The Dissolve of the Human Workforce
What will come upon the elimination of the need for humans in the workforce?
The exponential innovation in computational power and its applications has long been speculated to reach a point in which machine intelligence will transcend the collective intelligence of mankind. Entertaining the idea of technological singularity creates an abundance of boundless ideas that redefine the impossible as possible and considers how technology will impact social norms. While the uncertainty of what will come of this may be frightening and can easily turn into a techno-dystopia, as seen in many episodes of the sci-fi series Black Mirror, this unknown must be embraced and shaped into a techno-utopia to ensure a sustainable relationship between mankind and technology. Instead of the futurist approach to techno-utopia, such as Jason Silva in his Shots of Awe series where he entertains the seemingly endless applications of technology, the focus of this techno-utopia will be on mending an issue present in today’s society using technology and addressing how to maintain and regulate the new society that will follow suit.
Among many other issues that have arisen from the current covid-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate in the United States has reached 14.7% as of May 2020 (United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics). As social distancing guidelines are adopted to ensure public health, the economy has been heavily impacted as a result of new the lifestyle that has come along with the quarantine. While many longingly reminisce of life before the pandemic and wish for the return to “normal” life, varying degrees of social distancing may need to remain in place until 2022 (Kissler et. al). Contrary to the anti-lockdown protestor fight to return to a past society, speculation into a future techno-utopia may lead to new insights on how to cope with the ongoing paradigm shift.
Automation of the Workforce
What if technological singularity can eliminate the need for human employment as a whole and dramatically shift the current perception of the workforce? Advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence can propel us into a future in which the need for a human working class is no longer needed. Consider Japan, the “world leader in robotics”. Robotics and AI have become quite integral in Japanese culture as its aging population demands for robots in the manufacturing industry and even human-facing industries like health and social care (Simons). Upon technological singularity, robotics coupled with artificial intelligence can fully automate the entire range of unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled labor.
AI at our service
“White Christmas” Black Mirror, S2 E4
In order to effectively transition the systems that will automate workforce, data extraction and analysis tools such as the “cookie” in the “White Christmas” episode of Black Mirror will be used to train the automated workforce system to ensure that it is capable of conducting complex tasks and decision making. The “White Christmas” implementation of the cookie is dystopic because the generated AI was an exact replica of a single human host which led to the AI becoming sentient and believing that it was actually trapped in the device. The utopic cookie will extract data from all workers from every industry throughout a two-month time period to ensure an accurate and diverse representation of every profession. Data analysis will be performed to determine the optimal behaviors and practices from the individuals in each profession as well as discard any miscellaneous information that does not pertain to performance execution (i.e. personal memories/information). Using this technique, the utopic cookie will create an abstract instance of human workers rather than exact clones to prevent fully sentient AI.
“Wall-E”, Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2008.
With the complete automation of the workforce, the demand for human labor will be rendered obsolete leaving natural resources as the only limitation on production rather than capacities human intellect and labor. Society will leave the “electronic marketplace” as described in the Californian Ideology and enter a new, uncharted electronic resort, similar to Axiom ship in Wall-E where robots and advanced computers systems service humans. This techno-utopia will liberate the people working allow them to explore and cultivate their own personal interests.
Exploring the New VR Landscape
How will the people of this techno-utopia stay occupied? While there are certainly are plenty of hobbies and activities to do in the natural world, why not explore the uncharted cyberspace of VR. Once technological singularity is reached, computer generated graphics will be indistinguishable from the sights of real life. VR headsets will evolve into full VR exoskeletons, a hybrid between Iron Man’s body armor and Tesla’s VR body suit, which will feature motion capture, haptic feedback, biometric analytics, and a smart digital assistant. Digital platforms will evolve into digital societies. People can create and share their own digital worlds, explore the ever-internet, and become pioneers of the post-singularity VR landscape.
While the possibilities of what can come from a hyper-realistic VR world are exciting, regulations will need to be put in place to the mitigate the abuse of this newfound freedom. Unregulated content creation platforms are susceptible to hate groups and organized crime.
“This year , three acts of white-supremacist terrorism—armed attacks on a synagogue in Poway, California; on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; and on a Walmart in El Paso, Texas—have been committed by young men who said that they’d been radicalized on 8chan.”Marantz, Andrew, “The Dark Side of Techno-Utopianism”
The Californian Ideology suggests that technology should “empower the individual, enhance personal freedom, and radically reduce the power of the nation state” which eludes to a deregulated internet (Barbrook). Yet, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has recently asserted the contrary.
“I don’t believe private companies like ours should be making so many important decisions about speech on our own…internet services have a responsibility to set standard for what is and is not acceptable to share on their platform”Facebook CEO | Zuckerberg, Mark
Finding the balance between protecting others and freedom of expression is tricky but Facebook’s independent judicial board, the Oversight Board, can be adopted in this techno-utopia. If everyone relieved of their working obligations, who will run this judicial board? A reinterpretation of Plato’s Republic may give insight into this.
System administrators maintain, support, and configure computer systems to protect health of the overall framework. With an entire automated workforce system and new immersive VR content creation platforms, administrators will have to help regulate this vast interconnected system of networks to maintain a sense of order. Plato’s Republic describes a separate class of people called the Guardians that are responsible for serving the State. Applying this idea to this techno-utopia, a separate class people, the State Administrators, will be responsible for maintaining the health of the automated workforce system and act as a judiciary panel to regulate just, safe, and inclusive freedom of expression within the VR landscape.
Following the membership qualifications of the Oversight Board, a State Administrator will have the following attributes:
- Comprehension of information system architecture
- Experience at deliberating thoughtfully
- Open-minded decision making in a team environment
- Proficient at making and explaining decision based on a set of standards
The utopic cookie will scan for individuals that have demonstrated these qualities and offer them to serve a nine-year term as a State Administrator. Upon completion of their term, the utopic cookie will scan for the next generation of State Administrators.
Similar to the Oversight Board, State Administrators reserve the right to review issues that compromise the foundational values of:
Cases under review by the State Administration will be meticulously researched and deliberated under the context of the foundational values.
Any decisions made by the State Administrators must be made by consensus, or majority is consensus cannot be met, and will be publicized to clarify what type of content is acceptable and unacceptable. The efforts made by the State Administration will provide structure and order to an, otherwise, dynamic and chaotic VR landscape.
Happily Ever After?
Of course, this is only one implementation of a techno-utopia which responds to the current unemployment issue by eliminating the need for human labor all together. As Rushkoff describes in his is “Present Shock: Everything is Now” lecture, problems are continuous and evolve based on its environment. This techno-utopia seeks to also address the subsequent issues that will arise in a work-free, digital paradise future. Rejecting the cybernetic theory which suggests that any system can regulate itself since it will always seek to reach a state of equilibrium, this techno-utopia embraces the concept of a systems’ intrinsic dynamic and spontaneous qualities (Curtis). Protecting freedom of expression is a contentious principle to regulate in a rapidly evolving landscape. Understanding that certain conflict, like this, cannot be definitely resolved is the key element that transforms a fixed utopia, which is quickly labelled as ‘unrealistic’, to a dynamic utopia. The use of the State Administration is the critical component that applies this concept in this techno-utopia. Although utopias, by definition, are impossible to realize as they only exist in an imaginary state where perfection has been achieved, the construction of a “realistic” utopia will need to, paradoxically, allow controlled chaos to assure a sustainable post-singularity future.
Barbrook, Richard, and Andy Cameron. “The Californian Ideology.” Science as Culture, vol. 6, no. 1, 1996, pp. 44–72., doi:10.1080/09505439609526455.
Harris, Brent. “Establishing Structure and Governance for an Independent Oversight Board.” About Facebook, Facebook, 7 Nov. 2019, about.fb.com/news/2019/09/oversight-board-structure/.
Kissler, Stephen M., et al. “Projecting the Transmission Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the Postpandemic Period.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 14 Apr. 2020, science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/05/11/science.abb5793.
Marantz, Andrew. “The Dark Side of Techno-Utopianism.” The New Yorker, September 30, 2019.
Rushkoff, Douglas. “Present Shock: Everything Is Now.” INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON GLOBALIZATION, 2014, ifg.org/techno-utopia/full-audio-of-teach-in/.
Simons, Christopher. “Japan: Building the Future, Living in the Past?” New Internationalist, New Internationalist, 13 Nov. 2017, newint.org/features/2017/11/01/robots-japan.
“The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts” All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Curtis, Adam, director. episode 2, BBC Productions, 2011, https://vimeo.com/300725472.
United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Unemployment Rate” Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, U.S. Dept. of Labor, 11 May 2020, https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000 Accessed 11 May 2020
“White Christmas.” Black Mirror, Tibbetts, Carl, director. Brooker, Charlie, writer. season 2, episode 4, Netflix, 16 Dec. 2014, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80073158?