I’m revving up to do a post on 3D printing, but I don’t want to make it a light one. 3D printing is the most here-and-now of all “future” technologies, having emerged and matured as far as it has with the blistering speed indicative of trends as yet unrealized, so I’ve decided to do some lighter pieces which are more philosophical in nature, and designed to engender discussion more than merely highlight megatrends or interesting facts.
So today, I’m writing about one of the false dilemmas with the result of a techno-singularity: the dreaded end of hardship.
If you’re a “romantic” (which in this case is a code-word for having a view firmly rooted in today, which at this pace of change may as well mean the work-ethic of two centuries ago), then you’ve been told from childhood that nothing worth doing is ever easy. You’ve had it hammered home time after time that life is pain, that to live is to suffer… and for all of existence, this has been true.
Our entire world-view is based in a universe which absolutely and unconditionally does not care about our welfare in the slightest. Indeed, most of the universe is unliveable in, and the tiny bit that is, is mostly underwater. Or too hot. Or too cold. And the bits of terrain which aren’t actively trying to kill us have generally had both plants and animals which are either poisonous or just plain deadly.
So, for the entirety of human existence, we’ve had to put up with this. We’ve grown to be the most powerful, most bastardly of all creatures on the planet, taming it to our whims. We’re used to the idea that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”.
But the coming AI revolution, in the long run, promises to do away with that. It promises to usher in a new, golden age of post-scarcity.
This, of course, has the traditionalists, the neo-luddites, up in arms with the idea that there may so be such a thing as a free lunch.
Some folk see the idea of being freed from the need to work to live as the end of all things. Why, they ask, what the hell will we all do with all this free time? How will we exist when every need is taken care of? Why will we do anything when we have no want?
You know what? BULLSHIT.
If you subscribe to this, then bullshit, and I can show you why today. Stay with me, because this isn’t all that difficult:
What you’re describing is a world where all needs are taken care of. Nobody is hungry, nobody is without clothing, or shelter. Nobody is sick, or need suffer debilitating conditions. Drudgery is a thing of the past. Slavery is an outmoded concept, in all its pernicious forms. Slavery even of the mind is history, because we don’t need to get up every day to sit at a desk to work for uncaring task-masters that do not care about our wellbeing.
I ask you, what’s so terrible about that? Do you seriously think that means an end to human ingenuity? An end to human endeavour? An end to the adventurous spirit?
Hell no. We’re the way we are because the very universe itself has made us this way.
We are supremely adaptable, incredibly inquisitive and fiendishly intelligent. These things will not switch off just because you don’t have to get up by 8am to be in the office by 9am.
It will free us from make-work, and lead us to the possibilities of making. Art, language, travel, cuisine, engineering, fun. There are a million things I’d like to do, but don’t have the time or energy for, and I know this for a fact.
How do I know? Because I was a kid once, and I had summer holidays with no school and great weather. So what if there are better ways of doing whatever it is I choose to do? That’s no longer the point.
When – and I sincerely hope it is a when, not an if – we are freed from scarcity and toil, society will change. We may spend the next ten million years playing on the beach. So what, is that so bad? I can guarantee that some folk will not want to sleep in until noon every day, because we’re not like that as a species, and those folk will create uniqueness – stories, art, buildings, things, ideas, treaties, treatises, the whole nine yards.
But wait, I said I could prove it today, huh? Well, a century ago or so, the age of the horse essentially came to an end. So, are all horses gone?
Yes, from our roads and fields, yes from our towns (mostly, not always, but mostly). But are they gone from our lives?
No. No they are not. Now, the proud horse does not need to pull pit-carts or steam-engines, it does not need to toil for eighteen hours a day, every day. It does not need to walk in circles to turn the mill.
Instead, they give rides to children, or pull buggies for fun, or race each other with their jockies for incredible prizes.
That is the future that awaits us – we will grow into a civilization of artisans and musicians, of engineers and scientists. We will cease being pit-ponies and instead become thoroughbreds, where every thought and deed is done because we wish it, not because we need to, at the whim of some cruel master, for our daily bread.
So you go on being scared of a future without want. I’ll be welcoming a future without need, where what I want is up to me.