Thursday, January 22, 2009

Libertarian reactions to Marshal Brain's automated economy

Considerable buzz emerged at last year's Singularity Summit after the talk given by IEET Fellow Marshall Brain who spoke on the inevitable structural unemployment that automation and artificial intelligence will create.

IEET Executive Director James Hughes offered this commentary:
The astonishing thing about Marshall’s talk was the amount of outrage from the libertopians in the audience who were all perfectly content to imagine that we would soon have super-robots doing things a gazillion times better than humans, and that that transition might wipe humans out or bring about a utopian society, but they couldn’t accept that such a transition might cause unemployment and require any redistribution of the wealth. History apparently shows that the market solves all structural unemployment, even after an historical discontinuity so radical that we make up a word for it - Singularity - which precisely means that we can’t predict anything after that point. Libertopians would be funny if they hadn’t just ruined the world economy.
Like Dr. J, I was shocked by the largely negative and skeptical response to Brain's suggestion. I had largely assumed -- and now I'm guessing quite wrongly -- that most forward-looking people were in favor of mass-automation and the introduction of permanent human retirement (if I can borrow Hans Moravec's phrase).

But now that I think about it, this response actually makes sense: such an outcome is an affront to libertarian minarchism. They know that you can't have mass unemployment and a weak state apparatus. Unlike us lefty futurists who have been anticipating a work-free future for some time now, libertarians aren't too happy about the idea of having to institute a guaranteed universal income to deal with massive unemployment. But then again, their predecessors weren't very happy with the introduction of the welfare state in the early part of the 20th century, either -- a rather necessary government solution to growing problems that were caused by the maturing nation state and industrial economy.

Anyway, be sure to read Hughes's thoughts on the matter.

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