Tomorrow is good.
In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer and Daan Kersten, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All four contributors are – in addition to their ‘normal’ groundbreaking work – linked to the SingularityU The Netherlands, the organization that focuses on spreading knowledge about technologies that can provide solutions to the problems of our time. This Sunday, it’s Carlo van de Weijer‘s turn.
By Carlo van de Weijer
Job opportunities for the underclass have reduced heavily in the past century due to the big impact of automation. However, this did not lead to a long-term increase in unemployment. Due to improved schooling, the average education level has increased enormously over the past 100 years, a tremendous achievement. That is without the average person ‘naturally’ becoming more intelligent, for that to happen smart people should have more children than less smart people, and the opposite seems to be the case. But that’s a different concern.
If your added value is applying rules, then start worrying.
The current wave of automation is a bigger cause for concern, because firstly it comes a lot faster, and secondly this wave affects especially the middle class. If you used to have 20 men at HR, there are now one or two people working there, supported by an HR software tool. Administration, tax settlement, drafting permits, all typical middle class jobs that turn out to be performed a lot better by a computer. Banks, same story. What are all those people doing? If your added value is applying rules, then start worrying. Out of all white collar jobs, more than half of these are estimated to be done better by a computer and that is only becoming more.
You can’t blame people for following an illusion. That is what once created us.
That is what’s cornering the middle class. In the underclass things cannot be automated any further. Paviours, plumbers, hairdressers, hotel and catering staff have no need to worry. The upper class is being formed more and more by the creative among us and with that competence, you’re also safe for now, creativity is the hardest thing to automate. But in between… That safe middle class the Western world is built on is shrinking a lot faster than expected. And a cornered middle class can do strange things. It likes to support empty promises of presidential candidates that revert to a situation from before globalisation and automation. A situation that will never return. The cornered people know they are wrong because they won’t even acknowledge it when they are asked about their voting in a survey, and that is understandable. Moreover, you can’t blame people for following an illusion. That is what once created us. Read the book of, or even better, watch Youtube videos for half an hour about Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” and you will understand that the human race has transcended other species by gossip, backbiting and making up fictional characters and stories. That has been evolutionarily ingrained, and there is no way to get it out. Complete religions, monetary systems and societies were built on that.
The election of Donald Trump for president fits the picture. People know that what he’s saying is incorrect, but if we all believe it and follow it, it would work just fine. And so the globalisation was hit in the face by democracy. But we shouldn’t be distracted by that, as the accomplished fact of globalisation will definitely not get knocked out. Formerly 95% of the sold products worldwide were produced in the West. A Chinese or a Zimbabwean man did not have the knowledge nor the resources to build a car or a telephone, that was all well protected on the North-western side of the world. That wall did work. But knowledge is democratised and you don’t keep your market artificially maintained with trade restrictions, because then we are just going to buy our products somewhere else. I am a little concerned about what’s going to happen when that realisation of all this sinks in with the voters. I’m giving it a maximum of two or three years.
It is better to concentrate on transcending that damned mediocrity; cherish your creativity, and leave applying rules to the computer, it is much better at it. “Neither belonging to the upper class, nor to the lower class”, that is how Van Dale’s Great Dictionary defines mediocrity. Without wanting to state whether I belong there or not, this mediocrity has never been meaningful to me. I’d rather hang out with the lower class or the upper class. In that order.