Could AI, Smart Robots Help Us To Fight Income Inequality?

I hope SAFTU, AMCU and EFF will buy the book and distribute it to its members to use it as a base to develop arguments to create ‘verutopia’.

Phonlamai Photo /
Phonlamai Photo /

If you are an optimist and pragmatism, technology has been a boon both for the quality of life and the economic standard of living for all of us.

Do I hear a SAFTU, AMCU and EFF chanting “Down with Automation”?

Is the fourth industrial revolution the panacea for joblessness or would it worsen unemployment while it escalates income inequality?

Furthermore, one wonders, whether in the fourth industrial revolution machine-owners will finally be in favour of wealth distribution?

What is likely to happen?

What if the world bifurcates into the extremely rich machine owners and the rest of us, the 99.9% who are now unemployed, broke, and more than a bit PO’ed about the whole sorry state of affairs?

However, as author Byron Reese explains in his latest book “Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity” we are at the beginning of a great new age, the Fourth Age, which is giving us amazing new powers that we can use to better the lives of everyone on the planet.

We might use technology to deal with the social problems we struggle with: the last vestiges of our savagery and greed, will gradually vanish, he argues.

“Just maybe then, everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared.”

Money growing in soil. maxsattana /
Money growing in soil. maxsattana /

Reese contends in his book that this is possible in our next revolution: “What will the Fifth Age Revolution bring? There was a time when that wish for safety, health, and prosperity for everyone was beyond our grasp, literally impossible to achieve. The term we use for such impossible worlds is ‘utopia.’ which appropriately means “no place.” It doesn’t exist, but we sure wish it did.

“I suggest we move beyond utopias, these ‘no places.’ We need a new word to spark a new mind-set. A word that is aspirational and confident, not simply wishful. If “utopia” means a world that doesn’t exist, I offer the word ‘verutopia,’ meaning “a real place,” a place we can all work together to build.”

As Reese argues, it is within our ability to achieve such a world, to bring about the Fifth Age Revolution, a world of opportunity and abundance for all.

“We can build that future, and perhaps even occupy it ourselves. It is no longer simply an idle dream but a real possibility. It is no longer a question of resources, it is simply a question of will.”

By asking questions like these, Reese leads us through a complicated discussion about AI and robotics, and give us a basis to start interrogating the fourth industrial revolution, and what we must do to navigate it “appropriately”.

“Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity”
“Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity”

In this book, he smartly delivers a beautiful journey about human history in the last 100, 000 years and provides a valuation of the potential of artificial intelligence and robotics.

The book is really posing tough questions in simple language that our politicians and business people ignore to ask.

Reese doesn’t draw conclusions, but leaves the reader to make their own choices in this fourth industrial revolution dominated by AI and robotics.

Although, he tries indirectly to enlighten us how the current industrial revolution will empower us as human being to create a ‘verutopia’.

In The Fourth Age, Reese makes the case that technology has reshaped humanity just three times in history:

– 100,000 years ago, we harnessed fire, which led to language.

– 10,000 years ago, we developed agriculture, which led to cities and warfare.

– 5,000 years ago, we invented the wheel and writing, which lead to the nation state.

He believes we are now on the doorstep of a fourth change brought about by two technologies: AI and robotics.

In this book, Reese forces you to think about how AI and robotics will change the world forever.

In a country, like South Africa, where unemployment is like a plague, this book may offer a glimpse to the future we need to interrogate as much as we can if we need to create a “New Dawn” for people.

As we embrace the fourth industrial revolution, Reese leaves us South Africans with the following indirect vital questions:

  • What will life in the Fourth Age be like?
  • Will we live longer?
  • Will there still be war and hunger?
  • What will we do with our spare time?
  • How will relationships change?
  • What will we do with longer lives?
  • How will we use virtual reality?
  • Will we use new technology to upgrade the capabilities of our bodies?
  • Might we defeat disease, and perhaps even the ultimate foe, death itself?
  • And what pitfalls await us?
  • Will privacy vanish?
  • Will designer babies bring eugenics back into vogue?
  • Will there be genetic haves and have-nots?

“These are just a few of the questions that come up when you contemplate the second- and third-order effects of AI, robots, and the technological explosion in which we find ourselves. The whole world will be changed,” explains Reese.

“We really are at the dawning of a new age. So now, let’s explore the larger world of the Fourth Age.”

But, perhaps you are thinking, “doesn’t technology strengthen the power of a government to oppress its people?

fotoscool /
fotoscool /

Reese posed further questions:

  • Don’t the forces of evil and destruction also grow in power with every technological breakthrough?
  • Doesn’t technology also empower those who prefer to destroy than create?

That said, he offers us hope and a point of departure in our debate: “One of the key traits of technology is that over time, its powers rise while its costs decline,” argues Reese.

But he concludes by arguing that the fifth industrial revolution offers us a better future and the current industrial revolution is a stepping stone to that great future.

“We began our story when we mastered fire, our first real technology. Because of that, something entirely unexpected happened, something that we could never have understood at the time: we got language. From there we built cities and cultivated food, developed writing, and invented civilization. All along the way, we tamed our inner savage, or at least learned to keep him at bay,” explains Reese.

“But our best intentions were limited by scarcity. There just wasn’t enough of the good things. Not enough food, not enough medicine. Not enough education. But we learned a powerful trick: technology, which can be used to overcome scarcity and can empower a human to move a mountain”

  • Go buy yourself this book by Byron Reese titledSmart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity”. Maybe you can ask Google Assistant to buy it for you on Amazon and get delivered to your home by a drone. I hope SAFTU, AMCU and EFF will buy the book and distribute it to its members to use it as a base to develop arguments to create ‘verutopia’.

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