Technology may push us into increased socialism…

June 12, 2017

If you still have work years ahead of you something serious to ponder is: what happens when the robots take over? And they will.

It won’t be Robert the Robot, something you would have to be at least my age to recall from the 1950s, and it will not be R2-D2 from Star Wars, although those characters might be included, but it will be (already is in many instances) smart phone technology, self-driving vehicles, drones, computers figuring your every need and delivering it to you almost before you think of it. It will be artificial intelligence replacing those once thought-to-be-safe thinking/analytical jobs.

One problem will be that only engineers and various computer wizards will have good employment — they will still be needed. And some capitalists of the upper echelons will hire these people or make investments in companies that do.

But most of the rest of us, regardless of education level or special training, will find there is not much out there.

Of course the labor market will be so flooded that the upper classes will be able to afford to hire more people for menial work or at least will pay menial wages for all types of work.

We indeed may be forced into some kind of socialist state where the government takes on an even bigger role in supporting the populace. The upper classes, made up of those engineers and capitalists, will be willing to support it in order to keep what might otherwise turn into a hungry mob at bay.

I was having my late afternoon meal at a taqueria and at one table young men were eating and joking around with each other the old-fashioned way, at another some not-quite-as-young men were staring at their smart phones. Almost kind of counterintuitive, that is it would seem the younger they are the more they might be addicted to the phones.

But, whatever, I thought the ones without the phones seemed to be enjoying life. Those staring at the phones had dour expressions.

Back to Robert the Robot. When I was a little boy my best friend at the time had his own Robert the Robot toy. It spoke. What made it or allowed it to speak we both wondered. Finally he took a hammer and smashed it open.

There was a tiny vinyl record inside.

The robots of today just have an updated version of that.

But they have no soul.

Well, not yet, as far as I know.

We are fast becoming a society with no soul, addicted to our smart phones, afraid perhaps we will miss out on something.

What we may be missing out on is life, humanity.

I am always with mixed emotions when it comes to technology. All those decades ago now when I was a working newspaper journalist I experienced the ups and downs of it. Going from pounding on a manual typewriter to word processing to laptops, things got easier and more fun and far more efficient. What we did not grasp at the time perhaps is that this technology spelled the demise of newspapers as we knew them. Journalism is not dead but the newspaper journalism I knew is all but dead. And then I moved into the trucking world. I used to have to stand in line to use a pay phone. I used to have to hunt up a pay phone to make check calls with dispatch and of course to get dispatches. There used to be this phone booth out in the middle of nowhere on U.S. 97 that I would use. And what did we do when we broke down out in the middle of nowhere? I was in that transition stage from the old-time trucking world to the more modern. The old guys, mostly retired now, would tell you: “We helped each other”. If a trucker saw you in trouble he (usually it was a he back then) would stop and assist you. But today, no one has time. And with all the meanness out there it might not be safe. There are exceptions of course, and I have been both the beneficiary and benefactor a time or two.

Anyway all of our communication is via cell phones. And dispatch no longer has a big map with pins in it. It’s all in the computer. But when the computers crash, they are lost until they come back up again. Warehouses come to a standstill when computers crash. In the old days they just looked in their inventory lists and knew where things were. But overall of course things are far more efficient and rapid.

But technology moves on at warp speed. Driverless or autonomous trucks will likely eliminate all or a majority of driver jobs over the coming decade or so if not sooner.

Where is the line between making life easier and better with technology and throwing us all out onto the street?

Leisure is great I am sure. But humans I think need productive activity. It’s in our DNA.

Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin’ to do
Some machine’s doin’ that for you

(from the song “In the Year 2525” written and composed by Rick Evans)