Star Trek Replicator – What it Means for Society

ReplicatorI wrote a post yesterday about how I thought unemployment was based upon money rather than there not being jobs to do. The idea being that there is plenty of actual work to be done, it is a matter of being willing to pay people to do that work. That if there were enough money to pay people, the only unemployment would be those who chose not to work.

In the Star Trek universe they have a device called a replicator. This device will fabricate what you want out of base elements. You want something to eat? The replicator provides. You want something off which to eat it? The replicator provides.

Today we are in the early stages of creating a replicator. We call it a 3D printer. This device uses base element to print layer after layer of an object until it is complete. These printers are soon going to be on space missions to print food, much in the same way the replicator worked on Star Trek.

I’m going to take a little leap ahead here. What if the material for these devices was incredibly cheap? What would that mean for society? For employment?

The Star Trek universe does not explore these ideas but I’ve thought about them quite a bit.

One of the arguments we hear against entitlements is that people who do not need to do anything, don’t do anything. If people are given things in life then they don’t understand what it is to work. This is a philosophy espoused to a certain degree by Ayn Rand and I largely agree with the principle of the matter.

If we give people food and shelter they will then be unmotivated to do anything. They will lay about getting fat and eventually they will die. They will be endlessly entertained by their Holodeck wasting their life away. That society will suffer from all these people doing nothing.

Another idea is that if people are freed from the massive effort of providing food and shelter they can use their lives in far more productive ways. They can get an education, learn an art, use their minds and their time to improve society.

So if the replicator is coming, if cheap food, cheap energy, and cheap shelter are soon to be available to all (and I think they will be), and if robotics will free us from mundane tasks; what is the looming future? Will we become a society of do nothing people or a society of great achievers?

I think it all depends on the individual. It all depends on how we choose to educate and motivate people. People who are motivated to achieve will do so at levels we cannot imagine. Productivity has skyrocketed and will continue to do so as automation increasingly enters our life. People who decide to lay around doing nothing will be allowed to do so because of amazing technology created by the achievers.

The most important thing to understand is the true meaning of life.

Happiness is derived from relationships with friends and family and achievement. Happiness is not derived from sitting around doing nothing all day. That only makes us feel miserable in the end. We are happy when we accomplish something, when we overcome a difficulty, when we achieve.

The joy in my life comes from teaching a good class, helping create a good website, helping a company improve their Search Engine results, finishing a session at the gym, running a good Dungeons and Dragons game for my friends.

Let us use Candy Crush as an example. This game taps into the human desire to achieve. Games that sell are those that allow us to achieve by overcoming obstacles. They are not too hard and not too easy. They have low-level, moderate level, and high level goals. When we achieve them we are happy.

This is life.

The Automation Age is coming. People will eventually be free from spending their lives finding food and shelter. If we help people understand that the real way to happiness is through achievement this will become a Utopia. Don’t be fooled though, we could also become an indolent society, trapped in holodecks, overweight, uneducated, feeding our base desires, and miserable because of it.

My advice, get out there and achieve!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Unemployment is a Two-way Street

Skill GapI just read a pair of articles, here and here, about the United States’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and the causes thereof. The basic premise is that there are plenty of jobs but young Americans don’t have the skill to fill them, the so-called skill gap.

I’m quickly approaching my 50th birthday and many of my friends are now in fairly high-level positions with their companies. I know a woman who is highly placed at Monsanto, another who one day will likely be the owner of her family chemical company, a good friend is a high-level executive at AT&T, another few friends are in managerial positions at Boeing, and another friend’s wife has a prominent position at Siemens. I don’t mention these people to brag about how well some of my friends are doing, although I’m certainly glad that such high-achievers hang out with a teacher and writer like me!

My point is that there seems to be a fairly strong consensus in the business world that not enough young Americans have the skills necessary to do the work required. At my workplace we’re constantly trying to hire computer technicians and, as often as not, the young hires can’t do the job.

The astonishingly weak scores of young U.S. students in testing indicates this problem is not going away and is, in fact, growing worse.

The world is transitioning to the information age and this is as important as was the industrial revolution that occurred during the 19th century. We need workers who can do the job. These workers will rise through the ranks and become tomorrow’s leaders.

The lack of skills are not simply based in technical knowledge but includes huge problems with writing and communication. Practical experience is woefully inadequate.

How do we resolve this situation? There are no easy answers.

It starts with parents stressing education and achievement to their children. That’s what they are doing in India and China. It’s what Jewish and Asian-American parents have done for generations and it works.

Schools must make sure students know how to learn. This is especially important in the early years of education because technical skills will be taught later. Teachers must demand more from their students, not less.

Higher education must focus more on practical realities and less on theory, for certain fields at least.

Business must make it clear to the education providers what it will take to be employed in the modern world. What sort of skills are necessary. This is already happening as more and more companies reach into universities to hire summer interns and eventually transition them to full-time employees. Apprentice programs in Europe and particularly Germany encourage kids to skip higher education altogether and go straight into the business world and learn a trade.

The important point about this sort of thing is that there is no single solution. There is no overnight change that can be implemented to solve the problem. We must work together to promote various ideas. The solutions I’ve outlined above are merely nascent ideas and not fully detailed plans-of-action.

What we must imagine is what will happen to the United States if we don’t produce enough people to do the job properly. What will happen to our industry, our innovation, our economic power?

It’s not just about being employed, making a living, having quality of life. Unemployment, when it is driven by lack of qualified personnel, is a harbinger of danger for our nation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne