Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control?

In the Guardian Book Preview of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, author James Bridle discusses how our world is changing due to technology:  “Technology is starting to behave in intelligent and unpredictable ways that even its creators don’t understand. As machines increasingly shape global events, how can we regain control?”.

One of the more powerful systems in daily use is Google Translate.  “While a human can draw a line between the words “tank” and “water” easily enough, it quickly becomes impossible to draw on a single map the lines between “tank” and “revolution”, between “water” and “liquidity”, and all of the emotions and inferences that cascade from those connections. The map is thus multidimensional, extending in more directions than the human mind can hold. As one Google engineer commented, when pursued by a journalist for an image of such a system: “I do not generally like trying to visualise thousand-dimensional vectors in three-dimensional space.” This is the unseeable space in which machine learning makes its meaning. Beyond that which we are incapable of visualising is that which we are incapable of even understanding.”


Artificial Intelligence as Religion or God?

The Guardian article “Deus ex machina: former Google engineer is developing an AI god” discusses the development of AI “gods” using the example of Anthony Levandowski, a controversial engineer and entrepreneur who recently filed papers for the creation of a non-profit religious organization called “Way of the Future”.

In response, Elon Musk has shared his thoughts on anyone planning to create artificially intelligent (AI) digital deities for us to worship. Elon tweets: “On the list of people who should absolutely *not* be allowed to develop digital superintelligence.”

MCE 2016 - Josh Switkes, Sean Waters and Anthony Levandowski
Anthony Levandowski (right) at American Trucking Foundation’s MCE 2016
Wired magazine explains in its article “God is a Bot . . . “ from September 27, 2017, how the engineer and founder Levandowski played a key role in the development of google street maps and self-driving cars in a convoluted career so far.  Levandowski is also the focus of intense litigation between Google, Uber and Otto about self-driving car and truck technology and software, having worked at all three companies as well as having formed several suppliers for these companies.

FACIT: Because AI developers are among the first to realize the magnitude and ramifications of the AI revolution, it would be natural that some would be first to feel the need for a moral and/or religious explanation or framework which incorporates Artificial Intelligence. Once AI becomes more evident in everyday life, consumers may also react with religious inclinations both pro and contra.

Are Truckers in Denial about losing their Jobs to AI autonomous trucks?

“The only human beings left in the modern supply chain are truck drivers”. In the Guardian newspaper article of October 13, 2017, author Dominic Rushe relates his experiences talking to truck drivers at the world’s biggest truck stop – “Iowa 80” – about the possible prospects of losing their jobs to autonomous trucks.

Similar to our experience interviewing people whose jobs are at risk through automation/AI, Rushe also observes that the vast majority of truckers seem to be in denial.  Our question would be, what do you call that? Mass Denial? Mass Repression? Or even Mass Sublimation, if significant portions of certain sectors of the economy lose their jobs to automation, and unleash fury on immigrants instead?

Rushe also interviews Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul, the story of a long-distance truck driver. Finn Murphy states that the days of the truck driver as we know him are coming to an end. Trucking is a $700bn industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers, and, he says, if the tech firms can grab a slice of that, they will.

Finn continues, “The only human beings left in the modern supply chain are truck drivers. If you go to a modern warehouse now, say Amazon or Walmart, the trucks are unloaded by machines, the trucks are loaded by machines, they are put into the warehouse by machines. Then there is a guy, probably making $10 an hour, with a load of screens watching these machines. Then what you have is a truckers’ lounge with 20 or 30 guys standing around getting paid. And that drives the supply chain people nuts,” he says.

The goal, he believes, is to get rid of the drivers and “have ultimate efficiency”.

“I think this is imminent. Five years or so. This is a space race – the race to get the first driverless vehicle that is viable,” says Murphy. “My fellow drivers don’t appear to be particularly concerned about this. They think it’s way off into the future. All the people I have talked to on this book tour, nobody thinks this is imminent except for me. Me and Elon Musk, I guess.”

Take a look at the article, it is a good read. And coincides with our interview experience. Sam Harris opens his TEDtalk discussing the denial problem in regards to AI, and this is more of the same.

Further research is needed, if we are to understand the challenges confronting society as these changes begin.

Lack of an Appropriate Response to Societal Impact of AI

Sam Harris remarks in the opening part of his TEDtalk, that people don’t seem to be able to muster an appropriate response to the dangers of AI:

Already today, anyone who takes the trouble can read in the papers, on the net and even see on TV that machines will likely take substantial chunks of employment away from humans, quite soon. And that AIs will eventually attain Super-Intelligence or Singularity according to many experts.

So far, we just don’t see much of a reaction to that. We’ve asked supermarket employees, truck drivers, Uber drivers, Taxi drivers. We just don’t get much of a response. We hear things like – “gee that sounds like it could be a problem – lets wait and see”.

You could infer from Sam Harris’s talk that people tend instead to be concerned about much less likely scenarios. Like Terror Attacks. North Korean atomic warfare. Losing their jobs to immigrants. Getting mugged in the city. Or global warming (which aside from producing extreme weather, hurricanes, droughts and floods, re-arrangement of waterfront cities etc., will likely be more of an annoyance to the vast majority of the world’s population than an existential threat to civilization as we know it).

We recently interviewed Michele Hanson from the Guardian (brilliant woman). She points out that the so-called “Universal Basic Income”, should it ever become reality, would likely not be an adequate income to maintain a normal consumer lifestyle, but instead a pittance (perhaps like the US “welfare” system, or in the best case like the German “Hartz IV” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartz_concept ?).

So what are the roots of mass denial?  Why does it seem humans are relatively incapable of grasping the impending societal disruptions?  More research is needed.

Maintaining Social Balance during Transition to AI Economy

The investors in AI projects, the companies involved in AI, the banks and the wealthy themselves must share a self-interest in maintaining a balanced, stable society during the transition to an AI economy.  Not just the “progressives”, middle-class and the disadvantaged.

During the transition phase to an AI economy, the financial interests of the corporations lies in the maximization of the number of well-earning consumers and the minimization of instability, strife and chaos.  This may be why some of the best studies on this subject have been financed by Citibank and UBS.

Modern corporations would have little to gain, and in fact quite a bit to lose, if automation and AI were to result in widespread job loss and a semi-feudal economic system characterized by a privileged upper class and mass borderline poverty.

Surely the well-heeled families and the captains of industry must share an interest in continued social stability and widespread wealth.  Already today, most of the top 1% live in guarded, almost prison-like compounds owing to concerns about potential violence and robbery and not infrequently feel trapped by it.

Our experience is that most AI developers have at least a vague idea about the potential dangers to society of the widespread implementation of Artificial Intelligence.  Amongst the ever-increasing numbers of AI-developers there are likely increasing numbers of conscientious individuals who are becoming concerned.  We believe these individuals potentially may begin to take action on their own, or be attracted to organizations they perceive to be aligned with their concerns.  They could either:
a. become advocates for awareness and sources of information for spreading awareness
b. become passionate advocates for constructive solutions, dialog and cooperation.

If you are reading this, we invite you to participate!  See our section what you can do or sign-up to volunteer.


AI, Big Data and Influence on Human Behavior

Yesterday, , Op-Ed Contributor for Mediapost, described in a commentary how, as consumers begin to realize how web cookies, location information, and sensors follow their digital lives – and who is watching them – they will become uncomfortable.

Mike quotes tech angel investor Esther Dyson, “The advertising community has been woefully unforthcoming about how much data they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it. And it’s going to backfire on them, just as the Snowden revelations backfired on the NSA.”

As Jonathan H. King & Neil M. Richards wrote back in 2014, “Big data analytics can compromise identity by allowing institutional surveillance to moderate and even determine who we are before we make up our own minds.”

As we’ve stated in previous posts, it is likely that AI can soon predict what we may want to do or even what we are about to think.

The question is, how consumers will react?

Mike rightly is concerned about the loss of the role of chance in our lives (or destiny), as AI frequently lays out an invisible path of preferences, suggestions and hints that consumers are quite likely to find on the one hand hypnotic but also nearly inescapable.   Think of those ads that follow you everywhere on the net.

Our concern in this regard revolves around three issues:
1.  To what extent will consumers become addicted to AI’s unending need to please, predict, entertain (and sell)?
2.  What influence will AI’s soon all-encompassing predictive capacity have on the natural development processes of humans, i.e. psychology and behavior?
3.  How might society react as AI’s influence becomes more and more visible and in some ways almost confining?

AI will become nearly pervasive across most sectors of society, because companies have a very high profit motivation to satisfy our needs and desires, whether it be choice of music or choice of mates, whether it be information or communication, education or indulgence.

Why All this Fuss about Artificial Intelligence?

The Disruptive force of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Many thought leaders believe AI could be the largest disruption and greatest challenge ever to human society, and are deeply concerned:
– Stephen Hawking
– Bill Gates
– Elon Musk
– Stuart Russell
– Nick Bostrom
– Max Tegmark

The Speed of AI development is Increasing Exponentially
– Moores law is expected to hold at least 10 more years, i.e. computational power doubles every 18 – 24 months
– Major innovations in algorithms and hardware further accelerate this growth

The Economic Incentive for AI is Increasing very Rapidly
Huge investments drive increasingly sophisticated algorithms and structures
– Investment increased 300% from 2015 to 2016; expected to continue

Applications are being developed for more tasks and increasing complexity
Costs are declining exponentially as processing power increases
– Return on Investment strongly positive, in fact exponential

Pace of AI Innovation also increasing due to Democratization
– Watson and other open AI platforms are available for public use
– Free resources for learning AI and developing AI
– Exponential growth in number of coders leads to exponential innovation
– Open sharing practices of innovations and networking drives expansion

The First Wave of AI will Disturb the Job Market

“The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”
— Stephen Hawking

“What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human]. These are not things that I wish will happen. These are simply things that I think probably will happen.”
— Elon Musk

“You cross the threshold of job-replacement of certain activities all sort of at once.”
— Bill Gates

Where will AI be implemented on a wide scale?

The internet:  First and Easiest to implement AI
– Big Data and Network already in place and already connected to AI
– No need for sensors, data linkages, specific localized software, etc.
– AI is already 60% predictive of consumer tastes “you may also like”

– Internet search results nearly always “personalized” through AI

Personal Assistants – Growth rate 35% – all run by AI
– Amazon Echo
– Google Home
– Apple Siri
– Facebook M

Rapid growth of AI supported Virtual Assistants
– Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Facebook M, Microsoft Cortana become ubiquitous
– Spread of virtual assistants to refrigerators, cars, coffee-makers, televisions, thermostats, watering systems, etc.

– Blurring of the lines between smart phones, tablets, televisions, entertainment devices and appliances

Self driving cars, trucks and buses – becoming available starting 2019
– Implementation now ahead of schedule, due to improvements in AI

Automation of semi-skilled and even skilled workers across society
Short term – 2017 – 2021
– Cashier, Lawn mowing, Caregiving (Korea/Japan), Production line, Oil drilling, Industrial repairs, Military applications, Tax preparation, Real Estate brokerage

Longer term – 2022 – 2026
– Cooking, Sewing, Farming, Teaching, Medical, Dental, Legal etc.

How rapidly will AI propagate?

ca. 2017 – 2021
– Very many blue collar jobs will be lost (potential: 47%)
– White collar jobs begin to be threatened (potential: 20%)
– Self-driving cars, trucks, buses become widely available
– AI-assisted virtual assistants become ubiquitous in nearly all devices

ca. 2022 – 2026
– Most new vehicles will have self-driving optional or standard
– Blue-collar jobs decline rapidly (potential: 80%)
– White-collar jobs decline as well (potential 40%)
– Self-improvement of AI algorithms on a large scale
– Beginning of “Neural Lacing” to interconnect AI and Humans

ca. 2027 – 2031
– Neural Lacing becomes widely available
– Humans depend on AI for most tasks
– Beginning of AI “consciousness”, “emotion”, “self-awareness”

ca. 2032 and beyond
– Self-replication / Self-improvement of AI begins
– AI achieves higher level of “intelligence” than humans
– Significant danger of AI overtaking/subjugating Humans