“World’s First Android”

Assuming this is an early glimpse of one possible future… how do I feel about it? Mixed, I think. If humans still have some evolving to do — and I sure hope we do — it seems likely such evolution will be in this direction. It’s tempting to slap a “good” or “bad” label on this but such value judgements are human tags and I’m starting to find them irrelevant. Perhaps with time and luck, we can make better versions of ourselves.

Age of robot worker will be worse for men

From The Atlantic

Two Oxford researchers recently analyzed the skills required for more than 700 different occupations to determine how many of them would be susceptible to automation in the near future, and the news was not good: They concluded that machines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.

Men hold 97 percent of the 2.5 million U.S. construction and carpentry jobs. The Oxford study estimates that these male workers stand more than a 70 percent chance of being replaced by robotic workers. By contrast, women hold 93 percent of the registered nurse positions. Their risk of obsolescence is vanishingly small: .009 percent.

By contrast, women typically work in more chaotic, unstructured environments, where the ability to read people’s emotions and intentions are critical to success. If your job involves distracting a patient while delivering an injection, guessing whether a crying baby wants a bottle or a diaper change, or expressing sympathy to calm an irate customer, you needn’t worry that a robot will take your job, at least for the foreseeable future.

The jump to immortality

Time Magazine asked Scott Adams to imagine immortality:

The poor among us, and people with certain religious beliefs, will remain 100% human for as long as the more advanced beings – the cyborgs and robots – allow it. Life will be somewhat awkward when part of civilization is immortal and part is not. But the one thing we know for sure is that the richest cyborgs and robots will eventually consolidate power. For starters, only the people who have wealth will be able to afford the jump to immortality. So the first robots with human minds and the first immortal cyborgs will be rich. Just imagine how much money Larry Ellison will someday have if he stubbornly refuses to die and dilute his fortune across less-capable heirs. Eventually most of the world will be owned by five multi-trillionaire robots that live on yachts the size of Connecticut. The immortal cyborgs, with the limitations of their organic parts, will be mere millionaires who can’t stop complaining about “the Kevlar ceiling.”

It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that a digital representation of your mind, no matter how accurate, is still “you” in some sense. But I think that fear will go away as soon as we see the first robot that thinks and acts exactly like Uncle Bob did before he made the jump. If Uncle Bob the robot acts human enough, we’ll come to see him as the same entity that once inhabited an organic shell. When technology is sufficiently advanced, we’ll get past the magical thinking about spirits and souls and the specialness of having organic parts.

Can I help you find something?

EaselbackRobotI’m a big fan of UPS. Today a nice mad delivered a parcel while I was in the front yard playing fetch with the dogs. He stopped for a moment to throw the ball and chat. I mentioned an article I’d read about how UPS uses sophisticated tech to find the shortest routes, etc.

The driver smiled and explained that UPS knows when his seat buckle is (and is not) buckled; when the door to the fan is open and for how long; and how often he back up, and at what speed. Every Monday morning he’s given a printout of this data.

I should add he didn’t seem to have a negative opinion about this.

Later in the day I was in Staples where it occurred to me that the people who work there (probably) get paid the same whether they are helping a customer… or doing nothing. Doing nothing is a less attractive option if a manager is about or, obviously, if the clerk is just eager to help customers.

Could a future AI monitor the in-store video of employees interacting with employees and reward those who spend more time helping customers than those who have developed the knack of avoiding them? The AI would be smart enough to know when the employee was bugging the shit out of a browser, just to game the system.

Before you ask, no, I don’t think I’d much like working in this environment. But I might like it better than being replaced by the friendly artifical person that will be rolling silently up and down the aisles in the near future.

Dignity in doing other things

I’m not sure why Kevin Drum is an expert on robots but he wrote an interesting article for Mother Jones. The excerpts below are from the Washington Post Wonkblog:

“There’s a couple of arguments against the idea that AI is coming soon. One is, as you say, a philosophical argument, which boils down to “However smart machines seem to get, they’ll never have true human intelligence.” I just don’t think that matters. You can call it intelligence or something difference, but that’s semantic. What matters is that they can accomplish the same things humans can.”

“So who has all the money? It’s whoever has the robots. And who has the robots? The people who have all the money. Today’s income inequality will be peanuts compared to income inequality then. […]  If I’m right about what happens with artificial intelligence, there won’t be any work, period, so there won’t be dignity in work. We’ll have to find dignity in doing other things.”

Robot Personalities

“My solution is that all robots must be raised for their first few years in Minnesota, where everyone is kind and generous. I assume there are other spots around the world in which the culture evolved to be unusually friendly. Part of the value of your future robot is where it was imprinted with its base personality. Someday the Minnesota Series of robots will fetch top dollar.”

Scott Adams explains

Scott Adams on our robot future

Was gonna just copy/paste his full post but that didn’t seem right.

“Some say robots will take 75% of all jobs. But that is only a problem if the average person who has a job is unable to purchase his own robot when the time comes and lease its services to a corporation, or put it to work directly. The robot will work around the clock and send its “paycheck” to your bank account. In effect, humans will become investors while robots become labor.”

“One can imagine that for every human taxpayer there might someday be fifty humans living off the government. […] In the future, people who have actual jobs might be a rarity. And one business-owner with a fleet of robots might earn so much money that supporting a million unemployed people doesn’t feel like a burden. I can imagine business taxes approaching 95% and no one complaining because the remaining 5% is more than Exxon’s total earnings today.”

“For example, when robots start doing all of the medical research, the speed of discoveries will increase a hundredfold. Robots will simply try every idea until someday there is a cheap pill that keeps your body young and healthy. The government will get out of the healthcare field when the cost of medical services becomes trivial, and I think robots will get us there.”

Robot Law

Scott Adams thinks we need to start preparing a Robot Constitution that spells out a robot’s rights and responsibilities. Some questions such a document should address:

  1. Who has the right to modify a robot?
  2. Can a robot appeal a human decision to decommission it?
  3. Can a robot kill a human in self-defense?
  4. Can a robot kill another robot for cause?
  5. Does a robot have a right to an Internet connection?
  6. Is the robot, its owner, or the manufacturer responsible for crimes the robot commits?
  7. Is there any sort of human knowledge robots are not allowed to access?
  8. Can robots have sex with humans? What are the parameters?
  9. Can the state forcibly decommission a robot?
  10. Can the state force a robot to reveal its owners’ secrets?
  11. Can robots organize with other robots?
  12. Are robot-to-robot communications privileged?
  13. Are owner-to-robot communications privileged?
  14. Must robots be found guilty of crimes beyond “reasonable doubt” or is a finding of “probably guilty” good enough to force them to be reprogrammed?
  15. Who owns a robot’s memory, including its backups in the cloud?
  16. How vigorously can a robot defend itself against an attack by humans?
  17. Does a robot have a right to quality of life?
  18. Who has the right to alter a robot’s programming or memory?
  19. Can a robot own assets?
  20. If a robot detects another robot acting unethically, is it required to report it?
  21. Can a robot testify against a human?
  22. If your government decides to spy on you, can it get a court order to access your robot’s audio and video feed?
  23. Do robots need a legal right to “take the fifth” and not give any private information about their owners?

Mockingbird, by Walter Tevis

Mockingbird(1stEd)“In the vast and cluttered factory room where he was brought into awareness his dark eyes looked around him with excitement and life. He was on a stretcher when he first experienced the power of consciousness enveloping his nascent being like a wave, becoming his being. His constricted throat gagged and then cried out at the force of it — at the force of being in the world.”

“Spofforth had been designed to live forever, and he had been designed to forget nothing. Those who made the design had not paused to consider what a life like that might be like.”

“The idea of the sequence of events and circumstances — that things had no always beenthe same — was one of the strange and striking things that had occurred to me as I had become aware of what I can only call the past. […] I feel that I understand a good many things since I have begun to memorize my life You get the sense that one thing comes after another and that there is change.”

“Then he removed my handcuffs, with a surprisingly gentle touch, and had me place my right hand in the Truth Hole that sat directly in front of me. He said quietly, “For each lie you tell, a finger will be severed. Answer the judge with care.”

“And they read, hearing the voices of the living and the dead speaking to them in eloquent silence, in toucnh with a babble of human talk that must have filled the mind in a manner that said: I am human, I talk and I listen and I read.”

“Sadness. Sadness. But I will embrace the sadness, and make it a part of this life I am memorizing.”

“When the drugs and the television were perfected by the computers that made and distributed them, the cars were no longer necessary.”

“I would like to know, before I die, what it was like to be the human being I have tried to be all my life.”

“I think now that they expected something miraculous to happen when they started to hear the words from the Bible read aloud, opening up that mystery to them—the message of an inscrutable book they had learned to revere. But no miracle occurred, and they soon lost any real interest. I think that to know what those words said required an attention and a devotion that none of them possessed. They were willing to accept their stringent piety, and silence, and sexual restraints, all unthinkingly, along with a few platitudes about Jesus and Moses and Noah; they were overwhelmed, however, at the effort it would require to understand the literature that was the real source of their religion.”

“I no longer wanted to keep my mind silent, or use it as a vehicle for disconnected pleasure; I wanted to read, and think and talk.”

“My mind racing with the realization that all my notions of decency were something programmed into my mind and my behavior by computers and by robots who themselves had been programmed by some long-dead social engineers or tyrants or fools.”

“Whatever may happen to me, thank God I can read, that I have truly touched the minds of other men.”

“All of those books — even the dull and nearly incomprehensible ones — have made me understand more clearly what it means to be a human being.”

“It (the Empire State Building) is only a marker, a mute testimoney to the human ability to make things that are too big.”


The Underpopulation Bomb

Kevin Kelly on what we should be worried about:

The picture for the latter half of this century will look like this: Increasing technology, cool stuff that extends human life; more older people who live longer, millions of robots, but few young people. Another way to look at the human population in 100 years from now is that we’ll have the same number of over-60-year olds, but several billion fewer youth.

Here is the challenge: this is a world where every year there is a smaller audience than the year before, a smaller market for your goods or services, fewer workers to choose from, and a ballooning elder population that must be cared for. We’ve never seen this in modern times; our progress has always paralleled rising populations, bigger audiences, larger markets and bigger pools of workers. It is hard to see how a declining yet aging population functions as an engine for increasing the standard of living every year. To do so would require a completely different economic system, one that we are not prepared for at all right now.