Our Dystopian Future: Humans Need Not Apply
We aren't just reinventing the wheel anymore. This isn't the stuff of hammers and spears and gunpowder. This isn't like factories and textile mills forcing human labor into obsolescence. We've finally reached a point where the human mind itself may become "old fashioned".
That's a heavy concept to take in. After all, how could the minds that built these machine become obsolete? It's hard for us to accept, because the human brain is such a remarkable piece of nature. Over the past 200 years, we've come to accept that the machines we build can ultimately replace the labor that makes our lives difficult. It's a difficult transition, rife with unemployment and poverty, but ultimately beneficial in the long run.
Automation can give us a safer world as it eliminates dangerous jobs. It can take over mundane tasks, giving us more of that precious time we love so much. Most importantly, it can save us money. Ultimately, this abundance of time allows us to imagine more, and create new ideas. The surplus capital allows us to invest in those ideas, and create new jobs to replace the ones that we lost.
That's why the current state of technology is so alarming. It's beginning to replace a crucial step in that process. The machines we build are starting to replace our imaginations and our creativity. If you don't believe me, take a few minutes to watch this video.
As you can see, nothing is off the table anymore. It used to be comfortable to think that, no matter what happens, we still have our minds. We still have that one special thing that the machines can't possess. A brain that is capable of creativity. Surely, no matter how far technology would advance, we would at least still need people to create and maintain the machines. But if a computer can replace the imaginative spark of the human mind, then no job is safe in the future.
We should have seen the writing on the wall when Kasparov lost to Deep Blue. As stated in the video, chess used to be considered a purely human endeavor, involving strategy and creativity. It was a comforting notion, right up until the moment a computer defeated our greatest player. And when machines learn to replace doctors and lawyers, and even write articles, and compose music, what exactly is left for humans to do? If current trends continue, then the human mind will be relegated to the ash heap of history (the smartphone generation is acting like it already has).
It's hard to fathom what kind of future this would entail. While I believe the human race will survive this, automation will likely lead to the collapse of our high tech civilization. I can only think of two possible futures, and neither of them have a happy ending.
The most likely outcome would involve a continuation of what we're facing now. An advanced civilization with an extreme wealth disparity between those who own and run the machines (at least until they too become obsolete) and the poverty stricken masses, working for pennies to compete with the machines (if they're even working at all). That is the greatest danger when it comes to automation. It tends to give a small group of people a vastly disproportionate amount of wealth and power.
On the other hand, the spread of automation may be more democratized, as we've been seeing with technologies like 3d printing. It may result in everyone having access to cheap, on demand goods and services. Unfortunately it still doesn't solve the problem we're facing. The crux of the matter, is the advancement of thinking machines capable of duplicating the human mind on a massive scale. Whether that kind of power is held by a tiny elite, or distributed to the population at large, it still results in the human race becoming obsolete. I suspect this society would be incredibly prosperous, with little work to be done and plenty of free time. The kind of Jetsons or Star Trek future that people have been dreaming of for decades. Still, these sci-fi franchises failed to truly explore the possible outcomes of a fully automated society living in peace and abundance.
While humanity has often dreamed of a utopian world, there is a nightmarish dark side to such a society, that few have had the courage to explore. Among the few who did, was a researcher by the name of John B. Calhoun. You may have heard of him and his famous “mouse utopia” experiments.
From 1946 until the late 70's, Calhoun built a series of rat and mice enclosures to explore the implications of overpopulation in humans. He would select several healthy mating pairs, and release them into their new homes, which were often capable of supporting thousands of rodents. He would ensure that no matter how large their population grew, there would always be enough food and water. He maintained a clean habitat, free of predators and disease. They had all of their needs met and the only limitation placed on the rodents, was space.
As to be expected, the population would explode in every experiment, but they would never reach the full capacity of the habitat. As time went on the population was would level off, and soon the rodents would begin to completely lose their minds.
Males became aggressive, some moving in groups, attacking females and the young. Mating behaviors were disrupted. Some males became exclusively homosexual. Others became pansexual and hypersexual, attempting to mount any rat they encountered. Mothers neglected their infants, first failing to construct proper nests, and then carelessly abandoning and even attacking their pups. In certain sections of the pens, infant mortality rose as high as 96%, the dead cannibalized by adults.
Subordinate animals withdrew psychologically, surviving in a physical sense but at an immense psychological cost. They were the majority in the late phases of growth, existing as a vacant, huddled mass in the centre of the pens. Unable to breed, the population plummeted and did not recover. The crowded rodents had lost the ability to co-exist harmoniously, even after the population numbers once again fell to low levels. At a certain density, they had ceased to act like rats and mice, and the change was permanent.And in later experiments:
After day 600, the male mice just stopped defending their territory, listless mice congregated in the centers of the Universe. These gangs would burst into pointless and sporadic violence. Females stopped reproducing and even started attacking their own young. Mortality rose phenomenally. Roaming mice either attacked or attempted to mount others, irrespective of relation or gender, cannibalism and other acts of depravity consumed them. These were the feral ones.
Then there were the ‘beautiful ones.’
The ‘beautiful ones’ withdrew themselves ever so quietly, removing themselves from the sick society. Solitary pursuits began to define them; eating, drinking and grooming among others. No scars on their back or hairs out-of-place, these mice behaved like a separate race. They saw the world through their narrow scopes, as they tossed, turned and tried to cope.Researchers also noted their lack of intelligence.
While these experiments are often cited when discussing overpopulation, I find it to be much greater examination of how twisted a “utopian” society would actually be. Every need was met for the rodents, and yet they still turned into something so base and horrifying, even for an animal.
Humans are made to be challenged. If every want and need is satisfied, we quickly devolve into madness and brutality. This shouldn't come as any surprise, as it is what we've seen in the ruling class of every society in human history. Very few people are capable of getting everything they want without turning into monsters.
So what will the future of technology, and specifically automation, bring to the human race? A technocratic elite using their machines to impose their will over the jobless masses? Or perhaps a decadent utopia? One will end in violent rebellion and the other will end in madness. Both will end in collapse, leaving humanity to start from square one again.
From there, humanity will have to find a new way to define itself. Traditionally, we have always separated ourselves from the animals, based on our amazing mental faculties. Specifically, our ability to build tools, shelter, weapons, and technology in general. If we want to escape this horrifying future, we're going to have to pursue a new path (perhaps spiritual?) that will improve our lives and satisfy our innate urge to learn and explore. Because the path we're on now is a dead end.
Maybe I'm wrong about all of this. Looking back, it seems like technological progress has always been beneficial to the human race (even if it was often used for evil purposes). And yet I still have a nagging feeling about this. I hate to sound like a Luddite but, just this one time can we stop and ask ourselves, is this still in our best interest? Is this still progress?
Personally, I have faith in the free-market and liberty in general. The market has almost always favored technological advancement, because that has been the greatest factor in raising our standard living. It'll either continue to do so, or it wont. If this kind of technology stops being in our best interest, then the market will select against it. At least that's what I hope.
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