Probably not; but they may lead you to trying to find out what makes you different from them.

Millions of people, sadly, live robot-like lives today: they are barely aware of the world they live in; they are not in touch with their own feelings; their sensations (smell, touch, taste, hearing, vision) have been numbed; they have practically no sense of ethics or aesthetics; they do not know who they are and what they want.

These people have been reduced to their rational portion of themselves, and to a poor version of that. This rational dimension is not what makes us human, though for centuries some philosophers have touted that reason is what made us superior from animals, and therefore human. The mistake is to then completely disregard the emotional, spiritual (values) and physical dimensions. If we only value the rational dimension, we are reducing ourselves to being very inefficient robots.

In the past two hundred years or so, notably since the Industrial Revolution, mankind has been trying to turn humans into robots. Millions have been taken away from being in touch with Nature, and have been piled up into high-rise concrete buildings from which they descend to re-locate to work-stations where they execute repetitive meaningless tasks. They are already operating most of the time like robots, but with less efficiency; it’s only logical that these meaningless tasks should be executed by robots, who are much more efficient.

The issue then is: what will these millions of robot-like humans do with their lives? In other words: now that they are freed from working like slave-robots to earn their living, how will they survive? And if we move to a “minimum income” society where nobody has to work, what will people do with their time?

Yuval Harari suggested in an article for The Guardian that millions might turn to playing virtual reality video games, since “life is a game, anyway.” I beg to differ. The statement that “life is a game” encloses a value judgment in itself, but it is not necessarily true: it is just a belief. If you believe that life is just a game, then of course turning to video games might be a good way to waste your life, since that’s kind of what you’ve already been doing anyway.

But what if you believe that life is something else? That’s when life begins to get interesting. Seeking out the meaning of life could keep you quite busy for a while and it might be more fun than virtual reality. Plus, it might contribute more to the betterment of mankind and to all species of life in the universe, too.


Creative leisure

Let’s imagine what life could be like in a hundred years, in 2117. Some people say that robots will take over the world by 2050, but I think that most of the time these kinds of forecasts are wrong because they see too many changes happening too early. It’s a kind of impatient wishful thinking. As a result, you have those ideas spread in the 1930’s that by the year 2000 we would all be going around in flying cars like Flash Gordon.

Currently, the forecasts that have been circulating describe millions of people becoming jobless and virtually obsolete, because robots have taken over what they do. As factories become robotized and more efficient, more jobs carried out by humans disappear. And as robots and automatic systems replace humans in services, again this makes human jobs disappear.

If you believe the media, who will broadcast anything that will make you afraid, since this will sell more than anything that is not frightening, jobs will disappear over night. People will suddenly find themselves at home, with nothing to do. Millions will be overcome by despair and commit suicide; others will turn against their neighbors and shoot lots of random people, before they commit suicide. Others will choose a fate worse than death: they will play virtual reality video games and withdraw completely from the real world. I’m kidding, but I’m only half kidding. Indeed, many people might become addicted to video gaming, just as today millions are addicted to drugs, to religion, or to their meaningless work.

The key is: if all you have to do is lie on the beach, what do you do when you’re there? You can choose…


Is this the change we could not predict in 1972?

Social change happens a little more slowly than technological change. Changes in technology appear suddenly, like the launch of a new smart phone or a new application; the way people behave changes much more slowly, and social change happens unevenly affecting some people quickly and others not at all.

Most likely the way work is distributed will be something that will shift gradually, and the behavior of people will change even more slowly. It is not probable that millions of people will lose their jobs all of a sudden. Most likely, what will happen is that gradually our society will adjust by working shorter hours each and every day, rather than fewer days a week or stopping work completely.

Why? Because it is part of human nature to work and love, to quote Freud. When asked what constituted a healthy mental state, since he had written “The Psychopathology Of Everyday Life” stating that everybody is a neurotic, to a lesser or greater extent, Sig responded with: “love and work.” A healthy human being should be able to relate to other people, and should be able to make what is felt to be a valid contribution in terms of work.

Therefore, two hundred years later it will make sense that society organizes itself in such a way that people are able to do some loving and some working each and every day. Rather than working eight-hour shifts or more, society will drift towards working three or four hours every day. This makes more sense for the well-being of an individual, than working your assets off for two days out of seven and then feeling rather useless for five days of the week.

Of course, society will be more flexible and allow for all kinds of arrangements, depending on the nature of the tasks to be carried out. Perhaps there will be some people working very intensely for two or three days and then enjoying the rest of the week off.

The challenge will be to find ways to spend all that free time. If today you are busy (or trying to look busy) for forty hours a week (or more), it may seem daunting to imagine yourself busy for only fifteen hours. Will you be extremely bored during all that extra leisure time?

Boredom might not be as bad as it is sometimes described. Psychologists have pointed out that allowing your children to be bored is actually more healthy for their development, rather than filling up their agenda with too many things to do, and whenever they complain: “Dad/Mom, I’m bored…” you bend over backwards trying to find something for them to do. Boredom leads to reflection, something that humanity is in dire need of. Bored children start thinking about what they like and dislike, they start imagining stuff. This is what leads to invention, innovation, stories, values and drama.

It used to be that puritans would tell you that “the idle mind is the Devil’s playground.” That is because they believed in a narrow-minded world divided between good and bad, with no nuances or variety, in which working was good because it kept you from thinking about enjoying life in ways that were more difficult to control. Without realizing it, they were already trying to turn people into robots, working mindlessly with no consideration to their emotions, their values (which could never be challenged) or their physical dimension (“your body is the temple of God and you should only use it to worship Him, and never to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, which are all sinful!”). Definitely no Snickers or soda pop.

The reality is that what makes us whole human beings is the fact that we have four equally important dimensions: rational, emotional, spiritual and physical. This is what sets us apart from robots. And to realize our full potential, we must acknowledge and develop equally these four dimensions. They are all good and none of them is “sinful.”

In 1972, Arthur C. Clarke gave a keynote presentation at an International Conference on General Systems and Cybernetics held in Porto Alegre, Brazil (which I attended as a student). He spoke about the evolution of technology, and how it affected society. He stated: “the only thing we can be sure of, is that change will continue to happen, increasingly faster.” At the end of his lecture, he spoke about forecasts and how it seems that whenever people try to describe what the future will be like, they are bound to miss some of the most important aspects of the future that they are trying to predict.

During his talk, he had described the world beyond the year 2001 and mentioned things like “communicating, rather than commuting,” which we now refer to as “working from home.” He had spoken about automating jobs in manufacturing and in services, and creating interfaces that would allow even illiterate people to operate computers, using images rather than writing. He described smart phones and a rudimentary version of the internet. He had emphasized how seeing the Earth from space had given mankind a notion of ecology and how important it was to look after our planet. And he had described commercial space travel, which we still have not seen implemented in 2017.

He finished his presentation with a provocative statement: “I wonder what it is about the future, that I am unable to predict today… Probably that is exactly the thing that will have the most impact on all of us!”

That question has been in my mind ever since then, and I have asked myself whether that “unpredictable change” might be actually that things will NOT continue to change faster and faster… That perhaps the unforeseen change is that mankind will slow down the pace of technological change and move towards inner change. Instead of exploring outer space, move towards exploring inner space, but not in terms of the inner workings of the human physical body, but rather exploring the inner workings of the human mind.

Perhaps we are living “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” as touted by the 1960’s hippie culture: an era of greater harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, and the mind’s true liberation. If we set aside the hippie hype, perhaps indeed the extensive automation of jobs that are just rational repetition, will give humankind an opportunity to stop and think: to reflect on what it means to be human and enjoy humanity at its fullest.

If we work part-time as the new norm, we can spend our spare time with our family and friends, ensuring that we can finally make the world a better place to live for everyone. We can do a better job of educating our children at home (schools might be an outdated concept), with a focus on values and emotions, along with the rational. I don’t think this will be some kind of utopia where everything is perfect, but simply a world in which we will have just a bit less hate and destruction, allowing us to do less work and more meaningful things.

Some people might choose to spend their free time playing virtual reality video games; that’s fine, it is still better than going to war or blowing yourself up and those around you, because you see no purpose in life. For many others, though, there will be lots of opportunities to travel, get to know more people and places, and to engage in making life more enjoyable for more human beings.

The key for this will be to allow yourself to stop and reflect. Allow yourself to feel bored. Discuss your boredom with others, reflect with friends and also with people you’ve never met before. There is no learning without reflection, and that is the biggest menace we face today: not having time to reflect and learn from the barrage of information with which we are continuously bombarded. We will need to step away from “screen addiction” as something used to constantly and passively consume content. Rather, we can use screens to communicate and bond with other people, and to set up face-to-face meetings in which we are not just face-to-face on video screens, but where we can touch each other and smell each other, where we can use all our human senses and not just vision and hearing.

No, it doesn’t mean meeting people to have sex with them, although that is not entirely out of the question. Friendships are formed by also shaking hands, hugging, kissing someone on the cheek.It just means that whenever we drop part of who we are (our five or six senses, our values, our emotions) and restrict ourselves to the rational, we are reducing ourselves to robots. The meaning of life is to enjoy life; and that means enjoying all the dimensions that make us who we are.