Utopia or soon-to-be reality? A free, creative life – no more monotonous jobs – and no need for money either?

Futurist Rohit Talwar sees more opportunities than drawbacks in an ever-more technological world. Most of all, bartering is what will make a free, creative life possible.

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” This quotation from Malcolm X goes to the heart of what motivates futurologist Rohit Talwar. The London-based founder of the Fast Future Research think-tank advises international firms and organisations about how they can sensibly anticipate emergent challenges and maybe even profit from them, and how we will live and work in the future. That’s what made him the perfect speaker for the opening weekend at the USM WorkHouse.

Unlike many skeptics, who warn of artificial intelligence taking away our jobs and the dawning of an era of nationalism and intolerance, Talwar is optimistic about the coming decades. But this could also be due to his humanitarian style. “The Internet fundamentally changes our perspective on life and our attitude towards work. A lot of people these days are thinking more about the meaning of their lives. They want to change something and make a contribution to society in whatever way they can. This means that they expect more from their employers and more from themselves.”

New technologies could also bring new prosperity, says Talwar, but with the caveat that this won’t hold true for all people equally. “The Internet gives us free marketing channels, vertical farming can provide us with free food, synthetic biology could develop all kinds of new materials which will clean up our environment. And artificial intelligence will free us from monotonous routine tasks, so that we can dedicate ourselves to higher tasks and give our creativity free reign.”

Pivotal for whether this utopia becomes reality, though, is the independence from money. Still, with digital currencies like Bitcoin this will become ever more realistic, Talwar explains. “We’re moving towards ecosystems in which it’s not only money that makes access to values or services possible. Soon I’ll be able to to buy groceries in the local supermarket with credit-points that I’ve earned by painting a garage door, for example.” In this scenario, we would even grow closer together as a community, because money would be distributed by other means and people would have less to quarrel about.

This is a striking perspective for a futurologist. This brave new digital world essentially looks a lot like the barter economy in traditional tribal societies – only with artificial intelligence and the Internet.