Machine intelligence is rapidly making human beings not just unemployed, but unemployable. In case you’re not familiar with the arguments for mankind’s inevitable obsolescence, here they are in a quick video:
Choosing a career path? Choose wisely, as some occupations will be eliminated sooner than others. If you’re smart enough to make it as a hacker working to facilitate this process, that’s probably your best bet. If not, there are plenty of trades that should be safe for a generation or two. If business appeals to you, check out the Thumotic One-Year alternative MBA.
Also, some readers may be interested in planning for the political future of the western world. Are you among them? If so, consider that the best way for a political movement to win respect is to provide tangible solutions to imminent problems that aren’t being solved by our current ruling caste. If you want power, prove it by offering a responsible and well-thought-out alternative to the status quo.
The simplest solution to let the underclass starve. This might appeal to some, but on a long enough time horizon, we’re all on the chopping block.
We could also tax the rich at a level that provides a basic minimum income for everyone. This actually wouldn’t impose much of a burden, but it has two problems: 1) it’s dysgenic, and 2) the fastest way to destroy a man is to give him a cheque for doing nothing. People need more than comfort; they need the opportunity to do meaningful work.
The real problem: in an age of rapid technological growth and machine intelligence, how do we create an economy that gives people valuable work to do?
Ancient monuments such as the Egyptian Pyramids suggest we might not be the first civilization to grapple with this question. Perhaps we could follow the ancients and start using surplus human workers to create labour-intensive monuments. The problem with this approach is that it would be hard to convince modern people that building a pyramid brick-by-brick contributes to some greater good.
Space exploration and colonization is a more likely “monument”. But, the western world seems to have lost its interest and aptitude for space exploration. Probably not a good sign.
So what else can we do? Well, I have an idea. It sounds crazy, but the more you think about it, the saner it will seem.
Restriction of interstate digital trade
As any sophomore economics student can tell you, free trade increases efficiency by allowing specialization and economies of scale.
The converse is also true. If we restrict the provision of digital goods and services across state lines, the immediate result will be an inefficient-but-ennobling explosion of tech startups across the country. Natural monopolies like Google, Facebook, Uber, AirBNB, etc could only serve the population of California. This would provide an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to scramble to create new companies to fill unmet needs.
It would be ideal to give a year of advance notice of the new policy, to give new companies an opportunity to get their legs under them. Also, it probably makes sense to combine smaller states into regions with a critical mass of ~10m people. The details aren’t important; use whichever parameters you think would be best.
As I write this, I can hear economists around the world cringing: “what about efficiency? what about economies of scale? think of the deadweight loss!”
Sheath your autism, friends: economic efficiency is no longer a constraint on the human condition. We’re about to enter a new paradigm, in which all material human needs are trivially met. We’re heading toward a world which consists of a mass degenerate underclass and a rapidly-shrinking caste of techno-plutocrats directing the machines that fulfill our needs. That can’t end well.
The new paradigm is this: efficiency is no longer a valid metric in a post-scarcity economy.
Surely the world won’t end, if the good people of Tennessee are forced to make do without the latest versions of technologies that didn’t exist five years ago. West Virginia may be a bit slow to develop a vibrant app development ecosystem, and will feel rightly embarrassed at how their clunky search engines compares to ‘the Google’ used by those slick Californian city-folk. But this embarrassment is ennobling, and gives a sense of purpose and pride to the smart young people in that state who must busy themselves catching up with the existing tech hubs.
On an aesthetic level, wouldn’t it be neat to visit friends in other parts of the country and compare technologies? I think most people would prefer a local restaurant and craft microbrew, to McDonald’s and a Budweiser. Small, local economies are simply better than massive impersonal ones.
There will certainly be short-term inefficiencies and disruptions caused by the shift to a local digital economy. But in the long-term, smaller markets for digital products may lead to far more – and better – innovation than the status quo. If we artificially inflate labour market demand for computer programmers and other innovative, tech-savvy folks, the result will be a massive boom in young Americans learning to program, or at least becoming familiar enough with technology to play a role in a technology sector that now requires fifty times as many CEOs, CTOs, project managers, lead programmers, etc.
Enforcing trade restrictions on digital products will also break up innovation-crushing monopolies, and create more opportunities for experimentation. This is probably a reason why decentralized periods of history, such as the Greek City States and Renaissance Italy, tend to have been the most innovative. Young Americans will be incentivized to immediately start learning to understand and communicate with computers, and dignified employment will await all who succeed.
Whatever minor reduction in innovation (and really, what will that be? Utah’s version of Twitter is buggy? South Carolina has to wait a whole year for a Pinterest clone?) will be more than offset by the fruits of an entire generation of Americans learning how to produce value in an information economy.
Trade restrictions on interstate digital commerce will also redistribute power and prestige to America’s forgotten flyover middle, and hopefully diminish the imperial excesses that result from a governing class that is growing more and more detached from its constituents.
It also scales: the better technology gets, the smaller of polities we can divide into.
Is this a wacky thought experiment? Sure. But the world needs more emphasis on wacky thought experiments, and less on regulating wedding cake manufacturers and rallying against whoever’s most recently offended the Social Justice Warrior hordes.
But I’m happy to admit this is just a rough sketch of an idea that might be completely unworkable. So: can you do better? is this an interesting idea, or am I insane? I’m sure our commenters will let us know.