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The Character Gap

How can we ensure that humans stay useful?


Robots are not taking jobs from humans. Humans are being taken away from jobs. 

From an economic standpoint, most humans are replaceable. There are plenty of jobs for magnates, for captains of industry. A million Musks could never be too many. Someone who can create new content and execute upon ideas to bring them to reality will never be redundant.

It is the elite of society that produce the vast majority of its wealth. It is the creative elite who create new technologies, ventures, schools of thought, and cultural movements. Elitism gets a bad rep for being snobbish and exclusive. It is, and that is fine. A club is defined not so much by who it includes, but rather who it does not, and the elites are nothing but the best.

We all seek the company of the elite. When you download an album, you want the best music. When your family is ill, you want the best doctor. When threats loom in a courtroom you look for the best lawyer. The best is brilliant, and competition is the best way to uncover great talent.

However, few people have the capability to perform at the zenith of creative capacity. The gap from employee to entrepreneur is today smaller than ever, but psychologically it remains a significant hurdle. The primary shortfall in the creation of new creators in society is not access to education, or social or financial capital – it is lack of character.

This is not strictly the fault of the humans themselves. It is very difficult to undo the tremendous waste and opportunity cost of 12 years of public schooling designed specifically to produce common folk, and to crush the tall poppies, lest they develop ideas above their station. 

The question therefore is not how might we create jobs for people, but rather how can we improve humans to the point of being economically viable?

How do we build better humans who are less damaged and irrational, who have a decent chance at attaining a sufficient level of utility that they can create a net improvement to the world? How can we increase the amount of talent and courageous character in society? How can we undo the damage done to young characters within the jail of public education?

I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
— John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction

Perhaps machines will help to guide us towards the zenith of our potential. A true companion should be a safe harbour to shield the tender heart, a torch to scintillate the perceptions of the mind, a protector of the body and nourisher of its needs, and a gravity well to ground the wandering soul's ascent. If part of that stack can be automated, that indeed would be rich in meaning and value to humanity.

Of course, not everyone can get to the top echelons (or else they would be meaningless). However, minimum wage laws and collective bargaining create barriers to entry for many humans who might otherwise be able to get in at ground level and work their way up.

This creates further incentives to remove people from the equation wherever possible, creating a negative feedback loop whereby more people become unemployable, as well as disenfranchised. The only way that people then can make an honest living is by freelancing or doing small tasks for companies like Lyft or TaskRabbit on zero-hours contracts that sidestep official restrictions on employment.

Beyond creating a more free market, Intelligence amplification technology and talent augmentations may be one method whereby mediocre individuals could increase their societal utility. Regardless of the specific techniques, finding ways to get more people up towards the level of the elite should be a key societal objective in the years to come, as robots (both hardware and software) eat up to 40% of jobs in developed economies. 

The common human is becoming redundant, much like the workhorse a hundred years ago. The noble beasts made redundant by Ford's Model T did not enjoy retirement frolicing in a meadow. They ended up recycled into next year's model as glue.

The best way to protect the interests of the salt-of-the-earth is to help them, to help themselves, compete better.

Below, an interview I gave to Teemu Arina's Biohacker Podcast that discusses some of these topic towards the end: