In recent years, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have used their respective companies to push the boundaries of technology and innovation. Back in 2018, the world watched in awe as SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster into orbit. Amazon continues to push the limitations of artificial intelligence with inventions like the Amazon Halo. In general, we like to think that technological innovation will benefit society, and, in general, it does. Unfortunately, many of the developments that we will see in the next decade won’t necessarily be accessible to everyone; many of these luxuries will likely be exclusive to the rich and powerful. In all likelihood, technological innovation will only exacerbate the rampant inequality present around the world.
Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have made enormous strides in space travel. Their companies SpaceX and Blue Origin are the two most prominent private space corporations and will likely lead the way in space exploration. The implication of space travel is that the advancements made will benefit humanity as a whole. When we imagine a space-faring future, it generally conjures images of a better future. However, it is very unlikely that space travel will benefit everyone when it’s in the hands of corporations because ultimately their goal is to make a profit. Both Bezos’ and Musk’s companies have historically had shoddy working conditions in their facilities. If this legacy continues into space, far from government or public oversight, the conditions for workers will only get worse. The first colonies on the moon or mars are far more likely to resemble slave plantations than off-world utopias. The only people that would be able to enjoy the luxuries of these theoretical moon colonies would be the immensely rich and powerful.
This sort of pattern can be seen with a plethora of technological innovations. Automation is a perfect example of this. Replacing human workers with robotic counterparts should be exciting news. People could be free from working menial jobs and more leisure could be offered to the workforce as a whole. But people, in general, are terrified of the prospect because they know that the technology would not benefit them. In our current reality, automation would mean widespread unemployment and greater profits for the rich. The inequality present in our society makes us scared of technology that could revolutionize our lives for the better.
It’s not too late to ensure that this technology is not used nefariously. However, it will take an enormous political effort to make the change. A similar situation occurred after the industrial revolution. Incredible technology innovation was being used to benefit the people at the top, but through government and public oversight, the benefits of this technology were better distributed to everyone. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was far better than it was before. Through improved worker’s rights and regulations placed on corporations, the negative effects of the industrial revolution were mitigated. The same thing can be done today with modern technology. Although some may argue that people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos push our society forward, they shouldn’t do so without restrictions. So long as innovation can be directed to contribute to the public good, we need not fear it.