Can advanced technology create a Utopian society?
Originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists, writer at The Correspondent, on Quora:
One of the central ideas of my book is that technology is not destiny. Everything depends on the choices that we make as a society. For example, you can read a lot in the press right now about ‘robots taking our jobs’. There are some academics who believe that 40–50% of all jobs will be taken by robots in the next twenty years.
The thing is: we’ve heard this all before. The same predictions were made in the sixties and the seventies (If you’re a journalist right now, you can just go to the archives, copy/paste and republish the same articles). Were they wrong, fifty years ago? I don’t think so – a lot of jobs have been taken by robots. It’s just that there are a lot of new jobs as well.
The problem is that many of those new jobs are useless. A recent poll in the UK found that as much as 37% of British workers think they have an utterly meaningless job. They could go on strike, and no one would care (in my book ‘Utopia for Realists’ I tell the story of a strike of bankers in the 1970s in Ireland – it lasted for six months and nothing much happened).
Time and time again, we underestimate capitalism’s extraordinary ability to come up with new meaningless jobs. It’s 37% in the UK right now, but it could be 50%, 60% or even 100% in the future. Unless we update our ideas about what ‘work’ even is.
Again: it’s not about the technology, it’s about the choices we make as a society. When it comes to universal basic income: we don’t have to wait for the robots. We are more than rich enough to do it right now – in fact, we should have done it forty years ago! In the book I tell the story of how Richard Nixon (!) almost implemented a modest basic income at the beginning of the seventies. His plan didn’t fail because of technological reasons. It was all political – and a lot of bizarre coincidences.
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.