between reality and utopia

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In 1982 the film Blade Runner was released under the direction of Ridley Scott. The film recounts how, in 2019, bioengineering had developed in such a way in Los Angeles that it made possible the manufacture of artificial human beings, known as replicants.

Treated by many as a cult work, the film portrays a dystopian future. From a socio-economic point of view, Blade Runner suggests a future dominated by large corporations such as the Tyrell Corporation, which achieves a dominant position thanks to its capacity for innovation in the biomedical field.

Could an economic future controlled by some big companies that have all the power of the market come true? Can digitization lead to a situation where the global innovation frontier is dominated by a few large companies? Or is this just science fiction and economic dynamism will always feed a large group of adventurous startups (mainly SMEs) that will avoid concentration of market power?

Technologies and inequality

Thanks to new technologies, the length of hours spent at work has generally decreased over the years and the standard of living has increased. But it must not be forgotten that any innovation can initially aggravate changes in the patterns of social and individual behavior, generating new tensions in freedom, privacy and (in) equality.

Inequality is a historical fact. It dates back to the times when hunter-gatherer gangs displayed a clear and strict social structure that allowed them to survive in a difficult and even cruel world. However, there was a social hierarchy that can be observed in the burials, where the ostentation of some contrasted with the earth mounds of most individuals. However, this ancient organizational system was more egalitarian in terms of possessions than any later human society, since they had very few possessions.

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Over the centuries, the concentration of properties, land and wealth became more evident, generating a socio-economic gap in society. But this circumstance could still worsen significantly with the emergence of increasingly powerful new technologies (biotechnology, cyber technology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence).

There is a debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists about the future. This reality leads us to verify the discomfort generated by the technological turbulence that in recent years has suffered exponential growth increasingly accelerated, as indicated by Moore’s law. These social tensions where intellectuals oppose each other in two forms of growth of the community pose a great challenge in the governance of a process of change without parallel.

The techno-optimistic vision

Techno-optimists emphasize how technology has directly influenced the improvement of the quality of life of society. Based on this idea, they show how a great majority of people live a better life than their parents and grandparents had, and that it will gradually decline.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report, in 1990 there were 36% of the world’s population living in extreme poverty or living on less than $ 1.25 per day, compared to 9% in 2018. This circumstance, according to the techno-optimists, it is because technology has made it possible to lower the costs of products, has improved medicine, and has made it possible to replace many of the routine and repetitive tasks of factories.

But these advances expose society to new conditions in an increasingly interconnected world that leads us to question whether there may be new vulnerabilities. The rise of technologies could eliminate the economic value of most individuals. This is where the opinion of techno-pessimists prevails.

The techno-pessimistic view

Year 2035, city of Chicago. The US Robots and Mechanical Men company produces robots that have become the main workforce working for humanity. They replace humans in manual jobs, and robots from Japan and other nations already carry out companionship activities to adults, or the production of goods in factories and services. Compared to the futuristic of the film Yo, robot by Alex Proyas, today the reality is less extravagant and literal. But there is an evolution towards automation, robotization and AI. This circumstance raises the following question: are we heading towards a world of unemployed?

It is evident that there will be drastic changes in the nature of the workforce, which will cause a change in the labor paradigm that we know. Many professionals will find that robotics and AI have replaced their jobs. In 2013, economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne published an article predicting that 47% of jobs could disappear in the next 15 years.

Technology encompasses all fields (economic, health, architecture, education, among others) which makes it stop being an object for the human being and become its own substance. It is therefore inherent to the individual, taking a step forward and ceasing to be a tool to be integrated into their own being.

It is said that whoever masters new technologies more and more will have a more comfortable future than those who have less technological education. If technology is associated with data, therefore it must be very important to have a greater knowledge of its management.

Everything seems to indicate that in the short term it seems unlikely that AI will destroy an industrial fabric in a disaggregated way. However, those jobs that require specialization in a narrow range of routine activities will end up being automated.

Although this circumstance leads to a generalized social panic, it will not be a complete tsunami, since Frey and Osborne point out that the replacement by AI and automation will be much more complicated in those less routine activities, which require the use of an extensive set of skills. soft, as well as those activities that involve having to face unforeseen situations.

Job destruction and digital divide

Should there be a concern about job losses from automation? Should we be modern Luddites and, as in the 19th century in the UK, radically disagree with technology because it destroys jobs?

In the reality of this new creative-technological phase, the destruction of jobs is faster than the creation of new ones. But, despite the fact that this circumstance can lead to a motivational gap, opportunities can arise from this creative destruction. The new generations live in harmony with technology, becoming a modern centaur that with continuous training can solve problems that require more and more soft skills such as teamwork, the will to learn, creativity and assertiveness.

In this technological catharsis in which confrontation and stage fright persist and become constant, there is no dominant position on what to do and how to act. However, it seems clear that the Government must have a positive and active attitude in the application of technology, because it is a main actor in its management and control. New international organizations or large corporations must be held accountable, since technological globalization and vulnerability can generate disturbances to society and to the State itself.

At this point, two questions arise: Will this circumstance lead us to greater social equality? Or, as certain experts say, is the future increasingly mired in a digital divide? There is still a long way to go and a lot of debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists about what the reality of the evolution of the second digital wave will be.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

The signatories are not salaried, or consultants, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive financing from any company or organization that can obtain benefit from this article, and they have declared that they lack relevant links beyond the academic position mentioned above.

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