Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
    Loading
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • A Robotic Society

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on January 7th, 2016 (All posts by )

    Metropolis, 1927

    Robot, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1927

    Fifty years ago, if you were a company building automobiles or telecommunications equipment, you would have employed an assembly line full of workers. There also would have been people kitting parts, making inspections, doing tests, even running errands. If you operated a catalog company, you might have warehouse full of people loading and unloading goods, taking inventory, generating reports and packing and shipping goods. If you manufactured metal goods, you might employ several grades of craftsmen, from apprentice to master machinist, as well as cutters and welders, finish workers, inspectors, packers and shippers.

    Much less so today. Automobiles and electronics and every other sort of manufactured good are increasingly made on robotic lines. From painting to welding to complex assembly, robots are replacing people. Warehouses can run almost autonomously, with goods stored in a 3D grid that is accessed, inventoried and replenished by increasingly intelligent networks of machines and computers. Jeff Bezos would like to robotize even the delivery of those goods via autonomous drones. That seems entirely doable, though the thought of computer controlled helicopters moving through the skies upsets some people.

    Sixty six years ago, almost to the day, Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot was published. It was followed by four more novels over 30 years as well as 38 short stories in what became known as The Robot Series. In these books, Asimov explored all sorts of aspects of a robot populated world, including the dangers they might pose to people, problems with machines that think with digital logic, their inevitable evolution from simple mechanisms to organo-machines that were difficult to differentiate from human beings, except for their vastly superior intellectual capacity and increased lifespan, and some of the implications of that.

    In a society relieved of all sorts of menial labor and drudgery, Asimov envisioned something of a Golden Age of Man. Material goods would be so cheaply and easily made that no one would lack for any basic goods, and most people would enjoy a standard of living and a degree of leisure time available now to only the extremely wealthy. That’s a view with some precedent in how other technologies have improved our lot, so it’s one possible future.

    I find myself wondering, though. Suppose something like that were to come to pass. After all, we’re seeing signs of its development now. How does this future society actually work? How are people employed? What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines? We see this problem already, which tells us we’re farther along this road than maybe we realize. All the people that are not employed in Jeff Bezos’ warehouses or building electronics assemblies or automobiles, what do they do? In the past, when people were displaced from agriculture by machinery, they went to cities and were employed in large scale industrial and retail businesses. That is no longer the case. Not only have the manufacturing base dispersed across the globe chasing cheaper labor and fewer rules and regulations, even the human staffed retail store is increasingly in question as a viable model.

    This is all creative destruction in action, I know. And we can wave our hands and say, Well, people will adapt, they always have! Yes they will. But to what? Everyone can’t be – and doesn’t want to be – a robotics designer or research chemist or test technician in a robotics factory. Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs? Will the work week get reduced to 3 days on, 4 days off? I’m trying to imagine a world where the same or more people are available but less work needs to be done by them. And if the answer is more leisure time, is that necessarily a good thing? Do we get a Golden Age, or an Age of Sloth, where everyone gets crazier and more destructive in an attempt to amuse themselves. Who cares, eh? The robots will clean up the mess.

    And is a robotic recursion process possible, where robots set about designing and building better robots? If we assume cookbook engineering can be encoded into a machine brain, millions of possible combinations may be scanned and modeled and simulated for each mechanism and each circuit, always searching for an optimal solution. And as everyone from Asimov to Clarke have asked, when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what? Our society is the early stages of major, ground shifting changes. There’s a lot on the horizon we haven’t even begun to think about to the level necessary. And how do we stay up with these changes if our political class is intent on bankrupting us and destroying our civilization?

    Elon Musk compares AI efforts to ‘Summoning the Demon’
    BTW, this is a talk he gave at MIT, and is well worth watching in full.

    Walter Schulze-Mittendorff’s ‘Maschinenmensch’ simulacrum in crystal.
    I would love to own one these. The large cylindrical version.

     

    26 Responses to “A Robotic Society”

    1. ErisGuy Says:

      What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines?

      Squabble online with other people on Twitter and Facebook?

      Seriously, the latest posts on Chicago Boyz have been first rate. Congrats to all of you.

    2. ErisGuy Says:

      Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs?

      I can think of two SFy solutions: Larry Niven’s ARM-governed world in which billions of people strive to be polite to one another (and dissidents are cut up for parts), and Bruce Sterling’s “The Beautiful and Sublime” in which most people become overly-mannered and indifferent to the wondrous technology around them.

    3. ErisGuy Says:

      Elon Musk compares AI efforts to ‘Summoning the Demon’

      “Do not call up, what you cannot put down,” Jedediah Orne to Joseph Curwen.

    4. dearieme Says:

      The people displaced from industry find jobs with the government, and dedicate their time to impeding the productive economy. Or killing foreigners.

    5. Will Says:

      I’m still having difficulties knowing that there is such a thing as a “Big Dog”. Sure, a great gag when it’s programmed to squat on your neighbor’s lawn, or to stroll in the front door during Friday prayers, but what happens when the bad guys get one?

      http://www.bostondynamics.com/robot_bigdog.html

    6. Grurray Says:

      The best, most qualified people for conceiving of new work and creating new jobs are other people. The more people who can get involved in this process, the more new jobs and new businesses will be created. Right now, we have a system where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few political elites who administer capital to benefit a select few. It’s no wonder so few new job creating industries are established.

    7. Michael in Pennsylvania Says:

      Michael,

      This is a great post. I appreciate the link to Musk’s talk.

      In the context of SciFi portrayals of this quandary, consider Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian 1952 novel “Player Piano”. Though technically dated (a la references to “tapes” for the storage and transmission of information) Vonnegut explored the sociological and psychological consequences of mass (really, really mass! – as in nearly complete) technologically driven unemployment.

      Vonnegut portrayed the end result a civilization where a miniscule, socially and academically exclusive, insular coterie of technocrats – who attained their status through a combination of psychometric testing, academic achievement, and social networking – became charged – through design and default, with overseeing the machines that “ran” civilization…

    8. Veryretired Says:

      I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.

    9. dearieme Says:

      Time for robot policemen?
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3389974/Philadelphia-police-Officer-shot-police-cruiser.html

    10. David Foster Says:

      Dearieme…but hopefull not THIS kind of robot policemen…

      https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/36610.html

    11. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Vonnegut portrayed the end result a civilization where a miniscule, socially and academically exclusive, insular coterie of technocrats – who attained their status through a combination of psychometric testing, academic achievement, and social networking – became charged – through design and default, with overseeing the machines that “ran” civilization…

      I probably don’t need to tell you that’s not too far from one of the ideas behind Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ trilogy. Only there, galaxy scale statistical analysis was being applied to shape the growth of civilization. In Vonneguts’s case, he would have FDR’s various economic and planning boards as examples of a small appointed elite making all the major decisions. That has never been demonstrated to work well, despite its theoretical appeal to some.

    12. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.

      VR, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Asimov’s stories, but mankind actually ends up overlorded by robotic machines, though they are unaware. And because (in Asimov’s view) the machines are not corrupted by greed and vanity and power lust and all the other human failings, they provide remarkably good governance.

    13. TMLutas Says:

      I would suggest that a growing number of people will simply invest their money. Compound interest is a wonderful thing and if nothing else, advertisers will always be willing to pay a tiny amount of money to look at an add and that’s sufficient to get the process started, at least if you’re willing to take the risk of working in cryptocurrencies to start. For most people, such monies will be a trivial amount to start but for some, it will be a way out.

      The gig economy will grow and spread and people will make ends meet by a combination of part time work doing things that have been heretofore been considered too expensive to have done. Jobs will be created as well as destroyed but they aren’t likely to last long as the creation/destruction cycle keeps getting shorter.

    14. veryretired Says:

      MH—I read Asimov, Clarke, and the rest starting in junior high. The earlier line was a takeoff on something Instapundit says on occasion about aliens, robots, etc.

      Lighten up.

    15. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      VR, I have no way of knowing ahead of time what you are and are not familiar with when you comment with a quip. I was engaging in conversation. I certainly don’t do this so you can engage in condescending snark aimed at me. Maybe you need to lighten up.

    16. Rich Rostrom Says:

      when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what?

      For one thing, can a sentient be treated as property? Is the ownership of sentient “droids” in Star Wars a form of slavery?

    17. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Rich, exactly. If not property, do they then have rights? Are they citizens? Can they vote? Can they remove and replace their programming at will? We haven’t even really thought about any of these things. We will, I guess, when we think we’re getting close. What if cross the sentience line long before we realize we’ve done it though?

    18. ErisGuy Says:

      I don’t know if you’re familiar with Asimov’s stories,

      I am. And in “Robots of Dawn,” people are anti-social, agoraphobic, and leave their isolated estates only to breed. Asimov, for unknown reasons, didn’t image robotic, remote fertilization or robotic wombs.

      Creating a robotic economy didn’t leave masses of unemployed people shuffling around in the streets, it created a solitary aristocracy which ruled its robotic estates.

      IIRC, of course. It’s been a long time since I read the book.

    19. ErisGuy Says:

      If not property, do they then have rights? Are they citizens? Can they vote? Can they remove and replace their programming at will?

      “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” In any case, can sentient robots replace their programming? Just because computers are now universal machines, it does not follow that sentient machines aren’t bound to their physical substrate that would make reprogramming impossible.

    20. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Creating a robotic economy didn’t leave masses of unemployed people shuffling around in the streets, it created a solitary aristocracy which ruled its robotic estates.

      Yes. And that’s what I never really understood. How was money earned? In what were they employed? Where were all those people on those moving sidewalks going? There was some employment in robotics factories, yes, except I think Asimov underestimated the degree to which everything can be roboticized.

      Siri is a form of artificial intelligence, primitive but already very impressive, especially considering it is a very small app in a machine dedicated to communications. So why does one need a receptionist even 50 years from now? Think of all the things done today that could be done equally well or better by a sufficiently intelligent machine. There will always be a place for the creatively or physically gifted in any field, but what about everyone to the left of them on the bell curve, what do they do? And if not not something useful and satisfying to them, something that helps them feel they’ve made a contribution that gives them a sense of self worth, are they then prepped to simply engage in self destructive or socially destructive behavior?

      In the end this will probably evolve in ways none of us can foresee. If a person stood at the dawn of the industrial revolution and asked these questions, we might wonder similar things. But I’m still confounded by the core question, What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines?

      “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I’ve never read that. Maybe I will.

    21. vxxc2014 Says:

      Or it may be the Age of the Artisan skilled and empowered as never before, with an R&D dept of all the world in his phone, commerce same device and able to 3D print not only whatever he needs but what ever his neighbors need. He may indeed deliver those goods to his neighbors via Amazon Drones, or he may be the builder of custom drones. That is your America 3.0.

      A word about creative destruction: under that banner more damage has been done to the Great Lakes Manufacturing Region, CA, NJ and much of the Western World than property damage was done in World War 2. It’s just destructive destruction – the only thing created being hedge fund portfolios.

      Of course these people and their blessed Boomer generation have done this to everything they touched, so we shouldn’t pick on Finance.

      So here we have the promise of the future before our eyes, all that stands in our way is the Incarnation of Civilizational Collapse.

      So we have to chose. We aren’t talking our way out of this…

      I must confess I don’t even want to.

      Happy Sweet 2016.

    22. Grurray Says:

      Check this out on the subject:

      https://youtu.be/KiDgkGRCBq0

      and

      https://youtu.be/tLhZSn_NY7I

      The automation revolution portrayed in the 1957 movie, Desk Set. Tracy plays an efficiency expert introducing a computer to the research department run by Hepburn in an inspiring performance showing what people can do.

    23. TMLutas Says:

      The reason that we won’t all be unemployed is simple and basic to the human condition. Rich people will seek status by hiring humans to serve them. Money will circulate and people will still compete. Ultimately we wish to spread our genes and our memes and will employ people to do so, even if it is only to have somebody around to appreciate our greatness.

    24. David Foster Says:

      Worthwhile reading: “Humans are Underrated,” by Geoff Colvin. He argues that human-interaction skills (emotional intelligence) will increasingly represent the differentiator between human tasks and machine tasks. I don’t agree with everything he says by any means, but thought-provoking enough to spend some time with.

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OZ0TLBK?keywords=humans%20are%20underrated&qid=1452393070&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

    25. David Foster Says:

      Vxxc…”A word about creative destruction: under that banner more damage has been done to the Great Lakes Manufacturing Region, CA, NJ and much of the Western World than property damage was done in World War 2. It’s just destructive destruction – the only thing created being hedge fund portfolios.”

      The problems with American manufacturing are due largely to (1) cheaper transportation via sea and air, (2) fast, high-bandwidth, economical telecommunications, (3) unwise American public policies, especially in tax and regulatory matters, (4) cultural hostility to manufacturing, propagated from many sources, (5) an educational system which fails to provide basic literacy and math skills for millions of students, and that discourages vocational education (6) certain large, low-labor-cost countries, especially China, have stopped shooting themselves in the foot quite so effectively and hence become much more effective competitors.

      I’m not sure how much this has to do with hedge funds, or with the finance industry in general. Given the above drivers, much of the same set of effects would have occurred even if American manufacturing companies were all owned by individuals and families with long time horizons.

    26. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Check this out on the subject:

      I love Katherine Hepburn. There was something very fun and very sexy about that woman. Audrey Hepburn too.