There are a number of high-profile strikes going on in the United States right now. From the United Auto Worker’s Strike to that of the Writer’s and Actor’s Guilds. Of them, it’s that of the Writer’s Guild that most interests me because of how they’re attempting to head off with legislation and negotiation what technology is bringing.
I’ve long held that the development of AI and automation are going to lead to massive upheaval in how our world will work. Far more disruptive than industrial age, or even the development of the internet, because it’s a change that will be able to completely replace workers.
Many people, when I suggest this, like to point out the Luddites, people who also assumed at the start of the industrial revolution that the power of the steam engine would also put them all out of work, but what it did instead was enable the labour to produce products quickly and more efficiently.
This, in my opinion, is a bad argument because while technology was able to supplement the worker, it was unable to replace a worker entirely. This is where new robotics technologies and AI differs. Being able to produce more products more cheaply with the labour you have helps everybody because it allows prices to come down because of increased supply so more people can benefit.
Being able to produce products without any labourers at all, however, is an entirely different matter since it eliminates the people entirely. It doesn’t matter how cheap the products get if people don’t have any job at all, at least not under our current consumer-capitalist system. “But wait,” comes the rejoinder, “people will still have jobs repairing the machines, right?”
But why would that be when producing a whole new machine can be done entirely through automation. Never mind the idea of machines being designed to repair the other machines.
“What about creative work?”
That’s where the AI comes in. AI, as we currently have it, is not really creative, but it is great for analysing patterns and adjusting those based on feedback, such as purchasing decisions. And as we can see by modern TV and movies, real creativity is not prerequisite to make a profit, just a slight modification on a previous formula (such as the various Marvel Movies, or any reboot or remake we see) can be enough.
The combination of AI with robotics and animation will end our society as we know it. Not because of any sort of Terminator SkyNet scenario, but because our society is based on the idea of what you produce determines what you can have. That collapses when there is no reason or ability for you to produce anything, since the machines are already doing it better, faster, and cheaper.
This could, of course, lead to a utopic situation. One where we could eliminate most material wants for almost all the population, so long as we’re willing to sacrifice the idea of some people doing far better than others.
But then we look back at the strikes, and the management’s reaction.