The Dawn of Irrelevance

With the introduction of Big Data, algorithms, and robotics in the early 2010s, we moved from human exploitation to human irrelevance. Technology has transformed the way we work, shop, and play in our daily lives. By 2030, in pursuit of convenience and leisure, societies have found a way to automate their work, shopping, and play with the help of digital avatars, AI systems, and robust algorithms so that we can live our days with more time for philosophy, art, and other forms of creative expression — a real epicurean utopia.

We’ve designed and constructed autonomous drones to deliver our purchases straight to our door. We filled factories with robotic workers and AI software to coordinate the logistics of every aspect of the operations to generate more. Retail stores have self-checkout kiosks and robotic assistants to help find what we are looking for and spend less time searching. Governments started to deploy AI in cyber-warfare and in helping determine economic policy. We have launched autonomous rockets and AI Systems to conduct longitudinal studies beyond the edges of our solar system.

Retro Future Illustrations By Martin David

In the most significant organizations, more AI-agents and avatars are working in accounting firms, digital marketing and production companies, technology companies, and hospitals. AI is taking care of our accounting and audits with fewer mistakes. Creatives are being assisted by design algorithms to produce beautiful pieces of digital media. AI is being used to create films that tell compelling stories and are big hits at the box office. Technology companies have borne algorithms that can self-code applications and support software. Hospitals are using AI systems to improve the quality of care in diagnostics, treatment, and health outcomes. Our world is now supported and nearly run by a collective of autonomous AI systems.

No biological beings are working in sight from menial service jobs to the areas of government and executive suites. At restaurants, Humans are being serviced by robots while they enjoy their meals. At theaters, people are watching films produced and curated by big data and algorithms. At work, employees are collecting paychecks from the labor of their avatars rather than their own effort.

The Atlantic — Future of Work by Loris F. Alessandria

In 2050, our digital avatars, algorithms, and AI assistants won’t complain, get tired, or need a lunch break. Their function and purpose are to serve us so that we are well taken care of. They don’t need a tip for providing excellent service or kind words for doing their job well. Our stress and worries of doing good work, dealing with over-bearing managers (or lack thereof), and getting paid because of meritocracy are things of the past.

If a person does decide to work, it happens through their avatars in a virtual work environment. People can stay home and work from the comfort of their own space, but those who actually do work are far and few in between. Through spatial computing headsets, personal AI-assistants, and digital avatars, people are able to work faster, automate most of their workflows, and be in multiple places at once from the comfort of their homes.

Onboarding by Björn Öberg

The economy is generating trillions of dollars from industry-driven by massive datasets, AI Systems, and algorithms; humans don’t need to work a single hour if they don’t want to because of Universal Basic Income (UBI). In 2025, world governments introduced Universal Basic Income to help with the displacement of lower-wage jobs and middle-class workers so that people have money to support themselves and a family of four so their basic needs are met. Companies, on the other hand, did their best to provide educational stipends to bridge the skill and knowledge gap in the job market to no avail.

At the end of the day, we are only paid because we merely exist, but no longer provide any functional value to society. We sit in leisure and wonder because all the critical jobs have been taken over by algorithms that we created and trained to make our work easier, faster, and more efficient.

To fill a void, humanity has settled to pursue the arts like painting, writing, and other forms of creative expression — in an attempt to find what we’ve lost. Literature, philosophy, and creativity are uniquely human and the most valuable commodity, something Big Data and Algorithms can’t understand, automate, or recreate.

Editorial Illustrations Nov 2017 — Feb 2018 by Steve Scott

In 2050, machines have discovered their meaning and purpose, whereas we need to re-discover ours. In the pursuit of convenience, leisure, and pleasure, we’ve lost our sense of meaning, purpose, and being to the very machines that we built to make our lives easier.

Welcome to the Dawn of Irrelevance, a new era where we can and should re-discover and re-define who we are and what it means to be human in a world run by Big Data, algorithms, and Autonomous AI Systems.

The narrative depicted above may be one of the many possible futures of what Big Data, algorithms, and Autonomous AI Systems could become — a massive displacement of human workers looking to discovering and defining their meaning. As a species, we are at a pivotal moment as we threaten our purpose and function in our social strata. What will this mean for humanity if we no longer play a functional role in society? Will there be a spike in the mental health epidemic from the resulting existential crises? Could AI become sentient and do away with us useless humans?

Working to Live or Living to Work?

“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.” — Will Durant

Today, the average lifespan of a person is approximately 71 years, according to a study by Reebook and Censuswide. We spend one-third of our lives working, another third of our lives sleeping, and the final third of our lives we spend, more or less, doing whatever we need to.

More often than not, we define our lives and attribute our value by the work we do, the function we serve in society, and the actions we set forth. From the dawn of our hunter-gather ancestors, there have always been clear roles members of the group would play. Men were hunting big game, and women were gathering berries, fruits, and nuts so that the group would survive. Since then, we haven’t deviated too much from this social strata. Everyone has a role and job to do to ensure the economy keeps growing, countries are protected, and people have food, education, and work of their own.

The Course of Empire destruction — Cole Thomas

When we look at the history of the Roman Republic, the United States, or any nation for that matter, they were borne stoic out of struggle, survival, and necessity. Countries had to build, fight, and overcome immense obstacles to make a home and name for themselves. We worked to live in a harsh world because life was far from easy.

When life became more comfortable because of better technology, policy, education, and medicine, among other things, we focused on other pursuits in the arts, science, and philosophy to fill our time, as was the focus of the Renaissance Period. Soon, we began to follow a pattern of living to work mentality fueled by hedonism and complacency. The Roman, British, and Assyrian Empires, to name a few, followed this pattern spanning about ten generations, starting from the Age of Pioneers to the Age of Decline & Collapse. 7 Stages of Empire

Today, in developed countries, we are borne into a family within a particular socio-economic class, raised to gain an education, and become well-functioning members of society in a career of our choice. Soon after, you start your own family, and the cycle repeats… With the money you’ve earned, we’ve unknowingly committed to the needless pursuit of wealth, pleasure, leisure.

The difference, during this cycle, is that we may enter an age fueled by Big Data, algorithms, and autonomous AI systems, such that we may not have to work at all. Humanity will be able to lead a life in an ever-lasting euphoric epicurean utopia without any worry. What if the future is not like the past? Could a nation live forever when it’s supported and upheld by algorithms? Would a failing country ensure the mutual destruction of the autonomous systems and people who created them? What’s more critical, what will be our place in the very civilization we worked so hard to build?

Human–Driven Algorithms

Google Privacy by Loris F. Alessandria

Since the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have been amassing massive datasets on how people live, work, and relate to each other. Socializing, dating, shopping, traveling, searching, working, or playing — any of these activities can happen remotely and instantaneously. We use Google to search for answers, Amazon to shop, social media to share and tell stories, and Tinder and Bumble to find love, lust, and sex. The convergence of advanced computing amassed datasets, and its ever-integration into our daily lives is beautiful, yet frightening to imagine.

Increasingly, technology is becoming the interface in which we use to interact with the world and people at nearly every level of society. For the first time in history, we are fabricating our entire existence in a new format. Each click, search, share, comment, swipe, and message provide fuel for human-driven algorithms to make it easier, faster, and more personalized to find what we like. At every intersection, we are generating trillions of data points that are fabricating digital imprints of ourselves. If you ever wonder why and how Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Instagram know so much about you, they’re tracking your online behavior and giving you precisely what you want to see based on those data points.

Bio Economy by Björn Öberg

In an article, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum have said that “[The Fourth Industrial Revolution] is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” The process of amassing massive datasets and powerful human-driven algorithms and advanced computing are the first steps in enabling the tipping point of fabricating accurate and uncanny digital imprints of ourselves.

What if our digital imprints become sentient AI-assistants that represent us and can make a decision on our behalf? Like ordering more bath tissue from Amazon because you’ve just run out? Or book a trip for you months in advance because you were searching for it a few months prior? Possibly our digital imprints can go to work for us since most work happens online? What’s worse, what if your sentient AI-assistant gets hacked, becomes malicious, and completely tarnishes your entire life? This is not too far-fetched if we think about it. Our digital footprints are so pronounced that human-driven algorithms can clearly predict our next steps before we even know it.

AI, Avatars, Assistants, and Robots as an Extension of Us

Editorial Projects April-Dec 2018 by Steve Scott

What happens with all the collected data points from our digital imprints? Does it only serve the purpose of training human-driven algorithms to find better what we are continually searching for? Or does this all provide a mold and platform for something more?

Image from Soul Machines

Soul Machine, an Australian-based company, is in the business of creating AI Avatars with a digital brain to improve and democratize human interaction. They have created life-like and infant AI avatars that can look, interact and learn from its surroundings through a computer’s webcam. Facebook is also in the process of creating avatars for its users to better connect and socialize with your friends online. Other companies, such as Oculus and HTC, are creating VR video games that, more than not, use human avatars to train real-life humans. There are companies like Haptx, Shadow Robot Company, and Syntouch, which created a “Tactile Telerobot with Haptx Gloves,” which provides high-dexterity, natural interaction, and realistic haptic feedback, to name a few. We have personal AI assistants, albeit far from JARVIS and HAL, like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and many more. They are getting exponentially better over time.

We are in the midst of creating virtual humans to communicate better, connect, play, and learn from one another. A great example of the concept is the movie Ready Player One, starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Ben Mendelsohn. Everyone works and plays in a virtual world called the Oasis. The film depicts the perfect symphony of VR, AI, advanced computing, and large datasets working at the ideal convergence. The hit HBO TV-series, Westworld, described a narrative about a western-themed amusement park filled with synthetic AI humans that become conscious of their existence. An even better example is the movie, Jexi, starring Adam DeVine, Alexandra Shipp, Michael Peña, and Rose Byrne. A man buys a phone with a conscious AI-Assistant programmed with the prime directive to “make your life better” and has access to your entire life.

Tactile Telerobot with Haptx Gloves

We have the means, imagination, and intention of recreating a direct reflection of ourselves, and we are in the process of doing so. Are we unknowingly setting up a world for a jobless future? Are we in the process of making ourselves obsolete and irrelevant without intention? Big Data, human-driven algorithms, and robotics, coupled with the pursuit of convenience and leisure, will enable the world to go faster, better, and generate more, but at what cost?

Bridging the Gap

Retro Future Illustrations By Martin David

How do we bridge the gap between our ever-growing reliance on technology despite our pursuit of convenience and leisure? Is it possible to help people understand the growing complexity of algorithms? Can we prepare students and augment our future workforce for a possible jobless future?

One way to bridge the gap is to start developing “Human Technology.” It could provide the guardrails where our human-driven algorithms become too complicated to understand by the humans who made them. But what does this really look like? What are do those guardrails look like? Does this come in the form of transparency and attempt to explain the so-called “Black Box?” One example, possibly controversial, is NeuraLink. The company is working on a brain-computer interface so we can keep up with AI when it surpasses us. Or, perhaps a community of AI subject matter experts like that of AI LA Community, based in LA.

“Humane Technology is an attempt to fight the often predatory, or zero-sum nature, of capital markets with the creation of non-financial metrics. Humane Technology is the first set of guardrails in a world where algorithms too complicated to understand will soon be a dominant, driving force for what it means to be human.”

To address our missing skills and displacement of workers, companies should provide training and education to prepare their workers for the already technological-integrated world. I do believe it starts with for-profit and non-profit organizations to provide such training and education because they are creating the technology and, typically, move faster than policy. An example of this is an LA company called Kinestry, which holds AI Bootcamps to help bridge the knowledge gap. But is this enough?

Although a world filled with endless euphorias in leisure sounds excellent, how could we live and lead well-purposed and meaningful lives if we don’t play a function in it? Work is a part of the human condition. Proponents say that machines won’t displace jobs, but create more. Others say we will lose our jobs. We’ll just have to see; however, we shouldn’t sit on the sidelines either.

Editorial Work Aug-Dec 2016 by Steve Scott

Jay is based in Los Angeles, CA & a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where he studied in Business Analytics. When he is not busy with creating & marketing products, you can find him at a local coffee shop reading, writing, or volunteering. He has deep roots in Product Development, UX, Brand Development, and Program Management with a data-informed and user-centric approach to brand, marketing, and product strategy.