Artificial Intelligence… and the Second Industrial Revolution

2015-10-18_11-44-58DO YOU THINK WE RUN THE RISK OF “TECHNOLOGICAL UNEMPLOYMENT” WHERE MACHINES TAKE ALL OF OUR JOBS?

HAWKING: The outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Source: Highlights from Stephen Hawking’s Reddit AMA: ‘Women’ are the most intriguing ‘mystery’ – The Washington Post

I’m not a fan of Stephen Hawking, he just seems to be a guy who dreams up stuff that is impossible to verify. Just because you can’t be proven wrong doesn’t make what you say right.  But his words above are insightful but not unique to Mr. Hawking.  I recently read a book entitled Machines of Loving Grace – The Quest For Common Ground. It is about automation and the two completely different approaches  to it. I will be getting into the book and quotes from it soon but wanted to mention it during this post.

There weren’t any blogs or 24/7 reporting during the first industrial revolution but if there were I’m sure many would be lamenting how all the farm jobs were disappearing and how fearful they were about the future. Change, especially sudden change is a very traumatic thing to many of us then and now.

Replacing humans with robots started more than fifty years ago and it now expanding at an exponential rate.  It will soon be that any job that simply requires repetition will be done by robotic means. This phenomenon started out with physical activity and is now quickly moving into the intellectual area.  From blue-collar to white-collar with no end in sight. Where there was once a good paying job in industries such as auto, and office work they are now replaced by robots  and computers who work twenty-four hours a day with no breaks.

I personally think that eventually this will be a good thing. Humans will be rid of the mind numbing work of the past and can then move on to more creative and productive endeavors. This revolution could also cause the family unit to be stronger than it has been in a century. Recently we have farmed out the care giving and moral education of our children to others so that both parents could work at providing income for the family.  Now with robotics doing much of the day-to-day work there will be no need for double income so a permanent care-giver can once again be the norm.  Another possibility is for a 30 hour work week.

Of course this all hinges on how the gains due to robotics are distributed.  Will it go to the stake holder or the remaining workers.  Right now the top 1% are getting a very inordinate share but that doesn’t have to be the case. Unfettered capitalism naturally favors them but if proper regulations are put in place things could quickly change to even out the distribution of the gains.

I have high hopes that, even though I won’t be around, things will be much better in the future than they are now. We will be more educated, informed, and diligent citizens. We will reign it the capitalistic greed that is inherent to our current system.  Yes, I am a dreamer…. and if you are going to dream why not dream big positive things… 🙂

Those New Credit Cards 

U.S. consumers on Thursday will have a new way to protect themselves against cybercrime. Instead of the familiar magnetic stripe, their armor will take the form of credit and debit cards with a built-in chip, which retailers must be able to read as of October 1….

Experts say the slow rollout could be due to the cost of new card-reading equipment. Merchants must weigh the expense of buying new payment systems and training employees on that gear against the unknown hit from fraudulent charges. Some may even consider their new liabilities the cost of doing business.

Source: New credit cards aim to protect consumers and banks from hackers – CNET

One of my personal credit cards just got hit with a fraudulent charge from someplace over in Africa I think, so that one had to be cancelled and replaced by a new number. This is the second time in the past year that it has happened but to different cards. The credit card companies are getting pretty good at spotting these guys early so no great damage is done. It is hard to say how they got my number, maybe it was from a list sold to them?

The new chip cards as cited above does a good job of preventing this from happening. Every time the card is used it generates a one-time number. Some algorithm generates these new numbers so they are pretty much impossible to duplicate.  Like so much else it seems these days, the chip cards have been in use in much of the rest of the world for a several years now and are finally being implemented here.  When we took our month long trip to Canada in 2011 there were some businesses that hesitated even taking our cards with magnetic strips. We are the inventors of much of this type technology but seem to be the last implementors. Strange….

I know this article said that retailers must be able to read the chip cards by October 1 but I still find the majority of them unable to do so. Those that don’t are not mom & pop places but national chains. According to the list I put out last week we are, believe it or not, pretty far down the list of even cell phone usage. Credit card fraud is on an exponential rise due to all the hackers out there stealing numbers in vast quantities. It will only get progressively worse as time goes by. Canada and Europe has been using the chip cards for almost a decade now and therefore are for the most part immune to this hacking. Why does it seem to be  that we in the U.S. have to go to the  brink on almost anything before we take action? While I love my country that is one area I just can’t understand…

Why We Can't Yet Build True Artificial Intelligence…

2015-02-13_09-55-29We’re still pretending that we’re inventing a brain when all we’ve come up with is a giant mash-up of real brains. We don’t yet understand how brains work, so we can’t build one.

We bolded that last sentence because it pretty much explains the predicament for AI. Until we more fundamentally understand that which we’re trying to clone, everything else is an impressive attempt up Everest that never totally summits.

This jibes with a sentiment that renowned author and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter posed earlier this year. He calls current prominent pursuits in the artificial intelligence arena “vacuous”

[IBM’s “Jeopardy!”-winning supercomputer] Watson is basically a text search algorithm connected to a database just like Google search. It doesn’t understand what it’s reading. In fact, “read” is the wrong word. It’s not reading anything because it’s not comprehending anything. Watson is finding text without having a clue as to what the text means. In that sense, there’s no intelligence there. It’s clever, it’s impressive, but it’s absolutely vacuous.

We’ve got a ways to go before machines are truly smart.

SOURCE: Why We Can’t Yet Build True Artificial Intelligence, Explained In One Sentence – Yahoo Finance.

I seem to come across a lot of talk lately about how machines will eventually rule the world and the humans will become obsolete. Having lived a big part of my life in the software development area maybe I understand a little more than most how this worry is very much unfounded. We have nothing to worry about for probably centuries. We simply can’t simulate something we really don’t even understand in the first place. Plainly speaking artificial intelligence is not even yet on technology’s radar screen.

When I first become interested in computer things back in the 1970s I purchased a TRS-80 personal computer and spent hours of my free time learning to program it. It costs a whopping $500 (that’s about $3,000 in today’s dollar). It had 16 kbytes of Ram and a 85k floppy disk (today’s computers have about a million times more memory and storage). But even this gargantuan increase is still not even close to what the human mind is capable of doing.

Even when the hardware finally comes in the neighborhood of our minds we still have to write the programs to simulate our mental processes. That is something we still don’t begin to understand.  We got a long way to go before we have to be concerned with machines becoming smarter than their inventors if that is even possible….

On Both Sides of the Fence….

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To the U.S. technology industry, there’s a dramatic shortfall in the number of Americans skilled in computer programming and engineering that is hampering business. To unions and some Democrats, it’s more sinister: The push by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to expand the number of visas for high-tech foreign workers is an attempt to dilute a lucrative job market with cheap, indentured labor.

The answer is somewhere in between, depending as much on new technologies and the U.S. education system’s ability to keep up as on the immigration law itself. But the sliver of computer-related jobs inside the U.S. that might be designated for foreigners — fewer than 200,000 out of 6 million — has been enough to strain a bipartisan deal in the Senate on immigration reform, showcase the power of big labor and splinter a once-chummy group of elite tech leaders

Source: U.S. technology, labor unions clash on immigration – CBS News.

I seem to fall on both sides of this debate about job related visas. On the one hand in order to maintain our technological dominance in the world we need people who have the skills to continue to innovate and if our populace doesn’t meet this challenge then we need to look elsewhere.

But on the other side, maybe we should be doing more to get our kids to do the work to meet the needs internally. That is a big problem as it seems that many are just not willing to put in the work to make that happen. The common answer to not having enough people with the necessary skills is to put more money into our educational system but that has been the solution for more than one-hundred years now and money just doesn’t seem to bring about the desired results.

I know my teacher friends who frequent this blog will have some comments about this and I certainly welcome them. How do we encourage more of our children to get the advanced education needed for twenty-first century jobs in this country?  To me the first thing is to take the financial roadblock away from them  that prevents many for attending college or trade school.  Many of the more affluent countries in the world  extend free education beyond high school. Why aren’t we one of them. It has been proven time and again that doing this has a very high buy-back.

I see all the studies about how those in Japan, Korea, and several other countries make education for their children their number one family priority.  That attitude instills the mentality of working hard into the children. I can’t understand why so many parents in this country allow their children to drop out of high school! That dooms them to a lifetime of  want and distress. How can any parent think that is enough for their children?

Yes, we need to do something to convince more kids to make a commitment and do the extra work to obtain technical educations. Yeah it is harder to learn physics and calculus but if  taking the challenge doesn’t happen then by all means let’s do what we can to bring in kids from other countries to fill the gap.