Cut to a Singularity Summit that same year, also down in the sainted city of San Jose. During one of the talks, the speaker, Marshall Brain, at that time the host of the TV Show Factory Floor and author of Robotic Nation spoke about the exponential acceleration of robot technology that the conference was, in its essence, about. He noted that the degree of automation that was soon to arrive would lead to such a loss of jobs that it would be necessary to start providing people with a guaranteed income.
This time, it wasn’t a slight groan that arose from the gathered transhumanoids. There was actual hissing from a substantial segment of the audience. It was the first and only time I ever heard this kind of response at one of these gatherings. (Transhumanoids tend to pride themselves on a Spock-like calm logic. They are not rowdy sorts.)
Again, allow me to contextualize. Here we were at a conference about the technological singularity — the time upcoming soon, according to most singularitarians, when we would design intelligences that — in the words of original singularitarian Vernor Vinge — would be to our intelligence as we are to the worms. Nonbiological life would be more competent than us in every way imaginable. And, in fact, even stopping short of the singularity, we were hearing from a whole bunch of speakers about the rise of machines doing more with less better than us in nearly every field of endeavor. And yet, here again, the Infallible Papacy of Contemporary Currency raised its head, angrily this time — with the emotional/ideological undertow undoubtedly ranging from the Randian/libertarian virtues of being financially “self-made” combined with the immorality of assisting anyone not so self-made as one’s self…. to the Calvinist idea of the ennobling nature of work.
That the very same people that can applaud building intelligences that make them about as interesting and useful as a worm can get their knickers into a twist over the idea of humans not having to “earn” tickets to live is indicative of a Calvinist/Randian determination to punish “slackers” even in the face of an endlessly self-replicating, robot-delivered “free lunch.”
Incidentally, during a lunch break following Brain’s talk, I was explaining to a friend why the audience had hissed at Brain when a large, heavy-set man standing behind me on line turned beet red and started shouting at me about how many people were killed by the Chinese communists and how capitalism had defeated communism because planned economies don’t work. I didn’t engage with him, but I would now point out that the nation states and their economies that outlasted Marx-Leninism were the United States, which had a New Deal mid-20th Century, and the European “welfare states” that this beet red fellow no doubt refers to as “socialistic.”
Indeed, what Brain was suggesting was not collective farms, totalistic planned economies and the eventual end of all private property, but merely a logical extension of the “welfare state” in response to the conditions predicted (and already starting to occur) by technophile futurists.
Or maybe not even that. During the ’70s, many libertarians, even Ayn Rand quasi-acolyte Milton Freidman, suggested less bureaucratic paths to guaranteed income, once workers were replaced by machines. So, in concrete terms, the barbarism that doesn’t want to resolve superfluous labor and other forms of exclusion from the economy may be more a function of the psychological acceptance of post-Reagan/Thatcher conditions than it is of Randian ideology. (People younger than myself have grown up stepping over the homeless on their way to whatever for their entire lives. The scale of homelessness that continues to exist is a post-Reagan phenomenon).
Steal This Singularity in Seven Parts & A Song
- Part One: Steal This Singularity Defined
- Part Two: Steal This Singularity? Yippie!
- Part Three: The More Things Change, The More You’ll Need to Save
- Part Four: The Worm Earns (or it can fuck off and die)
- Part Five: There’ll Be Pie in the Sky When You Don’t Die.. Or We Don’t Need no Steenkin’ Steal This Singularity
- Part Six: So What (or How Can I Help this Estimable if Weird Project?)
- Part Seven: A Special Naughty Hipster’s Steal This Singularity
- White Babbits: This Months Steal This Singularity Theme Song. Sing along with Grace Slick