Can technology lead to a post-scarcity utopia?

Some people believe that if we push our technological development to the limit, then we will become so advanced that we will reach a post-scarcity utopia. Under such a path, we would be wise in our use of technology and responsible towards the planet. Menial work would be eliminated and we could focus on new stages of human development such as becoming enlightened about our existence.

Is this possible? It is true that there are signs that as a whole, society is becoming more responsible towards the use of technology. For example, the European Union has mandated the use of USB-C charging for all phones. It is also not uncommon to see articles about people reducing their smartphone and social media usage.

To me, these examples do suggest that we are becoming wiser about technology. An even more obvious example is the slow but inexorable march towards greater sustainability. The other day I went to the grocery store near my house and there were large signs saying that they no longer offered single-use plastic bags for carrying groceries home.

It would be very nice to believe that technology is indeed benign and that we will eventually reach a point of great stability as a species where we can handle problems gracefully and end our extreme consumerism for a more wholesome life.

Nevertheless, there are also extreme dangers with technology as well. First, if we accept that we are stuck on this planet, then we must accept its limited resources. And technology could actually help us take better and better advantage of those natural resources until we use them all up. And although health research generally is regarded as good, it is no secret that many people are interested in slowing aging, such as the article by Liang et al., Genetic mouse models of extended lifespan.

Thus, we could equally well be moving towards a world where we will live longer on a very crowded planet, with very little green space left. And it only seems like with every passing year, people become more addicted to technology, consuming more media. This future might be more like a dystopia where everyone is plugged into a computer like in The Matrix.

Since it is impossible to predict the future, this suggests that we should have an cautious, and very suspicious view of new technology, rather than assume it will lead to a utopia. Moreover, the vast majority of people just develop new stuff because it brings them money, rather than because it might be good or not for society. It’s hard to believe that a utopia is a foregone conclusion of a capitalistic, free-market system that favors the shortest-term gains and which was built upon unsustainably using up resources like our natural earth.

Personally, I think we are much more likely to be driven into a world like The Matrix rather than a utopia of endless resources, and that is why I especially advocate caution towards new technology.


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