If there’s a company I’d work for just because of its leadership, it would be Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin are just on another level when it come to thinking about technology, the world and our future. If we think like ants, they think like giants. I learn something new every time I hear them speak, and the latest Fireside Chat with Vinod Khosla is no exception. If you haven’t, see the insightful 42-minute interview as soon as you can:
Khosla had remarked (at around the 13:50 mark) how scary it was that technology and machines are displacing a lot of the work that people used to do and what that meant for jobs. Page pointed out that 90% of people used to be farmers, and Khosla then added that today the number is 2%. Page goes on to elaborate how we should be living in abundance, and that in actuality it’s pretty easy to meet everyone’s basic needs, but we’d have a new challenge in giving people something to do. I agree and disagree with his hypothesis.
Let’s start with the farming analogy. A thousand years ago, farming was critical to the world. Without farmers, there would be no food and people would die. We still need food to live but today, we no longer need as much labor to provide it; machines can do far more work at much lower cost. Farmers a thousand years ago are engineers, journalists, doctors, etc. today. Relatively, those jobs have become more valuable because it is work that machines can’t do.
There is an endless amount of work to do in this world even as machines do more and more of them. In the future, robots will do most of what doctors do today; this wouldn’t be a bad thing, because then people who might have become doctors may choose to be astrophysicists instead. We’ll get our medical care very cheaply and at the same time be closer to space travel.
Imagine a world where every kind of physical work is done by robots. A world of abundance. What would you do?
The answer is you would do whatever you want, whether that’s in the arts, sports, education, fashion, or if like me in technology to create new things. You would be free to pursue your dreams. You won’t have to do jobs you have to do just to get a paycheck; you can do things that matter to you, and which you will be great at because it’s an area of passion. We will be free to find purpose and fulfillment.
Doesn’t that sound awesome? Doesn’t that sound like utopia?
That technology can make labor obsolete isn’t a problem. That happened already to farming and we are better for it.
Technology change will mean some get disrupted in the process. Doctors made unnecessary by robots probably won’t be too happy while it happens; but in the long-term technology will improve humanity.
We want robots to do as much as possible so we can be free to do what we want.
Technology will set us all on a path to self-actualization.
(Or kill us Terminator style.)