Let’s play Design Your Own Utopia. You have a magic wand. You can’t just get rid of all the people you don’t like or banish the problem of scarcity, but you can assume that over the next 25-250 years, some things will be possible that haven’t even been glimpsed yet.
This is a fun game because it involves positive visualisation, which my doctor says is good for me, and because it’s considerably harder than you think it should be. After you’ve made the obvious first steps of ensuring year-long sunshine and unbalancing the gender ratio in whichever direction suits you, things start to get very tricky very quickly.
The idea of making the world a substantially better place makes people very uncomfortable. Everybody wants the world to be a little bit better. We’d all like an extra £5 in our pockets and for the trains to run on time, but people get nervous when considering a substantially different world. They don’t like the idea that their routine could be unrecognisably different, or that technology would encroach on our lives more, that privacy might be burnt on the altar of accessibility or security, and at the deepest level, there’s a real concern that suffering is so fundamental a part of what it is to be human that to try and banish it wholesale undermines everything that we care about most in ourselves. This is a paradoxical thought – in making things much better, everything that’s really special withers and dies.
People don’t want to live in a perfect world. If you offer them the possibility of solving many of life’s ills, they look at you with a sort of blank, worried despair – if I don’t have to work and slave, what am I supposed to do with myself?They don’t want They don’t want the capacity to lie taken away from them, or the ability to read people’s minds. They don’t want a chip in their heads that will make them less likely to get angry, or ensure that they never forget anything. And I can understand why. I don’t want my sense of autonomy trodden on by a device that won’t feel like part of me, and above all, I want to preserve every mote of the sovereignty I have over my own mind.So what I’m really trying to do is imagine the utopia that I’d like to live in. And it’s surprisingly difficult, if you consider human nature to be animal, selfish and rigid, as a rule.
So here are my starting assumptions. Robots will do more of the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. Not all, because some of them are very difficult, and not all jobs, because there will probably always be reasons to have humans in the loop. Besides, a robot that can act as CEO is presumably going to require the same human rights as a human, and I don’t want to get into that here.
Consequently, unemployment will rise to unheard of levels, and levels of absolute wealth will continue to rise.