Utopia scorned: The 21st Century Dark Age

Link to accompanying slides:

https://timeguide.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/the-new-dark-age.pdf

Eating an ice-cream and watching a squirrel on the feeder in our back garden makes me realize what a privileged life I lead. I have to work to pay the bills, but my work is not what my grandfather would have thought of as work, let alone my previous ancestors. Such a life is only possible because of the combined efforts of tens of thousands of preceding generations who struggled to make the world a slightly better place than they found it, meaning that with just a few years more effort, our generation has been able to create today’s world.

I appreciate the efforts of previous generations, rejoice in the start-point they left us, and try to play my small part in making it better still for those who follow. Next generations could continue such gains indefinitely, but that is not a certainty. Any generation can choose not to for whatever reasons. Analyzing the world and the direction of cultural evolution over recent years, I am no longer sure that the progress mankind has made to date is safe.

Futurists talk of weak signals, things that indicate change, but are too weak to be conclusive. The new dark age was a weak signal when I first wrote about it well over a decade ago. My more recent blog is already old: https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

Although it’s a good while since I last wrote about it, recent happenings have made me even more convinced of it. Even as raw data, connectivity and computational power becomes ever more abundant, the quality of what most people believe to be knowledge is falling, with data and facts filtered and modified to fit agendas. Social compliance enforces adherence to strict codes of political correctness, with its high priests ever more powerful as the historical proven foundations of real progress are eroded and discarded. Indoctrination appears to have replaced education, with a generation locked in to an intellectual prison, unable to dare to think outside it, forbidden to deviate from the group-think on pain of exile. As their generation take control, I fear progress won over millennia will back-slide badly. They and their children will miss out on utopia because they are unable to see it, it is hidden from them.

A potentially wonderful future awaits millennials. Superb technology could give them a near utopia, but only if they allow it to happen. They pore scorn on those who have gone before them, and reject their culture and accumulated wisdom replacing it with little more than ideology, putting theoretical models and dogma in place of reality. Castles built on sand will rarely survive. The sheer momentum of modernist thinking ensures that we continue to develop for some time yet, but will gradually approach a peak. After that we will see slowdown of overall progress as scientific development continues, but with the results owned and understood by a tinier and tinier minority of humans and an increasing amount of AI, with the rest of society living in a word they barely understand, following whatever is currently the most fashionable trend on a random walk and gradually replacing modernity with a dark age world of superstition, anti-knowledge and inquisitors. As AI gradually replaces scientists and engineers in professional roles, even the elite will start to become less and less well-informed on reality or how things work, reliant on machines to keep it all going. When the machines fail due to solar flares or more likely, inter-AI tribal conflict, few people will even understand that they have become H G Wells’ Eloi. They will just wonder why things have stopped and look for someone to blame, or wonder if a god may want a sacrifice. Alternatively, future tribes might use advanced technologies they don’t understand to annihilate each other.

It will be a disappointing ending if it goes either route, especially with a wonderful future on offer nearby, if only they’d gone down a different path. Sadly, it is not only possible but increasingly likely. All the wonderful futures I and other futurists have talked about depend on the same thing, that we proceed according to modernist processes that we know work. A generation who has been taught that they are old-fashioned and rejected them will not be able to reap the rewards.

I’ll follow this blog with a slide set that illustrates the problem.

Trump’s still an idiot but he was right to dump Paris

Climate change has always been in play. It is in play now. Many scientists think that the rise in global temperatures towards the end of the 1990s was largely due to human factors, namely CO2 emissions. Some of it undoubtedly is, but almost certainly nowhere near as much as these scientists believe. Because they put far too much emphasis on CO2 as the driving factor, almost as a meta religion, they downplay or refuse to acknowledge other important factors, such as long term ocean cycles, solar cycles, and poorly model forests and soil-air interchange. Because they rely on this one-factor-fits-all explanation for climate changing, they struggle to explain ‘the pause’ whereby temperatures leveled off even as CO2 levels continued to rise, and can’t explain why post El-Nino temperatures have now returned to that pause level. In short, their ‘science’ is nothing more than a weak set of theories very poorly correlating with observations.

A good scientist, when confronted with real world observations that conflict with their theory throws that theory in the bin and comes up with a better one. When a scientist’s comfy and lucrative job depends on their theory being correct, their response may not be to try to do better science that risks their project ending, but to hide facts, adjust and distort them, misrepresent them in graphs, draw false conclusions from falsified data to try to keep their messages of doom and their models’ predictions sounding plausible. Sadly, that does seem to me and very many other scientists to be what has been happening in so-called climate science. Many high quality scientists in the field have been forced to leave it, and many have had their papers rejected and their reputations attacked. The few brave honest scientists left in the field must put up with constant name-calling by peers whose livelihoods are threatened by honesty. Group-think has become established to the point where anyone not preaching the authorized climate change religion must be subjected to the Spanish Inquisition. Natural self-selection of new recruits into the field from greens and environmentalists mean that new members of the field will almost all follow the holy book. It is ironic that the Pope is on the side of these climate alarmists. Climate ‘science’ is simply no longer worthy of the name. ‘Climate change’ is now a meta-religion, and its messages of imminent doom and desperate demands for urgent wealth redistribution have merged almost fully into the political left. The right rejects it, the left accepts it. That isn’t science, it’s just politics.

Those of us outside the field have a hard time finding good science. There are plenty of blogs on both sides making scientific sounding arguments and showing nice graphs, but it is impossible for a scientist or engineer to look at it over time and not notice a pattern. Over the last decades, ‘climate scientists’ have made apocalyptic predictions in rapid succession, none of which seem ever to actually happen. Almost all of their computer models have consistently greatly overestimated the warming we should have seen by now, we should by now rarely see snow, and there should be no ice left in the Arctic. Sea levels should be far higher than they are too. Arctic ice is slightly below average, much the same as a decade ago. Polar bears are more abundant than for several decades. A couple of years ago we had record ice in the antarctic. Sea level is still rising at about the same rate as it has for the last 100s of years. Greenland is building more ice mass than ever. Every time there is a strong wind we’re told about climate change, but we rarely see any mention of the fastest drop in temperatures on record after the recent El-Nino, the great polar bear recovery or the record Antarctic ice when that happened. It is a one way street of doom that hides facts that don’t play to the hymn book.

In a private industry, at least in ones that aren’t making profits from climate change alarmism or renewable energy, like Elon Musk’s car, solar power and battery companies for example (do you think that might be why he is upset with Trump), scientists as bad as that would have lost their jobs many years ago. Most climate scientists work in state-funded institutions or universities and both tend towards left wing politics of course, so it is not surprising that they have left wing bias distorting their prejudices and consequently their theories and proposed solutions.

Grants are handed out by politicians, who want to look good and win votes, so are always keen to follow policies that are popular in the media. Very few politicians have any scientific understanding, so they are easily hoodwinked by simple manipulation of graphs whereby trends are always shown with the start point at the beginning of the last upwards incline, and where data is routinely changed to fit the message of doom. Few politicians can understand the science and few challenge why data has been changed or hidden. A strong community of religious followers is happy to eagerly and endlessly repeat fraudulent claims such as that “97% of scientists agree…”, mudslinging at anyone who disagrees.

Even if the doom was all true, Paris was still a very bad idea. Even if CO2 were as bad as claimed, the best response to that is to work out realistically how much CO2 is likely to be produced in the future, how fast alternative energy sources could become economic, which ones give the best value per CO2 unit until we get those economic replacements, and to formulate a sensible plan that maximizes bang per buck to ensure that the climate stays OK while spending at the right times to keep on track at the lowest cost. In my 2007 paper, I pointed out that CO2 will decline anyway once photo-voltaic solar becomes cheap enough, as it will even without any government action at all. I pointed out that it makes far more sense to save our pennies until it is cheaper and then get far more in place far faster, for the same spend, thereby still fixing the problem but at far lower costs. Instead, idiotic governments in Europe and especially the UK (and now today May vowing to continue such idiocy) have crippled households with massive subsidies to rich landowners to put renewable energy in place while it is still very expensive, with guarantees to those rich investors of high incomes for decades. The fiasco with subsidizing wood burning in Northern Ireland shows the enormous depths of government stupidity in these area, with some farmers making millions by wasting as much heat as they possibly could to maximize their subsidy incomes. That shows without any doubt the numerical and scientific public-sector illiteracy in play. Via other subsidies for wind, solar, wave and tidal systems, eEvery UK household will have to pay several hundreds of pounds more every year for energy, just so that a negligible impact on temperatures starts to occur neglibly earlier. Large numbers of UK jobs have already been lost to overseas from energy intensive industries. Those activities still occur, the CO2 is still produced, often with far lower environmental and employment standards. No Gain, lots of pain.

Enormous economic damage for almost zero benefit is not good government. A good leader would investigate the field until they could at least see there was still a lot of scientific debate about the facts and causes. A good leader would suspect the motivations of those manipulating data and showing misrepresentative graphs. A good leader would tell them to come back with unbiased data and unbiased graphs and honest theories or be dismissed. Trump has already taken the first step by calling a halt to the stupidity of ‘all pain for no gain’. He now needs to tackle NASA and NOAA and find a solution to get honest science reinstated in what were once credible and respected organisations. That honest science needs to follow up suggestions that because of solar activity reducing, we may in fact be heading into a prolonged period of cooling, as suggested by teams in Europe and Russia. At the very least, that might prevent the idiots currently planning to start geoengineering to reduce temperature to counteract catastrophic global warming, just as nature takes us into a cooling phase. Such mistimed stupidity could kick-start a new ice age. To remind you, climate scientists 45 years ago were warning that we were heading into an ice age and wanted to cover the arctic with black carbon to prevent runaway ice formation.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas. So is methane. We certainly should keep a watch on emissions and study the climate constantly to check that everything is OK. But that must be done by good scientists practicing actual science, whereby theories are changed to fit the observations, not the other way around. We should welcome development of solar power and storage solutions by companies like Musk’s, but there is absolutely no hurry and no need to subsidize any of that activity. Free market economics will give us cheap renewable energy regardless of government intervention, regardless of subsidy.

We didn’t need Kyoto and we didn’t need Paris. Kyoto didn’t work anyway and Paris causes economic redistribution and a great deal of wastage of money and resources, but no significant climate benefit. We certainly don’t want any more pain for no gain. It is right that we should still help poor countries to the very best of our ability, but we should do that without conflating science with religion and politics.

Trump may still be an idiot, but he was right on this occasion and should now follow on by fixing climate science. May should follow and take the UK out of the climate alarmist damage zone too. Making people poor or jobless for no good reason is not something I can vote for.

AI Activism Part 2: The libel fields

This follows directly from my previous blog on AI activism, but you can read that later if you haven’t already. Order doesn’t matter.

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/05/29/ai-and-activism-a-terminator-sized-threat-targeting-you-soon/

Older readers will remember an emotionally powerful 1984 film called The Killing Fields, set against the backdrop of the Khmer Rouge’s activity in Cambodia, aka the Communist Part of Kampuchea. Under Pol Pot, the Cambodian genocide of 2 to 3 million people was part of a social engineering policy of de-urbanization. People were tortured and murdered (some in the ‘killing fields’ near Phnom Penh) for having connections with former government of foreign governments, for being the wrong race, being ‘economic saboteurs’ or simply for being professionals or intellectuals .

You’re reading this, therefore you fit in at least the last of these groups and probably others, depending on who’s making the lists. Most people don’t read blogs but you do. Sorry, but that makes you a target.

As our social divide increases at an accelerating speed throughout the West, so the choice of weapons is moving from sticks and stones or demonstrations towards social media character assassination, boycotts and forced dismissals.

My last blog showed how various technology trends are coming together to make it easier and faster to destroy someone’s life and reputation. Some of that stuff I was writing about 20 years ago, such as virtual communities lending hardware to cyber-warfare campaigns, other bits have only really become apparent more recently, such as the deliberate use of AI to track personality traits. This is, as I wrote, a lethal combination. I left a couple of threads untied though.

Today, the big AI tools are owned by the big IT companies. They also own the big server farms on which the power to run the AI exists. The first thread I neglected to mention is that Google have made their AI an open source activity. There are lots of good things about that, but for the purposes of this blog, that means that the AI tools required for AI activism will also be largely public, and pressure groups and activist can use them as a start-point for any more advanced tools they want to make, or just use them off-the-shelf.

Secondly, it is fairly easy to link computers together to provide an aggregated computing platform. The SETI project was the first major proof of concept of that ages ago. Today, we take peer to peer networks for granted. When the activist group is ‘the liberal left’ or ‘the far right’, that adds up to a large number of machines so the power available for any campaign is notionally very large. Harnessing it doesn’t need IT skill from contributors. All they’d need to do is click a box on a email or tweet asking for their support for a campaign.

In our new ‘post-fact’, fake news era, all sides are willing and able to use social media and the infamous MSM to damage the other side. Fakes are becoming better. Latest AI can imitate your voice, a chat-bot can decide what it should say after other AI has recognized what someone has said and analysed the opportunities to ruin your relationship with them by spoofing you. Today, that might not be quite credible. Give it a couple more years and you won’t be able to tell. Next generation AI will be able to spoof your face doing the talking too.

AI can (and will) evolve. Deep learning researchers have been looking deeply at how the brain thinks, how to make neural networks learn better and to think better, how to design the next generation to be even smarter than humans could have designed it.

As my friend and robotic psychiatrist Joanne Pransky commented after my first piece, “It seems to me that the real challenge of AI is the human users, their ethics and morals (Their ‘HOS’ – Human Operating System).” Quite! Each group will indoctrinate their AI to believe their ethics and morals are right, and that the other lot are barbarians. Even evolutionary AI is not immune to religious or ideological bias as it evolves. Superhuman AI will be superhuman, but might believe even more strongly in a cause than humans do. You’d better hope the best AI is on your side.

AI can put articles, blogs and tweets out there, pretending to come from you or your friends, colleagues or contacts. They can generate plausible-sounding stories of what you’ve done or said, spoof emails in fake accounts using your ID to prove them.

So we’ll likely see activist AI armies set against each other, running on peer to peer processing clouds, encrypted to hell and back to prevent dismantling. We’ve all thought about cyber-warfare, but we usually only think about viruses or keystroke recorders, or more lately, ransom-ware. These will still be used too as small weapons in future cyber-warfare, but while losing files or a few bucks from an account is a real nuisance, losing your reputation, having it smeared all over the web, with all your contacts being told what you’ve done or said, and shown all the evidence, there is absolutely no way you could possible explain your way convincingly out of every one of those instances. Mud does stick, and if you throw tons of it, even if most is wiped off, much will remain. Trust is everything, and enough doubt cast will eventually erode it.

So, we’ve seen  many times through history the damage people are willing to do to each other in pursuit of their ideology. The Khmer Rouge had their killing fields. As political divide increases and battles become fiercer, the next 10 years will give us The Libel Fields.

You are an intellectual. You are one of the targets.

Oh dear!

 

AI and activism, a Terminator-sized threat targeting you soon

You should be familiar with the Terminator scenario. If you aren’t then you should watch one of the Terminator series of films because you really should be aware of it. But there is another issue related to AI that is arguably as dangerous as the Terminator scenario, far more likely to occur and is a threat in the near term. What’s even more dangerous is that in spite of that, I’ve never read anything about it anywhere yet. It seems to have flown under our collective radar and is already close.

In short, my concern is that AI is likely to become a heavily armed Big Brother. It only requires a few components to come together that are already well in progress. Read this, and if you aren’t scared yet, read it again until you understand it 🙂

Already, social media companies are experimenting with using AI to identify and delete ‘hate’ speech. Various governments have asked them to do this, and since they also get frequent criticism in the media because some hate speech still exists on their platforms, it seems quite reasonable for them to try to control it. AI clearly offers potential to offset the huge numbers of humans otherwise needed to do the task.

Meanwhile, AI is already used very extensively by the same companies to build personal profiles on each of us, mainly for advertising purposes. These profiles are already alarmingly comprehensive, and increasingly capable of cross-linking between our activities across multiple platforms and devices. Latest efforts by Google attempt to link eventual purchases to clicks on ads. It will be just as easy to use similar AI to link our physical movements and activities and future social connections and communications to all such previous real world or networked activity. (Update: Intel intend their self-driving car technology to be part of a mass surveillance net, again, for all the right reasons: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4564480/Self-driving-cars-double-security-cameras.html)

Although necessarily secretive about their activities, government also wants personal profiles on its citizens, always justified by crime and terrorism control. If they can’t do this directly, they can do it via legislation and acquisition of social media or ISP data.

Meanwhile, other experiences with AI chat-bots learning to mimic human behaviors have shown how easily AI can be gamed by human activists, hijacking or biasing learning phases for their own agendas. Chat-bots themselves have become ubiquitous on social media and are often difficult to distinguish from humans. Meanwhile, social media is becoming more and more important throughout everyday life, with provably large impacts in political campaigning and throughout all sorts of activism.

Meanwhile, some companies have already started using social media monitoring to police their own staff, in recruitment, during employment, and sometimes in dismissal or other disciplinary action. Other companies have similarly started monitoring social media activity of people making comments about them or their staff. Some claim to do so only to protect their own staff from online abuse, but there are blurred boundaries between abuse, fair criticism, political difference or simple everyday opinion or banter.

Meanwhile, activists increasingly use social media to force companies to sack a member of staff they disapprove of, or drop a client or supplier.

Meanwhile, end to end encryption technology is ubiquitous. Malware creation tools are easily available.

Meanwhile, successful hacks into large company databases become more and more common.

Linking these various elements of progress together, how long will it be before activists are able to develop standalone AI entities and heavily encrypt them before letting them loose on the net? Not long at all I think.  These AIs would search and police social media, spotting people who conflict with the activist agenda. Occasional hacks of corporate databases will provide names, personal details, contacts. Even without hacks, analysis of publicly available data going back years of everyone’s tweets and other social media entries will provide the lists of people who have ever done or said anything the activists disapprove of.

When identified, they would automatically activate armies of chat-bots, fake news engines and automated email campaigns against them, with coordinated malware attacks directly on the person and indirect attacks by communicating with employers, friends, contacts, government agencies customers and suppliers to do as much damage as possible to the interests of that person.

Just look at the everyday news already about alleged hacks and activities during elections and referendums by other regimes, hackers or pressure groups. Scale that up and realize that the cost of running advanced AI is negligible.

With the very many activist groups around, many driven with extremist zeal, very many people will find themselves in the sights of one or more activist groups. AI will be able to monitor everyone, all the time.  AI will be able to target each of them at the same time to destroy each of their lives, anonymously, highly encrypted, hidden, roaming from server to server to avoid detection and annihilation, once released, impossible to retrieve. The ultimate activist weapon, that carries on the fight even if the activist is locked away.

We know for certain the depths and extent of activism, the huge polarization of society, the increasingly fierce conflict between left and right, between sexes, races, ideologies.

We know about all the nice things AI will give us with cures for cancer, better search engines, automation and economic boom. But actually, will the real future of AI be harnessed to activism? Will deliberate destruction of people’s everyday lives via AI be a real problem that is almost as dangerous as Terminator, but far more feasible and achievable far earlier?

Medic or futurist – A personal history

This article is autobiographical drivel and nothing to do with the future. Read on only if you are bored enough.

I sometimes wanted to be a doctor when I was young, but when I was 17, I looked about 12, and realised that I would probably look about 16 by the time I graduated, and that, believe it or not, is one of the two main reasons I chose to study Physics and Maths at university rather than medicine. (I was proved right – I was last asked what age I was getting on a bus when I was 22, the child discount ending only when you hit 16, and I was last turned away from a night club for being under 18 when I was 25). The 2nd main reason was that although I was reasonably bright, my memory was rubbish, and while Physics and Maths rewards intellect, medicine rewards memory.

I do like to read medical articles occasionally, even if the microbiology and chemistry side of it often leaves me bored. However, I’ve also invented quite a few things in the medical space, so I do find it fun sometimes too.

A few days ago I was very pleased with myself after reading an article on the wondrous properties of Marmite, suspected to increase GABA levels in the brain, and since it mentioned poor memory, anxiety and overactive neurons, some quick Googling then linked that to both epilepsy and childhood febrile seizure.

Suddenly a lot of my family history fell neatly into place. I had such a seizure followed by a coma apparently when my parents cruelly abandoned me screaming at a Scottish petrol station because they counted their kids wrongly. The last thing I recall is their car disappearing into the distance. They did eventually come back for me, but the damage was done. According to google, or rather one of the articles it showed me, these seizures damage the hippocampus, causing lasting problems with memory, and I’ve always had problems memorising stuff. So my first major conclusion from my Googling is that my poor memory was likely caused by my parents abandoning me at the petrol station, and that then caused me to choose Physics and Maths degree, end up as a systems engineer and then a futurologist.  So, I am a futurist and not a doctor, because I was abandoned as a child. Hmmm!

Low GABA levels that make kids susceptible to that also cause hyperactive neurons that don’t stop firing properly and cause anxiety, which I and many others in my clan suffer from. I suffer a lot of neural noise, making it hard to play musical instruments because of unwanted signals, hard to settle and relax, hard to ever feel calm, very often feeling unsettled and anxious for no reason. It also links to epilepsy and to transient ischemic attacks and strokes, more family history and again to myself – I had a suspected TIA 3 years ago. On the upside, I do wonder whether that hyperactive neural firing isn’t one of the main reasons why my brain often works well at making cross-links between concepts and imagination-related tasks generally. Or that could be one of the other effects of low GABA, the inefficient neural pruning in teen years that normally should channel the brain into narrowed but more stable thinking processes. That would even explain why I am still waiting to group up, at 56!

As a result of that article, I have eaten a dose of Marmite religiously every single day since I managed to get some, for two days now! It is probably too early to tell if there are any major benefits, though I can already confirm that it doesn’t taste as nice if you eat a teaspoonful straight off the teaspoon rather than on toast.

Google isn’t perfect by a long way, but its search engine makes up for a multitude of sins. My conclusions above might be rubbish, but it was fun coming up with them anyway.

Time moves on. I was just having my daily look at phys.org, a great website that has links to many interesting recent articles across science, and it mentioned that celiac disease (coeliac disease in UK) may be caused by a virus. I know a few people with that, but I don’t. However, a long time ago, in 1989 I did have cancer, a rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma, and I am grateful to be one of the 65% survivors. Because it was rare, with just a few cases a year in the UK, not much was known about it at the time, but it had already been suspected that it might be triggered by a severe trauma or a virus. So, having had my memory triggered by the phys.org article, I checked up to see if there had ever been much progress on that, and yes, it is now known that it is caused by the HTLV-1 virus. (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304341/)

So, I wondered, how did I get it, since Google says it is apparently almost unheard of in native Europeans. That connects to the other suspected cause, trauma. When I was a young man, I was badly injured in a motorbike accident, and my GP later suggested that might possibly have caused the cancer, but he was wrong. The connection wasn’t the trauma itself, but the virus, the infection route being that during my treatment for that trauma, I received several pints of blood, the only mechanism possible for me personally getting the virus. I could not have been infected via the other mechanisms.

So now I know that I must have received contaminated blood and that is what later caused my cancer, though in fairness to the Belfast City Hospital, they could not have known about that at the time so I won’t sue. (I’ll also generously overlook the fact that the Staff Nurse (let’s just call her Elizabeth) tied my traction so wrongly that it was prevented from applying tension to my leg, and it was only corrected weeks later when I was sentient again and complained and finally got someone to fix it, resulting in my left leg being permanently 4cm shorter than my right leg.)

Reading still further, it turns out that HTLV-1 was almost unheard of in native Europeans, therefore it must have been blood from a donor of foreign origin. 1983 Belfast had very few people from the regions most likely to carry the virus – sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Caribbean and a few parts of Japan – so few in fact, that it would very likely be possible to check the blood donor records from that period and infer exactly whose blood it would have been. It is possible they are still alive, still a blood donor, still infecting people with HTLV-1 and up to 1 in 25 of the recipients developing a T-cell lymphoma. On the other hand, since I had cancer, I have been banned from being a blood or bone marrow donor, which I now know actually does make perfect sense.

But hang on, I had my motorbike accident while travelling to work, as an engineer. If I had done a medicine degree, I wouldn’t have been on that road, I’d have been in medical school. So I wouldn’t have needed the blood, wouldn’t have been infected with the virus, and wouldn’t have later got cancer.

So, a fascinating week for me. Several personal and family medical mysteries that our GPs don’t have time or inclination to look into have been solved by two random press articles and the google searches they triggered.

Thanks to two ordinary press articles I now know that something as everyday and trivial as my mother not checking her toddler was in the car before they drove away caused me to be a futurist, via becoming an engineer and having a crash that left me permanently disfigured and later led to cancer. On the fun side, I can solve some everyday issues by eating Marmite, but doing so might adversely affect my thinking process and make me less creative. What a week!

AI is mainly a stimulative technology that will create jobs

AI has been getting a lot of bad press the last few months from doom-mongers predicting mass unemployment. Together with robotics, AI will certainly help automate a lot of jobs, but it will also create many more and will greatly increase quality of life for most people. By massively increasing the total effort available to add value to basic resources, it will increase the size of the economy and if that is reasonably well managed by governments, that will be for all our benefit. Those people who do lose their jobs and can’t find or create a new one could easily be supported by a basic income financed by economic growth. In short, unless government screws up, AI will bring huge benefits, far exceeding the problems it will bring.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve often written about the care economy, where the more advanced technology becomes, the more it allows to concentrate on those skills we consider fundamentally human – caring, interpersonal skills, direct human contact services, leadership, teaching, sport, the arts, the sorts of roles that need emphatic and emotional skills, or human experience. AI and robots can automate intellectual and physical tasks, but they won’t be human, and some tasks require the worker to be human. Also, in most careers, it is obvious that people focus less and less on those automatable tasks as they progress into the most senior roles. Many board members in big companies know little about the industry they work in compared to most of their lower paid workers, but they can do that job because being a board member is often more about relationships than intellect.

AI will nevertheless automate many tasks for many workers, and that will free up much of their time, increasing their productivity, which means we need fewer workers to do those jobs. On the other hand, Google searches that take a few seconds once took half a day of research in a library. We all do more with our time now thanks to such simple AI, and although all those half-days saved would add up to a considerable amount of saved work, and many full-time job equivalents, we don’t see massive unemployment. We’re all just doing better work. So we can’t necessarily conclude that increasing productivity will automatically mean redundancy. It might just mean that we will do even more, even better, like it has so far. Or at least, the volume of redundancy might be considerably less. New automated companies might never employ people in those roles and that will be straight competition between companies that are heavily automated and others that aren’t. Sometimes, but certainly not always, that will mean traditional companies will go out of business.

So although we can be sure that AI and robots will bring some redundancy in some sectors, I think the volume is often overestimated and often it will simply mean rapidly increasing productivity, and more prosperity.

But what about AI’s stimulative role? Jobs created by automation and AI. I believe this is what is being greatly overlooked by doom-mongers. There are three primary areas of job creation:

One is in building or programming robots, maintaining them, writing software, or teaching them skills, along with all the associated new jobs in supporting industry and infrastructure change. Many such jobs will be temporary, lasting a decade or so as machines gradually take over, but that transition period is extremely valuable and important. If anything, it will be a lengthy period of extra jobs and the biggest problem may well be filling those jobs, not widespread redundancy.

Secondly, AI and robots won’t always work direct with customers. Very often they will work via a human intermediary. A good example is in medicine. AI can make better diagnoses than a GP, and could be many times cheaper, but unless the patient is educated, and very disciplined and knowledgeable, it also needs a human with human skills to talk to a patient to make sure they put in correct information. How many times have you looked at an online medical diagnosis site and concluded you have every disease going? It is hard to be honest sometimes when you are free to interpret every possible symptom any way you want, much easier to want to be told that you have a special case of wonderful person syndrome. Having to explain to a nurse or technician what is wrong forces you to be more honest about it. They can ask you similar questions, but your answers will need to be moderated and sensible or you know they might challenge you and make you feel foolish. You will get a good diagnosis because the input data will be measured, normalized and scaled appropriately for the AI using it. When you call a call center and talk to a human, invariably they are already the front end of a massive AI system. Making that AI bigger and better won’t replace them, just mean that they can deal with your query better.

Thirdly, and I believe most importantly of all, AI and automation will remove many of the barriers that stop people being entrepreneurs. How many business ideas have you had and not bothered to implement because it was too much effort or cost or both for too uncertain a gain? 10? 100? 1000? Suppose you could just explain your idea to your home AI and it did it all for you. It checked the idea, made a model, worked out how to make it work or whether it was just a crap idea. It then explained to you what the options were and whether it would be likely to work, and how much you might earn from it, and how much you’d actually have to do personally and how much you could farm out to the cloud. Then AI checked all the costs and legal issues, did all the admin, raised the capital by explaining the idea and risks and costs to other AIs, did all the legal company setup, organised the logistics, insurance, supply chains, distribution chains, marketing, finance, personnel, ran the payroll and tax. All you’d have to do is some of the fun work that you wanted to do when you had the idea and it would find others or machines or AI to fill in the rest. In that sort of world, we’d all be entrepreneurs. I’d have a chain of tea shops and a fashion empire and a media empire and run an environmental consultancy and I’d be an artist and a designer and a composer and a genetic engineer and have a transport company and a construction empire. I don’t do any of that because I’m lazy and not at all entrepreneurial, and my ideas all ‘need work’ and the economy isn’t smooth and well run, and there are too many legal issues and regulations and it would all be boring as hell. If we automate it and make it run efficiently, and I could get as much AI assistance as I need or want at every stage, then there is nothing to stop me doing all of it. I’d create thousands of jobs, and so would many other people, and there would be more jobs than we have people to fill them, so we’d need to build even more AI and machines to fill the gaps caused by the sudden economic boom.

So why the doom? It isn’t justified. The bad news isn’t as bad as people make out, and the good news never gets a mention. Adding it together, AI will stimulate more jobs, create a bigger and a better economy, we’ll be doing far more with our lives and generally having a great time. The few people who will inevitably fall through the cracks could easily be financed by the far larger economy and the very generous welfare it can finance. We can all have the universal basic income as our safety net, but many of us will be very much wealthier and won’t need it.

 

Explaining accelerating universe expansion without dark energy

I am not the only ex-physicist that doesn’t believe in dark matter or dark energy, or multiple universes. All of these are theoretically possible interpretations of the maths, but I do not believe they are interpretations appropriate to our universe. Like the concept of the ether, I expect they will be shown to be incorrect and replaced by explanations that don’t need such concepts.

There are already explanations for accelerating expansion that don’t rely on dark energy, such as relativity: https://astronomynow.com/2015/01/05/dark-energy-explained-by-relativistic-time-dilation/ (the title is confusing since the article explains why it isn’t needed).

My theory is even simpler and probably not original, but I can’t find any references to it on the first two pages of Google so either it’s novel or so wrong that it doesn’t even warrant mentions. Anyway, here it is, make up your own mind, it doesn’t even need equations to explain it:

As galaxies get further apart, the various field fluxes reduce with the square of distance – gravitational, electromagnetic, and so must the intergalactic portion of the Higgs flux. The Higgs field is what gives particles their mass. As the Higgs field declines, the mass of the particles in each galaxy must therefore drop too. If energy is to be conserved, then as mass declines, Galaxy speed must increase linearly with distance, as is the observation. QED.

Google v Facebook – which contributes most to humanity?

Please don’t take this too seriously, it’s intended as just a bit of fun. All of it is subjective and just my personal opinion of the two companies.

Google’s old motto of ‘do no evil’ has taken quite a battering over the last few years, but my overall feeling towards them remains somewhat positive overall. Facebook’s reputation has also become muddied somewhat, but I’ve never been an active user and always found it supremely irritating when I’ve visited to change privacy preferences or read a post only available there, so I guess I am less positive towards them. I only ever post to Facebook indirectly via this blog and twitter. On the other hand, both companies do a lot of good too. It is impossible to infer good or bad intent because end results arise from a combination of intent and many facets of competence such as quality of insight, planning, competence, maintenance, response to feedback and many others. So I won’t try to differentiate intent from competence and will just stick to casual amateur observation of the result. In order to facilitate score-keeping of the value of their various acts, I’ll use a scale from very harmful to very beneficial, -10 to +10.

Google (I can’t bring myself to discuss Alphabet) gave us all an enormous gift of saved time, improved productivity and better self-fulfilment by effectively replacing a day in the library with a 5 second online search. We can all do far more and live richer lives as a result. They have continued to build on that since, adding extra features and improved scope. It’s far from perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than we had before. Score: +10

Searches give Google a huge and growing data pool covering the most intimate details of every aspect of our everyday lives. You sort of trust them not to blackmail you or trash your life, but you know they could. The fact remains that they actually haven’t. It is possible that they might be waiting for the right moment to destroy the world, but it seems unlikely. Taking all our intimate data but choosing not to end the world yet: Score +9

On the other hand, they didn’t do either of those things purely through altruism. We all pay a massive price: advertising. Advertising is like a tax. Almost every time you buy something, part of the price you pay goes to advertisers. I say almost because Futurizon has never paid a penny yet for advertising and yet we have sold lots, and I assume that many other organisations can say the same, but most do advertise, and altogether that siphons a huge amount from our economy. Google takes lots of advertising revenue, but if they didn’t take it, other advertisers would, so I can only give a smallish negative for that: Score -3

That isn’t the only cost though. We all spend very significant time getting rid of ads, wasting time by clicking on them, finding, downloading and configuring ad-blockers to stop them, re-configuring them to get entry to sites that try to stop us from using ad-blockers, and often paying per MB for unsolicited ad downloads to our mobiles. I don’t need to quantify that to give all that a score of -9.

They are still 7 in credit so they can’t moan too much.

Tax? They seem quite good at minimizing their tax contributions, while staying within the letter of the law, while also paying good lawyers to argue what the letter of the law actually says. Well, most of us try at least a bit to avoid paying taxes we don’t have to pay. Google claims to be doing us all a huge favor by casting light on the gaping holes in international tax law that let them do it, much like a mugger nicely shows you the consequences of inadequate police coverage by enthusiastically mugging you. Noting the huge economic problems caused across the world by global corporates paying far less tax than would seem reasonable to the average small-business-owner, I can’t honestly see how this could live comfortably with their do-no evil mantra. Score: -8

On the other hand, if they paid all that tax, we all know governments would cheerfully waste most of it. Instead, Google chooses to do some interesting things with it. They gave us Google Earth, which at least morally cancels out their ‘accidental’ uploading of everyone’s wireless data as their street-view cars went past.They have developed self-driving cars. They have bought and helped develop Deep-mind and their quantum computer. They have done quite a bit for renewable energy. They have spent some on high altitude communications planes supposedly to bring internet to the rural parts of the developing world. When I were a lad, I wanted to be a rich bastard so I could do all that. Now, I watch as the wealthy owners of these big companies do it instead. I am fairly happy with that. I get the results and didn’t have to make the effort. We get less tax, but at least we get some nice toys. Almost cancels. Score +6

They are trying to use their AI to analyse massive data pools of medical records to improve medicine. Score +2

They are also building their databases more while doing that but we don’t yet see the downside. We have to take what they are doing on trust until evidence shows otherwise.

Google has tried and failed at many things that were going to change the world and didn’t, but at least they tried. Most of us don’t even try. Score +2

Oh yes, they bought YouTube, so I should factor that in. Mostly harmless and can be fun. Score: +2

Almost forgot Gmail too. Score +3

I’m done. Total Google contribution to humanity: +14

Well done! Could do even better.

I’ve almost certainly overlooked some big pluses and minuses, but I’ll leave it here for now.

Now Facebook.

It’s obviously a good social network site if you want that sort of thing. It lets people keep in touch with each other, find old friends and make new ones. It lets others advertise their products and services, and others to find or spread news. That’s all well and good and even if I and many other people don’t want it, many others do, so it deserves a good score, even if it isn’t as fantastic as Google’s search, that almost everyone uses, all the time. Score +5

Connected, but separate from simply keeping in touch, is the enormous pleasure value people presumably get from socializing. Not me personally, but ‘people’. Score +8

On the downside: Quite a lot of problems result from people, especially teens, spending too much time on Facebook. I won’t reproduce the results of all the proper academic  studies here, but we’ve all seen various negative reports: people get lower grades in their exams, people get bullied, people become socially competitive – boasting about their successes while other people feel insecure or depressed when others seem to be doing better, or are prettier, or have more friends. Keeping in touch is good, but cutting bits off others’ egos to build your own isn’t. It is hard not to conclude that the negative uses of keeping in touch outweigh the positive ones. Long-lived bad-feelings outweigh short-lived ego-boosts. Score: -8

Within a few years of birth, Facebook evolved from a keeping-in-touch platform to a general purpose mini-web. Many people were using Facebook to do almost everything that others would do on the entire web. Being in a broom cupboard is fine for 5 minutes if you’re playing hide and seek, but it is not desirable as a permanent state. Still, it is optional, so isn’t that bad per se: Score: -3

In the last 2 or 3 years, it has evolved further, albeit probably unintentionally, to become a political bubble, as has become very obvious in Brexit and the US Presidential Election, though it was already apparent well before those. Facebook may not have caused the increasing divide we are seeing between left and right, across the whole of the West, but it amplifies it. Again, I am not implying any intent, just observing the result. Most people follow people and media that echoes their own value judgments. They prefer resonance to dissonance. They prefer to have their views reaffirmed than to be disputed. When people find a comfortable bubble where they feel they belong, and stay there, it is easy for tribalism to take root and flourish, with demonization of the other not far behind. We are now seeing that in our bathtub society, with two extremes and a rapidly shallowing in-between that was not long ago the vast majority. Facebook didn’t create human nature; rather, it is a victim of it, but nonetheless it provides a near-monopoly social network that facilitates such political bubbles and their isolation while doing far too little to encourage integration in spite of its plentiful resources. Dangerous and Not Good. Score -10

On building databases of details of our innermost lives, managing not to use the data to destroy our lives but instead only using it to sell ads, they compare with Google. I’ll score that the same total for the same reasons: Net Score -3

Tax? Quantities are different, but eagerness to avoid tax seems similar to Google. Principles matter. So same score: -8

Assorted messaging qualifies as additional to the pure social networking side I think so I’ll generously give them an extra bit for that: Score +2

They occasionally do good things with it like Google though. They also are developing a high altitude internet, and are playing with space exploration. Tiny bit of AI stuff, but not much else has crossed my consciousness. I think it is far less than Google but still positive, so I’ll score: +3

I honestly can’t think of any other significant contributions from Facebook to make the balance more positive, and I tried. I think they want to make a positive contribution, but are too focused on income to tackle the social negatives properly.

Total Facebook contribution to humanity: -14.

Oh dear! Must do better.

Conclusion: We’d be a lot worse off without Google. Even with their faults, they still make a great contribution to humankind. Maybe not quite a ‘do no evil’ rating, but certainly they qualify for ‘do net good’. On the other hand, sadly, I have to say that my analysis suggests we’d be a lot better off without Facebook. As much better off without them as we benefit by having Google.

If I have left something major out, good or bad, for either company please feel free to add your comments. I have deliberately left out their backing of their own political leanings and biases because whether you think they are good or bad depends where you are coming from. They’d only score about +/-3 anyway, which isn’t a game changer.

 

 

Future sex, gender and relationships: how close can you get?

Using robots for gender play

Using robots for gender play

I recently gave a public talk at the British Academy about future sex, gender, and relationship, asking the question “How close can you get?”, considering particularly the impact of robots. The above slide is an example. People will one day (between 2050 and 2065 depending on their budget) be able to use an android body as their own or even swap bodies with another person. Some will do so to be young again, many will do so to swap gender. Lots will do both. I often enjoy playing as a woman in computer games, so why not ‘come back’ and live all over again as a woman for real? Except I’ll be 90 in 2050.

The British Academy kindly uploaded the audio track from my talk at

If you want to see the full presentation, here is the PowerPoint file as a pdf:

sex-and-robots-british-academy

I guess it is theoretically possible to listen to the audio while reading the presentation. Most of the slides are fairly self-explanatory anyway.

Needless to say, the copyright of the presentation belongs to me, so please don’t reproduce it without permission.

Enjoy.

Christmas in 2040

I am cheating with this post, since I did a newspaper interview that writes up some of my ideas and will save time rewriting it all. Here’s a link:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/2454633/dinner-cooked-by-robots-no-wrapping-paper-and-video-make-up-for-the-office-party-this-is-what-christmas-will-look-like-in-2040-according-to-futurologist-dr-ian-pearson/

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.