Go, technology, inequality, the future of work

Written By: - Date published: 12:05 pm, March 13th, 2016 - 42 comments
Categories: human rights, jobs, labour, science, wages - Tags: , , ,

This week saw a significant development in Artificial Intelligence (AI), with a Google program AlphaGo resoundingly beating the human champion at Go. This is significant because, unlike chess, Go is difficult to crack with brute-force search. It requires pretty abstract pattern recognition and (what we have called up until now) “intution”. AlphaGo is based on “deep learning”, which is all the rage in AI at the moment, with many practical applications, from driverless cars to speech recognition. (I have an interest because “deep learning” is versions of artificial neural networks, which have been my area of research and teaching for a couple of decades.)

Given this significant breakthrough in AI we should collectively take a moment to consider the implications for society. Coincidentally another piece in The Guardian today covers a similar topic:

Our tech future: the rich own the robots while the poor have ‘job mortgages’

Artificial intelligence expert Jerry Kaplan says those whose jobs involve ‘a narrow set of duties’ are most likely to see their work replaced by automation

Ever since the first vision of a robot appeared on the horizon of mankind, humans have feared that automation will replace the workforce in our dystopian future.

There typically follows a period of reassurance, in which we are compelled to believe that this will be a good thing, and that robots could actually liberate us from the drudgery of daily toil and free us for more enjoyable, cerebral pursuits. Futurist Jerry Kaplan, 63, is among those optimists. He estimates that 90% of Americans will lose their jobs to robots and we should all be happy about it.

“If we can program machines to read x-rays and write news stories, all the better. I say good riddance,” Kaplan said. “Get another job!”

Gulp.

Less discussed is the observation that inequality will be “a dark cloud” over this period of robotic rule. The robots, Kaplan admitted, will be owned by the rich. “The benefits of automation naturally accrue to those who can invest in the new systems, and that’s the people with the money. And why not? Of course they’re reaping the rewards,” he said. …

Read on for more, including the bizarre sounding concept of “job mortgages”. Will the automation of work be captured by the 1% and increase inequality, or is it a chance (with Universal Income) to free people for an egalitarian and creative future? (Given climate change, will we even get to answer that question?)

I don’t have any answers, but I’m glad that at least one political party is thinking about the issues. Well done Labour for its Future of Work initiative.

42 comments on “Go, technology, inequality, the future of work”

  1. b waghorn 1

    ” liberate us from the drudgery of daily toil and free us for more enjoyable, cerebral pursuits. ”
    It might surprise many , but some of us enjoy a bit of toil in our day and are not interested in to much navel gazing or the arts.

    • joe90 1.1

      Fishing man, fishing!.

      • weka 1.1.1

        Nah, the good fishing spots will be full of robots. Or rich people who’ve banned access. Brave new world.

        😉

        • b waghorn 1.1.1.1

          Or just plane overfished by all the ubi ers subsisting on easy money.

          • weka 1.1.1.1.1

            I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that comment.

          • greywarshark 1.1.1.1.2

            b waghorn
            Wherefor is this easy money? Tell us more.

            • b waghorn 1.1.1.1.2.1

              If a ubi is introduced , it has to be high enough so all other welfare can be dumped, if it is high enough some will choose to live on that alone, I say this because as a young hoon I went on the dole and the only reason I went off it was because it wasn’t quite enough to keep me in booze smokes and food.

              • weka

                I’d struggle to think of any beneficiary that can survive on a base benefit alone. You’d have to have no housing costs.

                I don’t know how old you are but benefit rates are much lower relative to the cost of living than they used to be.

                Whatever UBI gets introduced it’s unlikely to pay a living income.

                The Living Wage is $19.60, or $784/wk (40hrs) before tax.

                The minimum wage is $14.75 or $590/wk before tax.

                The dole is $210/wk in the hand for single people, or $175 each per couple. Gareth Morgan’s model suggests that rate for the UBI, but it’s predicated on people working as well (I don’t know what he suggests for people that can’t work). How many people could live on that alone?

                • b waghorn

                  Yes you picked the obvious I was living in a shed for $10 a week when I was on the dole.
                  Wasn’t good for me and ultimately would of been bad for the state if I’d done many winters there.
                  Hate to burst the far lefts bubble , but humans aren’t all created equal and some need looking after ,some need guiding some need reigning in and some need a swift kick up the Arse! ( metophorically speaking)).
                  A ubi will not work in nz.

                  • greywarshark

                    b wahorn
                    I think you might be making the mistake that many do of assuming that a change of policy will mean it will be to one that will solve all problems. A UBI will be an assured amount of money but won’t as I understand it for myself, mean much of a living, or mean all problems vanish. One thing will happen though, the number of WINZ workers will reduce by probably 60% and that saving can go into support programs to help people having difficulties, manage better and be more self-sufficient, even enable them to get some part-time work. It will mean that everyone will be entitled to a basic living and won’t feel like shooting WIBZ when those po faced women once again say no nothing for you despite your woes.

                    People will be encouraged to work, at present there is about 80-90% drain off benefits as soon as you get a good few hours, not enough to live on but enough for WINZ to hack at your benefit so you might end up $10 better off after considerable travel, organisation of children, stress at work, and the cost of clothes to suit the job. So there is a lot of lying about people raking off money from the state, and there is always some amazing amount waved about as an example, or words like lazy incompetents, good for nothings, going on by welfare departments and the general public full of spite about beneficiaries. Nasty people, who always know one or two who they think in their wisdom could be out working. They know little of the person’s conditions and actually don’t give a damn about their difficulties.

                    • b waghorn

                      ( out on a limb here) the big picture stuff is that humans are to successful for our own good, once we got past the need for all of us to be actively involved in our day to day survival friction started.
                      I think as a species we should invade space, set up a far east mars company, let those mad brave buggers that will sail a ship into uncharted territories types have a crack , and health and safety be damned.
                      Humans are seekers of the new , conquest is the only thing that would unite us.

                  • weka

                    b, why does it bother you if people don’t work?

                    What did you do with your time when you were on the dole?

                    I still think the number of people able and willing to live on $200/wk will be relatively small.

                    • b waghorn

                      When I was young and out of work I slept till eleven smoked pot and watched TV , and was toying with growing weed while associating with gang members.
                      When times where tough in 08 /09 as a self employed fencer a paced the house and annoyed the wife.
                      I’m sure some do fine filling their days in , but its no good for others,
                      I think the single greatest thing a government could do with welfare is make it easier for people to switch on and off the benefit , so if they find a couple of days work they can take it without having to jump through hoops.

                    • weka

                      I totally agree with your last paragraph. The bureaucracy and the financial penalties are a huge disincentive for many.

                      How much of the issue for you was the unemployment rate? i.e if there had been decent work available would you have taken it? What if there had been work you were really interested in?

                      One would hope that a UBI would be introduced by a govt that saw things a bit more holistically than throwing money at people, and I take your point about the people who need work. But we’re already in that situation with them where many of them can’t get work.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      Obviously someone who’s never engaged his brain. If you had you’d realise that cerebral pursuits does not include navel gazing nor does it exclude a bit of toil in the day but that the toil is to help with the cerebral pursuits and isn’t the job.

      • b waghorn 1.2.1

        Like all good intellectual s you missed the point completely.
        I’ve been unemployed I’ve been self employed I choose to be an employee,yes my job isn’t quite what Id like it to be, but I’d be lost if I didn’t have a little bit of whip to get going in the morning. Not all of us are highly self motivated.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.1

          And what has that got to do with what I said?

        • greywarshark 1.2.1.2

          You are making a point b waghorn that I think is important. I think most of us who are well need to work, though sometimes it would be easier not to have that discipline. We need to work for our mental and physical health and that is what I can’t agree with DTB about technology doing people out of jobs is a good thing.

          Those who are invalids or with impaired bodies or minds, need something to match their abilities to do that brings them together with others, something to concentrate on and feel a sense of competence. I consider that bringing up small children is work, and that it is so important, that parenting or child caring requires training to ensure that the right psychological skills and values training is understood. After the child is older, then a parent should be able to take on outside part or full-time work, but children still need care and attention even when teenagers which governments don’t seem to allow for.

  2. One Two 2

    The likes of Jerry Caplan, despise the human species. They despise themselves and the organic body which provides them with life. Life which they will see replaced by death

    Ray Kurzweil who has been leading Google research, is another

    • ropata 2.1

      -1 Completely wrong headed. A case of fearing what you do not understand.

      • One Two 2.1.1

        Completely wrong headed is it Ropata ?

        Tell me. What industry do I work in ?

      • Gristle 2.1.2

        Don’t confuse being able to operate the remote control or write a bit of code with understanding technology: Unintended consequences abound whenever something new is introduced.

        You think you understand the application of technology and then somebody points out that there may be a linkage between CFC and holes in the ozone. Who would thought that the “@” would have caused the demise of the post office.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1

          Who would thought that the “@” would have caused the demise of the post office.

          I did. In fact, I’m amazed that it’s taken so long.

          I would have thought that the concept of phone numbers would have gone by now as well but the phone companies seem to have found a way to rip us off through their continued use.

  3. greywarshark 3

    My suggestion is to start forming like-minded co operatives committed to supporting each other, living a thoughtful, simplified and affordable life, and aiming to increase supportiveness in their own community. This doesn’t mean that they have to live together but they join up in a Trust or something that can arrange and offer central meeting point, events, talks, demonstrations of skills, visiting experts, social get-togethers.

    Also encouraging local production, and buying most things locally, or made in our own country. So that is most things, some things can be imported and being fairly rare, would be conserved and cared for, not just used a couple of times and discarded. (Thinking of women’s clothes here. I know about the op shop waste, good simple clothes in good condition can hardly be given away in these conformist, fashion conscious days.)

    I think it would be helpful to institute a meeting time held weekly, a few hours on Saturday or Sunday morning where people wanting to live the life mentioned above, can talk about an agreed topic of concern for a set time. Then have a simple tea and sandwiches while people move round and chat. This would be rather like this blog, where like-minded people can share information and hopes and tips and I have found there is a big boost in meeting good people who you can respect.

    There are so many people with whom you can’t speak openly, and this includes family and friends. You can alienate yourself from people who will not turn their minds to reality, to think or talk about, or have built their lives successfully in material terms by thinking exclusively of their own interests, it is an affront to them to discuss this of course. You may love them, and respect them to a great extent, but not be able to speak clearly and honestly to them And this can apply to the wealthy or those managing to scrape a life on the low income strata.

    Ironically religion could be doing this but its ability to handle the future and enable ethics mixed with pragmatism, is often fragile. Turning to the bible is one of their answers, reciting poetic speeches, praying for a divine hand to assist people who have been given the gift of divine life and consciousness, but can’t utilise the gifts adequately. I think we can pray for guidance, but not a proxy to carry out our duties.

    • One Two 3.1

      This is what must happen to ensure continuity and a return to a way of life which our ancient hardware and software is designed for

      The digital world and its owners are hell bent seeing in thier transhumanist agenda.
      Policies which open pathways towards such an era, can be seen throughout the analogue world

      • weka 3.1.1

        That’s an interesting comment One Two.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2

        So, that would make you one of those authoritarians who are scared of social changes then.

        • One Two 3.1.2.1

          Authoritarian, No.

          Scared of social change vs technical dictatorship. No

          The authoritarians you refer to, own the technology and science based industry’s

          • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2.1.1

            No, the authoritarians that I refer to are scared of social change at the individual level. The ones you refer to are also scared of social changes but for different reasons – the social changes that need to come about which will get rid of the rich.

            The problem is that they then coalesce into a grouping against social change that prevents both from happening.

  4. Stuart Munro 4

    Hugh Fletcher notoriously learned Go at on point, but never appeared in competitions – I suspect he never became very good at it. International competition trailed off a bit when JAL withdrew sponsorship after Cho Chihun proved an insurmontable obstacle to Japanese players for a decade or so, rather like the more recent dominance of the US womens’ golf tournaments by Koreans, one of whom is Lydia Ko.

    Go is a great game for learning strategy – the presumptions of chess are too monarchial to extend far into the contemporary world. If Americans played Go instead of chess they might not be quite so prone to believe that toppling a leader like bin Laden or Hussein would end all opposition to their occuppying forces.

  5. ropata 5

    Sorry all you luddites we aren’t throwing away our tech in the foreseeable future… it certainly has a dark side but when used for good, technology can be a massively empowering and democratizing. (That’s probably why the US Gov is trying to steal everyone’s encrypted phone data… democracy is not in their interests)

    Stop blaming IT for an economic and political malaise: i.e. the continual depredations of the wealthy preying upon the poor using the tools of state and media and law

    • weka 5.1

      The Luddites didn’t suffer from political malaise and look out that turned out. I think we have reasons to be concerned even if things were moving in the right direction politically and economically.

      And as always, where’s the climate change analysis?

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    “If we can program machines to read x-rays and write news stories, all the better. I say good riddance,” Kaplan said. “Get another job!”

    Yep, exactly. We should be destroying jobs as fast as possible. Get rid of the low pay, low skill ones that garner no respect first.

    Then we have face the real problem with capitalism. The fact that the rich demand that everyone else work for them and that if they don’t then they will be destroyed through poverty and discrimination.

    So, along with those lose paying jobs we also need to get rid of the rich.

    • ropata 6.1

      Sounds like you need to join McGillicuddy Serious and help implement the “Great Leap Backwards”

      Do you really think Auckland Council could run better using paper records? (greywarshark does, and his idiotic comment was not contradicted by anyone. I ignored it because it was so naïve… ) Don’t you remember what it was like getting anything done in 70s? A simple phone connection would take months.

      • greywarshark 6.1.1

        ropata
        You are too excitable and inclined to jump to emotional responses despite your connection to scientific technological methods. A very simple process of taking a little time to absorb what you are reading instead of jumping to your opinionated knee jerk reactions will take you and your ideas to the top of whatever you are doing I should think. Time to reflect and understand first will help with mature decisions. If you are middle aged, you had better learn quickly.

        and DTB
        Sometimes your thinking doesn’t join up the dots. Don’t talk down unskilled jobs, just ensure that they get paid a living wage. It is no advantage having advanced economies and technology if the only way they can be successfully used is to deny a lot of people work that enables them to live an enjoyable life doing something they think is worthy and appreciated in society. Bugger technology if it can’t end up with all people better off.

        We may indeed have to live without it soon, so don’t give up doing some things manually in case your arms shrivel and drop off, through maladjustment in understanding that humans need work so they can stay fit mentally and physically to survive.
        edited

        • weka 6.1.1.1

          And who gets to decide which are the useless jobs? I’d have less of a problem with his argument if the people who do those jobs were asked.

          • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1.1.1

            I can assure you that the people cleaning toilets and parks and other similar work don’t want their job because they’re fucken boring and working them to death.

        • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1.2

          Don’t talk down unskilled jobs, just ensure that they get paid a living wage.

          Why? Much better to get rid of them.

          Please note: I’m not talking down the people doing those jobs.

          It is no advantage having advanced economies and technology if the only way they can be successfully used is to deny a lot of people work that enables them to live an enjoyable life doing something they think is worthy and appreciated in society.

          19th century that assumes that people must have a lot of work rather than that technology will be getting rid of the work.

          Bugger technology if it can’t end up with all people better off.

          That’s what we’re trying to do. Many are trying to prevent it by ensuring that they benefit while most become worse off.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.2

        You’re not talking to me are you?

        I’m all for more technology and getting rid of jobs with it.

  7. ropata 7

    This comment on HackerNews stuck with me:

    As someone who studied AI in college and am a reasonably good amateur player, I have been following the matches between Lee and AlphaGo.

    AlphaGo plays some unusual moves that go clearly against any classically trained Go players. Moves that simply don’t quite fit into the current theories of Go playing, and the world’s top players are struggling to explain what’s the purpose/strategy behind them.

    I’ve been giving it some thought. When I was learning to play Go as a teenager in China, I followed a fairly standard, classical learning path. First I learned the rules, then progressively I learn the more abstract theories and tactics. Many of these theories, as I see them now, draw analogies from the physical world, and are used as tools to hide the underlying complexity (chunking), and enable the players to think at a higher level.

    For example, we’re taught of considering connected stones as one unit, and give this one unit attributes like dead, alive, strong, weak, projecting influence in the surrounding areas. In other words, much like a standalone army unit.

    These abstractions all made a lot of sense, and feels natural, and certainly helps game play — no player can consider the dozens (sometimes over 100) stones all as individuals and come up with a coherent game play. Chunking is such a natural and useful way of thinking.

    But watching AlphaGo, I am not sure that’s how it thinks of the game. Maybe it simply doesn’t do chunking at all, or maybe it does chunking its own way, not influenced by the physical world as we humans invariably do. AlphaGo’s moves are sometimes strange, and couldn’t be explained by the way humans chunk the game.

    It’s both exciting and eerie. It’s like another intelligent species opening up a new way of looking at the world (at least for this very specific domain). and much to our surprise, it’s a new way that’s more powerful than ours.

    • Stuart Munro 7.1

      It would be interesting to see whether AlphaGo revives GoSeigin’s shin fusekis – the man himself gave them up not because they didn’t work, but they were too much effort compared to less iconoclastic openings.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.2

      That makes sense. Everyone wants to learn from it; good players are talking about the beauty of its game.

      Sedol wasn’t just beaten: he was outplayed. Exciting times.

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