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The Uncaring Future by Sam Hawksmoor

Q One of the questions I used to dislike the most when a kid was ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ You’re like 12 years old and you have no idea what you might like to do at 20, let alone 40.  All you really want is for school to be over.  No more exams or bullying or pretty arguments of being defriended on Facebook by someone you may have unknowingly slighted or having to sit next to Hubert Pemberton because he smells.

In your fantasy life you have toyed with the idea of being a spaceman (but dismissed it because it’s so easy to run out of toilet paper on Mars) or being President or becoming a famous movie star at 13 and getting all the girls (or boys if you’re a girl) to like you.  To be honest not only have you no real idea what you want to be when you ‘grow up’ you probably never even entertained the concept of ‘growing up’ at all, let alone deciding if you are gender fluid or not.

It’s worse when you’re a teenager.  You are constantly pressured by exams and having to learn stuff that will have no bearing on your adult life such as fractions or algebra and you are constantly expected to chose a direction – a specific course and then a degree you are supposed to study that will give a ‘career’.  You have to make all these choices by the age of seventeen and still you have no real idea of what you want to do or be when you grow up.
Of course some kids (usually the ones you don’t like) dream of being rich accountants or bankers, doctors, lawyers, biochemists, whilst you have, by now, sort of thought you might like to be a famous reality TV personality, or if slightly more ambitious, actor, writer, DJ or game designer.  Some kids have no ambitions at all and so in desperation study media or hospitality management.  All the time there is this pressure on you to decide, make a choice, make something of yourself.
Well relax – everything is all about to change – forever.
All the kids who go on to study what we call the ‘uncaring professions’ to be doctors or lawyers or architects or accountants are about to get a shock.  Uncaring?  Well yes let’s see, you can only see your doctor (who is earning at the very least £130,000 pa) for three minutes and you can only list one symptom despite the fact that you might have three, but you can’t have an appointment on the day you are actually sick but only at some other day when you may well be dead.
The world is full of uncarers.  The lawyer and judges who make the world safe for terrorists and criminals, the petty officials who put double yellow lines everywhere and destroy the viability of high street shops, the council officials who double the amount of bins outside your house every two years until there is no room for either a garden or anyone to get past your house, the police who stand by and watch kids riot and are only obsessed with catching motorists and will not come to your house when a burglary is in progress, or your neighbour is drunk and screaming their head off and doing karaoke at 3am.  The architect who wouldn’t dream of living in the house or flat he has just designed and has gone out of his or her way to make it as awkward as possible to live in.  The politician who thinks only of his expenses and feathering his or her own nest at your expense. 
It’s all going. Ai Software will replace them all.  Sooner than you think.
That doctor who won’t see you will be replaced by a sympathetic avatar on your iPad10 who will listen to all your symptoms, take your temperature and check your blood pressure simply by placing your hand on the screen, then if needed will send a prescription to the local pharmacy in Tesco and it will be delivered to you within the hour.  It will even check back on you in 24 hours to make sure you took the pills and are getting better.  This on-line Doc will have billions of case histories to hand to compare your symptoms to and it will be like talking to Dr House (with manners).
Same with lawyers.  No appointment necessary.  Simple consultation fee to get started.  1000 years of case law backed up.  If you accept advertising it may even be free. Think of every professional skill  - they can ALL be replaced by software.  Add town planning, all government services, council services, your teachers in school and lecturers at University.  Everything they do can be replicated and to be honest MUCH improved upon.  The lecturer who never paid you any attention replaced by an avatar what will be with you 24 hours if need be and never be off sick or on maternity leave.  You may not even need to go to school or University at all; after all they will come to you and your bedroom. 
Your local hospital will be manned by robot triage reception areas.  They will view, listen and judge how critical your needs are and only then summon a real medical professional.  This won’t take the usual 12 hours it currently takes when you turn up with an axe embedded in your head.
As most of the professions are replaced by compassionate software, which will do a much better job than those currently in place, you will wonder how it was ever done by a human being at all.  Software can be designed to be inquisitive, exhaustive, elicit the responses it need to make a diagnosis and it will be right 99% of the time.  (Almost the exact opposite of my current doctor or lawyer).
It’s not, I’m afraid, just doctors and teachers who will be made redundant.  You may well find that the book you read, or film you watch, or game you play has also been created by an Ai enhanced software programme. It might provide infinite endings you will never tire of.

Next year, 2016 ATOM Bank will come into life. A bank you say, what's new about that? A bank run by robots. You will never speak to a human and it will invest your money, deal with all your problems and be available 24 hours. Yes, another career avenue about to be taken over by robots. It's likely to be much more user friendly than your current bank and right there on your phone and hacker proof. (I hope).
So what is the downside of this highly functioning world?
The economy is a pyramid system and all of it depends upon the high earners to pay their taxes (sadly we know most bankers, celebrities, as well as high earning corporations such as Google and facebook seem to evade that pain altogether).
It is pretty devastating actually.  When software replaces the ‘professions’ who will be buying the fancy houses or the Jaguars and Mercedes Benz?  Who will be able to afford private schools? Skiing holidays or even holiday homes, or homes at all.  Where will all the tax revenues come from to pay for road and city maintenance?  Who will pay the Council Leader’s £300,000 a year?  Or pay all the civil servants, the Army, Navy and Police?
So, as software takes over healthcare and teaching and let’s face it, manufacturing as well, unless you have a slice of the proprietary patents or own the some of the material they deliver, there is going to be a very small part of the population who actually have any money. Wealth may be concentrated in just a few Barons and bright kids who develop killer apps.  A lot like the Middle Ages.
We the peasants will no doubt revolt.  Laying siege to the Baron’s fortress with our pitchforks. (It’s a kind of two-pronged fork to deal with hay). (Hay is what horses eat).  Us, the great disenfranchised, will be without work, still alive most like, perpetually hungry, often homeless and wondering where it all went wrong.  House values will crash and with it any idea that any of us have any wealth at all.
We talked earlier about the uncaring professionals.  Now think about the millions of old people that will need caring for in the UK and America (not to mention all over Europe and Japan).  I wonder if there is potential to make money there?
In Japan they have been frantically developing robots to care for their ageing population.  I am not sure we can afford to take that route.  So one obvious solution is that ‘caring’ will be a future lucrative career option.  Building specialist skills in physiotherapy for example and gerontology (studying the effects of ageing).  There will be millions of old people (I’ll be one) who will seem to live forever.  So they will need caring for.  Those who do the caring and enhance their skills may well be the one earning the big bucks in this new world.  Software – so far - can’t replace plumbers, electricians, road or building construction jobs, manual labour.  These might be the best choices of career in a high tech world.  High quality craftsmanship in carpentry or glass and metal work could be a prized profession.  (Again just like the Middle Ages). 
Ever study the Luddites?  People who tried to destroy farming machines because they displaced their jobs.  Try to think about doctors and nurses rioting to destroy hospitals and confiscated those iPad10’s with all your medical history in the cloud.  Ray Bradbury wrote a book called Fahrenheit 451 where Firemen set fires, not put them out.  (Books were banned – knowledge was banned)  We are entering the shadow of that world where everything you think is normal is about to be overthrown.  There will a lot of losers, but if you are smart you can outguess which way to go and save yourself a lot of grief.  Will you go to University learn a profession? Have you learned nothing here?  (But you might earn a buck working on the campus demolition crew).
What will this world look like?  Some say it might look like parts of present day Detroit, burned out or desolate buildings, unpoliced, unloved, decaying so fast it is becoming a wilderness again.  Everyone who could moved out of downtown and left it to rot.
Could be that this new world could look like that all over in the post-industrial West.  Could be Neal Stephenson’s world in Snow Crash where (I’m paraphrasing) there is only one job and that is being able to deliver a pizza in under 30 minutes or forfeit your life.  The mafia controls almost everything (Much like Italy now) Everyone lives in mediaeval walled enclaves where you obey only the local laws and ignore national ones.  Between the gated communities there is no law at all.

Yes there will be civil disobedience and chaos.  The only police might well be private, but if you take some time to read a lot of Philip K Dick and modern sci-fi such as Paulo Bacigalupi's Shipbreaker you will be well prepared for the future.  Judge Dredd might not be a comic but an actual blueprint for our future.  Worried?  You should be.

Next time someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up you’ll know the answer.  Best cross your fingers that no one is developing an app for that.

© Sam Hawksmoor 2015
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