that mitigate mass dependence on wage-based income. In the bigger picture, pensions, welfare, unemployment, disability, et.al. are rounding errors in an economical sense. NOT Compensating 12 years of inflation means you effectively lose 25% of your pension. As technological unemployment increases, for individuals personal resilience is the only solution – but the problem lies precisely therein that the vulnerable are most likely to fall off the wagon. In my online discussions with people, I often get quoted horrible examples – even now in an allegedly civilized, developed country such as the UK the frail unemployable have a risk of dying from literally starvation. Add to that low quality foods, and you have a recipe for a gradual attrition of the underclasses. And we haven’t even touched on the high odds of low incomes and a pervasive lack of perceived societal meaning to induce severe and chronic psychiatric problems, such as anomie, nihilism, substance abuse and terminal depression. The best defense for any individual in the next few years or decades is to actively prepare for the onset of existential crisis. Kind of that kind of mass killer you see with people who hit their pension age and die because they have no idea what to do with their free time.
For organizations, the one overwhelming question is – do your “cheerlead” for the system or is your urgency to protect vulnerable individuals. If the former, technology makes society a lot more efficient and you might be overjoyed by all this. If you are however concerned about the vulnerable in society, my prediction is you are probably already massively underestimating the problem. My aim is to warn you and remind you – at the end of the story about the boy crying wolf, the wolf did in fact showed up. The best metaphor we may face as nongovs or govs is more like the metaphor of the bucket of crabs – individually the crabs all can get out just fine, but the crabs below them tend to pull them back. It is extremely difficult to tell an already traumtized welfare mom with chronic depressions to “become more resilient” in the foreseeable future so the only solution available is to organize ready-to-use means of personal empowerment to individuals. Give a persona fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a person to organize in to a Union and he’ll eat well the rest of his life. Or teach them to Dance, best cute for lack of personal empowerment and depression ever.
To be honest, politics as it is right now sucks. I recently discussed this with Charles Stross, a leftist science fiction writer, and he shared an article with me on this topic on “Beige Dictatorship” and my fear is that we are stuck right there. Let me run down the list of reasons why governments will rather sit it out a while when it comes to solutions to technological unemployment (rather than more of the same stuff that hasn’t worked for decades now).
• Political failure modes and the beige dictatorship
There is no Slide 14.
Let me say one positive thing. A world with fast technological advances, amazing health care and massive prosperity, maybe even unlimited energy to cheap to meter, everyone only having to work a day a week, and maybe even nano-technology making everyone young – such a world could be paradise. The problem isn’t lack of resources, the problem is one of lack of imagination and lack of flexibility. The problem is that we have lost a mechanism for changing society because ‘the system’ is too scared people are too stupid to change society for the better. We have seen that before in history, “divine right of Kings to govern” and all. And yes, as Brexit and Trump has evidenced, voters who are scared tend to vote rather dismally sometimes. But do bear in mind, if given an alternative, the people tend to be pretty smart about the deal offered to them.