Re: [SL4] Employment vs. Singularity

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sat Aug 19 2000 - 05:57:58 MDT

Brian Atkins wrote:
> > 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.

I disagree on two counts.  One, we should be able to employ our growing
wealth and abilities to enable people to do what most suits them and
most optimizes their personalities and talents, not simply whatever
someone will pay for.  People were meant to be a bit more than salary
whores imho.  I don't think it serves us well to not optimize for each
person contributing what they do best regardless of whether we have a
job open for it that pays in the conventional sense or not.   What you
would/could put up with as a teen and what a highly trained but
currently unemployable physicist can/should put up with are very

Second, I disagree that everyone can do well whatever they decide 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.

I don't have quotes at hand for you of the actual lower buying power in
some critical areas like housing that the middleclass has today.  Those
studies exist.  I simply don't have the time to look them up right now. 

> >
> > > 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

No, you simply used it to mark your point.  It isn't very good for that

> > 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?

Figure out as quickly as possible how to ensure all have a workable
standard of living including the prime necessities and room to grow from
there regardless of whether we have a standard paying job for all of
those people.  As we get closer to nanotech and as technology advances
we become better able to produce all the necessities and many of the
wants for everyone with increasingly less human labor involved.  I don't
think I need to quote studies for that point to be pretty obvious.  If
that is so then it is logical that we find ways to distribute these
goods and services that are less dependent on the recipients being
employed producing them.  As we go forward we should be able to acheive
greater human freedom rather than following the same "wage-slave" model
that developed in a very different past than the present, much less the
near future.

> > 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.

No.  I did not make it up.  It has been said on this list that those who
aren't making it are to blame for their condition and that anyone who
wants to make it can.  It has been suggested that people can slot
themselves into whatever jobs are paying money and that thus there is no
problem.  If the AIs take this attitude and have no real use for us at
all or a use that is distasteful and wasteful of human abilities and
lives then we will not have a very happy ending to our long rise from
the cave.  It is not just one or two topics. These issues are quite
throughly inter-related and entangled.

The argument is not moot because, hopefully, we can manage to get to the
singularity with some confidence and buy-in that we are actually headed
for an improved reality rather than simply our demise.  Not many people
are going to buy in on a hyper technological pig-in-the-poke that might
produce heaven on earth and then again it might wipe earth and all of us
out of existence before it really figures out what it is and what it
wants.   If we can't figure out what our right relationship is to other
human beings then it is pretty unlikely we can expect AIs to figure it
out or especially to come to a relationship with us that we can expect
to be at all benevolent. 

> > 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)

Yes, but I've tried (as you have) to back up the contention with
reasonable argument that you have not addressed adequately imho.   We
are not facing something that looks like the last 100 years that much
unless you condense that amount of change at least 10-fold (this year).
Even to take that example, how many different economic forces and
dislocations of workers and economies have occurred in that time?  Do
you notice that this post-industrial problem was first identified in the
1950s (by Galbraith I believe)?  Did you not notice that the US and most
western countries introduced massive welfare programs to attempt to take
up some of the slack of people not just naturally being reasonably ok
due to working in the economy?  

Occam's razor is not applicable in your above argument.  Your theories
are not simpler and even if they are that is not an argument that they
are more correct.   Insulting me by implying I am a Luddite is
especially foolish.  I am quite the opposite.  But I refuse to assume
just because we are exhibiting higher technology that that will
automatically result in a better world.  Do not confuse an attempt to
envision how to get from here to there with the least pain and the best
result with a claim that we shouldn't go there at all. 

> > 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.

That does not follow.  Please keep rude noises to yourself. 

> > 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?

Specifics are not terribly relevant when attempting to point out the

> >
> > 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.

I think you missed a lot of recent history.  "Made in America" is no
longer considered a good thing when it comes to cars.  It hasn't been
for some time. 

> >
> > 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?

Are you ignoring how many people are on the dole here and in the other
Western nations? 

> >
> > > > >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.

Where will this stability come from if I am even moderately right and
more and more people feel disenfranchised from the society and more and
more uneasy with where it is going?  You need buy-in as you go as much
as possible.  Do you think that a society where half the population
believe in bogey-men (angels, demons, young earth and so on) and where
the average college graduate reads only one book after graduation in
their entire life is stable?  Especially at a time of accelerating
technological change?  Dunno.  It looks to me like we aren't doing such
a bang-up job in a lot of areas that we can just congratulate ourselves
and call for more of the same.

> > 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 (
> there was a debate between Eliezer and some other people on just this
> subject a couple of days ago.

OK.  Something we at least in part agree on. :-)  Although I think it
goes beyond simply starting out with equal resources if you wish to get
the maximum good from each being that they are capable of producing. 

> >
> >
> > > 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.

We wil  have several years of increasing technology and its
ramifications on society to go through to get there.  I don't think your
agreement or lack of same changes that.  This software needed will not
spring full-grown out of nowhere any more than the computational power

> > 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.

There will of course be engineers, scientists, marketing folk and so on
involved in producing and exploiting the coming advances.  That
certainly does not say that everyone will be employed in the needed
capacities.  I did not predict a collapse actually.  I just predict a
growing problem that it is important for us to address well. 

> >
> > >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.

We have more millionaires and the actual buying power of a million
dollars in considerably less than it was at mid century or even a few
decades ago.  You can have wheelbarrows full of money and still have a
very lopsided distribution of wealth where only a few can hire that many
others (as you suggested would occur).

In some types of real wealth we are much better off.  There are many
types of wealth now common (information technology based mostly) that
could not be had at any price before.  But the effect of these great
liberators has not been as much liberation of human throught and
creativity as it should have been.

> > 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?

Count the millions on the dole and also count the umemployment
statistics in other industrialized countries before you say we have "no
problem finding jobs for practically everyone".  When you add it up I
think you will see we have a large problem finding jobs for something
closer to 18% of the adult population than to the official 4% unemployed
in the US.

> > 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.

Not exactly what I was getting at but you bring up an interesting
point.  That point being that information is increasingly the basis of
our wealth making abilities.  And information wants/needs to flow
relatively unimpeded if it is going to reach its maximum value as
information.  We see this increasingly in the Open Source software
world.  Software, many argue, is best developed and maintained when it
is open rather than when it is owned by particular entities and kept
closed in its particulars (information).  Nanotech will be based on some
core technology (assemblers) but will largely be able to produce
miraculous results based on information concerning how to build various
desired things and more information flowing between nanobots, foglets
and so on.  Old model business entities based on controlling/owning
resources get in the way when the resource is information.   But this
takes us into an entirely new layer of the onion. 

- samantha

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