Leveraging the Useless Masses as a Competitive Advantage

Imagine a time, say 10-30 years from now, where 80% of people are not needed in society.

They can’t produce more value, doing traditional tasks, than computers, AI, and robots can. So they are all either fired or can’t get a job in the first place.

It’s a whole separate topic to ask what they’re going to be doing, but let’s assume they’re there and not rioting (yes, it’s a major assumption on its own). They’re likely to be receiving a check and public housing to play video games and watch TV all day.

Anyway, 80% of the world, just doing that. We’ll call them the Betas. At first it’ll be low numbers like we have today, then it’ll be more than half, then 70%, 80%, 90%, etc. I’m not sure where that’ll top out, but I’m guessing around 95% or so. Hard to say since it also depends where you draw the line.

But let’s go with 80%.

We’re still going to have countries at this point. And those countries will still have economies and will still be competing with each other. The global economy will be far more linked, of course, but it’ll still be made up of distinct countries and distinct groups of people.

What I just realized earlier tonight is that the Alphas (the lucky 20% at the top) will have different ways of viewing the Betas (those who aren’t so lucky). Many of them will look down on them, of course, as they already do.

But the smart play, from a competitive standpoint, as a country and as an economy, is to try to harness the power of this group. Let’s say the U.S. is 500M. 80% of that is 400M people. That’s 300 million people who can’t provide traditional work that is cheaper and better than machines or automation. This isn’t actually too far off.

But the key here is the word traditional.

The challenge and opportunity for the Alphas will be to find a way to harness the creative power of the Betas, to find the Alphas within the masses, and/or to use their masses to produce value in some way.

In other words, short-sighted countries will see their Beta population as failures who should be placated and distracted to avoid revolt, but little further thought will be given to them. They’ll be the untouchables. The forgotten people. The Alphas will live in plush Green Zones with spectacular food, the newest tech, and brilliantly curated experiences 24/7, and the Betas will wallow in cookie-cutter manufactured homes that are little more than shelters for media and gaming rigs.

The smart countries, however, will see the Beta population as a fountain of potential. They will build platforms to find the best artists, the best performers, the best thinkers, the best storytellers, the best…everything. Once they’re identified they’ll be extracted, trained, and magnified, and will thus become part of the value creation engine for that country.

In other words the game changes from traditional value (which humans won’t really compete well with computers on) into one of personality, uniqueness, art, music, and other human-advantaged traits. And whoever can extract and nurture the individuals in their populations with these skills most efficiently will have a tremendous advantage economically.

In fact, these competitions will be their own games, and the reward will be entering the Alpha class. You move to the Green Zone, you get the nice house, you’re surrounded by upgraded people, you get upgrades yourself, etc. And once you do, you start producing value for the country and economy in a way that you couldn’t before.

Summary

  1. The world will soon be separated into Alphas and Betas.
  2. Alphas are the shrinking number of people who can provide value in a workforce being cleaned out by computers, AI, and robots. Betas are everyone else.
  3. Dumb countries will treat the Betas like failures, and do their best to ignore them.
  4. Smart countries will treat Betas like a sea of potential Alphas with yet-undiscovered talents, and they’ll run tech platforms designed to discover, train, and make use of the talented within the masses.

Notes

  1. Also included in the Betas will be many millions of people in the service industry who barely make any money for the work they do. But they will have some advantages within the gaming and media consumption world, otherwise there would be no incentive to work vs. not work. They’ll probably have more channels and special abilities within their favorite games.
  2. The truth is that AI is coming for the creative traits in humans as well, and they’ll eventually win there too. But for the next ten or twenty years humans should still have the advantage there.

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