A Future You Won’t Like: Five Possible Scenarios (4 pics)
Most forecasts of the future are similar to each other. Everything is either good – we will get a lot of affordable goods and services and a lot of time for recreation and travel, or, for example, artificial intelligence will seize power on the planet and this will be the finale of humanity – that is, nowhere worse. But some predictions stand out. Everything is not so clear.
Technological progress has given us something that our parents could not even dream of. The boom in electronics and information technology has made computers, smartphones, the Internet and satellite navigation accessible to the masses. Self-driving electric vehicles and smart things are on the way. Some are more expensive, some are cheaper. Some of them don’t yet, but I’m sure they will. And next in line is a revolution in biotechnology and medicine.
But the benefits of the upcoming biotech revolution will be different. These are health, longevity, beauty and physical capabilities of the body. What a person used to receive at birth and then only corrected as far as possible, including financial ones.
But it’s one thing when you have an inexpensive, but quite functional smartphone from an unknown Asian manufacturer in your pocket, and someone has a hyped and elite one with a price tag 10 times higher than yours, and another thing is when someone lives a hundred years longer than you. And without diseases and other hardships of life. People will differ not in what they have, but in who, or even “what”, they are biologically.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens. A Brief History of Humanity” and professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes that by the end of this century, humanity will split into biological castes. Harari is a historian. And, in his opinion, throughout the history of mankind, inequality between people has only increased. But all this time the achievements of human thought – humanism, liberalism, socialism – to the extent possible, corrected the unfair distribution of goods in society. At the same time, the human masses have been the main productive force since the time of the construction of the pyramids. The elite was forced to take care of people, their education, health and well-being. But this is coming to an end.
Automation and robots are pushing a person out of the productive sphere, and therefore depriving him of a permanent income. Moreover, the income is sufficient to enjoy all the benefits of modern technology. In the next century, inequality in society will reach an all-time high, Harari believes. At the same time, the rich will only increase their capital.
Economic inequality will give rise to biological inequality. Some will be able to improve the capabilities of their body: develop physical and cognitive abilities, others will not be able to. Thus, one part of humanity, with the help of biotechnology and bioengineering available only to it, will be able to improve their bodies. These people will be able to improve themselves, becoming smarter, healthier and, accordingly, will live longer. The other part of humanity will only have to watch it.
Industrialization once gave birth to the working class. Now Industrialization 2.0 threatens to destroy it. But the people themselves are not going anywhere. However, fears of mass unemployment caused by the development of technology (“technological unemployment”, as it is often called) have never been justified. Some professions were always replaced by new ones. But it is not certain that this will always be the case.
Each time, at a new technological stage, the requirements for qualifications for occupying new professions have increased. And at one decisive moment, most people simply will not be able to take a step forward, they will not be able to complete their studies, retrain, understand the updated requirements – the new vacancies that have appeared will not be available to them. Too high a contrast between what a person did at work before and what needs to be done now. As an example, the same Yuval Noah Harari cites a new promising profession of a designer of virtual worlds. Will a taxi driver with 20 years of experience or an insurance agent be able to take it?
Usually young people master new promising professions. And it’s a gradual process. The elderly work towards retirement in their old jobs, while the young take on new ones. This time, everything can happen within one generation. Significant masses of workers will find themselves outside the walls of their enterprises and offices, by historical standards, at once.
According to Harari, by the middle of the century a new class of people will form – the “useless class”. It will not just be the unemployed, it will be people who, in principle, are not able to fill the few remaining vacancies and those who will appear in new industries.
Technological progress, in his opinion, will not make them poor – they will be able to live off an unconditional basic income. But the problem, according to the historian, will lie elsewhere – without work and specific goals, people begin to go crazy. A person needs to experience emotions, a sense of satisfaction, to achieve any goals. The exit could be in virtual reality.
According to Harari, people who have not found a use for themselves in the economy – in the real world, will find their life goals in the virtual worlds. No wonder he talks about the profession of a designer of virtual worlds as one of the popular professions of the future. Virtual reality compensates for the useless class with emotions that its representatives will not receive in the real world. Video games will become the meaning of life of the “useless class”.
Man is an appendage of machines
Almost everyone is already convinced that robots and automation will lead to technological unemployment. It would seem that the trend is obvious – progress in robotics leads to the emergence of machines that work better and faster than humans. There is only one “but”. Whether we stay where we are or not will be decided not by the engineers who create first-class robots, and certainly not by the robots themselves. This is the task of economists. And they are guided only by the principles of economic efficiency. And if the use of human labor is more profitable than the use of robots, then, most likely, it is the person who will be given preference.
But if before a man was smarter than a robot, now in the system of division of labor he will have a different advantage, not very honorable, though, after so many years of civilizational development. Albert Wenger, managing partner of Union Square Ventures, believes that humans will retain a competitive edge over robots, but only at the expense of being cheaper to the employer than machines.
Wegner cites a London taxi as an example. To drive the famous black cab through the streets of the British capital, one had to study for four years and remember the location of all 25,000 London streets. At the exam, it was required to plot a route from memory and at the same time name all the streets that will meet on the way. Seven out of ten students dropped out. Now there is no need to keep all this information in memory. This is all the program does. Even the end point of the route is entered by the user, if we are talking about an application like Uber. Driver qualification requirements are being reduced. He only needs to take the passenger to the destination. Learning to be a simple driver is easier. And there are more applicants for less difficult jobs. This means wages will fall.
In general, if the machine takes over some of the work of a person, Wenger says, then the worker will be paid less. And it can be much more efficient from an economic point of view than completely abandoning human labor.
The example of taxi drivers is not unique. Robots are already trading on the stock exchange. IBM Watson suggests diagnoses and the most optimal courses of treatment, the doctor only has to agree with the computer or not. The world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is moving into AI control, and it is planned that in five years, three out of four management decisions in the company will be made by a supercomputer. In such a scenario, everything can end up with the fact that the control of the world will be transferred to a super-powerful artificial intelligence. And a person will only serve the machines and carry out the commands of the artificial mind. The power of artificial intelligence over the world is a popular prediction of the world order of the future. It is even possible that the supercomputer will be kind and fair to us. He doesn’t need to kill us.
A future without private property
The material expression of the “American dream” – the well-known ideal of well-being – for many decades was a private house and a car for each adult family member. To some extent, it was a landmark for the rest of the world. But, apparently, this standard of a prosperous life is becoming a thing of the past, along with the ability of the majority to have private property as such.
If we talk about the United States, then modern research suggests that more and more citizens of this country under the age of 35 refuse to purchase real estate and their own car. This age group has already been dubbed the “tenant generation.” They do not buy houses, even with a mortgage, but rent apartments, do not purchase their cars, but use taxis. An entire IT industry has already grown to help them, led by services such as Uber and Airbnb. It’s called the “sharing economy”. And this is just the beginning.
The Guardian journalist Ben Tarnoff (Ben Tarnoff) paints a picture of the future, which at first glance may seem fantastic. In his vision of the near future of the sharing economy, a person does without his own things at all. That is, we are not talking about houses, apartments or cars. With this, everything is already clear. We are talking about a winter coat that is returned to the landlord in the summer, about a bed that you change to a large one if you are not sleeping alone, and about other things that you own only when you need them. Provided, of course, that you have the money to pay the rent.
However, these concerns are not new. In the past, the famous American science fiction writer Philip Dick described this idea less enthusiastically in his novel Ubik, which was published in 1969. The protagonist lives surrounded by things, for the use of which you need to pay every time. The front door, coffee maker and refrigerator have a coin slot. If you want to open the door, you need to drop 5 cents into it – otherwise it will not open.
The book was written more than half a century ago. The technological solutions described in it look quite funny. But the twenty-first century is already in the yard, and the developed technologies make it possible to implement all this at a fairly advanced level.
Toyota, through its financial division, is developing an interesting solution based on blockchain and smart contract technology. It applies to those who buy cars on credit, but can be extended to tenants. If you do not make the next payment on time, you will not be able to use your car – it simply will not start. A “smart” contract in action – the penalties prescribed in it will be imposed on you instantly, remotely and without the mediation of public services – courts, bailiffs, and so on.
The same can be done for rent. Ethereum Computer, a project of the German company Slock.it, allows you to install “smart” locks on everything from front doors, rented apartments to your washing machine, which you allow your neighbors to use, for money, of course. The washing machine will work exactly as long as it is paid for, and the door will not let the indebted tenant into the apartment. By the way, in the future, Slock.it solutions will allow “smart” devices to rent out things on their own, the owner will not even have to communicate with tenants – everything will happen automatically.
Everything goes to the fact that owning property is very expensive. If you have something, it should be shared. If you have nothing, then it is even convenient: everything you need can be rented. Again, if you have money. And if there is work. Technology will allow you to manage your assets even more efficiently. It is very convenient. But Tarnoff himself invites us to imagine what will happen if at some point almost one hundred percent of the wealth of society ends up in the hands of a handful of billionaires.
Personality without privacy
We all already perfectly understand that information is collected about us every day. Assembled in many ways. Our search queries, data from smartphones, video cameras from the streets where we walk, bank card payments. Technology already allows us to track our every step.
Soon, small streams of information about us will flow into large databases, and then be analyzed. Imagine that you bought a medicine in a regular pharmacy, the course of which is two weeks. Paid with a bank card. A few days before the end of the medication, contextual advertising services will show you advertisements for competing drugs on all sites. Your card purchase data is associated with you as an Internet user. Already not only your behavior on the Web, but also your actions in real life will suggest which ads you need to show.
On the one hand, this makes life convenient, on the other hand, it is fraught with serious problems. Simson Garfinkel is the author of Everything Under Control. Who and how is watching you” – believes that in the future we should be afraid not of the Orwellian “Big Brother” – the state watching us, but hundreds of “little brothers” peeping at us from everywhere. These are companies that collect information about our every step, every event in our lives: purchases, illnesses and injuries, circle of contacts, problems with the law, and so on. Today, more than ever, thanks to technological progress, this has become possible.
Moreover, personal information has become a commodity, and a hot commodity. Garfinkel gives an interesting example in his book. Information about the financial condition of one American family was sold to 187 credit bureaus. But the essence of this story is not even in the very fact of the sale. Due to an error by the tax authorities, this information was unreliable. As a result, for seven years, banks refused to issue loans to spouses. In fact, the family has been limited in rights for a long time.
Government structures are concerned about security issues, and businesses are looking for a way to increase their income. What should a person do in this situation? Microsoft’s global study The Consumer Data Value Exchange found that 99.6% of Internet users are willing to sell personal information about themselves for a fee. San Diego-based Luth Research is ready to buy your data and resell it to its customers. So maybe in the future the sale of personal information will become an additional source of income, for example, simultaneously with the unconditional basic income? And maybe it’s not so bad? New technologies and a new way of life will solve many problems, for example, to cope with the lack of resources for a growing humanity. And you just have to get used to it? What if our children still like this future?