In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All four contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on technologies that can provide solutions to the problems of our time. This Sunday, it‘s Carlo van de Weijer’s turn. Here are all the previously published columns.
Maarten Steinbuch recently referred in his column to the acclaimed book Homo Deus by Yuval Harari. I can also recommend it to everyone, but even half an hour of Harari-surfing on the internet is already well used and very instructive time.
During such a virtual journey, I recently met with his reflection on the useless class, the large group of people who, while able to live well and healthily because of the upcoming abundance, actually have no economic added value. A world where robots supply all our stuff and all our food as good as free of charge. How does society give this growing group of economically useless people a meaningful existence? Harari’s best bet is gaming. Something that might sound strange but what we have actually been doing for thousands of years, in the shape of religion. Numerous rules that you can use to score points doing good, repeating the same verses often enough, sing incomprehensible songs together, or donate money to a virtual institute. And where you lose your points if you don’t show yourself grateful enough or go against the commandments, without confessing afterwards. Commandments that have just as well been made up by humans but nonetheless have been proven to be effective through centuries of iteration. If you have gained enough points in this temporary level, the next level, the hereafter, is waiting. It turns out to give enough meaning. Orthodox Jews live a very sober life of praying for hours a day without any economic contribution and turn out to be above average happy with it. It’s not that much different from playing Candy Crush the whole day or trying to virtually kill people while driving a car on your Playstation.
Others say that as soon as robots finally free us from the slave yoke of salaried labor, we have time to let go of our creativity completely. I see a shortage of audiences to go to all those performances and not enough walls for all the paintings that will be made.
I think we both will happen, but it will appear in the shape of a useless job in which you can express your creativity and where you are convinced that you can achieve something. Unnecessary in economic terms, but certainly not in social terms, because you satisfy your biologically embedded desire to assert yourself.
The world is already full of jobs that actually add nothing. In Japan and India, this hidden unemployment is more visible, with metro-doorpost-indicators and lift-knob-operators, but in fact, a “Region East account manager” or a “Business Development Wholesale manager” don’t really add any value either. There are estimates that about 40% of the current jobs are of that caliber.
We’re heading towards a world of 100% of that kind of jobs. Economically useless, but socially very useful because they meet our inner need for meaning, based on what drives human instincts: social intercourse, and a feeling, and not more than that, of added value. Taxi drivers and shop clerks are a good example, but hey, the metro door indicator and the account manager East can also rest assured.
Secretly, we all will be playing games, even though it seems like a real job.