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The future impact of automation on society

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#1 Orpheus


    I'm not the boss of you!

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 02:26 PM

[I've split this comment off ftom the Google Driverless Car thread because I think its points were already made in that context, but I consider this a major issue that warrants rich discussion on its own -- and I feel the mainstream media is getting it substantially wrong! Of course, you may feel that *I* have gotten it substantially wrong. Feel free to tell me so. How else can I learn?]

I hope I don't sound grumpy. Any irritation I feel is solely due to my concerns over implementation by the major automakers. I'd hate for driverless cars to founder because of executive incompetence in Detroit, not Silicon Valley, and I see good reasons to doubt if we can truly trust Detroit to pull this off correctly.

It's a recurring theme. Mining coal, burning it, etc. caused millions of deaths and 10s/100s of millions of disabilities in the twentieth century, but "nuclear power is scary", though the very worst nuclear disasters don't come close to the "business as usual" body count for coal. The total casualty of Chernobyl is equivalent to a few month's worth of black lung disease in a similar-sized region of coal-mining Appalachia (by hey who cares about those hillbillies, right? Oh, wait, the casualties also include city dwellers poisoned by air pollution, downstream contamination from mines, ash pollution...) -- and that's just one of hundreds of coal-mining regions in the world. "Nuclear accident devastation?" You can pour topsoil over a strip mine and plant grass, but the complex natural ecology was completely destroyed up front, as part of the plan! What's left is as sterile as a lawn (city parks aren't "nature"; they're the biological equivalent of astro-turf.)

Yet, despite the obvious disparity in body count, I must admit serious concern over nuclear (fission) power plant operation. Ironically, the one real hope of making them safer is high-level computer automation, which I'm sure would only make the anti-nuclear crowd howl louder -- and even *I* can't pretend that high-stakes automation doesn't concern ME deeply -- because it's often done poorly at first.

Humans are often an initial stopgap device because we're so versatile. But that's JUST a stopgap.

It's a real issue in society, and historically, a growing one. We're slowly emerging from a misguided notion of what is suitable for humans. "Factory jobs" don't carry any human touch or virtue; They're as ugly and  (thankfully) temporary a phase as agricultural slavery in the antebellum South, migrant immigrant labor today -- or standing a boy to hold his finger in a dike all his life: humans should not be used as mere mechanical devices. I'm *grateful* that you can replace dozens of migrant workers with a half-million dollar combine harvester. You'd be outraged if you were denied a lifesaving $100K-250K operation because "you life isn't worth that much" -- OF COURSE it is. We'll spend a million to rescue a kid who falls in a well, but then happily squander the unique VALUE of that kid's life with a lack of meaningful purpose or opportunity, a pointless wars, etc. In *that* context, "life is cheap" -- common and unremarkable. Everyone has one

The question of what humans *should* be doing remains a challenge.The first step may be to get everyone a decent education (but no one wants to pay for that). We are after all "Homo sapiens" (thinking man), so why are we so coy about preparing people to think? It wouldn't even have to be expensive -- that's a remnant of thousands of years when literacy was a plaything of the "idle" rich and actually considered dangerous: for most of the history of Christianity, in most of Europe, a lay person actually *reading* the Bible--if they could even touch one-- carried a death sentence; many of America's  Founding Fathers considered open public lending libraries (a new innovation in the 1700s) to be openly dangerous. More perniciously, our society preaches that learning is "hard". It isn't. I'm in awe of the mastery many of you have of computer games or sports or art or your favorite TV/book series. That expertise is as daunting to me as anything I do might be to you -- but daunting doesn't mean "hard". It often means "an achievement".

We need incite a culture of learning (and opportunity) -- a revolution all its own, been slowly accelerating each century, haltingly and with many reversals, throughout the history of civilization. I believe that cultures that fail to keep up will simply be outpaced and overcome by those that succeed -- the world is getting smaller and it's harder to maintain your own isolated enclave without some form of tyranny (which many leaders consider to be "its own reward"), be it religious provincialism  [which should not be confused with any wisdom of the religion itself], the paternalism of "your betters" -- or a culture of baseless self-esteem and shallow gratification

Yeah, we in the "westernized/consumerized" nations are not necessarily exemplars of human dignity

I don't consider driving a car to be an inherently human task. We were just using an valuable resource to do an unworthy job, like using a gold bar (or human) as a doorstop. True, a skilled driver is no different than a skilled athlete or artist -- do what satisfies you -- but you shouldn't be *forced* to, in order to lead your normal life, any more than you are forced to hunt/farm your own food anymore. Do any of us really expect there to be steely jawed pilots taking mind-numbing shifts in a cockpit for the years it takes to reach Mars, the gas giant moons, or the stars? HAL9000 notwithstanding, that's a job for a machine.

If parents must accompany kids, let it be quality time. Perhaps the temptation to text and drive is best eliminated by removing the driving, not the texting -- your friends will appreciate your uniquely human interaction; the road doesn't care.

Edited by Orpheus, 29 May 2013 - 04:14 PM.
to explain thread split

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