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May 26, 2018 6:25 PM   Subscribe

“the most common arguments for technology optimism do not stand up to scrutiny”/“automation is very good for growth and very bad for equality”
posted by spaceburglar (29 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
The problem's plain to see
Too much technology
Machines to save our lives
Machines dehumanize
posted by SansPoint at 6:42 PM on May 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


It depends what you mean by automation.
posted by JamesBay at 6:48 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


thats why we specify we want a fully automated luxury gay space communist future, not just a fully automated future. Do you thing Grimes can get Elon Musk on our side?
posted by Grandysaur at 7:10 PM on May 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


So, Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress lied to me? There's no great, big, beautiful tomorrow just a dream away if I buy enough GE products?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:34 PM on May 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


Marx gave us plenty of warning about this
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:00 PM on May 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


Yeah, don't say your weren't warned
posted by mbo at 9:55 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


So he’s not wrong but without some sort of counter proposal it comes off as... I dunno, fear-mongering? We can’t uninvent automation. Is the author known for some sort of economic position not mentioned in the article?
posted by GuyZero at 11:05 PM on May 26, 2018


HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY (slcgpg)
posted by otherchaz at 11:35 PM on May 26, 2018


Is the author known for some sort of economic position not mentioned in the article?

Most of what Greg Jericho has written for the last few years consists of pushback against the oversimplifications and straight-up lies habitually told by the right-wing Government currently running this country, if that counts as an "economic position".
posted by flabdablet at 2:19 AM on May 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


What happens when "automation and offshoring" converts to just automation? Are economies equipped to handle a contraction in Chinese manufacturing?
posted by Brocktoon at 2:31 AM on May 27, 2018


The arguments for technology optimism do not stand up to scrutiny
Automation is very good for growth and very bad for equality
These new robots do work previously believed to be non-automatable,
Essentially the shift sees national income move from labour to capital
About robot revolutions I'm teeming with a lot o' furor –
With many facts about how these are not the ‘droids you’re looking for
posted by oulipian at 3:17 AM on May 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


ITYS is surely not an attractive stance, especially where so much human suffering is in the offing, but you can't say an abundant amount of evidence supporting this conclusion wasn't available to anyone who bothered to do even the most cursory investigation at any point in the past five years or so.

One of the most difficult things about writing Radical Technologies was seeing some call it out as "depressing," more or less the moment it hit the light of day. I mean, I'm sorry if you find a relatively unvarnished depiction of the circumstances confronting us too much to accept, but, y'know, there it is. Now let's figure out what we want to do about it, as polities and societies. It's really hard to come up with viable strategies for survival if you can't first orient yourself to things as they are.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:24 AM on May 27, 2018 [15 favorites]


Similarly they note the proposal for a universal basic income has some merit but the problem is paying for it in a world where income is shifting from labour to capital. They note that “capital taxation is becoming more and more difficult with globalization and the increasing capital mobility”.

While this is not the central point in the article, I think it also needs attention. Access to wealth is so tied to existing wealth and "productivity" is climbing into some rarified stratum where money bets on the behavior of money to create more money, and those folks do not appear to be willing to share.
posted by allthinky at 5:55 AM on May 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Automation is analogous to agriculture, in the way it creates a society that can outgrow the previous system - and will - while providing a mix of great benefits and horriric consequences.

The difference between now and the Neolithic is we have vastly better tools to analyze our own condition and decide what we want to go. within the historical evidence of how we behave. If the entire world was set on equality and fairness, automation would be applied for the maximum good and jolly good it would be too - does it ease suffering, increase happiness, reduce environmental burden, provide a framework for more of the same? That sort of filter, togeher with an iterative recognition that there will be bugs and unforeseen circumstances, will make a better world.

But we don't do that, we feel a licence to behave selfishly when things are going well, and another to behave badly towards others when things are not. Automation with that filter is toxic. And pyschopaths who want to exhibit power no matter what are a special case that needs special management.

Our fate lies not in our artificial back-propagating deep neural networks, but in ourselves.
posted by Devonian at 6:15 AM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


One option: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."
posted by doctornemo at 7:46 AM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have yet to RTFA, but it seems very clear to me that if, say, vastly powerful feudal lords in the past had developed machines that meant they no longer had any use for peasants, they’d have killed most of the peasants the second they became inconvenient, like by being expensive or complaining. I don’t think humanity has fundamentally changed since then.

Except that now our feudal lords have drones. And probably, soon, killer robots. Like actual killer robots that can be deployed in city streets. A climate change will soon put a lot of pressure on the system as a whole, and I don’t think it will motivate the lords to see the light. I think if a lot of people stand to die, if we do nothing, right when it becomes clear that the lords don’t need those people for their labor and they’ve kind of just become a burden? It will be the easiest thing in the world just to let them die.

So we have to destroy the incipient feudal system before it hardens and matures. I am generally an incrementalist, because I don’t like people dying and suffering, and rapid, drastic change is always messy.

But the accelerationists won 2016, so here we are.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:27 AM on May 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


When the push to develop technology is to maximize profits, create new products to sell, in other words, just make more money, rather than improve the lives of people, then the path of technology will only lead to misery for the most of us. But it’s not technology that is the problem. It’s the people who only have personal wealth as a goal. Our current economic system drives that goal but doesn’t have any way to alleviate the misery that goal creates. We need new ways of thinking. And being.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:31 AM on May 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


Thinking of automation in terms of autonomy (technology that runs itself) and augmentation (technology that boosts human capabilities) , and wondering if one precludes the other. Or if the problem is elsewhere.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:21 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


One option: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

It's in the likeness of what the human mind has lately been imagining itself to be, having conceived of itself in the likeness of what it builds.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:15 AM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


with so much resources and talent devoted to twin goals: how best to kill lots of people easily and how to not need people to do ,x,y, and z.... it would be surprising if the military industrial complex and its info-tech sibling didn't succeed. Its as if sharing this world and regulating business were to horrible to conceive so instead they choose robot slaves and the ability to kill the legacy hold out humans.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:32 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think for "superinfrastructure" - road networks in a major city, for example - automation, machine learning, "AI" etc. is certainly the way to go, as the systems are just too complex for humans to manage (and, anyway, it's not like the machine would be walled-off from receiving human input, should a meatbag have a clever idea). But overall it's a shitty trend, especially when used in "service" contexts (supermarket checkouts, hospital receptions, fast food, etc.), because it absolutely cuts out a critical economic stepping stone and offers nothing to replace it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:03 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL
posted by Sebmojo at 3:29 PM on May 27, 2018


looking at historic examples, it seems pretty clear what the outcomes will be. when past societies and economies have come to rely on non- and under-compensated labor (slavery, automation, and the use of undocumented and exploited underground labor all fit this), radical economic stratification results, which leads to permanent economic instability, generally concluding with revolution and or war, often without resolving the underlying economic instability.

We're fucked.
posted by mwhybark at 7:34 PM on May 27, 2018


So he’s not wrong but without some sort of counter proposal it comes off as... I dunno, fear-mongering?

We're well past the "Give out solutions" phase, and into the "This is why you should drink yourself to death" stage. The solutions you're going to see offered will wither be so vague as t be useless, or total shite.

One option: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

Case in point: consider that the setting that is from is pure corporate feudalism, without even a whiff of an excuse that it's for the benefit of the general people. It's great if you're the male Great White Hope who uses prophecy to whip those brown people into shape; not so good if you're, well, not. Especially if you're a woman.
posted by happyroach at 7:35 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think for "superinfrastructure" - road networks in a major city, for example - automation, machine learning, "AI" etc. is certainly the way to go, as the systems are just too complex for humans to manage

This is a very, very dangerous line of thought.

If we're reliant on large systems whose complexity is beyond human management and whose failure would be disastrous, then the correct response is not to invent machines to supervise them and thereby make their failure modes even more unpredictable, but to simplify them and break them down until they become susceptible to decentralized human control, while reorganizing ourselves to make such control feasible.

In particular, if the road networks in a major city are so overloaded as to have become unfit for purpose, then trying to apply technological fixes to roads is short-sighted. Roads become overloaded as a direct response to the numbers of people who rely on them; if there are pressures that make those numbers so great as to overload the roads, then dragging a few more percentage points of capacity out of roads via technological supervision is not going to alter those pressures. If the last forty years of watching a proliferation of freeways inexorably shift into parking-lot mode during peak usage has taught us nothing else, it should have taught us that.

When I was a college student back in the early Eighties, somebody had stuck a poster on the wall of the terminal room that read

The
Technological
Imperative:

CAN = MUST

It made a great impression on me. Over the years since, I've frequently been dismayed to see policy makers behave as if the Imperative is actually the case and the question of CAN = SHOULD? is completely irrelevant.

As a species, we're not very good at the kind of delayed gratification that allegedly marks the difference between a five year old and a functioning adult. It's time we fucking well grew up. It's time we fucking well realized that there are limits, and that that they should constrain our designs and that this is acceptable.

It's blindingly obvious to anybody who pays attention that the whole Man The Master thing has just about run its course. It seems to me that responding to that by attempting to design some kind of robot overlord future for no better reason than an egotistical desire to keep Us And All Our Works in some kind of metaphorical driving seat is just wilful pig-ignorance.

We're not Masters of the Universe, we're a highly adaptable large mammal that has bred up in plague proportions across our entire home world. The sooner we start paying some serious attention to the kinds of ecological conditions required to support relatively stable populations of any given species, and to the way the ecology of which we are unavoidably a part generally deals with plagues, the better our chances of leveraging that adaptability to wind this one back in a way that avoids the unimaginable suffering inherent in a resource-exhaustion population crash.

IT systems can certainly help with some of that, and some of those systems will certainly include design patterns of the kinds currently being farcically touted as "AI". But putting IT systems in charge of more and more things is a recipe for brittle systems, not robust and resilient ones, and is a straight-up abrogation of our responsibility to our descendants.
posted by flabdablet at 8:12 PM on May 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


In particular, it strikes me as astonishingly stupid to put systems whose behaviour is unpredictable by design in charge of systems whose failure would be disastrous, rather than replacing such systems with others having less consequential failure modes.
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 PM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


A dishwasher and a clothes washer are examples of automation, fwiw. As is the tractor.
posted by JamesBay at 8:22 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Another example: elevators.
posted by Xany at 4:15 PM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


first, they came for the launderesses and elevator operators
posted by mwhybark at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2018


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