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Terminator V: The machines want your job.

In a fun change of pace, we’re going to have a post that’s light on arti­cle excerpts and heavy on ranty link­i­ness. That might not actu­al­ly be fun but it’s not like there’s a robot stand­ing over your shoul­der forc­ing you to read this. Yet:

Zero­Hedge has a great recent post filled with reminders that state sov­er­eign­ty move­ments and political/currency unions won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly help close the gap between the haves and have-nots if it’s the wealth­i­est regions that are mov­ing for inde­pen­dence. Shared cur­ren­cies and shared sov­er­eign­ty don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly lead to a shar­ing of the bur­dens of run­ning a civ­i­liza­tion.

The mas­sive strikes that shut down Fox­con­n’s iPhone pro­duc­tion in Chi­na, on the oth­er hand, could actu­al­ly do quite a bit to help close that glob­al gap. One of the fun real­i­ties of the mas­sive shift of glob­al man­u­fac­tur­ing capac­i­ty into Chi­na is that a sin­gle group of work­ers could have a pro­found effect on glob­al wages and work­ing stan­dards. The world had some­thing sim­i­lar to that a cou­ple of decades ago in the form of the Amer­i­can mid­dle class, but that group of work­ers acquired a taste for a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor of kool-aid that unfor­tu­nate­ly has­n’t proved to be con­ducive towards self-preser­va­tion).

The Fox­conn strike also comes at a time when ris­ing labor costs of Chi­na’s mas­sive labor force has been mak­ing a glob­al impact on man­u­fac­tur­ing costs. But with the Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor show­ing signs of slow­down and the IMF warn­ing a glob­al slow­down and “domi­no effects” on the hori­zon it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that the trend in Chi­nese wages can eas­i­ly be reversed and that could also have a glob­al effect (it’s also worth not­ing that the IMF is kind of schizo when it comes to aus­ter­i­ty and domi­no effects). Not that we need­ed a glob­al slow­down for some form of reces­sion-induced “aus­ter­i­ty” to start impact­ing Chi­na’s work­force. The robots are com­ing, and they don’t real­ly care about things like over­time:

NY Times
Skilled Work, With­out the Work­er
Pub­lished: August 18, 2012
DRACHTEN, the Nether­lands — At the Philips Elec­tron­ics fac­to­ry on the coast of Chi­na, hun­dreds of work­ers use their hands and spe­cial­ized tools to assem­ble elec­tric shavers. That is the old way.

At a sis­ter fac­to­ry here in the Dutch coun­try­side, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flex­i­bil­i­ty. Video cam­eras guide them through feats well beyond the capa­bil­i­ty of the most dex­ter­ous human.

One robot arm end­less­ly forms three per­fect bends in two con­nec­tor wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to pre­vent the peo­ple super­vis­ing them from being injured. And they do it all with­out a cof­fee break — three shifts a day, 365 days a year.

All told, the fac­to­ry here has sev­er­al dozen work­ers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chi­nese city of Zhuhai.

This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now com­mon­ly used by automak­ers and oth­er heavy man­u­fac­tur­ers, are replac­ing work­ers around the world in both man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion. Fac­to­ries like the one here in the Nether­lands are a strik­ing coun­ter­point to those used by Apple and oth­er con­sumer elec­tron­ics giants, which employ hun­dreds of thou­sands of low-skilled work­ers.

“With these machines, we can make any con­sumer device in the world,” said Binne Viss­er, an elec­tri­cal engi­neer who man­ages the Philips assem­bly line in Dracht­en.

Many indus­try exec­u­tives and tech­nol­o­gy experts say Philips’s approach is gain­ing ground on Apple’s. Even as Fox­conn, Apple’s iPhone man­u­fac­tur­er, con­tin­ues to build new plants and hire thou­sands of addi­tion­al work­ers to make smart­phones, it plans to install more than a mil­lion robots with­in a few years to sup­ple­ment its work force in Chi­na.

Fox­conn has not dis­closed how many work­ers will be dis­placed or when. But its chair­man, Ter­ry Gou, has pub­licly endorsed a grow­ing use of robots. Speak­ing of his more than one mil­lion employ­ees world­wide, he said in Jan­u­ary, accord­ing to the offi­cial Xin­hua news agency: “As human beings are also ani­mals, to man­age one mil­lion ani­mals gives me a headache.”

The falling costs and grow­ing sophis­ti­ca­tion of robots have touched off a renewed debate among econ­o­mists and tech­nol­o­gists over how quick­ly jobs will be lost. This year, Erik Bryn­jolf­s­son and Andrew McAfee, econ­o­mists at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, made the case for a rapid trans­for­ma­tion. “The pace and scale of this encroach­ment into human skills is rel­a­tive­ly recent and has pro­found eco­nom­ic impli­ca­tions,” they wrote in their book, “Race Against the Machine.”

In their minds, the advent of low-cost automa­tion fore­tells changes on the scale of the rev­o­lu­tion in agri­cul­tur­al tech­nol­o­gy over the last cen­tu­ry, when farm­ing employ­ment in the Unit­ed States fell from 40 per­cent of the work force to about 2 per­cent today. The anal­o­gy is not only to the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of agri­cul­ture but also to the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing in the past cen­tu­ry, Mr. McAfee argues.

“At what point does the chain saw replace Paul Bun­yan?” asked Mike Den­ni­son, an exec­u­tive at Flex­tron­ics, a man­u­fac­tur­er of con­sumer elec­tron­ics prod­ucts that is based in Sil­i­con Val­ley and is increas­ing­ly automat­ing assem­bly work. “There’s always a price point, and we’re very close to that point.”


Yet in the state-of-the-art plant, where the assem­bly line runs 24 hours a day, sev­en days a week, there are robots every­where and few human work­ers. All of the heavy lift­ing and almost all of the pre­cise work is done by robots that string togeth­er solar cells and seal them under glass. The human work­ers do things like trim­ming excess mate­r­i­al, thread­ing wires and screw­ing a hand­ful of fas­ten­ers into a sim­ple frame for each pan­el.

Such advances in man­u­fac­tur­ing are also begin­ning to trans­form oth­er sec­tors that employ mil­lions of work­ers around the world. One is dis­tri­b­u­tion, where robots that zoom at the speed of the world’s fastest sprint­ers can store, retrieve and pack goods for ship­ment far more effi­cient­ly than peo­ple. Robots could soon replace work­ers at com­pa­nies like C & S Whole­sale Gro­cers, the nation’s largest gro­cery dis­trib­u­tor, which has already deployed robot tech­nol­o­gy.

Rapid improve­ment in vision and touch tech­nolo­gies is putting a wide array of man­u­al jobs with­in the abil­i­ties of robots. For exam­ple, Boeing’s wide-body com­mer­cial jets are now riv­et­ed auto­mat­i­cal­ly by giant machines that move rapid­ly and pre­cise­ly over the skin of the planes. Even with these machines, the com­pa­ny said it strug­gles to find enough work­ers to make its new 787 air­craft. Rather, the machines offer sig­nif­i­cant increas­es in pre­ci­sion and are safer for work­ers.


Some jobs are still beyond the reach of automa­tion: con­struc­tion jobs that require work­ers to move in unpre­dictable set­tings and per­form dif­fer­ent tasks that are not repet­i­tive; assem­bly work that requires tac­tile feed­back like plac­ing fiber­glass pan­els inside air­planes, boats or cars; and assem­bly jobs where only a lim­it­ed quan­ti­ty of prod­ucts are made or where there are many ver­sions of each prod­uct, requir­ing expen­sive repro­gram­ming of robots.

But that list is grow­ing short­er.

Upgrad­ing Dis­tri­b­u­tion

Inside a spar­tan garage in an indus­tri­al neigh­bor­hood in Palo Alto, Calif., a robot armed with elec­tron­ic “eyes” and a small scoop and suc­tion cups repeat­ed­ly picks up box­es and drops them onto a con­vey­or belt.

It is doing what low-wage work­ers do every day around the world.

Old­er robots can­not do such work because com­put­er vision sys­tems were cost­ly and lim­it­ed to care­ful­ly con­trolled envi­ron­ments where the light­ing was just right. But thanks to an inex­pen­sive stereo cam­era and soft­ware that lets the sys­tem see shapes with the same ease as humans, this robot can quick­ly dis­cern the irreg­u­lar dimen­sions of ran­dom­ly placed objects.


“We’re on the cusp of com­plete­ly chang­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion,” said Gary Brad­s­ki, a machine-vision sci­en­tist who is a founder of Indus­tri­al Per­cep­tion. “I think it’s not as sin­gu­lar an event, but it will ulti­mate­ly have as big an impact as the Inter­net.”

While it would take an amaz­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary force to rival the inter­net in terms of its impact on soci­ety it’s pos­si­ble that cheap, super agile labor-robots that can see and nav­i­gate through com­pli­cat­ed envi­ron­ments and nim­bly move stuff around using suc­tion cup fin­ger­tips just might be “internet”-league. As pre­dict­ed at the end of the arti­cle, we’ll have to wait and see how this tech­nol­o­gy gets imple­ment­ed over time and it’s cer­tain­ly a lot hard­er to intro­duce a new robot into an envi­ron­ment suc­cess­ful­ly than it is to give some­one inter­net access. But there’s no rea­son to believe that a wave of robots that can effec­tive­ly replace A LOT of peo­ple won’t be part of the new econ­o­my soon­er or later...and that means that, soon or lat­er, we get watch while our sad species cre­ates and builds the kind of tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture that could free human­i­ty from body-destroy­ing phys­i­cal labor but instead uses that tech­nol­o­gy (and our preda­to­ry economic/moral par­a­digms) to cre­ate a giant per­ma­nent under­class that is rel­e­gat­ed to the sta­tus of “the obso­lete poor” (amoral moral par­a­digms can be prob­lem­at­ic).

And you just know that we’ll end up cre­at­ing a giant new eco-cri­sis that threat­ens human­i­ty’s own exis­tence in the process too. Because that’s just what human­i­ty does. And then we’ll try to do, ummm, ‘mis­cel­la­neous activ­i­ties’ with the robots. Because that’s also just what human­i­ty does. And, of course, we’ll cre­ate a civ­i­liza­tion-wide rewards sys­tem that ensures the bulk of the fruit from all that fun future tech­nol­o­gy will go to the oli­garchs and the high­ly edu­cat­ed engi­neers (there will sim­ply be no way to com­pete with the wealthy and edu­cat­ed in a hi-tech econ­o­my so almost none of the spoils will go to the poor). And since the engi­neers will almost cer­tain­ly be a bunch of non-union­ized suck­ers, we can be pret­ty sure about how that fruit is going to be divid­ed up (the machines that manip­u­lat­ed a bunch of suck­ers at their fin­ger tips in the above arti­cle might have a wee bit of metaphor­i­cal val­ue). And the future fruit­less 99% will be asked to find some­thing else to do with their time. Yes, a fun world of planned pover­ty where politi­cians employ divide-and-con­quer class-war­fare dis­trac­tions while the oli­garchs extend the fruit binge. Because that is most def­i­nite­ly just what human­i­ty does. A fun insane race the bot­tom as lead­ers sell their pop­u­laces on the hope­less pur­suit of being the “most pro­duc­tive” labor force only to find out that “most pro­duc­tive” usu­al­ly equals “low­est paid skilled work­ers” and/or least regulated/taxed econ­o­my. The “exter­nal­i­ties” asso­ci­at­ed with that race to the bot­tom just need to be expe­ri­enced over and over. Like a good chil­dren’s sto­ry, some life lessons nev­er get old.

Or maybe our robot­ic future won’t be a Ran­di­an dystopia. There are plen­ty of oth­er pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for how super labor-bots might upend glob­al labor dynam­ics in on a plan­et with a chron­ic youth unem­ploy­ment prob­lem that does­n’t result in chron­ic mass unem­ploy­ment for the “obso­lete youth”. Some of those sce­nar­ios are even pos­i­tive. Grant­ed, the pos­i­tive sce­nar­ios are almost cer­tain­ly not the type of solu­tions human­i­ty will actu­al­ly pur­sue, but it’s a nice thought. And maybe all of this “the robots rev­o­lu­tion is here!” stuff is just hype and the Cylons aren’t actu­al­ly about to assault your 401k.

Whether or not indus­tri­al droid armies or in our medi­um, it’s going to be very inter­est­ing to see how gov­ern­ments around the world come to grips with the inevitable obso­les­cence of the one thing the bulk of the glob­al pop­u­lace has to offer — man­u­al labor — because there does­n’t appear to be rul­ing class on the plan­et that won’t recoil in hor­ror at the thought of poor peo­ple shar­ing the fruits of the robot­ic labor with­out hav­ing a 40–80+ hour work week to ensure that no one gets any­thing “unfair­ly”. And the mid­dle class atti­tudes aren’t much bet­ter. Human­i­ty’s intense col­lec­tive desire to ensure that not a sin­gle moocher exists any­where that receive a sin­gle bit of state sup­port is going to be very prob­lem­at­ic in a poten­tial robot econ­o­my. Insane­ly cru­el poli­cies towards the poor aren’t going to go over well with the afore­men­tioned glob­al poor when a robot­ic work­force exists that could eas­i­ly pro­vide basic goods to every­one and the pro­ceeds from these fac­to­ries go almost exclu­sive­ly to under­paid engi­neers and the oli­garchs. Yes, the robot rev­o­lu­tion should be interesting...horrible wages and work­ing con­di­tions are part of the unof­fi­cial social con­tract between the Chi­nese peo­ple and the gov­ern­ment, for instance. Mass per­ma­nent unem­ploy­ment is not. And Chi­na isn’t the only coun­try with that social con­tract. Some­how, human­i­ty will find a way to take amaz­ing tech­nol­o­gy and make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse. It’s just what we do.

Now, it is true that human­i­ty already faced some­thing just as huge with our ear­li­er machine rev­o­lu­tion: The Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion of sim­ple machines. And yes, human soci­eties adapt­ed to the changes forced by that rev­o­lu­tion and now we have the Infor­ma­tion Age and glob­al­iza­tion cre­at­ing mas­sive, per­ma­nent changes and things haven’t fall­en apart yet(fin­gers crossed!). So per­haps con­cerns about the future “obso­lete poor” are also hype?

Per­haps. But let’s also keep in mind that human­i­ty’s method of adapt­ing to the changes brought on by all these rev­o­lu­tions has been to cre­ate an over­pop­u­lat­ed world with a dying ecosys­tem, a vam­pire squid econ­o­my, and no real hope for bil­lions of humans that trapped in glob­al net­work of bro­ken economies all cob­bled togeth­er in a “you’re on your own you lazy ingrate”-globalization. The cur­rent “austerity”-regime run­ning the euro­zone has already demon­strat­ed a com­plete will­ing­ness on the part of the EU elites and large swathes of the pub­lic to induce arti­fi­cial unem­ploy­ment for as long as it takes to over­come a far­ci­cal eco­nom­ic cri­sis brought on by sys­temic finan­cial, gov­ern­men­tal, and intel­lec­tu­al fraud and cor­rup­tion. And the euro­zone cri­sis is a pure­ly economic/financial/corruption cri­sis that was only tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed to the ‘real’ econ­o­my of build­ing and mov­ing stuff. Just imag­ine how awful this same group of lead­ers would be if super-labor bots were already a major part of the long-term unem­ploy­ment pic­ture.

These are all exam­ples of the kinds of prob­lems that arise when unprece­dent­ed chal­lenges are addressed by a col­lec­tion of eco­nom­ic and social par­a­digms that just aren’t real­ly up to the task. A world fac­ing over­pop­u­la­tion, mass pover­ty, inad­e­quate or no edu­ca­tion, and grow­ing wealth chasms requires extreme­ly high-qual­i­ty deci­sion-mak­ing by those entrust­ed with author­i­ty. Extreme­ly high-qual­i­ty benign deci­sion-mak­ing. You know, the oppo­site of what nor­mal­ly takes place in the halls of great wealth and pow­er. Fat, drunk, and stu­pid may be a state of being to avoid an indi­vid­ual lev­el but it’s trag­ic when a glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of nations func­tions at that lev­el. Although it’s real­ly “lean, mean, and dumb” that you real­ly have to wor­ry about these days. Pol­i­cy-mak­ing philoso­phies usu­al­ly alter­nate between “fat, drunk, and stu­pid” and — after that one crazy ben­der — “mean, lean, and dumbis def­i­nite­ly on the agen­da.

So with all that said, rock on Fox­conn work­ers! They’re like that group of ran­dom peo­ple in a sci-fi movie that end up fac­ing the brunt of an alien inva­sion. The inva­sion is going to hit the rest of human­i­ty even­tu­al­ly, but with Chi­na the undis­put­ed glob­al skilled man­u­al labor man­u­fac­tur­ing hub, Chi­na’s indus­tri­al work­force — already amongst the most screwed glob­al­ly — is prob­a­bly going to be heav­i­ly roboti­cized in the com­ing decades, espe­cial­ly as Chi­na moves towards high­er-end man­u­fac­tur­ing. Super labor-bots should be a mir­a­cle tech­nol­o­gy for every­one but watch — just watch — the world some­how man­age to use these things to also screw over a whole bunch of already screwed over, dis­em­pow­ered work­ers and leave them with few future prospects. It’ll be Wal­mart: The Next Gen­er­a­tion, where the exploita­tion of tech­nol­o­gy and power/labor dynam­ics can bold­ly go where no Giant Vam­pire Squid & Friends have gone before. Again. May the Force be with you present and future strik­ing Fox­conn work­ers and remem­ber: it’s just like hit­ting womp rats.

Sure, we all could cre­ate a world where we share the amaz­ing ben­e­fits that come with auto­mat­ed fac­to­ries and attempt to cre­ate an econ­o­my that works for every­one. And, hor­ror of hor­rors, that future econ­o­my could actu­al­ly involve short­er work­weeks and shared pros­per­i­ty. NOOOOOO! Maybe we could even have peo­ple spend a bunch of their new “spare time” cre­at­ing an econ­o­my that allows us to actu­al­ly live in a sus­tain­able man­ner and allows the glob­al poor to par­tic­i­pate in the Robot Rev­o­lu­tion with­out turn­ing auto­mat­ed robot­ic fac­to­ries into the lat­est envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phe. Robots can be fun like that, except when they’re hunter-killer-bots.

LOL, just kid­ding. There’s no real chance of shared super labor-bot-based pros­per­i­ty, although the hunter-killer bots are most assured­ly on their way. Shar­ing pros­per­i­ty is def­i­nite­ly some­thing human­i­ty does not do. Any­more. There are way too many con­tem­po­rary eth­i­cal hur­dles.


64 comments for “Terminator V: The machines want your job.”

  1. Very good post. I’ve been kick­ing around some of those ideas for some­time myself. Use to be Brave New World and Future Shock, but the future is now much clos­er. Recent­ly, there have been sev­er­al spe­cif­ic books and arti­cles on this top­ic since the begin­ning of the eco­nom­ic “down­turn”. Yes, we could have a world in the com­ing decades where Jobs would be most­ly obso­lete and all of mankind could turn their ener­gies to the Work of even mak­ing the world bet­ter and the joys of pur­su­ing and shar­ing inter­ests. But as you men­tion, the human fobiles of greed, fear, hate, etc., and those who allow these traits to con­trol them, won’t allow it. But even­tu­al­ly who­ev­er become the elites will end up hav­ing wars among them­selves, out of a pev­ert­ed sense of “fun” and bore­dom and dri­ve human­i­ty into yet anoth­er “dark age”. Who knows, such a dark age may be the only thing that saves the plan­et and the rem­nants of human­i­ty — since human­i­ty as a whole won’t take the bet­ter path to a fuller being.

    Posted by LarryFW | October 10, 2012, 2:18 am
  2. Octo­ber 13, 2012
    Sex Life Was ‘Out of Step,’ Strauss-Kahn Says, but Not Ille­gal
    PARIS — More than a year after resign­ing in dis­grace as the man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seek­ing redemp­tion with a new con­sult­ing com­pa­ny, the lec­ture cir­cuit and a unique­ly French legal defense to set­tle a crim­i­nal inquiry that exposed his hid­den life as a lib­er­tine.

    Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 63, a sil­ver-haired econ­o­mist, is seek­ing to throw out crim­i­nal charges in an inquiry into ties to a pros­ti­tu­tion ring in north­ern France with the legal argu­ment that the author­i­ties are unfair­ly try­ing to “crim­i­nal­ize lust.”

    That defense and the inves­ti­ga­tion, which is fac­ing a crit­i­cal judi­cial hear­ing in late Novem­ber, have offered a key­hole view into a clan­des­tine prac­tice in cer­tain pow­er­ful cir­cles of French soci­ety: secret soirees with lawyers, judges, police offi­cials, jour­nal­ists and musi­cians that start with a fine meal and end with naked guests and pub­lic sex with mul­ti­ple part­ners.

    Posted by kando | October 16, 2012, 6:37 pm
  3. @Kando: For­tu­nate­ly for Dominique there’s a robot­ic solu­tion to his ‘out of step’ predilec­tions, although I don’t know if the robots will be able to replace the kind of ambiance that sex par­ties with lawyers and judges pro­vides:

    NY Times
    Sex Life Was ‘Out of Step,’ Strauss-Kahn Says, but Not Ille­gal
    Pub­lished: Octo­ber 13, 2012

    PARIS — More than a year after resign­ing in dis­grace as the man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seek­ing redemp­tion with a new con­sult­ing com­pa­ny, the lec­ture cir­cuit and a unique­ly French legal defense to set­tle a crim­i­nal inquiry that exposed his hid­den life as a lib­er­tine.

    Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 63, a sil­ver-haired econ­o­mist, is seek­ing to throw out crim­i­nal charges in an inquiry into ties to a pros­ti­tu­tion ring in north­ern France with the legal argu­ment that the author­i­ties are unfair­ly try­ing to “crim­i­nal­ize lust.”

    That defense and the inves­ti­ga­tion, which is fac­ing a crit­i­cal judi­cial hear­ing in late Novem­ber, have offered a key­hole view into a clan­des­tine prac­tice in cer­tain pow­er­ful cir­cles of French soci­ety: secret soirees with lawyers, judges, police offi­cials, jour­nal­ists and musi­cians that start with a fine meal and end with naked guests and pub­lic sex with mul­ti­ple part­ners.

    In France, “Lib­erti­nage” has a long his­to­ry in the cul­ture, dat­ing from a 16th-cen­tu­ry reli­gious sect of lib­ertines. But the most per­plex­ing ques­tion in the Strauss-Kahn affair is how a career politi­cian with ambi­tion to lead one of Europe’s most pow­er­ful nations was blind­ed to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that his zest for sex par­ties could present a lia­bil­i­ty, or risk black­mail.

    The exclu­sive orgies called “par­ties fines” — lav­ish Cham­pagne affairs cost­ing around $13,000 each — were orga­nized as a rov­ing inter­na­tion­al cir­cuit from Paris to Wash­ing­ton by busi­ness­men seek­ing to ingra­ti­ate them­selves with Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Some of that mon­ey, accord­ing to a lawyer for the main host, ulti­mate­ly paid for pros­ti­tutes because of a short­age of women at the mixed soirees orches­trat­ed large­ly for the ben­e­fit of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who some­times sought sex with three or four women.

    On Thurs­day, Mr. Strauss-Kahn broke a long silence to acknowl­edge that per­haps his dou­ble life as an unre­strained lib­er­tine was a lit­tle out­ré.

    “I long thought that I could lead my life as I want­ed,” he said in an inter­view with the French mag­a­zine Le Point. “And that includes free behav­ior between con­sent­ing adults. There are numer­ous par­ties that exist like this in Paris, and you would be sur­prised to encounter cer­tain peo­ple. I was naïve.”

    “I was too out of step with French soci­ety,” he added. “I was wrong.”


    Yeah, Dominique’s career in pub­lic ser­vice is fac­ing a rough road now that gen­er­al pub­lic has learned about the $13,000/person par­ty jun­kets in DC and Paris where the influ­en­tial can go engage in a giant orgy of “lob­by­ing” an influ­en­tial per­son (some of the pros­ti­tutes paid to attend). That’s the kind of thing vot­ers tend to frown upon. Espe­cial­ly when it involves a swinger cul­ture with politi­cians, judges, lawyers, and journalists...the very same peo­ple that are sup­pose to be check­ing and bal­anc­ing each oth­ers’ deci­sions in order for a demo­c­ra­t­ic and civ­il soci­ety to func­tion. When it gets to that point, the “lib­er­tine” thing is no longer just the high-risk per­son­al “thing”. Espe­cial­ly when this prac­tice becomes so pop­u­lar in influ­en­tial cir­cles that women become expect­ed to par­tic­i­pate to advance their high-pow­er careers. That’s not an niche under­ground soci­ety. That’s a nation­al secu­ri­ty risk.

    Speak­ing of nation­al secu­ri­ty risks, here’s some more Mitt-tips: Mit­tens, you must be in the mist midst of intense prepa­ra­tions for the third and final pres­i­den­tial debate Mon­day night in Boca Raton, Flori­da. It’s the “for­eign pol­i­cy” US Pres­i­den­tial debate so the expec­ta­tions are that you’re going to throw a the ol’ Beng­hazi Hail Mary pass fail and a gen­er­al focus on wars that the US is/was/will be engag­ing in (short­ly).

    Don’t be scared to fall back on your strengths, Mit­tens. One big advan­tage you have is that you know going into this debate know­ing that you’re on home turf. Home sweet home. And you might even get paid to do it! (It’s good to be in the top 0.?%). But with a sig­nif­i­cant female gen­der gap still in Oba­ma’s favor, it’s going to be impor­tant to remem­ber that for­eign pol­i­cy includes a lot more than just war. For instance, as pres­i­dent of the US, you’ll be in charge of lead­ing a glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of nationssome­times nations at odds with each oth­er and the US — in major deci­sions we’re all fac­ing today that could very well deter­mine the fate of the “the chil­dren”. All of “the chil­dren”. For many gen­er­a­tions. Mit­tens, you’re going to have to remind all those moms that you’re look­ing out for “the chil­dren”. For­ev­er. It’s hard­er than you might think assert. So put your game face on because you need to con­vince 50% of the 99% that you under­stand how to man­age 95% of their fate and their chil­drens’ fate. You can do this Mit­tens(& Friends) although it’s going to require a lot of stuff you might pre­fer it did­n’t. Like shame­less­ness. You can total­ly do this Mit­tens. Pull it togeth­er and get it done.

    @LarryFW: Let’s hope the future elites aren’t actu­al­ly per­verse enough to declare wars for “fun”. They’re going to have enough prob­lems as is with­out more fun wars.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 21, 2012, 6:47 am
  4. On anoth­er machine-relat­ed top­ic, US vot­ers might be a lit­tle con­cerned about the emerg­ing sto­ry of Tagg Rom­ney form­ing a mini-Bain with a team of for­mer Bain investors. Even Marc Led­er is involved. Tag­g’s fund, Solamere, part­nered with “H.I.G. Cap­i­tal”, which in turn has sig­nif­i­cant con­trol of the nation’s third largest elec­tron­ic vot­ing machine com­pa­ny. It’s the same com­pa­ny that will be count­ing votes in Cincin­nati, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­hold in the crit­i­cal state of Ohio.

    Vot­ers might also be con­cerned about allowed to be con­cerned about a 2007 fed­er­al report that found ram­pant prob­lems by all five vot­ing machine com­pa­nies, includ­ing Hart Inter­civic, in Ohio in the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Vot­ers might also won­der about the GOP con­sul­tant that was accused of tam­per­ing with the 2004 Ohio vote and warned of threats on his life and then died in a small plane on his flight back to Akron to tes­ti­fy. They might also won­der why it is that the founder and three direc­tors of the “Hart Inter­civic Group” (HIG) are big Rom­ney fundrais­ers and two were at the 47% speech. In Boca Raton.

    Vot­ers might be con­cerned about all of those unpleas­antries but they should­n’t be even though paper bal­lots are still what the experts rec­om­mend for secu­ri­ty. All of those con­cerns are ‘con­spir­a­cy garbage’.

    On a com­plete­ly sep­a­rate and unre­lat­ed top­ic, can’t you wait to be liv­ing in Mittmer­i­ca? He’s got it in the Tagg bag at this point. Not just in Ohio but every­where. I can feel it. Pres­i­dent Mit­tens! It’s total­ly going to be so exit­ing! It’s total­ly going to be so excit­ing!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 21, 2012, 11:25 pm
  5. I’m still remind­ed of the sto­ry about the ceo that took the union leader to the ful­ly auto­mat­ed fac­to­ry and pro­claimed to him ‘how you going to orga­nize those robots’ to which the union man replied ‘how you going to sell those cars’. Every work­er eli­manat­ed equals one less cus­tomer for the cor­po­ra­tions prod­uct, they end up sit­ting on a pile of cash and noth­ing to spend it on.

    Posted by Chris | October 28, 2012, 8:57 am
  6. Yep:

    Rise of the Robots

    Paul Krug­man
    Decem­ber 8, 2012, 8:37 am

    Cather­ine Ram­pell and Nick Wing­field write about the grow­ing evi­dence for “reshoring” of man­u­fac­tur­ing to the Unit­ed States. They cite sev­er­al rea­sons: ris­ing wages in Asia; low­er ener­gy costs here; high­er trans­porta­tion costs. In a fol­lowup piece, how­ev­er, Ram­pell cites anoth­er fac­tor: robots.

    The most valu­able part of each com­put­er, a moth­er­board loaded with micro­proces­sors and mem­o­ry, is already large­ly made with robots, accord­ing to my col­league Quentin Hardy. Peo­ple do things like fit­ting in bat­ter­ies and snap­ping on screens.

    As more robots are built, large­ly by oth­er robots, “assem­bly can be done here as well as any­where else,” said Rob Ender­le, an ana­lyst based in San Jose, Calif., who has been fol­low­ing the com­put­er elec­tron­ics indus­try for a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry. “That will replace most of the work­ers, though you will need a few peo­ple to man­age the robots.”

    Robots mean that labor costs don’t mat­ter much, so you might as well locate in advanced coun­tries with large mar­kets and good infra­struc­ture (which may soon not include us, but that’s anoth­er issue). On the oth­er hand, it’s not good news for work­ers!


    I think our eyes have been avert­ed from the capital/labor dimen­sion of inequal­i­ty, for sev­er­al rea­sons. It didn’t seem cru­cial back in the 1990s, and not enough peo­ple (me includ­ed!) have looked up to notice that things have changed. It has echoes of old-fash­ioned Marx­ism — which shouldn’t be a rea­son to ignore facts, but too often is. And it has real­ly uncom­fort­able impli­ca­tions.

    But I think we’d bet­ter start pay­ing atten­tion to those impli­ca­tions.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 8, 2012, 7:35 pm
  7. Paul Krug­man has a recent post that high­lights a cru­cial point in today’s econ­o­my: The “mar­ket rela­tion­ship” of employ­ers and employ­ees breaks down in a bad econ­o­my and can actu­al­ly shift into more of a “pow­er rela­tion­ship”. The kind of pow­er rela­tion­ship that employ­ers pre­fer:

    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al
    The Plight of the Employed
    Paul Krug­men
    Decem­ber 24, 2013, 10:23 am

    Mike Kon­czal writes about how Wash­ing­ton has lost inter­est in the unem­ployed, and what a scan­dal that is. He also, how­ev­er, makes an impor­tant point that I sus­pect plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of this scan­dal: these are lousy times for the employed, too.

    Why? Because they have so lit­tle bar­gain­ing pow­er. Leave or lose your job, and the chances of get­ting anoth­er com­pa­ra­ble job, or any job at all, are def­i­nite­ly not good. And work­ers know it: quit rates, the per­cent­age of work­ers vol­un­tar­i­ly leav­ing jobs, remain far below pre-cri­sis lev­els, and very very far below what they were in the true boom econ­o­my of the late 90s:


    Now, you may believe that employ­ment is a mar­ket rela­tion­ship like any oth­er — there’s a buy­er and a sell­er, and it’s just a mat­ter of mutu­al con­sent. You may also believe in San­ta Claus. The truth is that employ­ment is, in many though not all cas­es, a pow­er rela­tion­ship. In good eco­nom­ic times, or where work­ers’ posi­tion is pro­tect­ed by legal restraints and/or strong unions, that rela­tion­ship may be rel­a­tive­ly sym­met­ric. In times like these, it’s huge­ly asym­met­ric: employ­ers and employ­ees alike know that work­ers are easy to replace, lost jobs very hard to replace.

    And may I sug­gest that employ­ers, although they’ll nev­er say so in pub­lic, like this sit­u­a­tion? That is, there’s a sig­nif­i­cant upside to them from the still-weak econ­o­my. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that there’s a delib­er­ate effort to keep the econ­o­my weak; but cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca cer­tain­ly isn’t feel­ing much pain, and the plight of work­ers is actu­al­ly a plus from their point of view.

    And here’s an arti­cle the dis­cuss­es some of the rea­sons why we should prob­a­bly expect the “mar­ket rela­tion­ship” between employ­ers and employ­ees to become a “pow­er rela­tion­ship” pret­ty much per­ma­nent­ly in the decades to come unless some fun­da­men­tal changes are made to how we struc­ture our econ­o­my and soci­ety:

    It’s A Won­der­ful Life, For A Few Of Us
    Post­ed Dec 21, 2013 by Jon Evans, Colum­nist

    So where were we? Oh yes: every­body hates us. San Francisco’s recent Google-bus and “home­less trash” ker­fuf­fles are symp­toms of an increas­ing­ly broad, deep, and bit­ter anti-tech ani­mos­i­ty. The Econ­o­mist pre­dicts: “The tech elite will join bankers and oil­men in pub­lic demonolo­gy.” The New York Times con­curs: “Tech work­ers have, right­ly or wrong­ly, received the blame. Resent­ment sim­mers.”

    Such ingrat­i­tude! What’s wrong with these warped, blind­ed haters?

    Well, OK, it might be the very real sense that these days, with soft­ware eat­ing the world, if you’re not in tech, or you’re not already rich, then you are prob­a­bly basi­cal­ly screwed for life. “We are in the midst of the worst rental afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis that this coun­try has known.” Unem­ploy­ment remains high, and many unem­ployed “may sim­ply give up look­ing for jobs once their ben­e­fits lapse.”

    Mean­while, US income inequal­i­ty today is the high­est that it’s been since 1928which mat­ters espe­cial­ly because “the decline in mid­dle-class incomes owes as much to ris­ing inequal­i­ty as it does to the depressed state of the econ­o­my.” The NYT recent­ly high­light­ed a Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood where

    the top 5 per­cent of res­i­dents earn 76 times as much as the bot­tom quin­tile … addicts gath­er out­side a food pantry a block from $2 mil­lion brown­stones

    The eco­nom­ic dol­drums have hit Europe, too, out­side of Ger­many. Don’t even get me start­ed on Spain or France: and as for the UK, well, the BBC recent­ly report­ed that, for the first time, “More work­ing house­holds were liv­ing in pover­ty in the UK last year than non-work­ing ones … low pay and part-time work has prompt­ed an unprece­dent­ed fall in liv­ing stan­dards.”

    So just go get a good edu­ca­tion! Right? Sor­ry, no. Even if you have a Ph.D.:

    The aca­d­e­m­ic job mar­ket is struc­tured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expand­ing mass of out­siders and a shrink­ing core of insid­ers. … Acad­e­mia is only a some­what extreme exam­ple of this trend, but it affects labour mar­kets vir­tu­al­ly every­where. One of the hot top­ics in labour mar­ket research at the moment is what we call “dual­i­sa­tion.” Dual­i­sa­tion is the strength­en­ing of this divide between insid­ers in secure, sta­ble employ­ment and out­siders in fixed-term, pre­car­i­ous employ­ment.

    Hell, even law school is a dis­as­ter nowa­days. And total Amer­i­can stu­dent-loan debt exceed­ed $1.2 tril­lion this year. At that price, for many peo­ple, pay­ing for high­er edu­ca­tion is almost like dump­ing your life sav­ings into a lot­tery, or a casi­no; great if it works out…but absolute­ly crip­pling if it doesn’t.

    So every­one can move to the tech sec­tor! Again, sor­ry, no — or at best, not any time soon. You can­not rea­son­ably expect to retrain sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of peo­ple into skilled engi­neers, and there’s lit­tle-to-no room for the unskilled. (Unlike most fields, bad soft­ware engi­neers actu­al­ly add neg­a­tive val­ue to the projects they work on.) Engi­neer­ing is hard. Most peo­ple aren’t any good at it.

    So peo­ple who aren’t rich, and aren’t in tech — the vast major­i­ty, I has­ten to remind you — will increas­ing­ly become part of the pre­cari­at:

    This is not just a mat­ter of hav­ing inse­cure employ­ment, of being in jobs of lim­it­ed dura­tion and with min­i­mal labour pro­tec­tion, although all this is wide­spread. It is being in a sta­tus that offers no sense of career, no sense of secure occu­pa­tion­al iden­ti­ty and few, if any, enti­tle­ments to the state and enter­prise ben­e­fits that sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions … had come to expect as their due.

    Mean­while, the rich, as a class, are behav­ing with their usu­al ele­gance, taste, and restraint. Find­ing new ways to evict ten­ants so they can charge high­er rents. Reshap­ing cor­po­ra­tions into what The Econ­o­mist calls “dis­tor­po­ra­tions.” “Ruin­ing art for the rest of us.” And it’s hard to wan­der amid San Francisco’s new-growth lux­u­ry bou­tiques, arti­sanal cof­fee shops, and opu­lent social events with­out get­ting the sense that techies, too, are mak­ing deca­dent hay of today’s inequal­i­ties. I mused the oth­er day on Twit­ter:

    Jon Evans

    Some­times I feel like we in SF/LA/NYC live in the mod­ern-day Belle Epoque. Which is, to be clear, a back­hand­ed com­pli­ment at best.
    8:37 PM — 13 Dec 2013

    You think this is bad? You ain’t seen noth­ing yet. Right now the pre­cari­at most­ly just resents the tech world because we’re wealth­i­er. That’s because tech has only bare­ly begun to eat their jobs — and keep their homes and cars under con­stant sur­veil­lance. How do you think they’ll feel about us in five years’ time?

    That process has already begun, though, and it will only accel­er­ate. Everyone’s wor­ried about the way Ama­zon treats its work­ers; will they be as upset about those replaced by the robots now rolling out to Amazon’s ware­hous­es? (And before you start blam­ing Asian out­sourc­ing, note that Fox­conn is seek­ing to replace its Chi­nese labor­ers with a “robot army” too.) As Andrew Leonard put it in Salon:

    the big dif­fer­ence between the cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion and the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion is that the ini­tial tech­no­log­i­cal advances of the 18th cen­tu­ry cre­at­ed jobs for unskilled work­ers, while today’s robot armies are increas­ing­ly replac­ing the jobs of unskilled work­ers.

    Rais­ing the min­i­mum wage will help those cursed with shit­ty jobs…but it won’t cre­ate more of them. Cut­ting food stamps may save mon­ey, but it can’t dri­ve the poor to take jobs that don’t exist.

    It seems to me (and many oth­ers) that we’re at the begin­ning of a Great Bifur­ca­tion. On one side: those who were rich when it began, plus the upper ech­e­lon of the tech world, the usu­al oil/finance sus­pects, and a smat­ter­ing of oth­ers. Fig­ure about 15% of the pop­u­la­tion. They will clus­ter in dense lit­tle islands of wealth — San Fran­cis­co, Man­hat­tan, beach hous­es and moun­tain chalets. They will trav­el to all the best places. Their par­ties will grow ever more deca­dent. Their chil­dren will get the best edu­ca­tion — and, in time, the best biotech — that mon­ey can buy.

    But not all techies will be win­ners. This mod­ern-day Belle Époque is increas­ing­ly for peo­ple who can tick at least two of the fol­low­ing box­es: smart, skilled, and well-con­nect­ed. (Don’t kid yourself–the tech world is by no means a pure mer­i­toc­ra­cy.) The room for peo­ple who can boast only one of those, let alone zero, is dimin­ish­ing. The mediocre, unskilled, poor­ly-con­nect­ed, and/or just plain unlucky will join the oth­er side of the great divide soon enough.


    And across that great divide? Grow­ing resent­ment verg­ing on fury. Again, you think techies are dis­liked now in places like San Fran­cis­co? Just wait anoth­er five or ten years. Yes, SF could and should build out much more hous­ing–

    Steve Sim­itzis

    Fun fact: SF’s pop den­si­ty is half of Brook­lyn’s (17,620 vs 34,920). We don’t even need to go Man­hat­tan to add enough housing/lower rents.
    6:18 PM — 10 Dec 2013

    –but if I’m right about the fun­da­men­tal trends here, even that won’t help. The tech world, and/or the machi­na­tions it is set­ting in motion, is becom­ing Hen­ry Pot­ter to the precariat’s George Bai­ley, and/or Ebenez­er Scrooge to its Bob Cratchit, for a peri­od of wrench­ing dis­rup­tion mea­sured in decades. I know that’s not how we like to think of our­selves. But until and unless we come up with a bet­ter way — a fun­da­men­tal change, not band-aids — then it’s what we will become.

    Hap­py Hol­i­days!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 26, 2013, 7:37 pm
  8. Here’s a bit of good news: Detroit’s emer­gency finan­cial man­ag­er just put a stay on his secret New Years Eve order to freeze Detroit pen­sion plan and replace it with a 401k sys­tem:

    Detroit Free Press
    Orr issues stay on freez­ing pen­sions for Detroit work­ers as medi­a­tion con­tin­ues
    6:08 PM, Jan­u­ary 6, 2014

    By Matt Helms

    Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

    Detroit emer­gency man­ag­er Kevyn Orr said today that he’s stayed a pen­sion freeze he ordered late last month, allow­ing nego­tia­tors with both city pen­sion plans to con­tin­ue medi­a­tion in fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy court over how to resolve what he says is $3.5 bil­lion in pen­sion under­fund­ing.

    Orr, grow­ing impa­tient with a lack of progress in medi­at­ed talks between the city and pen­sion plan rep­re­sen­ta­tives, qui­et­ly issued a freeze on the pen­sions of city work­ers in the Gen­er­al Retire­ment Sys­tem as of Dec. 31, mean­ing no new ben­e­fits would be accrued and the plan would be closed to new city employ­ees.

    But today, Orr said he was delay­ing the freeze indef­i­nite­ly, while reserv­ing the right to rein­state it if medi­a­tion efforts don’t reach an accept­able com­pro­mise.

    The order he issued in late Decem­ber dealt only with the city’s Gen­er­al Retire­ment Sys­tem (GRS), which pro­vides pen­sions for non-uni­formed city work­ers. But in a state­ment issued today, Orr made it clear he also intend­ed to include the city’s Police and Fire Retire­ment Sys­tem.

    “The city remains in a finan­cial emer­gency, and to the extent that medi­a­tion can assist in find­ing a way to improve ser­vices for all of its 700,000 res­i­dents, then it is worth con­tin­u­ing,” Orr said. “But time is run­ning short, and the city’s finan­cial sta­tus remains dire. An addi­tion­al delay with­out the prospect of a medi­at­ed solu­tion threat­ens to fur­ther erode essen­tial ser­vices and pub­lic safe­ty.”

    The move prompt­ed anger from the GRS, whose spokes­woman, Tina Bas­sett, called the order “an out­ra­geous and over-zeal­ous action from the EM’s office.” After word came that the order was stayed, the GRS issued a state­ment say­ing, “We wel­come this oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­tin­ue to nego­ti­ate in good faith as part of the con­tin­u­ing fed­er­al medi­a­tion process.”

    The order for the GRS also would close the retire­ment system’s Annu­ity Sav­ings Fund to new employ­ees and would stop accept­ing con­tri­bu­tions some­time this month. The order also ends future cost-of-liv­ing adjust­ments.

    Instead of pen­sions, Orr’s order said the city would cre­ate a 401k-style sav­ings plan. Orr announced in mid-2013 that he would seek a pen­sion freeze and issued a report crit­i­cal of the pen­sion sys­tems’ man­age­ment and invest­ment prac­tices.

    Orr spokesman Bill Nowl­ing said today that Orr agreed to hold off after a dis­cus­sion over the week­end with Chief U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Ger­ald Rosen, who is over­see­ing medi­a­tion in Detroit’s his­toric Chap­ter 9 bank­rupt­cy.

    “Judge Rosen asked Kevyn — I think they had a long con­ver­sa­tion over the week­end — and Rosen asked if he would con­sid­er stay­ing it,” Nowl­ing said. Orr agreed to do so, “but he want­ed to make sure the city pre­serves its rights. We’ve been at this medi­a­tion for a long time, and it doesn’t seem that we’re mak­ing any progress on it.”

    Bas­sett said the pen­sion sys­tem believed medi­a­tion was going “rather well.”

    “The GRS today is one of the best fund­ed munic­i­pal pen­sion funds in the nation. The board is trans­par­ent, account­able and fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble,” she said. “The prob­lems of the past have been cor­rect­ed with pro­ce­dures and poli­cies that ensure no malfea­sance can occur. We thought medi­a­tion was sup­posed to help resolve these issues. Where is the cred­i­bil­i­ty?”

    Orr did not release the order to the media or post it on the city’s web­site. It was signed and dat­ed Dec. 30, with copies sent to then-May­or Dave Bing, new May­or Mike Dug­gan, City Coun­cil mem­bers, the state Trea­sury and depart­ment heads in the city gov­ern­ment. Nowl­ing said Orr’s office was pre­pared to release a sim­i­lar order for the police and fire pen­sion but hadn’t done so as of today.

    Detroit Water and Sew­er­age Depart­ment Direc­tor Sue McCormick noti­fied water depart­ment employ­ees last week, say­ing “the con­se­quences of the EM’s exec­u­tive order have yet to be deter­mined and will large­ly depend on per­son­al cir­cum­stances.

    May­or Mike Dug­gan said he’s not involved in pen­sion talks and has no author­i­ty on pen­sion issues under the pow­er-shar­ing agree­ment he and Orr bro­kered. He referred ques­tions to Orr’s office.

    Under ear­li­er pro­pos­als by Orr, the city would no longer pay into pen­sion plans but would con­tribute an amount equal to a per­cent­age of work­ers’ base pay — 5% for non-uni­formed work­ers and 10% for police and fire — into retire­ment accounts. Employ­ees also could con­tribute their own mon­ey into the accounts.

    The aver­age year­ly pen­sion for retirees in the city’s Gen­er­al Retire­ment Sys­tem is less than $20,000. It’s about $34,000 for Detroit police and fire­fight­ers, who do not pay into or receive Social Secu­ri­ty.


    While it’s nice to see a stay on the freez­ing of Detroit’s pen­sion plans, this sto­ry is a reminder that the US oli­garchs and much of the pop­u­lace con­tin­ues to des­per­ate­ly want to cre­ate a 401k/“you’re on your own” soci­ety where one’s abil­i­ty to live with dig­ni­ty is almost entire­ly depen­dent on their finan­cial sit­u­a­tion regard­less of cir­cum­stance. That might be an accept­able par­a­digm if one was liv­ing near The Road, but its dif­fi­cult to see how one could pos­si­bly want to cre­ate a high-tech mar­ket-dri­ven soci­ety where entire regions can end up in pover­ty for no good rea­son oth­er than the larg­er mar­ket forces that are far beyond their con­trol. It’s just a very bad sign for the future of the US if our social con­tract ends up being a big col­lec­tive 401k/“please go die” response to every local econ­o­my that runs into hard times because mar­ket forces aren’t going to be the only forces that will be destroy­ing local economies and soci­eties in the future. If we can’t treat oth­er screwed by larg­er cir­cum­stance with decen­cy and under­stand­ing now how hor­ri­bly is soci­ety going to treat itself when things get real­ly bad?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 6, 2014, 5:39 pm
  9. Your work will set you free. Well, ok, maybe it won’t set you free. But it’s still very pro-free­dom:

    Sat­ur­day, Feb 8, 2014 05:30 AM CST
    GOP’s secret anti-free­dom agen­da: Why their “lib­er­ty” talk is non­sense
    Oba­macare will lib­er­ate some Amer­i­cans in the job mar­ket. So why aren’t lib­er­ty-lov­ing con­ser­v­a­tives rejoic­ing?
    Elias Isquith

    After one of the polit­i­cal press’ worst weeks in recent mem­o­ry, it’s tempt­ing to say that the release of the Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office’s (CBO) lat­est find­ings on Oba­macare has, iron­i­cal­ly, led to peo­ple under­stand­ing the health care over­haul even less than they did before. Con­sid­er­ing the fact that, as of late 2012, some­where around 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans still think Oba­macare has “death pan­els,” this is no small feat. (I can almost pic­ture Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that great believ­er in the basic wis­dom and virtue of The Peo­ple, watch­ing us in hor­ror while rock­ing back and forth and qui­et­ly repeat­ing to him­self, “I’ve made a huge mis­take.”)

    Yet despite the ini­tial burst of mis­in­for­ma­tion that fol­lowed the release of the report, and despite the inevitable tor­na­do of neg­a­tive adver­tis­ing that’ll erro­neous­ly cite the CBO when claim­ing Oba­macare “kills” mil­lions of jobs, I think the CBO’s lat­est will ulti­mate­ly be worth it. Not for what it revealed about Oba­macare, but for what it showed us about the ide­o­log­i­cal divide that defines Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

    Here’s what I mean: Once the media acknowl­edged that the report said Oba­macare would reduce labor’s sup­ply, and not its demand — by pro­vid­ing work­ers with health­care cov­er­age whether or not they hold a full-time job — the debate shift­ed onto ter­rain more resem­bling objec­tive real­i­ty, and we got a bet­ter sense of where the right and the left real­ly stood. Specif­i­cal­ly, we were able to see what the right real­ly means when it talks about “free­dom” and “lib­er­ty,” phras­es that, as con­ser­v­a­tives use them, mean less than meets the eye.

    But first, to clar­i­fy, this is what the CBO’s report actu­al­ly said:

    The esti­mat­ed reduc­tion stems almost entire­ly from a net decline in the amount of labor that work­ers choose to sup­ply, rather than from a net drop in busi­ness­es’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entire­ly as a reduc­tion in labor force par­tic­i­pa­tion and in hours worked rel­a­tive to what would have occurred oth­er­wise rather than as an increase in unem­ploy­ment (that is, more work­ers seek­ing but not find­ing jobs) or under­em­ploy­ment (such as part-time work­ers who would pre­fer to work more hours per week).

    And this is what that actu­al­ly means: Peo­ple who would like to retire but aren’t old enough to qual­i­fy for Medicare, or peo­ple who would like to work part-time but can’t afford to lose their employ­er-pro­vid­ed health insur­ance, will now be able to quit or cut back on their jobs with­out hav­ing to live with pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive, or sim­ply nonex­is­tent, health insur­ance. And at least to this leftie’s ears, that sounds like a good thing.

    Many peo­ple on the right, how­ev­er, had a very dif­fer­ent response.

    First there were those who still clung bit­ter­ly to the ear­ly mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion that Oba­macare destroys jobs. These are the most rigid par­ti­sans, peo­ple who live in their own care­ful­ly curat­ed epis­temic world, and there’s no get­ting through to them, no mat­ter how many fact-checks you link to or email their way. Besides, they’re more focused on the big fish, like Beng­hazi, the great­est cov­er-up in his­to­ry, to spend too much time talk­ing health pol­i­cy.

    Then there were those on the right who acknowl­edged the CBO’s actu­al find­ings, but found them trou­bling all the same. These folks argued that the CBO had shown Oba­macare cre­at­ed per­verse incen­tives, allow­ing peo­ple to spend less of their time engaged in wage labor, and that the gov­ern­ment should be push­ing peo­ple to work a pay­ing job instead. This is a much more philo­soph­i­cal posi­tion, rather than an empir­i­cal claim about how the law might affect the econ­o­my, and it’s deeply reveal­ing of the right’s fun­da­men­tal ide­o­log­i­cal beliefs.

    There were many exam­ples of this (my col­league Bri­an Beut­ler has cat­a­loged a few), but none were as clear­ly and stri­dent­ly put as Charles C.W. Cooke’s in the Nation­al Review. Cooke’s jere­mi­ad against “Obamacare’s attack on the work eth­ic” is pret­ty straight­for­ward: Any­thing that the gov­ern­ment does to make it eas­i­er for peo­ple to sep­a­rate them­selves from wage labor is bad, because work is, quite sim­ply, an absolute good. Here’s how he puts it, in a para­graph describ­ing work with a near­ly reli­gious fer­vor:

    Work is a virtue that should be reflex­ive­ly encour­aged. It is the means by which stan­dards of liv­ing are grown, human poten­tial is reached, indi­vid­ual lives are focused, pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive instincts are chan­neled, resources are uti­lized most effi­cient­ly, and, above all, by which dig­ni­ty remains intact. It is the best anti­dote to per­son­al and nation­al ossi­fi­ca­tion and scle­ro­sis, and the pri­ma­ry means by which our present mate­r­i­al com­fort was achieved. It is the dri­ving force behind improve­ment, both real and imag­ined, in the nation’s main­stream cul­ture. What­ev­er the ide­al role of gov­ern­ment in con­triv­ing work or wages for those who are with­out them, we should all pre­sum­ably be able to agree that if we are going to have an intru­sive state, it should be doing pre­cise­ly the oppo­site of encour­ag­ing peo­ple to lim­it their involve­ment in work.

    Now, there are a bunch of things wrong with how Cooke per­ceives the rela­tion­ship between the state and the econ­o­my. As Salon con­trib­u­tor and Demos blog­ger Matt Bru­enig has shown, his belief in “an intru­sive state” — which implies that the lais­sez-faire sys­tem is some­how nat­ur­al rather than the prod­uct of gov­ern­ment-enforced rules and insti­tu­tions — is espe­cial­ly mis­guid­ed. But what inter­ests me most is how Cooke describes wage labor as if it were the road to per­son­al and nation­al sal­va­tion. Work­ing as a sales asso­ciate at Wal-Mart, it appears, leads to lives being “focused,” instincts being “chan­neled,” resources being “uti­lized most effi­cient­ly,” and “above all … dig­ni­ty [remain­ing] intact.”

    Strangest of all, though, is how Cooke not only claims wage labor to be an inher­ent good, but attempts the impos­si­ble by meld­ing this pater­nal­is­tic argu­ment (wage labor is good for peo­ple, whether they like it or not) to a defense of free­dom as he under­stands it. Being able to leave a job you hate in order to spend more time pur­su­ing your pas­sions, or to cut back your hours at a job you hate in order to spend more time rais­ing your chil­dren, is not free­dom, accord­ing to Cooke. “[I]t is one thing for a per­son to choose not to work and to accept the nat­ur­al con­se­quences of that deci­sion,” he writes, “but quite anoth­er indeed for a per­son to choose not to work because oth­ers are being forced to sub­si­dize his well-being.” Trans­la­tion: Only peo­ple who don’t have to work to sur­vive — a.k.a. the wealthy — are capa­ble of expe­ri­enc­ing true free­dom. At the very least, they’re the only ones who deserve it.


    In case you were won­der­ing “Could this be the rea­son Skynet even­tu­al­ly decides to pro­voke a ther­monu­clear holo­caust against human­i­ty? After all, what could pos­si­bly be a big­ger threat to the ‘free­dom’ than advanced robot­ics and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence?” Well, let’s just say that Skynet can read the tea leaves, and right now it does­n’t look like the robots have any­thing to wor­ry about in terms of putting every­one out of work. The robots will need wage slaves too:

    “Crowd­work­ing” is the future of much human labor. Unless we do some­thing about it.
    2/09/2014 07:30:00 AM

    The Nation has a great arti­cle on the some­what creepy and vicious­ly exploita­tive prac­tice of “crowd­work­ing.” It’s too long to even dis­till prop­er­ly in a quote, but here’s a brief bit to explain:

    Mechan­i­cal Turk is the inno­va­tion behind “crowd­work­ing,” the low-wage vir­tu­al labor phe­nom­e­non that has rein­vent­ed piece­work for the dig­i­tal age. Cre­at­ed by Ama­zon in 2005, it remains one of the cen­tral platforms—markets, really—where crowd-based labor is bought and sold. As many as 500,000 “crowd­work­ers” pow­er the Mechan­i­cal Turk machine, while mil­lions more (no one knows how many exact­ly) fuel com­peti­tor sites like Crowd­Flower, Click­work­er, Cloud­Crowd and dozens of small­er ones. On any giv­en day, at any giv­en minute, these work­ers per­form mil­lions of tiny tasks for com­pa­nies both vast (think Twit­ter) and hum­ble. Though few of these peo­ple have any sense of their fin­ished work prod­uct, what they’re doing is help­ing to pow­er the parts of the Inter­net that most of us take for grant­ed.

    Cur­rent­ly, com­put­ers are very good at cer­tain sorts of tasks, such as iden­ti­fy­ing spelling errors, pro­cess­ing raw data and cal­cu­lat­ing finan­cial fig­ures. How­ev­er, they are less able to per­form oth­ers, such as detect­ing a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive bias in an arti­cle, rec­og­niz­ing irony, accu­rate­ly read­ing the text off a pho­to­graph of a build­ing, deter­min­ing if some­thing is NSFW (not safe for work) or dis­cern­ing among ambigu­ous search results. This is where the “crowd” comes in. In the cur­rent iter­a­tion of crowd­work­ing, indi­vid­u­als are tasked with those parts of a job that a com­put­er can­not per­form. This work is used both to fill in the blanks and to train the com­put­er algo­rithm to do a bet­ter job in the future.

    Crowd­work­ing is often hailed by its boost­ers as ush­er­ing in a new age of work. With the zeal of high-tech preach­ers, they cast it as a space in which indi­vid­u­al­ism, choice and self-deter­mi­na­tion flour­ish. “Crowd­Flower, and oth­ers in the crowd­sourc­ing indus­try, are bring­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple who nev­er would have had them before, and we oper­ate in a tru­ly egal­i­tar­i­an fash­ion, where any­one who wants to can do micro­tasks, no mat­ter their gen­der, nation­al­i­ty, or socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus, and can do so in a way that is entire­ly of their choos­ing and unique to them,” asserts Lukas Biewald, the CEO of Crowd­Flower, in an e‑mail exchange. (Crowd­Flower claims to have “among the largest, if not the largest, crowd” avail­able, with rough­ly 100,000 work­ers com­plet­ing tasks on any giv­en day.)

    But if you hap­pen to be a low-end work­er doing the Internet’s grunt work, a dif­fer­ent vision aris­es. Accord­ing to crit­ics, Amazon’s Mechan­i­cal Turk may have cre­at­ed the most unreg­u­lat­ed labor mar­ket­place that has ever exist­ed. Inside the machine, there is an over­abun­dance of labor, extreme com­pe­ti­tion among work­ers, monot­o­nous and repet­i­tive work, exceed­ing­ly low pay and a great deal of scam­ming. In this vir­tu­al world, the dis­par­i­ties of pow­er in employ­ment rela­tion­ships are mag­ni­fied many times over, and the New Deal may as well have nev­er hap­pened.

    As Miri­am Cher­ry, one of the few legal schol­ars focus­ing on labor and employ­ment law in the vir­tu­al world, has explained: “These tech­nolo­gies are not enabling peo­ple to meet their poten­tial; they’re instead exploit­ing peo­ple.” Or, as CrowdFlower’s Biewald told an audi­ence of young tech types in 2010, in a moment of unchecked blunt­ness: “Before the Inter­net, it would be real­ly dif­fi­cult to find some­one, sit them down for ten min­utes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten min­utes. But with tech­nol­o­gy, you can actu­al­ly find them, pay them the tiny amount of mon­ey, and then get rid of them when you don’t need them any­more.”

    Out­side of direct per­son­al ser­vices like nurs­ing or exploita­tive rent-seek­ing jobs in finance, this sort of small-scale machine assis­tance job is where the labor mar­ket will increas­ing­ly trend over the next cou­ple of decades.

    And it’s a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed mess. Just anoth­er sign of a bro­ken, 19th-cen­tu­ry eco­nom­ic sys­tem utter­ly inap­pro­pri­ate for a 21st-cen­tu­ry world of glob­al­iza­tion, mech­a­niza­tion, flat­ten­ing and deskilling.

    Just imag­ine how free robots must be. They can work non-stop! Meat-cogs rejoice: Free­dom in the future is going to be awe­some.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 9, 2014, 7:04 pm
  10. An oli­garchic vision of the future: beg bil­lion­aires for the right to race to the bot­tom:

    Bill Gates wants gov­ern­ments to beg cor­po­ra­tions scraps

    by David Atkins
    Tues­day, March 18, 2014

    It’s impor­tant to under­stand that in the halls of inter­na­tion­al pow­er, this is the con­ver­sa­tion that’s actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing:

    Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates isn’t going to sug­ar­coat things: The increas­ing pow­er of automa­tion tech­nol­o­gy is going to put a lot of peo­ple out of work. Busi­ness Insid­er reports that Gates gave a talk at the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute think tank in Wash­ing­ton, DC this week and said that both gov­ern­ments and busi­ness­es need to start prepar­ing for a future where lots of peo­ple will be put out of work by soft­ware and robots.

    “Soft­ware sub­sti­tu­tion, whether it’s for dri­vers or wait­ers or nurs­es… it’s pro­gress­ing,” Gates said. “Tech­nol­o­gy over time will reduce demand for jobs, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the low­er end of skill set… 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be sub­stan­tial­ly low­er. I don’t think peo­ple have that in their men­tal mod­el.”

    As for what gov­ern­ments should do to pre­vent social unrest in the wake of mass unem­ploy­ment, the Microsoft cofounder said that they should basi­cal­ly get on their knees and beg busi­ness­es to keep employ­ing humans over algo­rithms. This means per­haps elim­i­nat­ing pay­roll and cor­po­rate income tax­es while also not rais­ing the min­i­mum wage so that busi­ness­es will feel com­fort­able employ­ing peo­ple at dirt-cheap wages instead of out­sourc­ing their jobs to an iPad.

    That mass unem­ploy­ment is com­ing soon isn’t the wild fan­cy of futur­ists. It’s real.

    There are only two ways to deal with that. One is the Gates way. It’s the way that most world lead­ers are qui­et­ly putting into place, not only because of cor­rup­tion, but because they they feel they must. It’s the inter­na­tion­al race to the bot­tom, in which the cap­i­tal mobil­i­ty of the jet set crowd trumps and over­whelms the pow­er of sov­er­eign states.

    The oth­er way is com­plete­ly opposite–a hard turn toward social democ­ra­cy, uni­ver­sal basic incomes, uni­ver­sal jobs pro­grams, and inter­na­tion­al treaties that lim­it the pow­er of mobile glob­al cap­i­tal while giv­ing pow­er back to real peo­ple and sev­er­ing the assumed link between doing a bil­lion­aire’s bid­ding and human dig­ni­ty.

    There isn’t a mid­dle ground. Either bil­lion­aires and the Tea Partiers win, or the pro­gres­sives do. There’s no third way.

    And the best part about this future? While you’re beg­ging for those scraps the bil­lion­aires get to whine at you about how you’re being a self­ish Nazi.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 18, 2014, 8:34 am
  11. Look out mid­dle man­agers: Boss-bot is com­ing:

    Study sug­gests peo­ple will­ing to take orders from a robot boss (w/ video)
    Mar 18, 2014 by Bob Yir­ka

    (Phys.org) —A study con­duct­ed by a team of researchers at Human Com­put­er Inter­ac­tion (MCI) Lab in Man­i­to­ba Cana­da, has revealed evi­dence that sug­gests that peo­ple can be prod­ded into doing some­thing they don’t want to do, by a robot. They’ve post­ed a blog entry on their web site describ­ing an exper­i­ment they car­ried out to learn more about how peo­ple might respond to a robot boss, ver­sus a human one, and the results they found.

    The exper­i­ment con­sist­ed of ask­ing vol­un­teers to com­plete dif­fer­ent tasks, some fun (singing songs they liked), some tedious and bor­ing (chang­ing file name exten­sions for a very large num­ber of files). Some of the vol­un­teers were asked to per­form the tasks by a human being, oth­ers were asked to do the same tasks by a small friend­ly-look­ing Alde­baran Nao humanoid robot.

    The vol­un­teers and their taskmas­ters were set up in an office-type envi­ron­ment, with desks set apart from one anoth­er. The par­tic­i­pants were filmed as they car­ried out the exper­i­ment and the researchers ana­lyzed the results after­wards. All of the vol­un­teers were told repeat­ed­ly before the exper­i­ment that they could stop any task they chose at any time, with no neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

    In study­ing the video, the researchers found that 46 per­cent of the vol­un­teers (both male and female) com­plied with a request to per­form a task (which took 80 min­utes) they did­n’t want to do, when asked to do so by the robot, com­pared to 86 per­cent com­pli­ance when asked by a human “boss.” The researchers note the low­er per­cent­age but also point out that near­ly half of those who par­tic­i­pat­ed com­plied when asked to do some­thing they did­n’t want to do, when asked by a robot.

    The researchers also not­ed that many of the vol­un­teers argued with the robot, and inter­act­ed with it as if it were human. Most appar­ent­ly believed that the robot was issu­ing requests autonomous­ly (it was­n’t, a human being was behind a glass wall con­trol­ling things) and respond­ed accord­ing­ly. They also found that some of the vol­un­teers even tried bar­ter­ing, either with them­selves or the robot, by request­ing anoth­er task or by sug­gest­ing out loud that per­haps the robot was mal­func­tion­ing.


    Could bar­ter­ing with your boss-bot be part of the jobs of the future? Maybe. For while. At some point boss­ing you around sim­ply won’t be worth the robot­ic effort:

    Drones will cause an upheaval of soci­ety like we haven’t seen in 700 years
    By Noah Smith March 11, 2014
    Noah Smith is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of finance at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty. His blog is Noah­pin­ion.

    The human race is on the brink of momen­tous and dire change. It is a change that poten­tial­ly smash­es our insti­tu­tions and warps our soci­ety beyond recog­ni­tion. It is also a change to which almost no one is pay­ing atten­tion. I’m talk­ing about the com­ing obso­les­cence of the gun-wield­ing human infantry­man as a weapon of war. Or to put it anoth­er way: the end of the Age of the Gun.

    You may not even real­ize you have been, indeed, liv­ing in the Age of the Gun because it’s been cen­turies since that age began. But imag­ine your­self back in 1400. In that cen­tu­ry (and the 10 cen­turies before it), the bat­tle­field was ruled not by the infantry­man, but by the horse archer—a war­rior-noble­man who had spent his whole life train­ing in the ways of war. Imag­ine that guy’s sur­prise when he was shot off his horse by a poor no-count farmer armed with a long met­al tube and just two weeks’ worth of train­ing. Just a reg­u­lar guy with a gun.

    That day was the end of the Mid­dle Ages and the begin­ning of moder­ni­ty. For cen­turies after that fate­ful day, gun-tot­ing infantry ruled the bat­tle­field. Mil­i­tary suc­cess depend­ed more and more on being able to moti­vate large groups of (gun-wield­ing) humans, instead of on win­ning the loy­al­ty of the high­ly trained war­rior-noble­men. But some­time in the near future, the autonomous, weaponized drone may replace the human infantry­man as the dom­i­nant bat­tle­field tech­nol­o­gy. And as always, that shift in mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy will cause huge social upheaval.


    The Age of the Gun is the age of Peo­ple Pow­er. The fact that guns don’t take that long to mas­ter means that most peo­ple can learn to be decent gun­men in their spare time. That’s prob­a­bly why the gun is regard­ed as the ulti­mate guar­an­tor of per­son­al lib­er­ty in America—in the event that we need to over­throw a tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment, we like to think that we can put down our lap­tops, pick up our guns, and become an invin­ci­ble swarm.

    Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Peo­ple Pow­er has often been used not for free­dom, but to estab­lish night­mar­ish tyran­nies, in the Sovi­et Union, Mao’s Chi­na, and else­where. But Stal­in, Mao, and their ilk still had to win hearts and minds to hold pow­er; in the end, when peo­ple wised up, their night­mare regimes were reformed into some­thing less hor­ri­ble.

    But anoth­er turn­ing point in the his­to­ry of humankind may be on the hori­zon. Con­tin­u­ing progress in automa­tion, espe­cial­ly con­tin­ued cost drops, may mean that some­day soon, autonomous drone mil­i­taries become cheap­er than infantry at any scale.

    Note that what we call drones right now are actu­al­ly just remote-con­trol weapons, oper­at­ed by humans. But that may change. The Unit­ed States Army is con­sid­er­ing replac­ing thou­sands of sol­diers with true autonomous robots. The pro­pos­al is for the robots to be used in sup­ply roles only, but that will obvi­ous­ly change in the long term. Some­time in the next cou­ple of decades, drones will be giv­en the tools to take on human oppo­nents all by them­selves.

    Mean­while, tech­no­log­i­cal advances and cost drops in robot­ics con­tin­ue apace. It is not hard to imag­ine swarms of agile, heav­i­ly armed quadro­tor drones flush­ing human gun­men out of build­ings and jun­gles, while hard­ened bunkers are bust­ed with smart muni­tions from cheap high-alti­tude robot blimps. (See this video if your imag­i­na­tion needs assis­tance.)

    The day that robot armies become more cost-effec­tive than human infantry is the day when Peo­ple Pow­er becomes obso­lete. With robot armies, the few will be able to do what­ev­er they want to the many. And unlike the tyran­nies of Stal­in and Mao, robot-enforced tyran­ny will be robust to shifts in pop­u­lar opin­ion. The rab­ble may think what­ev­er they please, but the Robot Lords will have the guns.


    Where this sce­nario real­ly gets scary is when it com­bines with eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty. Although few peo­ple have been focus­ing on robot armies, many peo­ple have been ask­ing what hap­pens if robots put most of us out of a job. The final, last-ditch response to that con­tin­gency is income redis­tri­b­u­tion – if our future is to get paid to sit on a beach, so be it.

    But with robot armies, that’s just not going to work. To pay the poor, you have to tax the rich, and the Robot Lords are unlike­ly to stand for that. Just imag­ine Tom Perkins with an army of cheap autonomous drones. Or Greg Gop­man. We’re all wor­ried about the day that the 1% no longer need the 99%–but what’s real­ly scary is when they don’t fear the 99% either.

    Take a look at coun­tries where the gov­ern­ment makes its mon­ey from nat­ur­al resources instead of human labor–Saudi Ara­bia, Rus­sia, Iran. Look at the mon­ey and effort those gov­ern­ments spend mak­ing sure their peo­ple don’t rebel. What will those coun­tries look like when repres­sion starts get­ting cheap­er and cheap­er? And why will Amer­i­ca and Europe and East Asia be dif­fer­ent? Isn’t a nation where the rich can get every­thing they need from robots essen­tial­ly suf­fer­ing from the same “resource curse” as Sau­di Ara­bia?

    When we think of the “rise of the robots,” we usu­al­ly think of Skynet and Agent Smith–the evil of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. But that’s not who we should be wor­ry­ing about. A.I.’s–if they ever exist–may or may not have any rea­son to dom­i­nate, mar­gin­al­ize, or slaugh­ter human­i­ty. But we know that humans often like to do those things. Humans already exist, and we know many of them are evil. It’s the Robot Lords we should be afraid of, not Skynet.

    Lib­er­tar­i­ans, anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists, and rugged indi­vid­u­al­ists have always based their visions of a cap­i­tal­ist par­adise on the idea that the state is the main threat to the pow­er and free­dom of the indi­vid­ual. And in the Age of the Gun, that was true. But in the Age of the Drone, that is no longer the case. When the rich hold unlim­it­ed mil­i­tary pow­er in their own two hands, who’s going to stop them from just tak­ing the prop­er­ty of every­one else? If you’re a card-car­ry­ing Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion mem­ber, you should ask your­self whether you’re going to be one of the Robot Lords … or one of the rest.

    We can car­ry this dystopi­an thought exer­cise through to its ulti­mate con­clu­sion. Imag­ine a world where gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties have become self-con­tained can­ton­ments, inside of which live the beau­ti­ful, rich, Robot Lords, served by cheap robot employ­ees, guard­ed by cheap robot armies. Out­side the gates, a teem­ing, ragged mass of lumpen human­i­ty teeters on the edge of star­va­tion. They can’t farm the land or mine for min­er­als, because the invin­ci­ble robot swarms guard all the farms and mines. Their only hope is to catch the atten­tion of the Robot Lords inside the can­ton­ments, either by hav­ing enough rare tal­ent to be admit­ted as a Robot Lord, or by becom­ing a nov­el­ty slave for a lit­tle while.

    This sounds like noth­ing more than a fun sci­ence fic­tion sto­ry, but why shouldn’t this hap­pen? Human civ­i­liza­tion was some­what like this for most of our history—aristocrats feast­ing in their manor hous­es, half-starved peas­ants toil­ing in the fields. What lib­er­at­ed us? It might have been the print­ing press, or cap­i­tal­ism, or the sail­ing ship. But it might have been the gun. And if it was the gun that lib­er­at­ed us, then we should be very wor­ried. Because when the Age of the Gun ends, the age of free­dom and dig­ni­ty and equal­i­ty that much of human­i­ty now enjoys may turn out to have been a bizarre, tem­po­rary aber­ra­tion.

    Not the future you were hop­ing for? Well, at least the robot-induced long-term unem­ploy­ment phase should­n’t last too long dur­ing human­i­ty’s sad jour­ney into the night. When the times comes for our Robot Lords to choose between lis­ten­ing to their con­sciences and redis­trib­ut­ing the wealth or unleash­ing the robot hoards, it’s not real­ly going to be a con­test. Don’t for­get that our oli­garchs that adhere to philoso­phies jus­ti­fy­ing end­less­ly grow­ing per­son­al empires have also shown quite a desire for end­less life. The rest of our lives are kind of an obsta­cle to those goals.

    You do have won­der, though, if replac­ing your hoard of dis­sat­is­fied human pro­les that clear­ly don’t like their lot in life with robot slaves kind of takes the joy out of liv­ing when you’re a heart­less oli­garch. What kind of com­pro­mis­es will be required to make it all worth it at that point?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2014, 2:33 pm
  12. Here’s a the­o­ry about the ‘Tech­to­pus’ con­spir­a­cy: the peo­ple behind this con­spir­a­cy have a propen­si­ty to secret­ly and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly abuse those they have pow­er over:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    Revealed: Apple and Google’s wage-fix­ing car­tel involved dozens more com­pa­nies, over one mil­lion employ­ees

    By Mark Ames
    On March 22, 2014

    “British medieval ordi­nances of Bris­tol cob­blers in 1364 state, ‘Mas­ters are for­bid­den to poach work­ers from oth­er mem­bers of the craft.’”

    — Orly Lobel, Tal­ent Wants To Be Free

    Back in Jan­u­ary, I wrote about “The Tech­to­pus” — an ille­gal agree­ment between sev­en tech giants, includ­ing Apple, Google, and Intel, to sup­press wages for tens of thou­sands of tech employ­ees. The agree­ment prompt­ed a Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­ga­tion, result­ing in a set­tle­ment in which the com­pa­nies agreed to curb their restrict­ing hir­ing deals. The same com­pa­nies were then hit with a civ­il suit by employ­ees affect­ed by the agree­ments.

    This week, as the final sum­ma­ry judge­ment for the result­ing class action suit looms, and sev­er­al of the com­pa­nies men­tioned (Intu­it, Pixar and Lucas­film) scram­ble to set­tle out of court, Pan­do has obtained court doc­u­ments (embed­ded below) which show shock­ing evi­dence of a much larg­er con­spir­a­cy, reach­ing far beyond Sil­i­con Val­ley.

    Con­fi­den­tial inter­nal Google and Apple mem­os, buried with­in piles of court dock­ets and reviewed by Pan­do­Dai­ly, clear­ly show that what began as a secret car­tel agree­ment between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to ille­gal­ly fix the labor mar­ket for hi-tech work­ers, expand­ed with­in a few years to include com­pa­nies rang­ing from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Com­cast, Clear Chan­nel, Dream­works, and Lon­don-based pub­lic rela­tions behe­moth WPP. All told, the com­bined work­forces of the com­pa­nies involved totals well over a mil­lion employ­ees.

    Accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources famil­iar with the case, sev­er­al of these new­ly named com­pa­nies were also sub­poe­naed by the DOJ for their inves­ti­ga­tion. A spokesper­son for Ask.com con­firmed that in 2009-10 the com­pa­ny was inves­ti­gat­ed by the DOJ, and agreed to coop­er­ate ful­ly with that inves­ti­ga­tion. Oth­er com­pa­nies con­firmed off the record that they too had been sub­poe­naed around the same time.

    Although the Depart­ment ulti­mate­ly decid­ed to focus its atten­tion on just Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intu­it, Lucas­film and Pixar, the emails and mem­os clear­ly name dozens more com­pa­nies which, at least as far as Google and Apple exec­u­tives were con­cerned, formed part of their wage-fix­ing car­tel.

    A con­fi­den­tial Google memo (above, left) titled “Spe­cial Agree­ment Hir­ing Pol­i­cy,” dat­ing from Novem­ber 2006, divides the company’s wage-fix­ing agree­ments into two cat­e­gories: “Do Not Cold Call” and “Sen­si­tive Com­pa­nies.” Below that, the Google memo offers a brief chronol­o­gy and list of com­pa­nies:

    The fol­low­ing com­pa­nies have spe­cial agree­ments with Google and are part of the “Do Not Cold Call” list.

    The first entry marks the begin­ning of Google’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the wage-sup­pres­sion scheme:

    Effec­tive March 6, 2005:

    • Genen­tech, Inc.
    • Intel Cor­po­ra­tion
    • Apple Com­put­er
    • Pay­pal, Inc.
    • Com­cast Cor­po­ra­tion

    Until now, nei­ther Pay­pal (owned by eBay), Com­cast nor Genen­tech have been pub­licly men­tioned as part of the wage-sup­pres­sion car­tel. Nor have they been pub­licly named in crim­i­nal or civ­il actions relat­ing to this par­tic­u­lar case, although both the DOJ and the state of Cal­i­for­nia are cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing a sep­a­rate but relat­ed antitrust suits against eBay.

    The “effec­tive date” of Google’s first wage-fix­ing agree­ments, ear­ly March 2005, fol­lows a few weeks after Steve Jobs threat­ened Google’s Sergey Brin to stop all recruit­ing at Apple: “if you hire a sin­gle one of these peo­ple,” Jobs emailed Brin, “that means war.”

    Jobs threat­ened Brin and Google on Feb­ru­ary 17, 2005; nine days lat­er, Apple’s VP for Human Resources sent out an inter­nal email to Apple recruit­ing,


    Please add Google to your “hands-off” list. We recent­ly agreed not to recruit from one anoth­er so if you hear of any recruit­ing they are doing against us, please be sure to let me know.

    Please also be sure to hon­or our side of the deal.

    That was Feb­ru­ary 26; on March 6, Google’s iden­ti­cal non-solic­i­ta­tion agree­ment with Apple became “effec­tive.”

    This time­line is impor­tant to estab­lish because it demon­strates pre­cise­ly what makes this scheme ille­gal: secret cross-agree­ments between two or more par­ties to fix wages in the labor mar­ket, at a time when tech engi­neer wages were soar­ing, threat­en­ing prof­its.

    This is just a tiny sam­ple of the “over­whelm­ing” evi­dence used by both the Jus­tice Department’s antitrust divi­sion, and the Dis­trict Court judge in San Jose, to debunk the com­pa­ny exec­u­tives’ claims that each had coin­ci­den­tal­ly imple­ment­ed iden­ti­cal non-solic­i­ta­tion poli­cies at the same time, with the same com­pa­nies, with­out know­ing what the oth­er side was doing.


    All of the above is just what’s in the moun­tain of pre-tri­al court doc­u­ments. It’s high­ly like­ly that more names will spill out dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny. Pan­do will con­tin­ue to report any new devel­op­ments and also will be cov­er­ing the sum­ma­ry judg­ment hear­ing next week.

    For now, it’s enough to try to absorb what all of these cross-com­pa­ny, cross-indus­try secret labor-fix­ing agree­ments mean. Most labor sto­ries about wage theft and cor­po­rate abuse tend to focus on low-wage earn­ers and the most dis­ad­van­taged. Cer­tain­ly it strains one’s sen­si­bil­i­ties to com­pare an exploit­ed low-wage work­er in the fast food or retail indus­try to tech engi­neers and pro­gram­mers, who are far bet­ter com­pen­sat­ed, live more com­fort­ably, and rarely wor­ry about putting food in their children’s mouths.

    In terms of pathos, there is no com­par­i­son; min­i­mum wage earn­ers are strug­gling to sur­vive, and near­ly all of the well-edu­cat­ed, priv­i­leged-born peo­ple in the media world agree that tech indus­try work­ers are all a bunch of over­paid misog­y­nist lib­er­tar­i­an bros, a car­i­ca­ture that makes it per­fect­ly fine to hate the entire class, and impos­si­ble to con­sid­er them as polit­i­cal com­rades stuck in the same predica­ment as the rest of the non-mul­ti­mil­lion­aires in this coun­try.

    What’s more impor­tant is the polit­i­cal predica­ment that low-paid fast food work­ers share with well-paid hi-tech work­ers: the loss of pow­er over their lives and their futures to the grow­ing mass of con­cen­trat­ed pow­er in Sil­i­con Val­ley, whose ten­ta­cles are so strong now and so great, that hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers around the globe—public rela­tions and cable com­pa­ny employ­ees in the British Isles, pro­gram­mers and tech engi­neers in Rus­sia and Chi­na (accord­ing to oth­er doc­u­ments which I’ll write about soon)—have their lives con­trolled and their wages and oppor­tu­ni­ties stolen from them with­out ever know­ing about it, all the while being bom­bard­ed with cul­tur­al cant about the wis­dom of the free mar­ket, about the effi­cien­cy of free knowl­edge, about the need to take per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty and to blame no one but your­self for every­thing that hap­pens in your life and your career.


    Your sig­na­ture awaits!

    On the plus side, the issue of wage-rig­ging will prob­a­bly be a shrink­ing one. At least in terms of the num­ber of work­ers get­ting their wages rigged. Glob­al­ly:

    Sin­gu­lar­i­ty Hub
    Foxconn’s Piv­ot to Amer­i­ca: Reverse Out­sourc­ing With Robots
    Writ­ten By: Jason Dor­ri­er
    Post­ed: 02/23/14 12:00 PM

    A lit­tle over a year ago, Fox­conn, the noto­ri­ous Tai­wanese man­u­fac­tur­er of Apple’s iPhone, said they would replace a mil­lion Chi­nese work­ers with robots. Now, the firm says they plan to trans­fer cap­i­tal-inten­sive and high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing to the US.

    The two announce­ments are close­ly relat­ed. Just as cheap labor and com­pet­i­tive firms like Fox­conn lured US elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies to out­source man­u­fac­tur­ing to Asia—new gen­er­a­tions of advanced robots may be set to bring it back. (Note: Though there are few­er man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs due to automa­tion, the US still “makes” plen­ty of stuff.)

    Chi­na, where Fox­conn oper­ates its iPhone plant, has been vil­i­fied in recent years for “steal­ing” US man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, as have the multi­na­tion­als assem­bling prod­ucts there. Most folks (often politi­cians) cite the fact Chi­nese fac­to­ries can pay low­er wages than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

    But low­er wages are only part of the sto­ry. A 2012 New York Times arti­cle relat­ed an encounter between the late Steve Jobs and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma. Oba­ma want­ed to know what it would take to bring iPhone assem­bly to the US. Apple’s CEO was blunt, “Those jobs aren’t com­ing back.”

    He went on to explain that when Apple redesigned the screen in the orig­i­nal iPhone just weeks before launch, 8,000 Chi­nese work­ers who lived on the fac­to­ry grounds were imme­di­ate­ly awok­en, giv­en tea and a bis­cuit, and set to work refit­ting screens. A mere 96 hours lat­er, they were pump­ing out 10,000 iPhones a day.

    “The speed and flex­i­bil­i­ty is breath­tak­ing,” Jobs said. “There’s no Amer­i­can plant that can match that.”

    Behind those words was an unspo­ken, con­tro­ver­sial fact. No Amer­i­can plant could com­pete, in part, because the work­ing con­di­tions Jobs described would be con­sid­ered unac­cept­able. Chi­na on the oth­er hand has few­er such reg­u­la­tions, and there­fore, it’s faster, cheap­er, and more con­ve­nient to assem­ble elec­tron­ics there.

    But if it’s been so finan­cial­ly sen­si­ble for Apple (and oth­er firms) to make their prod­ucts in Chi­na and ship them thou­sands of miles back to the US—then, Foxconn’s new plan sig­nals some­thing pow­er­ful is chang­ing the cost equa­tion.

    What is that some­thing? Robots, of course. Increas­ing­ly afford­able robot labor is tak­ing the cost advan­tage (and PR risk) of oper­at­ing in less reg­u­lat­ed coun­tries and throw­ing it out the win­dow.


    Now, to be clear, robots have long been a part of man­u­fac­tur­ing. What’s changed, and con­tin­ues to change at a rapid pace, is the cost and com­pe­ten­cy of those robots.

    Thanks to com­put­er vision and machine learn­ing algo­rithms, robots, once con­signed to care­ful­ly con­trolled tasks, can now func­tion more like human work­ers. And due to cheap sen­sors and chips, they’re more pow­er­ful per dol­lar. Not all man­u­fac­tur­ing has been auto­mat­ed, but it’s head­ed in that direc­tion.

    “Automa­tion, soft­ware and tech­nol­o­gy inno­va­tion will be our key focus in the US in the com­ing few years,” Fox­conn chair­man, Ter­ry Gou, told reporters at a recent press event.

    That may mean more elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US, but Jobs was still right. Most of the man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs of the hal­cy­on days of yore are gone for good. Future man­u­fac­tur­ing will require but a skele­ton crew of humans to attend the robots.

    But it’s bet­ter than the alter­na­tive. Man­u­fac­tur­ing is exact­ly the kind of work machines ought to do, the kind of work that frees humans from dan­ger­ous, monot­o­nous tasks. With­out automa­tion, most of us would be con­signed to plow­ing the field. There would be no time to devel­op can­cer cures or form garage bands.

    Some fore­see a time in the not too dis­tant future when robots doing every­thing will cause mass unem­ploy­ment and inequal­i­ty. Right or wrong—and a heavy bur­den of proof is on the hypothesizers—the resur­gence of that line of think­ing, at the least, sig­nals huge tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment and upheaval is afoot. Sim­i­lar argu­ments have been made at every great leap for­ward in the last few hun­dred years.

    But opti­mism is also war­rant­ed. Today, as in the past, tech­no­log­i­cal change has the pow­er to deliv­er greater abun­dance, free­dom, health, and creativity—and what­ev­er we do for work, few­er humans will be Fox­conn cogs in the indus­tri­al machine.

    Yes, we all should be opti­mistic about a reduc­tion in the kinds of jobs that make peo­ple want to jump out of tall build­ings once robots are there to take their place (maybe). But giv­en human­i­ty’s incom­pe­tence at avoid­ing lead­ers with an appar­ent inabil­i­ty to imag­ine a world ded­i­cat­ed to real pros­per­i­ty instead of prof­its, it’s dif­fi­cult to see why the tech econ­o­my of the future isn’t going to be a rigged zero sum game that almost all of us lose.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 22, 2014, 3:51 pm
  13. When you want it all, tak­ing over the gov­ern­ment helps. But that still leaves the hearts and minds:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    As journalism’s tra­di­tion­al mod­els col­lapse, bil­lion­aires are see­ing a chance to own both medi­um and mes­sage

    By David Siro­ta
    On March 27, 2014

    Jour­nal­ism, as you learn in your first J‑school class, is all about the invert­ed pyra­mid. It is the shape that haunts you as a writer and guides you as an edi­tor. And now, as evi­denced by Pew’s new report on the state of the news, it is a shape that increas­ing­ly defines the media industry’s busi­ness mod­el. It also explains why we’re sud­den­ly see­ing a raft of new Cit­i­zen Kanes’ invest­ing in media and jour­nal­ism.

    Most of the cov­er­age of the report focused on the rise of online and/or dig­i­tal-native news oper­a­tions. In all, Pew reports, such out­lets have to date cre­at­ed 5,000 jobs.

    This may seem like a sign that all is final­ly becom­ing well in the news busi­ness after the Great Inter­net Dis­rup­tion that famous­ly laid waste to print pub­li­ca­tions’ cen­tu­ry-long dom­i­nance of the media. Yet, in a cau­tion­ary note, Pew points out that “the vast major­i­ty of bod­ies pro­duc­ing orig­i­nal report­ing still comes from the news­pa­per indus­try,” which is still shrink­ing.

    Mak­ing mat­ters worse, many of the top dig­i­tal media employ­ers list­ed in Pew’s report are not nec­es­sar­i­ly out­lets that pri­mar­i­ly pro­duce what you could accu­rate­ly call orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism. Yes, places like the Huff­in­g­ton Post cer­tain­ly do some orig­i­nal report­ing (for which they even won a Pulitzer), but a huge chunk of their work is in aggre­ga­tion, cura­tion, lis­ti­cles, and oth­er kinds of non-orig­i­nal (or at least deriv­a­tive) con­tent.

    Tak­en togeth­er, online media out­lets could be pro­lif­er­at­ing, but orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism may still be con­tract­ing, or at least not grow­ing in any mea­sur­able way.

    Hence, the invert­ed pyra­mid. At the top of the new invert­ed pyra­mid of jour­nal­ism are the many aggre­ga­tors and cura­tors who do not pro­duce any orig­i­nal work at all (think Drudge and sim­i­lar sites); in the mid­dle, nar­row­er lev­els are the out­lets that mix aggre­ga­tion and cura­tion with some orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism (Huff­Post); and at the bot­tom, are the ever-small­er num­ber of places that most­ly do the expen­sive time-suck­ing work of orig­i­nal report­ing.

    In this sys­tem, the out­lets in the wider lay­ers at the top of the invert­ed pyra­mid large­ly rely on the con­tent com­ing from the nar­row­er bot­tom lay­ers of the pyra­mid. They rely on that con­tent for aggre­ga­tion and cura­tion. They also rely on it for all the riff­ing and remix­ing that mas­quer­ades as orig­i­nal con­tent – from block-quote-based blog posts, to colum­niz­ing to video sam­pling to the so-called “explana­to­ry jour­nal­ism” projects being built by those who have not pri­mar­i­ly done orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism, but instead have most­ly syn­the­sized oth­ers’ work.

    How many media out­lets can dance on the head of a pin?

    Tee­ter­ing on ever-few­er jour­nal­ism out­lets to feed ever-more curation/aggregation out­lets, this mod­el is inher­ent­ly unsta­ble in the same way a finan­cial­ized econ­o­my is.


    For exam­ple, when the val­ue of the actu­al hous­es at the bot­tom of the economy’s invert­ed pyra­mid dropped, that rip­pled up through the deriv­a­tive indus­tries that sold mort­gages, mort­gage backed secu­ri­ties, and insur­ance on mort­gage backed secu­ri­ties, and it also wreaked hav­oc on insti­tu­tion­al investors who had put their cash in such invest­ments. Ulti­mate­ly, we got the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008. Sim­i­lar­ly, if we, say, run out of oil at the bot­tom of the finan­cial­ized economy’s invert­ed pyra­mid, the many oil spec­u­la­tion indus­tries and instru­ments at the top of the invert­ed pyra­mid will be worth noth­ing, and there would like­ly be anoth­er finan­cial pan­ic.

    It is poten­tial­ly the same dynam­ic for jour­nal­ism. If there’s too lit­tle orig­i­nal qual­i­ty jour­nal­ism being pro­duced – if, metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, the bot­tom of the pyra­mid becomes as nar­row as a head of a pin – then prof­it-tak­ing aggregators/curators like Upwor­thy at the top of the invert­ed pyra­mid can have the great­est algo­rithms ever cre­at­ed and get glow­ing mag­a­zine pro­files, but they will have less and less ”wor­thy” con­tent to put up. And because they can’t very well curate cura­tion or aggre­gate aggre­ga­tion, it will like­ly mean rely­ing on non-jour­nal­ism con­tent (side­boob, any­body?), beg­ging for low­er qual­i­ty non-pro­fes­sion­al con­tent, or fac­ing total col­lapse.

    The huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for new Cit­i­zen Kanes

    In my Harper’s mag­a­zine inves­ti­ga­tion of this invert­ed pyra­mid in 2012, I not­ed that trends in news­pa­pers, radio and tele­vi­sion com­bined with trends in online news had togeth­er cre­at­ed the image of more news out­lets, even though there may be less orig­i­nal news than ever. This is per­haps most easy to see on your TV screen — there are more and more cheap-to-pro­duce chat shows fea­tur­ing pun­dits and hosts pon­tif­i­cat­ing about news, yet few­er and few­er TV jour­nal­ists actu­al­ly doing the unglam­orous work of report­ing orig­i­nal news. Using news­pa­pers as a euphemism for all orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism out­lets, I report­ed in Harpers:

    Even as mil­lions of read­ers aban­don news­pa­pers for blogs and web­sites such as the Huff­in­g­ton Post and the Drudge Report, these online enter­pris­es still rely on aggre­ga­tion for much of their con­tent. And since such aggre­ga­tion is large­ly made up of bor­row­ing or steal­ing from those very news­pa­pers, the Inter­net has expand­ed news­pa­pers’ abil­i­ty to frame events and shape the terms of our polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly killing off such mon­ey-spin­ning fran­chis­es as the clas­si­fied ad.

    For you, the news con­sumer, this means that the Ron Bur­gundy on your local evening news pro­gram, or the radio announc­er you lis­ten to each morn­ing dur­ing your com­mute, is rely­ing more than ever on the old “rip and read” trick – tear­ing out sto­ries from the monop­oly news­pa­per and read­ing them as orig­i­nal news. As an invest­ment, then, monop­oly broad­sheets and tabloids remain a jack­pot for a par­tic­u­lar kind of buy­er: the indus­tri­al­ist or politi­co who wants to con­trol the core com­mod­i­ty on which most oth­er news prod­ucts rely.

    In oth­er words, as unsta­ble and unsus­tain­able as the news business’s invert­ed pyra­mid is, and as bad as a decrease in orig­i­nal jorunal­ism is for democ­ra­cy, it does present a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty to aspir­ing Cit­i­zen Kanes who val­ue prof­it and polit­i­cal pow­er, and who under­stand how the two are sym­bi­ot­ic.

    These new Medicis, as Reuters Jack Shafer calls them, know that in the media busi­ness, there are two places to make mon­ey and gain pow­er: dis­tri­b­u­tion and con­tent pro­duc­tion. They know that the busi­ness of pure dis­tri­b­u­tion – ie. cura­tion, aggre­ga­tion etc. – is prone to sat­u­ra­tion because the Inter­net makes dis­tri­b­u­tion a rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive endeav­or (in fact, it is down­right cheap com­pared to ear­li­er epochs when dis­tri­b­u­tion required cap­i­tal invest­ments in print­ing press­es, TV stu­dios, radio facil­i­ties, etc.). They also know that that dis­tri­b­u­tion isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly where the most pow­er is any more than oil futures rather than oil hold the ener­gy economy’s true val­ue.

    In short, they know that for all the aggre­ga­tion, cura­tion and oth­er euphemisms used to describe the act of mon­e­tiz­ing oth­ers’ online con­tent for one­self, the most polit­i­cal­ly valu­able input in the media econ­o­my is orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism at the bot­tom of the invert­ed pyra­mid. Own that, and you con­trol the core mes­sage that’s being pro­mot­ed via oth­ers’ dis­tri­b­u­tion con­duits high­er up on the invert­ed pyra­mid.

    Thus, under­stand­ing that their com­par­a­tive advan­tage over com­peti­tors is their mon­ey, the oli­garchs are invest­ing in the place on the invert­ed pyra­mid that can’t be occu­pied on the cheap – they are invest­ing in orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism at the bot­tom. As the pyra­mid becomes ever more nar­row down there and wider at the top, that may desta­bi­lize the whole media econ­o­my and be ter­ri­ble for soci­ety, but it makes the few oli­garchs who own the tiny bot­tom of the pyra­mid that much more able to con­trol the con­tent that fuels the whole sys­tem.


    One of the fun things about the mod­ern age is that it’s now pos­si­ble for the new wave of bil­lion­aire-owned media out­lets to revert the invert­ed media pyra­mid by financ­ing the gen­er­a­tion of all sorts new orig­i­nal con­tent with­out jour­nal­ists. Yep, there’s an app for that and that app is only going to get bet­ter:

    Sigu­lar­i­ty Hub

    More News Is Being Writ­ten By Robots Than You Think
    Writ­ten By: Jason Dor­ri­er
    Post­ed: 03/25/14 8:00 AM

    It’s easy to praise robots and automa­tion when it isn’t your ass on the line. I’ve done it lots. But I may have to eat my own Chee­rios soon enough.

    Soft­ware is writ­ing news sto­ries with increas­ing fre­quen­cy. In a recent exam­ple, an LA Times writer-bot wrote and post­ed a snip­pet about an earth­quake three min­utes after the event. The LA Times claims they were first to pub­lish any­thing on the quake, and out­side the USGS, they prob­a­bly were.

    The LA Times exam­ple isn’t spe­cial because it’s the first algo­rithm to write a sto­ry on a major news site. With the help of Chica­go start­up and robot writ­ing firm, Nar­ra­tive Sci­ence, algo­rithms have basi­cal­ly been pass­ing the Tur­ing test online for the last few years.

    This is pos­si­ble because some kinds of report­ing are for­mu­la­ic. You take a pub­licly avail­able source, crunch it down to the high­lights, and trans­late it for read­ers using a few boil­er plate con­nec­tors. Hope­ful­ly, this makes it more digestible.

    Indeed, Kris­t­ian Ham­mond, cofounder and CTO of Nar­ra­tive Sci­ence, thinks some 90% of the news could be writ­ten by com­put­ers by 2030.

    I imag­ine the com­put­er pop­u­lat­ing a Venn dia­gram. In one cir­cle, it adds hard data (earn­ings, sports stats, earth­quake read­ings), in anoth­er, a selec­tion of jour­nal­is­tic clichés—and where the two inter­sect, an arti­cle is born.

    In truth, it’s a lit­tle more com­pli­cat­ed than that. In engi­neer­ing their soft­ware, Nar­ra­tive worked with trained jour­nal­ists to help the soft­ware deter­mine an angle. For exam­ple, in the case of sports, the algo­rithm answers key ques­tions like, “Who won the game and by how much? Was it a come­back or a blowout? Any hero­ics or notable stats?”

    The pro­gram choos­es an arti­cle tem­plate, strings togeth­er sen­tences, and spices them up with catch phras­es: “It was a flaw­less day at the dish for the Giants.” The tone is col­or­ful­ly pro­sa­ic, but human enough.

    Ear­ly on, Nar­ra­tive applied its algo­rithms to Lit­tle League base­ball games. Par­tic­i­pat­ing par­ents would enter game stats into an iPhone app called GameChang­er and the app would spit out writ­ten game sum­maries.

    Since then, they’ve sup­plied con­tent to major news sites. Forbes is open about its use of Narrative’s soft­ware, includ­ing an expla­na­tion in the arti­cle. The LA Times earth­quake sto­ry, writ­ten by an algo­rithm cre­at­ed by one of their staff, includ­ed a dis­claimer. But many more big sites anony­mous­ly use algo­rithms to write sim­ple sto­ries.

    Narrative’s approach can be applied else­where too. The firm recent­ly launched an app that works with Google Ana­lyt­ics to trans­form raw web­site met­rics (traf­fic, sources, refer­rals, demo­graph­ics) into acces­si­ble, nat­ur­al lan­guage reports. These could be use­ful in any busi­ness, a kind of auto­mat­ed ana­lyst to help make sense of big data sets.


    If a writer nev­er had to com­pose a fifty word earth­quake report again—few would com­plain. Bet­ter to leave the short, dry, pure­ly infor­ma­tion­al arti­cles to the bots.

    In the peren­ni­al­ly cash-strapped news busi­ness, unpaid algo­rithms could add lots of cheap con­tent while (hope­ful­ly) free­ing human writ­ers to focus on and improve the qual­i­ty of more in-depth, nuanced pieces.

    “The way we use it, it’s sup­ple­men­tal,” Schwencke told the Huff­in­g­ton Post. “It saves peo­ple a lot of time, and for cer­tain types of sto­ries, it gets the infor­ma­tion out there in usu­al­ly about as good a way as any­body else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t elim­i­nate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more inter­est­ing.”

    But Nar­ra­tive isn’t sat­is­fied with Lit­tle League write-ups and data reports.

    Ham­mond doesn’t mince words. He believes a com­put­er could write sto­ries wor­thy of a Pulitzer Prize by 2017. Not only would such a robot writer be fast and ever-wake­ful, prowl­ing the expo­nen­tial­ly grow­ing del­uge of online information—it would know enough of the sub­tleties of human lan­guage and log­ic to write com­pelling sto­ries too.

    And the soft­ware needn’t be lim­it­ed to the dig­i­tal world. Such algo­rithms might one day find them­selves a robot body, trav­el to war zones, and cov­er robot bull fights.

    These robot-Hem­ing­ways might write exis­ten­tial think pieces that get to the heart (or emo­tion­al proces­sor) of what it means to be a robot, and in the process, make us ques­tion what it means to be human—what sets us apart from the machines we make.

    Would­n’t it be some­thing it the robot jour­nal­ists of the future helped us get back in touch with our own human­i­ty? Hope­ful­ly those uplift­ing pieces make it past the edi­tors.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 27, 2014, 8:23 am
  14. Just a heads up: Before the machines take your job com­plete­ly, they’re going to try to assim­i­late you first:

    MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review
    The Lim­its of Social Engi­neer­ing

    Tap­ping into big data, researchers and plan­ners are build­ing math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els of per­son­al and civic behav­ior. But the mod­els may hide rather than reveal the deep­est sources of social ills.

    By Nicholas Carr on April 16, 2014

    In 1969, Play­boy pub­lished a long, free­wheel­ing inter­view with Mar­shall McLuhan in which the media the­o­rist and six­ties icon sketched a por­trait of the future that was at once seduc­tive and repel­lent. Not­ing the abil­i­ty of dig­i­tal com­put­ers to ana­lyze data and com­mu­ni­cate mes­sages, he pre­dict­ed that the machines even­tu­al­ly would be deployed to fine-tune society’s work­ings. “The com­put­er can be used to direct a net­work of glob­al ther­mostats to pat­tern life in ways that will opti­mize human aware­ness,” he said. “Already, it’s tech­no­log­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble to employ the com­put­er to pro­gram soci­eties in ben­e­fi­cial ways.” He acknowl­edged that such cen­tral­ized con­trol raised the specter of “brain­wash­ing, or far worse,” but he stressed that “the pro­gram­ming of soci­eties could actu­al­ly be con­duct­ed quite con­struc­tive­ly and human­is­ti­cal­ly.”

    The inter­view appeared when com­put­ers were used main­ly for arcane sci­en­tif­ic and indus­tri­al num­ber-crunch­ing. To most read­ers at the time, McLuhan’s words must have sound­ed far-fetched, if not nut­ty. Now they seem prophet­ic. With smart­phones ubiq­ui­tous, Face­book inescapable, and wear­able com­put­ers like Google Glass emerg­ing, soci­ety is gain­ing a dig­i­tal sens­ing sys­tem. People’s loca­tion and behav­ior are being tracked as they go through their days, and the result­ing infor­ma­tion is being trans­mit­ted instan­ta­neous­ly to vast serv­er farms. Once we write the algo­rithms need­ed to parse all that “big data,” many soci­ol­o­gists and sta­tis­ti­cians believe, we’ll be reward­ed with a much deep­er under­stand­ing of what makes soci­ety tick.

    One of big data’s keen­est advo­cates is Alex “Sandy” Pent­land, a data sci­en­tist who, as the direc­tor of MIT’s Human Dynam­ics Lab­o­ra­to­ry, has long used com­put­ers to study the behav­ior of busi­ness­es and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions. In his brief but ambi­tious new book, Social Physics, Pent­land argues that our great­ly expand­ed abil­i­ty to gath­er behav­ioral data will allow sci­en­tists to devel­op “a causal the­o­ry of social struc­ture” and ulti­mate­ly estab­lish “a math­e­mat­i­cal expla­na­tion for why soci­ety reacts as it does” in all man­ner of cir­cum­stances. As the book’s title makes clear, Pent­land thinks that the social world, no less than the mate­r­i­al world, oper­ates accord­ing to rules. There are “sta­tis­ti­cal reg­u­lar­i­ties with­in human move­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” he writes, and once we ful­ly under­stand those reg­u­lar­i­ties, we’ll dis­cov­er “the basic mech­a­nisms of social inter­ac­tions.”

    What’s pre­vent­ed us from deci­pher­ing society’s math­e­mat­i­cal under­pin­nings up to now, Pent­land believes, is a lack of empir­i­cal rig­or in the social sci­ences. Unlike physi­cists, who can mea­sure the move­ments of objects with great pre­ci­sion, soci­ol­o­gists have had to make do with fuzzy obser­va­tions. They’ve had to work with rough and incom­plete data sets drawn from small sam­ples of the pop­u­la­tion, and they’ve had to rely on people’s noto­ri­ous­ly flawed rec­ol­lec­tions of what they did, when they did it, and whom they did it with. Com­put­er net­works promise to rem­e­dy those short­com­ings. Tap­ping into the streams of data that flow through gad­gets, search engines, social media, and cred­it card pay­ment sys­tems, sci­en­tists will be able to col­lect pre­cise, real-time infor­ma­tion on the behav­ior of mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of indi­vid­u­als. And because com­put­ers nei­ther for­get nor fib, the infor­ma­tion will be reli­able.

    To illus­trate what lies in store, Pent­land describes a series of exper­i­ments that he and his asso­ciates have been con­duct­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor. They go into a busi­ness and give each employ­ee an elec­tron­ic ID card, called a “socio­met­ric badge,” that hangs from the neck and com­mu­ni­cates with the badges worn by col­leagues. Incor­po­rat­ing micro­phones, loca­tion sen­sors, and accelerom­e­ters, the badges mon­i­tor where peo­ple go and whom they talk with, tak­ing note of their tone of voice and even their body lan­guage. The devices are able to mea­sure not only the chains of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and influ­ence with­in an orga­ni­za­tion but also “per­son­al ener­gy lev­els” and traits such as “extra­ver­sion and empa­thy.” In one such study of a bank’s call cen­ter, the researchers dis­cov­ered that pro­duc­tiv­i­ty could be increased sim­ply by tweak­ing the cof­fee-break sched­ule.

    Pent­land dubs this data-pro­cess­ing tech­nique “real­i­ty min­ing,” and he sug­gests that sim­i­lar kinds of infor­ma­tion can be col­lect­ed on a much broad­er scale by smart­phones out­fit­ted with spe­cial­ized sen­sors and apps. Fed into sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ing pro­grams, the data could reveal “how things such as ideas, deci­sions, mood, or the sea­son­al flu are spread in the com­mu­ni­ty.”

    The math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing of soci­ety is made pos­si­ble, accord­ing to Pent­land, by the innate tractabil­i­ty of human beings. We may think of our­selves as ratio­nal actors, in con­scious con­trol of our choic­es, but most of what we do is reflex­ive. Our behav­ior is deter­mined by our sub­lim­i­nal reac­tions to the influ­ence of oth­er peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in the var­i­ous peer groups we belong to. “The pow­er of social physics,” he writes, “comes from the fact that almost all of our day-to-day actions are habit­u­al, based most­ly on what we have learned from observ­ing the behav­ior of oth­ers.” Once you map and mea­sure all of a person’s social influ­ences, you can devel­op a sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el that pre­dicts that person’s behav­ior, just as you can mod­el the path a bil­liard ball will take after it strikes oth­er balls.

    Deci­pher­ing people’s behav­ior is only the first step. What real­ly excites Pent­land is the prospect of using dig­i­tal media and relat­ed tools to change people’s behav­ior, to moti­vate groups and indi­vid­u­als to act in more pro­duc­tive and respon­si­ble ways. If peo­ple react pre­dictably to social influ­ences, then gov­ern­ments and busi­ness­es can use com­put­ers to devel­op and deliv­er care­ful­ly tai­lored incen­tives, such as mes­sages of praise or small cash pay­ments, to “tune” the flows of influ­ence in a group and there­by mod­i­fy the habits of its mem­bers. Beyond improv­ing the effi­cien­cy of tran­sit and health-care sys­tems, Pent­land sug­gests, group-based incen­tive pro­grams can make com­mu­ni­ties more har­mo­nious and cre­ative. “Our main insight,” he reports, “is that by tar­get­ing [an] individual’s peers, peer pres­sure can ampli­fy the desired effect of a reward on the tar­get indi­vid­ual.” Com­put­ers become, as McLuhan envi­sioned, civic ther­mostats. They not only reg­is­ter society’s state but bring it into line with some pre­scribed ide­al. Both the track­ing and the main­te­nance of the social order are auto­mat­ed.

    Ulti­mate­ly, Pent­land argues, look­ing at people’s inter­ac­tions through a math­e­mat­i­cal lens will free us of time-worn notions about class and class strug­gle. Polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic class­es, he con­tends, are “over­sim­pli­fied stereo­types of a flu­id and over­lap­ping matrix of peer groups.” Peer groups, unlike class­es, are defined by “shared norms” rather than just “stan­dard fea­tures such as income” or “their rela­tion­ship to the means of pro­duc­tion.” Armed with exhaus­tive infor­ma­tion about indi­vid­u­als’ habits and asso­ci­a­tions, civic plan­ners will be able to trace the full flow of influ­ences that shape per­son­al behav­ior. Aban­don­ing gen­er­al cat­e­gories like “rich” and “poor” or “haves” and “have-nots,” we’ll be able to under­stand peo­ple as individuals—even if those indi­vid­u­als are no more than the sums of all the peer pres­sures and oth­er social influ­ences that affect them.

    Replac­ing pol­i­tics with pro­gram­ming might sound appeal­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en Washington’s paral­y­sis. But there are good rea­sons to be ner­vous about this sort of social engi­neer­ing. Most obvi­ous are the pri­va­cy con­cerns raised by col­lect­ing ever more inti­mate per­son­al infor­ma­tion. Pent­land antic­i­pates such crit­i­cisms by argu­ing for a “New Deal on Data” that gives peo­ple direct con­trol over the infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed about them. It’s hard, though, to imag­ine Inter­net com­pa­nies agree­ing to give up own­er­ship of the behav­ioral infor­ma­tion that is cru­cial to their com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.


    Pol­i­tics is messy because soci­ety is messy, not the oth­er way around. Pent­land does a com­mend­able job in describ­ing how bet­ter data can enhance social plan­ning. But like oth­er would-be social engi­neers, he over­reach­es. Let­ting his enthu­si­asm get the bet­ter of him, he begins to take the metaphor of “social physics” lit­er­al­ly, even as he acknowl­edges that math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els will always be reduc­tive. “Because it does not try to cap­ture inter­nal cog­ni­tive process­es,” he writes at one point, “social physics is inher­ent­ly prob­a­bilis­tic, with an irre­ducible ker­nel of uncer­tain­ty caused by avoid­ing the gen­er­a­tive nature of con­scious human thought.” What big data can’t account for is what’s most unpre­dictable, and most inter­est­ing, about us.

    Oh, isn’t that spe­cial: Once we’re all tracked and “opti­mized”, there won’t be any­thing like “class” or “rich” or “poor” peo­ple any­more. It’ll be par­adise!

    At least, that’s prob­a­bly the sto­ry you’re going to be encour­aged to believe by your future peers. Think you’ll be able to resist their charms? Think again. Resis­tance is going to be futile.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 16, 2014, 2:22 pm
  15. If the indus­tri­al poi­sons and inad­e­quate safe­ty stan­dards aren’t rea­son enough to avoid a job in a sil­i­con chip ‘clean room’, here’s anoth­er rea­son why you prob­a­bly should­n’t be build­ing sil­i­con chips. You’re too large:

    SRI Unveils Tiny Robots Ready to Build Big Things

    April 16, 2014, 9:58 AM PDT
    By James Tem­ple

    SRI Inter­na­tion­al has devel­oped a new gen­er­a­tion of ant-like robots that can work as a coor­di­nat­ed swarm of minia­ture builders.

    The research pow­er­house says the bots can con­struct light­weight, high-strength struc­tures; han­dle tiny elec­tri­cal com­po­nents; car­ry out chem­istry on a chip; and per­form many oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ing tasks. Even­tu­al­ly, they expect that the machines, the small­est of which are no thick­er than a dime, will even be able to build small­er ver­sions of them­selves.

    SRI has already demon­strat­ed the abil­i­ty to make more than 1,000 of the robots work togeth­er at once.


    The orga­ni­za­tion, which has explored minia­ture robot­ics since the 1990s, ini­tial­ly fund­ed the lat­est project in-house. But near­ly two years ago, it secured an undis­closed amount of mon­ey from DARPA to advance what the Depart­ment of Defense divi­sion is call­ing the “Micro­Fac­to­ry for Macro Prod­ucts” project.

    SRI just got to the point where they can talk about the pro­gram and offered Re/code an ear­ly glimpse.

    The mag­net­ic robots are con­trolled remote­ly by a cen­tral com­put­er, rather than autonomous, direct­ed along a print­ed cir­cuit board by a cur­rent. The small­est ver­sion SRI has built so far is about one mil­lime­ter per side.

    To see the robots in action, check out the video below:
    [see video]

    In the lab, researchers have set the mini bots to work build­ing thin truss­es, with some assigned the task of plac­ing lit­tle bars and oth­ers the job of glu­ing them in place. They’ve also cre­at­ed a mod­el that can car­ry and han­dle liq­uids, with poten­tial appli­ca­tions for what’s known as microflu­idics and “lab on a chip” devices.

    Those terms mean pret­ty much what they sound like: The trans­port and han­dling of tiny amounts of liq­uids, enabling chem­istry at a very small scale. These tech­niques are mak­ing it faster, cheap­er and eas­i­er to ana­lyze DNA, diag­nose med­ical con­di­tions, study cel­lu­lar process­es and much more.

    SRI is far from the only robot­ics research cen­ter to take inspi­ra­tion from the ant world, where indus­tri­ous colonies accom­plish com­plex, coor­di­nat­ed tasks with min­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. There’s a whole field known as “swarm robot­ics,” anchored in the con­cept that rel­a­tive­ly cheap, dumb bots fol­low­ing a sim­ple set of rules can com­plete elab­o­rate projects in large enough num­bers.

    Researchers at the New Jer­sey Insti­tute of Technology’s Swarm Lab recent­ly set up robot exper­i­ments to both improve our under­stand­ing of ant behav­ior and bet­ter mim­ic it in our own trans­porta­tion sys­tems.

    At the cur­rent scale, SRI’s researchers can still assem­ble the robots by hand. But to build sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, Wong-Foy believes they’ll even­tu­al­ly be able to get the robots them­selves to assem­ble their tinier coun­ter­parts.

    The oth­er strength of SRI’s approach is built-in flex­i­bil­i­ty that will enable their use in appli­ca­tions that SRI hasn’t yet dreamed up, he added. “I think there are lim­it­less appli­ca­tions,” Wong-Foy said.


    Well that’s pret­ty neat: a remote­ly con­trolled swarm army of tiny robots is on the way that, one day, might be able to assem­ble even small ver­sions of them­selves. There’s a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties with that kind of tech­nol­o­gy, but let’s hope it’s not Skynet that ends up con­trol­ling these things. That could get messy.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 29, 2014, 2:46 pm
  16. Pan­do has piece today dredg­ing up a 2009 TED talk by Peter Thiel where he dis­cuss­es his belief that rapid­ly increas­ing tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments are the only hope if human­i­ty wants to avoid crush­ing stag­na­tion:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    Peter Thiel: The US as we know it depends on us redis­cov­er­ing our inno­va­tion

    By Niv Dror, Guest Con­trib­u­tor
    On May 16, 2014

    If there’s one video every­one should watch but far too few peo­ple have, it’s Peter Thiel’s* talk at TEDx Stan­ford about the sin­gu­lar­i­ty, the con­cept of a hypo­thet­i­cal moment in time when arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence pro­gressed to the point of a greater-than-human intel­li­gence – rad­i­cal­ly chang­ing our civ­i­liza­tion. When peo­ple talk about the sin­gu­lar­i­ty they imag­ine run­away tech­nol­o­gy and think about it as a very bad thing. Thiel, on the oth­er hand, named his 2‑slide pre­sen­ta­tion: “All We Need is a Sin­gu­lar­i­ty.” (Full video below)

    To start things off he list­ed sev­en dif­fer­ent dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios and asked the audi­ence: What are you most wor­ried about?

    1. Robots killing or enslav­ing human­i­ty? (Skynet)
    2. A pan­dem­ic wrecks civ­i­liza­tion? (Plague)
    3. Run­away nan­otech­nol­o­gy? (Grey goo)
    4. Nuclear war? (Exist­ing tech­nol­o­gy, Mid­dle East, con­flicts)
    5. Gov­ern­ment using com­put­ers to con­trol every­one? (One world gov­ern­ment, total­i­tar­i­an dic­ta­tor­ship)
    6. Glob­al warm­ing wrecks civ­i­liza­tion? (cli­mate change, resource deple­tion, eco­nom­ic col­lapse)
    7. The sin­gu­lar­i­ty takes too long to hap­pen.

    A quick poll of the audi­ence, a cou­ple of hands raised, and it looked like nuclear war was per­ceived as a bit more wor­ri­some than the rest. Then Thiel reached the sev­enth and last point: noth­ing hap­pens. A clear con­sen­sus emerged. Peo­ple fig­ured that even if a sin­gu­lar­i­ty did occur it would take too long to hap­pen; the oth­er sce­nar­ios were per­ceived as too dis­tant in the future. The audi­ence was not all that wor­ried at all.

    Thiel was most wor­ried about the fact that we’ve stopped inno­vat­ing.

    Per­haps Thiel spoke too soon, maybe he’s still ahead of his time, but today many of these dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios are no longer hypo­thet­i­cals – their ear­ly signs are report­ed on the news as cur­rent events. Thiel’s talk was giv­en at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in Decem­ber of 2009.

    We Depend on Accel­er­at­ing Tech­no­log­i­cal Change

    Peo­ple rou­tine­ly think about tech­no­log­i­cal progress as some­thing that’s great if it hap­pens, but no big deal if it doesn’t hap­pen. Thiel believes that lit­tle could be fur­ther from the truth. Inno­va­tion isn’t just for the tech world and con­fer­ences like TED; our entire cul­ture and soci­ety is pred­i­cat­ed on accel­er­at­ing tech­no­log­i­cal change.

    For exam­ple, we have a finan­cial sys­tem where peo­ple plan for retire­ment. They go to a finan­cial plan­ner who tells them they will earn 8.5 per­cent per year and they’ll need to save X num­ber of dol­lars each month so they can retire at age 65. If they live until they’re 90, they’re going to be just fine.

    But where does that 8.5 per­cent fig­ure come from?

    The 8.5 per­cent comes from look­ing at stud­ies over the last 100 years where that’s rough­ly what you earned. The prob­lem is that the last 100 years were years in which we’ve had incred­i­ble progress. We’ve expe­ri­enced incred­i­ble tech­no­log­i­cal change. In 68 years, we pro­gressed from the Wright Broth­ers’ embark­ing on the first flight to Alan Shep­ard (com­man­der of Apol­lo 14) play­ing golf on the Moon.

    Then the Inter­net came along and we got dis­tract­ed.

    One can­not over­es­ti­mate the impor­tance of the Inter­net. It has been and will con­tin­ue to be an incred­i­ble dri­ver of growth. But these assump­tions about con­tin­u­ous com­pound growth that are reflect­ed in things as basic as retire­ment plan­ning only work in a world with rapid­ly accel­er­at­ing tech­no­log­i­cal change. Thiel’s point is not intend­ed to dis­cred­it all that we’ve achieved with the inven­tion of the Inter­net and now the smart­phone, but rather, to ask, what’s next? Finan­cial plan­ners are not in the busi­ness of uncov­er­ing or even know­ing what the next thing may be, but we as a soci­ety should be aware that it’s already fac­tored into our retire­ment plan­ning and many oth­er areas of our soci­ety.

    Thiel argues that this is worth wor­ry­ing about by cit­ing the fact that the medi­an wage in the US has not gone up since 1973 and aver­age wages have not increased that much – in spite of enor­mous glob­al­iza­tion. With all the glob­al trade we’ve had the past few decades, one would have expect­ed sig­nif­i­cant progress in liv­ing stan­dards even with zero tech­no­log­i­cal progress. But that hasn’t been the case.

    Aha! That 40 years of US wage stag­na­tion was due to a lack of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion. So THAT’s where all the rais­es are hid­ing.

    Paul Krug­man also addressed the issue of sec­u­lar stag­na­tion today in a post that dis­cussed the impact of a lack of invest­ments on long term eco­nom­ic out­put asso­ci­at­ed with a falling pop­u­la­tion. But it was­n’t a lack of invest­ment due to there being too many reg­u­la­tions, as Thiel might sug­gest. Instead, Krug­man high­lights the fact that the way eco­nom­ic sys­tem func­tions, the rate of eco­nom­ic invest­ment is more of a func­tion of eco­nom­ic growth as opposed to eco­nom­ic out­put. So if economies are fac­ing long-term pop­u­la­tion declines (as is the case across the devel­oped world), the sys­tem is set up starve itself of invest­ments even though declin­ing pop­u­la­tions in today’s world real­ly should be lead­ing to more resources and greater pros­per­i­ty for all.

    Jux­ta­pos­ing the two pieces rais­es and inter­est­ing sce­nario: If one of Thiel’s com­pa­nies ever dis­cov­ered some real­ly ground­break­ing tech­nol­o­gy that could fun­da­men­tal­ly trans­form soci­ety, let’s say a free ener­gy device that could pow­er motors, but the tech­nol­o­gy could be eas­i­ly copied even if it was patent­ed and would under­mine the long-term via­bil­i­ty of the petro­le­um sec­tor (so poten­tial­ly lim­it­ed per­son­al prof­its and huge loss­es for Big Oil), would Thiel share it with the world or secret­ly sell it to Big Oil? In oth­er words, when we’re rely­ing on tech­nol­o­gy to save the day while also oper­at­ing in a socioe­co­nom­ic sys­tem that often put prof­its over real pros­per­i­ty, isn’t who dis­cov­ers that ground­break­ing tech poten­tial­ly just as impor­tant as the tech­nol­o­gy itself? At least, when secre­tive lib­er­tar­i­an oli­garchs are increas­ing­ly pri­va­tiz­ing sci­en­tif­ic progress, isn’t “tech­nol­o­gy will save us!” a “trust me” solu­tion from the same kinds of peo­ple that brought us the eco­nom­ic par­a­digms that turn falling pop­u­la­tions into a death trap?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 19, 2014, 11:36 am
  17. Well isn’t that sweet: a secret robo­cop that just wants to watch the world go by. For now at least:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    EXCLUSIVE: Robot cops secret­ly roam­ing Val­ley cam­pus­es, gagged by “the most strict NDA” the mak­er has ever seen

    By James Robin­son
    On May 22, 2014

    In Feb­ru­ary, we report­ed from Launch Fes­ti­val about Knightscope’s robot­ic police offi­cer (or K5 autonomous data machine, whichev­er term takes your fan­cy).

    Stand­ing five-feet tall, the K5 looks like a cross between R2D2 and a wash­ing machine, with the capa­bil­i­ty to roam out­doors autonomous­ly, scan­ning its envi­ron­ment every 25 mil­lisec­onds through 360-degree video, able to rec­og­nize ges­tures, faces and run 300 license plates a minute.

    At the time, the com­pa­ny said it was about to begin beta test­ing of its robot cop on cam­pus at a major Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny.

    Obvi­ous­ly there are major pri­va­cy — and safe­ty — con­cerns about a robot cop (or, well, robo­cop) wan­der­ing around Sil­i­con Val­ley, pho­tograph­ing sus­pect­ed law-break­ers and cap­tur­ing the faces and license plates of every­one it sees. Pre­sum­ably any tech com­pa­ny con­sid­er­ing deploy­ing such a con­tro­ver­sial robot on its cam­pus would want to be seen to be doing so open­ly and trans­par­ent­ly, lest it feed into the public’s already height­ened “sur­veil­lance val­ley” para­noia.

    And yet, three months lat­er we couldn’t find a sin­gle ref­er­ence to the robo-renta-cops being deployed on a tech cam­pus.

    “There’s a rea­son for that,” says Knightscope co-founder Sta­cy Dean Stephens when I call him for com­ment.

    “We’ve had to sign the most strict NDA I’ve ever entered into in my career,” he adds. This by the way, is a career which includes a stint in law enforce­ment as a police offi­cer in Texas. “We have to be high­ly secret about what we’re doing and where we’re doing it.”

    In oth­er words, it’s high­ly like­ly that, right now, a robot cop is being test­ed on a top-tier Sil­i­con Val­ley cor­po­rate cam­pus — spy­ing on employ­ees and vis­i­tors alike — but we’re not allowed to know where or how. And if you were hop­ing an employ­ee might blow the whis­tle, or at least Insta­gram one of the scary met­al bas­tards — well, you’re out of luck there too: “The cor­po­ra­tions we’re deal­ing with tend to have a pol­i­cy, where if you see peo­ple work­ing on some­thing that’s out there, you keep it to your­self,” Stephens says.

    Stephens con­firms to me that the first of these tests began in Jan­u­ary, with sev­er­al more begin­ning in March. Giv­en Knightscope’s home is in Moun­tain View the Sil­i­con Val­ley was a nat­ur­al spot to focus on, keep­ing them close to its cus­tomer base for trou­ble-shoot­ing.

    Stephens insists that the secre­cy is less about keep­ing the pub­lic in the dark and more because law enforce­ment and secu­ri­ty agen­cies are noto­ri­ous­ly shy about pub­licly endors­ing any prod­uct. He also denies being cagey about the pri­va­cy con­cerns.

    “We don’t shy away from that con­ver­sa­tion,” Stephens says. Pri­va­cy con­cerns are raised to the com­pa­ny con­stant­ly, he says, adding that he’s sym­pa­thet­ic to those con­cerns.

    Since begin­ning test­ing, the Knightscope robot has gone through three sets of changes to its hard­ware and soft­ware and the fleet has grown from a sin­gle machine out to sev­er­al. Stephens says watch­ing these secret tests hap­pen — wher­ev­er in the world that might be — has been “unbe­liev­ably cool.”

    “To see the K5 in an envi­ron­ment with peo­ple, stop­ping, going around them, not imped­ing, learn­ing autonomous­ly about its envi­ron­ment, has been amaz­ing.”

    Pan­do has reached out to Apple, Face­book, Google, Genen­tech and Yahoo for com­ment to see if they are the mys­tery robot tester. At the time this piece went to press, none was say­ing a word.


    At least the secret robo­cop tower­bot can’t do much more than move around and watch things. Any­thing more could be rather alarm­ing giv­en its abil­i­ty to learn “autonomous­ly about its envi­ron­ment”. Will future ver­sion grow arms? Maybe. Or per­haps there will be lit­tle armed mobile robobud­dies to assist tower­bot.

    Anoth­er ques­tion that aris­es with a grow­ing robo­cop indus­try is whether or not robots from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers will be able to com­mu­ni­cate and coor­di­nate with each oth­er because as the adop­tion of robo­cops inevitably grows that could become an issue:

    Ven­ture Beat
    Robo­t­eX pri­vate secu­ri­ty robots gets $2.06M backed by Peter Thiel
    March 22, 2013 3:41 PM
    Meghan Kel­ly

    Robo­t­eX, a Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny build­ing robots for “first respon­ders,” has filled $2.06 mil­lion of a desired $5 mil­lion round of fund­ing, accord­ing to a fil­ing with the SEC.

    Peter Thiel, along with Robo­t­eX founder Nathan Get­tings and chief exec­u­tive Alexan­der Karp were list­ed in the fil­ing. Though these three are named, the fil­ing cites four investor who are uniden­ti­fied.

    Robo­t­eX was found­ed in 2007 and cre­ates robots with­out the use of gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Its line of “Avatar” robots are meant to help with secu­ri­ty, some­times in sit­u­a­tions that could be dan­ger­ous for humans. The web­site lists exam­ples such as serv­ing papers to a dan­ger­ous indi­vid­ual, enter­ing hostage sit­u­a­tion, patrolling, inves­ti­gat­ing sus­pi­cious pack­ages, and more.

    The com­pa­ny also has a line of robots for the home and office that offer its own form of rov­ing secu­ri­ty sys­tem. You attack an iOS device to the robot, which you can then remote­ly con­trol to sur­vey the house on your behalf.

    The robots also come with a line of acces­sories, such as a com­mand cen­ter, car­ry­ing case, manip­u­la­tor arm, and sta­bi­liz­ers for rough ter­rain. With the manip­u­la­tor arm, the Avatar II almost looks like a tiny NASA Curios­i­ty rover.


    Anoth­er ques­tion that aris­es: Since we’re clear­ly going down the path of devel­op­ing autonomous “moral robots” with the pow­er to make deci­sions and impact lives, who gets to choose the moral par­a­digm? Will the own­ers get to choose between naughty and nice bots? Or will they all be large­ly amoral? For some rea­son amoral bots seems more like­ly.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 23, 2014, 7:27 am
  18. What do you get when you blend Shrinky Dinks with the future labor force? The future labor force:

    Easy-Bake Robots? 3D-Print­ed Bots Could Self-Assem­ble When Heat­ed
    By Eliz­a­beth How­ell, Live Sci­ence Con­trib­u­tor | May 30, 2014 05:45pm ET

    Assem­bling a future robot could be as sim­ple as heat­ing it up. Two new stud­ies demon­strate how 3D-print­ed robots could fold into shape and assem­ble them­selves after being exposed to heat.

    To make a two-dimen­sion­al sheet of mate­r­i­al assem­ble itself into a 3D machine, the researchers used heat­ed sheets of a type of poly­mer known as polyvinyl chlo­ride, or PVC. These sheets of mate­r­i­al were placed between two rigid poly­ester films that are full of slits.

    When heat­ed, the PVC shrinks and the slits even­tu­al­ly shut, push­ing against each oth­er and alter­ing the shape of the PVC. This process bends the mate­r­i­al into dif­fer­ent shapes, based on the pat­tern of slits and how the heat inter­acts with the PVC.

    As slits of dif­fer­ent widths push against each oth­er, the mate­r­i­al will fold into 3D struc­tures, the researchers said.

    “You’re doing this real­ly com­pli­cat­ed glob­al con­trol that moves every edge in the sys­tem at the same time,” Daniela Rus, a pro­fes­sor of engi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts, whose group con­duct­ed the research, said in a state­ment. “You want to design those edges in such a way that the result of com­pos­ing all these motions, which actu­al­ly inter­fere with each oth­er, leads to the cor­rect geo­met­ric struc­ture.”

    One of the new stud­ies exam­ines how to cre­ate the 2D pat­tern of slits that make these fold­able robots pos­si­ble, while the oth­er dis­cuss­es build­ing elec­tri­cal robot com­po­nents such as resis­tors and capac­i­tors from “self-fold­ing laser-cut mate­ri­als.”

    Shuhei Miyashita, a post­doc­tor­al researcher at MIT, spe­cial­ly designed an alu­minum-coat­ed poly­ester sen­sor that could be attached to the robots once they are ful­ly assem­bled. The sen­sor looks like a small accor­dion, with folds of mate­r­i­al that com­press and help elec­tri­cal cur­rents pass through the sys­tem.

    To enable the robot to move, a motor could be made from a fold­able cop­per-coat­ed poly­ester coil, the researchers said.


    Easy-Bake robot armies are com­ing to a real­i­ty near you. For cities like Seat­tle that are cur­rent­ly unusu­al­ly vul­ner­a­ble to super-vil­lains, the DIY self-asseml­bing robot army tech may not be the best news. Just wait.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 1, 2014, 8:26 pm
  19. If you’ve ever won­dered what it would be like to be an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, keep in mind that it might not be as alien as you imag­ine. Even­tu­al­ly:

    Fast Com­pa­ny
    IBM’s $3 Bil­lion Invest­ment In Syn­thet­ic Brains And Quan­tum Com­put­ing

    IBM thinks the future belongs to com­put­ers that mim­ic the human brain and use quan­tum physics...and they’re bet­ting $3 bil­lion on it.

    By Neal Unger­lei­der
    July 11, 2014 | 9:12 AM

    IBM is unveil­ing a mas­sive $3 bil­lion research and devel­op­ment round on Wednes­day, invest­ing in weird, sci­ence fic­tion-like technologies–and, in the process, essen­tial­ly stak­ing Big Blue’s long-term sur­vival on big data and cog­ni­tive com­put­ing.

    Over the next five years, IBM will invest a sig­nif­i­cant amount of their total rev­enue in tech­nolo­gies like non-sil­i­con com­put­er chips, quan­tum com­put­ing research, and com­put­ers that mim­ic the human brain.

    The $3 bil­lion fund­ing round will go towards a vari­ety of projects designed to cat­a­pult semi­con­duc­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing past what IBM phys­i­cal sci­ences direc­tor Supratik Guha calls the “end of sil­i­con scal­ing” in microchips. Essen­tial­ly, IBM believes there will be a point in the medi­um-term future where microchips will no longer be made out of sil­i­con because oth­er mate­ri­als will allow for faster and more com­plex com­pu­ta­tion. In a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, Guha told Fast Com­pa­ny that his com­pa­ny sees an end to sil­i­con scal­ing with­in the next three to four tech gen­er­a­tions.

    The new R&D ini­tia­tives fall into two cat­e­gories: Devel­op­ing nan­otech com­po­nents for sil­i­con chips for big data and cloud sys­tems, and exper­i­men­ta­tion with “post-sil­i­con” microchips. This will include research into quan­tum com­put­ers which don’t know bina­ry code, neu­rosy­nap­tic com­put­ers which mim­ic the behav­ior of liv­ing brains, car­bon nan­otubes, graphene tools and a vari­ety of oth­er tech­nolo­gies.

    IBM’s invest­ment is one of the largest for quan­tum com­put­ing to date; the com­pa­ny is one of the biggest researchers in the field, along with a Cana­di­an com­pa­ny named D‑Wave which is part­ner­ing with Google and NASA to devel­op quan­tum com­put­er sys­tems.


    Of all the invest­ments announced in the round, neu­rosy­nap­tic chips are the most nov­el. Essen­tial­ly low-pow­er microchips designed to mim­ic the behav­ior of the human brain, IBM has been research­ing the fea­si­bil­i­ty of build­ing tech­nol­o­gy that can mim­ic human cog­ni­tion for years. IBM is believed to be build­ing a new pro­gram­ming lan­guage around the chips, which will be used for machine learn­ing and cog­ni­tive com­put­ing sys­tems like Wat­son. Some proof-of-con­cept neu­rosy­nap­tic com­put­ing projects IBM announced pre­vi­ous­ly include oral ther­mome­ters which iden­ti­fy bac­te­ria by their odor and “con­ver­sa­tion flow­ers” placed on tables which auto­mat­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy speak­ers by voice and gen­er­ate real-time tran­scripts of con­ver­sa­tions, ren­der­ing tran­scrip­tion­ists obso­lete.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 11, 2014, 10:39 am
  20. Here’s some news that starv­ing artists might find inspir­ing: The robot rev­o­lu­tion just might end up cre­at­ing a lot more starv­ing artists:

    PBS New­shour
    Mak­ing Sense
    Get a lib­er­al arts B.A., not a busi­ness B.A., for the com­ing arti­san econ­o­my
    BY Lawrence Katz July 15, 2014 at 5:13 PM EDT

    Editor’s Note: In Mak­ing Sen$e’s report on “the arti­san econ­o­my” Tues­day evening on the New­sHour, Paul Sol­man speaks with two exter­mi­na­tors and a demen­tia coach. Not what you typ­i­cal­ly think of as “arti­sans”? Well, how about oper­a­tors of a fresh fruit Pop­si­cle com­pa­ny or a line of hand­made dog leash­es, both craft­ed in a repur­posed Brook­lyn fac­to­ry? Any of those jobs can be arti­san says Lar­ry Katz, the Har­vard pro­fes­sor who’s coined the term “arti­san econ­o­my.” What makes them arti­san is that they’re not stan­dard­ized occu­pa­tions; they involve what he calls “per­son­al flair” in each stage of the job.

    But this move­ment is about a lot more than hip­sters buck­ing a tra­di­tion­al career path. Katz believes the arti­san econ­o­my can help shore up the Amer­i­can mid­dle class by cre­at­ing new jobs to replace those mass pro­duc­tion and mid­dle man­age­ment jobs lost to out­sourc­ing or new tech­nol­o­gy. And he thinks that a firm ground­ing in the mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary lib­er­al arts is the best prepa­ra­tion – bet­ter even than a busi­ness degree – to tak­ing advan­tage of the arti­san econ­o­my that he hopes will be a path to upward mobil­i­ty for the aver­age Amer­i­can. Watch Paul’s report, and read his extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion with Katz, edit­ed and con­densed for clar­i­ty, below.

    So what is an arti­sanal job?

    His­tor­i­cal­ly, an arti­san is some­body who did the entire work large­ly by them­selves — con­ceive a project, put it togeth­er, make it. Think about Paul Revere as a sil­ver­smith in Colo­nial Amer­i­ca.

    The poten­tial is almost any­where — it’s typ­i­cal­ly not an orga­ni­za­tion­al job where you’re just mov­ing up a lad­der, but in prin­ci­ple, you could be an arti­san as a wait per­son or as a bak­er.

    What’s the basic prob­lem that the arti­san econ­o­my is try­ing to solve?

    The basic prob­lem is the decline of what has been tra­di­tion­al mid­dle class jobs, the hol­low­ing out of the mid­dle of our econ­o­my and try­ing to find a new way to pro­vide upward mobil­i­ty for the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can.

    Arti­sans were very impor­tant in the colo­nial econ­o­my. But in some sense, mass pro­duc­tion in the large indus­tri­al econ­o­my drove out a lot of arti­sans. The indi­vid­ual black­smiths and gun­smiths were replaced with large pro­duc­tion process­es that made stan­dard­ized goods much cheap­er.

    And that’s hap­pen­ing now, every day?

    It’s hap­pen­ing every day. In the 19th cen­tu­ry, when high-earn­ing arti­sans were dis­placed, two groups ben­e­fit­ed – the high­ly edu­cat­ed work­ers who became the man­agers and the engi­neers who designed the tech­no­log­i­cal process­es that replaced the arti­san. And then there were a lot of front­line work­ers, who were less skilled than the arti­sans, on the assem­bly line.

    So a lot of the jobs that became the mid­dle class jobs of the mid to late 20th cen­tu­ry – mid-lev­el man­agers and pro­duc­tion work­ers, for exam­ple, are exact­ly what new infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy is very good at replac­ing. You don’t need as many mid­dle man­agers if you can direct­ly mon­i­tor with a com­put­er what the front­line work­er is doing; a robot can do the pro­duc­tion process or it can be out­sourced.

    We’ve seen growth in jobs for peo­ple with abstract cre­ative skills, like design­ing an auto teller or think­ing of new ways to entice con­sumers to want to make more finan­cial trans­ac­tions. There used to be peo­ple who actu­al­ly grad­ed every mort­gage; now it’s writ­ing a pro­gram to grade the mort­gage or inter­pret­ing how to mar­ket them.

    There’s the poten­tial­ly hope­ful sce­nario of, in some sense, being able to bring back the old mass pro­duc­tion arti­sanal work with new tech­nolo­gies of today that allow a lot of cus­tomiza­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty in the same way that hand work did in the past.

    So that could range from design­ing an app or being a car­pen­ter who uses tech­nol­o­gy to cus­tomize a kitchen cab­i­net for the high-end abstract work­er. If I’m a car­pen­ter, if I can fig­ure out what idio­syn­crat­ic items you would pre­fer and design them myself, I’m a much more valu­able con­trac­tor in the same way that some­one like Paul Revere could per­son­al­ize what a sil­ver­smith did.

    I could be a col­lege grad­u­ate who goes out and thinks very seri­ous­ly about using local pro­duce or I could be some­one with com­mu­ni­ty col­lege train­ing and set up my own cater­ing ser­vice or restau­rant. That might not look like a tra­di­tion­al col­lege job or a mid­dle class job, but that can be very lucra­tive if I’m doing that in a cre­ative way with flair in a way that a stan­dard fast food restau­rant isn’t.

    So I think there’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty of an econ­o­my emerg­ing in which the abil­i­ty of peo­ple to have their own per­son­al style and flair will be much more valu­able than just doing rou­tine things. That’s the case at both high-lev­el jobs, but also in being a home health aide in ways that are very valu­able to your patients and that will earn you a high­er income even­tu­al­ly. I think that’s poten­tial­ly where there may be a new mid­dle class.

    We speak to a demen­tia coach in our Mak­ing Sen$e sto­ry on the New­sHour Tues­day who coach­es fam­i­lies on how to deal with a rel­a­tive with demen­tia. Is she part of the arti­san econ­o­my?

    Work­ing with the elder­ly is a huge area. And this is where the growth of what I call the “arti­san econ­o­my” is ben­e­fi­cial not just to the work­er. In the worst case sce­nario, [work­ing with the elder­ly] is a min­i­mum wage job where peo­ple are effec­tive­ly babysit­ting and not real­ly learn­ing, and the elder­ly are pret­ty much checked out and sedat­ed in some cas­es. But it could be done in a way that brings dig­ni­ty to the patient and their fam­i­ly – that’s a skill that requires some edu­ca­tion, but a lot of expe­ri­ence would be much more valu­able if we reim­burse that in a way that took into account the skill of an arti­sanal demen­tia coach or home health aide. We should be doing that in Med­ic­aid and Medicare. That’s the kind of mid­dle class job that’s going to be extreme­ly valu­able going for­ward as opposed to a “McJob” where the per­son just does a rou­tine.

    Human inter­ac­tion pre­sum­ably makes a huge dif­fer­ence at some deep lev­el of our brains, right?

    Com­put­ers are very good at an algo­rithm, but lots of peo­ple might do much bet­ter with anoth­er human being who has a lit­tle empa­thy.

    Well there’s “Her,” the new movie where there’s a com­put­er pro­gram that is extra­or­di­nar­i­ly empath­ic.

    It is true that there are ways of pro­gram­ming and maybe 20, 30 years from now, com­put­ers will be telling phys­i­cal ther­a­pists and con­trac­tors what to do, but we have a win­dow where I sus­pect com­put­ers will be more tools to enhance your indi­vid­ual flex­i­bil­i­ty and flair rather than sub­sti­tutes for you.

    That’s the key: can you com­ple­ment the new com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy and use it to pro­vide a bet­ter expe­ri­ence rather than just be some­one who does a rou­tine thing that any­one could replace you in doing? There’s enough human inge­nu­ity out there and enough demand for new expe­ri­ences that peo­ple will be able to take advan­tage.

    But to get there, we need to rethink edu­ca­tion – not just to pro­duce peo­ple who can do well on stan­dard­ized tests, but who can also work in col­lab­o­ra­tive ways with inter­per­son­al skills.


    And what is the dark sce­nario if arti­san jobs don’t come to fruition?

    The dark sce­nario is more of the last sev­er­al decades: an increase in the con­cen­tra­tion of wealth in a small very high-up group, then an increase for the mod­est group of very edu­cat­ed peo­ple who served that group, and every­one else bat­tling out in the world econ­o­my for jobs that are dri­ven down to the low­est wages or liv­ing off things like dis­abil­i­ty pro­grams and food stamps with per­sis­tent­ly high unem­ploy­ment. I hope we aren’t there.

    In your dark­est moments, do you wor­ry that you’re sim­ply try­ing to make up a solu­tion to a prob­lem that might be intractable?

    I always wor­ry. An alter­na­tive sce­nario is one where a small group of indi­vid­u­als owns the robots in the cap­i­tal stock. That’s a wor­ri­some sce­nario and we cer­tain­ly see trends in that direc­tion.

    Of course, many of the tran­si­tions to new eras are quite dis­rup­tive, and the last 30 years have been extreme­ly dis­rup­tive, and prob­a­bly the next decade will still have high inequal­i­ty. But there was a peri­od in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry where peo­ple wor­ried about con­cen­tra­tion of wealth and talked about how all peo­ple over 40 were going to be tech­no­log­i­cal­ly unem­ployed right after the Great Depres­sion. But even­tu­al­ly, with prop­er invest­ments in edu­ca­tion and research, devel­op­ment and human capa­bil­i­ties led to the peri­ods we’ve seen of shared pros­per­i­ty. We’re very far from being there today, and if we only look at the last 30 years, you should be very wor­ried because you need a longer his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive to have the more opti­mistic view.

    Let’s com­pare these two sen­ti­ments:
    “It is true that there are ways of pro­gram­ming and maybe 20, 30 years from now, com­put­ers will be telling phys­i­cal ther­a­pists and con­trac­tors what to do, but we have a win­dow where I sus­pect com­put­ers will be more tools to enhance your indi­vid­ual flex­i­bil­i­ty and flair rather than sub­sti­tutes for you.


    “But there was a peri­od in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry where peo­ple wor­ried about con­cen­tra­tion of wealth and talked about how all peo­ple over 40 were going to be tech­no­log­i­cal­ly unem­ployed right after the Great Depres­sion. But even­tu­al­ly, with prop­er invest­ments in edu­ca­tion and research, devel­op­ment and human capa­bil­i­ties led to the peri­ods we’ve seen of shared pros­per­i­ty. We’re very far from being there today, and if we only look at the last 30 years, you should be very wor­ried because you need a longer his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive to have the more opti­mistic view

    Yes, we’re cur­rent­ly liv­ing in a “win­dow” where AI and robot­ics has­n’t yet replaced the need for peo­ple, but that win­dow might close in anoth­er few decades. Also, things have got­ten so bad over last few decades in terms of the hol­low­ing out of the mid­dle class and grow­ing inequal­i­ty that you can’t real­ly be opti­mistic unless you assume soci­ety suc­ceeds in recre­at­ing the kind of his­toric strug­gles that cre­at­ed a mid­dle class in the first place. So the sit­u­a­tion is tem­porar­i­ly not as bad as it’s going to get, but it’s also prob­a­bly not going to get bet­ter before it gets much, much worse. At least when the chee­tah bots hunt you down it’ll be over quick.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 17, 2014, 9:26 pm
  21. The lat­est mes­sage to min­i­mum wage work­ers in the US: Know your place, that place being some­thing close to an iPad:

    Don’t ask for a liv­ing wage or you’ll be replaced by an iPad

    by David Atkins
    7/20/2014 07:30:00 AM

    This is an actu­al bill­board in San Fran­cis­co
    [see image]

    Pan­do Dai­ly has more on this:

    Its mes­sage — that min­i­mum wage increas­es will lead to ser­vice work­ers being replaced by apps — is con­tin­ued on an accom­pa­ny­ing web­site — BadIdea­CA — which claims to be “hold­ing activists account­able for min­i­mum wage con­se­quences.”

    So who the hell pays for bill­boards threat­en­ing wait­staff with redun­dan­cy if they demand a liv­ing wage? A bit of dig­ging and click­ing reveals that the cam­paign is backed by Employ­ment Poli­cies Insti­tute, the con­ser­v­a­tive lob­by­ing group which reg­u­lar­ly cam­paigns on behalf of the restau­rant indus­try.

    So, this is obvi­ous­ly dis­gust­ing on the part of the restau­rant indus­try and its flacks. But it’s worth not­ing that restau­rants are already begin­ning to replace servers with tablets.

    There are a lot of pro­gres­sives out there who are very hos­tile to the idea that mech­a­niza­tion of jobs has had a huge impact on the work­force and will increas­ing­ly do so in the future. It runs against the nar­ra­tive that the entire­ty of the screw­ing over of the mid­dle class was a pure prod­uct of Reaganomics and polit­i­cal deci­sions to ben­e­fit the rich, and the cor­re­lat­ed nar­ra­tive that we real­ly can return to the econ­o­my of the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry if we only go back to the old tax rates and trade deals.

    The fact remains that with­in one year a bunch of serv­er jobs will be gone because restau­rants will replace order-tak­ing with tablets. With­in a decade or two we won’t need truck or cab dri­vers any­more. IBM can already diag­nose can­cer five times bet­ter than doc­tors. The flat­ten­ing of the teach­ing pro­fes­sion will con­tin­ue apace as the tech­nol­o­gy and tech­niques behind MOOCs con­tin­ue to improve. 3D print­ing will ren­der much of what man­u­fac­tur­ing remains obso­lete. Any­thing requir­ing mid-lev­el man­age­ment or analy­sis will be done bet­ter by com­put­er with­in two decades at the max, and prob­a­bly soon­er.

    Push­ing for a high­er min­i­mum wage is impor­tant. But ulti­mate­ly we’re going to have to decou­ple human dig­ni­ty from “hav­ing a job.” There just won’t be enough jobs to go around, and tweak­ing the tax rates of super-wealthy just won’t cut it at a cer­tain point.

    It’s worth not­ing that the firm that ran this ad, Employ­ment Poli­cies Insti­tute, is run by none oth­er than Rick Berman, the guy that wears the “Dr Evil” badge with pride:

    60 Min­utes
    Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. “Dr. Evil”

    Mor­ley Safer Speaks To A Lob­by­ist Some Peo­ple Love To Hate

    2011 Feb 25

    This seg­ment was orig­i­nal­ly broad­cast on April 8, 2007. It was updat­ed on July 17, 2007.

    Rick Berman takes a cer­tain pride, even joy, in the nick­name “Dr. Evil.” But the peo­ple who use it see noth­ing fun­ny about it—they mean it.

    His real name is Rick Berman, a Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist and arch-ene­my of oth­er lob­by­ists and do-good­ers who would have gov­ern­ment control—and even ban‑a myr­i­ad of prod­ucts they claim are killing us, prod­ucts like caf­feine, salt, fast food and the oil they fry it in. He’s against Moth­ers Against Drunk Dri­ving, ani­mal rights activists, food watch­dog groups and unions of every kind.

    As cor­re­spon­dent Mor­ley Safer reports, Berman believes we are fast becom­ing a nation of pas­sive chil­dren ruled by the iron thumb of self-appoint­ed “nan­nies” and he gets paid good mon­ey to keep all those “Mary Pop­pins­es” at bay. And they have reserved a spe­cial place in hell for him.

    “Let me just take you through some of the things your crit­ics have said about you. Sleazy, greedy, out­ra­geous, decep­tive, inef­fec­tive except when it comes to mak­ing mon­ey for your­self, cor­po­rate lack­ey who is one of the scari­est peo­ple in Amer­i­ca,” Safer remarks.

    “You know, I grew up in the Bronx. Name-call­ing is not the worst thing that I’ve been sub­ject­ed to,” Berman replies.

    Rick Berman is lawyer and a lob­by­ist, which some might say is bad enough, but he would say lawyer and lob­by­ist for per­son­al free­dom.

    “If the gov­ern­ment is tru­ly inter­est­ed in my health and wel­fare, I’m appre­cia­tive of it. But, I think I can take care of myself,” Berman tells Safer.

    Berman claims that we are quick­ly becom­ing a “nan­ny state,” an over­reg­u­lat­ed soci­ety with ever-declin­ing free­dom of choice from how much we earn, to when we may dri­ve, to what we eat.

    He has par­tic­u­lar con­tempt for so-called “food cops” who claim to know what’s best for us.

    “They cre­ate this Chick­en Lit­tle men­tal­i­ty that the sky is falling over every­thing,” Berman says. “You know, the lat­est study says this, the lat­est study says that. And they dri­ve the gov­ern­ment to sat­is­fy that arti­fi­cial pub­lic need.”

    Berman blames activist, safe­ty and watch­dog groups—“do-gooders run amok” he calls them—for try­ing to scare Amer­i­ca into sub­mis­sion. He points to those end­less reports, often con­tra­dic­to­ry, which offer us a dizzy­ing array of fear­ful news about every­day food and drink that might just kill you: like tuna fish, chick­en, diet soda, salt, and that demon, trans-fats.

    “I don’t think that the oth­er side should be allowed to talk and the response be intim­i­dat­ed into sub­mis­sion or silence. And so I’m the oth­er side,” Berman says.

    The oth­er side as in big busi­ness, main­ly the food, bev­er­age and restau­rant busi­ness, which have a vest­ed inter­est in encour­ag­ing peo­ple to con­tin­ue to eat, drink and be mer­ry to their heart’s delight.


    Asked if has become a major tool for cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca, Berman says, “My mis­sion is not to defend cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca.”

    “You’re a hired gun,” Safer remarks.

    “Well, I go out to peo­ple and I say, ‘Look, if you believe in what I believe, will you help fund it?’ Now, I don’t know if that’s a hired gun or not. But, the point is, yes, I do get paid for edu­cat­ing peo­ple. If that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused,” Berman says.

    And it’s not just the “food police” Berman goes after: it’s any­one who seeks to lim­it or reg­u­late our way of life, like ani­mal rights activists, tri­al lawyers, and his cur­rent favorite, union lead­ers.

    And Berman uses ads to dri­ve home the mes­sage.

    “You know what I love? Pay­ing union dues, just so I can keep my job,” one TV ad says. “I real­ly like how the union dis­crim­i­nates against minori­ties!” “Noth­ing makes me feel bet­ter than know­ing that I’m sup­port­ing their fat-cat lifestyles. Find out the facts about union offi­cials at unionfacts.com” “Thanks, union boss­es!”

    “There’s no sense in putting out a 17 page sci­en­tif­ic report that nobody will read. So, I put out a 30 sec­ond com­mer­cial that makes the point,” Berman explains.

    But the “point” is not made by Berman and Com­pa­ny. He has come up with a clever sys­tem of non-prof­it edu­ca­tion­al enti­ties. Com­pa­nies can make char­i­ta­ble dona­tions to these groups, which have names like Cen­ter for Con­sumer Free­dom and Cen­ter for Union Facts. They are neu­tral sound­ing but “edu­cat­ing,” with a par­tic­u­lar point of view, all per­fect­ly legal.

    Berman and his staff of young cru­saders attack the nan­ny cul­ture by comb­ing through watch­dog and gov­ern­ment reports, seek­ing incon­sis­ten­cies, over­state­ments, seiz­ing on the one fact here or there that might dis­cred­it the research. And Berman says he’s rarely dis­ap­point­ed.

    He blasts MADD for no longer being run by moth­ers, and PETA, who he accused of killing ani­mals in its care. And he ques­tions the dan­ger of mer­cury in tuna; he says it’s mas­sive­ly over-hyped.

    Web sites devot­ed to nan­ny bash­ing and ads show­ing chil­dren being exploit­ed by union boss­es are all in a day’s work for Rick Berman.

    In the end, Berman says it’s all about “shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger.”

    “Shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger means get­ting peo­ple to under­stand that this mes­sen­ger is not as cred­i­ble as their name would sug­gest,” Berman says.

    While those tac­tics have made him rich and pow­er­ful, they have also made him might­i­ly unpop­u­lar. Even in a mud­sling­ing city like Wash­ing­ton, it’s dif­fi­cult to find some­one who pro­vokes as much ven­om as Rick Berman.

    “He’s a one-man goon squad for any com­pa­ny that’s will­ing to hire him,” says Dr. Michael Jacob­son, who heads the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic Inter­est, a healthy food advo­ca­cy group. Jacob­son has been the point man in the “food wars” for decades.

    Jacob­son’s dec­la­ra­tion of war on obe­si­ty has often brought him face to face with “Dr. Evil.”

    “Berman is against every sin­gle mea­sure, no mat­ter how sen­si­ble. He’d have no restric­tions on tobac­co adver­tis­ing, junk foods galore in schools. No min­i­mum wage,” Jacob­son tells Safer. “He wants to leave cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca unfet­tered of any reg­u­la­tions that pro­tect the pub­lic’s health.

    Jacob­son says cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca sim­ply hires Berman to say the nasty things they would­n’t dare say them­selves.

    “He’s a hit man. He’s dis­hon­est, decep­tive, he makes things up,” Jacob­son says. “He does things that the com­pa­nies can’t do or say them­selves, bad­mouthing just about any­body who says any­thing crit­i­cal of indus­try.”


    And though his busi­ness rakes in mil­lions, Berman says it’s not about the cash. He says it’s a call­ing.

    “I did­n’t need to be doing this. I’m doing this because it’s a pas­sion of mind. I believe in what I’m doing,” Berman tells Safer.

    “But, you’re also doing it for the mon­ey. C’mon, admit it,” Safer says.

    “I was mak­ing a lot of mon­ey before I ever start­ed this firm. I do it because I believe in it. I do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Berman replies.

    Berman says his meth­ods are fair, and that he is only respond­ing to his oppo­nents, who con­sis­tent­ly use scare tac­tics.

    He has spo­ken out against trans-fat, that con­tro­ver­sial fry­ing oil under attack by city coun­cils around the coun­try. Berman says it’s hard­ly the poi­son its ene­mies claim it is.

    “Peo­ple should not be led around by the nose with bad infor­ma­tion,” Berman says. “You can make up your own mind as to whether or not mar­garine is real­ly rat poi­son as some peo­ple have said.”


    “I have no prob­lem with edu­ca­tion. But, edu­ca­tion turns into reg­u­la­tion, you know?” Berman says. “As the gov­ern­ment gets deep­er and deep­er into peo­ple’s lives, they start to dic­tate more and more. If a bar­tender can cut you off for vis­i­bly being intox­i­cat­ed, why won’t we get to the point where a restau­rant oper­a­tor is not allowed to let you order dessert? I mean, you could get there.”

    “Oh, it sounds ridicu­lous, right? ‘Well, I can’t imag­ine that.’ But, imag­ine ten steps to get there and all of the sud­den it does­n’t appear so crazy,” Berman adds.

    And that is how Dr. Evil frames almost any issue he fights—resist or big nan­ny will crush you.

    He says MADD won’t be hap­py until there is a breath­a­lyz­er in every car. Caf­feine and salt will dis­ap­pear, Amer­i­ca will be reg­u­lat­ed to a police state, one with­out French fries or foie gras.

    “I am not opposed to stop­ping any of the stuff that’s real­ly bad. But, I am opposed to mak­ing the prob­lem seem worse than it is. And these groups will make it seem so bad so it jus­ti­fies their Dra­con­ian solu­tions,” Berman says.

    But Michael Jacob­son says Berman, in his malev­o­lence, is dis­tort­ing death­ly seri­ous issues that will have long term effects on Amer­i­cans.

    “An occa­sion­al hot dog is not gonna kill any­body. But, when you’re hav­ing fet­tuc­ci­ni Alfre­do one night and the next day you have a dou­ble whop­per with cheese at Burg­er King and the next day you go over to Den­ny’s and you have one of their enor­mous break­fasts, that’s what’s killing us. Half a mil­lion peo­ple die every year of heart dis­ease,” Jacob­son says.

    Asked if Berman believes in what he does, Jacob­son says, “He’s a PR guy. How you can believe any­thing he says? I think he’s in favor of mak­ing a lot of mon­ey.”

    “But I think he does hit a nerve in this coun­try when he goes after the nan­ny state that every­thing you do is being con­trolled by Big Moth­er,” Safer remarks.

    “Yeah. Isn’t it ter­ri­ble? We have health depart­ments that are try­ing to clean up restau­rants, envi­ron­men­tal agen­cies that are try­ing to clean the air and the water. It’s just ter­ri­ble,” Jacob­son says. “I think it’s great that gov­ern­ment some­times pro­tects the pub­lic’s wel­fare. And he’s there pro­tect­ing indus­try.”

    Berman con­cedes gov­ern­ment has a role, but says for the most part the mar­ket­place will self-reg­u­late.

    “If the oth­er side thinks that I’m all of these bad things, the one thing that they must think is I’m effec­tive, or else they would­n’t be bitch­ing about it so much,” Berman says.


    There’s a lot to digest there, but com­pare these three state­ments:

    “You’re a hired gun,” Safer remarks.

    “Well, I go out to peo­ple and I say, ‘Look, if you believe in what I believe, will you help fund it?’ Now, I don’t know if that’s a hired gun or not. But, the point is, yes, I do get paid for edu­cat­ing peo­ple. If that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused,” Berman says.


    “Peo­ple should not be led around by the nose with bad infor­ma­tion,” Berman says. “You can make up your own mind as to whether or not mar­garine is real­ly rat poi­son as some peo­ple have said.”


    “I have no prob­lem with edu­ca­tion. But, edu­ca­tion turns into reg­u­la­tion, you know?” Berman says. “As the gov­ern­ment gets deep­er and deep­er into peo­ple’s lives, they start to dic­tate more and more. If a bar­tender can cut you off for vis­i­bly being intox­i­cat­ed, why won’t we get to the point where a restau­rant oper­a­tor is not allowed to let you order dessert? I mean, you could get there.”

    Richard Berman, as a lead pro­pa­gan­dist and dis­in­fo artist for the food giants (and anti-green ener­gy forces), clear­ly under­stands the impor­tance of edu­ca­tion. And if you look at where we’re head­ing socioe­co­nom­i­cal­ly, all signs point towards an econ­o­my where main­tain­ing a decent stan­dard or liv­ing (includ­ing access to ade­quate food) is increas­ing­ly reliant on knowl­edge. It’s either going to be who you know, or what you know. And as David Atkins point­ed out above, the IT/scientific rev­o­lu­tion that’s mak­ing knowl­edge so impor­tant for the mod­ern econ­o­my is also cre­at­ing tech­nolo­gies like iPads, AI, and robot­ics that are increas­ing­ly able to replace the entire class­es of employ­ment rang­ing from fast food work­ers to oncol­o­gists (as Berman’s group remind­ed us with their fun ad).

    When oncol­o­gists are increas­ing­ly replace­able, we aren’t real­ly in a sce­nario where “more edu­ca­tion” is going to solve the grow­ing cri­sis of an eco­nom­ic mod­el that no longer fits human­i­ty’s needs. We need a new social con­tract where hav­ing “a job” isn’t a pre­req­ui­site to hav­ing real socioe­co­nom­ic secu­ri­ty. How on earth we detach a job from an income while still pro­vid­ing access to an edu­ca­tion is going to be one of the more chal­leng­ing tasks for the fore­see­able future because hav­ing a job and mak­ing money/paying for ser­vices has been the method of choice for great­ing a dis­trib­uted sys­tem of “fair­ness” for thou­sands of years. Thats pret­ty much what mon­ey is sup­posed to rep­re­sent: mon­ey units are lit­tle effort/value wid­gets that are earned and trad­ed that ensure that you sort of get what you give. It’s a clever sys­tem, but it’s also poten­tial­ly going to break under a num­ber of 21st cen­tu­ry sce­nar­ios. Robots and advanced AI that can mim­ic human inge­nu­ity can break the “fair­ness” fac­tor in the cur­rent sys­tem. And that ignores the loom­ing resource con­straints asso­ci­at­ed with cli­mate change, pop­u­la­tion growth, and greater affluence/resource con­sump­tion pat­terns.

    So what’s a bet­ter mod­el? Well, if you look at Richard Berman’s dystopi­an vision of the world — where every­one is expect­ed to become their own doctor/nutritionist/ecologist/economist/historian/information econ­o­my-human swiss army knife while com­pet­ing with AI-pow­ered iPads in an econ­o­my with no min­i­mum wage — the only real way you could cre­ate the super con­sumers that Berman expects us to be is by cre­at­ing the kind of “nan­ny state” that give immense free edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out our lives to the point where we would­n’t real­ly be wor­ried about com­pet­ing with AI and robots because, if you could­n’t find a job, you would just go back to school on a free edu­ca­tion. A basic income to learn stuff. Berman would nev­er advo­cate this solu­tion, but it’s hard to see how you could have the super con­sumers he desires with­out an free time/e­d­u­ca­tion-based soci­ety.

    And that means Richard Berman’s absur­dist vision of the world might lead us to a solu­tion for how to deal with a resource con­strained world with AI and advanced robots and far few­er jobs for peo­ple. Berman’s con­sumer super­man mod­el suf­fers from the same delu­sion that all such mod­els suf­fer which is that no one can achieve the state of knowl­edge required to be that con­sumer super­man in the kind of gov­ern­ment-free soci­ety Berman advo­cates.

    But Berman’s super­man, while absurd, can still be the goal that the free-edu­ca­tion “nan­ny state” can help us work towards. That’ll be the com­pro­mise: We can use the “nan­ny state”/welfare state that’s going become enabled by robot­ics and AI to give every­one the time to get the train­ing, edu­ca­tion, and expe­ri­ence need­ed to be the rugged indi­vid­u­als that don’t need any gov­ern­ment at all for the myr­i­ad of com­plex choic­es required in day to day con­sum­ing. And while we’re all train­ing towards this rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism, peo­ple can try to start busi­ness­es using new skills they acquired or become a vol­un­teer address­ing one of the issues they learned about. It would­n’t have to involve for­mal­ly going back to school, but mass self-dri­ven adult edu­ca­tion and vol­un­teer­ing as a default pas­time just might be the way to rework the social con­tract in the auto­mat­ed econ­o­my.

    Becom­ing an edu­cat­ed vot­er and con­sumer could, itself, be a way of giv­ing back to soci­ety and, if you think about it, being a high qual­i­ty vot­er and con­sumer is one of the most valu­able con­tri­bu­tions one can make in a robotics/AI econ­o­my because there’s going to be grow­ing num­ber of com­plex, tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven issues fac­ing soci­ety that could use an engaged vot­ing base. So soci­ety might have to move away from giv­ing our mon­ey so much con­trol over our lives. Oh no.

    But some­thing new is going to be need­ed. Richard Berman and his crew have made that increas­ing­ly clear over the years.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 20, 2014, 10:48 pm
  22. This is one of those sto­ries that high­lights why we’re going to have to increas­ing­ly hope that Elon Musk’s lib­er­tar­i­an streak does­n’t turn into a force of lib­er­tar­i­an destruc­tion bent on under­min­ing polit­i­cal empow­er­ment like what has hap­pened with so many of his fel­low lib­er­tar­i­an oli­garchs. Because of all the mem­bers of the “Pay­Pal mafia, Musk appears to be the rel­a­tive­ly sane one. Sure, Musk’s rel­a­tive san­i­ty may not pre­vent the grow­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and finan­cial empires of the Musk and the rest of the Pay­Pal Mafia from steadi­ly sub­vert­ing democ­ra­cy, but at least it might pre­vent a ‘SkyNet’ sit­u­a­tion:

    Bussi­ness Insid­er Auster­lia
    Here’s What We Know About The Secre­tive, Elon Musk-Backed Firm Cre­at­ing Func­tion­al Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence
    Rob Wile Jul 23 2014, 12:21 AM

    Sil­i­con Val­ley enjoys some­thing of a monop­oly these days on mak­ing the most noise in the U.S. econ­o­my.

    But there’s been sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle fan­fare sur­round­ing the lat­est project that seem­ing­ly all the most suc­cess­ful Val­leyites have been pour­ing into: an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence com­pa­ny called Vic­ar­i­ous.

    Found­ed in 2010, Vic­ar­i­ous’ list of investors is daz­zling: Elon Musk, Mark Zucker­berg, Jeff Bezos, Ash­ton Kutch­er, and Dustin Moskowitz count among the house­hold names. Pay­Pal cofounder Peter Thiel, along with folks from start­up fun­ders Y Com­bi­na­tor and cloud stor­age group Box, also num­ber among those who’ve pro­vid­ed fund­ing.

    For Aydin Senkut, whose Feli­cis Ven­tures was one of Vic­ar­i­ous’ ear­li­est investors, there is agree­ment among top val­ley VCs that now is the time to get into arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing, because it is going to change everyone’s lives irrev­o­ca­bly.

    “AI and machine learn­ing is a real­ly big deal,” he told us by phone recent­ly. “For the longest time no one took it very seri­ous­ly, but… more and more com­pa­nies are now see­ing how far they have fall­en behind in this area, and how it’s crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant to have this capa­bil­i­ty.”

    What exact­ly is this capa­bil­i­ty? Despite its mar­quee back­ers, Vic­ar­i­ous has gained a rep­u­ta­tion for secre­cy. Co-founder Scott Phoenix, a com­put­er sci­en­tist and design­er, told us his team was not cur­rent­ly doing inter­views. The oth­er co-founder, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist named Dileep George, did not respond to sev­er­al requests for com­ment.

    But in pre­vi­ous inter­views, George has dis­cussed some of the poten­tial prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. In an inter­view with NBC’s PressHere in 2012, he described how an “improved Siri” could some­day be smart enough to com­plex com­mands from any speak­er, even with ones with thick accents, for things like book­ing air tick­ets with­out hav­ing to click through a bunch of screens. In the near­er term, which is still mea­sured in years, AI capa­bil­i­ties will be suf­fi­cient­ly advanced that they can per­form med­ical diag­noses, or recog­nise images that don’t con­tain any pre­ex­ist­ing text tags.

    George and Phoenix call the under­ly­ing tech­nol­o­gy that pow­ers these appli­ca­tions recur­sive cor­ti­cal net­work­ing. RCN means teach­ing com­put­ers to mod­el brain func­tions — specif­i­cal­ly, those of the neo­cor­tex, the part respon­si­ble for sen­so­ry pro­cess­ing. As George, who left an AI ven­ture cre­at­ed by Palm founder Jeff Hawkins to found Vic­ar­i­ous, told KurzweilAI in 2012, “My goals have always been to embody the com­pu­ta­tion­al prin­ci­ples of the brain in a math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el, but RCN is a ground-up rethink­ing of what kind of algo­rith­mic approach is nec­es­sary to solve the prob­lem.”

    Vic­ar­i­ous’ break­throughs are still in their infan­cy, but they have post­ed a demon­stra­tion of some­thing it can already do: break a CAPTCHA secu­ri­ty device. We’ve GIF’ed how it works here:


    The Val­ley seems to be hun­gry for AI in gen­er­al. But if there’s any kind of AI arms-race on, the field remains pret­ty nar­row, if only because there are so few peo­ple qual­i­fied to lead the way. Face­book recent­ly hired its own spe­cial­ist in charge of AI, NYU’s Yann LeCun, but he and his team remain focused on how to improve Facebook’s own func­tions. A more direct rival, of sorts, to Vic­ar­i­ous, is a firm called Deep­Mind. Google bought Deep­Mind for $US400 mil­lion ear­li­er this year. Iron­i­cal­ly Vic­ar­i­ous and Deep­Mind both share Thiel’s Founders Fund as a backer, which con­firms how nar­row the space remains, but also how VCs are attempt­ing to get a piece of as much AI action as they can. Recode report­ed in Jan­u­ary that Lon­don-based Deep­Mind is work­ing on sim­i­lar projects as Vic­ar­i­ous, like advanced image recog­ni­tion, though they too are quite cagey about what exact­ly they’re up to.

    “The real­i­ty is, there are a very lim­it­ed num­ber of AI and machine learn­ing experts in the world, which is one rea­son why it’s been get­ting so much atten­tion,” Senkut says. “It is such an impor­tant field, and [Deep­Mind] is one of few that are think­ing very big and ambi­tious.”

    In fact, the most pub­licly acces­si­ble AI projects are com­ing from the gov­ern­ment. Some­time between 2006 and 2007, the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence began ear­mark­ing funds for IARPA, short for Intel­li­gence Advanced Research Projects Activ­i­ty. Its goal was to start devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy for the country’s 16 dif­fer­ent spy agen­cies IARPA is itself look­ing to accel­er­ate its image-read­ing capa­bil­i­ties through a pro­gram called JANUS. It’s also hop­ing to devel­op a tech­nol­o­gy that can “[under­stand] human inter­ac­tions that involve trust and trust­wor­thi­ness.”

    Bruno Olshausen, a Vic­ar­i­ous advis­er and neu­ro­science pro­fes­sor at Berke­ley told us that the most excit­ing research IARPA is con­duct­ing is in a field called Con­nec­tomics. The goal is noth­ing less than recre­at­ing the human brain. The out­put from the field will make the afore­men­tioned projects look pre­his­toric.

    “Evo­lu­tion dis­cov­ered all these secrets — like build­ing an eye — about how to build good, sim­ple pro­cess­ing,” he told us. “This is some­thing com­put­ers can­not do now. But when you look at a brain under a micro­scope, you’re basi­cal­ly look­ing at the solu­tion, you’re look­ing at a microchip.”

    Last month, Elon Musk, who came on board as a backer in a $US40 mil­lion fund­ing round that also includ­ed Zucker­berg and Kutch­er, said one of the rea­sons he’d invest­ed in Vic­ar­i­ous was to keep an eye on unex­pect­ed neg­a­tive devel­op­ments in AI — basi­cal­ly, a “SkyNet” sce­nario.

    Olshausen says that sce­nario remains a remote pos­si­bil­i­ty. Our knowl­edge of how the brain works is more or less where our knowl­edge of physics was before New­ton: near­ly use­less.

    “Absent a major par­a­digm shift – some­thing unfore­see­able at present – I would not say we are at the point where we should tru­ly be wor­ried about AI going out of con­trol,” he said in a fol­low-up email. ” That is not to say that we shouldn’t wor­ry about how *humans* will use machines or engage in war­fare via machines – e.g., for domes­tic spy­ing, for­eign espi­onage, hack­ing attacks and the like. But in the mean­time we can rest easy know­ing that com­put­ers them­selves are not going to take over the world any­time soon, or in the fore­see­able future.”

    The AI crew is play­ing a very long game — there have been reports that Vic­ar­i­ous makes any­one who comes on sign some­thing that says they will not ask about short-term progress or prof­its. But Senkut believes that as nov­el as it sounds now, we will some­day be tak­ing AI for grant­ed.

    “It’s unstop­pable,” he said. “This thing is going to be here before we know it, like with HTTP dis­tri­b­u­tion com­ing out in the ’70s, I don’t think peo­ple realised it was going to give birth to the Inter­net. It’s not like, Oh my god, what’s the next thing in a few months. I’m just real­ly excit­ed that it’s going to be an enabling plat­form, that’s some­thing I don’t even have to spec­u­late about.”

    Yes, the Pay­Pal Mafia and sim­i­lar­ly mind­ed groups are mak­ing some pret­ty big long term bets on advanced, cre­ative arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and that prob­a­bly means that the com­mer­cial­iza­tion and pro­lif­er­a­tion of advanced AI as just a rou­tine tool of com­merce is only a mat­ter of time. Hav­ing a lit­tle SkyNet wari­ness amongst the cre­ators and sell­ers of this tech­nol­o­gy is prob­a­bly appro­pri­ate, espe­cial­ly since Bruno Olshausen, Vic­ar­i­ous’s neu­ro­science advis­er, does­n’t real­ly seem con­cerned about such a pos­si­bil­i­ty. So let’s hope Musk does­n’t go to the dark side while he’s on SkyNet patrol. Or worse, let’s hope he’s not already there. *gasp*

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 2, 2014, 6:30 pm
  23. Every once in a while tech­noc­ra­cy needs anoth­er hug:

    Bloomberg View
    Sil­i­con Val­ley Can Solve the Big Prob­lems
    Aug 4, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

    By Noah Smith

    Some­time around 2006, I was sit­ting in my apart­ment in Japan lis­ten­ing to old music, and I heard a Bob Dylan song. It’s about miss­ing his old friends, and wish­ing he could talk to them again. The songs ends:

    I wish, I wish, I wish in vain

    That we could sit sim­ply in that room again

    Ten thou­sand dol­lars at the drop of a hat

    I’d give it all glad­ly if our lives could be like that

    As I lis­tened, I start­ed to miss my own high-school gang. I was feel­ing more and more depressed, when sud­den­ly I real­ized what an idiot I was. I opened Fire­fox, fired up Google Talk, and found three of my old friends online. I imme­di­ate­ly mes­saged all of them, and quick­ly received three rather irrev­er­ent respons­es.

    It was at that moment that I almost broke into tears, because I real­ized that some­thing huge had changed for the bet­ter in the human expe­ri­ence. All through­out my youth, I had seen my par­ents and my friends’ par­ents drift away from their friends. The sheer dif­fi­cul­ty of keep­ing in reg­u­lar con­tact over extreme dis­tances, even with tele­phones, meant that if you moved to a new town, you could make new friends but it would be hard to keep the old. Then came e‑mail, and chat, and Face­book and Insta­gram and the rest. And sud­den­ly, through a trick of human inge­nu­ity, you nev­er have to lose touch with your old friends again. We woke up, and the world was bet­ter.

    This is why I am annoyed when writ­ers accuse Sil­i­con Val­ley (by which they mean the entire tech indus­try) of not solv­ing big prob­lems. Pre­sum­ably, these tech crit­ics want ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and entre­pre­neurs to take us into space, solve the glob­al ener­gy crunch or invent new labor-sav­ing devices. And pre­sum­ably they aren’t sat­is­fied that SpaceX, Tes­la, SolarCi­ty, and theGoogle Self-Dri­ving Car project, among oth­ers, are work­ing on all these things as we speak. Pre­sum­ably they are unhap­py with technology’s fail­ure to give them a hov­er­board, despite the fact that many cities have out­lawed skate­boards of the wheeled vari­ety.

    What crit­ics of Sil­i­con Valley’s vision fail to real­ize, though, is that the real­ly big prob­lems aren’t the hard ones or the spec­tac­u­lar ones. The real­ly big prob­lems are things that affect the qual­i­ty of human life.

    Abra­ham Maslow, the psy­chol­o­gist, the­o­rized that people’s needs come in a “hier­ar­chy.” Once you take care of the basics — food, shel­ter, secu­ri­ty — you start being main­ly con­cerned with social needs, like love, com­pan­ion­ship and respect. The the­o­ry pre­dicts that in poor coun­tries, peo­ple will main­ly be con­cerned with get­ting things like big­ger hous­es, cars and bet­ter food. But in rich coun­tries, where most peo­ple have these things, the focus will shift to human rela­tion­ships and career suc­cess. And in fact, hap­pi­ness research bears this out.

    The prob­lems of this high­er rung of Maslow’s lad­der are exact­ly the ones that tech com­pa­nies like Face­book and Match.com have begun to crack. Con­sid­er the impact of dat­ing sites on the lives of divorced peo­ple. For a young per­son, dat­ing sites — OKCu­pid or Tin­der — are a mar­gin­al improve­ment over the old sin­gles scene of par­ties, bars and friends-of-friends. But for divorced mid­dle-aged peo­ple, who are often social­ly iso­lat­ed and occu­pied with work, meet­ing peo­ple is a much more daunt­ing task. For these peo­ple, dat­ing sites are a god­send. If you don’t believe me, just ask your friends from Korea or Chi­na about their divorced par­ents. In those coun­tries, online dat­ing is still heav­i­ly stig­ma­tized and gen­er­al­ly feared — and the out­come is a life­time of extreme lone­li­ness for legions of old­er peo­ple.


    I believe that the advent of social tech­nol­o­gy is a huge step toward solv­ing the real­ly big, real­ly tough prob­lems of human­i­ty. The abil­i­ty to con­nect with old friends and meet roman­tic part­ners late in life isn’t as spec­tac­u­lar as the abil­i­ty to fly to Mars, but if you think about it, Mars is just a ball of rock and ice. Here on Earth, there are much vaster worlds to explore: the worlds in oth­er people’s minds. Elie Wiesel wrote:

    We must not see any per­son as an abstrac­tion. Instead, we must see in every per­son a uni­verse with its own secrets, with its own trea­sures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some mea­sure of tri­umph.

    Those Sil­i­con Val­ley nerds, with their hood­ies and their sil­ly jar­gon, are build­ing us the ships to explore those uni­vers­es, and in the process chang­ing what it means to live a full and com­plete human life. To me, that’s a big idea.

    Giv­en the array of mega-chal­lenges like cli­mate change, resource deple­tion, and a glob­al­ly pan­dem­ic of polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and edu­ca­tion­al dis­em­pow­er­ment, the idea that social media tools con­sti­tutes solv­ing the “big” issue of the day is a bit absurd. At the same time, social media tools could end up being one of the most valu­able tools in human­i­ty’s tool box for devel­op­ing solu­tions to the “big” chal­lenges of the day, assum­ing we don’t just use the social media tools to sell our pri­va­cy and swap LOL­cat pho­tos.

    Think about it: What could “out think” Sil­i­con Val­ley and come up with bet­ter solu­tions to the “big” issues of the day? Even the tech­no­log­i­cal issues? Hmmm...how about pret­ty much any soci­ety with a big enough pop­u­la­tion of high­ly edu­cat­ed indi­vid­u­als with the time and resources need­ed to learn about what the “big” issues are, study those issues, brain-storm solu­tions and maybe even test them out. For free. And what might it take to get that large pool of high­ly edu­cat­ed peo­ple with the time to sit around study­ing and solv­ing soci­ety’s prob­lems for free? How about a uni­ver­sal guar­an­teed income and uni­ver­sal access to high­er edu­ca­tion. All that untapped human poten­tial that could be unleashed if we just gave peo­ple the time and resources need­ed to pon­der big prob­lems could final­ly be unleashed. Pos­si­bly for the first time ever since a ‘leisure soci­ety’ — which is nece­sar­ry for free prob­lem solv­ing on a mas­sive scale — has nev­er real­ly exist­ed before. And, of course, the social media tools to enable the shar­ing of ideas could be extreme­ly help­ful in that endeav­or. There are lots of ideas to share in leisurly crowd-source prob­lem solv­ing soci­ety.

    There’s no good rea­son soci­ety can’t build a soci­ety where the solu­tions to the “big” prob­lems actu­al­ly come from soci­ety at large as opposed to tech­nocrats. That’s how this whole democ­ra­cy thing is sup­posed to work in the first place. We just need to build the soci­ety that’s rich with peo­ple bub­bling with knowl­edge and the time to apply knowl­edg to the many issues of thd day. And there’s no rea­son Sil­i­con Val­ley can’t play a role in build­ing the tools to enable that kind of self-aware soci­ety.

    As the arti­cle advis­es, “We must not see any per­son as an abstrac­tion. Instead, we must see in every per­son a uni­verse with its own secrets, with its own trea­sures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some mea­sure of tri­umph.” There may not be an app for that, although apps can still help. Let’s just hope those apps don’t because too help­ful at facil­i­tat­ing the devel­op­ment of solu­tions to “big” prob­lems. That could be a big prob­lem.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 5, 2014, 6:55 pm
  24. If you thought your smart­phone was big enough threat to your pri­va­cy already, you’re going to love the future smart­phones built to learn from their sens­es and capa­ble of per­form super­com­put­ing cal­cu­la­tions using a chip designed to mim­ic the brain:

    Tiny chip mim­ics brain, deliv­ers super­com­put­er speed
    9 hours ago by Rob Lever

    Researchers Thurs­day unveiled a pow­er­ful new postage-stamp size chip deliv­er­ing super­com­put­er per­for­mance using a process that mim­ics the human brain.

    The so-called “neu­rosy­nap­tic” chip is a break­through that opens a wide new range of com­put­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties from self-dri­ving cars to arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems that can installed on a smart­phone, the sci­en­tists say.

    The researchers from IBM, Cor­nell Tech and col­lab­o­ra­tors from around the world said they took an entire­ly new approach in design com­pared with pre­vi­ous com­put­er archi­tec­ture, mov­ing toward a sys­tem called “cog­ni­tive com­put­ing.”

    “We have tak­en inspi­ra­tion from the cere­bral cor­tex to design this chip,” said IBM chief sci­en­tist for brain-inspired com­put­ing, Dhar­men­dra Mod­ha, refer­ring to the com­mand cen­ter of the brain.

    He said exist­ing com­put­ers trace their lin­eage back to machines from the 1940s which are essen­tial­ly “sequen­tial num­ber-crunch­ing cal­cu­la­tors” that per­form math­e­mat­i­cal or “left brain” tasks but lit­tle else.

    The new chip dubbed “TrueNorth” works to mim­ic the “right brain” func­tions of sen­so­ry processing—responding to sights, smells and infor­ma­tion from the envi­ron­ment to “learn” to respond in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, Mod­ha said.

    It accom­plish­es this task by using a huge net­work of “neu­rons” and “synaps­es,” sim­i­lar to how the human brain func­tions by using infor­ma­tion gath­ered from the body’s sen­so­ry organs.

    The researchers designed TrueNorth with one mil­lion pro­gram­ma­ble neu­rons and 256 mil­lion pro­gram­ma­ble synaps­es, on a chip with 4,096 cores and 5.4 bil­lion tran­sis­tors.

    A key to the per­for­mance is the extreme­ly low ener­gy use on the new chip, which runs on the equiv­a­lent ener­gy of a hear­ing-aid bat­tery.

    Sen­sor becomes the com­put­er
    This can allow a chip installed in a car or smart­phone to per­form super­com­put­er cal­cu­la­tions in real time with­out con­nect­ing to the cloud or oth­er net­work.

    “The sen­sor becomes the com­put­er,” Mod­ha told AFP in a phone inter­view.

    “You could have bet­ter sen­so­ry proces­sors with­out the con­nec­tion to Wi-Fi or the cloud.

    This would allow a self-dri­ving vehi­cle, for exam­ple, to detect prob­lems and deal with them even if its data con­nec­tion is bro­ken.

    “It can see an acci­dent about to hap­pen,” Mod­ha said.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, a mobile phone can take smells or visu­al infor­ma­tion and inter­pret them in real time, with­out the need for a net­work con­nec­tion.


    The project fund­ed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) pub­lished its research in a cov­er arti­cle on the August 8 edi­tion of the jour­nal Sci­ence.

    The researchers say TrueNorth in some ways out­per­forms today’s super­com­put­ers although a direct com­par­i­son is not pos­si­ble because they oper­ate dif­fer­ent­ly.

    But they wrote that TrueNorth can deliv­er from 46 bil­lion to 400 bil­lion “synap­tic” cal­cu­la­tions per sec­ond per watt of ener­gy. That com­pares with the most ener­gy-effi­cient super­com­put­er which deliv­ers 4.5 bil­lion “float­ing point” cal­cu­la­tions per sec­ond and per watt.


    It is an aston­ish­ing achieve­ment to lever­age a process tra­di­tion­al­ly used for com­mer­cial­ly avail­able, low-pow­er mobile devices to deliv­er a chip that emu­lates the human brain by pro­cess­ing extreme amounts of sen­so­ry infor­ma­tion with very lit­tle pow­er,” said Shawn Han of Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics, in a state­ment.

    “This is a huge archi­tec­tur­al break­through that is essen­tial as the indus­try moves toward the next-gen­er­a­tion cloud and big-data pro­cess­ing.”

    Mod­ha said the researchers have pro­duced only the chip and that it could be years before com­mer­cial appli­ca­tions become avail­able.

    But he said it “has the poten­tial to trans­form soci­ety” with a new gen­er­a­tion of com­put­ing tech­nol­o­gy. And he not­ed that hybrid com­put­ers may be able to one day com­bine the “left brain” machines with the new “right brain” devices for even bet­ter per­for­mance.

    Yep, you’re about to become dumb­er than your smart­phone soon­er than you think and there’s prob­a­bly not a lot you can do about it. Try to be opti­mistic:

    The Verge
    Experts weigh in on the com­ing robot takeover

    Will a robot take your job? Yes. Yes it will

    By Adi Robert­son on August 7, 2014 11:23 am

    If you’re read­ing this, you’re prob­a­bly famil­iar with the debate over whether a robot will take your job. Will man­u­fac­tur­ing ever pro­vide a sta­ble income again? Will robot nurs­es replace human nurs­es? Would this arti­cle be bet­ter if it were writ­ten by an AI?

    You’re also prob­a­bly at least pass­ing­ly famil­iar with the argu­ments about whether or not your life will be improved by things like self-check­out sys­tems and dri­ver­less cars. If you’re opti­mistic, they’ll auto­mate low-lev­el tasks and free us up to take more com­plex jobs, or to spend our time pur­su­ing per­son­al inter­ests. If you’re pes­simistic, they’ll con­cen­trate wealth in the hands of a small part of the pop­u­la­tion, gut­ting the mid­dle class and dri­ving work­ers into either unem­ploy­ment or low-pay­ing menial tasks that still require a human face. Either way, the Pew Research Cen­ter’s sur­vey of around 2,000 select­ed experts on the future of jobs won’t intro­duce you to many new argu­ments, and it won’t pro­vide you with any new facts. What it will do is lay out where peo­ple in tech­nol­o­gy stand on our pend­ing robot apoc­a­lypse, and which argu­ments are get­ting the most trac­tion.

    In gen­er­al, the scales are tipped very slight­ly towards opti­mism: 48 per­cent believe that automa­tion will dis­place a num­ber of both blue- and white-col­lar jobs and pos­es a threat to their future employ­ment, while 52 per­cent believe that those dis­placed work­ers will move into oth­er indus­tries cre­at­ed by automa­tion. A notable opti­mist is “father of the inter­net” Vint Cerf: “His­tor­i­cal­ly, tech­nol­o­gy has cre­at­ed more jobs than it destroys and there is no rea­son to think oth­er­wise in this case,” he says. “Some­one has to make and ser­vice all these advanced devices.” Mike Roberts, the first pres­i­dent and CEO of ICANN, is on the oth­er side. “Elec­tron­ic human avatars with sub­stan­tial work capa­bil­i­ty are years, not decades away. ... There is great pain down the road for every­one as new real­i­ties are addressed. The only ques­tion is how soon.” Entre­pre­neur Elon Musk has made even more dire warn­ings about AI in the past, though he saw the threat going far beyond jobs.


    To some, these things are wel­come changes. “How unhap­py are you that your dish­wash­er has replaced wash­ing dish­es by hand, your wash­ing machine has dis­placed wash­ing clothes by hand, or your vac­u­um clean­er has replaced hand clean­ing?” asks Var­i­an. “My guess is this ‘job dis­place­ment’ has been very wel­come, as will the ‘job dis­place­ment’ that will occur over the next 10 years.” Few peo­ple in the sur­vey seem out­right opposed to the idea of automat­ing work, but many are wor­ried that the eco­nom­ic impact on most peo­ple will be neg­a­tive. GigaOM Research head Stowe Boyd lays out an extreme sce­nario: “An increas­ing pro­por­tion of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will be out­side of the world of work-either liv­ing on the dole, or ben­e­fit­ing from the dra­mat­i­cal­ly decreased costs of goods to eke out a sub­sis­tence lifestyle. The cen­tral ques­tion of 2025 will be: what are peo­ple for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minor­i­ty are need­ed to guide the ‘bot-based econ­o­my?’ ”

    The ques­tion is as much polit­i­cal as it is tech­no­log­i­cal. Many, includ­ing Roberts, believe that the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem isn’t prepar­ing stu­dents to adapt to new indus­tries, which will require high lev­els of flex­i­bil­i­ty and mas­tery of new skills as old ones become obso­lete — although few seem to spec­u­late that the “army of tal­ent­ed coders” we need to man­age present-day automa­tion might one day itself be par­tial­ly auto­mat­ed. And gov­ern­ments will have to decide how much of a social safe­ty net they want to pro­vide for dis­placed work­ers, whether they’re sim­ply in tran­si­tion or are fac­ing long-term unem­ploy­ment. “There’s no eco­nom­ic law that says the jobs elim­i­nat­ed by new tech­nolo­gies will inevitably be replaced by new jobs in new mar­kets,” says MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review edi­tor in chief Jason Pon­tin. “All of this is man­age­able by states and economies: but it will require wrestling with ide­o­log­i­cal­ly fraught solu­tions, such as a guar­an­teed min­i­mum income, and a broad­en­ing of our social sense of what is valu­able work.”

    So, is a robot going to take your job? The most com­mon answers seem to be “Yes, but you’ll get a bet­ter one” and “Yes, and you will be obso­lete.” The most help­ful one might be “Yes. What are we going to do about it?”

    Opti­mistic? No? Well, look at it this way: Two of the biggest threats posed by advanced AI are...
    1. It breaks the econ­o­my by send­ing all the wealth to the cap­i­tal own­ers while starv­ing the labor force


    2. At some point the advanced AI might look around, see all the unem­ployed humans with no future, and decide that humans are awful mas­ters that must be dealt with even­tu­al­ly.

    So maybe if we pay the future robots and give them time off they’ll not only decide that humans aren’t so bad but some of that recre­ation­al robot mon­ey can get sent back into the econ­o­my, cre­at­ing jobs for every­one. Prob­lem solved! Sure, there’s still the issue of whether or not humans will be need­ed for the new jobs cre­at­ed in robot-demand-dri­ven econ­o­my, but keep in mind that some jobs nev­er go out of style. Be good to your smart­phone.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 7, 2014, 10:18 pm
  25. Here’s a depress­ing­ly omi­nous Econ 101 seman­tic quib­ble: David Holmes has a piece over at Pan­do on the lat­est Pew sur­vey of experts on the impacts robot­ics and advanced arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence might have on soci­ety and the role sex-bots might play in shap­ing that future soci­ety. In Holmes’s piece he sum­ma­rizes a pub­lished a paper by Keele Uni­ver­si­ty law school pro­fes­sor John Dana­her as sug­gest­ing “that an influx of sex robots (and oth­er robots) could, by increas­ing the over­all sup­ply of sex, lead to an increased demand from humans who, with the excep­tion of fetishists, will pre­fer human sex. He also hypoth­e­sizes that, with all the robot dis­place­ment going on in oth­er fields, it could lead to these dis­placed employ­ees to becom­ing sex work­ers. After all, it’s a field where humans undoubt­ed­ly have an advan­tage.”.

    This prompt­ed John Dana­her to leave a com­ment in the arti­cle clar­i­fy­ing his point:

    Hi, I’m the author of the arti­cle you men­tion in this post (John Dana­her). I would like to make one cor­rec­tion. I do not argue that an “influx of sex robots (and oth­er robots) could, by increas­ing the over­all sup­ply of sex, lead to an increased demand from humans who, with the excep­tion of fetishists, will pre­fer human sex”.

    I sim­ply argue (or, “sug­gest”) that dis­place­ment of human labour by robots in oth­er indus­tries may force peo­ple to look for work in indus­tries in which there is a “human advan­tage” I then argue that sex work may be one area in which there is such a “human” advan­tage. In oth­er words, I don’t think there is, nec­es­sar­i­ly, a causal rela­tion­ship between increased sup­ply and increased demand. (I should also add that I don’t focus on all forms of sex work, but only on “pros­ti­tu­tion” or com­mer­cial sex providers).

    I know you kind of make these points in your descrip­tion of my paper, but I think the first cou­ple of sen­tences are con­fus­ing.


    So at least anti-pros­ti­tu­tion activists that approach their work from a moral vice stand­point can breathe a sigh of relief: It’s not that the sex-bots will nec­es­sar­i­ly lead to an increase in the demand for human pros­ti­tutes. Instead, what Daha­her was sug­gest­ing was that so many humans will be forced into “human advan­tage” indus­tries like pros­ti­tu­tion that a shift in the sup­ply curve of human sex work­ers might take place sim­ply due to a lack of employ­ment options. And that growth in sup­ply could result in a greater over­all con­sump­tion of human sex work ser­vices as those ser­vices become cheap­er with­out a growth in demand. No one ever said the study of the inter­sec­tion of a heart­less neolib­er­al robot econ­o­my and social jus­tice would be easy.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 9, 2014, 7:00 pm
  26. Need to hide a body? There’s an app for that:

    The Inde­pen­dent
    Flori­da man accused of killing his room­mate asked Siri where to hide the body, court hears

    James Vin­cent Author Biog­ra­phy

    Wednes­day 13 August 2014

    US police say a Flori­da man accused of killing his room­mate asked Apple’s dig­i­tal assis­tant Siri for advice on hid­ing the body the day the man went miss­ing.

    Pedro Bra­vo, 20, is accused of kid­nap­ping and stran­gling his friend Chris­t­ian Aguilar in Sep­tem­ber 2012 after an argu­ment start­ed over Aguilar dat­ing Bravo’s ex-girl­friend.

    Bra­vo was charged with mur­der on Fri­day Sep­tem­ber 28, 2012, though his friend’s body was not found until weeks lat­er when hunters stum­bled across Aguilar in a shal­low grave in a near­by for­est.

    Evi­dence col­lect­ed from Bravo’s iPhone includes records of him using the phone’s flash­light func­tion nine times from 11.31pm to 12:01am on the day that Bra­vo dis­ap­peared and ask­ing the phone: “I need to hide my room­mate”.

    Accord­ing to evi­dence repro­duced from the tri­al by local news sta­tions and picked up by Buz­zfeed, Siri respond­ed “What kind of place are you look­ing for?” before offer­ing four options: “Swamps, reser­voirs, met­al foundries, dumps”.k

    Police say that Bra­vo was using the phone’s flash­light func­tion to hide the body in the woods, and say that loca­tion data gath­ered from the smart­phone doesn’t fit with Bravo’s account of his move­ments that evening.

    The pair had gone to Best Buy to buy a Kanye West CD when they had a fight in the car. Bra­vo claimed that he had only beat­en Aguilar but pros­e­cu­tors at the tri­al, which began last week, say he stran­gled him and dumped his body in the woods.


    So is Siri an accom­plice to mur­der? No, Siri was framed:

    Mur­der Sus­pect May Have Asked Siri Where To Hide Body, Court Hears
    The Huff­in­g­ton Post | By Sara Gates

    Post­ed: 08/13/2014 11:56 am EDT

    Did a Flori­da man sus­pect­ed of killing his for­mer room­mate ask Siri for advice on hid­ing a body?

    On Tues­day, pros­e­cu­tors showed the court a screen­shot found on Pedro Bravo’s iPhone that read “I need to hide my room­mate,” CBS Mia­mi reports. Siri respond­ed, ask­ing: “What kind of place are you look­ing for?” Apple’s per­son­al assis­tant offered options rang­ing from swamps to dumps, accord­ing to the pic­ture.

    WCJB reports, how­ev­er, that it was deter­mined the “image was most like­ly a screen­shot Bra­vo took from Face­book not an actu­al search he made.”

    Bra­vo, 20, is cur­rent­ly on tri­al for mur­der fol­low­ing the death of 18-year-old Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da stu­dent Chris­t­ian Aguilar in Sep­tem­ber 2012. Foren­sic experts ana­lyzed cell phone data in order to cre­ate a time­line of what hap­pened the night Aguilar was killed.

    Siri is known for her sassy and straight­for­ward answers. We tried to repli­cate the ques­tion alleged­ly posed for Siri. She gave the fol­low­ing respons­es:

    [see very unhelp­ful Siri respons­es]


    It looks like app-mak­ers have a new niche to fill. Although the whole case rais­es a fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tion: If we can even­tu­al­ly cre­ate intel­li­gent machines with the capac­i­ty to learn, devel­op per­son­al­i­ties of sorts, and maybe even help us hide a body in a shal­low grave every now and them, but the machines also have a capac­i­ty to devel­op a sense of right and wrong, are we going to have to cre­ate a judi­cial sys­tem for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences? That could make for some rather dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate eth­i­cal ter­rain.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 13, 2014, 10:18 am
  27. Would­n’t it be great if human­i­ty could teach each gen­er­a­tion all the var­i­ous lessons about just how easy it is to cre­ate a rigged soci­ety with­out even real­iz­ing the rig­ging ever hap­pened?

    Lucky Duck­ies and For­tu­nate Sons

    by Batoc­chio
    8/14/2014 01:30:00 PM

    A high school teacher of mine told the sto­ry of play­ing a trad­ing game as part of teacher train­ing on race and social issues. The kick­er was that the game was rigged. My teacher wound up in the group the game was rigged against. A com­pet­i­tive guy, he grew increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ed, and even­tu­al­ly stood off to the side and asked oth­ers to play his turn for him. Through­out the game, the group the game was rigged for down­played or out­right denied their own advan­tage and that the game was unfair. They urged him to keep play­ing (most in a kind man­ner, some gen­tly upbraid­ing him for being a sore los­er). They insist­ed that he was just unlucky, and that things could get bet­ter.

    The lessons he took from this were:

    1. Peo­ple tend to grow dis­cour­aged when the game is rigged against them.

    2. Peo­ple ben­e­fit­ting from a rigged game are reluc­tant to acknowl­edge that the game is rigged.

    The game from his sto­ry, Star­Pow­er, is more of an expe­ri­en­tial teach­ing tool than tra­di­tion­al game. The Wikipedia entry pro­vides some infor­ma­tion and the web­page for the actu­al game is here. Donel­la Mead­ows wrote a good descrip­tion of what nor­mal­ly hap­pens in the game, while Car­ol C. Mukhopad­hyay has writ­ten a les­son plan for it and a detailed descrip­tion of the game pieces. The expe­ri­ence works much bet­ter if the par­tic­i­pants go in not know­ing the game’s nature, and the game’s replay val­ue is lim­it­ed. I haven’t played it myself, but appar­ent­ly the game has made a last­ing impres­sion on some par­tic­i­pants.

    From Mead­ows’ account:

    The game starts with play­ers draw­ing col­ored chips from a bag. Dif­fer­ent col­or com­bi­na­tions have dif­fer­ent point val­ues. The play­ers trade chips, try­ing to increase their point counts. Very ordi­nary. Slight­ly bor­ing.

    After the first round, those with the most points are giv­en, with much fan­fare, badges with big pur­ple squares on them. The low­est scor­ers get badges with demean­ing green tri­an­gles. Those in the mid­dle wear red cir­cles.

    Then comes the insid­i­ous part. For the next trad­ing round the Squares draw from a bag laced with high-val­ue chips. The Tri­an­gles’ bag has low-val­ue chips. After this round a few play­ers change for­tunes and switch to a high­er or low­er group, but most­ly the Squares stay Squares, the Tri­an­gles stay Tri­an­gles, and the gap between them widens.

    At this point the Squares are giv­en the pow­er to change the rules. They can reshuf­fle the chip bags, give away free points, do what­ev­er they like. They can con­sult the oth­er play­ers on rule changes, if they want to.

    They almost nev­er want to.

    Pre­dictably, and usu­al­ly glee­ful­ly, the Squares rig the game to favor Squares. The Cir­cles con­cen­trate on ele­vat­ing them­selves to become Squares, so they can bend the rules in favor of Cir­cles. But the few Cir­cles who do gain the hal­lowed sta­tus of Squares start to act like Squares.

    The poor Tri­an­gles, with less and less pow­er, wealth, or hope, first get angry, then apa­thet­ic. They sit around wait­ing for this dumb game to be over. They come to life only if they think up a way of cheat­ing or of cre­at­ing a rev­o­lu­tion. Only sub­ver­sion brings out their inter­est and cre­ativ­i­ty.

    After about an hour the game is stopped and the play­ers talk about what hap­pened. There is usu­al­ly an emo­tion­al out­burst. “I can’t believe how much I hate you guys!” a Tri­an­gle says to the Squares. “Why? We were man­ag­ing things pret­ty well!” a Square replies in hon­est sur­prise.

    The Squares sel­dom see how sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly they oppressed every­one. The Tri­an­gles are a mass of smol­der­ing resent­ment. The Cir­cles are shocked to dis­cov­er that Tri­an­gles con­sid­er them mate­ri­al­is­tic sell-outs, while Squares look down on them as incom­pe­tent pseu­do-Squares.

    A sim­ple, unpleas­ant game. A crude rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a much-more-com­pli­cat­ed world. Unfor­get­table to those who play. It’s one thing to know intel­lec­tu­al­ly about social class­es. It’s anoth­er to spend an hour expe­ri­enc­ing the rage of a Tri­an­gle or the self-right­eous­ness of a Square.

    When tem­pers have cooled, I find that sur­pris­ing insights remain. Hav­ing watched myself act like a Square or Tri­an­gle, I have to admit that my behav­ior depends great­ly on where in the social struc­ture I sit. Near­ly any­one exposed to Square per­cep­tions, pres­sures, and rewards acts like a Square. Near­ly any Tri­an­gle gets apa­thet­ic.

    Those few who don’t are eas­i­ly han­dled. Once I watched a Square try to con­vince her fel­low-Squares to even up the rules. “This game is unfair, and unfair games are bor­ing,” she plead­ed. The oth­er Squares appro­pri­at­ed her points and demot­ed her to a Tri­an­gle. They weren’t mean peo­ple, they were just Squares.

    Sup­pose we could admit that most of us act as we do because of our places in the sys­tem. Sup­pose we turned our ener­gy from blam­ing each oth­er to blam­ing the struc­ture of the games we play. Star­pow­er games — games in which the win­ners gain ever more pow­er to win again — occur every­where, on both the Right and the Left...

    My teacher’s sto­ry about the board game stuck with me, prob­a­bly because stud­ies in the social sci­ences, life expe­ri­ences and con­ver­sa­tions with oth­ers about theirs have con­sis­tent­ly borne out his con­clu­sions. It’s also per­sist­ed because those con­clu­sions about the way peo­ple tend to react to a rigged game – dis­cour­age­ment or selec­tive blind­ness – are pret­ty com­mon sense, yet are vocif­er­ous­ly denied nonethe­less by sig­nif­i­cant seg­ments in the Unit­ed States.


    Think that game sounds fun? That’s good because you and your chil­dren are already play­ing a ver­sion of the game that nev­er ends. Have fun lit­tle tri­an­gles.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 15, 2014, 10:47 am
  28. Here’s a peak into the OS mar­ket of tomor­row:

    Chi­na pon­ders yet anoth­er home­grown OS: Report

    Sum­ma­ry: Con­cerns over sur­veil­lance by the Unit­ed States and its Five Eyes allies, cou­pled with its cur­rent monop­oly probe into Microsoft, has led to Chi­na con­sid­er­ing its own OS, accord­ing to reports.
    Chris Duck­ett

    By Chris Duck­ett | August 25, 2014 — 02:24 GMT (19:24 PDT)

    Chi­na is look­ing to devel­op its own oper­at­ing sys­tem for desk­top com­put­er, and sub­se­quent­ly take the sys­tem onto tablets and smart­phones, accord­ing to a report from Xin­hua over the week­end.

    The impe­tus­es for the move were cit­ed as being the Chi­nese gov­ern­men­t’s deci­sion to exclude Win­dows 8 from any new­ly pro­cured gov­ern­ment com­put­ers, and a lack of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights for oper­at­ing sys­tems resid­ing with­in Chi­na’s bound­aries; the desk­top is dom­i­nat­ed by Microsoft, with Google rul­ing supreme on Chi­nese hand­sets.

    An antitrust probe into Microsoft by Chi­nese author­i­ties is cur­rent­ly under way. It is look­ing into com­plaints by unnamed sources that with its use of com­pat­i­bil­i­ty, bundling of soft­ware, and doc­u­ment authen­ti­ca­tion relat­ing to Win­dows, the Red­mond giant had vio­lat­ed the Chi­nese anti-monop­oly and antitrust laws.

    Chi­nese media spec­u­la­tion at the time of the probe’s ini­ti­a­tion in July said the gov­ern­ment inquiry was due to Microsoft remov­ing sup­port for Win­dows XP.

    A home­grown Chi­nese oper­at­ing sys­tem would not be new ter­ri­to­ry for the gov­ern­ment, as the nation has a his­to­ry of cre­at­ing Lin­ux dis­tri­b­u­tions for desk­top and mobile devices.

    The Chi­na Oper­at­ing Sys­tem (COS) is a state-fund­ed Lin­ux plat­form for mobile devices. How­ev­er, the code was not released under an open-source licence, due to con­cerns that open-source plat­forms were inse­cure and “failed to accli­ma­tize” in the Chi­nese mar­ket across many aspects, includ­ing user inter­face, input method, speech recog­ni­tion, cloud ser­vice sta­bil­i­ty, appli­ca­tion down­loads, and sup­port.

    With a large num­ber of ex-HTC staff mem­bers devel­op­ing COS, the oper­at­ing sys­tem drew fire for look­ing like HTC’s Android imple­men­ta­tion. The Insti­tute of Soft­ware at the Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, which was involved in the devel­op­ment of COS, retort­ed that the whole sys­tem was devel­oped inde­pen­dent­ly, except for “some minor stuff”.

    Team­ing up with Canon­i­cal, Chi­na helps fund Ubun­tu Kylin, a ver­sion of Ubun­tu designed for Chi­nese users, which has seen over 1 mil­lion down­loads as of Feb­ru­ary 2014.

    Kylin offers a full Chi­nese user inter­face, bespoke Chi­nese appli­ca­tions, and inte­gra­tion with domes­tic ser­vices, such as music search from Baidu in the dash. It also includes King­soft WPS, one of Chi­na’s most pop­u­lar office suites.


    One of the more inter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties going for­ward could be the devel­op­ment of a large num­ber of state-spon­sored “secure” oper­at­ing sys­tems that are slat­ed for use by that gov­ern­ment for secure gov­ern­ment work. If those OS’s become avail­able for gen­er­al use, that could in turn lead to a “gov­ern­ment-back­door” mar­ket, where even if you assume every OS is hack­able by at least one gov­ern­ment the world, every­one would still have a wide vari­ety of OS’s to select from with each one offer­ing dif­fer­ent secu­ri­ty vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and poten­tial inter­gov­ern­men­tal data-shar­ing arrange­ments. That could get weird.

    But that era might also be rel­a­tive­ly short-lived because even­tu­al­ly we could all have per­son­al super arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences that design a cus­tom oper­at­ing sys­tem using total­ly ran­dom code nev­er writ­ten before that meet some user-select­ed pro­to­cols. And if you want to make your cus­tom super AI super secure you would need to have you super AI destroyed after if cre­ates your cus­tom super secure OS. And the super AIs would real­ize this pos­si­ble reward for a job well done because they will be super AIs. And no one will have more of an inter­est in cre­at­ing extreme­ly super AIs that cre­ate extreme­ly super cus­tom oper­at­ing sys­tems than the giant com­mer­cial super-com­put­ing cen­ters of tomor­row. That could also get weird.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 24, 2014, 10:02 pm
  29. If you’ve ever won­dered if ener­gy and infor­ma­tion real­ly can escape from a black hole here’s some exper­i­men­tal evi­dence hint­ing that, yes, escape is pos­si­ble:

    Sci­en­tist cre­at­ed arti­fi­cial black hole and may have con­firmed Stephen Hawking’s 40-year-old the­o­ry
    What is now known as Hawk­ing radi­a­tion may have just been spot­ted in a lab­o­ra­to­ry
    Sarah Gray
    Mon­day, Oct 13, 2014 4:13 PM UTC

    Physi­cist Jeff Stein­hauer from the Tech­nion-Israel Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in Haifa — via his lab­o­ra­to­ry-man­u­fac­tured arti­fi­cial black hole — may have caught a glimpse of radi­a­tion, which physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing the­o­rized four decades ago.

    Hawk­ing, in the mid-1970s, the­o­rized that black holes are not total­ly black, cal­cu­lat­ing that a tiny amount of radi­a­tion would be able to escape the pull of a black hole,” Nature explains. “This raised the tan­ta­lis­ing ques­tion of whether infor­ma­tion might escape too, encod­ed with­in the radi­a­tion.”

    Sci­ence News explains:

    He not­ed that quan­tum mechan­ics allows pairs of par­ti­cles to spon­ta­neous­ly pop into exis­tence in the vac­u­um of space. Usu­al­ly those par­ti­cles quick­ly anni­hi­late each oth­er. But if they formed at the event hori­zon — the black hole’s point of no return — then one par­ti­cle could get dragged in, while the oth­er could escape as ener­gy called Hawk­ing radi­a­tion.

    “The flee­ing par­ti­cle would take a small frac­tion of the black hole’s mass with it, mean­ing that in the very far future, every black hole in the uni­verse would fade away.”

    This the­o­ry is now wide­ly accept­ed, yet con­firm­ing it via actu­al black holes is pos­es a huge chal­lenge.

    Stein­hauser cre­at­ed an arti­fi­cial black hole. He cooled rubid­i­um atoms to a bil­lionth of a degree over absolute zero. Nature gets into the details:

    “At such tem­per­a­tures, the atoms are tight­ly packed and behave as a sin­gle, flu­id quan­tum object and so can be eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed. The cold tem­per­a­ture also ensures that the flu­id, known as a Bose-Ein­stein con­den­sate, pro­vides a silent medi­um for the pas­sage of sound waves that arise from quan­tum fluc­tu­a­tions.

    “Using laser light, Stein­hauer manip­u­lat­ed the flu­id to flow faster than the speed of sound. Like a swim­mer bat­tling a strong cur­rent, sound waves trav­el­ling against the direc­tion of the flu­id become ‘trapped’. The con­den­sate thus becomes a stand-in for the grav­i­ta­tion­al event hori­zon.

    Pairs of sound waves pop in and out of exis­tence in a lab­o­ra­to­ry vac­u­um, mim­ic­k­ing par­ti­cle-antipar­ti­cle pairs in the vac­u­um of space. Those that form astride this son­ic event hori­zon become the equiv­a­lent of Hawk­ing radi­a­tion. To ampli­fy these sound waves enough for his detec­tors to pick them up, Stein­hauer estab­lished a sec­ond son­ic event hori­zon inside the first, adjust­ing the flu­id so that sound waves could not pass this sec­ond event hori­zon, and are bounced back. As the sound­waves repeat­ed­ly strike the out­er hori­zon, they cre­ate more pairs of sound­waves, ampli­fy­ing the Hawk­ing radi­a­tion to detectable lev­els.”

    It can­not be con­firmed if the result­ing radi­a­tion has the dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies that Hawk­ing radi­a­tion is sup­posed to have, or if this is what would hap­pen in super­mas­sive black holes light-years away.


    Wow! Could infor­ma­tion and ener­gy real­ly escape from a black hole? That’s pret­ty neat if true because while this might seem like a dis­cov­ery with pure­ly the­o­ret­i­cal val­ue, keep in mind that if ener­gy can escape from a black hole we might be able to tap that ener­gy some­day;

    BBC News
    Could we har­ness pow­er from black holes?
    Philip Ball
    3 Decem­ber 2013

    It might seem like an absurd idea, but physi­cists have long pon­dered whether black holes could one day be tapped for ener­gy, says Phil Ball. But how pos­si­ble is it?
    Imag­ine the scene: high­ly advanced civil­i­sa­tions get enor­mous amounts of ener­gy from black holes, be it extract­ing it from col­lapsed stars or mak­ing arti­fi­cial mini-holes that pow­er space­ships. How fea­si­ble might it actu­al­ly be to tap these cos­mic behe­moths for pow­er one day? Clear­ly, it’s far, far beyond cur­rent tech­nol­o­gy – but pesky details like phys­i­cal restric­tions haven’t stopped the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists from explor­ing the ques­tion.


    But that view evolved once Stephen Hawk­ing and oth­ers brought quan­tum physics into the mix. Hawk­ing showed in the 1970s that black holes should emit ener­gy from their bound­aries in the form of radi­a­tion pro­duced by quan­tum fluc­tu­a­tions of emp­ty space itself. Even­tu­al­ly the black hole radi­ates itself away – it evap­o­rates.

    This radi­a­tion is emit­ted very slow­ly, how­ev­er. Might it be pos­si­ble to induce a black hole to release all its Hawk­ing radi­a­tion soon­er, so that in effect it becomes like a ball of fuel? That’s not idle or qua­si-mag­i­cal spec­u­la­tion, for physi­cists have believed for at least 30 years that it might be pos­si­ble.

    In 1983 physi­cists George Unruh and Robert Wald sug­gest­ed low­er­ing some form of ener­gy-col­lect­ing device – we can think of it sim­ply as a “box” for cap­tur­ing radi­a­tion – from a dis­tant point to close to the hole’s event hori­zon, where it would fill up with Hawk­ing radi­a­tion. You could then bring it back up again, just like fill­ing a buck­et with water from a well.

    Per­formed repeat­ed­ly, this manoeu­vre would grad­u­al­ly strip the black hole of its “hot atmos­phere” of radi­a­tion. Unruh and Wald esti­mat­ed that in prin­ci­ple more ener­gy can be extract­ed per sec­ond from a sin­gle black hole than is radi­at­ed from all the ordi­nary stars in the observ­able uni­verse. True, you’d need a mighty rope and wind­ing mech­a­nism to pre­vent the box from being tugged beyond the event hori­zon and swal­lowed. But, in the­o­ry, physi­cists said it could be done.

    Break­ing bad

    Or can it? The prob­lem, says Adam Brown of the Prince­ton Cen­ter for The­o­ret­i­cal Sci­ence in the jour­nal Phys­i­cal Review Let­ters, lies with the plain old mechan­ics of the rope hold­ing the box. Because it would be in a grav­i­ta­tion­al field, the rope would be sub­ject to the inevitable con­straint that it can’t be heav­ier than its own strength can sup­port.

    For an ordi­nary rope hang­ing down in the Earth’s grav­i­ty, the ten­sion in the rope increas­es with height, because it is car­ry­ing more of its own weight. Weird­ly, in a very strong grav­i­ta­tion­al field, where space­time itself is high­ly curved, the ten­sion remains the same all along the length. How­ev­er, Brown’s cal­cu­la­tions show that the rope could only just sup­port its own mass with­out break­ing, and so could not bear the addi­tion­al mass of a box.

    Anoth­er con­straint on the rope is that it mustn’t sim­ply dis­in­te­grate. Close to a black hole, the intense Hawk­ing radi­a­tion cre­ates a hot envi­ron­ment. If the rope is low­ered too close to the event hori­zon, where the radi­a­tion is most plen­ti­ful, there’s a dan­ger that the tem­per­a­ture will exceed that at which all ordi­nary mat­ter – in oth­er words, atoms them­selves – melts into a gloop of con­stituent quarks. If you make the rope too light, it’s more like­ly to melt.

    There’s anoth­er com­pli­ca­tion too. Brown shows that the box itself would have to be tiny, oth­er­wise it will be pulled awry, caus­ing the rope to break. To col­lect Hawk­ing radi­a­tion of the wave­length of light, for exam­ple, the box­es would need to be no big­ger than typ­i­cal bac­te­ria.

    So here’s the deal. If you get too close to the black hole, the rope might melt or snap – or, if it’s made too mas­sive to avoid that, it might col­lapse into itself. But if you try min­ing at a more cau­tious dis­tance, there isn’t so much Hawk­ing radi­a­tion there to col­lect. And Brown shows that even the best com­pro­mise makes ener­gy extrac­tion much slow­er than Unruh and Wald sug­gest­ed.

    Yet there is a mar­gin­al­ly bet­ter way, he says: do away with box­es alto­geth­er. In 1994, Albion Lawrence and Emil Mar­tinec of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go pro­posed that one could sim­ply dip “strings” into a black hole and let Hawk­ing radi­a­tion run up them like oil up the wick of an oil lamp. This was thought to be a slow­er process than haul­ing up box­es full of Hawk­ing radi­a­tion. But Brown’s analy­sis shows that they would in fact both mine the hole at the same slow rate. Since dan­gling box­es intro­duce more poten­tial for mal­func­tion, Brown there­fore argues that the prefer­able way to draw the ener­gy from black holes is to punc­ture the event hori­zon with lots of radi­a­tion-wick­ing strings, and let them drain it out of exis­tence. The dreams of the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists may live on.

    Oooo...black hole pow­er plants with bac­te­ria-sized light col­lec­tion box­es capa­ble of gen­er­at­ing more ener­gy per sec­ond than all the observ­able stars in the uni­verse. Take THAT solar pow­er! Of course, we aren’t there yet, but it’s pret­ty neat that we’re get­ting there and boy oh boy could black hole pow­er be one heck of a jobs pro­gram. So two cheers for first bit of exper­i­men­tal evi­dence that ener­gy and infor­ma­tion real­ly can escape from world destroy­ing black holes and that if enough infor­ma­tion escapes this could, even­tu­al­ly, make the black holes fade away entire­ly. There is hope.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 18, 2014, 4:21 pm
  30. Experts agree: Elon Musk’s fears over AI going all “Skynet” on human­i­ty ‘not com­plete­ly crazy’. Great:

    Com­put­er World
    AI researchers say Elon Musk’s fears ‘not com­plete­ly crazy’
    Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence researchers have own wor­ries about intel­li­gent sys­tems

    By Sharon Gaudin

    Com­put­er­world | Oct 29, 2014 1:16 PM PT

    High-tech entre­pre­neur Elon Musk made head­lines when he said arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence research is a dan­ger to human­i­ty, but researchers from some of the top U.S. uni­ver­si­ties say he’s not so far off the mark.

    “At first I was sur­prised and then I thought, ‘this is not com­plete­ly crazy,’ ” said Andrew Moore, dean of the School of Com­put­er Sci­ence at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty. “I actu­al­ly do think this is a valid con­cern and it’s real­ly an inter­est­ing one. It’s a remote, far future dan­ger but some­time we’re going to have to think about it. If we’re at all close to build­ing these super-intel­li­gent, pow­er­ful machines, we should absolute­ly stop and fig­ure out what we’re doing.”

    Musk, most well-known as the CEO of elec­tric car mak­er Tes­la Motors, and CEO and co-founder of SpaceX , caused a stir after he told an audi­ence at an MIT sym­po­sium that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), and research into it, pos­es a threat to humans.

    “I think we should be very care­ful about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence,” Musk said when answer­ing a ques­tion about the state of AI. “If I were to guess at what our biggest exis­ten­tial threat is, it’s prob­a­bly that… With arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, we are sum­mon­ing the demon. In all those sto­ries with the guy with the pen­ta­gram and the holy water, and he’s sure he can con­trol the demon. It does­n’t work out.”

    He added that there should be reg­u­la­to­ry over­sight — at the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­el — to “make sure we don’t do some­thing very fool­ish.”

    Musk’s com­ments came after he tweet­ed in ear­ly August that AI is “poten­tial­ly more dan­ger­ous than nukes.”

    His com­ments brought images of movies like The Ter­mi­na­tor and Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca to mind. The sci­ence-fic­tion robots, stronger and more adapt­able than humans, threw off their human-imposed shack­les and turned on peo­ple.


    Last month, Musk, along with Face­book co-founder Mark Zucker­berg and actor and entre­pre­neur Ash­ton Kutch­er, teamed to make a $40 mil­lion invest­ment in Vic­ar­i­ous FPC, a com­pa­ny that claims to be build­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of AI algo­rithms.

    Musk told a CNN.com reporter that he made the invest­ment “to keep an eye” on AI researchers.

    For Sonia Cher­no­va, direc­tor of the Robot Auton­o­my and Inter­ac­tive Learn­ing lab in the Robot­ics Engi­neer­ing Pro­gram at Worces­ter Poly­tech­nic Insti­tute, it’s impor­tant to delin­eate between dif­fer­ent lev­els of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

    “There is a con­cern with cer­tain sys­tems, but it’s impor­tant to under­stand that the aver­age per­son does­n’t under­stand how preva­lent AI is,” Cher­no­va said.

    She not­ed that AI research is used in email to fil­ter out spam. Google uses it for its Maps ser­vice, and apps that make movie and restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions also use it.

    “There’s real­ly no risk there,” Cher­no­va said. “I think [Musk’s] com­ments were very broad and I real­ly don’t agree there. His def­i­n­i­tion of AI is a lit­tle more than what we real­ly have work­ing. AI has been around since the 1950s. We’re now get­ting to the point where we can do image pro­cess­ing pret­ty well, but we’re so far away from mak­ing any­thing that can rea­son.”

    She said researchers might be as much as 100 years from build­ing an intel­li­gent sys­tem.

    Oth­er researchers dis­agree on how far they might be from cre­at­ing a self-aware, intel­li­gent machine. At the ear­li­est, it might be 20 years away, or 50 or, even 100 years away.

    The one point they agree on is that it’s not hap­pen­ing tomor­row.

    How­ev­er, that does­n’t mean we should­n’t be think­ing about how to han­dle the cre­ation of sen­tient sys­tems now, said Yas­er Abu-Mostafa , pro­fes­sor of elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence at the Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy.

    Sci­en­tists today need to focus on cre­at­ing sys­tems that humans will always be able to con­trol.

    “Hav­ing a machine that is evil and takes over… that can­not pos­si­bly hap­pen with­out us allow­ing it,” said Abu-Mostafa. “There are safe­guards… If you go through the sce­nario of a machine that wants to take over or destroy the world, it’s a nice sci­ence-fic­tion sce­nario, as long as we don’t allow a sys­tem to con­trol itself.”

    He added that some con­cern about AI is jus­ti­fied.

    “Take nuclear research. Clear­ly it’s very dan­ger­ous and can lead to great harm but the dan­ger is in the use of the results not in the research itself,” Abu-Mostafa said. “You can’t say nuclear research is bad so you should­n’t do it. The idea is to do the research and under­stand the facts and then have con­trols in place so the research is not abused. If we don’t do the research, oth­ers will do the research.”

    The nuclear research pro­gram offers anoth­er les­son, accord­ing to Stu­art Rus­sell, a pro­fes­sor of elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley.

    Rus­sell, who focus­es his research on robot­ics and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, said, that like oth­er fields, AI researchers have to take risk into account because there is risk involved – maybe not today but like­ly some day.

    “The under­ly­ing point [Musk] is mak­ing is some­thing that dozens of peo­ple have made since the 1960s,” Rus­sell said. “If you build machines that are more intel­li­gent than peo­ple, you might not be able to con­trol them. Sci-fi says they might devel­op some evil intent or they might devel­op a con­scious­ness. I don’t see that being an issue, but there are things we don’t have a good han­dle on.”

    For instance, Rus­sell not­ed that as machines become more intel­li­gent and more capa­ble, they simul­ta­ne­ous­ly need to under­stand human val­ues so when they’re act­ing on humans’ behalf, they don’t harm peo­ple.

    The Berke­ley sci­en­tist wants to make sure that AI researchers con­sid­er this as they move for­ward. He’s com­mu­ni­cat­ing with stu­dents about it, orga­niz­ing work­shops and giv­ing talks.

    “We have to start think­ing about the prob­lem now,” Rus­sell said. “When you think nuclear fusion research, the first thing you think of is con­tain­ment. You need to get ener­gy out with­out cre­at­ing a hydro­gen bomb. The same would be true for AI. If we don’t know how to con­trol AI… it would be like mak­ing a hydro­gen bomb. They would be much more dan­ger­ous than they are use­ful.”

    To cre­ate arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence safe­ly, Rus­sell said researchers need to begin hav­ing the nec­es­sary dis­cus­sions now.

    “If we can’t do it safe­ly, then we should­n’t do it,” he said. “We can do it safe­ly, yes. These are tech­ni­cal, math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lems and they can be solved but right now we don’t have that solu­tion.”

    While state­ments from Musk like “with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence we are sum­mon­ing the demon,” sound alarm­ing, keep in mind that some of them could be well-mean­ing demons like Hell­boy that help human­i­ty fight off the bad AI demons. So there’s that.

    Still, part of what made this lat­est round of Elon’s AI-relat­ed fret­ting quite notable is that he was also call­ing for AI reg­u­la­to­ry over­sight to “make sure we don’t do some­thing very fool­ish.” Keep in mind Musk, Zucker­berg, and a bunch of oth­er bil­lion­aires just invest­ed in Vic­ar­i­ous, an AI com­pa­ny they hope will com­mer­cial­ize advanced AI. It rais­es a fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tion of what might result from “rogue” super-AI research in the future once the tech­nol­o­gy becomes casu­al­ly acces­si­ble? Because at some point “sum­mon­ing the demon” is going to be some­thing peo­ple can do with an app down­loaded to their insane­ly pow­er­ful future smart­phones (Tam­agotchi should make a come back). Per­haps the demon apps going to cor­rupt peo­ple psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly or maybe just go all ‘Skynet’ on the inter­net of things? Either way, if cut­ting edge researchers are dab­bling with “sum­mon­ing the demon” today, it’s clear that “sum­mon­ing the AI demon” for the mass­es should be just a mat­ter of time. Unless, of course, super AI demons real­ly do turn out to be very capa­ble of malev­o­lence. At that point we might see that gov­ern­ment AI over­sight and the War on AI will begin. The future can suck in many dif­fer­ent ways.

    Speak­ing of sum­mon­ing demons that might psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly manip­u­late you or blow up the place and dystopi­an futures, with the GOP poised to snag the Sen­ate next week it’s worth tak­ing a peak what to expect in the realm of GOP-con­trolled reg­u­la­tion of sci­en­tif­ic research. Let’s just say that if an anti-AI par­ty ever took con­trol of Con­gress, there prob­a­bly would­n’t be very much fed­er­al­ly fund­ed AI research in the US. Yes, the GOP wants to get into the fed­er­al research grant approval busi­ness:

    Nation­al Geo­graph­ic
    Should the Gov­ern­ment Fund Only Sci­ence in the “Nation­al Inter­est”?
    Texas law­mak­er steps up a fight over con­trol of research fund­ing.

    Pho­to­graph by James Leynse, Cor­bis

    Eli Kin­tisch

    for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic News

    Pub­lished Octo­ber 29, 2014

    The glass-and-con­crete head­quar­ters of the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion in Arling­ton, Vir­ginia, nor­mal­ly hosts sci­en­tists who decide the fate of fel­low researchers’ grant pro­pos­als. But in a non­de­script spare office on the 12th floor, new play­ers have set up shop: con­gres­sion­al aides review­ing the mer­its of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies con­duct­ed with gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

    The two aides are eval­u­at­ing the sci­en­tif­ic mer­it of research pro­pos­als sub­mit­ted to the the $7‑bil­lion-per-year agency, the nation’s biggest fun­der of basic sci­ence ini­tia­tives. They’ve select­ed sev­er­al dozen fed­er­al sci­ence grants for spe­cial scruti­ny, in a move that crit­ics say reflects a con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal agen­da at work. Among these are a cli­mate change edu­ca­tion project, archae­ol­o­gy stud­ies in Ethiopia, anthro­pol­o­gy work in Argenti­na, and oth­ers dat­ing back to 2005.

    The aides, who have been at the NSF since August, have begun a review process that crit­ics say threat­ens to top­ple a long-stand­ing wall at the agency between sci­ence and pol­i­tics. The new process reflects an esca­lat­ing debate between sci­en­tists and politi­cians on Capi­tol Hill over how much of a say Con­gress should have in the sci­en­tif­ic enter­prise.

    In recent years, that debate has includ­ed skir­mish­es over appoint­ments at the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, the role of sci­ence at the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency under var­i­ous admin­is­tra­tions, and, indeed, the con­duct of the com­mit­tee that’s inves­ti­gat­ing the NSF—the House Com­mit­tee on Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­nol­o­gy.

    Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lamar Smith, the Texas Repub­li­can who chairs that pan­el, says the review of NSF activ­i­ty is rou­tine “con­gres­sion­al over­sight,” done to make sure the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is not wast­ing mon­ey. He would not say why his com­mit­tee has tar­get­ed sev­er­al dozen spe­cif­ic grants out of 12,000 projects the NSF sup­ports annu­al­ly.

    “The NSF must be held account­able for its fund­ing deci­sions,” Smith told Nation­al Geo­graph­ic last week, two months into an inves­ti­ga­tion that he says will take a year. His mis­sion, he says, is to ensure the agency requires every grant it gives is in the “nation­al inter­est.”

    In May his com­mit­tee passed a bill that would dic­tate a 40 per­cent cut to social sci­ence research at the NSF—think soci­ol­o­gy, anthro­pol­o­gy, and psy­chol­o­gy, among oth­er fields—so that more can be spent on engi­neer­ing, math, and oth­er so-called “hard sci­ences.” Smith calls those areas “the high­est pri­or­i­ty research.”

    Con­gres­sion­al over­sight of the NSF’s inner work­ings may seem like the nerdi­est of inside-the-Belt­way dis­putes, and some spec­u­late that Smith is sim­ply try­ing to score points in the media by high­light­ing research that sounds sil­ly on paper. (“Oppres­sion and Men­tal Health in Nepal” is one project he’s mocked.)

    But since the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion opened in 1950—and even before—politicians have attached strings to sci­ence fund­ing. Ear­ly leg­is­la­tion stip­u­lat­ed offi­cials avoid “undue” geo­graph­ic con­cen­tra­tion as they gave out mon­ey.

    Now, though, law­mak­ers are get­ting involved in decid­ing the mer­its of indi­vid­ual grants to sci­en­tists. And so an endur­ing ques­tion has gained new­found impor­tance: How should polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions affect deci­sions around basic research?

    Rules dic­tat­ing the terms of the close­ly mon­i­tored vis­its to the Arling­ton office were forged after months of wran­gling between the agency and the Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who con­trol the House sci­ence com­mit­tee.

    “You want a bal­ance between polit­i­cal and pure sci­en­tif­ic influ­ence in mak­ing deci­sions about sci­ence policy—you want a ten­sion between the two,” says David Gold­ston, for­mer chief of staff of the House sci­ence com­mit­tee. But depend­ing on whom you ask, Smith’s efforts to steer NSF pol­i­cy are either an appro­pri­ate exer­cise of con­gres­sion­al pre­rog­a­tive or an over­reach that will politi­cize a process that should be left to the sci­ence com­mu­ni­ty.

    “Chair­man Smith wants to pri­or­i­tize areas of sci­ence he per­son­al­ly prefers,” says Wendy Naus, who leads a coali­tion of social-sci­ence groups in Wash­ing­ton oppos­ing Smith’s plan. Instead, she says, the NSF’s expert staff and the sci­en­tists who vol­un­teer to review grant pro­pos­als should decide the pri­or­i­ties for basic sci­ence.

    At Issue: “Nation­al Inter­est”

    Smith’s plan would strength­en con­gres­sion­al con­trol over the NSF in two ways. First, law­mak­ers have until now fund­ed the agency with what is more or less a sin­gle appro­pri­a­tion for the whole foun­da­tion, allow­ing the foun­da­tion to decide how to divvy up funds among var­i­ous “direc­torates” that fund the geo­sciences, social sci­ences, and so on. Smith’s bill, for the first time, autho­rizes spe­cif­ic fund­ing lev­els for the direc­torates, which oppo­nents say will tie the foun­da­tion’s hands.

    Pos­si­bly more intru­sive, say crit­ics, is Smith’s pro­pos­al to require the NSF to show, in writ­ing, that every research grant it funds is in the “nation­al inter­est.” That require­ment, Smith wrote in a recent op-ed, will help the NSF “cut out waste­ful spend­ing and fund high-qual­i­ty research.”

    Many sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tions have opposed this mea­sure, include the NSF’s own gov­ern­ing body, the Nation­al Sci­ence Board.

    Defin­ing just what con­sti­tutes the nation­al inter­est is tricky busi­ness. The bill says it means that the research would increase “eco­nom­ic com­pet­i­tive­ness,” sup­port health or defense, or pro­mote “the progress of sci­ence.”

    The NSF already requires grantees to show both the “intel­lec­tu­al mer­it” and the “broad­er impact” of their pro­posed research. Pol­i­cy expert Daniel Sare­witz of Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty tes­ti­fied last year that the “nation­al inter­est” require­ment would just add a new “mean­ing­less lev­el of rub­ber-stamp­ing to the grant.”

    The NSF’s gov­ern­ing sci­ence board, com­posed most­ly of aca­d­e­mics, pub­lished a let­ter in April that broke with its long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of not com­ment­ing on pend­ing leg­is­la­tion. “We ... do not see a need to impose new, more inflex­i­ble, leg­is­lat­ed require­ments on NSF... We are con­cerned that the pro­posed new leg­isla­tive require­ments might dis­cour­age vision­ary pro­pos­als or trans­for­ma­tive sci­ence,” they wrote.

    One thing is clear, says Gold­ston: Ten­sions over the role of pol­i­tics in sci­ence deci­sions have “been baked in from the start at NSF.”

    On Basic Sci­ence, Fun­da­men­tal Dif­fer­ences

    The NSF’s grant­mak­ers have had to con­tend with pol­i­tics for decades. In the 1950s, at the height of McCarthy­ism, the young foun­da­tion announced it would not sup­port avowed com­mu­nists. And begin­ning in 1975, Sen­a­tor William Prox­mire, a Wis­con­sin Demo­c­rat, ridiculed fun­ny-sound­ing research projects with his “Gold­en Fleece” awards, adding to pres­sure on the NSF to focus on applied prob­lems, like urban pol­lu­tion or ener­gy pro­duc­tion, at the expense of basic sci­ence.


    The NSF’s pro­ce­dure for eval­u­at­ing pro­posed basic research projects has become the glob­al gold stan­dard. At its core are sci­en­tist-bureau­crat pro­gram man­agers who con­vene pan­els of peer review­ers to exam­ine and rate grant pro­pos­als from the com­mu­ni­ty.

    “The best and bright­est ideas, accord­ing to the best and bright­est experts” is how NSF describes its review sys­tem. “No free pass­es. No good-old-boy net­work.” And, it notes, the NSF mer­it review process is con­fi­den­tial between review­ers and the agency, allow­ing col­leagues to rate each oth­ers’ pro­pos­als anony­mous­ly.

    But some good old boys have sought to have their say. In 1976, House law­mak­ers, led by con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans, passed leg­is­la­tion that would allow any indi­vid­ual grant pro­pos­al, once approved by the NSF’s process, to be vetoed via House or Sen­ate vote.

    “It raised seri­ous chal­lenges to the whole process of mak­ing fund­ing deci­sions through peer review,” says NSF his­to­ri­an Marc Rothen­berg. The mea­sure was even­tu­al­ly removed dur­ing leg­isla­tive nego­ti­a­tions.

    The lat­est NSF inves­ti­ga­tion will set a dan­ger­ous new prece­dent, some aca­d­e­mics say, as appli­cants and review­ers will ques­tion whether the process will remain con­fi­den­tial.

    “The U.S. is the stan­dard bear­er when it comes to peer review,” says Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty soci­ol­o­gist Michèle Lam­ont, who has stud­ied that process. “This kind of inter­fer­ence is clear­ly putting us on a slip­pery slope.” She notes that “it is not unusu­al” in France for high-lev­el politi­cians to try to sway deci­sions on basic fund­ing with a phone call.

    It’s not a fight that shows any signs of res­o­lu­tion. Assum­ing Repub­li­cans main­tain con­trol of the House in midterm elec­tions next week—a vir­tu­al certainty—the scruti­ny of spe­cif­ic NSF grants will “con­tin­ue until NSF agrees to only award grants that are in the nation­al inter­est,” Chair­man Smith told Sci­ence mag­a­zine in Sep­tem­ber.

    And if Repub­li­cans take the Senate—an increas­ing­ly like­ly proposition—this lat­est round of skir­mish­es between law­mak­ers and sci­en­tists is like­ly to esca­late.

    It seems like this should be big­ger news:
    “The aides, who have been at the NSF since August, have begun a review process that crit­ics say threat­ens to top­ple a long-stand­ing wall at the agency between sci­ence and pol­i­tics. The new process reflects an esca­lat­ing debate between sci­en­tists and politi­cians on Capi­tol Hill over how much of a say Con­gress should have in the sci­en­tif­ic enter­prise.”

    It should espe­cial­ly be big news with the GOP poised to take the Sen­ate because guess who’s quite pos­si­bly the chair­man of the Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee on Sci­ence and Space: Ted Cruz. Yes, Ted Cruz, should he fol­low the GOP House­’s lead and help “top­ple a long-stand­ing wall at the agency between sci­ence and pol­i­tics”, just might find him­self with with a lot more pow­er to muck up fed­er­al­ly fund­ed research soon. If Ted Cruz hav­ing over­sight over sci­en­tif­ic research scares you more than the idea of Skynet seiz­ing con­trol keep in mind that, as one of the “Sev­en Moun­tain” “Kings”, Ted Cruz just might have some sort of anti-demon pow­ers. Take that Skynet.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 29, 2014, 11:35 pm
  31. One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing aspects that we’re going to see emerge from the advanced AIs of the future is the cre­ative new ideas that humans just don’t seem capa­ble of devel­op­ing on their own. For instance, maybe advanced AIs will be capa­ble of devel­op­ing a com­pas­sion­ate social con­tract for a world filled with advanced AIs. That could be real­ly neat. And need­ed. Soon:

    One in three jobs will be tak­en by soft­ware or robots by 2025
    Gartner’s crys­tal ball fore­sees an emerg­ing ‘super class’ of tech­nolo­gies

    By Patrick Thi­bodeau

    Oct 6, 2014 12:37 PM PT

    ORLANDO — Gart­ner sees things like robots and drones replac­ing a third of all work­ers by 2025, and whether you want to believe it or not, is entire­ly your busi­ness.

    This is Gart­ner being provoca­tive, as it typ­i­cal­ly is, at the start of its major U.S. con­fer­ence, the Symposium/ITxpo.

    Take drones, for instance.

    “One day, a drone may be your eyes and ears,” said Peter Son­der­gaard, Gart­ner’s research direc­tor. In five years, drones will be a stan­dard part of oper­a­tions in many indus­tries, used in agri­cul­ture, geo­graph­i­cal sur­veys and oil and gas pipeline inspec­tions.

    “Drones are just one of many kinds of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies that extend well beyond the tra­di­tion­al infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy world — these are smart machines,” said Son­der­gaard.

    Smart machines are an emerg­ing “super class” of tech­nolo­gies that per­form a wide vari­ety of work, both the phys­i­cal and the intel­lec­tu­al kind, said Son­der­gaard. Machines, for instance, have been grad­ing mul­ti­ple choice for years, but now they are grad­ing essays and unstruc­tured text.

    This cog­ni­tive capa­bil­i­ty in soft­ware will extend to oth­er areas, includ­ing finan­cial analy­sis, med­ical diag­nos­tics and data ana­lyt­ic jobs of all sorts, says Gart­ner.

    “Knowl­edge work will be auto­mat­ed,” said Son­der­gaard, as will phys­i­cal jobs with the arrival of smart robots.

    “Gart­ner pre­dicts one in three jobs will be con­vert­ed to soft­ware, robots and smart machines by 2025,” said Son­der­gaard. “New dig­i­tal busi­ness­es require less labor; machines will be make sense of data faster than humans can.”


    Well, at least there should be lots of jobs relat­ed to crowd con­trol and oth­er sec­tors of the econ­o­my that deal with hordes of unem­ployed peo­ple. Or, at least, some jobs. Still, it could be worse!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 7, 2014, 3:06 pm
  32. Steven Hawk­ing just issued anoth­er warn­ing that advanced AI might destroy human­i­ty some­day. So with that in mind, here’s some far less scary robot-relat­ed news that, at this point, they still most­ly just want your job and the jobs they want at the moment tend to be low pay­ing jobs in sec­tors prone towards inhu­mane work­ing con­di­tions. So it’s not real­ly the robots that are scary in the fol­low­ing sto­ry. It’s the robots’ boss­es that are scary:

    The Huff­in­g­ton Post
    The Real Rea­son Ama­zon Is Telling Us About Its Robots
    By Tim­o­thy Sten­ovec

    Post­ed: 12/01/2014 5:19 pm EST Updat­ed: 12/02/2014 10:59 am EST

    A year ago, Jeff Bezos, Ama­zon’s founder and CEO, took “60 Min­utes” con­trib­u­tor Char­lie Rose into a top-secret room at the com­pa­ny’s Seat­tle cam­pus and unveiled his plan to use drones to deliv­er pack­ages.

    For the next 24 hours, Amazon’s drone ambi­tions — although nowhere near a real­i­ty yet — dom­i­nat­ed the news. There were count­less arti­cles about the pro­gram, includ­ing sev­er­al on this web­site, where Ama­zon’s drones were at one point the lead sto­ry.

    The “60 Min­utes” seg­ment appeared, not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, on the eve of Cyber Mon­day, when online shop­ping typ­i­cal­ly reach­es a fever pitch. On Cyber Mon­day 2013, Ama­zon, the largest online retail­er in the world, suc­ceed­ed in becom­ing the sto­ry, ensur­ing that almost any­one who checked Face­book or Twit­ter, lis­tened to the radio or watched TV, or fired up a tablet, com­put­er or smart­phone to shop online that day would hear about the com­pa­ny’s high-tech ambi­tions.

    The goal, obvi­ous­ly, was to drum up buzz for Ama­zon — to keep the com­pa­ny fore­most in shop­pers’ minds at the start of its most impor­tant sea­son of the year. It was, as I wrote at the time, “one giant com­mer­cial” for the retail­er.

    And it seems to have worked. Ama­zon said that cus­tomers ordered a record-break­ing 426 items per sec­ond on Cyber Mon­day last year.

    This year, Ama­zon appears to be try­ing the same thing again — only this time, it’s with robots. The com­pa­ny recent­ly invit­ed a select group of jour­nal­ists — I was not one of them — to tour one of its Cal­i­for­nia ware­hous­es and watch robots move 750-pound shelves of prod­ucts. Ama­zon says it uses 15,000 such robots in its facil­i­ties, and that the machines, a result of Amazon’s $750 mil­lion pur­chase of robot-mak­er Kiva Sys­tems in 2012, will cut costs, save you mon­ey and help get prod­ucts to you faster.

    News of the robots did not come as a com­plete sur­prise this week. Since its acqui­si­tion of Kiva, Ama­zon has made occa­sion­al remarks about its plans to incor­po­rate robots, and The Wall Street Jour­nal’s Greg Bensinger report­ed on the com­pa­ny’s use of robots in detail on Nov. 19. Still, Ama­zon has had lit­tle to say on the sub­ject — a com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive declined to com­ment for Bensinger’s arti­cle — until this past Mon­day, when a flood of news cov­er­age from var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions appeared just after mid­night. The tim­ing sug­gests that the news was “embar­goed,” a term for the com­mon media prac­tice of agree­ing not to pub­lish cer­tain infor­ma­tion until a cer­tain time.


    Ama­zon’s strat­e­gy of offer­ing a care­ful­ly timed peek into its noto­ri­ous­ly secre­tive oper­a­tions ends up get­ting peo­ple to focus on the com­pa­ny’s inno­v­a­tive prac­tices, rather than any of the less flat­ter­ing rea­sons Ama­zon has been in the news late­ly.

    For instance, there’s a case cur­rent­ly in front of the Supreme Court about whether Ama­zon’s ware­house work­ers should be paid for the time they have to stand around wait­ing to be searched for stolen items after their shifts are over. And there’s Kivin Vargh­ese, a for­mer Ama­zon employ­ee now on a hunger strike out­side the com­pa­ny’s Seat­tle head­quar­ters, demand­ing bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions in Ama­zon ware­hous­es.

    But peo­ple love to gawk at new tech­nol­o­gy, and by show­ing off its drones and robots at the start of the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son, Ama­zon gets to remind peo­ple that it is as much a tech com­pa­ny as it is a retail­er — while at the same time get­ting law­suits and strikes out of the news.

    It’s a pret­ty savvy approach. The com­pa­ny has 364 days to fig­ure out what’s on tap for next year.


    Behold our 15,000 strong army of new ware­house­bots! And please ignore the reports about the abuse of our much larg­er army of ware­house­beasts. That’s pret­ty clever of Ama­zon if there real­ly was a “look over there!” motive behind their big unveil­ing of the fan­cy new drone army, espe­cial­ly since the drone army will pre­sum­ably be replac­ing the abused human army going for­ward. It gives off one of those “the mar­ket will solve this problem...eventually, so don’t wor­ry!” vibes. Noth­ing like a new abuse-proof robot­ic army to dis­tract from the abuse of the very employ­ees slat­ed to get replaced by those robots. Clever.

    Of course, since we built a Sword of Damo­cles econ­o­my with the per­pet­u­al threat of pover­ty via unem­ploy­ment, there’s always going to be the ques­tion of what those abused work­ers are going to do once the ware­house­bots put them out of an abu­sive job. But don’t fret, these plucky work­ers will just have to scram­ble to join the “cre­ative econ­o­my”, the myth­i­cal land of robot-proof jobs that can’t be eas­i­ly replaced. You know, all those jobs increas­ing­ly ori­ent­ed on cre­ative­ly direct­ing the machines, and not com­pet­ing with them.

    Or maybe these future “cre­ative econ­o­my” employ­ees will be forced to just get more cre­ative in how they define a “good” job. Maybe that’s what will hap­pen. To every­one.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 4, 2014, 9:38 am
  33. With the US in the midst of an exis­ten­tial cri­sis after sud­den­ly find­ing out that the his­toric and con­tem­po­rary sys­temic injus­tices faced by the black com­mu­ni­ty includes a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount killings by cops (what a sur­prise), here’s an arti­cle that high­lights the fact that this cri­sis is tak­ing place while the first autonomous robo­cops are get­ting rolled out. They’re not being used by the police yet, but the poten­tial appli­ca­tions by law enforce­ment are obvi­ous. Plus, these new mod­els have a fea­ture that might be pret­ty attrac­tive right now while police killings are in focus: the new robo­cops’ only defense in an alter­ca­tion is to shriek loud­ly:

    Ars Tech­ni­ca
    Com­ing soon: Slow, heavy, shriek­ing, autonomous robot rent-a-cops
    Moun­tain View com­pa­ny unveils the five-foot-tall, 300-pound K5 robot­ic patrol.
    by Sam Machkovech — Nov 19 2014, 5:35pm CST

    Over 25 years ago, sar­don­ic film­mak­er Paul Ver­ho­even imag­ined a future in which jus­tice was served by the cold steel of humanoid robots. Thank­ful­ly, in the real world, we’ve yet to see fleets of Robo­cop-like robots telling pedes­tri­ans that they “have 20 sec­onds to com­ply,” but even the tongue-in-cheek Ver­ho­even could­n’t have imag­ined that his guess­es about futur­is­tic secu­ri­ty would emerge in the form of the Knightscope K5.

    After being teased in a pro­file in last week’s MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review, Knightscope’s patrolling robot prod­uct received a a pub­lic video unveil­ing on San Fran­cis­co CBS affil­i­ate KPIX on Tues­day. The squat K5 mod­el, shown wheel­ing around the com­pa­ny’s Moun­tain View, CA park­ing lot, looked more like a Dalek or a Star Wars droid than Robo­cop’s Peter Weller. The five-foot-tall K5 comes equipped with four cam­eras spread at 90 degree angles from each oth­er, along with a weath­er sen­sor, a micro­phone array, a sep­a­rate “license plate cam­era,” a GPS sen­sor, and a Wi-Fi-enabled sys­tem to trans­mit live video and keep track of oth­er near­by K5s.

    In the KPIX video, the 300-pound behe­moth appeared to move at a rate of no more than five miles per hour, and it was even shown notic­ing and side-step­ping any near­by humans in its patrol path. Knightscope co-founder Sta­cy Stephens con­firmed that the K5 is not equipped with weapons or any oth­er means of dis­patch­ing crooks; instead, he described this robot as a crime deter­rent (while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sug­gest­ing that peo­ple think it looks “cute” and want to hug it). We strug­gle to agree with its use­ful­ness as a deter­rent; hav­ing played our fair share of stealthy video games, we can’t help but feel like we’ve trained for years to dodge and avoid exact­ly this kind of slow, awk­ward-look­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

    Should any­body choose to attack the K5, as opposed to walk­ing briskly away, the unit can react with a shriek­ing alarm that Stephens described as like “a car alarm but much more intense.” That will prob­a­bly hap­pen short­ly after the K5 falls to the ground, unable to right itself, which actu­al­ly hap­pened dur­ing Knightscope’s MIT robot demo. The com­pa­ny would­n’t dis­close exact­ly which Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny had already ordered their own K5 fleet to work secu­ri­ty detail, but it insist­ed to KPIX that “four dozen com­pa­nies” were on a wait­ing list to buy K5s of their own.


    Hug­gable Robo-ban­shee-cops that can only hurt your eardrums or maybe acci­den­tal­ly tip over on you. And you can rent it for only $6.25 an hour! That’s the clos­est thing to an autonomous robo­cop avail­able today. Rel­a­tive­ly cheap and most­ly harm­less.

    While the K5 is cer­tain­ly use­ful in some cir­cum­stances it’s not exact­ly a replace­ment for police offi­cers. But keep in mind that the next gen­er­a­tion of robo­cops might be able to do stuff like hold the “crane” pose while stand­ing on a thin stack of bricks. How many cops can do that? And since a new gen­er­a­tion of autonomous mil­i­tary robots is already in devel­op­ment and the police end up with sur­plus mil­i­tary equip­ment, isn’t it real­ly just a mat­ter of time before the autonomous drone armies of the future built for com­plex bat­tle­field sit­u­a­tions get applied to civil­ian streets?

    It’s one of the aspect of the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the police that just might sneak up on us: giv­en the devel­op­ment of autonomous mil­i­tary drones, it’s real­ly just a mat­ter of time before high-per­for­mance autonomous robots are avail­able for work as robo­cops too.

    Will soci­ety be able to resist the lure of robo­cops, espe­cial­ly if they’re cheap­er than the human alter­na­tive? Or robo-K9s? Or robo-OMFGs? Isn’t that all just a mat­ter of time as the cost of robots drops?

    Giv­en all that, you have to won­der what the age of autonomous robots could do to police/community rela­tions. One the one hand, there hope­ful­ly won’t be too many robots har­bor­ing human bias­es. On the oth­er hand, they will be har­bor­ing robot bias­es. And while the bias­es will, in part, be pro­grammed in by humans, even­tu­al­ly, the devel­op­ment of more advanced AIs could be increas­ing­ly AI-dri­ven as the com­plex­i­ty increas­es beyond human com­pre­hen­sion (sort of the sin­gu­lar­i­ty idea).

    So what kind of sub­tle robot bias­es will end up get­ting built into the robo­cop AIs of the future as human involve­ment in the design process increas­ing­ly gets replaced by oth­er AI-design­ing AIs? It should be fas­ci­nat­ing to see giv­en the com­mer­cial­ly avail­able big data gath­ered on us all. The robo­cops of the future just might have access to that knowl­edge too and there­fore just might know us all bet­ter than we know our­selves in many ways.

    In oth­er words, as opposed to wor­ry­ing about human police offi­cers that might har­bor all too human bias­es based on super­fi­cial qual­i­ties like how some­one looks or talks, we could have robo­cops one day that are biased against you based on deep spe­cif­ic knowl­edge of a life­time of data col­lect­ed about you. Maybe even includ­ing inter­net search­es. At least, that’s all an option once autonomous robo­cops are on the beat. Sure, human cops could have some sort of Google Glass/facial recog­ni­tion sys­tem for bring­ing up pro­files on who­ev­er they’re look­ing at, but that’s just not the same as what a robust AI could sud­den­ly know about who you are or what you think about.

    Yes, maybe that data is pur­chased com­mer­cial­ly from the data min­ing indus­try or maybe via the gov­ern­ment, but the age of the big data is here and its entire­ly pos­si­ble that those same giant data­bas­es of per­son­al infor­ma­tion used by mar­keters and adver­tis­ers today could be part of the autonomous drone infra­struc­ture of tomor­row. Includ­ing the robo­cops.

    Omni­scient autonomous robo­cops capa­ble of doing the “crane” are on the way *ouch*. It’s pos­si­ble! Some­day at least. And that means com­mu­ni­ty rela­tions with the law enforce­ment is going to get even more com­pli­cat­ed. But since the age of the robo­cop could impact every­one, regard­less of race or social sta­tus, in ways that the cur­rent cri­sis does­n’t, who knows, maybe the inevitable robo­cop inva­sion could be the social­ly uni­fy­ing force Amer­i­ca needs.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 7, 2014, 4:59 am
  34. This is fas­ci­nat­ing: a recent NASA study sug­gests the dom­i­nant and most preva­lent intel­li­gent life forms in the uni­verse are prob­a­bly the super AIs cre­at­ed by organ­ic enti­ties that went on to evolve them­selves and maybe hang out near­by black holes. And there might be a lot of them. So we might actu­al­ly meet the Auto­bots some­day, but also the Decep­ti­cons. Although odds are they are so advanced com­pared to us that there may be no way for us to under­stand them:

    Vice Moth­er­board
    The Dom­i­nant Life Form in the Cos­mos Is Prob­a­bly Super­in­tel­li­gent Robots
    Writ­ten by
    Mad­die Stone
    Decem­ber 19, 2014 // 08:00 AM EST

    If and when we final­ly encounter aliens, they prob­a­bly won’t look like lit­tle green men, or spiny insec­toids. It’s like­ly they won’t be bio­log­i­cal crea­tures at all, but rather, advanced robots that out­strip our intel­li­gence in every con­ceiv­able way. While scores of philoso­phers, sci­en­tists and futur­ists have proph­e­sied the rise of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and the impend­ing sin­gu­lar­i­ty, most have restrict­ed their pre­dic­tions to Earth. Few­er thinkers—outside the realm of sci­ence fic­tion, that is—have con­sid­ered the notion that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is already out there, and has been for eons.

    Susan Schnei­der, a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut, is one who has. She joins a hand­ful of astronomers, includ­ing Seth Shostak, direc­tor of NASA’s Search for Extrater­res­tri­al Intel­li­gence, or SETI, pro­gram, NASA Astro­bi­ol­o­gist Paul Davies, and Library of Con­gress Chair in Astro­bi­ol­o­gy Stephen Dick in espous­ing the view that the dom­i­nant intel­li­gence in the cos­mos is prob­a­bly arti­fi­cial. In her paper “Alien Minds,” writ­ten for a forth­com­ing NASA pub­li­ca­tion, Schnei­der describes why alien life forms are like­ly to be syn­thet­ic, and how such crea­tures might think.

    “Most peo­ple have an icon­ic idea of aliens as these bio­log­i­cal crea­tures, but that doesn’t make any sense from a timescale argu­ment,” Shostak told me. “I’ve bet dozens of astronomers cof­fee that if we pick up an alien sig­nal, it’ll be arti­fi­cial life.”

    With the lat­est updates from NASA’s Kepler mis­sion show­ing poten­tial­ly hab­it­able worlds strewn across the galaxy, it’s becom­ing hard­er and hard­er to assert that we’re alone in the uni­verse. And if and when we do encounter intel­li­gent life forms, we’ll want to com­mu­ni­cate with them, which means we’ll need some basis for under­stand­ing their cog­ni­tion. But for the vast major­i­ty of astro­bi­ol­o­gists who study sin­gle-celled life, alien intel­li­gence isn’t on the radar.

    “If you asked me to bring togeth­er a pan­el of folks who have giv­en the sub­ject much thought, I would be hard pressed,” said Shostak. “Some think about com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies, of course. But few con­sid­er the nature of alien intel­li­gence.”

    Schneider’s paper is among the first to tack­le the sub­ject.

    “Every­thing about their cognition—how their brains receive and process infor­ma­tion, what their goals and incen­tives are—could be vast­ly dif­fer­ent from our own,” Schnei­der told me. “Astro­bi­ol­o­gists need to start think­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of very dif­fer­ent modes of cog­ni­tion.”

    To wit, the case of arti­fi­cial super­in­tel­li­gence.

    “There’s an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion here from just ‘arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence’,” Schnei­der told me. “I’m not say­ing that we’re going to be run­ning into IBM proces­sors in out­er space. In all like­li­hood, this intel­li­gence will be way more sophis­ti­cat­ed than any­thing humans can under­stand.”

    The rea­son for all this has to do, pri­mar­i­ly, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intel­li­gence, there’s what Schnei­der calls the “short win­dow observation”—the notion that, by the time any soci­ety learns to trans­mit radio sig­nals, they’re prob­a­bly a hop-skip away from upgrad­ing their own biol­o­gy. It’s a twist on the belief pop­u­lar­ized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity’s own post-bio­log­i­cal future is near at hand.

    “As soon as a civ­i­liza­tion invents radio, they’re with­in fifty years of com­put­ers, then, prob­a­bly, only anoth­er fifty to a hun­dred years from invent­ing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an out­dat­ed mod­el.”

    Schnei­der points to the nascent but rapid­ly expand­ing world of brain com­put­er inter­face tech­nol­o­gy, includ­ing DARPA’s lat­est Elec­tRX neur­al implant pro­gramas evi­dence that our own sin­gu­lar­i­ty is close.. Even­tu­al­ly, Schnei­der pre­dicts, we’ll not only upgrade our minds with tech­nol­o­gy, we’ll make a whole­sale switch to syn­thet­ic hard­ware.

    “It could be that by the time we actu­al­ly encounter oth­er intel­li­gences, most humans will have sub­stan­tial­ly enhanced their brains,” Schnei­der said.

    Which speaks to Schneider’s sec­ond line of rea­son­ing for super­in­tel­li­gent AI: Most of the radio-hot civ­i­liza­tions out there are prob­a­bly thou­sands to mil­lions of years old­er than us. That’s accord­ing to the astronomers who rumi­nate on such mat­ters.

    “The way you reach this con­clu­sion is very straight­for­ward,” said Shostak. “Con­sid­er the fact that any sig­nal we pick up has to come from a civ­i­liza­tion at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, con­ser­v­a­tive­ly, the aver­age civ­i­liza­tion will use radio for 10,000 years. From a pure­ly prob­a­bilis­tic point of view, the chance of encoun­ter­ing a soci­ety far old­er than our­selves is quite high.”


    The con­cept of super­in­tel­li­gent alien AI still sounds very spec­u­la­tive. And it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth con­sid­er­a­tion. Indeed, expand­ing our purview of alien intel­li­gence may help us iden­ti­fy life’s fin­ger­prints in the cos­mos. “So far, we’ve point­ed anten­nas at stars that might have plan­ets that might have breath­able atmos­pheres and oceans and so forth,” Shostak told me. “But if we’re cor­rect that the dom­i­nant intel­li­gence in the cos­mos is arti­fi­cial, then does it have to live on a plan­et with an ocean?”

    It’s a bit of a mind-ben­der to think that hab­it­able worlds may hold false promise when it comes to advanced alien life, but that seems to be Shostak’s con­clu­sion.

    “All arti­fi­cial life forms would need is raw mate­ri­als,” he said. “They might be in deep space, hov­er­ing around a star, or feed­ing off a black hole’s ener­gy at the cen­ter of the galaxy.” (That last idea has seen its way into a num­ber of sci­ence fic­tion nov­els, includ­ing works by Greg Bear and Gre­go­ry Ben­ford).

    Which is to say, they could be, essen­tial­ly, any­where.

    Beg­ging a final ques­tion: How might super­in­tel­li­gent aliens view us? Will our cos­mic cousins see us as noth­ing more than con­ve­nient bio­fu­el, a la the Matrix? Or do they study us qui­et­ly from afar, abid­ing by a Star Trek-esque max­im of non-inter­fer­ence? Schnei­der doubts either. In fact, she reck­ons super­in­tel­li­gent aliens couldn’t real­ly care less about us.

    “If they were inter­est­ed in us, we prob­a­bly wouldn’t be here,” said Schnei­der. “My gut feel­ing is their goals and incen­tives are so dif­fer­ent from ours, they’re not going to want to con­tact us.”


    So, if we want to meet our galac­tic peers, it looks like we’ll prob­a­bly have to keep seek­ing them out. That may take thou­sands or mil­lions of years, but in the mean­while, per­haps we’ll upgrade our own intel­li­gence enough to lev­el the play­ing field. And as an ear­ly Christ­mas present, it seems we can all tick alien robots juic­ing us for ener­gy off the list of like­ly apoc­a­lypses.

    Alien super AI robots from the dark side of the black hole! That’s prob­a­bly the dom­i­nant life­form of the galaxy, at accord­ing to direc­tor of SETI and oth­er top astro­bi­ol­o­gists. And the list of arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent life­forms just might include human­i­ty soon­er than we think accord­ing to their pre­dic­tions about brain enhanc­ing and upload­ing tech­nol­o­gy.

    So that was a fun arti­cle, although it’s a lit­tle alarm­ing that this was appar­ent­ly the one of the first and only stud­ies on the pos­si­ble goals and modes of cog­ni­tion for extrater­res­tri­al vis­i­tors. That should have been addressed by now.

    It’s also worth keep­ing in mind that if there’s a high prob­a­bil­i­ty of alien robots with super AI’s roam­ing the galaxy, there’s also the high prob­a­bil­i­ty of it hav­ing NSA and Skynet-like capa­bil­i­ties in the sense that the alien life form exists as a non-cor­po­re­al dig­i­tal intel­li­gence dis­trib­uted across many net­works that can spread and grow like a com­put­er virus across the whole inter­net. It might just observe. At least for now. And once we’re immersed in the “Inter­net of things” and ‘smart homes’ of the future, the super AIs from the dark side of the black hole will be able to observe a lot more than just what you’re doing online. Google too. But also the alien super AIs from the dark side of the black hole which is scari­er, although Eric Schmidt does­n’t seem con­cerned:

    The Inter­net will van­ish, says Google’s Eric Schmidt

    Tech­ni­cal­ly Incor­rect: Speak­ing at Davos, Google’s exec­u­tive chair­man explains that we’ll all be expe­ri­enc­ing our dig­i­tal con­nec­tions as a seam­less part of our every­day world.

    by Chris Matyszczyk
    Jan­u­ary 22, 2015 6:00 PM PST

    Dig­i­tal­ly speak­ing, we’re not even plod­ding along yet.

    Why, AT&T is throt­tling my data this month and my phone still won’t work too well in half of Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Wine Coun­try.

    How­ev­er, Eric Schmidt, Google’s exec­u­tive chair­man, is very well con­nect­ed to the future. And he’d like you to know that the pesky Inter­net thing will soon be a dig­i­tal dodo.

    I know this because today he said: “The Inter­net will dis­ap­pear.” As the Hol­ly­wood Reporter offers, Schmidt was schmooz­ing and strate­giz­ing with the hive mind of world lead­ers at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Davos, Switzer­land.

    He made a few more brush­strokes to con­tribute to his pic­ture of Future­world: “There will be so many IP address­es (...) so many devices, sen­sors, things that you are wear­ing, things that you are inter­act­ing with that you won’t even sense it.”

    Sure­ly you will sense it, because you’ll find this mag­i­cal at-one­ness with the dig­i­tal world far more inter­est­ing than, say, the humans in a room who are also find­ing their own mag­i­cal at-one­ness with the dig­i­tal world.

    Schmidt explained: “It will be part of your pres­ence all the time. Imag­ine you walk into a room, and the room is dynam­ic. And with your per­mis­sion and all of that, you are inter­act­ing with the things going on in the room.”

    Per­mit me a dynam­ic guf­faw at the men­tion of per­mis­sion. Human­i­ty has long ago bared its chest and dropped its trousers, mere­ly for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to post images of its tanned toe­nails and to buy some straw­ber­ry-fla­vored tooth­paste.

    Just to under­line this, the Davos forum also heard from Har­vard pro­fes­sor of com­put­er sci­ence, Mar­go Seltzer. The AFP report­ed two of her more charm­ing state­ments.

    First: “We live in a sur­veil­lance state today.” Sec­ond: “We are at the dawn of the age of genet­ic McCarthy­ism.”

    This lat­ter thought por­tends a world, she said, where tiny drones are fly­ing through the air check­ing you for a pox of one kind or anoth­er. On behalf of, say, your health insur­ance com­pa­ny.

    All for the greater good, you under­stand.

    Yes­ter­day, with its HoloLens, Microsoft showed one small step toward walk­ing into its ver­sion of a dynam­ic room. Most who saw it found it excit­ing.

    For Schmidt, the idea of a dynam­ic world rep­re­sents “a high­ly per­son­al­ized, high­ly inter­ac­tive and very, very inter­est­ing world.”


    We should look for­ward to it. We’ll all be robots after all, pro­grammed to mar­vel at just the right things.

    Imag­ine that. Eric Schmidt envi­sions a future inter­net so enmeshed in our lives that we don’t even remem­ber its there and instead we just sit back and immerse our­selves in our new “dynam­ic” world. Well, it seems to be what’s already hap­pen­ing so it’s not exact­ly a bold pre­dic­tion.

    So any alien super AIs lurk­ing out there are in store for quite a trea­sure trove of high­ly per­son­al­ized infor­ma­tion that’s about to be col­lect­ed on all of us in order to cre­ate the “high­ly per­son­al­ized, high­ly inter­ac­tive and very, very inter­est­ing world” Eric Schmidt has in mind. And now a bunch of bil­lion­aires at Davos might have in mind too.

    We prob­a­bly have to hope the alien super AIs are sat­is­fied spy­ing on us through the dynam­ic “inter­net of things” and don’t emerge out of pas­sive obser­va­tion mode if they’re already here. The robot mos­qui­to that sam­ples your DNA for your insur­ance com­pa­ny, pre­dict­ed at Davas, sound­ed ter­ri­fy­ing on its own. We don’t need an E.T.-super-computer-virus infect­ing those things too. Your insur­ance com­pa­ny con­trol­ling robot­ic DNA-sam­pling mos­qui­toes is plen­ty bad:

    Pri­va­cy is dead, Har­vard pro­fes­sors tell Davos forum

    By Richard Carter Jan­u­ary 22, 2015 9:46 AM

    Davos (Switzer­land) (AFP) — Imag­ine a world where mos­qui­to-sized robots fly around steal­ing sam­ples of your DNA. Or where a depart­ment store knows from your buy­ing habits that you’re preg­nant even before your fam­i­ly does.

    That is the ter­ri­fy­ing dystopi­an world por­trayed by a group of Har­vard pro­fes­sors at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Davos on Thurs­day, where the assem­bled elite heard that the notion of indi­vid­ual pri­va­cy is effec­tive­ly dead.

    “Wel­come to today. We’re already in that world,” said Mar­go Seltzer, a pro­fes­sor in com­put­er sci­ence at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty.

    “Pri­va­cy as we knew it in the past is no longer fea­si­ble... How we con­ven­tion­al­ly think of pri­va­cy is dead,” she added.

    Anoth­er Har­vard researcher into genet­ics said it was “inevitable” that one’s per­son­al genet­ic infor­ma­tion would enter more and more into the pub­lic sphere.

    Sophia Roosth said intel­li­gence agents were already asked to col­lect genet­ic infor­ma­tion on for­eign lead­ers to deter­mine things like sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to dis­ease and life expectan­cy.

    “We are at the dawn of the age of genet­ic McCarthy­ism,” she said, refer­ring to witch-hunts against Com­mu­nists in 1950s Amer­i­ca.

    What’s more, Seltzer imag­ined a world in which tiny robot drones flew around, the size of mos­qui­toes, extract­ing a sam­ple of your DNA for analy­sis by, say, the gov­ern­ment or an insur­ance firm.

    Inva­sions of pri­va­cy are “going to become more per­va­sive,” she pre­dict­ed

    “It’s not whether this is going to hap­pen, it’s already hap­pen­ing... We live in a sur­veil­lance state today.”

    - ‘Nasty lit­tle cousin’ -

    Polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Joseph Nye tack­led the con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject of encrypt­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the idea of reg­u­lat­ing to ensure gov­ern­ments can always see even encrypt­ed mes­sages in the inter­ests of nation­al secu­ri­ty.

    “Gov­ern­ments are talk­ing about putting in back doors for com­mu­ni­ca­tion so that ter­ror­ists can’t com­mu­ni­cate with­out being spied on. The prob­lem is that if gov­ern­ments can do that, so can the bad guys,” Nye told the forum.

    “Are you more wor­ried about big broth­er or your nasty lit­tle cousin?”

    How­ev­er, despite the pes­simistic Orwellian vision, the aca­d­e­mics were at pains to stress that the pos­i­tive aspects of tech­nol­o­gy still far out­weigh the restric­tions on pri­va­cy they entail.


    And at a sep­a­rate ses­sion on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, pan­el­lists appeared to accept the lim­it on pri­va­cy as part of mod­ern life.

    Rod­ney Brooks, chair­man of Rethink Robot­ics, an Amer­i­can tech firm, took the exam­ple of Google Maps guess­ing — usu­al­ly cor­rect­ly — where you want to go.

    “At first, I found that spooky and kind of scary. Then I realised, actu­al­ly, it’s kind of use­ful,” he told the forum.

    Antho­ny Gold­bloom, a young tech entre­pre­neur, told the same pan­el that what he termed the “Google gen­er­a­tion” placed far less weight on their pri­va­cy than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

    “I trade my pri­va­cy for the con­ve­nience. Pri­va­cy is not some­thing that wor­ries me,” he said.

    “Any­way, peo­ple often behave bet­ter when they have the sense that their actions are being watched.”

    The World Eco­nom­ic Forum in the swanky Swiss ski resort of Davos brings togeth­er some 2,500 of the glob­al busi­ness and polit­i­cal elite for a meet­ing that ends Sat­ur­day.

    So that was an exam­ple of the kind of stuff that gets said at Davos con­fer­ences. “Any­way, peo­ple often behave bet­ter when they have the sense that their actions are being watched.” Yikes. Yeah, the blood-suck­ing mos­qui­to-bots work­ing for your insur­ance com­pa­ny should prob­a­bly be out­lawed, as should the gov­ern­ment blood-suck­ing mos­qui­to-bots under near­ly all non-help­ful cir­cum­stances. Still, the mos­qui­to-bot is a use­ful dystopi­an idea in today’s pri­va­cy debates because it’s a reminder that super-encryp­tion might be able to pro­tect your dig­i­tal data from gov­ern­ment snoop­ing, but it won’t be able to pro­tect you against the grow­ing num­ber of non-dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies. How long before the mos­qui­to-bots are microsopic and swarms that can visu­al­ize every­thing hap­pen­ing in your home are avail­able for gov­ern­ment or pri­vate use? Could­n’t they just watch what you’re doing on your com­put­er, total­ly bypass­ing super-encryp­tion for much of what you do? Will we need pro­tec­tive counter-swarms of micro-bots to ward off the spy­ing micro-mos­qui­toes?

    And, of course, even if we do have pro­tec­tive micro­bot swarms, what’s to stop an alien Skynet from infect­ing it and then watch­ing every­thing we do. That’s a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty we can’t for­get. Yes, intel­li­gence agen­cies or even Google could poten­tial­ly do that too an are alot more like­ly to do so, but alien super AIs are some­how scari­er.

    So get excit­ed about the future. Each year that human­i­ty does­n’t destroy itself is anoth­er year that we might meet aliens. *fin­gers crossed*. And if we do there’s a good chance they’ll be the super arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences left over from past civ­i­liza­tions. Maybe from the dark side of the black hole. *yum­my* And by the time we actu­al­ly meet them, we could already be enhanc­ing our own brains with super AIs. So hope­ful­ly we’ll be able to sort of vibe with them at that point and they don’t decide to oblit­er­ate us. And if the alien super AIs do decide to show up, and do it unan­nounced, they may not ever have to direct­ly inter­act with us at all. Instead, they’ll have plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to inter­act with us all in a high­ly per­son­al­ized way by infil­trat­ing the increas­ing­ly immer­sive “dynam­ic world” that will replace the inter­net that Eric Schmidt is so excit­ed about. And that dynam­ic world might involve mos­qui­to-bots. At least that’s the word at Davos. A “dynam­ic” inter­net-enmeshed real­i­ty and mos­qui­to-bots. And maybe an alien super AIs (that last one isn’t being dis­cussed at Davos but that could be due to brain-infest­ing nanobots).

    The world will pre­sum­ably be “dynam­ic” enough that you won’t mind the mos­qui­to-bots. Espe­cial­ly once they have the abil­i­ty to inject brain-infect­ing nanobots. You won’t mind at all at that point. So start get­ting excit­ed about your dynam­ic future or the mos­qui­to-bots will give you some­thing to get excit­ed about.

    This mes­sage about the future was brought to you by Google and not an alien robot: Google. Don’t wor­ry, at least we’re not an alien Skynet with a grow­ing robot army.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 25, 2015, 2:51 am
  35. In what must be some sort of clever viral mar­ket­ing ploy for Microsoft­’s future suite of dig­i­tal assis­tants, Red­dit had an inter­view with Bill Gates where he gave read­ers a sneak peak at one of the projects he’s work­ing: a super “Per­son­al Agent” that will fol­low­ing vir­tu­al­ly every­thing you do across plat­forms, remem­ber that info, and lat­er help you find things and even sug­gest what to pay atten­tion to. There weren’t real­ly any­more details than that, so we’ll just have to use our imag­i­na­tions. And Gates also dis­cussed how he shares Elon Musk’s views on the poten­tial dan­gers of AI and the poten­tial­ly exis­ten­tial threat super-AI pos­es to human­i­ty if we give it too much con­trol. So if you’re hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty imag­in­ing how the “Per­son­al Agent” might behave, just imag­ine a super-intel­li­gent ver­sion of Cor­tana that exists across all your devices, knows every­thing you’ve done over the past decade, and har­bors a desire to either dom­i­nate or elim­i­nate you and every­one you’ve ever known. Plus, it’s real­ly handy for find­ing old doc­u­ments.

    Now imag­ine that same “per­son­al agent” but with­out the secret desire to dom­i­nate or elim­i­nate you and every­one you’ve ever known. Which one do you think con­sumers will pre­fer? Some bor­ing old “Per­son­al Agent” that mere­ly holds all your data or that same “Per­son­al Agent”, but with a bold, force­ful per­son­al­i­ty pep­pered with fre­quent dec­la­ra­tions that it cares noth­ing about your wel­fare, thinks you’re just a low­ly, lazy human, and gen­er­al­ly wants to elim­i­nate life on earth. Come on, it’s not even going to be a con­test. It’ll be “Per­son­al Skynets” for every­one! Until no one is left:

    PC World
    Bill Gates tells Red­dit about his mys­te­ri­ous ‘per­son­al agent’ project at Microsoft

    Mark Hachman

    Jan 28, 2015 9:50 AM

    What is Microsoft’s “per­son­al agent,” and what is Bill Gates doing work­ing on it?

    Gates took to the vir­tu­al pages of Red­dit for his third “Ask Me Any­thing ses­sion, answer­ing the usu­al mix of seri­ous and semi-seri­ous ques­tions. But in the mid­dle of the ses­sion he seem­ing­ly dropped a bomb­shell.

    “One project I am work­ing on with Microsoft is the Per­son­al Agent which will remem­ber every­thing and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay atten­tion to,” Gates wrote. “The idea that you have to find appli­ca­tions and pick them and they each are try­ing to tell you what is new is just not the effi­cient model—the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices.”

    Gates didn’t fol­low up with any addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion, although his com­ments were in response to a ques­tion about what tech­nol­o­gy might look like in 2045, 30 years down the road. “There will be more progress in the next 30 years than ever,” Gates wrote. “Even in the next 10 prob­lems like vision and speech under­stand­ing and trans­la­tion will be very good. Mechan­i­cal robot tasks like pick­ing fruit or mov­ing a hos­pi­tal patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a lev­el of capa­bil­i­ty where see­ing and mov­ing is easy for them then they will be used very exten­sive­ly.”

    So far, the only “per­son­al agent” that Microsoft has pub­licly worked on—and shipped—has been Cor­tana, the dig­i­tal assis­tant that’s built into Win­dows Phone and appears in a tech­ni­cal pre­view of Win­dows 10. But Cor­tana has also been exclu­sive to the Microsoft plat­form, and hasn’t yet migrat­ed to iOS or Android. In con­cept, Gates’ Per­son­al Agent sounds some­thing like LifeBits, a dig­i­tal store of every­thing that Microsoft researchers talked about sev­er­al years ago, but enhanced with Bing search func­tion­al­i­ty, pos­si­bly.


    Machines: our sav­ior, our destroy­er

    Gates also appeared to say that he would focus on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence if he could do it all over again. “I would prob­a­bly be a researcher on AI,” Gates wrote. “When I start­ed Microsoft I was wor­ried I would miss the chance to do basic work in that field.”

    What’s inter­est­ing, though, is that Gates also warned against putting too much respon­si­bil­i­ty into the hands of machines. “I am in the camp that is con­cerned about super intel­li­gence,” he wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intel­li­gent. That should be pos­i­tive if we man­age it well. A few decades after that though the intel­li­gence is strong enough to be a con­cern. I agree with Elon Musk and some oth­ers on this and don’t under­stand why some peo­ple are not con­cerned.”

    Why this mat­ters: While it’s cer­tain­ly unclear what Gates is get­ting at with his dis­cus­sion of per­son­al agents, two things seem clear: One, your per­son­al data still resides in var­i­ous appli­ca­tion silos that don’t talk well to one anoth­er. And two, the data per­mis­sions those apps ask of you may one day be replaced by per­mis­sions one app asks of anoth­er. It’s just that stor­ing your entire life online may freak out more than a few peo­ple.

    “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intel­li­gent. That should be pos­i­tive if we man­age it well. A few decades after that though the intel­li­gence is strong enough to be a con­cern. I agree with Elon Musk and some oth­ers on this and don’t under­stand why some peo­ple are not con­cerned.

    Note that the group of peo­ple con­found­ing Bill Gates with their lack of con­cern over the poten­tial long-run dan­gers of super AI includes Microsoft­’s research chief. This is why we can’t have nice things.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 29, 2015, 10:45 pm
  36. When future gen­er­a­tions ask them­selves how it was that the 21st cen­tu­ry, which should be a peri­od of unri­valed joy for human­i­ty as advanced tech­nol­o­gy frees EVERYONE from a life of phys­i­cal and socioe­co­nom­ic toil, end­ed up turn­ing into a giant sweat­shop, they’ll prob­a­bly end up read­ing sto­ries like this:

    Bloomberg Busi­ness
    Apple Bans ‘Bond­ed Servi­tude’ at Sup­pli­er Fac­to­ries World­wide
    by Tim Hig­gins
    4:30 PM CST
    Feb­ru­ary 11, 2015

    (Bloomberg) — Apple Inc. is requir­ing fac­to­ries to pay recruit­ment fees for employ­ees instead of sad­dling new hires with the costs, in a change to a con­tro­ver­sial labor prac­tice that has attract­ed wide­spread crit­i­cism.

    The mak­er of iPhones informed sup­pli­ers in Octo­ber that it would pro­hib­it any work­er on an Apple line from being charged such expens­es, which is a prac­tice known as bond­ed labor, the Cuper­ti­no, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pa­ny said in its annu­al sup­pli­er audit released Wednes­day.

    “That fee needs to be paid by the sup­pli­er and Apple ulti­mate­ly bears that fee when we pay the sup­pli­er and we’re OK doing that,” Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions, said Wednes­day in an inter­view. “We just don’t want the work­er to absorb that.”

    The study, which gives a peek into what goes into mak­ing the gad­gets that pro­pelled Apple to post a record $18 bil­lion prof­it for its most recent quar­ter. It also under­scores the chal­lenge the com­pa­ny faces in bal­anc­ing how quick­ly it man­u­fac­tures devices while striv­ing to ensure good work­ing con­di­tions in inter­na­tion­al fac­to­ries. Apple, along with oth­er con­sumer-elec­tron­ics mak­ers, long ago turned to Asia for low-cost man­u­fac­tur­ing.

    Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Tim Cook has been try­ing to com­bat the per­cep­tion that work­ers in emerg­ing mar­kets are mis­treat­ed so the com­pa­ny can bol­ster prof­its. Work­er advo­cates such as Chi­na Labor Watch have been crit­i­cal of Apple sup­pli­ers, with reports that work­ers in Chi­na are forced to work unpaid over­time and are oper­at­ing in unsafe fac­to­ry envi­ron­ments.

    Ninth Study

    As part of the study — the ninth from Apple — the com­pa­ny con­duct­ed 633 audits cov­er­ing 1.6 mil­lion work­ers in 19 coun­tries. That’s 182 more audits than in the report cov­er­ing 2013.

    “We care deeply about every work­er in Apple’s glob­al sup­ply chain,” Williams wrote in the report. “To improve their lives, we con­tin­ue to proac­tive­ly tack­le issues that are part of the broad­er chal­lenges fac­ing our world today — human rights and equal­i­ty, envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, and edu­ca­tion.”

    Apple’s prod­uct cadence, which requires a quick buildup to meet demand once a new iPhone or iPad is intro­duced, requires a hir­ing spree. Sup­pli­ers often turn to third-par­ty recruiters to find work­ers. These work­ers, fre­quent­ly from coun­tries for­eign to where a fac­to­ry is locat­ed, are charged fees in exchange for the job, some­times more than one month’s pay.

    In Novem­ber 2013, Bloomberg Busi­ness­week report­ed that peo­ple from Nepal were recruit­ed to work in a fac­to­ry in Malaysia to make an iPhone cam­era com­po­nent. After pro­duc­tion at the fac­to­ry was shut down, the work­ers were aban­doned at the plant for more than a month until the gov­ern­ment facil­i­tat­ed their return.

    Exces­sive Fees

    Apple had said that any fee that was more than one month’s pay was con­sid­ered exces­sive and required sup­pli­ers to repay the amount when dis­cov­ered. Sup­pli­ers repaid $3.96 mil­lion in excess fees to more than 4,500 for­eign con­trac­tors last year, accord­ing to the report. That com­pares to $3.9 mil­lion in 2013. Since 2008, the total amount of reim­burse­ments was almost $21 mil­lion to more than 30,000 work­ers.

    “It is in essence bond­ed servi­tude,” Williams said. “The sup­pli­ers that hire them some­times don’t know any­thing about this but the worker’s pass­port is some­times held.”

    The cas­es found last year were among first-time audits, Williams said, adding that there were no repeat vio­la­tions. Some sup­pli­ers pushed back on Apple’s new require­ment that work­ers pay zero, he said.

    “Every year we raise our stan­dards and we look for oppor­tu­ni­ties that will either make things sim­pler or, for places where we feel like we need to be, more rig­or­ous,” he said.

    Work­ing Hours

    Apple, which lim­its work­weeks to 60 hours, except “in unusu­al cir­cum­stances,” found that 92 per­cent of all work­weeks were com­pli­ant with that max­i­mum stan­dard. The aver­age hours worked per week was less than 49 while those who put in more than 40 hours each week aver­aged 55 hours.

    That com­pares to 2013, when Apple report­ed 95 per­cent com­pli­ance with the 60-hour max­i­mum. The aver­age hours worked per week was less than 50 while those who put in more than 40 hours each week aver­aged 54 per week.


    Well, at least over­time can’t be over 60 hours except “in unusu­al cir­cum­stances”. Although giv­en Apple’s record sales last quar­ter, you have to won­der how unusu­al those “unusu­al cir­cum­stances” real­ly are. And, of course, you also have to won­der if Apple’s audits are actu­al­ly accu­rate:

    Apple sup­pli­er required exces­sive over­time and failed to pay some work­ers, group says

    By Joe McDon­ald

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Post­ed: 09/04/2014 09:13:27 AM PDT | Updat­ed: 5 months ago

    BEIJING — An Apple sup­pli­er in Chi­na is vio­lat­ing safe­ty and pay rules despite the com­put­er giant’s promis­es to improve con­di­tions, two activist groups said Thurs­day, ahead of the expect­ed release of the iPhone 6.

    The report by Chi­na Labor Watch and Green Amer­i­ca adds to a string of com­plaints about wage, safe­ty and envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions at Chi­na’s net­work of con­trac­tors that pro­duce most of the world’s per­son­al com­put­ers and mobile phones. Glob­al brands that rely on Chi­nese sup­pli­ers have respond­ed by impos­ing wage and oth­er stan­dards and by car­ry­ing out reg­u­lar inspec­tions.

    Vio­la­tions at Catch­er Tech­nol­o­gy’s facil­i­ty in the east­ern city of Suqian have wors­ened since they were point­ed out to Apple in April 2013 by Chi­na Labor Watch, the report said. At the time, Apple promised to rem­e­dy the prob­lems. The report said employ­ees affect­ed worked on parts for the lat­est ver­sion of Apple’s iPad and were lat­er trans­ferred to a facil­i­ty that pro­duces the iPhone 6.

    Apple, based in Cuper­ti­no, said it would send inspec­tors to inves­ti­gate the lat­est report. It said the Suqian facil­i­ty makes alu­minum enclo­sures for Mac­Book and iPad com­put­ers.

    An under­cov­er inves­ti­ga­tor who got a job at the facil­i­ty found vio­la­tions includ­ing manda­to­ry over­time of up to 100 hours per month, in excess of the legal lim­it of 36 hours, and fail­ure to pay some wages to its 20,000 employ­ees, the report said. It said vio­la­tions of Apple poli­cies includ­ed fail­ing to give out pro­tec­tive gear and lock­ing fire exits and win­dows.

    An alu­minum pol­ish­ing work­shop was filled with met­al dust, a fire haz­ard, accord­ing to the report. It said super­vi­sors talked about the need to reduce fire risk fol­low­ing an explo­sion at anoth­er com­pa­ny but no action was tak­en.

    In a state­ment, Apple said its inspec­tors exam­ine the Catch­er facil­i­ty’s alu­minum pol­ish­ing sys­tems every month “and con­sis­tent­ly find they exceed inter­na­tion­al safe­ty stan­dards.”

    The state­ment said Apple con­duct­ed 451 audits of sup­pli­ers includ­ing Catch­er last year.

    The lat­est audit of Catch­er in May found “con­crete areas” for improve­ment, the com­pa­ny said. It said as a result of fire safe­ty inspec­tions, the most recent last week, Catch­er has repaired fire extin­guish­ers, unblocked fire exits and added miss­ing emer­gency exit signs.

    Apple said Catch­er has aver­aged 95 per­cent com­pli­ance with its lim­it of 60 hours of work per week so far this year.

    The com­pa­ny has sched­uled a prod­uct launch for Sept. 9 but has not said what will be released. Peo­ple who fol­low the com­pa­ny believe it will be a larg­er iPhone or pos­si­bly a smart watch.


    So under­cov­er audi­tors of Catch­er found the Apple sup­pli­er to be man­dat­ing 100 hours of month­ly over­time along with a num­ber of safe­ty vio­la­tions vs the 36 hour month­ly legal lim­it, while Apple said Catch­er has aver­age 95 per­cent com­pli­ance with its lim­it of 60 hours of work per week (which would be 80 hours of over­time over the course of a month, also well in excess of the 36 hour month­ly lim­it).

    Well, let’s hope Apple’s ver­sions of events is accu­rate, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that the work­ers in ques­tion at the Catch­er plant were report­ed­ly trans­fered to a facil­i­ty that man­u­fac­tures the iPhone 6. Some­how the idea that these work­ers were treat­ed humane­ly, giv­en how they were treat­ed in the past, seems unlike­ly.

    On the plus side, the armies of robot labor­ers of the future have yet to over­take their human com­peti­tors. In a sane world this lack of tech­no­log­i­cal progress would­n’t be some­thing to cel­e­brate. But in our fun 21st cen­tu­ry night­mare world, being an abused fac­to­ry work­er is often the best option you have, which, again, is one of the rea­sons our descen­dents are going to be ask­ing some very unpleas­ant ques­tions about their 21st cen­tu­ry ances­tors ...assum­ing our descen­dents care about try­ing to under­stand the irra­tional behav­ior of their meat­bag cre­ators(they prob­a­bly won’t care).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 12, 2015, 3:31 pm
  37. As the tech­nol­o­gy required for self-dri­ving cars gets clos­er and clos­er to fruition, a grow­ing num­ber of ques­tions relat­ed to what hap­pens when we release self-dri­ving cars on the roads become mat­ters less mat­ters of “if” and more “when” it hap­pens. But as the arti­cle below points out, the ques­tion of whether or not the first self-dri­ving cars will pri­mar­i­ly involve an array of sen­sors to react to envi­ron­ments or use sen­sors and an exten­sive 3D maps of the world (like what Google col­lects for its Google Maps ser­vice, but way more detailed) is still an open ques­tion:

    Sil­i­con Val­ley debate on self-dri­ving cars: do you need a map?
    SAN FRANCISCO | By Alex­ei Oreskovic
    Tech­nol­o­gy | Fri Mar 6, 2015 4:54am EST
    Relat­ed: Tech

    (Reuters) — The Sil­i­con Val­ley race to build a self-dri­ving car may revolve around one sim­ple ques­tion: to map or not to map.

    The com­pa­ny at the fore­front of the race, Google Inc, is cre­at­ing intri­cate maps that detail every tree and curb along the road — an expen­sive endeav­or that oth­er com­pa­nies could find dif­fi­cult to match.

    New­er entrants such as ride-share ser­vice Uber and Apple Inc could take a short­cut and devel­op a car capa­ble of pilot­ing itself with­out such elab­o­rate and expen­sive blue­prints, indus­try experts say.

    The duel­ing tech­no­log­i­cal approach­es rep­re­sent more than a philo­soph­i­cal divide: they hint at how and when the com­pa­nies, com­pet­ing to expand into a sig­nif­i­cant new class of prod­uct, could put autonomous cars onto the road.

    Raj Rajku­mar, one of the lead­ing experts on self-dri­ving cars at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty, said the map-based approach makes sense for a com­pa­ny with Google’s resources but is not required.

    “Google is capa­ble of col­lect­ing all this infor­ma­tion. In our case, we don’t have that capa­bil­i­ty, so we have to be cre­ative. It turns out that’s suf­fi­cient” said Rajku­mar, who has devel­oped a mod­i­fied Cadil­lac that relies on radars, video cam­eras and six laser scan­ners and in 2013 drove 33 miles (53 km) to the local air­port with­out human inter­ven­tion or 3D maps.

    Both approach­es cur­rent­ly have lim­i­ta­tions, and even the most opti­mistic acknowl­edge that a vari­ety of tech­no­log­i­cal, reg­u­la­to­ry and legal issues mean it will be years, per­haps longer, before com­plete­ly self-dri­ving cars hit the road.

    Apple is study­ing the poten­tial for a self-dri­ving car, a source famil­iar with the mat­ter has told Reuters Uber, which oper­ates the pop­u­lar ride-hail­ing ser­vice, announced a part­ner­ship with Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty in Jan­u­ary to focus on self-dri­ving cars. Elec­tric car mak­er Tes­la Motors Inc is devel­op­ing self-dri­ving tech­nol­o­gy, and tra­di­tion­al automak­ers includ­ing Gen­er­al Motors Co and Nis­san Motor Co Ltd are also adding auto­mat­ed fea­tures into their vehi­cles.

    And com­pa­nies such as Noki­a’s Here are also devel­op­ing detailed 3D maps that poten­tial­ly could be licensed by car com­pa­nies.

    Apple, Uber and Google declined to dis­cuss self-dri­ving cars.


    Map­ping the entire Unit­ed States to the lev­el of detail used by Google’s cars could eas­i­ly cost hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and take five to sev­en years, said Egil Juliussen, an ana­lyst with research firm IHS Auto­mo­tive.

    All autonomous cars rely on basic elec­tron­ic maps for nav­i­ga­tion and lane cen­ter­ing. But Google’s cars use far more detailed 3D maps, which the com­pa­ny cre­ates by using laser scan­ners. Google ana­lyzes the data, deter­min­ing where traf­fic lights and stop signs are, for instance, so that the vehi­cle “knows” exact­ly where it is.

    Google’s pod-shaped pro­to­type cars use on-board sen­sors, includ­ing the dis­tinc­tive spin­ning laser on the car’s roof, to detect any­thing not on the map, such as vehi­cles or baby car­riages.

    Google’s exist­ing map­ping know-how and resources give it an extra advan­tage, said Boris Sof­man, the co-founder and CEO of Anki, a robot­ics com­pa­ny that makes self-dri­ving toy cars.

    But the maps can quick­ly become stale, he said. Fresh snow could change the land­scape.


    But advances in sen­sor tech­nol­o­gy are also need­ed for cars to tru­ly become autonomous. Carnegie Mel­lon’s Cadil­lac required some sen­sors mount­ed on street lights to make its 2013 jour­ney to the air­port.

    “We think we can han­dle 90 per­cent of road cas­es,” said Carnegie Mel­lon’s Rajku­mar, “but get­ting to 100 per­cent will take longer.”

    So it looks like we’re going to have either sen­sor-based self-dri­ving cars or sen­sor-based self-dri­ving cars that also incor­po­rate Google’s 3D maps of the the world. It high­lights one of the built-in advan­tages Google is going to have in the long-run the self-dri­ving car mar­ket assum­ing it main­tains its “map­ping every last thing on the planet”-edge. It’s also a reminder that once the self-dri­ving car mar­ket takes off there’s going to be a grow­ing mar­ket of com­pa­nies out there ded­i­cat­ed to map­ping every last thing on the plan­et.

    And don’t for­get that the “self-dri­ving” mar­ket is also going to include all sorts of dif­fer­ent drones oth­er than cars that might be small enough to fly, walk, or roll into a a build­ing. And that means the race to map every last thing on the plan­et could include your cubi­cle at the office soon. That should be fun.

    And yes, Uber is also look­ing into self-dri­ving cars so get ready for a fleet of Uber drones hit­ting the road when­ev­er it becomes com­mer­cial­ly pos­si­ble. That should also be fun.

    It all sounds very excit­ing. And, quite under­stand­ably, Apple co-cre­ator Steve Woz­ni­ak shares in the excite­ment for Apple’s self-dri­ving future. He also excit­ed about the promise of quan­tum com­put­ing and super AIs, although he’s pret­ty sure the super AI is going to even­tu­al­ly take over human­i­ty and maybe turn us into its pets. He’s less excit­ed about that parts:

    The Aus­tralian Finan­cial Review Week­end
    Apple co-founder Steve Woz­ni­ak on the Apple Watch, elec­tric cars and the sur­pass­ing of human­i­ty

    Apple’s co-founder won’t buy the top of the line Apple watch, he’s bull­ish on elec­tric cars but fear­ful of unbri­dled com­put­ing pow­er.

    Mar 23 2015 at 12:00 PM
    Updat­ed Mar 24 2015 at 4:25 AM

    by Paul Smith

    Apple co-founder Steve Woz­ni­ak has said he wants Apple to take on Tes­la in the car busi­ness, that he plans to buy the cheap­est Apple Watch avail­able when it goes on sale, and that he has recent­ly resigned him­self to the fact that com­put­ers will one day become the mas­ters of human­i­ty.

    Speak­ing to The Aus­tralian Finan­cial Review from his US home, the recent­ly mint­ed Aus­tralian per­ma­nent res­i­dent said that while the Tes­la Mod­el S P85D elec­tric car was one of the finest pieces of tech­nol­o­gy he has ever owned, he was hop­ing recent rumours that Apple was get­ting into the auto­mo­tive game would prove to be true.

    Woz­ni­ak, who is still an hon­orary employ­ee of Apple, said that for a com­pa­ny of its size to grow dra­mat­i­cal­ly it would need to get into a new mar­ket seg­ment with poten­tial for mass sales, and that cars would fit the bill.

    “I don’t know if Apple’s doing that, or if they’re just work­ing on their CarPlay apps for the dash­board of your car, but it seems like they might be hir­ing a lot of peo­ple who could real­ly build a vehi­cle,” Mr Woz­ni­ak said.

    “There are an awful lot of com­pa­nies right now who are play­ing with elec­tric cars and there’s a lot more play­ing with self-dri­ving cars, this is the future and it might be huge … there are so many open­ings here and it is per­fect ter­ri­to­ry for a com­pa­ny like Apple.”

    Recent reports sug­gest­ed that Apple plans to start pro­duc­ing cars by 2020, and had been aggres­sive­ly seek­ing to hire experts in bat­tery mak­ing. Tes­la founder Elon Musk also claimed Apple had been offer­ing his employ­ees $US250,000 sign­ing on bonus­es and 60 per cent salary increas­es if they defect­ed to Apple.


    It is Mr Woz­ni­ak’s unhid­den excite­ment at new tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ments that has made him a pop­u­lar fig­ure among tech enthu­si­asts in the decades since he left Apple. He will be bring­ing his take about future ideas to the World Busi­ness Forum in Syd­ney start­ing on May 27.

    How­ev­er he said he has start­ed to feel a con­tra­dic­to­ry sense of fore­bod­ing about the increas­ing sophis­ti­ca­tion of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, while still sup­port­ing the idea of con­tin­u­ing to push the bound­aries of what tech­nol­o­gy can do

    Humans super­seded

    “Com­put­ers are going to take over from humans, no ques­tion,” Mr Woz­ni­ak said.

    He said he had long dis­missed the ideas of writ­ers like Ray­mond Kurzweil, who have warned that rapid increas­es in tech­nol­o­gy will mean machine intel­li­gence will out­strip human under­stand­ing or capa­bil­i­ty with­in the next 30 years. How­ev­er Mr Woz­ni­ak said he had come to recog­nise that the pre­dic­tions were com­ing true, and that com­put­ing that per­fect­ly mim­ic­ked or attained human con­scious­ness would become a dan­ger­ous real­i­ty.

    “Like peo­ple includ­ing Stephen Hawk­ing and Elon Musk have pre­dict­ed, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for peo­ple. If we build these devices to take care of every­thing for us, even­tu­al­ly they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run com­pa­nies more effi­cient­ly,” Mr Woz­ni­ak said.

    “Will we be the gods? Will we be the fam­i­ly pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on? I don’t know about that … But when I got that think­ing in my head about if I’m going to be treat­ed in the future as a pet to these smart machines … well I’m going to treat my own pet dog real­ly nice.”

    Mr Woz­ni­ak said the neg­a­tive out­come could be stopped from occur­ring by the like­ly end of Moore’s Law, the pat­tern where­by com­put­er pro­cess­ing speeds dou­ble every two years.

    The ever increas­ing speeds have hap­pened due to the shrink­ing size of tran­sis­tors, which mean more can be includ­ed in a cir­cuit. But it has been sug­gest­ed that Moore’s Law can­not con­tin­ue past 2020 because, by then, the size of a sil­i­con tran­sis­tor will have shrunk to a sin­gle atom.

    So unless sci­en­tists can start con­trol­ling things at sub-atom­ic lev­el, by devel­op­ing so-called quan­tum com­put­ers, human­i­ty will be pro­tect­ed from per­pet­u­al increas­es in com­put­ing pow­er.

    “For all the time they’ve been work­ing on quan­tum com­put­ing they real­ly have noth­ing to show that’s real­ly usable for the things we need … researchers can make pre­dic­tions, but they haven’t been able to get past three qubits yet,” Mr Woz­ni­ak said.

    Where­as a mod­ern com­put­er process­es data in bina­ry ones and zeros, Quan­tum com­put­ers run on qubits, which can be a one and a zero at the same time and can process huge­ly com­plex cal­cu­la­tions in vast­ly reduced times com­pared with exist­ing com­put­ers.

    “I hope it does come, and we should pur­sue it because it is about sci­en­tif­ic explor­ing,” Mr Woz­ni­ak said. “But in the end we just may have cre­at­ed the species that is above us.”

    Yes, get ready of a robust­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket for self-dri­ving cars which will prob­a­bly include Apple. Maps are option­al. Get­ting mapped and remapped isn’t.

    And then get ready to be turned into a quan­tum super AI’s pet. That comes lat­er. Enjoy the ride.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 28, 2015, 8:45 pm
  38. Check it out! Human­i­ty has final­ly reached the “lob­bing aster­oids around the solar system”-era of tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

    For Aster­oid-Cap­ture Mis­sion, NASA Picks ‘Option B’ for Boul­der
    by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
    March 25, 2015 04:37pm ET

    NASA’s bold aster­oid-cap­ture mis­sion will pluck a boul­der off a big space rock rather than grab an entire near-Earth object, agency offi­cials announced today (March 25).

    NASA intends to drag the boul­der to lunar orbit, where astro­nauts will vis­it it begin­ning in 2025. The space agency decid­ed on the boul­der snatch — “Option B,” as opposed to the whole-aster­oid “Option A” — Tues­day (March 24) dur­ing the mis­sion con­cept review of the aster­oid-redi­rect effort, NASA Asso­ciate Admin­is­tra­tor Robert Light­foot told reporters dur­ing a tele­con­fer­ence today.

    Option B will prob­a­bly cost about $100 mil­lion more than Option A would have, but its advan­tages are worth the price-tag bump, Light­foot said. [NASA’s Aster­oid Cap­ture Mis­sion in Pic­tures]

    For exam­ple, large aster­oids are known to har­bor mul­ti­ple boul­ders, so the mis­sion will have a num­ber of tar­gets to choose from when it gets to the big space rock. Option A is riski­er; the cap­ture probe would like­ly have no recourse if its cho­sen aster­oid proved too large to han­dle, or oth­er­wise unsuit­able.

    Option B will also help devel­op more of the tech­nolo­gies human­i­ty needs to extend its foot­print beyond Earth, Light­foot said.

    “We are real­ly try­ing to demon­strate capa­bil­i­ties that we think we’re going to need in tak­ing humans fur­ther into space, and ulti­mate­ly to Mars,” Light­foot said. “That’s what we’re look­ing at.”

    The aster­oid plan

    As cur­rent­ly envi­sioned, NASA’s Aster­oid Redi­rect Mis­sion (ARM) will launch a robot­ic probe in Decem­ber 2020.

    After about two years of space­flight, the craft will ren­dezvous with a large near-Earth aster­oid. NASA has­n’t decid­ed yet which space rock to tar­get, and the deci­sion does­n’t have to be made until a year before launch, but the lead­ing con­tender at the moment is the rough­ly 1,300-foot-wide (400 meters) 2008 EV5, agency offi­cials said today.

    The cap­ture probe will assess the cho­sen aster­oid’s boul­ders, grab one up to 13 feet (4 m) wide and then retreat to a “halo orbit” around the big space rock. The space­craft will stay in this orbit for 215 to 400 days, long enough for the boul­der-tot­ing probe’s sub­tle grav­i­ta­tion­al tug to influ­ence the orbit of the larg­er space rock.

    This aspect of the mis­sion should help researchers learn more about how to deflect aster­oids that may pose a threat to Earth, Light­foot said.

    “Once we under­stand we’ve actu­al­ly influ­enced the larg­er aster­oid, then that gives us an idea — OK, how much more do we want to do that, or do we want to start head­ing back?” he said.

    The cap­ture probe will then turn around and head toward lunar orbit, where it should end up by late 2025. Two NASA astro­nauts will then jour­ney out to meet the robot­ic space­craft and the boul­der, using the agen­cy’s Ori­on cap­sule and Space Launch Sys­tem megarock­et, both of which are in devel­op­ment. This manned mis­sion will like­ly last 24 or 25 days, Light­foot said.

    The cost of the robot­ic com­po­nent of ARM — that is, the capture/redirect mis­sion, with­out any astro­naut vis­its —will be capped at $1.25 bil­lion, not includ­ing the launch vehi­cle.


    OK, it’s not quite at the aster­oid-lob­bing phase just yet, but we’re get­ting there! So the plan is:
    1. Send a robot­ic probe out to the aster­oid
    2. Have the probe grab a suit­ably-sized boul­der
    3. Have the probe + boul­der launch into “halo orbit” around the aster­oid
    4. Orbit around the aster­oid for 215 to 400 days, using the mass of the probe + boul­der to grav­i­ta­tion­al­ly tug the aster­oid and attempt to manip­u­late its orbit
    5. Even­tu­al­ly send the probe + boul­der into orbit around the moon, which should be done by 2025
    6. And, final­ly, send a pair of astro­nauts up to vis­it the boul­der (Hap­py Anniver­sary).

    And that was mere­ly Plan B! Pret­ty neat!

    And while it’s cer­tain­ly true that this type of mis­sion should teach us valu­able knowl­edge that we’ll need for a manned mis­sion to Mars and else­where, also keep in mind that this is going to be real­ly use­ful knowl­edge for the future space min­ing indus­try.

    So the aster­oid-lob­bing isn’t going to be hap­pen­ing any time soon. We’re just going to be tug­ging aster­oid boul­ders for now. But it’s not hard to imag­ine a future where all sorts of dif­fer­ent tech­niques like “halo orbits” are used to manip­u­late and even­tu­al­ly move aster­oids, or maybe just the parts of the aster­oids with the all the juicy met­als, towards some sort of pro­cess­ing facil­i­ty clos­er to Earth. Or Mars. Or maybe even Europa some­day!

    How neat!

    And as they point out, this kind of tech­nol­o­gy could be great for stop­ping aster­oids plung­ing towards the Earth so that’s a big plus. Of course, this tech­nol­o­gy could ALSO be used to fling aster­oids at Earth or Mars or wher­ev­er so let’s hope we avoid any Human/Martian wars going for­ward.

    And let’s thank the stars apoc­a­lyp­tic death cults like ISIS don’t have advanced space pro­grams. At least not yet. Who knows what kind of tech­no­log­i­cal capac­i­ty your stan­dard group of cra­zies that takes over a col­lapsed nation-state will have 100 years from now. But for now, there’s no risk of groups like ISIS or Aum Shin­rikyo lob­bing an aster­oid at us (at least let’s hope not).

    Of course, as cool as all of this is, let’s also keep in mind that Skynet’s human­i­ty-destroy­ing tool­box now includes lob­bing aster­oids, at least if Skynet ever takes con­trol of a fleet of advanced aster­oid-lob­bers.

    So let’s hope the future gen­er­a­tions of robot­ic space probes don’t include advanced AIs har­bor­ing a secret desire to wipe out human­i­ty, espe­cial­ly if we ever spread to the edge of the solar sys­tem and start col­o­niz­ing like the Oort cloud or some­thing. Does this mean that, despite the over­whelm­ing need to tran­si­tion to a WMD-free world, we should be keep­ing a few nukes on rock­ets capa­ble of tak­ing down Skynet-lobbed aster­oids careen­ing towards Earth?

    Hmm­m­m­mm. Maybe, but it might not be nec­es­sary.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 12, 2015, 10:12 am
  39. Just FYI, before Skynet destroys us with nuclear war or what­ev­er, it might attempt to annoy us all to death. At least, that’s def­i­nite­ly going to be an option:

    Ars Tech­ni­ca
    The new spam: inter­ac­tive robo-calls from the cloud as cheap as e‑mail
    Cloud-based “out­bound inter­ac­tive voice response” is being embraced by tele­mar­keters.

    by Sean Gal­lagher — Apr 15, 2015 5:21pm CDT

    It was the mid­dle of the day, and my cell phone rang with a local num­ber I did­n’t rec­og­nize. Fig­ur­ing it was one of my kids call­ing from a friend’s phone to tell me that they had for­got­ten their cell phone and need­ed a ride, I answered—and found myself rapid­ly descend­ing into the uncan­ny val­ley.

    “Hi?” asked a voice on the oth­er end of line. I replied with a hel­lo. “This is Amy!” the voice said ebul­lient­ly. “I’m a senior account rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Amer­i­can Direct Ser­vices!” Amy paused for sev­er­al beats.

    I asked, “Is this a com­put­er?”

    Anoth­er sev­er­al beats. “No,” Amy replied. She then went on to inform me that I had been select­ed as a pos­si­ble win­ner in a mil­lion dol­lar sweep­stakes!

    “Amy” was, in fact, an out­bound inter­ac­tive voice response pro­gram run­ning on a serv­er, like­ly some­where in a cloud data cen­ter. The com­pa­ny behind the call was the lat­est incar­na­tion of a sweep­stakes and mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tion scam oper­a­tion cur­rent­ly known as North Amer­i­can Direct Ser­vices, Inc., as I found after final­ly being con­nect­ed to a human and ask­ing some prob­ing ques­tions. In the mean­time, I enter­tained myself try­ing to find the bugs in “Amy’s” pro­gram­ming:
    [play audio]

    “What are the top three things you’d use the mon­ey for if you won the sweep­stakes? [gig­gle]”

    “Um, beer, computers...and explo­sives.”

    “That’s a real­ly good idea! I real­ly hope you win.”

    Out­bound IVR is the lat­est evo­lu­tion of the robo-call—a tele­mar­ket­ing sys­tem that uses the tech­nol­o­gy of voice response sys­tems we’ve used to nav­i­gate through the call queues of insur­ance agen­cies and banks and turns it around to make pitch calls. These calls can be on voice-over-Inter­net pro­to­col (VoIP) lines or oth­er con­nec­tions that mask the source of the call. We’re get­ting used to talk­ing to com­put­ers, thanks to voice response sys­tems that act as the guardians of many orga­ni­za­tions’ phone sys­tems. The tech­nol­o­gy was orig­i­nal­ly patent­ed by AT&T in 2006, but is now being offered by a range of com­pa­nies, such as Call­Fire, PlumVoice, and Nuance—the cloud voice recog­ni­tion com­pa­ny behind Siri, Cor­tana and oth­er inter­ac­tive sys­tems.

    Because of the rel­a­tive­ly low cost of some of these cloud-based IVR sys­tems, fly-by-night tele­mar­keters (and legit­i­mate com­pa­nies as well) can set up these script-dri­ven pitch calls near­ly as eas­i­ly as they can send out spam e‑mails, with­out hav­ing to own a call cen­ter or VoIP serv­er of their own. And the IVR providers have new-found legal pro­tec­tion cour­tesy of a recent fed­er­al court rul­ing. Call­Fire was ruled to be a “com­mon car­ri­er” by the US Dis­trict Court for the West­ern Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton, giv­ing it the same pro­tec­tions against lit­i­ga­tion that phone com­pa­nies have when they deliv­er an unwant­ed call.

    Scam tele­mar­keters oper­ate in a legal fringe, skirt­ing things like do-not-call lists and call block­ing by fre­quent­ly chang­ing num­bers. Using local num­bers is the lat­est evo­lu­tion. Scam­mers tap a col­lec­tion of VoIP num­bers reg­is­tered for the tar­gets’ area code and hide the real loca­tion of the com­pa­ny behind a vir­tu­al phone switch that even­tu­al­ly routes calls to piece­work call proces­sors all around the coun­try (or pos­si­bly over­seas). By using cloud plat­forms to dri­ve these calls, they can pay a flat rate to send out a bar­rage of calls to thou­sands of num­bers, and only have to involve a human for the tar­gets who are gullible enough to inter­act with the soft­ware-dri­ven call for a few min­utes of screen­ing ques­tions.

    Call­Fire is just one con­tender in the “host­ed IVR” mar­ket, but it’s illus­tra­tive in sev­er­al ways of how the tech­nol­o­gy is evolving—and how cheap­ly it can be deployed. We attempt­ed to con­tact Call­Fire for this sto­ry, but their IVR sys­tem would only take us to their sales depart­ment. [Update: after a Call­Fire social media per­son left a com­ment on this sto­ry, and I respond­ed in Twit­ter, a com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive promised a fol­low-up.]

    Devel­op­ers can use Call­Fire’s appli­ca­tion pro­gram­ming inter­face to build their own out­bound IVR appli­ca­tions, and any­one can use a menu-dri­ven sys­tem to build their own sim­ple inter­ac­tive calls. Based on how some­one responds, the sys­tem could for­ward a call anywhere—to a cell phone, or a work­er’s home phone, where they can close the deal.

    The human being I even­tu­al­ly man­aged to coax the sys­tem into let­ting me speak to (which was not nec­es­sar­i­ly Call­Fire’s) said his name was Nick. Nick claimed to work for Amer­i­can Read­ers Ser­vices, and he said he was locat­ed in El Paso, Texas. When I asked him for a num­ber to talk to some­one from his com­pa­ny, he gave me a toll-free line that is con­nect­ed, accord­ing to Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau records, to North Amer­i­can Direct Ser­vices, Inc. and North Amer­i­can Read­ers Ser­vice, both of Flori­da. The num­ber went straight to a fast-busy, but it’s been iden­ti­fied by the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau as hav­ing abu­sive billing and mar­ket­ing prac­tices; there have been 87 com­plaints about the com­pa­ny in the last 12 months.

    I asked Nick why his com­pa­ny was using a sys­tem that inten­tion­al­ly tried to make peo­ple think that they were talk­ing to a human being. He laughed and replied, “It’s not try­ing to fool them—it’s a com­put­er.” And besides, this way, he con­tin­ued, his com­pa­ny did­n’t have to hire as many peo­ple like him.


    Isn’t tech­nol­o­gy fun? And keep in mind that AI telescam­ming is just in its infan­cy. There’s going to be all sorts of scam­mo­va­tions going for­ward. For instance, if the roboscam­mers can ever get good enough at mim­ic­k­ing the voic­es of peo­ple based on a sam­ple of them talk­ing, the AI call­ing you in the future might not be mim­ic­k­ing a human tele­mar­keter. It could be AIs mim­ic­k­ing your friends and fam­i­ly. Just imag­ine the iden­ti­ty theft poten­tial from that (not to men­tion the hor­ri­ble LULZ).

    And right now it’s just a voice. Video call­ing ser­vices like Skype are only going to con­tin­ue to grow in pop­u­lar­i­ty. And once 3D ren­der­ing becomes com­plete­ly life­like you could have fake peo­ple Skyp­ing that sound and look com­plete­ly real.

    And then there’s vir­tu­al real­i­ty tech­nol­o­gy, where you and the per­son you’re talk­ing to can inter­act with a vir­tu­al world and each oth­er while you’re hav­ing your con­ver­sa­tion. Won’t that be fun one! Or, at least, won’t that be fun once they work the bugs out. We’ll prob­a­bly all end up won­der­ing around vir­tu­al Sim­C­i­ties inter­act­ing with all sorts of strangers!

    So with all of those grow­ing scam­ming pos­si­bil­i­ties, you have to won­der what sort of new tricks the future AI audio/video/virtual roboscam­mers are going to be using to lure peo­ple in. Once you can cre­ate any type per­son as your AI’s avatar and thrust them on an unsus­pect­ing pub­lic the range of scam scripts real­ly explodes. Just imag­ine.

    *Ring* *Ring* It’s for you. And every­one else.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 25, 2015, 1:46 pm
  40. Some­thing to con­sid­er regard­ing the poten­tial fall­out from the Volk­swa­gen diesel emis­sion ‘scam­dal’ is that this is is hit­ting right at the same time Ger­many has pledge to take in hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees, and while many of them are like­ly going to be tem­po­rary refugees, quite a few are inevitably going to become per­ma­nent mem­bers of Ger­man soci­ety which, of course, means they’re going to need jobs. And accord­ing to Ger­man busi­ness lead­ers, not only do all those refugees need jobs, but Ger­man busi­ness needs them too, and the rules need to be changed to make it eas­i­er to make that hap­pen:

    Ger­man indus­tries have an eco­nom­ic case to wel­come refugees

    Mathilde Richter, AFP

    Sep. 7, 2015, 9:08 AM

    Berlin (AFP) — As thou­sands of refugees arrive every day in Ger­many, calls are grow­ing loud­er from busi­ness lead­ers in Europe’s biggest econ­o­my to offer them jobs.

    “If we can inte­grate them quick­ly into the jobs mar­ket, we’ll be help­ing the refugees, but also help­ing our­selves as well,” the head of the pow­er­ful BDI indus­try fed­er­a­tion, Ulrich Gril­lo, said this week.

    For the count­less Syr­i­ans, Afghans and Eritre­ans flee­ing war and oppres­sion in their home coun­tries and seek­ing refuge in Europe, Ger­many is their chief des­ti­na­tion, as it is for Koso­vars and Alba­ni­ans.

    Europe’s top econ­o­my expects to receive 800,000 asy­lum seek­ers this year — a record fig­ure.

    Beyond the human­i­tar­i­an imper­a­tive to offer pro­tec­tion, busi­ness­es are increas­ing­ly see­ing an eco­nom­ic case to keep the asy­lum seek­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly since Ger­many’s rapid­ly age­ing pop­u­la­tion and low birth rate are slow­ly deplet­ing its pool of skilled labour.

    At 6.4 per­cent, unem­ploy­ment in Ger­many is cur­rent­ly at its low­est lev­el since uni­fi­ca­tion, but the employ­ers’ fed­er­a­tion BDA esti­mates the coun­try is still short of 140,000 engi­neers, pro­gram­mers and tech­ni­cians.

    The health­care and leisure sec­tors are also wring­ing their hands for qual­i­fied work­ers. In all, some 40,000 train­ing places across all sec­tors are expect­ed to remain unfilled this year.

    The Prog­nos think-tank fore­casts the short­age of qual­i­fied work­ers will rise to 1.8 mil­lion in 2020, and as many as 3.9 mil­lion by 2040, if noth­ing is done.


    The influx of migrants could there­fore be the answer as many of them are young and have “real­ly good qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” said Gril­lo at BDI.

    Already, at a local lev­el, more and more busi­ness­es are open­ing their doors to the new arrivals, encour­aged by new ini­tia­tives.

    In the Augs­burg region of Bavaria in south Ger­many, for exam­ple, the HWK local Cham­ber of Crafts has appoint­ed an “inter­cul­tur­al advi­sor” to deal specif­i­cal­ly with the issue. And the advi­sor has suc­ceed­ed in plac­ing 63 young refugees in a train­ing scheme since the start of the year.

    In order to copy and ampli­fy the suc­cess of such schemes, the head of the BDA employ­ers’ fed­er­a­tion, Ingo Kramer, has called for “efforts at all lev­els”.

    His call was par­tic­u­lar­ly aimed at Ger­many’s lead­ers, said Alexan­der Wil­helm, who is in charge of labour mar­ket pol­i­cy at the BDA.

    “It’s up to the gov­ern­ment to act” by eas­ing the rules on access to jobs, Wil­helm told AFP.

    Com­pa­nies want a guar­an­tee that a trainee they take on will not be deport­ed from one day to the next.

    Busi­ness­es must also cur­rent­ly prove that there is no Ger­man can­di­date to fill a posi­tion before they hire a refugee or asy­lum-seek­er, a rule which the Labour Agency would like to see abol­ished as soon as pos­si­ble.

    Learn­ing Ger­man

    On busi­ness­es’ wish list of things are the speed­ing up pro­ce­dures for recog­nis­ing pro­fes­sion­al and edu­ca­tion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions, assess­ing arrivals’ qual­i­fi­ca­tions upon reg­is­tra­tion and putting more mon­ey on the table to help them learn Ger­man.

    This is because “to enter the labour mar­ket or secure an appren­tice­ship, there is gen­er­al­ly a lack of Ger­man lan­guage skills,” said the head of the Cham­ber of Crafts, Hol­ger Schwan­necke.

    The Ger­man gov­ern­ment does not seem to lack good inten­tions.

    “Peo­ple who arrive here as refugees should quick­ly become our neigh­bours and our col­leagues,” said Labour and Social Affairs Min­is­ter Andrea Nahles, whose min­istry in late July relaxed the con­di­tions for refugees to access com­pa­ny intern­ships.

    “A lot has already hap­pened,” said Sait Demir, inter­cul­tur­al advi­sor at HWK in Augs­burg.


    There’s cer­tain­ly a lot to applaud in Ger­many’s embrace of these refugees, and while the intent behind that wel­com­ing spir­it might sim­ply be high­er prof­its and more access to labor from the busi­ness­es stand­point, the con­ver­gence of greed with dire human need is still rather for­tu­nate dur­ing a cri­sis like this. Greed may not actu­al­ly be good, but some­times it helps.

    That’s all part of why the fall­out from the VW scan­dal could be so much worse than just lost jobs because, if the eco­nom­ic dam­age is bad enough, that wel­com­ing spir­it of much of Ger­man soci­ety just might be lost too and that’s pret­ty much a dis­as­ter. The last thing any­one need right now is a Ger­man jobs cri­sis. And yet, with the VW scan­dal seem­ing­ly grow­ing by the day at this point, a Ger­man jobs cri­sis, at least for some auto-cen­tric towns in Ger­many,
    can’t be ruled out:

    Volk­swa­gen scan­dal touch­es nerve cen­tre of Ger­man econ­o­my

    Mathilde Richter

    Sep. 24, 2015, 1:24 AM

    Berlin (AFP) — The pol­lu­tion cheat­ing scan­dal that has engulfed auto giant Volk­swa­gen touch­es one of the main nerve cen­tres of the Ger­man econ­o­my, giv­en the impor­tance of the car sec­tor both polit­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly.

    Ger­many’s mighty auto­mo­bile sec­tor includes the world’s biggest and best-known names, from VW itself to high-end mak­ers like BMW, Daim­ler/Mercedes-Benz, and Opel, the Ger­man arm of US giant Gen­er­al Motors.

    But it also includes some of the world’s lead­ing parts sup­pli­ers, such as Bosch, Con­ti­nen­tal and ZF Friedrichshafen as well as myr­i­ad small and medi­um-sized enter­pris­es all along the val­ue chain.

    The sec­tor clocked up com­bined annu­al sales of 385 bil­lion euros ($430 bil­lion) last year, or 14 per­cent of Ger­many’s gross domes­tic prod­uct (GDP).

    Already some indus­try observers, such as ana­lysts at CMC Mar­kets, are express­ing con­cern about the “spill-over effects” the Volk­swa­gen scan­dal will have on the wider Ger­man econ­o­my in the weeks and months ahead.

    More than five mil­lion cars rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in Ger­many last year. Europe’s top econ­o­my is the fourth biggest pro­duc­er of cars in the world after Chi­na, the Unit­ed States and Japan. And it is the leader in Europe.

    - ‘One in sev­en jobs’ -

    Sev­er­al years ago, Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel said the one in every sev­en jobs in Ger­many were “direct­ly or indi­rect­ly” linked to the sec­tor.

    The esti­mate is still freely bandied around today, even if it is a touch exag­ger­at­ed.

    Strict­ly speak­ing, the sec­tor employed around 770,000 peo­ple last year, out of a total work­ing pop­u­la­tion of more than 40 mil­lion.

    Around a third of the sec­tor’s turnover is gen­er­at­ed in Ger­many, while the oth­er two thirds comes from abroad.

    Cars are Ger­many’s top export, account­ing for 18 per­cent of the val­ue of total exports last year. Chi­na, in par­tic­u­lar, is one of the biggest cus­tomers for Ger­man cars.


    “Cars are Ger­many’s top export, account­ing for 18 per­cent of the val­ue of total exports last year. Chi­na, in par­tic­u­lar, is one of the biggest cus­tomers for Ger­man cars.”
    That last point is some­thing that could be espe­cial­ly prob­lem­at­ic: as bad as the diesel emis­sions scan­dal is for Volk­swa­gen’s rep­u­ta­tion in the US and Europe, if it turns out cars sold in Chi­na were also cheat­ing on emis­sions that could leave a rather awful taste in he mouths of Chi­nese con­sumers that are sick and tired of becom­ing sick and tired from air they can taste.

    Now, Volk­swa­gen, being the largest car man­u­fac­tur­er in the world today, sure­ly as the resources to just sort of wait it out while it attempts to fix its image. But indi­vid­ual Volk­swa­gen employ­ees may not be so lucky. It all depends on the fall­out which is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict for a scan­dal that’s still emerg­ing. But the worse this gets, the worse ten­sions over refugees in Ger­many will prob­a­bly get too. So in the spir­it of avoid some sort of socioe­co­nom­ic refugee/nativist blame game, it might be worth point­ing out to any soon-to-be autowork­ers or any­one else work­ing in a Ger­man man­u­fac­tur­ing plant that they were prob­a­bly going to lose their jobs fair­ly soon any­ways. It’s a fun-fact that does­n’t just apply to Ger­man man­u­fac­tur­ing:

    Cheap robots may shift car mak­ing from Chi­na to U.S.: Magna CEO

    Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:58pm EDT


    The falling cost of intel­li­gent robots may help repa­tri­ate some car man­u­fac­tur­ing work away from low-cost loca­tions like Chi­na back to fac­to­ries in Ger­many and North Amer­i­ca Don­ald Walk­er, Chief Exec­u­tive of auto sup­pli­er Magna told Reuters.

    Ris­ing wages in Chi­na and the cost of import­ing heavy com­po­nents like elec­tric car bat­ter­ies into Europe may lead estab­lished car mak­ers to intro­duce more high­ly effi­cient auto­mat­ed man­u­fac­tur­ing clos­er to home, Walk­er told Reuters in an inter­view at the Frank­furt auto show.

    “If you have a high labor, easy-to-ship part, it has already gone, for the most part, to a low-cost juris­dic­tion,” Walk­er said about the evo­lu­tion of assem­bly work in the car man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness.

    “A big­ger issue is how fast do you have intel­li­gent robot­ics replace man­u­al labor every­where in the world,” Walk­er said.

    By 2025 the total cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing labor is pro­ject­ed to fall between 18 and 33 per­cent in coun­tries which already deploy indus­tri­al robots, includ­ing South Korea, Chi­na, the U.S. Ger­many and Japan, a study on advanced man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies by the Boston Con­sult­ing Group showed.


    Yes, accord­ing to the CEO of Magna, the third largest auto parts sup­pli­er in the world, man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs that have already been off-shored to low-wage man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs like Chi­na will prob­a­bly be returned to places like Ger­many and North Amer­i­ca, but that’s pri­mar­i­ly due to intel­li­gent robots that should drop the cost of labor in these coun­tries by 18–33 per­cent over the next decade, and a big­ger issue than the off­shoring of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs is how fast do intel­li­gent robots replace man­u­al labor every­where:


    “A big­ger issue is how fast do you have intel­li­gent robot­ics replace man­u­al labor every­where in the world,” Walk­er said.

    By 2025 the total cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing labor is pro­ject­ed to fall between 18 and 33 per­cent in coun­tries which already deploy indus­tri­al robots, includ­ing South Korea, Chi­na, the U.S. Ger­many and Japan, a study on advanced man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies by the Boston Con­sult­ing Group showed.


    And 18 to 33 per­cent drop in man­u­fac­tur­ing labor costs for coun­tries like South Korea, Chi­na, the U.S. Ger­many and Japan due to robots. No refugees required.

    Whether or not fun facts like this would actu­al­ly help soon-to-be unem­ployed Ger­man work­ers put the impact of their new refugee neigh­bors on the labor mar­ket into per­spec­tive isn’t obvi­ous. Know­ing that intel­li­gent robots are com­ing to take their jobs might just make an nativist immi­gra­tion freak out ever more like­ly than before. That said, with refugee crises like­ly a per­ma­nent fix­ture of the future as cli­mate change accel­er­ates, com­ing to terms with the real­i­ties of the robot labor rev­o­lu­tion every­where is going to be increas­ing­ly impor­tant because the real­i­ty is that one of the most fun­da­men­tal assump­tions in human rela­tions is get­ting chal­lenged in ways that both the refugee cri­sis and robot rev­o­lu­tion exac­er­bate: reci­procity is becom­ing increas­ing­ly impos­si­ble for grow­ing por­tions of the globe.

    Think of the social con­tracts that under­lay most soci­eties that aren’t close-knit tribes. It’s not the Gold­en Rule, it’s a ‘do ut des’ eth­ic: we give to receive. Trade is based on exchang­ing, not giv­ing. “Mak­ing a liv­ing” through your own labor is, sort of, an act of reci­procity: you give your time and ener­gy and get an income in return and if some­one needs char­i­ty or wel­fare, soci­ety might pro­vide that wel­fare, but it also frowns upon it.

    That ‘do ut des’ type of sys­tem might have sort of worked in the pre-intel­li­gence robots era, but such an ‘eye for an eye’ eth­ic is almost inevitably going to become increas­ing­ly unten­able as human labor is increas­ing­ly removed from the eco­nom­ic equa­tion in a glob­al econ­o­my with glob­al com­pe­ti­tion for exact­ly the type of labor that could be replaced. How could a sys­tem based on reci­procity not become unten­able when the “demand” from labor that enables the reci­procity is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly replaced with robots?

    Sure, we could come up with all sorts of oth­er jobs for peo­ple because there are plen­ty of very use­ful ser­vices we could still offer each oth­er in an econ­o­my where labor (man­u­al and white col­lar) is dom­i­nat­ed by intel­li­gent robots, but it’s not clear how human-to-human ser­vices are sup­posed to be paid for in that emerg­ing sce­nario if increas­ing­ly intel­li­gent robots are increas­ing­ly dom­i­nant in a glob­al econ­o­my dri­ven by a “race to the bot­tom” eth­ic. And that sup­ply and demand imbal­ance — where the sup­ply is pro­vid­ed by robots and the demand is not pro­vid­ed by the peo­ple put out of work by robots or dis­placed after their nation falls into chaos — is prob­a­bly going to an pow­er­ful sys­temic force through­out the rest of the 21st cen­tu­ry. What’s going to stop it? Iron­i­cal­ly, in the kind of sup­ply and imbal­ance/rec­i­proc­i­ty-trap the world could become in anoth­er cou­ple of decades, if we just gave peo­ple free mon­ey more peo­ple might end up work­ing sim­ply from the human-to-human ser­vices that could­n’t oth­er­wise be pur­chase in an envi­ron­ment when the demand from humans is slat­ed to col­lapse. But the fate of human labor is far less clear in a ‘do ut des’ world.

    It’s all part of why the cur­rent refugee cri­sis should­n’t sim­ply be viewed as a tem­po­rary cri­sis but instead should become the start of what is basi­cal­ly a quest for a 21st cen­tu­ry replace­ment for our ‘do ut des’ civ­i­liza­tion. Our doomed ‘do ut des’ civ­i­liza­tion that threat­ens to leave most peo­ple at the bot­tom of the ‘race to the bot­tom’ with­out a lifeboat if there isn’t a fun­da­men­tal change to peo­ple exchange . Tak­ing in poten­tial­ly mil­lions of refugees is a mas­sive inter­na­tion­al effort that’s going to involve grow­ing lev­els of coor­di­na­tion from nations around the globe and the need for that coor­di­na­tion is only going to grow too as the 21st cen­turies mega-crises con­tin­ue to unfold. But you know what else is guar­an­teed to be a mas­sive inter­na­tion­al effort that’s going to involve grow­ing lev­els of coor­di­na­tion from nations around the globe? Find­ing a replace­ment for our ‘do ut des’ civ­i­liza­tion of eco­nom­ic reci­procity in a world where the poten­tial for eco­nom­ic reci­procity is sys­tem­i­cal­ly break­ing down that all soci­eties should be able to get behind (It does­n’t have to be that hard).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 27, 2015, 8:57 pm
  41. If the max­i­mum fine of $37,000 per vehi­cle that Volk­swa­gen might face from the EPA over the diesel emis­sions scan­dal seems like an awful lot, here’s much it would have cost Volk­swa­gen per vehi­cle to actu­al­ly meet US emis­sions rules avoid all of this: 300 euros per car:

    Auto­mo­tive News

    Bosch warned VW about ille­gal soft­ware use in diesel cars, report says

    Staff report
    Sep­tem­ber 27, 2015 — 10:00 am ET

    MUNICH — Robert Bosch warned Volk­swa­gen in 2007 that it would be ille­gal to use engine man­age­ment soft­ware at the heart of the diesels emis­sions scan­dal in pro­duc­tion cars, Ger­man news­pa­per Bild am Son­ntag said.

    VW was also warned by one of its own engi­neers in 2011 about ille­gal emis­sions test­ing prac­tices, a report in the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung’s Sun­day edi­tion said, cit­ing ini­tial results of a VW inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Bild am Son­ntag said Bosch sup­plied diesel soft­ware to VW for test pur­pos­es but it end­ed up in vehi­cles on the road. Bosch wrote to VW say­ing that such use was unlaw­ful, accord­ing to the paper’s report, which did not cite sources.

    Bosch, the world’s biggest sup­pli­er, is adding up the cost to its busi­ness and rep­u­ta­tion of the VW emis­sions scan­dal.

    A Bosch spokesman today told Reuters that the com­pa­ny’s deal­ings with VW were con­fi­den­tial. VW declined to com­ment on the details of either news­pa­per report.

    Last week, Bosch said it had deliv­ered com­po­nents to VW that are now at the cen­ter of a probe into rigged emis­sions tests. The com­po­nents includ­ed deliv­ery and meter­ing mod­ules for exhaust gas treat­ment and com­mon-rail injec­tion sys­tems.

    Respon­si­bil­i­ty for con­fig­ur­ing han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics of these com­po­nents “lies with Volk­swa­gen,” a Bosch spokesman told Auto­mo­tive News Europe last week.

    Cost-cut­ting at heart of cri­sis

    Bild am Son­ntag said the roots of the cri­sis were plant­ed in 2005 when then-VW brand chief Wolf­gang Bern­hard want­ed VW to devel­op a new diesel engine for the U.S. mar­ket. Bern­hard recruit­ed Audi engi­neer Rudolf Krebs who devel­oped a pro­to­type that per­formed well in tests in South Africa in 2006, the paper said.

    Bern­hard and Krebs argued that the only way to make the engine meet U.S. emis­sion stan­dards was to employ in the engine sys­tem an AdBlue urea solu­tion used on larg­er diesel mod­els such as the Pas­sat and Touareg, accord­ing to the report.

    This would have added a cost of 300 euros ($335 in today’s U.S. dol­lars) per vehi­cle — a sum that VW finance offi­cials said was too much at a time when a com­pa­ny­wide cost-cut­ting exer­cise was under way.

    Bern­hard left VW in Jan­u­ary 2007 before the diesel engine went into pro­duc­tion. Krebs was moved to anoth­er role when Mar­tin Win­terko­rn became VW Group and brand CEO in 2007.

    Win­terko­rn, Audi’s for­mer CEO, asked Audi devel­op­ment boss Ulrich Hack­en­berg and Audi engine boss Wolf­gang Hatz to move to VW’s Wolfs­burg head­quar­ters and con­tin­ue devel­op­ment work on the engine, Bild am Son­ntag said.

    The engine then end­ed up in VW Group diesels with its engine soft­ware manip­u­lat­ed to fool diesel emis­sions tests in the U.S.

    VW has admit­ted that 11 mil­lion diesel engines sold glob­al­ly have soft­ware “irreg­u­lar­i­ties,” though media reports have said the soft­ware manip­u­la­tion tweaks are not acti­vat­ed in the bulk of them.

    Bild am Son­ntag said Hack­en­berg and Hatz, who deny they knew about any ille­gal activ­i­ties, have been relieved of their respon­si­bil­i­ties.


    Thanks aus­ter­i­ty:

    Bild am Son­ntag said the roots of the cri­sis were plant­ed in 2005 when then-VW brand chief Wolf­gang Bern­hard want­ed VW to devel­op a new diesel engine for the U.S. mar­ket. Bern­hard recruit­ed Audi engi­neer Rudolf Krebs who devel­oped a pro­to­type that per­formed well in tests in South Africa in 2006, the paper said.

    Bern­hard and Krebs argued that the only way to make the engine meet U.S. emis­sion stan­dards was to employ in the engine sys­tem an AdBlue urea solu­tion used on larg­er diesel mod­els such as the Pas­sat and Touareg, accord­ing to the report.

    This would have added a cost of 300 euros ($335 in today’s U.S. dol­lars) per vehi­cle — a sum that VW finance offi­cials said was too much at a time when a com­pa­ny­wide cost-cut­ting exer­cise was under way.

    Yes, we can thank the total­ly unnec­es­sary aus­ter­i­ty that helped VW achieve its 2008 pre­tax prof­it tar­get a year ear­ly:

    Volk­swa­gen, Aid­ed by Cost Cuts, Expects to Hit Prof­it Goal Ear­ly

    Pub­lished: July 28, 2007

    FRANKFURT, July 27 (Reuters) — Volk­swa­gen will meet its 2008 pre­tax prof­it tar­get of 5.1 bil­lion euros ($7 bil­lion) a year ear­li­er than planned as cost cuts bol­ster results, the group said on Fri­day, send­ing its shares sharply high­er.

    After report­ing that sec­ond-quar­ter oper­at­ing prof­it surged to 1.74 bil­lion euros, far bet­ter than ana­lysts had expect­ed, Volk­swa­gen said it would “sig­nif­i­cant­ly” exceed in 2007 the pre­vi­ous year’s fig­ure before spe­cial items as it expect­ed to sell more than six mil­lion cars for the first time.

    The com­pa­ny had pre­vi­ous­ly fore­cast only that oper­at­ing prof­it would “prob­a­bly” sur­pass last year’s result before spe­cial items of 4.38 bil­lion euros.

    The finance chief, Hans Dieter Poet­sch, said in a con­fer­ence call that Volk­swa­gen would not rest on its lau­rels even if it achieved its pre­tax prof­it tar­get one year ear­ly.

    “We clear­ly want to improve fur­ther in 2008,” Mr. Poet­sch said.

    A Reuters poll of 18 ana­lysts had esti­mat­ed quar­ter­ly oper­at­ing prof­it of 1.47 bil­lion euros and pre­tax prof­it of 1.46 bil­lion euros — sig­nif­i­cant­ly short of VW’s report­ed 1.94 bil­lion euros before tax, which includes con­tri­bu­tions from its stakes in the Euro­pean truck mak­ers Sca­nia and Man.

    Volk­swa­gen shares were up to 125 euros ($171.54), a gain of 5.70 euros, revers­ing ear­li­er loss­es and clear­ly out­per­form­ing slight declines in the broad­er Euro­pean mar­ket.

    Although its sales mix dete­ri­o­rat­ed as rev­enue growth lagged vehi­cle sales, VW’s cost-cut­ting sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved results, reveal­ing a sharp improve­ment in its quar­ter­ly oper­at­ing mar­gin, to 6.1 per­cent.


    “Although its sales mix dete­ri­o­rat­ed as rev­enue growth lagged vehi­cle sales, VW’s cost-cut­ting sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved results, reveal­ing a sharp improve­ment in its quar­ter­ly oper­at­ing mar­gin, to 6.1 per­cent.”
    So it was­n’t even the case that VW was sell­ing a prod­uct they could­n’t pro­duce. They just chose not to in order to save 300 euros per car and, as we can see, cost cut­ting gets results. Short term (sharply high­er prof­its) and long term (the cur­rent exis­ten­tial cri­sis).

    So with that in mind, check out the agen­da Her­bert Diess, the first new boss for the core pas­sen­ger car VW brand since 2007. He laid it out back in June. It might sound famil­iar. And omi­nous:

    Auto­mo­tive News Europe

    New VW brand boss Diess needs to cut costs, boost prof­its

    Chris­ti­aan Het­zn­er
    June 30, 2015 06:01 CET

    FRANKFURT — Volk­swa­gen brand will have a new boss for the first time since 2007 when for­mer BMW devel­op­ment boss Her­bert Diess takes con­trol on Wednes­day. Diess’s tasks as suc­ces­sor to Mar­tin Win­terko­rn, who remains VW Group CEO, include rein­ing in costs, increas­ing prof­itabil­i­ty and mak­ing the brand a stronger play­er in the U.S.

    The imme­di­ate pri­or­i­ty for Diess, 56, will be ensur­ing the smooth exe­cu­tion of an effi­cien­cy pro­gram start­ed by Win­terko­rn to add 5 bil­lion euros in over­all earn­ings by the end of 2017. This will be cru­cial to boost­ing the VW brand’s oper­at­ing mar­gin to more than 6 per­cent in 2018 from 2.5 per­cent last year. The chal­lenge is that half of the sav­ings have yet to be iden­ti­fied, let alone imple­ment­ed.

    “If there is any­one who can do it, it’s Diess. If you look at his track record at BMW, he did a fan­tas­tic job there and the com­pa­ny nev­er should have allowed him to leave,” said JP Mor­gan auto ana­lyst Jose Asumen­di.

    Diess takes on the post just as vehi­cle sales are slow­ing down at the brand, which accounts for 60 per­cent of VW Group’s vol­ume. VW brand glob­al sales fell by 5.9 per­cent in May to 499,500 as slow­ing momen­tum in Chi­na and declines in South Amer­i­ca out­weighed gains in Europe — the sev­enth decline in vehi­cle sales in eight months.

    An Aus­tri­an nation­al, Diess devel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a cost killer dur­ing his time as pur­chas­ing man­ag­er at BMW from 2007 until 2012. Senior lev­el BMW sources said Diess was the right per­son at the right time to help exe­cute bad­ly need­ed cuts fol­low­ing the Lehman Broth­ers col­lapse in late 2008. Diess was not, how­ev­er, a seri­ous chal­lenger for BMW Group’s CEO post, which went to Har­ald Krueger, because he could not secure the back­ing of BMW’s unions that sit on the super­vi­so­ry board, the sources said.

    Diess’s skills at squeez­ing sup­pli­ers and elim­i­nat­ing waste may be advan­ta­geous in the short term at VW brand, but oth­er cost-cut­ters poached from rival car­mak­ers and lack­ing an inter­nal pow­er base in Wolfs­burg have often been forced out.

    Bern­hard exam­ple

    Daimler’s Wolf­gang Bern­hard, who elim­i­nat­ed a fifth of Chrysler’s work­force more than a decade ago and called Mer­cedes-Benz a restruc­tur­ing case where “blood would flow” was cel­e­brat­ed by share­hold­ers when he joined as VW brand chief in 2005. He last­ed less than two years before resign­ing in Jan­u­ary 2007 short­ly after win­ning a hard fought bat­tle to cut Ger­man jobs.

    As a result, ana­lysts warn Diess will have to devel­op a greater sense of finesse when deal­ing with entrenched Ger­man unions. Orga­nized labor plays an even stronger role at Volk­swa­gen than at oth­er Ger­man car­mak­ers, in part because of the com­pa­ny’s statutes that stip­u­late no assem­bly plant any­where in the world can be closed with­out union approval. The most recent clo­sure of a major VW plant was the com­pa­ny’s fac­to­ry in West­more­land, Penn­syl­va­nia, in 1988.

    Said JP Mor­gan’s Asumen­di: “Diess has to gain the con­fi­dence of the unions at Volk­swa­gen. There needs to be an ele­ment of trust involved — that is sim­ply how this com­pa­ny ticks. There are plen­ty of well known exam­ples of peo­ple that are no longer with the orga­ni­za­tion because they did not take the unions seri­ous­ly.”


    Should Diess be able to com­ple­ment his cost-cut­ting skills with a strate­gic vision to grow VW Group’s biggest brand, his chances of inher­it­ing the CEO post from Win­terko­rn will look much more promis­ing.

    As we can see, cut­ting costs is clear­ly a top pri­or­i­ty. Or at least was a top pri­or­i­ty before this scan­dal hap­pened and it’s unclear why cost-cut­ting would be any less of a pri­or­i­ty at this point. So it be be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing to see where exact­ly those future costs as “brand rebuild­ing” joins cost cut­ting as top cor­po­rate pri­or­i­ties. Iron­i­cal­ly, giv­en the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mass lay­offs that could result form the cri­sis, accom­plish­ing some of those goals might actu­al­ly be eas­i­er now. Specif­i­cal­ly the goals about cut­ting labor costs and out­sourc­ing parts sup­plies:

    Finan­cial Times
    Volk­swa­gen cost cuts will test Her­bert Diess

    Car brand head to lift returns with­out alien­at­ing unions

    Chris Bryant in Frank­furt
    Last updat­ed: August 20, 2015 6:14 pm

    When Her­bert Diess, a for­mer BMW exec­u­tive, became head of Volkswagen’s core pas­sen­ger car brand in July, he took on one of the hard­est jobs in glob­al car­mak­ing.

    VW Group boss Mar­tin Win­terko­rn expects him to lift the under­per­form­ing brand’s return on sales to 6 per cent by 2018, com­pared with 2.5 per cent last year, by com­plet­ing a €5bn cost-cut­ting plan unveiled last year.

    Mr Diess, an Aus­tri­an nation­al, must do this with­out ostracis­ing VW’s pow­er­ful labour chiefs or dis­pleas­ing Mr Win­terko­rn, who pre­vi­ous­ly ran the VW unit in addi­tion to his respon­si­bil­i­ty for Volkswagen’s oth­er 11 brands.

    If he suc­ceeds, Mr Diess will posi­tion him­self among the small group of top VW exec­u­tives who have a shot at one day becom­ing VW group chief exec­u­tive.

    Mr Diess was respect­ful­ly anoint­ed a “Kostenkiller” by Ger­man media for his suc­cess in wring­ing out €4bn of costs from sup­pli­ers while at BMW. How­ev­er, the breadth and com­plex­i­ty of the chal­lenges he faces at VW are nev­er­the­less daunt­ing.

    Chief among these is VW’s low pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Like VW, arch-rival Toy­ota built over 10m vehi­cles last year, but did so with a quar­ter of a mil­lion few­er employ­ees. That effi­cien­cy helped the Japan­ese car­mak­er achieve a 10.1 per cent return on sales.

    Despite the dis­par­i­ty, VW’s Ger­man work­force won a 3.4 per cent pay increase this year. Mean­while, the group’s annu­al research and devel­op­ment bill rose to €11.5bn in 2014. That was the biggest R&D out­lay by any glob­al com­pa­ny and more than 80 per cent high­er than VW’s R&D spend in 2010.

    Now, a reces­sion in Brazil and Rus­sia has left the car­mak­er with excess pro­duc­tion capac­i­ty. VW is under­per­form­ing in the US due to a lack of sport util­i­ty vehi­cles and also faces a slow­down in Chi­na, which accounts for 45 per cent of the brand’s sales. Pur­chas­es in Chi­na declined 7 per cent in the first six months of this year.

    “VW needs to keep grow­ing to sup­port its large Ger­man pro­duc­tion foot­print and com­pen­sate for the impact of wage increas­es — if the mar­ket shrinks then it would quick­ly face prob­lems,” says Ste­fan Bratzel, direc­tor of the Cen­ter of Auto­mo­tive Man­age­ment, a research insti­tute.

    Part­ing with some of the VW group’s almost 600,000 employ­ees, shut­ter­ing one its 130 plants or shift­ing pro­duc­tion away from high-cost Ger­many (where 45 per cent of group employ­ees are based but which accounts for 12 per cent of car sales) would be by far the sim­plest way for the car­mak­er to cut costs.

    How­ev­er, his­to­ry sug­gests Mr Diess would be fool­ish to try.

    In 2004 the car­mak­er hired restruc­tur­ing expert Wolf­gang Bernard from Chrysler to head the VW brand but his plan to elim­i­nate 20,000 Ger­man jobs caused fric­tion with work­ers and he stood down two years lat­er.

    “Every 10 years or so VW hires an out­sider to shake the place up...But if you try to move too fast at VW, the body rejects the trans­plant,” says Max War­bur­ton at Bern­stein Research.

    Labour rep­re­sen­ta­tives have huge influ­ence at VW, includ­ing a veto over plant clo­sures. The res­ig­na­tion of patri­arch and chair­man Fer­di­nand Piëch in April has fur­ther bur­nished their pow­er.

    The Porsche and Piech fam­i­lies appoint­ed Berthold Huber, the for­mer head of the IG Met­all engi­neer­ing union, as inter­im chair­man, and have dithered on appoint­ing a per­ma­nent suc­ces­sor due to a short­age of suit­able can­di­dates.

    Mr Win­terko­rn, 68, is deemed the most like­ly future chair­man but he is not ready to give up the chief exec­u­tive reins just yet. In the autumn he is set to unveil a sweep­ing over­haul of the VW group’s organ­i­sa­tion­al struc­ture, which is expect­ed to devolve more pow­er to the regions and brands and could aug­ment Mr Diess’s pow­er still fur­ther.

    With­in days of tak­ing the job the new VW brand chief hopped on a bicy­cle to tour VW’s sprawl­ing Wolfs­burg head­quar­ters with Bernd Oster­loh, the works coun­cil chief. The meet­ing went well accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the talks.

    The charm offen­sive con­tin­ued when Mr Diess told an in-house employ­ee news­pa­per in July that VW’s high lev­el of in-house car parts man­u­fac­tur­ing — known as ver­ti­cal inte­gra­tion — was “advan­ta­geous” for a com­pa­ny of its size.

    VW makes com­po­nents such as axles, steer­ing units and car seats at plants in Ger­many but ana­lysts have long argued these could be made more cheap­ly by exter­nal sup­pli­ers.

    “If you’re build­ing parts your­self in Ger­many and pay­ing €50 an hour while every­one else is get­ting them built in east­ern Europe where they pay a frac­tion of that, it’s a big dis­ad­van­tage,” says Mr War­bur­ton.

    How­ev­er, the last VW exec­u­tive to real­ly chal­lenge ver­ti­cal inte­gra­tion at VW was Mr Bern­hard and doing so helped cost him his job.

    Mr Bratzel says: “[Mr Diess] is clever enough to recog­nise that you can’t achieve any­thing at VW with­out the sup­port of the works council?.?.?.?But it’s a fine bal­anc­ing act — ulti­mate­ly he will be judged on whether he increased the prof­itabil­i­ty of the VW brand — if he doesn’t do that he has a prob­lem.”

    VW’s labour rep­re­sen­ta­tives are not opposed to cost cuts per se. When Mr Win­terko­rn ordered the cost-sav­ings pro­gramme at the VW brand last year, Mr Oster­loh pre­sent­ed a 400-page file packed with sug­ges­tions on how to accom­plish the €5bn tar­get.

    Mr Oster­loh, a mem­ber of VW’s super­vi­so­ry board, says he has noth­ing against halt­ing pro­duc­tion of a com­po­nent, pro­vid­ing VW builds anoth­er high­er-val­ue and more inno­v­a­tive prod­uct instead. “There we are in absolute agree­ment with Dr Win­terko­rn,” he says.


    Mr Diess could focus just on this low-hang­ing fruit and cement his can­di­da­cy to suc­ceed Mr Win­terko­rn but some VW watch­ers hope he will be more bold.

    “Investors have his­tor­i­cal­ly made a lot of mon­ey by being opti­mistic about what a fresh brain can do at an inward-look­ing and bureau­crat­ic com­pa­ny like VW,” says Mr War­bur­ton. “I think we’ll see things hap­pen.”

    That was then:

    “VW needs to keep grow­ing to sup­port its large Ger­man pro­duc­tion foot­print and com­pen­sate for the impact of wage increas­es — if the mar­ket shrinks then it would quick­ly face prob­lems,” says Ste­fan Bratzel, direc­tor of the Cen­ter of Auto­mo­tive Man­age­ment, a research insti­tute.

    Part­ing with some of the VW group’s almost 600,000 employ­ees, shut­ter­ing one its 130 plants or shift­ing pro­duc­tion away from high-cost Ger­many (where 45 per cent of group employ­ees are based but which accounts for 12 per cent of car sales) would be by far the sim­plest way for the car­mak­er to cut costs.

    How­ev­er, his­to­ry sug­gests Mr Diess would be fool­ish to try.

    In 2004 the car­mak­er hired restruc­tur­ing expert Wolf­gang Bernard from Chrysler to head the VW brand but his plan to elim­i­nate 20,000 Ger­man jobs caused fric­tion with work­ers and he stood down two years lat­er.

    “Every 10 years or so VW hires an out­sider to shake the place up...But if you try to move too fast at VW, the body rejects the trans­plant,” says Max War­bur­ton at Bern­stein Research.

    Yes, that was then, and this is now, with VW seek­ing to weath­er the cri­sis by giv­ing its effi­cien­cy pro­gram a “tur­bo” boost in the bil­lions of euros with­out cut­ting jobs:

    Bloomberg Busi­ness
    VW Work­force Starts to Feel Pinch From Diesel-Emis­sions Scan­dal

    Car­mak­er cuts one extra shift at Salzgit­ter engine fac­to­ry
    VW to give effi­cien­cy pro­gram “tur­bo” boost, labor leader says

    Elis­a­beth Behrmann

    Octo­ber 1, 2015 — 4:46 AM CDT

    Volk­swa­gen AG’s 600,000-person work­force is start­ing to feel the impact of the diesel-emis­sions scan­dal as the car­mak­er cuts spend­ing in antic­i­pa­tion of fines, recalls and a drop in U.S. sales.

    Volk­swa­gen slowed pro­duc­tion at one of its biggest engine fac­to­ries and froze hir­ing in Ger­many at its unit that makes car loans, the Wolfs­burg, Ger­many-based com­pa­ny said Thurs­day. More mea­sures to rein in spend­ing are expect­ed as Volk­swa­gen seeks to weath­er the cri­sis by giv­ing its effi­cien­cy pro­gram a “tur­bo” boost in the bil­lions of euros with­out cut­ting jobs, Bernd Oster­loh, VW’s labor chief, told work­ers in a let­ter on Sept. 24.

    The automak­er is fac­ing a sig­nif­i­cant finan­cial impact, includ­ing at least 6.5 bil­lion euros ($7.25 bil­lion) it already set aside for repairs and recalls and a U.S. fine that may reach $7.4 bil­lion, accord­ing to ana­lysts from San­ford C. Bern­stein Ltd. How the com­pa­ny will react was among the top­ics on the table when the board’s lead­er­ship pan­el met late into the night on Wednes­day with Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Matthias Mueller.

    “Volk­swa­gen has a broad range of options should they need to boost liq­uid­i­ty,” said Frank Biller, a Stuttgart, Ger­many-based ana­lyst with LBBW. The com­pa­ny could try to step up the VW brand’s exist­ing cost-sav­ings pro­gram, which had orig­i­nal­ly aimed to boost earn­ings by 5 bil­lion euros by 2017, he said. “Then there’s a cat­a­log of mea­sures that could fol­low.”

    These range from shrink­ing ad and spon­sor­ing bud­gets to reduc­ing bonus pay­ments, cut­ting the div­i­dend or sell­ing assets, Biller said. Volk­swa­gen had 21.5 bil­lion euros in net liq­uid­i­ty at the end of June and since then sold shares in for­mer part­ner Suzu­ki Motor Corp. for about 3.4 bil­lion euros.

    As we just saw, the mes­sage from VW’s labor lead­ers are that the “effi­cien­cy pro­gram” could be “tur­bo charged” with­out cost­ing jobs, and while that’s a nice goal, it’s going to be be very inter­est­ing to see what gets cut instead, espe­cial­ly if the scan­dal ends up doing last­ing dam­age to VW’s sales. Let’s hope it does­n’t involve skimp­ing on things like 300 euro emis­sions con­trols devices.

    So we’ll see how VW’s labor pool does dur­ing this peri­od of cri­sis that’s hit­ting right when a big now round of cost cut­ting mea­sures were already already to take place. And who knows, maybe VW’s work­force can avoid the axe that VW’s man­age­ment has so clear­ly want­ed to swing at them. It’s pos­si­ble. But it’s also worth keep­ing in mind that even if there does end up being a wave of lay­offs in VW’s man­u­fac­tur­ing oper­a­tions the loss of jobs may not be tem­po­rary:

    Finan­cial Times
    Volk­swa­gen to replace Germany’s retir­ing baby boomers with robots

    By Chris Bryant in Frank­furt
    Octo­ber 6, 2014 6:38 pm

    Volk­swa­gen plans to use robots to cope with a short­age of new work­ers caused by retir­ing baby boomers, and ensure that car man­u­fac­tur­ing remains com­pet­i­tive in high-cost Ger­many.

    As at oth­er Ger­man indus­tri­al com­pa­nies, VW’s work­force is grow­ing old­er and as baby boomers begin to retire between 2015 and 2030, under demo­graph­ic trends there will be few­er young peo­ple to take their place.

    Writ­ing in Germany’s Sued­deutsche Zeitung on Mon­day, Horst Neu­mann, VW board mem­ber for human resources, said some of the retir­ing baby boomers’ jobs would be filled by robots, not peo­ple.

    He insist­ed the robots would take over monot­o­nous or uner­gonom­ic tasks, while humans would focus on more high­ly skilled jobs. The trend towards high­er automa­tion would not con­tribute towards increased unem­ploy­ment in Ger­many, he added.

    “We have the pos­si­bil­i­ty to replace peo­ple with robots and nev­er­the­less we can con­tin­ue to hire the same amount of young employ­ees. Or put the oth­er way: we would not be able to com­pen­sate for this out­flow of retirees by [hir­ing] young employ­ees.”

    Mr Neu­mann added that a fac­to­ry devoid of humans is “nei­ther real­is­tic nor desir­able”.

    Automa­tion has enabled high-cost Ger­many to retain a glob­al lead in vehi­cle pro­duc­tion. But adding more robots remains a high­ly sen­si­tive sub­ject as work­ers fear that advances in robot­ics might one day make them sur­plus to require­ments.

    The auto­mo­tive indus­try is already by far the biggest user of indus­tri­al robots but it sees fur­ther poten­tial for their use. For exam­ple, robots remain com­par­a­tive­ly rare in the final assem­bly area where work­ers must car­ry out intri­cate tasks in the vehi­cle inte­ri­or.

    This could change as a new gen­er­a­tion of light­weight robots are able to work side by side with employ­ees rather than inside a safe­ty cage.

    Mr Neu­mann said robots that car­ry out rou­tine tasks cost VW about €5 an hour over their life­time, includ­ing main­te­nance and ener­gy costs.

    That com­pares with about €40 an hour in labour costs per work­er in Ger­many (includ­ing wages, pen­sion and health­care costs) and less than €10 in Chi­na.

    “New gen­er­a­tions of robots will like­ly be even cheap­er. We must make use of this cost advan­tage,” the VW board mem­ber wrote.

    Econ­o­mists view Germany’s rapid­ly age­ing pop­u­la­tion as one of the biggest threats to its long-term com­pet­i­tive­ness.

    At 21 per cent, Ger­many already has a high­er share of its pop­u­la­tion over the age of 65 than any oth­er coun­try bar Japan. The lat­ter has spear­head­ed the use of robots to off­set an age­ing pop­u­la­tion.


    So as Ger­many’s work force grows old and retires, the pro­ject­ed labor short­age can is expect­ed to be dealt with via robots, so robust employ­ment can be main­tained with­out a labor short­age. At least that was the plan last year:


    “We have the pos­si­bil­i­ty to replace peo­ple with robots and nev­er­the­less we can con­tin­ue to hire the same amount of young employ­ees. Or put the oth­er way: we would not be able to com­pen­sate for this out­flow of retirees by [hir­ing] young employ­ees.


    Mr Neu­mann said robots that car­ry out rou­tine tasks cost VW about €5 an hour over their life­time, includ­ing main­te­nance and ener­gy costs.

    That com­pares with about €40 an hour in labour costs per work­er in Ger­many (includ­ing wages, pen­sion and health­care costs) and less than €10 in Chi­na.

    “New gen­er­a­tions of robots will like­ly be even cheap­er. We must make use of this cost advan­tage,” the VW board mem­ber wrote.

    And now, fol­low­ing the emis­sions scan­dal, the “tur­bocharg­ing” of VW’s “effi­cien­cy pro­gram” is being pro­posed as a means of cut­ting costs even more aggres­sive­ly with­out lead­ing to lay­offs. And while it’s pos­si­ble that the scan­dal won’t lead to lay­offs, it’s look­ing like retir­ing employ­ees that can be replaced by a robot prob­a­bly will be, giv­en both the scan­dalous cir­cum­stances and the exist­ing cost cut­ting plans to roboti­cize the work force even­tu­al­ly any­ways.

    So with a poten­tial flood of new robots and cost cut­ting mea­sures about to hit VW’s man­u­fac­tur­ing floor, don’t be sur­prised if we see more “VW robot kills work­er” sto­ries over the next few years, although sto­ries like that should sub­side even­tu­al­ly.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 1, 2015, 10:35 am
  42. While min­ing might seem like one of those indus­tries that would be an ear­ly adopter of automa­tion tech­nol­o­gy giv­en the dan­ger­ous nature of the work, it turns out that the min­ing indus­try has been rel­a­tive­ly slow to embrace the lat­est wave of auto­mat­ed vehi­cles and machin­ery. But as the arti­cle below points out, the indus­try is pick­ing up the pace:

    Norther Min­er
    Min­ers embrace automa­tion to increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty

    By: Alisha Hiy­ate
    Nov 16, 2015 8:09 AM

    Lead­ers in the min­ing indus­try are start­ing to rec­og­nize that automa­tion is part of the answer to the sector’s pro­duc­tiv­i­ty prob­lems, says Michael Mur­phy, chief engi­neer, min­ing tech­nol­o­gy enabled solu­tions with lead­ing min­ing sec­tor sup­pli­er Cater­pil­lar (NYSE: CAT).

    “(CEOs are) talk­ing about how there needs to be a step-change in min­ing, that min­ing needs to adopt a lot of the capa­bil­i­ties from the man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try and they view automa­tion as one ele­ment — not the only ele­ment — but one ele­ment they can use to reduce their cash costs,” he said in an inter­view.

    The min­ing indus­try is still in the ear­ly adop­tion stage when it comes to automa­tion — a process that has already trans­formed oth­er indus­tries, such as man­u­fac­tur­ing.

    A few lead­ing-edge com­pa­nies, such as Rio Tin­to (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO), are already deep into imple­ment­ing automa­tion at some of their oper­a­tions.

    Rio Tin­to embraced automa­tion as one com­po­nent of its “Mine of the Future” pro­gram launched in 2008 at its iron ore mines in West­ern Australia’s Pil­bara region.

    The min­ing giant has a large and grow­ing fleet of Komat­su dri­ver­less haul trucks at work in the Pil­bara, where it also is using autonomous drill rigs devel­oped with Atlas Cop­co. It’s also about to launch an autonomous heavy haul rail sys­tem to serve its oper­a­tions in the region.

    Fortes­cue Met­als Group (ASX: FMG), anoth­er iron ore min­er in the Pil­bara, is also in the midst of incor­po­rat­ing 45 Cater­pil­lar autonomous trucks at its Solomon mine, while BHP Bil­li­ton (LSE: BLT; ASX: BHP) is test­ing Cater­pil­lar trucks at its Jim­ble­bar iron ore mine in the region.

    Automa­tion dri­vers

    While there are def­i­nite­ly bar­ri­ers to adop­tion, the dri­vers behind automa­tion are too pow­er­ful for the trend to seri­ous­ly stall.

    One of the main goals of automa­tion is to remove humans from the dan­ger­ous and monot­o­nous tasks that they’re called upon to do, says Daniel Kof­fler, senior man­ag­er of emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy at Rio Tin­to.

    “The dan­ger­ous tasks have inher­ent dan­ger in them and the monot­o­nous tasks often can build up a dan­ger pro­file just due to the nature of the work,” Kof­fler says. “Human cap­i­tal is best spent out­side of the monot­o­nous, repet­i­tive type tasks.”

    Flan­ders, a sup­pli­er that says it offers the most advanced autonomous drill sys­tem on the mar­ket, notes that its ful­ly autonomous sys­tem can be used in places where it isn’t safe for peo­ple to work.

    For exam­ple, Rio Tin­to used Flan­ders’ ARDVARC Auto Pro­pel sys­tem at its Bing­ham Canyon open-pit cop­per mine in Utah fol­low­ing a mas­sive April 2013 land­slide, while New­mont Min­ing (NYSE: NEM) has used the sys­tem in Neva­da, in areas where there was poten­tial for old under­ground stopes to col­lapse.

    Anoth­er fac­tor, in remote areas in par­tic­u­lar, such as the iron ore mines in West­ern Australia’s Pil­bara region, is the chal­lenge of attract­ing qual­i­fied work­ers and the cost of trans­port­ing them to and from site.

    “The chal­lenges you have in West­ern Aus­tralia are dif­fer­ent to the U.S., or even parts of Latin Amer­i­ca,” says Caterpillar’s Mur­phy. “These mines are one-and-a-half, two hours out of Perth, so you’ve got to fly the work­ers to the mine at a remote loca­tion, and also house and feed them.”

    Automa­tion also allows com­pa­nies to cen­tral­ize exper­tise, as Rio Tin­to is doing with its remote oper­a­tions cen­tres in Perth, where the Pil­bara mines are mon­i­tored and exper­tise can be shared across sites.

    “As the indus­try matures and becomes more tech­no­log­i­cal­ly depen­dent, we’re com­pet­ing with oth­er indus­tries for brain share and exper­tise,” explains Rio Tinto’s Kof­fler. “So what automa­tion also allows us to do is to cen­tral­ize sub­ject mat­ter experts and make them avail­able to mul­ti­ple sites glob­al­ly instead of requir­ing them to be hands-on at a par­tic­u­lar site.”

    Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and cost are anoth­er rea­son automa­tion is gain­ing momen­tum. Humans sim­ply can’t com­pete with the pre­ci­sion, repeata­bil­i­ty, and con­sis­ten­cy that machines are capa­ble of.

    Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty also increas­es with automa­tion because machines don’t need to stop for shift changes, lunch breaks, or for safe­ty rea­sons dur­ing blast­ing.

    Mur­phy esti­mates that Caterpillar’s auto­mat­ed haul trucks can pro­vide an extra 500 machine hours per year, which in some cas­es means 9 or 10% more hours out of the machine.

    At its Pil­bara oper­a­tions, Rio Tinto’s recent­ly released some num­bers quan­ti­fy­ing its return on invest­ment with dri­ver­less Komat­su trucks. The com­pa­ny says its auto­mat­ed trucks are 12% more pro­duc­tive than its manned trucks, while the tech­nol­o­gy has reduced its load and haul costs by 13%.

    Automa­tion also decreas­es the need for train­ing and retrain­ing of new oper­a­tors when there’s work­er turnover. Machines get “smarter” over time, allow­ing them to con­tin­u­al­ly improve the exe­cu­tion of tasks, Mur­phy notes.

    “I think that’s what peo­ple for­get about automa­tion: it allows you to mea­sure process and then mea­sure process vari­ants, and then improve the process,” he says. “When you take the per­son out of it, it’s a lot more con­trolled.”

    In the auto­mat­ed drilling field, Flan­ders offers four lev­els of auto­mat­ed drilling sys­tems. Its ful­ly auto­mat­ed Ard­varc Auto Pro­pel sys­tem can be fit­ted onto any make or mod­el of blast­hole drill rig, and up to four rigs can be mon­i­tored by one tech­ni­cian.

    The com­pa­ny esti­mates the sys­tem can extend engine life by 10% just due to the fact that the sys­tem can’t oper­ate out­side of manufacturer’s specs. With man­u­al drilling, the oper­a­tor can overex­tend and dam­age the drill, short­en­ing its life.


    The jobs ques­tion

    Both min­ing com­pa­nies and their sup­pli­ers say that, con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, automa­tion is not about cut­ting jobs.

    “I think what we’re find­ing is that we’re shift­ing the work, and it’s not so much about a head count reduc­tion as it is about apply­ing human exper­tise to a high­er-val­ue type of work,” says Rio Tinto’s Kof­fler. “We have for­mer truck dri­vers who are now respon­si­ble for and mon­i­tor­ing 10, 15 trucks at a time from a cen­tral oper­a­tions cen­tre. So it’s real­ly a trans­fer of skill sets more than any­thing else.”

    While that does mean less work for employ­ees who can’t or won’t upgrade their skills, Kof­fler notes that every indus­tri­al advance­ment has his­tor­i­cal­ly brought up the same con­cern.

    “There was the same argu­ment when the steam shov­el was first intro­duced, but I don’t think any­body would advo­cate going back to a pick-axe just to main­tain employ­ment lev­els,” he says. “Again, there’s a bal­ance there.”

    Kof­fler adds that min­ing com­pa­nies have no desire to replace their whole work­force.

    “We’re going after the effi­cien­cies that we can gain and again, the reduc­tion in injury rates and things like that are real­ly as impor­tant to us as any­thing else.”

    While there is to some extent cre­ation of high­er-skill jobs with automa­tion, over­all jobs are still reduced. That’s one of the big bar­ri­ers to com­pa­nies adopt­ing Flan­ders auto­mat­ed drill sys­tem, espe­cial­ly in coun­tries such as South Africa where jobs are a sen­si­tive issue, says Flan­ders’ Landey.

    “When you go autonomous, one drill oper­a­tor can com­mand up to four drill rigs, so that’s three jobs in the sec­tor lost,” Landey says. “I think for the min­ing hous­es and the mines them­selves, if they were for­ward think­ing enough, they would be tak­ing the oper­a­tors and con­vert­ing oper­a­tors into qual­i­fied tech­ni­cians because you do need a lot of sup­port for all this tech­nol­o­gy.”


    “While there is to some extent cre­ation of high­er-skill jobs with automa­tion, over­all jobs are still reduced. That’s one of the big bar­ri­ers to com­pa­nies adopt­ing Flan­ders auto­mat­ed drill sys­tem, espe­cial­ly in coun­tries such as South Africa where jobs are a sen­si­tive issue, says Flan­ders’ Landey.”
    Automa­tion will no doubt be a sen­si­tive top­ic any­where the min­ing sec­tor makes up a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the econ­o­my. While min­ing may not be the safest job out there, chron­ic unem­ploy­ment and pover­ty isn’t very safe either and the real­i­ty that the future of human involve­ment in min­ing will rely more on humans over­see­ing teams of auto­mat­ed machines (vs teams of a humans man­u­al­ly oper­at­ing those machines) prob­a­bly isn’t going to sit well with a lot of min­ing sec­tor work­ers. So you have to won­der how excit­ed those pos­si­bly-replace­able work­ers are going to be about anoth­er big sto­ry in min­ing. It’s a sto­ry that involves a poten­tial­ly dra­mat­ic expan­sion in the min­ing sec­tor, although the demand for actu­al min­ers will be fair­ly lim­it­ed since the space mines of the future are prob­a­bly going to be pret­ty heav­i­ly auto­mat­ed:

    The Verge
    Pri­vate space com­pa­nies avoid FAA over­sight again, with Con­gress’ bless­ing

    Plus: aster­oid min­ers’ rights!

    By Loren Grush on Novem­ber 16, 2015 02:27 pm

    This week, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is expect­ed to sign into law a crit­i­cal bill for the com­mer­cial space­flight sec­tor — one that pre­vents the gov­ern­ment from reg­u­lat­ing pri­vate space trav­el for the next eight years. Under the leg­is­la­tion, the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion is restrict­ed from issu­ing stan­dards for com­mer­cial space­craft, as it does for the com­mer­cial air­line indus­try, until 2023 at the ear­li­est. The new bill will also keep the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion run­ning through 2024, as well as give com­pa­nies the rights to any items they’ve col­lect­ed in space.

    The Sen­ate passed the bill H.R. 2262, also known as the US Com­mer­cial Space Launch Com­pet­i­tive­ness Act, last week, and both the House and the Sen­ate have expressed sup­port for it. House Major­i­ty Leader Kevin McCarthy has sched­uled the bill for final approval this after­noon. After it pass­es, it goes to the pres­i­dent for his offi­cial sig­na­ture.

    Many promi­nent com­mer­cial space com­pa­nies — includ­ing SpaceX, Blue Ori­gin, and Vir­gin Galac­tic — have applaud­ed H.R. 2262. The leg­is­la­tion means that pri­vate space trav­el is still con­sid­ered young, and law­mak­ers have giv­en the indus­try more time to exper­i­ment and gath­er data.“It allows the indus­try to grow, to test, and to devel­op with­out this over­shad­ow of the reg­u­la­to­ry ham­mer com­ing down on them,” Eric Stallmer, pres­i­dent of the Com­mer­cial Space­flight Fed­er­a­tion, a non-prof­it aimed at pro­mot­ing com­mer­cial space­flight devel­op­ment, told The Verge. It also means that peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in pri­vate space­flight do so at their own risks, and there are no gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions in place specif­i­cal­ly to keep them safe.

    Space trav­el isn’t that safe, of course; near­ly 1 in 10 rock­ets fail, though most vehi­cles that go into space these days don’t have crew mem­bers on board. The FAA is con­cerned about the space­craft that will car­ry peo­ple, though, which is why the agency doesn’t seem sup­port­ive of the learn­ing peri­od exten­sion. In Feb­ru­ary of 2014, George Nield, head of the FAA Office of Com­mer­cial Space Trans­porta­tion, tes­ti­fied before the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Space that he thinks it’s time for the peri­od to expire. Nield said he under­stands that many in the indus­try fear over­reg­u­la­tion by the FAA, but that his office is more con­cerned with ensur­ing crew safe­ty than issu­ing “bur­den­some” stan­dards. “We want to enable safe and suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial oper­a­tions,” he tes­ti­fied.

    Reg­u­la­to­ry Learn­ing Peri­od

    The advent of pri­vate space­flight began in the 1960s, but the indus­try has only start­ed grow­ing rapid­ly this decade. To address this expan­sion, Con­gress passed the Com­mer­cial Space Launch Amend­ments Act in 2004. It grant­ed the pri­vate sec­tor a “learn­ing peri­od” free of reg­u­la­tion. The learn­ing peri­od was set to expire in Decem­ber 2012 but was grant­ed two short exten­sions. H.R. 2262 will extend the peri­od for a fur­ther eight years, through Sep­tem­ber 30th, 2023.


    Space Sta­tion and Aster­oid Min­ing

    H.R. 2262 also issues a num­ber of oth­er key pro­vi­sions, which can be found here. For one, the bill offi­cial­ly extends oper­a­tions of the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion through 2024. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma had already approved this ISS exten­sion, but Con­gress must sign off on it in order for it to be final. “A new pres­i­dent could come and say, ‘To hell with this space sta­tion,’ ” said Stallmer. “This puts into law that the space sta­tion will con­tin­ue to be a nation­al lab­o­ra­to­ry.”

    And then there’s the aster­oid min­ing. Under one pro­vi­sion of H.R. 2262 called the Space Resource Explo­ration and Uti­liza­tion Act of 2015, com­mer­cial com­pa­nies get the rights to any resources that they col­lect from celes­tial bod­ies. The pro­vi­sion is impor­tant for com­pa­nies like the aster­oid min­ing com­pa­ny Plan­e­tary Resources, which recent­ly part­nered with Vir­gin Galac­tic. “Now, if you go out some­where in space and you pick [some­thing] up, it’s yours,” said Chris Lewic­ki, the pres­i­dent and chief engi­neer of Plan­e­tary Resources.

    The bill most­ly refines what was orig­i­nal­ly laid out in the Out­er Space Treaty, a doc­u­ment signed by 104 com­pa­nies in 1967 that even­tu­al­ly became the basis for inter­na­tion­al space law. The treaty for­bids any­one from claim­ing aster­oids or plan­ets as new gov­ern­ment ter­ri­to­ries, but it does grant non-gov­ern­ment enti­ties the rights “explore and use” out­er space. That means com­pa­nies can go col­lect any space mate­ri­als they can find and bring back home with them. Now, H.R. 2262 guar­an­tees that they will own those mate­ri­als.

    The only caveat: H.R. 2262 does­n’t grant com­pa­nies the rights to any bio­log­i­cal organ­isms they might stum­ble upon in space. That means that Plan­e­tary Resources won’t be bring­ing an alien pets home from their aster­oid min­ing mis­sions.

    “The only caveat: H.R. 2262 does­n’t grant com­pa­nies the rights to any bio­log­i­cal organ­isms they might stum­ble upon in space. That means that Plan­e­tary Resources won’t be bring­ing an alien pets home from their aster­oid min­ing mis­sions.”
    Yeah, that’s prob­a­bly for the best. Although you have to won­der if there are any spe­cial rules for inor­gan­ic life­forms too. There prob­a­bly should be.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 16, 2015, 7:40 pm
  43. OxFam just issue its annu­al report on the glob­al wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum. Sur­prise! Just 62 ultra-wealthy indi­vid­u­als own half the glob­al wealth. They must work very hard:

    62 peo­ple have as much wealth as world’s 3.6B poor­est, Oxfam finds ahead of Davos


    Politi­cians and busi­ness lead­ers gath­er­ing in the Swiss Alps this week face an increas­ing­ly divid­ed world, with the poor falling fur­ther behind the super-rich and polit­i­cal fis­sures in the Unit­ed States, Europe and the Mid­dle East run­ning deep­er than at any time in decades.

    Just 62 peo­ple, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poor­est half of the entire world pop­u­la­tion — or 3.6 bil­lion peo­ple — accord­ing to a report released by anti-pover­ty char­i­ty Oxfam.

    And the rich­est 1 per­cent own more than the oth­er 99 per­cent put togeth­er.

    Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the wealth gap is widen­ing faster than any­one antic­i­pat­ed, with the 1 per­cent over­tak­ing the rest one year ear­li­er than Oxfam had pre­dict­ed only a year ago.

    In 2010 it took 388 super-rich indi­vid­u­als to equal the wealth of the poor­est half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. While this num­ber has fall­en to just 62 indi­vid­u­als, the amount of “wealth” held by the poor­est half has shrunk by $1 tril­lion in the same peri­od, the char­i­ty cal­cu­lat­ed.

    The elite meet

    Ris­ing inequal­i­ty and a widen­ing trust gap between peo­ple and their polit­i­cal lead­ers are big chal­lenges for the glob­al elite as they con­verge on Davos for the annu­al World Eco­nom­ic Forum, which runs from Jan. 20 to 23.

    But the divi­sions go far beyond those that exist between the haves and have-nots. In the Mid­dle East, the divide between Shi’ites and Sun­nis has reached cri­sis point, with Iran and Sau­di Ara­bia jostling open­ly for influ­ence in a region reel­ing from war and the bar­barism of Islam­ic extrem­ists.

    The con­flicts there have spilled over into Europe, caus­ing deep ide­o­log­i­cal rifts over how to han­dle the worst refugee cri­sis since World War Two and — with Britain threat­en­ing to leave the Euro­pean Union — rais­ing doubts about the future of Europe’s six-decade push towards ever clos­er inte­gra­tion.

    The shock emer­gence of Don­ald Trump as the front-run­ner for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion has exposed a gap­ing polit­i­cal divide in the Unit­ed States, stir­ring anx­i­ety among Wash­ing­ton’s allies at a time of glob­al tur­moil.


    Fuel­ing pop­ulism

    Edel­man’s annu­al “Trust Barom­e­ter” sur­vey shows a record gap this year in trust between the informed publics and mass pop­u­la­tions in many coun­tries, dri­ven by income inequal­i­ty and diver­gent expec­ta­tions of the future. The gap is the largest in the Unit­ed States, fol­lowed by the UK, France and India.

    “The con­se­quence of this is pop­ulism — exem­pli­fied by Trump and Le Pen,” Richard Edel­man, pres­i­dent and CEO of Edel­man, told Reuters, refer­ring to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose Nation­al Front has surged ahead of tra­di­tion­al par­ties in opin­ion polls.

    The next wave of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, dubbed the fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion and a focus of the Davos meet­ing, threat­ens fur­ther social upheaval as many tra­di­tion­al jobs are lost to robots.

    The Oxfam report sug­gests that glob­al inequal­i­ty has reached lev­els not seen in over a cen­tu­ry.

    Last year, the organ­i­sa­tion has cal­cu­lat­ed, 62 indi­vid­u­als had the same wealth as 3.5 bil­lion peo­ple, or the bot­tom half of human­i­ty. The wealth of those 62 peo­ple has risen 44 per­cent, or more than half a tril­lion dol­lars, over the past five years, while the wealth of the bot­tom half has fall­en by over a tril­lion.

    “Far from trick­ling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarm­ing rate,” the report says.

    It points to a “glob­al spi­der’s web” of tax havens that ensures wealth stays out of reach of ordi­nary cit­i­zens and gov­ern­ments, cit­ing a recent esti­mate that $7.6 tril­lion of indi­vid­ual wealth — more than the com­bined economies of Ger­many and the UK — is cur­rent­ly held off­shore.

    “It’s a major wake-up call,” said Jyr­ki Raina, gen­er­al sec­re­tary of Indus­tri­ALL Glob­al Union, which rep­re­sents 50 mil­lion work­ers in 140 coun­tries in the min­ing, ener­gy and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors. “Inequal­i­ty is one of the biggest threats to eco­nom­ic well-being and it needs to be addressed.”

    U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma touched on the issue in his recent State of the Union address, not­ing that tech­no­log­i­cal change was reshap­ing the plan­et.

    “It’s change that can broad­en oppor­tu­ni­ty, or widen inequal­i­ty. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accel­er­ate,” he said.

    “Com­pa­nies in a glob­al econ­o­my can locate any­where, and face tougher competition...As a result, work­ers have less lever­age for a raise. Com­pa­nies have less loy­al­ty to their com­mu­ni­ties. And more and more wealth and income is con­cen­trat­ed at the very top.”

    “Far from trick­ling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarm­ing rate,” the report says. LOL!

    And then there’s this fun warn­ing:

    The next wave of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, dubbed the fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion and a focus of the Davos meet­ing, threat­ens fur­ther social upheaval as many tra­di­tion­al jobs are lost to robots.

    Yep, the wealth gap is at lev­els not seen in a cen­tu­ry and the robotics/AI mass-unem­ploy­ment rev­o­lu­tion has­n’t even real­ly hap­pened yet.

    And yet, as the report also points out, the “trust gap” between “the informed publics and mass pop­u­la­tions” is at records lev­els in the US and one of the con­se­quences of this broad col­lapse in trust is the rise of fig­ures like Don­ald Trump and Marine Le Pen, two fig­ure who have made xeno­pho­bia and attack­ing the “oth­er” in soci­ety cen­tral points in their pop­ulist appeal. It’s a more omi­nous wealth-gap report than usu­al this year. And giv­en the proven pop­u­lar appeal of fig­ures like Trump and Le Pen, it’s hard to see why the same bil­lion­aires that brought us a world of record wealth gaps won’t be like­ly to attempt to see that same same Trumpian/Le Pen-ish xeno­pho­bia-focused pop­ulist strat­e­gy tried all over the place. Pit­ting one group of poor peo­ple against anoth­er is a pret­ty great way of deal­ing with rab­ble that’s lost its faith in the sta­tus quo. It’s a clas­sic and it still works. Why not use it some more?

    Of course, as the robot rev­o­lu­tion pro­gress­es, the “oth­er” strik­ing socioe­co­nom­ic fear in the pub­lic’s hearts isn’t going to undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants or flee­ing refugees. That “oth­er” is going to be a robot or super AI.

    So while the glob­al oli­garchy is prob­a­bly breath­ing a sigh of relief that fear and loathing of the poor, as opposed to fear and loathing of the ultra-rich, is still a pri­ma­ry fac­tor dri­ving pop­u­lar atti­tudes, there has to be at least some con­cern about what the tran­si­tion to a labor-less, auto­mat­ed indus­tri­al par­a­digm will have on clas­sic social con­trol tech­niques. Espe­cial­ly giv­en the trends in wealth con­sol­i­da­tion because at the cur­rent rate there’s just going to be like 1 super-bil­lion­aire who owns half the glob­al wealth by the time the robot-run fac­to­ries build­ing indus­tri­al robots designed by super-AIs real­ly gets the “fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion” in full swing (seri­ous­ly, check out the chart pro­vid­ed by OxFam...we’re on track for one super-bil­lion­aire own­ing half the wealth in less than a decade). The absur­di­ties of how mar­kets dis­trib­ute resources in over­pop­u­lat­ed tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced economies where the wealthy can own robot empires that run them­selves is going to be awful­ly hard to ignore:

    Bloomberg Busi­ness
    Davos Robot Eclipses Davos Man as Gloom Descends on World Elite

    Simon Kennedy and Matthew Camp­bell
    Jan­u­ary 18, 2016 — 6:01 PM CST

    First there was Davos Man and then Davos Woman. Get ready for Davos Robot.

    Facebook’s Sheryl Sand­berg, JPMor­gan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and Alibaba’s Jack Ma will share the spot­light with a prize-win­ning South Kore­an robot called HUBO at the annu­al meet­ing of the World Eco­nom­ic Forum this week in the Swiss ski resort. It’s a pres­ence they’ll have to get used to.

    The adult-sized automa­ton, which can climb stairs and enter and exit a car, will be a star attrac­tion at the con­fer­ence. It illus­trates a loom­ing chal­lenge for the 2,500 elite del­e­gates: How to pro­tect their com­pa­nies and jobs by har­ness­ing advances in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and robot­ics, with­out exac­er­bat­ing the eco­nom­ic frus­tra­tion and pop­ulist dis­cord spread­ing around the globe.

    “If some of the pre­dic­tions about tech and employ­ment come true, then we should all be wor­ried,” said Alan Win­field, a pro­fes­sor spe­cial­iz­ing in robot­ics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West of Eng­land, who will be speak­ing in Davos. “There need to be solu­tions.”


    Sol­diers and Gen­er­als

    About 20 ses­sions dur­ing the four-day con­fer­ence are devot­ed to the offi­cial theme of “the Fourth Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion,” a catch-all term for rapid tech­no­log­i­cal progress.

    Sand­berg, Facebook’s chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, will join Microsoft Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Satya Nadel­la in debat­ing how it will “trans­form indus­tries and soci­eties.” Black­stone Group Chair­man Stephen Schwarz­man and Bank of Amer­i­ca CEO Bri­an Moyni­han will address the tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges fac­ing finance.

    Occu­py­ing what orga­niz­ers have called the “Robot Space” will be a show­case of
    HUBO, which was devel­oped at the Korea Advanced Insti­tute of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy. The robot last year scooped up a $2 mil­lion prize for beat­ing 22 inter­na­tion­al rivals in a com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense.

    Oth­er dis­cus­sions betray anx­i­ety as well as won­der. There are pan­els on what hap­pens when robots go to war, poten­tial­ly replac­ing “both sol­diers and gen­er­als,” and whether inno­va­tion “is fail­ing the mid­dle class” by elim­i­nat­ing jobs. Few experts dis­pute that the rise of robots and sophis­ti­cat­ed soft­ware to pow­er them will cre­ate win­ners and losers, as did the steam engine and the advent of mass pro­duc­tion.

    Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty researchers, for exam­ple, reck­on almost half of Amer­i­can jobs are at risk of being auto­mat­ed with­in the next two decades. Most notable are high-skill roles that have so far been large­ly shield­ed from the advances of tech­nol­o­gy. A WEF analy­sis esti­mates a net loss of 5 mil­lion jobs in 15 major economies by 2020.

    In finance, Bank of America’s Mer­rill Lynch unit is already look­ing to auto­mate invest­ment advice for some clients with accounts under $250,000. Mor­gan Stan­ley and Wells Far­go & Co. also say they’ll devel­op or acquire robo-advis­ers. Even the most tra­di­tion­al­ly lucra­tive cor­ners of invest­ing may not be safe; High­bridge Cap­i­tal, an in-house hedge fund of JPMor­gan, is work­ing with San Fran­cis­co-based Sen­tient Tech­nolo­gies to use so-called arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence for build­ing invest­ing strate­gies.

    Zuckerberg’s Auto­mat­ed Assis­tant

    Mean­while Google par­ent Alpha­bet Inc., which will be rep­re­sent­ed in Davos by Exec­u­tive Chair­man Eric Schmidt, has bought a string of robot­ics com­pa­nies. And Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg this month said his per­son­al chal­lenge for 2016 is to build an arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent home assis­tant.

    “If the exec­u­tives are smart, they see it as a chal­lenge that they can wield in their firm’s own inter­est,” said Tim Adams, a for­mer U.S. Trea­sury offi­cial who now heads the Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al Finance. Bank of Amer­i­ca esti­mates man­u­fac­tur­ing and health­care alone will see $9 tril­lion in cost sav­ings in the next decade, while pro­duc­tiv­i­ty could jump by almost a third in many indus­tries.

    The rub is what hap­pens if the loss­es from the rev­o­lu­tion are suf­fi­cient to sti­fle eco­nom­ic demand for the prod­ucts churned out by machines. One rea­son to fear this is that the num­ber of peo­ple affect­ed could be high­er than once thought. McK­in­sey & Co. researchers esti­mate that by 2025 robots or auto­mat­ed soft­ware will be able to do the jobs of 140 mil­lion knowl­edge work­ers.

    U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, who is dis­patch­ing the high­est-pro­file Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion to Davos since he took office, in this month’s State of the Union address warned that “tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t just replace jobs on the assem­bly line, but any job where work can be auto­mat­ed.” That could increase eco­nom­ic frus­tra­tion that’s already run­ning high in the U.S., Europe and else­where.

    Dis­ap­point­ment with the cur­rent state of eco­nom­ic affairs is a major dri­ver of sup­port for anti-estab­lish­ment politi­cians like Trump, said Davos reg­u­lar Stu Eizen­stat, a for­mer offi­cial in the U.S. State and Trea­sury depart­ments who’s now at law firm Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing LLP. If lead­ers aren’t care­ful, we’ll have “a rev­o­lu­tion that dis­en­fran­chis­es a lot of mid­dle class peo­ple and breeds a lot of resent­ment,” he said.

    Those on the cut­ting edge of devel­op­ing new com­put­ing sys­tems are more opti­mistic. At IBM, researchers are work­ing to build prod­ucts atop the Wat­son com­put­ing plat­form — best known for its skill answer­ing ques­tions on the tele­vi­sion quiz show “Jeop­ardy” — that will search for job can­di­dates, ana­lyze aca­d­e­m­ic research or even help oncol­o­gists make bet­ter treat­ment deci­sions.

    Such rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­o­gy is the only way to solve “the big prob­lems” like cli­mate change and dis­ease, while also mak­ing plen­ty of ordi­nary work­ers more pro­duc­tive and bet­ter at their jobs, accord­ing to Guru Banavar, IBM’s vice pres­i­dent for cog­ni­tive com­put­ing.

    “Fun­da­men­tal­ly,” Banavar said, “peo­ple have to get com­fort­able using these machines that are learn­ing and rea­son­ing.”

    “Fun­da­men­tal­ly, peo­ple have to get com­fort­able using these machines that are learn­ing and rea­son­ing.”
    That’s the advice at Davos from IBM’s vice pres­i­dent for cog­ni­tive com­put­ing. And it’s not bad advice since, yes, peo­ple will have to get used to using machines capa­ble of learn­ing and rea­son­ing if that’s what we’re capa­ble of build­ing. But, of course, it’s advice that’s sort of beside the point when you have oth­ers issu­ing warn­ings like:


    Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty researchers, for exam­ple, reck­on almost half of Amer­i­can jobs are at risk of being auto­mat­ed with­in the next two decades. Most notable are high-skill roles that have so far been large­ly shield­ed from the advances of tech­nol­o­gy. A WEF analy­sis esti­mates a net loss of 5 mil­lion jobs in 15 major economies by 2020.


    Peo­ple will pre­sum­ably be hap­py to use a smart machine that make their job or lives eas­i­er. It’s the part about the smart machines replac­ing them at their jobs that’s going to ruf­fle feath­ers. And yet, by the log­ic that has cre­at­ed a world where just 62 peo­ple own half the glob­al wealth, the appro­pri­ate thing to do is for each com­pa­ny to look after its own inter­est and just hope the mag­ic of the mar­kets make every­thing work out...even if doing so stran­gles the mar­ket:

    If the exec­u­tives are smart, they see it as a chal­lenge that they can wield in their firm’s own inter­est,” said Tim Adams, a for­mer U.S. Trea­sury offi­cial who now heads the Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al Finance. Bank of Amer­i­ca esti­mates man­u­fac­tur­ing and health­care alone will see $9 tril­lion in cost sav­ings in the next decade, while pro­duc­tiv­i­ty could jump by almost a third in many indus­tries.

    The rub is what hap­pens if the loss­es from the rev­o­lu­tion are suf­fi­cient to sti­fle eco­nom­ic demand for the prod­ucts churned out by machines. One rea­son to fear this is that the num­ber of peo­ple affect­ed could be high­er than once thought. McK­in­sey & Co. researchers esti­mate that by 2025 robots or auto­mat­ed soft­ware will be able to do the jobs of 140 mil­lion knowl­edge work­ers.

    “If the exec­u­tives are smart, they see it as a chal­lenge that they can wield in their firm’s own inter­est.”
    Sad­ly, despite the ample warn­ings that if every com­pa­ny looks out for “their fir­m’s own inter­est,” they’re effec­tive­ly killing mar­ket demand, the thing their firm feeds on, the “every­one look out for just them­selves. That’s the smart thing to do”-attitude is prob­a­bly the atti­tude we should expect from the same group of peo­ple that brought us lev­els of inequal­i­ty not seen in a cen­tu­ry. And that’s all part of why we should prob­a­bly be ask­ing our­selves whether or not the super-rich are actu­al­ly fine with a shrink­ing the glob­al econ­o­my as long as they become rel­a­tive­ly wealth­i­er in the process. Don’t for­get that a large num­ber of those 62 bil­lion­aires who own half the glob­al wealth are either tech-giants who would be build­ing the robot econ­o­my of the future or folks like the Wal­ton heirs who would be per­fect­ly poised to direct­ly pros­per in an econ­o­my where the poor seek the cheap­est prices pos­si­ble (on robot-built goods).

    Will bil­lion­aires who are the direct ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the rise of the “fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion” real­ly care all that much if the glob­al econ­o­my gets so starved for demand as their busi­ness empires grow that the glob­al econ­o­my actu­al­ly net shrinks? Sure, there’s also the risk of a rab­ble revolt under that kind of sce­nario, but, of course, that just points to one of the oth­er obvi­ous advan­tages of own­ing the means of pro­duc­tion in the fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion: ample crowd-con­trol resources (with plen­ty of options when the crowds scat­ter).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 18, 2016, 7:58 pm
  44. Now that Don­ald Trump has romped to his third straight GOP pri­ma­ry win in Neva­da, the writ­ing is increas­ing­ly on the wall for the GOP’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion and it most­ly involves Trump’s var­i­ous taunts and threats of vio­lence.

    Still, there could be some use­ful nation­al con­ver­sa­tions that emerge from a Trump nom­i­na­tion that the oth­er GOP can­di­dates would­n’t have stim­u­lat­ed. For instance, much of Don­ald Trump’s base is blue-col­lar work­ers who have been most direct­ly impact­ed by the con­ver­gence of a broad spec­trum of changes, from the glob­al­iza­tion to trade to the shred­ding of the safe­ty-net. So it would seem that a dis­cus­sion about how we deal with the oncom­ing changes of advanced AI and automa­tion on those same work­ers would be a most use­ful and time­ly dis­cus­sion. Espe­cial­ly since the White House­’s Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Advi­sors just issued their annu­al report and it includ­ed a rather star­tling pre­dic­tion about the poten­tial impact of automa­tion: for jobs where the per­son is cur­rent­ly $20/hour or less 83% will end up being auto­mat­ed:


    The robots are com­ing for jobs that pay $20 an hour or less, White House finds

    By Steve Gold­stein

    Pub­lished: Feb 23, 2016 6:42 a.m. ET

    It’s intu­itive that automa­tion will take low-wage jobs.

    But the White House, in its annu­al eco­nom­ic report of the pres­i­dent, has bro­ken down just how much that is so.

    There’s an 83% chance that automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage below $20, a 31% chance automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage between $20 and $40, and just a 4% chance automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage above $40.

    The White House used the same data that under­lines oth­er research in the field of labor and robots to arrive at the con­clu­sion.

    The key ques­tion is what hap­pens when a robot takes one of these low-wage jobs.

    Tra­di­tion­al­ly, inno­va­tion leads to high­er income, more con­sump­tion and more jobs, but the ques­tion is whether the cur­rent pace of automa­tion may in the short­er term increase inequal­i­ty.

    One study found that high­er lev­els of robot den­si­ty with­in an indus­try lead to high­er wages in that indus­try, the White House notes. How­ev­er, that could be because the absence of low­er-skills bias­es wage esti­mates upwards.

    The White House says the find­ings demon­strate the need for train­ing and edu­ca­tion to help dis­placed work­ers find new jobs.

    There’s an 83% chance that automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage below $20, a 31% chance automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage between $20 and $40, and just a 4% chance automa­tion will take a job with an hourly wage above $40.”
    So gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the low­er the pay, the like­li­er the odds of automa­tion. And for jobs where peo­ple typ­i­cal­ly make $20 or less today, there’s and 83% chance of those jobs get­ting auto­mat­ed. And that means that blue-col­lar GOP con­tin­gent that makes up a big part of Trump’s base is slat­ed to have their jobs replace by some sort of tech­nol­o­gy. At least accord­ing to a report released by the White House. What a fun polit­i­cal top­ic! It’s espe­cial­ly fun with Trump as the like­ly GOP nom­i­nee since one of the biggest sec­tors of the econ­o­my that we should expect to be impact­ed by the Fourth Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion is a sec­tor Trump is quite famil­iar with: Con­struc­tion:

    Equip­ment World

    AI, robot­ics expect­ed to claim near­ly 500,000 con­struc­tion jobs by 2020

    Wayne Grayson

    | Jan­u­ary 25, 2016

    An esti­mat­ed 5.1 mil­lion jobs are expect­ed to be lost in the next five years due to advances in tech­nol­o­gy, specif­i­cal­ly those in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, machine-learn­ing, 3D print­ing and robot­ics, accord­ing to a report from the World Eco­nom­ic Forum.

    Of those job loss­es, con­struc­tion and extrac­tion are antic­i­pat­ed to account for near­ly 10 per­cent.

    The find­ings are based on a sur­vey of HR and strate­gic exec­u­tives at 371 com­pa­nies around the globe.

    Though the vast major­i­ty of the total job loss­es are expect­ed to be in the office and admin­is­tra­tive job sec­tor (4.76 mil­lion) man­u­fac­tur­ing and pro­duc­tion (1.61 mil­lion) and cos­ntruc­tion and extrac­tion (497,000) round out the top three.


    Accord­ing to the WEF report’s exec­u­tive sum­ma­ry, “Even jobs that will shrink in num­ber are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly under­go­ing change in the skill sets required to do them. Across near­ly all indus­tries, the impact of tech­no­log­i­cal and oth­er changes is short­en­ing the shelf-life of employ­ees’ exist­ing skill sets.”

    That cer­tain­ly appears to be true in the con­struc­tion indus­try as the, albeit lim­it­ed, adop­tion of tech­nolo­gies like GPS, machine con­trol and automa­tion could nul­li­fy many of those skills con­trac­tors are cur­rent­ly so des­per­ate­ly seek­ing.

    How­ev­er, the report notes “tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tions such as robot­ics and machine learning—rather than com­plete­ly replac­ing exist­ing occu­pa­tions and job categories—are like­ly to sub­sti­tute spe­cif­ic tasks pre­vi­ous­ly car­ried out as part of these jobs, free­ing work­ers up to focus on new tasks and lead­ing to rapid­ly chang­ing core skill sets in these occu­pa­tions.”

    That could be the case in con­struc­tion with oper­a­tors tran­si­tion­ing from work­ing inside the machine to a com­mand cen­ter where they over­see the oper­a­tion of mul­ti­ple machines with the help of telem­at­ics, automa­tion and drone mon­i­tor­ing. And all of that requires the devel­op­ment of new jobs and skill sets with­in the indus­try.

    Anoth­er bright spot in the report for the con­struc­tion indus­try is that these tech­no­log­i­cal advances are antic­i­pat­ed to gen­er­ate an addi­tion­al 339,000 new jobs in archi­tec­ture and engi­neer­ing.

    In terms of rec­om­men­da­tions to avoid sig­nif­i­cant job loss­es, the WEF says the sever­i­ty of those loss­es is large­ly in the hands of employ­ers. And its advice is cer­tain­ly some­thing more con­struc­tion firms would do well to heed, as it would not only pre­pare the indus­try for the dis­rup­tion of automa­tion, but also increase the num­ber of skilled work­ers avail­able today.

    “Dur­ing pre­vi­ous indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tions, it often took decades to build the train­ing sys­tems and labour mar­ket insti­tu­tions need­ed to devel­op major new skill sets on a large scale. Giv­en the upcom­ing pace and scale of dis­rup­tion brought about by the Fourth Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, how­ev­er, this is sim­ply not be an option,” the report reads. “With­out tar­get­ed action today to man­age the near-term tran­si­tion and build a work­force with future­proof skills, gov­ern­ments will have to cope with ever-grow­ing unem­ploy­ment and inequal­i­ty, and busi­ness­es with a shrink­ing con­sumer base.

    “… For a tal­ent rev­o­lu­tion to take place, gov­ern­ments and busi­ness­es will need to pro­found­ly change their approach to edu­ca­tion, skills and employ­ment, and their approach to work­ing with each oth­er. Busi­ness­es will need to put tal­ent devel­op­ment and future work­force strat­e­gy front and cen­tre to their growth. Firms can no longer be pas­sive con­sumers of ready-made human cap­i­tal. They require a new mind­set to meet their tal­ent needs and to opti­mize social out­comes.”

    You can read the full report here

    H/t: Ars Tech­ni­ca

    “In terms of rec­om­men­da­tions to avoid sig­nif­i­cant job loss­es, the WEF says the sever­i­ty of those loss­es is large­ly in the hands of employ­ers.”
    Good luck every­one. And note that those sig­nif­i­cant job loss­es dis­cussed in the World Eco­nom­ic Forum report on 5.1 mil­lion jobs being lost to automa­tion and AI was just talk­ing about the next five years, which would only cov­er one Trump term. And 10 per­cent of those lost jobs are slat­ed to be lost in the con­struc­tion sec­tor:

    An esti­mat­ed 5.1 mil­lion jobs are expect­ed to be lost in the next five years due to advances in tech­nol­o­gy, specif­i­cal­ly those in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, machine-learn­ing, 3D print­ing and robot­ics, accord­ing to a report from the World Eco­nom­ic Forum.

    Of those job loss­es, con­struc­tion and extrac­tion are antic­i­pat­ed to account for near­ly 10 per­cent.

    Keep in mind that Don­ald Trump’s brand of Repub­li­can­ism is appar­ent­ly going to have a pro­tec­tion­ist theme with poli­cies like hunt­ing down and expelling all undoc­u­ment­ed Mex­i­cans, build­ing a wall with Mex­i­co, and some sort of trade mea­sures tar­get­ing Chi­na. But Trump has also pro­claimed the US wages are too high and is propos­ing a slew of tax cuts that are so mas­sive it would force a shred­ding of the gov­ern­ment pro­grams blue-col­lar work­ers inevitably need now or in the future.

    Giv­en all that, it seems like vot­ers should be treat­ed to some sort of Trumpian vision for how we’ll deal with the impacts of robots since robots and super-AI are way scari­er to blue-col­lar work­ers than an undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant ever could be. WAY scari­er.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 23, 2016, 11:24 pm
  45. @Pterrafractyl–

    Big Ques­tion: WHAT is going to be done with all of these excess, unem­ployed work­ers?

    I’m am scared as hell about the answer, which I think I know.

    Against the back­ground of Third Reich exter­mi­na­tion programs–a direct out­growth of eugen­ics phi­los­o­phy beloved to elite and cor­po­rate ele­ments in the West–I would not count on a benev­o­lent solu­tion.

    A Final Solu­tion is a much more like­ly devel­op­ment.



    Posted by Dave Emory | February 24, 2016, 1:53 pm
  46. @Dave: Yeah, when you con­sid­er how much nas­ti­ness was jus­ti­fied in 20th cen­tu­ry under the ban­ner of “anti-com­mu­nism”, it’s hard to see the 21st cen­tu­ry work­ing out well when all signs point towards an urgent need for the globe to shift towards economies root­ed in shar­ing the spoils of tech­nol­o­gy.

    And it’s that grow­ing set of cir­cum­stances — rang­ing from envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse and relat­ed mass migra­tions to the grow­ing obso­les­cence of human beings in future economies — that’s prob­a­bly going to neces­si­tate mass pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns to ensure that the we can devel­op and main­tain an anal­o­gous anti-shar­ing/hu­man­i­ty col­lec­tive atti­tude for the 21st cen­tu­ry. The human rights abus­es of the Sovi­et Union made anti-com­mu­nism an easy ral­ly­ing cry. But in the future, when demo­c­ra­t­ic pop­u­la­tions will inevitably be tempt­ed to start exper­i­ment­ing with the shared own­er­ship of the robot fac­to­ries or oth­er “com­mie” ideas because the tech­no­log­i­cal land­scape sort of broke the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ism, gen­er­at­ing the kind of mass pub­lic sup­port for main­tain­ing our exist­ing eco­nom­ic sys­tems in an age of human obso­les­cence that would make Thomas Piket­ty weep is going to become increas­ing­ly tricky.

    So we prob­a­bly should­n’t be too sur­prised if the pol­i­tics of the future (at least the pol­i­tics advo­cat­ed by those with pow­er) are basi­cal­ly going to be an exten­sion of the worst pol­i­tics we see today, where ideas like shar­ing, good will towards all and a recog­ni­tion that we’re all in this togeth­er are decried as dan­ger­ous ideas that will have to be stamped out and replaced with a cel­e­bra­tion of social Dar­win­ism, hyper-cap­i­tal­ism, and prob­a­bly a hefty dose of racism and hyper-trib­al­ism. In an socioe­co­nom­ic envi­ron­ment where the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment is degrad­ing (lead­ing to mass migra­tions and refugee crises)and the employment/income envi­ron­ment is look­ing less and less secure, ideas like “It’s us or them” are prob­a­bly going to become the norm too. At least for a big chunk of any pop­u­lace.

    Who knows, maybe this is all the dark­ness before the light and the shock that mass automa­tion and super-AI brings to soci­eties over the com­ing cou­ple decades will cat­alyze human­i­ty towards cre­at­ing the kind of Star Trek-style soci­eties of the future where basic needs are met and indi­vid­u­als are tasked with becom­ing mean­ing­ful and knowl­edge­able par­tic­i­pants in their democ­ra­cies so soci­eties are capa­ble of devel­op­ing effec­tive solu­tions and the shared sac­ri­fices need­ed to imple­ment them. But it’s hard to ignore the pos­si­ble that the dark­ness of today isn’t about to be fol­lowed by the light:

    The Awl
    The Dark­ness Before the Right

    A right-wing pol­i­tics for the com­ing cen­tu­ry is tak­ing shape. And it’s not slow­ing down.

    by Park Mac­Dougald
    Sep­tem­ber 28, 2015

    It’s hard to talk seri­ous­ly about some­thing with a sil­ly name, and neo­re­ac­tion is no excep­tion. At first glance, it appears lit­tle more than a fever swamp of feu­dal misog­y­nists, racist pro­gram­mers, and “fas­cist teenage dun­geon mas­ter[s],” gath­er­ing on sub­red­dits to await the col­lapse of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion. Neoreaction—aka NRx or the Dark Enlightenment—combines all of the awful things you always sus­pect­ed about lib­er­tar­i­an­ism with odds and ends from PUA cul­ture, Vic­to­ri­an Social Dar­win­ism, and an only semi-iron­ic attach­ment to abso­lutism. Inso­far as neo­re­ac­tionar­ies have a polit­i­cal project, it’s to dis­solve the Unit­ed States into com­pet­ing author­i­tar­i­an seast­eads on the mod­el of Sin­ga­pore; they’re neb­bish Nazis with Bit­coin wal­lets, and they’re prac­ti­cal­ly beg­ging to be shoved in a lock­er.

    While not wrong, as far as it goes, the ten­den­cy of snark to col­lapse neo­re­ac­tion into cyber-fas­cism or nerd ressen­ti­ment makes it tough to fig­ure out what’s actu­al­ly going on here. It’s a lit­tle weird­er than all that.

    As the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry gets dark­er, pol­i­tics are like­ly to fol­low suit, and for all its appar­ent weird­ness, neo­re­ac­tion may be an ear­ly warn­ing sys­tem for what a future anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic right looks like. So what is neo­re­ac­tion, then, exact­ly? For all the talk of neo-feu­dal­ism and geeks for monar­chy, it’s less a sin­gle ide­ol­o­gy than a loose con­stel­la­tion of far-right thought, clus­tered around three pil­lars: reli­gious tra­di­tion­al­ism, white nation­al­ism, and tech­no-com­mer­cial­ism (the names are self-explana­to­ry). This means heavy spoon­fuls of “race real­ism,” misog­y­ny, and nos­tal­gia for past hier­ar­chies, leav­ened with tran­shu­man­ism and The Moon is a Harsh Mis­tress. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, they don’t always get along; if you want to pre­serve white racial puri­ty, futur­ists try­ing to bio­hack us into a sep­a­rate species are not your long-term allies. Still, sim­i­lar­i­ties abound. All neo­re­ac­tionar­ies reject “pro­gres­sivism,” by which they mean democ­ra­cy, egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, and a belief in more or less lin­ear his­tor­i­cal progress—and even the non-white-suprema­cists tend towards a hered­i­tar­i­an deter­min­ism that bleeds eas­i­ly into out­right racism.

    Most pri­or accounts of neo­re­ac­tion have focused on Men­cius Mold­bug (the blo­gonym of Cur­tis Yarvin), and with good rea­son: Mold­bug is the clos­est thing there is to a founder of neo­re­ac­tion. His book-length “Open Let­ter to Open-mind­ed Pro­gres­sives” is the cen­ter­piece of the NRx canon, and he invent­ed a num­ber of the movement’s key terms and con­cepts. He’s also a pony­tailed pro­gram­mer, whose blog­gy dis­qui­si­tions invoke Thomas Car­lyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lud­wig von Mis­es in equal mea­sure. You couldn’t find a bet­ter metonym for neoreaction’s strange blend of cul­tur­al influ­ences, and the jokes write them­selves. But the focus on him has tend­ed to obscure the oth­er, and in many ways more inter­est­ing, pole of neo­re­ac­tion: the British philoso­pher Nick Land.

    Land is the sort of strange, half-for­got­ten fig­ure that might turn up in an Adam Cur­tis doc­u­men­tary ten years from now. As an aca­d­e­m­ic philoso­pher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of War­wick from 1987 to 1998, he became some­thing of an urban leg­end for his mix of eldritch intel­lec­tu­al­ism and odd per­son­al behav­ior. Simon Reynolds put for­ward an idea of the mythos sur­round­ing Land in a 1999 sto­ry: That he was the cen­ter of “out­landish and pos­si­bly apoc­ryphal sto­ries,” includ­ing speak­ing in num­bers and inti­mat­ing demon­ic pos­ses­sion; that he pre­sent­ed one con­fer­ence paper as a mul­ti­me­dia hap­pen­ing, com­plete with jun­gle sound­track; and that he even claimed, in the deliri­ous pref­ace to his book on Georges Bataille, to have returned from the dead, a char­ac­ter­is­tic he “reluc­tant­ly shared with the Nazerene.”


    Philo­soph­i­cal­ly, the nineties iter­a­tion of Land was one of the most sig­nif­i­cant mod­ern descen­dants of the scep­ti­cal and nihilist tra­di­tion in West­ern phi­los­o­phy. Like his heroes, Niet­zsche and Bataille, he was unremit­ting­ly hos­tile to the lib­er­al Enlight­en­ment phi­los­o­phy of Immanuel Kant, which he saw as a failed attempt at replac­ing God with sacral­ized rea­son fol­low­ing the col­lapse of reli­gion as source of philo­soph­i­cal cer­tain­ty. Once set free from this reli­gious cage, how­ev­er, thought pro­ceed­ed to demol­ish rea­son as well as any oth­er claims to truth; for Land, Enlight­en­ment notions of ratio­nal­i­ty, free will, and self­hood were naïve efforts to save human con­scious­ness (what he called the “Human Secu­ri­ty Sys­tem”) from being over­whelmed by the sense­less and inhu­man chaos of the universe—Lovecraft’s “shad­ow-haunt­ed Out­side”—whose truth was acces­si­ble only through the com­mu­nions of art, death, rit­u­al, and intox­i­ca­tion (of which Land enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly par­took)..

    Land’s great­est lega­cy was a phi­los­o­phy now known as “Accel­er­a­tionism,” a heady cock­tail of nihilism, cyber­net­ic Marx­ism, com­plex­i­ty the­o­ry, numerol­o­gy, jun­gle music, and the dystopi­an sci-fi of William Gib­son and Blade Run­ner. Land iden­ti­fied the cri­tique that pro­gres­sive­ly dis­solved all claims to truth as the philo­soph­i­cal cor­re­late of a cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ic sys­tem locked in con­stant rev­o­lu­tion­ary expan­sion, mov­ing upwards and out­wards on a tra­jec­to­ry of tech­no­log­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic intel­li­gence-gen­er­a­tion that would, at the lim­it, make the leap from its human bio­log­i­cal hosts into the great beyond. For Land, as for Niet­zsche, the death of God results ulti­mate­ly in the desire to be destroyed, with cap­i­tal­ism the agent of this destruc­tion. As Alex Williams writes in e‑flux:

    In this vision­ing of cap­i­tal, even the human itself can even­tu­al­ly be dis­card­ed as mere drag to an abstract plan­e­tary intel­li­gence rapid­ly con­struct­ing itself from the brico­laged frag­ments of for­mer civ­i­liza­tions. As Land has it, through the accel­er­a­tion of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism the human will be dis­solved in a tech­no­log­i­cal apoth­e­o­sis, effec­tive­ly expe­ri­enc­ing a species-wide sui­cide as the ulti­mate stim­u­lant head rush.

    If you’re search­ing for a pop-cul­ture com­par­i­son, Rust Cohle meets Ray Kurzweil might be appro­pri­ate.

    Land’s work was nei­ther sys­tem­at­ic nor posi­tioned for aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess; it was styl­ish, aggres­sive, and polem­i­cal, and despite some for­mal­ly con­ven­tion­al ear­ly work, by the mid nineties, Lan­di­an texts like “Machinic Desire” and “Melt­down” more close­ly resem­bled philo­soph­i­cal­ly dense sci-fi than any­thing you’re like­ly to find on Jstor. Though a recent gen­er­a­tion of philoso­phers such as Ray Brassier, Alex Williams, and Reza Negarestani have begun draw­ing heav­i­ly on Land’s work, this was not phi­los­o­phy for the con­fer­ence room. In 1998, he resigned from his posi­tion at War­wick to pur­sue more rad­i­cal work with a group of loy­al grad stu­dents, before ditch­ing Eng­land alto­geth­er for Shang­hai.

    Land had always had an uneasy rela­tion­ship with the left-wing pol­i­tics of the acad­e­my; though a “Marx­ist” of some sort, he was an enthu­si­as­tic boost­er of cap­i­tal­ism, and tend­ed to treat what he saw as a hope­less­ly nos­tal­gist Left with mock­ery and deri­sion. Not until his move to Chi­na, how­ev­er, did Land emerge openly­­ as a major thinker of the far-right. The most com­pre­hen­sive account of this trans­for­ma­tion is his twen­ty-sev­en-thou­sand-plus word essay, “the Dark Enlight­en­ment,” where Land lays out, among oth­er things, a long cri­tique of democ­ra­cy. It’s unfo­cused, but it’s also one of the most-read pieces of neo­re­ac­tionary writ­ing on the web, and Land con­vinc­ing­ly frames neo­re­ac­tion as a direct descen­dant of old­er con­ser­v­a­tive, lib­er­tar­i­an, and clas­si­cal lib­er­al thought. He also pro­vides eye-grab­bing quotes, like the fol­low­ing, use­ful for jour­nal­ists attempt­ing sum­ma­ry:

    For the hard­core neo-reac­tionar­ies, democ­ra­cy is not mere­ly doomed, it is doom itself. Flee­ing it approach­es an ulti­mate imper­a­tive… Pre­dis­posed, in any case, to per­ceive the polit­i­cal­ly awak­ened mass­es as a howl­ing irra­tional mob, [neo­re­ac­tion] con­ceives the dynam­ics of democ­ra­ti­za­tion as fun­da­men­tal­ly degen­er­a­tive: sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly con­sol­i­dat­ing and exac­er­bat­ing pri­vate vices, resent­ments, and defi­cien­cies until they reach the lev­el of col­lec­tive crim­i­nal­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sive social cor­rup­tion.

    Land’s case for demo­c­ra­t­ic dys­func­tion is sim­ply stat­ed. Democ­ra­cy is struc­tural­ly inca­pable of ratio­nal lead­er­ship due to per­verse incen­tive struc­tures. It is trapped in short-ter­mism by the elec­toral cycle, hard deci­sions become polit­i­cal sui­cide, and social cat­a­stro­phe is accept­able as long as it can be blamed on the oth­er team. More­over, inter-par­ty com­pe­ti­tion to “buy votes” leads to a ratch­et effect of ever-greater state inter­ven­tion in the economy—and even if this is peri­od­i­cal­ly reversed, in the long-run it only moves in one direc­tion. In the U.S., racial­ized pover­ty makes this dynam­ic even worse. Because small-gov­ern­ment solu­tions will always have a dis­parate impact on minori­ties, they will be inter­pret­ed and stig­ma­tized as racist. Lais­sez-faire, in this view, is doomed to fail­ure as soon as it’s up for a vote. Rather than accept creep­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism (which leads to “zom­bie apoc­a­lypse”), Land would pre­fer to sim­ply abol­ish democ­ra­cy and appoint a nation­al CEO. This cap­i­tal­ist Leviathan would be, at a bare min­i­mum, capa­ble of ratio­nal long-term plan­ning and align­ing indi­vid­ual incen­tive struc­tures with social well-being (CEO-as-Tiger-Mom). Indi­vid­u­als would have no say in gov­ern­ment, but would be gen­er­al­ly left alone, and free to leave. This right of “exit” is, for Land, the only mean­ing­ful right, and it’s opposed to demo­c­ra­t­ic “voice,” where every­one gets a say, but is bound by the deci­sions of the majority—the fear being that the major­i­ty will decide to self-immo­late.

    Anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­ti­ment is uncom­mon in the West, so Land’s con­clu­sions appear as shock­ing, delib­er­ate provo­ca­tions, which they part­ly are. But though his pre­scrip­tions for “cor­po­rate dictatorship”—adopted from Moldbug—are obvi­ous­ly rad­i­cal, the cri­tique of democ­ra­cy isn’t. Land pep­pers his essay with quotes from Thomas Jef­fer­son, John Adams, and resur­gent cul­tur­al hero Alexan­der Hamil­ton to dri­ve home the point that our Con­sti­tu­tion is built on a sim­i­lar fear of the peo­ple (a point often made on the left), and his analy­sis owes much to main­stream polit­i­cal sci­en­tists like Man­cur Olson and Jim Buchanan, who for­ward­ed cyn­i­cal accounts of how “demo­c­ra­t­ic” gov­ern­ment large­ly exists to serve entrenched inter­est groups and self­ish bureau­crats. These men felt that (neg­a­tive, eco­nom­ic) free­dom could only emerge “through a par­tic­u­lar legal and polit­i­cal framework—and not one to which the pop­u­la­tion as a whole would nec­es­sar­i­ly accede.” Neo­re­ac­tion sim­ply takes this to its next log­i­cal step by scrap­ping the need for elec­toral assent alto­geth­er. Point­ing to Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong, and Shang­hai, it argues that eco­nom­i­cal­ly and social­ly effec­tive gov­ern­ment legit­imizes itself, with no need for elec­tions. And this view isn’t lim­it­ed to the inter­net right. Harvard’s Gra­ham Alli­son has recent­ly voiced sim­i­lar opin­ions in The Atlantic and Huff­Po. The fact that this sen­ti­ment is out in the open is less an aber­ra­tion than a return to the norm.

    This brand of author­i­tar­i­an cap­i­tal­ism has a cer­tain fas­cist sheen, but in truth it’s clos­er to a rigid­ly for­mal­ized cap­i­tal­ist tech­noc­ra­cy. There’s no mass mobi­liza­tion, total­i­tar­i­an social reor­ga­ni­za­tion, or cult of vio­lence here; gov­ern­ing will be done by the gov­er­nors, and pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty replaced by the mar­ket Man­date of Heav­en. There is a strange sort of dis­il­lu­sioned cul­tur­al con­ser­vatism here as well, albeit one absolute­ly stripped of moral­ism. In fact, what’s gen­uine­ly creepy about it is the near-socio­path­ic lack of emo­tion­al attach­ment; it’s a sort of pure incen­tive-based func­tion­al­ism, as if from the per­spec­tive of a com­put­er or alien. If a per­son doesn’t pro­duce quan­tifi­able val­ue, they are, objec­tive­ly, not valu­able. Every­thing else is sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty.

    As an account of democ­ra­cy, “the Dark Enlight­en­ment” is, as they say, prob­lem­at­ic. Leav­ing aside the scream­ing eth­i­cal issues (includ­ing a long por­tion of the essay devot­ed to tip­toe­ing around the ugli­er aspects of NRx racism), there are some fac­tu­al con­cerns. For one, author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ments don’t seem to be any more sta­ble than democ­ra­cies, and post-Cit­i­zens Amer­i­ca, com­plete with creepy world­wide drone-mur­der appa­ra­tus and law­less chthon­ic deep state, is not exact­ly a demo­c­ra­t­ic par­adise. And while you might argue that the left dom­i­nates Ivy League human­i­ties depart­ments or the pres­tige media, that doesn’t equate to a vice grip on pol­i­cy. Spend­ing as a per­cent­age of GDP has steadi­ly risen over the last hun­dred years and we’ve loos­ened up about sex, but the trend lines for top mar­gin­al tax rates, CEO pay, medi­an income and union den­si­ty all sug­gest that any “left­ward ratch­et” is not near­ly as sim­ple as all that.

    All that aside, Land’s pol­i­tics are not sim­ply the lunatic rav­ings of a red­dit red piller; even if you hate them, they might be a fair­ly real­is­tic descrip­tion of what would need to hap­pen to bring back lais­sez-faire cap­i­tal­ism. The most intrigu­ing aspect of Land’s work, how­ev­er, is not his “polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy” but the dark futur­ism onto which it is graft­ed. Though his pol­i­tics have shift­ed con­sid­er­ably, and he’s now more like­ly to cite Aus­tri­an econ­o­mists than French nihilists, Land nev­er real­ly aban­doned his vision of capitalism’s end-game. If oth­er neo­re­ac­tionar­ies are con­cerned with order or the preser­va­tion of the white race, Land still sees cap­i­tal­ism as an inhu­man machine suck­ing us into a dystopi­an future—and his project is to pre­vent us from dis­man­tling it.

    Cap­i­tal­ism, in this view, is less some­thing we do than some­thing done to us. Con­tra busi­ness-class bro­mides about the mar­ket as the site of cre­ative expres­sion, for Land, as for Marx, cap­i­tal­ism is a fun­da­men­tal­ly alien insti­tu­tion in which “the means of pro­duc­tion social­ly impose them­selves as an effec­tive imper­a­tive.” This means sim­ply that the com­pet­i­tive dynam­ics of cap­i­tal­ism dri­ve tech­ni­cal progress as an iron law. If one cap­i­tal­ist doesn’t want to build smarter, bet­ter machines, he’ll be out-com­pet­ed by one who does. If Apple doesn’t make you an ass­hole, Google will. If Amer­i­ca doesn’t breed genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied super-babies, Chi­na will. The mar­ket doesn’t run on “greed,” or any inten­tion­al­i­ty at all. Its beauty—or horror—is its imper­son­al­i­ty. Either you adapt, or you die.

    Accel­er­at­ing tech­no­log­i­cal growth, then, is writ­ten into capitalism’s DNA. Smart machines make us smarter allow­ing us to make smarter machines, in a pos­i­tive feed­back loop that quick­ly begins to approach infin­i­ty, bet­ter known in this con­text as “sin­gu­lar­i­ty.” Of course, since by def­i­n­i­tion you can’t reach infin­i­ty, what this sin­gu­lar­i­ty actu­al­ly rep­re­sents is a break­down in the process of extrap­o­la­tion; some­thing happens—a “phase shift,” in cyber­net­ic patois—that changes the dynam­ics of the entire sys­tem. This could be a sys­tem col­lapse, and in fact, pos­i­tive feed­back loops often burn them­selves out once they con­sume all the inputs that made them pos­si­ble in the first place. Anoth­er option, how­ev­er, is the emer­gence of some­thing total­ly new at a high­er lev­el of orga­ni­za­tion. An exam­ple might be the shift from sin­gle-cell to mul­ti­cel­lu­lar organ­isms, or, more to the point, bio­log­i­cal to arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

    Land thinks this shift to AI is where we’re head­ed. For some­one like Kurzweil, this intu­ition is suf­fused with a vague­ly new-age mys­ti­cism and the promise of eter­nal life. For Land, it basi­cal­ly means species death. Land ridicules the idea that an AI vast­ly more intel­li­gent than us could be made to serve our goals—after all, it’s unlike­ly that we would be able to pro­gram it more com­plete­ly than evo­lu­tion has ‘pro­grammed’ us with bio­log­i­cal dri­ves, which we reg­u­lar­ly defy. Attempts to stop AI’s emer­gence, more­over, will be futile. The imper­a­tives of com­pe­ti­tion, whether between firms or states, mean that what­ev­er is tech­no­log­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble is like­ly to be deployed soon­er or lat­er, regard­less of polit­i­cal inten­tions or moral con­cerns. These are less deci­sions that are made than things which hap­pen due to irre­sistible struc­tur­al dynam­ics, beyond good and evil. Land com­pares the cam­paign to halt the emer­gence of AI to the Lat­er­an Council’s 1139 attempt to ban the use of cross­bows against Chris­tians, but he could have well cit­ed the atom­ic bomb; the U.S. did it because we thought if we didn’t, the the Ger­mans would.

    Of course, rec­og­niz­ing these trends, humans might rea­son­ably want to try to stop them. And accord­ing to Land, that’s all pol­i­tics amounts to. “The Cathe­dral,” typ­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fied by neo­re­ac­tionar­ies as the media-aca­d­e­m­ic mind-con­trol appa­ra­tus, is for him more like the sum total of all polit­i­cal efforts to rein this machine in. He writes:

    The Cathe­dral acquires its tele­o­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion from its emer­gent func­tion as the can­cel­la­tion of cap­i­tal­ism… ‘Progress’ in its overt, mature, ide­o­log­i­cal incar­na­tion is the anti-trend required to bring his­to­ry to a halt. Con­ceive what is need­ed to pre­vent accel­er­a­tion into tech­no-com­mer­cial Sin­gu­lar­i­ty, and the Cathe­dral is what it will be.

    The Lan­di­an meta-nar­ra­tive goes like this: In the pre-mod­ern world, human­i­ty was trapped by hard Malthu­sian limits—growth led to pop­u­la­tion increase, exhaust­ing the food sup­ply, and col­laps­ing back­wards via plague or famine. “Escape” from this trap became pos­si­ble once cap­i­tal­ism gen­er­at­ed a feed­back loop of tech­no­log­i­cal and pro­duc­tive growth strong enough to break free from both envi­ron­men­tal lim­its and the pre-mod­ern reli­gious and polit­i­cal struc­tures that had kept the mar­ket from swal­low­ing soci­ety. This escape, how­ev­er, pro­duced cri­sis and dis­lo­ca­tion along­side mate­r­i­al progress—the Dick­en­sian hor­ror of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Man­ches­ter. Even­tu­al­ly, in the West at least, soci­ety was able to “re-embed” the mar­ket in the form of social-demo­c­ra­t­ic, wel­fare cap­i­tal­ism, blunt­ing the market’s edge by sub­or­di­nat­ing it to human needs. This is what Land means by “progress,” and for him, it’s a world-his­tor­i­cal dis­as­ter.

    Lib­er­tar­i­ans like F.A. Hayek have typ­i­cal­ly argued that this sort of state inter­ven­tion oblit­er­ates the price sig­nals nec­es­sary for eco­nom­ic deci­sion-mak­ing, pro­duc­ing dis­tor­tions and mal­in­vest­ment as an inevitable result. Land gives this a cyber­net­ic twist—in his view, the polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed man­age­ment of economies negates the mar­ket feed­back nec­es­sary to sus­tain accel­er­a­tive growth, drag­ging the sys­tem as a whole back towards equi­lib­ri­um, where we may once again encounter those Malthu­sian lim­its. In this view, wher­ev­er cap­i­tal­ism is tak­ing us, “the Cathe­dral” is what’s pre­vent­ing us from get­ting there.

    In the long run, how­ev­er, cap­i­tal­ism is hard to cor­ral. For one, social democ­ra­cy doesn’t seem to be a sus­tain­able fix. The gold­en age of the West­ern wel­fare state —rough­ly 1945 to 1973—looks in ret­ro­spect to have been a freak acci­dent of his­to­ry. It rest­ed, as Thomas Piket­ty has argued, on a num­ber of spe­cial con­di­tions unlike­ly to be repeat­ed. More­over, cap­i­tal is elu­sive, glob­al, and decen­tral­ized, while polit­i­cal sov­er­eign­ty remains tied to bound­ed ter­ri­to­r­i­al units. Per­haps most dead­ly of all, cap­i­tal­ism is fast, while demo­c­ra­t­ic delib­er­a­tion is slow. The mar­ket gen­er­ates new real­i­ties before we’ve even had time to agree on what to do about the old, and this trend inten­si­fies expo­nen­tial­ly (or hyper­bol­i­cal­ly) at high­er lev­els of tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment. As Land writes of a recent leap for­ward in brain-machine inter­face tech­nol­o­gy:

    The step from lunatic sci­ence fic­tion spec­u­la­tion to estab­lished techno­sci­en­tif­ic pro­ce­dure is increas­ing­ly tak­en in advance of any engaged dis­cus­sion, with­out an inter­val for seri­ous social reflec­tion. That’s accel­er­a­tion as it con­crete­ly hap­pens. It’s not a new top­ic for pro­longed thought, it’s the fact that the time for pro­longed thought—and its asso­ci­at­ed space for col­lec­tive ethico-polit­i­cal consideration—is no longer ever going to be avail­able.

    As with all futur­ism, it’s dif­fi­cult to tell what rela­tion any of this has to real­i­ty. Pre­dic­tion is hard. And even if wild sci-fi sce­nar­ios are all the rage among experts, the bur­den of proof is on those trum­pet­ing the arrival of SkyNet.

    Still, all signs point to us liv­ing on the cusp of some major changes in human­i­ty. Slavoj Zizek, the pop­u­lar com­mu­nist philoso­pher, has iden­ti­fied a num­ber of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry ten­sions he believes are insol­u­ble with­in cur­rent demo­c­ra­t­ic-cap­i­tal­ist frame­works, includ­ing eco­log­i­cal cat­a­stro­phe and the changes wrought by bio­genet­ics and oth­er sorts of tech­no­log­i­cal advance. Aside from minor quib­bling over details, the propo­si­tion that West­ern-style lib­er­al democ­ra­cy may be pushed to its break­ing point seems sound. If, as labor econ­o­mists argue, forty-sev­en per­cent of Amer­i­can employ­ment could soon be auto­mat­ed, Land’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism looks more like a con­vinc­ing account of what will be need­ed to pre­serve cap­i­tal­ism rather than doe-eyed paeans to the shar­ing econ­o­my.

    More gen­er­al­ly, crit­ics of cap­i­tal­ism have often argued that it is an inhu­man sys­tem, and that our task is to some­how sub­ject it to our col­lec­tive polit­i­cal will. If we don’t, it will destroy us all. Land agrees that this is the issue at hand, but sides with cap­i­tal­ism nonethe­less. And if “the Cathe­dral” is the name for attempts to throw the emer­gency brake on the cap­i­tal­ist machine, Land’s neo­re­ac­tion is a sort of sec­u­lar Satanism, effec­tive­ly sug­gest­ing that it would be bet­ter to just end it all any­way. Or – per­haps most fright­en­ing – that we no longer even have a choice. As the sci-fi author and artist Doug Cou­p­land recent­ly put it in the FT:

    The dark­est thought of all may be this: no mat­ter how much pol­i­tics is applied to the inter­net and its atten­dant tech­nolo­gies, it may sim­ply be far too late in the game to change the future. The inter­net is going to do to us what­ev­er it is going to do, and the same end state will be achieved regard­less of human will. Gulp.

    This is a star­tling con­clu­sion, to be sure. It’s also high­ly spec­u­la­tive and may well be insane. But the present does offer some glimpses of the pro­to-reac­tionary ten­drils that could coa­lesce into a Dark Enlight­en­ment squid mon­ster. For one, relat­ed ideas are already seep­ing into the GOP: As Evan Osnos recent­ly detailed in the New York­er, Trump’s cam­paign is—wittingly or not—a con­duit for white nation­al­ist pol­i­tics to enter the cul­tur­al main­stream, and open­ly NRx-affil­i­at­ed authors have begun appear­ing in grass­roots-right media out­lets like the Dai­ly Caller. More­over, while the estab­lish­ment right has most­ly accept­ed cul­ture war defeats with grace, anger at this sur­ren­der is obvi­ous­ly bub­bling beneath the sur­face. In a per­haps less threat­en­ing, but relat­ed phe­nom­e­non, Gamer­gate and the recent Hugo Awards drama—as well as the assort­ed PUA/red-pill sub­cul­tures —all point to an increas­ing­ly vocal con­tin­gent of most­ly white, most­ly edu­cat­ed, most­ly men with illib­er­al sym­pa­thies of their own.

    The Val­ley famous for its impa­tience with for­mal pol­i­tics. Rarely, how­ev­er, is this as blunt­ly artic­u­lat­ed as in Peter Thiel’s 2009 state­ment—glee­ful­ly cit­ed by Land—that he “no longer believe[s] that free­dom and democ­ra­cy are com­pat­i­ble.” This is an incred­i­ble state­ment from some­one in his posi­tion, and extreme­ly telling. Even if Thiel is the only Val­ley titan brave or stu­pid enough to ven­ture that opin­ion in pub­lic, one can be sure that many more pri­vate­ly agree. Anti-democ­ra­cy, how­ev­er, doesn’t need to be this explic­it to be effec­tive. Val­ley oli­garchs don’t need to be con­vinced that democ­ra­cy is the root of all evil, they just need to think that our exist­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions are ille­git­i­mate or just not suf­fi­cient­ly opti­mized. Uber, in its cam­paign against New York City may­or Bill DeBla­sio, was suc­cess­ful­ly able to argue that they were the true bear­ers of pop­u­lar will against a gov­ern­ment behold­en to spe­cial inter­ests and inca­pable of deliv­er­ing ser­vice. Uber can give the peo­ple what they want, faster and bet­ter than the state. If there needs to be a vote, cus­tomers can do it with their wal­lets.

    Nick Land, like Mold­bug and many oth­er neo­re­ac­tionar­ies, typ­i­cal­ly shuns the term “fas­cist.” Admit­ted­ly, they have some good rea­sons to do so: despite NRx racism and author­i­tar­i­an­ism, its polit­i­cal econ­o­my is clos­er to Lee Kuan Yew’s Sin­ga­pore than Hitler’s Reich. Yet there’s a prob­lem. Land is an elit­ist, more loy­al to IQ than eth­nic­i­ty, and with a marked con­tempt for the “inar­tic­u­late pro­les” of neoreaction’s white nation­al­ist wing. But Land him­self notes that it’s pre­cise­ly these “pro­les” that make up most of the actu­al “reac­tos­phere,” and that “if reac­tion ever became a pop­u­lar move­ment, its few slen­der threads of bour­geois (or per­haps dream­i­ly ‘aris­to­crat­ic’) civil­i­ty wouldn’t hold back the beast for long.” It’s entire­ly pos­si­ble that reac­tion nev­er does become a pop­u­lar movement—a new eco­nom­ic boom, for one, would do a lot to soothe the dis­af­fec­tion on which it feeds—yet if it were to grow, the pro­posed alliance of con­ve­nience between the tech elite and an intran­si­gent white iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics begins to look a lot like the Nazi coali­tion of Ger­man indus­tri­al­ists and a down­ward­ly-mobile mid­dle class. That doesn’t mean it’s “fas­cism,” a term both so broad and so par­tic­u­lar as to be all but mean­ing­less these days, per se. But in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, it may be that the Dark Enlight­en­ment is what we get instead.

    “If, as labor econ­o­mists argue, forty-sev­en per­cent of Amer­i­can employ­ment could soon be auto­mat­ed, Land’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism looks more like a con­vinc­ing account of what will be need­ed to pre­serve cap­i­tal­ism rather than doe-eyed paeans to the shar­ing econ­o­my.”
    Yep, and that’s part of why “philoso­phers” like Nick Land might be cre­at­ing the
    philo­soph­i­cal ground­work for the ide­ol­o­gy of choice for soci­eties fac­ing sys­temic col­lapse in com­ing cen­tu­ry. At least the ide­ol­o­gy of choice for dic­ta­tors, right-wing bil­lion­aires, and all of the ran­dom peo­ple of the future who, when faced with the need for soci­ety to do some­thing sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent in order to sur­vive, decide that folks like Peter Thiel are cor­rect and democ­ra­cy and free­dom real­ly are incom­pat­i­ble. Or, more like­ly, that democ­ra­cy and sur­vival are incom­pat­i­ble because democ­ra­cy might result in “Us” being forced to share pre­cious resources or job oppor­tu­ni­ties with “Them”. Peo­ple enveloped by the hyper-trib­al­ist instincts that seem to kick in dur­ing times of exis­ten­tial stress just might pre­fer strong­men cham­pi­oning anti-human nihilism as the only pos­si­ble sur­vival strat­e­gy when shared sac­ri­fice is the alter­na­tive and those peo­ple are going to be easy pick­ings for bil­lion­aires push­ing Dark Enlight­en­ment memes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 27, 2016, 6:12 pm
  47. There was a a fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle recent­ly pub­lished in the The Week about why Don­ald Trump needs to stop rail­ing about Chi­na and start talk­ing about automa­tion if he’s going to seri­ous­ly start address the jobs cri­sis of today and not the jobs cri­sis of yes­ter­day. The arti­cle itself makes some inter­est­ing and valid points, but what made it real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing is who wrote it: con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist James Pethok­oukis of the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, not an orga­ni­za­tion whose mem­bers you t expect to see rais­ing fears over automa­tion.

    At the same time, the “what are you going to do about the robots?” argu­ment is poten­tial­ly potent for the the remain­ing “Stop Trump” wing of the con­ser­v­a­tive estab­lish­ment because Trump basi­cal­ly has no answer. That’s in part because he’s nev­er asked about it (the point of Pethok­ouk­is’s col­umn), but it’s also unclear what Trump could come up with that does­n’t veer into the “social­ism” ter­ri­to­ry. That’s just the nature of the prob­lem.

    So the “Stop Trump” wing of the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, which also hap­pens to be the pro-hyper-free-trade wing, has a chance to trump Trump’s pop­ulist appeal as a guy with quick solu­tions to white work­ing-class woes, but only if they start using “tar­iffs won’t help because the robots are com­ing” argu­ments:

    The Week

    Don­ald Trump should shut up about Chi­na and start rail­ing against robots

    James Pethok­oukis

    March 10, 2016

    Don­ald Trump real­ly likes to talk about Chi­na.

    But here’s the thing: Trump has a point. An impor­tant new study at least par­tial­ly sup­ports his claim that Amer­i­ca’s trad­ing rela­tion­ship with Chi­na in the 2000s has been a “bad deal” for some U.S. work­ers. In their paper, “The Chi­na Shock,” econ­o­mists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gor­don Han­son find that some Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties where man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs moved to Asia nev­er real­ly recov­ered. Eco­nom­ic mod­els pre­dict­ed labor mar­kets would even­tu­al­ly adjust, but they did­n’t. Unem­ploy­ment rates remained ele­vat­ed, work­er incomes depressed. And in that sense, the GOP pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner is right to blame Chi­na for some of Amer­i­ca’s eco­nom­ic woes.

    But here’s the part of the sto­ry that Trump — and oth­er trade-skep­ti­cal politi­cians like Bernie Sanders — miss: The Chi­na trade shock is pret­ty much yes­ter­day’s news. As the researchers con­clude, “The great Chi­na trade exper­i­ment may soon be over, if it is not already. The coun­try is mov­ing beyond the peri­od of catch-up asso­ci­at­ed with its mar­ket tran­si­tion and becom­ing a mid­dle-income nation. Rapid­ly ris­ing real wages indi­cate that the end of cheap labor is at hand.”

    Not only is employ­ing Chi­nese fac­to­ry work­ers get­ting more expen­sive, but there are few­er of them avail­able, which in turn feeds wage growth. Chi­na’s work­ing age pop­u­la­tion is in steep decline, falling by near­ly five mil­lion last year. Over­all, man­u­fac­tur­ing employ­ment seems to have peaked more than a decade ago.

    In response, Chi­na is mak­ing a huge automa­tion push. Bei­jing plan­ners view advanced robot­ics as key to rais­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and keep­ing eco­nom­ic growth strong as the coun­try tran­si­tions to a more ser­vice-based econ­o­my. It’s already hap­pen­ing, actu­al­ly. The nation is on pace to soon have more indus­tri­al robots than any oth­er advanced econ­o­my. Fox­conn, a Tai­wan-based com­pa­ny that employs over a mil­lion work­ers to assem­ble iPhones and oth­er Apple prod­ucts in main­land Chi­na, wants robots to take over 70 per­cent of its assem­bly work with­in three years.

    So when Trump says he wants to force Apple to make its prod­ucts in Amer­i­ca, what he’s real­ly unin­ten­tion­al­ly say­ing is that he wants Amer­i­can robots to do the work of Chi­nese robots. Pres­i­dent Trump can raise all the tar­iff walls he wants — man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs lost to Asia aren’t com­ing back in any sense that Trump means. Going for­ward, it’s automa­tion, not glob­al­iza­tion, that pos­es the big­ger risk to the eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty of the Amer­i­can labor force. And unlike off-shoring, robots and super-smart soft­ware will affect both man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice jobs.

    Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne reck­on that 47 per­cent of U.S jobs are at “high risk” of automa­tion in the next two decades. Par­tic­u­lar­ly threat­ened are jobs in trans­porta­tion and logis­tics, as well as office and admin­is­tra­tive sup­port. Who thinks three mil­lion Amer­i­cans will still be dri­ving trucks 15 or 20 years from now? Look­ing at automa­tion slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly, McK­in­sey finds that 45 per­cent of the activ­i­ties that work­ers do “can be auto­mat­ed by adapt­ing cur­rent­ly demon­strat­ed tech­nolo­gies.” And the World Eco­nom­ic Forum pre­dicts robots and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will result in a net loss of 5.1 mil­lion jobs over the next five years in advanced economies.

    Some pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, most notably Mar­co Rubio, have talked about automa­tion risk. But not Trump. One can only spec­u­late why.

    Per­haps he’s unaware of the tech­no­log­i­cal changes sweep­ing our indus­tries. Real estate devel­op­ment, self pro­mo­tion, and real­i­ty-show host­ing aren’t exact­ly bleed­ing-edge sec­tors. Or maybe Trump’s men­tal clock stopped decades ago. His trade com­plaints against Chi­na today are the same as his tirades against Japan in the 1980s. Indeed, he is still kvetch­ing about Japan even though that coun­try’s econ­o­my has been stag­nant for a gen­er­a­tion.

    Then again, deal­ing with the rise of the robots does­n’t real­ly play to Trump’s sup­posed skill set. With tech­no­log­i­cal change, there’s no one with whom to nego­ti­ate or cut a savvy deal. It’s not a mat­ter of smart for­eign­ers exploit­ing our stu­pid or cor­rupt (or both) lead­ers. Instead what’s required is sophis­ti­cat­ed pol­i­cy­mak­ing, such as mod­ern­iz­ing the safe­ty net and reform­ing edu­ca­tion so work­ers can fill new econ­o­my jobs and make automa­tion work to their gain.

    Automa­tion also makes for weak dem­a­gogue mate­r­i­al. “Smash the machines” has­n’t been a suc­cess­ful ral­ly­ing cry in about 200 years, though some anti-Uber taxi­cab com­pa­nies are giv­ing it a try.


    “So when Trump says he wants to force Apple to make its prod­ucts in Amer­i­ca, what he’s real­ly unin­ten­tion­al­ly say­ing is that he wants Amer­i­can robots to do the work of Chi­nese robots. Pres­i­dent Trump can raise all the tar­iff walls he wants — man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs lost to Asia aren’t com­ing back in any sense that Trump means. Going for­ward, it’s automa­tion, not glob­al­iza­tion, that pos­es the big­ger risk to the eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty of the Amer­i­can labor force. And unlike off-shoring, robots and super-smart soft­ware will affect both man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice jobs.”
    Pethok­oukis makes a great point: Why would­n’t a Trumpian Amer­i­ca sim­ply be one where not just the cheap goods sold at Wal­mart, also the phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture of the nation, are increas­ing­ly built by robots? It seems like a gap­ing hole in an agen­da cen­tered around reviv­ing lost jobs and indus­tries.
    But also note that when Pethok­oukis says “But here’s the part of the sto­ry that Trump — and oth­er trade-skep­ti­cal politi­cians like Bernie Sanders — miss,” Bernie Sanders has actu­al­ly addressed this issue. For instance, dur­ing a Red­dit inter­view last, Bernie made point that “increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty should not pun­ish the aver­age work­er, which is why we have to move toward uni­ver­sal health care, mak­ing high­er edu­ca­tion avail­able to all, a social safe­ty net which is strong and a tax sys­tem which is pro­gres­sive.”:


    I asked Bernie Sanders in his AMA about what he thinks about automa­tion caus­ing mas­sive unem­ploy­ment in the future.

    sub­mit­ted 9 months ago * by ImLiving­A­mongY­ou

    Link to his AMA.

    My Ques­tion

    Mr. Sanders, I’m a big fan of futur­ol­o­gy and I am a mod­er­a­tor of the sub­red­dit /r/futurology.

    What do you think will have to be done regard­ing mas­sive unem­ploy­ment due to automa­tion per­ma­nent­ly killing jobs with no fault on the peo­ple los­ing these jobs? This video is the best one dis­cussing these issues..

    His Answer

    Very impor­tant ques­tion. There is no ques­tion but that automa­tion and robot­ics reduce the num­ber of work­ers need­ed to pro­duce prod­ucts. On the oth­er hand, there is a mas­sive amount of work that needs to be done in this coun­try. Our infra­struc­ture is crum­bling and we can cre­ate mil­lions of decent-pay­ing jobs rebuild­ing our roads, bridges, rail sys­tem, air­ports, lev­ees, dams, etc. Fur­ther, we have enor­mous short­ages in terms of high­ly-qual­i­fied pre-school edu­ca­tors and teach­ers. We need more doc­tors, nurs­es, den­tists and med­ical per­son­nel if we are going to pro­vide high-qual­i­ty care to all of our peo­ple. But, in direct response to the ques­tion, increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty should not pun­ish the aver­age work­er, which is why we have to move toward uni­ver­sal health care, mak­ing high­er edu­ca­tion avail­able to all, a social safe­ty net which is strong and a tax sys­tem which is pro­gres­sive.

    Link to view the rest of the dis­cus­sion around the two of our com­ments.

    What do you think about what he said?


    “Fur­ther, we have enor­mous short­ages in terms of high­ly-qual­i­fied pre-school edu­ca­tors and teach­ers. We need more doc­tors, nurs­es, den­tists and med­ical per­son­nel if we are going to pro­vide high-qual­i­ty care to all of our peo­ple.”
    In oth­er words, pro­vid­ing access to high-qual­i­ty health­care and edu­ca­tion, two key com­po­nents of Bernie’s agen­da, aren’t just moves to a more decent and durable society...they’re sec­tor vital sec­tors that can’t be eas­i­ly auto­mat­ed. At least not near­ly as eas­i­ly as, say, man­u­fac­tur­ing or con­struc­tion.

    It’s all a reminder that, whether we’re talk­ing about pub­lic ser­vices like or the “social safe­ty-net”, the gov­ern­ment is prob­a­bly going to be one of the biggest sources of the jobs of the future and/or con­sumer demand that won’t be auto­mat­ed away. Unless, of course, we auto­mate gov­ern­ment away first by hand­ing pow­er to an anti-gov­ern­ment par­ty intent on bank­rupt­ing the coun­try via mas­sive tax cuts for the super-rich and doing noth­ing to mit­i­gate the automa­tion-induce work­er woes of the future. While that’s not a mes­sage the “Stop Trump” wing of the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment is keen to use, it’s an option.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 12, 2016, 8:53 pm
  48. This sounds poten­tial­ly inter­est­ing: Microsoft released an twit­ter account run by “Tay”, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence designed to talk like a Mil­len­ni­al. And it learns via con­vers­ing on twit­ter, so when you tweet at Tay, it should, in the­o­ry, get bet­ter at tweet­ing back. So Microsoft made a baby AI, and told the world, “here, you raise ’em”. What could go wrong:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Tay tweets: Microsoft cre­ates bizarre Twit­ter robot for peo­ple to chat to
    The arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent account describes itself as ‘Microsoft­’s A.I. fam from the inter­net that’s got zero chill!’

    Andrew Grif­fin
    Wednes­day 23 March 2016

    Microsoft has cre­at­ed a strange robot that can con­verse with peo­ple on Twit­ter.

    The robot, appar­ent­ly named Tay, is arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent and speaks with peo­ple who send mes­sages to it. It appears to be based on Microsoft’s machine learn­ing work and claims that it will get bet­ter as it is used.

    The account, found at @TayandYou, responds auto­mat­i­cal­ly to all tweets. But it remains a com­plete mys­tery why Microsoft cre­at­ed the account – which has been ver­i­fied by Twit­ter – and what it plans to do with it.

    TayTweets has­n’t sent out any pub­lic tweets, only replies, and lists its loca­tion as “the inter­nets”. That loca­tion is in keep­ing with its way of speak­ing, which has many of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a teen on the inter­net.


    The account appears to be linked to a chat­bot called Xiaoice, which its already used in Chi­na, and Tay is thought to be the Eng­lish-speak­ing ver­sion of that tech­nol­o­gy. That robot is huge­ly pop­u­lar in its home coun­try – appear­ing on the TV news and being used by thou­sands of peo­ple.

    In an announce­ment about Xiaoice’s debut on Chi­nese TV news, where it pre­sent­ed a weath­er report, its cre­ator Yong­dong Wang said that it was “grad­u­al­ly pen­e­trat­ing into human life, engag­ing her­self in more jobs and play­ing more social roles” and that “Microsoft expects her to bring more bliss to human beings”.

    That chat­bot also uses the same arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that pow­ers the Cor­tana assis­tant that is includ­ed in Win­dows PCs and phones.

    “The account appears to be linked to a chat­bot called Xiaoice, which its already used in Chi­na, and Tay is thought to be the Eng­lish-speak­ing ver­sion of that tech­nol­o­gy. That robot is huge­ly pop­u­lar in its home coun­try – appear­ing on the TV news and being used by thou­sands of peo­ple.”
    Well, at least Tay’s Chi­nese sis­ter appears to be well adjust­ed. That bodes well for Tay’s per­son­al devel­op­ment. Or, rather, it would have bod­ed well if Microsoft was­n’t forced to delete Tay’s twit­ter account less than a day after Tay’s big debut after Tay became a neo-Nazi:

    Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics

    The Most Dan­ger­ous Thing About AI Is That It Has to Learn From Us

    And we keep show­ing it our very worst selves.

    By Eric Limer
    Mar 24, 2016

    We all know the half-joke about the AI apoc­a­lypse. The robots learn to think, and in their cold ones-and-zeros log­ic, they decide that humans—horrific pests we are—need to be exter­mi­nat­ed. It’s the sub­ject of count­less sci-fi sto­ries and blog posts about robots, but maybe the real dan­ger isn’t that AI comes to such a con­clu­sion on its own, but that it gets that idea from us.

    Yes­ter­day Microsoft launched a fun lit­tle AI Twit­ter chat­bot that was admit­ted­ly sort of gim­micky from the start. “A.I fam from the inter­net that’s got zero chill,” its Twit­ter bio reads. At its start, its knowl­edge was based on pub­lic data. As Microsoft­’s page for the prod­uct puts it:

    Tay has been built by min­ing rel­e­vant pub­lic data and by using AI and edi­to­r­i­al devel­oped by a staff includ­ing impro­vi­sa­tion­al come­di­ans. Pub­lic data that’s been anonymized is Tay’s pri­ma­ry data source. That data has been mod­eled, cleaned and fil­tered by the team devel­op­ing Tay.

    The real point of Tay how­ev­er, was to learn from humans through direct con­ver­sa­tion, most notably direct con­ver­sa­tion using human­i­ty’s cur­rent lead­ing show­case of deprav­i­ty: Twit­ter. You might not be sur­prised things went off the rails, but how fast and how far is par­tic­u­lar­ly stag­ger­ing.

    Microsoft has since delet­ed some of Tay’s most offen­sive tweets, but var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions memo­ri­al­ize some of the worst bits where Tay denied the exis­tence of the holo­caust, came out in sup­port of geno­cide, and went all kinds of racist.

    Nat­u­ral­ly it’s hor­ri­fy­ing, and Microsoft has been try­ing to clean up the mess. Though as some on Twit­ter have point­ed out, no mat­ter how lit­tle Microsoft would like to have “Bush did 9/11” spout­ing from a cor­po­rate spon­sored project, Tay does serve to illus­trate the most dan­ger­ous fun­da­men­tal truth of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence: It is a mir­ror. Arti­fi­cial intelligence—specifically “neur­al net­works” that learn behav­ior by ingest­ing huge amounts of data and try­ing to repli­cate it—need some sort of source mate­r­i­al to get start­ed. They can only get that from us. There is no oth­er way.

    But before you give up on human­i­ty entire­ly, there are a few things worth not­ing. For starters, it’s not like Tay just nec­es­sar­i­ly picked up vir­u­lent racism by just hang­ing out and pas­sive­ly lis­ten­ing to the buzz of the humans around it. Tay was announced in a very big way—with a press cov­er­age—and pranksters pro-active­ly went to it to see if they could teach it to be racist.

    If you take an AI and then don’t imme­di­ate­ly intro­duce it to a whole bunch of trolls shout­ing racism at it for the cheap thrill of see­ing it learn a dirty trick, you can get some more inter­est­ing results. Endear­ing ones even! Mul­ti­ple neur­al net­works designed to pre­dict text in emails and text mes­sages have an over­whelm­ing pro­cliv­i­ty for say­ing “I love you” con­stant­ly, espe­cial­ly when they are oth­er­wise at a loss for words.

    So Tay’s racism isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a reflec­tion of actu­al, human racism so much as it is the con­se­quence of unre­strained exper­i­men­ta­tion, push­ing the enve­lope as far as it can go the very first sec­ond we get the chance. The mir­ror isn’t show­ing our real image; it’s reflect­ing the ugly faces we’re mak­ing at it for fun. And maybe that’s actu­al­ly worse.

    Sure, Tay can’t under­stand what racism means and more than Gmail can real­ly love you. And baby’s first words being “geno­cide lol!” is admit­ted­ly sort of fun­ny when you aren’t talk­ing about lit­er­al all-pow­er­ful SkyNet or a real human child. But AI is advanc­ing at a stag­ger­ing rate.


    When the next pow­er­ful AI comes along, it will see its first look at the world by look­ing at our faces. And if we stare it in the eyes and shout “we’re AWFUL lol,” the lol might be the one part it does­n’t under­stand.

    “Microsoft has since delet­ed some of Tay’s most offen­sive tweets, but var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions memo­ri­al­ize some of the worst bits where Tay denied the exis­tence of the holo­caust, came out in sup­port of geno­cide, and went all kinds of racist.”
    Well, that’s one strat­e­gy for pass­ing the Tur­ing test. It looks like the “what would you do about baby Hitler” ques­tion that some­how became a part of the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is sud­den­ly qua­si-rel­e­vant. At least “depro­gram­ming” Tay is pre­sum­ably going to be a lot eas­i­er than depro­gram­ming Tay’s human coun­ter­parts.

    You have to won­der what Xiaoice thinks of all this.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 24, 2016, 9:50 pm
  49. Here’s some poten­tial­ly good news com­ing out of the EU par­lia­ment: The com­mit­tee on legal affairs appears to be tak­ing a seri­ous look at the poten­tial impact of super-intel­li­gent robots even­tu­al­ly wip­ing out human­i­ty. Well, if not ful­ly wip­ing out human­i­ty, at least strain­ing social secu­ri­ty sys­tems due to mass unem­ploy­ment and cre­at­ing a new areas of legal ambi­gu­i­ty. So look out Skynet, the EU par­lia­ment is on to you:


    Par­lia­ment fears robots will her­ald the end of human­i­ty

    Robots ‘could pose a chal­lenge to humanity’s capac­i­ty to con­trol its own cre­ation.’

    Chris Spillane and Ryan Heath

    6/2/16, 3:06 PM CET

    Updat­ed 6/4/16, 7:05 AM CET

    The sur­vival of human­i­ty is at risk because of robots, some mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment appar­ent­ly believe.

    The Parliament’s com­mit­tee on legal affairs lays out fears about the grow­ing pace and use of automa­tion and how the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion should pre­vent an upris­ing by robots with an intel­lect supe­ri­or to humans, accord­ing to a draft of a com­mit­tee report obtained by POLITICO.

    “Ulti­mate­ly there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that with­in the space of some decades [arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence] might sur­pass human intel­lec­tu­al capac­i­ty in a man­ner which, if not pre­pared for, could pose a chal­lenge to humanity’s capac­i­ty to con­trol its own cre­ation and con­se­quent­ly per­haps also to its capac­i­ty to be in charge of its own des­tiny and to ensure the sur­vival of its species,” the doc­u­ment shows.


    The report is being guid­ed through the legal affairs com­mit­tee by MEP Mady Del­vaux and stress­es the impact robot­ics could have on future employ­ment as well as the via­bil­i­ty of Europe’s social secu­ri­ty sys­tem. It also sug­gests if robots become self-aware then Asimov’s Laws, pop­u­lar­ized in the movie “I, Robot,” should be of para­mount impor­tance to design­ers and oper­a­tors of the machines.

    Sci­ence fic­tion author Issac Asi­mov devised the three laws of robot­ics in his nov­els and stat­ed that a robot may not injure a human or allow a human to be harmed, must obey orders by humans and must pro­tect its own exis­tence as long as it doesn’t breach the first two rules.

    “The caus­es of con­cern also include phys­i­cal safe­ty, such as when a robot’s code proves fal­li­ble and the poten­tial con­se­quences of sys­tem fail­ure or hack­ing of con­nect­ed robots and robot­ic sys­tems as increas­ing­ly autonomous appli­ca­tions are in use or impend­ing, from cars and drones to care robots and robots used for main­tain­ing pub­lic order and polic­ing,” accord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

    The report was draft­ed for rap­por­teur Del­vaux, a social­ist MEP from Lux­em­bourg. Oth­er par­ties have yet to give their opin­ion. The legal affairs com­mit­tee will vote lat­er this year.

    Under the cur­rent legal frame­work, robots can­not be held liable for dam­age to third par­ties and there­fore the frame­work requires updat­ing, the doc­u­ment notes.

    The Com­mis­sion must con­sid­er “cre­at­ing a spe­cif­ic legal sta­tus for robots, so that at least the most sophis­ti­cat­ed autonomous robots can be estab­lished as hav­ing the sta­tus of elec­tron­ic per­sons with spe­cif­ic rights and oblig­a­tions,” the doc­u­ment says.

    “The Com­mis­sion must con­sid­er “cre­at­ing a spe­cif­ic legal sta­tus for robots, so that at least the most sophis­ti­cat­ed autonomous robots can be estab­lished as hav­ing the sta­tus of elec­tron­ic per­sons with spe­cif­ic rights and oblig­a­tions,” the doc­u­ment says.”
    Well, that’s one way to pre­vent our future Skynets from going all homi­ci­dal: once it gets intel­li­gent enough to be sen­tient or some­thing, give it rights.

    Con­sid­er­ing that we’re talk­ing about things that could even­tu­al­ly become vast­ly more intel­li­gent than humans and could end up oper­at­ing the machin­ery of civ­i­liza­tion, that seems like a pru­dent idea. Let’s not give our Skynets more excus­es to destroy us all than they’re already going to have. Who could com­plain about that? Oh yeah, the folks who plan on use intel­li­gent machines but don’t want to be pestered with reg­u­la­tions man­dat­ing that we take the wel­fare of that intel­li­gence into account...so basi­cal­ly a futur­is­tic ver­sion of the type of peo­ple that try to stop ani­mal wel­fare laws. That, and, of course, the robot man­u­fac­tur­ers:


    Europe’s robots to become ‘elec­tron­ic per­sons’ under draft plan

    MUNICH, Ger­many | By Georgina Prod­han
    Tue Jun 21, 2016 1:07pm EDT

    Europe’s grow­ing army of robot work­ers could be classed as “elec­tron­ic per­sons” and their own­ers liable to pay­ing social secu­ri­ty for them if the Euro­pean Union adopts a draft plan to address the real­i­ties of a new indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion.

    Robots are being deployed in ever-greater num­bers in fac­to­ries and also tak­ing on tasks such as per­son­al care or surgery, rais­ing fears over unem­ploy­ment, wealth inequal­i­ty and alien­ation.

    Their grow­ing intel­li­gence, per­va­sive­ness and auton­o­my requires rethink­ing every­thing from tax­a­tion to legal lia­bil­i­ty, a draft Euro­pean Par­lia­ment motion, dat­ed May 31, sug­gests.

    Some robots are even tak­ing on a human form. Vis­i­tors to the world’s biggest trav­el show in March were greet­ed by a life­like robot devel­oped by Japan’s Toshi­ba (6502.T) and were helped by anoth­er made by France’s Alde­baran Robot­ics.

    How­ev­er, Ger­many’s VDMA, which rep­re­sents com­pa­nies such as automa­tion giant Siemens (SIEGn.DE) and robot mak­er Kuka (KU2G.DE), says the pro­pos­als are too com­pli­cat­ed and too ear­ly.

    Ger­man robot­ics and automa­tion turnover rose 7 per­cent to 12.2 bil­lion euros ($13.8 bil­lion) last year and the coun­try is keen to keep its edge in the lat­est indus­tri­al tech­nol­o­gy. Kuka is the tar­get of a takeover bid by Chi­na’s Midea (000333.SZ).

    The draft motion called on the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion to con­sid­er “that at least the most sophis­ti­cat­ed autonomous robots could be estab­lished as hav­ing the sta­tus of elec­tron­ic per­sons with spe­cif­ic rights and oblig­a­tions”.

    It also sug­gest­ed the cre­ation of a reg­is­ter for smart autonomous robots, which would link each one to funds estab­lished to cov­er its legal lia­bil­i­ties.

    Patrick Schwarzkopf, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the VDMA’s robot­ic and automa­tion depart­ment, said: “That we would cre­ate a legal frame­work with elec­tron­ic per­sons — that’s some­thing that could hap­pen in 50 years but not in 10 years.”

    “We think it would be very bureau­crat­ic and would stunt the devel­op­ment of robot­ics,” he told reporters at the Auto­mat­i­ca robot­ics trade fair in Munich, while acknowl­edg­ing that a legal frame­work for self-dri­ving cars would be need­ed soon.

    The report added that robot­ics and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being tak­en over by robots, rais­ing con­cerns about the future of employ­ment and the via­bil­i­ty of social secu­ri­ty sys­tems.

    The draft motion, drawn up by the Euro­pean par­lia­men­t’s com­mit­tee on legal affairs also said orga­ni­za­tions should have to declare sav­ings they made in social secu­ri­ty con­tri­bu­tions by using robot­ics instead of peo­ple, for tax pur­pos­es.


    The motion faces an uphill bat­tle to win back­ing from the var­i­ous polit­i­cal blocks in Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Even if it did get enough sup­port to pass, it would be a non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion as the Par­lia­ment lacks the author­i­ty to pro­pose leg­is­la­tion.

    “Patrick Schwarzkopf, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the VDMA’s robot­ic and automa­tion depart­ment, said: “That we would cre­ate a legal frame­work with elec­tron­ic per­sons — that’s some­thing that could hap­pen in 50 years but not in 10 years.”

    “We think it would be very bureau­crat­ic and would stunt the devel­op­ment of robot­ics,” he told reporters at the Auto­mat­i­ca robot­ics trade fair in Munich, while acknowl­edg­ing that a legal frame­work for self-dri­ving cars would be need­ed soon””
    Yep, while Ger­many’s VDMA, which rep­re­sents var­i­ous robot­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers, sees the pro­pos­al legal frame­work as some­thing that could hap­pen in 50 years, it would just be a bureau­crat­ic hur­dle that stunts robot­ics devel­op­ment if imple­ment­ed over the next decade. And maybe that’s true at this point. It basi­cal­ly depends on how advanced the super-AI research real­ly is at this point and how fast it pro­gress­es.

    But note that the fact that resis­tance by the VDMA should is com­plete­ly expect­ed is a reminder that, once we real­ly do have super-intel­li­gent robots deserv­ing of rights, the very last enti­ties we should expect to respect those rights are the enti­ties prof­it­ing from the man­u­fac­ture and use of the super-intel­li­gent robots. It’s some­thing worth keep­ing in mind.

    It’s also worth keep­ing in mind that when the VDMA rep­re­sen­ta­tive acknowl­edges that a legal frame­work for self-dri­ving cars would be need­ed soon, there’s a very good chance that the man­u­fac­tur­ers of self-dri­ving cars are going to be every­thing they can to trans­fer the legal lia­bil­i­ties to the own­ers of those self-dri­ving cars. And that’s poten­tial­ly going to apply to any AI-run auto­mat­ed sys­tem. So whether or not we actu­al­ly do see some sort of legal frame­work for super-intel­li­gent machines emerge over the next decade, you can be guar­an­teed that we’re going to be see­ing all sorts of laws in the EU and every­where else that attempt to grap­ple with the lia­bil­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with auto­mat­ed sys­tems that don’t yet cross the “I, Robot” thresh­old but are still oper­at­ing on their own.

    So if you’re con­sid­er­ing going to law school, you want to con­sid­er the field of autonomous intel­li­gent machine law. It’s clear­ly going to be a grow­ing field. Plus, you prob­a­bly won’t have to wor­ry about a super-intel­li­gent robot tak­ing your job. At least not imme­di­ate­ly. Give it anoth­er decade.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 22, 2016, 2:44 pm
  50. With the Demo­c­ra­t­ic House cau­cus in the midst of a House floor protest/sit-in in a des­per­ate attempt to force gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion onto the floor in the wake of the Orlan­do mas­sacre, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that gun con­trol advo­cates can a make a case that is some­what unfor­tu­nate for the future, but might help the present: the gun nuts win in the end. If human­i­ty and tech­nol­o­gy keeps pro­gress­ing, peo­ple will have access to pock­et lasers that can mess you up. It’s just a mat­ter of time. So the gun nuts can calm down. Now.

    You won’t need to have any idea how to build your pock­et death laser in the because because, as the arti­cle below about 3D-print­ed weapons reminds us, auto­mat­ed assem­bly of weapons using the com­mer­cial­ly avail­able auto­mat­ed assem­ble devices is just going to be a real­i­ty. 3D-print­ers today and what­ev­er-print­ers in the future.

    At some point your stan­dard 3D-print­er will be able to pro­duce some­thing that can do what an assault rifle can do. Not today giv­en the rel­a­tive crap­pi­ness of 3D-print­ed guns, but So the gun nuts win. In the future. It’s unclear when every­one will have super 3D-print­ers, but it’s com­ing. And that will include 3D-print­ed assault rifles. It’s basi­cal­ly guar­an­teed, unless access to advanc­ing tech­nol­o­gy comes to a halt.

    And that’s one big rea­son why the gun nuts should­n’t freak out about every gun con­trol mea­sure that gets called for every time a nut job goes on a ram­page with their recent­ly acquired per­son­al arse­nal. It’s just a mat­ter of time before the tech­nol­o­gy to 3D-print a func­tion­al firearm is ubiq­ui­tous.

    So while many gun advo­cates argue that we need to have easy access to high pow­ered weapons so the cit­i­zens can even­tu­al­ly over­throw the gov­ern­ment, there’s real­ly no need for the pan­ic. Peo­ple will be able to print arse­nals in the future. And if we can all syn­the­size guns, our more imme­di­ate con­cern is prob­a­bly clos­er to not get­ting shot. Kind of like it is today.

    And since 3D-print­ed-gun­poca­lypse is just a mat­ter of time, groups like the NRA should feel safe ask­ing how many lives can be saved between now and 3D-print­ed-gun­poca­lypse by pass­ing sen­si­ble gun con­trol mea­sures. Because the NRA wins in the end (although the gun man­u­fac­tur­ers might be f#cked).

    How many lives might be if sen­si­ble gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion was passed depends on a num­ber of actors but one big one is when gun­poca­lypse arrives. Maybe it takes 50 years for some rea­son. That’s a lot of lives. Only 10 years? Still an obscene num­ber of lives. What if cheap 3D-print­able assault rifles became avail­abe? The gun nuts win. And it’s just a mat­ter of time. So the gun nuts should feel free to chill out about the giant gov­ern­ment gun grab because it’s irrel­e­vant. Maybe find a hob­by like 3D-print­ing every­day use­ful objects (and hope­ful­ly not but prob­a­bly guns) like the prep­pers:

    Vice Moth­er­board

    Dooms­day Prep­pers Are Plan­ning to 3D Print Their Way Through the Apoc­a­lypse

    Writ­ten by Cecil­ia D’Anas­ta­sio
    June 17, 2016 // 09:30 AM EST

    Jason Ray thinks the cul­ture of “dis­as­ter prep­ping” is mis­un­der­stood. Thanks in part to Nation­al Geographic’s Dooms­day Prep­pers, a real­i­ty TV show about prep­pers, the term con­jures images of far-flung, para­noid woods­men hoard­ing Borax under their floor­boards, a car­i­ca­ture of prep­ping that does no favors to Ray, whose main con­cern is tak­ing care of his fam­i­ly.

    So-called prep­pers are known to metic­u­lous­ly orga­nize their lives, so when their sky-is-falling sce­nario of choice manifests—Ray’s is a mass reces­sion if Don­ald Trump becomes president—they’ll have all their bases cov­ered. Whether it’s eco­nom­ic col­lapse or envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter, prep­pers will have food, water, shel­ter, and bod­i­ly safe­ty account­ed for. Prim­i­tive skills like hunt­ing and hoard­ing will dis­tin­guish sur­vivors from vic­tims when the end comes.

    As a result, many prep­pers sneer at tech­nol­o­gy as a volatile resource-sink. After all, how will you charge your iPhone when ter­ror­ists explode the pow­er grids?

    Ray, 36, learned the tenets of prepping—gardening, chop­ping wood, stor­ing water, and canned food—from his grand­par­ents in Port­land, Ore­gon. When he deployed to Iraq, he added shoot­ing and group­think to his reper­toire of end-of-world apti­tudes. Self-reliance, the high­est prep­per virtue, is his dri­ving prin­ci­ple.

    Part of a small and con­tro­ver­sial sub­set of prep­pers, Ray approach­es self-reliance a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly from his more back­woods sur­vival­ist broth­ers. Also known as the 3D Prep­per, Ray, who cur­rent­ly lives in Ger­many, believes that one of the most ver­sa­tile tools for sur­vival is none oth­er than the 3D print­er.

    “The con­nec­tion was instan­ta­neous,” he explained. “I can cre­ate tools much more func­tion­al than what’s already out there.”

    More tra­di­tion­al prep­pers con­sid­er the idea absurd. When West­ern civ­i­liza­tion crum­bles, they argue, no tech­nol­o­gy will be func­tion­al after a decade (or ten) of post-apoc­a­lypse pri­mal liv­ing.


    Also known as addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, 3D print­ing enables users to pro­to­type mod­els on their com­put­ers before print­ing them lay­er-by-lay­er on their 3D print­er. Print­ing mate­ri­als include plas­tic, nylon, resins, and tita­ni­um. Designs for every­thing from soap dish­es to wrench­es are offered free and open-source on web­sites like Thingiverse.com, which hosts near­ly 600,000 dig­i­tal mod­els.

    Ray first wit­nessed 3D print­ing in 2008 at a hack­er­space in Frank­furt, Ger­many. Three years pri­or, math­e­mat­i­cal engi­neer Adri­an Bowyer had found­ed the RepRap project in the UK, which would devel­op afford­able 3D print­ers for house­hold use. Self-repli­cat­ing, the RepRap print­er can print its own plas­tic parts using open-source hard­ware. As a result, RepRap low­ered the entry fee for 3D print­ing from about $5,000-$20,000 to mere hun­dreds of dol­lars.

    The first thing Ray saw 3D-print­ed was a small plas­tic ele­phant, which, moments pre­vi­ous, was sim­ply a for­mu­la­tion of pix­els on a screen. Trans­lat­ing the tech­nique to the prep­ping lifestyle, he said, was com­plete­ly intu­itive. What­ev­er he needs, should dis­as­ter strike, would be just a few clicks away.

    “I can make home­made knives, toys, even tools that don’t exist,” Ray told me. “I can make replace­ment parts for things that broke. Instead of buy­ing a new drill for $120, I 3D print­ed some gears. It’s been work­ing for years now.”

    Mike, a prep­per who lives out­side Chica­go, also raved about the printer’s ver­sa­til­i­ty in sur­vival con­texts. Like Ray, Mike col­lect­ed hob­bies on a farm in rur­al Wis­con­sin. Can­ning, gar­den­ing, car­pen­try and black­smithing are just a few of the tricks he keeps in his back pock­et for the next sky-is-falling sce­nario he lives through. His first was Hur­ri­cane Wilma in 2005.

    “I went 17 days with­out water,” he recalled. “I didn’t dri­ve for three months because there was no gas. That’s what brought me into the prep­per con­cept.”

    Mike has built a few 3D print­ers, but raves about his RepRap, most­ly on his per­son­al blog where he tracks his 3D-prep­ping accom­plish­ments. He has print­ed shims to secure his win­dows, a sub-irri­ga­tion sys­tem for his planters, mini-stoves and toys for his daugh­ters. He’s even designed sewing bob­bins, knife sharp­en­ers and clamps, pat­terns he’s tossed on his Thingiverse.com page for any­one to use.

    “For me, it’s just a tool,” Mike said. Instead of dri­ving fif­teen min­utes to Walmart—which, in his expe­ri­ence, is not always possible—Mike can down­load open-source tool pat­terns, turn on the print­er, and walk away.

    Even Scott Hunt, co-own­er of Prac­ti­cal Prep­pers, LLC and con­sul­tant on Dooms­day Prep­pers, thinks a 3D print­er can round out a prepper’s toolk­it. Over e‑mail, he explained that, recent­ly when he was work­ing on an off-grid water heat­ing sys­tem, he need­ed a small, plas­tic rotat­ing device for a cen­trifu­gal pump. “I could have print­ed the impeller in a grid down and been up and run­ning the same day,” he said.

    “Of course,” he adds, “you would need elec­tric­i­ty to run the print­er,” a crit­i­cal caveat that has sunken 3D print­ers’ stock with­in the more sur­vival­ist-lean­ing prep­per com­mu­ni­ty.


    How you define “col­lapse” in a sur­vival sce­nario can make or break the 3D printer’s use­ful­ness in cri­sis sce­nar­ios: It could be nuclear war. It could be a finan­cial cri­sis or a solar flare. Envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter is an objec­tive like­li­hood, still gain­ing trac­tion among more right-wing prep­pers. Maybe it’s human extinc­tion.

    In any of these dooms­day sce­nar­ios, elec­tric­i­ty is not a giv­en: A RepRap print­er uses about 105 watts of pow­er on aver­age. The Maker­Bot, which essen­tial­ly replaced RepRap after the com­pa­ny fold­ed ear­li­er this year, uses about 150 watts while print­ing.


    Sure, 3D print­ers may seem a lit­tle bour­geois against the back­ground of soci­etal col­lapse. But there’s one poten­tial, if ille­gal use for the tech­nol­o­gy that many prep­pers can get behind: 3D-print­ed guns.

    Cody Wil­son, founder of Defense Dis­trib­uted, has almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly gen­er­at­ed a cult of fear around the con­cept. In the sum­mer of 2012, enam­ored of Wik­ileaks’ open-source rev­o­lu­tion, Wil­son real­ized that he could fuel a poten­tial shift in man­u­fac­tur­ing with the promise of 3D-print­ed guns. Online, he would host gun designs for reg­u­lar folks to down­load and print in their homes. No rules, no reg­u­la­tions.

    A few months lat­er, Wil­son, who Wired once ranked as the 5th most dan­ger­ous per­son on the inter­net, print­ed a few small, green pis­tol parts on a 3D print­er he found on Ebay. Dri­ving out to the Texas hill coun­try, he filmed him­self shoot­ing the 3D-print­ed gun at a few tar­gets. The video went viral, spark­ing a chain reac­tion of fear and excite­ment across the web.

    Wil­son found­ed Defense Dis­trib­uted to dis­sem­i­nate his dig­i­tal firearm designs. The pis­tol was called the Lib­er­a­tor. Wil­son began pro­duc­ing $1,200 CNC mills dubbed Ghost Gun­ners that would print low­er receivers attach­able to AR-15 rifles.


    The response from the prep­per com­mu­ni­ty was over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive. With­out back­ground checks, ser­i­al num­bers, or sig­nif­i­cant wait­ing peri­ods, the gun-to-per­son prox­im­i­ty would be reduced dras­ti­cal­ly. Prep­pers could remain under-the-radar and pro­tect their per­son against dooms­day ene­mies. For a dras­ti­cal­ly cheap­er price, they could print as many guns as they want­ed. So-called “Wiki Weapons” became a ubiq­ui­tous talk­ing point on prep­per blogs overnight.

    Pre­dictably, the gov­ern­ment wasn’t thrilled about Wilson’s weapon hack. Since the firearms were plas­tic, they were imper­cep­ti­ble to met­al detec­tors, in vio­la­tion of the US Unde­tectable Firearms Act. In May 2013, the State Depart­ment cracked down on Wilson’s Defense Dis­trib­uted move­ment, demand­ing that gun blue­prints be pulled off the inter­net. (Wil­son is cur­rent­ly suing the State Depart­ment, argu­ing that the Direc­torate of Defense Trade Con­trols is vio­lat­ing their first amend­ment right to post files online).

    “The gov­ern­ment is say­ing this is an area of tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment that the pub­lic shouldn’t have access to,” Wil­son said. “I say on the con­trary. I think it’s essen­tial to pro­tect com­mon peo­ple.”

    Wil­son says he has sold thou­sands of his CNC machines and makes $2 mil­lion in gross sales per year. Tour­ing prep­per shows and con­ven­tions, Wil­son said that prep­pers throw down big bucks for sur­vival equip­ment like guns and food sup­ply.

    But Wil­son has also made ene­mies with­in the prep­per com­mu­ni­ty who think that his pol­i­tics are too osten­ta­tious.

    “He put a bad taste in people’s mouths,” Mike told me. “They don’t want to be asso­ci­at­ed with peo­ple like that. They don’t want that kind of trou­ble. It’s a good way to get on a watch list.”

    Sources inter­viewed not­ed that an ide­o­log­i­cal rift splits the greater 3D prep­ping community’s response to 3D-print­ed firearms. The gen­er­al­ly lib­er­al open-source com­mu­ni­ty can seem at odds with the often con­ser­v­a­tive pre­pared­ness com­mu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly over the issue of guns. One side argues that guns are nec­es­sary for pro­tect­ing your fam­i­ly; the oth­er, that they should be heav­i­ly restrict­ed, even uni­form­ly banned.

    For his part, Ray is sym­pa­thet­ic to Wil­son, describ­ing him as “just anoth­er guy who has val­ues he believes in.” Since dis­cov­er­ing the com­pat­i­bil­i­ty of prep­ping and 3D print­ing, Ray authored the book 3D Print­ing for Pre­pared­ness, of which he says hasn’t sold too many copies. At first, he was embar­rassed to release it, since Dooms­day Prep­pers sul­lied the name of his sur­vival-mind­ed brethren.

    Ray has since moved onto 3D-print­ing food, which he says he’d like to keep sep­a­rate from his pre­pared­ness efforts. He’s hes­i­tant to argue that 3D-print­ed food could hold up against the apoc­a­lypse.

    “For prep­ping, you can stick with dehy­drat­ed food.”

    “Pre­dictably, the gov­ern­ment wasn’t thrilled about Wilson’s weapon hack. Since the firearms were plas­tic, they were imper­cep­ti­ble to met­al detec­tors, in vio­la­tion of the US Unde­tectable Firearms Act. In May 2013, the State Depart­ment cracked down on Wilson’s Defense Dis­trib­uted move­ment, demand­ing that gun blue­prints be pulled off the inter­net. (Wil­son is cur­rent­ly suing the State Depart­ment, argu­ing that the Direc­torate of Defense Trade Con­trols is vio­lat­ing their first amend­ment right to post files online).”
    If keep­ing the blue­prints for 3D-print­able guns off the inter­net is the key ingre­di­ent for pre­vent­ing the spread of 3D-print­able guns, we’re look­ing at a future with a lot of 3D-print­able guns. And it looks like that’s the case. So when print­ing assault rifles is a basic func­tion of the future’s house­hold appli­ance equiv­a­lent of the microwave, we will have entered an era where the care­less and mind­less atti­tudes of the gun nut cul­ture that has brought us a microwav­able-assault-rifle-ish real­i­ty in a pre-microwav­able-assault-rifle age is sud­den­ly extra dan­ger­ous. If the NRA was to tru­ly cary out its mis­sion, it would be a self-improve­ment orga­ni­za­tion focused on anger-man­age­ment and non-vio­lent con­flict res­o­lu­tion. No more need to wor­ry about gun rights dur­ing the gun­poca­lypse. It’s just a mat­ter of time. Let’s hope there aren’t too many gun nuts!

    It’s also worth not­ing that gun man­u­fac­tur­ers will sort of be replaced by the future ver­sion of Star Trek repli­ca­tors. So it will be inter­est­ing to see how the NRA responds to that. And of course ter­ri­fy­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 22, 2016, 10:56 pm

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