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AI and the future of society-The past predicts the future?

Discussion in 'Speaker's Corner' started by Orionaut, Jan 13, 2019.

  1. Orionaut

    Soldato

    Joined: Aug 2, 2012

    Posts: 6,523

    The technology may be new, but the socio-economic consequences are are long established.

    I have been reading the Simon Carrow “Eagle” series (Think “Sharpe” but set in the era of the Claudian invasion of Britain)

    Whilst I dare say there is a fair amount of artistic license, I imagine that the historical factual side is reasonably accurately presented, especially the nature of life for the typical Roman citizen in Rome itself.

    We look forward to a future where an increasingly large proportion of “Work” will be carried out by machines of one form or another. The Romans didn't have machines but they did have slaves.

    And the socio-economic consequentness we face in the future are likely to be very similar to the ones that the Romans faced 2000 years ago.

    Now, I am not sure exactly how the Roman economy operated but it seems to me that the gist of it was this.

    Rome had a very wealthy aristocracy, who owned lots of slaves. One of the ways the aristocracy maintained their wealth was by serving as senior officers in the Legions while young before going on to politics. During their time served they would claim a good share of the booty that military campaigns captured which would serve them in later life.

    For the non-aristocracy Romans, life had rather fewer opportunities.

    Rome did have a middle class of traders and merchants and small farmers (Who also would own slaves)

    Many of this middle class would be made up of retired army personnel who had been fortunate to survive their 25 years service and were able to retire on a combination of their acquired booty, Final payment, and Army pension. Typically these people would buy a small farm in the country (Yes really, Nothing ever changes! :p ) to retire too, of course, worked by Slaves

    But for the rest of the Roman citizenry the options were really very limited. Most would not have employment because there was no work for them to do. All the work was done by slaves. And why salary a Citizen when you could buy a slave outright?

    (There would be some work available for plebs, There had to be since Rome did have a cash economy too, But it would be likley to be the equivalent of our minimum wage, unskilled labour, I expect)

    This does not mean that the “Plebs” led comfortable lives. Many lived in large crowded and often really quite slummy tenements not unlike today's sink estate tower blocks.

    Since there was no work for them to do, they were not able to support themselves so were allocated a daily bread ration, a massive logistical operation involving the production of over a million loaves per day! (And the origin of the phrase “Dole” to refer to benefit payments).

    And they were kept distracted from their poverty by a constant diet of sporting events, provided by the aristocracy, to keep the mob entertained and their minds away from rioting.

    (Is all this sounding familiar??)

    The only way any “Pleb” could escape this life was to join up and hope they would survive to retirement.

    This I see very much as a model for our current future.

    Now, the economic logistics of this will be slightly different in an industrial society since we rely far more on “Stuff” in our day to day lives to define our standard of living than the Romans did, For a classical Roman citizen Bread, Circuses (and roof over their heads) would be enough to keep the mob happy.

    Todays Mob might need a little more placating, but probably not much more (And Robot slaves will eventually be able to produce “Stuff” for a relative pittance)

    Bit dystopian really isnt it?

    Am I being unduly pessimistic here? Are we instead actually looking forward to a future golden age?

    Or, am I right, and is the past actually a pretty good predictor of the future here…?
     
  2. Rroff

    Man of Honour

    Joined: Oct 13, 2006

    Posts: 62,663

    One huge difference is Rome was an expanding empire - what would replace the army and conquest (which produced the spoils) in a modern day context?
     
  3. d_brennen

    Capodecina

    Joined: Jan 30, 2009

    Posts: 15,293

    Location: Aquilonem Londinensi

    The slightly unhinged assumption that the economy has to and will always increase in size in order to support normal capitalistic function
     
  4. Orionaut

    Soldato

    Joined: Aug 2, 2012

    Posts: 6,523


    No but it was a factor in maintaining a reasonable degree of social order within the Roman economic system.

    Our own current economic system (Let along any future one) still relies heavily on the (Unsustainable) infinite growth model.

    How will we maintain our social order in a 21st century "Slave" economy in a world where population is soaring and even if resources are not dwindling, the consequences of exploiting them are becoming increasingly damaging?
     
  5. Rroff

    Man of Honour

    Joined: Oct 13, 2006

    Posts: 62,663

    Honestly my opinion is we need to start making the rest of the solar system work for us - AI is very useful for remote/inhospitable exploration and harvesting of resources and you still need people to direct, maintain and run those programs. There seems to be a big lack of long term perspective on this which is going to run humanity down a completely avoidable path IMO if people had invested in the future better!
     
  6. BowdonUK

    Wise Guy

    Joined: Jan 17, 2016

    Posts: 2,273

    When we talk about how AI will impact the future job market I always think about the impact globalisation as had on our manufacturing base.

    In my town we had the most cotton mills than anywhere in the world. Then globalisation happened and it become more affordable to make those items in Indian. So within a few years the mills started the close down and it put a lot of people out of work. As time went on there were other similar industries around so the transfer of the work force absorbed people in to other manual labour careers.

    The problem we have these days is there just arent the alternative markets to absorb labour in to as AI as the potential to take over multiple industries with the effect that there won't be enough manual labour jobs for the amount of people wanting work. Most people aren't cut out for office work. The only service industry they could go to would be a call centre, and even most of them are abroad.

    I think there needs to be a different way of thinking of society as we'll eventually reach a point where people won't be able to earn enough money to buy the products and services the AI as created.

    I'm not convinced the AI problem will come any time soon though. When I was a teenager in the 90s I thought I'd have a house cleaning robot by now :D
     
  7. FortuitousFluke

    Mobster

    Joined: Jul 7, 2011

    Posts: 3,443

    Location: Cambridgeshire

    Well you clearly didn't marry well enough! BOOM BOOM!

    I should really comment on the overlying thread as opposed to coming in here to peddle my of brand 1960's comedy.

    It's probably incredibly shortsighted of me but we've had these kind of predictions (scares if you will) for many years and relating to various innovations around automation but they never tend to lead to the demise of the working man. If anything there seems to be more work to do than ever, though the industries have changed.

    I predict that society will adapt as it always has, whether that's changing the expectations around what work actually means, or expanding in new ways e.g. space exploration. I fully expect some blips along the way but we seem to have this unerring ability to continue on in brutal defiance of all expectation and logic.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
  8. BowdonUK

    Wise Guy

    Joined: Jan 17, 2016

    Posts: 2,273

    I agree with you. I recently read a lot of hype about 5G coming on for mobile phones etc. Saying it would allow doctors appointments to be done over skype and listed about 10 other things. But in reality that won't happen as we could have done all that with 4G and nothing as changed.

    I thought by now most of us would be doing work from home. Instead the government puts money in to the HS2 instead of making working from home a reality by beefing up funding for full fibre. Then we wouldnt have crammed trains and rush hour traffic. But as with the 5G hype the technology never actually gets used.
     
  9. Orionaut

    Soldato

    Joined: Aug 2, 2012

    Posts: 6,523

    Except that one can actually see it happening right now and the impact of the AI/robot revolution has hardly even started to bite.

    Consider this article.

    https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/01/11/the-gilets-jaunes-are-unstoppable/

    40 years ago a car factory would employ 40,000 working class people in reliable and really quite well paid work.

    Nowadays it might only employ a couple of thousand (Perhaps even less) and with a much higher proportion of high education engineers and technicians over people still carrying out more traditional working class roles. Those that are no longer employed in this industry cant all become IT consultants. firstly, most wont have the aptitude, secondly. there is no demand for that many IT consultants.

    Oh, there is work. But instead of it being a reasonably well paid "Job for Life", the outlook for many working class people today is a series of unpredictable (Zero hours even) minimum wage jobs.

    Once automation starts to take even these jobs away, we are going to have real problems. :(

    I am sure it would be both technically and economically possible right now to build a fully automated MacD's, I dare say that it is only the fear of the place being burned down by an angry mob of spotty teenage Neo-Luddites that is preventing it from being done. But it is only a matter of time before some big retail fast food corporation takes the plunge!

    (I suspect it will be one of the big fast food chains that does something like this first, technically it has to be one of the easier service sector high street retail systems to fully automate)

    :/
     
  10. dowie

    Caporegime

    Joined: Jan 29, 2008

    Posts: 39,654

    I think there is some implicit assumption in the OP that seems slightly dubious - namely this idea of a shortage of jobs. Automation has generally lead to more jobs and AI, at least at the moment, is seemingly likely to create jobs.

    Now specific areas might become pointless - just as say elevator operators in NYC mostly became redundant. But in plenty of areas (medicine, law, finance etc...) AI is going to serve to assist/compliment people's work rather than take it over.
     
  11. efish

    Wise Guy

    Joined: Jan 11, 2014

    Posts: 1,203

    The spoils of war contributed to the fall of Rome. Wealth became concentrated increasingly in the hands of a small number of leading families. The imperial system was forged on the battlefield and led to an increased distance between the elite and the plebs and an eventual decline in its civic system.

    The original model was that of a civic republic. Elites maintained power by being voted into office by the plebs.

    Client patron relationship, you get voted in as magistrate provide legal protection for the plebs who voted you in and in turn you pay for the civic infrastructure.

    As that relationship altered and the imperial system grew, elites increasingly exempted themselves from paying into the civic system.

    Holding civic office and engaging in public service had been the road to power i.e you held civic office, payed for the civic infrastructure and in return received lucrative contracts from the system.

    As the system shifted no longer the need to support the civic administration and increasingly you no longer needed the support of the plebs.

    Rome ended with a collapse of the urban economy.

    Its end was a long time coming and it's issues were particular to itself.

    The historical warning is not in the specific detail.

    Rome had long term and systemic social issues.

    It failed to deal with them
     
  12. Rroff

    Man of Honour

    Joined: Oct 13, 2006

    Posts: 62,663

    Can't put my finger on it but that sure seems familiar.
     
  13. efish

    Wise Guy

    Joined: Jan 11, 2014

    Posts: 1,203

    Failing to identify and deal successfully with a highly complex and constantly altering environment, such is life on earth.

    I was thinking about the "French immigration "The politically correct have caused too much havoc in this country" thread.

    The Mayor of Albi in France attempting to deal with complexity with a magic bullet solution 'illegal immigration.'

    Albi is a smaller French town like many in a state civic decline, loss of retail , business etc. This process is linked to the perception that it represents a decline in 'Frenchness', in turn immigration is viewed as the key issue, tackling immigration a short term easy fix to the issue of urban economic decline.
     
  14. Angilion

    Man of Honour

    Joined: Dec 5, 2003

    Posts: 16,000

    Location: Just to the left of my PC

    What kind of jobs? When advances in technology greatly reduced employment in agriculture, bulk employment switched to manufacturing (at huge cost to poor people). When advances in technology greatly reduced employment in manufacturing, bulk employment switched to driving stuff around and service (at a large cost to poor people). So where's the next area for bulk employment when movement of goods is automated and most service is automated? We can't all be vanity status servants for the few rich people who want them, nor can we all be entertainers on Youtube or Twitch or whatever. What completely new jobs do you think will appear that will provide employment for the majority of people?

    So your best case scenario is some employment remaining in some areas of work. Less than now, of course, since in your best case scenario AI is doing some of the work. What will remain will be highly skilled work that automation can't do, which will become an increasingly high bar as it improves in cost and capability. It's not just AI. It's not mainly AI unless you set a very low bar for what AI is. The internet has already had a large effect, especially since the rise of networked handheld computers that are still called "phones" even though phone calls are now a minor thing for them.
     
  15. edscdk

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 17, 2008

    Posts: 6,612

    Future will be fine the population will eventually be corrected by war.. A few 1000 years later the planet will be a much better place.
     
  16. dowie

    Caporegime

    Joined: Jan 29, 2008

    Posts: 39,654

    A whole variety of jobs, we've been automating for 200 years now and new jobs are created all the time. This isn't anything new, we've got more people in employment than ever before.

    Actually living standards have generally improved over time, you can have localised issues when say load of coal mines close etc.. and some areas are reliant on that one industry etc.. so the impact on unskilled or semi skilled workers concentrated on one area can be high but for the country as a whole automation has worked out rather well for us. The issue there depending on your perspective/politics is partly a failure of the government for not sufficiently funding/encouraging re-training, encouraging enough new investment in that area and perhaps partly a result of the reluctance of some parts of the UK's population to move in order to get a job and/or to simply seek out retraining/education themselves.

    Will people who are reluctant to gain new skills or adapt to change find that they're no longer useful? Quite possibly. That is arguably something the government ought to be actively involved in supporting, though some personal responsibility needs to be taken too.

    Completely new jobs - as in you want me to get a crystal ball out and come up with a job that doesn't currently exist at the moment and therefore perhaps dependent on some new technology that is yet to be invented? If I were to feasibly do that I think I'd be better off stopping half way and making millions from the technology that hasn't been invented yet. I don't think that is realistic nor is it necessary for the point I've made. Plenty of jobs will change rather than be eliminated but when it comes to new jobs I'm not sure that say the role of say a search engine optimisation specialist would have been easily predicted say prior to the existence of search engines... however as with various other new technology, once it is created it then leads to further jobs.

    Most of the scare stories about AI seems to rely partly on the old luddite fallacy and partly on people treating AI as some magical black box that can do almost everything. The fact is we've had AI for decades, there has been lots of progress in areas like machine vision and NLP thanks (partly) to the increase in available computing power via faster GPUs and distributed computing.

    Below is an article from the New York Times in 1958 reporting on the perceptron, the history of neural networks dates back to the 1940s. Today AI is in use within a whole range of industries.

    [​IMG]
     
  17. Angilion

    Man of Honour

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    Location: Just to the left of my PC

    So in response to my question of what kind of jobs would exist for bulk employment when most of the remaining jobs have been automated, your replies were:

    and

    That is a position of faith - you have faith that completely new paid will appear somehow from something in a large enough quantity to provide bulk employment. You can't show any evidence or even any good reasoning because your position is based on belief. You don't even have any beliefs about how your belief will come true.

    You provide a good counter-argument to your own position - the one new job you mention is a specialist job, i.e. it provides paid employment to a small number of people with specialised knowledge. Not bulk employment.

    You wrote that in direct reply to me saying that the problem is not mainly AI:

    That's the main point. I'll respond to some minor bits out of order at the end here.

    The issue predates automation to some extent - changes in agriculture starting in the renaissance or even late medieval period significantly reduced the amount of paid work in agriculture in England (and probably elsewhere too).

    The new jobs you refer to that replace jobs replaced by automation are in different fields, obviously. As I said before, bulk employment broadly switched from agriculture to manufacturing to distribution and service. You have no suggestion as to where it could go next. A small amount of paid work for a small number of people with the necessary knowledge and ability is in no way a replacement for bulk employment.

    In time, yes. For us, yes. After bulk employment had shifted to another area and after a huge number of people suffered and in many cases died. I suggest you look at history. The easiest one to check is the conditions for poor people in the late 18th and most of the 19th century. Slightly harder to check is the conditions for poor people in the late medieval and early renaissance period as a result of the loss of rural agricultural employment, but the evidence is there if you look for it. Some urban areas found themselves with a population quadrupling within a decade. Living standards for the newcomers were almost always appalling since they had to live in unsanitary hovels with little or no work. Even when the local government tried to help, it lacked sufficient resources to do so. Many people died. But the 18th/19th century loss due to increased automation was far worse. For a while the death rate in London exceeded the birth rate. Try to imagine how bad living conditions have to be for that to happen.

    EDIT: It might even be worse today because our society is in some ways more fragile because it's more advanced and our population and population density is much higher. How, for example, would we deal with an epidemic of a highly contagious disease in an urban environment? Millions infected, millions needing medical treatment, hundreds of thousands dead...we don't have the resources to handle that.
     
  18. dowie

    Caporegime

    Joined: Jan 29, 2008

    Posts: 39,654

    Can't show any reasoning or evidence? No I'm just not going to make some random guess about some job that doesn't exist. It isn't important to my argument.

    So what? The purpose of that was to illustrate the futility of the question you asked.

    I think this again is based on some flawed luddite view of the future whereby you're starting with some premise that "bulk" employment is going to vanish.

    I think perhaps your position is a faith based one in that regard. It is a position that has been taken by people since textile machinery was smashed up and it has continuously turned out to be a flawed one. Yet apparently this time it will somehow be different.
     
  19. Angilion

    Man of Honour

    Joined: Dec 5, 2003

    Posts: 16,000

    Location: Just to the left of my PC

    I'm arguing that removing large amounts of paid employment with absolutely no evidence of an even vaguely similar amount of replacement employment and no reason to think there will be any will result in less employment.

    I think you're wrong to call that a faith based position.

    You're arguing that in the UK alone many hundreds of millions of hours of paid employment per week will inevitably appear from nothing for no known reason and that it's futile and silly to question that assumption.

    I think I'm right to call that a faith based position.


    Yes, it's happened in the past...when advances in technology removed jobs in specific areas of work. Areas for which there still isn't bulk employment because the technology which removed them still exists. So yes, this time is different. It's different for two reasons - firstly the automation is much more advanced and secondly there's no longer any unautomated area remaining for new mass employment. Which is why the only example of a new job you could come up with was a highly specialised job for a small number of people - that's what's going to remain.
     
  20. dowie

    Caporegime

    Joined: Jan 29, 2008

    Posts: 39,654

    Well we disagree then, we've currently got record high employment levels in spite of increased automation/technological advance.

    No, that isn't my argument.

    I didn't come up with any example of a new job that hasn't yet been created - it was a silly question and I explained why. You're just buying into the same luddite fallacy with the reasoning that "this time it will be different". If you want to talk about faith based positions then that is one. Where is your evidence - why have employment figures increased? Why aren't we seeing this mass unemployment? Is it just around the corner or something? It's going to happen in the next decade perhaps? Yet people were making the same flawed arguments a decade ago and two decades ago and so on...