Scary tales of the Future
The rapid development of technology is the undeniable fact – both material sphere and fairly advanced sociocultural technologies, though barely noticeable in everyday life. And the lack of means of analysis and understanding these complex processes is just as undeniable. The existing means of analysis rely on models that were effective in an era that can already be rightly described as past: new times have come and models remain old.
The inability to describe observed processes using old methods generates a sense of impending disaster, fueled by numerous publications by authoritative analysts as well as dilettantes, sometimes outright misinformers.
The name given to the new era is also evidence of the absence of adequate ways of unfolding things explaining. It is called post-industrial, sometimes – post-modern. The prefix “post” indicates that the old, “understandable”, time is gone, and the new one cannot even be defined. This “new” can only be understood in relation to the processes currently taking place in our world today – whether technological, political, social, cultural or educational.
So far, the main topics are artificial intelligence, the singularity point, robotisation and the replacement of human workers by robots, climate issues and other signs of impending change.
But these reflections do not cover the subject matter of allied socio-economic and technical spheres. And the absence of these links makes predictions even less realistic.
But first, it’s a couple of words about scary tales of the coming future.
Let’s start with the tale of upcoming total unemployment due to the widespread introduction of AI and mass robotisation. These considerations are not always linked in a logical chain. There will undoubtedly be redundancy as a result of increased productivity and the implementation of AI “primordium”. But it was essential to recall that in addition to the high-tech enclaves, spheres that require exactly human involvement are being preserved, modified, but by no means reduced.
Robots tend to be used in mass production, and artificial intelligence is expanding into the managerial field, but numerous other areas of life and production still require real human (often physical) labour. A simple example: military activities are ultimately also rooted in the human element. Neither armoured armies nor military aircraft have led to a reduction in the size of armies, and drones have by no means led to a reduction in the personnel operating them. And whatever technical means special operations forces are equipped with, the focus in the foreseeable future will still be on trained human fighters. Let us also not forget that in technologically developed countries the percentage of working migrants is quite high (at the moment in Russia, for example, there are about 10 million migrants living and working somewhere, who build something and work even with considerable “hidden unemployment). Of course, the structure of employment is changing, but it depends on the goals which are explicitly or implicitly set for the economy. As long as models oriented towards the consumer economy are dominated in the world. Non-utilitarian production is mainly linked to the military or information-confrontational spheres. It is the utilitarian orientation of the economy that gives rise to gloomy forecasts of a shrinking demand for human labour, but even here a way out is seen – production not for consumption, but for tasks beyond the scope of urgent necessity. And it is precisely the displacement of non-utilitarian needs (cultural and religious) to the margins of social life that is seen as the basis of the coming crisis.
And although predictions of the forthcoming displacement of the individual from economic life are unlikely, it must be agreed that the cultural and educational sector is in real crisis for at least two reasons.
The first is the mismatch between current needs and existing training methods. Many authors have written about this, and even the development of new principles of educational policy has been encouraged at a state level. However, there is not yet an agreed understanding even of the contours of the knowledge and skills that will be required of the younger generation in the not-too-distant future. There is one particular problem: the widespread use of gadgets and mass access to information, reference and computing resources has led to a clip way of thinking, for which neither higher and secondary education, nor the adult education system in general are prepared.
But as the experience of technologically advanced countries has shown, the new forms of education that are supposed to meet looming challenges, are not able to cope with such challenges yet – changes in the real technological environment are far ahead the response of education systems. Knowledge and skills begin to be acquired mostly in the workplace rather than in higher education. But as a result, this knowledge and skills become mosaic and fall out of the overall cultural context. And this is the second problem, more fundamental than that of education – Culture as a human formative factor has been marginalized. Enculturation is no longer essential thing for the expert formation. Enculturation is no longer essential thing for the expert formation. Culture, which previously generated both new forms of thinking and new technological ideas, has lost its leading role. As a result, technologies are also built on a limited array of cognitive tools.
And in consequence, there is still no answer to the question of how and on what principles civilian life should be organised when, on the one hand, education and culture are becoming clique-like, the coherence of culture is being lost, and the complexity of technical (engineering) systems is constantly increasing. How to restore the position of Culture?
Hence the scary tales regarding artificial intelligence follow. Systems are evolving and improving, but the general cultural level, without which no purposeful creative activity is possible, is falling.
Secondly, elitist education, of course, does not solve this problem basically. Accordingly, it begs the question: at what point, in what country will the above-mentioned trends intersect; when will the level of education drop to the point where it is unable to “reproduce” itself?
What would this look like, and what consequences might it lead to? One can only fantasise about it. Or one can make predictions. In any case it will be a terrible, a scary tale for adults!
But … “Fairy-tales, though far from true, Teach good lads a thing or two”. What is the thing? What does, in fact, underlie the disastrous premonition, which, for want of a visible monster, is associated with quite ordinary processes, no more disastrous than the replacement of horse-drawn transport by rail and road one? Is it the real singularity point? But in the recent past there were plenty of them, these singular points, but they all somehow did not take place.
As a matter of fact, seemingly unrelated things are moving upon us from different directions. Digitalisation is an absolute boon, but it does not come to a blooming and complex world, but to a cultural desert where the culture itself retreats into confined oases. It is away into a world of all things equivalence. And this equivalence has already backfired on the relegation in step of things that used to be important and essential, and that was explicit and implicit rather than articulated.
And even though the promised catastrophes will obviously not happen in the coming years, a number of questions need to be answered by now. Which socio-economic system are we talking about? What would be the role of the worker with the simple actions if the need for human labour is significantly reducing? What will happen to the consumer economy if it produces only what it sells but people’s real utilitarian needs are quite limited? What is the other thing that will replace the “consumer economy”?
Whatever has happened to social systems in general? The experiment with the two antagonistic systems should inevitably have resulted in the victory of one of them, and that’s exactly what happened. However, what had happened, in our view, was not a consequence of specific regularities, in other words – inevitability, but it was a consequence of the immaturity of the socialist system, which could if it had been reformed competently have stood up for itself. Nevertheless, it’s just something that happened. If we extend this line of reasoning, we come to the conclusion that a non-utilitarian economy formation is needed where the main product feature is not its saleability, but something arising from demands, reflecting the purposeful characteristics of human existence.
This should concern not only the space expansion or the human nature transformation. But non-utilitarian goals have to be set by someone. The market “automatics” which is focused on satisfying of the limited human needs is not enough here. Goal-setting should be proactive, conscious and ensue from values those are above and beyond the current needs of human life. Neither “market stimulation” nor “smart” monetary policy will help here. And this means that life itself has demanded the positions of the Culture domination…
The apparent degeneration of electoral democracy political systems also coincides with this process. When the political power passes to a comic actor, as it happened in Ukraine, and to the unknown forces behind him, it is an evidence of the final stage in the political evolution of the existing systems. On the horizon we see the dawn of a new totalitarianism (in a good meaning of the word) – the post-technological totalitarianism of Culture and Spirit. The need for the forceful simplification of the bulk of people to control their economic behaviour will disappear, and the need for maximum human development will become paramount.
Unless… Unless this prospect is overturned either by the recovery of market primitivism or by the victory of pre-technological totalitarianism, which is gaining strength in the fringes of the technological states. For now, it looks like we are indeed approaching the next historical paroxysm. But the reason for this is not robotisation with artificial intelligence in addition, but the processes of human degradation are once again turning a Human Being into a “human material” for someone.
©, Valery V. Allaverdyan, Oleg G. Bakhtiyarov, 2020