Three visions of our future after the robot revolution

Summary: During the past 2 years the robot revolution has come into view, and all but Right-wingers living in fantasy-land have begun to realize it might (like the previous ones) produce large-scale social disruption and suffering. But to prepare for these changes we must first image what kind of world they’ll create. Here we look at three visions about what lies ahead for us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
— Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, 9 September  2009.

Dark futures

 

Contents

  1. The center-left sees the problem
    ……and offers mild solutions.
  2. Realistic analysis and prescriptions.
  3. Visions of dark futures.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  The center-left sees the problem and offers mild solutions

Slowly, people have come to see the coming robot revolution (aka, a new industrial revolution), even economists. The Left has adopted this issue, as they have climate change, as a means to enact long-sought changes in the US economy. Like climate change, their solutions are far too small for the problem described.

(a) A World Without Work” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, July/Aug 2015 — “For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?” Typical of The Atlantic. Long, meandering, confused mish-mash of issues. Never confronts the core issue of how people will earn money to live. Lots of nonsense about people living by selling crafts to each other.

(b) The Future of Work in the Age of the Machine” by Melissa S. Kearney, Brad Hershbein, and David Boddy at the Hamilton Project, February 2015. See the slides and transcript from the seminar they held for academics and businesspeople. Their prescription is aggressive application of conventional methods…

The Project’s economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.

(c) The future of work in the second machine age is up to us” by Marshall Steinbaum at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 23 February 2015 — They show that the robot revolution has not yet appeared in the macroeconomic statistics. But it’s coming. Their conclusions are the standard center-left recipe, like those of the Hamilton Project…

So what should be the focus of public policy is to figure out ways for workers to accrue more of corporate earnings, for more unemployed and underemployed people to find full-time, productive jobs, and for the broader economy to serve the interests of the actual people who inhabit it — those who overwhelmingly derive their living from their labor. We know what needs to be done and how to do it, because we’ve done it before.

Clear vision

(2)  Realistic analysis and prescriptions

A few people have seen that a problem of this scale will require bolder solutions than liberals are willing to take (conservatives prefer imaginary problems where the past did not happen and will not repeat).

I am no fan of Jeremy Rifkin, but his 1995 book was a prescient attempt to grapple with the problem: The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era — He advocates a kind of socialism as the solution. Publisher’s blurb…

Jeremy Rifkin argues that we are entering a new phase in history – one characterized by the steady and inevitable decline of jobs. The world is fast polarizing into two potentially irreconcilable forces: on one side, an information elite that controls and manages the high-tech global economy; and on the other, the growing numbers of displaced workers, who have few prospects and little hope for meaningful employment in an increasingly automated world. The end of work could mean the demise of civilization as we have come to know it, or signal the beginning of a great social transformation and a rebirth of the human spirit.

For a laser-like focus on the core issue see “Who Will Own the Robots?” in MIT Technology Review, — “We’re in the midst of a jobs crisis, and rapid advances in AI and other technologies may be one culprit. How can we get better at sharing the wealth that technology creates?”

Mike Konczal demolishes fantasies about a post-work world in his rebuttal to Derek Thompson’s article in The Atlantic: “The Hard Work of Taking Apart Post-Work Fantasy” at the Roosevelt Institute.

(3) Visions of dark futures

To imagine what lies ahead of us if current trends continue, we can turn to science fiction, especially cyberpunk novels — as in these summaries by Diana Biller from “The Essential Cyberpunk Reading List” at io9. They describe a world in which the 1% continues winning — executing conservatives’ plans to cut taxes for the rich and cut benefits for the 99%. Combine that with steady pressure on wages as jobs disappear (a growing “reserve army of the unemployed”) and you get visions of dark futures — a “nightmarish world of corporate control and extreme wealth disparities.”

Neuromancer
Available at Amazon.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

Henry Dorsett Case used to be a hacker, before his employer caught him stealing and he was dosed with a drug that made him incapable of accessing the global computer network. Now a mysterious person needs his hacking skills, and promises him a cure in return.

The book that defined the sub-genre, this 1984 novel is likely the most essential of the books on this list (it was also the first winner of the science fiction triple crown, taking the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick Award).

Gibson has written many influential cyberpunk novels, including the rest of the Sprawl Trilogy (of which Neuromancer is the first), the Bridge Trilogy, and the short story collection Burning Chrome.

Frontera
Available at Amazon.

Frontera by Lewis Shiner (1984)

“Corporate control, body augmentation, and other cyberpunk themes blend with golden age elements.”

Ten years ago the world’s governments collapsed, and now the corporations are in control. Houston’s Pulsystems has sent an expedition to the lost Martian colony of Frontera to search for survivors. Reese, aging hero of the US space program, knows better. The colonists are not only alive, they have discovered a secret so devastating that the new rulers of Earth will stop at nothing to own it. Reese is equally desperate to use it for his own very personal agenda.

But none of them have reckoned with Kane, tortured veteran of the corporate wars, whose hallucinatory voices are urging him to complete an ancient cycle of heroism and alter the destiny of the human race. {From the publisher.}

Metrophage
Available at Amazon.

Metrophage by Richard Kadrey (1988)

Welcome to our future: L.A. in the late twenty-first century — a segregated city of haves and have-nots, where morality is dead and technology rules. Here, a small wealthy group secludes themselves in gilded cages. Beyond their high-security compounds, far from their pretty comforts, lies a lawless wasteland where the angry masses battle hunger, rampant disease, and their own despair in order to survive. Jonny was born into this Hobbesian paradise.   {Publisher}

This dystopian novel by the author of the Sandman Slim series takes place in late 21st-century Los Angeles, where the rich live in unimaginable luxury and everybody else lives in a wasteland of misery. And a small-time drug dealer discovers a strange new plague, and gets drawn into the secret warfare between huge economic blocs.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts  See all posts about increasing inequality and about the 3rd Industrial Revolution — especially these…

See these books to better understand what’s coming…

 

 

21 thoughts on “Three visions of our future after the robot revolution

  1. Classically, one talks about the “reserve army of the _un_employed”, but since the current trend is towards not paying for labor (e.g. uncompensated overtime, interns without a salary, zero-hour contracts where stand-by is not paid, work preparation and lengthy security checks that are not counted as paid work as happens at Amazon, etc), maybe your expression is prescient.

  2. I think that the two Daemon books by Suarez should also be included as a utopia. Its easy to write distopias.

    1. Social Bill,

      “Its easy to write distopias.”

      I envy people who can say that. I write 12-14 articles of non-fiction per week — with no pretensions of style or skill — and find each and every one difficult to write. These are far simpler than fiction, so I admire successful authors.

  3. I share the pessimism of this article, but perhaps it is a little hard on the mild solutions offered by the center left? The more I think abut this issue, the clearer it becomes to me that there really is not a political solution to the problem of technological unemployment. I for the most part have come to the conclusion that the only way for those of us who are not and will not be among the winners of the robot revolution to live dignified and independent lives is to just settle on a patch of land somewhere and to become subsistence farmers. This is, indeed, an extreme solution, but I see no other way. Those who do not do this, because they are waiting for some fantastical basic guaranteed income scheme, are simply not going to make it.

  4. When I say that the article is hard on the mild solution offered by the center left, what I meant is that it seems to me that for people in their position, who know that there really is no solution at all to the problems that are being caused and will be caused by the robot revolution, there is nothing else to do but to utter the irrelevant nonsense that they presently are uttering

    1. Irving,

      I understand why you say that. It’s the consensus, after all. But imo it’s a result of seeing only inside the box. We have ample tools to deal with this. Your extreme pessimism is just a lack of vision — of our past, and of possible futures.

      1. Reversing the absurd expansion of copyright and patent coverage and duration.
      2. Resume enforcement of anti-monopoly enforcement, derailed by Judges listening to economists.
      3. Roll-back some of the anti-union legislation since WWII and resume enforcement of what remains on the books, with improved anti-corruption tools and adopting some of Germany’s worker-owner partnerships.
      4. End the flat-tax created by Reagan and Bush Jr (which also created perpetual fiscal deficits), restoring the progressive tax schema America had during its period of post-WWII growth and prosperity.
      5. Restore labor regulations — which is slowly happening: minimum wage, hours/overtime, safety.
      6. Restore regulation of safety, service, and price to key untilities.

      We were fast-talked out of these in exchange for promises which have provide quite bogus. These will provide time to develop and text deeper and more innovative solutions.

  5. Editor:

    I agree that if those policy recommendations you’ve just enumerated were actually given their due consideration and even implemented, it would probably help a great deal. But the reason why I’m pessimistic is that I know that the people who could bring about those changes are just as aware of what a great benefit that they would be as you and I, and yet they refuse to bring them about. Why is that?

    Well, at least one reason is that they are completely beholden to various people which presently dominate our politics, and these people seem to think that these policies would adversely affect them in some way. What we have is a real conflict of interests here between the rich, on the one hand, and the rest on the other. And never have I heard of a situation in which people with power voluntarily ceded some of their power to benefit those without power. Thus I tend to think my pessimism is justified. I really would not even mind so much inequality as such so long as everyone who wanted one could reasonably expect to have a job that paid a living wage, even if that job were unpleasant and the wages considerably less than Americans have hitherto been accustomed to earning, but I know that this is never going to happen; now and in the future, it will always be unemployment or part-time work at poverty-level wages for everyone but the rich. But we will see, I hope that I’m wrong, particularly because I’m in my early 20s and am so, so frightened that things at the end of the day won’t turn out as I once expected.

    I came to the realization a long time ago, though, that there is a difference between a governmental system which is unfair, unjust and oppressive, and one which “doesn’t work”. I think that a lot of people tend to ignore this important distinction. During the ’90s, apparently millions of North Koreans died as a result of a famine caused by the incompetence of the government; that didn’t mean, however, that the North Korean government “didn’t work”, and this is evident from the fact that it is still in power. We can only say that a government “doesn’t work” when it is failing on its own terms and its stability is undermined and under threat; and this, for the most part, has nothing or else little to do with the well-being of its people. We should remember this before we complain about our government; their interests are not necessarily ours, and while things may be going badly for us it may be going just fine for the people in power.

  6. Hello, I have been a subscriber to FM for at least a year now, and have cited or shared many of your posts with others since then. But somehow I missed your post above about three visions of our future after the robot revolution until now. Otherwise, I am familiar with many of the other sources you cite, and appreciate your ongoing coverage of this issue, which I also follow regularly and attempt to increase awareness about within my own more limited sphere of influence. What a follows is a list I recently compiled in response to another FB discussion that includes some possibilities that try to go beyond the tepid and generally just more “business as usual” alternatives that the few on the center Left who have even begun to discuss this publicly have proposed so far, e.g. such as the recommendations of the authors of the Second Machine Age. I thought the FM authors and other readers might find some of these of interest, at least to the extent you and others may not already be aware of them. Thanks again for the work you do.

    1. Shannon Rudolph: EVERY AMERICAN should know about “The Third Way”; the slow takeover of the Democratic Party by Wall Street investment bankers, pulling the party away from it’s core beliefs of ‘people first’, shredding the American middle class and other people around the world. The heat of ‘austerity’ has been turned up slowly as this group has taken over the party of FDR & JFK, just as the Koch Brothers’ tea party has taken over the Republican Party. The Kochs’ were also early supporters & funders of the Democratic Leadership Council, renamed the Third Way.

      Thomas Brandt: The term “third way” has been used to mean many things by many people over time, and I agree the cooptation described in Shannon’s post above is not at all as benign as its users might want us to believe. It is also my impression that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became modern proponents of the use of this term as described above. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Way

      EXCERPT: The term “Third Way” has been used to explain a variety of political courses and ideologies in the last few centuries. These ideas were implemented by progressives in the early 20th century. The term “Third Way” was picked up again in the 1950s by German ordoliberal economists such as Wilhelm Röpke, resulting in the development of the concept of the social market economy.

      Later Röpke distanced himself from the term and located the social market economy as “first way” in the sense of an advancement of the free market economy.[16] Most significantly, Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963, based his philosophy of government on what he entitled in a book, The Middle Way (1938).

      Modern usage[edit] The Third Way has been defined as: …Something different and distinct from liberal capitalism with its unswerving belief in the merits of the free market and democratic socialism with its demand management and obsession with the state. The Third Way is in favour of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but it is also in favour of greater social justice and it sees the state playing a major role in bringing this about. So in the words of… Anthony Giddens of the LSE the Third Way rejects top down socialism as it rejects traditional neo liberalism. — Report from the BBC, 1999, [17]

      A variant of the Third Way exists which approaches the centre from a social democratic perspective. It has been advocated by its proponents as an alternative to both capitalism and what it regards as the traditional forms of socialism, including Marxist socialism and state socialism, that Third Way social democrats reject.[18] It advocates ethical socialism, reformism, gradualism – that includes advocating the humanization of capitalism, a mixed economy, political pluralism, and liberal democracy.[18]

      It has been advocated by proponents as a “competition socialism” – an ideology in between traditional socialism and capitalism.[19] A chief social democratic proponent of Third Way, Anthony Giddens, has publicly supported a modernized form of socialism within the social democracy movement but claims that “traditional socialist” ideology referring to state socialism that involves economic management and planning are flawed and states as a theory of the managed economy, socialism barely exists any longer’.[20]

      Thomas Brandt: For a good source of a wider variety of alternative ideas that have been, or could be, called “third way”, see: http://www.radicalmiddle.com/ Radical Middle Political Newsletter: Idealism Without Illusions

      More food for thought about what might be defined as possible 21st century “third way” alternatives in addition to, or instead of, Bernie Sander’s traditional 20th century proposed remedies:

      https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDemocrats/photos/a.347907068635687.81180.346937065399354/838842422875480/?type=3&theater “The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all?” -Bernie Sanders

      http://www.inquisitr.com/…/david-stockman-says…/ Former Reagan budget director David Stockman Says Unemployment Is Really 42.9 percent…
      INQUISITR.COM

      http://billmoyers.com/…/the-future-of-work-in-the-uber…The Future of Work in the Uber Economy | BillMoyers.com
      BILLMOYERS.COM

      http://www.wired.com/…/rise-machines-future-lots…/ Rise of the Machines: The Future has Lots of Robots, Few Jobs for Humans WIRED.COM|BY MARGUERITE MCNEAL

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/09/21/what-well-encounter-on-the-path-to-the-jobless-future/

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/07/20/we-need-a-new-version-of-capitalism-for-the-jobless-future/

      http://declineofscarcity.com/?p=2790 Ten Responses to the Technological Unemployment Problem | THE DECLINEOFSCARCITY.COM

      /http://www.nationofchange.org/…/why-we-need-a…/ Why We Need a Guaranteed Income. Soon. – NationofChange | Progressive…NATIONOFCHANGE.ORG

      http://www.pbs.org/…/will-guaranteed-income-ever-come…/ Will a guaranteed income ever come to America? | PBS NewsHour PBS.ORG

      http://www.capitalhomestead.com/ What if every man, woman and child in America could receive each year through a local bank $3,000 of “interest-free” credit to invest in our nation’s growth and new technologies, and this could be done without using any taxpayer dollars and without taking away anyone’s wealth? Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen CAPITALHOMESTEAD.COM

      http://dividendsforall.net/ With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough – August 4, 2014. EVERY AMERICAN KNOWS that our middle class is in decline. But in a globalized, increasingly automated economy, what can we do about this? In the past, good-paying jobs were the bedrock of America’s middle class.

      But we must face the fact that jobs alone won’t sustain a large middle class in the future—there just aren’t, and won’t be, enough good-paying jobs to do that. That means we need broadly shared streams of non-labor income.

      Where might such non-labor income come from? One possibility is higher taxes. But there’s another and better source: wealth we own together. Consider the Alaska Permanent Fund, which uses revenue from the state’s oil resources to pay dividends to every Alaskan.

      A similar fund based on several co-owned assets could be established nationwide. Dividends from co-owned wealth make political as well as economic sense. They’re not welfare but rather legitimate property income. They rest on conservative as well as liberal principles and can unite our country rather than divide it.

      http://dividendsforall.net/potential-revenue-sources/ WITH LIBERTY AND DIVIDENDS FOR ALL – POTENTIAL REVENUE SOURCES

      http://motherboard.vice.com/re…/only-state-free-money-alaska

      https://theconversation.com/the-green-tech-future-is-a flawed vision of sustainability THECONVERSATION.COM|BY SAMUEL ALEXANDER

      http://www.howonearth.us/ THE “OTHER” SHARING ECONOMY: How on Earth is an exciting new book outlining the emerging not-for-profit economy that lies beyond…HOWONEARTH.US

      http://www.shareable.net/…/how-Platform Cooperativism Can Accelerate Sustainable Consumption SHAREABLE.NET

      http://www.shareable.net/…How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing…SHAREABLE.NET

      In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin describes how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism. http://www.thezeromarginalcostsociety.com/

      http://www.nytimes.com/…/socialism-american-style.html…So…, American-Style: Public ownership of capital lowers taxes, and it’s efficient.
      NYTIMES.COM|BY GAR ALPEROVITZ AND THOMAS M. HANNA

      https://theconversation.com/life-in-a-degrowth-economy, and why you might actually enjoy it THECONVERSATION.COM|BY SAMUEL ALEXANDER

      http://grist.org/…/none-of-the-worlds-top-industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural resources they use… GRIST.ORG

      http://www.shareable.net/…/shareable%E2%80%99s-top-10…Long before the “sharing economy” was part of everyday conversation, Shareable started covering this movement and alternatives to capitalism as we know it, including worker coops, the open source movement, publicly-owned energy, tiny houses, the commons (including limited equity co-housing), car-sharing, meal-sharing, and much more. We even created our own Sharing Cities Network to help connect people around the world under the banner of livable, human-scale, sharing communities.

      Every week, we look at which articles attracted the most Shareable readers. This helps us see what resonates with our community and plan future coverage. We recently looked back at our most-read articles of all time and decided to share the top 10 here. SHAREABLE.NET

      Thomas Brandt: Re my links above about various ways to fund a guaranteed basic income based on citizenship rather than work or welfare, Robert Reich also endorses this concept in his most recent book (although he is far from the first to do so, he may be the most high-profile former political figure to do so on the record, so far): https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/saving-capitalism/…|BookName|Phrase_BBM

      SAVING CAPITALISM by Robert B. Reich | Kirkus Reviews – EXCERPT: Reich examines key problem areas such as antitrust regulation and the tightening corporate stranglehold over intellectual property, and he arrives at some innovative reforms—e.g., paying all Americans a guaranteed annual income, a thought not quite as radical as it might seem and backed by an odd-bedfellow assortment of libertarians and conservatives. Reich also suggests making Americans shareholders of the intellectual property market, requiring a payment of royalties into the public domain as the cost of holding a patent.

      Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’ on “Saving Capitalism” (2015) by former US Labor Secy Robert Reich (see above): “A riveting guide to how our economic and political system has become so badly flawed…Wholesale reform is needed—far beyond the usual prescriptions of raising the minimum wage and spending more on education.”

    2. Thomas,

      “the slow takeover of the Democratic Party by Wall Street investment bankers”

      IMO it’s vital to see this as one part of a larger process: the 1% are taking over everything of use to them. Both political parties. The universities. The major charities (I’ve personal experience of this happening at the Boy Scouts). They have almost all the discretionary income and feel (as aristocrats usually do) that they are best fit to rule.

      Our complaisance proves them right. Darwin in action.

    3. thomas,

      Thanks for flagging this. It got caught in the spam basket, probably due to the length and number of URLs. In the future please keep comments quite brief. Writing these is not a good use of your time. 1400 words is long of a post. Few people read comments, and few of those read a 1400 word long comment.

  7. Thanks for your feedback. I realize it is longer than most people will read, but it was already written and just copied from elsewhere. My primary purpose in posting it in its entirety was for the possible benefit of the FM authors themselves, in case you were not already aware of some of these ideas and/or their sources.

  8. I also added the following to the edited list above I posted the second time, which was not included in the unedited first post of the list you used above, which you said got caught in your spam filter when I initially submitted it. Thanks again:)

    TOP TEN PEER-TO-PEER TRENDS OF 2015 http://www.shareable.net/blog/top-10-p2p-trends-of-2015 Intro: “We live in a contradictory world, just as it is undoubtedly true that problems are worsening in the dominant system — including ecological destruction, increased social inequality, and increased state repression — just as true is the fact that there is an exponential rise in the creation of non-state, non-corporate initiatives in which citizens the world over are taking matters into their own hands. Many of the below trends were identified last year — we only mention them again here if they significantly matured.”

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