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Presentation: Will our children be poorer than us?

No, because technological progress will produce a cornucopia of goods and services.

Delivered 13 November 2017. Posted 15 November 2017. Question and answer session added 21 April 2020.

This question has often been asked since the global financial crisis which began in 2007 and reached its culmination in 2008, to be followed by the euro crisis.

I have always regarded the thinking behind this question as very misguided, which is why I wrote my 2014 piece "Richer than Pharaoh?"

I was recently asked by Ibstock Place School to address their sixth form. As I was able to pick my own topic, I decided to address this question, while turning it around to ask it from the perspective of the pupils.

I explained that they face a life with abundant goods and services, where most people may never need to work. However the challenge becomes how to make your life meaningful, since people have always defined themselves by their jobs.

I recorded the talk, and you can watch it below.

Presentation: Will you be poorer than your parents?

Incomes slide

A key slide in the presentation is a graph of real UK incomes. It is reproduced my slide below with some annotations to make the video easier to follow.

Video

 

How the presentation was recorded

My first presentation recording was done on the spur of the moment, just putting my iPhone 6 on the table and relying on its built in microphone. See my page Lecture: The Quran recognises religious freedom.

Once I found recording presentations worthwhile, I purchased a high quality Sennheiser digital lapel microphone which plugs into the lightning port of my iPhone. That produces a much better recording.

The slides

I am happy to share the original PowerPoint slide presentation.

"The Naked Sun" by Isaac Asimov

In the presentation, I make the point that once robots can make other robots, the future that awaits is one of material abundance. In particular, I refer to the society on the planet Solaria that Isaac Asimov envisaged in his science fiction detective novel "The Naked Sun."

As well as helping us to think about possible futures, the novel is an excellent read, and I have never forgotten it since I first read it as a teenager.

 

A partial transcript of the question and answer session

The question and answer session was also recorded. However, I am not publishing the full audio recording for two main reasons:

  1. While the sound quality of my responses is very clear, the questioners were some distance from the microphone. Accordingly, in many cases their questions are almost inaudible.
  2. I respect the privacy of those asking the questions. I do not have their written consent to publish their recordings. In many cases, I do not even know who they were, so cannot seek permission.

Instead, I have listened to the Q&A session and, where I regard the questions as being worth sharing, have written down a condensed version of the questions. I have then published the audio of my answers.

1. Do we have reasons to fear AI? (Artificial intelligence)

Recording of my 2-minute answer

2. Will technology mean that none of us have jobs in the future?

Recording of my 45-second answer

3. All previous technology changes have produced new jobs as well as destroying old ones. Why should it be any different in the future?

Recording of my 90-second answer

4. When all the boring jobs get eliminated by technology, will everyone be capable of doing the more complex jobs that remain?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

5. You have described how technology produces more material wealth. But does this come at the expense of our values? Does it mean that we become less connected, less caring of each other?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

6. Is it possible that people might not want to have as much free time as the technology can produce? Could that be a reason why people would resist its arrival?

Recording of my 2-minute answer

7. What is the role of religion in the technological future you are envisaging?

I respond by explaining how I think about my own religious beliefs.

Recording of my 90-second answer

8. Will the superabundance that you predict be equitably distributed around the world?

Recording of my 90-second answer

9. The wonderful future you outline for us depends critically on our ability to organise ourselves to achieve it. I worry that the organisation and cohesion of our society is already showing strains. Do you share these concerns?

I explain that the transition is seriously challenging because not all jobs will disappear at the same time.

Recording of my 90-second answer

10. In the world that you envisage, who do you see owning the AI / robotic technology? Will it be multiple firms, or one firm, or the state?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

11. Does this technological future mean the end of creativity?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

 

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