By SCOTT ADAMS
Among the biggest threats to the future of corporate America are genetically engineered babies. They'll look cute and harmless at first, with their tiny noses and symmetrical faces. Only later will the horror reveal itself, when the generation of perfect-looking people enters the work force with no marketable skills whatsoever. Can corporations survive without engineers, economists, programmers, scientists and other skilled labor? Where will the future Fords and Sarnoffs and Jobs come from?
Admit it: you've wondered why beautiful people rarely have any state-of-the-art skills. Are they born dumb, or does something happen to them during childhood? (Unless you're beautiful yourself, you've had those thoughts, so stop rolling your eyes and making that "phhht" sound.)
Fortunately, it hasn't mattered that beautiful people have no useful skills. There aren't enough beautiful people to damage the economy. But that situation will change, probably in your lifetime, thanks to genetic engineering. Future generations will be tall and attractive, with perfect teeth, 20/20 vision and hair that never thins. If history is our guide, these beautiful people will not be capable of operating devices created by advanced technology such as doorknobs and can openers. It will mean trouble for corporate America. It will be even worse for cats.
I think beautiful people are born with normal intelligence. But they quickly realize they don't need to fill their brains with unpleasant concepts such as nonlinear geometry and fluid dynamics. Beautiful people know they will never be asked to build a communications satellite or invent a vaccine. They know they can get all the money they need by charging ugly people to look at them. This commerce takes many forms, including marriage, television and Cosmopolitan magazine.
My theory is that people become only as knowledgeable as they need to be, based on how ugly they are. I have no proof of this, but I can tell you that when I was four years old, I scanned my relatives and realized I would grow up to be a short, bald, shy guy with glasses. This eliminated any hope of an easy career in marketing, politics, modeling or acting as host of Hollywood Squares. People who look like me need skills. Lots of them.
As I tracked the spread of my uncle's baldness-a predictor of my own hairline-I studied harder and harder to compensate. My uncle eventually got so bald that I became valedictorian. I'm fairly certain that millions of other bespectacled, height- challenged introverts; found academic excellence the same way.
truth is that corporate America depends on a steady supply of ugly people
like me, people who know they won't survive by their looks alone. The cruel
irony is that genetic engineers-themselves products of
this smartening process-ar threatening to dry up spring of scientists nologists-and the draw cartoons about
I try to ease my fears of the future by telling myself there will always be people who acquire skills for purely intrinsic reasons: perhaps for the love of learning, the thrill of the challenge, that sort of crap. Surely, I say to myself, people can't be so shallow that they work only for money. I am highly persuaded by my own arguments until I talk to any other human being.
I recently gave a speech to managers of a fast-growing Silicon Valley company. Before I began, the CEO pulled me aside to tell me about the audience. He said they had all become rich from company stock options and didn't need to work anymore. The CEO explained that the managers stayed on because they were intrinsically motivated to make the world a better place.
I was happy to be surrounded by such altruism. It gave me a tingly sensation that lasted almost two minutes, until one of the managers-not knowing what the CEO had just told me-pulled me aside to give his analysis of the audience. He explained that although everyone there had made a bundle of money, they were all still greedily pumping the cash cow with both handsand in some cases lips- eager to exit early with the maximum possible net worth. He explained that none of them wanted to risk running out of money after leaving because if that happened, they might have to return to work at the hellhole they left. I asked about his higher purpose, to make the world a better place. He laughed. Intrinsic motivation exists, but when you're predicting the future of corporate America, follow the money.
Clearly, any change in how kids perceive the future will influence how they prepare for it. In fact, the current shortage of engineers is sometimes blamed on me. According to some pundits, kids read the Dilbert comic strip and decide they don't want to spend their life confined to cubicles and being menaced by pointy-haired bosses. I don't know if that's true, but it does pass the sniff test. According to the parents who e-mail me, a lot of family conversations are beginning with the question, "Mommy, what's a mission statement?" and ending with the entire family in tears.
Prior to Dilbert, people prepared for corporate America without really knowing what it would be like. Today kids have Dilbert to guide them. I like to think I have steered people away from unpleasant corporate jobs, thus contributing to the entrepreneurial boom. But maybe I've reduced the number of future engineers below the level needed to maintain technology, thereby condemning civilization to a second Dark Age. (When my parents ask me what I've been doing lately, I rarely mention that part.)
There are bright spots in the work force of the future. I predict that some people will be born so smart that they can change the world without much effort. Motivation won't be an issue for people who are so smart that everything is easy for them. I call it the Redmond effect.
Since the dawn of humankind, there have always been geniuses born to the general population at random intervals. But geniuses have rarely married other geniuses because there were so few and it was unlikely they would meet. Until recently, people married whoever lived nearby and wasn't a relative. And if your Consen's parents were willing to give you a finelooking goat, you would be flexible on the relative issue too. Not that it mattered, since the demand for geniuses was low. But lately the demand for geniuses is growing exponentially, along with their breeding opportunities, thanks to the technology industry.
Like giant vacuum cleaners, Microsoft, HewlettPackard, Intel and companies of their kind have been sucking up the brightest people in the world and shipping them to breeding grounds in places like Redmond, Wash. For the first time in history, large numbers of fertile geniuses are living in the same places. The Redmond off-spring won't all be geniuses of course; someone has to marry the beautiful people in marketing. But many of the Redmond kids will be frighteningly smart mutants. There's no telling how far this evolutionary shortcut can go. Each generation of geniuses will be smarter and start working younger. It's possible that the high-tech companies of the future could be managed entirely via inter-fetus telepathy. Some entrepreneurs will cash out their stock options and retire before they are born.
OK, maybe not. But one thing is certain. The demand for skilled employees-especially technology people-will outstrip the supply for the next hundred years. Managers won't be able to tyrannize their rare and valuable technology experts. The balance of power will continue to shift. In the next generation, engineers will rule the corporate world.
I look forward to that day. We're already seeing the first signs of this power shift. In many companies, engineers wear casual clothes while their managers wear uncomfortable business clothes. By analogy, when you see an organ grinder and his monkey, it's always the monkey who has to wear the uncomfortable red vest and hat. If the monkey had the power, he'd be wearing Dockers. That's all you need to know.
In the corporate future when engineers consolidate their power, cubicles will still exist, because they're very space efficient. Engineers appreciate efficiency. But unlike the sterile boxes of today, every cubicle will be a technology wonderland customized for the occupant. Flat-panel screens on each wall will give the impression you are in a hot-air balloon floating over the Alps. Noisecancellation technology will block out the surrounding sounds while providing a symphony within the cubisphere. The computer will continue its evolution to a full entertainment center, providing a constant supply of first-run movies, live nudity, gambling and video conferencing. The engineer's chair will be soft and warm, conforming to the body and providing simulated motion and vibration to match the entertainment. The cubicle experience will be so much better than life on the outside, engineers won't want to leave.
That could be a problem.
I heard about an experiment where rats were given the choice between food and cocaine. They chose the cocaine until they starved. The same thing will happen to the engineers. I predict they'll all starve to death inside their cubicle wonderlands.
I just hope no one blames me.