Doomsayers, Robots and the End of Humanity

Robots and the future of automation

Fear the robot uprising. A ‘death spiral of perpetual contraction’ looms on the horizon!

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it seems we’re all royally screwed.

According to new research by the IMF, the robots really are coming for our jobs. And when they do, the world is doomed to economic collapse…

Kiss your job, your wealth and your hope goodbye. Get ready for a bleak future with little to no prospects of wealth or happiness for that matter.

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

This is the future IMF researchers foresee.

Just to clarify, this is a ‘working paper’, meaning that the views are those of the authors not necessarily the IMF. And what a glum view it is.

Despite the authors’ acknowledgement that a positive outcome is possible, they believe the end is nigh.

They note that popular opinion is divided into two main views. We either wind up in a utopia built on the back of robot labour, or we end up as economic slaves to our android overlords. It’s all rather absolute for my taste.

Nevertheless, the authors have concluded we’re more likely to face the latter. And they’ve even got the math to prove it.

They’ve got economic models that’ll make your head spin. Equations that’ll test just how attentive you really were during algebra lessons.

It’s all pretty damn technical. And all of it points to one outcome. The global economy is in fact, almost certainly, doomed.

Luckily it’s all a load of rubbish…

All models are wrong

Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” one by excessive elaboration.

These are the words of statistician George Box. A man often referred to as one of the great statistical minds of the 20th century.

As you can tell, he was a pretty big critic of modelling. Though he did eventually concede that ‘All models are wrong but some are useful.’ And I am inclined to agree, and I believe you should too.

A healthy dose of scepticism is almost mandatory in this day and age. Therefore, when I saw this IMF paper I was a little miffed. To come to such an unconditional conclusion seems bizarre.

We have barely even begun to scratch the surface of automation. We have no real idea what a truly autonomous economy and society would even look like, let alone how it would affect society.

And yes, I understand that’s what modelling is for. It’s meant to give us a glimpse at a potential outcome that may happen. But, sometimes it’s just not realistic. Sometimes there are just too many unknowns.

Let me give you an example to explain what I mean. 

In 1760 the world was about to enter a new era. An age defined by a new method of manufacturing — the Industrial Revolution. An event that bears a lot of resemblance to our future of automation. At least the one most people are anticipating…

Historians agree, it was a time of massive growth and wealth generation. Making Europe in particular very, very rich.

The question though, is who was getting rich? Real wages were booming, but obviously that doesn’t do much good if you’re unemployed.

There is no point mincing words, some people definitely struggled. This was a drastic change that the economies and societies of the time weren’t entirely prepared for. Times we’re tough for those without work.

But, while some historians like to point out the struggles of these people, in all likelihood they were a small portion of workforce. Unemployment at the time has been calculated to be at most 8% per year.

Not ideal by modern standards, but far from terrible. And as the years passed, and the initial shock of the revolution eased, everyone began to prosper.

We learned to adapt.

The majority of the Western world today, owes its prosperity and better living standards to this incredible period of history. It is the foundation of our modern society. And I don’t see why the looming ‘automation revolution’ will be any different.

Survival of the fittest

The simple fact of the matter is that as a species we are adaptable. That is how we have survived for millennia. When mankind faces a challenge, we tackle it head on and overcome it.

I have no doubts that automation will present challenges. But to say it will lead to the collapse of society is a little extreme.

That doesn’t mean automation will lead us into a perfect utopian world either. Again, a healthy dose of scepticism goes a long way. And hey, if we do end up with a technologically powered paradise on Earth it’ll be a nice surprise.

Instead, we’ll likely end up with a better world, but one that still has a few hiccups.

What we should be doing is preparing for the initial shock. We’re adaptable, our economies are adaptable, and it’s simply about how long that adaption will take.

That is the only issue here. Shouting that the world is going to end doesn’t help.

By now I think everyone can agree that the next era of civilization will be defined by automation and AI. It’s practically an inevitability at this point.

Governments, organisations and people around the world need to get ready for it. They need to start preparing now.

Reports like this IMF article are actually a great reminder that more needs to be done. But, wallowing in misery at the fact that our future is hopeless is too defeatist for my liking.

We didn’t get to where we are today because we gave up at the first sign of a challenge. Our legacy as a species is about overcoming adversity. It’s about rising up, and bettering ourselves each and every generation.

And every time we succeed the world gets a little, or in some cases a lot better.

It’s time to start planning for the latter.

Regards,

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward,
Editor, Tech Insider

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward

Ryan holds degrees in both communication and international business. He helps bring Money Morning readers the latest market updates, both locally and abroad. Ryan tackles all the issues investors need to know about that the mainstream media neglects.

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