Sunday, December 28, 2014

Choices for rent | Thought experiment

The Three Breakthroughs That Have Finally Unleashed AI on the World | WIRED:

'via Blog this'

Continued from: Choices for rent

This is a bit of a Gedankenexperiment concerning the nature of technological revolutions and the future of employment.

You find yourself in Great Britain sometime in the mid 1800s. You're trying to explain the concept of what a computer game developer does to a soot-faced miner fresh from the coal pits. You're doing this because the miner has asked about his descendants. In the present, your point of origin, that would be his great, great, great grandson, the developer.

Can you pull it off? Not just tell him what a computer game is, but get the miner to understand what a game developer does? Just how many basic concepts do you need to convey to do that? How many ideas underlie what a computer is, what people use them for, and what a first person shooter or real time strategy game is, let alone the generalities of how someone actually makes a living working with software abstractactions that are almost theological in their degree of removal from the physical world.

How many conversations would this take? How many digressions into related topics such as, electricity, simulations, and programming languages? What about the very nature of a society that supports gamers and developers? Imagine explaining to the miner that ordinary workers in 2015 have a dozen or more hours of potential leisure time each week. Could you convince a man who works twelve-hour days for months at a time that this is true?

Bear in mind you're trying convey all of this to an inquisitive, but unlettered individual who started his working life as a farmer laboring in fresh air under the open sky. Who, like so many others, now lives in a squalid tenement and works in a uniquely claustrophobic hell beneath the earth. All to provide fuel to factories that are slowly transforming every aspect of life, from clothing, food, the nature of work, gender relations, education, and the practice of religious faith. This change includes the famous "annihilation of space" brought about by the coming of rail roads and telegraphs.

Between this miner and his great, great, great grandson in present day East London -- the descendant downing espressos at his ergonomic workstation in a climate-controlled office -- lie almost two centuries of transformations. Radical social movements, cataclysmic wars of staggering size, European colonial imperialism, regulatory implementation, labor reform, and the emergence of weapons of mass destruction poised on a hair-trigger alert that continually threaten humanity's existence for half a century.

The Event Horizon of Futurism?

Now imagine you're in an East London cafe having coffee with the game developer's great, great granddaughter who's traveled back from 2215. Gratified by your enthusiasm for relating her family's history, she is patiently trying to describe the basic concepts underlying her work in a field that doesn't exist yet by your frame of reference. Employment and a mode of labor that depend on the emergence of industries founded on scientific and engineering concepts yet to be formulated. 

What kind of new mode of employment? Maybe something like machine-mediated periods of lucid dreaming that allow her to create efficient and intuitive data architectures for whole bodies of knowledge, any one of which dwarfs the sum total of all accumulated human knowledge in our present. That, and she can create a complete set of such functional structures in the course of a single work week. 

Or maybe working with data on a scale that beggars our imagination falls woefully short of what she actually does. Perhaps she deliberately dream-generates libraries of novel space-times. The differences between these continua create forms of information potentials, the uses of which are beyond the ability of un-enhanced baseline humanity to comprehend, let alone work with.

Between her time and yours are vast social upheavals and wholesale transformations in the way people and machines conceptualize the world. 

All the same, her work is ultimately is rooted in your now. In the present day emergence of cloud-based practical AI routines that inject pattern recognition, language-parsing, deductive reasoning, and advanced machine learning into consumer apps and enterprise applications. In the emergence of mobile computing in platforms like smartphones, which in just a few decades will each possess processing power and memory equivalent to that of a human brain.

It'd hardly come as a surprise if your visitor from the future described how these developments go on to destroy employment as you know it. Then remake it after decades of chronic 1800s-style depressions, recessions and mass un- or under employment.

Sadly, the descendant of the game developer is fictional, at least for the time being. Likewise, the future reality of her employment is likely beyond our ability to make accurate predictions about. 

So maybe we can sketch the broad outlines of the future of work, twenty or thirty year ahead, instead. Just like our miner would have a much better chance of imagining Britain somewhat accurately circa 1880 rather than 2015.

Continued in: Choices for rent | Centaur symbiosis

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