The Boring Robot Apocalypse


Which world are you living in?

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 64,070 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. This has been accompanied by a 24 percent increase in the annual suicide rate between 1999 and 2014. Something dark is afoot in America, and as the public policy professor at Harvard named Robert D. Putnam says in the linked New York Times article, “This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health.”

Perhaps the sci-fi visions a future in which a sentient A.I. enslaves and then wipes out humankind isn’t what we should be worried about in the literal sense. As it is, a man whose body is his primary economic asset can no longer expect a living wage. 

What if the existential threat a digital super-intelligence poses to humanity is much more mundane, and already here? Instead of a fight to the death with a superhuman robot, man is quietly being faced by a devaluation of his physical world and forced to contemplate the worth of his own existence.

The answer to that question won’t come up lacking for everyone. At the same time, we can expect:


But mostly for the rich.

While I get excited by technical progress I am also concerned by what we lose on the inexorable march toward Godliness. Perhaps that’s the modern Faustian bargain: greater material abundance at the expense of a deeper spiritual meaning.