Idle Hands are Devil’s Tools
Our Happy Path to Nothingness
Idle hands are the devil’s tool, but what if as the whole our society becomes more and more idle? At the beginning of our history humanity struggled to survive and to feed ourselves. With the domestication of grasses, humanity stepped onto a path of progress to make our lives easier. With advancements, a concept of leisure has developed. In parallel with various scientific, industrial, information technology revolutions there was always a concern that something will take away jobs. Taking jobs away was equated with poverty and human hardships and less so with inherent human need for engagement. Somehow, we always found new and different jobs to keep us occupied and the concept of leisure is still a desired albeit limited luxury and so the world turns.
We are on a continuum of advancement. Today we speak of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and algorithms. We ask the same old question: will the machines become so smart that they will take over our jobs and people will have nothing to do? I would like to look at this concept not from the point of view of economics but rather social engineering and individual sanity. Let us assume that AI can perform both simple and complex tasks for humans and other than maintaining the machinery, which frankly can maintain itself, there is nothing for humans to do; zip, nada, nothing! How do we occupy ourselves?
Idle hands are the devil’s tool. We can always cause trouble and kill ourselves which is the easiest approach to the dilemma; kill ourselves as an act of aggression or commit suicides as an act of desperation. One thing that we learned about life is that it is programmed to continue its own survival. If we are programmed to remain alive, we will need to figure out the social structure of humanity. Today we say that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer but if no one needs to do anything there are no tasks to be performed for money. If money makes money then the very few rich own everything but somehow the masses need to be occupied. Capitalism wins the economic game but there is a need for socialism to manage the mases, so rules and laws are established to feed, house, cloth and entertain the masses – they are provided for by rationing the necessities at a luxurious level (the latest iPhones, Playstations, TVs and fancy shoes). But what about keeping the idle hands busy in such a way that they do not become devil’s tool and do not cause trouble? Two obvious solutions are drugs and video games and a less obvious solution is creativity. Drugs will keep people happy controlling anxiety and depression and even elevating moods to levels naturally not achievable. Games will keep people sensory occupied so that their brains have food for mental engagement managing boredom. There will be a few creative ones – these people will either make future progress in some collaboration with the AI and the algorithms or will create pretty things for some undefined purpose. These creative ones will perhaps be the saviors of humanity when AI and algorithms get too powerful and start jeopardizing the future of humanity. We certainly will reproduce less, as an act of reproduction could mean an unnecessary effort and an act of human emotional and physical connection will become obsolete and replaced by drugs and virtual reality games. Here is our solution to global overpopulation. I would also like to predict this as a solution to increasing carbon footprint and global warming but without accounting for how much energy AI and algorithms require and how this energy is harvested, I cannot make such a leap.
How are we doing on this path to leisure and happiness where we do not need jobs, we get what we want and all we need to do is play and if that does not make us happy, pop a drug in some form that will make our brain chemistry suppress any bad emotions and accentuate good feelings? In the developed countries, we are doing pretty well! Top scientists and engineers are happily on their way designing complex AI, self-learning algorithms that are ever more and more capable. Politics and social institutions are working on systems that provide and share wealth without asking for labor in exchange for the benefits. Drug industries are releasing more and more chemicals to make us happy and laws are passed to allow recreational use of natural and maybe a little unnatural substances to make us happy, calm and relaxed. From every angle we are marching forward to a utopia of nothingness.