Much has been made in the press about the imminent rise of artificial intelligence (AI).
But let’s not forget that there has never been so many humans on this planet. Our species population currently stands at eight billion. While it’s so high, there is no real need for AI or robots. That’s not to say that AI doesn’t have a future and doesn’t have some uses, such as in the military. However, while the population continues to grow, AI will remain a novelty or suitable only for jobs too dangerous for humans.
Most people assume that modern people invented machinery, however, many machines were invented in the Roman era. It’s just that the Romans had no real need for machines. Why bother mass-producing machines when you have slaves.
Today, thankfully we don’t have slaves, but we do have millions of cheap labourers in third world countries willing to do the dirty jobs that us privileged westerners don’t like. Some Roman technological advances only came of age centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. I imagine the same will be said of AI.
According to most statistics, the human population will reach its zenith sometime in the next few decades, then it’s scheduled for a sharp decline. The depopulation trend is already here with ageing populations in many countries. Indeed, if not for high birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa, the world population would be in decline right now.
Population decline directly relates to the education of women. Believe it or not, educated women tend not to have six children. Therefore the decline is most prevalent in wealthier, educated countries, but also seen in China and India as living standards improve.
China has gone from a one child policy a few years ago to incentives to encourage childbirth, but it’s not working.
Meanwhile, we see a glimpse of our future in Japan. It’s no surprise that Japan, with the sharpest-declining birth rates in the world, also has the most advanced AI and robots. Its population is projected to decline by up to 50 per cent in the next 100 years. That’s great for the environment. Not great for capitalism, which relies on perpetual growth.
Capitalism is going to have to get inventive to sustain growth in the next century. And, at least in the next hundred years, service industries will boom as fewer younger people have to care for many more older people. Labour will have to shift towards robots as there won’t be enough humans to maintain our way of life. First world countries will simply import labour, as they already are. But worldwide, projected labour shortages later this century mean one thing. An increased reliance on AI technology. So AI and robots have a bright future, just not yet.