[SL4] Employment vs. Singularity

From: Brian Atkins (brian@posthuman.com)
Date: Sat Aug 19 2000 - 17:42:00 MDT

Private email exchange reposted to SL4 as requested by Samantha. Subject
is unemployment caused by Singularity in progress.

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Brian Atkins wrote:
> >
> >I (Samantha) wrote:
> > > You mean all of those with jobs not yet filled more efficiently by
> > > automation of increasingly sophisticated kinds will employ those who
> > > have been replaced or are simply not needed for production?  I rather
> > > doubt it.  The higher incomes of the upper middleclass are being eaten
> > > up in competition for prime real estate and high pressure sales of
> > > consumer goods "to keep the economy going".  I very much doubt any but
> > > the quite rich have much money for hiring fulltime servants at a living
> > > wage.
> >
> > Well correct me if I'm wrong, but you live in or near Silicon Valley,
> > right? Your perspective on the pricing of real estate and other things
> > might be a little warped :-)
> That is irrelevant to this discussion.  In very short order, if most of
> our ideas/notions are correct, most places will make Silicon Valley look
> like a sleepy backwater.  Silicon Valley like effects are right now
> beginning to hit many areas of the country.  If you check the average
> buying power of most of the middle class right through all but the top
> of upper middle class, you will see that very little unemployment slack
> will/can be taken up by hiring servants.  And of course there is the
> small truth that most people are not cut out to be servants.

Not cut out for it? I don't buy that; I myself worked in some service-
type jobs when I was a teen. Anyone can work those jobs if they can't
find anything else to do. And as for costs for the middle class, I don't
buy that either. If you want to quote me something showing they have less
spendable income I would like to see it. As far as most people in this
country are concerned, this is the best they've ever had it. I myself
live in Atlanta which also is experiencing a real estate and population
boom, but we have the option here of growing out into the suburbs. I
would argue that such places as San Francisco and NYC are artificially
limited by geography, and therefore have no way for the middle class to
survive there long term.

> > Anyway, we'll see about all this as time
> > goes by. The middle class may not get back to the level of service they
> > enjoyed in the 1800s, but they already make enough money to use many of
> > the new services that are becoming available. They may not have full
> > time servants, but they will still provide more and more jobs in the
> > service areas.
> >
> Not enough by far.  This is not the 1800s and trying to use that as a

I didn't say it was the 1800s

> fit or even suggestive analogy is pointless.  At some point and perhaps
> already we must deal with the problem of human beings who are
> unemployable and unneeded in the hyper-technological economy.  That is,
> we must if we care about human beings at all and are actually able to do
> anything about the problem.  We can, of course, assume this happens only
> to Them and will not happen to Us as we are so bright and well-fortuned
> and so on.  But that is a very self-centered attitude that fully
> justifies and can expect quite a bit of backlash.  It also paints a

Well I think you should break your response into two different subjects
when you respond. One for discussing whether or not we actually will
have an unemployment problem, and the other for what to do about such a
theoretical event. What would be your solution to the hypothetical problem?

> pretty dismal picture for what we can expect from the hyper-intelligent
> AIs if they come on the scene if we assume that such an attitude is the
> most logical and intelligent way of dealing with such problems.  By the
> same logic they will simply ignore us and use most/all of their
> resources only for themselves.  The result will be our extinction.

Well you just made this up, and I'm not sure why. If we have hyper-
intelligent AIs then this whole argument is moot- that would be post-
Singularity and we really can't say for sure what it would be like.
Let's stay on the two topics.

> > >
> > > >
> > > > I just don't buy the argument that new tech will cause a massive rise in
> > > > unemployment-
> > >
> > > Why not?  It is quite logical that over time more and more jobs can be
> > > done more economically by automation and AIs.  As this happens people
> > > will not be employed in those positions.  As the AIs probably will have
> > > no need of lackeys the slack will certainly not be taken up that way.
> >
> > Again I say that the people displaced will be able to find jobs in other
> > areas. I also don't see that many jobs being displaced as you might think.
> > Companies here with large factory forces (think car makers for instance)
> > will probably never fully automate their production. As for AI, it will
> > likely stay pretty limited in its application- it will not be capable of
> > human-level thinking until very near the Singularity. Can you point out
> > some specific types of jobs that will simply go *poof* and displace millions
> > of workers?
> >
> Your contention is simply an assertion and one that is increasingly
> unlikely as the technological basis of all economic activity becomes
> increasingly advanced and automated.  In the not unimaginable near

Really? So far your contention is also an assertion, and based on our
experience of the last 100 years (which I also consider to be part of
the run-up to Singularity) you would be wrong. So by Occam's Razor can
we also guess that I may be right, and that our economic progress and
low unemployment rate will continue? You on the other hand sound like
some of the people around 1900 who were so worried about the age of
machinery. (to be blunt)

> future un-augmented human beings will not even be able to compete in the
> intellectual white-collar areas of the market.  With what are the
> unemployed and unemployable to obtain such augmentation?  In some areas

Umm, well you do you live in the Valley, you should know that the companies
there will do pretty much anything to get employees. In fact today we
already have companies like Ford and Delta giving away computers to their
employees. I think it is obvious that future companies will give their
employees whatever tech and augmentation is required. So bzzt on your
suggestion that tech will put info workers out of work.

> of intellectual work you don't even need human level AI to replace human
> workers.  You simply need computers designed/programmed for focusing
> deeply on the delimited problem at hand to the extent they are superior
> in cost/benefit to the humans who formerly performed that function.

Can you be more specific as to exactly what jobs here you are referring to?

> Car companies in the states at least are blocked from full automation by
> unions.  But this situation is quite temporary.  Much of the
> manufacturing jobs in the US already have either been automated or are
> now filled where the labor pool is cheaper.

Unlikely, since car companies and by extension their parts suppliers have
a vested interest in producing "made in america" cars. Even foreign car
companies like Honda, Mercedes, and BMW produce cars here in order to
get that distinction.

Well, I asked you to point out where all these millions and millions of
jobs you claim will disappear will happen, so far I don't see it.

> > >
> > > >in fact our current unemployment is at record lows- 4%.
> > >
> > > Our current official unemployment is at a record low.  Although a lot of
> > > unemployed people are not counted in coming up with that number.
> >
> > Who cares if it is totally accurate, but to my knowledge it has been
> > calculated the same way forever, or at least a long time; and during that
> > time it is now at an all time low.
> >
> Who cares?  Anyone that cares to really mark the trends and cares about
> the human beings being left by the wayside and cares what that may
> portent.   How the numbers are calculated, afaik, has been changed many
> times since the sixties.  Pointing to this one indicator still does
> nothing to address what looks to me like an inescapable problem as we go
> forward.

Sure it does, it shows that at least since the last time the indicator
was changed, our unemployment is at a record low. Any yet by your reasoning
we should already be deeply into unemployment issues since our infotech
revolution has been going on for over 30 years. When exactly do you see the
big jobs collapse occuring?

> > > >Did
> > > > you read the sci-fi book The Diamond Age? Our society might move towards
> > > > some kind of neo-victorian mode before the Singularity wraps things up.
> > >
> > > And what will this wrapping up be like in your view?  Do you think human
> > > displacement will only occur during full-bore singularity or will some
> > > of it take place along the way to getting there?
> > >
> >
> > Oh, when I say wrapping up I mean the Singularity itself- i.e. technology
> > suddenly (probably due to a real AI finally waking up) begins changing at
> > a near infinite speed, and within a very short time life as we know it is
> > over with (unless you want to stay in a human body on this planet, in that
> > case I'm sure the AI will let you do that). Read Diaspora by Greg Egan if
> > you haven't- I'm taking about an Introdus.
> >
> I have read most of those books.  But my question is, how will we treat

Did you read Diaspora?

> one another, what is the proper way to treat one another morally, as we
> become more and more advanced?  Is there a way of making sure as many as
> possible win?  Is that way global capitalism, or current mixtures, or

Yes, by accelerating the Singularity (but hey, I'm biased :-)

> something yet to be found and implemented? Is it actually critical to
> our success in reaching the singularity and to the maximum efficiency of

I think this subject is important because yes it is important in terms
of reaching the Singularity that we maintain at a minimum our rate of
tech development and society stability.

> any post-singularity society of whatever types of intelligences that all
> individualities are cared for enough to maximize their abilities and
> outputs (sort of a la STNG)?  Or do we believe that endless competition
> (which seems to me to be more of a scarcity game) is the only or most
> intelligent play that we can/should expect going toward (and hopefully
> through) the Singularity?

No, we (I mean SIAI here) believe that there should be some amount of
resources guaranteed to everyone post-Singularity. Things should start
out equal. If you look over at the archives of the FoRK list (www.xent.com)
there was a debate between Eliezer and some other people on just this
subject a couple of days ago.

> > Lastly let me lay out my timeline, I place the Singularity no later than
> > 2020. From now till then I don't see massive unemployment, due to the fact
> > that service jobs and technology jobs will continue to increase, and the
> > only automation will continue to be in areas where there are no strong
> > unions, and jobs are simple enough to be done by dumb machines.
> You can't get there from here.  There must be ever increasing machine
> intelligence and automation all along the path if we are to reach 2020.

I disagree, the only thing that we (SIAI again) need to get our Singularity
done is a certain base level of computational power (which we will probably
have no later than 2010, and which does not require any form of AI to
develop), and the programmers and other scientists to develop the code
to run on it.

> One or two advances in computational density without advances in
> software and other areas (for instance) will not get us there.  It is a
> continuous curve (more or less) up to that point.  The above doesn't
> seem to acknowledge points that I believe are inevitable along the way.
> We will see many service jobs (I think Moravec mentioned fast food
> workers once) disappear along the way.  We will see levels of home
> automation and new products that make personal servants much less
> likely.  We will see the unions cracked open (already happening) as they
> become increasingly a drag on hyper-production.  The machines will and
> must become ever increasingly less dumb if we are ever to arrive at
> singularity.

I think you're right that the curve will continue heading up (even though
we don't need all of it), but on the other hand I still don't buy your
argument of an unemployment disaster. Who is going to design, build, sell,
install, and maintain all these wonderful new toys? The more toys we
invent, the more jobs there will be created. Even if some services do
eventually lose jobs, I don't see the collapse you are predicting. I'll
have to go see if I can find any kind of academic works to back up my
assertion, or perhaps someone on the list has something to say.

> >As the
> > citizens of the world get gradually richer, demand for these services and
> > luxury products will continue to rise, creating jobs in service and artisan
> > areas. Etc. etc.
> If we continue with the current model then fewer and fewer people will
> get rich enough relatively to hire the others and fewer of them will

Whaaa? We have more millionaires here in the US than at any other time.
All I see is more and more people making more and more money.

> need/want human beings to perform tasks that can be more efficiently
> handled by automation.  The residue of things that only humans can do
> will shrink over time.  I see no way current competition based (and

It will very slowly shrink, I would predict along the same lines as the
Singularity itself proceeds.. there will be a slow growth in the types
of things not done by humans, until just before the Singularity at which
point many things will no longer need to be done by humans (although they
still might want to do them!). But just because some tasks continue to
be automated does not imply an unemployment disaster. Think about how
many tasks have already been automated since 1900, yet we have no problem
finding jobs for practically everyone?

> actually scarcity based) economic models can continue to run going
> forward without displacing and disowning more and more people.  I would
> very much like to see it differently.

Well we see an example of this here with MP3s/Napster/etc. It remains to
be completely resolved, but most people seem to think that the artists
will still be able to make a living even after the scarcity of the data
distribution is gone. The issue comes down to human creativity I guess-
/that/ will still be scarce until such time as we have full strong AI,
and at that point we will have the Singularity.

> - samantha
> p.s.  Please forward this or give me permission to forward it to SL4.  I
> would like more people in on this conversation.

Brian Atkins
Director, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
http://www.intelligence.org/home.html (temp site)

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