I wanted to pose this question for general discussion today, rather than to offer my own take (which is still in process, and part of the book in progress).
In order to stir things up, I’ll offer the following options for you to choose among. Not in any particular order:
A) Significant unemployment and underemployment will result as automation fails to create new jobs to succeed the ones it replaces.
B) New types of jobs appears in response to emerging technologies and practices, as they did through most of the Industrial Revolutions.
C) Humans increasingly feel unease or panic at being rendered obsolete. This manifests in various cultural and political forms. (Classic Twilight Zone episode excerpts here.)
D) Income and wealth inequality grows immensely, as businesses involved in automation generate and accrete enormous financial power.
E) Very little change will occur, because AI is overhyped and robotics are too limited in practical application, at least in this timeframe of a mere 15 years.
G) A data-based surveillance dystopia is installed, grounded in ubiquitous technology and guided by governments and/or business. Cyberpunk science fiction might give us insights into how this could develop.
H) A new arms race breaks out between nations to see who has the best AI. This could be by comparing single projects, like Watson, or a larger sense of national capacity.
I) A major backlash emerges against automation for various reasons, leading to a major social step back from AI and robotics. Mark Ulett (Toehold Learning) imagines marketing or consumer campaigns where people advertise AI-free products and services, along the lines of today’s anti-GMO labeling. (I have half-jokingly referred to this as a Butlerian Jihad)
J) A very pleasant time will result, when we don’t have to work so much, our basic needs are met, and we are freer to develop ourselves. (For a somewhat tongue in cheek example, read this. For a fun meme version, click here.)
You can pick one or several of these options as you see fit. If you have time, please add a few words about why you selected your choice(s).
If you’d like more brain fodder for this question, try Peter Frase’s “Four Futures” (2011).
Several days ago I published early versions of this prompt to Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. I appreciated and learned from comments on those platforms. For example, Karen Bellnier (Community College of Rhode Island) imagined a version of I) on LinkedIn:
I wonder if rather than ‘backlash’ we will continue to see a growth in ‘crafts’ – gardening, carpentry, brewing, cooking – things that require human creativity, judgement, and benefit from the variety of approaches and tastes – in balance with many things that are ‘generic’/constant from the automated services. With time and resources removed from making every item the same way, humans invest in creation.
[u]nease until those generations brought up in an age when factory work was a lifetime, fairly high paying career path have finally retired or died off. That process will take at least another 15 years.
On Facebook Joe Murphy (Kenyon College) reminded us that whichever option or options appear, they will manifest unevenly across time and space. On that same thread my former student Cassandra Ratcliff added this expectation of J): “A society with an increasing sense of entitlement, which leads to a long list of other issues…”
Great game designer Greg Costikyan added another, darker and pithily phrased option:
Dystopian starvation by the vast majority of the population as the 1% toast each other with Moet & Chandon
Call it option K) if you choose that one.
(You see why I practice hosting these conversations online? What fine ideas and feedback! What a variety of people and perspectives.)