By Kari Paul, MarketWatch
Famed physicist Stephen Hawking died Tuesday at the age of 76, and before he departed this world, he left us with warnings that Earth is headed for a “catastrophic ending” in the near future.
This doom will not come from a fiery asteroid or even global warming, but from rising inequality fueled by increasingly smart robots, Hawking said.
“Intelligent future AI will probably develop a drive to survive and acquire more resources as a step toward accomplishing whatever goal it has, because surviving and having more resources will increase its chances of accomplishing that other goal,” he said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything forum in 2015. “This can cause problems for humans whose resources get taken away.” His solution? We should all leave the planet and find new lives in outer space.
His dire prediction came as robots and artificial intelligence increasingly take over human jobs, with some 800 million people around the world — including a third of the workforce in the U.S. — predicted to be out of jobs by 2030 because of automation, according to an eight-month study from the McKinsey Global Institute. Though Hawking often warned about the upcoming robot takeover, he noted technology could also produce new solutions.
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” he wrote. “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.”
This philosophy has also been described as automated luxury communism: the idea that in a future in which labor is automated, machines will do work that profits people and those profits can be distributed amongst them equally. In such a post-work society, things like a 10-12 hour work week, a guaranteed social wage, guaranteed housing, universal education, and healthcare would be the norm, Aaron Bastani, author of “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” set for release in September 2018, told the Guardian .
“There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal,” he said.
He noted Uber as an example: now the company employs hundreds of thousands of drivers around the world, but it is anticipated to replace them with self-driving cars by 2030. Under the tenets of luxury communism, such services would be provided by the state rather than a private company, with profits being used to increase the standard of living for all.
Some argue automation will not evolve to meet all of the needs of humans, or that the model of luxury communism isn’t environmentally sustainable. Hawking himself said the future didn’t seem bright for such a model.
“So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality,” he said.
Others say some form of shared wealth from automation is inevitable and already coming to fruition. In 2016, Swiss voters rejected an initiative to create a guaranteed minimal income on which to live, a concept that tech magnates like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg have both promoted .
“A world of increasing abundance, even luxury, is not only possible, but likely,” Erik Brynjolfsson, author of “Second Machine Age,” a book on the rise of robots, said. “Many of things we consider necessities today – phone service, automobiles, Saturdays off – were luxuries in the past.”