Looking Down the Past
We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
— Marshall McLuhan
Humans romanticize the past. We do. We think about how much easier life used to be. No matter what time period we are in, the past is better. Then we go retro. There are retro game consoles, retro computing, brutalist web design (retro web design), retro cars. Companies, eBay for one, make stacks of cash from our past and our desire to relive it by buying something from it. In reality, the past wasn't perfect and always good to us.
There is something in the human make-up that makes us live the present looking at the past. I was once told that if we looked forward we'd be a scientist or poet. Even they look back. When we look back we're looking through a rear-view mirror which allows us to see some of the past and still easily look forward. Or do we turn all the way around and forget to look where we're headed? Perhaps we change between the two.
McLuhan talked about society using new tools for yesterday's problems. This holds us back but our perspective is made from the past; we're afraid of looking forward. The industrial revolution scared people that their way of life, their existence, would end with industrialization. Now it's robots that will rid us of ourselves. Robots do seem more likely to move millions of workers to permanent unemployment because we can foresee the ability to do millions of jobs with AI. The industrial revolution couldn't offer that. What jobs have been taken from us by progress and industry? The elevator operator and...oh, that's it for now. AI is different.
Not that in-and-of-itself is AI bad. Like all tools, it can be used for good or evil. The problem arises that the emotional well-being of the human race can be greatly damaged. This is not a view of a luddite. AI has such great potential, but because of apathy of the masses and greed of the corporate entities, the human race has much to fear. Ethics is dying. The dollar is the control of decisions. Shareholder value dictates all.
Yes, people can choose retraining but to what? Where is the person's self-value if they fail? And do we need millions of robotic technicians? For that matter, could AI become so good that no one will need a job? At that point, there may be a level playing field for humanity and economics of society drastically changes to something we don't even know what yet.
And what of basic income given from the government? That idea exists so that millions that don't have a job will have money to buy all the products that are bought now and keep the corporate bottom line growing. If all of humanity is out of work do we all get a basic income? And would that result in a new Renaissance because everyone has leisure time and the income to do what they want? No, because AI could do it all for us, or so we predict. Perhaps I should read some Asimov now; he was more optimistic.
Updated 19 October 2017: Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords