Saturday, September 13, 2014

Twelve Questions about "the Future" from my Reddit AMA

I recently participated in an AMA - Ask Me Anything on the Reddit Futurology subgroup. Here's a selection of questions and answers from this session.
twelve-questionsWhat do you find that has changed in the past ten years that is leaning towards your own fictional work?
The trend toward transparency being crucial to our survival and freedom has been in my fiction and nonfiction for decades and it is coming true. Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. Of course there will be tussles over the details for years. I'll talk later about how we must also watch the watchers of the watchers.
What, if anything, have you changed your mind about in the last 12 months?
In politics -- I reluctantly concluded that reason will not prevail and the U.S. is doomed to a new phase of its 200 year Civil War, with dogma and hate replacing reason, almost across the board... alas. 

wrongIn science -- I learned that we can look beyond the "curtain" of light that raised 325,000 years after the Big Bang! In literature, I learned that a new novelist in China - Liu Cixin - has leaped ahead by a couple of generations and will stun western readers, in the fall.  These are just a few examples.

Hey, I am surprised a whole lot of the time!  Indeed, part of being a modern world citizen is being willing to say the one phrase that all scientists are trained to say:

"I might be wrong; let's check it out."
What do you believe (if anything) is necessary for our society and culture to change, in order to prevent a collapse/new dark age/extinction of our race? Or - if nothing - why?
UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI've pushed for 30 years what I think is the secret of the Western Enlightenment Experiment -- The Positive Sum Game. Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed shows what will happen if Earth is run by the Zero Sum thinking that dominated in 99% of human societies.
We get positive sum outcomes from science, democracy, markets etc because they are competitive! But it is REGULATED competition that minimizes blood and cheating and maximizes folks leveraging against each others creativity.
The mistake of the left is to badmouth competition, when Adam Smith was the first liberal!
The mistake of the right is to imagine we can get these benefits without very meticulous regulation to prevent cheating, which ruined 99% of human societies and made them zero (or negative) sum. Alas, it is winners and the strong who inevitably try to cheat - a flaw in human nature that may also have crushed positive sum systems on other planets, helping to explain why no one (yet) found the knack of maintaining perpetual creativity and reaching the stars.

competitionLook at how regulated sports is! It would collapse otherwise.  The trick is to find the right and minimal kinds of regulation that keep the game flat-open-accountable-fair and competitive.  Those who would over-regulate are almost as bad as those who ignore 6000 years of human/feudal history and think that markets and politics can regulate themselves.
Right now oligarchs are trying to turn our society zero sum and feudal again. The attempt happens every generation. If we can prevent it and restore a pragmatic, can-do society, maximizing the flat-open-transparent arena of joyful-fair competition, then we may reach Star Trek.
Which self-preventing prophecy do you think would have the largest positive impact the on future if published today?
self-preventing-prophecyIn my essay, The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Tame Tomorrow's Perils, I talk about how the highest form of Science Fiction is a predictive novel that scares millions into fighting against the portrayed future. e.g. Soylent Green or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The greatest Self-Preventing Prophecy was Orwell's 1984, which I discuss here.
A related topic is why so many recent films and novels wallow in dystopias that are NOT "self-preventing" because their scenarios are lazy and stupid, as I discuss in The Idiot Plot.
Today? I'd warn about collapse of confidence in our creative-pragmatic can-do civilization. The worst problem we have is so many of our neighbors turning stylishly cynical.  Too many of YOU think you invented "brave cynicism" when it is a drug-addict cop-out. What truly takes courage and adult patience is the long slog of negotiating with your neighbors, who are NOT all sheep!  Many of them - even those who oppose you - may be 10% right about something.  Or 50%!  There are some who are much smarter than you.
can-do-civilization
Do you ever see that ethos manifest in a film or novel?  Of course not!  (Well, maybe in EARTH or the novels of Nancy Kress and Octavia Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson.)  The positive sum game is very hard to portray in dramatic ways.  But it can be done and that kind of story might save us.

Negotiate.
==On the Singularity==
What's your opinion on the possibility of humanity forming a collective consciousness through the internet?
I portray this happening in Earth and in Foundation's Triumph. The latter was in Isaac Asimov's universe so it portrayed a Gaia/Galaxia uber mind that essentially takes over. Nicer than the Borg because folks don't clank and whirr but instead float and go 'om' and commune...
I do think that to be a simplistic type of Overmind (see Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, too.) That is not how complexity actually layers, in complex systems lilt nature. In Earth I portray individual humans retaining all of their individuality, with the higher shared consciousness riding lightly above, benefiting from human individuality and eccentricity, absorbing and digesting their input the way you ponder the countless fleeting thoughts in your own head.  It is a more complex and subtle kind of "over mind."  It might be a positive-sum win-win.
dowereallywantimmortalityDo you believe biological immortality could happen in 10 - 25 years from now? Also what do you want to see in the future with new technologies coming out?
I deem it pretty unlikely. I am a bit of a grouch-curmugeon in the transhumanist-life-extension community. Humans are already the Methuselahs of mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as mice and elephants. We have probably plucked the low-hanging longevity fruit and the next steps will be very hard.
What I do expect to see is methods of brain/skull preservation that are far cheaper and more convenient than cryonics. Plasticization etc. Not for actual revival, of course. And most intra-cellular info would be lost. But the location of a trillion synapses might be preserved and serve as boundary conditions for a fairly good emulation program that could upload a version of you, someday. Is that good enough? Depends.
See my larger essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?
Where do you differ with Ray Kurtzweil on the singularity?
KurzweilSingularityCoverRay and I get along, but I am a contrarian. When I find myself among those who do not believe in change - alas many of our fellow citizens - I speak about how rapidly human destiny is being challenged with new powers. 

Around Ray and his acolytes? I am cautionary.
For example, Kurzweil believes Moore's Law, all by itself, will make him immortal by creating Soulful machines who will gladly incorporate us and human values in the adventure of super-life. I portray this happening! In Earth and in Existence! But at Ray's conferences, I splash cold water.
For example, he calculates Moore's Law crossing the rate of transistor growth in machines with number of synapses in a human brain... about a trillion... and thus derives when (benevolent) AI will take off. But synapses may just be the tip of the iceberg, especially if there's intracellular computing! If so, Moore's Law will need five or six or maybe even ten more doublings!
Which do you think we'll reach first? Relatively cheap spaceflight, or full body 'virtual reality' simulations? The latter can, of course, include MMI equivalents instead of external bodysuits.
Sure VR will be the main thing for most of us. If we could make cheap "deputies" we could send them to Mars and bring back the heads and "live" the experience!  Say, I offer that in Kiln People!
 ==On Books...and Aliens==
temptationI just want to say that I really enjoyed your Uplift books. Do you have any plans for new books?
Indeed I am currently working to get Creideiki and Orley off that planet, at last! The Brightness Reef trilogy settles the fate/destiny of the ship Streaker, and a lot else. Till then, see the story "Temptation" downloadable from my website. Some will argue that Existence is uplift!
What do you make of Cliford D. Simak's dog and animal society in City? I allways found his ideas on animal and foreign intelligence interesting, if somewhat anchored to his time.
Yes, Simak influenced me. Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate! ;-)
Have you looked into the topic of UFOs and if so, do you have a stance on the UFO phenomenon?
Sorry but this "phenomenon" is taking care of itself. Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law (yes it's called that) is that CAMERAS get faster, cheaper, more numerous and mobile at a rate much faster than Moore's Law.
This means that the excuses for blurry UFO images get slimmer and slimmer. Have you done the math? All of the places where a UFO was dimly blurry in the distance 20 years ago... would have dozens of folks with cell cams right below it today! Please do the math. If images remain blurry, it is because they are teasing us and staying just out of range, even taking Brin's Corollary and the lens quality of iPhones into account!
thoseeyesIn that case, they are bastards. Snub em.
Please... you know I am interested in aliens! I spend my life on the topic, in SETI and in fiction. I'll even admit a very slim chance there might be UFO saucer aliens! But I find the creatures described in these stories to be illogical, immoral, unimaginative, ridiculous and ... compared to the thought experiments in good science fiction... unutterably boring!  They are way down on my list of priorities.

(See my short story "Those Eyes".)
==On Privacy==
What is your idea on a transparent society, and how does that affect personal privacy? Or should we start getting used to having no privacy?
privacy-doomedThe most common assumption of people who have not read my articles or The Transparent Society is that - as "Mr. Transparency" I oppose privacy or think it is doomed.
No way! A free people will want and demand some privacy! In Chapter 4 of The Transparent Society I discuss how essential some core privacy will be... though it will be closer and narrower.
But the irony is that we will only have that core if we live in a world that is mostly open! In which most people know most of what's going on, most of the time. Only then will voyeurs and spies and sneaks be deterred, because they'll get caught!
There is so much to this. See more articles about transparency, freedom and technology.
PrivacyAccountability

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great News about new Uplift Novels !!! Easily my favorite Science Fiction, including even movies and Dr. Who.

Mike said...

Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate!

Who has? Beyond Watership Down and Saturn's Children I'm pretty much drawing a blank.

Tom Crowl said...

A very short Science Fiction Story:

The colossal generational ship Heinlein Ark with two million passengers finally reached its destination after a 300 year voyage across space. It was fully supplied with all the equipment and expertise to convert their new home into a paradise.

Unfortunately somebody forgot the money. So they all died.

THE END

The moral: At root economies are not about money. Money is just a tool to catalyze 'chains-of-decision' by passing along a right to influence the next person... to acquire some good or service... a chain which that recipient in turn can carry on.

We are not short of resources, labor or knowledge... but the distribution is pathological (especially but not only or necessarily when mal-distribution arises through manipulation rather than increased value)... This drastically reduces the velocity of money and erodes the social contract.

The monetary system cannot be fixed w/o correcting these extremes... even with a balanced budget. Though balancing via a straight and significant wealth tax would be helpful... though unlikely to happen.

The duopoly prefers the fantasy of "growing out of the problem"... While this might have been possible in a civilization entering a labor intensive period of industrialization... it will not work where the need for labor is going down.. ironically because of technology.

Neither the duopoly nor the tech/Internet industry wants to face this... and the public is ignorant.

(It was really hilarious to me seeing Obama sitting down with a bunch of Silicon Valley naifs with the idea that some new tech company would solve unemployment and save the economy.)

Actually this is what Douglas Rushkof was trying to get at when he discussed "Are Jobs Obsolete"

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/07/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete/

The flowering of art and science which should be here is stifled and aborted because of a failure to realize the fundamental changes in the economic landscape.


Tacitus2 said...

I guess Robert has a fool proof formula:

"It's done like this.
Tacitus2! Tacitus2! Tacitus2!"

Not sure what the icon is for a flash of crimson light and the odor of brimstone. (Brinstone?).

Sorry, been laboring hard dealing with the signature legislation of the Obama admin, the Affordable Care Act. Those studies that say it is increasing ER use? I believe 'em. And not just the volume, it changes the very texture of our health care system. Another day perhaps, I'm dogged.

Sadly my prediction regards the British hostage came predictably true. Not saying that action can be deferred due to savagery, but as I said there will be a price to pay. There will be more ahead. When I travel it is with the express instructions to my wife to never, ever pay ransom if I am kidnapped. It is just a down payment on further blood. I want Obama to stand strong on this. I hope he does.

David you were a little out of line with a poster at the end of a recent thread. He called you out as being unreasonable and you obliged him. In my opinion of course.

Tacitus

Robert said...

Okay, Dr. Brin. Do an article on this. Talk about it. This sort of... thing needs to be exposed on multiple fronts. And I know that not only am I now glad I never went into the military... but also that I will never let any children of mine serve in the military.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tom Crowl - we are seeing an increasing number of voices raising the concern over how to maintain a population that doesn't need to work, nor can find it if they do. Some sort of redistribution seems the way to go, although the strain of "Back to Victorian Values" seems to care less if people die on the streets.

I used to be more on the side of those who thought this was neo-Ludditism. I am now more on the side of those who see this as a real problem given how we have structured our economies. Everywhere you look, it seems there is more predatory extractive behavior, making adaptation ever more costly to most people. The populace is following the example of the oligarchs. Life has become just an endless round of "monetization", as if this is the holy grail. It is as if the caricature of the MBA has become the internalized as the new norm.

"The Space Merchants" is looking more real every day.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"we are seeing an increasing number of voices raising the concern over how to maintain a population that doesn't need to work, nor can find it if they do"

But at the same time we have a huge amount of
"Work that needs doing"
From Infrastructure repairs to simply keeping things clean and maintained
To teacher/class ratio's

We are nowhere near the "There is no work required"

What we are at is the 0.1% have decided that work that does not directly benefit them should not be done

David Brin said...

Re how to keep the population busy when there's robotic abundance... see my novella "The 4th vocation of George Gustaf."

Daniel Duffy said...

How to keep the population busy when there's robotic abundance is simple: "pan et circes". Such a situation would be no different than the mass unemployment among Roman citizens due to the influx of slaves from the empire.

The Romans also solved the problem with work projects that deliberately employed the masses while avoiding technological innovation. The Emperor Vespasian, rebuilding Rome after Nero's reign, rejected plans for a new lifting machine that would cut the numbers of workmen employed lifting stones on the grounds that 'I must feed my poor'. The political need to provide employment was more important than the economic need for efficiency.

But I do not think it will come to that. Robots won't take our jobs, they will transform them:

http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2014/09/02/the_data_are_clear_robots_do_not_create_unemployment_101252.html

"Gary Kasparov lost to IBM's Big Blue. Today, iPad algorithms regularly beat the masters. But Kasparov deserves credit for a critical insight."

"He wrote in the New York Review of Books several years ago: "What if instead of human versus machine we played as partners?" Kasparov explored this idea, fostering a unique kind of intellectual chess cage fight: a 2005 free-for-all tournament. People teamed up with computers to compete against other teams, or against supercomputers. The winner? A team of two amateurs using three average computers."

"Kasparov postulated -- and proved -- the power of the complementarity of algorithms plus humans. Thus what is different about this virtual robot revolution is not so much that robots will replace humans in certain tasks (they will) but that virtual robots - algorithms - are getting good enough at cognitive tasks to team up with humans, amplifying what people do."

It's not a choice between man or machine, but an optimum configuration that fuses the two together into "man + machine".

This is also true of our future in space:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/why-space-exploration-is-a-job-for-humans/255341/

"At the core of Crawford's argument is that human beings are much better at performing the type of geological fieldwork that makes planetary exploration scientifically valuable: they're faster and significantly more versatile than even the most advanced autonomous probes. "People who argue for robotic exploration argue for more artificial intelligence, the capacity for robots to make more complex decisions that somehow leads to increased efficiency," explains Crawford. "But one of the things that make them cheap is miniaturization. You can make robots more intelligent and efficient to a certain point, but they wont get smaller and therefore cheaper." With miniaturization, he explains, comes a depletion in the number of scientific instruments a probe can carry, the number of samples it can collect, and its ability to cover more ground. " [Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars, but the fact that they've traveled as far in eight years as the Apollo astronauts traveled in three days speaks volumes." At a certain point, the costs of developing 'smarter' (but not better equipped) autonomous rovers will exceed the meager gains in scientific collection and outstrip existing scientific budgets."

So perhaps the best future for Mankind would be a benign, voluntary version of the Borg from Star Trek.

Tom Crowl said...


RE Duncan's:
'But at the same time we have a huge amount of
"Work that needs doing"'

You're correct up to a point... our infrastructure needs a lot of work.

Unfortunately our cowardly government abandoned fiscal action in favor of an exclusively monetary approach and pro-privatization 'strategy'...

(i.e. "let the FED run the economy... we can avoid any blame or responsibility that way... and the fraudsters tip us very well so we don't need support any more from the peasants")...

and now we have such an idiotic group from both parties that they no longer can even conceive of public works as possible.

We actually have a very accommodating government. It just not for the benefit of its citizens.

William Black: How to rob a bank (from the inside, that is)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClfBxWPkBKU#t=39



LarryHart said...

Tim Crowl:

Actually this is what Douglas Rushkof was trying to get at when he discussed "Are Jobs Obsolete"

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/07/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete/

The flowering of art and science which should be here is stifled and aborted because of a failure to realize the fundamental changes in the economic landscape.


You are singing the song I've been trying to call attention to for years now!

Technology and innovation should be freeing mankind from toil, not "freeing" the nominal owners of everything good and useful from sharing with the rest.

Of course, the entire philosophy governing today's Republican Party is that the dimertic opposite of that statement is true. In fact, they hold that truth to be so self-evident as to not even require specific mention.

Dr Brin is correct in that we are in a Civil War over the two moral views.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Sorry, been laboring hard dealing with the signature legislation of the Obama admin, the Affordable Care Act. Those studies that say it is increasing ER use? I believe 'em. And not just the volume, it changes the very texture of our health care system. Another day perhaps, I'm dogged.


When you have a chance, I'd really like to hear your analysis. Because my expectation was that the old system incented the uninsured to use the emergency room instead of a simple doctor's visit, and that by insuring more people, the ACA should have cut down on such. If your personal experience is the exact opposite, I'd be interested in an explanation.


Sadly my prediction regards the British hostage came predictably true. Not saying that action can be deferred due to savagery, but as I said there will be a price to pay. There will be more ahead. When I travel it is with the express instructions to my wife to never, ever pay ransom if I am kidnapped. It is just a down payment on further blood. I want Obama to stand strong on this. I hope he does.


I was going to mention that I've seen remarkably little discussion of two topics on this list lately. One was ISIS (the other being the current coronal mass ejectiion).

I'm as war-weary as anyone, and I'd be the last person to bemoan our tovernment being slow to engage in a new one, especially in the Middle East. OTOH, I am also outraged and angered at the brutality of ISIS, and feel the need to do something (which I also realize plays into the evil-doers' plans). If we're not the world's policeman, sometimes we seem fated to be the world's Spider-Man. Or maybe more appropriately, the world's X-Men ("Hated and feared by a world they're sworn to protect...").

Having said all that, I'm not sure what your side, or you yourself (which are two separate things) are holding against Obama at this point? That he's too trigger-happy or that he's not trigger-happy enough? John McCain totally confuses me--does he want war or doesn't he? You confuse me too, although in your case, it's more a question of "I don't get what you're accusing the president of?.


David you were a little out of line with a poster at the end of a recent thread. He called you out as being unreasonable and you obliged him. In my opinion of course.


I thought almost the opposite. The current last post on that thred is me joining late just to mention that the troll's admonition for us to ignore the hate rhetoric (that's a paraphrase) is ironic, but that I would take the guys unintended advice and ignore his hate rhetoric.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

we are seeing an increasing number of voices raising the concern over how to maintain a population that doesn't need to work, nor can find it if they do. Some sort of redistribution seems the way to go, although the strain of "Back to Victorian Values" seems to care less if people die on the streets.


The poor used to be blamed for not "wanting to work" or not being "willing to work", as if they instead wished to sleep and eat all day while cashing welfare checks.

Now, that is turned on its head. The poor now can't find work because the owners of capital don't need them to work. And yet, the unemployed are still blamed for this situation as if it is identical to the other.


I used to be more on the side of those who thought this was neo-Ludditism. I am now more on the side of those who see this as a real problem given how we have structured our economies.


The sadly-late Kurt Vonnegut explored this theme back in his first published novel "Player Piano" back in 1953. He seems to be a prophet now, as that novel looks more and more to be torn from today's headlines.

Again, two views of human society. Is the economy a tool to assist humanity, or is humanity a tool to assist the economy? Again, I'd say the current Republican Party holds the second view to be self-evident.


Everywhere you look, it seems there is more predatory extractive behavior, making adaptation ever more costly to most people. The populace is following the example of the oligarchs. Life has become just an endless round of "monetization", as if this is the holy grail. It is as if the caricature of the MBA has become the internalized as the new norm.


Everyone has bought into the idea that whoever holds the most cash wins. I see that as absurd. Whoever holds the most cash has not made use of all that value that he has (presumably) paid for with his labor and time. If it comes to that, a case could be made that whoever dies holding the most debt has won, although by a form of cheating.

Point being, the current economic system rewards people for extracting value out of the system, while justifying itself with rhetoric that proclaims the exact opposite.

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

We are nowhere near the "There is no work required"

What we are at is the 0.1% have decided that work that does not directly benefit them should not be done.


Couldn't have put it better myself! Definitly couldn't have said it in that few words. :)

LarryHart said...

A few further words on Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano". While somewhat inspired by "1984" (only a few years after Orwell's publication), Vonnegut's distopia does not depict an evil government, but rather a government dealing as best it can with the situatiion at hand--that situation being that human beings, for the most part, are no longer required by the economy.

And again, this prophetic novel was published in 1953.

useless.old.fool said...

@Mike
Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate!

You are looking in the wrong place there are more books that feature other animals that are uplifted and created societies. The stories are became children's books and movies instead of classic sci-fi. The rest are pure fantasy with magic instead of science causing the uplift.

Magic uplift example
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedknobs_and_Broomsticks

Science uplift example
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Frisby_and_the_Rats_of_NIMH

and the movie
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_of_NIMH

useless.old.fool said...

The Econ research shows that we are in a Zero-Sum model heading into a major Collapse due to 30 years of bad policy. We just haven't had enough pain to force a social justice change.

More Education is not the answer to inequality.
http://www.epi.org/blog/stem-workers/
http://www.epi.org/publication/bill-gates-tech-worker-fantasy-column/

It is not a mismatch of skills to jobs.
http://www.epi.org/blog/unemployment-schools-wages-mythical-skills/
http://www.epi.org/blog/unemployment-rate-continues-elevated-board/

Robots didn't take the Jobs.
http://www.epi.org/blog/broadening-agreement-job-polarization-wasnt/

There is no Market force that establishes social justice against cheaters.
"""markets appear to have no self-correcting mechanism that can halt the worsening misdistribution of wealth"""
http://www.epi.org/publication/thomas-piketty-undermines-hallowed-tenets/

Sadly Martin Luther King was ignored when he talked about social justice.

locumranch said...

All this talk of monetization, work ethic, transparency, transhumanism, immortality & their implications is extremely boring because it amounts to little more than the extension of a 'more of the same' cultural sensibility into an egotistical future.

This is cultural narcissism, really: This belief that we either 'are' or will 'become' the future, that our our morals, monies, policies & constructs are of such tantamount importance they will make us unto gods, or that our quaint 20th century value system will transcend the very fabric of space-time.

Like Tacitus, I stand in the same emergency rooms and deal with the same onslaught of 'untreatables', individuals who anxiously demand that I deliver onto them 'well-being' instead of just mere health, and I see this same disturbing pattern of anxiety, blame & self-delusion repeating into every facet of western society.

That a storm is coming, there is no doubt, one that will settle all outstanding accounts and force our children to discard centuries of our most treasured nonsense in favour of pragmatism, relegating the present ‘we’ to the historical dustbin, while leading our offspring toward a future of 'transmoralism' rather than ‘transhumanism’.


Best

Jumper said...

I have learned that for my doctor "GP" definitely does not mean "a bit of medical jack-of-all-trades." No, it means he deals in generalities. I think if I showed up with a bleeding cut he'd refuse to sew me up. He won't do a vasectomy. He tells me to go to the emergency room if anything serious comes up. Yet he is all my insurance pays for.

Jumper said...

Too late, locum, I already achieved godhood. But I acknowledge it's all downhill from here, for me, anyway. And for you, of course.

David Brin said...

I don't believe anyone should be allowed to be called an MD... including even pathologists or dermatologists... unless they at the beginning spent 1 year in an ER... and spend 3 months in an ER every five years, after that.

It sounds coercive. But these folks are a keystone in civilization's arch Every single one of them -- if they are on a small ocean vessel or a ditched plan -- should be able to stand up when the shout goes out "Is there a doctor aboard?"

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Human work

There is likely an infinite demand for tasks (labor) but not necessariliy for economically justified human labor. Much labor today is unpaid, e.g. housework, which for most families would not be economic to hire domestic services. Daycare has also become marginally economic for many families with 2 working parents.

I agree that there is a general view that US infrastructure is crumbling and is overdue for repair. This is not just a US phenomenon either. Yet infrastructure has sometimes become a means to other ends, like employment. The Japanese built extensively during teh 1990's to little avail. We had our own "bridge to nowhere in Alaska". In California, we have seen a resurgence in funding for much needed road repair. And yet I think how much more economic it would be to just build out teh high capacity communication links in order to reduce commuting and road use, saving much of the wear and tear and reducing infrastructure deterioration.

As an ex-software engineer, I see software as a two-edged sword. It definitely does displace human labor, but it also reduces the costs of doing some tasks enormously, allowing anyone to gain teh benefits. It also allows some seemingly magical abilities to be geranted to the user. I still see that as a net benefit. Today tasks that cost thousands of dollars to do 25 years ago can be done with cheap (or free) software with a little basic self-training. If you can't wait, well people on Fiverr.com can do it for you at very cheap rates. Overall are we better off or worse off? I still think teh balance is better - perhaps because it feels like we are living in a scifi universe. Wikipedia, for all its imperfections is a wonderful resource and memory prosthesis, and I thank Jimmy Wales for keeping it free with only requests for voluntary donantions.

But while I accept that economists (at least Keynesians, like Krugman) are correct that today's unemplyment is lack of aggregate demand that could be fixed by stimulus, I am also increasingly convinced that robots (for want of a netter word) will make humans structurally unemployable, much as automobiles made horses at the turn of the C20th. Horses ended up in the knackers yard, but what do we do with people? Had humans had more regard for horses, we could have created some sort of "horse welfare" to allow horses to live out their lives in pastures and kept fed and healthy, but we didn't. But unlike horses, human consumption is our aggregate economic demand. Reduce human consumption by redistributing labor value to capital owners, or reduce human population growth, and this must impact supply and hence returns on capital. To maintain growth in capital, especially in a demand constrained world, costs must decline faster than revenue, causing ever more unemployment and capital deepening. Which brings us to a Piketty type future world. Growth in the economy stays low, lower than returns on capital as costs are squeezed out of production. Wealth inequality increases. Not a positive future.

Alex Tolley said...

cont..

While humans have a long way to go before being fully replaceable by machines, individual skills are being abstracted away constantly by cheap software and hardware. Skills that even a few years ago seemed strongholds for humans are being demonstrated, however crudely, by machines. And like horses, humans will be replaced in those domains. Even the oldest profession seems in potential damger. How long before the Japanese perfect a sex doll? And later a companion? And how long after than that do they become cheaper than humans?

I'm not that concerned about singularity AI, or Skynet scenarios. But we already have the makings of rapacious organisms called corporations that could become destructive to global human societies if unchecked. David has suggested that Skynet might emerge from financial trading systems. I would see it rather as hedge fund companies and bank corps, increasingly steered by advanced software, controlling the use and distribution of resources as the danger. Can they be checked by political solutions, or will revolution be needed? One thing history seems to teach, is that empires fall as the cost to protect from the outsiders becomes excessive. I have to wonder if the outsiders are indeed the religious groups seeking to impose their own ideology in their regions. Certainly they have demosntated that the cost asymmetry to defeat them so far has been huge. Could they win eventually? And if they do, does the enlightenment die too, and with it our dreams of a better world that can reach for the stars?

Alex Tolley said...

@locum. Well that was definitely the downer thought of the day.

I have no doubt that much of our culture will seem quaint in the future. I recognize that has even happened in my lifetime. Having said that, the core precepts of the enlightenment are values that I would rather not see end up in the dustbin of history, if even temporarily before being rediscovered.

It does seem to me that we have a choice as a civilization to mold the future in ways that could make a much better world for everyone. Whether we can make the correct choices, or whether we just carry on and eventually face some event[s] that make random changes for us, is the question. When I am less optimistic, I feel that history supports the latter case. I really don't think it is delusional to think that we could "become like gods" (we already are to societies barely 500 years ago), because the evidence is all around us that this is happening. As Gibson said -"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." (Thank you Wikiquote for the exact wording).

useless.old.fool said...

@Alex Tolley
That is a pure guano. As a computer engineer, software and tools do not replace labor they change the productivity of workers. Workers have to learn the software and train on the tools. But a hammer and set of tools does not replace a carpenter. Their is plenty of work across all industries that should be done. Management is spoiled rotten and does not see any value and has no respect for the labor done by any one else. Pure and simple.

It is not a mismatch of skills to jobs.
http://www.epi.org/blog/unemployment-schools-wages-mythical-skills/
http://www.epi.org/blog/unemployment-rate-continues-elevated-board/

Robots didn't take the Jobs.
http://www.epi.org/blog/broadening-agreement-job-polarization-wasnt/

The smartest, highest skilled labor (software developers) were cheated by management.
http://www.epi.org/blog/good-eric-schmidt-evil-eric-schmidt/ While using child labor to make the goods.
http://www.applelabor.com/
This is a company that has more petty cash then most governments.

Governments are simply protecting property rights over human and labor rights.
http://www.epi.org/publication/epidemic-wage-theft-costing-workers-hundreds/
http://www.epi.org/blog/heres-legalize-undocumented-immigrant-workforce/
http://www.epi.org/blog/blockbuster-report-construction-industry/

David Brin said...

Postiong a climate rant, next

onward

Alex Tolley said...

@ useless old fool software and tools do not replace labor they change the productivity of workers

You mean that you have never done any of your own carpentry? You don't think that contributes to some loss of carpentry jobs? What happened to all those typists in the pools after word processors arrived? Most did something else, but that job category was lost. As I said, on balance I think the results are still positive. But if there are no jobs to move into, then what?

Duncan Cairncross said...

"As I said, on balance I think the results are still positive. But if there are no jobs to move into, then what?"

That may well happen - but it is not what is happening now

We are a long long way from - "nothing needs to be done"

useless.old.fool said...

@ Alex Tolley
LOL, I am not living in my bird houses; I sometimes visit the dog house.
But really read the construction article, if nothing else; then we can talk.
http://www.epi.org/blog/blockbuster-report-construction-industry/


Amateurs and hobbyist not are responsible for the decline in real wages and the numbers of positions across all industries and all skills sets for the last 30 years?

I am sorry but "Do it your self" and tinker hobbyist did not replace professional workers. There is not a single metric that kept pace with productivity or that can be linked to Merit. CEOs and MBAs are not rewarded inline with performance.
http://www.epi.org/publication/why-americas-workers-need-faster-wage-growth/

Again there are constructions jobs that are needed but gov does not fund them.
There IT security jobs that are need to protect customer data, management does not fund them.

It is the Fed and Congress who by law are responsible in creating full employment and setting US trade policy. There is no market force that establishes justice or that will enforce contracts on the stronger party.

We are at the point that professionals simply cannot live on the wages that Management wants to pay.

mk045 said...

Dr. Brin - your comment about doctors having to spend time in the ER to retain certification (my interpretation) brought to mind something I have been concerned about for years.

Too many administrators in public education have spent so much time away from the classroom. They should be required to spend time in the classroom every few years, for the same reasons. Isolated school administrators are more susceptible to pressure from elites and politicians, and not as much to feedback from the community.

Teach a class or two every few years to keep in touch with the roots of the job and those that you serve.

Thoughts?