As advanced civilization crosses the threshold into an era of extensive automation we are found with a greater degree of leisure time, but also a decreasing demand for both intellectual and manual labor. This trend has inspired many economic, political and ethical questions surrounding many of the proposed solutions. Developments in science and technology are assumed to have a direct benefit on society as a whole, but if we are left with a nation without discretionary consumerism creative innovation will slow dramatically. The most popular solution is a national basic income so that people can meet a baseline standard of living, however, this proposal carries its own set of issues. This begs the question; can modern automation coexist with the free market that fostered its development?
In a World Economic Forum article Kathleen Elkin cites the Oxford study, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization,” which predicts that 47% of US jobs could be automated within one to two decades.” The author states, “It’s no longer just the “dangerous, dirty, and dull” jobs on the block. Technology is also poised to replace white-collar positions, like lawyers, reporters, and financial analysts, to name a few.” (Elkin) With this said, Entrepreneurship in America is at it’s highest rate in decades. The course of technology at the moment allows for many of the most creative thinkers to find ways to either digitally or physically automate different industries and markets at massive gains to them. However all predictions point that the majority of industries will be entirely automated in the not too far future. With this in mind, creative thinking would have to be the one thing that computers can never replace, and if one were to think of mental capacity on the basis of supply and demand it would seem that innovative thinking will only be increasing in value over the coming years.
The current trends in automation leave us with an image of society not too far from that seen in Pixar’s Wall-E, where people rarely work and just sits in front of screens all day. However one thing that every single person in that movie is doing is constantly consuming digital content on those screens. While it is clearly an animated film with a PG narrative, it does present an imaginable future that accelerates many of humanities current trends. With more leisure time there is greater demand for content, and already in recent years we have seen a massive uptick in independent media as consumers are choosing to overlook financial metrics of “quality” in favor of things that are different, innovative and compelling. This is the beginning of a trend that would hypothetically allow for a completely sustainable digital economy as our physical needs are completely automated. An opponent may be able to site projects such as Google deep dream and other creative computing projects that have written symphonies and original paintings. However AI only has the capacity to replicate products of styles it has been able to analyze, and even as the quality of those products will increase over the coming years, it will never be able to come up with the original and creative ideas that drive the marketplace of independent media.
The Internet has made this “creative economy” more feasible than ever, and the last decade of development has allowed for this industry to open its gates to an unprecedented number of entrepreneurs. Services like Soundcloud, Spotify, Steam, Netflix and others have allowed for independent content creators to distribute their products to a larger audience at an unprecedented rate. The benefit of this is that it is reversing many of the negative effects of corporate monopolization over the past few decades. In every merger and buy out more and more people get laid off and cannot compete with the now even more firmly entrenched industry. Through web distribution platforms and streaming service many of these conventions have gone to the wayside and more people than ever before are putting food on the table through the creative economy. The US Bureau of Statistics showed that between May 2003 and May 2012 the number of full-time independent musicians rose from 300 to 1830 as the number of label employed musicians dropped from 880 to 190. (Masnick) Regardless whether the industry is bringing in more total money for a few at the top, the true economic benefit is the amount it supports at the bottom, and with this considered these trends are undoubtedly positive ones.
These market shifts are surely encouraging and it is not unreasonable to think that these financial pressures will eventually influence tech innovation in a way that will revitalize many of the healthy social and cultural attributes of art that have largely been subverted by the monopolization of these industries. As these producers become increasingly centralized the products they are releasing are essentially the greatest common factor of progressively broader consumer groups. These products allow many to relate to them in at least a small sense, but very few to truly identify with them. Music, art, film and all other creative pursuits now have the opportunity to develop tight communities within American society that can nurture new and existing cultures around the country. The heightened exposure, yet reduced marginal profit of streaming services have already driven more independent musicians, artists, and film festivals to take their art on the road. These artists are allowing small venues to pop up and sustain themselves in small cities across the country while offering a level of intimacy and humanity to their product that even a travelling robot never could.
Humans have well documented psychological responses to music that have even proven to benefit medicine in treating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s in recent years. Through millennia of survival- driven evolution, the psychology, and resulting biology of the modern human is very tied in with many social influences. In a 1983 study comparing the effects of live vs. recorded music on cancer patients, it was found that those that attended live music reported a significant drop in tension, anxiety, physical discomfort and an increase in vigor and mood. (Bailey) There are clear benefits to increased heart activity, mental stimulation and synchronized brain waves, which have all been found in live concerts. (Ehrenberg) These effects are all intensified by increased heart synchrony with those around them, often mirroring increases in heart rate. A 2016 study measured heart synchrony in a fire walking ceremony comparing the heart synchrony of someone related to the firewalker, and someone who was a stranger to another firewalker. Of the two groups there was a clearly heightened level of synchronization of heart rate and beat in reaction to the walker in the people who had relations to them. (Ellamil et al) In a performance setting such as music, live art, theater, etc, the heart rate of the performer on stage is guiding the synchrony of the audience in a similar way, in turn driving the heightened sensations tracked in the aforementioned studies. This is an element that is critical to live music that can never be replicated by AI.
Journalism is another creative industry that is reportedly going to be replaced by AI in the eminent future but there are clear human elements that are unlikely to be replaced any time soon. The Gaurdian reports that 90% of journalistic articles will be written by computers by the year 2030. This is a surprising statistic at first glance but one that is not too unreasonable when one considers the nature of the writing. The writing style is inherently lacking in the human element with many sources priding themselves in being unbiased, just reporting the facts, and being the first to report the news. This emphasis on efficiency is one area where humans can never compete with the split second computing of a computer, especially if they are feeding the same information through the same guidelines. While this will clearly be an ever more prominent trend in this industry, it opens an even broader area of interest for independent news sources as people begin to desire the human elements of their news articles. Computers will have a difficult time creating narratives within the articles that hold the readers attention, and entirely lack the underlying tone driven by the author’s opinion that stimulates the viewpoints of the reader. Corporate journalism has become a form of labor rather than the craft it once was, and we are already seeing trends towards online news sources such as the Huffington post who shamelessly express opinions and viewpoints driving dialogue amongst its readers and the rest of the independent industry. The introduction of AI into in this workforce will only increase this trend towards independent media as the decreasing humanity in journalistic writing already has.
Another aspect of AI in journalism that is already extremely prevalent is the use of machine learning to process user data through things like Google visits and Facebook clicks. This creates what has been dubbed a “filter bubble”, and it has already shown the extreme problems it creates in its influence on society. This term broke out into American thought most prominently after the Trump election with the New York Times blaming it for the election result the next day, Wired reporting that it was “Destroying Democracy” the next week and an MIT study confirming it’s influence within a month. New York Times journalist Amanda Hess describes this software as creating “personalized feedback loops”, trapping their visibility within the confines of specific news sources, types of events and political ideologies. While Republicans seem generally more apt to read opposing articles and seek confrontation online, Democrats seemed particularly caught up in the “self affirmation” of seeking news articles and sources that conformed to their scope of belief. This caused this group of the population to become so convinced of their political strength going into the election that there seemed to be more an emphasis on posting the self aggrandizing articles that shame the opposition amongst the rest of their bubble, rather than creating dialogue on conservative comment sections or posting more moderate articles geared towards swaying the opposition. In doing so, the greatest proponents of the undoubtedly safer candidate became completely disconnected with the rest of America over time due to the way these actions are processed by machine learning software. If opinions are to be regarded as creative content, it is clear that AI is impeding on this crucial aspect of American Democracy with harrowing results. Tech companies are currently scrambling to find a way to accommodate this demand for opposing opinions because it is a crucial aspect of content distribution that conflicts with the very core of Artificial Intelligence and it’s current and foreseeable capabilities.
The influence of AI on the Trump election seems to exemplify a sort of “Invisible Hand” impact on society that reflects the unconscious nature of machine learning, similar to the subconscious self-interest that drives the concept from the human perspective. This “Robotic Hand” of AI seems to be gradually working against creative thought in all areas of society that it bears influence. By the laws of supply and demand its influence on corporate America will allow for individual producers of content to benefit off the increasing value of their work, however when a force such as this influences our political systems the results are more dire. Creative thinking is the antithesis of the more critical and quantitative processing of AI, so it seems natural that the candidate that reaped its benefits would lie more on this side of the spectrum. Trump has been gutting public arts programs across the country in favor of things such as America’s increasingly automated manufacturing sector. The National Center for Education Statistics found that American’s are disproportionally behind comparable nations in the Arts due to the already present lack of programs and funding in this country. (Miller) Trump plans to gut the few programs that do exist, with 19 federal organizations set to be defunded entirely. This includes the National Endowment for the Arts who’s funding reached every single county in the country in 2015, serving as the only arts programming in many rural areas of the country. (Fallon) With private interests and wealthy State and Local tax bases being the only remaining investors in Arts education the disparity in those who are creatively equipped will become even more divided on class lines.
To bring the issue full circle, the lack of arts education for lower class America is, in effect, undertraining the people who have the most potential value to this developing sector of the national economy. The current trends in creative entrepreneurship have largely been due to the heightened value of unique and provocative content in contrast to the broad ended products of the established industries. If this logic stands, people in poor and secluded areas of the country would have cultures, opinions, experiences and ways of thinking that would have developed remotely from American popular culture would have the most valuable creative potential. With the rise of the Internet, anyone with access can put their content on the web for anyone’s access but if this portion of the US’s population is not given the skills to develop their art, they will never be able to reach their full potential and contribute to this growing market.
The benefit of entrepreneurial marketplaces, as opposed to monopolies, is that the producers are in equal part consumers, creating an environment of steady growth as participants spend primarily within the market while earning a portion of their money from consumers outside of the market. Farmers traditionally would grow a single or few products and trade goods of equal value amongst themselves in a local marketplace to the point that they could all sustain themselves, and then export surplus that was not needed within the community. With the money earned from surplus investments can be made in their own product, or spending on less essential goods, which overtime creates more producers and consumers, either way creating value for the market. This system is infinitely sustainable if spending is kept largely within the localized market as long as the flow of money is inward (exports) or outward in the cases of investment in technologies that boost production. Every artist of whatever type needs inspiration to keep progressing their work, and very few creative entrepreneurs would draw inspiration from the monopolistic industry because it would be impossible to “beat them at their own game”. Therefore, these artists will need to buy at least an equal part of other independent producer’s art to sustain their own production, being that innovation drives the economic value of creative entrepreneurship.
Outside of basic human needs, which are becoming progressively automated and therefore cheaper relative to products requiring human labor, the market for creative entrepreneurship can grow sustainably and infinitely by the same principles of the agricultural market example. A national basic income would tax the increasingly few producers at a rate that is just enough to sustain the right amount of consumption from the jobless populace to keep the system going, supposing the corporations pay their taxes. However this will only keep the national market stagnant, with the only growth being from international trade to no benefit of the bulk of the population. The best future for America is to grow from within. Rather than the few at the top expanding their hold on markets around the world, we can nurture the independent markets we already have so that every single person in the nation has the potential to live a unique, fulfilling and purposeful life doing something they love while positively influencing the lives of those around them. The American dream is still alive, and with a little help it can be for the many rather than the few.
With the current environment of market shifts towards innovation it is clear that producers of creative content will increasingly become drivers of the economy as traditional jobs become progressively more automated. With this in mind I would urge everyone to start considering creative pursuits with greater deliberation and treat their existing hobbies with a higher degree of aspiration and attention. In addition I think there should be greater attention to the modern arts primary and secondary education in American schools across the economic spectrum, in contrast to the current trend of school systems rapidly dropping arts programs across the country. Overall, the future is bright we just need to learn to adapt to this changing world so as to live meaningful lives rather than falling into that which is easiest with a national standard income.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, provides a grim depiction of a world completely dedicated to the concept of community and the “common good.” In Huxley’s world, the World State, individuals are created in test tubes and developed into certain groups with set physical and intellectual capabilities. These groups constitute a rigid caste system in which the highest levels of society are handsome and intelligent and the lower classes are increasingly less attractive and intelligent. Their society has been able to create a world in which there is no war or civil unrest of any sort. Instead babies are created in test tubes and are taught the same sets of morals and beliefs. This, in combination with heavy doses of soma (the state funded drug that pacifies civilians) allows them to maintain a subdued, uniform world. The concept of soma is one that stood out to me when looking for similarities between Huxley’s world and our current world. Soma is a drug used regularly by almost everyone in the World State that put’s one in a dreamlike escape from reality. The rampant over prescription of opiates, like Oxycodone, has provided beneficial results to millions of people suffering around the world, but it has had lethal effects on the American population, with 15,000 people a year dying from prescription painkillers (castlemedical.com). Due to the efforts by major pharmaceutical corporations and failure to impose proper legislation, far too many Americans are falling victim to opioid addiction, much like the citizens in Brave New World.
Rather than deal with the variety of issues and dangers posed by an uncontrolled population, the leaders of the World State, like Mustapha Mond, decided to subdue individuals by pumping them full of soma, rendering them pacified, lifeless lemmings with no ability or motivation to protest or rally. They seem to have discovered the key to avoiding the primary troubles that once plagued the planet. Culture is entirely focused on the community and doing whatever one can to further the prosperity of the collective group. This would not be possible without the influence of rampant soma usage. Whenever a protest does happen to break out, the police distribute soma among the protestors and all is brought back to normal.
I fear that our current society is moving in a similar direction. While our law enforcement officials are not spraying use with gaseous forms of Oxycodone, we are witnessing a rapidly spreading epidemic. The U.S. has failed it’s people by neglecting to regulate these highly addictive substances and allowing doctors to prescribe them indiscriminately. We are faced with a growing percentage of our population that is becoming increasingly dependent on a pharmaceutical narcotic that renders them useless drones, much like soma. I pray that our elected officials begin to take this issue seriously and take the necessary steps to create a realistic and effective solution. If not, we will undoubtedly witness a descent into a World State realm in which more and more citizens are prescribed a highly addictive drug that ruins lives and removes all sense of self purpose or value.
From personalized computers in our pockets to self-driving cars, the world is at our fingertips today thanks to technology. Technology has advanced into many areas of our lives, making information more accessible, improving communication, changing transportation, and the list goes on. Continue reading