Marolt: A dystopian nightmare turns utopian dream
You can worry about global warming. I’m going to worry about computers wreaking havoc on our way of life. Both are happening under our noses. It’s just that the evidence about the computers is less debatable.
It’s the stuff of dystopian horror. Ever since “The Twilight Zone” started to look more like fact, we have expected the end would come when computer-brained robots march down the street to claim the Earth as their rightful domain, but it has turned into more of a sneak attack.
Robots were the bus we were looking for. They were going to hit us over and take our jobs, but it turned out that computers are the bus we didn’t see coming. They are flattening us while we look for the tin men. Who would have guessed it would be artificial intelligence instead of hydraulic muscle that conquered all?
The numbers speak for themselves. Last year the U.S. economy generated 42 percent more output than it did in 1998. But get this: It did so without using one single man-hour more. You see what happened. Computers are doing massive amounts of work. Don’t act surprised. It started happening at about the same time we all began dropping iPods into our pockets.
If the ruling class used vodka to keep the masses subdued in response to change, we have become unresponsive to the digital movement because of the incredible sound quality produced by Dr. Dre’s buds in our ears. Yes, computerized gadgetry is the pageantry of the new iMilitary parade.
Not only do we use our devices to help us do things in a fraction of the time it used to take, but they are so cool that we continually beg for more. We hardly stop to think that by using them we are truly, actually making ourselves more useless. And here I thought I was just saving myself a few steps walking back and forth to the bank by scanning deposits to it. I have been cutting myself out of part of my job. Dang it! Come to think of it, that’s a little less teller time the bank needs to hire out, too. Double dang!
The sweeping gains in efficiency aren’t limited to the world of accounting, either. Using artificial intelligence to buy movie tickets is already past boring. Basic legal documents are easily found and filled out on the Web. How much longer until there is an app that can file suit against your neighbor? A true Web MD can’t be far off that will take your vitals, test your blood, ask a few questions and then sort through gigantic databases to pinpoint your ailment exactly and prescribe the perfect treatment in seconds. Excuse me, ma’am, may a friendly computer help you find the correct size in that outfit? Look at the screen and see how the hat “I” picked out will go with it and a few other color choices, too. If they have driverless cars, there is no need for cabbies or bus drivers. And while we’re at it, rip out the cockpit and put in more passenger seats. Who needs a pilot — or an air-traffic controller, for that matter? You do understand that the perfect games in the near future will be played without umps or referees, right? Everything can be monitored from a Third World country, where whatever minuscule manpower is required can be had for cheap.
Technology is the new real estate, and programs are the new railroads. Whoever controls them gets rich. Whoever needs them is at their mercy.
A computer doesn’t earn a paycheck; it only eliminates them for people. The savings from artificial employment go to those who own the biggest computers or the rights to the best apps that entice us to do work for them on our convenient, easy-to-use personal devices. In so many ways, computers have brought the world together, so it is ironic that they also work to widen the income gap.
There is a built-in limit to this progression, though. If machines start doing all the work, then all the unemployed people they have replaced will be without paychecks to buy the things the computers will be producing. It becomes a cat’s game. To break the stalemate, the haves will have to figure out a way to put money into the hands of the have-nots for doing, basically, nothing. Voila! Now it starts to look more like Utopia! Siri, bring me another cool drink, and rub some sunscreen on my shoulders.
Roger Marolt doesn’t believe a monkey can eventually type out a masterpiece, but he knows his column could be replicated in about 15 seconds by a rebuilt personal computer. Contact him at email@example.com.
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