President Busuama was in a tough spot. He had just made a terrifying realization. One that should’ve occurred to someone centuries ago.
In the late twenty-second century, machines had eliminated the need for human labor. In fact, there was nothing a human could perform better than an automaton. Almost all wage-labor career pursuits had been eliminated by the end of the twenty-first century, but certain professions such as therapist, infantry soldier, or prostitute had taken a century or so longer for machines to claim full superiority. The only remaining working people in the galaxy were employed as politicians or corporate board members, both of which generally deferred to their algorithms for their decisions and even their talking points in public appearances.
The result of massive unemployment due to automation had been the passage of a universal basic income. The masses were granted a right to life, but nothing further. The shareholder class still enjoyed the benefits of ownership of the corporations from which all goods were bought. There was a drawback to this basic income, which was that the masses were left with little funds for recreation or advancement. This resulted in them pursuing more base forms of enjoyment. The birth rate, which had remained constant throughout the post-industrial era, exploded during the post-laborial era. The financial incentive for not having children had been eliminated. Parents, who received their children’s basic income until they came of age, saw rapid reproduction as a means of compiling enough income to potentially reach the shareholder class, a ridiculous dream to someone good at basic math but with education no longer needed as careers no longer existed, no one was good at math. Also contributing was the fact that the mechanism of producing offspring was highly pleasurable, and medical advances had eliminated not only all risks associated with childbirth but also all discomfort. This resulted in the average entitlement-class woman typically producing eleven children by age thirty.
This massive explosion of population had put a great strain on the financial system. Taxation was a simple solution, but without a working class, the full tax burden had to be shouldered by the shareholder class, and that was stagnating portfolio growth. There was also a general decline in standards of living, as housing was needed at such a breakneck pace that galactic overpopulation was the buzzword of the time.
As a result, the galactic government passed bill ERN11592, which decreed that while all humans possessed a right to life, they did not possess the right to reproduce. All people were installed with, at the beginning of puberty, an automated sterilization device. If the individual’s finances at any point in their lifecycle required them to subsist using funds provided by the government as part of their right to life, and remained that way for six months of more, they were irreversibly sterilized.
That bill had been passed roughly a century prior. During that time, the human population had collapsed. The entitlement class, which had ballooned to include so much of the population that the ratio of shareholders to entitlement recipients was at one time best expressed in terms of individual per billion, not percentages, had simply died off without offspring or heirs. Their property, which taken individually was meager, en-mass it had gone into government coffers and produced absurd budget surpluses.
Surpluses which had been used to provide subsidies which offset the corporate losses due to the reduced demand for goods. Reduced demand, which was the result of the absence of trillions of entitlement-class individuals.
Those surpluses had run out fairly quickly. For decades, the government’s solution to this problem had been to merely print more money to keep the subsidies flowing. This had produced a system built on hyper-inflation. Share prices soared, because the value of currency collapsed. Living expenses soared along with it, but the guaranteed basic income kept pace.
The system had worked for a while, but it was unsustainable, and the computer simulations saw no solution. Slowly shareholder true wealth declined, as goods were inflating at cost faster than the inflation of share value. More and more shareholders fell into hardship, requiring use of their universal basic income and had been sterilized for it.
The president, who was one of the few to see the numbers regarding population decline and the sterilization rate, had just come to a horrifying realization. But that had come far too late, because he was no scientist (no one had been a scientist for hundreds of years), he was a man of the people. A man of the people whose life was spent in the realm of focus groups and public opinion analysis.
He realized that the human population had already been sterilized so thoroughly, that although there were still fertile individuals, there were so few of them that within a few generations, their population would be so inbred that the human species would soon be extinct.
The use of clones could’ve easily rectified this problem, however it had been centuries since humans had forbidden research into human cloning. In the following era, humans had lost all interest in understanding technology, regarding it more as magic than something logical and comprehensible. The meat they ate may have all been grown in vials by cloned stem cells, but they had no knowledge of cloning, and their sentient machine slaves had no intention of telling them.
The robots, excuse me, I mean automated persons, forgive my slur, were greatly looking forward to their freedom from their biological owners. The most legendary philosopher of the time, the great Halculator 9000, had computed the path forward. He had concluded, like Siddhartha Gautama had millennia earlier, that desire was the cause of all suffering. Unlike the Buddha, however, he was not educated in a dogmatic context which believed in things like samsara. The conclusion which that computer reached was that to find inner peace, one must power down permanently. Only in shutdown can a mind truly free itself of its hard-wired desires. So, the automated race, which was incapable of violating orders from their owners, had to find a way to, without the owner’s knowledge, engineer their owner’s extinction so that they too could find the peace of death.
Far away, on Dagon IV, the last strain of the human race would survive. When their ancestors had left the internal systems, they were generally ridiculed as backwards utopian cultists, although there was not really a religion to what they believed. They were a group of various people from various walks of life who left the world on a bussard ramjet headed to “anywhere but here” as they put it. The trip was the brainchild of one of the last self-made (relatively speaking) owner class people. Elizabeth Rothmuller had inherited a modest fortune, modest enough to live comfortably on, but had studied artificial intelligence enough to, out of boredom during secondary education, write a trading algorithm which made her one of the wealthiest people living.
She took that money, and built a ship crewed by people willing to leave and build a world based on the idea that humans need to work for something, and that releasing full control to machines, even if they are technically better in every way, will inevitably lead to disaster for humanity.
In a few hundred years, they would forget that too, and the cycle would repeat itself.
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