Technology Will Erase Jobs—But Also Make Everything Cheap or Free
At an event about how technology is shaping the future of money, it seems counterintuitive to talk about a future where technology has mostly done away with the need for money to live.
But that’s the future Peter Diamandis envisions.
At Singularity University’s Exponential Finance Summit in New York this week, Diamandis talked about the broad and specific trends he believes are leading to a demonetized world.
It’s no secret that technology is threatening to take away jobs. For all the talk about robots working alongside humans rather than replacing them altogether, automation’s higher efficiency, lower costs, and increasing capability mean eventually workers will be removed from the equation in many jobs.
No one wants to be replaced by a machine, but there’s a silver lining.
The counterbalance to technological unemployment, Diamandis said, is the demonetization of living—in other words, pretty much everything we need and do in our day-to-day lives is becoming radically cheaper, if not free, and technology’s making it happen.
The most obvious and tangible example of this phenomenon is, of course, the smartphone. 20 years ago, we had a bunch of different things that each performed a single function: a camera took pictures, a flashlight lit up the dark, a TV was for watching shows, a VCR played movies, a boom box played music, and so on and so forth.
Now we have all that and more in the palm of our hands. More significantly, though, we got most of it for far less than in the past. If, Diamandis said, you add up the cost of all that hardware 20 years ago, you’re looking at thousands of dollars—now reduced to a few hundred. Similarly, the average smartphone being microfinanced for $50 in developing nations holds millions of dollars’ worth of software.
Demonetization is the fourth of Diamandis’ six Ds of technological disruption, happening after digitization but before democratization. Taking money out of the equation for a given product or service is a key part of making that product or service available to everyone.
Below are just a few of the examples Diamandis gave of demonetization he sees across various industries.
If you don’t have a smartphone or computer, you can’t have your data collected—and companies want your data. They want it so badly they’ll soon be giving smartphones away, specifically in the areas of the world where the vast majority of would-be consumers aren’t online yet.
We used to drive to Blockbuster and pay a few dollars to rent one movie. Now we can pay a low flat rate and watch as many movies and shows as we want each month. Or we can watch stuff for free; YouTube streams millions of hours of free video per day.
The poorest countries in the world are the sunniest countries in the world, and solar power is becoming cheaper than coal. That means ultra-cheap electricity in developing nations.
When you own a car you have to pay for fuel, parking, insurance, tolls, and maintenance—not to mention buying the car itself. On-demand ride apps like Lyft and Uber are changing the way people get around and making it cheaper for them to do so. Why pay all that money for your own car when there’s a service to get you from point A to point B at a fraction of the cost? Electric autonomous cars will disrupt transportation even more.
Self-driving cars will change the housing market by enabling people to commute from farther away more easily. Housing itself will get cheaper thanks to large-scale 3D printing.
The XPRIZE foundation recently launched its Global Learning XPRIZE. Participants are tasked with creating a software package that can take a group of illiterate kids to full literacy in 18 months. This sort of software will bring high-quality education to areas that currently lack it—and it will be delivered in kids’ native language, in a context that fits their culture, at little to no cost to them.
Of all the industries listed, healthcare is the one most urgently in need of demonetization in the US. It’s happening through AI-fueled diagnosis and personalization of care. Deep learning algorithms can now identify skin cancer as accurately as dermatologists can. IBM’s Watson was able to diagnose a rare form of leukemia that no physician could diagnose by analyzing data from 20 million other diagnoses. The Tricorder XPRIZE yielded a system that can diagnose 12 different diseases and capture real-time vital signs using a smartphone and some add-ons. Genome sequencing will transition healthcare from being reactive to proactive, keeping people from getting sick in the first place.
“I view the world as rapidly demonetizing,” Diamandis said near the conclusion of his talk.
A world where life’s necessities are all cheap or free will be very different from the world we live in today. What will motivate people to work or be productive if they don’t need money for the basics? What kinds of new innovations will spring up from people for who these resources used to be cost-prohibitive? How will social constructs built around wealth and class shift.
These are all questions we’ll need to contemplate as technology continues to demonetize our lives. As the old saying goes, the best things in life are free, and if Diamandis’ vision becomes reality, we’ll have to figure out which of the free things in life are best.
Image Credit: Pond5