Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Projectile Wooden Shoes

24 thoughts on “Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Projectile Wooden Shoes”

  1. Hasn’t China just done the massive infrastructure thing? What with ghost cities and roads to nowhere? Seems we aren’t the only dumb ones. (Not to mention the former Soviet Union.)

  2. A Guaranteed Minimum Income would only work if there are still jobs. There won’t enough jobs in post-scarcity, so a Basic Income aka Citizen’s Dividend is more realistic. What we have to be diligent about is making sure we also eliminate the elite jobs through term limits, anti-lobbying laws, etc..

  3. Yout point about “tested in Iraq:” I worked with special forces in Iraq. I saw a lot of scary tools in use there. I’ve seen just about every one of them in use in policing in the USA in the years since. The only thing that leashes them is the overwhelming moral sense of the users that they must protect the rights of Americans (I saw the same in every No Such Agency person I worked with over the years, a dogged devotion to applying their tools only to non-US persons). The problem, of course, as we just saw with National Security Director Flynn, is that there is always someone with no such moral compunctions out there willing to use those tools on whomever the state deems its enemy.

    I lived many years in Europe where speed cameras are everywhere, and all GPS devices can be loaded with their locations. The single-point camera is nearly useless and is viciously opposed in the states (St Petersburg, FL, recently removed theirs in the face of overwhelming legal challenges). The devil are the multi-point systems that track license plates and time the run between multiple cameras. Realize these cameras track your movements and feed them to a central computer, from which the same data can be utililzed a thousand different ways. In England certain institutions (so it is said) can track a car all the way across the country camera to camera. Worse, I see collection devices of all types tacked onto poles on roadsides all over the country. Having used them to fight an enemy in war, I know what they are for and can conceive of no benign use.

    I have learned much from your blog that I never expected to, but it seems that I leave every post thinking that I should consider much more deeply joining the Amish one town south of me. The work’s harder and the pay is less, but there looks to be more future in it than in much of anything else I can think of other selling my soul to the security state.

    1. Don’t be silly. You can’t sell your soul to the security state. They only rent them.

      Technology itself isn’t the problem. Neither are power hungry sociopaths. The real problem is the willingness of the population – particularly frightened, insecure, and angry people – to embrace such surveillance and control with the assumption that these things and leaders will make them safer and solve their problems.

      The brutal civil war between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda used nothing more advanced than radios and machetes to decimate the population. Had the country been prosperous and the average person content the crazy folks who incited violence would have been discredited long before they induced chaos. But in this case the general population was in a mood to go down a very dark path. The convulsion of mass murder in Rwanda did, in fact, “solve” the pressing problems of overpopulation and economic pressure for access to agricultural land, etc. To be sure, there were many other better ways of solving those problems. But they required time, patience, thought, care, cohesive action, blah, blah, blah. The war got society there a lot quicker and on a really tight budget. Humans are primates. This is how we do things…

      I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Civilization in its entirety – all civilizations throughout history – are a kind of conspiracy against external reality. We create institutions, religions, norms, and collective expectations and push up against physical limits. Most crash and burn over time. Then the broken pieces are picked up and the process starts all over again.

      1. I don’t know if you drink scotch, but it would be a pleasure to break open a bottle and delve into what you further raise in your riposte. You are thinking much more carefully about these things than most.

        A lifetime rental is pretty much as good as a sale. I spent a career in Intelligence, left absolutely gobsmacked at what I saw myself participating in. But I have debts no honest man can pay (thanks, ex-wife) and two teenaged children living with me, and until the whole thing comes down around us we must continue to dance. I had no choice but to sign on again, although what I do now is very benign. I am extremely well compensated, but not for what I know or can do. I am compensated for my long-demonstrated loyalty to the state, just as you astutely alluded to in your post. So long as I take the king’s shilling I will do his bidding, until the debts are paid and I can choose to live in accord with my conscience. This isn’t about me, though, it’s about the growing security state presence you describe in your post. All I’m really trying to say is that I don’t like being a part of it, but you are absolutely correct in understanding why we are compensated so well, and why there are so many of us.

        1. Re-reading the above, my incoherent reply sounds horribly like moral posturing. Please do us the favor of not posting it, or this as well. You know my point, no use belaboring it so tediously.

    1. Great link about the McDonald’s kiosks. I added it to the body of the story.

      The Google Home, Alexa, and Siri devices may not directly affect labor at the moment, but the underlying technology is a harbinger of automation to come. Office and professional workers are now on warning that they’re next in line to be outsource – but this time to machines. Try and build a wall around that…

  4. Could permaculture be the last best hope for humanity?

    Perhaps a prerequisite for a Minimum Guaranteed Income would be serving on a Green Infrastructure Team for a period of X hours per week. Planting fruit trees, berry bushes, and other perennials…installing solar panels across the continent …building rain gardens and bioswales. It would be the New Deal on steroids: one that would provide a true safety net and benefits for generations.

    1. I’ll blog on this theme at some point. I do permaculture myself. But it won’t be embraced above the household or small neighborhood level.

      A while back I had a conversation with an engineer on the topic. He teaches at a prestigious university and consults with top tier cities. He specializes in “systems thinking” like how to use technology to get the power plants, sewerage treatment plants, water supply, and waste streams to all feed off each other in highly efficient new ways.

      When I mentioned that we could skip all that complexity and expense by dealing with things at the household level (rainwater catchment, gray water recycling in the garden, composting toilets, passive solar heating and shading, solar thermal to heat water in a glass-covered tank, a very modest amount of photovoltaic to keep a few lights on, home food production and preservation…) he was blunt. “There’s no money or career advancement in any of that. No one’s ever going to pay me to tell people to grow tomatoes and crap in a bucket.” So there you have it.

  5. I’m torn between this worldview which is clearly on the horizon based on where technology is heading, and a worldview that claims we’re in for a more massive reset of a different sort based on dwindling energy reserves a la Kunstler. I can’t see how both could exist simultaneously as greater automation would seem to place greater stress on our energy demands (leaving aside how the absence of petroleum byproducts would effect industrial production). How do you square the two?

    1. The two trajectories aren’t mutually exclusive. Think of life in Toronto, Singapore, or Dubai. Now think of life in rural Peru, Libya, or Indonesia. These places aren’t just occupying different kinds of economies of political systems. These places exist in radically different centuries. And the two mix. Technology from the rich cities has penetrated remote villages with cell phones and such. And villagers have made their way to the big cities. A good deal of both the spectacular advancements and the scary conflicts we see today are the result of these two worlds colliding.

      1. Good point. As William Gibson said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

        I’ll second the recommendation for Turchin. His work seems to be more rigorously data-driven than some of the earlier efforts. He’s also pretty consistent about limiting his claims – he thinks that factors like inequality can be good predictors of crisis, but he doesn’t try to predict how any given crisis will turn out since he thinks they are sui generis.

  6. “My best guess is we’ll see the implementation of policies that achieve similar goals to a Minimum Guaranteed Income by other means. But they’ll need to be in keeping with the dominant cultural narrative: The Puritan Work Ethic. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. And they’ll have to be designed to filter out people who are deemed unworthy of inclusion. That’s been the pattern for centuries. The military is the primary model. Cradle to grave socialism is perfectly acceptable – often eagerly embrace – by American society if the wealth transfer is to people who are believed to be deserving. The militarization of domestic affairs is a distinct possibility.”

    Please could you elaborate on what you mean by the military as socialism, and the militarisation of domestic affairs? Thanks.

    1. I’ll use an example from my own family. My great-grandparents were illiterate landless peasants from Sicily. Back then Sicilians, Jews, Greeks, and Irish were the “Mexicans” of their day as far as the ruling Protestants were concerned. The Great Depression raged and ultimately resolved itself in the form of World War II. My grandparent’s generation were pulled in to service as young soldiers (men) and wartime factory workers (women) and proved they were worthy Americans. The restructured post war economy gave them the G.I. Bill for returning veterans to go to college for free, to buy a home with heavy government subsidies, as well as all sorts of labor protections and retirement entitlements that lasted that generation their entire lives.

      I’ll use my boyfriend’s family as another example. His grandparents, father, and aunts were native born Californians – but ethnically Japanese. They went off to a wartime relocation camp in the desert. Their home, business, and bank funds were seized and never returned. Spot the difference?

      I see some variation on these themes in the near future. You can decide for yourself who the likely demographic villains and heroes might be.

      1. My own family is a part of the ‘military as socialism’ group. My sister spent 15 years in the Navy and was deployed 1 time for 3 months (in which they never left the dock), (mostly because she kept having kids). Her husband was also Navy, was only deployed once near the end of his career. The rest of the time he spent fixing CT Scanners at various hospitals in the US, which is a job that would normally require some kind of loans or self funding, but totally covered by the Navy at a wage with a housing allowance well above what a family with one worker and a spouse with multiple kids would get in the private sector.

        Funnily enough, they think they are the ‘hard workers’ and hate leeches who don’t work, and they hate taxes. Because of course they don’t see the military as socialism or that their wages for ~20 years came from it.

        And we are not talking the portion of the military that fights wars, which my brother as a reserve spent more time overseas than my sister and her husband combined, and got less (wages, pay, housing, job training) from it.

  7. I work for a startup attempting to automate away traditional ad agencies, broadly speaking. If all else fails, the company also holds a number of interesting AI patents that freaked me out the first time I heard about them. At the end of the day, it’s all about the data.

    Generally speaking, I find people in the office little concerned about issues like privacy, automation, etc. Although there is a tendency to bash Amazon as the new Wal Mart, the Millennial calculus seems to be that mass surveillance is OK if the company is cool, professes the right values (diversity, inclusion) and treats its workers well (e.g. Google, Apple.) “Trusted Partners” is the board meeting Keynote phrase of choice for these kind of companies.

    I imagine the same is true of governments. Drone strikes, collateral damage and NSA scandals promoted a bit of frowning for Obama. But because Trump is a colossal racist/rapist, he won’t get away with that behavior. I also don’t think secret wars are Trump’s style. Ground troops, “shock and awe” and Muslim internment centers sounds more like it.

    Bottom line, Trump is a symptom and not the system. 100 years from now, I think he’ll be a historical footnote in the long trend line towards… I don’t know exactly but I think your post above certainly is a very plausible explanation.

  8. Have you followed Peter Turchin’s work on Cliodynamics?
    His theory is that periods of increased equality and abundant opportunities (say 1950-1960’s) lead to a widening of the elite pool (as more people get the chance to study at college, or new positions in businesses etc). The power-holders can get along in a cooperative consensus-way. However the number of power-holding positions stays roughly the same as the number of contenders increase more than the number of power-holding positions that in turn stops to increase (or increase slower than the number of contenders). F.x. the US population has almost doubled since 1960 but there are still only 100 senators, 435 rep., one president and so on at the federal level of politics. Not only in politics but in other areas as well (university faculties, medicine, businesses) competition for power-holding prestigious positions increase as the supply pool increase more than the number of power-holding positions. And there are a record-high of law-school students (many revolutionaries in the past where schooled in law – Lenin, Castro, even Lincoln in his own way), law being the traditional way to gain power positions for the ambitious in every political system. Add to this the no. of multi-millionaires that increase in absolute numbers. Not all of them vie for a political power-holding position but the sheer increased number means many more of them turns on to politics than before as many of them are throughout ambitious. This in turn leads to more fierce competition and expensive election campaigns (including rethorical, as the losers won’t contend with their loss – Their position and wealth and the power they compete for needs an outlet ), political gridlock as power struggles become winners-take all and so on.

    Afterwards, something resets. War, revolution, violent reformation, state collapse – Something plays out, then new norms are settled (elite overproduction is reversed through wealth destruction or physical destruction by competing collectives, or new outlets open up – The current power-holders are forced to open up more for more positions, a decentralization dynamic kicks in, new norms of conduct are established as people don’t wish to return to the old destructive ways etc. ).

    1. Thanks for the link. We all have our favorite pet theories to explain reality. I’m going to do more reading on Turchin. My initial impression is that this is a variation on Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) and his concept of the “circulation of elites.” It’s also a subset of Neil Howe and William Strauss’s work on generational cycles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.