With Folded Hands

1984 didn’t happen exactly on the year but the foundations had been laid by then. Computers were better when networked and the research labs of the world began to view the schlepping of data and email as indispensable. A few years after that, CERN and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web and stuff happened.

Some of the most sought-after jobs these days, at least among the tech crowd, involve creating machines and algorithms to do what humans once did. The first rule of finance is to find the cheapest source of human labor, close behind that is replacing that labor altogether. With corporations having the effective status of a person, it is unsurprising that they’d seek effective analogs of workers. In this case, the analogs are digital. At some point, the machines will get just good enough to make it a contest between them and us. Science Fiction has loved this theme but it always felt too far off in the future for the current crop to fret. CGP Grey – whoever that may be – says, “Not so fast.” The thesis is not perfect and stacked in aspects but the underlying concern is not. “Grey” does spend some time looking at the human implications of staggering unemployment and the inequalities it will deepen.

An underappreciated representation of these fears, “With Folded Hands,” appeared in 1947 and was adapted into a radio story on Dimension X. It is worth a listen.

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