TED Conversations

Karl Stork

Creative Producer, K&S

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Could transhumanism be the ground of a new kind of feodalism based on technology mastery?

As Martin Wolf stated in the "Financial Times", the contemporary high tech and robotics breaker is preparing the basis for a massive destruction of unqualified jobs and inequalities growth.
Any arguments against that statement...

  • Mar 23 2014: The discussion seems to have neglected the impact of transhumanism. Given superior brains and body designs, the notion of feudalism, may itself be no longer relevent.
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    Mar 3 2014: I'd like to see a robot come on its own to fix my blocked drains, rewire part of the house, and paint the cellar. Chances are it will come in human form as a plumber, electrician and and painter-decorator. Even more likely all three of them will look exactly like me - roll on DIY. There are many jobs robots will never do - care to dig over my potato patch?
  • Feb 27 2014: It is boring at the top of the food chain. The human race will not settle for a new kind of feudalism based on technological mastery.
  • Feb 25 2014: Inequality. Redistribution. In the European Union we have a maximum working hours law that is designed to stop people being worked to death by greedy capitalists. When the next wave of labour saving devices comes along, we could redistribute the workload by lowering the maximum hours which would force employers to recruit more labour. Everybody would be employed. Everybody would benefit from the reduced workload. This is an argument against transhumanism being the grounds of a new kind of feudalism based on technology mastery, whatever that means!
    • Feb 25 2014: Prove that this must be the outcome. Likewise, prove that the gains from such "work" would and must be more than simple subsistence, creating a gigantic wage peasantry.
      • Feb 25 2014: "Time is money." The more we use labour saving devices then the more time we have to ourselves so the wealthier we are. One of the things we can do with all that spare time is redistribute the spare time and work time so that everybody gets a fair share of them and, thus, a fair share of the wages. But if the population goes up in a world of finite resources then everybody's fair share of material wealth diminishes. Are you bothered? If you are insatiably greedy you could be a cannibal.

        However, we expect the population to drop as we become materially wealthier because when we have the security of wealth, we no longer seek the security of having children that will take care of us in our old age.
        • Feb 27 2014: And if one has no resources to spend during all that extra time? One then becomes the idle impoverished. It's happened before. No work, no money, no food, no clothes. What if there is not enough spare wages to feed everybody? It doesn't matter how it's redistributed in that case.
      • Feb 27 2014: We expect the population to drop as bored cannibals move to the top of the food chain.
        • Mar 1 2014: Oh, well, when you put it that way, it makes more sense.
    • Feb 25 2014: That model makes no sense. Ideally, you work with as few employees as possible. Even if I have half the employees working twice as long, it still makes more financial sense. Less people to organize (bureaucracy costs money), less benefits to hand out, less training new staff...

      If anything, as the labor saving devices get more and more competent, you don't have workers spending less hours at work, you just minimize the number of workers.
      The market may eventually readjust to turn this social problem into a strength, but the immediate result is mass unemployment.
      • Feb 25 2014: But those unemployed masses will immediately receive state handouts. The material wealth will be redistributed. And then the maximum working hours could be reduced and enforced by law. The time wealth and workload will be redistributed.
        • Feb 25 2014: That won't work very well due to globalization. Hiring more workers to work less hours will significantly drive up costs, leading corporations to simply shift their business to other countries, or just automating everything they can.

          Small businesses might have their arms twisted into your proposed practice, but most of the bigger ones won't stand for it. The process already led to the de-industrialization of much of the developed world; there's a reason most of the factories are in places like China nowadays--chances are that once labor gets too expensive there, they'll move on somewhere else instead.

          Either way, "making work" when there is nothing productive to be done, or simply over-hiring isn't the solution. You might solve mass unemployment, but productivity will suffer in the process. Communist countries had similar practices, and the strain on their economies resulting from them was one of the major reasons communism was largely abandoned.
          If the work they do is redundant, its no better then letting the unemployed masses live off welfare.

          I suppose you could try to ban both international outsourcing of jobs and mechanization, but that would be the economic equivalent of amputating a foot because it developed a wart; you'll be both isolated and inefficient.
      • Feb 25 2014: Increasing technology will reduce inequality. Because we will have more spare time to make sure we get our fair share.
        • Feb 25 2014: Not necessarily.
          Industrialization, for example, while it eventually increased everyone's quality of life, originally raised wealth inequality to staggering proportions, which never really went all the way down. Gave us communism to show for it.

          New technology will always benefit someone (otherwise, why make it?), but it won't necessarily benefit everyone, and usually comes with a lot of side effects, and painful transition periods even if it is beneficial in the long run.

          Then there's the plain harmful stuff, like addictive drugs, weapons and automated telemarketers.
      • Feb 25 2014: It is boring at the top of the food chain. The human race will not settle for a new kind of feudalism based on technological mastery.
  • Feb 24 2014: Not really. I expect unemployment in the developed world to soar to new heights in coming decades as many jobs are either automated, or shipped abroad to places where labor is so cheap its not worth automating. The process has already started, bit by bit.

    Chances are that once the economy and specifically the job market have a few decades to adjust to the new situation, this new model could work just fine, much like how industrialization initially saw a drop in quality of life for the average man (early factories were, how to put it, unpleasant), but eventually increase it as the kinks are worked out.
    The transitional period however, is expected to be painful. Wealth inequality, social unrest, automated call centers, that sort of thing.
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