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What Role for Humans?

Assume, for the moment, that humanity is able to solve the most pressing issues facing it at the present: the need for clean energy, environmental degradation, and famine. At first blush, it would seem that such a world would be paradise, but this ignores the technological necessities this would entail.

First and foremost, for this to occur, we're going to have to manufacture things with greater precision than we do today. That means humans will have to be removed from the manufacturing process. Humans do not have the capability to match that of machines today, and the demands of better technology will hinge on things being built to the best possible standards.

Even if humans were capable of matching machines, economics would necessitate their removal. Humans are an expense that corporations seek to eliminate. As computer technology improves, more and more tasks will be done by machines, making it difficult for people to find any sort of employment, much less meaningful employment.

Nor can one hope that consumers will insist upon buying goods made by people. The years of "buy American" campaigns have not stopped the US from having a massive trade deficit with those nations that have significantly lower labor costs. People will buy the cheap goods whenever they're available.

It is doubtful that people will find work in the service sector. Those jobs are gradually being taken over by machines as well. We're at a serious risk of having large numbers of people in a permanent "idle class": people with no means of employment or the possibility of gaining employment. What happens to them?

Even if we assume that they will be able to meet their basic needs easily, because technology has made it possible for anyone to have whatever they want for next to nothing, they will need to keep themselves occupied. How will they do this? Play video games? Watch movies? Do drugs? Make babies? Not much of a life, really.

Given the current sedentary nature of modern life, they will no doubt get fat. To correct this, they'll have to undergo surgery or take medication, in order to keep from ballooning into huge masses of blubber. (I doubt that we'll ever be able to come up with a "zero calorie" food which doesn't have "anal leakage" as a side effect. There's a vision of humanity for you: the entire race spending their whole lives wearing diapers while worrying that their sphincter might give way at an inopportune moment.)

Of course, some people will claim that society will advance and people will become artists of one sort or another, researchers, or that we'll decide to keep jobs for humans to do. For any of that to happen will require such a fundamental shift in humanity that we might as well be talking about some other species. Not everyone is a creative type, not everyone wants to be a scientist, and any board of directors that agreed to keep humans on the payroll simply so that they would have "something to do" would be quickly fired by the shareholders.

Under such a scenario, even space exploration won't be a challenging task. It'll be little more than what moving cross country is for most Americans today. You'll simply pack up those things you wish to take with you, and a short period of time later, you'll move into some place nearly identical to the one you left. There will be no “noble” struggle of “man against nature,” because your robotic army will have already done the hard work. With the lighter gravity of Mars, people will probably get even fatter.


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