10.22: Automation and Augmentation

Most discussion of the impact of informatics technology on employment revolves around the "chip" and the "dole". It is almost automatically assumed that electronic technology will contribute to structural unemployment. The verdict on this issue is not yet in. There is much to be said on both sides (and much has indeed been said on both sides) and further research is necessary.

Even if the chip does indeed lead to the dole, there is a positive side to this bleak picture. The job is a relatively recent and local invention as a means of distributing wealth. Throughout most of our human history and, even today, throughout most of our planet, there have been many other means. The job is a means to the end of distributing wealth - it is not an end in itself. Public officials busy "creating" jobs often fail to take this into consideration. If the job does not contribute to the generation of wealth, it serves no useful function except perhaps a comforting illusion that one is not getting something for nothing.

A more constructive approach to the chip and work is in terms of augmentation rather than automation. As described in the Prologue, many of us can afford to have the computing power at our fingertips available only to huge corporations thirty years ago for millions of dollars. We can create siliclones, as described in Chapter 4, and work in synergy with them to greatly multiply or productivity and greatly enhance our creativity.

At the beginning of this book, I promised that, though beginning with fear, I will end with hope. The hope is that this technology will not be yet another means of oppression as institutions seize its power and use this power to exert authority over individuals. Perhaps, this is finally the Frankenstein technology, which the people will use as a means of liberation.

In the Prologue, I pointed out that many of us have, literally at our fingertips, the power which was available only to multinationals for millions of dollars. It is a tremendous intelligence amplifier. However, to qualify for this incredible boost in our personal power, we must have something to amplify and we must also know how to amplify it. I once knew a man who could speak seven languages but had nothing to say. The second condition for multiplying our personal productivity is to know how to multiply. That is, we must learn how to use those new tools. This is becoming easier and easier as they become friendlier and friendlier. We can establish a symbiotic relationship between our natural intelligence and the artificial intelligence of the machine. We need all the intelligence we can get.