By Peter van der Wel
Try to imagine a future world in which almost no one has to work anymore. Everything can be produced by robots. Even the robots themselves are made by other robots. In that world, green energy is abundant and available almost for free, thanks to the sun, the wind and perhaps nuclear fusion. With this abundant energy almost for free, all materials can be recycled continuously. Environmental pollution no longer exists.
Too good to be true? Well, no; if the technical development of recent years continues to accelerate, our world could look like this in the year 2100.
But how would all this amazing prosperity be divided up? What would that world look like, if we let capitalism take its course? Would the rich 1% be even richer? Would the ordinary people then have to fight for the scarce available badly paid jobs? Working as a dog-walker, masseuse, or personal assistant of the super-rich?
Life could however be very cheap even for the poor. With extreme cheap energy, robots that produce everything and complete reuse of raw materials, it costs almost nothing to produce anything. That means that in principle everything can be almost for free.
However, some things will then become very expensive. Things that you cannot produce. For example scarce land and real estate in the city centers and in beautiful places in nature. The 1% could then spend their money on it. And perhaps also with acquiring status-raising issues such as football clubs, owning popular brands and of course works of art
Or will we distribute this new prosperity more fairly? For example, to end poverty, hunger and diseases and restore the environment? Will we then have a basic income for everybody? And perhaps also a (very) short work week for everyone? Because even then there is of course still some work to be done. Caring for others, raising children and other services from person to person. And maybe also scientific research, sport, philosophy and perhaps some people have to think about what those robots have to produce. I guess this remaining work is a valuable thing too. Because if we meet all our material needs, than the what is perhaps the most important question remains, “what is a meaningful life”?
These are 2 possible future scenarios. A scenario in which we share fairly, with a better world for all of us and a capitalist scenario with even more prosperity for the happy few. The question is in which direction we will develop.
The year 2100 is still far away. But maybe we do not have to wait so long for all that prosperity to materialize. In any case by 2030 we are already a lot closer to that situation. Will we then also be closer to scenario 1 or scenario 2? This leads to another important question: can we choose which scenario will become a reality? You and I as individuals of course cannot. The social forces that direct these developments are far too big and far too complicated for that.
But it are not only social forces that make history, but also people. With enough people in the right places it must be possible to adjust these forces. And even you and I can contribute to this. More than we might be inclined to think. See my list of 208 ways you can save the world.
Now to you (and me) the challenge is, to do our bit towards the development that we wish for. Let us together ensure that we get the world of 2100 that we need and deserve.
Peter van der Wel works as a futurist and economist based in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and is co-founder of the Dutch Future Society. Peter can be reached at: email@example.com and his website: www.vanderwel.net.