A battle for the "soul" of the global economy is underway. The next few decades will likely decide whether capitalism survives or is replaced with a techno-fuelled quasi-socialism where robots do most of the jobs while humans live off government support, likely a designated guaranteed or basic income.
A next-generation technology, likely to arrive in five to 10 years, is being credited as the saviour of capitalism. Known today as neural prosthetics, or neural lace, it's essentially tech that reads your brainwaves. This tech promises to connect our brains to the cloud and AI to link us with machines using thought alone.
For humans to beat the machines, or at least be competitive, we’re going to have to follow this path; to connect with them directly.
One California startup founded by entrepreneur Bryan Johnson is called Kernel. Kernel wants to build a neural prosthetic that would allow humans, among other things, to keep up with the machines in real time, similar to a human mind literally being connected to the internet and all its algorithms and search functions.
Elsewhere, Elon Musk recently announced plans to start a neural lace company called Neuralink. Known for making wild tech bets, Musk said in Dubai, in March: “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” In particular, he hopes to have success with his new company in just five years' time.
The challenging reality suggests that if humans don’t develop these implants or headsets, hundreds of millions of jobs will be lost to robots. Some, like myself, even believe Wall Street will be emptied of human traders. The same automation takeover will also likely hit law offices, engineering firms, and even politicians might one day be replaced by machines that seek only to help the people through the best, most altruistic algorithms.
Neural prosthetics will eliminate that. It will preserve competition – not only in the human race, but against machines. For those, like me, who appreciate most parts of capitalism and what it’s done for progress and innovation, that’s a good thing.
But it’ll take more than just a mind tapped into the cloud to be widely competitive in the overall job market. Augmented limbs, bionic organs, and widespread use of exoskeleton technology will be needed to compete against robotic strength.
For years I’ve been supportive of a basic income, which would provide a monthly income for the poor – mostly because I saw it as the only logical way to keep people fed and housed, while still allowing for technological and economic evolution. Now, with neural prosthetics and upgraded bodies, I see the future may, instead, be full of capitalistic enterprise, fuelled by transhumanist technologies that allow us to more closely resemble the machines.
That's not to say I'm abandoning my views on basic income. Instead, I believe there will be another aspect to the future economy that isn’t only for the robot and AI manufacturers, but for hundreds of millions – maybe billions – of people willing to use tech to compete against machines. A future motto of humanity and capitalism might be: "If you can’t beat a machine, become one." As a radical science and technology advocate, that’s a philosophy I can support.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and a Libertarian candidate for California Governor.