Friday, May 17, 2013

Humans Fully Outsourced to Robots by 2045?

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Nicholas West
Activist Post

Discussion of the "Singularity" -- the moment when computer intelligence surpasses that of humans to such an extent that humans become practically redundant -- has been gaining steam across the media spectrum. Ray Kurzweil pointed to 2045 as the date of this tipping point, after which anyone unprepared for merging with machines would likely face a very unproductive personal future.

With the rise of automation, a background debate echoes the idea of full spectrum human-machine integration. For those who might overlook the full theoretical endgame of the Singularity, including transhumanism and immortality, the economic singularity is showing itself already.

The outsourcing of human jobs as a side effect of globalization has arguably contributed to the current unemployment crisis in the United States. However, a growing trend sees humans done away with altogether, even in those countries where U.S. jobs have landed, as a fully robotic workforce takes over - curiously by the same singularity date of 2045 - according to professor Moshe Vardi, a Rice University computer science professor.

So what does this mean for the future of human relevance?

Robot proponents have often cited the brutal working conditions of factory labor, inefficiency and corporate bottom lines as principal reasons for replacing humans.  Human beings are slowly but surely becoming redundant in areas as diverse as manufacturing, product fulfillment, and even warfare. However, it is the rise of artificial intelligence which suggests that the former argument stating that humans could maintain positions requiring high skill and decision making may have been wishful thinking. Many computer science experts are beginning to conclude that complete human obsolescence in the workforce is a more likely outcome.

According to Moshe Vardi, if current trends of computer development and human replacement continue, the traditional labor market will be a thing of the past as a "consequence of machine intelligence."
It is in the context of the Great Recession that people started noticing that while machines have yet to exceed humans in intelligence, they are getting intelligent enough to have a major impact on the job market. In their 2011 book, Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, argued that "technological progress is accelerating innovation even as it leaves many types of workers behind." Indeed, over the past 30 years, as we saw the personal computer morph into tablets, smartphones, and cloud computing, we also saw income inequality grow worldwide. While the loss of millions of jobs over the past few years has been attributed to the Great Recession, whose end is not yet in sight, it now seems that technology-driven productivity growth is at least a major factor. Such concerns have gone mainstream in the past year, with articles in newspapers and magazines carrying titles such as "More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People," "Marathon Machine: Unskilled Workers Are Struggling to Keep Up With Technological Change," "It's a Man vs. Machine Recovery," and "The Robots Are Winning." (Source)
Until this point, as Vardi notes, humans have been competing with their own creations mainly at a level of "brawn" not brain. Yet, that is where the most significant changes are taking place in computational ability, giving rise to full-fledged artificial intelligence which threatens to overtake even the areas of "skilled labor," as well as areas of traditional human-to-human services. We can see signs of this in the following areas, just to name a few:
It is also often cited by robot and A.I. proponents that humans are destined for a life of leisure as our creations take over in order to assist us with the grunt work so that we can live tranquil lives of creative pursuits and peaceful philosophical endeavors. However, this was a common argument also made when the personal computer came on the scene. Most of us would agree that the personal computer definitely offered us increased efficiency and productivity ... but only so that we could work more, not less.

At this point it doesn't seem like the outsourcing of human abilities to our robotic counterparts is leading us toward the life of leisure that has been promised, but instead is leading to the perception of humans as nothing more than a troubling quantity within a new economic algorithm.  How can we ensure that we maintain relevance during a time of such rapid change?

Professor Vardi offers the following as his concerns about "leisure"  and human relevance:
First, if machines can do almost all of our work, then it is not clear that even 15 weekly hours of work will be required. Second, I do not find the prospect of leisure-filled life appealing. I believe that work is essential to human well-being. Third, our economic system would have to undergo a radical restructuring to enable billions of people to live lives of leisure. Unemployment rate in the US is currently under 9 percent and is considered to be a huge problem. 
Technology always has been a double-edged sword. The possibilities presented by artificial intelligence and robotics hold massive positive potential that actually could challenge elite power structures. In the meantime, our economy is transforming away from human inefficiency and variability to a robot economy that is already showing itself as a threat to the viability of an increasing number of people. Without a massive paradigm shift in the ability for the average person to tap into the growing potential for a massive reduction in cost of goods and services, while still maintaining control over their own creations, the endgame is likely to be more grim than utopian.

We are living in an extraordinary time where we are at the cusp of a massive change that has not been seen since the industrial revolution in its potential to impact nearly every person on the planet. Please leave your comments about what you conclude will be the outcome.

Other sources:

Interview with Moshe Vardi:

Top 10 Reasons We Should Fear The Singularity
Top 10 Reasons We Should NOT Fear The Singularity

Read other articles by Nicholas West Here


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Anonymous said...

I am 49 yrs old and I knew instinctively even when I was a kid that somehow machines and humans are in competition... with machines taking away from humans the relevance which they need for living as much as bread or air, and depriving us from a lifestyle which fits to human biological and psychological inborn patterns i.e. from living according to our nature and thus from happiness. Industrialism feeds and overfeeds us with any kind of material things we "want" or are duped to want / need, but all this cant make us happy because it is "not our world" from our human nature´s point of view.
Of course I didn´t have the words for it then. I say it now in my words of now. But I never felt any admiration for "the wonders of modern technology", I rather shunned tech, or feared it, or whenever I saw its disadvantages, namely after I learned (at seven) that it is responsible for destruction of living Nature and danger for humans, I despised it. And I acted according to what I felt, in a very common-sense but rather unusual way. For example when I saw first time, at seven again, that the mowing machine on some wheat field nearby had left whole square meters of good ripe wheat unharvested as the field had uneven edges to which the machine was not adapted... I thought "what a waste, this is grain, one can give it to the birds in winter instead of plowing it under." And I went out to harvest it meself with a pair of scissors, and a bag, and so I did, and fed the sparrows on them in winter, as Scandinavian countrypeople are said to do round Christmas. This "grain-saving" became a thing I kept doing every summer, against all resistance and ignoring all negative comments about it being "not normal" ... till I was twenty. And later on I even ate the grain meself, as muesli. The reason was that to my account every making a waste of foodstuff is a grave sin, particularly of grain, the stuff of which the Body of Christ is "made" symbolically during Holy Mass. I just wanted to be one who does NOT take part in the big waste and greed game which is going on today... even when I still didn t know very much of this world and this particular game, in childhood. It was all instinct. The voice of human nature. And this voice it is which "they", the secret governing persons whoever they are and the malevolent spiritual power behind their cabale whoever it may be (so it seems to me) want to drown in their tech noise.

Germans read Michale Ende again and understand.

Anonymous said...

re: Anonymous @ 1:26 pm

Technology is just a tool and, by itself, is neither good nor bad. It is the pressures of the monetary-market system that cause technology to be used in 'evil' ways.

Also, I think that the exponential growth of technology is leading us to a resource-based economy. The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement are great sources of information in this area.

Brendan R

John Kavanagh said...

There are even tipping points in advance of the 2045 singularity. The period of happy integration is passing without the necessary agreement on future unpalatable situations in place. Analogously, there are great mineral deposits to be found on the edge of a volcano caldera...but failure to escape with enough, does indeed expose us to slippage into the magma, yes. Without a simple easily installed feature we are in a problemmatic situation. But no-one and I mean no-one, will or can permit this feature to be installed. ref for the time saving 'widget'before it goes irreversibly onto the 'Terminator' slide. Best advice we'll ever ignore, I am sure, but there it is. No hard feelings.

abinico said...

Tipping point - what a joke! Should be called tripping point as in what will happen when someone trips over the power cord and brings down this robot fantasy.

Anonymous said...

More robots = less work for people

Less work for people = Less money

Less money = Less demand

Less demand = Less work

Yah, I can see the current economic system driven by consumer demand isn't in the cards for the near future.

Unless the useless eaters are taken out of the equation, that is.

bob klinck said...

If money distribution was decentralized, then people would be largely engaged in self-chosen activities. It is the centralized control of of financial credit that has created the contemporary world of wage slavery and mindless cultural distractions. Economic progress should have an incarnation in the form of dividends paid to all citizens so that society can evolve organically rather than as a result of central planning by a financial elite. There is nothing wrong with people's collecting dividends; the phenomenon should be universalized.

Or we could go back to digging ditches with shovels 'so people can have an income'.

Anonymous said...

Sentience is not of "things", sentience does not start or stop, as commonly accepted. Were the things in one's dream last night sentient things running around sentient in one's head. Safety is not in "things" be them Robots or the human body, Safety is closer than one "thinks".

Anonymous said...

This singularity nonsense is a scam. The year 2045 arbitrary. We have been here before. Computer 'intelligence' without consciousness, philosophy, emotions? What does the word 'intelligence' even mean? It seems to be taken as fact with the transhumanism movement that every human will be attached to a machine in some way. Man, have we lost our way if people can't see this for what it is. This is simply harvesting for the elite. Psychopathy gone mad.

Anonymous said...

Telecommunications will fail, robots will stop in their tracks and things will slowly go back to doing everything the way The Creator Of the heavens and earth intended. Mankind takes itself waaaaaay too seriously.

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