When I was a kid, a popular idea of a utopia involved robots taking care of life’s needs. Today when people talk about automation, they present it in the context of displacing jobs.
Let’s say robots and automation could provide all of life’s material needs—food, water, shelter, warmth, etc. It seems that yesterday’s idea of utopia has become a source of fear. Maybe that’s the media selling clicks, since anxiety probably generates more than confidence.
If we could create robots and automation to provide everything for us, would we prefer that life? I think we’d expect that if we could, the companies that provided the service would still charge us for it. Nobody could pay for it, so nobody would get it. So why not just provide the service for free?
I think our society would dislike everyone receiving what they need to live without paying. But why? I think people would reflexively say because without working, they wouldn’t provide for society. But if everyone’s needs are provided for, there’s no loss in not working.
If there’s no need to work, why should everyone or anyone work? If work creates meaning and purpose, people will find work to do. If not, why do it?
What provides meaning and purpose?
If working for the sake of working doesn’t provide meaning and purpose, what does? I think not the physical labor but the service we provide others. If helping others creates meaning and purpose, what function does automation provide?
If automation and robotics only do some work but we always value work, why bother automating in the first place? You could say we can automate the jobs we don’t want, like dangerous or dirty ones, but before all our automation, when our ancestors hunted and gathered, they didn’t have dangerous or dirty jobs like working in mines or hauling garbage to landfills.
We created the work we hate
We’ve automated dangerous, laborious jobs like picking lettuce, but we created those jobs in the first place. Our ancestors picked or hunted what food they needed. I understand that our best understanding of subsistence living says that they lived with more health, longevity, and abundance than any society since agriculture until maybe living memory, but our post-agricultural post-industrial society is already declining in health, longevity, and abundance since that peak. Plus we’re decreasing the Earth’s ability to sustain life and society.
What have we gained? Rather, have we gained anything?
Have we lost touch with our values? Have we improved on them?
Why not return to a simpler life? Can we?
Is it possible that agriculture and industry’s success has been to increase the number of people while failing at improving our lives? Have we simply created more less happy people? Is increasing automation augmenting that trend?
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