Sadly, 33,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees are about to be let go. They’ll pack that family vacation picture from their office wall in a brown cardboard box, take a toy or two for keepsakes, and, begrudgingly, go home. They will be joining a growing list of hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their jobs, not because they need to improve their performance or their work ethic, but simply because they are no longer needed.
More and more products are being manufactured using robots, which is more cost-effective for companies, as well as cheaper for consumers, who can order online with a swipe of a finger. Toys ’R’ Us is only one example of the virtual-technological tsunami that is washing over the business world. It appears in the form giant corporations such as Amazon, Alibaba, Google and their trade partners, trampling every area of commerce possible: retail, banking, clothing, food, advertising and more. This wave doesn’t stop at the private sector; it’s washing away the public sector as well. For instance, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Damie James are already on a joint venture to reinvent healthcare.
While it may seem like a silent revolution, these changes promise a socio-economic earthquake the likes of which humanity has never seen before. The virtual-technological future is gradually taking over the very foundations of the global economy.
It is becoming normal to talk about robots replacing human labor, but we still have not yet acknowledged the magnitude of this change. Many politicians, economists and analysts are seeing this as another industrial revolution that comes with labor pains, giving birth to a whole slew of new professions, and are predicting that a newly booming economy will emerge as a result.
Surely, this is an encouraging view, but it is based on a limited understanding of new technologies being developed at an exponential speed. Even today, we could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform in the U.S. with existing technologies.
It’s not about the advanced machinery that replaces our hands and feet at work. It’s about the artificial intelligence being developed to gradually replace human intelligence. AI will think creatively, produce, analyze, develop, program, and work many times more efficiently than the most gifted employee, all the while being many times cheaper and easy to operate.
Artificial intelligence can learn and self-upgrade much faster than a person’s ability to retrain, and will eventually replace human labor everywhere: scientists, doctors, programmers, designers, financial experts, human resource managers. Only a fraction of the workforce will be required to operate and calibrate the various smart machines and advanced software.
Let’s Revolutionize Society – Without the Pitchforks
If you can fathom the future of technology, you can immediately spot the upcoming social crisis. Masses will go into indefinite unemployment, and modern economics will have no answers for them. Current economic models can hardly deal with a 15% unemployment rate. What’s going to happen when we hit 30%, 40% and 50% unemployment? That is unaccounted for in current economics.
If we settle for positive thinking, hoping this upheaval will somehow result in a new booming economy, we run the risk of a mass unemployment crisis. If masses of people have no hope of providing for their basic necessities, they will not sit calmly at home. Without hope, people could default to violence, extremism and support of radical leaders who will offer economic safety in order to come to power, as we have seen in the past.
Alternatively, if we plan in advance, we can revolutionize society – without a revolution. The sooner we acknowledge the inevitable redesign of our socio-economic infrastructure, in a way that jobs will no longer exist in the same sense as before, we will come to grips with the necessity to provide for the basic needs of all members of society.
Whether we do it through some form of Universal Basic Income, or any other technical mechanism, we must understand that a change of social values is the core issue at hand: Every country’s leadership must acknowledge that looking out for the basic needs of every citizen—food, shelter, clothing, education and health—is their top priority.
But what will people give back to society? If only few man-hours will be necessary to maintain the machines, what will human beings do? They will be busy “being human,” which means developing themselves, their families, their societies and all that makes us human rather than robots.
The Real Driver of Technology Is Human Evolution
The so-called “technological revolution” is not accidental, and it’s not actually technological. It’s an evolutionary revolution. Its purpose is the evolution of human society. It will help us step out of the endless rat race, fueled by a material obsession that doesn’t actually make us happy; a chase around the clock that has created a society of little cogs in giant corporations, accumulating stress and rust, while losing touch with one another and ourselves.
Instead of investing our collective energy into working like machines, we could be engaging in the only work that makes humans different from machines. In a society freed from the cyclical chase for material acquisition, we would invest a large portion of our time on a daily basis, investigating, exercising and developing the sense of the natural human connection that binds us together.
When masses of people are doing this regularly—as their new job—a new society will undoubtedly emerge. Its product will be the positive social energy required to preserve societal balance. It will be a society whose members’ daily work is to maintain the sense of unity and solidarity that prevent violence and extremism, allowing human begins to live together in productive peace.
This work can be done in unlimited creative ways, where people can apply their passion and desire, as long as they contribute to a warm social climate. But it has to start from fundamental training and education on the science of human connection, learning how positive social connections make us healthier, happier and better at everything we do.
Surely, all of the above sounds foreign in a world where we have been trained by advertisers to chase things we don’t need in order to impress people we can’t connect with. But when material needs are taken care of, human nature demands a deeper, more meaningful type of satisfaction. It’s no coincidence that happiness studies show time after time that healthy social relations are the number one predictor of human flourishing.
Our evolutionary social development pushes us to utilize our wiring for human connection, to distill it through constant work on our relationships, and evolve to a new social reality. Rather than competing with robots for an old school job, let’s make our job the only function that no robot will ever replace, and find the kind of happiness that money will never buy.
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