The robot human equilibrium

There has been some push back in the media against the notion that we will “soon” be replaced by robots, e.g. see here. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because there seem to be very few machine induced job losses today doesn’t mean it won’t happen tomorrow or in ten years. In fact, when it does happen it probably will happen suddenly as have many recent technological changes. The obvious examples are the internet and smartphones but there are many others. We forget that the transition from vinyl records to CDs was extremely fast; then iPods and YouTube killed CDs. Video rentals became ubiquitous from nothing in just a few years and died just as fast when Netflix came along, which was then completely replaced a few years later by streaming video. It took Amazon a little longer to become dominant but the retail model that had existed for centuries has been completely upended in a decade. The same could happen with AI and robots. Unless you believe that human thought is not computable, then in principle there is nothing a human can do that a machine can’t. It could take time to set up the necessary social institutions and infrastructure for an AI takeover but once it is established the transition could be abrupt.

Even so that doesn’t mean all or even most humans will be replaced. The irony of AI, known as Moravec’s Paradox (e.g. here), is that things that are hard for humans to do, like play chess or read X-rays, are easy for machines to do and vice versa. Although drivers and warehouse workers are destined to be the first to be replaced, the next set of jobs will likely be highly paid professionals like stock brokers, accountants, doctors, and lawyers. But as the ranks of the employed start to shrink, the economy will also shrink and wages will go down (even if the displaced do eventually move on to other jobs it will take time). At some point, particularly for jobs that are easy for humans but harder for machines, humans could be cheaper than machines.  So while we can train a machine to be a house cleaner, it may be more cost effective to simply hire a person to change sheets and dust shelves. The premium on a university education will drop. The ability to sit still for long periods of time and acquire arcane specialized knowledge will simply not be that useful anymore. Centers for higher learning will become retreats for the small set of scholarly minded people who simply enjoy it.

As the economy shrinks, land prices in some areas should drop too and thus people could still eke out a living. Some or perhaps many people will opt or be pushed out of the mainstream economy altogether and retire to quasi-pre-industrial lives. I wrote about this in quasi-utopian terms in my AlphaGo post but a dystopian version is equally probable. In the dystopia, the gap between the rich and poor could make today look like an egalitarian paradise. However, unlike the usual dystopian nightmare like the Hunger Games where the rich exploit the poor, the rich will simply ignore the poor. But it is not clear what the elite will do with all that wealth. Will they wall themselves off from the rest of society and then what, engage in endless genetic enhancements or immerse themselves in a virtual reality world? I think I’d rather raise pigs and make candles out of lard.





One thought on “The robot human equilibrium

  1. I just heard about a robot that can make clothes like garment workers–once seen as very difficult. I think about ‘rates’—for time being some people will have tio work to design and make robots (some people to think automatic checkout means no people make those machines, maybe because they are not seen since they live in asia; perhaps one day we can plant fields growing smart phones on mars). ..

    one might have a ‘red queen’ dynamic—change will keep happening so fast robots can never catch up completely (like hamilton’s/maynard smith’s theory for the evolution of sex, as a sort of war between dna and viruses, if i recall). Furutre robots may beed humans and vice versa–‘neccesary evils’.

    I might be happy to spend half my time hunting and gathering west va , and other half playing music and reading about nice things ‘lagrangians of bilogy using jacobis least multiplier’ and sad stories about ‘the least of the least’–maybe turn them into a movie.
    (i actually have approximated that lifestyl in appalchains, alaska, and mexico–get your physucs and math papers, and walk a 100 miles to gather food.

    i think many more people could enjoy forms of higher learning just as they can learn to be opiate and media and shiopping addicts or terrorists and religius fundamentalists and political activists. Again this is a sort of red queen or darwinian dynamic—its sort of whatever gets you first. And that is partly determined by social structure and convention, despite claims by behvioral geneticts like Robert Plomin that ‘genes choose environments’ and environment doesnt determine behavior since the environment is caused by genes.
    Nature is miraculous—some people due to the genes choose to eat lead paint and drink lead polluted water and live in anacostia and go to jail while others choose to live in cambridge mass and go to harvard.

    Plomin, sort of like chomsky seem to agree with F Celine (one of my favorite writers, with good taste, and almost accurate political predictions, like 538, who was also notorious french fascist who sided with Hitler and opredictable was correct, if i recall history corredctly))—-‘men see only what they look at, and they only look at what they already have in mind’ (and have in mind is innate—they knew the correct testb answers when they were born, just had to grow a bit to write them down). .

    Wealth and income are partly political and technological issues and conventions which can change at any time, or at least unpredicatably. (eg see R goodwin’s predator-prey formulation of marx’s class struggle from 50’s also discssed by P Samuelson in 70’s in PNAS using Gibbs-Kerner physics formalism; someone at U md had a simple related model not liong ago that got alot of press). This is also a competetive struggle—either basic incomes become guaranteed and people learn to develop new interests beyond shopping (mostly seen as a moral, religious, spiritual and patriotic duty like military service and church—one works so one can tithe to the wealthy who piosly donate a bit to charity and your food bank) –ending wealth accumulation and increasing Gini; or people spend all their money shoppping first , and use time to watch Trump’s tv shows—it was the apprentice but now is called the west wing— and forget chores like voting for a basic income and kicking their habits to preserve and extend the status quo. Ther rich get richer, and the dumb get dumber.

    Unlike Piketty i dont think his (r,g) theory is likely correct because the rioch may not be able to keep getting richer since robots make poor customers leading to insufficient demand and growth rates tend towards 0.
    Despite being at MIT Piketty didnt notice one needs what is called a ‘dynamic’ theory (r,g,t) even if the truth is inconveniant and wont get you a best seller.
    the rich also may have to sell some robots to the poor who then can learn to use them and get richer, leading to an alternative steady state.

    Its possible this is related to the issue of whether the mind or economy is a computable process. The red queen analog of this question may be related to the ‘quantum zeno effect’ (and intuitively i sometimes suspect the question is meaningless sort of like a godelian statement–if its false, it must be true (but you will never know).


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