OK, here it goes: The purpose of life is — to have robots steal your job. All right, let’s be serious, I suppose I don’t know my purpose let alone your purpose or that of anyone else but I’m pretty sure what purpose of life is not and the purpose of life cannot be to work, produce, and consume more and more and more.
So here’s a radical idea: the goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present political economic system. This is no light statement, considering it comes from legendary author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke. You see I think we must do away with the absolutely spacious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that 1 in 10,000 can create the technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. And so the youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. And so, we keep inventing new jobs because of this false idea that everyone has to be employed in some kind of drudgery or another because according to Darwinian-Malthusian theory they must justify their right to exist. And so we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.
The true business of people should to go back to school and think about whatever they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living. I know what you’re thinking. These are naive words. Words of a young mind, oblivious to the intricate and complex fabric of society and of economic system. That might be true. Good thing they are not my words, though, but that of genius futurist Buckminster Fuller interviewed in 1970 by New York Magazine.
Now, OK, this is all very nice, but look, we have got to face reality, OK? Tomorrow — got to go to work, well, tomorrow is Sunday, but on Monday we got to go to work. Buy food, pay the rent, pay the bills, look, we can’t just leave everything. So how do you solve this problem now? As I said, I spent years researching this problem, so here is the short answer: there is no short answer. That’s why I wrote a book to explain this. And I spent the last years traveling some 20 countries, I went to NASA, I studied at Singularity University and I spoke with some of the greatest minds on this planet to tackle this problem.
As it turns out you need a plan and not just any plan, you need a multiyear plan that involves lots of people and everyone has a different plan. So it’s pretty complicated, I’m kind of short in time and they told me to keep it simple, the TED guys, so I made a picture of two possible futures. To the left we’ve got exponential technologies and limited resources, I think that’s a fair assumption to make. We add the need for growth and labor for income, that’s the basis of every society today. To me in a few years that equals to: mass unemployment, runaway climate change, resource depletion, starvation, worldwide violence and civil unrest. Not too nice.
To the right we still have exponential technologies and limited resources, we can’t really change that unless we obliterate the human race or break the laws of physics. But what we can change is our attitude, our goals and our purpose. Open source, DIY innovators, self-sustaining communities I think this will redefine the idea of work by letting go the idea of infinite growth and labor for income, we can use our ingenuity instead of finding clever ways to get everyone a new job, maybe useless, we can use the same ingenuity to work less, have more free time, have more fulfilling lives, restore global resource balance and generally have more resilient system.
Ah ha! You, sir, are a techno-utopian! You believe technology solves everything! That’s what everyone tells me. To the contrary, I believe technology is merely a facilitator of your intention. Look back to the picture: If you subscribe to the idea that we have infinite needs that require an infinite amount of work and infinite growth to be satisfied, which, by the way, isn’t possible, exponential technology will help you get there exponentially faster to these awful results.
But we’ve been living like this for thousands of years, are we supposed to just give that up? Isn’t that against human nature? Well, we had slavery for thousands of years, we gave that up. I believe we are at a dawn of a new civilization but we can only evolve as a society if we are ready to accept that some of the assumptions that we most hold dear — we have to let go of them. Technology was never meant to increase productivity and growth, so we can work longer hours anywhere, anytime on any device. That’s instant-nity. It was meant to make our lives better.
By the way, this isn’t anything new. People have been talking about this for ages. Aristotle, 2300 years ago, said exactly the same thing. So why hasn’t this happened in 2300 years? Well, I believe you need three conditions satisfied in order to achieve massive social change. You need the vision, the resources and the technology to fulfill your dreams. So in the past we had the vision and the resources but we didn’t have the technology. And now we have the resources for a little more, still, and we certainly have the technology, but we’ve lost the way.
I believe we are fighting a lost battle. We can’t win against nature and its limited resources. We depend on nature. And we certainly can’t win against robots, and AI, and their exponentially increasing intelligence. But we can win with them.
So ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, we have many challenges ahead of us as a species. Among which: runaway climate change, increasing inequality and massive unemployment and I believe we can solve all these challenges and more if we change our vision, our perspective, our focus, what drives our lives. And so I wrote this book which is called “Robots will steal your job, but that’s OK” and it can be more than ‘OK’, it can be marvelous.
I believe every human being is an invaluable masterpiece from the moment they’re born. And we as a species, we are meant for great things, greater than we can even conceive right now with our limited brains. And compulsory work for the sake of survival is an obstacle that prevents us from achieving these goals.
So since then I started giving speeches and talks around the world and I co-founded a benefit corporation with other three extraordinary individuals from NASA and Singularity University that I hope will inspire people to do just that, to make this world a reality to express their full cognitive and intellectual potential. And then I look back to my past, and I realize I’m 26 years old, almost 27. I’m getting old! And then I look at the future, and I see this. And I would really love to create a future that I can be proud of, to create a future where one day my kids will grow in.
Thank you very much.