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Alex Payne - Dear Marc Andreessen

Stashed in: Robots!, Marc Andreessen, Winner take all., Awesome, Power!, inequality, internet, Bots, Rich people get richer., Robot Jobs, They took our jobs!

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One of my favorite web people writes an open letter to another of my favorite web people, about whether it's a good thing that robots take your job.

Robots taking all the jobs could be the ultimate consolidation of power by the wealthy:

You’ve got a big audience of admirers. I’ve counted myself amongst them, but lately you’ve made it a challenge. I just can’t square with the way of looking at our industry, political economy, and the future laid out in your latest post.

You seem to think everyone’s worried about robots. But what everyone’s worried about is you, Marc. Not just you, but people like you. Robots aren’t at the levers of financial and political influence today, but folks like you sure are

People are scared of so much wealth and control being in so few hands. Consequently, wherever you and other gatekeepers of capital direct your attention – towards robots, 3D printers, biotech, whatever – you’re going to detect a fearful response as people scramble to determine the impact of your decisions and whims.

The debate is, as ever, really about power. So let’s set robots aside, and with them your black and white dichotomy of pro-growth, pro-tech heroes versus regressive Luddites. In our country, most people have positive sentiments about science and technology while simultaneously being concerned about unemployment. I don’t know who your anti-robot villain is, but it’s not regular folks.

Hear hear. His version of reality is at the very least, borderline-sociopathic. It includes only his own "class" of individuals and completely discounts the significance of everyone NOT "financially immune" to economic forces.

Which, let's face it, most of us are not financially immune to economic forces at all.

al3x makes some good points here about us not knowing what we're unleashing when we push technology to consume all the facets of our lives:

To ensure we all get by in Awesome Robot Future, you think we should:

Create and sustain a vigorous social safety net so that people are not stranded and unable to provide for their families.

Yes! Absolutely. With you one hundred percent.

The loop closes as rapid technological productivity improvement and resulting economic growth make it easy to pay for the safety net.

You lost me again.

Sure, technology that enhances productivity can make products and services cheaper. Emerging technologies can also create demand for things that are inherently expensive – cutting-edge medical procedures and treatments, for example – driving up costs in entire economic sectors.

Unless we collectively choose to pay for a safety net, technology alone isn’t going to make it happen. Though technological progress has sped up over recent decades of capitalist expansion, most people on the planet are in need of a safety net today. The market hasn’t been there to catch them. Why is this different in Awesome Robot Future? Did I miss one of Asimov’s Laws that says androids are always programmed to be more socially-minded than neoliberals?

I appreciate that smart, ambitious people like you are thinking about a future of universal prosperity. You borrow terminology from finance in saying that you’re “way long human creativity”. While I’m creeped out by the commodification of our species’s ingenuity, I appreciate the sentiment. If our industry stops painting anyone who questions our business models as Luddites and finds creative ways to build products and services that sustainably address real needs, maybe we can hold on to the receding myth of triumphal disruption. Hopefully we can agree that there are many more meaningful quality of life improvements technology has yet to deliver on before we can start brainstorming the “luxury goods markets” of the future.

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