Automation, Abundance & Post-Capitalism

 

The challenge

Two forces are at work that will radically transform our economy and way of life:

  • Automation: The advances in robotics and AI have become prominent in the news recently, with self-driving vehicles replacing truck & taxi drivers, IBM’s Watson outperforming radiologists, and law firms replacing junior lawyers with research algorithms. Barring any major scientific surprises, in the long run every physical and mental activity currently performed by humans can and will be surpassed by AI and advanced technology. This includes creativity, empathy, critical thinking and other skills where we currently have the upper hand. This means we will have the freedom to do whatever we want.
  • Abundance: Less talked about, but equally important, is the new era of abundance we are entering. We’ve seen it happen with information products – we now have almost unlimited free music, movies, and services online. In the coming years, 3D printing and atomically precise manufacturing (also known as nanotechnology) promise to do the same with physical goods – everything from food to electronics to houses. Meanwhile, the cost of harnessing and storing the abundant renewable energy around us will continue to drop.

This world without jobs or material need is sometimes referred to as Post-Capitalism. With very few options for people to earn an income, and very little need to purchase anything (a notable exception being property), our economy will cease to exist in its current form. This has dramatic implications for how we live and interact with each other, and it is important to think things through:

  1. How are we going to live and organise ourselves in such a society? Will a Basic Income be enough? What will people do, and where will they find meaning and structure in their lives?
  2. How do we manage the transition? In the short term we face the prospect of extreme inequality as a handful of people who own the machines or work in highly useful occupations (data scientists, blockchain engineers) pull in all the revenue while others see their income stall then begin to disappear (truck drivers, lawyers).  Should there be a tax on robots? on wealth? Should we legislate to protect certain jobs? How much focus should be on retraining people vs. helping them transition to a post-labour world?

What is being done

  • Policy development: There is a growing body of research and thought going into these questions. Among others McKinsey & Company have done research on automation and the University of Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking is working on governance policies. Little has been done on the issue of abundance.
  • Public awareness: Publications on automation are becoming widespread and big names like Bill Gates and Andrew McAfee regularly discuss it. The topic of abundance is less visible, with talks by Peter Diamandis and books like Radical Abundance by Dr. Eric Drexler (the father of nanotechnology) being the exception.

What is lacking: public discussion and political action.

What we do

Our goal is to empower people with the knowledge and democratic tools they need to support effective political action. As such, we organise events where people can learn about the issues, and will soon be launching petitions and other advocacy campaigns to create political momentum.