The post-capitalist world

I am fascinated by AI: less by what it can or can't do than the inevitable effect that it will have on the world and how it will change the capitalist economic model that has been such an extraordinary agent of progress and change in the modern era. The reason capitalism has beaten all the other isms is that it isn't really an ism i.e. a philosophical theory. It is simply how the world works when you have a settled society and it goes with the grain of human nature. It is also where enlightened self-interest can pay dividends. One of its greatest exponents, Henry Ford, said the he paid his factory workers well so that they could buy his cars.

AI is going to upend this. As robots take over, not only factory jobs  but also driving, accountancy and indeed most white collar as well as blue collar jobs will disappear and there is one very simple question that demands an answer: who buys the stuff that robots make? The obvious answer is that this is what Luddites have said for two hundred years - and that as jobs are lost, others will be created. This is what has happened so far but it really does look as if, this time, it's different. How an AI society will look is impossible to say, but it will very likely be a post-work world for the huge majority of the population and the while it should be possible to feed, clothe and house this 'useless class', in the phrase of Yuval Noah Harari, the challenge will be how to give meaning and purpose to people in society where work has moral as well as practical value. This assumes that the 'who buys the stuff that robots make' question has been answered. Whatever it is, this is not capitalism as we understand it now. I have a dystopian - but maybe it's not - vision of what this world will look like. 

There will be a super-elite who run 'the system'. The rest will have the choice of a grey, boring and demeaning reality or an alternative supplied by finely honed psychotropic drugs that will give a happy and contented life - but one lived subjectively in the mind. If consciousness is the only 'real' reality, why should this matter? There will be price to pay for this. If you elect for this alternative 'life' you will sign away your right to reproduce. This would be a sort of artificial Darwinism as the best of the 'useless class' will chose to stay in the real world and join the super-elite. The problem of an expanding 'desperate class' which is spilling out of Africa at the moment will have been solved. The super-elite will be the oligarchy - probably a dictatorship - of the future.

As in most ideas, someone has thought about it before. Aldous Huxley died in 1963 (on the same day as Jack Kennedy and CS Lewis) and he foresaw that, 'The dictatorships of the future will deprive men of their freedom, but will give them in exchange a happiness none the less real, as a subjective experience, for being chemically induced.

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