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A World Without W*ork
Old 08-04-2015, 08:35 AM   #1
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A World Without W*ork

For the Philosophers on ER...

There is recent flurry of news and views about the future of MACHINES our world, and especially about the timeline for the "inevitable" takeover.

The current view of some experts is that while most people and businesses look at an increase in technology that will at some future time, make our lives better and easier... the truth is that the "future" is much closer than we think. In some views, what we expect to happen in the next 50 years, may actually take place in as short as 10 years or less.

The theories seem to look at progress in terms of a continuation and acceleration of the exponential growth that is taking place.

Some of the discussions purpose that today's projections for growth are wildly understated. For everything from population growth to lifestyles to the future of employment and everything in between, the future will be far different from what is expected.

One of the most interesting points that comes across is that even those jobs that are seen to be impervious to mechanization, may well be vulnerable. A simple example was that the legal profession, which seems to be "human" based, may be decimated by things like algorithms that can "read" legal documents.

The natural conclusion is that IT will be most in demand, going forward. A surprising view being put forward, is that as we grow closer to artificial intelligence, even this apparent base for the future may become less important.

Finally, another recent television show posited that the single most important leadership characteristic for the future would be "empathy". A far cry from today's view of strong leadership.

For more insights into this subject, search "the future of machines" for a starting point.

This Atlantic article is typical of some of the new thinking.
A World Without Work - The Atlantic

...more or less, a matter of the unknown known.
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Old 08-05-2015, 12:04 AM   #2
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I've thought about this issue for almost 50 years. Some geek TA in my economics course (ca. 1967) spent an entire recitation period talking about how machines would eventually replace w*rkers and free us all to be what we wanted to be - whatever that was. At first, I just thought he was full of it (or on something) but I found myself enjoying the fantasy. Sure enough, in my career, there were numerous robots which slowly took over many mundane tasks that would have otherwise required many more folks to perform. The change was subtle enough that my impression was as follows: The more robots make w*rk faster (or require fewer w*rkers) the MORE w*rk we are required to accomplish. IOW nothing changed except the efficiency of turning out more w*rk. We never got a break because of a robot - we just got more done.

I suspect this will be the future as well. The unfortunate consequence may well be to create "classes" of folks: Those few who are left to work with the robots and those who do the remainder of manual labor - such as service jobs (but only those not amenable to robots.) I agree that the pace is quickening. I don't expect, for instance, to find McDonalds' workers taking orders at $15/hour. We'll walk up and punch in our own orders in a matter of months or few years. Following that, machines will wrap the samiches and send them to the counter. Eventually, robots will do all the cooking instead of just some of it. I suspect a McDonalds could soon be run with a couple of people and a bunch of robots. The people would earn $35/hour because they would know how to deal with the robots. Everyone else would be looking for a j*b and thinking back how nice it was to suddenly get a raise from $8 to $15 for a few months. But, I could be wrong, so YMMV.
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Old 08-05-2015, 12:41 AM   #3
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As a philosophy student a decade ago I took a mind/body class which a computer science professor audited. This professor gave one lecture and I remember a few points.

The first is Moore's law, that computing power is exponential which has so far proved true but is not infinite.
Human intelligence is largely stagnant.

Two possibilities
When two societies meet the inferior is almost always destroyed. See Guns, Germs, and Steel

Human beings will need to integrate technology and become cyborgs,have some sort of hard drive. Electricity is incredibly faster than a synapse in the human brain.

The optimistic thought is that the understanding of the human brain could be so thoroughly understood that it could be downloaded and even transferred which would mean immortality.

Technology could change everything about how we think of ourselves as "humans."

The movie HER brought up a lot of these thoughts. Also check out this book.
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology: Ray Kurzweil: 8601400936764: Amazon.com: Books
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:02 AM   #4
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As a philosophy student a decade ago I took a mind/body class which a computer science professor audited. This professor gave one lecture and I remember a few points.

The first is Moore's law, that computing power is exponential which has so far proved true but is not infinite.
Human intelligence is largely stagnant.

Two possibilities
When two societies meet the inferior is almost always destroyed. See Guns, Germs, and Steel

Human beings will need to integrate technology and become cyborgs,have some sort of hard drive. Electricity is incredibly faster than a synapse in the human brain.

The optimistic thought is that the understanding of the human brain could be so thoroughly understood that it could be downloaded and even transferred which would mean immortality.

Technology could change everything about how we think of ourselves as "humans."

The movie HER brought up a lot of these thoughts. Also check out this book.
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology: Ray Kurzweil: 8601400936764: Amazon.com: Books
Interesting concept - but I don't personally buy the cyborg thing. It's true that computers can calculate rings around humans and it's true that AI has made some strides. Still, the human organism has (and I think will continue to have) the edge over the computer for a long time to come. Throwing in the human senses and the brain's ability to seamlessly integrate the information gives humans an incredible advantage. Guys walking point on patrol see things they don't even know they see. It's a life saver. Call it instinct (instinct is, in my opinion, operations the brain performs that we can't yet explain - but that's another discussion.) Teaching a machine to walk point doesn't seem too likely at this point, though having a human monitoring what the machine "sees" would be a distinct advantage in some cases (I'm thinking about explosive tech robots, for instance.)

I am not personally too worried about the Terminator, but YMMV.
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:51 AM   #5
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Whatever is going to happen is going to happen regardless of what we think. Human synapses fire or don't fire. Computer code is either 0 or 1. What you call "instinct" is just a collection of 1's and 0's which you don't understand.
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Old 08-05-2015, 04:49 AM   #6
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And those who live in robot-assisted leisure, funded by taxes on the few who still have jobs? At that rate, what incentive would there be for *anyone* to work?

On the other hand , I note that the local vocational institute is now a Technical College, with a campus which must be 5 times as big as it was just a few years ago. There are acres and acres of service bays, computer labs, etc. They recently added a School of Cuisine.

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The unfortunate consequence may well be to create "classes" of folks: Those few who are left to work with the robots and those who do the remainder of manual labor - such as service jobs (but only those not amenable to robots.) .
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Old 08-05-2015, 06:17 AM   #7
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And those who live in robot-assisted leisure, funded by taxes on the few who still have jobs? At that rate, what incentive would there be for *anyone* to work?
Basic finance. You need to work to earn money to live, and buy stuff. All those robots making all that stuff is worthless if there is no one to buy it. People who fret about no more jobs always forget what they learned in. Econ 101, which is still valid . Aggregate supply and aggregate demand have to balance.
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Old 08-05-2015, 06:37 AM   #8
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Here in the US anyway, there is no reason anyone should have to work. We can import all our technology and can outsource all our manual labor. Not quite robots, but a similar idea. The other countries are starting to get into more robot produced goods. I recently read about a factory in China that has replaced 90% of its labor with robots.

The money that people need to spend can be generated with taxes and tariffs on the imports. Everyone can get a basic entitlement for living expenses, or produce what they can for the common good. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Regardless of what labor robots replace, people still need to eat and live. And they will. Regardless of the number of robots, regardless of the amount of jobs. It may become more like a scene of Lord of the Flies, or it may be a more orderly society. As basic necessities get scarce, countries will look to others to supply what they need, and either demand it or take it by force.

Time will tell, but as long as profit and money drives the system, robots are here to stay. Technology is getting cheaper, and labor is getting more expensive. There are only so many third world countries that are available to produce cheaper labor.

The idea that people need work and money to buy a product is not a concern to the early adopters of robots. Others will have to follow in order to compete, or run the risk of going out of business.
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Old 08-05-2015, 07:12 AM   #9
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The movie HER brought up a lot of these thoughts. Also check out this book.
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology: Ray Kurzweil: 8601400936764: Amazon.com: Books
I enjoyed Kurzweil's book and have attended one of his lectures although I think many of these developments will take far longer than he predicts. A number of thinkers like Elon Musk and Max Tegmark are starting to look on the dark side, worrying that artificial intelligence may supplant us and eventually crush us a la Skynet. I recently read a comprehensive analysis of all this - Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, and Strategies, by Nick Bostrum. Interesting but too dense for easy reading.
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Old 08-05-2015, 07:13 AM   #10
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It seem to me that we've been implementing labor saving technologies since the Industrial Revolution, and yet, people are working as much as ever. I don't see AI changing that.

It reminds me of how, at the beginning of my career in the 1980's - PCs were just becoming common in the office and everyone was talking about the "paperless office" because things could be done electronically instead of with typewriters, and big printouts from the IBM mainframes. But desktop PCs and smaller printers just made it easy for people to generate more paper than ever before. AI and robotic technology will somehow end up making more work for humans, with probably a shift in what that work actually entails.
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Old 08-05-2015, 09:12 AM   #11
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This reminds me of something I read recently [where? Scratches head] concerning self-driving cars. Faced with the choice of an inevitable collision with a) a child running into the street or b) elderly couple driving on the other side of the road, how does the self-driving car know (as a real driver would) that it needs to endanger the old people and save the child, not the other way around? After all, it makes more sense (in terms of the safety of the car's occupant) to hit the softer target.

Conversely, if a teenager were driving, and the person running into the street were 90 years old, how do we program the car to "know" what a person would do? No doubt, most people would choose to hit the oldster...

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Interesting concept - but I don't personally buy the cyborg thing. It's true that computers can calculate rings around humans and it's true that AI has made some strides. Still, the human organism has (and I think will continue to have) the edge over the computer for a long time to come. Throwing in the human senses and the brain's ability to seamlessly integrate the information gives humans an incredible advantage. Guys walking point on patrol see things they don't even know they see. It's a life saver. Call it instinct (instinct is, in my opinion, operations the brain performs that we can't yet explain - but that's another discussion.) Teaching a machine to walk point doesn't seem too likely at this point, though having a human monitoring what the machine "sees" would be a distinct advantage in some cases (I'm thinking about explosive tech robots, for instance.)

I am not personally too worried about the Terminator, but YMMV.
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Old 08-05-2015, 09:17 AM   #12
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Spent a lot of time in Japan, the home of automation.

I remember when the man who sold parking tickets (or something like that) was replaced by a ticket machine, his new job was to stand by the machine that replaced him, take your money, put it into the machine, push the button and hand you the ticket.

Puzzled though by the comments that "you have to work to earn money for food, shelter and clothing".

Yes, if EVERYBODY didn't work, that would be true, but I'm guessing that more than half the population could be supported by the other half.

What's the percentage of folks on this forum who are supported by the efforts of Wall Street? 80-90%? A more automated world might produce greater yields allowing even more early retirees. All you need is that seed money!
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Old 08-05-2015, 09:19 AM   #13
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Sounds like it's all fun and games, until you turn 30 and your palm crystal stops flashing, and the sandman comes for you...
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Old 08-05-2015, 12:54 PM   #14
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... Conversely, if a teenager were driving, and the person running into the street were 90 years old, how do we program the car to "know" what a person would do? No doubt, most people would choose to hit the oldster...
If a 90-year-old geezer could still run, I would say he deserves to live a few more years.

But about programming the self-driving car to make a choice, first it has to even know to guess people's age correctly. The effort of AI so far is dismal.

Have we forgotten the following thread: App that tries to guess your age and sex from a photo? And that from a clear portrait photo. In real life, the human mind can take in additional clues such as the clothes a person wears, her gait, etc...

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How Old Do I Look?

I tried this with five photos of me, all taken the same day. The age-guessing utility needs refining

While the app correctly identified me as "female" in all the photos, and managed to place me in my 50's in 3 of them, it guessed I was 23 in one photo and...dah dah dah DUMMM....87 in another!
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:01 PM   #15
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It reminds me of how, at the beginning of my career in the 1980's - PCs were just becoming common in the office and everyone was talking about the "paperless office" because things could be done electronically instead of with typewriters, and big printouts from the IBM mainframes. But desktop PCs and smaller printers just made it easy for people to generate more paper than ever before.
Exactly. Before we bought a computer I never once gave thought to buying more than one ream of paper at a time for home use. When DW was in school she went through several cases.... (She printed EVERYTHING!)

Back on topic, I'm not that concerned about Skynet taking over. Perhaps my grandnieces should be though. In the meantime, I'm retired so I don't care if a robot takes over the job I used to do.
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:05 PM   #16
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It seem to me that we've been implementing labor saving technologies since the Industrial Revolution, and yet, people are working as much as ever. I don't see AI changing that.
+1 Technology replaced millions of menial farm jobs, then those farm workers moved to the city and worked in factories, and the more menial factory jobs were replaced by robots and software, but the remaining factory jobs were "better" and higher-paying, and millions of new jobs in software and technology development were created. Automated telephone switching systems wiped out a bunch of operators jobs, then the jobs of those who developed the switching systems disappeared because land lines became old fashioned when a whole new industry, wireless telecom emerged, etc etc.
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:08 PM   #17
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Faced with the choice of an inevitable collision with a) a child running into the street or b) elderly couple driving on the other side of the road, how does the self-driving car know (as a real driver would) that it needs to endanger the old people and save the child, not the other way around? After all, it makes more sense (in terms of the safety of the car's occupant) to hit the softer target.
Two things come to mind: within the split second that I would have as a mediocre driver, I'm not sure I'd make the right call either. Second, chances are that the self-driving car doesn't end up in those kind of situations nearly as often as careless humans behind the wheel.

So far the driverless care prototype (!) of Google hasn't had an accident at fault, and those that it was involved in weren't fatal.

For sure the software will make a mistake, even some that most humans likely will not make. On average though it seems the battle is already over. Software won.
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:34 PM   #18
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.. I'm guessing that more than half the population could be supported by the other half.

What's the percentage of folks on this forum who are supported by the efforts of Wall Street? 80-90%? A more automated world might produce greater yields allowing even more early retirees. All you need is that seed money!
What is the tipping point when the people who do not have the capital money working for them say "I can't take it anymore!" and revolt against the people like us who do? Will we see a rebirth of past movements that pitched labor against capital?
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:41 PM   #19
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For sure the software will make a mistake, even some that most humans likely will not make. On average though it seems the battle is already over. Software won.
Software already won? Eh, not so fast. Software is written by programmers, not God.

People make dumb mistakes all the time, but not all mistakes are the same. On the other hand, identical software copies will make identical errors. We have not seen it in a while, but in the past a bug or virus in Windows has paralyzed millions of computers and caused significant damages.

I am waiting to see more testing in self-driving cars in the years ahead before I can be convinced. It's only a few years ago that "unintended acceleration" in Toyota cars was blamed on the poor drivers, and that's a simple function, for crying out loud. More pedal pressed, more gas to the engine. And they screwed it up.

Moreover, software may be perfect and does not degrade with time, but the hardware that the software runs on does fail or degrade. Now, the software must be smart to detect hardware failure. That's another layer of complication that they are not addressing yet.
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Old 08-05-2015, 01:45 PM   #20
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World-changing advances come not from incremental improvements but rather new discoveries or new ways of looking at things. Exactly when such discoveries will happen cannot be predicted, even though we know they will happen.
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