I am very happy that Stephen Hawking has spoken out on this issue and has raised his voice to help others understand. It is extremely important to identify that the Rise of the Robots itself is not the true problem, but rather, the Rise of the Robots occurring within the capitalist social structure. The true danger, as Hawking points out, lies in attempting to preserve the capitalist order in this new reality. However, he doesn’t go quite far enough.
Redistribution of the wealth created is not an adequate answer. Redistribution connotes that ownership of the means of production is still in the hands of an elite capitalist class. The proceeds must then be captured, most likely by some form of government taxation, and distributed to the non-owners. This arrangement only perpetuates a class struggle between the haves and the have-nots.
A much more intelligent approach would be to establish the universal ownership of the new means of production. There are strong ethical and legal and moral reasons for this which I won’t go into here (for now just consider that publically-funded research has given birth to many of these new technologies). And the Rise of the Robots offers an extremely rare opportunity for ownership to change hands — open source and creative commons elements of the new means of production can be “locked-in” by deliberate engineering choices, for example.
However, looking deeper, ownership alone is insufficient. Ownership can easily be an illusion. Think of those commercials with the woman in the black pantsuit trying to convince you that, because you have some money invested in the stock market, chances are, you “own” an oil company. Hogwash!
The real issue is not redistribution (God-forbid we fall for that compromise), or even ownership, but control.
And for control to mean anything at all it must be managed by means of a system of subsidiarity. This means that all management of assets must occur at the most local level possible. This establishes true, meaningful engagement of citizens with the issues most directly influencing their lives. If an issue can be appropriately dealt with within an organization, such as a co-op, it should be decided by the members of that co-op. If by a community, the members of that community; if county, county. Some issues require state-wide management; some national or even global, but the principle of subsidiarity determines which issues are decided where. This is not a new or radical proposal, its roots go back to the medieval Catholic church and it is a familiar aspect of modern democratic government.
This approach may offer the added benefit of a built-in inoculation against the undue influence special interest groups and the manipulation of public opinion by propaganda. We can hope that an engaged citizenry, one that experiences the feeling of control over the circumstances of their own lives will become empowered and motivated to protect and preserve their interests. Freedom, democracy, and dignity of life will always be things which must be fought for, but I believe this approach offers the best chance for a fair fight.
Giving up and accepting the life of redistribution — of effectively consigning our descendants to a life of subsisting like dogs on the crumbs which fall from the masters’ tables — is an unthinkable compromise.