RE: Does Technology Lead to an Existential Crisis?

I recently ran across a post on /r/philosophy by /u/_pseudointellectual that I couldn’t help but respond to.

The thread has since been removed, but you can read the original posters thoughts here.

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community for some time now about the impending robotic revolution. This, for the most part, hasn’t bothered me, progress is progress. But I recently stumbled across this video on r/all and near the end, Elon Musk raises an extremely interesting question about meaning in life.

Now, this isn’t a post in which I want to start a discussion on our meaning (or lack of) in life. I’m interested in exploring the soon to be realities of those who don’t bother to even question existence but merely ‘get on with it‘ as if it’s a chore. Because this is a place we’ve gotten to in our modern capitalist society. Living, for a lot of people, has become almost a burdensome routine which main focus is situated on employment. So, what happens when those people lose their jobs?

Assuming Musk is right, that a Universal income is implemented and we end up having an almost socialist-like society; the majority of humanity being supported by a Government of some kind. Will this push people into an existential crisis? And possibly even be the cause of many suicides? A situation like this brings us all back to that wonderful -and albeit overused- Camus quote “there is but only one serious philosophical question and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”.

Of course, as someone with a keen interest in philosophy, this prospect does in some ways delight me, I’m also struck with a chord of sadness for those that simply do not want to confront this reality yet.

What happens when people don’t know what to do with themselves?

EDIT: Also, what would this do to educational institutions? Will people bother getting an education anymore? How about business ventures, if the majority of the world has the same individual amount of wealth and that will suffice, does that entail mass apathy?

My response:

I can speak from an economic lens as that’s what I study, but it does have philosophical importance.

In the past, the economic importance of human labor was mostly the physical aspect and we were all employed with physical labor. i.e. farming, hunting, building

As those got pushed away due to technology, we shifted to a service economy. Most people today are employed providing some sort of often mental service to others. Financial advice, medical advice, being a philosopher, being an economist, writing, and organizing various aspects of society.

Some of these will be replaced by technology again if technology can produce as good or greater output at the same or lower cost. If we employ technology to it’s utmost peak we will be left doing things that robots can never do. Theoretically these things will be those concerned with what is unique to human experience manifesting themselves in art and creativity. This leads to a creativity economy instead of the manual labor economy or the service economy. Kevin Kelly said on an episode of the freakonomics podcast that the last job that robots will take from us is comedy.

As to your question on educational institutions, there are two perspectives on their utility relative to production. One that they grant us skills that we can use, and second that the fact that we have a degree or any form of educational accreditation is information for others to use in deciding if they want to hire us or relate their own choices to us in some way. However, education may also be consumed in the sense that if education is a value on its own, it will be pursued regardless of productive utility. Both this consumption use and possibly the second productive use of education will still exist post-AI totality.

How’d I do? Other thoughts? Thoughts on basic income?


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2 thoughts on “RE: Does Technology Lead to an Existential Crisis?”

  1. I think the only other option to a universal basic income is relying on charitable factory owners who produce goods to distribute them. Although this seems unlikely since I doubt most people would like their existence to depend on the whims of a few individuals.

    In a lot of ways, people will live like the patricians of Roman society; They’ll be able to devote their time to the arts, education, and politics, while leaving tasks necessary for maintaining their standards of living to robotic “slaves.”

    However, I doubt it would be some sort of egalitarian utopia. As always, there would most likely be an upper-class of people who control the major networks of production, either privately owned or by the government, a middle-class of talented and creative people, and a lower-class of everyone else.

    1. Very true. Another very important aspect of the economy in the future will be people’s desire to have children and it’s affect on the population. History has never seen a long-term downward trend in population, but it is certainly a possibility in the future with increasingly effective and affordable methods of contraception. Hopefully, this will push more and more people into the the upper parts of society that you describe.

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