I have previously identified three things with potential to end the permanent work shortage. They are guaranteed income, shorter work hours, and payment for Internet information. How about others? Yes, there are extra ways the jobs crisis can be stopped, or at least made less important.
First, there are the holocausts mentioned by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, in his classic 2000 Wired article “Why the future doesn’t need us.” One is from out-of-control robots, which, by replicating themselves, can give us problems bombs don’t cause. Another could be from genetic modification, which could be used to create a fast-killing disease much worse than the medieval plague. A third he called the “gray goo problem,” caused by nanotechnology, in which self-replicating man-made bacteria could “reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.” Any of these would make our need to work rather moot.
Second, funny things could happen to our consciousness. Despite recent press on how we know we exist and how we can formally determine if other beings are alive, we don’t know much about what awareness really is. There are four broad possibilities. It could be algorithmic and caused by computational procedures, it could come from the brain and can be simulated by machines, it could be the same but cannot be replicated elsewhere, or it could have no physical source at all. It’s quite a tall order to design an experiment to determine which of these is really the case, so we will continue to speculate. If either of the first two is right, we have an interesting situation coming up – merging ourselves with computers. If calculators, let alone animals, are self-aware, we will within the century be able to end our earthly needs, and our deaths, by changing platforms from flesh and blood to silicon. And who would need to work then?
Third, more and more devices, along the lines of contact lenses but rather more profound, may be invented for our bodies. One idea is nanobots, which would course through our bloodstreams and search for and destroy diseases and other malfunctions. A lot of Superman-level technology is already in progress, such as telekinetics (making something move by thinking certain thoughts), a suit rather like an insect’s exoskeleton to provide extreme strength, and two things the Army uses already, telescopic and X-ray vision. We may soon also see gene doping, or changing DNA to improve physical capabilities, beyond lab animals, where it has worked. These would hardly be free, but there proliferation could warp our need for income in strange and unforeseen ways.
Fourth, the aging process could become a thing of the past. Possible breakthroughs could include deactivating destructive genes, treatment to change an individual’s genetic code, cell cloning for regeneration, and advanced metabolic medications, resulting in perpetual physical 35-year-olds. The greatest advantages of these technologies would not be restricted to those born after their availability, as people could live endlessly if they only achieved what author Aubrey DeGrey called “longevity escape velocity,” when methods to stop aging add to remaining life expectancy quicker than it decreases naturally.
Fifth, a relatively old standby in the immortality quest, cryonics, or preserving bodies at very low temperatures, could become the norm. Science fiction author Larry Niven has written extensively on the outcome of what he called “corpsicles,” who (or which?) could be rejected or even destroyed by future generations even if the technology works, but many people, such as baseball great Ted Williams, are now in that state.
If any of these things happen, jobs and careers could go away. If energy and other resources become so cheap that nobody need pay for them, they won’t need to work either.
Will the jobs crisis end in one of these ways? Technology marches on, but public policy stops and starts. Yet our lawmakers and government leaders get there through our voting choices, so there is truth in the saying that people get the governments they deserve. The future is, as always, ours to create.