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Hassan Syed

Executive Director (Resources), Twycross Zoo, United Kingdom

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Do you believe that our future is bright, if yes, why and if not, why not?

While looking at the trends like human health, access to knowledge, access to technology, technology growth, etc., we start believing that our future is going to be very good. On the other hand, looking at the trends like destruction of nature, speed at with we are consuming natural and environmental resources, explosion of human population, carbon in the air and climate change, etc., we think that really difficult times are ahead of us.

I am interested in knowing the sources of optimism and causes of pessimism in us.

Just to be clear, "our" means humankind :-)

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  • Sep 24 2012: I tend to view the future with pessimism. I am a baby buster, gen X, had it tough all my life. So, let's see...technology is destroying the rainforests, the oceans, polluting the air, poisoning the land. Our technology has created things that are not advancing us, from the small such as fish finders to the large like atomic bombs. For every good creation, there is multiple downsides.

    Now we humans are going to be replaced by robots. What will happen to assembly line workers when robots replace them? The 3 million truck drivers? Are they going to become computer programmers, and still participate in the economy, or live on welfare?

    Back in the 60s and 70s, authors in books like Ecotopia predicted that by now, a worker would only have to work about 20 hours a week to produce enough income for a reasonable living. That little bit hasn't worked out, has it?
    My cheery prognosis: the rich will get richer, the poor will start to starve, there will be a revolt, and when the dust settles, we will be back about 50 years, in both jobs and population.

    Or even more cheery, the new AI computers will consider us redundant, and use us as the slaves.

    Better yet, in 50 years, total ecological collapse, 6 billion people die, the Earth regenerates, with a much smaller human population.

    Of course, instead of gladiator games during the fall of Rome, we will be glued to our eye candy IPODs and the like, being entertained as our civilization falls.

    Ah well, like I said, I tend to be pessimistic!
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      Sep 24 2012: Good points Peter. Being from the same generation, I can relate to what you are saying.

      Why do you think people feel the need for robots when lots of people are jobless? Is it because we want to pay less for the things or is it because industrialists and businessmen want more profit? If a choice was given, would people opt for little expensive products in favour of human factor in the making of it?
      • Sep 24 2012: Well, bottom line, some people are greedy. If they can replace a worker who they paid say $30K a year with a robot for $60K the robot would pay for itself quickly. Of course, who would be able to buy a car at $30K if they are jobless? That's why Henry Ford paid his workers well, so they could afford his cars.
        People will always opt for the cheaper option. Why? Well, as you become un(der)employed, you start looking for cheaper sources (dollar stores, thrift marts) for items...even though you know that you should be buying products locally made. So, for 10 years or so, everything will be made in China. Then, when North America wages fall and workers can no longer even afford that, society will start breaking down..
        The robots will exasperate the issue, as they wipe out all local jobs, and manufacturing will go overseas to cheaper job markets. The short sighted manufactuers will lose all their local North American customers.and apply to get government loans, which would be a huge error. Its called a downward spiral.
        But hey, with an increasing world human population, lets make a billion or so robots that can replace 6 billion workers. Where's the logic in that?
        The only real way out would be a complete abandoning of monetary capitalism, where we use robots to do our bidding as we sit back and enjoy our lazy lives. Bored, but not hungry!
        • Oct 12 2012: Who repairs the robots? Who designs robots to do new things? Are all things automatable? If one person now generates 10x as much wealth with the same amount of work as the previous generation, what happens to the difference? Massive consumerism is what creates scarcity. What if we learned to meter our production and let go of consuming many of the things we don't need? Maybe you call this lazy. Would you be bored? I wouldn't be. Do you know everything you could? Have you seen all the sites, experienced all there is to behold? Do you know your neighbors? Do you know yourself? Do you know the nature of a single atom, much less the entire universe? You're right, the nature of money would have to change. The concept of scarcity should still apply to opportunity, but not to survival.

          The point of solving small problems, for the individual and for the society, is to free yourself to look further. When you have a big problem, rejoice! You stand on the shoulders of giants. Language and technology are both tools of abstraction. They separate us from nature but also give us power over it. The disconnection we all feel is a consequence of that power and separation.

          Most people are not aware of the basic principles which guide their lives. They are not mature enough to spend 10 minutes alone meditating, much less a lifetime. They've forgotten how to play, I think, to really be consumed by their curiosity of the experience they find themselves in. Who are you, and what really matters in your life? And how can you be jealous of a robot? [laugh]

          Viktor E Frankl was a Jewish psychologist imprisoned in a Nazi death camp. His book "Man's Search For Meaning" is a very interesting read. It is that search, more than anything, that defines us. And our answers are more important than all than all the gold in the world. But perhaps not so important as continuing to ask the question.

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