Retiring Humans

This morning I gave a 90 minute talk to ~70 retired folk at GMU’s lifelong learning institute, on a grand history of primates, foragers, farmers, industry, ems, and future stability. Listen here.

The audience was reasonably sharp and in a jovial mood. ┬áRetired folk were especially able to appreciate the analogy with the human species retiring, though many still think the only reason the rest of us don’t kill retirees and take their stuff, or invade Mexico and take their stuff, is our empathy for them. It is hard for many to appreciate other economic reasons for respecting property rights.

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  • Eric Falkenstein

    How cool. I hope when I’m in retirement I can hear such talks.

    I have a minor quibble, when you characterize educations emphasis on tests as being primarily to get people accustomed to accepting status hierarchies. At work, testing is not so prevalent.

    Now, at work, once you learn your job, there isn’t much to teach you to make you better. What should they teach professors? One could think of a lot of things, but then, why?

    My 10 year old, however, needs to learn algebra, and there are a sequence of skills he needs to acquire, and he should master them before proceeding to the next step. We know learning algebra is important, and what concepts should be learned in what order. I have my boys in Kumon, so this is all outside the system, and they have more tests than his public schooling (you do not go to the next concept until the current concept is mastered). This is efficient, and it is all ‘individual tracking’.

    So, I think testing young people is a lot more educational about subject matter than you imply (though it does signal and educate on norms too).

    • See here.

    • Jess Riedel

      I’m curious about Kumon since the public school system is pretty inflexible. Do most students take it as a supplement to their normal schooling, or are they able to replace their math classes?

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Robin: I think that book generalizes about certain types of tests a bit too strongly. For some objectives testing is very helpful.

    Jess: Kumon is purely supplemental. Yet, compared to the ‘real world’ math my son sees in the public schools, I find my interest in his Kumon progress totally dominates my interest in his public school math progress. Kumon is thoughtful and cumulative, so you see that what you just mastered matters. Public school math goes from subject to subject, one day the definition of an isosceles triangle, the next, how to translate your name into numbers if A-Z were translated into 1-26 and added up.

  • Taxman

    You’ve hit upon quite a theory here, Robin.

  • The retirement metaphor is great, and the robots as farmers was good too. I notice people wanted to get into concrete details in their questions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these metaphors helped them think about the ideas too, because the metaphor uses a familiar concrete past scenario as a metaphor for future ones, and so people can use the metaphor to orient themselves, and maybe status quo bias can be overcome. “This thing seems really different, but actually, it’s like this old thing we’re very familiar with.”

    I recall reading a military historian, Liddell-Hart, who suggested that expressing a new idea as an old idea was a good way to get an idea accepted–in his particular case I think he thought it was goodf to explain the novel vehicle, the tank, as basically horse cavalry for the present period.

  • Keith

    Thanks for sharing this, Robin. I have a suggestion: interrupt your audience less. Let people articulate their full questions and finish their sentences. In addition to making the questioner feel listened to, it will help others understand the exchange better.

  • Colby

    Robin, I think your general view of future history is correct, but I don’t understand why human labor demand should so rapidly fall to the zero bound after the first em. Certainly capital income will rapidly increase in absolute and relative terms, and particular human tasks that don’t require a physical body will be discontinued, but the humans who own the ems (and to a lesser extent the ems themselves) will still demand services that require a human body. Wages for personal services, construction, entertainment, etc. should skyrocket, just as low-skilled jobs’ wages skyrocketed during the industrial revolution.

    There will probably be cybernetic technology by then that allow ems to operate in the physical world just as well as humans do, offsetting some of these wage gains, but by presumption the capital to make such cyborgs will be so expensive that it’ll be cheaper to hire humans to wait tables, give massages, and teach tennis, even at a high premium relative to the sustenance wage.

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  • Ben

    i’m not convinced that robots won’t coordinate to kill off their human masters. there is a pretty clear characteristic to coordinate around to identify a large in group that doesn’t really exist in current societies.

  • WMA? Oh, come on!

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