Despite what the doomsayers suggest, there is no imminent danger to life on planet earth in the humble opinion of this visitor. But an economic and political tsunami is gathering pace. It threatens to sweep away the economic and political models that underpin all your complex societies today. It is not yet a foregone conclusion, but the chances are that in the next thirty or forty of your years the upheaval will begin.
The trigger for these tumultuous changes will be the accelerating advances in artificial intelligence. These changes will arm computers with complex conceptual skills that will make it possible for them to frame and solve complex intellectual problems with frightening efficiency and at minimal expense. That will mean that economic dislocations will no longer be limited to blue-collar and administrative functions. Knowledge workers, i.e. doctors, lawyers, engineers and top line management will also soon have to compete against the skills of computers, enhanced with sophisticated intelligent software. These advanced computers will accomplish highly skilled tasks, but without holidays, sick leave, strikes, unions or a wage. It will be hard to compete against that package. Of course there will be some professionals in every field left standing. But more and more functions that professionals are now required for will be taken over by artificial intelligence. As I have indicated elsewhere, one very prominent technology whizz with many significant innovations to his name, estimates that in forty years artificial intelligence will increase the brain power of homo sapiens one billion fold! As this new technology leaps forward, the economic shadow it casts will lengthen accordingly. These sophisticated computers will not require food, clothing or shelter. They will not need sleep: they will operate 24/7. If this scenario unfolds, cold panic is coming to your home town, to your friends and yes, to you. No work. No money. No credit. That will be a change for most educated people. Banks will not consider computers clients for lending purposes. For one thing, they will have no income. Sophisticated computers will not suffer from the emotional weaknesses of mankind . What employer in his right mind will hire any human worker in the future. with all the disadvantages outlined above, if a computer can do the job instead? Sophisticated medical and legal tasks are already being undertaken by leading edge software programmes. Exponentially accelerating advances in these capacities are likely to make the economic tsunami visible on the horizon within a generation. Once it gets rolling, it will be unstoppable. Until it gets rolling, politicians will ignore it. But when the economic tsunami gathers force, it will sweep away the political models underpinning economic life on the planet. Now, governments function by collecting a tax on wages and commerce, to support the provision of services that people need or want. You humans have the opportunity, in democratic societies at least, to throw out the bad guys when they don’t deliver the goods. But if only a fraction of the jobs out there to do cannot be done by tomorrow’s computers, a major source of revenue, taxes on wages, will disappear. Most of your governments are in a financially precarious state now. They cannot sustain services without income taxes paid on work. With most humans having no means of livelihood, government will be the employer of last resort. How will they meet this demand? If they can’t, how will they stay in power? The political centre will give way to be replaced by political chaos.
Without work, income or purpose, homo sapiens’ populations will tear each other to bits.
In the past, there have been many comentators who have predicted the end of work with advancing computer technology. They were simply ahead of their time. If paid work is not in the future for most homo sapiens, then both people and their governments will require radically new models as a framework for their existence. Otherwise, one of your closest neighbours, Mars, reportedly has water.
GOODNIGHT FOR NOW