Monday, August 18, 2014

Humans Need Not Apply

Too bad we can't predict the future. It would save a hell of a lot of trouble.

Personally, I think if Skynet ever becomes self-aware it won't attempt to do us in. It'd be more like Jack Williamson's story, With Folded Hands, in which robots only purpose is to "serve and obey and guard men from harm." They ultimately replace people in nearly all jobs and drive people insane because they won't let people do anything because it might be harmful to them.

Remember Cooper's Law: "All machines are amplifiers." Machines amplify our natural abilities.

There are also fictional machines that can create or build other machines; I've heard them called Universal or General Assembly Machines. These days, 3-D printing is getting close, although there is also nano-technology.

Anyone with an IQ of less than 100 is screwed right now. Soon those with IQs of well over 100 might be screwed, too. So what are we going to do then?

Imagine if it were possible for machines to replace all of our jobs. We'd end up perfectly safe and perfectly bored.

This is why Williamson wrote With Folded Hands in 1947.

I wrote "With Folded Hands" immediately after World War II, when the shadow of the atomic bomb had just fallen over SF and was just beginning to haunt the imaginations of people in the U.S. The story grows out of that general feeling that some of the technological creations we had developed with the best intentions might have disastrous consequences in the long run (that idea, of course, still seems relevant today). The notion I was consciously working on specifically came out of a fragment of a story I had worked on for a while about an astronaut in space who is accompanied by a robot obviously superior to him physically—i.e., the robot wasn't hurt by gravity, extremes of temperature, radiation, or whatever. Just looking at the fragment gave me the sense of how inferior humanity is in many ways to mechanical creations. That basic recognition was the essence of the story, and as I wrote it up in my notes the theme was that the perfect machine would prove to be perfectly destructive... It was only when I looked back at the story much later on that I was able to realize that the emotional reach of the story undoubtedly derived from my own early childhood, when people were attempting to protect me from all those hazardous things a kid is going to encounter in the isolated frontier setting I grew up in. As a result, I felt frustrated and over protected by people whom I couldn't hate because I loved them. A sort of psychological trap. Specifically, the first three years of my life were spent on a ranch at the top of the Sierra Madre Mountains on the headwaters of the Yaqui River in Sonora, Mexico. There were no neighbors close, and my mother was afraid of all sorts of things: that I might be kidnapped or get lost, that I would be bitten by a scorpion and die (something she'd heard of happening to Mexican kids), or that I might be caught by a mountain lion or a bear. The house we were living in was primitive, with no door, only curtains, and when she'd see bulls fighting outside, she couldn't see why invaders wouldn't just charge into the house. She was terrified by this environment. My father built a crib that became a psychological prison for me, particularly because my mother apparently kept me in it too long, when I needed to get out and crawl on the floor. I understand my mother's good intentions—the floor was mud and there were scorpions crawling around, so she was afraid of what might happen to me—but this experience produced in me a deep seated distrust of benevolent protection. In retrospect, I'm certain I projected my fears and suspicions of this kind of conditioning, and these projections became the governing emotional principle of "With Folded Hands" and The Humanoids.

I've written before the purpose of initiation rites is to remove young boys from the world of women and introduce them to the world of men. We don't have them anymore, to our great detriment.

And what are we going when Love and Work (as Freud put it) goes away? If machines take over our work, we aren't going to end up with love. We're going to sink straight to the bottom with sex, drugs and rock 'n' rock, which is happening now.

One of the many interesting things about the story of the Garden of Eden is that it illustrates Adam and Even at first don't have any self-consciousness and don't have to work.

Why?

Because they're babies.

The only way we can survive in a world in which machines do all work is if we return to unconsciousness - which, of course, is what sex, drugs and rock 'b' rock is all about.

If machines take over everything we are well and truly fucked.

6 comments:

kurt9 said...

If machines take over our work, we aren't going to end up with love. We're going to sink straight to the bottom with sex, drugs and rock 'n' rock, which is happening now.

I don't see this as a problem. Indeed, its not a bad outcome at all. The reason is that the people who do have great aspirations, the people who dream big, will continue to pursue them regardless of what entertaining distractions exist. As long as the "achievers" are free to pursue their goals, why is the problem with keeping the rest of humanity out of their way (with entertaining distractions)?

I think you would agree sex, drugs and rock n' roll is a better distraction for the masses rather than some kind of luddite totalitarian movement that seeks to limit the accomplishments of the achievers. Don't you think?

Anonymous said...

The problem with robots replacing all humans is that technological advances sometimes forget previous technological advances.

For example, in America we already live in houses that are well piped, connected to electricity grids, our highways have been constructed a long time ago etc.. If something broke, most people do not know how to fix it. I don't know how to pipe my own house. So I have to hire a very expensive plumber. It is not that the plumber does hard work, it is that he has highly specialized information that I do not have.

Likewise let's say we live in a future where we have a small super elite class tended to by millions of robots. Let's stay a freak accident or storm destroys a large portion of those robots. Or even the case where the robots rust, get worse, or circuitry starts eroding.

Who repairs the robots? The super elite class probably long forgot how to make them, or more likely they never knew how to make them in the first place and hired poorer humans to make them (who are long dead). They are going to need to know the basics of electrical engineering first of all. Then how to manufacture components on a nanometer level to the right specification. Then they need to know how to code it properly and realistically. They need to mine the rare metals needed to build the robot. So they need to know the entire science of mining and purification. Etc. Etc.

What will mostly likely happen is, we will have a reduction in population, but the job and work force shifts to maintaining these robots. After all it will be cheaper to pay a flesh bag the bare minimum sustenance than create a robot for the task of which extreme programming and construction costs go into. To put it short, rich get richer, poor get poorer. Poor and dumb people will still exist though, just what we do is different.

Bob Wallace said...

I suspect a tremendous decline in population (many countries are not at replacement rate already).

And of course if there is some sort of catastrophe...we could end up with the same problem E.M. Forster predicted in "The Machine Stops": everything collapses and no one knows what to do.

Quartermain said...

Where will the materials for the robots come from?

The same place where the Walmart China crap comes from?

Anon1 said...

So, my question is whether we in the middle class are all going to be on EBT cards? If so where is the money going to come to support a whole middle class made up of layabouts since corporations pay 0% taxes and have offshored all their operations and their profits?

kurt9 said...

They are going to need to know the basics of electrical engineering first of all. Then how to manufacture components on a nanometer level to the right specification. Then they need to know how to code it properly and realistically. They need to mine the rare metals needed to build the robot. So they need to know the entire science of mining and purification. Etc. Etc.

I am an automation/control system engineer that does both the hardware design and software coding. I can tell you that "traditional" engineering (electrical, chemical, mechanical engineering) is booming right now. The same is true for technician and maintenance jobs as well. There is a renaissance in these fields, which will create lots of jobs over the next 20 years. Also, many of the people currently doing this kind of work are boomers headed for retirement. So, even more of these jobs will open up.

Of course, all of these jobs, including the engineering ones, require that you get your hands dirty and work in uncomfortable conditions while "on site" (I was at a customer site today, out in the hot sun for about 3 hours debugging a system). This, of course, is off-putting for many of the barista generation that can't be bothered to get a little uncomfortable.