March of the machines. Boy, this is getting bleak, isn't it? Let's change the subject to … let me see … how about artificial intelligence?Not only do I have an online subscription to the New York Times, I get a paper edition of the New Yorker, too — just for the cartoons, you understand, just for the cartoons!
The current issue of that hyper-liberal periodical, once you get past all the editorial weeping and snarling about the election of Donald Trump, has a thoughtful article about artificial intelligence. "Rage Against the Machine" is the title in the print edition, subtitle: "Will robots take your job?"
The author, Elizabeth Colbert, thinks they will. Most people who look into this subject agree.
If you try to get a conversation about AI going among non-specialists, it quickly collapses into metaphysics. Will AI robots be conscious? Will they have feelings, ambitions, dreams?
The best articles, like this one, eschew speculation of that sort and concentrate on what's being done and what it's likely to mean for the national economy.
Ms Colbert introduces readers to the job matrix, a square divided into four equal squares. The north-south axis through the matrix goes from manual work to cognitive work; the east-west axis goes from routine tasks to nonroutine ones.
So the four boxes represent four kinds of jobs:
The first jobs to fall to automation were manual-routine, with cognitive-routine not far behind — think of TurboTax putting tax preparers out of work. Right now the waters are rising up over the manual-nonroutine category, with for example automation coming into the construction trades.
- manual-routine (e.g. assembly line work)
- manual-nonroutine (e.g. home health care)
- cognitive-routine (e.g. basic bookkeeping)
- cognitive-nonroutine (e.g. producing a TV show)
Cognitive-nonroutine workers are starting to feel water seeping into their shoes, though. It's been five years, Ms Colbert reminds us, since Watson, a software app cooked up by some techies at IBM, won a resounding victory in the game Jeopardy against two former champions.
Ms Colbert is dismissive of the assurances you get from economists about how blacksmiths became auto mechanics and the makers of buggy whips became … I forget what they became, but they got jobs in some other new sector. The experts that Colbert interviews for her article all doubt this will continue to happen. The machines are getting just too damn smart.
Our author has some scary numbers to back up her case. Quote:In 2014, Facebook acquired Whatsapp for twenty-two billion dollars. At that point, the messaging firm had a grand total of fifty-five employees. When a twenty-two-billion-dollar company can fit its entire workforce into a Greyhound bus, the concept of surplus labor would seem to have run its course.This is still the New Yorker we're reading, though, so she ends with a swipe at Donald Trump. Quote:The other day, during his "victory lap" through the Midwest, the President-elect vowed to "usher in a new Industrial Revolution," apparently unaware that such a revolution is already under way, and that this is precisely the problem. The pain of dislocation he spoke to during the campaign is genuine; the solutions he offers are not. How this will all end, no one can say with confidence, except, perhaps, for Watson.End quote. Yep. Some things are true even though hyper-liberal magazines say they are true.
01m27s — Journalists are scum. ("Fake news" no news.)
08m57s — The Roger Lyons Strategy. (It's their whole existence.)
15m27s — Russia: problem child of the West. (Don't feed paranoia.)
25m40s — The Sun People tsunami. (Makes intra-Arctic bickering look petty.)
31m29s — Lifeboat ethics, or … what? (Who's thinking about it?)
37m25s — The Aleppo horrors. (Third World mayhem fatigue.)
42m06s — March of the machines. (Coming for your job.)
48m08s — Western Civilization Suicide Watch (1). (Ethnomasochism's furthest shores.)
49m50s — Western Civilization Suicide Watch (2). (The political life of symbols.)
51m14s — Hate crime hoax of the week. (Surprise!)
53m41s — Signoff. (Keep warm.)