Throughout human history, material scarcity has been a constant driver of innovation and economic growth. Today the world knows material abundance far beyond what could have been imagined a few centuries ago, even while shortages, poverty and want remain a reality for many.
But that may not always be the case. New technologies suggest that we may be near a turning point in our long struggle with scarcity. In the near future, technology may make it possible for any human being, anywhere, to have access to any materials good he or she might want or need.
At the same time, automation is taking over an increasingly large set of tasks that once belonged to human workers. Historically, automation boosts productivity and reduces the need for human workers. Over the past four decades, our economy has made a massive shift to a highly automated, digitized substrate. As recently as a decade and a half or so ago, economists were still scratching their heads over when the big productivity gains would emerge from this shift. Then about five or six years ago, those productivity numbers started showing up, apparently at the expense of the total number of human beings needed to drive our economy.
Will our future economy be post-employment, post-scarcity, both, or something else? A panel of futurists discuss the possibilities.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
7 PM PDT / 10 PM EDT