A world without employment

We’ve talked before about a world with half the current rate of employment. A complex world, close at hand, full of automated systems and robots. But there are those who go beyond that, and do it from a place where we know from experience the future is defined — Silicon Valley. There are those who talk about a world without work, without employment.

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm DFJ, said during the XPRIZE Visioneering event that the world has to think about how to deal with the increasing gap between the rich and poor and not about how to employ people who will inevitably be losing their jobs.

I met Jurvetson two years ago in San Francisco. This investor in futuristic technology companies — like SpaceX or Synthetic Genomics itself—is a guy that when he talks seems to describe with precision a world that only he sees, but explains it in such a way you understand and envision it, in all its overwhelming logic.

Same as Jurvetson thinks that “the pace of technological progress is decoupled from the economy” and that the gap between the rich and poor can no longer expand and contract as it has at other times in history, the middle classes are indefatigably decreasing and in some parts of the world tend to even be disappearing to make way for other “low-cost micro-bourgeoisie” models.

Supposing, as Jurvetson says, that all industries will experience a moment in which robots and software eliminate unwanted jobs, so there aren’t enough jobs for all human beings, then a small portion of mankind will control the information technology that would make “global automatization” possible. That — keeping in mind the current economy isn’t keeping pace with these advances — could create a terrifying scenario in which almost 80% of the population able to have a job, won’t be able to get one.

Imagine a world where it’s hardly necessary to work because everything is automatized. It seems like science fiction, but it’s becoming less fiction and more science all the time. Carstransport, operators, mechanics, manufacturing, mining, education, medicine, and anything else you canimagine, already have automatized components, or by-products, giving us a glimpse of what the immediate future will be like.

The challenge is finding the way to attain that “wonderful” opportunity of “automatization” resulting in the entire world population having access to fundamental human rights. Healthcare, knowledge, culture, food. A robotic world to make life more human. For this to happen, a “smooth transition into the world of plenty” is required.

Can you imagine it? What will that transition be like? When?

spanish version here

Forbidden Phrases

There are three shunned sentences in my life. “This is the way this has been always done”, “That’s not possible” and, the worst, “Be careful, you’ve never been there”. The first one is typical in discussions on business innovation. The second is typical in economic fields where the parameters outside of conventional logic are not examined. The third refers to going to unknown places to gather momentum and working on projects from the unknown. This last one is especially stimulating to me. To be an entrepreneur is something more than defining an economic model; it has to do more with an attitude and with the will to take control of your own destiny. Is not always doable, but we have an obligation, as a species, to not be annihilated. I only know one way, though there are others; mine is to embark.
Every one of the thousands of entrepreneurs that banish their fears and disregard apparent limitations are the ones that will wake up a sedated society that has idiotized itself to the extreme. The representatives of that anesthetized social body, incapable of facing the challenge of taking control of its own existence, but aware of the fact its life is a socio-economical privilege that no other generation before has enjoyed, I call the “low cost micro-bourgeoisie”.

Starting right now, we are delving into the values of a society that will decide in coming years if this is a “glorious opportunity or a “situation without opportunities. Once a society lets itself be dragged by the tide, then it’s a dead society.

A few years ago, during winter, I used to have the pleasure of giving a lecture to a thousand students from different Andalusian schools of economics in the auditorium of La Cartuja in Seville. They were usually students in their last year. Each year, halfway through the talk I asked the same question:

How many of you intend to undertake something — a project, a business, or whatever — within the next five years? Their response was worse every year. Normally, barely a dozen students would raise their hands. Then I came back at them with another question:

- So, How many of you want to become public servants?

More hands go up, but it still isn’t exactly a forest of arms I see in front of me. Finally I pose the question to the rest (which is well over half of the students left) whether they want to be prostitutes, arms dealers, contestants on Big Brother, or football players. The laughter that usually creates leaves me speechless.

It’s not their fault; the fault belongs to the environment we have created which numbs the desire to get moving. Life seems to be extremely easy these days and the middle class lifestyle has become so accessible that you don’t even actually need to be middle class to enjoy it. Unbridled consumerism does not require having money; all you need is someone to lend it to you.

At the end of that annual conference in Seville, five or six students would approach me at the end. On one memorable occasion, a girl walked towards me with tears in her eyes, extremely moved. She told me that she was one of the few that understood me; that she was now looking forward to take “the reins of her own existence.” I do not deny that left me with my face twisted, unable to respond. It just so happens that it’s necessary to address and act on the problem: the passivity of a society that takes sleeping pills before starting up each morning to numb away criticism towards anything that surrounds it, and with much less ability than those previous societies that passed down to us most of the privileges we now enjoy and manage so badly.

For the first time since World War II, this new batch of youngsters will live worse than their parents. Spurious improvements in travel, higher education and media have generated an illusory sense of wealth for contemporary young people, as it arises from a model of parasitic dependency on one’s family. The number of young people in Spain that enjoy full economic independence decreased from 26% in 2004, to 11%  2011, and that tendency is spreading throughout Europe. When these students mature and enter the labor market they are only going to find temp jobs for the rest of their days. They are people who could enter the labor market at age 35 and then face being laid off at 50.