Within 20 years nearly all jobs will be automated and will lead to a human revolution, claims top futurist philosopher.
Futurist and architect Jacque Fresco speaks in parables. If he goes on too long with a story, his 40-year partner Roxanne Meadows interjects facts to keep him on track. Fresco recently turned 100 years old, and is the oldest celebrity futurist in the world. His magnum opus is The Venus Project, a 21-acre Central Florida Eden with white dome-shaped buildings that Meadows and he hand built over three and a half decades. The sanctuary and research center is where Fresco still leads weekly seminars, which includes a tour of 10 buildings—some filled with hundreds of future city models inside them—that highlight the promise of a future world where equality and technology abound.
How I met Fresco at The Venus Project this month starts with income taxes—something I hate and aim to one day eliminate altogether for humanity. Fresco doesn’t like taxes either. While searching online about taxes, I stumbled upon Fresco’s voluminous work: over 80 years of essays, filmed lectures, books, documentaries, models, and architectural drawings. Much of Fresco’s work is anchored by his main philosophical idea: a resource-based economy, where there’s not only zero taxes, but no ownership or money either.
It sounds fanciful, but the more I read about Fresco’s work and ideas, the more intrigued I became. Here was a man with a vision, one not dissimilar from my own. The timing of my meeting with Fresco and Meadows was serendipitous. As I neared the end of my US presidential campaign, I was looking to build out the Transhumanist Party’s 20-point platform with a more aggressive futurist platform—one that looked not only 10-20 years into the future, as I generally focus on, but one that also examines what could and should happen in 50 years or even the next century.
Meadows showing plans for a future city concept. Image: Zoltan Istvan
Over the next 20 years, I see automation taking nearly all jobs, and I doubt capitalism will survive that. As a result, I advocate for beginning the process of eliminating taxes and doling out a universal basic income—one that swallows welfare, Social Security, and all health services. Otherwise, I see inequality dramatically growing and an even larger befuddled welfare system than we have now. When robots take all the jobs, I also see civil strife and revolution occurring if corporations and the government don’t give back enough to society.
For me, the most important aspect of the future is to actually get there, and I worry that without giving something to unemployed humans, a dystopic society of violence and chaos will come about. The last thing America—and the scientific community—needs is a civil war.
Some experts have predicted that fully automated luxury communism is the way to go, and it’s a term increasingly being thrown around. Basically, it argues that humans should be pampered by technology, and to do so, communism should finally become the dominant economic system. Fresco doesn’t buy this.
He thinks that if we could just get rid of money and ownership, most of the humanity’s problems would disappear. And he claims only a resource-based economy—an idea he said he’s been working on since he was 13 years old—could do this.
The Venus Project is best described as a futurist Eden. Image: Zoltan Istvan
The resource-based economy goes like this: In the future robots will do all the jobs (including creating new robots and fixing broken one). Now, imagine the world is like a public library, where you can borrow any book you want but never own it. Fresco wants all enterprise like this, whether it’s groceries, new tech, gasoline, or alcohol. He wants everything free and eventually provided to us by robots, software, and automation.
Fresco’s system is indeed beyond capitalism or communism, which he says are economic systems based upon scarcity. Fresco wants a system that is based on abundance. He thinks the world’s resources could provide for humanity many times over—something I also agree with. In fact, my plan for funding a universal basic income partially comes from utilizing America’s untapped government resources; half of the land in our 11 most western states belongs to the government, resulting in trillions of dollars of untapped wealth.
The author (right) with Fresco and Meadows. Image: Jennifer Huse
Despite being over a century old, Fresco is still mentally sharp. He does speak noticeably slowly, but he’s quite capable of arguing for his resource-based economy. Listening to him, it’s impossible to not feel like he is a deeply spiritual man. In fact, his rhetoric is borderline religious-sounding. He thinks money is the root of all evil.
“If I meet a Christian,” Fresco said, “I ask him: Why should we have ownership of property on Earth when there is none in Heaven?”
But Fresco is no believer. Like me, he is an adamant atheist. And also like me and millions of others around the world, he thinks all the world’s problems can be solved by reason and using the scientific method.
I find it ironic that Fresco’s ideas are Christ-like. He supports an open system where everything is free and equal. He even supports open borders, something I’ve advocated too as the world gets more interconnected and countries merge—despite the recent success of Brexit.
The real ice breaker question was asked by an entrepreneur on The Venus Project tour to Roxanne: “This all sounds very interesting. But how do we actually transition to this new society and way of living?”
A resource-based economy, where one day no one will work but everyone has plenty, might just be the trick to gaining piece of Heaven on Earth.
Meadows answered saying, “We need to build one city to show the world how this could work. If we could just build one futurist city and show everyone how well this system works, people would demand it around the world.”
Finland recently began an experiment with universal basic income. And across the continents, other communities run various forms of alternative government, such as the Mareki community on the island of Vanuatu, which doesn’t use money or have ownership—everything is community based. Additionally, the Seasteading Institute, of which I am an ambassador, is trying to create the first truly Libertarian nation.
So creating new governments, societies, or cities is possible. Fresco—who recently won an award from the United Nations—has designed numerous cities that he wants his first experimental city to look and be like.
Even though some of the ideal robot and automation technology may not be here yet, Meadows still believes the city could be started now and be successful.
More of The Venus Project’s futurist architecture. Image: Zoltan Istvan
She wrote me, “This city does not depend on the predictions of automation for the near future. Most aspects of it can be accomplished now even though it would not be fully automated.”
Additionally, costs for such a city could be less than normal. Jennifer Huse, the social media director at The Venus Project, told me, “Fresco’s city designs would be less expensive than any others to build because you only have to design one eighth of the city—then duplicate it.”
Some of Fresco’s architectural city designs are known for easily connecting into each other and coming from the same mold, thereby being easier, cheaper, and simpler to create.
I advocate for such a city. How wonderful and exciting that would be to visit. No one knows if a city like this will work yet—and of course, for a complete resource-based economy to function smoothly, it would require having the world on board and participating. Nonetheless, I believe in trying and setting a powerful example for the future.
Something is rotten with the world and how people treat each other. We’ve undergone wars, crime, enslavement, and poverty for too long. Fresco’s ideas are a breath of fresh air to grant equality and prosperity to all people—and to get us all living a better, more interesting life. A resource-based economy, where one day no one will work but everyone has plenty, might just be the trick to gaining piece of Heaven on Earth.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and presidentialcandidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.