We Need a 'Star Trek' Future to Avoid 'The Matrix'


A new report by the British think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warns about the dangers of robot enslavement under a Matrix-like society, as machines rise up and assert their superiority over humans. The antidote, its writers claim, is to push for a Star Trek-like future where scarcity has been eliminated.

“We should demand the world of Star Trek,” the report states, “beginning to build the social and economic institutions in the 2020s that will prepare for a world – still distant – when human labour becomes increasingly obsolete, when work is divorced from economic compensation, and when the price system breaks down as technology allows for a world of near-zero-cost production and distribution.”

The report, titled “Future proof: Britain in the 2020s,” was released Thursday and paints a picture of the coming decade that makes for sobering reading. Although there are some U.K.-specific challenges, like Brexit and a dramatically aging population, global shifts like robot automation and climate change mean it will be difficult for any country to ignore the coming economic shift.

In terms of automation, the report recommends a shorter working week, higher wage floors and new models of ownership. Better education will also give people the necessary skills to work in the new future. Meanwhile, a universal basic income may help supplement labor market income.

Technological changes, the report argues, are not neutral. Politics and culture influence how they are used in society, so thinking about how robots will fit into our lives now is crucial. In Star Trek, the creation of the replicator helped bring about a post-scarcity society, as the culture surrounding its use led to a society focused on space exploration:

Robot enslavement may sound like a scene from that third Matrix film that nobody remembers, but it’s a fear others in tech have echoed before. Stardock CEO Brad Wardell has previously warned about robots protecting the wealth of society’s richest with security guards, leading to mass inequality. It’s possible that this economic realignment leads to a lower quality of life for those at the bottom, and the IPPR warns that if people don’t act, it’s a reality that could become true.

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