The Future Of Technology and How it will affect the Future | Tech Documentary
Even if we can change human beings, in what direction do we change them? Do we want to change them this way or that way? This is an example of the way in which technological advance impinges on sociological necessity. What we need to ask ourselves is, "Where does my individual ability to control my life or to influence the political process lie in relation to these new forms of technology?" Government and politicians don'’t understand what'’s happening. See, they don'’t even realized this change is happening. It is very difficult, not impossible, to predict what the precise effects will be, and in--in many cases, like with other technologies, we have to suck it and see.
Who would have predicted the internet? And I talk about this matter as humanity 2.0 '’cause in a sense, this is kind of where we'’re heading, to some kind of new--new normal, as it were, of what it is to be a human being. It'’s not a problem that we should dismiss or underestimate. It'’s staggering in its proportions. Ignorance and disbelief at the same time. People don'’t believe that change is happening this fast.
That'’s the problem. This is a stone formed naturally in the Earth'’s crust over millions of years through pressure and heat. It was discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Dated around 2.5 million years BC,
it is arguably one of the first examples of technology. Stone tools were first adapted for the use of cutting, scraping, or pounding materials by Homo habilis, one of our earliest ancestors. Over one million years later, mankind made one of the most significant of all technological discoveries... Fire. The ability to control fire was a turning point for human evolution.
It kept us warm, allowed us to see in the dark, and allowed us to cook food, which many scientists believe was a huge contributor to the ascent of mind. Each age, each empire, has brought with it the discovery and invention of numerous technologies each in their own way redesigning human life... ...leading us to now... ...modern-day society. We'’re now more advanced, connected, knowledgeable, and resistant to disease than ever before, and it is all due to our ability to apply scientific knowledge for practical purposes in a bid to maximize efficiency. Just as the stone set us on a path of transformation, the technologies of the future may bring with them a paradigm shift, changing two major features of the human experience. Two things that have defined our lives for as long as we can remember.
Two things that have always been involuntary constants: trading our time for sustenance and losing that time through senescence. The Industrial Revolution effectively freed man from being a beast of burden. The computer revolution will similarly free him from dull, repetitive routine. The computer revolution is, however, perhaps better compared with the Copernican or the Darwinian Revolution, both of which greatly changed man'’s idea of himself and the world in which he lives. In the space of 60 years, we have landed on the moon, seen the rise of computing power, mobile phones, the explosion of the internet, and we have sequenced the human genome. We took man to the moon and back with four kilobytes of memory.
The phone in your pocket is at least 250,000 times more powerful than that. We are ever-increasingly doing more with less. One of the things that has been born out of this technological revolution is the ability to replace human workers with more efficient machines. This is largely due to the speed at which we are advancing our technological capabilities. Information technology grows in an exponential manner.
It'’s not linear. And our intuition is linear. When we walked through the savanna a thousand years ago, we made linear predictions where that animal would be and that worked fine.
It'’s hardwired in our brains, but the pace of exponential growth is really what describes information technologies, and it'’s not just computation. There'’s a big difference between linear and exponential growth. If I take 30 steps linearly, one, two, three, four, five, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, two, four, eight, sixteen, I get to a billion. It makes a huge difference.
And that really describes information technology. When I was a student at MIT, we all shared one computer, it took up a whole building. The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper, a million times smaller, a thousand times more powerful.
That'’s a billionfold increase in capability per dollar that we'’ve actually experienced since I was a student, and we'’re gonna do it again in the next 25 years. Currently, on an almost daily basis, new algorithms, programs, and feats in mechanical engineering are getting closer and closer to being a reliable and more cost-effective alternative to a human worker. This process is known as automation. This is not just about, you know, automation where we expect it, which is in factories and among blue-collar workers and so forth. It is coming quite aggressively for people at much higher skill levels, and that will only grow in the future as we continue on this exponential arc.
This business that, you know, not having to work very hard because machines are taking care of things for you, I mean, you see this also in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution. And, in fact, I think one of the problems with the Industrial Revolution, and this is where Marxism got so much traction, was that machines actually did render a lot of people unemployed, okay? That already happened in the 19th and 20th centuries. And it was only by labor organizing itself that it was able to kind of deal with the situation intelligently because there was no automatic, you might say, transition to something else. It was just, you know, "We don'’t need you anymore. We have these more efficient machines, and so now we don'’t--you know, now you just have to find work somewhere else." Automation clearly has been happening for a long time, and it has, you know, automated a lot of very laborious work that we don'’t want to do, and that'’s gonna continue to be the case in the future, but I do think that this time is genuinely different.
If we look at what'’s happened historically, what we'’ve seen is that automation has primarily been a mechanical phenomenon, and the classic example of that is, of course, agriculture. I'’m a farmer. Here'’s what mechanical engineering has done for all of us who work on the farms and for you, too. It used to be, in the United States and in most advanced countries, that most people worked on farms.
Now, almost no one works on a farm. It'’s less than two percent. And, of course, as a result of that, we'’re better off. We have, you know, more comfortable jobs, food is cheaper, we have a much more advanced society. The question is, "Can that continue indefinitely?" And what we'’re seeing this time is that things are really quite different.
If this keeps up, it won'’t be long before machines will do everything. Nobody will have work. So as we move deeper into the automated future, we will see different stages take form. The first stage that we'’re entering is the stage where automated robots are working side by side with people in factories. Some of those jobs are slowly going away, but in the near future, within two to three years, you'’re going to see a huge percentage of those factory jobs be replaced with automated systems and automated robots.
The next stage following that is we could see up to a third of jobs in America be replaced by 2025 by robots or automated systems. That'’s a huge percentage of people that could be unemployed because of this automated tsunami that'’s coming, basically. We have a colleague here called Carl Frey who has put together a list of jobs by their vulnerability to getting replaced by automation, and the least vulnerable are things like choreographers, managers, social workers. People who have people skills and who have creativity. One area that I look a lot at is fast food. I mean, the fast food industry is tremendously important in American economy.
If you look at the years since recovery from the Great Recession, the majority of jobs, somewhere around 60 percent, have been low-wage service sector jobs. A lot of those have been in areas like fast food, and yet, to me, it seems almost inevitable that, ultimately, fast food is gonna automate. There'’s a company right here in San Francisco called "Momentum Machines" which is actually working on a machine to automate hamburger production, and it can crank out about 400 gourmet hamburgers per hour, and they ultimately expect to sort of roll that out not just in fast food establishments, perhaps in convenience stores and maybe even vending machines.
It could be all over the place. I can see manufacturing now becoming completely automated. I can see, you know, hundreds of millions of workers being put out of jobs, That'’s almost certain it'’s gonna happen. So you have lots of companies right now that are automating their factories and their warehouses. Amazon is a great example.
They'’re using robots to automate their systems. The robots actually grab the products and bring the products to the people who put those products into the box. So there are still people within the factories at Amazon, but in the near future, those jobs may go away as well.
There is a company here in Silicon Valley called "Industrial Perception," and they built a robot that can approach a stack of boxes that are sort of stacked haphazardly in some nonstandard way and visually, by looking at that stack of boxes, figure out how to move those boxes. And they built a machine that ultimately will be able to move perhaps one box every second, and that compares with about three seconds for a human worker who'’s very industrious. Okay, and this machine, you can imagine, will work continuously. It'’s never gonna get injured, never file a workers'’ compensation claim, and, yet, it'’s moving into an area that, up until now, at least, we would have said is really something that is exclusively the provid-- province of the human worker. I mean, it'’s this ability to look at something and then based on what you see, manipulate your environment.
It'’s sort of the confluence of visual perception and dexterity. We'’ll see self-driving cars on the road within 10 or 15 years. Fifteen years from now, we'’ll be debating whether we should even allow human beings to be on-- be on the road at all. Tesla says that by next year, that, you know, their cars will be 90 percent automated. Which means that the jobs of taxi drivers, truck drivers, goes away. Suddenly, we don'’t need to own cars anymore.
Humanity isn'’t ready for such a basic change such as that. Call center jobs, voice recognition is pretty sophisticated these days. And you can imagine replacing many kinds of, you know, helplines and things. There'’s a company called "IPsoft" that has created an intelligent software system, an automated system, called "Amelia."
She can not only understand what you'’re saying to her, she understands the context of what you'’re saying, and she can learn from her mistakes. This is a huge deal because what we'’re going to see is all of the customer service agent jobs, if she is successful, if this software program, this automated software program is successful, we could see all of those jobs go away. These things tend to go to marginal cost, and marginal cost is copying software, which is nothing, and running it on a computer which will probably be very cheap. Human doctors will be, in some respect, pushed aside because machines can do a better job of diagnosis than they can.
Now will they have the empathy that current doctors do? I don'’t know, but at least they'’ll have the knowledge that our doctors do, they'’ll be more advanced, so I can see this option in healthcare. The one that is likely to be the biggest growth area, from an economic standpoint, is the android companions to help elderly people, okay, because there'’s-- you know, given the rise in elderly people over the next 20, 30 years, that it'’s-- and it'’s unlikely there are gonna be enough people going into the nursing profession to actually serve them, especially if we'’re thinking in terms of home-based care. The robot surgeon, I think, is something that will happen in the not-too-distant future because a lot of that is to do with manual dexterity and having the expertise to recognize-- to understand what you'’re manipulating as a surgeon.
Terrific amount of expertise for a human to accumulate, but I can imagine that we would be able to build something that is a specialized robot surgeon that can carry out particular operations such as a prostate operation. That'’s one that people are working on right now, and I think they'’re nearly there of being able to produce a reliable robot surgeon that can do that. You might not want to submit yourself to this thing, you might think, but in fact, I think we'’ll be able to make a very reliable robot surgeon to do that sort of thing. I can see this option in finance because they'’re moving to digital currencies. And--and we'’re now moving to crowdfunding and crowdbanking and all these other advances.
One of my favorites is investment bankers. Artificial intelligence already does more stock market trades today than any human being. Lots of decisions like decisions about mortgages and insurance, already those things have been, you know, largely taken over by programs, and I think that kind of trend is only gonna continue. Every time there'’s a technological change, it will, unfortunately, put a lot of people out of work. It happened with the cotton gin.
It'’s happened with every single technological change. So, sure, technology destroys jobs, but it creates new ones. Moving from the age of work that we'’re in now into the abundant, ubiquitous automation age, that bridge that we have to cross is gonna be a very interesting time period. I think in the very beginning of that time period, you'’re going to see automation start to replace jobs, but those jobs will transfer into other forms of work.
So, for example, instead of working in a factory, you will learn to code and you will code the robots that are working in the factory. When I was a young man and I went for careers advice, I don'’t know what they would have made of me asking for a job as a webmaster. It didn'’t exist, there wasn'’t a web at that time. And, right now, we have over 200,000 vacancies for people who can analyze big data. And we really do need people and mechanisms for analyzing it and getting the most information from that data, and that problem is only gonna increase in the future.
And I do think that there'’s gonna be a lot of employment moving in that direction. The history of our country proves that new inventions create thousands of jobs for every one they displace. So it wasn'’t long before your grandfather had a better job at more pay for less work. We'’re always offered this solution of still more education, still more training. If people lose their routine job, then let'’s send them back to school. They'’ll pick up some new skills, they'’ll learn something new, and then they'’ll be able to move into some more rewarding career.
That'’s not gonna operate so well in the future where the machines are coming for those skilled jobs as well. The fact is that machines are really good at picking up skills and doing all kinds of extraordinarily complex things, so those jobs aren'’t necessarily gonna be there either. And a second insight, I think, is that historically, it'’s always been the case that the vast majority of people have always done routine work. So even if people can make that transition, if they can succeed in going back to school and learning something new, in percentage terms, those jobs don'’t constitute that much of the total employment out there. I mean, most people are doing these more routine things. So, you know, we'’re up against a real problem that'’s probably gonna require a political solution.
It'’s probably going to require direct redistribution. That'’s my take on it, and that'’s a staggering political challenge, especially in the United States. This would be fine if we had generations to adapt to the change so that the next generation could develop a different lifestyle, different value system.
The problem is that all of this is happening within the same generation. Within a period of 15 years, we'’re gonna start wiping out most of the jobs that we know. That'’s really what worries me. A term commonly used when describing the trajectory of technological progress and where it'’s leading us is the "technological singularity." The term is borrowed from physics to describe an event horizon or a moment in space time that you cannot see beyond. We are currently in the transistor era of information technology.
In 1965, co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, made the observation that the processing power of computers doubles every 18 months. The prediction that this trend will continue is known as Moore'’s Law. When Intel created their first computer processing unit in 1971, it has 2,300 transistors and had a processing speed of 740 kilohertz. Today, a typical CPU has over a billion transistors with an average speed of two gigahertz.
However, many predict that by 2020, the miniaturization of transistors and silicon chips will reach its limit, and Moore'’s Law will fizzle out into a post-silicon era. Another way of describing the term "technological singularity" is a time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intellectual capacity. But does this mean that a computer can produce a new idea or make an original contribution to knowledge? Artificial intelligence, AI, is a longstanding project which has to do with basically trying to use machines as a way of trying to understand the nature of intelligence and, originally, the idea was, in some sense, to manufacture within machines something that could simulate human intelligence.
But I think now, as the years have gone on, we now think in terms of intelligence in a much more abstract way, so the ability to engage in massive computations, right, where you can end up making quite intelligent decisions much more quickly than a human being can. So in this respect, artificial intelligence in a sense is a, you might say, as trying to go to the next level of intelligence beyond the human. A proper AI could substitute for practically any human job at some level of skill, so it'’s--it would be a completely different situation. You can imagine any kind of job could, in theory, be replaced by technology, if you build human-level AI. Now that, of course, may or may not be a good thing.
You'’d be able to, for example, make robots that could do all kinds of jobs that humans don'’t necessarily want to do. There are the so-called three D'’s jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull, which humans might not want to do, and yet, where you might actually want a human level of intelligence to do the job well or do the job properly. These are things which are achievable. -Yeah. -This isn'’t something... I don'’t think it'’s science fiction. I think this is entirely feasible that we could build a computer which is vastly superhuman which is conscious, which has emotions, which is, essentially, a new species of self-aware intelligence and conscious in every way and has got emotions the same as you and I do.
I don'’t see any fundamental limits on what we can do, and we already know enough about basic science to start doing that now. So some people are concerned about, you know, possible risks of building AI and building something that is very, very powerful where there are unintended consequences of the thing that you'’ve built and where it might do things that you can'’t predict that might be extremely dangerous. So a so-called "existential risk," as some people call it. We are going to hand off to our machines all the multidimensional problems that we are incapable of coping with.
You and I can take a problem with two or three or four or even seven inputs. But 300? A thousand, a million inputs? We'’re dead in the water. The machines can cope with that.
The advantage that computers have is that they communicate at gigabit speeds. They all network together. We talk in slow motion. So computers will achieve this level of awareness probably in the next 20, 30, 40 years. It'’s not that if it'’s good or that it'’s evil.
It'’s we'’re probably good enough to not program an evil AI. It'’s that if it'’s lethally indifferent. If it has certain things that it'’s tasked with accomplishing and humans are in the way. So there'’s this concern that once we reach that moment where the computers outperform us in ways that are quite meaningful, that then they will somehow be motivated to dispose of us or take over us or something of this kind. I don'’t really believe that because these kinds of developments, which probably are a little farther off in the future than some of their enthusiasts think, there will be time for us to adapt, to come to terms with it, to organize social systems that will enable us to deal adequately with these new forms of intelligence. So I don'’t thi--this is not just gonna be something that'’s gonna happen as a miracle tomorrow and then we'’ll be taken by surprise.
But I do think the key thing here is that we need to treat these futuristic things as not as far away as people say they are. Just because they'’re not likely to happen in 15 years, let'’s say, it doesn'’t mean they won'’t happen in 50 years. It'’s gonna be of kind of historical dimensions, and it'’s very hard to predict, I think, whether it'’s gonna take us in a utopian direction or in a dystopian direction or more likely something in between, but just very different. Very hard to predict. You see, it'’s our job to take raw materials, adapt them to useful forms, take natural forces, harness them to do man'’s work.
The automated systems of the future are a natural process of human innovation. It all comes back to the idea of doing more with less. This process of innovation is driven not by necessity, but desire, or to simply fill a gap in the market. Farm owners didn'’t really need to replace their workers with machines, but they did so because they could foresee the benefits. It'’s a natural cycle of business. Doing more with less leads to greater prosperity.
The hope is that we can adapt to this politically and socially. In order to do that, we have to begin a conversation now. Remember that we'’re up against an exponential arc of progress. Things are gonna keep moving faster and faster, so we need to start talking about this now and we need to sort of get the word out there so that people will realize that this problem is coming at us, so that we can begin to discuss viable political solutions to this because, again, I think it will require, ultimately, a political choice. It'’s not something that is gonna sort itself out by itself as a result of the normal functioning of the market economy. It'’s something that will require some sort of an intervention and, you know, part of the problem is that in the United States, roughly half of the population is very conservative and they really don'’t believe in this idea of intervention in the market.
It'’s gonna be a tough transition, and those that find themselves out of jobs because a robot has taken it are gonna be pretty pissed off. The effect of automation on jobs and livelihood is going to be behind this like the original Luddites. It wasn'’t--it wasn'’t that they were against technological developments in some ethereal sense. It was that this was taking their damn jobs. I absolutely think there could be a Neo-Luddite movement against the future, against technology because they'’re gonna say, "Well, hey, you'’re taking our jobs, you'’re taking our livelihoods away.
You'’re taking everything away from us." But I think that'’s when it'’s gonna be important that leaders and government step in and say, "It may seem that way, but life is going to get better for everyone." We'’re gonna have more time to do things that we want, more vacations, more passions. This is the modern world. We can create the utopia that we'’ve always dreamt of.
Why are we saying, "My job'’s not safe," or, "Automation'’s going to steal my jobs"? These are the--these are the phrases that keep getting pushed out there. They'’re negative phrases, and instead, it seems that we would look at this, especially if someone has been working in a factory their whole life, that they would look at that system and say, "Thank goodness that this is starting to be automated." I don'’t want anyone to have to crawl into a hole in the ground and pull up coal. No human being should have to go do that. If you make an awful lot of computers and a lot of robots, and the computers can make those robots very sophisticated and do lots of sophisticated jobs, you could eliminate most of the high-value physical jobs and also most of the high-value intellectual jobs.
What you'’re left with, then, are those jobs where you have to be a human being, so I find it quite paradoxical in some ways that the more advanced the technology becomes, the more it forces us to become humans. So in some ways, it'’s very good. It forces us to explore what is humanity about? What are the fundamentally important things about being a human? It'’s not being able to, you know, flip a burger or, you know, carve something intricately. A computer or a robot could do that far better than a human being. One thing I'’ve noticed, if you talk to techno-optimists about the future of work and how it'’s gonna unfold, very often they will focus on this issue of how will we all be fulfilled in the future? What will be our purpose in life when we don'’t want to work? And, you know, you can sort of posit this in terms of--there was a guy named Maslow who came up with a hierarchy of human needs, Maslow'’s pyramid. And at the base of that pyramid are the foundational things like food and shelter, and at the top of that pyramid, of course, are all these intangible things like, you know, a sense of purpose in your life and fulfillment and so forth.
What you'’ll find among the most techno-optimistic people is that they will want to skip right over the base of that pyramid and jump right to the top and start talking about, "Oh, gosh, how are we gonna," you know, "what'’s the meaning of our life gonna be when we don'’t have to work?" But the reality is that the base of that pyramid, food, shelter, all the things that we need to have, you know, a decent life, that'’s the elephant in the room. That stuff costs real money. That stuff is gonna involve perhaps raising taxes on a lot of the people that are doing really well right now, and that'’s probably part of the reason that they prefer not to talk about it. So what do we do with the 99 percent of the population on this planet if they don'’t have jobs? The suggestion is and the goal is to make this an efficient system.
You put automation in the hands of everyone. In the near future, we'’re going to see systems where we can 3D print our clothing, we can 3D print food. If you automate these self-replicating industrial machines to pull the raw materials and distribute those raw materials to everyone who has the capacity to 3D print their own house or 3D print their own farm bot, you have literally solved the equation of how do I automate my life and how do I automate my basic necessities? If we had the political will to take all these new technologies and the wealth and abundance they create, and distribute these across our society in the First World countries and also across the whole world, then, of course, I mean, the sky'’s the limit. We can solve all kinds of problems. But we will have to have the political will to do that, and I don'’t see a whole lot of evidence for it right now.
There really is enough already for everybody, certainly to have an adequate life, if not a life of superabundant, so, you know, I don'’t think that the introduction of more labor-saving devices or more is really gonna make any difference in that. The reason there are poor people is '’cause there'’s rich people. You'’re simultaneously making a lot of people almost completely useless while generating a lot more wealth and value than ever before.
So I worry about this. I worry about the schism between the super rich and the poor. The ultra rich, if they'’re representative of some of the people we'’ve seen in Silicon Valley, I really, really worry because I wonder if they really have a soul.
I really--I wonder if they really have an awareness of how regular people feel and if they share the values of humanity. It really bothers me that you have this ultra rich that is out of touch with regular people, with humanity. This is being filmed right now in San Francisco, which is by all accounts one of the wealthiest cities and most advanced cities in the world, and it'’s pretty much ground zero for this technological revolution, and, yet, as I came here, I almost tripped over homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. That is the reality of today'’s economy and today'’s society.
In a very real sense, we already live in the economy of abundance, and yet we have not solved this problem. I think the future for the four billion poor people in the world is actually a very good one. We'’ve seen the amount of food in the world, for example, has more than doubled in the last 25 years.
That'’s likely to continue. Worldwide, we'’re seeing massive economic growth. That really means that people in poor countries today will be much better off in the future, so there will still be some poor people, relatively speaking, but compared to today'’s poor people, they'’ll be actually quite well-off. I think this is an amplifier for inequality. It'’s gonna make what we see now much more amplified. The number of people that are doing really well in the economy I think is likely to continue to shrink.
Those people that are doing well will do extraordinarily well, but for more and more people, they'’re simply gonna find themselves in a position where they don'’t have a lot to offer. They don'’t have a marketable skill. They don'’t have a viable way to really earn an income or, in particular, middle-class income. We should value the fact that we can spend more time doing human work and the robots will get on, increase the economy.
They'’ll be still taking all the resources and converting them into material goods at very low cost, so the economy will expand, we'’ll be better off, and we can concentrate on what matters. There'’s nothing to worry about in there. A constant stream of savings dollars must flow into big and small business each year. These dollars help to buy the land, the buildings, the tools and equipment, and create new job opportunities for our expanding population. We need consumers out there. We need people who can actually buy the things that are produced by the economy.
If you look at the way our economy works, ultimately, it'’s driven by end consumption, and by that, I mean people and to a limited extent, governments, who buy things because they want them or they need them. You know, businesses in our economy, they also buy things, of course, but they do that in order to produce something else, and one business may sell to another business, but at the end of that, at the end of that chain, there has to stand a consumer or perhaps a government who buys that product or service just because they want it or they need it. So this is not the case that things can just keep going like this and get more and more unequal over time and everything will still be fine. I think that it won'’t be fine. It will actually have an impact on our economy and on our economic growth. We need intelligent planning because, you know, being unemployed is not a positive thing in itself.
There has to be some kind of transition point to some other form of life after that. And, again, at the moment, I really don'’t see enough attention being paid to this, so we need to take this future prospect seriously now. If we manage to adapt to this expected wave of technological unemployment both politically and socially, it'’s likely to facilitate a time when work takes on a different meaning and a new role in our lives. Ideas of how we should approach our relationship with work have changed throughout history. In ancient Greece, Aristotle said, "A working paid job absorbs and degrades the mind."
I.E., if a person would not willingly adopt their job for free, the argument can be made that they have become absorbed and degraded by it, working purely out of financial obligation. In 1844, Karl Marx famously described the workers of society as "alienated from their work and wholly saturated by it." He felt that most work didn'’t allow an individual'’s character to grow.
He encouraged people to find fulfillment and freedom in their work. During World War Two, the ethos towards work was that it was a patriotic duty in order to support the war effort. To best understand our current relationship with work and perhaps by extension modern life itself, we can look to the writings of a man called Guy Debord.
Debord was a French Marxist theorist and in 1967, he published a powerful and influential critique on Western society entitled The Society of the Spectacle. He describes our workers are ruled by commodities and that production is an inescapable duty of the masses, such is the economic system that to work is to survive. "The capitalist economy," he says, "requires the vast majority to take part as wage workers in the unending pursuit of its ends. A requirement to which, as everyone knows, one must either submit or die." The assumption has crept into our rhetoric and our understanding that we live in a leisure society to some extent. We have flexible working time.
You hear the term a lot "relative poverty" it'’s, again, it'’s absolute poverty, and all these kinds of ideas suggest that, in fact, we should feel pretty pleased with ourselves. We should both feel quite leisured and we should feel less in bondage to work than perhaps somebody in the 19th century who was kind of shackled to a machine in a factory. But, in fact, we'’re very unhappy. It'’s irrelevant how much you work in actual terms anymore. The way in which the spectacle operates is to make of leisure itself an adjunct to work.
In other words, the idea of not working and working are in some sense locked into an unholy and reciprocal relationship with each other. You know, the fact that you'’re not working is only because you'’ve been working, and the fact that you'’re working is only so that you cannot work. In other words, so engrafted is that rubric in the way that we approach life that--that we can never be rid of it. Debord also observed that as technology advances, production becomes more efficient.
Accordingly, the workers'’ tasks invariably become more trivial and menial. It would seem that as human labor becomes irrelevant, the harder it is to find fulfilling work. The truth of the matter is that most people already, in Britain, are doing useless jobs and have been for generations, actually. Most jobs in management are completely useless.
They basically consist in the rearrangement of information into different patterns that are meant to take on the semblance of meaning in the bureaucratic context. So most work is, in fact, a waste of time already, and I think people understand that intuitively. When I go into companies, I often ask the question, "Why are you employing people? You could get monkeys or you could get robots to do this job." The people are not allowed to think. They are processing.
They'’re just like a machine. They'’re being so hemmed down, they operate with an algorithm and they just do it. We all have the need to find meaning in our lives, and it is our professions that define us. To work is to provide a service either to yourself or for others, but most of us would like our work to be purposeful and contributory to society in some way.
It is an uncomfortable truth that with our present model of economics not everyone is able to monetize their passions. If any of this were to come to fruition, if we learned to make automation work for us, the question remains, "What do we do with our days?" There'’s a good and a bad. The good is that the cost of everything drops.
We can solve some of the basic problems of humanity like disease, hunger, lodging. We can look after all the basic needs of human beings. The dark side is that automation takes jobs away, and the question is, "What do we do for a living?" Some of us will seek enlightenment and rise and will keep learning and growing, but the majority of people don'’t care about those things. Majority of people just want to do, you know, grunt work.
They want to socialize with people as they do at work. Sennett wrote in his book, The Corrosion of Character, that in late capitalism, one of the great kind of supports for human interaction and for human meaning is the longevity of social relations and the interactions in working environments and that if that'’s taken away, if what'’s required is to be continually responsive and changing in a precarious world, then people no longer find the fulfillment or the substance in what they'’re doing. There is an underlying desire for people to do things, you know, you spoke about the idea that people want to be engaged creatively. They want to be engaged, you know, go back to basic Marxist ideas of praxis and right back to John Locke. They want to be engaged in what Locke thought of as primary acquisition, mixing their labor, either their creative thinking or their physical labor even, with the world in order to transform it. They want to do that, and that'’s a very basic human instinct to do that.
And the idea of a leisured class, as it were, a class who is not involved in a praxis with the world, but is simply involved in a passive way as a recipient of things is actually repugnant to people. They would sooner work for the man in a meaningless job and construct a false ideology of involvement and engagement than they would actually sit on their ass. We can'’t get away from the fact that-- that people work because they have to. That'’s, you know, the primary motivation for most people, that if you don'’t work, you'’re gonna be living on the street, okay? Once we--if we ever move into a future where that'’s not the case and people don'’t have to worry about that, then we can begin to take on these more philosophical questions of--of, you know, but we'’re not at that point yet. We can'’t pretend that we are living in an age where that necessity for an income doesn'’t exist.
Douglas Rushkoff stated in 2009, "We all want paychecks or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?" According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day.
At this stage, it'’s difficult to think of other possible ways of life. The need to earn a living has been a part of every cultural narrative in history. It'’s a precondition of human life.
The challenge facing the future of work is politically unclear. It is likely to require not only a redistribution of wealth, but a redistribution of the workload. But will working less mean living more? And is our fear of becoming irrelevant greater than our fear of death? The process of physical aging is known as senescence, and none of us are spared from it. It remains to this day an evolutionary enigma.
Our cells are programmed to wane and our entire bodies are fated to become frail. It was seen that the laws of nature would prefer it if we dwindle and die. Negligible senescence, however, is the lack of symptoms of aging.
Negligibly senescent organisms include certain species of sturgeon, giant tortoise, flatworm, clam, and tardigrade. One species of jellyfish called turritopsis dohrnii has even been observed to be biologically immortal. It has the capability to reverse its biotic cycle and revert back to the polyp stage at any point in its development. There is only one thing wrong with dying, and that'’s doing it when you don'’t want to. Doing it when you do want to is not a problem.
Now if you put that bargain to anybody, "Look, this is the deal: You will die, but only when you want to." Who would not take that bargain? In 2014, a team of scientists at Harvard were able to effectively reverse the age of an older mouse by treating it with the blood of a younger mouse through a process called parabiosis. For the first time in history it is deemed scientifically possible to gain control over the aging process.
Ultimately, when people get the hang of the idea that aging is a medical problem and that everybody'’s got it, then it'’s not going to be the way it is today. He thinks it'’s possible that people will extend-- be able to extend their lifespan by considerable amounts. I think he'’s on record as saying the first 1,000-year-old person is already alive. It'’s highly likely, in my view, that people born today or born 10 years ago will actually be able to live as long as they like, so to speak, without any risk of death from the ill health of old age.
The way to apply comprehensive maintenance to aging is a divide and conquer approach. It is not a magic bullet. It is not some single thing that we can do, let alone a single thing that we could do just once. Aging is the lifelong accumulation of damage to the body, and that damage occurs as an intrinsic, unavoidable side effect of the way the body normally works.
Even though there are many, many, many different types of damage at the molecular level and the cellular level, they can all be classified into a very manageable number of categories, just seven major categories. So now the bottom line, what do we do about it? How do we actually implement the maintenance approach? There are four fundamental paradigms, they all begin with "R." They are called replacement, removal, repair, and reinforcement. We'’ve got particular ways to do all these things.
Sometimes replacement, sometimes simply elimination of the superfluous material, the garbage that'’s accumulated. Sometimes repair of the material. Occasionally, in a couple of cases, reinforcement-- that means making the cell robust so that the damage, which would normally have caused the pathology no longer does that. I wanna talk about one thing that we'’re doing in our lab, which involved the number one cause of death in the western world, cardiovascular disease causes heart attacks and strokes. It all begins with these things called foam cells, which are originally white blood cells.
They become poisoned by toxins in the bloodstream. The main toxin that'’s responsible is known-- it'’s called 7-ketocholesterol, that'’s this thing, and we found some bacteria that could eat it. We then found out how they eat it, we found out the enzymes that they use to break it down, and we found out how to modify those enzymes so that they can go into human cells, go to the right place in the cell that they'’re needed, which is called the lysosome, and actually do their job there, and it actually works.
Cells are protected from this toxic substance-- that'’s what these graphs are showing. So this is pretty good news. The damage that accumulates that eventually causes the diseases and disabilities of old age is initially harmless.
The body is set up to tolerate a certain amount of it. That'’s critical, because while we damage it at that sub-pathological level, it means that it'’s not participating in metabolism, so to speak. It'’s not actually interacting with the way the body works. So medicines that target that damage are much, much less likely to have unacceptable side effects than medicines that try to manipulate the body so as to stop the damage from being created in the first place. It'’s unlikely, in fact, by working on longevity per se, that we will crack it. It'’s going to be-- it seems to me more probable that we will crack longevity simply by getting rid of, sequentially, the prime causes of death.
I hear people talk about living hundreds of years. Inside, I'’m like, yeah, right, I mean, because if you study the brain, the dead end is the brain. We all start developing Alzheimer'’s pathology at 40 years old.
It'’s not a matter of whether you get Alzheimer'’s, it'’s when. It'’s when, and genetically, we all have some predisposition to when we'’re gonna get this disease. It'’s part of the program. Let'’s fix that part of the program so we can live past 90 years old with an intact, working brain to continue the evolution of our mind. That is number one in my book, because here'’s a fact: Life span'’s almost 80 right now on average.
By 85, half of people will have Alzheimer'’s. Do the math. Seventy-four million Baby Boomers headed toward risk age.
Eighty-five, 50 percent have Alzheimer'’s, current life span'’s 80. They'’re gonna be 85 pretty soon. Half our population at 85'’s gonna have this disease. And then keep going up to 90 and 100, and it gets even worse. This is enemy number one.
It'’s interesting, just this week it was discovered that an Egyptian mummy had died of cancer, so even way back in those times, cancer was around. What seems to have happened is, as we have lived longer, the number of diseases that pop up to kill us starts to increase, and the reality is I think this is a sort of whack-a-mole situation as we beat cancer to death and it disappears, something else will pop up. Cancer is a specific disease, and every cancer is a specific gene involved together with lifestyle. Alzheimer'’s, specific disease, specific genetics. I can go on and on-- diabetes, heart disease.
These are diseases, and as you get older, your susceptibility to these diseases increases, and your genetics will determine whether you get them and when you get them given your lifespan. That'’s not aging, that'’s just living long enough to be susceptible, so we may very well eradicate, in our fantasy world, all the cancers and strokes and heart disease and diabetes and Alzheimer'’s we get right now by 80 or 90 years old, and then what'’s gonna happen? You live out to 110, and guess what'’s gonna happen, new, other genetic variants suddenly rear their ugly heads and say, "Now we'’re gonna affect whether you live to 110 without Alzheimer'’s and heart disease and cancer and diabetes." And it'’ll go on and go on and go on. There will undoubtedly be enormous challenges concerning the biological approach to longevity. There could, however, be an alternative route to extreme longevity. When people are worried about death, I guess the issue is what is it that they would like to have stay alive, okay? And I think that'’s often very unclear what the answer is, because if you look at somebody like Ray Kurzweil, for example, with his promises of the singularity and our merging with machine intelligence and then being able to kind of have this kind of infinite consciousness projected outward into the Cosmos.
I don'’t think he'’s imaging a human body living forever, okay? And if that'’s what we'’re talking about is immortality, what I kind of think Kurzweil is talking about, then I can see it. I mean, I could see at least as something to work toward. In 2005, Google'’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, published a book entitled The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. He predicts that by 2045, it'’ll be possible to upload our minds into a computer, effectively allowing us to live indefinitely.
When people think of death at this point, they think of a body going into a coffin, and the coffin going into the ground. When in fact that age of death is dying. We are ending that stage. We'’re entering a new stage where we could possibly upload consciousness into a silicone substrate. You know, a lot of these science fiction ideas from decades ago are becoming real and already people are spending millions of pounds research today on making this happen.
Nobody expects to do it before 2040 at the earliest. My guess is 2050, it'’ll be a few rich people and a few kings and queens here and there and politicians. By 2060-2070, it'’s reasonably well-off people. By 2075, pretty much anybody could be immortal. I'’m not convinced that uploading my consciousness onto a computer is a form of immortality. I would like to live forever, but I'’m not sure that I would like to live forever as some digibytes of memory in a computer.
I wouldn'’t call that living forever. The things I wanna do with my body that I won'’t be able to do in that computer. Immortality is a question that keeps arising in the technology community, and it'’s one which I think is entirely feasible in principle. We won'’t actually become immortal, but what we will do is we will get the technology by around about 2050 to connect a human brain to the machine world so well that most of your thinking is happening inside the computer world, inside the I.T.,
so your brain is still being used, but 99 percent of your thoughts, 99 percent of your memories are actually out there in the cloud or whatever you wanna call it, and only one percent is inside your head. So walk into work this morning, you get hit by a bus, it doesn'’t matter. You just upload you mind into an android on Monday morning and carry on as if nothing had happened. The question with that kind of technology and the extension of human capacity and human life through technology is where does the human, um, end, and the technology begin? If we upload our consciousness into a robot, a humanoid robot that has touch, the ability to feel, all of the sensorial inputs, if they'’re the same, there is a potential of continuity, right? So you can have the same types of experiences in that new substrate that you have as a human being. It'’s beyond a continuity issue, it'’s an issue that you have the ability to record and recall without the content-- the content being the sensations, images and feelings and thoughts you experienced your whole life that have associated with each other through your neuronetwork. Where are they stored? I don'’t think consciousness and the brain is anything to do with any particular individual region in the brain, but it'’s something that'’s all about-- its distributed organization.
I don'’t think there are any mysteries. There are no causal mysteries in the brain, and I think that there'’s a perfectly-- a comprehensible, physical chain of cause and effect that goes from the things that I see and hear around me and the words that come out of my mouth, which would encompass consciousness, I suppose. But the things that-- the moment you say something like that, you'’re on the edge of the philosophical precipice. When you think about a machine, the question is are you simulating consciousness or are you simulating cognition? Cognition requires inputs and reactions that are associated with each other to create an output and an outcome.
And you can program that all day and you can make that as sophisticated and as information-dense as you want, almost to the point that it mimics a real person. But the question is will it ever have the consciousness that our species with our genetics, with our brain has. No, a machine has its own consciousness.
All you'’re doing is programming it to be cognitively responsive the way you are. I remember well, when my father died, asking my mother, "If I could'’ve captured the very being of my father in a machine, and I could put him in an android that looked exactly like him, had all the mannerisms, and it was warm and it smelled and it felt like him, would you do it?" and she said, "Absolutely not. It wouldn'’t be your father, it wouldn'’t be him." I think that someday you can upload your current neuronetwork... but that'’s not you. That'’s just your current neuro map, right? As with any concept that proposes to change the natural order of things, the idea of extreme longevity can be met with disbelief.
But there is currently an international movement called transhumanism that is concerned with fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing technologies to greatly enhance human beings in an intellectual, physical, and psychological capacity. I really want to just simply live indefinitely, and not have the Spectre of Death hanging over me, potentially at any moment taking away this thing that we call existence. So for me, that'’s the primary goal of the transhumanist movement. Transhumanists believe we should use technology to overcome our biological limitations. What does that mean? Well, very simplistically, perhaps, I think we should be aiming for what one might call a triple S civilization of super intelligence, super longevity, and super happiness. We have been evolving through hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years, human beings, and transhumanism is the climax of that.
It'’s the result of how we'’re going to get to some kind of great future where we are way beyond what it means to be a human being. Unfortunately, organic robots grow old and die, and this isn'’t a choice, it'’s completely involuntary. 120 years from now, in the absence of radical biological interventions, everyone listening to this video will be dead, and not beautifully as so, but one'’s last years tends to be those of decrepitude, frequently senility, infirmity, and transhumanists don'’t accept aging as inevitable.
There'’s no immutable law of nature that says that organic robots must grow old. After all, silicone robots, they don'’t need to grow old. Their parts can be replaced and upgraded.
Our bodies are capable of adjusting in ways we'’ve hardly dreamt of. If we can only find the key. I'’m so close now, so very close.
-The key to what? -To be able to replace diseased and damaged parts of the body as easily as we replace eye corneas now. Can'’t be done. It can be done! The relationship between life and death and the role of technology in forestalling death creates death, in a way, as a new kind of problem. Death becomes something that needs to be solved. Why would it be good to live forever? '’Cause if you have a shit day, it dilutes the depression within countless other days, you know? And all of these metrics are about failing to exist in the full light of your own autonomy. That'’s all they'’re about, and the paradox of your own autonomy, which is you'’re simultaneously completely free and completely unfree at the same time.
I have been to many conferences where you got the anti-transhumanist person saying, "This is just denial of death." At the end of the day, that'’s all it'’s about, right? And it'’s a kind of-- the last hangover of the Abrahamic religions, this idea that we'’re gonna, you know, come back to God and all this, and we'’re gonna realize our God-like nature, and this is really the last kind of point for that. I think there'’s a lot of truth to that, especially in terms of the issues we'’ve been talking about where everybody just seems to just take for granted that if you'’re given the chance to live forever, you'’d live forever.
I think yes, I think that that'’s true. I don'’t think it'’s-- I think it'’s true, I don'’t know if it'’s as problematic as people kind of claim it is. In other words, that there'’s something wrong with having this fear of death and wanting to live forever. No, I think living forever is-- I think the question is what are you doing with your time? In what capacity do you wanna live forever? So I do think it makes all the difference in the world whether we'’re talking about Kurzweil'’s way or we'’re talking about Aubrey de Grey'’s way. The way the human species operates is that we'’re really never fully ready for anything. However, the prospect of living indefinitely is too promising to turn down or to slow down or to just not go after at full speed.
By enabling us to find technologies to live indefinitely, we'’re not making it so that we'’re going to live forever, we'’re just making it so we have that choice. If people wanna pull out of life at some point down the future, they'’re certainly welcome to do that. However, it'’s gonna be great to eliminate death if we want, because everyone wants that choice. There are other socioeconomic repercussions of living longer that need to be considered. The combination of an aging population and the escalating expenses of healthcare, social care, and retirement is a problem that already exists the world over. In the last century alone, medicine has massively contributed to increased life expectancy.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people aged 60 years and over is expected to increase from the 605 million today to 2 billion by the year 2050. As people live longer, they become more susceptible to noncommunicable diseases. This becomes enormously expensive.
Dementia alone costs the NHS 23 billion a year. Currently, elderly non-workers account for a vast portion of our population and a vast portion of our work force care for them. It is economically beneficial to end aging. Social life is organized around people having-- occupying certain roles at certain ages, right? And you can already see the kinds of problems that are caused to the welfare system when people live substantially beyond the age of 65, because when the whole number 65 was selected by Bismarck when he started the first social security system, in Germany, the expectation was that people would be living two years beyond the retirement age to be able to get the social security. So it wasn'’t gonna break the bank, okay? Problem now is you'’ve got people who are living 20 years or more beyond the retirement age, and that'’s unaffordable.
There'’s no question that, within society as a whole, there is an enormous tendency to knee-jerk reactions with regard to the problems that might be created if we were to eliminate aging. There have been people that said, you know, "You'’ll be bored, you won'’t have anything to do." Speaking from a place of a lifespan that'’s 80 or 90 years old, saying that we'’re going to be bored if we live to 150 years old really is just invalid. We have no idea what we'’ll do with that time. Part of this transhumanism stuff, where it gets some kind of real policy traction, is people who want us not to live to be 1,000, but maybe if we can take that 20 years that we'’re living longer now than we did 100 years ago and keep that productive. So in other words, if you could still be strong and still be sharp into your 70s and 80s, and so not have to pull any social security until quite late in life and then you'’ll be-- you'’ll have 20 extra years where you'’re actually contributing to the economy.
So one of the areas that we'’re gonna have to think about in the near future if we do achieve extreme longevity physically is the idea of overpopulation. This is a controversial idea, of course, and we may face a time period where we have to say to people, "You have to be licensed to have more than one child." The ideas around children, I hope, will probably change when people start to realize that the values of children need to be defined first before we have them. And that'’s not something that we do. We just have them, and we don'’t define why or for what purpose. I'’m not saying there has to be a defined purpose, but I'’m saying that just to continue our gene line isn'’t the biggest reason.
At the moment, ultimately, we see in any society where fertility rate goes down because of female prosperity and emancipation and education, we also see the age of the average childbirth go up, right? We see women having their children later. Now of course, at the moment, there'’s a deadline for that, but that'’s not going to exist anymore, because menopause is part of aging. So women who are choosing to have their children a bit later now, it stands to reason that a lot of them are probably gonna choose to have their children a lot later and a lot later and that, of course, also has an enormous depressive impact on the trajectory of global population. If we actually said to everybody, "Okay, you'’re all now gonna live for 1,000 years, we could restructure society so it'’s on these 1,000-year cycles. That'’s possible, but the problem becomes when you still allow people to live the normal length and you'’re also allowing some people to live 1,000 years then how do you compare the value of the lives, the amount of experience? Supposing a 585-year-old guy goes up for a job against a 23-year-old.
How do you measure the experience? What, the old guy always gets the job? I mean, really, these kinds of problems would arise unless there was some kind of legislation about permissible variation in age. This is a bit of a conundrum because we'’re all expanding our lifespan, and the question is, would you like to live for not 100 years but 200? Would you choose to if you could? It would be very, very difficult to say no. The reality is the replacement of human piece parts is probably gonna take us in that direction, but it will be market driven, and those people with the money will be able to afford to live a lot longer than those people without. Pretty much most of the discovery these days takes place in Western Europe of the United States or one or two other countries, China, Singapore, and so on, but if they'’re valuable enough-- and I don'’t mean monetarily-- if they'’re worth having, then people extend them. We have to start somewhere, and I don'’t believe in the dog in the manger attitude is that you don'’t give it to anybody until you can provide it for everybody. All technologies are discontinuous.
There are people at this very moment who are walking four kilometers to get a bucket of water from a well. You know, there are people who are having cornea operations that are done with a needle where it'’s stuck in their eye and their cornea is scraped out. You know, so these ide