Monday, June 01, 2015

When we teach robots to to fish, do all men starve?

Scott Santens describes himself as:
"Citizen of Earth and New Orleans. Writer and advocate of basic income for all. Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, moderator of the /r/BasicIncome community on Reddit, and founder of The BIG Patreon Creator Pledge. — @2noame" 
Mr Santens is a leading militant in the basic income movement, which, to simplify brutally, advocates all citizens receiving enough money to live decently, merely because they are human... even if they are permanently unemployed and probably unemployable. A condition which  in the foreseeable future, if we examine the advances in robotics and information technologies, may be the status of almost everyone in  the world... outside the sex industry, or the owners of the means of production themselves.

Without too much exaggeration, this could be considered the greatest change in the human condition since the Agricultural Revolution.

Because for the last 12,000 years, except for a few aristocratic layabouts of inherited wealth, the destiny of all human beings: men, women and children, has been to work hard, very, very, hard.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread"
Genesis 3:19
For centuries, enlightened individuals have believed that education was the solution for advancing humanity. I'm sure you are all familiar with the famous quote of the medieval Jewish philosopher from Cordoba, Maimonides:
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
The genius of Scott Santens has been to take Maimonides' dictum and turn it into the following riddle to describe mankind's present and future situation:

"When we teach robots to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?"  

For make no mistake, the equation, work = life, is hard wired into our civilization.

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
Saint Paul: 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Just in case you think you can dismiss Saint Paul as representing a "rightwing" mind set, check the following:
"In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Try to make a sincere self-examination: if in a future robot-IT driven world, you somehow managed to have a remunerative job, would you be willing to support an enormous mass of unemployable people? Certainly it would put your empathy to a severe test to do so.  And if you,  as a mere worker, would make that sacrifice... How willing do you think the owners of all the robots and the IT would be to share their wealth too? To get an idea, try asking the Koch brothers.

This is really not a question for a dystopian, Sci-Fi film. We have living models with us today of how the world of the future will probably look. 

The other day a friend sent me a link to a wonderful article in The New Yorker about the capital of Angola, Luanda, which in my opinion, describes what the world of mega-inequality will probably look like in only a few short decades... if some cataclysmic social change doesn't take place before then. 

It's a long article and I recommend reading it all, but I've extracted some of the meat from it to give you a general idea.
For the past two years, Luanda—not Tokyo, Moscow, or Hong Kong—has been named, (...) as the world’s most expensive city for expatriates.(...) The country now produces 1.8 million barrels of oil a day(...)The boom has transformed a failed state into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.(...) Almost nothing is made in Angola, so nearly every car, computer, crate of oranges, tin of caviar, jar of peanut butter, pair of bluejeans, and bottle of wine arrives by boat. Every day, a trail of container ships backs up from the port through the Bay of Luanda and out into the sea.(...) Grotesque inequality long ago became a principal characteristic of the world’s biggest and most crowded cities. But there is no place quite like Luanda, where a bottle of Coke can sell for ten dollars(...). Per-capita income in Angola has nearly tripled in the past dozen years, and the country’s assets grew from three billion dollars to sixty-two billion dollars. Nonetheless, by nearly every accepted measure, Angola remains one of the world’s least-developed nations. Half of Angolans live on less than two dollars a day, infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world, and the average life expectancy—fifty-two—is among the lowest. (...) Nearly half the population is undernourished, rural sanitation facilities are rare, malaria accounts for more than a quarter of all childhood deaths(...). One businessman famously distributed Rolexes to guests as party favors at a wedding. Each member of parliament recently received a new hundred-thousand-dollar Lexus. Isabel dos Santos, the President’s forty-two-year-old daughter, is typically described as the richest woman in Africa; Forbes puts her net worth at more than three billion dollars. (...) In 2011, as president of the Red Cross, dos Santos paid Mariah Carey a million dollars to perform for two hours at the organization’s annual gala. (...)Hotels, luxury apartment buildings, shopping arcades, and modern office complexes compete for space in the city center with shantytowns made from corrugated tin and heavy cardboard and with tens of thousands of people who live on mounds of dirt, in the scrapped remains of rusted and abandoned vehicles, or out in the open, next to fetid, unused water tanks.  Extreme City - The New Yorker  
The article will print out to about twelve pages and every one is filled with dozens of grotesque examples similar to the ones I have chosen.

In the article we have the answer to Scott Santens' marvelous riddle, "when we teach robots to fish, do all men eat or do all men starve?".

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette:

"If the people have no fish, let them eat cake"  


No comments: