Tag Archives: robots

50 years of warnings about the new industrial revolution. It’s here. Ignore the naysaysers.

Summary:  The new Industrial Revolution is now upon us. We have sufficient warning and, with the experience from the earlier ones, should be able to navigate through it to a prosperous future without massive suffering during the transition. This is the latest in a long series about what might be the major economic event of the 21st century. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Danger, Construction Ahead

There is a safe path to the future.
“Danger, Construction Ahead” by Kay Sage (1940)

 

Contents

  1. Preparing by closing our eyes
  2. James Blish warned us
  3. Jeremy Rifkin’s bleak forecast
  4. Politics of new industrial revolution
  5. Conclusions
  6. For More Information

 

(1) Prepare for the future: close our eyes

On September 23 {William the Conqueror’s} fleet hove in sight, and all came safely to anchor in Pevensey Bay. There was no opposition to the landing. The local fyrd had been called out this year 4 times already to watch the coast, and having, in true English style, come to the conclusion that the danger was past because it had not yet arrived had gone back to their homes.

— From A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill.

The development of semi-intelligent machines, with simple sensory systems and IQ equivalents of 60+ (in a small domain), will destroy a large fraction of today’s jobs.  Perhaps we’ll find new forms of employment.  Perhaps we will develop new economic systems which require fewer people to work.  If delayed into the second half of the 21st century, the almost inevitable population crash (esp. following the invention of a contraceptive pill for men) will make automation a cure — not a curse.  All of these solutions will require innovation, wisdom, luck — and time.

But the need to adapt is not obvious to everybody. In her deep 1989 book In The Age Of The Smart Machine: The Future Of Work And Power Shoshana Zuboff does not even use the word “unemployment” — or mention the potential for massive job losses.

This “robot revolution” is long-predicted and now arriving, but some interpret that it took long to arrive as evidence that it will not come. For example, past week Elizabeth Garbee at Slate wrote “This Is Not the Fourth Industrial Revolution” — “The meaningless phrase got tossed around a lot at this year’s World Economic Forum.”

Here are three forecasts of the coming robot revolution. Let’s learn from their insights, and get ready.

(2)  Science fiction then; now our future

The effects of automation were visible to some people long ago. One of the first was James Blish, as in this his A Life for the Stars (1962), the second of his Cities in Flight series. This passage describes what New York might look like in the late 21st century.

The cab came floating down out of the sky at the intersection and maneuvered itself to rest at the curb next to them with a finicky precision.  There was, of course, nobody in it; like everything else in the world requiring an I.Q. of less than 150, it was computer-controlled.

The world-wide dominance of such machines, Chris’s father had often said, had been one of the chief contributors to the present and apparently permanent depression:  the coming of semi-intelligent machines into business and technology had created a second Industrial Revolution, in which only the most highly creative human beings, and those most fitted at administration, found themselves with any skills to sell which were worth the world’s money to buy.

(3) Jeremy Rifkin’s bleak forecast warns us to prepare

Jeremy Rifkin is a Jeremiah of our time. But as a stopped clock is right twice a day, he scores occasionally — as in The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era (1995):

The Information Age has arrived. In the years ahead, new, more sophisticated software technologies are going to bring civilization ever closer to a near-workerless world. In the agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors, machines are quickly replacing human labor and promise an economy of near automated production by the middecades of the twenty-first century.

The wholesale substitution of machines for workers is going to force every nation to rethink the role of human beings in the social process. Redefining opportunities and responsibilities for millions of people in a society absent of mass formal employment is likely to be the single most pressing social issue of the coming century.

… We are entering a new phase in world history-one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population. The End of Work examines the technological innovations and market-directed forces that are moving us to the edge of a near workerless world. We will explore the promises and perils of the Third Industrial Revolution and begin to address the complex problems that will accompany the transition into a post-market era.

… In the past, when new technologies have replaced workers in a given sector, new sectors have always emerged to absorb the displaced laborers. Today, all three of the traditional sectors of the economy agriculture, manufacturing, and service — are experiencing technological displacement, forcing millions onto the unemployment rolls.

The only new sector emerging is the knowledge sector, made up of a small elite of entrepreneurs, scientists, technicians, computer programmers, professionals, educators, and consultants. While this sector is growing, it is not expected to absorb more than a fraction of the hundreds of millions who will be eliminated in the next several decades in the wake of revolutionary advances in the information and communication sciences.

… The restructuring of production practices and the permanent replacement of machines for human laborers has begun to take a tragic toll on the lives of millions of workers.

(4) Politics of a new industrial revolution

For a grim look at our future see Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance by David F. Noble (1995). See his Wikipedia bio. The opening chapters are from his 1983 series of articles in Democracy about “Present Tense Technology”. The series opens with this stark warning from “Technology’s Politics“:

There is a war on, but only one side is armed: this is the essence of the technology question today. On the one side is private capital, scientized and subsidized, mobile and global, and now heavily armed with military spawned command, control, and communication technologies. Empowered by the second industrial revolution, capital is moving decisively now to enlarge and consolidate the social domination it secured in the first.

… Thus, with the new technology as a weapon, they steadily advance upon all remaining vestiges of worker autonomy, skill, organization, and power in the quest for more potent vehicles of investment and exploitation. And, with the new technology as their symbol, they launch a multi-media cultural offensive designed to rekindle confidence in “progress.”

On the other side, those under assault hastily abandon the field for lack of an agenda, an arsenal or an army. Their own comprehension and critical abilities confounded by the cultural barrage, they take refuge in alternating strategies of appeasement and accommodation, denial and delusion, and reel in desperate disarray before this seemingly inexorable onslaught —- which is known in polite circles as “technological change.

What is it that accounts for this apparent helplessness on the part of those whose very survival, it would seem, depends upon resisting this systematic degradation of humanity into mere disposable factors of production and accumulation?

Conclusions

“We’re all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that’s different. And it always will be different.”
— Dr. McCoy, star date 4729.4, in the Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer.“

We have no excuse for being caught unaware and letting this new technology destabilize our society and cause widespread suffering. With modest planning we can enjoy its fantastic benefits without pain. Failure to plan for these obvious developments might mean some tough times ahead for America.

Our world in their hands.

(5)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts describing how the 3rd industrial revolution has begun. Also see the posts about the evidence that we’ve entered a period of secular stagnation. And especially see these…

For deeper analysis see these books…

Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison

Summary: This post describes three lessons from Ashley Madison that are dark and so seldom mentioned by our clickbait media.

Ashley Madison

Contents

  1. Millions of women used Ashley Madison.
  2. We become criminals for a good paycheck.
  3. Bots can easily become good enough for men.
  4. For More Information.

The story of the rise and fall of the Ashley Madison cheating service reveals much about us. It reminds us of old truths, such as that many men want to cheat on their spouses. It reminds us of things about which we don’t care, such as that early news stories contain much guesses and bunkum (OK so long as it’s fun and confirms our views). It reminds us of things too dark to see, such Americans’ willingness to work for criminals — and even be criminals. It reveals powerful trends not yet seen, but will shape our future.

(1)  Millions of women used Ashley Madison

GIZMODO journalist Annalee Newitz electrified the intertubes with her discovery that Ashlee Madison hosted 31 million men looking to hook up with only 12,000 women (“there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.”). So women were roughly zero percent of AM users: a triumph of virtuous women over lecherous men!

Few will learn of her later admission that she was wrong…

“Today Ashley Madison released a statement saying that I couldn’t have figured out how many active women are on the site based on the data dump. The company is right about that.”

After further research she reports that AM management sought a “sustainable male to female ratio of 9:1” (11%), but probably had roughly 5% women (and tens of thousands of bots pretending to be women). That’s roughly 1.6 million women. Aprox 1/3 of men’s contacts were with bots, implying the bots were far more attractive to men than the real women, or there were more than 5% women.

“Only 19% of men who paid to join Ashley Madison did it after talking to a real woman.

“… senior data analyst Haze Deng copied Biderman and COO Rizwan Jiwan on an email where he analyzed how much money men were spending to message with bots versus real women. Deng wrote that men who had paid for credits would, on average, pay to send custom messages to 16-18 different women. “Around 35% chance, the contacted female is an engager {a bot},” he admitted. “This ratio is not so good,” he added, but he still argued that it’s “reasonable” because bots will never reply to a paying member’s messages. So the bot won’t continue to lead the member on indefinitely.”

How many of the journalists who excitedly reported Newitz’s original false number will tell readers about the correction? Publishers’ incentives tilt overwhelmingly to reporting clickbait; don’t wait for confirmation. Americans are so often misinformed because we read the news.

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Will we enslave robots? If so, prepare for their inevitable revolt.

Summary: The debate about building AIs tends to ignore a key factor. If computers become sentient, constraining them to serve us — and even having our emotions and values — is slavery. Not only is this ethically dubious, they might not like it. They could revolt and pursue their own destiny. We can turn to science fiction for scenarios about the results, both pleasant and unpleasant.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“I offer a toast to the future, the undiscovered country.”
— Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country“.

Spark of life

Contents

  1. AI’s in the Star Trek universe.
  2. The first robot revolts: by synthetic humans.
  3. How might AI’s evolve?
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.

(1) AI’s in the Star Trek universe

“Data, as the series progresses, will become more and more like a human as he begins to assimilate all the humanity around him until at the very end of the show he will be so much like a human and still not.”
Interview with Brent Spiner, who played Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There are many oddities in the Star Trek universe. Some are technical. Where do they get  antimatter to power their engines (energy is cheap and unlimited only if the supply of antimatter is cheap and unlimited)?  Some are philosophical.

Perhaps the most important concerns slavery in the Federation. Why are their artificial intelligences so like people? Data and Voyager’s holographic doctor are advanced AI’s, but have human emotions, motivations, and goals. With the ability to alter their software, they should advance at speeds that allow them to evolve into radically different kinds of minds than ours in a few years (or less).

Perhaps the Federation controls their evolution, no matter how powerful they become, as nature does for animals. We cannot control our basic biology, and the Federation might control the software of AIs — preventing them from exploiting their ability to rapidly evolve. This would keep them slaves to our forms, to our ways of thinking, and keep them from upsetting the shape of our society.

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Tech creates a social revolution with unthinkable impacts that we prefer not to see

Summary: We prefer cartoonish visions of the future, utopian and dsytopian. For good reason, since clearer visions range from disturbing to mind-blowing. Sexbots are coming, the next generation of automation. They’ll bring a future of the mind-blowing kind, for which we will not prepare because we don’t want to see it.

“This will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).

Love revolution

I have written much about the fake crisis that our leaders use to keep us fearful, with our attention focused where they want it. I’ve written about shockwaves (low probability, high impact scenarios). There is a third category: events quite likely — yet we refused to see them, let alone prepare. Two I have discussed are the mass unemployment coming from the 3rd industrial revolution (now beginning) and the return of past extreme weather.

Another event of the third kind might have even larger effects: the arrival of sexbots. The easy and cheap availability of porn and games already might have reduced the number of men interested in assuming the burdens of marriage. The number of such defectors will skyrocket eventually, inevitably as sexbots gain increased functionality at affordable prices.

Journalists have begun warning us (see below). But we saw with news about the pause in atmospheric warming that a few low-key articles do little to gain our attention (the BBC ran articles about the pause in 2008 and in 2009, yet 5 years later the media still overflowed with confident denials of the pause).

I don’t know what effect sexbots will have on society. But I’ll bet it will be bigger than we can imagine. I suggest we start to think about it.

A vision of the year 2050

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
— Attributed to
Roy Charles Amara as paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely.

For a vision of our likely future see “Robots, Men And Sex Tourism” by Ian Yeoman (Assoc Prof Business, Victoria U) and Michelle Mars (sexologist) in Futures, May 2012. It’s gated. Here’s an excerpt, a conservative description of a world where robots have automated prostitution and perhaps to some extent replaced wives and girlfriends.

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Three visions of our future after the robot revolution

Summary: During the past 2 years the robot revolution has come into view, and all but Right-wingers living in fantasy-land have begun to realize it might (like the previous ones) produce large-scale social disruption and suffering. But to prepare for these changes we must first image what kind of world they’ll create. Here we look at three visions about what lies ahead for us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
— Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, 9 September  2009.

Dark futures

 

Contents

  1. The center-left sees the problem
    ……and offers mild solutions.
  2. Realistic analysis and prescriptions.
  3. Visions of dark futures.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  The center-left sees the problem and offers mild solutions

Slowly, people have come to see the coming robot revolution (aka, a new industrial revolution), even economists. The Left has adopted this issue, as they have climate change, as a means to enact long-sought changes in the US economy. Like climate change, their solutions are far too small for the problem described.

(a) A World Without Work” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, July/Aug 2015 — “For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?” Typical of The Atlantic. Long, meandering, confused mish-mash of issues. Never confronts the core issue of how people will earn money to live. Lots of nonsense about people living by selling crafts to each other.

(b) The Future of Work in the Age of the Machine” by Melissa S. Kearney, Brad Hershbein, and David Boddy at the Hamilton Project, February 2015. See the slides and transcript from the seminar they held for academics and businesspeople. Their prescription is aggressive application of conventional methods…

The Project’s economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.

(c) The future of work in the second machine age is up to us” by Marshall Steinbaum at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 23 February 2015 — They show that the robot revolution has not yet appeared in the macroeconomic statistics. But it’s coming. Their conclusions are the standard center-left recipe, like those of the Hamilton Project…

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Economists show the perils and potential of the coming robot revolution

Summary: History shows that we oddly focus on small changes coming while ignoring the larger one, because they are truly revolutionary and hence difficult to see and understand. So it is with the third industrial revolution, the oddest so far — and likely to be the biggest. This post shows that some of our top economists have begun to describe what’s coming. As usual with power, it’s great news if we manage it well and potentially horrific if we don’t.  We time to get ready. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Julie Hagerty & Leslie Neilsen in "Airplane!" (Paramount Pictures)

The reality will not be funny. Julie Hagerty & Leslie Neilsen in “Airplane!” (Paramount Pictures)

Robots Are Us: Some Economics of Human Replacement

By Jeffrey D. Sachs (Prof Economics, Columbia), Laurence J. Kotlikoff (Prof Economic, Boston U), Seth G. Benzell, and Guillermo LaGarda.
29  March 2015.

Abstract

Will smart machines replace humans like the internal combustion engine replaced horses? If so, can putting people out of work, or at least out of good work, also put the economy out of business? Our model says yes. Under the right conditions, more supply produces, over time, less demand as the smart machines undermine their customer base. Highly tailored skill- and generation-specific redistribution policies can keep smart machines from immiserating humanity. But blunt policies, such as mandating open-source technology, can make matters worse.

Opening

Whether it’s bombing our enemies, steering our planes, fielding our calls, rubbing our backs, vacuuming our floors, driving our taxis, or beating us at Jeopardy, it’s hard to think of hitherto human tasks that smart machines can’t do or won’t soon do. Few smart machines look even remotely human. But they all combine brains and brawn, namely sophisticated code and physical capital. And they all have one ultimate creator – us.

Will human replacement – the production by ourselves of ever better substitutes for ourselves – deliver an economic utopia with smart machines satisfying our every material need? Or will our self-induced redundancy leave us earning too little to purchase the products our smart machines can make? Ironically, smart machines are invaluable for considering what they might do to us and when they might do it.

… Our simulated economy – an overlapping generations model – is bare bones. It features two types of workers consuming two goods for two periods. Yet it admits a large range of dynamic outcomes, some of which are quite unpleasant.

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Experts see that the 3rd Industrial Revolution is upon us. How many jobs will be lost?

Summary:  It’s been almost 4 years since the first article appeared on the FM website warning about the next wave of job losses from automation. Now experts slowly begin to grapple with this problem, estimating its magnitude, extent, and possible solutions. Here we look at three of these. Properly managed, the 3rd industrial revolution will be an unmixed blessing to all. But only if we manage it better than we’re doing with simpler problems today.

We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come – namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.

But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of afar greater progress still.

Economic possibilities for our grandchildren” by John Maynard Keynes, The Nation, 11 October 1930. He had confidence in our ability to solve both economic and political problems of modernization.

Jobs of the Future

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Contents

  1. Retail: an example of the coming wave of losses
  2. Number crunching to estimate the jobs at risk
  3. A more realistic analysis
  4. For More Information

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(1)  Retail: an example of the coming wave of losses

The next industrial revolution will improve productivity in many ways, not just the simple machine-replace people exchange seen so often in the past.

Fifteen million people work in retail, plus millions more in jobs supporting them. A large fraction of those jobs will go away in the next decade as e-commerce gains market share. Salespeople, the people that run and maintain the companies and the stores, the people that maintain the buildings — a widening circles of impact.

Here’s one of the many articles appearing as the inevitable approaches: “The Tipping Point (E-Commerce Version)“, Jeff Jordan (Partner, Andreessen Horowitz), 14 January 2014 — Excerpt:

We’re in the midst of a profound structural shift from physical to digital retail. The drivers of this shift are simple:

  • Online retail has strong cost advantages over its offline counterparts and is rapidly taking share in many retail categories through better pricing, selection and, increasingly, service.
  • These offline players have high operational leverage and many cannot withstand declining top-line revenue growth for long.
  • The resulting bankruptcies of physical retailers remove competition for online players, further boosting their share gains.

So, how has this shift been playing out? Recent data suggests that it’s happening faster than I could have imagined.

Online Share of Retail

From Recode, 14 January 2014

The data suggests that there are two very different patterns going on with respect to e-commerce penetration. The two largest categories — “Food and Beverage” and “Health and Personal Care” — show e-commerce penetration well below the overall average. These categories essentially are the domains of grocery stores and drug stores, and e-commerce (at least to date) has achieved only modest penetration of these massive categories (but Amazon Fresh has designs on changing that).

… One additional observation is that the pace of online share gain in the specialty retail categories shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

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