Just as physics is developing and exploring realms of the cosmos greater than our conventional understanding can take us, the developments of quantum mechanics and—particularly—computing, are occurring faster than our conventional models of politics and human organization can understand. As a result, the new world of automation and machine intelligence—even if it's not the world of AI we fear; but simply the world of big data analytics—will begin to find solutions and calculations faster and more efficiently than the human mind. What happens, then, to our traditional economic models? What is the "value" of a human worker?
Will we all have to develop skills in collecting information and feeding it to these machines? Will we all become big data analysts? Once we solve the issues of harnessing power and feeding and curing the world of most health issues—to what will we dedicate our time and efforts? What will we use the machines to do? It is an existential question about the role of humanity in the world. Once we master the world, what do we do?
Will our time be filled with ever-greater explorations of cosmology? Will it be filled with artistic expression—however abstract or rudimentary? Will it be filled with politics and politicking, with the competitive drive to climb the social ladder? Perhaps more important than this question is the one that comes before it: how do we transition from a state of needing human labor to a state of NOT needing human labor, or needing it on a far smaller scale?
We can invent industries around those things—entertainment, social networks, new scientific disciplines—as we have invented them in the past to fill the place of earlier manual labor. We have done well in this effort before—but today, the speed of change is perhaps greater than our abilities to invent new industries and to "put people to work"—which is necessary in our current economic model. This will create an increasing number of crises in the decades and centuries ahead. The solution will be one of three options:
- Slowing the speed of technological development
- Finding a way to invent new industries with jobs for people FASTER than we are now
- Creating a new economic model more in line with a society of wealth generated by machines, rather than people
The economic model may be more akin to one of egalitarianism (like the universal basic income), although not necessarily; feudal hierarchies may arise. No particular model is guaranteed to succeed because we are entering a new technological age.
In any event, we will need to confront this issue sometime or another. Hopefully economists are already at work. Yes, shouldn't every economics student be required to create their own economic model as a graduate project? Shouldn't every policy student be challenged to create a policy confronting these issues? It's one of the most important questions humanity will ever face; and it's time to start thinking about answers.