Economist AI short-piece

The Economist’s print edition has a leader, The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence, that notes ominous opinions regarding the future of A.I., then presents a surprising salve for our worries: recall that many human-created entities are ‘autonomous,’ in a way: governments, corporations, stock markets. There, see? None of them have killed us off, and regulation and transparency stop these autonomous agents from doing too much harm.  It’s hard not to disagree with almost every aspect of this argument, but I leave that to each reader. Suffice it to say that plenty of harm has come of non-human intelligences created with the best and worst of intentions; and none of these mistakes makes me feel better about what role A.I. might have in our future.  What’s more, this nonstop focus on A.I. still continues to distract the ways in which automation and robotics today- well before the advent of strong A.I.- continues to change society ever more rapidly.

Replacing Humans with Robots

Oh I can’t wait to share this. Thanks to Randy Sargent for discovering Robotica, a short video series by the New York Times that released a first episode about China’s program that is called, literally, Replacing humans with robots.  The video is absolutely stunning in its sincerity: humans today are inferior workers to past; we can now start replacing humans with robots en masse.  The real kicker comes at the end of the video, which you should watch in its entirety. The Vice Director of Economy for Shunde, China, notes that the employees losing their jobs ought to go back to their homes in rural China. And when asked what will happen when the factories back home decide to automate also, he says, sure, that’ll happen. And they’ll automate just the same. You will want to watch the end of the interview twice, just to be sure you hear it right.

The Machines are Coming – NYT Op-Ed

An excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times by Zeynep Tufekci is entitled The Machines are Coming.   I enjoyed this piece of writing because it touches on many of the issues this blog has discussed over the months, from the fact that computers are taking on, not just routine physical jobs, but also routine mental jobs; that the underemployment spectre will spread to white collar jobs as well; that the replacement computers and robots do not need to surpass our abilities, they just need to be good enough, even if mediocre.  And Tufekci ends by noting that these same technologies could empower us rather than disempowering our jobs ROI. I couldn’t agree more!

A Future with Underemployment

The April 2015 Atlantic contains an article by Kim Phillips-Fein entitled Why Workers Won’t Unite that provides a strong discussion of trends in underemployment, and why society is having a difficult time providing a unified response to this trend even as it happens before our eyes.  Phillips-Fein does a very good job of contrasting how labor pushed for systemic change during past crises with the present situation, where labor is defanged and where strategies for improving the situation are discussed academically, but not lowered into the den of political action. Some quotes:

Today, the labor movement’s decline is widely considered an irreversible reality– the inevitable outcome of globalization and automation, and the norm for a post-industrial economy, hardly worthy of comment.

..a narrow focus on skill building is an inadequate approach to tackling inequities, especially in an economy increasingly premised on short-term employment.

The realities of politics, visions of quality of life and labor power have changed so fundamentally that we are entering a space where our search for solutions is all about pioneering entirely new strategies; underemployment is a slippery slope that, like the gently heated water in a lobster pot, may just burn us far before disruptive events goad us into really responding like we mean it.