Wall-E and The End of Work

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I’m reposting this article with new information from a U.N. report that warns countries to prepare for the day when technology, automation, and artificial intelligence replaces jobs. They expect 75% of the world population to become unemployable, and that day is coming sooner than most people realize. It will have immense social consequences.

Wall-E is a fun & warm-hearted animated movie by Pixar that also warns against ignoring environmental pollution and the obesity epidemic. It presents future humans as super-obese couch potatoes living in a robot & technology-dominated world set some 700 years in the future. By then, mankind had so completely trashed Earth’s environment that humans were forced to relocate to spaceships and evolved into large, floating fat blobs – the Axioms.

But the future doesn’t have to be as foretold. We learned that from the classic movie, A Christmas Carol. By knowing the risks of possible futures that our current behavior may take us to, we can change. We can change course to save the environment, improve our health & well being, and find solutions to wide unemployment.

I hope you enjoy the video clips below, as well as the additional links and discussion that follows.

Related Articles

Benefits and Risks of Artificial Intelligence – AI offers unimaginable potential for the redesign of health care, but along with great benefits comes risks – risks that visionaries like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking warn against. The article features an important 15-min video, Humans Need Not Apply, that shows just how disruptive AI can be.

Healthcare Robots – This expanding collection of healthcare robots features dozens of photos and videos of the various types of robots that can help us cope with the need for eldercare that keeps growing as the numbers of working people giving that care shrinks.

Will Robots Take Over in Health Care?  Consider the effect that automation has already had. Two hundred years ago, 70% of American workers lived on farms. All but 1% of them (and their work animals) have since been replaced with machines, but the displaced workers did not sit idle. They moved to cities to work in factories and industry, filling millions of  entirely new jobs. But change in the Information Age is happening more quickly, and it’s clear that technology is replacing jobs faster than creating new ones, leading to the U.N. warning article mentioned above.

Automation, Robots and The Pink Collar Future  Nursing, primary school teaching, and personal grooming require different levels of education and knowledge, but these jobs all have a strong caretaker component, and demand the ability to understand the unspoken or non-obvious needs of patients/students/clients/etc. That’s why they may be more difficult to automate than routine jobs, even including surgeons, attorneys, and university professors. But will they be paid more? The article also includes two contrasting views of automation benefits and risks.

Moore’s Law and the Future of Health Care – This long-format article examines the healthcare impact of Moore’s Law and the exponentially accelerating pace of tech innovation that is combining technology and biology (INFO + BIO + NANO + NEURO). It’s one of my most-read articles.

Challenges & Coping Mechanisms

The shift in value from Labor to Capital is combined with improvements in transportation and communication systems to enable globalization and the ability to ship jobs to low-wage workers. This shift is responsible for income inequality and the widening wealth gap, and that has world leaders worried.

World Economic Forum – As elite billionaires and government leaders met this year at Devos, Switzerland, artificial intelligence was a hot topic as they debated various ways of coping with the widening wealth gap. They saw AI as widening the income gap contributing to the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory. They don’t want to become the targets of social unrest and angry mobs with pitchforks, so they want to get out ahead of that risk.

Universal Basic Income – If AI replaces 75% of jobs, how will people survive? One concept tested now in cities and countries around the world is providing Basic Income unconditionally to everyone without a means test or work requirement. Detractors worry that such a move would destroy ambition and result in laziness, like the Axioms. But advocates expect people freed from worry about survival to seek more creative ways to benefit society, improving their skills & education, starting new businesses, participating in the arts, or finding other ways to help people.

Political Genocide – I’m not talking about killing people but just allowing them to die sooner for political expediency. I coined the term to describe what seems like Republican indifference to low-income, minority, senior, disabled, or immigrant populations that are more inclined to vote against them in elections. Reducing those populations in that way has the same effect as voter suppression, voter intimidation, and gerrymandering. And by denying them healthcare, tens of thousands will likely die as a result, according to Robert Reich.

This slow form of genocide, if we may call it that, is nothing new. Public health officials have long seen alarming differences in average lifespan between poor and affluent neighborhoods on opposite sides of the same town. That observation is described in the HBO documentary, The Weight of the Nation.

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