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Technology Might Save Us
-By Caleb Jones
I have also explained why the usual avenues of societal change no longer work and will not save us, regardless of how badly our emotions want them to.
1. Voting no longer works. The system in the US and Europe is far too entrenched and corrupt to allow something as silly as democracy to affect the elites. (DNC corruption against Bernie Sanders, the finding of the Lizard Queen not guilty, etc. It will be very interesting to see if the EU actually allows the UK to leave in two years even after the yes on Brexit vote. I'd say there's a 60% chance it won't.)
2. Writing your congressman no longer works. That hasn't worked in a very, very long time. The last time that actually worked, I was wasn't even born.
3. Surveys and bitching on blogs won't change anything. I still remember when all the surveys showed that 80-90% of Americans were against the huge bank bailouts back in 2008, yet both Democrat and Republican candidates for president were for it (Obama and McCain). They gave us all the finger and handed over our money to the millionaire bankers anyway. (Gotta love that two party system!)
4. Protests and movements no longer work. Ask the Tea Party if government is smaller now. Ask the Occupy Wall Street movement if the banks are smaller now. I rest my case. All these MRA and manosphere guys trying to create a movement to take back masculinity (or whatever) are simply an emotional exercise. Society at large won't change. It will continue to move to the left like it has in the last 100 years.
Does that mean we're completely screwed?
There is one thing, and one thing only that can save us. I hinted at it when I talked about my position on the environment. That's technology.
I have talked before about how radically technology will likely change all of our lives over the next several decades, and for the better. While there is no way to predict this kind of thing accurately, it's very likely that by the 2030s, we will have eliminated just about all health problems, including obesity and cancer, via genome therapy. By the 2040s or 50s, we may very likely have nanotech components to our bodies, enabling us to look and act and feel as young as we want, theoretically forever, or at least for hundreds of years.
This isn't science fiction. This stuff is quite possible in our lifetimes. (Don't even get me started about 100% realistic sex robots.) YES, this stuff might not happen. But the odds are decent it will.
It's entirely possible that an Elon Musk type will invent some new tech over the next few decades that makes all energy free, or creates unlimited food or drinking water for free, or something equally amazing. And that will be what saves Western civilization...if it happens, that is.
Not politicians. Not voting. Not political movements. Not political parties. Not government. Not new laws. Not some governmental savior like Obama or Sanders or Trump.
But Won't Technology Destroy Us?
Some say that this technological advance is very dangerous, and that like in Terminator or The Matrix, the machines will start to out-think us very quickly, decide we're in the way, and get rid of us. Or that someone will make a mistake and the world will be consumed by a nanotech wave that will eat everything. Or that god damn Hadron Collider will create a black hole in the center of the Earth and suck us all up. There are all kinds of nightmare scenarios.
Yep, this stuff is possible. But guess what? What control do you or I have over any of these things? None. So worrying about it seems like a waste of time to me. As a guy with an IT background, I know that every tech always has a counter-tech, so I'm not super worried. And if it does happen, it happens, but it's completely out of our control. (And remember, voting, politicians, and government will not stop it if it's going to happen. How has government been at preventing people from manufacturing meth?)
But Won't Technology Make Us All Unemployed?
Another opinion is that robotic automation will cause mass unemployment for a huge swath of society, like 20-40% or even more. Many leftists use this as an argument that we MUST embrace socialism or communism because of this. Otherwise, how will all these less skilled blue collar laborers be able to live???
There are two problems with this thinking.
First, just because we have robots does not mean socialism or communism suddenly start working. Robots and computers do not change the fundamental laws of economics. If you attempt communism or hardcore socialism, it will end up like it always ends up...in failed nations and bankrupt economies.
The second and most important problem is that you likely won't need to involve socialist or communistic practices at all. The problem with this "we'll be all unemployed!" thinking is that the mass unemployment, if it happens, won't be the only thing that radically changes. If technology gets so advanced that 30% of the population can't find a job because computers and robots do it so much better, everything will change. Some of these changes will be bad, but a hell of a lot will be good.
As just a few examples, food and water will likely be free or close to it. Via 3D printing and robots, you could build an entire house out in the desert for literally $1000 or less. Advances in solar and/or battery technology could make electricity free or close to it.
In other words, things will be so radically different that the entire concept having to get a "job" to make thousands of dollars a month just to support yourself and your family won't even apply any more.
I agree things will be messy during the transitional years, just like things are messy now with our current transition dealing with long-term monogamy and lifetime marriage no longer working, but human beings eventually adjust and figure these things out. They always do. Eventually.
And of course, it's possible I'm completely wrong here and technology will continue to advance very slowly, and it won't save Western civilization from collapse at all. That's entirely possible too. Not that I care. I will be far, far away when that happens. You should be too.
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Netbug 2016-08-25 06:28:10
This is what I've been saying for years. The problem is the transition period and people trying to cling to old ideals. If marginal cost of food/water/housing/energy/etc are all essentially zero, people hording them for obscene profit is somewhat unethical. But yes, this is coming faster than most realize (hell, the self-driving car is basically here and 4 years ago, very few people had heard of it). Changes. Hard changes. But also necessary and ones for the better. Good post.
Lon Spector 2016-08-25 06:30:16
It's over now! There's no hope at all. How can it be when criminality and greed reign supreme? America 2016 is the Land Of The Sociopaths! A vile witch that's a shoe in. A vile lying media, totally controlled by Satan. Racial rifts. Terrorists from the 3rd century. Material goods and white pussy are the spoils. Total anharcy is in the offing. We are turning into such savages, soon we won't operate push button machines. Please! Please! Please! September 10th, come quickly! Spare us from drawn out 3rd worldism, rape and torture! If not in September, at least before November 8.
Ed. Shire 2016-08-25 09:26:04
«It’s entirely possible that an Elon Musk type will invent some new tech over the next few decades that makes all energy free, or creates unlimited food or drinking water for free, or something equally amazing.» My opinion is, this will never happen. Who is gonna to work long hours for cheap if the food will be free ?
Eldm 2016-08-25 11:21:03
Technology won't save the west - it'll just put the (big) governments on life support; ie one American city is going to tax uber to subsidize cab companies. Collapse is almost nessary for westerner to (re)learn lessons.
Caleb Jones 2016-08-25 12:02:18
Lon Spector - one more pyscho off-topic post on any of my blogs, and you'll be banned. Thanks in advance. Now go take your meds.
My opinion is, this will never happen.It might not.
Who is gonna to work long hours for cheap if the food will be free ?Who said the work will be cheap? Some work will still pay a lot of money. But you're correct in that a significant percentage of the population won't work...but that's already true right now.
Collapse is almost nessary for westerner to (re)learn lessons.I agree with that. An actual collapse, where the typical, everyday, middle-class Westerner feels some real and sharp pain (other than the mild pain they feel now that they can cure by watching Netflix), is the only thing that will truly wake people up.
Gil Galad 2016-08-25 16:58:17
What's your position on suicide in old age ? One of the reasons I really want to witness huge technological progress is that I want death (currently inevitable and coercive) to become an event I *choose* to go through (in a manner I can predetermine) once I've lived everything I want to live, whether it takes 80 or 800 years; if, when I am 75-80 years old technology is still only marginally better than today (no 100% realistic VR, no rejuvenation), then I'll seriously consider suicide to avoid the ugliness of slow, "natural" death.
Caleb Jones 2016-08-25 17:14:50
What’s your position on suicide in old age ?Suicide should be legal and allowed for all legal adults, regardless of age, as long as you do it in a way that doesn't endanger anyone else. You own your own body, period. It's yours to do with as you please. Society / government has no right to tell you what to do with your own body.
when I am 75-80 years old technology is still only marginally better than today (no 100% realistic VR, no rejuvenation), then I’ll seriously consider suicide to avoid the ugliness of slow, “natural” death.I personally want to live as long as humanly possible, preferably forever. I love life and think living is a gift. I'm also very confident that by the time I'm very old (80+) technology will exist to make my life very pleasurable despite my numerical age. I worry more about being 55 years old than being 85 years old. By 85, I won't give a shit, but at 55 I still will to a degree. 🙂
A Man 2016-08-26 19:53:30
Motivated people will always, always be able to find profitable work to do. No matter what social upheaval comes our way. If you are persistent and semi intelligent you will be able to find things to do to support yourself. The current social angst is just something society goes thru every so often. I am old enough to remember the late 60's early 70's. We had the same dystopian fear of the future that is going on now. Remember Soylent Green? The world was going to be so overpopulated that we'd have to resort to cannibalism on a massive scale just to eat. There were bunches of other "scary future" movies along those lines. Even back in the 70's people thought Robots were going to take over the world. Oh sure, the 60's and 70's didn't feature the blatant political corruption that we see today. But it was still there. Watergate and all that. I was certainly not around for WWII, but I suspect that must have seemed pretty terrifying. We made it thru that just fine. Perhaps the west turns into a Venezuela type situation. It might happen. But in that case, the corrupt elites also get to suffer along with the commoners. We'd get thru that too.
Shubert 2016-08-26 20:11:33
I have to disagree. Technology will not save the West... or any other society for that matter... it will give people reasons to just stop giving a shit about their current location. If I have my own nanobots and a way to control them, why would I bother sticking around in the US? I can take any raw material and turn it into whatever I want. At this point, I would probably build a boat/submarine and just sail away... at least I would have some peace and quiet. I would have very realistic sexbots and if I so want to, they can give me children. Furthermore, sexbots will make women obsolete, why fuck your wife/girlfriend when the bot is hotter and can change so as to give you the variety that you crave? Remember e-mail? You think anyone else is bothering to write letters as an alternative to e-mail? The only way that we would go back to writing letters is due to a global EMP shockwave and even then, give the world a decade and all sorts of electronic devices would be back. Maybe if people migrated and lived with individuals similar to who they are (i.e. tribes.) But even then I'm not sure...
Fraser Orr 2016-08-26 20:13:01
@A Man > The current social angst is just something society goes thru every so often. That would normally be a decent perspective, but you underestimate the significance of the tech revolution we are in the midst of. It is qualitatively different than previous ones. To give an example, Google has a pretty good translation engine for translating from one language to another. In the past we have created systems to do this, and they worked by performing an analysis on the language (break it down into verbs, nouns, adjectives, phrases, subject, object etc.) and then constructed the translation from this (what is called a parse tree) into the new language. These programs were generally not very good. However, google translate doesn't work that way. What it instead did is looked at a lot of texts in the two language and deduced automatically the mappings between them using its vast computing resources. This might seem like a subtle technical point but it isn't. And here is why... the people at Google who developed the translators don't know how it works. This is so important I need to say it again. They don't understand how the computer gets from "je n'sais pas" to "I don't know." It is so important I am going to say it again. The computer program works and the creators don't know why (except in broad terms.) They have literally lost control of it. This is just one isolated example, but it is literally happening everywhere. If you have heard the term "big data", that is really what it means. It means finding out things and not knowing why they are the way they are. If you reduce the light level in the cornflake isle at the grocery store it causes people to buy more peanut butter. Why? Nobody knows. In fact it is too complicated for a human being's brain to understand. (I just made up that example, but it is the sort of thing that big data says.) Computer power is very fast approaching the point where it runs as fast as a human brain in a unit costing less than $1000. For a few dollars you can rent almost infinite computer power from Amazon. The preeminent feature of humans, how we have grown from monkeys to spacemen is our huge brain and its computational capacity. No technology revolution has ever touched that, in fact they depended on it. This one is different. It is based on calculations smarter than humans. It literally doesn't need us (or it won't eventually) except to set expectations and ask it questions, and perhaps not even for that. I'm not suggesting SkyNet is about to send back a robot to kill John Conner. What I am saying is that the future is unknowable in a way that it never has been before. Computers smarter than humans changes things in such a dramatic way that extrapolation is completely useless. It is perfectly possible (save the usual massive government interference) that a computer could discover a protein tomorrow that cures many forms of cancer. It is also likely that we will be totally clueless how it works. Which is to say, we are fast approaching the point where we aren't in charge anymore.
Shubert 2016-08-26 20:37:01
"However, google translate doesn’t work that way. What it instead did is looked at a lot of texts in the two language and deduced automatically the mappings between them using its vast computing resources. This might seem like a subtle technical point but it isn’t. And here is why… the people at Google who developed the translators don’t know how it works. This is so important I need to say it again. They don’t understand how the computer gets from “je n’sais pas” to “I don’t know.” It is so important I am going to say it again. The computer program works and the creators don’t know why (except in broad terms.) They have literally lost control of it." A neural-network -- or a derivative of it -- is pretty obscure in its every run. We know how it works, but we don't know what is happening to it at any given point. Also, google asks for a lot of help from the user, who can specify whether the translation of a word (or otherwise) was correct or not. It's cool, but has a way to go before we lose control.
A Man 2016-08-26 21:25:16
@Fraser Orr: You are absolutely correct. The tech is absolutely mind blowing. A lot of it is kind of frightening to think about. Another example is Crispr, the gene splicing tool. Just wait till that starts being used en masse. it's gonna be huge. The potential for some major problem associated with it is very real. Thing is, any tech that is sufficiently powerful to enslave us or cause such huge societal dislocations is also powerful enough to bring unimaginable good into our lives. On balance I think the good stuff will outweigh the bad stuff. Think of all the powerful changes that happened between 1900-2000. You used to have a bunch of workers in the city who would sweep up horse shit all day. The auto put them out of work. Sucked for them. But society got better because of the auto. I certainly wouldn't want to go back to living like they did in 1900, even if women didn't have equal rights or even if the elites weren't fucking society over like they do now. Hell I don't even like to be without a microwave oven. The world will be different in 2030 than today and if history is any guide it will be a lot better than today. Or maybe you think that technology will run amok and enslave us all some how. Could happen. But it's pretty unlikely. A lot of things would have to take place in an unlikely way for things to go so dramatically bad. Tech is usually single purpose focused. It doesn't get built with the ego drive to assemble a bunch of different parts in order to make a campaign to take over the world. I grant you that you could have a tech accident that screws things up for a period of time. Maybe some idiot scientist takes the Crispr tool and creates a nano virus that ruins the world wide food supply and everyone starves to death. I could see that happening. In that case, I would party non stop until I was dead and go out with a bang. I can't worry about any of that though. Not a damn thing I can do about it anyway. We always have options. We can move. We can associate with different people. We even have the ultimate option.... I am not depressed in any way whatsoever. But I would have no problem taking myself out if the world of the future is a not to my liking and there was nothing I could do to fix it to my liking.
Sean 2016-08-26 21:34:22
Hi Caleb, Thank you for the enlightening post. In your blogs you have been pointing out a lot of things that I have long believed to be true, with the difference that you managed to become successful and me, not so much. I have always been a firm believer in technology finding the answer. And if it doesn't, mother Nature sure will. I miss the debates I would have with my physics teacher, who, despite a man of science, firmly believed that humanity search for knowledge would eventually be its downfall. We had a discussion about radiation and how, in his point of view, there is no solution for radiation. My point of view is that eventually, humanity or nature would find a way to "clean" up radiation. I had to chuckle when ten years later there was news about a moss in Chernobyl that breaks down radioactive material. I do see all the things stated in your article very possible in the future, especially with inspiring people like Elon Musk breaking down barriers. The main issue I foresee is the current power balance, which is heavily skewed towards resources (oil, gas, uranium). By drastically reducing the value of food, water, energy and building materials, there would be a massive chance in power dynamics. I highly doubt the elite would standby and watch idly while their empire crumbles. Eventually, change is inevitable and we will move in a new era, just as we have moved from medieval age to renaissance to industrial age to the digital age. Just have to survive the chaos of the transition period (Collapse of the Petrodollar? WW III? Who knows...). There has been a lot of frightening talk about unemployment and robotics. Socialist parties here (The Netherlands) are promoting a base income for everyone as they expect unemployment rates to soar. I am not confident this will be the case. Yes, in the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy to an service economy initially many jobs were lost, but far more jobs were created. Plus, the meaning of job may completely change as you stated in your article. On a finishing note, I had a question for you, Caleb. I am currently a 30 year old university drop-out that works remotely as a Dutch-English translator, content specialist and remote customer service team leader. Due to conditions, I can only work remotely. I am looking for a way to improve my situation with the goal to be financially independent. I believe that translation work will be still viable the next decade but I am looking for a direction to take that would make me very desirable based on my current skill set. I have come up with a triangle of dsiciplines that overlap and boost each other (translation, online content marketing and data science). My goal is to obtain various degrees and experience in the upcoming 5 years to ensure a constant stream of high quality work and revenue. I have read that you do not give out financial advice for free so I can understand you may not be able to answer this. I would however really appreciate it if you could give a hint whether this is a feasible plan or whether it is a wrong approach and I would end up wasting a lot of time.
Fraser Orr 2016-08-26 21:41:49
Shubert says A neural-network .... We know how it works That is like saying "I know how a a transistor works" and from that claiming you know how NTP synchronizes clocks. What we have lost is control over the way it represents knowledge, or even what knowledge it represents, or even if whether there is a distinction between "representing knowledge" and "knowing". Does it know about nouns? Nobody knows. Does it have two different structures to store gerunds and participles? Who knows? We know something about synapses, axons and nerves, but nobody would claim that we understand how the brain works. > Also, google asks for a lot of help from the user Data, data yummy data, ... me hungry.... feed me.... FEED ME!!!
Shubert 2016-08-27 09:26:52
@Fraser Orr ""That is like saying “I know how a a transistor works” and from that claiming you know how NTP synchronizes clocks. What we have lost is control over the way it represents knowledge, or even what knowledge it represents, or even if whether there is a distinction between “representing knowledge” and “knowing”. Does it know about nouns? Nobody knows. Does it have two different structures to store gerunds and participles? Who knows? We know something about synapses, axons and nerves, but nobody would claim that we understand how the brain works."" Give enough complexity and you can claim the same thing about anything. You don't even need computers for this. Look back at ancient China and the imperial bureaucracy (or even the federal one in the US!) No one person has any idea how the entire system works at the nuts and bolts level as well as the entire system (this is why in software you have software architects/leads and then the coders and testers, everyone has a specific perspective into the entire system.) While yes, no one understand the entire beast, this is not a loss in understanding or knowledge any more or less than what we have seen in the past. This should not be a surprise.
Shubert 2016-08-27 09:32:57
@Fraser Orr ""Data, data yummy data, … me hungry…. feed me…. FEED ME!!!"" I'm not going to claim to be an expert in neural networks, I'm not. However, the ANN that google uses does not seem to be a quantum leap over a standard one (obviously, there are many smart people working very hard on this problem and I don't want to downplay some of the complexity involved.) I can say with confidence that I do have a friend that works in Microsoft's Azure ML department (if you don't believe me, I'm fine with that.) He writes the AI code that powers their system. According to him it is a neural network and while very advanced is not some quantum leap over what is known. Again, I have much to learn on this topic and don't want to downplay what they have accomplished, but I did not get the impression that they have something that with a little bit more time will get us to human level intelligence.
Caleb Jones 2016-08-27 11:45:04
My goal is to obtain various degrees and experience in the upcoming 5 years to ensure a constant stream of high quality work and revenue. I have read that you do not give out financial advice for free so I can understand you may not be able to answer this. I would however really appreciate it if you could give a hint whether this is a feasible plan or whether it is a wrong approach and I would end up wasting a lot of time.Your question is very general, so my very general answer is to forget about getting more schooling and focus on getting more real work in the real world to add to your experience and your resume. This can be either actual jobs or gigs on a site like Upwork, where lots of people need good translation work.
Fraser Orr 2016-08-27 14:22:54
@Shubert says > While yes, no one understand the entire beast, this is not a loss in understanding or knowledge Yes, indeed, and precisely that. No-one can control these Byzantine empires and that is a huge problem. The restraining force on governments is that they are full of incompetent boobs, running with breathtaking inefficiency and lack of focus. It is the reason why they do not utterly consume us. Computer systems do not suffer from such limitations. In regards to the revolutionary nature of what Google is doing, it is nothing to do with the algorithms, in fact it is exactly not that. My point is that the algorithm is largely irrelevant. What is important is the bringing to bear of insanely large amounts of computer power. In regards to human level capability. Let's just be clear, computers are already better at most tasks than humans. It is really only in certain areas where the human brain has specialized hardware (vision, language, emotion) that humans surpass computers, and the primary barrier to the inability of computers to relate intimately with humans comes not from a lack of algorithms or data, but from the fact that much of what we know and do as humans comes from living in our bodies and experiencing our lives. Things that computers can't do (to give an example: If I tell you a laundry machine costs "two ninety nine" and that laundry detergent costs "three ninety nine" you need to know a lot about living as a human to know that the first is more expensive than the last.) But these things don't matter. What matters is the things that computers are already better than us at. And in that we are already close to loosing a full understanding. For example, computers layout computer chips now. It used to be done entirely by hand, and now it is done almost entirely by computer. So computers are already making their own progeny. Again, I'm not saying that the future is bad. I am saying it is unknowable in a way that we have never, in human history, dealt with before. So extrapolating our past experiences as a species doesn't work all that well.
Shubert 2016-08-27 14:43:15
@Fraser Orr ""Again, I’m not saying that the future is bad. I am saying it is unknowable in a way that we have never, in human history, dealt with before. So extrapolating our past experiences as a species doesn’t work all that well."" *shrug* Again, not sure. The past is an excellent -- but imperfect -- indicator of the future. Humans like to do the same things over and over (we are creatures of habit.) I seriously doubt that human will lose control of the various machines that surround us and if there is a "robot uprising" it will most likely be backed by a human. As a result, the past will show much of our future. ... but I do not have a crystal ball and if someone asked how the USSR would end it would have been predicted in WWIII (with lots of nukes.)
Sean 2016-08-31 08:52:10
@Caleb: I appreciate the reply. In retrospect the question is far too generic, hence I need to spend more time to iron out the details. I was not thinking of giving up work for a sitting in class full-time. That would be crazy. I was more thinking in the lines of bootcamps, MOOCS, etc. and apply the skills I pick up to real jobs. I am already active on Upwork for a few years. I rolled into the translation business as my programming skills were basic at best and the competition was fierce. No point in competing with developers from India. I currently have 3 on-going gigs and don't have to look for work. @Back on the topic: Technology in the future will allow is to live longer and more fruitful lives. However, would a longer lifespan increase the current issue with world population? The innovation of humans is endless, but the resources on the planet are finite. Would this kind of technology be halted to prevent a demographic disaster or is such speculation simply another Malthusian theory? Of course, it is very well possible that this kind of technology will blossom after the collapse of the current global economy as we know it, which is not a question of if but a question of when.
Gil Galad 2016-09-03 00:25:46
@Sean: life extension will only cause a mild increase in an already plummeting population growth rate. Regardless of whether one believes that the earth at 8 billion people is already overpopulated or that it would still be fine with 30 billion, we will have quite a few decades to solve this problem (technologies for radically increasing sustainable food production, plus Mars terraforming on the long term...). A part of me dislikes the idea of terraforming another planet because it confirms that we're a parasitic species that can't help expanding and exhausting one planet's resources after another, which, over the super-long term, means that even a very slow rate of growth will result in swamping the universe. But maybe not. Maybe we'll have a tech singularity, transcend the flesh through mind uploading/cyborgization, live in VR and not worry anymore about multiplying into more entities (Kurzweil even talked about two or more consciousnesses merging), and no longer require much resources beyond computing power. I stress the *maybe* because I'm not fully convinced by the more utopian predictions. Note about that bullshit cornucopian versus malthusian debate: look, listen, if your worry is "what nature intended", then an omnivorous mammal of our size is already getting heavy on the biosphere when it's population exceeds a few million. That means we were already a burden by the time the neolithic revolution happened. But that's the whole point: agriculture is a trick we invented to artificially increase the food we can produce, and we've been coming up with more "tricks" ever since. So there's no such thing as "the proper population for earth", since there is no absolute standard for "proper" (if nature is your standard, species comparable to us have a tendency to cause environmental collapse when their population pushes into the millions. But as I said, we're not in the state of nature anymore). The C versus M debate is silly because too many people on both ends aren't really arguing about the scientific question "can we or can we not continue to come up with tricks and for how long ?" but just trying to justify whatever dogma they believe in; for example, a large proportion of Cornucopians, even the nonreligious ones, come from a Christian background where they were taught that the Earth/nature is ours to (over)populate/civilize, and that therefore it is out of the question to consider population control, or the fate of endangered species (God's gift to us, to do with as we please), or the importance of having large forest surfaces to absorb carbon, etc. Most people who have an opinion on this don't have a fraction of the competence to answer the question I asked above, so it's clear this a debate of ideologies more than it is a scientific debate.