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The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn

Watch this. It's a TED talk on Deep Learning AI algorithms:

I think the presenter is overhyping the implications of the technology in the short term. But in the longer term, he's right. Software is eating the world, AI is disrupting the value of human labor (starting with unskilled labor and gradually moving upstream) and those jobs are never coming back.

This is going to accelerate income disparities and the gap between the rich and the poor. Society on the whole will be much richer however so the quality of life for the disenfranchised may not actually drop.

How this will play out depends a lot on politics. Richer societies can expand the public sector and lobby heavier taxes on the private sector to provide a minimum standard of living for the unemployed masses which is probably what we'll see happen in countries with a social capitalist bent (e.g., many parts of Europe).

Or it could be the other way around. Government shrinks, corporate power rises along with investments in increasingly effective security, surveillance, policing technologies to keep the disenfranchised in tow. Which is probably what we're already seeing happen in the US.

Or there might be a third scenario: government power erodes, private power rises, but the power of non-government anarchic commons movement also rises in the style and spirit of the free software movement to democratize access to new technologies (e.g., think self replicating free 3d printers). That could save the world from the claws of corporatist dystopia where the super-rich own everything and a big part of the population has no value in the economy because their jobs are done better and faster by AIs.

The cost of physical goods will never be as low as digital products because you need energy and raw materials to reproduce them, but it could be close enough to free so that people who are unemployed and have no value in the economy can still enjoy a better standard of living than they have now. Also, the cost of living will drop once people migrate increasing portions of their lives "online". Virtual reality technology that is indistinguishable from the real thing will eventually be free / ad-supported.

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Comments

Mechanisation has been displacing human labour since the invention of the wheel.

Leverged productivity is always a benefit to society IF society adapts. China did not embrace mechanisation as quickly as Europe in the 1800s but has since caught up and arguably moved ahead of Europe (http://www.voxeu.org/article/why-china-missed-industrial-revolution).

In the book "The End of Work" the author hypothesises that a massive historic labour shift from agriculture to manufacturing to service may be followed by an increase in volunteerism. That society needs to figure out how to get everyone working shorter work weeks rather than having a minority working overtime and a majority "unemployed" (a misleading term in its own right...is a stay-at-home parent "unemployed"...a person with a salaried parther who volunteers at no pay!).

The negative spin people put on the impact of mechanisation on employment is perhaps a societal perception issue more than anything else. For example...GDP claims to measure societal productivity but GDP does not count at-home parental labour or unpaid volunteer work! If a volunteer drives someone to the hospital at no charge they are considered "unemployed" and the productivity is not measured in the GDP. If the person takes a cab, the cabbie is considered "employed" and the financial transaction recorded in the GDP as increased productivity.

I would suggest our issue is how we percieve and measure valuable contributions in society. As an open source proponent I would suggest this "value perception" would be near and dear to our hearts...is a free WordPress Plugin author somehow less productive than a Microsoft employee paid to develop a MS-Word feature :-)

Mechanised societies have yet to adjust to the new reality in my opinion. Even you, a balanced open-source proponent can get caught out by societal stereotyping in your quote from your post above "...people who are unemployed and have no value in the economy...".

If an A.I. robot was offered to you today that would do all your household chores and repairs and manage your TKLX client service for you...the real question is...what would you do with your spare time and how would you derive your sense of purpose, pride and destiny so that others would look at you as a productive member of society!

Just one man's 2 cents worth :-)

 

 

Cheers,

Tim (Managing Director - OnePressTech)

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