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Trevor Thompson
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 3:14am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Okay, I'll admit I have a very very basic knowledge of science and technology but as we enter an age where scientists are really getting to grips with robotics, AI and self-automation are we genuinely in danger of making ourselves obsolete [in a couple of centuries]? I mean we have self checkouts which negates the need to have cashiers in supermarkets, there's self-driving cars, which means we no longer need to learn how to drive and could possibly see the end of cab drivers.

We're looking at robots being as close to humans as possible [as if being able to actually give birth to humans isn't good enough] so they can do all our work, like sweep streets, build cars, pack shelves, etc.

These things are great and can be beneficial to us but I'm thinking if we're not careful we will be obsolete as computers, robots and self-automation will be able to do everything we can do. I'll admit we are at the mercy of our own limitations in terms of how far we can push things but if we are making AI that can do whatever we can do then we could be in trouble.


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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 4:51am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

 Trevor Thompson wrote:
...and could possibly see the end of cab drivers.

Aww, don't say that. ;-)

I agree with your points, though.

It's not just the obvious job losses, either. I read about one company (Japan, I think) using robots for clerical tasks. I've heard people say the work of home carers is safe, but who's to say they won't have robots for those tasks?

Not sure what the job title is, but here we have people who do the administration/logistics for prescription drugs. Maybe one day we could visit a GP surgery - and instead of giving the prescription to a human being, we could dispense it in a machine, have ID scanned, pay the fee and then have a machine dispense it.

We may think of lawyers and the like being immune to job losses, but who's to say that conveyancing lawyers might not become obsolete due to AI/technology? Or GP's receptionists? Or tax inspectors?

Scary!

This is why, and it's probably another topic, the world needs to have a debate about Universal Basic Income. I won't pretend UBI is the "magic cure all" solution. But with SO MANY professions likely to be obsolete, we should have the debate.
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Trevor Thompson
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 5:32am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Ok, so I'm not being a Luddite. I'm all for technology improving our lives but I do worry it'll just take over our lives to the point where we're almost made to be obsolete and technology will take over most jobs. UBI really might be the way forward because I can't really think of a job that cannot be done solely by humans and even if there were it would only be those elite engineering jobs but even then a computer could design and improve AI.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 8:33am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

You're right. I can imagine any job being taken over.

For instance, tax inspectors. Who's to say you couldn't have AI tax inspectors that can calculate if someone has underpaid/overpaid tax, whether that be income tax or corporation tax? I don't see any reason why AI couldn't examine financial records, inspect someone's tax history, etc.

Or what about street cleaners? Robots of a kind could move around and pick up leaves/litter. 

It's disconcerting.
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David Miller
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 8:48am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

Psychiatry and therapy. I'm pretty sure Siri can be used for it now. An AI parroting back what the patient subconsciously already knows has the potential to be more effective than an actual human. 
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John Cole
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 8:51am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

Man will always outlive what man creates.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 9:29am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Courtesy of Alan Moore, if nothing else, most of you are aware of the Doomsday Clock. Well, that's a real thing, trademarked in fact, an it's been around for seventy years, predicting the imminent demise of Humankind. Originally the threat was nuclear war. The destruction of the environment was added. And most recently, AI.

Sleep soundly, America!

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Trevor Thompson
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 9:41am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

First there's a nuclear war which subsequently destroys the environment; only the machines survive and rise from the ashes!
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Conrad Teves
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 10:22am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

I would think a post-scarcity society where no one *had* to work would be highly desirable.  Relying on "jobs" as such for survival is a sign we are very much not there yet. Arguably such reliance is a sign our survival is constantly under threat.

While some caution should be applied to the use of AI, the best ones today, like Google's Deep Mind can teach us stuff because of their ability to ponder things much faster than we can.  For example, Google Deep Mind's neural-network Alpha Chess Zero taught itself chess from knowing just the rules and by playing 3.5 million games against itself.  No human could ever play that many games in a normal lifetime. Alpha Chess Zero reinvented the whole of chess theory and became superhuman at chess in just 4 hours.  As such, it and its equally spectacular companion Alpha Go Zero are elevating human play at chess and Go.  
As the reason they were invented was to study chemistry and biology, etc. imagine what they can teach us after a few years of chewing on the ideas!
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 10:31am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

A little honk on the Eric Sofer "I'm so cool" horn...

When I started back into college a few years after high school*, the introductory class was discussing the need for engineering and programming because of the advance of robots and A.I. The teacher said, "I'll bet no one can think of a job or occupation that can't be done by a robot."

I pops up, and said "Acting." Acting is an art of the emotion, and a machine just can't fake that.

I suppose, upon further reflection, that other care or emotion based jobs might not be done by robots, e.g., veterinary care, kennels, infant care, etc. Adult humans can anthropomorphize a lot, including health and mental care. Babies and animals can't differentiate between humans and robots... they know from feelings and emotions.

But that time is likely coming.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 10:53am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

What’s “coming” depends rather heavily on how long we last—and based on the degree to which we have damaged the earth, that’s probably not long at all.
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 11:53am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

I see a flaw with driver-less taxi cabs, unless they can
recognise and prevent drunks getting in, the next
passenger may be sitting in a vomit filled cab. I say
this after witnessing three drunk yobs, at 8am on a
Saturday morning, waiting for a taxi, as soon as they
got in, they were turfed out, due to their inebriated
state.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 12:02pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

Ah, drunks in cabs. Worst kind of passenger! 

Regarding this topic, one would have thought that technological advances might actually have begun the process of "healing" the planet. 
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Doug Centers
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 12:07pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

When I think of the ultimate evolution of technology, the visual I usually get comes from Wall-E*, of humans turned to giant marshmallows floating around in their chairs.







*this is not an endorsement for the movie!
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Peter Martin
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 1:30pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

I would think a post-scarcity society where no one *had* to work would be highly desirable.  Relying on "jobs" as such for survival is a sign we are very much not there yet. Arguably such reliance is a sign our survival is constantly under threat.
------------------------------------------------------------ ---------------
Such reliance is a sign of the inequal distribution of the world's wealth and our inability to control population growth. A world in which work is mostly automated is scary if only a select few own/command the automated workforce.

Capitalist societies run on a system where money is king. Money comes either from ownership or work. If avenues for work are eradicated, only those who own have the money and the world could become a terrible place for the rest.


Edited by Peter Martin on 08 November 2018 at 1:31pm
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Rebecca Jansen
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 1:46pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

I'm not worried because I know Magnus, Robot-Fighter will save us!
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Conrad Teves
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 10:03pm | IP Logged | 17 post reply

Peter>>Capitalist societies run on a system where money is king. Money comes either from ownership or work. If avenues for work are eradicated, only those who own have the money and the world could become a terrible place for the rest.<<

I don't disagree with that, but what you're describing there is not a post-scarcity society.  In fact, the extreme case you describe is almost a pure-scarcity society.  Scarcity is the key ingredient to every economic model, except (obviously) post-scarcity. Also, because it's never been possible, post-scarcity is just a twinkle in the eye of Iain Banks novels and the like.  So, not really anything resembling a proper theory.  But  again, I submit, a laudable goal.

I think the trick to thinking about post-scarcity, apart from the fact that we aren't currently able to do it, is posing "what if that was solved?" to any objection to the idea you may come up with.  For example, the housing problem. Mansions are expensive, right?  Well, what if they weren't?  What if a big machine could come up and 3d print your mansion in an hour? That gets less implausible by the year.  If everyone got such a 100' x 100' footprint 3-story house (30,000 sq ft total), the total land area required to house 10 billion people in posh luxury would be the total land area of the US.  And why limit yourself to land?  Or 2d layout cities?

In a recent podcast with Joe Rogan, Sean Carroll addressed the point about what if technology made it so people didn't have to work.  What if that made someone just wanted to lollygag all day?  Well, in a post-scarcity society, so what?  If literally everybody did it, it couldn't even impact the resources of a post-scarcity civilization. He noted how some of his rich friends don't have "jobs" they have "projects." What if that was everyone?  What if it wasn't even plausible for someone to expend their life's energy doing a job they don't like and can't quit? What if instead, everyone spent their time bettering themselves for no other reason than they wanted to?  It's fun to think about.

I'm reminded of a line from My Dinner With Andre: "I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 years old, I was rich! I was an aristocrat. Riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I'm 36, and all I think about is money!"

Sadly, despite some startling technological advances that give some hope, we are a long way from everyone being able to be an "aristocrat" in that sense. As long-term goals for a civilization though, it no longer seems invisible.
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Peter Martin
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 11:31pm | IP Logged | 18 post reply

The trouble with your post-scarcity notion, is that the very fundamentals of the way western society thinks and operates is based on supply and demand. Which is to say, that when something is freely available, it loses vaue and we then move on to find something that is not freely available and attribute value to that.

Once upon a time, salt was a highly valuable resource. Your post-scarcity proposition relies upon humans not being able to dream up some new concept or service that is in high demand/low supply.... Which I believe they always will.

Also, your idea of a continental landmass entirely consumed with mansions sounds truly nightmarish and the apex of the environmental recipe for disaster ultimatly dictated by our crazy-big population.
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Peter Martin
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Posted: 08 November 2018 at 11:46pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

And the other things with regard to this post-scarcity notion is also the question of ideological opposition to giving away something for nothing -- even if it costs you nothing to give it away.

Human's have an ingrained instinct to compete, even if there is more of the resource than they could possibly need.

Consider people boarding a plane when they all have an allocated seat. there is no scarcity of resource there, they all have a seat after all. But yet, they do not board at their leisure. They line up; they try to get ahead. 
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Michael Roberts
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 12:25am | IP Logged | 20 post reply

Consider people boarding a plane when they all have an allocated seat. there is no scarcity of resource there, they all have a seat after all. But yet, they do not board at their leisure. They line up; they try to get ahead. 

-----

I can't speak for everyone who boards a plane, but the reason I try to get on a plane as soon as possible is to make sure that I can put my carry-on in the overhead bin next to my seat. The bins are the scarce resource. If I have no carry-on, then I board the plane at my leisure.
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Conrad Teves
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 1:31am | IP Logged | 21 post reply

>>The trouble with your post-scarcity notion, is that the very fundamentals of the way western society thinks and operates is based on supply and demand.<<

Yes, it'd be like asking tribal cavemen to live in a modern first-world society.  They'd have a fundamentally wrong mentality, they wouldn't fit the culture.  One of the things that would need to change to have a post-scarcity civilization is us.

Carl Sagan once said, " It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars. It will be a species very much like us. But with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses. More confident, far-seeing, capable and prudent."  Likewise we are probably the wrong people for any future society, whether it be a post-scarcity utopia, Zombie Apocalypse, or literally any other way it turns out. The mentality of the people doesn't just fit the times, it defines it.

>> Your post-scarcity proposition relies upon humans not being able to dream up some new concept or service that is in high demand/low supply<<

Why?  Wouldn't thinking of new things be a primary activity for people who don't have to struggle to survive?  Even today, the first thing you do with "new things" is try to make it enable the broader population, not make it ultra-exclusive.  There's a new Raspberry Pi microcontroller board that's more powerful than my first several computers that's about the size of a stick of gum and costs $5. It was designed specifically to expand access. We've come a long way from the IBM CEO Thomas Watson who declared "there's probably a market for maybe five computers" in 1943.   In 1943, he was probably right too.  Things change.

>>Also, your idea of a continental landmass entirely consumed with mansions sounds truly nightmarish and the apex of the environmental recipe for disaster ultimatly dictated by our crazy-big population.<<

I merely used that as an example to show our actual capacity limits can be quite large. For the sake of argument we can assume a highly advanced post-scarcity civilization would have overpopulation and/or population decline problems licked. But even if taken literally, why would it be an environmental disaster?  Is it because they'd pollute because we pollute? Must we pollute? There are 10,000 inactive (full) landfills in the US. Just garbage we don't want anymore.  If you could magically transport just one of those landfills to the moon, and you wanted to build a moonbase, you'd build it next to that landfill because the "garbage" would be the most valuable thing on the moon.  Think of the many years worth of metal and organic material that we just discarded but which would be priceless treasure on the moon. All you need do is bring that mentality back to Earth.

I could not possibly pretend that I or anyone else have all the problems worked out, but every time an objection is brought up, it seems rooted in assumptions that may longer apply now, and couldn't in that situation. I assert only that this is a laudable goal.  My definition of  a "grownup" humanity--one that is truly elevated beyond us and no longer living on the Raggedy Edge. 
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 7:20am | IP Logged | 22 post reply

Never mid boarding a plane, what about driving? Idiots
overtaking when it`s not safe, just to get one car
ahead, you usually catch up with them at the next set of
lights, they saved no seconds but risked numerous lives!
Then there`s when two lanes merge into one, rather than
merge in good time, you always get the idiots who speed
right up to the merge point, forcing everyone else to
stop to let them in, disrupting the traffic flow,
Grrrrrrrr!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 9:13am | IP Logged | 23 post reply

...one would have thought that technological advances might actually have begun the process of "healing" the planet.

••

Recent studies have shown that if every nation on earth reduced its carbon footprint to ZERO, starting today, the Earth would continue to warm for 200 years.

More recent studies have found the oceans are retaining 60% more heat than was included in the above calculation.

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Michael Penn
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 1:10pm | IP Logged | 24 post reply


 QUOTE:
I can't speak for everyone who boards a plane, but the reason I try to get on a plane as soon as possible is to make sure that I can put my carry-on in the overhead bin next to my seat. The bins are the scarce resource.

Indeed. I absolutely detest when an airline boards from rear to front because I know from experience that more than a few backseat passengers deliberately load their carry-ons as far front as possible. It causes nothing but chaos and anger.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 09 November 2018 at 2:33pm | IP Logged | 25 post reply

Flying in the front of the plane there is one quirk I have noticed. People step into the cabin and immediately check the row numbers. Like they expect numbering to begin at 16 or something.
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