https://qz.com/1162023/an-optimists-guide-to-a-future-run-by-machines/

An optimist’s guide to a future run by machines

If you’re worried about the future and where technology might lead us, 2017 didn’t help. The warnings kept rolling in about potential job lossesfrom automation and machine learning. More than 375 million of uswill need to completely change occupations to avoid being replaced by robots, a recent report estimated. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence keeps getting smarter: The world got its first robot citizen, another robot learned to do backflips, and DeepMind’s AI has mastered chess.

It doesn’t need to be so frightening, says Tim O’Reilly, the founder and chief executive of O’Reilly Media. O’Reilly is known for spotting and promoting trends and innovations such as open-source software and web 2.0. In his new book WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Uspublished by Penguin Random House in October, the tech thinker and writer envisions a future in which people, particularly tech and financial executives, make smart, conscientious decisions to harness technology for good.

“WTF,” most commonly called upon as an expletive, but also an expression of astonishment, addresses the “profound sense of unease and even dismay” that many people experience when confronted with advanced technology, O’Reilly writes.

With the right choices, machines doesn’t have to put humans out of jobsRather, they could create work—and joy— for us. O’Reilly is keen to stress this ideal future, where AI brings us unimaginable delights and higher standards of livings, can only be achieved if we radically change how we view our economy and capitalist system.

“We are at a very dangerous moment in history,” O’Reilly warns. While some of his Silicon Valley neighbors believe we are on a steady march towards singularity, where machine and human brains melt into one force, O’Reilly has a reminder that nations can fail, civilizations can collapse, and technology can go backwards. Climate change, wealth inequality, intergenerational inequality, astronomical CEO pay, and the constant pursuit of corporate profits are all pitfalls that technology could exacerbate. It’s getting harder and harder to solve the problems we have created, he says.

For all its warnings, WTF is defiantly optimistic, and in some places surprisingly almost Marxist. It’s light on practical steps to achieve these idealistic goals, though they include more progressive taxes on financial investments and a “radical” shake up of the education system. However, there is a genuine plea for action, or at least thought, on building a better future. O’Reilly is inquisitive, sourcing ideas and thoughts from across history and disciplines, while the book is littered with quotes from literature, and by historical figures, entrepreneurs, economists, and friends in high places.

Quartz spoke to O’Reilly in London about technology’s role in building a better society. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Quartz: You’ve been in publishing for decades. Why did you decide this would be your first book for a general audience?

 “Let’s not just celebrate disruption, let’s start to identify the world that we want to build.” Tim O’Reilly: I could see the current tech backlash coming. There’s been a narrative that robots are going to take all the jobs and we’ll have a new Precariat [a social class suffering from an existence without predictability and job security]. I wanted to address the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who seem so tone deaf, policymakers, and of course the general public. I wanted to shape ideas and the story I felt I needed to tell was that the digital revolution is coming to the real world and it’s going to be messy but let’s not just celebrate the disruption, let’s start to identify the world that we want to build.

What does the disruption look like in that world?

I refute the idea that robots are going to take all the jobs. There’s plenty of work to be done, just look around. We have crumbling infrastructure, the looming specter of climate change, aging populations in the developed world who are going to need care, and government and healthcare systems that are stuck in the last century. There’s so much work to be done.

Early on in the book you warn that civilizations can fail and technology can go backwards. Is that a general warning or related to something specific you see in the world today?

 “Climate change will either crush us as a society or we will rise to and it will allow us to transform our society.” I studied classics, so how nations fail has always been in the backdrop of my mind. Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil talks about steady march towards the singularitybut on human timescales there’s big flat line periods, or downward spikes. It is possible for the world to go sideways, look at things like climate change and the anti-science, anti-progress, extractive, crony capitalism that is taking over governments around the world in the name of populism. We could end up in a very, very, dark time. There’s really two possibilities: eventually climate change is going to be little bit like the aftermath of World War II, something that will either crush us as a society or we will rise to and it will allow us to transform our society.

There’s a lot of ways things that could lead to a worse future, including climate change, politics, and inequality, but you still describe yourself as an optimist.

You have to believe that we can make things better. ‘Why It’s Up to Us’ is the most important part of the book’s title. I think it’s time for us to stop believing in the divine right of capital, that it’s only natural for companies to want to extract as much profit as possible from every unit of work to screw their customers if that will make them richer. Give me a break, that doesn’t work, it’s not sustainable.

“WTF,” most commonly called upon as an expletive, but also an expression of astonishment, addresses the “profound sense of unease and even dismay” that many people experience when confronted with advanced technology, O’Reilly writes.

With the right choices, machines doesn’t have to put humans out of jobsRather, they could create work—and joy— for us. O’Reilly is keen to stress this ideal future, where AI brings us unimaginable delights and higher standards of livings, can only be achieved if we radically change how we view our economy and capitalist system.

“We are at a very dangerous moment in history,” O’Reilly warns. While some of his Silicon Valley neighbors believe we are on a steady march towards singularity, where machine and human brains melt into one force, O’Reilly has a reminder that nations can fail, civilizations can collapse, and technology can go backwards. Climate change, wealth inequality, intergenerational inequality, astronomical CEO pay, and the constant pursuit of corporate profits are all pitfalls that technology could exacerbate. It’s getting harder and harder to solve the problems we have created, he says.

For all its warnings, WTF is defiantly optimistic, and in some places surprisingly almost Marxist. It’s light on practical steps to achieve these idealistic goals, though they include more progressive taxes on financial investments and a “radical” shake up of the education system. However, there is a genuine plea for action, or at least thought, on building a better future. O’Reilly is inquisitive, sourcing ideas and thoughts from across history and disciplines, while the book is littered with quotes from literature, and by historical figures, entrepreneurs, economists, and friends in high places.

Quartz spoke to O’Reilly in London about technology’s role in building a better society. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Quartz: You’ve been in publishing for decades. Why did you decide this would be your first book for a general audience?

 “Let’s not just celebrate disruption, let’s start to identify the world that we want to build.” Tim O’Reilly: I could see the current tech backlash coming. There’s been a narrative that robots are going to take all the jobs and we’ll have a new Precariat [a social class suffering from an existence without predictability and job security]. I wanted to address the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who seem so tone deaf, policymakers, and of course the general public. I wanted to shape ideas and the story I felt I needed to tell was that the digital revolution is coming to the real world and it’s going to be messy but let’s not just celebrate the disruption, let’s start to identify the world that we want to build.

What does the disruption look like in that world?

I refute the idea that robots are going to take all the jobs. There’s plenty of work to be done, just look around. We have crumbling infrastructure, the looming specter of climate change, aging populations in the developed world who are going to need care, and government and healthcare systems that are stuck in the last century. There’s so much work to be done.

Early on in the book you warn that civilizations can fail and technology can go backwards. Is that a general warning or related to something specific you see in the world today?

 “Climate change will either crush us as a society or we will rise to and it will allow us to transform our society.” I studied classics, so how nations fail has always been in the backdrop of my mind. Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil talks about steady march towards the singularitybut on human timescales there’s big flat line periods, or downward spikes. It is possible for the world to go sideways, look at things like climate change and the anti-science, anti-progress, extractive, crony capitalism that is taking over governments around the world in the name of populism. We could end up in a very, very, dark time. There’s really two possibilities: eventually climate change is going to be little bit like the aftermath of World War II, something that will either crush us as a society or we will rise to and it will allow us to transform our society.

There’s a lot of ways things that could lead to a worse future, including climate change, politics, and inequality, but you still describe yourself as an optimist.

You have to believe that we can make things better. ‘Why It’s Up to Us’ is the most important part of the book’s title. I think it’s time for us to stop believing in the divine right of capital, that it’s only natural for companies to want to extract as much profit as possible from every unit of work to screw their customers if that will make them richer. Give me a break, that doesn’t work, it’s not sustainable.

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