Today, it’s no secret that technology is accelerating at a phenomenal rate of change year over year. This lends itself to the concept of Moore’s law, the doubling rate of technology every year or 2. But have our social systems and values kept up with that high rate of technological change? If they did, would we still be discussing climate change to the extent we are today?
To better understand the scale and impact of this compounding trend think about doubling a penny everyday for 30 days. On day 30 you end up with over $5 million! Its hard to imagine. Another great example of this compounding power was given in the book “The Race Against The Machines“, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee using a fable. A long story short, the ruler of India was so pleased with one of his palace wise men, who had invented the game of chess, that he offered this wise man a reward of his own choosing. The wise man, who was also a wise mathematician, told his Master that he would like just one grain of rice on the first square of the chess board, double that number of grains of rice on the second square, and so on: double the number of grains of rice on each of the next 62 squares on the chess board. Sounds harmless, however as stated on mathforum.org, when you finish the entire chessboard there would be “18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice, weighing 461,168,602,000 metric tons, which would be a heap of rice larger than Mount Everest. This is around 1,000 times the global production of rice in 2010 (464,000,000 metric tons).”
Automation is no surprise and has been happening for years with things as simple as the calculator or ATM machine. However, it’s moving beyond simple tasks and taking on complex human functions such as pattern recognition. As automation becomes more intelligent there is more discussion about how it is or will impact our current economic system. In this system, automation is commonly being adopted to create goods more efficiently at lower costs in an effort to maximize profits. If they don’t make profits, the company dies.
Machines/computers don’t mind working weekends, in the dark, or without heat. They also don’t take cigarette breaks or eat lunch. They can manage far more than humans from a production stand point but also from a data analysis and comprehension standpoint. Super computers today can perform quadrillions of operations per second. All the humans in the world working together could never come close to that level of performance.
In the 2012 book, “The New Division of Labor“, economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane discuss a spectrum of information processing tasks. Some are very straightforward such as arithmetic which are easily automated by setting basic rules for the computer. A computer has no problem following rules. On the other hand, they discuss pattern-recognition tasks where rules cannot be inferred. The example they use is driving in traffic and they claim it’s not automatable. It requires a stream of visual, aural, and tactile information from the surrounding environment to be considered. There were attempts as automating a process like driving which all failed terribly.
Just a few years later, technology caught up and Google made an announcement on their blog about a fleet of Priuses they modified to be fully automated. They drove more than 1,000 miles on American roads with no human intervention. The cars used real-time video, radar and light detection and ranging gear to help navigate. That data was fed into the car’s software which took into account the rules of the road and the details of the surrounding environment. The software used probably provides better awareness, vigilance, and reaction times than any human driver ever could. The only accident that occurred was when a human driver slammed into the back of a Google car at a stop light. Currently, Google Cars have driven over 100,000 miles.
That is just one example but there are many more such as IBM’s Watson who is the Jeopardy champ. These advanced pattern recognition technologies are said to be the start of the second half of the chessboard, where things get very interesting. There is still a ways to go however but it won’t take long now. For example, we can’t replace a bus boy yet or a nurse. However IBM’s Watson is helping physicians with diagnosing and treating patients.
You can read more great insights and examples in the book, “The Race Against The Machines“.
Clearly, automation has taken jobs and will continue to do so. Just like going from the calculator to the car, the jobs it takes will increase as the complexity of the technology increases. Will we always need people to manage the machines? Maybe for a while, but ultimately we won’t have any need for everyone to “make a living”. We don’t need everyone to make a living today.
Buckminster Fuller was a brilliant mind who once said, “We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
Why in the world would people be fighting to create more mundane jobs today? Just to keep an out-dated socio-economic system alive? Are we outgrowing that system? Jeremy Rifkin, bestselling author of twenty books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment, seems to think so. You can read more about this in his book, “End of Work“.
Those who benefit from the current established system most likely wouldn’t want to change anything. This is something that mass cooperation between people will need to overcome. Why would we not want to free ourselves of the grunt work and live life to our full potential? Get off the 9am-5pm clock and focus on things we are passionate about and help make the world a better place. How can someone do that if they have to work 12 hours a day at shop-rite and can’t afford a designer education?
Will people sit around and do nothing? We think not, people are born curious and love to explore life. You can read more about motivation and incentive in our recent article, “The Untold Truth About Motivation, Incentive and Creativity“. Jeremy Rifkin has a similar view stating that he anticipates a world of abundance where individuals will lead more fulfilling lives than they do now. With automation creating abundance and taking care of any material needs the days of pointless hard-labor will end. Living a life of purpose and finding fulfillment will come from building “social capital” not financial capital. Freed from the need to “earn a living”, people will get closer to the things that really matter in this world.
Generation Y is known today not for fighting for financial captial but for social captial. Doing things the help others and make the world a better place. That is the new focus and the start of a very big shift in thought process. They believe in taking a bus before ever owning a car. They only want access, not ownership. You can read an interesting article about this concept here.
Motivation does not come from monetary gain. This has been proven time and time again. People like to have autonomy, purpose, and to master a skill.
Watch this great video demonstrating a study about what really drives people