A Jobless Future

What might be consequences of technological advancement?

A Clockwork Orange ( Image Source )

I know that I’ve been talking too much on Artificial Intelligence and new technology, and I also know that I’ve been pretty skeptical. This time, I’m sorry, is no exception. But I just want you to know that I’m not at all against the recent technological advancement, on the contrary, I’m absolutely benefiting from it.

The very reason why I express negative perspectives is that I believe it vital to be critical. There are not many things I’m certain about, as you can see from my random posts, I sometimes even doubt the idea of “truth”. However, one thing (perhaps the only thing) I believe to bean absolute truth is the importance to be critical. Being critical prevents you from becoming biased, narrow-minded and sometimes brainwashed, it helps you become more open to new ideas and free your thoughts. That is why in a today’s society where its tendency to rely on technological advances is getting more apparent, I dare myself to take the opposite side, in order not to go into the “technology-supremacy” direction that might destroy human civilization.

In addition, imaging the worst-case scenario helps you guide into the right direction, or if not, at least you know what you should not do and what you should be cautious of.

For this time, what concerns me about new technology is robots taking over our jobs.

Now, the reason why it is worrying is pretty clear ; unemployment. There is already a huge public concern regarding unemployment, and if the new technology is to take over our existing jobs, the situation will only get worse.

However, there could be a utopian scenario which suggests that even if robots take over our jobs, the wealth generated from them can be distributed fairly – for example, universal basic income – and labor becomes like a hobby : if you want to work, you can do whatever that satisfies your curiosity and enriches your life (for additional income), and if you don’t want to work, that’s fine.

It sounds very exciting as a way of life, and I would love to live in a society like this, just as Marx had described.

As I was going deep into this idealistic future that the new technology can bring us, I realized that I’m becoming more and more one-sided on this topic and I needed to be critical. (This post is half dedicated to myself, so as not to immerse myself in this utopian scenario and miss signs of danger of new technology… it’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of the Internet, isn’t it?)

When I started to reflect on flaws of the utopian scenario, one movie came up to my mind : A Clockwork Orange.

It’s a brilliant movie by Stanley Kubrick, as well as a hard-to-understand movie. As the message Kubrick intended to deliver is not evident, there are many interpretations. (After all, that what’s fascinating about this movie, isn’t it? No matter how many times you watch it, each time it makes you think…) My own interpretation on this movie was, how humans would behave in the world without social responsibility and pressure to integrate.

Why do I think like this? Well, it’s because of my grandfather. He is really a nice person and I love him so much, and because I care about him, it worries me how he is addicted to alcohol and gambling. (It’s not like he is a complete addict, but still, knowing how sweet he is usually, it’s pretty sad to see him this way.) When he was young, he had been working in a really harsh environment, as a result, his seriously injured his leg. Listening to him speak – he worked all day just to feed his family – I just could’t imagine what made him turn into this way. Then the movie A Clockwork Orange gave me the answer : when people are free from pressure and social obligation and are too “secured” in life that they no longer work, some people tend to derive the sensation of “living” from alcohol, gambling, violence etc.

Of course, it is not always the case, but it certainly is for my grandfather. Once he is released from pressure to feed the family and necessity to survive, he starts to feel empty and bored in his life, and look for a joy in alcohol and gambling. I’m not saying at all that everybody needs to work 24/7 with a minimum wage, it’s just that some people may have difficulty finding a sense of satisfaction without their work.

It is often proved that as the rate of unemployment rises, so does the rate of crimes. Although there are a lot of factors contributing to this phenomenon, boredom and lack of responsibility might be one of the causes, and that is exactly what I’m fearing about new technology taking over our jobs.

There could be a solution for how to live a decent life in a society where robots do our current work (by altering the way we distribute the wealth, such as universal basic income), but how about our emotional life? Lack of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from work, lack of sense of social obligation from having to navigate our own life (with universal basic income, for example, you do nothing and you still get money), and simply boredom might drive certain amount of people into behaviors that are potentially harmful to the society – alcohol/drug addiction, gambling, violence.

I have no idea how the future is going to be like, but it’s worth reflecting on, in case this worst-case scenario occurs, and so as not to be one of those people who gains their happiness by causing harms to the society… I know you doubt the idea, but so would my grandfather in his 30s and so would any criminal in their childhood. So who knows?


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