The Tally Stick

Taking measure in our times

LA Times Op-ed: The robots are coming for your jobs?

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The rise of the robots has been compared to a Fourth Industrial Revolution.  The sophistication of robotic technologies, new materials and breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making this a very serious subject.  Even a few decades ago this material was more for science fiction than grounded fact.  Currently the world seems to be having a great debate about immigration and its limits, along with discussion of fairness and national sovereignty.  This is a big issue with many players dug into entrenched positions.    If you take a second to look over the bluff you will see that what we should be discussing is how more automation, robots and A.I. will affect the employment landscape.  We are already having trouble employing the other 4 billion people on the planet under our current model.   It seems we may have conflicting systems of governance that are now reaching their limits without very public discussions being had to figure out how the world will look after these changes and if we are going to get to the outside without catastrophic disasters, what underlying assumptions are being made that the general public are unaware of?  Immigration is an important issue but it seems like robots offsetting employment in general will be an even bigger issue with more impact because automation and A.I. affect all ethnic and cultural groups universally.

On one hand we have our tradition of free-ish enterprise wrapped up with a republican democracy with the ideas of basic human rights, justice and liberty.   These seem great and would be a great fit for a society that defends the individual with the goal of generational improvements a overall a more educated and objective citizenry.   In practice in contemporary times, what we have is much more collective and centrally planned by nature, with more and more difference to groups, over-ceding the individual persons.    With increasing talk about guaranteed incomes to offset structural changes.   We also can not forget the deafening roar of climate change, resource constraints and population.   Something doesn’t seem to match up.

What I like to think about in these intellectual exercises is what each piece represents in the puzzle.   What do robots represent in this scenario, are they for the good or bad?  What are the goals we are using to even measure good or bad in this situation?  I personally am not a believer is technology improvements just for technology’s sake just like I am not always for productivity improvements for productivity’s sake.   You should looks at the broader picture and see how these changes will affect the people that bare these changes and if on a whole, be able to demonstrate that this is an improvement when weighing all things.  When I look at robotics and AI, it makes me wonder if this is a solution looking for a problem?

When I objectively look on one hand, we still have 4 billion people unemployed and on the other, we need to protect the environment and be much more conscious in our resource usage.    It seems if we are sincere in uplifting the World’s poorest from abject poverty, we need more jobs available, not less.  Robots and A.I. can easily be considered a labor-saving device, not a labor-demand-increasing one.  Conversely, if we are going to slow climate change and bring 4 billion people into modern civilization, maintaining our current consumption habits and giving them a guaranteed income will be counter-productive.

When looking at it from this point of view, it makes me think there may be an unstated assumption for the future.   Will we be brought to this Utopia where work is eliminated for the most part because of our servantian robots and A.I.   A place where we have time for maximum leisure and finally we will have the time to work on the world’s great problems and mysteries?  7-9 billion people that have finally been able to throw off the shackles of labor?   Is all this high technology going to be democratized for the betterment of mankind?   I really hope so.   It worries me that we are throwing ourselves headfirst into this reality without really address these really big questions that it doesn’t seem to take more than a few hours of heavy thinking to see that we have some serious incompatibilities with desired outcomes and human nature.

{LA Times}:

A viral video released in February showed Boston Dynamics’ new bipedal robot, Atlas, performing human-like tasks: opening doors, tromping about in the snow, lifting and stacking boxes. Tech geeks cheered and Silicon Valley investors salivated at the potential end to human manual labor.

Shortly thereafter, White House economists released a forecast that calculated more precisely whom Atlas and other forms of automation are going to put out of work. Most occupations that pay less than $20 an hour are likely to be, in the words of the report, “automated into obsolescence.”

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has found its first victims: blue-collar workers and the poor.
In other words, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has found its first victims: blue-collar workers and the poor.

The general response in working America is disbelief or outright denial. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 80% of Americans think their job will still exist in 50 years, and only 11% of today’s workers were worried about losing their job to automation. Some — like my former colleagues at the CIA – insist that their specialized skills and knowledge can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence. That is, until they see plans for autonomous drones that don’t require a human hand and automated imagery analysis that outperforms human eyes.

 

Written by Tally Stick

March 29th, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Article: Socialist or Fascist?

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Compelling article about the misconceptions of Socialism in our modern sense and the comparison between Fascism and Socialism.   In the current landscape of the U.S. Presidential elections, we have candidates on both sides that are pulling their respective political parties farther from the center, to the point where you see these terms used in a derogatory manner against their opponents.    What is even more interesting is how many people actually know what these words actual mean from their literal definition.

One point that surprised me was the definition of Fascism.  According to Google the word comes up as “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”  The use of the work “right-wing” seems a little politically loaded and vague to be used like that.  My thought was that because Mussolini basically invented this system of governance, we attached his political party to it as part of the definition.   I wanted to know if this was that case decades ago.   I pulled out my trusty Webster’s Dictionary 2nd Edition (1966) to see if this was the case 50 years ago.  Here is what Webster said for Fascism in 1966:  “A system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of the opposition, the retention of private ownership of the means of production under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism and racism, glorification of war, etc…“.  This seems to be a far more accurate statement and bits and pieces can be seen by all major political parties.

In the article they mention that Socialism is used out of context because modern Socialism does not want the State to own the means to production, they just want to regulate and have centralized control over it.  What this tells us is that the common theme that all governance have in common is the natural gravity towards for central planning and centralization of important decision-making capabilities.  This is something we are see more and more of over time where we still retain a free-enterprise system but the bar to entry for most important or strategic industry is basically closed off from the general public to pursue as a commercial interest.

Excerpt from Article:

Back in the 1920s, however, when fascism was a new political development, it was widely — and correctly — regarded as being on the political left. Jonah Goldberg’s great book “Liberal Fascism” cites overwhelming evidence of the fascists’ consistent pursuit of the goals of the left, and of the left’s embrace of the fascists as one of their own during the 1920s. Mussolini, the originator of fascism, was lionized by the left, both in Europe and in America, during the 1920s. Even Hitler, who adopted fascist ideas in the 1920s, was seen by some, including W.E.B. Du Bois, as a man of the left. It was in the 1930s, when ugly internal and international actions by Hitler and Mussolini repelled the world, that the left distanced themselves from fascism and its Nazi offshoot — and verbally transferred these totalitarian dictatorships to the right, saddling their opponents with these pariahs. What socialism, fascism and other ideologies of the left have in common is an assumption that some very wise people — like themselves — need to take decisions out of the hands of lesser people, like the rest of us, and impose those decisions by government fiat.

Written by Tally Stick

March 25th, 2016 at 10:40 am

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Observation: Uploading directly to your brain a wise idea?

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Should you allow direct access to your mind via a computer?

First off I don’t want this to come off as a anti-technological rant or some how it makes you feel like I am against real technological progress.   In my lifetime alone, I fortunately have witnessed a few of the most important technological advances in human history, naming the rise of the microprocessor, the Internet and mobile communication.   Being in my mid-30s, I grew up without these being a major effect on my early life so that I had perspective of life without these profound advances and at the same time, I realized the profound impact they would have on modern society and embraced them in my own way.   I always kept on top on new advances and started businesses that utilized them.  What I am saying is I respect technology but I have not drunk the Kool-aid so my objectively is still intact with a slight pro-tech leaning in place, right where I need to be.  Enough said.

When talking about direct brain interfaces with machines, this is a technology that should give you reason to pause.  Virtual Reality (VR) is just getting off the ground with 2nd generation consumer hardware hitting the market so logically this seems like the next step right?   Wrong.  When you are talking about connecting a computer to your mind this opens up a whole new level risks that come associated with it.

First, is it safe?  What long-term affects with it have on humans?   What happens if a hacker ‘hacks’ your brain and starts toying around with you mind, possibly removing, changing or adding memories.  I believe there could be great interest if people start realizing the possibility with this kind of technology.  It should be accessed initially, very restrictively, while we create a new body of law to deal with Mind Loading.  Harnessing powerful technologies requires great wisdom & caution to use ethically for the benefit of society.  We don’t want to create some unintended consequences that makes us more vulnerable down the line.  I believe this is one of those technologies that present this type of risk for humanity.  It seems to be a very radical idea that any limitations to technological advancement is a terrible thing.  Our wisdom shows when we use good “judgement”.

This is pretty profound technology when you really start weighing the implications that having a door into your mind presents.  This isn’t necessarily only a one-way street, if you can put stuff in the mind, likely you can take things from it, like secrets, passwords and memories that are very personal. They are even working on how to do this via wireless connection too.  In the book ‘Snow Crash‘ by Neal Stephenson, the premise surrounds a world with a Matrix-like system that has a virus that is killing people connected to it and it affects their physical minds.  These are all real possibility and even if some day we actually have the singularity, the AI may decide to attack your mind, “for your own good”.

Think about it with this and other really advanced technologies.   People will use all kinds or compassion or just slick arguments to convince you it is no big deal and you are just missing out.  This just maybe something you want to miss out on.

 

Written by Tally Stick

March 3rd, 2016 at 8:24 am

Is the ‘Internet of Things’ the surveillance of everything?

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Smart technology keeping track of uninformed citizens?

All over the media we hear buzzwords about “smart” technologies and the “Internet of Things or IoT”.  This seems to be the all the rage for the majority of people who carry or own one or more “smart” devices.  The hardware are all starting to pack new technologies in them, most notably the new ways of voice recognition and virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now.  These work by constantly listening for your commands so they can find information and answer questions you pose to the device.

With how good these technologies are getting, consumers are becoming enamored with the use of this tech.   This is just one aspect, with ‘smartphones’ also starting to store financial and health data, they are actually able to make a virtual clone of the user which big data analysis techniques are used to create these user profiles.

This doesn’t just stop at smartphones, take the ‘smart televisions’.   First the manufacturers started adding a internet connection to the smart TVs, along with a bundle of pre-installed applications so you could stream internet content to your television.  Now we are seeing more ‘smart’ technology on the scene with their own version of smart assistants and voice commands.  Samsung got flak for their smart TVs because of the 46-page privacy policy that not only warns the user to not say anything private or sensitive information in-front or the device, it also told the owner that the information is sent to a ‘3rd party’ for external processing to improve the experience.  This is really scaring some people but those people are just paranoid, right?  Not quite.

The United States Intelligence Director did acknowledge that it may use the ‘Internet of Things’ devices in suspects homes to gather signals intelligence to help defeat international and domestic terrorists.  From their prospective, this has to be considered a goldmine for their trade-craft to help them do their jobs more effectively.  Where is gets scary is positions that national security agencies have taken that a person could be considered an “extremist” if they care about their privacy or use common encryption to secure their communications.  The trend direction is more devices adding capabilities that would allow surveillance agencies to have the ability to tap in and see what you are doing.  Intel announced a new mobile computer chip that will have functionalities built-in so they are always listening and waiting for user commands.  For most users this likely will not raise any concern that would prevent them from using the new technology.   Many feel they do not have anything to hide so they figure if someone was monitoring their activities they would quickly realize they are not a threat.    My concern would be if corrupt officials used it for personal use or if it was used for commercial espionage to potential gleam proprietary information or trade secrets.

It doesn’t just stop with mobile & entertainment devices.   You even have the power utility companies are using the ‘smart grid’ to monitor electrical usage and that data could be run through filters and analysis to spot unusual patterns that may create alerts that would bring additional scrutiny from investigators and law enforcement.   There are even ‘smart lights‘ that have the ability to track your movements to increase efficiency by switching off lights that are not being used but if that is coupled with cameras and facial recognition software, you would have a pretty interesting surveillance system.   With all this technology being deployed, no one seems out of reach of this grid of tracking, even United States Congress members got caught up in a CIA investigation.

People need to be aware how this technology works and should use common sense when they determine how much convenience they want in their smart devices.  They needs to know there are trade-offs and those come with less privacy in some ways.  Make sure you read the privacy statements and terms of services so you understand how the devices operate and what data it may be gathering on you without your knowledge or consent.

 

Written by Tally Stick

March 2nd, 2016 at 1:47 am

Bathroom Battleground: Who’s rights matter most, public or minority group?

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Public Bathroom

Battleground Bathroom

A very divisive issue is brewing in America with both sides digging in and it seems like it will take years of litigation and legislation to figure out where we as a country, stand.   It is about the use to public bathrooms & restrooms by the opposite biological sex for pre-operation transgender individuals.   I use the word “Pre-OP” very deliberately because I need to define that I see a difference and believe regardless of anyone’s personal views on gender reassignment, once you have made the switch, I believe that takes a huge amount of conviction and they should be treated fairly as humans and Americans under the law and be able to use the bathroom they have assigned for.  You may find this controversial in itself but I do not, freedom is a double-edged sword and that means we are free to disagree as well as we are free to live a variety of lifestyles.

The real issue is the idea that genders are a social construct, not a hard biological fact.  That is a very controversial issue that is very much rooted in a ideology that many supporters of this idea think that the issue is settled and the debate is over.  You can reaffirm this viewpoint by reading the comments in Seattle, Washington where they have had a Pro-PreOP-Trans law pass and an incident happened that not only pointed out flaws in how the laws was written, but also had a person test the limits of the law.  This set-off a firestorm of comments in the ultra-progressive segment of the LGBT community on this issue.   If you want a small peek into feelings on this issue and the intellectual arguments used to support or challenge this views, I would recommend reading all the comments (even the bad ones).

Proponents of the new WA state law that went into effect in 2015 is billed as a anti-discrimination laws cites that genders can be an expression, versus a a biological fact.  Many supporter express that opposition to this new law amounts to a form of bigotry or hatred toward the transgender community.   Opponents on the hand cite that is law denies public privacy rights that are an accepted part of society for much of recorded history and that allowed the other biological sex in the opposite genders bathroom violates their privacy and puts them at risk of an attack from a sexual predator that would use the laws loose rules to take advantage of someone, especially young children.

My thoughts are that these laws needs to be written in a way that addresses the public’s safety concern that seems to be easily swept away in a political movement that supports progress at all costs in this area and dismisses any concerns or challenge to other people who are also affected and do not have a ulterior motive of disrespect for the small minority group of transgender people and their supporters.  The public does have interest here and it is a valid concern.  In the meantime it seems like a reasonable compromise while we figure out the proper balance on interests in this case it to create more single occupancy gender-neutral / family restrooms.  Some of the more radical elements in the LGBT movement dismiss this because they feel that is a form of discrimination but in my mind that makes me wonder if they in fact my have an ulterior motive to radically change society to be molded to their social norms and customs to do in fact only represent a very small fraction of society as a whole.

What do you think?  Please sound-off.

Written by Tally Stick

February 29th, 2016 at 3:50 pm

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