Very big thinkers ponder: "What do you think about machines that think?"


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I’m not as worried about thinking machines replacing the human race as I am about them replacing 99.99% of the human race.


Really? Because I was just thinking the next topic should be, “What do you think about unicorns?”


Actually I’m not as worried about fully AI lifeforms as I am about certain kinds of expert systems displacing more and more educated, skilled people.

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I think the first post’s concern is alluding not to the nightmare of the Terminator or Matrix franchises, but rather the more mundane likelihood of what the fate of humanity will look like when the vast majority of work (in the traditional wage-earning sense) has been supplanted by machines.

While I would like to think this will be a beautiful golden age of idyl and art and human compassion, it’s probably going to take the form of the 1% continuing to squeeze more from an increasingly impoverished lower class with no mobility.

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I completely agree. Visionaries of the 1970s never asked themselves just why the owners of the machines would want to share their bounty with the rest of us.


Improved technology has always gone hand-in-hand with better quality of life, and that includes jobs. If that wasn’t so, unemployment would have started at an all-time low and steadily climbed until reaching near 100%. The nay-sayers and hand-wringers who claim technology (and in this case “thinking machines”, whatever that means) will displace people from their jobs don’t realize that other jobs are constantly opening up. That’s the nature of our capitalist society.

I won’t disagree that we’ve been constantly on a slow slide towards mediocrity, but that’s due not so much to improving technology as to our unwillingness to pay for something better. We consumers, by voting with our dollars, have far more power over our situation than we would think. The problem is in a) convincing people this is so, and b) getting them to act on it.

Jobs involving muscle power have largely been taken over by machines, and now if jobs involving brain power are also taken over by machines then some new, third category of job is going to start existing?

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Exactly, except most of the 1% is still down on the lower part of the L-curve. It’s more like the 1% of the 1% vs the 99.99%

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This thinking machine says that thinking machines probably think largely along the lines they were designed to think on, with a tiny percentage of the more complex models perhaps capable of 5-10% of their thought being meta-analysis of their own thinking patterns (otherwise known, in programming circles, as introspection). This has always been the case, and there seems little evidence of it changing.

When it comes to machine thinking and machine learning, I’ve found the two most enlightening authors to be Daniel Dennett and Douglas Adams.

I would argue that in a capitalist system production is constrained by resource availability and manufacturing efficiency. Production efficiency increases due to technological progress. As a result, fewer people make more things.

The way I see it, no industry (service, tech, labor, etc) is immune to the effects of efficiency increases; everywhere you look there will be fewer people doing more work. It’s easier to adjust to the new economic reality when you are one of those efficiency-boosting employees, but everyone else is screwed. What is the suburban mall shoe store clerk going to do when Amazon displaces their employer?

I am not suggesting that stores have a right to do business. I don’t even think that people have a right to work (I mean, they do, but stay with me); If robots are doing most of the work, why is it fair to punish people for not being competitive in a dwindling workforce? People in the future will need a guarantee of a minimum standard of living, and the current system is pathologically averse to addressing this issue.


This has already happened at least a couple of times over:

  1. When modern farming equipment came on the scene
  2. When manufacturing became largely automated and mechanized

In practice these shifts haven’t meant “everybody’s out of work now” so often as “everybody’s doing some new kind of work now.”




Certain farming and manufacturing jobs required too much brain power to be replaced by automation. At least that has been the case so far…

Imagine technology that totally breaks the mold of doing work to get things, though. Suppose someone invented star trek replicators (and an energy source to power them). The issue is what happens if machines can do so much of the work that the rich don’t need the poor to work for them? (The answer is probably dead rich people in the long run, I wish the rich would understand this)

On the larger topic, I find pondering about thinking machines is all fantasy driven and not very reality based. If we define “thinking” as “that thing that happens in our brains” then nothing will ever be a thinking machine. If we don’t then we’ve had thinking machines for long time. When was the last time someone designed a new computer without using an existing computer? Thinking machines are already here, and they are already doing a lot of thinking for us. Moore coined Moore’s law in 1965 and was based on observations of history. The “singularity” occurred before 1965 - it’s just that crazy singularity thinkers mistake “exponential growth” (which doubling every 18 months is) for “instantaneous launch to infinity.”


I never said “everybody is out of work”; my point is that fewer people are doing more work. When agriculture efficiency increased, people moved to the cities to work in factories. When factories became efficient, people moved to services. Now we see IT developments displacing workers in the services industry. Where will they go? What is the new type of business that helps the working poor get that nice house in the suburbs and send the kids to college?

My secondary point is that this new kind of job sector doesn’t need to exist if we, as a culture, can revisit the assumptions that got us here in the first place.


The same is true of many industries that relied on “brain power.” For example, engineering firms no longer need employ full-time calculators.

What happens is the technology becomes so cheap and ubiquitous that it’s not just limited to the rich. Sure, maybe only the replicators for rich people are capable of reproducing steak and champagne while the rest of us are forced to replicated hamburgers and beer, but it’s still better off than what we have and easier than becoming a farmer.

Somebody has to program the machines. More important: we will constantly come up with new muscle-power tasks that have yet to be automated. Until the robots can do those tasks, we’ll need people to do them.

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