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IEET > Security > Rights > Life > Vision > Artificial Intelligence > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Affiliate Scholar > Rick Searle

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2040’s America will be like 1840’s Britain, with robots?


Rick Searle
By Rick Searle
Utopia or Dystopia

Posted: Oct 26, 2014

Looked at in a certain light, Adrian Hon’s History of the Future in 100 Objects can be seen as giving us a window into a fictionalized version of an intermediate technological stage we may be entering. It is the period when the gains in artificial intelligence are clearly happening, but they have yet to completely replace human intelligence. The question if it AI ever will actually replace us is not of interest to me here. It certainly won’t be tomorrow, and technological prediction beyond a certain limited horizon is a fool’s game.

Nevertheless, some features of the kind of hybrid stage we have entered are clearly apparent. Hon built an entire imagined world around them from with “amplified-teams” (AI working side by side with groups of humans) as one of the major elements of 21st century work, sports, and much else besides.

The economist Tyler Cowen perhaps did Hon one better, for he based his very similar version of the future not only on things that are happening right now, but provided insight on what we should do as job holders and bread-winners in light of the rise of ubiquitous, if less than human level, artificial intelligence. One only wishes that his vision had room for more politics, for if Cowen is right, and absent us taking collective responsibility for the type of future we want to live in, 2040’s America might look like the Britain found in Dickens, only we’ll be surrounded by robots.

Cowen may seem a strange duck to take up the techno-optimism mantle, but he did in with gusto in his recent book Average is Over. The book in essence is a sequel to Cowen’s earlier best seller The Great Stagnation in which he argued that developed economies, including the United States, had entered a period of secular stagnation beginning in the 1970’s. The reason for this stagnation was that advanced economies had essentially picked all the “low hanging fruit” of the industrial revolution.

Arguing that we are in a period of technological stagnation at first seems strange, but when I reflect a moment on the meaning of facts such as not flying all that much faster than would have been common for my grandparents in the 1960’s, the kitchen in my family photos from the Carter days looking surprisingly like the kitchen I have right now- minus the paneling, or saddest of all, from the point of view of someone brought up on Star Trek, Star Wars and Our Star Blazers with a comforter sporting Viking 2 and Pioneer, the fact that, not only have we failed to send human visitors to Mars or beyond, we haven’t even been back to the moon. Hell we don’t even have any human beings beyond low-earth orbit.

Of course, it would be silly to argue there has been no technological progress since Nixon. Information, communication and computer technology have progressed at an incredible speed, remaking much of the world in their wake, and have now seemingly been joined by revolutions in biotechnology and renewable energy.

And yet, despite how revolutionary these technologies have been, they have not been able to do the heavy lifting of prior forms of industrialization due to the simple fact that they haven’t been as qualitatively transformative as the industrial revolution. If I had a different job I could function just fine without the internet, and my life would be different only at the margins. Set the technological clock by which I live back to the days preceding industrialization, before electricity, and the internal combustion engine, and I’d be living the life of my dawn-to-dusk Amish neighbors- a different life entirely.

Average is Over is a followup to Cowen’s earlier book in that in it he argues that technological changes now taking place will have an impact that will shake us out of our stagnation, or at least how that stagnation is itself evolving into something quite different with some being able to escape its pull while others fall even further behind.

Like Hon, Cowen thinks intermediate level AI is what we should be paying attention to rather than Kurzweil or Bostrom- like hopes and fears regarding superintelligence. Also like Hon, Cowen thinks the most important aspect of artificial intelligence in the near future is human-AI teams. This is the lesson Cowen takes from, among other things, freestyle chess.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to the world of competitive chess, freestyle chess is what emerged once people were able to buy a chess playing program that could beat the best players in the world for a few dollars to play on one’s phone. One might of thought that would be the death knell for human chess, but something quite different has happened. Now, some of the most popular chess games are freestyle meaning human-machine vs human-machine.

The moral Cowen draws from freestyle chess is that the winners of these games, and he extrapolates, the economic “games” of the future, are those human beings who are most willing to defer to the decisions of the machine. I find this conclusion more than a little chilling given we’re talk about real people here rather than Knight or Pawns, but Cowen seems to think it’s just common sense.

In its simplest form Cowen’s argument boils down to the prediction that an increasing amount of human work in the future will come in the form of these AI-human teams. Some of this, he admits, will amount to no workers at all with the human part of the “team” reduced to an unpaid customer. I now almost always scan and bag my own goods at the grocery store, just as I can’t remember the last time I actually spoke to a bank teller who wasn’t my mom. Cowen also admits that the rise of AI might mean the world actually gets “dumber” our interactions with our environment simplified to foster smooth integration with machines and compressed to meet their limits.

In his vision intelligent machines will revolutionize everything from medicine to education to business management and negotiation to love. The human beings who will best thrive in this new environment will be those whose work best complements that of intelligent machines, and this will be the case all the way from the factory floor to the classroom. Intelligent machines should improve human judgement in areas such as medical diagnostics and would even replace judges in the courtroom if we are ever willing to take the constitutional plunge. Teachers will go from educators to “coaches” as intelligent machines allow individualized instruction , but education will still require a human touch when it comes to motivating students.

His message to those who don’t work well with intelligent machines is – good luck. He sees automation leading to an ever more competitive job market in which many will fail to develop the skills necessary to thrive. Those unfortunate ones will be left to fend for themselves in the face of an increasingly penny-pinching state. There is one area, however, where Cowen thinks you might find refuge if machines just aren’t your thing-marketing. Indeed, he sees marketing as one of the major growth areas in the new otherwise increasingly post-human economy.

The reason for this is simple. In the future there are going to be less ,not more, people with surplus cash to spend on all the goods built by a lot of robots and a handful of humans. One will have to find and persuade those with real incomes to part with some of their cash. Computers can do the finding, but it will take human actors to sell the dream represented by a product.

The world of work presented in Cowen’s Average is Over is almost exclusively that of the middle class and higher who find their way with ease around the Infosphere, or whatever we want to call this shell of information and knowledge we’ve built around ourselves. Either that or those who thrive economically will be those able to successfully pitch whatever it is they’re selling to wealthy or well off buyers, sometimes even with the help of AI that is able to read human emotions.

I wish Cowen had focused more on what it will be like to be poor in such a world. One thing is certain, it will not be fun. For one, he sees further contraction rather than expansion of the social safety net, and widespread conservatism, rather than any attempts at radically new ways of organizing our economy, society and politics. Himself a libertarian conservative, Cowen sees such conservatism baked into the demographic cake of our aging societies. The old do not lead revolutions and given enough of them they can prevent the young from forcing any deep structural changes to society.

Cowen also has a thing for so-called “moral enhancement” though he doesn’t call it that. Moral enhancement need not only come from conservative forces, as the extensive work on the subject by the progressive James Hughes shows, but in the hands of both Hon and Cowen, moral enhancement is a bulwark of conservative societies, where the world of middle class work and the social safety net no longer function, or even exist, in the ways they had in the 20th century.

Hon with his neuroscience background sees moral enhancement leveraging off of our increasing mastery over the brain, but manifesting itself in a revival of religious longings related to meaning, a meaning that was for a long time provided by work, callings and occupations that he projects will become less and less available as we roll through the 21st century with human workers replaced by increasingly intelligent machines. Cowen, on the other hand, sees moral enhancement as the only way the poor will survive in an increasingly competitive and stingy environment, though his enhancement is to take place by more traditional means, the return of strict schools that inculcate victorian era morals such as self-control and above all conscientiousness in the young. Cowen is far from alone in thinking that in an era when machines are capable of much of the physical and intellectual labor once done by human beings what will matter most to individual success is ancient virtues.

In Cowen’s world the rich with money to burn are chased down with a combination of AI, behavioral economics, targeted consumer surveillance, and old fashioned, fleshy persuasion to part with their cash, but what will such a system be like for those chronically out of work? Even should mass government surveillance disappear tomorrow, (fat chance) it seems the poor will still face a world where the forces behind their ever more complex society become increasingly opaque, responsible humans harder to find, and in which they are constantly “nudged” by people who claim to know better. For the poor, surveillance technologies will likely be used not to sell them stuff which they can’t afford, but are a tool of the repo-man, and debt collector, parole officer, and cop that will slowly chisel away whatever slim column continues to connect them the former middle class world of their parents. It is a world more akin to the 1940’s or even the 1840’s than it is to anything we have taken to be normal since the middle of the 20th century.

​I do not know if such a world is sustainable over the long haul, and pray that it is not. The pessimist in me remembers that the classical and medieval world’s existed for long periods of time with extreme levels of inequality in both wealth and power, the optimist chimes in that these were ages when the common people did not know how to read. In any case, it is not a society that must by some macabre logic of economic determinism come about. The mechanism by which Cowen sees no sustained response to such a future coming into being is our own political paralysis and generational tribalism. He seems to want this world more than he is offering us a warning of it arrival. Let’s decide to prove him wrong for the technologies he puts so much hope in could be used in totally different ways and in the service of a juster form of society.

However critical I am of Cowen for accepting such a world as a fait accompli, the man still has some rather fascinating things to say. Take for instance his view of the future of science:

Once genius machines start coming up with new theories…. intelligibility will seem like a legacy from the very distant past. ( 220)

For Cowen much of science in the 21st century will be driven by coming up with theories and correlations from the massive amount of data we are collecting, a task more suited to a computer than a man (or woman) in a lab coat. Eventually machine derived theories will become so complex that no human being will be able to understand them. Progress in science will be given over to intelligent machines even as non-scientists find increasing opportunities to engage in “citizen science”.

Come to think of it, lack of intelligibility runs like a red thread throughout Average is Over, from “ugly” machine chess moves that human players scratch their heads at, to the fact that Cowen thinks those who will succeed in the next century will be those who place their “faith” in the decisions of machines, choices of action they themselves do not fully understand. Let’s hope he’s wrong on that score as well, for lack of intelligibility in human beings in politics, economics, and science, drives conspiracy theories, paranoia, and superstition, and political immobility.

Cowen believes the time when secular persons are able to cull from science a general, intelligible picture of the world is coming to a close. This would be a disaster in the sense that science gives us the only picture of the world that is capable of being universally shared which is also able to accurately guide our response to both nature and the technological world. At least for the moment, perhaps the best science writer we have suggests something very different. To her new book, next time….


Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.
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COMMENTS


2040’s America might look like the Britain found in Dickens, only we’ll be surrounded by robots.

Best of times; worst of times—which is actually encouraging in the face of doom ‘n gloom; often self-pitying negativity.

Cowen may seem a strange duck to take up the techno-optimism mantle, but he did in with gusto in his recent book Average is Over. The book in essence is a sequel to Cowen’s earlier best seller The Great Stagnation in which he argued that developed economies, including the United States, had entered a period of secular stagnation beginning in the 1970’s. The reason for this stagnation was that advanced economies had essentially picked all the “low hanging fruit” of the industrial revolution.

Aye: low hanging fruit. In retrospect the progress of the quarter century from ‘45- ‘70 derived from WWII.

from the point of view of someone brought up on Star Trek, Star Wars and Our Star Blazers with a comforter sporting Viking 2 and Pioneer, the fact that, not only have we failed to send human visitors to Mars or beyond, we haven’t even been back to the moon. Hell we don’t even have any human beings beyond low-earth orbit.

For those of us who remember it, the Space Age of Gemini to Apollo, how visions of colonizing the stars by 2010 or whenever became a bit too fatuous. Though, as IEET kindly reminded, SF was and is necessary for inspiration.

Arguing that we are in a period of technological stagnation at first seems strange, but when I reflect a moment on the meaning of facts such as not flying all that much faster than would have been common for my grandparents in the 1960’s, the kitchen in my family photos from the Carter days looking surprisingly like the kitchen I have right now- minus the paneling, or saddest of all,
Of course, it would be silly to argue there has been no technological progress since Nixon
.

Yes, in the four decades since Nixon many great things have occurred.
Nostalgia and escapism always come to mind- could be the overwhelming majority’s [perhaps 95+ percent of population!] psychic comfort zone is the past. Plus they live for the physical pleasures, and gadgets, of now or even Now-now. (The palpable example is smoking and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow).

It was predictable “alienation and criminality” (Sakharov’s concise truism, which I appreciate as leitmotiv) would continue, sapping progress.
Living in mid-America, which is basically dominated by the 19th century, have discovered recently that for starters one should not be intimidated, esp by self-pitying negativity. A large number of elderly project their incipient demise on youth- extremely bad for youth. In that sense I’m glad I’m not a youth, the younger set have less of a frame of reference to go by; many have none. Over five millennia of recorded history’s negativity. Factoring this in, we’ve done rather well.

Have learnt—another recurring theme—the importance of not being everything to everyone.. even if being candid can often be perceived as tactlessness. Square One: it’s not right to temporize with the religious albeit there is profoundly pleasant ecumenicism resulting from attempting to go along to get along. Too much cloying involved. My only difference with Giulio was just that, not religion itself. It’s walking a tightrope; we ought to stress what is positive without veering off into the airy fairy.





I would hazard a prediction that even marketing, (media & arts), will be placed squarely in the hands of AI machines and AGI software - Car industry adverts/marketing has historically been of high quality, how much of these advertisements today rely on Human creative input, how much can be emulated/copied by machines from past successes?

There is real possibility of a return to Dickensian pre-industrial economics, a “sword” hanging over the heads of society/populous. A greater divide between “have’s and have not’s”, increased structural unemployment, inequality, poverty, hardship and suffering. The modern “work house” exists today in third world countries forcing child labor under coercion and for low wages/long hours - we can speculate as increasing unemployment and competition between Humans and machines emerges, there will also be greater competition in western democracies for poverty driven low wage jobs, and increased short-term contracts that only serve to deconstruct the employment rights that Unions from the industrial era have spent long and hard works to construct.

Apathy with the aged/tired and disenfranchised youth runs rife - and used as clever strategy/war of attrition by the Capitalist states/nations? What does a 20 year old post graduate know about the hardship of their grandparents, about past decades of fighting for employment rights? Do they even care as long as their smartphone is functional and charged?

I honestly believe also that politicians haven’t the slightest clue how to solve the unfolding dilemma of economic sustainability for increasing populations, (pensions, healthcare, energy, food), migration for low paid jobs, world debt, and education for skills/jobs that are becoming scarce and perhaps not even required in the near future - thus, the Neo-conservatives in the UK, (perhaps not quite as Neo-Liberal as 80’s), seem to propose the deconstruction of welfare to serve the motivation of “getting peoples back to work” - low paid work - as the only foreseeable answer?

“Race to the Bottom” - in the name of efficiency drives and Austerity to reconcile and pay for what exactly? - The perpetuation of ever growing global nation state debt - and monies owed to whom exactly?

Technological innovation, combined with increasing population/aged burden on public/social Healthcare is projected as “unsustainable”, thus Conservative ideology to deconstruct free social healthcare also, (there is no better market than “selling” to the masses what they need most - basic needs, energy and healthcare - Capitalism does not care about Humans nor as from where profit and growth derives)?

Dickensian education systems are certainly not the answer to solve global economic problems or thinking. Nor is the institution of low paid jobs.

Yet we may indeed find Humans as becoming more and more semi-skilled and struggling hard to make ends meet with increased competition of work hours, (not even days?) The UK has recently been having problems with “zero hours” jobs/contracts and exploitation of employees who have no contract rights and are often bullied and threatened if they are not “flexible” enough for these employers, (US employers who will remain nameless here). UK Politicians have declared to outlaw these contracts! - Yet they still exist.

I cannot see moral enhancement as the answer to the growing economic problems/issues, yet certainly morality, (trickle down), is the key to fundamental system change. Teaching kids a protestant work ethic when there are little or no jobs is yet more misdirection.

For sure this antiquated Capitalism economic model requires total re-evaluation/reformation. If it is not fit for purpose, then it needs to go ultimately. Who/which parties will be the “prime movers” for economic change? - It requires ALL of us Humans, old and young alike?





One important area i think this overlooks is that of artistic creativity. AI is unlikely to supersede human artistic creativity anytime soon.

If you imagine a future with robotic automation taking care of all the low/mid level jobs and addressing our basic needs creating an underclass that can’t afford to buy creative products, who are you going to make money from? Who is going to make new products to make money?

Groundbreaking scientific theories developed by AI (even if possible) aren’t what’s going to fuel the economy at large. (and you know, it’s entirely possible the computer theories will tell you things you don’t want to know, can’t believe or can’t comprehend. who will be able to judge that, but creative people?)

The most important thing, I think, is a robust creative class to make and buy creative works.

The reduced cost of entry into creative fields through computers is a new revolutionary development. Check this documentary out to see what an electronic studio that you can run on your computer (or phone!) used to look like and cost!  http://vimeo.com/70610227

Currently, copyright laws are one of the largest impediments for artistic creativity. By enforcing laws to limit creativity and using capital as a method for enforcing those laws we have removed the beneficial effects conflict + competition have. We’ve actually stopped creative works from operating under a true capitalist system. The market isn’t “deciding”, artificial constraints are. The one ironic part is that creativity under a “true” capitalist system is also socialist and communal! The other ironic part is that creativity is the (only) good perpetual war, the one that we want to be fighting at all times.

The other problem i see is that western society has not only not done a lot to cultivate creativity, it has taken active measures to discourage creative and intuitive thinking via our “educational system”.

Faith and reliance on machine AI choices seems like a surefire way to train the intuition out of a person. I find competition with and exploration of automated processes are powerful tool for working with and training your creative brain, but reliance on them would be crippling. It wouldn’t be making a better AI it’d be making our intelligence more artificial and less useful.

I think part of what we are witnessing now is the death throes of money as we know it, because while it was/is a powerful driver and creator of evolution via conflict, we’ve used money to evolve systems around it and outside it. That’s human creativity.

People worry about “big data” as a means to exploit to make money, but perhaps it is the new “money”? Wouldn’t it be interesting if companies had an interest in controlling an intangible asset that people don’t actually use and can’t use on their own? Move the goal posts, let those who want to compete to see who can get the most data and do the most good with it and reward them with more data? I really don’t know what the “new money” will look like in all honesty i imagine it’s as alien as someone from the dark ages imagining computers.





@CygnusX1:

“I would hazard a prediction that even marketing, (media & arts), will be placed squarely in the hands of AI machines and AGI software”

Sometimes I think the complexity of these problems offers us some protection. I was just reading about how IBM is having trouble applying, marketing its Watson because playing Jeopardy! is easier than making medical diagnosis or providing financial advice. In any case, a scary scenario, and something Cowen is completely comfortable with, is something only a little removed from what we have now: Imagine the saleswoman with a device in her ear that can give her a read on your emotions or Google type glasses or contacts that harvest your public media profile or “social profile” located in data aggregators such as AXIOM. Here the human being is a mere puppet to the dictates of the machine. Cowen thinks that those who will be most successful in the new environment will be those who “trust” their machines. That might be good on the football field, but also gives us a society of puppets.   

“I honestly believe also that politicians haven’t the slightest clue how to solve the unfolding dilemma of economic sustainability for increasing populations, (pensions, healthcare, energy, food), migration for low paid jobs, world debt, and education for skills/jobs that are becoming scarce and perhaps not even required in the near future…”

Right on!

Your last 2 paragraphs capture the flaw of Cowen’s argument perfectly. He’s not so much that he’s predicting an end to post 1960’s stagnation, but a new era of scarcity. “Victorian” morality isn’t a lifeboat but a sorting mechanism to decide who will be drowning. If these technologies really are so revolutionary why aren’t we talking about alternative ways to organize our societies using them. I am waiting for an heir to Iain Banks, but I keep getting Ayn Rand.





@foodeater:

I am not so sure. AI already creates pretty good music:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/11/20/iamus-returns/

And a painting done by a robot fooled a major gallery into thinking it was done by a human.

Novels would seem more difficult, though I suppose that eventually it will be possible to construct a novel a little like Google translate constructs translation, not by understanding their meaning but through statistical comparison to what went before- kind of like William Burroughs wrote The Naked Lunch.

The sad thing, for me, is that in none of these instances is the machine actually trying to communicate meaning- just shifting 1’s and 0’s around.





Sad thing is not machines making art, but rather what Cygnus correctly writes on:

There is real possibility of a return to Dickensian pre-industrial economics, a “sword” hanging over the heads of society/populous. A greater divide between “have’s and have not’s”, increased structural unemployment, inequality, poverty, hardship and suffering. The modern “work house” exists today in third world countries forcing child labor under coercion and for low wages/long hours - we can speculate as increasing unemployment and competition between Humans and machines emerges, there will also be greater competition in western democracies for poverty driven low wage jobs, and increased short-term contracts that only serve to deconstruct the employment rights that Unions from the industrial era have spent long and hard works to construct. Apathy with the aged/tired and disenfranchised youth runs rife - and used as clever strategy/war of attrition by the Capitalist states/nations? What does a 20 year old post graduate know about the hardship of their grandparents, about past decades of fighting for employment rights? Do they even care as long as their smartphone is functional and charged? I honestly believe also that politicians haven’t the slightest clue how to solve the unfolding dilemma of economic sustainability for increasing populations, (pensions, healthcare, energy, food), migration for low paid jobs, world debt, and education for skills/jobs that are becoming scarce and perhaps not even required in the near future - thus, the Neo-conservatives in the UK, (perhaps not quite as Neo-Liberal as 80’s), seem to propose the deconstruction of welfare to serve the motivation of “getting peoples back to work” - low paid work - as the only foreseeable answer? “Race to the Bottom” - in the name of efficiency drives and Austerity to reconcile and pay for what exactly? - The perpetuation of ever growing global nation state debt - and monies owed to whom exactly? Technological innovation, combined with increasing population/aged burden on public/social Healthcare is projected as “unsustainable”, thus Conservative ideology to deconstruct free social healthcare also, (there is no better market than “selling” to the masses what they need most - basic needs, energy and healthcare - Capitalism does not care about Humans nor as from where profit and growth derives)? Dickensian education systems are certainly not the answer to solve global economic problems or thinking. Nor is the institution of low paid jobs. Yet we may indeed find Humans as becoming more and more semi-skilled and struggling hard to make ends meet with increased competition of work hours, (not even days?) The UK has recently been having problems with “zero hours” jobs/contracts and exploitation of employees who have no contract rights and are often bullied and threatened if they are not “flexible” enough for these employers, (US employers who will remain nameless here). UK Politicians have declared to outlaw these contracts! - Yet they still exist. I cannot see moral enhancement as the answer to the growing economic problems/issues, yet certainly morality, (trickle down), is the key to fundamental system change. Teaching kids a protestant work ethic when there are little or no jobs is yet more misdirection.”

Basis for an article right there. However it wasn’t necessary to include I honestly believe also that politicians haven’t the slightest clue how to solve the unfolding dilemma of economic sustainability for increasing populations, (pensions, healthcare, energy, food), migration for low paid jobs, world debt, and education for skills/jobs that are becoming scarce and perhaps not even required in the near future.

It’s a given. Some politicians are not only clueless but also don’t even care as long as their smartphones are functional and charged. Here we’re preaching to the choir; what we’d have to do is do a roundtable with technorightists to if nothing else discover exactly what it is they’re thinking. Don’t reply we know what they’re thinking- because we don’t know precisely. What purpose would it serve?: possibly their minds can be changed on some matters.
BTW, these things have to be organized by people possessing charisma; charisma is something politicians and CEOs usually do possess albeit they are clueless/uncaring. (Even though Bill Gates is a so-called ‘geek’, he’s got charisma. Steve Jobs was a ‘geek’—yet he too had charisma.

 





I feel I had instinctively come at these conclusions some years ago. The future is inhumane, and those humans in charge of it will thrive for lack of humanity, morlock style. It is a reality that generates its own predatory humanity to exorcise and extinguish and gaza-ify anyone too low on the food chain. This process is irresistible. There is nothing left in the world to wage resistance, despite the best efforts of Russel Brand.

I have a few decades left in me, barring life extension, and the only response left to me is utter nihilism, complete detachment of moral and civil society, artificially and intentionally lowered expectations in terms of consumerism, and eventually the most violent possible suicide I can muster. Take a few of those gestapo with me, so to speak.

I got lucky, I skirted a career and snuggled up in a disability shell. It’s very difficult for society to eviscerate large numbers of people from this disability since most recipients will never work again, even if tortured. I nonetheless had a relatively prosperous life. What is there left to me other than dreams and hedonism? What does the world promise?

Yes we are headed for full surveillance states. Democracy will slowly deteriorate, and the state will become an instrument of extreme repression and fear, even in formerly tolerant western Europe.

If there was a god, she’d give us space elevators or room temperature fusion reactors or something like that that can keep a whole lot of people occupied doing stuff.

Because other than a miracle I see no way out. This will end very badly.





@ Khannea - Never, Ever give up! And certainly not for the incompetence of world leaders and their apathy towards such vile corruption and greed.

Who are the real Looters?

Explosion in wealth inequality needs urgent plan of action, says Oxfam

“Mexico’s Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man. It would currently take him 220 years to spend his $80bn fortune at a rate of $1m a day.

The development charity Oxfam is calling for a seven-point plan to tackle the “explosion” in inequality after reporting that the world’s richest people have been left untouched by austerity and are seeing their wealth increase by half a million dollars every minute.

.. Earlier this year, the charity said the world’s 85 billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population . In its latest study – Even It Up – Oxfam said that this elite group had seen their wealth collectively increase by $668m (£414m) a day in the 12 months to March 2014.”

www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/29/explosion-wealth-inequality-needs-urgent-plan-action-oxfam





I do what I can do, but right now necessity obliges me to maintain a survival, holding pattern - In practical terms for me that’s hedonism. That is me not giving up.

http://khannea-suntzu.zerostate.net/?p=7406





We should maintain our sense of historical perspective. The world today, for us in the rich countries, is much better than it was from the world a century ago. And we have actually made much progress, think the gains for women, minorities, gays etc. And even the poorest of us are much richer.

My fears are less for us than for the future. The world of my children, perhaps grandchildren, and especially for those not in the rich world. There are some REALLY BIG choices facing humanity and what we do now might decide if we experience another crisis like or worse than those of the 20th century decades hence, and loose all of the gains we have made. And even if I thought everything I did was futile in terms of bringing about the good I would still do it because that is what I am supposed to do.





@ Rick..

“And even if I thought everything I did was futile in terms of bringing about the good I would still do it because that is what I am” - you didn’t need the final directive?

And yes the future starts here.. today


PM ordered Lord Freud to apologise for remarks on disabled people’s pay

“David Cameron ordered the welfare reform minister Lord Freud to issue a full apology after it emerged he had said that some disabled people were “not worth” paying the minimum wage.

Ed Miliband revealed at prime minister’s questions that Freud had recently suggested that people with mental disabilities could be paid as little as £2 an hour.”

Cuts to employment and support allowance ‘considered’

“Ministers are considering drastically cutting the main Employment and Support Allowance sickness benefit, internal documents seen by the BBC suggest.

New claimants, judged to be capable of work with appropriate support, could be given just 50p more per week than people on job seekers allowance.

Current recipients get almost £30 per week more.

.. Leaked documents this summer showed that ministers considered ESA - formerly known as incapacity benefit - to be “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government”. “

Now it seems that a Universal Basic Income would help solve all of these dilemmas, arguments, debacle and imposed suffering, (as well as administration costs)?

 

 





@CygnusX1:

“And even if I thought everything I did was futile in terms of bringing about the good I would still do it because that is what I am” - you didn’t need the final directive?

Well, I guess that did sound pretty vacuous and maybe vain on my part. I know whatever I do is always very small. I was trying to respond to Khannea’s futility. Likelihood of success shouldn’t decide what we do, though it might shape how we choose from the paths available. 

Would universal basic income solve all of these dilemmas? A lot, I suppose, but there are of course other that it would not. It would probably not address our environmental challenges (it might even exacerbate them), it would probably help, but wouldn’t solve infrastructure problems such as how to get the billions of people who are/will be living in mega-cities potable water/sewage. It wouldn’t eliminate threats from pandemic disease, international instability, or stem the new developments of the security state, or solve the problem of political capture or corruption.

We have much to do.





@ Rick

“Well, I guess that did sound pretty vacuous and maybe vain on my part.” - Not at all, you say you aspire to do the right thing because you are supposed to - I say it’s because of who you are? And there is good in everyone, maybe just a little less in some, but we are all born as innocents none-the-less, and corrupted through our years, even Oligarchy?

I see Universal Credit as one step closer to Universal Basic Income, and the beginning of the end to “means tested” welfare and bureaucracy? Should we as society insist on the disabled to be productive and competitive in work, (Transhuman ideals would also aim to not discriminate, but to uplift anyhow)?

And what do we do for the disabled who cannot work or be productive, (this applies to structural unemployment also)? By providing “disposable income” people would still be supporting the economy, and able to live a life adhering to principles of Human decency and aligned with Universal UN directives?

In fact I believe it would help “flatten” boom and bust economic cycles. Thus the Capitalist would still be contented as demand for goods would be more stable, promoting market and investment confidence all round?

Where do the monies come from to support such ideals? I would say mostly from Corporate Taxation, as Corporate consumer profits would be coming directly from government Basic Income benefit. But there is also Income and purchase Tax to help support Basic Income - It really just depends on how creative we can be with taxation and the redistribution of monies?

With enough disposable income we could pay for all of the things you suggest, and even be happy to support Charities both directly and indirectly, promoting greater social conscience and goals to eliminate poverty worldwide?

There could be both incentives and penalties for Oligarchy hoarding monies and not investing in infrastructure, technology, the building of mega cities and etc, (each of these with it’s own benefits and returns/rewards for investing monies back into society)?

The government/state would be the executive social benefactor for citizens, yet this does not eliminate the use/utility of private banks and cooperatives to administer the distribution of monies and accounts?

I’m sure there are folks here who can suggest many other ideas to reconcile the principles of Basic Income and redistribution of monies?


And then.. there will even come a time where Humans may decide they no longer need money at all? Rewards come in many forms, from basic needs fulfilled, to intellectual and recreational gratification?


“What is a Resource-Based Economy? How does it work and how can it benefit the world?”

www.thevenusproject.com/about/resource-based-economy

 

 





The biggest economic problems in the US today are unemployment and low pay (a consequence of unemployment).  Since I do not want to contribute to this problem, I refuse to use the auto-sales machines in stores.  I always go to a human sales clerk.

Not contributing to the problem is insufficient; I want to do something positive.  So on entering and leaving the store, I pass by those machines and shout out to whoever is using them, “If you use those machines, you are putting Americans out of work.”

This, I believe, is the least a person of good will can do. If I weren’t dedicated already to other causes, I might to more.





Interesting reading, but I have the impression that there’s a bit too much hand-wringing and not enough imagining how things could go well. Is avoiding using ATMs and making those of us who do feel bad the solution? Clearly not. But perhaps we can imagine what those human sales clerks might be doing (and might prefer to be doing) instead of serving customers from their depressing cubicles? There’s enough doom and gloom out there already, we don’t need to add to it.





@Peter:

Just a reminder that this largely a review of Coen’s book, not my own ideas, and he is not troubled by the idea of structural unemployment caused by automation in the least.

“But perhaps we can imagine what those human sales clerks might be doing (and might prefer to be doing) instead of serving customers from their depressing cubicles?”

The issue here is, if you believe in the projections, that it’s extremely difficult to tell what jobs will be automated and what won’t. We’re sending a generation into health and education blind to the fact that automation is making strides in both.

As for optimism vs pessimism there’s a billion dollar industry already telling us all the good things that will come from our technology and busily marketing it to individuals and businesses, so the upside is covered.





I guess I’m coloured somewhat by my background in environmental policy, which for many years (though perhaps this is changing) has tended to be largely dominated by an anti-technology, anti-business ethic. I was never impressed by the “upside” peddled by the marketing industry, but positive (and not commercially motivated) visions of where technology could take us were an eye-opener for me, and this tends to make me push against techno-pessimism more than I do against techno-optimism, especially when I read it here.

Maybe the answer is to focus on the most positive trends in our society and try to build on them. For example, for all its faults social media is clearly having a massive, and I would say largely leveling, effect on the way that society is organised, and I think there are also some early signs of the moneyless society envisaged by CygnusX1. Of course we should also criticise each other’s visions and identify risks, I just don’t want it to be a choice between the fake optimism of sales pitches on the one hand and apocalyptic warnings on the other. We really do need to try to imagine how things could go well.





@Peter:

“Maybe the answer is to focus on the most positive trends in our society and try to build on them..”

It is not a valid argument that you are some position is wrong because you don’t like its “mood”.From my angle, I think the answer is for each of us to convey reality as we see it and let the collective decide what to do with that picture.





Except that if we all sit around “conveying reality as we see it” then nobody will do anything. You will tell me that plenty of people are doing things so there is no danger of that, but more generally I don’t think it is enough to be “right”. We also have a choice about which realities to convey, and the choices we make have consequences.

One “reality”, for example, is that many different futures are possible, and we each have preferences for some scenarios over others. For example, you have a clear preference for futures in which wealth is shared relatively equally, and science does not become unintelligible to humans. My point is that such positive visions are more likely to happen if we describe them, and think about how they might happen. I’m not saying that anything you have written is “wrong”, only that I would prefer to see a more positive focus. So that’s a preference I have regarding the future…





Someone once asked William Gibson why he didn’t write more positive versions of the future to which he replied. “I’ve tried, but it keeps coming out black.”





Maybe the answer is to focus on the most positive trends in our society and try to build on them…We really do need to try to imagine how things could go well…I would prefer to see a more positive focus. So that’s a preference I have regarding the future


What’s really positive is war can end. That should be stressed to encourage everyone who wants to be encouraged. If someone wants to think Pinker is mistaken, let them—it’s their pessimism, not ours.

However, to avoid being on the defensive we could unashamedly admit the negatives: continuing low level violence, high-tech crime. We admit that progress can’t keep families intact. (i.e. paying parents who hate each other to stay together wouldn’t succeed).

I’d like to see progressives on the east coast be more aware of the situation in the interior of the US [*The world* is—increasingly—an abstraction; globaloney]... they are a bit too provincial. Some appear to think the country ends west of the Appalachians.
To a majority of mid-Americans, it doesn’t matter much if the world ‘ends’, Jesus will save them. So we end up talking past perhaps half of them.
You people are the best and the brightest, you can build on this. But if you don’t think so, then who the frick are the best and the brightest?





@instamatic:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/12/30/pinker-foucault-and-progress/





Good one, Rick; I read it all the way through just now. Your passages on prisons are enlightening.

This is a matter of concern:

Recent confrontations between China and its neighbors and East Asia’s quite disturbing military buildup do not portend well for 21st century pacifism.

Nevertheless, with billions of people to feed, Asians either know already, or can be persuaded, that peace might be in their best interests and the world’s as well. The Mideast is another sore spot, to say the least. Even there, though, there exist interests to protect including the sacred interest of Mecca and Medina—plus the other numerous holy sites of Islam. True, Jihadists wont hesitate to pick ‘our’ soldiers off one at a time as they did in Iraq for instance. But notice how flying jumbojets into buildings was a one-time project. And notice how during the roughly four decades since ‘terrorists’, or ‘freedom fighters’—depending on one’s perspective—became more active not one WMD has been used?

Now, I’m fairly pessimistic, though wasn’t always as negative. When I grew up in the northeast, the negativity concerning world peace wasn’t as apparent. After moving out west, it was a terrific shock to realize right away how much apocalypse/Apocalypse is imbedded in the mind of the mid-American—who is predominantly religiously-oriented. Yet now I see it isn’t merely pure apocalysm, but also religious masochism; a tad self-pity; validating past-prejudice; family/peer pressure; and more.
Thus when it comes to war and peace, at this time I wont go with the pessimistic program. Our good friend Dick Pelletier was a role model for synergistic optimism: you take existing optimism and carefully magnify it to encourage a certain number of people who will listen. No of course one doesn’t become chirpy, as professional futurists do to sell their books.

——————————————————
BTW, Richard Eskow could lighten up. His latest piece is: “7 Signs That the American Dream is Dying.”

Dying?

DYING. DEATH. C’mon Richard, it’s not all that bad- is it?





I didn’t even read the “American dream is Dying” article, I just do NOT need to read more of that kind of rhetoric. To be honest, I rarely read Dick’s articles either, because they seemed a bit TOO optimistic and uncritical for them to really resonate with me. Our positive visions should not be Panglossian.

Re “Someone once asked William Gibson why he didn’t write more positive versions of the future to which he replied. “I’ve tried, but it keeps coming out black.””, I guess my only comment there is that we each write what we want to write, and if black is how you feel it then by all means write black. Still, Gibson was writing fiction about the future, and here we’re discussing it. Do I resent Margaret Atwood for writing depressing fiction? Of course not: nobody forces me to read it. And nobody forces me to read the articles and comments here either, but sometimes we really do have fascinating discussions. Maybe it’s just about striking the right balance?





@instamatic:

“Nevertheless, with billions of people to feed, Asians either know already, or can be persuaded, that peace might be in their best interests and the world’s as well. “

I am pretty pessimistic about Asia right now. China seems to be following the classic rising power narrative asserting its “rights” its neighborhood and alienating its neighbors in the process. The only adhesives that holds the false communist regime together is economic growth and nationalism the danger being that if the former falters it will press even harder on the latter to maintain its legitimacy. I think the best thing we could do there is set up some form of commission that would help ease China’s rise especially by settling outstanding territorial disputes,
attempt to slow the speed of naval buildup in Pacific countries and provide an emergency communication system to prevent confrontations from spinning out of control like the US and Soviets put in place after the Cuban missile crisis.





@Peter Wicks:

If I have optimism it consists in the fact that there are solutions to these problems. If technological unemployment/underemployment becomes as common as Cowen and others believe, and the jury is still out, then we’ll need to put in place universal basic income (which I do not see as problematic see below), this would have to include universal health care for the unemployed and something to offset the deflationary impact of this technology and/or preventing total capture of the gains by those who have replaced humans with machines.





@CygnusX1:

“In fact I believe it would help “flatten” boom and bust economic cycles. Thus the Capitalist would still be contented as demand for goods would be more stable, promoting market and investment confidence all round?”

I should probably put this under George D latest post, but I do see some potential problems with UBI. It would be very humanitarian, but it also has something of"bread and circuses” about it.  Masses pacified by their basic material needs being met and no doubt a lot of mind blowing entertainment. It would perhaps support rather than replace our existing economic system with its environmental unsustainability and class/power divisions.

I always try to be sensitive to being carried away by hype, but if we ever perfected 3D printing we might find a way to create a whole new economy. We’d all be able to make what we need and wouldn’t have to depend on systems that as the price of providing our “life support” create and sustain enormous structural inequalities. You know, like Star Trek replicators. ;>)





I think we just need to be very creative in thinking of things to do that we might be willing to pay each other to do. I’m certainly not of the just-leave-it-to-the-market school, but the more we cultivate (and support financially) appreciation for human creativity, the more we can avoid the dehumanising effects of automation. Less movies, more theatre.





@ Peter

What will people of the future prefer to do, when they can’t work as sales clerks?  Perhaps be homeless and beg, or try to get in jail so they will not freeze or go hungry.

That’s how it would be under the present plutocratic US regime.  If you’re a US citizen, I suggest you vote for progressive candidates next Tuesday—assuming the Republicans permit you to vote.





I’m not, so I can’t. By sure, let’s vote for politicians that understand the problem and want to do something about it. But let’s also not go to the other extreme and expect the State to solve all our problems. I like this from Rick: “If I have optimism it consists in the fact that there are solutions to these problems.” Some of these involve politicians and government; others involve creativity and entrepreneurship. And not to forget compassion and sharing, of course.





@ Rick..

“I should probably put this under George D latest post, but I do see some potential problems with UBI. It would be very humanitarian, but it also has something of"bread and circuses” about it. Masses pacified by their basic material needs being met and no doubt a lot of mind blowing entertainment. It would perhaps support rather than replace our existing economic system with its environmental unsustainability and class/ power divisions.”

Welcome to the “Brave New World”? However despite the advocates for legalized Soma, (and it is progress that “clean and safe” drugs use will be available in the future), as well as increased recreational activities, I don’t see this as problematic or a “dumbing down” of Human minds and intellects, in fact I would say the reverse?

Ethical Problems From Technology Efficiency


UBI Could be implemented to subdue dissent in society through “passive coercion”, yet if it overcomes poverty, suffering, violence and crime, then this is a positive sum - Humans will be content to be free from poverty and suffering and in exchange voluntarily subscribe to a “renewed” social contract of peace and security for each and everyone?

Peter Joseph, (Zeitgeist movement), prescribes the very existence of the “Free Market” and Capitalism growth as the roots of structural violence, poverty and early death - and he’s correct, (more of this at the George Dvorsky article ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/dvorsky20141101

—-


“I always try to be sensitive to being carried away by hype, but if we ever perfected 3D printing we might find a way to create a whole new economy. We’d all be able to make what we need and wouldn’t have to depend on systems that as the price of providing our “life support” create and sustain enormous structural
inequalities. You know, like Star Trek replicators. ;>)”

Well yes, that’s the idea. And placing/assigning ST machine “Replicators” alongside “matter transporters” as distant futurisms, the 3D Printers are the first steps towards greater self sufficiency. Yet less practicable is the idea of each of us hoarding all the elements and resources to make what we need/want as this is still not efficient? Rather I see 3D Printing as downsizing the need for logistical transport, production, storage and retail outlets, (unfortunately leading to even greater jobs losses)?

Why do I need a 3D Printer, if I can order an item online and it’s produced for me and despatched from a “local” business with a far smaller “Carbon footprint”?

Again Peter Joseph/Jacques Fresco talk at great lengths regarding efficient use of resources to reduce costs of production and goods and mitigate environmental damage.

 

 

 





@CygnusX1:

“UBI Could be implemented to subdue dissent in society through “passive coercion”, yet if it overcomes poverty, suffering, violence and crime, then this is a positive sum”

Perhaps in a straight utilitarian sense, but there’s more to life than material needs. It’s less Brave New World than it is The Grand Inquisitor:

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pol116/grand.htm

And in that sense I don’t like it at all. I don’t believe that “the very existence of the “Free Market” and Capitalism growth as the roots of structural violence, poverty and n so early death” capitalism is a very recent system, not more than a few centuries old, and there were plenty of these things in the Classical and medieval worlds. The roots of oppression lie in inequality of which capitalism is just one form.

When I get really utopian I can see advanced 3D printing as a way out of monetized economics entirely- whether these machines are tools of individuals or shared by a local community is a matter of choice as to whether one wants a more individualistic or communitarian society. Of course, well still need all types of professionals such as doctors for surgeries and the like and engineers but using the markets for goods and most service would be a luxury one could take or leave as one likes.





China seems to be following the classic rising power narrative asserting its “rights” its neighborhood and alienating its neighbors in the process

Unless the Chinese are bluffing. Possibly Putin is bluffing as well.

No doubt the 2040s will be dire in many ways, however that only makes me appreciate ‘bots all the more. If I’m in say a nursing home 30 yrs from now, a ‘bot might be the most comforting thing around.

It was unrealistic for American jingoists to anticipate that America would remain the colossus bestriding the Earth—as it was in ‘45. Besides: in the ‘80s we received a foreshadowing of what things might be like in the 2040s; it isn’t as if this dire scenario is unprecedented. Voting progressive does make great sense, because what worries me about mid-America (the Midwest is now the bellwether of the US) is the belief that it doesn’t matter if the world ‘ends’, we’ll be saved by an outside agency. Deus ex machina. (Jesus, of course, is here the most commonly hoped for outside actor.. The Savior).

At any rate, although it is realistic to anticipate dystopia in the 2040s, what good does Apocalypse-mongering do?





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