Friday, September 10, 2010

Unemployment Future


I'm a fan of vintage science fiction.

The stuff from the 1950's to 70's (pre- personal computer / internet time frame.) The sort of stuff where computational machines are actually smaller than a room, and where brilliant, space traveling scientists build an artificial intelligent computer out of vacuum tubes and relays.

Here's one which keeps popping to mind lately; "Commune 2000 A.D." by Mack Reynolds. It has three S.F. premises which struck me as significant ideas.

1. a portable hand held device which acts as telephone, connection to retail ordering, financial transactions, and information retrieval. In other words . . . the iPhone/iPod.

2. a possible future of automotive transportation in which there is no public mass transit but also no privately owned automobiles. It works a little like the taxi cabs of New York City. All automobiles are owned and maintained by the government. When you need transportation you press a key on your iPhone and a computer dispatches the nearest available cab to you, knowing where you are by locating your phones position (GPS). You decide when to release the cab (you can keep it waiting while shopping or visiting your cabin in the woods). You PAY for the time of use, it's not a free government benefit. Because nobody owns a car; garages, driveways, parking lots, etc are for the most part eliminated. Individual problems are also eliminated; payments, maintenance, updating, and disposal. What makes a system like this actually possible, practical, and affordable? Computerized robotic driving of the automobiles. When you request a cab, the nearest empty (and unmanned) vehicle starts its motor and drives itself to your location. With the coordination handled automatically by computer the cab arrives in only a couple of minutes (no waiting 20 minutes for a tri-met bus). In addition you can chose to tell the cab to drive itself to your destination or choose manual operation and drive it yourself. No traffic jams because flow of traffic (speed, route, etc) is determined by coordinated robotic drivers.

3. One of the main themes of the book is that industries, the production of all desired goods of society, has been automated by technology to the point where the entire population is provided for by the work of only 5% of the population. There is simply nothing (nothing necessary) for the rest of the population to do. All adults not working receive the UGI (Universal Guaranteed Income). The premise is that only a tiny fraction of this population devolve into mindless, sloth-like, creatures watching tv all day. The available jobs are fiercely competed for with the most menial job requiring PhD's to be in the running. The jobs are even limited to a few years so that others will have a chance at a career. Even so, the vast majority go their lives without working.

The plot is an investigator hired by the government to find out what these people are doing. What are they doing? Well that's another topic . . .

P.S. Why does this book come to mind you ask? (no I haven't read it recently) It's all the news articles about how so many of the jobs recently lost . . . will never come back.

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