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More Adventures in an “Industrial Society and Its Future”

2019/11/11

See warnings of the coming machine revolution


The Industrial Revolution has radically altered man’s environment and way of life, and it is only to be expected that as technology (advances and) is increasingly applied to the human body and mind, man himself will be altered as radically as his environment and way of life have been.

Societies have been able to push people only up to certain limits. When the limit of human endurance has been passed, things start going wrong: rebellion, or crime, or corruption, or evasion of work, or depression and other psycho-spiritual problems, or an elevated suicide and death rate, or a declining birth rate or something else, so that either the society fragments and  breaks down, or its functioning becomes too inefficient and it is (quickly or gradually, through conquest, attrition or evolution) deconstructed and replaced by some more efficient form of society. ~Theodore John Kaczynski, from “Industrial Society and Its Future(1995)


Summary: The next Industrial Revolution is now upon us. It won’t be Skynet and Terminators, but could bring massive job losses. With this warning and the experience from the earlier ones, we can build a prosperous future without massive suffering during the transition. But nothing will happen until we turn our eyes from the past towards the future.

Preparing for the future by closing our eyes

“On September 23 {William the Conqueror’s} fleet hove in sight, and all came safely to anchor in Pevensey Bay. There was no opposition to the landing. The local fyrd had been called out this year four times already to watch the coast, and having, in true English style, come to the conclusion that the danger was past because it had not yet arrived – and had gone back to their homes.” — From A History of the English-Speaking Peoples  by Winston Churchill.

We have been amply warned about the coming waves of automation, but most prefer to look ahead with closed eyes. For example, Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD, wrote at Innowiki that it will be just like the slow automation of bakeries during the past 50 years. No worries! In her deep 1989 book In The Age Of The Smart Machine: The Future Of Work And Power, Shoshana Zuboff does not even use the word “unemployment” – or mention the potential for massive job losses. Elizabeth Garbee at Slate wrote “This Is Not the Fourth Industrial Revolution” – “The meaningless phrase got tossed around a lot at {the 2016} World Economic Forum.”

A common rebuttal to warnings about automation is that it has long been predicted, but not yet happened. Therefore it won’t happen. Q.E.D!

That is unlikely. This will be a revolution. Like what nuclear weapons did to war. What the printing press did to the writing. What antibiotics did to medicine. These inventions were inflection points, not incremental changes.

That assumes the continued development of semi-intelligent machines, with simple sensory systems and IQ equivalents of perhaps 60 (in a narrow domain, not general intelligence). These will destroy a large fraction of today’s jobs. Sometime in the next few generations we might get more advanced forms of machine intelligence, the equivalent of IQs near 100 – in a narrow domain. That would create a revolution like the invention of fire or agriculture, since these machines could more cheaply do most (half?) of today’s jobs.

Perhaps we’ll find new forms of employment. Perhaps we will develop new economic systems which require fewer people to work. If delayed into the second half of the 21st century, the almost inevitable population crash (esp. following the invention of a contraceptive pill for men) will make automation a cure – not a curse. But all of these solutions will require innovation, wisdom, luck – and time. We need to begin planning soon. As the posts here show, it has already begun (fortunately, slowly).

Here are three forecasts of the coming robot revolution. Let’s learn from their insights, and get ready.

Science fiction then. Now our future.

The automation revolution was visible to some people long ago. One of the first was James Blish, as seen in his A Life for the Stars (1962, the second book of his Cities in Flight series). This passage describes what New York might look like in the late 21st century if we get widespread unemployment without a new economic system to fairly distribute its fruits.

“The cab came floating down out of the sky at the intersection and maneuvered itself to rest at the curb next to them with a finicky precision.  There was, of course, nobody in it; like everything else in the world requiring an I.Q. of less than 150, it was computer-controlled.

“The world-wide dominance of such machines, Chris’s father had often said, had been one of the chief contributors to the present and apparently permanent depression:  the coming of semi-intelligent machines into business and technology had created a second Industrial Revolution, in which only the most highly creative human beings, and those most fitted at administration, found themselves with any skills to sell which were worth the world’s money to buy.”

Jeremy Rifkin warns us to prepare

Jeremy Rifkin is a Jeremiah of our time. But just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, he scores occasionally – as in The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era (1995). From the publisher …

“The Information Age has arrived. In the years ahead, new, more sophisticated software technologies are going to bring civilization ever closer to a near-workerless world. In the agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors, machines are quickly replacing human labor and promise an economy of near automated production by the middecades of the twenty-first century.

“The wholesale substitution of machines for workers is going to force every nation to rethink the role of human beings in the social process. Redefining opportunities and responsibilities for millions of people in a society absent of mass formal employment is likely to be the single most pressing social issue of the coming century. …

“We are entering a new phase in world history – one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population. The End of Work examines the technological innovations and market-directed forces that are moving us to the edge of a near workerless world. We will explore the promises and perils of the Third Industrial Revolution and begin to address the complex problems that will accompany the transition into a post-market era. …

“In the past, when new technologies have replaced workers in a given sector, new sectors have always emerged to absorb the displaced laborers. Today, all three of the traditional sectors of the economy agriculture, manufacturing, and service – are experiencing technological displacement, forcing millions onto the unemployment rolls.

“The only new sector emerging is the knowledge sector, made up of a small elite of entrepreneurs, scientists, technicians, computer programmers, professionals, educators, and consultants. While this sector is growing, it is not expected to absorb more than a fraction of the hundreds of millions who will be eliminated in the next several decades in the wake of revolutionary advances in the information and communication sciences. …

“The restructuring of production practices and the permanent replacement of machines for human laborers has begun to take a tragic toll on the lives of millions of workers.”

For a grim look at a possible future see Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance (1995) by David F. Noble, late professor of history at York U (see his Wikipedia bio). The opening chapters are from his 1983 series of articles in Democracy about “Present Tense Technology” (part 1, part 2, part 3). The series opens with this stark warning from part 2, “Technology’s Politics“:

“There is a war on, but only one side is armed: this is the essence of the technology question today. On the one side is private capital, scientized and subsidized, mobile and global, and now heavily armed with military spawned command, control, and communication technologies. Empowered by the second industrial revolution, capital is moving decisively now to enlarge and consolidate the social domination it secured in the first. …

“Thus, with the new technology as a weapon, they steadily advance upon all remaining vestiges of worker autonomy, skill, organization, and power in the quest for more potent vehicles of investment and exploitation. And, with the new technology as their symbol, they launch a multi-media cultural offensive designed to rekindle confidence in ‘progress.’

“On the other side, those under assault hastily abandon the field for lack of an agenda, an arsenal or an army. Their own comprehension and critical abilities confounded by the cultural barrage, they take refuge in alternating strategies of appeasement and accommodation, denial and delusion, and reel in desperate disarray before this seemingly inexorable onslaught – which is known in polite circles as ‘technological change.’

“What is it that accounts for this apparent helplessness on the part of those whose very survival, it would seem, depends upon resisting this systematic degradation of humanity into mere disposable factors of production and accumulation?”

Conclusions

“We’re all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that’s different. And it always will be different.”
— Dr. McCoy on star date 4729.4 in the Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer.“

See a Timeline for the Extinction of Jobs by Machines. So we have no excuse for being caught unaware and letting these new technologies destabilize our society and cause widespread suffering. With modest planning we can enjoy its fantastic benefits without pain. Failure to plan for these obvious developments might mean some tough times ahead for America.

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
— Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech to Congress on 9 September 2009.

See warnings of the coming machine revolution (edited)
[Byline Larry Kummer]
Copyright © 2019 Fabius Maximus website

Fabius Maximus Website
26 October 2019
More Information at Link

See Also
The Transhumanist agenda and the Future of Humanity

Industrial Society and Its Future

“The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it”. ~Ayn Rand.

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