Sunday, May 28, 2017

Capable creators of mischief

Almost two weeks ago I wrote about the coming automation of almost everything, the difficulties on our way to a society where nobody has a job, and the possible paradise when we don’t have to work. My post was a summary of an article by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

My friend and debate partner replied, debating practically every major point. His reply came yesterday because he has been traveling. He says the trip went well. But now he's back to debating and being a friend.

This friend worked in mathematical modeling. He knows how to represent things in mathematical terms and strives to do so in ways that make sense. When he complains that math is misused I (usually) listen.

First complaint: The formula I used to create the graphs in my earlier post isn’t the formula I described in the text. Even so, the general shapes of the graphs are the same, as is the idea that it may look like nothing is happening for decades before a great deal happens in a short few years. So I won’t go into details.

Second complaint: Saying that since the number of computer operations in a tiny amount of time will soon match or exceed the number of neurons in a human brain does not imply we will soon have artificial intelligence. The human brain and the computer are two very different things.

These two complaints do not contradict a core idea of my summary or of the original article, that automation is increasing, that increased computer power will allow tech people to automate more complex jobs, and that we as a society are not talking about what to do when so many people no longer have a job.

Though that leads to…

Third complaint: This will not be “paradise.”

My friend offers three reasons. First, because of ranking, those already pushing for automation (so more money into their pockets and less into other’s pockets) won’t give up control. I and my friend might disagree on where that ultimately leads, but I think we can agree that those pushed out of a job will have little access to the necessities of life and their existence will be miserable.

Second, my friend claims that human psychology “includes includes a deep urge and need to work purposefully and contribute.” I reply that it is possible to do that outside a job. I currently don’t have a job, yet between my music and my volunteer work I contribute.

Third, even if necessities of life were covered, life would still not be paradise. I might see life without a job as a way to focus my creative and humanitarian energies (what I’m doing now) and other jobless people would also uncover and develop their creative energies. But my friend doesn’t agree. He sees that humans, even if well fed, “are immensely capable creators of mischief, conflict and rebellion of many kinds.” I, alas, see his point and add that satisfying basic needs does not remove our ingrained tendency towards ranking.

Today I received an email from my aunt titled “The Exponential Age?” The email does not mention the originator. It talks about the disruptions that have already happened or soon will: Uber, Airbnb, Watson used for legal advice and cancer diagnosis, autonomous cars, cheap and clean energy, desalination for enough drinking water, 3D printers, agricultural robots, and more.

A bit more on one of those ideas, the autonomous car. No need to own a car, no need for our kids (or us) to get a driver’s license, no need for large parking lots, significant reduction in deaths, and 90% fewer cars. Will surviving companies be the ones who put a computer in a car (Ford) or put wheels on a computer (Google)?

All of these technologies will significantly change who has a job and what kind of job they have.

And, back to a main point of the original article, we as a society are facing a massive disruption and we aren’t talking about it.

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