Society’s goal should be to have as many people unemployed as possible.

That statement probably goes against everything you were ever taught to think about what it means to be a responsible, contributing member of society. However, the sentiment accurately reflects the impact technological progress will have on society.

Each generation of human beings has contributed to making the world a more automated place than it was before. And each step forward enables a faster progression into the next technological era. The invention of the wheel meant that people didn’t have to carry as much by hand, and travel to distant places was easier. The printing press enabled mass communication in a way that previously was not possible. It is important to think of technology having an eventual end-game. What are we building up to?

I argue that we are in the process of building to a technological utopia where there is no such thing as work. People will not need to work in order to survive. The combination of renewable energy, automated processes (including robotics), and a Universal Basic Income (UBI) will be the foundation for the society we are moving towards.

Phase 1

There is a chain reaction that will take place when the world (or a significant majority of the world) has 100% renewable energy. The Capitalist system we are familiar with will be severely destabilized when the most basic input of the system, electricity, is free. Our economic system is based on the need for electrical energy which currently has an entire industry of workers which provide the means for every other industry to function. Electrical power is at the core of our entire way of life. Current fossil fuel reliance will eventually be replaced by solar panels, turbines, and other forms of renewable energy; energy which becomes essentially free once the initial investment of construction is paid off.

Phase 2

When your energy costs nothing, robots and automated systems no longer have a cost associated with operation because they only require an energy input to function. Sufficiently advanced systems will not only replace human workers for a huge number of tasks, they will also be able repair and monitor themselves, replacing much of the oversight and management currently in place to supervise people. Already, a coal-powered plant which might at one time have employed thousands can be replaced by a solar array with just a small team of engineers in charge of maintenance. This same process of narrowing down the required human capital will continue until there is no one needed.

For example, lets look at a farm. Currently a farm has lots of workers picking fruits and vegetables and packing them to be shipped. If that farm is connected to enough solar capacity to power robots which accomplish the same task as people, then the entire process can be automated for free. There is no cost associated with the labor, or the energy to power the systems which replaced the labor.

I expect to, during my lifetime, eat a banana that was grown in South America, picked by a robot, packed, shipped on an automated cargo ship to the United States, where it was processed and delivered to my home; all without a human being ever needing to intervene.

We Need to Prepare

Economically and politically we need to reshape our expectations based around the reality that this scenario is already underway. It is only a matter of time before the energy sector is 100% renewable, and there are already many industries preparing to automate a significant portion of their workforce.

Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… it’s progressing… Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set… 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.
Bill Gates, Business Insider

In the sort term, there is likely going to be great economic hardship and struggle as many people lose their livelihood to automation. It is quite likely that governments will be slow to address the rising unemployment and will resist introducing a Basic Income to keep citizens out of poverty.

Employment has long been held been as a pillar of what a person needs to be successful and that belief will not change quickly. Initially, people will direct their anger and frustration at technology, because the eventual Utopian future will still be too far off for most to appreciate and many people impacted will never get to benefit from it.

Embrace the Outcome

If we bridge the gap between societal eras, then we can come out the other side into the sci-fi fantasy of a world where people are truly free. They are not forced to work their entire life just to survive. People will be free to pursue their passions, interests, and explore. Just as we look back on cavemen as being a primitive group who hadn’t figured yet figured out how to form a useful society, future generations will look back at us as living restricted lives where we were not free to spend our precious time as we chose.

Surely there is an achievable point where technology will have advanced to where our needs are met completely by processes which no longer require human intervention.