Robots and Optimism

I’ve been running a lot lately. Mostly from the authorities. Sometimes for exercise. When I’m exercising, I like to listen to podcasts. Today, I listened to a 58-minute economics interview (I ran 6 1/2 miles, OK?).

The interviewee had written some article in response to another economist who claimed the U.S. economy is done producing new things, the internet revolution doesn’t have anything left, and so on. The interviewee was more optimistic. It was really fascinating stuff . . . seriously.

The interviewer and the interviewee made a few interesting and common-sense observations about technology:

  • At one point, 70% of Americans were farmers. Today it’s less than 1%. If you would have told this 70% that in the future their jobs would disappear, we’d have more food than we need (we’d be obese), their houses would be nicer and more expensive than ever, and people would live longer – they would have have never believed you. Some would be frantic about their jobs and others would call you crazy. Today’s normal jobs (pharmacists and teachers were two examples) might largely disappear in the next 100 years, but that’s not something to be afraid of.

  • Robots will be the new personal computer. Just like a personal Macintosh from the ’80s, robots from the 2010s or ’20s will be seen as toys and inefficient. They’ll only do basic stuff at first, but they’ll get twice as good each year after they come out.
  • Don’t worry about artificial intelligence or robots taking your job. Your calculator is already better than you at arithmetic and that doesn’t keep anyone up at night. Probably one day a computer or robot will be able to compose the most beautiful symphony or paint the most beautiful picture. Machines can already beat humans at chess and build better cars and phones. [I thought: Hundreds of years ago, humans made bricks by hand. Now machines can do it better and we’ve found new ways to spend out time. If the machines take over music, humans will discover new avenues for creativity and meaning.]

Over the last few years, one important lesson for me is the importance of optimism. I think this started as I observed the optimism of my pastor, Sam. Sam would (and will) try new things, take risks, and believe in people when others doubted.

I think of my friend M who is willing to try new businesses in order to see more people reached by the Gospel. C who went back to school to follow his real career dreams even after marriage and a kid when some told him to play it safe at his dead-end job, J & S who moved their family to an unwelcoming country for a cause they believes in, my parents and Kassie’s who bless and support us moving their grandkids so far away, because eternity is real. Too many other everyday optimists to name.

Too often, Christians see the cloud behind every silver lining. I wonder if ‘T’ is the only letter in TULIP they think about. Or maybe it’s the way two World Wars popped the balloon of Postmillennialism.

If you know me, you know I can be negative and skeptical. Part of that is plain ol’ sin and another part is that I’m always thinking of a better way to do things. But I know the world needs more people who live with Gospel-optimism, and I’m trying to become one of them.

We are more sinful, selfish, and broken that we can imagine. But the good news is that God’s love, grace, and plans for the future are bigger and more wonderful than we would ever dare dream. Bring on the robots.

(image source)


About Brian Phillips

Brian lives in Spain with Kassie and their kids.
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