While others may fret about HAL releasing all of their oxygen into the dark vacuum of space, I have always had a comparatively optimistic prediction of robots. My own robot vision is much more along the lines of the I, Robot narrative, where artificial intelligence has flaws and growing pains, for sure, but ultimately comes to benefit the world, providing deep and fascinating insight as to what it means to be human.
Also, they might get us drunk.
Take this robot at Cornell University, who has learned how to process and navigate complex environments enough to anticipate when his scientist friend (yes, I’m going there) tends to pour a beer. This is actually a pretty giant step for artificial intelligence. Scientists constantly wrestle with the creation of the sort of algorithms necessary for learning things like “anticipation.”
So no, I will not be taking out a policy with Old Glory Insurance, and I do not fear Skynet becoming self-aware, nor the subsequent Terminator robots that will eventually run our barren land. I welcome our new technologically birthed companions, and only ask that they perfect their pours.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
This piece, “The Sex Life of Robots” was one of the few segments that I didn’t personally—control freak that I am—produce in the Disinformation TV series, it was produced and shot by Doug Stone and edited by Nimrod Erez. As you’ll see, it arrived a little polished gem and was one of my favorite things in the entire series.
The character you’re going to meet here, animator Mike Sullivan will be a familiar face to a certain percentage of DM readers for his roles in both Robert Downey Sr.‘s Greasers Palace (he played Lamy “Homo” Greaser) and the low-budget early 80s slasher flick Madman. Mike was also a special effects technician on one of the Star Trek films, worked in the art department of early SNL and did many of the “Foto Funnies” strips found in the National Lampoon magazine during its heyday.
Today Sullivan runs his Cloud Studios from a dusty loft on 26th Street and 6th Ave in NYC, near the site of the weekly 6th Ave Flea Market, which he scours for Barbie and GI Joe dolls to modify and put through perverse paces for his perpetual work-in-progress magnum opus, “The Sex Life of Robots.”
NSFW or apparently Virgin Air: A few months back this segment was featured on the in-flight Boing Boing channel and there were some complaints. I was pleased to see that the show was still a lil’ controversial after more than a decade.
Last month on 60 Minutes, reporter Steve Kroft filed a fascinating story about how technological advances in automation and robotics have totally revolutionized American business and manufacturing, while we’ve seen the number of decent paying jobs shrink.
After he indicated how information workers like paralegals are about to become as SOL as airport counter personal and travel agents, two of the Kroft’s interviewees, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, told him we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet:
Andrew McAfee: Our economy is bigger than it was before the start of the Great Recession. Corporate profits are back. Business investment in hardware and software is back higher than it’s ever been. What’s not back is the jobs.
Steve Kroft: And you think technology and increased automation is a factor in that?
Erik Brynjolfsson: Absolutely.
I’ve never really considered 60 Minutes to be much of a cutting edge outlet to “break” stories, instead I feel like once a story has made it to the highest rated American news magazine, that it’s been minted, or confirmed, as a legitimate mainstream thing (or celebrity or whatever). That’s to say that by the time 60 Minutes gets around to reporting on some sort of long-term trend we’re usually already mired DEEP within this event. Sometimes, not just as a nation, but in this case, as with global warming or AIDS, as a planet.
What is so remarkable to ponder—and it’s touched on somewhat in this piece—is how cost-efficient advances in automation will probably have the most negative consequences in countries like China and India, not the first world countries where automated manufacturing plants will probably mostly end up being built. Shipping to the US from China, for instance, adds a not inconsiderable amount of cost to the price of a given commodity. To purchase one of the robots featured in the segment would be cheaper than three years of Chinese labor. There’s cold comfort in that for the “Made in America” crowd, of course, as it’s not like there’s going to be that many more jobs created in America if production is brought back to these shores.
There sure will be a hell of a lot fewer opportunities for employment in the Third World, though, this much seems assured.
It brings up the question of how the wealth of nations will be divvied up when only the holders (hoarders, if you prefer) of capital, employing armies of automatons and few human beings, will hold ALL the cards? Clearly not sustainable and besides that, WHO is going to buy their products anyway when no one will have a job or any money in the first place? In America, and around the world, too, we’re moving away from the notion of “Fordism” at a breakneck pace.
The long-term implications for the longevity of the capitalist system seem dire indeed when viewed through this lens (and let’s not forget, this sort of circling the toilet bowl endgame was predicted by a certain Mr. Karl Marx many, many years ago). The implications of all of this are enormous.
Labor unions will become obsolete in such a scenario, although in a sense, they’ll be replaced by much larger armies of the long-term unemployed!
The flipside of all this is a free-market sort of argument that holds as prices for automated “workers” would come down, there should be a corresponding explosion in small business innovation. Whereas, I do think that is possible with certain cases, how many people do you personally know who would make good entrepreneurs in this bold robotic future?
Unless there’s an Elon Musk born every second, we’re doomed!
Looks like it’s Ultraman who is gonna be the one to steal your job, gringo... Via Orange News:
A new noodle restaurant in China has captured diners’ attention by employing a noodle-making robot.
The restaurant in Jilin City, north-east China’s Jilin Province, has attracted many locals to come and try noodles made by ‘Ultraman’.
Restaurant owner Qian Hu bought the robot for 20,000 Yuan (£2,000) and believes its efficiency is twice that of a human worker.
He explained: “More importantly I don’t need to pay him, and for a consecutive work of 12 hours it only consumes 3 kWh of electricity. And the noodles it slices are even thinner than those of human workers.”
That’s right, he can do it better than you, puny human. Twice as good! Take that!
The thought of a world population of over 7 billion people being increasingly put out of work by robots—the most menial jobs will be the ones to go first—is a rather bleak thing to contemplate isn’t it? Then again, maybe there’s an opportunity in all off this somehow? Who knows?
This is rather brilliant! YouTube user bd594 describes his inspiration below:
This is dedicated to all fans of The B-52’s who are also known as the “Worlds Greatest Party Band”. This idea has been simmering in my mind for the last couple of years and after many months of procrastinating it is finally complete. I was also motivated to finish my robot band after seeing a YouTube Video from “The Trons” from New Zealand.
The Bit-52’s consist of:
Fred’s Vocals - TI99/4a computer, speech synthesizer and terminal emulator ii module
Kate and Cindy’s Vocals - Two HP Scanjet 3C scanners, UBunto and sjetplay written by NuGanjaTron
The Guitar, Keyboard, Cow Bell, Cymbal and Tambourine are all controlled by various types of push/pull solenoinds for a total of 23. The Solenoids are powered by four ULN2803 darlington drivers and everything is controlled by two PIC16F84A microcontrollers
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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