Irrelevant, inconsiderate, and absolutely insufferable.
During a recent interview with NBC, Dr. Michio Kaku, a physicist and popular science communicator, discussed many of his predictions for the future. Mr. Kaku is one of the most famous and influential “futurists” in the world, having authored several New York Times bestsellers on the outlandish vision futurists have of events in years to come. This interview by NBC happened to be about one of these books: The Future of Humanity.
Some of his predictions really aren’t all that unexpected. It doesn’t take a lot to know that the future holds more advances in technology and medicine, for example; these are things that humanity has and always will work to improve upon.
Michio Kaku goes into some more questionable claims which have become hallmark talking points of today’s futurists. Take this exchange on artificial intelligence for example: when asked about whether robots will one day replace humans, Kaku responds with “I think for this century we're okay. But for the next century, once robots can remove that chip in their brain, I think we should merge with them.”
Apparently, in roughly 80 years, we’ll have to merge with robots. I, for one, strongly doubt that.
In all fairness, it’s not impossible that robots won’t become more human-like. In fact, some could even argue that humans are really just robots following a slightly more complex code. But feasibility isn’t the only concern here, even though humans merging with robots sounds very unscientific.
One of the concerns that I have with all this futuristic banter is that it seems to favour robots over people.
Michio Kaku doesn’t name his book What the Future of Humanity Could Be. His belief in his own vision of the future is more solid than the scientific basis for a lot of his more iffy predictions - like terraforming Mars or immortality. He talks about the future as if it’s bound to happen his way. The NBC article’s headline even tells the reader that Michio Kaku “foretells” what happens in the future, not “imagines” or “guesses.”
They treat the future like it’s a done deal, and that’s problematic - because their vision of the future is terrible.
An example: today’s futurists overwhelmingly believe that automation is going to lead to the replacement of labour. Elon Musk has said that “there will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” before adding that society is going to require “some kind of basic income” due to job losses. Studies on how many jobs automation will take over vary in their results, because the capability of machines have a wide range as well. In reality, automation could impact just about every single career. Machines can potentially replace everyone from doctors to manufacturing workers.
But is that really the future we want? Presumably, the average person doesn’t want to see massive job losses by automation because there’s nothing to like about it. Futurists love to say that this will open up the door to more exciting careers in designing the machines instead of doing the work, but let’s dissect that claim: how feasible is it for everyone on earth to be able to compete in this new economy? Whereas learning skills such as programming won’t be as much of a concern to youth in suburban Toronto, the reality is grim, as only 6.7% of the world has a college degree. Silicon Valley seems prepared for “the future” - the vast majority of the world just isn’t.
Futurists know about the state of the world - they just don’t care. They love to talk about common themes such as self-driving cars (because who cares about bus drivers) and industrial automation (because who cares about manufacturing workers) and automation in restaurants (because who cares about food service workers).
Do a quick search for “Michio Kaku talks about automation” and you get dozens of self-congratulatory TED Talks and articles. Do another quick search for “Michio Kaku talks about homelessness” and you find nothing on the subject whatsoever. Replace “homelessness” with “shrinking middle class,” “skyrocketing costs of higher education,” or “lack of infrastructure,” and you still get nothing. Because those talking about the world in the future don’t care about the concerns of those building it.
So, yes, futurism is irrelevant to the concerns of the world, and frankly inconsiderate to the billions of real people already struggling to live comfortably. And the next time some intellectual futurist type talks about how automation is the future of the world, I’ll laugh at them for the elitist joke they are. Because while they yap on about humans merging with robots, 80% of humans - real humans - live on less than $10 a day and don’t have time for all the nonsense.