Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.
Many of us wake in the mornings to a dreaded alarm clock. After breakfast, we jump into our cars, battle traffic, and start a tiring 9 to 5 at work. Then we come home, turn on the tube, sip a beverage, and mostly veg. We do that all week long, waiting for the weekend when we might actually get time to travel somewhere, enjoy a hobby, or complete a fun project. Then we repeat, and it's only broken up by our measly two-week vacation. The American Dream is not so much a pilgrimage anymore, but a well-greased hamster wheel. We have been cajoled into an economic system that needs to infinitely grow in order to feed itself and feel satiated.
In the transhumanist age we are now entering, the same philosophy of keeping up with the Joneses is increasingly becoming a less viable economic policy. And the robots and software applications the Joneses are building to take our jobs are simply not something we can or should attempt to compete against. We won't win.
However, as human beings, we can evolve and be happier and more fulfilled than we've ever been before. The key is a shift in our thinking—and in the value we place in the kind of work we want to do and how we enjoy free time.
The near-term socioeconomic forecasts are pretty startling when you look closely at them. The Washington Post recently ran an essay pointing out that 3.5 million truck drivers are poised to lose their jobs when the trucking industry becomes driverless (which could start happening in about five years, I believe). The trucking industry is just one of hundreds of sectors that could become significantly automated within a decade.
For example, Business Insider recently shared footage of a robot doing the work of a food server in China—the restaurant owner bought the robot for a mere $13,000. Home improvement giant Lowes already has robots on some of its floors. Some hotel check-ins are now automated too, eliminating the need for receptionists. Few if any jobs, including those of journalists, lawyers, doctors, and politicians, are totally protected from automation anymore.
Like many other people, you're probably asking yourself: How can this possibly be a good thing? The simple answer is: It will be a good thing only if we make it one. To begin with, there's no point in pretending society can avoid a future Universal Basic Income (UBI)—one that meets basic living standards—of some sort in America and around the world if robots or software take most of the jobs. Income redistribution via taxes, increased welfare, or a mass guaranteed basic income plan will occur in some form, or there will be mass revolutions that could end in a dystopian civilization—leading essentially to what experts call a societal collapse.
Those are the basic options, since history and common sense tells us it's impossible to maintain a peaceful, free society with the rich growing wealthier due to cheaper labor and the rest of society growing poorer due to lack of income. Since I do believe that democracy generally works, I think people will eventually vote for the best interest of the majority—which will soon be comprised of the jobless on our current trajectory. I also tend to believe the rich of the world will want to see democracy thrive, something that has helped all classes and types of people prosper. The elite may not want to part with some of their money (I myself support many libertarian ideas) via wealth redistribution, but I think they probably want to avoid an ugly dystopian world even more—especially one where they would be despised rulers.
Of course, there are other, more radical alternatives, too. Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, Founder & CEO of Bitnation says, "To the contrary of what many people think, Basic Income doesn't have to be a socialist-leaning concept, it can be done on an entirely voluntary basis, through using the Bitcoin Blockchain technology, charging a fee on top of transactions, if people accept to pay that fee. Here at Bitnation we believe that as the world becomes more transhumanist, the nation state will loose relevance naturally—so avoiding national tax collection schemes in favor of voluntary contribution to online platforms is a more long term sustainable approach."
Whatever the future brings, it should also not be overlooked that the main goals when humanity creates technology is to gain freedom and prosperity. Broadly speaking, that is exactly what has occurred so far in history. Experts point out that technology is widely responsible for the positive progress the world has experienced since the Industrial Revolution. In the last few decades, that progress is even more pronounced. More people on planet Earth—regardless of wealth—are healthier, more educated, and living longer, according to a recent report from The World Bank. Just about every aspect of human experience has improved across the world as a result of technology. This will likely continue as further tech innovation occurs, even when—especially when—robots take our jobs.
As the 2016 US presidential candidate of the the Transhumanist Party, I am hoping to further this improved standard of living that is being experienced everywhere. I specifically advocate for free education at all levels, including higher education. In fact, I support increased education levels, too, including some forms of mandatory preschool and 4-year college for everyone.
After all, if people are living twice as long as before (most people born today will live at least 125 years, many experts say), education should also be lengthened. The thing with education is it gives people time to think about what they really want to do in life. And I don't mean how to better keep up with the Joneses and their robots—I mean discovering their own inner passion and skills. Maybe it's art. Maybe it's engineering. Maybe it's sports. Maybe it's science. Whatever it is, a longer, more in depth education gives a person's spirit and mind the proper environment to decide what its heart is all about.
In the future—with less work and responsibility due to robots taking our jobs and leaving us only to collect our UBI—we might find there is a lot more to life than buying the latest trinkets from Walmart, or zoning out late at night in front of a television, or worrying about how poorly our bosses treat us at work. I say let the robots come. They may take our jobs, but they bring us freedom as well. With that freedom, we can become the best human beings we are capable of—a people full of passion, education, and a newly discovered drive of what it means to be alive. Perhaps it's time to reimagine the American Dream.