Digital revolution, opinion, Politics, Technology

Technology is the answer: Oligopoly, ordinance or an ode to advancement?

The word “money” pulls me towards two options: run as fast as possible in the opposite direction, or surrender honourably unto poverty in the hope that it will “inspire me to aim high, and achieve better” (cited: your bomb-dodging, powdered-egg consuming grandmother). As older generations observe, from the comfort of blissful suburbia and secure retirement years ahead: “it’s character-building…one day, you will look back upon such hardships, and be grateful.” I laugh carelessly in response, and continue to watch my hard-earned salary slip between my fingers. Oh, you poor dears, your knees knocked terribly during the Cold War. At least your interest rates were also frozen.

Currency is catastrophic. Wealth is inert. It is a status symbol, a number printed on a bank statement – however, its material value will shortly be placed at naught. Money is a belief system, of little substance within our current climate. It is ephemeral, yet we prize its value. I’m not your typical butt-hurt millennial, kicking my heels and wailing: “Student debt/no home. Poor little me, I can’t get married” (I refer you to Rhiannon Cosslett: A Millennial and a Baby-boomer trade places). Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to be a homeowner. I’d rather be a tube-hopping, couch-surfing, Spectator-reading smoker for the next ten years. All I want is the freedom to tube-hop without being launched into penury. And to devour more than three articles at a time without committing to £4.00 a month. (Damn you, Spectator. I may defect to the Telegraph. You’ve been warned.)

As a young adult, the esteemed authorities of our society seem determined to push myself and my contemporaries directly into a budget deficit, which will rage, to varying degrees, for the next several years. Being a denizen of London, one can’t step out of one’s Zone 4 domain more than twice a week without being put perennially out of pocket. Even something as fundamental as travel is not feasible, despite Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze of earlier this year. My earnings, as an entity, no longer exist as material gain: my account is an hourglass, leaking steadily, dripping kernels of self-respect and property-owner ambition to the floor. If you don’t use a contactless card (perhaps because you loathe watching those figures steadily decrease by up to 20% each week) you are forced to top up your Oyster card before each return journey. Half an hour can be squandered, squashed behind people who, amazingly, think that rush hour is a good time to update their monthly Oyster allowance with coins and cash. 

Coins? Why are these small, easily lost, inane pieces of metal not sitting behind dusty glass, in the darkest corner of a back-street London museum? As a result of the latest developments, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Monzo, you will rarely glimpse the sight of someone handing over £3.50 in change for their extortionately priced Starbucks coffee. I tend not to carry a single coin or pound note about my person. (As if I could afford the alleged luxury of the famed Teavana Shaken Iced Passion Tango Tea Lemonade – try saying that at twice the speed. Valuable pounds and seconds wasted.) Dear all beggars in Soho: I am unable to oblige your requests for “a bit of change”, largely due to practical reasons as opposed to the well-known miserly behaviour of the struggling student populace. Yours truly, little Miss Broke.

When observing the so-called development of British currency over the years, only one point is clear: there is absolutely no direction. The economy is stagnant across the world. Economic “growth” can instead be regarded as consistent regression; “progress” can be achieved by placing a space-age leisure centre beside a downtown slum. Salaries are decreasing, whilst working hours increase; levels of child poverty across the world are sky-rocketing – the highest levels have been found in London itself, supposedly one of the richest cities in the world. How did this happen?

According to Caitlin Moran, our society is entrenched in the past, regressive; we long to be flung, face first, back into the deluge of the twentieth century, from which we shall unearth the dull, oxidised gold snatched from the colonies; we long to don flag-printed robes and toss tea around in pride. Brexit and Trump are well-recognized examples of this: a desire to return to the fabled British Empire, to “make America great again”. Apparently, the only future that propagates change is the one perpetuated by tech firms, who, according to Moran, focus purely on commerce: “your driverless cab, your drone delivery, your wearable health-tech – it’s just about the lucrative stuff.”

Well, maybe. Those such as Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, are dishing out a similar rhetoric. Technology will condemn us to a future of false consumerism and intellectual decay. We shall be left sobbing, tossed amongst the detritus of society, prostate upon an uncultured, bleak, Brechtian landscape whilst robots patrol within our midst. The remains of our welfare state will be yanked from under us, and jobs will disappear overnight. 

No. Unfortunately for those profiting from this scare-mongering rhetoric, you’d better trade your place on the soapbox for a seat at the very back of the atrium. (We can’t have you raining all over our metal-man parade; you’ll rust the future of the human race.)  Technology may eventually become our rust-ridden saviour, our metal messiah, a mechanistic incarnation of the Second Coming. Take this from a non-partisan digital native, who is currently planning her own retirement: our automated future is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. This assertion may not contain the Moranian stamp of validity; it is, however, grounded in solid fact.

Let me throw a couple of bright tech bombs at your head. Deep Mind. Bitcoin. Bio-Bean. Floating farms. Secco.  (No – it’s not toothpaste.) We’re in the middle of a population explosion, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s not going to stop here: by 2050, there will be an estimated two billion more humanoids crawling about on our already pillaged planet. But never fear: safety is at hand, in the form of a technocratic triage. Say goodbye to your insurance premiums and your carbon footprint – coffee-powered, self-driving cars are at hand. Dreading your imminent old age? Welcome to DeepMind Health, and an extra twenty years of life. Fancy a trip into space? Your personal rocket awaits. Thanks to newly-developed asteroid-mining, you might return with a sackful of gold. Forever alone? Say hello to your new robot girlfriend. (She might condescend to touch you in that special place). Loathe your daily commute? Get ready to whizz to work, with the commercial speed of a jet airliner. Constantly forgetting your password? Your brainwaves will pick up the slack.

Here is the paradox, people. Old money: new living. Old living: new ideas. If you launch yourself into the twenty-first century shouldering left-over baggage from the twentieth, you’ll find yourself dragging your feet at every step. Sure, perhaps a fully automated economy won’t work within our current economic system. Maybe now’s the time to kick it into the backseat permanently. It’s a brave new world – if you’re gutsy enough to step into it.

If ever there was an outdated system that needed its backside kicked headlong into the future, it’s the educational institution of Britain today. For most of the 21st century, educational developments have reached an all-time low – speaking as an individual who has spent most of her life interred within the pungent, fleshy confines of the educational vulva, without suffocating upon repeated ejaculations of suppurating, futile policy alterations further denigrating the purpose of education – indeed, quite an achievement. I am one of the pulsating wounded – my brain has been truly disembowelled by the last seven years of so-called “secondary” education – luckily, I have maintained a firm grip upon the last vestiges of my sanity (so far, anyway). The education system – indeed, the National Curriculum itself – is inherently flawed. Critical thinking is speckled sparingly amongst each subject, without sufficient focus – furthermore, students today are not being taught how to innovate. They are taught patterns, akin to algorithms – for example, the theory of pie – however, they are not given access to the reasoning behind these theories; they are simply memorised, without true comprehension. Furthermore – 65% of current learning will be irrelevant within a couple of years. Sure, every process which takes a split-second to accomplish will, of course, be automated – however, innovation remains paramount. We must equip the younger generation, allowing them to approach the next singularity – in the words of my new best friend, Simon Very, it’s time to “invest in the long-term”. Now’s the moment – let’s act.