Cartman v Jetson: ‘South Park’ Warns of Overreliance on Apps

It’s not just Cartman’s paranoia though -- if Elon Musk is right, AI might eradicate jobs. What the @#$%! happened to the future ‘The Jetsons’ promised?

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Editor

November 9, 2023

Of course, Eric Cartman and his troupe of pint-sized rabble-rousers took a jab at our increasing dependence on apps and the existential dread tied to AI -- it was inevitable and paints a possibly bleaker outlook of the future than what George Jetson portrayed.

In the recent animated special “South Park: Joining the Panderverse,” many white-collar workers found themselves in a bit of a role reversal with professionals trained in manual jobs.

Electricians, mechanics, and others with the skills to build and maintain infrastructure and devices the world relies on became extremely in-demand because everyone else lacked such knowledge, depending on software to resolve their needs.

The trouble was that apps and software directed users to find and hire someone to do the work, making the populace increasingly reliant on a shrinking pool of trained individuals who actually get their hands dirty.

Handymen were offered increasing bids of thousands of dollars just to repair an oven door or fix electrical wiring that shorted out. People found themselves completely incapable of performing even simple tasks for themselves, eventually blaming their focus on college curriculum versus ever learning a craft or trade. At one point, one of these desperate, erudite sad sacks asked a digital assistant if it could do some repairs -- despite the app’s lack of a physical presence in the real world.

Related:Considering a Career as an IT Hardware Engineer?

The “South Park” special also touched on AI overtaking certain jobs, including a scene where an AI therapy app made a therapist’s services redundant.

Covering this month’s AI Safety Summit, Time reported that Elon Musk told British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak he expected AI to end the need for jobs. “There will come a point where no job is needed,” Musk reportedly said. “You can have a job if you want to have a job for personal satisfaction, but the AI will be able to do everything,”

While Musk has vocalized his misgivings about AI, he also actively explores what his xAI efforts might bring to this space. Sunday saw the release of xAI’s Grok chatbot, a potential rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Between “South Park” and Musk’s musings, this is not quite the future depicted in classic cartoons such as “The Jetsons.” George Jetson mostly pushed a button at Spacely Space Sprockets, living in relative comfort with a mechanical maid and other automated resources taking up the slack. At the end of the day, Jetson still had a job and could maintain a household, which may become an increasing challenge based on commentary from “South Park” and others.

Related:What Makes AI Different from Other Tech Hype?

In this episode of DOS Won’t Hunt, the digital ideas of Cartman, Musk, and Jetson collide in a world of apps and AI.

About the Author(s)

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth

Senior Editor

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth covers tech policy, including ethics, privacy, legislation, and risk; fintech; code strategy; and cloud & edge computing for InformationWeek. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years, reporting on business and technology first in New Jersey, then covering the New York tech startup community, and later as a freelancer for such outlets as TheStreet, Investopedia, and Street Fight. Follow him on Twitter: @jpruth.

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