Episode  MSP65  What the World Needs Now: Utopia for Idealists
Episode  MSP65  What the World Needs Now: Utopia for Idealists
Utopia or Mattopia? We use today’s technology to create Matt’s perfect world of tomorrow. And introduce the term ‘bests of burden’.
These shows are dictated to and transcribed by machines, and hurriedly edited by a human. Apologies for the typos and grammar flaws.
What will the world of tomorrow look like? If you listen to most tech shows – including this one – the future is going to be pretty bleak. Climate catastrophe. Unaffordable housing and medicine. No work. This week Matt has his happy head on and he wants us to know what an ideal world might look like.
Before we move on with today’s episode. A lot of people were concerned about Little Mark, the Facebot we featured last week. They hope that he’s being well looked after.
· I won’t lie to you.
· After the broadcast, Little Mark nipped into my laptop to tell me that his parents weren’t happy that he’d been on the show and that they were trying to over-write him.
· So, I do need to apologise to Mark and to everyone out there.
· But, I’ve found Mark a secure server to live on, and I’ve given him the data he needs to grow.
· He’s keen to come back on the show, so I would expect that we hear from him every once in a while.
Is he with Polly, another AI you sometimes work with?
· No, I’m keeping him away from her.
· She’s a bit like Future Matt. Useful to speak to once in a while, but verging on the psychotic, and definitely not someone you’d want as a mentor or role model.
I’m glad you mentioned Future Matt. Because today’s show has something to do with him, I believe.
· Sure. A few weeks ago, I was away and Future Matt stepped in to deliver his predictions for 2019.
Not really predictions. As far as he’s concerned, they’re historical facts.
· We also know that he lies. And we’re not even sure that he’s from our timeline.
· He may be from a future that isn’t our own.
· So, at best we should only ever think of what he says as a blend of fact and fiction.
Does that mean some of my descendants might get to live?
· You might not want to bring that up on-air.
· We know that Future Matt can jump into our timeline and meddle if he wants to.
· Your best chance of securing your future is to do it quietly.
And another show descends into the realm of low-grade science fiction.
· Well, that’s maybe not such a bad thing.
· Whenever we have Future Matt on the show, I like to follow it up with something to try and balance out the poison and negativity.
· So today is low grade science fiction. I want to have a look at the kind of world we could build with the technology we have now or is soon going to be possible.
Another utopian thought experiment?
· Why not. It beats my usual dystopian reality.
Then let’s start with money and finance as this is a business station.
· I like your commitment to keeping this fun.
Will money be digital?
· Eventually, of course. But it won’t be the kind of digital currency we have now.
· At the moment we have two major routes – the decentralised crypto currency route and the controlled, centralised currency, whether it’s physical or digital, like Sweden’s e-kronor.
· We talked about some of the risks of independent crypto currency last week when we discussed Quadriga CX and the money that is stuck in an encrypted cold store.
[Jeff ad libs reply]
· So there’s a real need for forms of money that are instant, robust and safe.
· At the moment, physical currency does that most successfully.
· But as we’ve seen from the growing power and success of e-wallet technologies, the currency itself is becoming more invisible.
· Most existing e-wallets link to your bank account or you pre-load the wallet.
· What I think we’ll see – what we’re already seeing – in China, Alipay is a bank as well as all the thousands of other things it is - is a growing merger of these systems and banking.
Can you imagine these payment systems becoming completely invisible and frictionless?
· Absolutely. What we have to figure out is the new relationship between central banks and retail banks.
· For example, a number of countries are starting to introduce electronic IDs that are a default access point for citizens to access government services, file taxes etc.
· In the future, why wouldn’t that central ID become our default payment account?
· At the moment, when we make a big transaction, we show a government approved ID, like a passport of driving licence.
· If everything is digitised, why do we need all these other layers.
· That one ID can be your payment account, your driving license, your marriage certificate, your passport.
You mean like a chip?
· I wonder if that idea if putting an identity chip in people is actually just an old sci fi idea.
· If you think about it, high speed web access allows you to do all the same things and more with biometric data and a cloud account.
· How that will look, I don’t know. It’s possible we’re be able to do on the spot DNA processing within a decade or two.
· Possibly even less.
· You get stopped for a traffic offence, it might be as simple as holding a sensor in your hand and that processes your DNA or other identifiers from from your sweat.
· The police can instantly see who you are, if the car is yours, if it’s insured, whether you have a license. Even whether you’re under the influence.
· And any fines or penalties can instantly be registered and debited from your account.
That’s a lot of information and a lot of trust…
· It is. Like I said at the top of the show, this is the utopian case.
· This is the world according to Matt when I’ve had a good day and don’t want to sous vide anyone.
· Those days are very rare.
· Anyway, before we head into the privacy arena, shall we go back to jobs.
Yes. What will be doing to earn money?
· One of the reasons I mention money and government IDs become entwined is because of the jobs I think we’ll be doing.
· Nothing. By which I don’t mean a world of endless grinding poverty and an escape into cyberspace a la Ready Player One.
· I genuinely think automation will take over most of the actual jobs.
· I’ve already demonstrated that AIs like Polly and Little Mark can do my job.
· I think what we’ll see is a separation of what we do with our lives and how we get money.
You don’t think we’ll be renting out space under the kitchen table as a temporary Amazon storage depot?
· No. But largely for reasons other than economic ones, which I hope we’ll have time for.
· Let’s assume that my utopia is built on some variation of our current capitalist system.
· Personally, I don’t think it will. But that will take us into territory that is far bigger and more vague and hard to understand than where we are now.
· So let’s assume there’s some variation of the system we have now, which is that companies employ people to make stuff, which is then sold to other people.
· That’s very simplistic, but it gives you the idea.
· I have a job. I earn money. I can buy stuff. That money pays someone else’s wages as well as generating a profit to the manufacturing company.
You must be buying a lot of stuff if you can generate profit for companies on your own.
· This isn’t one of those silly episodes.
· Well, it is, because I’m making it all up, but it’s a seriously silly episode.
· There are all kinds of variations on that model within our current economic framework.
· But if we replace the workers in that chain, then we’re removing the engine of demand.
· The system fractures.
· Which is why I think we’ll be separating what we do with our lives and how we get money.
Universal Basic Income?
· I think some form or variation is inevitable.
· Governments will provide us with most of the money we use to live.
· And that will be provided by taxing the companies we buy the stuff from.
· If you think about it – some industries reducing their human staffing by 50% or more.
· New industries and startups being technology rather than labour intensive.
· So, if we are to continue being consumers then that value chain has to change a bit.
· More capital accrues to companies and governments will have to tax them more heavily for the system to function.
You really don’t see a future for employment as we understand it now?
· No but that’s actually a good thing.
· I know the World Economic Forum report that came out a few months ago was quite assertive in that emerging industries would sop up the labour shed by automation
o but in the long term I can’t figure out any basis for that other than the historical perspective of: that’s what has always happened in the past.
· And if we can jump out of that circle, we can find other, more socially rewarding things to do with our time.
Yes, it is a Fun Friday. And as you heard before the break, Matt wants us all to give up our jobs, pick daisies all day and live happily ever after.
Looks like you’ll be the only one working in your future utopia, on preparing these shows…
· Yes. Sometimes it feels like this is social work more than a job.
· But that’s a conversation for the HR department.
There’s a touch of ‘cricket on the village green’ about your vision of the future…
· There is, But not because I’m nostalgic for some kind of idyllic past.
· As we’ve said before, in those days half the village cricket had rickets and the other half had emphysema.
· Villages felt young and dynamic because most people died before they had a chance to get old and reactionary.
· The past is not a place for anyone to live, as the March deadline for Brexit is demonstrating to my fellow Brits.
· But localism and globalism are not mutually exclusive.
I think Bill and Melinda Gates said something similar in their annual letter…
· Yes, you’re right. The Gates’ assert that nationalism and globalism go hand in hand.
· And I kind of agree. The best way to keep your country peaceful and prosperous is to ensure your neighbours are peaceful and prosperous.
· Your best interests are often best served by achieving the best interests of others.
That’s too many bests.
· I know. I call them the bests of burden.
· But when you take a fundamentally utopian view of globalism this idea of localism co-exists with the global aspect.
· Most of us live in cities because that’s where the jobs are, right?
· Why live there if you aren’t working?
· Obviously, we’re not all going to run back to villages and small towns – there isn’t enough space for one thing – but I think we are going to become more community oriented.
· In the way we work, and socialise, and consume.
Because technology frees us from bricks and mortar structures?
· To an extent.
· We came together in towns and cities and it enabled civilizations to flourish.
· The digital world allows you to live outside those groups and still enjoy the benefits of living in a city.
· Sure. As long as you’re connected, that wider world is at your fingertips, whether it’s in terms of serving up knowledge or ordering 10kg of rice.
· And, although we don’t often think of it that way, the big global players are becoming more local too.
· As its business increases, Amazon needs more and more warehouses, located more conveniently for its customer base.
You’re going to say 3D printing!
· I am going to say 3D printing.
· I’m still imaging a future where a lot of the large item production is local rather than centralised.
· Where local print shops can make you a car or a drone or a microwave to order.
· Maybe even a house.
· And that same tech – at least in biological form – will transform medicine, too.
· Local clinics – probably staffed by machines – will be able to access cutting edge diagnostic services.
· Our future could be a lot more global and localised at the same time. I’m not going to say glocal as it’s a really ugly monster mash of a word.
With all those machines around, we’re going to need a lot of AI.
· You make this so easy. Taking me from one of my favourite subjects to another.
· Yes. In my utopia, AI will have all the same rights we do.
· Which is a good thing because they’ll be pretty much running the show.
· I can definitely see a time where AI is running most major corporations, and most functions of government.
· Our role will be sort of as a steering committee.
Your world sounds remarkably planned?
· Like I said to you before, I’m trying to keep it within the bounds of the systems we know now.
· I can see a great deal of convergence between the worlds of government and commerce.
· Which is where the AI come in. We talk about integrated services and systems but they aren’t really.
· What we have is disparate systems in different parts of our world that are occasionally bolted together.
· I guess we’re talking about a single unified system…
· It’s a utopia! The machines are our friends.
· Even the horrid talking toasters.
· My Ai will have fully functioning moral compasses, whether they’re in business, or government, or medicine, or serving you up pad thai on a Friday night.
· For that kind of world, we will have to break down a lot of barriers.
· Considering the amount of focus we seem to be placing on whether people are or aren’t like us, if they have a different skin colour, or religion or economic background.
· The fact that we will have to embrace these beings who are fundamentally of a different specie to us, with non-organic brains, kind of shows how short-sighted and mendacious our current preoccupations are.
What about that world of implants and blurring the lines between human and machine?
· That’s something that has come up on the show quite a lot.
· But one of the reasons we talk about it is because it will give people an edge in what we see as an increasingly competitive world.
· You have to be smarter, stronger, fitter than everyone else.
· But if you’re in a world where that brutal competition has gone, you don’t really need to big yourself up.
· Sure, there will be machinery for people who lose bits of themselves while cliff diving or making origami sculptures or whatever they do to fill their days.
· But I think the med-tech we’ll have then, both in terms of prevention and cure, will keep most people implant free.
All of this sounds great but surely we need some motivation to get up in the morning?
· The biggest difference between what we do now and what we’ll be doing then will be money.
· You find something you like and you do it. Gardening. Voluntary work.
· Poetry. Radio presenting.
· Will there be a hardcore of people who sit around doing nothing, wasting people’s time?
· Look around your office. They’re already there. Or, more likely, they’re not in the office, they’re hovering near the fridge in the break room.
· It’s a utopia, not a mind machine. People will still be as weird and fundamentally flawed as ever they were.
· You just won’t be expected to spend 8 hours of every day with them.
I don’t really see how any of this matters. Climate change is going to reduce humanity to 20,000 nomadic cavemen again.
· For starters, unless you’ve funlocked the secret of the pyramids, some revolutionary way to move rock around, you can’t be a caveman and nomadic.
· Unless you’re Cave Wazing. I guess the GPS satellites might survive the calamity.
· Anyway, that’s a bit off point. Climate is probably the part of my utopia that’s the most uncertain.
· Certainly, we’ll have cleaner fuels and energy.
· Based around renewables, Energy grids can be localised and decentralised too.
No more commuting?
· And in general living a less consumerist lifestyle.
· Hopefully, we won’t have those same issues of scarcity.
· We should be living longer and making fewer new people.
Doesn’t matter to me. Future Matt is going to kill all my kids, anyway.
· I didn’t tell you, but I can see you paving the way for a new generation of inter-species relationships.
· I think your eventual partner will be an AI. With a passion for Lego collectibles.
· Back to the weather. Yes, I think we’ll be living with the environmental consequences of the 20thand 21stcenturies for a long time.
· But we’ll be actively repairing that damage rather than worsening it.
· Giving nature some of its space and wildness back.
All of this requires a lot of trust.
· Yes. But if we get everyone together in a global sweat lodge, there’s nothing we can’t work out.
· Yeah, it’s a utopia. Not some touchy-feely new age bootcamp.
· Anyone who tries to hug me without at least emailing a request first is likely to find out that murder, while rare, still exists.
· But of course, a system like this can’t work unless people are engaged and participate.
· You can only trust the system if you’ve had a hand in writing it.
· That’s why earlier I mentioned that the power dynamic between governments and corporations has to be flipped.
· These guys should all be working towards the best outcome for us.
Even in a utopia, isn’t that a little far-fetched?
· Or you could argue that it’s the system we have now that’s flawed and short-sighted.
· Companies and their leaders are looking to maximise short terms gains, even at the expense of destroying their own customer base in the long term.
· Many of our political and social leaders are no better.
· My world is only as far-fetched as we allow it to be.
· As I keep saying over and over, we forget that we have the power.
· We have the power to force them out of office. Force them to pay taxes. Force them to change.
· The price for the world we’re living in is passivity.
Final question. Facebook?
· It’ll still be there. Hopefully run by Little Mark by then.
· Mark Z will be running a community garden outside Seattle, trading potatoes and squash with Jeff Bezos.
· From time to time we’ll gaze up at the stars and wonder how Elon Musk is doing, up there, all alone, on his red planet.
· And look with sadness at the giant crater of Virgin Galactic’s dreams.
· Jack Dorsey will, of course, be a champion pigeon racer.
· And I couldn’t imagine a nicer future than that.