The Goal of the Future Is Full Unemployment, So We Can Play

Arthur C. Clarke? Gene Youngblood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the economic notion of a universal basic income I came across a statement attributed to the farsighted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke advocating the goal of “full unemployment” instead of “full employment”. Clarke felt that the computers and robots of the future would perform routine work and drudgery, so we would have more time to play. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Arthur C. Clarke co-authored the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey” which was released in 1968. In April 1969 a lengthy interview with Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood appeared in the “Los Angeles Free Press”, an alternative newspaper.

During the conversation Clarke and Youngblood mentioned the benefits humankind might be able to obtain from the development of advanced computer systems able to perform numerous tasks better and more quickly than people. Yet, the HAL 9000 computer in the movie “2001” was frightening, and Youngblood asked why a negative vision was highlighted. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

GENE: But you see the average person doesn’t see it. All he sees is that he’s going to be replaced by a computer, reduced to an IBM card and filed away.

CLARKE: The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.

GENE: Precisely. Now, we feel that if only this idea had come across in “2001,” instead of depicting machines as ominous and destructive. . .

CLARKE: But it would have been another film. Be thankful for what you’ve got. Maybe Stanley wasn’t interested in making that kind of film.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In November 1969 the New York underground periodical “The Realist,” printed a column titled “Cocktail Party” by Jerome Agel which included a discussion of the movie “2001”; the target quotation was included: 2

The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.

In 1970 Clarke addressed a conference based on the futuristic theme of life in the year 2000, and he envisioned a society of full unemployment: 3

The world is heading toward “full unemployment,” Clarke said, as 99 per cent of the current human activity will be eliminated through machines, the “slaves of tomorrow.”

Education will become the largest single industry and entertainment a close second—or mankind would die of utter boredom in a workless world.

In 1972 “The Hartford Courant” reported on a speech delivered by Clarke in Hartford, Connecticut: 4

“The greatest single occupation of the future will be education” said Clarke, painting a rosy picture of full unemployment with machines doing all the work and “the second greatest occupation will be entertainment. I think the two should be synonymous.”

In conclusion, Arthur C. Clarke should receive credit for the remark he made during an interview in 1969. He used the distinctive phrase “full unemployment” on multiple occasions.

Image Notes: Picture of futuristic hunter and companion from currens at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to science fiction fan Chris whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1969 April 25, Los Angeles Free Press, Free Press Interview: A. C. Clarke author of ‘2001’, (Interview of Arthur C. Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood), Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, Column 4 and 5, Los Angeles, California. (Reveal Digital Independent Voices Collection at revealdigital.com)
  2. 1969, November-December, The Realist, Issue Number 86, Edited by Paul Krassner, Cocktail Party by Jerome Agel, Quote Page 32 (Back Cover), Column 1, New York, New York. (The Realist Archive Project at ep.tc) link
  3. 1970 August 6, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 2001 Author Tells 2000 Conferees: ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’ by Janos Gereben (Star-Bulletin Writer), Quote Page D20, Column 4, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1972 April 30, The Hartford Courant, Author Predicts Agricultural Age’s End by Ken Cruickshank, Quote Page 5B, Column 4, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)