No Human Applicants, Please

Are we destined to be replaced?

As the general public slowly begins to wake up to the reality of what today’s computer systems can accomplish, questions are being raised which posit transitive effect of such computer systems on employment, underemployment and the macro economic systems in place today. We, as a society, have witnessed technology rip the very foundations out from fourtune 500 companies with a startling swiftness, but so far our macro level economy centered on supply demand systems has been largely unaffected. Of course, you can certainly point to the relavively recent success of startups like airbnb or uber as galvanizing the sharing economy, but the kind of disruption I’m interested in discussing here is a revolution that has the potential to break the supply demand paradigm and create the next economic system. After all, no economic system in the history of the earth has existed forever. As technology advances and revolutionizes the very access to materialistic needs and wants of people across the earth, the likelihood of shifting economic paradigms away from a supply and demand system grows. In the same way that we shifted away from bartering to banknotes closely before the turn of the century, it’s hard to convincingly claim that supply demand credit based economies will last forever.

I know what question is flying around your head right now. Bah! What evidence is there? Supply and demand is the endgame and nothing can surpass it! Well, not so fast… It’s easy to simply look at today’s technology and dismiss it having a vast effect on human employment or even argue that jobs will always exist for humans even if we have to invent new ones. I’ll break down these additional arguments in just a moment, but first consider how hard it must have been for traders in villages to consider or even comprehend the basics of a world economy of credit. To them, simple as it may seem to us today, this idea is so foreign the first reaction is to reject it and not concern their heads with such nonsense. I fear we too today are rejecting unnerving and potentially non optimal futures because of the dogma we inherently have about the world and how we perceive it to function. We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped by the realities of today and miss the potentials of tomorrow if we’re ever to be prepared for the future. And the future is coming. Fast.

The future is coming. Fast.

A common argument many critics of post supply/demand economies posture is that we will retrofit future technologies into our existing models and make out just fine. By creating new and creative jobs for humans as technologies replace them, unemployment will never be an issue. Okay. Whew. So a lot of this theory hinges on the belief that computers can never be creative. They’ll never be able to compose beautiful and emotional music. They’ll never be able to paint beautiful paintings and pieces of art. Creative jobs are at risk just as much as white collar, or blue collar jobs are.

As information technology continues to double roughly every 18 months, we will soon be witnessing the doubling of such computational power it will be very scary to behold. Very soon, humans will be outmatched both physically and mentally (including creative) by computers. When that day comes, there will simply be no justification for humans in the economy. If there are no humans in the economy, how can humans survive or earn a living? In less than a hundred years the notion of humans “earning a living” will be a silly joke. The notion that any living thing must somehow justify its place in the world in an economic sense will be dead.

Given the challenges advancements in automation present to our current economic system, economic theorists are debating the merits of hypothetical future economies. One of the more interesting economic models put forward for transitioning to a post scarcity economy is a system of universal basic income.

The concept behind universal basic income is simple. Every citizen of a country receives an allowance of a set amount. Whether you are employed or unemployed you receive the same amount of money each month. If you choose to work you can earn money on top of the amount you recieve as allowance. While not a perfect system, a sort of hybrid economy might be what helps us transition. Finland is already experimenting with a universal basic income model over the coming years. Based on the results of this ‘experiment’, we will be able to gather more data on how humans respond to such as system.