It seems possible that sooner or later AIs will obsolete all human work and labor. This will happen at latest when AIs superior to human brain in all aspect become generally available.
If or when this happens, what will humans be able to do? As far as I'm aware putting a person in an empty room with nothing to do constitutes torture.
Of course many assert that full automation will lead to nothing of the sort. To the contrary, full automation will be a beneficial situation since it will actually enable humans to do what they most like: freed from the need to work to make a living, they will be able to pursue their passions without restraint. No longer forced to grind 8 hours every day they will be able to spend all time on painting, building DIY electric train toys, programming, or whatever one likes to do. Granted, humans will not be able to be paid for this, but this will be insignificant since in a post-scarcity world money will no longer be necessary.
However, I have strong intuitions that, while full automation may enable humans to spend all time on whatever they like to do, it will also, ironically, mean that pursuing one's passions will no longer make much sense.
I must apologize beforehand for not remembering exact quotations nor being able to back them up with a source. Frustratingly, this happens to me from time to time: I read something, I remember some of the general ideas of the text I read, but I forget where I read this as well as the precise wording. Then I suddenly need to present these ideas to someone else and I cannot back them up. This is another situation of this sort.
If I remember correctly, John Eldredge wrote something along the lines of this: A man can only be happy if he serves a cause greater than himself. Now Eldredge may not be a widely accepted authority in psychology or philosophy, BUT, if I recall,
Steven PinkerPeter Singer (I'm sorry for incorrect name) also said something with a similar meaning, though he used different wording. For this reason (correct me if I'm wrong) it is widely accepted that egoism, hedonism and decadence, while alluring, are, in fact, traps that ruin lives of those who behave in these ways.
Full work automation will, in my mind, make the above condition impossible to meet. Yes, people will have plenty of time and resources to do whatever they like, however, their activities will have no meaning. They will be unable to help anyone else with their work; they will also be unable to impact the world around them in any way.
The positions of a shop assistant or a janitor are often considered among the most dull, uninteresting and unsatisfactory ways to make a living a person make take. However, as of now, it is clear that this work is necessary, fulfills real needs, helps many other people and has an impact on the world around those who do this work. However, this may not be the case for long. Because of this I'm not sure if doing nothing at all can, for many people, be considered a viable alternative to working as a janitor.
Let's consider another example, such as painting, which is quite often taken as an unpaid hobby. At present, artists may post their work on sites like DeviantArt. A certain percentage of artists may even be moderately successful and attain a following of fans, who eagerly await every new piece of art. Therefore this creative work, even if unpaid, has a meaning that reaches beyond the person that does it.
However, the work of an artist is in the process of being automated at the moment. While drawing AIs are still imperfect, it is not impossible to imagine a world in which AIs, fed lots of data about every person in the world (consider ubiquitous profiling in these times!) will be able to mass-produce pieces of art tailored and optimized to best serve this particular viewer(s). Sites like DeviantArt will be obsoleted; human artists will be unable to present their work to other people (as no one will be interested in art that is both clearly inferior and coming in lesser quantities than art produced by AIs) and make other people appreciate this art. Humans will still be able to paint, however, doing so will serve nothing but to amuse the painter.
To make it clear: I do not claim that there is no place in a human's life for such activities that serve nothing but to amuse the one who does them. However, I do say that they cannot, on their own, give one happiness or a sense of fulfillment.
Because of this, I genuinely fear that full work automation, rather than freedom and happiness, will bring an epidemic of severe depressions, feelings of lack of sense of life and therefore suicides.
Yet I note that very few people share my sentiment. I have never yet met anyone who would agree with me on this matter. Therefore it is highly likely that there are some obvious errors in my thinking I fail to notice. Could you please point them out to me?
One such possible error, I think, may be that I mistook instrumental values for intrinsic values. Janusz Korwin-Mikke may be a ridiculous man who holds multiple untenable and harmful views, but still he may have said something wise at least once. This time I believe I quote fairly accurately. He said: "A car does not exist so that someone can build it. A car exists so that I can drive it". (Although he said this to support his paleolibertarian views, this doesn't matter here). Well, my mistake may be precisely that I think a car exists so that I can build it.
Or, in other words. Let me try a reductio ad absurdum of my own thinking. I remember once I couldn't sleep the entire night, so I was very tired the following day. Still I tried my best to remain productive. Clearly there was some value in my struggle; yet it would be absurd to jump to conclusion that it is best that all people remain sleep-deprived so that they may strive to overcome this difficulty.
The (lack of) work may be an analogous situation. Sleep deprivation is a difficulty obstructing work; while the need of work is a difficulty obstructing getting the fruits of this work. In general, overcoming difficulties is an instrumental value, with the end being achieving a goal that is obstructed by the said difficulties. Still, if the same goal can be achieved without having to overcome these difficulties it will always be preferable to having to overcome them. I, unfortunately, mistook overcoming difficulties for an intrinsic value and jumped to a conclusion that, therefore, difficulties must remain.
Side note 1: I suppose it may be a common pattern of my thinking: (a) I (correctly) see a value in something; (b) But I (incorrectly) see this as an intrinsic value while, in fact, this is just an instrumental value; (c) I therefore condemn all circumstances that, in my mind, threaten to invalidate the applicability of the said value; (d) leading to wildly wrong conclusions.
Side note 2: This is just one of the reasons I fear technology may be a blight upon mankind, rather than a great boon many believe it will be. Probably this question is just the beginning of a series of related questions...