The Future of Work and Death

My following article below was originally published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET):

masterposter_New_TitleWhether you consider yourself a futurist, a technoprogressive, a Transhumanist, we all recognize the ongoing neglect by mainstream media, Hollywood, and other prominent media institutions in regards to a growing realization – the concepts of both work and death are changing before our very eyes! From technological unemployment now starting to affect workers in the industrial nations, to the international scientific community becoming more involved in anti-aging research, it’s quite clear that our near future may see the destruction of what we consider “working” and “dying.”

To make up for mainstream media’s apathy, independent UK film company Gadfly Productions have taken to Kickstarter to get the world involved in funding a documentary which takes on these very topics head on – The Future of Work and Death. “The film focuses on how future technology could significantly change two major facets of human life; work and death,” the developers assert. “It explores how AI and technological singularity could be achievable in the next 30 years – how job obsolescence/technological unemployment could consequently occur and how immortality may not be a thing of science fiction.”

I decided to get an inside look into the making of this documentary and spoke with those ensuring its success – Co-Directors Sean Blacknell and Wayne Walsh, and Co-Executive Producer/futurist advisor Gray Scott.

First and foremost, what is the overall premise of The Future of Work and Death, and what makes it stand out from most other documentaries dealing with such topics? 

Sean: To put it crisply, the documentary focuses on how future technology could significantly change two major facets of human life – work and death. What makes it particularly salient is that the film recognises work and death as universal issues – a fly in the ointment as far as the human experience goes. Few of us want to be wage slaves and few of us want to die – least not from the diseases of old age. The film will be an exploration into what is about to come, and how it will change these two things, for better or worse(?).

Wayne: We would also like to explore the philosophical, moral and social implications that come with these advances in science and technology: Are we ready socially or psychologically to accept a prolonged existence? How will we define the human experience in years to come? Why are these future prospects not being taken seriously now?

So this documentary is to be funded via crowdfunding service Kickstarter, with 13 days left in the campaign. What do you hope to achieve with the goal funding of £12,500 (nearly USD $21,000)? 

Sean: All filming thus far has been in the UK. For the documentary to be a thorough piece of journalism we have to cross the pond to visit institutions such as MIT, Harvard and many within Silicon Valley – as well as interview pre-eminent figures like Mr Kurzweil. The film has to be as inclusive as possible; these are significant and pressing issues, which few politicians or economists hold with much substance. We don’t think elephants should be kept in rooms, it’s cruel.

Wayne: The US section of the documentary will swallow much of the funding, travel, equipment, expenses, many Terabytes and many more to back them up. The rest is to be spent on some narrative that we hope to shoot and as many animator and post production hours we can buy.

The topics of work and death are such complex realities as of this moment, and for many they believe is a never ending process. That people will always be partaking in boring, monotonous labor, just as people will always be dictated by their biological clocks on how long they can live and when they’re to die. Why are so many people adamant in believing this way, and do you believe the documentary will help alleviate this in any way possible?

Gray: Throughout the evolutionary process on this planet humans have had to hunt, gather, rule, fight and work for our survival. However, for the very first time, human beings are being offered a new way of existing on this planet. Advancements in AI and robotics may allow us to automate everything. Robots will harvest, cook and serve our food. They will work in our factories, drive our cars and walk our dogs. Like it or not, the age of work is coming to an end. I hope this film helps people adjust to this new age. I hope we can inspire people to think about the future of work and death in new ways.

Will near future medical advancements free us from the chains of natural death? Several recent scientific studies have produced startling, some might say, magical results. Scientists have been able to reverse age in mice. Sounds like science fiction, but age reversal has arrived. Human trials may start as soon as next year. So what will human life be like in a world free of work and death?

Sean: This is the cultural narrative we have been offered, the generally adopted view that work and death are ineluctable – that’s life mentality. There’s nothing wrong with that really. I think you could reason that it’s a tad lazy, a tad atavistic, but many people have genuinely accepted it and argue that’s what defines us as humans and I sympathise with that. It’s worth considering, however, that technology in all likelihood will redefine what it means to be human as it has done previously. Culture is fickle. Whether or not these technologies will look favourably on us is an entirely different question along with many other pertinent inquiries that shape the film.

I noticed a lot of big names who were interviewed for this documentary. Who all is being covered for it and why exactly should people watching this take what they say as a fact of what is to come in the near future? 

Aubrey_Screenshot_01Sean: It’s impossible to predict the future – none of the interviewees are soothsayers. However, some of them have very good track records with their perspicacity and their opinions are always steeped in research. The truth is there is no absolute consensus concerning AI or longevity in terms of social repercussions, there are only educated guesses at this point. Naturally this engenders controversy. It’s up to the viewers to decide for themselves.

Wayne: I suppose the most believable aspect of this documentary is the technological unemployment aspect. As we already see this happening around us, technology has been taking jobs for many years before this film was even conceived.

With longevity, you only have to look at studies such as the one at Harvard with the young blood in older mice, to see that we are already taking great leaps in this field. The life expectancy has done nothing but rise since records began – as our understanding of the human body advances, so does our life expectancy. We see patterns in these things and we learn from them. Hopefully this film will reveal a few to the audience.

Once the documentary is complete, where will you go from there? Are there any plans of pushing this documentary for any international festivals or screening? 

Sean: Ideally we’d love to have the film finished in time for Sundance – we’re very keen to get it out there as soon as possible.

Thank you very much for speaking with me. To end this, is there anything you’d wish viewers and possible new followers of the upcoming documentary to take away from all this?

Sean: Do you think a working paid job absorbs and degrades the mind? Do you think that the human condition is summed up by our anxiety of death? If you’ve answered yes to just one of these questions, please back our project on Kickstarter. Thank you.

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