There are three things that limit extraordinary or exponential progress for mankind in my opinion .
1. Physical ability
2. Mental ability
When you make even small improvements in each bucket, you gain some competitive advantage . For example – if you have adequate food and healthcare , you have better chances of spending time learning , hence a chance of better jobs and hence more wealth creation . If you have better mental abilities than others – you can find better opportunities to create and retain value . All of us have the same amount of time every day – so those who can spend it on higher order activities generally tend to have better results .
The people who tend to have a better combo physical / mental abilities and have more time on their hands – they tend to gravitate towards being the large scale suppliers of goods and services and everyone else becomes consumers .
Scale for suppliers is good for consumers in the short term – gives them better service and better price . Obviously this can turn bad in a hurry when there is no competition . I don’t worry about monopolies very much – I think the more realistic scenario is that there will always be a few large providers for most things consumers need .
The interesting aspect of scale is how technology will be used to make it happen . I think the suppliers will be the first to benefit – be it longer life span due to better healthcare options , better intelligence due to gene manipulation and use of powerful tech , better use of technology to predict what consumer wants , and maybe even better ability to manipulate consumer into wanting something that the providers have to sell , and perhaps the ability in future to be in multiple places at the same time and accomplish more within the same amount of time .
The fact that tech is not there today doesn’t mean it won’t get there in future – and given the tech progress is usually exponential and not linear , its only a matter of whether it takes 20 years or 200 years .
So what about consumers ? Suppliers need consumers – otherwise there is no future for them either .
I don’t expect any sudden change in global job markets . But it’s not hard to imagine that most skills that we consider useful today will become irrelevant tomorrow . We can mitigate it for some more time by changing how we learn and up-skill – but that only delays the inevitable . Eventually the majority of things that a lot of humans do today will be replaced by fewer humans and lots of automation .
So the people who don’t have the skills to do anything that adds value – how will they act as consumers ?
When automation can do stuff better/faster/cheaper than regular humans – there is no reason for suppliers to use these folks to create value . Even at no salary and “will work for food” – as in a terrible “slave labor” type scenario – there may not be any takers .
Even for the consumers who have useful skills – technology might be a good tool for them to gain efficiency in their purchasing . For example – if a personal digital shopper does all your purchases , it might be able to negotiate better prices from all available sources . The side effect is that the suppliers might be the one providing such a solution to the customers . So eventually the consumers loses value long term in that scenario too .
Then there is a possibility that the tax paid by suppliers will be enough to pay for all citizens to live comfortably – the Universal Basic Income concept in some form . This will need a complete rethink of our political and economical systems – and perhaps our religious belief systems too .
Take countries like INDIA and USA for example – which are a union of states with a federal government . Would rich states agree to pay extremely disproportionately to support the poorer states ? If they do – will Americans accept some kind of hybrid communism as a way of life ? And if they don’t – can the rich states stop mass migration from the poor states ? Will the rich states want to become independent countries at that point to retain their advantages ?
Even if no states leave the union in INDIA and USA , and the tax situation somehow works out with negotiations etc within each country – that still doesn’t solve the problem . Mexico and Pakistan might not have enough supplier taxes to cover their population adequately . Will US and INDIA send them their tax money to prevent mass immigration and its associated problems ?
The likely outcome given how government works everywhere is that they will increase the tax burden on the suppliers . It will get to a point where the supplier has no incentive to be in business any longer . Given they are already better than others with physical/mental abilities and time management – a good number of them probably will find a way to keep the advantage they have and stop contributing to the tax base .
At that point – what is the definition of “a country?” . Would physical boundaries and National flags mean much at all ?
I was born and raised in INDIA . If you look at the history of British rule in INDIA – you can easily realize that technology (ships , weapons, looms, medicine etc) gave a huge advantage to Britain – and INDIA eventually became a source of raw materials and a consumer for the finished goods. The kings who ruled INDIA at the time largely didn’t get along with each other , common people identified themselves with the territory their king ruled , and there were a lot of immediate problems to solve instead of worrying about technology . Looking back – it didn’t end well for INDIA at all for a couple of centuries .
The mistakes of the past like what happened in INDIA could repeat itself with even greater impact across the world . We will probably look back at last few decades and take a stance that automation has been a boon and not a curse – and we will be quite right in saying so . We might even look forward to say it will still be a boon for next twenty years – and that could be also quite true . But in doing so – we maybe doing our future generations quite an injustice .
It maybe ok for our grand kids to not have any nationality or religion – but we don’t have a clear idea of what will take their places as identities . And if we leave it for future generations to figure all this out from scratch and go on with our lives , we may not be doing humanity any favors . At a minimum we need to start taking small steps to define these solutions and work towards it with clarity .