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[–]Prof-Stephen-HawkingStephen Hawking[S] 4304 points4305 points x2 (1137 children)

I'm rather late to the question-asking party, but I'll ask anyway and hope. Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment, where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them? Some compare this thought to the thoughts of the Luddites, whose revolt was caused in part by perceived technological unemployment over 100 years ago. In particular, do you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated? Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done? Thank you for your time and your contributions. I’ve found research to be a largely social endeavor, and you've been an inspiration to so many.


If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

[–]beeegoood 1493 points1494 points  (621 children)

Oh man, that's depressing. And probably the path we're on.

[–]zombiejh 190 points191 points  (213 children)

And probably the path we're on

What would it take to change this trend? Would have loved to also hear Prof. Hawkings answer to that.

[–]jozone11 213 points214 points  (130 children)

Vote, change the laws. It wouldn't happen via the market itself; you'd need to impose different rules.

[–]sonaut 84 points85 points  (36 children)

Voting only works if you have leadership who is able to effect these kind of changes. What kind of changes are we talking about? An abandonment of our current implementation of capitalism and a pivot towards a much more socialist state. That will require a social change before any candidate could even get out of the weeds and into a position to even receive votes.

The issue with the equality gap is the comfortable alignment of capitalism's mechanics with the greed drive of humans. I don't mean greed in the negative sense, here, either. I just mean they align pretty well, and without someone coming between the two to say "enough!", we'll keep moving in this direction.

My feeling is that once we see the issues, societal and otherwise, that are created by the concentration of wealth from technological innovation, there will be a tipping point where enough of the masses will start to support socialist candidates.

And THAT is when you can start your voting.

tl;dr: I think capitalism as a mechanism will doom us if machines take over and we'll need to become much more socialist.

[–]Shaeress 15 points16 points  (3 children)

An abandonment of our current implementation of capitalism and a pivot towards a much more socialist state. That will require a social change before any candidate could even get out of the weeds and into a position to even receive votes.

Exactly. Really, the best we can do is probably to try and drive and signal these social changes. Of course, we'll be fighting an uphill battle against all the ones invested in the status quo, but we still have try and let politicians know that we need this change, all the while trying to convince the people around us of that as well and urge them to also press for the changes.

Social media, protests, petitions, sending mail to politicians, joining political parties, driving debates and so on are all ways to do that signaling and to some extent reach new people,but really the way to reach the masses is through the media and that's the difficult part.

[–]sonaut 10 points11 points  (2 children)

Making everyone aware of the disparity is one thing; and that's happening. But until it gets significantly more difficult, I don't think the stimulus is there to make the masses change. This isn't intended to sound insensitive, but there is still a minimal level of comfort at some of the higher levels of poverty. What I mean by that isn't that they have it even marginally OK; that's not true. But what they don't have is how poverty looked in the US in the '30s.

I'm hopeful it doesn't have to get to that point before people let go of the "bootstrap mentality". Despite the fact that I'd be heavily affected by it, I'm a strong supporter of a much more aggressive tax structure like ones we've had in the past - 80-90% at the top levels. A better society would clearly evolve from it, and to be back OT for a bit, it would allow everyone to get behind the science of machine learning and AI because they would see the upside for all of us.

[–]Shaeress 6 points7 points  (0 children)

Yeah, I totally agree and it's a big fear of mine and, sadly, what I actually expect to happen. Culture changes rather slowly, in its "natural" course. Usually over the span of at least a couple of generations. The best example of this is that racism still exists, despite all the efforts and time spent trying to get rid of it. Of course we're making progress, but noticeable changes generally take us decades and for the cultural mentalities behind it it seems to happen over generations. With that in mind, I think it'd be unreasonable to think that the mentality of our western civilisation will change enough on its own, at best, until we die... Which, in this context, could probably be far too late.

Of course, if the circumstances change significantly for the populace the mentality gets a chance of changing, but I don't think there will be a united movement in the US unless things get really bad for a lot of people.

There are a few things that could steer us off of this course. The most straight forward way is just activism and seeing as the political apathy is so bad in the US I feel like it's even more important over there; doing nothing because no one else is doing anything is a pretty bad and self reinforcing excuse. The second is that there are other places than the US. Both places where socialist movements have a lot more support, a stronger history and way more established means of organisation. There are also places that are far less stable than most of the first world countries, that are still industrialised. China, Korea (both of them), parts of the middle east, India are all places where things could really go down but that also have the technological opportunity to really set an example for the rest of the world. Of course, that happening in any one of those placed is somewhat unlikely, but there are many places that are way more likely to solve this particular issue than the US. Historically the biggest obstacle to overcome is the US, though, that has been rather keen on and active in keeping all up and coming countries in line, so... Yeah. After that, there are some information age developments that aren't really finished yet that could bring huge changes in unexpected ways. The Internet has yet to settle down and really be stably integrated in our culture and society, and don't even get me started on what AI could do.

But honestly, all of the easy things seem somewhat unlikely and certainly not reliable. Good old activism and organisation seems to be the only way to really change the status quo and if that fails... Well, things won't be pretty no matter how things end at that point.

[–]goonwood 32 points33 points  (9 children)

people have been sold the lie that they too can become a millionaire. I think that's the sole cause of resistance to change, in the back of everyone's mind is that possibility. We have been carefully indoctrinated by the ruling class over the last century to think this way, it's not an accident. I agree change begins with shifting peoples beliefs, then voting. but I also believe that shift is already taking place and will be well on it's way before the next century begins. People are fed up with the ruling class all over the world.

[–]kenlefeb 16 points17 points  (1 child)

Understanding that "it's not an accident" is such an important point that so many people refuse to even entertain, let alone embrace.

[–]Bobby_Hilfiger 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I'm middle class income and I firmly believe that the mega-wealthy want me dead in a very personal way

[–]Memetic1 22 points23 points  (17 children)

And this is why this election is so crucial. This is why I am voting for Sanders.

[–]DocNedKelly 2 points3 points  (10 children)

Voting for Sanders is like taking painkillers for a brain tumor; it stops the pain but doesn't fix the problem.

Just like brain tumors, the only way to fix the system is to kill it.

[–]I_broke_a_chair 6 points7 points  (6 children)

Voting for Sanders is a step in the right direction, not a bandaid solution. And talking about killing capitalism like it's a cancer makes you sound like one of the uni students handing out marxist flyers. Capitalism is massively flawed, but it can be tweaked to work like any system.

[–]ancomred 9 points10 points  (4 children)

But why bother tweaking it if there is a better system available, and capitalism is the source of the problem?

[–]TomTheGeek 131 points132 points  (74 children)

It won't happen through votes, the system protects itself too well.

[–]tekmonster99 82 points83 points  (58 children)

So that's it? The system forces us to the point of bloody revolution? Because the idea of peaceful revolution is a nice idea, and that's all it is. An idea.

[–]Allikuja 59 points60 points  (21 children)

Personally I predict revolution.

[–]somewhat_royal 44 points45 points  (14 children)

If it's a revolt of the technology-deprived against the technology-holders, I predict a massacre.

[–]3AlarmLampscooter 3 points4 points  (0 children)

I think H.G. Wells had it spot on with the Eloi and Morlocks, but the social classes they evolved from were backwards.

And in reality, lab-grown meat will be cheaper for the Morlocks than Eloi farming.

[–]one-man-circlejerk 1 point2 points  (1 child)

If it's a revolt of billions of technology-deprived against thousands of technology-holders, the outcome is not so clear.

[–]goonwood 11 points12 points  (2 children)

If we continue down this path, yes, there will be one, millions of people are becoming discontent. but I think we are far from crossing the tipping point.

It's important to keep the worst case scenario in mind...

We will complete lose the information wars by surrendering preemptively and there will be no great revolution because people will be indoctrinated to believe that the way things are is good, they will be content with their lives and not view a revolution as necessary. that is the ruling classes true long term vision, keep us juuuuust above the point of revolution. that's why they give us a bone every now and then, increasing the minimum wage by a few dollars every few years, at almost the same rate of inflation so it doesn't actually change our purchasing power, but it feels good!

if we stay distracted, divided, and content, we will eventually be conquered, and we won't even know it.

fight the good fight.

[–]antonioveralls 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Me too, but the further in the future it occurs, the less likely it is too succeed. It's quite possible we have already passed the threshold of futility.

[–]-Hastis- 3 points4 points  (0 children)

General strike also work. Heck it ended the first world war.

[–]TomTheGeek 8 points9 points  (10 children)

Voting is just one method of peaceful change.

[–]tekmonster99 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Yeah but obstruction makes even voting very difficult. Small issues, sure, but big issues? You better believe the people in charge will fix voting machines to get the outcomes they want, disenfranchise voters, stuff the box, etc.

[–]ButterflyAttack 5 points6 points  (6 children)

I can't really think of another. . ?

[–]TheGordonNinja 5 points6 points  (5 children)


[–]ButterflyAttack 9 points10 points  (4 children)

Yeah, but is peaceful protest effective? I guess it's possible, bit unlikely. The wealthy and powerful have no problem with using the security services to maintain their positions.

[–]kenlefeb 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Personally, I think peaceful revolution is only possible once violent revolution is accepted as a viable solution.

Change requires commitment, and so long as most people prefer comfort over change, there won't be any toppling of capitalism.

[–]Santoron 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I don't believe anything will change substantially until the rise of Machine Superintelligence that Professor Hawking touched on above. If we develop a beneficial intelligence then our economic and political constructs will become obsolete almost literally overnight. Actually I guess the same could be said for an unfriendly ASI too...

[–]Loverboy_91 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Bloody revolution

[–]ButterflyAttack 2 points3 points  (6 children)

How do you vote for equality? It's never going to be an option on any ballot.

[–]jozone11 1 point2 points  (5 children)

Isn't that what the whole Bernie Sanders hype is about?

[–]ButterflyAttack 1 point2 points  (3 children)

Is it? I'm not an American so I've not really been following the sanders thing. If he genuinely is for reducing inequality, then I hope, for the sake of our American cousins across pond, that he is elected and manages to make a difference.

[–]CommanderpKeen 7 points8 points  (2 children)

That's more or less the basis of his entire campaign. Get money out of politics, reduce inequality, etc.

[–]ntw3001 38 points39 points  (3 children)

I guess its not really his field. Let's get a Noam Chomsky AMA going

[–]JudgeHolden 1 point2 points  (1 child)

What's linguistics got to do with it?

[–]PoliticalPrisonGuard 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Chomsky is not just a linguist, he is also a political theorist and an outspoken anarcho-syndicalist. Not many of his books have to do with entirely with linguistics, though it does play a role.

[–]jfong86 14 points15 points  (1 child)

What would it take to change this trend?

Hawkings said "Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared".

Well, we can't even agree on how much welfare assistance and food stamps to give to poor people, which is already meager. The political climate must change.

[–]reggiestered 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Thing is you wouldn't even need to. Individual thresholds indicate need, so you should be able to create an environment where the need for wealth and provision for wealth can balance. The only real drawback is the need for control, which many within society are unable to let go.

[–]quiterascible 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Realistically? Catastrophe.

[–]sclerf 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Watch the second zeitgeist movie. It talks about this subject for a good thirty or so minutes.

[–]lilbrotherbriks 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Socialist revolution, comrade.

[–]exclusiiivo 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Vote Corbyn

[–]flamingspartan3 1 point2 points  (4 children)

It happened once before. Inequality increased as agricultural labor was replaced by machinery in the early 20th century and by 1929, wealth inequality was greater than it is today. However, the Great Depression, World War II and subsequent boom of the middle class leveled the playing field again. I believe we are in a similar phase today where disruptive new technology is removing old jobs and new ones haven't been discovered yet. I'm optimistic that in the next few years we will see a rebirth of the middle class.

[–]kb_klash 7 points8 points  (3 children)

You left out the role of Unions and the fear of a Communist uprising in America if policies weren't changed. Now people are so programmed to say stuff like "Unions had their place once but we don't need them anymore" as if workers are treated great universally. The reality is much different and we'd have a much stronger middle class if unions were more prevalent.

[–]thirdoptics 1 point2 points  (0 children)

All it would take is organization and a directed effort, the excluded class far outweighs the owning class. It's no longer necessary to pool wealth and resources like our primal hunter gatherer genes give us the instincts for. There was good reason for that, after all winter may be coming.

Now we have the technology,communication, ave all the tools in between to start changing the systems that govern our world. We simply need to direct our efforts with something other than money in mind.

[–]jfreez 24 points25 points  (8 children)

I think we need to consider something like a communist revolution becoming a reality. I say "something like" because the conditions Marx dreamed up over 100 years ago just aren't going to be all that applicable to modern society.

I think we will hopefully move towards something like a great compromise where the fruits of productivity are largely shared (I.e. Fewer working hours, higher pay, greater access to basic comforts, etc) while the fruits of innovation and excellence can still be reaped by those capable of doing so.

So your average full time worker can afford a house, vacation, and a decent life by only working 20 hours a week. While the person who spends 60 hours a week inventing a new software breakthrough can still gain financially.

The stock market and private investment can sustain the latter, but we need large changes in our business culture and government to get to the former.

[–]ancomred 5 points6 points  (3 children)

while the fruits of innovation and excellence can still be reaped by those capable of doing so.

Why does that have to be money?

[–]Surf_ScienceGrad Student|Genomics and Infectious Disease 263 points264 points  (287 children)

/u/scirena is telling us to think about A.I. as a virus, but what if we think about the 1% as a virus.

If the 1% kills us all, then they eliminate their 'host'. Its better for the virulence, or the harm, of the 1% to be attenuated like say TB.

So hopefully, even with the 1% trickling down on us, the increase of our standard of living will ultimately be better for them and their viral nature.

[–]seanithanegan 505 points506 points  (247 children)

If they eventually automate all labor and develop machines that can produce all goods/products then the 1% actually has no need for the rest of us. They could easily let us die and continue living in luxury.

[–]SubSoldiers 176 points177 points  (49 children)

Whoa, man. This is a really Bradbury point of view. Creepy.

[–]miogato2 32 points33 points  (22 children)

And it's happening right in our face, target and uber are ready, the car industry happened, Amazon is a work in development, today my job is worthless tomorrow yours will be.

[–]CommercialPilot 10 points11 points  (6 children)

My job as a watchmaker will never be obsolete!


[–]SirMaster 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I don't really think computers and machines are going to be able to program and re-program themselves by the time I am ready to leave the workforce.

[–]RTFMicheal 46 points47 points  (18 children)

Creativity is a key piece here. When resources are limitless, and we have the tools to put ideas to life at the blink of an eye, the collective creativity of the human race will drive humanity forward. Imagine cutting that creativity to 1%.

[–]za3keaxi 4 points5 points  (2 children)

I may be misunderstanding your comment, but it sounds like you're assuming that AI will not be able to be as creative as humans. If so, I believe the consensus among everyone who studies this topic is that it is not that far off for AI to be fully able to do tasks which we see as requiring "uniquely human creativity", from being a graphics designer to knowing how to run meetings with other humans as a VP of Engineering to writing a sci-fi trilogy. Humans are smart, but mostly just relative to other animals and current computers. We are still just a function of our computational processing and memory capacity. There's no significant barrier at all to replicating our full range of abilities and so it's not as far off as most people think -- it's certainly measured in decades and not centuries.

[–]swim_swim_swim 3 points4 points  (7 children)

Resources are not, were never, and never will be, unlimited

[–]semi_colon 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Dyson sphere + 1 AU extension cable seems like we'd be set for a while

[–]DrossSA 7 points8 points  (2 children)

If the machines are self sustaining why do they need the 1%?

[–]klawehtgod 33 points34 points  (32 children)

produce all the goods/products

How is that going to help with 99% of their customers dead?

[–]Houndie 142 points143 points  (25 children)

No one needs to buy anything, as the only people that are left are the machine-owners. Everything else (in this future scenario) is automated, from the gathering of resources, to the production of goods. The machine-owners have everything provided to them, for free, by the machines, and everyone else can die off with no effect.

[–]Death4Free 8 points9 points  (5 children)

This would be a good movie. Hundreds of years after the 99% are gone. A coming of age tale of a boy who travels through the country and seeing the concrete jungles left by past civilizations and the automatons that allow him and his Trump family to live.

[–]Xerties 13 points14 points  (2 children)

They already made that movie. It was called Wall-E.

[–]charcoales 3 points4 points  (0 children)

If 99% of us died off and only energy efficient machines were left to tend to the small minority of the 1% left, it might be better for the earth's long-term survival.

[–]hellopeter 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Actually I believe this is the basic plot of 2013's Elysium

[–]chiropter 2 points3 points  (0 children)

The future 1%: socialism for me but not for thee

[–]SalishSailor 2 points3 points  (0 children)

The problem with that theory is the one of outsiders. Life and humans are very ingenious and persistent, and there would no doubt be enclaves of "primitives" hiding out and maintaining some kind of agrarian existence on the periphery, possibly fighting against extermination machines that roam the land looking for them.

This discussion vaguely reminds me of "Devil on my Back", a kid's sci-fi novel I read in school. Some kid leaves his futuristic domed city and encounters wild people who teach him what life can be like.

[–]schpdx 34 points35 points  (1 child)

With machines capable of building anything the 1% want, they no longer need customers. They wouldn't really need money, either, but they will hold onto it due to institutional inertia.

[–]on_my_lunch_break 1 point2 points  (0 children)

They already have all the money and all the goods. Why would they need customers?

[–]ntw3001 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I'm not looking forward to the day my labour is judged to be of less value than my meat.

[–]Hautamaki 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I agree. The inevitable end result of automation is either utopia, or a massive contraction of the population as the surplus unneeded labor dies off, and then utopia for the remainder.

[–]Nocturniquet 1 point2 points  (0 children)

You ever seen Elysium with Matt Damon? That's what the movie was about from what I gathered.

[–]Swordsknight12 0 points1 point  (1 child)

God the stupid in this sub. Even people in the 1% have a human component to them. Even though people have wealth in the billions it still doesn't eliminate their desire to be respected by others.

[–]pakap 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I like the "alien invaders" metaphor for big corporations - all credit to Charles Stross (/u/cstross)

[–]scirenaPhD | Biochemistry 4 points5 points  (18 children)

So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Wait, hasn't technology actually driven ever decreasing well inequality?

[–]yaosio 20 points21 points  (1 child)

It's decreasing poverty in areas where everybody is in poverty, but increasing inequality.

[–]bigmcstrongmuscle 42 points43 points  (4 children)

Thus far, sort of, arguably.

This changes once artificial machines can generally do better work than humans can. At that point, there are no jobs left for humans, and whoever owns the machines owns 100% of production. The two scenarios here are 1) ownership of the machines' output is shared equitably and we all live lives of leisure, and 2) ownership of the machine's output is restricted to the class of capital owners, and everyone who used to work for a living starves in the gutter.

Reaching scenario one will require some redistribution of wealth from the owners to the workers and the unemployed, and that hasn't been happening. It's difficult to persuade people on because it's not a thing that happens all at once - a few classes of job get automated away at a time, and it starts with the ones requiring the least skill and training. So at any given time, most people won't be in the minority getting driven out of work. The worst-case scenario is that joblessness is always something happening to "poor and lazy people" - so you don't have to care, right up until it's suddenly happening to you and no one cares about that either.

Most likely, scenario two devolves into huge starving mobs, torches, pitchforks, and tumbrels, followed by scenario one. It's really in everyone's best interest to avoid that painful transition, but unless it's already affecting you or you've put an unusual amount of thought into it, it's easy to dismiss a concern like this as pure sci-fi. Not to mention that a long-term solution requires short-term personal sacrifice from those least affected by the problem, and most people aren't very good at that.

[–]ianuilliam 9 points10 points  (0 children)

This is why, when everyone is concerned with fighting unemployment and preserving jobs, I think the best way to transition us to where we need to be is to focus on automation research and drive unemployability up as quickly as possible. The problem, as you say, is that too many people think "it isn't my problem." The obvious solution is to make it as many peoples' problem as possible. Hopefully, self-driving vehicles massively disrupting the entire transportation sector will be enough to drive the discussion forward.

[–]0729370220937022 15 points16 points  (1 child)

I was under the impression that worldwide inequality was falling, however in many first world countries it was increasing.

[–]piftsy 24 points25 points  (5 children)

Greed is too strong

[–]Angelmv86 29 points30 points  (2 children)

It's going to take full workforce automation for people to see how greedy we as a society are getting, and going againts one another in this rat race...let alone the countless atrocities we commit in the name of money and economics. So glad I read this today, never had the words to describe the situation we are walking towards. Socialism, capitalism, these are all imperfect systems none of which gaurd us from greed, and our most basic traits of human nature.

[–]Seakawn 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Or it could take Sanders. As circlejerky as that seems to assert, I'm totally serious. He still hasn't stopped progressing in his movement in shining a light on how bad the establishment is in need of major reform. Except unlike Trump, Sanders actually studies this stuff and has a decent idea of what works and what doesn't relative to the other candidates I've looked into.

Things don't have to get so bad for some really positive reform to happen and steer things back on track.

[–]Plaetean 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Its not probably, its the path we've already taken after the technological revolution. This is part of the reason for the explosion in wealth inequality. In the 50s people used to dream of working 2 day weeks while machines did the rest of their work for them. Machines now do even more work than people could have predicted back then, but the people who own the machines pocket the difference, and keep everyone else working even harder.

[–]thedudedylan 4 points5 points  (5 children)

The poor outnumber the rich. The French Revolution was a thing.

[–]he3-1 2 points3 points  (4 children)

Extremely understandably I don't think Prof. Hawking is familiar with the economics literature on this subject (much like none of us would be familiar with the Physics literature), the separation between how most people perceive this issue and how economists perceive this issue is vast. Its been getting so much press recently that the latest JEP included three papers on the subject and the whole topic of technology & labor (as well as inequality effects) has been the basis of a a large number of economists careers (notably David Autor out of MIT, the author of one of the JEP papers).

Technology has never, will never and simply cannot result in structural unemployment as the productivity effects which cause the labor disruption also act on prices so equilibrium will always be full employment. Its precisely the same effect which prevents trade & immigration from reducing employment.

I have covered this topic in depth here and here but the short version is;

  • Technology has and will continue to contribute to wage inequality (SBTC). Productivity improvements are not felt equally across production which causes differences in wage gains from those productivity increases (EG computerization increases the productivity of those working in offices but does nothing to those working in kitchens). Transfers are not helpful for dealing with the cause of these effects, its a mobility issue which needs to be resolved with education policy.
  • Its not clear if technology is acting income shares (the type of income inequality people are most familiar with, the relative income shares of labor & capital) as there is dispute regarding what these look like long-term. Some models suggest technology will act on this in the future, if this did occur then transfers would be the solution.

Neither scenario implies actual losses for a group but rather unequal gains as we have seen in the past, income growth may hide in prices (real gains vs nominal gains) but will still exist for all income groups (this is the view at the bottom decile in recent history). Also keep in mind while within high-income countries we have seen various forms of inequality increase over the last half a century worldwide inequality has fallen spectacularly, its likely by the end of this century there won't be any low-income countries remaining and very few middle-income countries. Even within high-income countries the real picture is often biased due to the choice of measures and problems with the data we often use.

The misunderstandings regarding what our problems are and what future problems we may face drive spectacularly bad policy choices.

[–]BurkeyAcademyProfessor of Economics 406 points407 points  (102 children)

I would argue that we have been on this path for hundreds of years already. In developed countries people work far less than they used to, and there is far more income redistribution than there used to be. Much of this redistribution is nonmonetary, through free public schooling, subsidized transit, free/subsidized health care, subsidized housing, and food programs. At some point, we might have to expand monetary redistribution, if robots/machines continue to develop to do everything.

However, two other interesting trends:

1) People are always finding new things to do as we are relieved from being machines (or computers)-- the Luuddites seem to have been wrong so far. In 150 years we have gone from 80% to less than 2% of the workforce farming in the US, and people found plenty of other things to do. Many people are making a living on YouTube, eBay, iTunes, blogs, Google Play, and self-publishing books on Amazon, just as a few random recent examples.

2) In the 1890's a typical worker worked 60 hours per week; down to 48 by 1920 and 40 by 1940. From 1890 through the 1970's low income people worked more hours than high income ones, but by 1990 this had reversed with low wage workers on the job 8 hours per day, but 9 hours for high income workers. Costa, 2000 More recently, we see that salaried workers are working much longer hours to earn their pay. So, at least with income we are seeing a "free time inequality" that goes along with "income inequality", but in the opposite direction.

[–]linuxjava 43 points44 points  (21 children)

While you could be correct, it doesn't mean that it's going to continue this way. If a machine is capable of having the dexterity and creativity that humans have, surely do you really expect more jobs to suddenly appear that we've not thought of? The dextrous and creative AIs will already be able to do them. We'll literally be in a post job society, where people do things because they love and enjoy them and not because they need to put food on the table.

[–]BurkeyAcademyProfessor of Economics 25 points26 points  (19 children)

I agree totally- at some point that is bound to happen. My biggest worry is that there will be two kinds of people at that point: Some who choose to go to waste (e.g. the people in Wall-E, or people sitting around drinking or doing drugs their entire lives), versus others who use this liberation to develop musically, intellectually, to explore the universe, or what have you. I'd love to hear what philosophy has to say about this-- should we judge the wasters, or force them to do something productive?

[–]DeMartini 26 points27 points  (10 children)

What does productivity mean in a world without unfulfilled needs?

[–]TThor 10 points11 points  (9 children)

Exactly. I think modern society is increasingly coming to conflict with a sense of meaning in life; Lately we tend to put sense of meaning in work, but we are increasingly coming upon the realization there is nothing a human can do that a computer/machine won't eventually both do and do better. Eventually, art, science, exploration, all of these will be pioneered by machines far better at it. At some point, I think we have to come to the realization that, there is no meaning to achieve, life has no meaning. At best it has the function of proliferation/survival, but that isn't a meaning, and even machines will eventually be better than humans at supporting/protecting humanity. We must find a place for ourselves in a world where we objectively don't matter.

[–]autoeroticassfxation 9 points10 points  (4 children)

Is it up to you to decide meaning and purpose for others? That is our own journey. In the meantime don't think that full time work grind is a better option than the freedom to pursue your own meaning and purpose. Time that I would spend more with family, more swimming/surfing/staying fit. More reading. More computer games. I would have finished my race motorcycle project, and be working on my flying machine. If someone buries themselves in drugs and alcohol, then that is up to them, they are not doing it because it makes them happy long term, they do it because they are unhappy now. They need our support and care rather than our derision and economic punishment.

What would you do if your work hours were halved?

[–]BurkeyAcademyProfessor of Economics 6 points7 points  (3 children)

Hey, I agree with you totally here-- people should be left to do what they want. I just feel sorry for the situation I see lots of people get themselves into when they don't have to work. I have had to help force people I know well into rehab though, and if we can prevent it from getting to that point somehow, I would love to know how.

I know exactly what I would do if I didn't have to work (and had a bunch of money); I tell people all the time. I would start collecting master's degrees from top universities-- I LOVE to learn, just like I LOVE to teach (and the more I learn, the more I can teach!). I would also have more time to play computer games, get in better shape, get better at Bass guitar and Euphonium, have more family time-- I am right there with ya!

[–]MaximilianKohler 1 point2 points  (0 children)

This is actually a really cool short story about this topic:

[–]airstrike 71 points72 points  (8 children)

So relieved to see an actual Economist talking about economics for a change...

[–]Cranyx 15 points16 points  (6 children)

Yeah I really don't understand why people think that Hawking is qualified to answer this question.

Really good at physics =/= smart at everything.

[–]maverickmonk 4 points5 points  (3 children)

You just need to predict the behavior of people as a system using a basic game theory model and adding additional terms to control for additional variables.

[–]UtMed 5 points6 points  (2 children)

Except you can't. There are too many variables. People are chaos.

[–]maverickmonk 3 points4 points  (0 children)

I was describing the thought process physicists use to apply their thinking to other areas, not making any claim of feasibility.

However I disagree that it's impossible. It is difficult to do with high accuracy yes, but models of human behavior are increasing in complexity every day, from beating humans in chess to predicting reactions in the stock market

[–]TheBroodian 9 points10 points  (1 child)

I agree with you, but I want to emphasize something,

1) People are always finding new things to do as we are relieved from being machines (or computers)-- the Luuddites seem to have been wrong so far. In 150 years we have gone from 80% to less than 2% of the workforce farming in the US, and people found plenty of other things to do. Many people are making a living on YouTube, eBay, iTunes, blogs, Google Play, and self-publishing books on Amazon, just as a few random recent examples.

I don't think the issue is of people finding new things -to do-, I think the issue is of people finding new things to do -that earn livable wages-. People do make money on Youtube, eBay, iTunes, blogs, Google Play, etc. etc. but the number of people that do these things successfully as full time jobs are very very few. Ultimately, as human physical labor and production is replaced, I imagine that the areas that many people move to for 'things to do' will be in philosophical and artistic areas, which... as things are presently, do not yield wages to with the exception of very few.

[–]CONSPIRING_PATRIARCH 22 points23 points  (2 children)

Thank you so much for this reply. It would seem that nearly everyone's mind is on the doomsday train lately. Nice to see some evidence that it's not certain.

[–]stoicsilence 1 point2 points  (1 child)

The current iteration of the Doomsday Train has been around since 9/11. Before that it was nuclear annihilation, and the march of Communism. Who know's what the next one will be.

[–]Legumez 1 point2 points  (2 children)

Unrelated question, which field of econ do you specialize in?

[–]BurkeyAcademyProfessor of Economics 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Microeconomics- My research mostly involves things that involve spatial relationships. For example, optimal pricing methods when your customers have to pay various types of shipping costs (do they drive to pick them up, or pay a shipping fee for each one?), methods for more accurately measuring access costs to retail goods or hospitals, how people change their purchasing behavior when faced with various types of transportation costs, ... for more about me, and my educational YouTube videos! (shameless plug) ☺

[–]Legumez 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Oh that's really cool, I actually have a tangentially related anecdote to this. There was a book I was trying to import and I saw that it was finally available with Amazon Prime shipping and I ended up paying like double the other prices to have it in 2 days vs. 2 weeks.

What kind of data are you looking at for these relationships? (curious econ undergrad at uchi)

[–]roerd 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It's a bit weird how you talk about the income redistribution and the shorter work hours as though these things would just happen naturally, whereas they usually have been the outcome of hard-fought labour struggles. And despite of everything that has been achieved in this respect, there's is still enough of Hawking's second option happening even in the industrialized countries (not even to mention the rest of the world) that mass unemployment is quite common in these.

[–]Jinnigan 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Do you have data from within the last 25 years about the average number of hours worked? I'd be interested in looking at both average household income (how many hours of work does a $25k household make vs $50k, $150k, etc) and individual jobs (how many of hours of work does a $7.25/hr job usually offer? $15? $45? etc)

[–]TubbyandthePoo-Bah 2 points3 points  (4 children)

How much of that is producing and how much of it is based on selling, though.

I mean, other than generating profit, what does a service based economy produce? It seems to me that a lot of it is just shysterism and con-artistry. Does the world really need people to cold call me and ask me if I've been hit by a rogue driver?

[–]BurkeyAcademyProfessor of Economics 7 points8 points  (1 child)

1) Just because machines make most of the "hard goods" that doesn't mean that we are in a "service-based economy", perhaps you mean a predominantly service-based labor force?

2) The service industry provides a MANY valuable things: Teaching, physical therapy, medical care, elder care, music, art, plays, computer programming, installation/service/repair of appliances...

3) There has been shyster-ism and con-artistry for millennia. Whether it is snake oil salesmen (selling a good) or someone selling a service makes little difference to me.

[–]Schlagv 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Part time people work much more hours. In the past they would have been payed even if there were few customers, now they are only callee when needed and they often have to be ready all day long to be summoned. So part time people work much more than advertised.

[–]lewie 26 points27 points  (1 child)

The short story Manna covers both of these outcomes. I think it'll get much worse before it gets better.

[–]LongHorsa 9 points10 points  (0 children)

That was an awesome story. Thanks for the link!

[–]woodlandLSG23 51 points52 points  (0 children)

Thank you for answering my question!

[–]Laya_L 200 points201 points  (207 children)

This seems to mean only socialism can maintain a fully-automated society.

[–]blacktieaffair 85 points86 points  (33 children)

In my understanding, this was really the goal of the end of capitalism that Marx envisioned. He just didn't understand to what extent the goal of capitalism could be extended or how long it could take or what it actually meant...likely because he had never seen anything remotely close to the technology we have now.

Freeing the world to banish the idea of private property was essentially the outcome of a society in which technological advancement had removed the possibility of generating a private product. The means of production, robotics, then ought to belong to everyone.

Of course, that raises the question of how we would distribute the work of maintaining the system. Ideally, I think it would result in some kind of robotics training for everyone to take part in maintaining and then the rest of their lives would be free to do whatever they wanted (which is more often than not art, at least according to Marx.)

[–]Enfants 40 points41 points  (8 children)

Marx never said anything about abolishimg personal property.

Personal property amd private property are two very different things.

[–]blacktieaffair 14 points15 points  (6 children)

That was a mistake on my part. It's been a few years since I analyzed the manifesto. And you're right, because now that I think about it, that's a core understanding of what a communist society would entail. I edited my op so thanks for the correction.!

[–]UristLemonz 8 points9 points  (5 children)

You should try Capital Vol 1. He goes in depth into automation and its effects on labor markets.

[–]blacktieaffair 5 points6 points  (4 children)

Will do! Thanks.

[–]UristLemonz 6 points7 points  (3 children)

I should mention it's a difficult read and is several levels above the Manifesto. However, it's incredibly satisfying to read as it's a synthesis of enormous amounts of information. Everything from political economy and philosophy to anthropology to even Shakespeare is in the work. It's definitely Marx's masterpiece.

[–]blacktieaffair 5 points6 points  (2 children)

I have a double degree in political science and philosophy, so I would feel pretty bad if I didn't at least attempt it. If it's at least beneath Heidegger levels, I can hopefully get through it, haha. Are there any good readers for it? Generally I find those helpful.

[–]TessHKM 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I'm not sure what you mean by a reader, but I know of this lecture series that has been recommended to me several times before.

[–]5maldehyde 38 points39 points  (13 children)

We will most certainly have to shift into a communistic society to accommodate the huge technology boom. There is really no sustainable capitalistic way around it. Distribution of the wealth will be fairly simple, but the distribution of labor may be a bit trickier. There will have to be a paradigm shift in the way that we think about things. We will have to shift the value away from money/property and assign it to helping each other live happily and comfortably and taking care of the world.

[–]blacktieaffair 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Indeed. No longer will we be able to measure people based on their economic contribution because people won't have one, or at least, they will have a far greater equivalent contribution. In the short term, we will all have to have people maintain these systems, which like I said I'd like to see a group effort. Sort of like how people take turns working on farms in Cuba, except they obviously won't be farming, just keeping up the robots that do. Ultimately even that will lessen as we get better at teaching robots self diagnosis and maintenance.

I do wonder, like you, how we will see ourselves at that point.

[–]linuxjava 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Of course, that raises the question of how we would distribute the work of maintaining the system

Wikipedia style, where a group of people will volunteer to do whatever they want.

[–]optimus25 230 points231 points  (58 children)

Techno-socialism would be given a great shot in the arm if we were able to replace politicians and lawyers with an open source decentralized consensus algorithm for the masses.

[–]Mr_Strangelove_MSc 216 points217 points  (31 children)

Except the big lesson of political philosophy in the last 400 years is that democratic consensus is not enough of a concept to successfully run a State. You need checks and balances to maintain individual freedom and stability. You need to protect minorities, as well as their human rights. You need specialized experts who have a much better insight on a lot of things on which casual voters would vote the opposite. You need the law to be predictable, and not just based on whatever the People feels like at the moment of the judgement.

[–]ardorseraphim 38 points39 points  (17 children)

Seems to me you can create an AI that can do it better than humans.

[–]Allikuja 13 points14 points  (6 children)

Benevolent Dictator AI?

[–]ardorseraphim 3 points4 points  (0 children)

That writes laws but human senators vote on keeping them.

[–]aveman101 6 points7 points  (1 child)

I am not so sure about that. Most of the issues that result in political gridlock are extremely nuanced with very good arguments for both sides. Creating an AI that takes one side or the other would be extremely controversial.

[–]Fearstruk 6 points7 points  (1 child)

We've tried, our prototype, Donald Trump, is not working as planned.

[–]jdovew 4 points5 points  (0 children)

The Culture Series by Iain Banks deals with that. Post-scarcity society run by hyper-intelligent AIs.

[–]134ShinyVaporeon 1 point2 points  (1 child)

And when the AI decides the best way to stop human problems is to remove humans from the equation?

[–]ardorseraphim 2 points3 points  (0 children)

It puts bills on the plate asking for that. But as soon as it learns that will never be instituted it will try to circumnavigate it into existing laws. (we will need programmers in congress)

[–]Naurgul 1 point2 points  (0 children)

The decentralised consensus algorithm would replace the parliament and maybe the executive, not everything. You can still have checks and balances in a direct democracy as long as you have a constitution that includes rights for individuals and minorities and a way for it to take precedence over the rest of the laws.

[–]wildfyre010 52 points53 points  (8 children)

Majority rule isn't as great as it sounds.

[–]charcoales 1 point2 points  (0 children)

51% in favor of bending over the other 49%

[–]dansvans72 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Consensus of the masses is very much like direct democracy. While the current corruption is probably worse, it has been argued before that direct democracy would only work if all citizens were well educated, engaged and emotionally balanced. The last in that list is especially difficult. Are you saying this algorithm could be made immune to the typical human insanities? And who is to decide how exactly that works? Please elaborate.

[–]schpdx 1 point2 points  (0 children)

John Brunner described just this sort of thing in the book Shockwave Rider (1975). It was called a "Delphi Board". In the book, it was billed as an economic prognostication algorithm that told industry what the future trends were going to be. In reality, it was a crowdsourced opinion/desire driver that industry would use to figure out what people thought they wanted.

[–]spacemoses 12 points13 points  (5 children)

Yes, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the problem will be in the transition. You essentially need complete automation for complete wealth redistribution. Anything less wouldn't really work.

[–]gnoxy 14 points15 points  (4 children)

Or. Redistribution what is automated. You don't need to go a 100% on everything. If we have factory farms that are run by robots just nationalize those farms and give the food away for free.

[–]spacemoses 3 points4 points  (2 children)

Even still, you would need automation to be implemented by the government then. A corporation would never automate if their profits for doing so would evaporate.

[–]ianuilliam 12 points13 points  (11 children)

Supply and demand... scarcity... all these economic principles that determine the cost of things really boil down to the value of human labor. The cost of creating goods, is simply the cost of the human labor to manufacture and distribute those goods. Even the cost of resources and materials to make the goods eventually breaks down to the cost of human labor creating or extracting said resources. When there is no more need for human labor, there will be massive unemployment, but the cost of things becomes nothing. If the robots and resources are owned by a few, and they try to sell their goods, there will be no one to buy them, because nobody has jobs, so the economy will collapse. Even the most capitalist will realize that they only way for capitalism to survive in a world that isn't based on human labor is to redistribute wealth to everyone (basic income). One would hope that eventually we will see that that is just going through the motions, and just drop the idea of money and needing to buy things.

[–]BartAlbers 4 points5 points  (15 children)

Interesting, who knows if a future AI were to more or less control the system it would even work.

I wonder if an 'AI government' has a risk of becoming corrupt

[–]BurtMaclin11 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I tell you what. I'd rather see a human legislator with a virus than an AI legislator with a virus.

[–]wrgrant 2 points3 points  (8 children)

The problem comes when the AI Government gets hacked. Have we seen a perfectly secure system so far (that is connected to anything that is)? You would need some pretty heft security checking, plus some robust AI that just deals with defeating attempts to change itself - and even then you want a backdoor to make sure you can upgrade it if you need to.

[–]crazyfingersculture 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Makes since why a lot of science fiction portrays a utopian society. If robots did all the work I'd be open to socialism. Sounds like it would lead to more enlightenment among the breathing.

[–]darkaceAU 3 points4 points  (0 children)

This is actually somewhat what Marx's idea of socialism was about. It was a means of preparing humanity for a 'post-scarcity' world, whereby communism was the final model where all items were freely distributed according to needs. Both brought about by specific levels of labour automation and other technological advancements.

[–]TheLastChris 33 points34 points  (16 children)

This is a huge problem that we will face. There is no reason that increased productivity should lead to an increase in poverty. This will require a completely different way of life for everyone.

[–][deleted] 9 points10 points  (9 children)

There is no reason that increased productivity should lead to an increase in poverty

There are several reasons, but firstly depends on how you define productivity.

But let's go with the standard defintion: just because we get more done with less resources doesn't mean that doing such doesn't harm other people. For example, for every one company that knows how to produce a product better and faster than the rest, workers in the other company/factories are laid off. And even if the product is "cheap" because it was made efficiently, it will only be cheap to those who already have a job. To those out of a job, it's just "expensive."

Also, poverty is a relative term. In terms of absolute porverty, the number of people living absolute poverty is actually going down and has been for decades.

[–]Elmorecod 2 points3 points  (7 children)

I'm more of the opinion, like MrHawking said, that it will be a problem in wealth distribution.

[–]Maybeyesmaybeno 1 point2 points  (0 children)

My theory is the the answer comes in decentralization and miniaturization of all essential elements for a decent life. Solar power with community grids, local environmentalism, local grenhouses, and so on. It's hard to take control of people's lives if everyone can sustain themselves.

[–]losningen 39 points40 points  (4 children)

Or we could admit that our current system is inherently flawed, incentivizing destruction our very real planet and people in order to accumulate the man made construct the all mighty dollar and migrate to a Resource Based Economy which removes the incentive for destruction and promotes equality for all.

A Universal Basic income is a nice band-aid while migrating to a RBE but it only perpetuates the existing flawed system and the funds will still trickle up to the 1% in the end.

It is time to realize that people are starving not because we can not produce enough food to feed them, but because they do not have $$$. We are entering a new era of post scarcity and we need a system that recognizes this and corrects these problems.

It will be a difficult task to convince nations that have had decades of cold war propaganda promoting capitalism but the more pain the 99% feels as the 1% tighten the screws on them the faster we will reach a consensus that the current system needs to be replaced. It has to happen from the bottom up, do not expect those in power today to willingly accept this reality and relinquish their power, control and wealth.

EDIT: "there" to "that"

[–]blown-upp 27 points28 points  (4 children)

Depressingly spot on answer: the rich continue to get richer, all the while lobbying for more control over said riches under the guise that you are only poor if you're lazy.

[–]WRCousCous 1 point2 points  (3 children)

There is probably an argument that the best thing to do (from a utilitarian perspective) is to kill the 1% now while we still can. And kill whatever percentage stands in between the 1% and us "massers." Go through that cycle a few times in rapid succession and you might train the impulse towards amassing wealth at the expense of others out of the population.

[–]dr_barnowl 5 points6 points  (2 children)

The top 85 people have as much wealth as 50% of the planet, so it's not like you'd have to kill very many...

[–]gonzobon 2 points3 points  (0 children)

What do you think of the basic income idea?

[–]bar_is_open 5 points6 points  (3 children)

The extremely wealthy are becoming more meticulous in gathering up resources. It's like the closer we come to a breakdown, the more dedicated they are at being on top of the pile.

[–]skipfletcher 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Not much work for lamplighters these days.

That being said, computers and internet were expected to bring us just tons of free time, and without even really trying, we made ourselves even busier.

[–]LeonCrimsonhart 1 point2 points  (0 children)

The problem I see is that we see work as a way to validate our belonging to a society.

[–]pedialite 1 point2 points  (2 children) - PARADISE OR OBLIVION

This documentary details the root causes of the systemic value disorders and detrimental symptoms caused by our current established system. The film details the need to outgrow the dated and inefficient methods of politics, law, business, or any other "establishment" notions of human affairs, and use the methods of science, combined with high technology, to provide for the needs of all the world's people. It is not based on the opinions of the political and financial elite or on illusionary so-called democracies, but on maintaining a dynamic equilibrium with the planet that could ultimately provide abundance for all people.

[–]Dave37 2 points3 points  (1 child)

[–]pedialite 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I'm aware too! Doing my part to spread the word and happy to see Singapore be involved in all this :)

[–]MrAmazingPants 4 points5 points  (6 children)

Why do we live in a society that rewards efficiency with unemployment. ... The sad this is that the whole socialist idea wasn't a horrible one but we ran it into the ground and shouted consume! Consume! We need a capitalist socialist government in where the people are still in a position of power. We need to move to a natural resourcefulness based economy. What if every dollar made within the country was treated as a national resource? I think these changes will never come from a vote. It's time for a change.

Grab your pitch forks.

[–]LankyDouche 2 points3 points  (4 children)

capitalist socialist government

Because those words totally aren't mutually exclusive...

[–]mmatessa 2 points3 points  (0 children)

...So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

A quote worth sharing.

[–]the0riginalp0ster 3 points4 points  (0 children)

I have thought about this for a long time. This is why when I read about some politician complaining about people on welfare, I just think to myself that capitalism is probably a dying breed. In reality, we will automate ourselves so much that basic labor will be pennies on the dollar and will not be needed. The idea of competition will dissolve because of technology and only the 1% of wealth right now is fighting it. Thanks for sharing this thought with us Professor.