Our blogger and guest podcaster Daniel referred in response to my previous post that EconTalk with host Russ Roberts (pictured) and guest Robin Hanson of George Mason University did an episode on "The Technological Singularity."
The idea here is that at a few points in history, there's been a technological breakthrough that fundamentally transformed how people can live, which in turn led to a massive growth in population, creation of wealth, and a fairly rapid overturning of much of previous culture. The last time this happened was the industrial revolution, and before that, the development of farming. Hanson theorizes that the same would happen with development of sufficient artificial intelligence that most work could be pushed off onto robots: not only manufacturing jobs like at present, but services like cutting hair and driving taxis and, ultimately, product design. At this point, yes, the whole point would be sucked out of the job system as it currently exists, and we'd be forced to figure out some alternate way of structuring our lives.
Hanson doesn't think this would be so unprecedented: there are people now who are rich enough that they don't have to work for money, but yet still tend to fill their time very productively. There's also a hint that there would have to be some redistribution of wealth to help out those whose only current asset is their ability to sell their labor, but, really, if wealth is so abundant, surely we can work that out and in any case we don't have to worry about that yet. (This is what I'm reading into Hanson, anyway.)
However, much of the rest of the podcast is devoted to talking about how difficult it is to create artificial intelligence: how it's not just a matter of us getting fast enough hardware to accommodate it, but that there's a fundamental conceptual gap right now. Hubert Dreyfus has a lot to say about this.
So while the podcast begins with this idea (at least this was my impression) that the singularity is inevitable: the well-circulated thought that technology increases exponentially, such that very rapidly our culture is going to become unrecognizable, but then the discussion makes it sound like no, such a revolution is dependent upon a technological advance that is actually pretty unlikely, i.e. this is all just idle speculation.
I'll write more about Bergmann's "New Work," soon, but there's nothing in it that necessitates having intelligent machines, and, just to head off this point that people jumped to in the comments to my last points, it doesn't entail socialism or any change in our ostensible system of government, or that the government even be the key player in enacting a solution. As this EconTalk podcast demonstrates, it's possible that the change could be entirely on the model of the current rise of the Internet, which did require some regulations and things to get it going and keep it "neutral," but which was mostly engendered by academia (and the military? I'm not actually so solid on my history of the Internet) and pushed into major use by forces both capitalistic and... well... volunteerism of the same sort that makes this podcast/blog and a million others like it run strong. This is just an analogy of course, but the point is that history gives us a number of models of social change, and any way that does not require Congress to do anything is going to be much easier.
Daniel Horne says
I know this is a side issue, but for the curious, a 1997 debate between Dreyfus and Dan Dennett on AI’s viability can be found here:
Okay, is it wrong or does it simply tell you too much about me that Robin Hanson gives me a cold chill in my soul? (And his personal page lists his GRE scores…what?) He’s worked for DARPA too. (And yes, nearly all tech starts out serving a military master and then trickles down to the commodities market and popular entertainment.)
Why do folks want to make these kinds of things reality? They strike me as utterly “inhuman” as I conceive of what it means to be “me”.
Robin Hannson is an odd duck. He has a list on his site of odd things he may or may not belive in (cannt remember how to find it) and he is a strong proponent of perdiction markets.
The argument is that when people have money on the line and vote on a decison, the end result will be a more acuurate perdiction of any policy or result for that matter.
Now before you start mentioning the current problmes in the financial world, please not that a much longer argument exists for why those problmes do not undermine the concept of perdiction markets. I do not have time to go through it so here is the conclusion: the government causes financial markets to work improperly. Sorry I cannot be more explicative but I would start to ramble if I did.
But here is a site that actualy facilitates perdiction markets: http://www.intrade.com/
I’ll admit that I’ve not listened to the EconTalk podcast that you’re discussing here, but this:
“there would have to be some redistribution of wealth to help out those whose only current asset is their ability to sell their labor, but, really, if wealth is so abundant, surely we can work that out”
gave me a strong feeling that you might like to cover Marx in a future episode of PEL. A very basic understanding of Marx has certainly helped my understanding of the reasons why I’m obliged to sell my labour to feed my family.
I’m a recent subscriber to PEL, just on the Tractatus episodes. I love the selections you’ve made so far, maybe Marx is already on your list. Keep up the good work.
Seth Paskin says
Thanks Rinky, he’s on the list. Not sure yet how we are going to tackle Economics, but it’s looking more and more like we will hit Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and then Wealth of Nations before Marx.
“…any way that does not require Congress to do anything is going to be much easier.”
I was a bit startled to read that Mark L. ended this post on a conservative note! Will we hear a sympathetic note in future podcasts about the Tea Party?
Srsly, Econ Talk also has podcasts on Hayek and Mises that bracket this one, I would recommend them. Marx, to be sure, would be a podcast of interest. PEL would flush him out better than Melvyn Bragg did in his In Our Time BBC radio/podcast (still, a good one). I’d like to suggest Hayek to you guys even though I’m sure he wouldn’t much of a priority for PEL. Perhaps you guys will eventually drill down(up?) to him someday as PEL gets long in the tooth.
Long Live PEL!
that was way cool.. 🙂