Previously in these pages we have discussed a societal decoupling I lazily termed The Great Divergence. In this I asserted that the quality, cleanliness, health, and prosperity–the overall pleasant livability–of societies since antiquity have closely tracked the arc and state of that society’s technological advancement. I offered no metrics but my own intuition upon which to rest this premise, and so would be perfectly amenable to others offering examples to the contrary. Though proceeding from this, I speculated that a momentous inflection point has occurred in these previously parallel trend lines. That inflection representing a decoupling of societal livability in the West from its underlying technological capabilities. Writ small, we will be whisked in shiny sentient vehicles through sprawling, violent barrios.
In the short time since offering that speculation, events have enlisted in the effort to see its prompt realization. Baby cribs throughout Central America have disgorged their 16-45 year-old occupants onto American soil. Some Mexican coyotes have even been seen extracting inebriated Eses from their perambulator to burp the tequila off their tummies before being gently remanded to the custody of the US taxpayer–it’s a touching scene. Particularly touching when these suckling tykes–MS-13 tats barely dry–cross the border and experience that incomprehensible cosmic alchemy which transmutates them into…Americans!
And so there are many parties working tirelessly to see my vision of society become reality: namely Obama, the democrats, half the republicans, the chamber of commerce, big business, small business, show business, Catholics, communists, corporates, Lutherans, libertarians, liberals, AIPAC, CPAC, and Tupac. The only ones opposed to turning their hometowns into Guatemala City are the haters. And why should they have a say in the future of their children?
Though it is not merely society decoupling to plan. Technology is continuing its own now solitary trajectory. IBM advances CPU technology toward human brain functioning.
IBM has developed a computer chip which it says will function like a human brain in a giant step forward for artificial intelligence. TrueNorth is being hailed as the world’s first neurosynaptic computer chip because it can figure things out on its own. The chip also has one million ‘neurons’ and could cram the same power as a super computer into a circuit the size of a postage stamp.
Experts said that it was as big an advance as the advent of supercomputers in the 1980.
Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told the New York Times: ‘It is a remarkable achievement in terms of scalability and low power consumption’.
Modern processors have some 1.4 billion transistors and consume up to 140 watts but the IBM chip contains 5.4 billion transistors and uses just 70 milliwatts of power, meaning it is incredibly efficient.
TrueNorth is the world’s first neurosynaptic computer chip because it can figure things out on its own. It has one million ‘neurons’ and could cram the same power as a super computer into a circuit the size of a postage stamp. TrueNorth will use closely interconnected ‘neurons’ just like the brain does meaning that it can work proactively to a level not seen before.
In addition to the one million ‘neurons’ it has 256 million programmable synapses, the most IBM has ever put in a chip. He said that TrueNorth could be used to monitor oil spills or issue tsunami alerts on its own without the need for a human to keep track of things.
Richard Doherty, the research director of tech research firm Envisioneering Group, said that IBM’s chip was a ‘really big deal’.
He said that if a robot today was walking towards a pillar then it needed a huge amount of computing to stop it heading into it. But a robot using TrueNorth would be able to sense it and change direction just as a human can. Computers are now approaching the stage where they are considered ‘smarter’ than humans in many ways.
Smarter than humans? One would hope that modest threshold had been achieved long before now. A Commodore 64 could probably be programmed to not self-eradicate. Though for a much more ambitious exercise in cognition, I rather doubt that a mere 256 million synthetic synapses will prove sufficient to navigate contemporary mores for exactly what is racist, and what is not.
Yet regardless of the endurance of Moore’s Law, computers will continue to grow smaller, more portable, more powerful…more human. And whether that ultimately entails a non discriminatory Skynet, in the intermediate it will mean those respirational legacy machines are going to experience a refreshment cycle in the labor force. Robots to work even cheaper than H1Bs.
Nearly all the experts said things like driverless cars, robotic doctors and nurses and intelligent digital agents would be a part of daily life by 2025.
But they were evenly divided over whether this would be a boon or a curse for human beings.
52 percent of respondents said that historically technology has ultimately created more jobs than it has displaced. They said people will find other forms of work that only human beings can perform; that the technological advances will give us all more time and energy to do more meaningful work.
But the other 48 percent fear that the roll of artificial workers will be unstoppable and that humans will not be able to adjust in time to avoid massive unemployment and social disruption.
A majority of the respondents did agree that the best way to make future technologies work for us is to improve education and training for all people.
Here are some questions: how many of “our kids” are going to be designing, deploying, and maintaining a force of ultra-high technology robots? And to what extent is “education and training for all people” going to aid in those endeavors? Why does manifest absurdity seem to enhance the stature of any given position, rather than indict it? Why can’t we offer open sober assessments of our country’s policies? Because every society features its own raft of heresies. These being a uniquely human characteristic that liberals will be aghast to find absent in sentient AIs.
So what might we anticipate from an increasingly intelligent H1-motherboard workforce? What remains of the middle class will be largely annihilated. And there could be a terrifying encroachment into the upper mid strata as well. Doctors, nurses, accountants, cashiers, food preparers. The government’s pseudo unemployment rate will remain static in amber as the ranks of those not working spike into the hundreds of millions. All of these bodies will require subsidized food, housing, shelter, and enough scrip to be viable consumers. After all, that’s one of the two true reasons they are being imported…to consume.
The blanket of social provisions required to placate this huge number of unemployable will necessitate an enormous tax burden on the lower periphery of the elite class. Many will find themselves quite surprised upon falling into the poverty maelstrom below. Only the managers of business and government will remain insulated from the effects of their policies. Private security subscriptions will come to be as ubiquitous as cable bills. And of course so to with private medical clinics, which will gleam with breathtaking lasers and robotic equipment for those able to pay the rate. Those who are not will be assuaged by the free healthcare available in public facilities. And even now with open discussion of the millions of jobs that may no longer be viable, we continue to import labor.
Of course all of the savings wrung from an automated workforce will be shoveled into maintenance costs for the unemployed. But I suppose this is a fait accompli, barring revolution.
What we will have is a film of men, wealthy beyond reckoning, attempting to manage a huge discordant Tower of Babel that used to be a nation. And the only consolation to all that will be lost is the fascination of watching Wall-E roll your burrito.