Let’s talk a little about robotics; two things need to happen in order for robots to take their inevitable place among us. The first is that they reach a level of physical and mental sophistication that will allow them to operate in public safely and efficiently. The second is that they become economically viable for mass-production.
In my novel, Delta Function, a super-intelligent combat-mech called Ares has taken over the Earth, driving the human race into death and exile. For the purposes of my story, Ares is an artificially-intelligent android that turns against its creators and goes rogue, eventually expunging all non-synthetic life from the face of the Earth.
The creation of artificial intelligence is a difficult, and some say impossible task, but intelligence isn’t a prerequisite for robots to make a massive and lasting impact on our society, they simply need to be useful and cheap. As it stands, the broad spectrum of intelligence and skill amongst humans is met by an equally broad job market. However, if robots are created at a sophisticated enough level, then they will undoubtedly replace humans in a number of key areas. Manual labour and hazardous duties are just two fields where an exact, tireless, unflinching non-sentient automaton could and would outperform a human.
The balance in society would be threatened if a wave of cheap mechanical slaves were to replace a huge swathe of skilled and unskilled people. The likelihood is that a purpose-designed robot could do any task faster, more accurately and more efficiently than a human being. So, if we have a world where robots are building our houses (they’re already building our cars), laying our roads, drilling for oil, erecting wind-turbines and all the other myriad tasks that keep civilisation ticking along, then what happens to the resultant jobless millions?
Cheap robotic labour is an unavoidable consequence of an increasingly technocratic society. Industry chiefs would be delighted to remove people from the manufacturing equation. Having total control over an indefatigable team of possessions, with no rights, desires or emotions, would be any business mogul’s dream come true. But if those displaced from their jobs became disillusioned and angry, as they surely would, then would we see a revolt? The unemployed masses could become dangerously dissatisfied with their lot, and suspicious of the consumer society that has ousted them.
As genetic engineering progresses hand in hand with robotics, as the need for human labour is reduced and ultimately eradicated, would we choose to enhance the intellects of our offspring as a matter of necessity? Lest they be drawn into a listless, marauding underclass.
In my opinion, the only thing that would prevent these unfortunate future circumstances would be the advent and distribution of reliable, renewable energy, like extracting oxygen from water or the generation of electricity from reengineered bacteria. But, the cynic in me says that any technology capable of freeing the population from its dependence on fossil fuels and the big energy providers would be patented, purchased and peddled out at an extortionate price. For the nations of this world to progress, some great acts of global technological donation need to occur, but I really don’t think the CEOs and majority-shareholders have it in them.
In the next instalment of this series I’ll be bringing you my thoughts on the psychoactive properties of ketamine, and how recreational use of the drug has directly impacted on my writing. Thanks for reading, Dom Carter.
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