NPF: DAVE, THIS CONVERSATION CAN SERVE NO PURPOSE ANYMORE

Just a quick pair of links to occupy your minds during the drudgery of another Friday afternoon at a job you probably hate but cling to desperately.

It's that time of the year again, the time for Ed to apply (fruitlessly, no doubt) for another batch of jobs. I am hardly the only person who works in a field in which jobs are disappearing. In many professions, technological advances are responsible for the disappearance of jobs that used to be considered desirable and rewarding. When I daydream about the big picture beyond my personal circumstances, I often wonder what will become of us when we can no longer avoid the contradiction between a growing population and a shrinking need for human labor. Are jobs, in short, becoming obsolete?

This idea takes me back to a 1993 essay by mathematician and sci-fi author Vernor Vinge, "The Coming Technological Singularity," which asks us to confront a future in which technology advances to the point of approximating or even surpassing human intelligence. We often doubt that any such artificial intelligence can be created, and based on current technology I share that skepticism. But look at where we are today and give it another 50-75 years or so. Tell me we won't get there eventually.

44 thoughts on “NPF: DAVE, THIS CONVERSATION CAN SERVE NO PURPOSE ANYMORE”

  • Middle Seaman says:

    While jobs disappear continuously going back, let select an arbitrary date, to 1900, new jobs are created as well. Email is not the only reason to the reduction of postal mail. I am not sure whether it is even the major reason for the decline. The decline of the postal service coincided and was helped by the creation of FeEx (founded 1971) and Ups (founded 1907).

    With every decline and elimination of an industry other industries are born with the corresponding movement of workers. Modern electronic industries (engineers, technicians, office workers and management) did not exist in 1960, but today employ millions.

    Facebook, an apparent redundant service, employs tens of thousands of direct workers. There was no TV in 1940. Medicine exploded, especially the parasitic private health insurance industry.

    While my robot cleans my place I am free to read blogs.

  • Maybe I'm foolish (I am foolish) – however I'm really on to the Hubbert Curve. Petroleum supplies are limited and I think we have reached the point where we are on a downward journey that will conclude with a lifestyle very different that what we currently enjoy. I love the Internet, Ed's blog, laptop games, and a world of other adoptions I take for granted as part of the sedimentary lifestyle I currently enjoy – but I won't be surprised if it gradually goes away because it just gets too expensive for many people.

  • My considered opinion is that we'll have artificial intelligence about five years after we have teleport machines, and ten years before fatser-than-light drives.

  • Step one: Computers become smarter than humans.

    Step two: Computers replace humans in the workplace.

    Step three: Replublicans claim that the unemployed are lazy and need to get out and find jobs.

    Step four: With almost everyone out of work, the consumer segment goes into a permanent slump.

    Step five: The computers are turned off because of a lack of consumer demand.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    At times, I have high hopes that in the future, artificial intelligence will be superior to ours – more rational, and no with hatred programmed in, and that robots can eventually take our place.

    But then, I realize that anything that we humans create will probably only reflect us. It'll carry what's bad about us, as well as what's good.

    I'm afraid that robots will be made in Man's image.

    Humanoid robots may probably eventually be able to feel love.

    But what can do we do about hate?
    Well, maybe if we make them all the same color, they can ovecome some of the worst mistakes of mankind.

  • Capitalism's insatiable need to produce profit for an ever shrinking portion of the population will guarentee a New Dark Age and a return to feudalism. Then your great grandchildren can look forward to plenty of jobs in the servile agricultural field.

  • Visionaries usually fail to take into account both xenophobia and Ludditism, two very human traits that have often deferred the technological transformation Venge and others, all the way back to Jules Verne I guess, have predicted. Other human traits to send us off into other directions: irrationality, infantilism, bellicosity. Did I mention xenophobia?

    Space-age visions of the 50s sent us instead into the world of 60s flower children, folk music, dressing like our grandparents (or at least a parody of their long-haired, long-skirted looks), a decade-long romance of a past that never was.

    Human beings are a lot more perverse and unpredictable than they are usually given credit for. I suspect there will be jobs—jobs just for the novelty of keeping humans in the picture. Think local color, personal greeters at the carnival.

    I will have a second cup of coffee and disavow these comments later.

  • This is not topic for serious thought; in fact, spending time thinking about it is theft from your employer. Instead you should focus on those things you can actually influence like improving your performance of the job you get paid to do; leave the cogitating about straight line projections and hockey-stick curves to those from whom we expect nothing else – the pols and other brain-dead life forms. Collegiate sophistry …..

    I mean, how naive can you get: 'are jobs becoming obsolete?' Of course they are, it's the way the world reorganizes! Extinction is the name of the game, from the cells in your body, via the dinosaurs to the buggy whip and that goes for our species, too. Let's face it, we can't even construct a perpetuum mobile, yet we're arrogant enough to believe that we are one.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    I read some book a few years ago that looked at this problem. His solution was to just shorten the work week to 30 hours, thus expanding the demand for labor. Interesting solution. Of course, that would require some sort of organized movement advocating for the well-being of workers and a sympathetic political party to enact it. Didn't we used to have something like that in this country? I seem to remember something about that, but I could be wrong.

  • ABK,
    That was what I was trying to say, only I think you said it better.

    And thanks for the link that sort of proves what I think we're both getting at. :-)

    Also, too – if we were made in God's image, does that mean that God is a mean-spirited, lying, greedy, violent, racist, xenophobic, mysginistic, malicious, asshole?
    I'm not religious, so I don't have to think about that.

    We are what we are, and if we make autonymous AI, it will most probably reflect us.

    Which means, hundreds of years from now, we may have a line of MLK robots marching against George Wallace and Lester Maddox lines for Civil Rights, with Bull Connor models hosing them down and threating them with robotic dogs; and Gloria Steinem models burning mettalic bras while battling Phyllis Schlaffly ones for Women's Rights.

  • People who argue that jobs are not being made obsolete often point to historical results of automation in which new industries were born to create new jobs… The trouble with this is that it fails to take into account that, in the past, there has always been salable skills that humans can do, but technology cannot. But the gap between human intelligence and AI is closing quicker than most people realize. New industry won't always be able to step in and rescue us from a precipitous drop in employment, because there won't be many industries that require human labor. We're on the brink of a complete paradigm shift.

  • I would say that if the regular commentary here is representative of slightly above average human intelligence, then there is absolutely no fear of a coming Singularity.

    Well, there's more than one form of advancement than Vinge's Nerd Rapture. The salient idea is quite simple: "After this, all bets are off". Meaning, trending won't tell you shit. In which case, rather than one big giant exponential jism fit, you get an ascending ladder, a series of S curves.

    How do we know we aren't already post-Singularity? Just because things look the same, waffles are still available, everyone still takes shits and lives in bodies, doesn't mean we ain't there. No, I'm not talking any of that dumb-but-stupid Matrix simulation bullshit. What I'm noticing is that shit that was gone is now back again. Shit that was not on the Internet just a few years ago, is now out there.

    It shouldn't be here. But it is.

    And if Google wishes it to be here, chances are it will be here for a long, long time to come. In which case, far, far future, I apologize for all my bullshit here and elsewhere. And you know where.

    But hey, I'm jes bein' me. Don't like it? Fuck you too, or whup a little global causality violation on me, you funny old Eschaton you, and wipe me from existence…

    …yeah, thought so.

    Fits and starts. Plateaus and backsliding. How about life itself? That's a pretty big fucking Singularity, don't you think? Inorganic processes, and then suddenly organic ones. Care to trend from inorganic chemical heuristics? Guess what? All bets are off.

    The Long 19th century? Sounds pretty Vingean to me. Anyone care to make a bet on that time frame, trending from the previous neolithic existence of 18th century on back?

    Information transfer went from ponyspeed to lightspeed. Matter transfer went from ox-speed to giant fucking steam breathing iron monster speed, and then flimsy canvas flying machine speed. Thanks to the speed breakthrough, vast, heartless, cold, calculating collectives appeared, indifferent to the wishes and wants of individuals. Need I go on?

    How post-human are you compared to your 10th century counterpart? You carry most of your brain in your ass now, in a little plastic box in your back pocket.

    Nothing is gone. There is a buggy whip market out there. There's a fucking flint napping market. It's the way all jobs go. They're all still there. You just can't money at 'em.

    Oh, fuck it.

  • Thanks Ed. You know what I've never heard anyone say during this unemployment "crisis?" So we have what, 9.4% unemployment (however that stat is juked) which amounts to like 14M people- I've never once heard a talking head say "you know what, maybe we've got 14M too many people for this economy to sustain. People please stop fucking in the front hole."

  • Of course, by the time we hit that singularity, we'll be able to bobble up and just wait for any amount of time into the future when things will be better. Thanks, Vernor Vinge!

  • NPF?, I suppose it's really economics, but the lines blur, so here's my 2 ¢ .
    The idea of food and housing as a right has been around a while, Robert Heinlein used it in his first (But posthumously published.) "For Us, The Living". I suspect he didn't originate it. If we don't do something like that, the alternative might be something like labor camps, which the fortunate may consider a just end to those foolish enough to not be born into privilege.

  • I hope everyone is prepared for the fascist proletarian revolution that will happen when Google brings self-driving long-haul trucks to market and instantly a million uneducated and unqualified poor white men lose the only job they can get.

  • There's a special kind of nerd who thinks computers will overtake mankind in thirty years, changing humanity in ways incomprehensible to us now and ignoring the third of the world without electricity. So the Singularity is the nerd way of saying, "In the future, being rich and white will be even more awesome." It's flying car bullshit: surely the future will conform to our speculative fiction, surely we're the ones who will get to live in the future. It gives spiritual significance to technology developed primarily for entertainment or warfare and gives nerds something to obsess over that isn't the crushing vacuousness of their lives.

  • This reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano."

    Since the recession in the beginning of the 21st century, we have seen relatively weak domestic job growth. The growth in middle-and working class wages and salaries has been relatively tepid for over 20 years now. Meanwhile, the income of the most wealthy has increased by leaps and bounds and these same miserable bastards don't want to pay their share of taxes or take their medicine.

  • Let's try again.

    @ c u n d gulag

    "Also, too – if we were made in God's image, does that mean that God is a mean-spirited, lying, greedy, violent, racist, xenophobic, mysginistic, malicious, asshole?"

    Ever read the Book of Job?

  • The idea of food and housing as a right has been around a while, Robert Heinlein used it in his first (But posthumously published.) "For Us, The Living"

    The idea found its way into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was then codified into the International Bill of Human Rights.

    Article 25(1) says:

    "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

    It took a couple of years to draft the UDHR, and the negotiations were pretty tense. I doubt agreement could be secured on the same text today if the negotiations lasted a decade.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Sluggo,
    Yup.
    Nasty!

    Also, three – I don't hear any of our so-called "Christian" leaders ever talking about the New Testament and, you know, the guy they're sort of supposed to be named for.
    They love the Old Testament, the new one, uhm, not so much…

    They kind treat Jesus like they do Reagan. They take the few parts they like, and disregard the rest.

  • RT Butte, at least credit "Pictures for Sad Children" if you're going to quote it.

    I suppose the only thing we can definitively learn from the past is that the future keeps being weirder and more surprising than we'd thought it could be. So at least it'll be interesting. I mean, in the best case. Worst case, it's just the story of an irradiated rock-ball spinning around the sun until it goes out, and that's pretty repetitive.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    grendelkahn,

    Just a rock ball? Wrong. You are talking, Mercury, Venus, Mars.

    But a planet with a dynamic disequilibrium, a 4 billion year old proven nanotechnology? One that can be deduced as full of carbon-based organic chemistry using a sufficiently sensitive radio telescope from the other side of the galaxy, or even from the some of the closer neighboring galaxies?

    That's something special, motherfucker. Have a drink on that.

  • Hanging on to Elder Futhark's post-Singularity coat-tails, and completely out of my depth, can ask a stupid question?

    Are corporations machines? What about markets, are they machines? There are certainly any number of people who will tell you markets are intelligent (Indeed, that they exhibit an intelligence that our feeble human minds cannot fully comprehend, let alone reproduce).

    If we can answer yes to either of the above, then surely it's time to stop waiting for SkyNet to turn up. We've built the superintelligences, and now we serve them (and those lucky few humans who act as intermediaries – CEOS, Wall St., corporate lawyers, etc…).

    The Singularity has been and gone, but rather than superintelligence, it's brought us a new superignorance. We live in a time of intellectual redshift in which to us everything looks normal. But to an observer from the past we are unrecognisable and changing fast, and to another observer from the *far* side of the (event) horizon, we've stopped dead in our tracks.

    Anyone follow that? Apologies – it's early, it's Saturday, and all this talk of Vinge, Verne & Vonnegut has got me stringin' long bows and building bridges too far.

  • eau: Anyone follow that?

    I'm going to be drearily literal here. I see where you're coming from, but I disagree. If you say that the existence of corporations and markets denote the Singularity, then you mean something different than Vinge does, and that's fine, but it's like saying that Sudoku puzzles and monstrous moonshine are kind of similar because solving them requires intelligence in both cases.

    Corporations are not magical. Power is not the same thing as intelligence; in fact, power can make people profoundly stupid. You can think of humans as having the power to shape events toward a goal by our intelligence, and hey, markets do that too–they optimize for maximum profit. But just because markets and their members–corporations–do that and have dominion over the earth doesn't mean that they're the sort of different-in-kind entities that Singularity fans posit.

    In a poetic sense, we all now serve inscrutable overlords in the form of corporations and markets, yes. But it's got very little to do with the ideas of intelligence amplification. Corporations aren't really smarter, just mightier.

  • Evrenseven: For most of recorded human history the normal way to deal with inadequate material resources is to murder your neighbors, reducing population loading. And migration. Trouble is there's nowhere left to go.

    14 Million too many people for the economy? An economic system ought to scale somewhat.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————
    From "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:" (edited for length.)

    … "I mean, I couldn't help noticing," said Ford, also taking a sip, "the bodies. In the hold."
    "Bodies?" said the Captain in surprise.
    Ford paused and thought to himself. Never take anything for granted, he thought. Could it be that the Captain doesn't know he's got fifteen million dead bodies on his ship?
    […]
    "Bodies?" said the Captain again
    Ford licked his lips.
    "Yes," he said, "All those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold."
    The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.
    "Oh they're not dead," he said, "Good Lord no, no they're frozen. They're going to be revived."
    […]
    Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.
    "You mean you've got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?" he said.
    "Oh yes," said the Captain, "Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We're going to colonize another planet."
    Ford wobbled very slightly.
    "Exciting isn't it?" said the Captain.
    "What, with that lot?" said Arthur.
    "Ah, now don't misunderstand me," said the Captain, "we're just one of the ships in the Ark Fleet. We're the 'B' Ark you see."
    […]
    "Well what happened you see was," said the Captain, "our planet, the world from which we have come, was, so to speak, doomed."
    "Doomed?"
    "Oh yes. So what everyone thought was, let's pack the whole population into some giant spaceships and go and settle on another planet."
    […]
    "You mean a less doomed one?" prompted Arthur
    "What did you say dear fellow?"
    "A less doomed planet. You were going to settle on."
    "Are going to settle on, yes. So it was decided to build three ships, you see, three Arks in Space, and … I'm not boring you am I?"
    "No, no," said Ford firmly, "it's fascinating."
    […]
    "Yes, so anyway," he resumed, "the idea was that into the first ship, the 'A' ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or 'C' ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B' ship – that's us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see."
    He smiled happily at them.
    "And we were sent off first," he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune.
    […]
    "Er …" said Arthur after a moment, "what exactly was it that was wrong with your planet then?"
    "Oh, it was doomed, as I said," said the Captain, "Apparently it was going to crash into the sun or something. Or maybe it was that the moon was going to crash into us. Something of the kind. Absolutely terrifying prospect whatever it was."
    "Oh," said the first officer suddenly, "I thought it was that the planet was going to be invaded by a gigantic swarm of twelve foot piranha bees. Wasn't that it?"
    […]
    "And they made sure they sent you lot off first did they?" inquired Arthur.
    "Oh yes," said the Captain, "well everyone said, very nicely I thought, that it was very important for morale to feel that they would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean."
    "Oh yes," agreed Ford, "I can see that would be very important. And the other ships, er … they followed on after you did they?"
    […]
    "Ah. Well it's funny you should say that," he said and allowed himself a slight frown at Ford Prefect, "because curiously enough we haven't heard a peep out of them since we left five years ago … but they must be behind us somewhere."

  • See, this is why I should wait and let my thoughts percolate before posting. eau, corporations and markets are superintelligent like Deep Blue is. Deep Blue can play chess better than any human; corporations and markets can optimize for profit better than any individual human can. But neither of them manage to level up the general-purpose intelligence that humans have, and so neither of them are the kind of singularity Vinge was writing about.

  • Ha! And *this* is why I should hit "refresh" before posting, which in this case I did. For once.

    I was just about to post a comment saying pretty much what you just said. Except my version was longer and made less sense.

    Not really a counter-point so much as a side-point, is this – "Algorithmic stock trading rapidly replacing humans" http://tinyurl.com/3ta574h.

    I for one welcome our new machine overlords…

  • Since the robots, as well as their AI, will be produced by the corps (ie the rich), we already have a model of what they would look like. If the human robots they've recently programmed for the same purpose are any guide, they'll be just like the teabaggers. If so, I'm with Bradbury: "I don't try to predict the future, I try to prevent it."

  • Whether we get there is highly contingent on whether we can avoid descending into a dark age for the next several hundred years.

  • Vernor Vinge is an idiot. The facts on the ground converge to contradict everything he said. We've seen CPU speeds hit a brick wall since 1993, stopping dead at 3.2 Ghz circa 2002. Multi-core CPUs don't speed up real computer programs in the real world, since most tasks are serially limited. Running Microsoft Word on 8 cores doesn't make the program run any faster, and the only process that runs faster on Photoshop in 8 cores is radial blur.

    When we look around, we see a world that's technologically regressing in all the important ways. mp3s sound crappier than the original CDs. People now watch TV shows on their iPhones on tiny 320 x 240 pixel screens that look a lot worse than those old analog TVs. Computer driven customer service is dismal and when you can't talk to a human the voice recognition software doesn't work, you just have to hang up and walk away. Voice recognition hit a brick wall at 80% accuracy and has never gotten better.

    Former true believers in the Singularity like Charles Stross, who wrote some wacky novels in the 1990s like "Singularity Sky" (written in 1995 but only published in 2001), have now recanted.

    That doesn't change the fact that algorithms + computers + the internet + robots continue to destroy jobs by automating and offshoring 'em. But we need to realize that crackpot pipe dreams like the mythical Singularity and AI represent a completely different issue from unemployment caused by automation.

    Most jobs don't require anything close to human intelligence. A bus driver only needs some simple pattern recognition and reflexes. Sales clerks only need decent speech recognition and the ability to work a cash register. Stock clerks in supermarkets only need to be able to recognize objects in 3D space and haul and lift them onto and off shelves. None of these tasks requires even subhuman intelligence, much less superhuman AI.

    For most of these tasks you can cheat, too. Put sensors on all the packages and all the shelves and the 3D visual recognition problem goes away. Get humans to swipe package bar codes on scanners and the need for speech recognition goes away (supermarkets do this now with automated checkout systems). Self-driving cars cheat by constantly using GPS to check their position, and in the near future they'll use a network of wifi sensors attached to all the local buildings and cars to avoid running into anything.

    So you don't need AI or anything like it to replace most human jobs, just lots of dumb tech like GPS on everything from buildings to cars to people (their smartphones work fine for locating 'em via GPS) and RFIDS and so on.

    The claim that markets and corporations exhibit any of intelligence is laughable. Right. Enron was superintelligent? Yeah, that's why it went broke and all its chief officers got hauled into court and convicted. Real smart move. Lehman Brothers was superintelligent — riiiiiight, making all those crazy trades that blew up the company was a definite brainiac idea.

    Markets have zero intelligence. That's faux economics, one of the artifacts of the delusional Chicago School fantasies of the 80s and 90s. Look back in the 1990s — markets were telling us oil was gonna be cheap forever. Look at the spring of 2007. Markets were telling us the Great Moderation and good economic times were going to last until the cows came home. Markets are morons, they're the lowest-common-denominator consensus of millions of deluded people who always guess wrong. There's a reason why people like Warren Buffet have become billionaires using contrarian investing, buying when everyone is selling (as he did in the 1970s). Markets are brain-dead idiots with less intelligence than a cockroach. At least a cockroach knows to move off a hotplate when it's burning up. But the Dow just kept going up and up and up and up and up until the world economy crashed and burned in late 2007.

    Middle Seaman claims: While jobs disappear continuously going back, let select an arbitrary date, to 1900, new jobs are created as well. This is the lumo-of-labor fallacy, which itself hsa become a fallacy.

    The lump-of-labor fallacy only works in an economy where Ricardo's requirements for free trade apply. But in a global economy, Ricardo's requirements of factor prize equalization fall apart — because Ricardo noted that free trade only enhances wealth as long as the essential factors governing production are immobile. In Ricardo's day, the 18th century, the essential factors governing production were things like coal deposits and the expertise of individuals and the land needed to grow food. But today, the essential factors governing production can be instantly transmitted anywhere in the world: knowldege, expertise in the form of expert system databases _ algorithms, simple cheap raw materials like silicon for silicon chips. And as we move increasingly toward a 100% recyclable economy with renewable energy from nuclear power or solar electric, we're moving ever more towards a world where the essential factors governing production of just about anything are available just about anywhere in the world and can be moved at will. The only exceptions are food and brainpower.

    So the lump-of-labor fallacy is itself a fallacy, as Martin Ford and Marshall Brain have long since pointed out. Essentially every growth industry in America that seems to be adding decent-paying new jobs is actually a Ponzi scheme bubble destined to implode soon.

    Higher education (unsustainable tuition increases + increasingly few college grads able to find jobs + college debt that can never be wiped out and must be paid off even if the colleges have to take your social security payments), the entertainment industry (movies + TV + books + newspapers + magazines + music are all now being put on bittorrent within hours of being published), the automobile industry (doomed by Peak Oil), America's broken collapsing health-industrial complex (now falling apart, soon to collapse completely as the underlying cost of health care continues to skyrocket without end), America's doomed and dying military-industrial complex (1.4 trillion dollars per year to sustain an incompetent army led by inept careerist cowards and manned by rapists and gang members, an American army that can't even win wars against barefoot fifteen-year-old boys)…wherever you look, there are no high-paying jobs in sustainable legitimate industries. The only high-paying jobs left in America are phony paraisite scam jobs like "lobbyist" for dying industries like the internet ISP monopolies and the medical-industrial complex, or "corporate lawyer" for corporations that have been so successful at offshoring jobs they've destroyed the American middle class and are now putting themselves out of business.

    JazzBumpa noted that "Net job creation in the U.S. over the past decade has been, to a reasonable first approximation, 0.00."

    Yeah, but you ain't seen nothin' yet, bubba. That graph is accurate — but you need to look at the 50-year trend to see what's really happening and where job growth is headed.

    Take a look at this graph of job growth by decade since the 1940s.

    Notice anything? Like the fact that the slope keeps declining for 60 years and now reached zero? That suggest anything about net U.S. job growth going forward?

  • Corporations don't have zero intelligence, they're psychopaths. Our market behavior resembles a school of piranhas, dashing from one bubble to the next.

  • mclaren, I told you last year, and I'll tell you again: Moore's law refers to transistor count, not clock speed. The tasks that Vinge wrote about are inherently parallelizable. There may well be good arguments against the (technical or political) plausibility of general AI, but that's not one of them.

    When we look around, we see a world that's technologically regressing in all the important ways. mp3s sound crappier than the original CDs. People now watch TV shows on their iPhones on tiny 320 x 240 pixel screens that look a lot worse than those old analog TVs. Computer driven customer service is dismal and when you can't talk to a human the voice recognition software doesn't work, you just have to hang up and walk away. Voice recognition hit a brick wall at 80% accuracy and has never gotten better.

    That's been annoying me since I realized that using a cell phone meant I could play the "hello? can you hear me?" came and party like it was 1955… but it's not really fair. Audio encoding hasn't changed much (though there are better MP3 encoders and better codecs like AAC) because, in general, nobody can tell the difference between a 256k MP3 and a 320k MP3. This isn't the case with video, which is why resolutions keep going up. (Yes, people watch videos on iPhones, though they're better than 320×240, but they also watch them on wall-sized flatscreens, and frequently without physical media.) And as for voice recognition, I think that past a certain point, like machine translation, it's AI-complete–the last twenty percent is unbelievably harder than the first eighty.

    I don't think Charles Stross was ever himself a "true believer"; he seemed to take it as a nice place to set some fiction, and his objections are largely practical ones. (He's certainly not "recanting" anything, as far as I can tell.) I don't think that uploading would primarily be problematic by causing a religious crisis–as the third commenter there says, "I think you underestimate the adaptiveness of theology".

    Markets are morons, they're the lowest-common-denominator consensus of millions of deluded people who always guess wrong.

    If only. Markets guess right often enough to be really dangerous when people start to believe in them more and more, and to ascribe to them mythical omniscient powers, and that's when things get really ugly. It's a simple optimization process, useful in many ways, that people routinely overestimate.

  • @mclaren I do appreciate the description of how to replace stock clerks with robots; that's about how I suspected it could be done. It's so damn boring a job that I often try to imagine I already *am* a robot when I'm at work.

  • Where profits are the only measure of success a prosperous and sustainable society become secondary. We first shipped menial and unskilled labor off to foreign lands because it was cheaper and we will eventually move to automation for other "unskilled" labor as it will also become cheaper.

    The remaining jobs will either be about moving numbers around on a spreadsheet to become rich or will be completely unfulfilling as we will either not be producing anything tangible with our hands or will be managing a bunch of machines that require no real use of leadership or critical thought.

    We will be bored beyond our wildest imaginations when we find out that our mental masturbation on video game boxes are all basically the same. And, we would all participate in extreme sports to replace the empty void in our souls except we will not be able to afford to do it or pay for the medical bills that will surely follow.

    "Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

    Unfortunately we are only at the stage of anger where we are blaming others not like us.

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