I was recently at a weekend Python bootcamp, and the topic came up of how jobs are becoming automated by either robots or AI (artificial intelligence), that all jobs that pay under $20/hour will be eliminated in the next 30 years.
AI, robotics, and big data are accelerating at such an intense speed, there is no way to know what will come within the next 30 years… hell, even in 10 years, who knows? The discussion did remind me of one of my favorite books from my youth, Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes.
** I’ll still mention that there’s spoilers, even though this book is 26 years old **
The scene is set in the year 2154… the world is over-populated and actual jobs are limited since robots have taken simpler jobs and tasks. The world as most people know it is nothing but concrete and grey skies, nature is something that is talked about as something in the distant past, rarely to be experienced.
Students are taken from their parents at a young age and basically board through high school. At “graduation”, they receive their final grades and see if they are assigned to a job. If no job is available (or coincidentally is replaced by the cheaper and more efficient robots), they get assigned to being “unemployed”.
The unemployeds usually get shipped in groups to designated areas (and are not allowed to leave the boundaries), given credits for food, and must salvage other items thrown out. They are required to wear colorful clothes (torture in itself, IMHO) to stand out from the “employed” who wear grey and black. Faced with constant sneers from the employed about how their tax dollars pay for their basic needs, on top of a daily struggle, one could understandably loose hope for any future of happiness.
Fast forward to getting invited to “The Game”: The group receive a summons to participate in what seems to be a virtual reality simulation of exploring nature on another planet. These simulations are set in a completely untouched area and meant to be explored. Continued summons to this experience motivate the group to learn about pot making, weaving, and all of the ancient arts that in a modern world of mass production and robots have been relegated to the history books. They assume that The Game has been implemented as “bread and circuses”, to keep them distracted from a drab and seemingly hopeless life.
It turns out that these simulations are nothing more than training, and one day they go to the virtual reality location and something is different… they end up getting shipped to the planet they had been exploring in their simulations. They come to realize that in order to deal with the problem of over-population and robots replacing many fields of employment, the government has been giving them these experiences to familiarize themselves with what will be their new home on another world.
It ends seemingly well: Many of these groups have been peppered through the planet in close enough proximity that they meet other groups, find partners, make babies, and create a new and simple life.
While I don’t think that any time soon the government will be rounding up citizens and shipping them off to other planets, the threat of robots and artificial intelligence replacing jobs is very real.
This has already happened once before in the early 20th century during the Industrial Revolution, when machine replaced man in manufacturing. The difference now is that technology is growing at a much faster rate, with computer processors doubling in power every 18 months and becoming 10 times greater every five years. Ray Kurzweil, the badass futurist thinker, believes that AI will reach human intelligence by 2045, (singularity and humans becoming obsolete is for another post).
Despite many jobs being replaced by technology, there are still some that (for the time being) are most efficiently performed by humans: Lawyers, health care professionals, teachers, creative types, etc. I prefer to keep an optimistic view in that these fields and others will continue to benefit their respective clients and student through human interaction and have information be supplemented through technology.
That being said, Invitation to the Game was a great read and interesting to think about, but I don’t think that will be our future either politically or technologically. With mindfulness and a cautious embrace of technology, I think humanity has a bright future without shipping off innocent people to other planets. Though… if it were up to me, I could think of a few good candidates for a planetary relocation.