The Perfect Storm.
No, not the movie. Rather something else entirely.
According to Wikipedia, the infallible source of information we all go to when we can’t be bothered to scroll down on a Google search return page, a perfect storm is:
a rare combination of circumstances [that] will aggravate a situation drastically
And the situation(s) I am going to rattle on about for longer than I probably should and longer than you could probably tolerate is the fate of mankind in the decades to come. Disclaimer: I am not a clairvoyant or claim to be any kind of academic or expert in any of the fields I mention, so I could be talking a sack full of BS and wasting your time here, not that you are busy or anything seeing as though you are here reading this. Anyway….
We have entered into an age where a number of genuinely disruptive forces are going to meet, or collide if you are of dramatic persuasion, for the first time in human history and the result of which is either going to be transcendently brilliant or apocolyptic and horrible.
So, here’s them forces listed in an order that is not particular in anyway:
- Near universal automation in workplaces – mechanical & software.
- Radical life extension and other positive health-care and well-being advances.
- Artificial General Intelligence.
A few days ago I wrote about how we are entering into a new age of workplace automation and one that I think will result in the loss of possibly millions of jobs for humans. Long story short, just like jobs in the primary sector are pretty much none existent today thanks to advancements in tech and farming methods, jobs in the secondary and tertiary sector are going to be obliterated in the very near future with thanks to advancements in automation technologies, machine learning, and A.I –Sometimes referred to as cybernation. You can read it HERE!
As we edge closer to the birth of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) good old-fashioned “dumb” tech is going to get smarter and then increasingly smarter and more capable, and as this happens the number of jobs it takes away from humans will increase and the number of jobs humans are capable of doing or are required to do will decrease. Then those remaining jobs will be taken by this cybernation process. When someone be that Google, Facebook, or any other tech firm or government creates AI then that is it. Game over. No more jobs for humans. By this I do not mean that every single person on the planet would be unemployed, I mean that a minuscule percentage of our race will have a job and the rest – hundreds of millions if not billions of us, would be unemployable.
Critics of such an argument say that although job losses in the primary, secondary, and some jobs in the third sector will inevitably be lost humans would still be employable because we will move into healthcare and general care giving services such as taking care of ill, elderly, and disabled people. This is undoubtedly a nice thought. These sections of our society are often neglected and of course it would be awesome to do something positive such as this.
The problem is though that there are not enough elderly, ill, and disabled people who need or want help around to give everyone displaced by cybernation a job. According to dlf.org.uk “Nearly one in five people of working age (7 million, or 18.6%) in Great Britain have a disability” And the thing is, only a small percentage of disabled people do need assistance either that being with health care or other personal issues.
Critics also point to the fact that we are living longer and this trend will continue so more people would be required to care for the elderly amongst us, so therefore more job opportunities. They often forget though that although we are living longer we are also living healthier into older age than we ever have been before. This is due to a number of factors but to summarise this primarily comes down to superior health care and improved living standards.
200 years ago life expectancy in the UK was just 40 years of age. Today life expectancy is 80. There have been all kinds of breakthroughs since 1800 when it comes to health care and medicine and one such breakthrough came in 1940 when the worlds first metallic hip transplant was carried out. Today hip replacements are the most common type of orthopaedic operation/surgery and the most common ailment, if that is the correct terminology, that hip replacement surgery treats is Osteoarthritis, which is a debilitating disease. Before hip replacements were possible those who would otherwise need one would suffer deteriorating health due to restricted movement and chronic pain.
We now have artificial pacemakers which really do keep millions of people worldwide alive. Before 1958 these types of devices were not portable. A user had to be plugged into a power supply (yip – the wall), and it had to be carried outside of the body. The first types of implantable devices were beginning to be used in the early 1960s. These used primitive batteries for power and because of this they had a very short lifespan, a few days to a week or two at most. It was not until after the invention of the Lithium battery when these types of pacemakers became genuinely practical, but even still they were still relatively bulky.
Today’s most commonly implanted artificial cardiac pacemakers are roughly the size of a matchbox and can be fitted within an hour. Patients can usually go home within a day of surgery and can get on with their lives with negligible disruption. However, a newer version of the technology is the size of a pill. It is installed inside the wall of the heart and it is essentially wireless. This new tech reduces the risk of infection and reduces recovery times as the procedure to install it does not require invasive surgery as per its predecessor.
Old age kills 2 out of 3 of us. It is the number one cause of death worldwide. Some organisations have been set up to put an end to this and insist that old age should be regarded as a disease to be obliterated instead of something that is “natural” or “inevitable”. Google, or its parent company Alphabet, is one of them having founded Calico in 2013. And there is SENS Research Foundation who, according to their website, are researching the “application of regenerative medicine to age-related disease, with the intent of repairing underlying damage to the body’s tissues, cells, and molecules. Our goal is to help build the industry that will cure the diseases of aging.”
The founder of SENS, Aubrey de Grey, says that when these kinds of technologies arrive they would likely be available for everyone.
“At the moment, when people get sick, it’s incredibly expensive,” de Gray says. “Probably 90% of the medical budget of the industrialized world goes to the diseases and disabilities of old age one way or another. That’s trillions and trillions of dollars.”
de Grey goes on to say that if people can stay healthy into their 80s and 90s and longer it means that they can keep contributing their time, wealth, and so on to the economy and society. And this would be attractive to governments even if they were averse to taxation. They WOULD be stupid not to spend multiple billions of dollars ensuring that everyone had access to life extension medicines and technology as the returns would likely rack up in the trillions.
But this, dear reader, is where it gets messy. Some people worry that as the population of older people living longer increases then the cost of looking after the elder generation is going to increase. Take the United Kingdom for example where when people reach a particular age (I think it’s currently 65 years of age give or take a year or two) they become eligible for a state pension. This is when people can retire if they want to or are financially secure enough to. Nonetheless more older people means more state pension claimants, right? Aubrey de Grey does not think so. He reasons that because people will be healthier in old age they could still work. For example, you might be aged 85 but have the physical and mental health of a 50-year-old. Essentially the age of entitlement increases to compensate, as it does now in-fact (for that and other reasons too).
But this is talk of the future. When is the future exactly? Well, Ray Kurzweil, the Director of Engineering at Google, thinks that the future is 2029. He is of the opinion that thanks to the exponential growth of medical technologies by 2029 or sometime around then we “will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy. By that I don’t mean life expectancy based on your birthdate, but rather your remaining life expectancy.” This constant adding of one year every year would allow time for further breakthroughs that would further extend life and sooner rather than later we will develop medicines and technologies that will ensure that we do not die from old age and associated illnesses and diseases.
If these events do indeed pan out what is it that these legions of “immortal” older people going to do for employment? And what about their (adult) children behind them, and then their children too? Granted there will be people who will shun these advances and want to die of old age. This might be for religious reasons or out of distrust of the technology or even fear, and they would need some kind of support as some older people do today as they age and suffer the negative ramifications of old age. But, again, the number of such people is going to be small. And there will already be people trained to be employed in these positions. It is likely the number of jobs in this sector plummets in response.
But, the aforementioned critics might argue in response, if people are living longer and healthier then a whole host of opportunities are going to be presented and thus more jobs will be created to cater for them. This does seem like a reasonable argument, only… WHAT JOBS? They are not going to be working in the farming and mining industries because those jobs do not even exist today because of automation. They are not going to get jobs in manufacturing and associated industries because these jobs are being automated away and this trend will NOT stop. They might get jobs in the service industry but, again, these jobs are becoming evermore susceptible to automation and as it stands, in the UK at least, the majority of people in employment today are already working in the service industries. There are not a lot of growth or expansion opportunities here, restaurants and fast food outlets already exist. There is not a particular need for any more supermarkets and other retail outlets. In fact it is possible that in the near future these two in particular could disappear from the high street entirely and relocated, or repurposed, in distribution warehouses and facilities with consumers simply ordering their products online. And these facilities do and will continue to automate picking and packing jobs. And delivery of said goods would be automated too such as autonomous road vehicles and through the air via drone technology.
And here is a sobering thought. Even if some of these jobs were not automated away, lets say in fast food restaurants, how fucking depressing would it be to be 18 or 20 years old with the knowledge that you are going to live forever, and realising that you are doomed to spend all of eternity, more or less, serving burgers and chicken nuggets? Shudder.
Ah! But, say the critics, even if no new (or an insignificant number of) jobs are created in the traditional sectors – jobs in emerging sectors will explode. The quaternary sector of the economy for example. These are jobs are in IT, information generation and sharing, research and development, education, financial planning, and design to name a few.
Yeah, it could happen but this is in a future where a relatively small number of people developed radical life extension technologies. It’s a future in which tens or hundreds of millions of people, pushing billions, are without employment thanks to cybernation. Some people could acquire the necessary education and skill set to work in these areas but again, there simply will not be enough jobs to go around. And of course when AGI (Artificial General Intelligence)arrives it will take these jobs in IT, information generation and sharing, research and development, education, financial planning, and design and so on within a very short period of time. Once more I am not suggesting that no people would be employed in these industries – just that few people would be required to in the same way that today only 1% of the UK’S working population are employed in agriculture.
What is left I suppose is stuff that most of us do for recreation like art, crafts, music, writing, sports, playing video games, and the like. The thing is, these are not really jobs. I mean, I write this blog and no one pays me to do it. I am not employed. As you have no doubt gathered from my writing style and ability, or lack of it, I am not any kind of journalist or literary type. Indeed If I was in any kind of employment I probably would not be writing at all which is ironic. That being said I do enjoy writing, or typing whatever pops into my head and then going off on a tangent such as the one you are about to experience in a paragraph or two from this one.
And there are millions of people just like me blogging away or creating videos for YouTube, Vimeo, and creating free and open source apps for Android and other operating systems. There are people playing organised sports on weekends, and people writing lyrics or mucking about on drum kits, and streaming themselves playing Street Fighter V just because they like doing it, and do not expect anything in return for doing so. These are the only areas left that can be exploited and corrupted and turned into jobs.
Once upon a time children used to dream of being astronauts, firemen, doctors, or doing whatever it was that their parents were employed to do, when they got older. Nowadays they dream of being on The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, or some other kind of reality TV show, even if they have no discernible talent. I find this fascinating. I think it stems from the early 2000s when my generation (children at the time) were really the first to embrace the internet and were perhaps the first generation to take note of the seemingly exponential increase in use of and capability of machines. We probably realised that aspiring to work in a supermarket just like our parents were doing at the time was really rather depressing, and perhaps reasoned that those jobs might not even be a job by the time we left school. We were the first generation to realise that becoming an astronaut when we left school was simply not realistic. I mean, no one had been to the moon since the 1970s which was some 30 year earlier. Coincidently the start of the new millennium was when reality TV began to take off too.
Reality TV back in the day was generally cheap to produce and edit together because of the “advanced” capability of computers and other production equipment. And it is even more so less expensive to produce it now. Fast-forward to 2017 and almost every child, or teenager, in the UK has a smartphone that is capable of being a full HD video capture and editing suite. Then there are other apps too such as Garage Band with which you can create and produce your own music. Facebook are not idiots so of-course they included video capture tech into their own app which allows you to stream yourself being all kinds of stupid to the internet.
There are cameras and other tools which are marketed to specific demographics. If you are in your mid to late 20s and own a snowboard then you probably have a GoPro camera. If you have a PlayStation or Xbox branded video game console/entertainment system you probably do subscribe to Twitch. And if you have a PC you probably have a YouTube channel, a WordPress site or use another blogging platform and so on. Have we been conditioned, and are conditioning our children, for a world without jobs?
You might argue that these new life goals are indeed jobs as there are many people who make a very good living out of doing them. PewDiePie gets paid to produce YouTube videos and to stream/review games. Justin Bieber gets paid to write music and sing. Well, yes. These are the exceptions. As of time of writing PewDiePie has 54,348,873 subscribers to his YouTube channel. He has more people following his channel than there are people living in England (53.01 million as of 2011). As a result, what he is paid by YouTube or advertisers is not the same as what you or I would be paid if we to upload a video. Not everyone is going to be able to attract 50 million subscribers no matter how interesting or talented they may be. The reality for YouTubers is that income generated from their endeavours fluctuates massively from absolute zero to millions of £s, and even still this income is not guaranteed from month to month.
Justin Bieber who has 27,930,024 subscribers on YouTube became popular precisely because of YouTube. He went from busking one day to super-stardom the next and this probably would not have happened if it were not for YouTube and the millions upon millions of teenagers and younger children using YouTube. Moreover, he no longer produces videos exclusively for YouTube. YouTube, to him and his team, is just another advertising platform. In fact his official YouTube channel is operated and controlled by Vevo – which is another video hosting website/service which was founded by Universal Music Group (UMG) and Sony Music Entertainment (SME) in response to YouTube’s dominance. Regardless, because of Biebers’s success today’s children think you can upload a video of oneself singing on Monday and by Tuesday expect to have sold 66 million records in Europe, when in reality 99% of such videos (a figure of speech rather than an actual statistic) go unnoticed or mocked when they are.
Everywhere you look online for help and advice on setting up a blog or video blog or YouTube channel and so on, there seems to be a mountain of information that, supposedly, if followed will help you get lots of subscribers and returning visitors – and therefore money via advertisements. The thing is, these resources always seem to offer the same advice. “Find your passion and from that a niche to exploit” and produce content for it, constantly. So for example if you quite like horses they say that instead of writing about why you like horses and where you have been with a horse recently you are supposed to review saddles or horse grooming equipment and stuff. Which is all well and good but the number of horse owners in, say, the UK is abysmally small. And in an economy where everyone is forced to do this kind of thing for a living once more a “content creator’s” content gets buried either under high quality stuff or mountains of crap.
Mainstream interests already have been exploited to death and as a result of this YouTubers, bloggers, and the like, have to keep adapting – because their income depends upon it, moving into areas in which if they were being honest they would say that they really do not have any real interest in but recognise it as something to exploit in exchange for income.
Further, these advice giving websites and resources insist that an online content creator must create a “brand”, the brand being them. So we have people setting up all kinds of stuff, video blogs etc.. where they talk about nothing of any real importance. Generally their love life or lack of it. Or cats. But I suspect more often than not these scenarios and events are grossly exaggerated or entirely fictitious, created for the purposes of creating and maintaining a brand. Think of content along the lines of scripted reality TV shows (an oxymoron) like Geordie Shore, The Only Way is Essex, and even Big Brother. And you would notice even after a brief stint of viewing popular YouTuber’s channels that they go out of their way to super size, or exaggerate, specific personality traits and/or physical appearance and mannerisms. Some content creators don’t particularity do anything other than express what some perceive to be controversial views and opinions. I am not saying that they have no right to do this but it’s all they seem to do but because their existence depends upon it they have to keep upping the ante and pushing boundaries of decent and civilised behaviour. Saying something particularly abhorrent might get you mentioned in the traditional print media, and therefore generate increased traffic to your channel/website/profile etc…
The aforementioned advice about finding your passion it seems only goes so far. They, or we, essentially become salesmen and marketeers.
So we have situations where young people are creating stuff to put online, because they want to and think that it’ll generate them an income, and then find themselves disappointed and dejected when they realise that 1)No one in the way of meaningful numbers is watching or reading the stuff they produce, and B) they have not sold any stuff or made any money through advertisements and affiliate programmes.
As a result this new type of work, work which has never before existed, is kind of like zero hour contract work in traditional jobs but in reverse. The ones doing the work here are not guaranteed a wage. They can work for as many hours as they like in fact but wages? No! You are supposed to be grateful that you have been given an opportunity to do something you are supposed to be passionate about.
These are not jobs. And frankly this is not something that a shitload of displaced workers are going to be able to make a living from when, in the near future, cybernation, AI, and extended life extension medicines and stuff takes hold.
So, in summary:
New technology is likely going to displace legions of workers in the near future.
If this new technology does not facilitate this, in sufficiently high enough numbers to cause concern, then the creation of Artificial General Intelligence will.
Humans are no longer going to die from the effects of old age (if they do not want to). This means more people living longer needing to have a job for far longer than older people need, or want, them today.
Asking hundreds of millions of people to create stuff and post it to the internet is not a realistic way to ensure they have an income. Because it is not today.
What then? What NOW?