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'Your job is just to be human'
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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[Q] Why would that change with agriculture?

I think what happened with agriculture is you started having specialists. So you started having jobs like guarding the grain which were kind of boring, and you needed to coerce somebody to do. Before agriculture everybody did everything. And so we were all generalist. But as soon as you had specialists then, you know, you had different jobs or different desirability. You could also save wealth. And so money is really in some sense wealth saved future. So as soon as you could save grain you had capital. It changed things completely.

So wealth became kind of an obligation for the future. Debt got invented. And so I think money came along with all that. It's not a natural thing for humans. Jobs... The idea of a job I don't think is a natural thing for human society. I mean, your job is just to be human. I mean, maybe a few people like the witch doctor or, you know, had special functions in society, but mostly everybody kind of just lived in the same way, everybody was a generalist. And some people were better at fishing and some people were better at hunting or planting. But everybody was expected to do everything, make their own clothes, cook their own food. So there really weren't specialists. So the idea of employment, I think, came along with agriculture.

[Q] It's really interesting.

So when people say, 'What happens when the AIs eliminate jobs', I say, 'I'm all for it.'

[Q] You'd be human again...

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: agriculture, jobs, specialist, wealth, money, capital, future, debt

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017