Sleep tech could set off a biological class war

Sleep tech might make the rich, richer.
Sleep tech might make the rich, richer.
Image: Evan/flickr under CC-BY
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When we discuss the separation between the rich and the poor, its usually on an economic level. After all, an abundance of money is what makes people rich.

However, sleep tech—technology designed to reduce how much sleep we need on a nightly basis—may usher in a different kind of disparity: biological inequality.

Motherboard has analyzed sleep technology and its implications. Some experts, like Marcelo Rinesi of think tank the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, say that devices or chemicals that let us live and work with less sleep will be developed over the next 20 years.

The problem? Only the rich will be able to afford it, and they can use it to spend more time working, giving the wealthy yet another advantage. “The social and economic impact is going to be huge. It’s going to create a lot of resentment and envy. We are not used to wealthy people having a completely different biological experience of being alive,” Rinesi told the site.

Early versions of sleep technology will be pricey, likely in the region of tens of thousands of dollars. But people will shell out that kind of money to sleep less, potentially because of increased competition from robot employees, bioethicist James Hughes told Motherboard. “In the future, the number of jobs will decline due to robots and those who don’t have to sleep as much will have a huge advantage.”

The US Military has been exploring technology to help humans sleep less. In 2008, the Pentagon commissioned a report on “human performance,” analyzing the effects of sleep deprivation. Technology that helps people sleep less negates the effects of sleep deprivation, a warfare tactic that’s been used since World War II.

The hope is that technology that helps us sleep less will be better for us in the long run by making us more productive. But given  concerns such as those voiced by Stephen Hawking that technology is already making our world more unequal, making sleep tech accessible to everyone will be integral. Otherwise, we’ll have yet another form of inequality to combat.