Ford’s Rise of Robots

In the April issue of Reason magazine I review Martin Ford’s new book Rise of the Robots:

Basically, Ford sees a robotic catastrophe coming soon because he sees disturbing signs of the times: inequality, job loss, and so many impressive demos. It’s as if he can feel it in his bones: Dark things are coming! We know robots will eventually take most jobs, so this must be now. … [But] In the end, it seems that Martin Ford’s main issue really is that he dislikes the increase in inequality and wants more taxes to fund a basic income guarantee. All that stuff about robots is a distraction. (more)

I’ll admit Ford is hardly alone, and he ably summarizes what are quite common views. Even so, I’m skeptical.

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  • Paul Gowder

    Really dumb/basic question from a non-better: does “betting $1,200 at 12–1 odds” mean if you win, you get $14,400, or if you win, you get $100?

    • If I win I get $100, if they win they get $1200. The ratio between these two figures is 12-1.

      • Paul Gowder

        Thanks. Wasn’t sure whose proportion was listed first. I assume that we’d say that the other person “bet $100 at 1-12 odds?”

      • UWIR

        Ratios are denoted by colons, not hyphens. And odds are traditionally given with the bettor’s stake given second. Presumably, you think that the proportion of income that is labor will remain over 40%. If so, a more clear way of saying that would be “I am willing to bet $1,200 at 12:1 odds against the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ measurement of the labor fraction of U.S. income going below 40 percent by 2025.”

    • UWIR

      “Better” means “more good”. A person who bets is a bettor. The punctuation mark that denotes odds is the colon, not the dash, nor the hyphen. And A:B odds means that betting B gets A in the event in a win (and it’s B in addition to getting A back). So betting $1,200 at 12:1 odds means that you pay $1,200 and if you win, you get the $1,200 back, plus $14,400. If Robin Hanson is using it to mean something different, then he should use different terms, as he is not communicating his intent through his words.

      • The dictionaries say “better” is an accepted variant. But I suppose bettors know the spelling of “bettor” better than dictionaries.

  • You extrapolate from the experts that full AI will take two to four centuries. Isn’t that misleading when you think ems will be here within one century? [This would be, I’d think, almost as catastrophic for folks who don’t get emmed.]

    • IMASBA

      I was wondering the same thing.

    • I had limited space, and guessed that explaining the em scenario would take too much space there. But maybe I should have tried harder.

  • TheBrett

    It always annoys me when people like Ford imply that most human beings won’t be able to do any jobs in the future because the robots will take them first. It’s like they think most people are too stupid to do jobs that aren’t repetitive, automation-capable stuff (like saying “most people” are too dumb to be anything but manual laborers or field hands), or that human workers of the future won’t have tons of computer “aids” to assist them in work.

    Even if we did have robots at human-level of intelligence, and assume away any potential coercion issues, there is a rather unfortunate historical precedent for human beings making their living as overseers of teams of highly intelligent slaves. If nothing else, you’ll end up with computer-aid-assisted humans supervising systems of computers and robots doing incredibly specialized and complicated work.

    Ford eventually admits that “the global economic system” might “adapt to the new reality” via “new industries producing high-value products and services geared exclusively toward a super-wealthy elite.”

    I could see how GDP statistics being skewed that way, such as the consumption of the rich shows up as disproportionately large because of the high dollar value of what they’re consuming. But it would be like the “ketchup vs salsa” debate – there is a higher dollar value of Salsa being consumed in the US vs Ketchup, but vastly larger quantities of Ketchup being consumed than Salsa. It’s just that Salsa is more expensive.

    • IMASBA

      “Even if we did have robots at human-level of intelligence, and assume away any potential coercion issues, there is a rather unfortunate historical precedent for human beings making their living as overseers of teams of highly intelligent slaves. If nothing else, you’ll end up with computer-aid-assisted humans supervising systems of computers and robots doing incredibly specialized and complicated work.”

      What do you mean by “human-level of intelligence”? The level of Sarah Palin or the level of Einstein? And why would it end there?

      Could we enslave such smart robots? We could try, but we might not be successful, it’s ethically dubious and even attempting it might require some sort of social (for humans anyway) policies and supposing it does succeed it would probably require further social policies to keep lower-skilled humans employed or on some form of welfare. There would basically have to be laws that make sure that after robots have overtaken the least-smart humans, automation is never allowed to proceed quickly enough to put these least-smart humans out of work, or there would have to be a guaranteed welfare net set up for these people. The alternative would be for the least-smart humans to take up jobs that the most-skilled humans don’t want to be done by robots, even if it costs them extra money, but that would just lead to a large part of the population being subsistence wage (if at that) hookers, strippers and palm leaf fanners.

      • Hedonic Treader

        I believe in the palm leaf fanners (more generally, socially apt humans can sell their attention and social deference in one way or another). I don’t really believe in the future of sex work. It is politically and morally too contested, STDs are still an issue, and alternatives are quickly developing. Let’s wait for VR sex to fully mature before we judge the future of prostitution. And since sex and reproduction are more and more decoupled, birth rates may fall further, which means people will actually become rarer. And VR sex will provide superstimuli, whereas humans will remain scattered over a bell curve of attractiveness.

        If I were to invest, I’d invest in robots that can entertain and aid old people rather than in bio hookers. 🙂

      • IMASBA

        So what happens to the socially less inept humans?

      • Hedonic Treader

        What happens to the disabled, psychopathic and/or low IQ people now? They end up with a mix of forced redistribution, charity and failure (including earlier deaths, suffering and imprisonment).

        Or perhaps I should write “we” instead of “they” since I am not very functional myself.

      • IMASBA

        And you don’t see a problem with that group becoming larger after really smart AI floods the economy?

      • Hedonic Treader

        Of course there will be problems. But prostitution won’t solve them. Neither will a basic income.

        For what it’s worth, the people who are alarmed about demographics (people getting older, falling birthrates) and the people who are alarmed about robots taking our jobs should at least realize that these two trends somewhat cancel each other out.

      • IMASBA

        Yeah, uhm, I wasn’t proposing prostitution as a solution. I was using it as an example of what people would have to turn to in numbers that are larger than both the demand and the number of non-desperate volunteers.

        And for what it’s worth I do not see a basic income as the end-all solution to this problem either. I’d much rather see a leisure society with short workweeks and high employment where the basic income serves as a safety net and a hard limit on income inequality.

    • Petar

      “It’s like they think most people are too stupid to do jobs that aren’t repetitive, automation-capable stuff”

      Well, the fact is that they are. When was the last time you spoke with a person with IQ below 120? I can assure you they are pretty dumb and unimaginative. And that’s 90% of the (white) population of the Western world. The proportion worldwide is even higher.

      • TheBrett

        What makes you think you’ll need a 120 IQ to have a job in the new economy? Especially since, as I mentioned, you’ll likely have of computer aids to help you with work (including AI programs).

  • kurt9

    Increasing taxes on the rich won’t do very much. I saw some statistics not too long ago that showed that the much ballyhooed top 1% earners, who make 12% of the total income in the U.S., pay around 40-45% of all income tax collected in the U.S. The upper 10% of income earners pay 60-65% of all income taxes in the U.S. As such, we already have a progressive tax regime here in the U.S. Making it more progressive will make little difference in government revenues.

    • Where’d you see them, Fox News? 😉

      As Robin recently pointed out, the U.S. tax system, taken as a whole, is regressive.

    • IMASBA

      Few rich people are stupid enough (or have an accountant who is stupid enough to allow it) to receive a large part of their income as income from labor. Sure there’s the Top 1%-0.5%ish bracket that consists of medical specialists and professional athletes and the like but the real money comes from capital gains and dividends and those are (effectively) taxed pathetically low in most countries, they are certainly regressive. For convenience you can look this up for European countries that don’t have the whole state/federal levels blurring (though they do have VAT) and spend more on social welfare and yet still have (effectively) regressive taxation once you get to multi-millionaires.

      So why focus on multi-millionaires and billionaires when outside of the 1% there really is some semblance of progressive taxation, even in the US? Because it’s the richest citizens (less than 1%) that have such a disproportionate influence on GDP, policy and meritocracy (they’re essentially the fourth branch of government and probably the most powerful one) that it’s simply a matter of global interest/security to keep them in check (it used to be very hard to let people see this, they were either just jealous of the rich, or idolizing the rich, but since Piketty that has started to change). The very rich are simply a threat to everyone else, only in a state that shows it can submit the very rich to taxes and limit their share of total income, can the non-rich feel safe.

      P.S. the income share of the 1% in the US is >20%, not 12%.

      • Grant

        Its pretty hard to accept this narrative.

        Like most people, I’ve never had Bill Gates’ goons show up at my house and smash my Linux PCs. I have had government employees threaten me with violence on numerous occasions, some of which were undoubtedly due to a policy which was supported by some of the super-rich.

        But it isn’t clear that other super-rich didn’t oppose these policies, or that poor people didn’t support them. Its not clear that the super-rich have, in aggregate, incentives to support policies which harm everyone else.

        Special interests extract rent from me, like they do everyone else. Some of these interests benefit the super-rich, but many don’t, and many harm some of the super-rich while helping others.

      • IMASBA

        I never said the interests of the very rich are the only threat out there, just that it’s an important threat and serves such a small number of people, and unlike most of the other threats this particular threat is not stable, it can balloon just like that.

        “Its not clear that the super-rich have, in aggregate, incentives to support policies which harm everyone else.”

        Really? You can’t think of anything? Or do you simply not believe that driving up rents would harm everyone else?

        In any case dealing with the very rich as a threat brings some sanity back that has been lacking with the subject.

      • Grant

        The super-rich would seem to have a few obvious things in common: they have a lot of paper wealth, they tend to own equities and real estate, they tend to own nicer things, and they tend to fly around in private planes.

        I suppose they could band together and pass laws reducing taxes on real estate or equities (which they sort of already have). This doesn’t seem particularly catastrophic, especially as in absolute terms they pay a lot more taxes than everyone else. Further, its hard for me to point to low cap gains and real estate taxes and say “the super-rich did it!”, when the economic problems with cap gains taxes as well known.

        I suppose they could try and grand landlords more rights at the expense of renters, but renters are a very large group of voters to oppose.

        So no, in aggregate I can’t really think of anything which seems like a serious threat. I can think of a lot of bad things some of the super-rich would support, but imagine these would be opposed by their peers.

      • IMASBA

        “This doesn’t seem particularly catastrophic, especially as in absolute terms they pay a lot more taxes than everyone else.”

        It increasingly becomes a problem as they capture more of the total income. That they pay more taxes in absolute term does not have to remain true if they succeed in lowering taxes on capital gains and dividends even further and even if they don’t succeed with that total government revenue may still fall because the increased capture of total income by the very rich and the already low (effective) taxation on capital gains and dividends.

        Typically American harmful effects are the caste system in higher education (think Ivy League) and the network and opportunities connected to that and the absurd amount of influence rich donors can have on elections (they cannot yet buy votes but they can sure decide who gets to run for office in the first place and they do have an undeniable influence on the passage of bills). What the US shares with other countries is that the very rich tend to oppose paying for social programs (they may say they favor the existence of those program but that’s not the same as paying taxes to fund them) and that they influence foreign policy and can make taxation deals with governments for their corporations.

        Of course an increase in corruption and dynastic power (see the American Ivy League) are also likely with increasing income inequality and I bet that on aggregate the very rich care less for environmental degradation (they can always choose to live somewhere that’s still nice) than at least the middle class.

        The threat is not that there is income inequality, the threat comes from the fact that it just keeps rising and there don’t seem to be any systemic checks in place against it (in the past it took large wars and violent revolutions to produce periodic resets), plus that most of it comes from the very top (the top 0.1% and upwards), this creates dangerous instabilities and concentration of power. Proposals for a basic income and/or high capital gains and dividend taxes are not always motivated by noble or intelligent sentiments, but such policies would form just the sort of systemic checks that are currently lacking.

      • Its not clear that the super-rich have, in aggregate, incentives to support policies which harm everyone else.

        The super-rich may not have interests sufficiently defined to form their own coalition; their distorting effect on public policy derives mostly from their ability to act alone.

        Consider foreign policy, which may give the clearest example because most issues are more complicated. The noxious U.S. obsequiousness to Israel–and the resulting U.S. policy–is due primarily to the financial contributions of a handful of very rich donors. [A different but somewhat related statistic: according to a recent story, 90 % of Nethanayu’s campaign funds came from three Americans.]

      • Grant

        Aggregate support =/= coalition, it just means the support is not opposed in kind. US support for Israel and an interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East is hardly new or confined to the super-rich. Most Americans support Israel, so while this fact is disturbing its unfortunately par for the course.

        My original statement is obviously incorrect, so I’ll add a qualifier: Its not to clear to me that the super-rich have, in aggregate, incentives to support policies which harm everyone else any more than the average voter’s policy wishes.

        I don’t think Nethanayu’s funds are a good example though, as I think your facts are a bit off:

        Of 259k raised, 237k came from America. About half that came from three families, with many individuals contributing the maximum of $11,500. You don’t need to be super-rich, or even a millionaire, to buy that election.

      • US support for Israel and an interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East is hardly new or confined to the super-rich.

        U.S. unconditional support for Israel is relatively new; remember the Suez crisis, when the U.S. was on the other side.

        The fawning of U.S. politicians over Israel isn’t normal foreign policy, as when “Bibi” was invited to address Congress recently or when the debating Republican presidential candidates competed to establish who was on better terms with him. [Tom Cotton is a recipient of hefty AIPAC donations.]

        America is continues to be committed to interventionism favoring Israel despite the policy having had disastrous consequences for American power and security— because of the AIPAC lobby, financed by a few very wealthy donors. They created “public opinion.”

        [Thanks for the correction on the funding of the winning candidate in Israel.]

      • Its not to clear to me that the super-rich have, in aggregate, incentives to support policies which harm everyone else any more than the average voter’s policy wishes.

        They don’t require special incentives to be threatening, only their extraordinary opportunity to satisfy their whims. My desires would be dangerous too had I the opportunity to achieve them without the diluting and averaging effect of needing numerous coalition partners.

      • kurt9

        I wrote incorrectly above. The statistics I cited were for all forms of federal taxes, not just income. As you can see, we have a progressive tax policy in the U.S.

        I don’t view the rich as a threat to me. I view the federal government as a much greater threat to my long term future than any of the rich people out there. The wealthy, particularly the Silicon Valley types, produce new technologies that i can use to benefit myself. indeed, its people like me who buy their products and services who make them rich. Government, on the other hand, does not produce much of what I use. Infact, it produces lots of regulation that inhibits or makes more expensive the technological innovation (bio-medicine, for example), that I need to have an unlimited personal future.

        As you can see, the Federal government is a much bigger threat to my future than a rich person like Peter Thiel.

        The problem with current government is that it are essentially a monopoly. A meta-system of competitive governments (such as “seasteading”) would be a better system in that it would make it easier for people of different political ideologies to separate themselves from those who do not share their world-view.

      • ipencil
      • ipencil

        There doesn’t look like there’s any significant difference between the two graphs. “Business” is clearly “entrepeneurial income” and a large part of that “investment” breakdown likely is as well.

      • IMASBA

        Entrepeneurial income is not taxed as income from labor. According to Piketty the so-called “wages” of the richest wage earners (who are not the richest people in the world but can fall within the 0.1%) mostly consist of stock options (taxed as capital gains when cashed). Billionaires receive their income virtually entirely in forms that are not taxed as income from labor (which in most countries means being taxed lower than income from labor, even without the use of tax avoidance constructions or tax havens). This isn’t really surprising: not even the largest corporations in the world pay their executives enough to become billionaires.

      • ipencil

        Piketty isn’t exactly a reliable source. He doesn’t understand basic supply and demand.

        which in most countries means being taxed lower than income from labor

        Since since all investments are made with post tax money, all capital gains are a double tax. Thus those who pay capital gains pay a higher tax rate than those who have only wage incomes. In other words, your claim is false.

      • IMASBA

        “So? That doesn’t mean it’s not income from labor.”

        It’s relevant to the claim that the very rich don’t pay a high effective tax rate (usually lower than someone who receives an actual salary of say $100k). This is true regardless of whether or not you regard the increase in value of shares and stock options you own as income you worked for.

        “Piketty isn’t exactly a reliable source. Hedoesn’t understand basic supply and demand”

        Unlike Deirdre I have read every word of the book and she quotes him out of context so to say. Piketty ues the example that if housing prices in a city were realy high because of scarcity then eventually more and more people would find ways to live outside of the city (or when oil becomes more expensive investments in green energy will increase and eventually demand for oil will fall), a process that can take decades, but it will happen (and if it doesn’t that only makes Piketty’s r > g argument stronger: Piketty was actually anticipating a criticism of his own conclusions here, he doesn’t believe any eventual lapse in demand would play a significant role!). It is striking that Deirdre tells her story in an Econ 101 class, because only there would (almost) all of the students think of highly simplified rules without knowing the many hidden assumptions behind it (applying the rule of demand and supply to the long term requires the assumption of a static world).

        Second, Deirdre keeps attacking Piketty as a Marxist and as being too mathematical, which she attributes to products of French economics, if she had actually read the book she’d have known Piketty distances himself from Marx, gives several examples of where he thinks marx was completely wrong and criticizes marx for not using or compiling statistics to make his points. Piketty was himself never a Marxist, Deirdre was, and is now a conservative christian libertarian, it seems to me she is projecting her own inability to relativize her view of reality, and her own need to seek out extremist crowds to belong to unto Piketty and Piketty’s readers. Piketty did in fact work in both the UK and the US (does Deirdre know this?) and in the book he actually criticizes American economists for being preoccuppied with complicated mathematical models that try to answer questions that are not that important. His book reads quite smoothly, there’s not a single derivative or integral in it.

        Finally Deirdre says that there was only an increase in inequality in 3 countries (US, UK and Australia). This is patently untrue: Piketty found an increase in inequality, for both wealth and income, in all the countries he had data for (and this even included Sweden). For the majority of the countries in the world there was not enough data available but these are mostly small developing countries.

        Oh, wait, I’m not done yet. Deirdre seems to think Piketty wants to tax the rich to give to the poor. Near the end of the book he actually explains that the taxes he proposes would only initially provide significant revenue. This revenue is not the goal of those taxes. The actual goals are a) record keeping of all income and capital and b) to stop huge fortunes from accrueing in the first place (they are essentially sin taxes). Where does this misunderstanding come from? Well, she didn’t read the book, but most of all Deirdre does not see economic inequality, no matter how high, as a problem in itself. Piketty (like myself) sees it as a threat to democracy, but also the civil and economic freedoms of the non-rich. Piketty articulated this very clearly in an interview: he said Bill Gates once called him and said he would prefer taxation on consumption (which is environmentally friendly and could be progressive, if you exclude the very rich, the 0.1%). Piketty then asked him what “consumption” means for someone like Bill Gates. Piketty said something like “for normal people consumption means buying groceries, for you it means buying political influence”.

        Amazingly Deirdre claims pro-rich legislation in the UK caused an increase in inequality there, but doesn’t make the connection that perhaps pro-rich legislation is positively correlated with political donations and other forms of influence by the rich, which are at least proportional to economic inequality.

      • What’s the other 10%?

      • ipencil

        Click on the link and find out.

  • Pingback: Robopocalypse, not yet? | Drawnlines Politics()

  • Pat Boyle

    The date most commonly given for when robots (computers) achieve human level intelligence is 2050. It might be later I suppose, but it might be sooner.

    Unless we run into an as yet unforeseen law of nature which slows down the evolution of machine intelligence, its hard to see how human being will long remain on the top of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ much longer. Or to put it more simply – ‘People are toast’.

    My guess is that our successor intelligences will simply eliminate us but maybe they will keep a few of us in preserves as zoo critters or pets.

    It would take almost no effort for a machine intelligence to eliminate all of the old fashion biological intelligences like us. They could just develop some new virus or bacteria. Or maybe they could just use the weaponized smallpox thought to be already stored in Russia and the US. It doesn’t really matter. People are extremely easy to kill.

    The good news is that the machines that replace us are likely to be better as individuals than we ever were. They are likely to be not only smarter but funnier, kinder, and more personable.

    If you think about it for a while it becomes clear that the take over by the robots was always inevitable. Humans have done nearly nothing to advance our biological intelligence. While computers have advanced by leaps and bounds.

    My first computer was an Altair – a machine roughly as smart as an amoeba. At that rate of improvement I wonder if we even have to 2050.

    • Hedonic Treader

      I agree it is very unlikely that biological humanity stays in charge of the world in the long run. The takeover doesn’t even have to be spectacular, like a bioweapon holocaust or epic battles with Ultron sentinels. It could take a little longer and be a little more gradual, and you have the same result. Just look at what happened, first to many wild animals when humans invented agriculture and spread everywhere, then later to horses when humans invented the automobile. If there is no hard-takeoff super-AI scenario, there will still be a gradual process (in human perception, not historical timescales) with economic pressures and finally military and political pressures to increase the ratio of intelligent software modules and all kinds of networked physical robots. There is already a rapid radiation of both algorithmic and physical phenotypes. This is similar to what happened in the Cambrian radiation, except this time the biological systems compete more and more with specialiced artificial ones, in all functional areas.

      This quasi-ecological view makes it harder for a project like developing friendly AI, because there may not be the one AI project that changes all the game, but a massively parallel distributed process with gradual changes and innovations everywhere.

      This means the resulting AIs will not be better people, or even people at all. Some of them will be adapted to appear attractive and likeable to humans. Those will, for a time, appear to be better people. But in the meanwhile, the bulk of global power will gradually shift to a wide array of intelligent systems that are very very alien compared to humans. (That is, assuming there is no sudden unexpected brain emulation breakthrough; if there is, the process may at least start with digital humans and then radiate out from there into alienness)

  • Lord

    Robots, when they arise, pose problems that will need solutions. Inequality, especially in power, is certainly one of these problems. We shouldn’t pretend these problems will never exist or will always resolve themselves in the best manner. A basic income or falling prices could be part of a solution.

    • Hedonic Treader

      But no one is prentending that. Certainly not Hanson.

      As for the basic income, people tend to rationalize this post-hoc by pointing to automation. They start by liking the idea. The missing link is that, if automation were really this powerful, they could invest in it and give the returns to effective charity. That is probably more efficient if you want to make people’s lives better. But in any case, the productivity boosts need to come first before you distribute the spoils, and if people are so certain about it, they should invest in it. Technically, even governments could do this. Also, if the basic income is national, the need to compete with other nations doesn’t go away. I think the idea would make most sense if it really turned out to be the most efficient way for a rich country to pacify a large segment of a disenfranchised populace. But it is hard to see how it could be as efficient as other models with some means-testing and compliance obligations. And it’s certainly not a maximally philantropic way to spend money.

      • IMASBA

        A basic income (coupled to GDP/adult capita) is equivalent to the government investing in technology, with perfect diversification. The means-testing effectively happens at the taxation side of things (the source of the revenue). Advantages over more complicated schemes are its reliability (perfect diversification and perfect spread of losses) and its exploitation of selfishness (basically everyone up to the upper middle class will not vote to abolish it, quite different from a scheme that only gives money to poor people and even the upper middle class would only vote to abolish it in the rare situation where they trust the government to reduce their taxes accordingly).

        For the libertarian-inclined among us a basic income hugely decreases the scope of government (the government would move a lot of money but doesn’t get much of a say in who the money goes to), the number of civil servants could almost certainly be decreased as well.

      • Hedonic Treader

        No, redistribution is not the same thing as government investment. And means testing on the taxation side is not the same thing as means testing on the recipient side. For example, someone with money could work a few hours per week, live off the basic income and increase the living standard with small spending from the savings.

      • IMASBA

        “As for selfish voting, this doesn’t make mathematical sense. Voting makes sense only for symbolic or social gratification reasons, or for “expected value” reasons. The expected selfish gain from voting is smaller than the personal cost of voting.”

        I wasn’t talking about voting something into place but about voting to abolish something. In a basic income country the vast majority of the electorate have nothing to gain from voting to abolish the basic income. Today that is different with when welfare schemes only benefit the poor, not the middle class. If you claim this is not even a problem today then it certainly won’t be one when there is a basic income.

        “No, redistribution is not the same thing as government investment.”

        It’s not exactly the same but it is for the intents and purposes of redistribution.

        “For example, someone with money could work a few hours per week, live off the basic income and increase the living standard with small spending from the savings.”

        Nope, he has to pay hefty taxes because he is “someone with money”. If means testing happened on the other side than this “someone with money” would not get money from the government but he would also pay less taxes.

      • UWIR

        Does this “someone with money” have money that they made after this system was put in place (in which case there would have been “means testing” at the time the money was made), or do they have it left over from before the system was put in place?

      • Hedonic Treader

        As for selfish voting, this doesn’t make mathematical sense. Voting makes sense only for symbolic or social gratification reasons, or for “expected value” reasons. The expected selfish gain from voting is smaller than the personal cost of voting.

      • Lord

        Many, including Hanson believe inequality is never/will never? be a problem. I agree there isn’t a lot to distribute until the gains arrive, but it still could be useful to limiting inequality before tragedy arrives.

      • Hedonic Treader

        Yes, let’s limit inequality. I suggest that you give your own money to the international poor who have even less money than you. Thereby you can limit inequality in the world.

        I myself will show my solidarity with the poor by reducing my productivity, end my career for good and decrease both my investments and spending. Also let’s agree not to criticize the leftist radicals who are burning police cars in Frankfurt today. That should do the trick.

      • IMASBA

        Such a mature response…

        But I will indulge you: the non-rich in the West (“we”) are already effectively giving their income to the global poor. We see our purchasing power stagnate or rise more slowly than global economic growth, the global poor see their purchasing power rise with, or even faster than, global economic growth, in the end there will be parity (this form of inequality is not threatening because it is not growing uncontrollably). This is a good thing, I’m perfectly okay with it, redistribution within countries can be used to maintain the standard of living in slow-growth countries. I wonder if the global rich would be ok with it happening to them, but I’m afraid I already know the answer.

      • Hedonic Treader

        “But I will indulge you”

        Don’t bother. I was responding to Lord, not to you. I stopped reading IMASBA content at “Yeah, uhm,” yesterday. It’s only March, but I already have my fill for 2015, thank you very much.

        It’s not even personal; after all, I don’t really know you. It’s just that you have a low noise to quality ratio, an unpleasant tone and an annoying habit to push yourself into every conversation other people are having.

        Perhaps I’m not a much better conversationalist, but for some reason that doesn’t change my perception of you.

      • Admit it: His ideas threaten your “investments.”

      • Lord

        That would be doing the world a service, but individual actions can’t accomplish social goals, but only feed the greed of others. Just as there can be too little inequality, there can also be too much. The two primary reasons for me are political destabilization as rents become ever easier to obtain, and slower growth, as climbing asset values are not productive in themselves but only serve to convince the rich they are only middle class and feed the greed more.

      • Hedonic Treader

        I think it’s a myth that individual actions can’t accomplish social goals, at least if you define reducing wealth inequality as a social goal. Each dollar you donate to a person with less money will reduce inequality accordingly. It’s not an all-or-nothing goal. I think the reason people almost always mean other people’s money when they moralize like this is simply Homo Hypocritus: Of course we care about the poor, as long as other people pay for it. Duh.

        There is of course a sense in which inequality is really harmful, if it mutates into crony capitalism and co-opts politics. If you can “invest” in abusing governments’ monopoly on violence to further extract rents, that’s when it becomes really toxic. People are doing the world a favor in criticizing this in whatever form it takes.

        There is also a sense in which inequality is wasteful, in that personal wealth has obvious diminishing returns on personal wellbeing. But even this can be turned around: Let’s say you have two career equilibria, one with high earnings and high stress (or low leisure), the other with low earnings and low stress. You obviously won’t choose one where the marginal utility of your earnings won’t compensate for the stress. But if the marginal utility of personal wealth is diminishing, then, at the margin, you will need even more compensation for any additional stress. From the outside, high earners seem greedy if they demand more and they already earn more than others. But from the inside, in addition to the progressive tax rates, you require more money to provide you with the same increase in utility. And in some careers, the stressors can’t be avoided. Same for capital gains, if you want things like death risks priced in: The more money you already have, the less marginal utility your gains have, so investing long-term becomes less attractive if you can die of a heart attack in the next 5 years. This is completely rational, but looks like greed from the outside view.

      • I suggest that you give your own money to the international poor who have even less money than you. Thereby you can limit inequality in the world.

        Can I demand of you devotees of efficiency that you sacrifice your assets to aid those more efficient than you?

      • Hedonic Treader

        Dan Ariely has a TED talk out that led me to reconsider. Unless he really botched up his numbers, current inequality is more undesirable than I had recognized.

  • Humans reverting to forager norms hate distributive inequality. I don’t know why Robin doesn’t get that except that maybe, having been reared on a farm, he remains a farmer at heart.

    Then why must egalitarians resort to subterfuges (such as Luddism)? Being for equality sends the wrong signal for most Americans. Unless you’re very successful–then egalitarianism can be a countersignal–being for equality signals being among the have-less and expecting to remain.

    • zarzuelazen

      Well, as I’ve argued, I believe the historical progression is:
      Foragers>>Farmers>> Industrialists>>Hackers
      We are moving from the era of industry to the era of hackers, and a hacker take-over is now in progress.
      Support for my claims is provided by the rising popularity of Bitcoin and crypto-currencies, which indeed signals the beginning of a new form of economics that will soon start to exert serious pressure on the status quo methods of banking and finance.
      The rise of robots is associated with the hacker era, and we don’t yet know what social norms will turn out to be associated with this era. A case could be made for the resurgence of farmer virtues aka Hanson’s Em scenario. But I think you could equally argue for the opposite case (i.e a resurgence of forager virtues). We just don’t know.
      I think we can reasonably guess that the new hacker era will favour decentralization and the individual, whereas the Industrial era was about the masses and centralized solutions. Again, I think we can look to Bitcoin to see clues about what the new hacker era might be like.

  • Mark Bahner

    As I pointed out on the Reason Magazine Hit and Run blog, Robin’s estimates for the timing of the arrival of generalized human intelligence are very much out of sync with other experts:

    This website contains the results of recent surveys on the subject of the timing for human-level AI:…..asting_ai/

    A recent set of surveys of AI researchers produced the following median dates:

    •for human-level AI with 10% probability: 2022
    •for human-level AI with 50% probability: 2040
    •for human-level AI with 90% probability: 2075.
    Which doesn’t mean they’re right and he’s wrong. But I’d bet that’s the case. 🙂

      • Why the huge difference between your informal survey and Katja Grace’s study (reported on LW)?

        I think I gather that it’s because you used the an “outside view” estimate.

      • zarzuelazen

        I can match an exponential curve to the results of that survey and it comes into line with the other experts, watch:

        Progress Date

        [0%] 1956 -Dartmouth, field founded

        [1%] 1960 – Logic programs

        [2%] 1975 – Expert systems

        [4%] 1990 – Resurgence of statistical methods

        [8%] 2005 – Bayesian paradigm, big data

        [16%] 2020 – ?

        [32%] 2035 – ?

        [64%] 2050 – ?

        [100%] 2065 – SINGULARITY

      • zarzuelazen

        If we accept that the AI field has made less than 10% progress towards AGI so far, then yes, at a *linear* rate of progress, it looks like it would take another 500 years to get to 100% . However, at an *exponential* rate of progress, we’d reach 100% before 2065.
        Progress in the field is compatible with exponential progress, because the very early part of exponential progress wouldn’t be distinguishable from linear progress over short time scales.
        Clear acceleration in the field should start to become obvious from 2020’s onwards, if progress is in fact exponential.

      • That is why I asked people if they’d seen progress accelerate. They haven’t on average.

      • Mark Bahner

        I think your AI progress estimates use a very flawed methodology. And you ought to be able to see that in part by asking the question, “Why do experts in AI have such dramatically different estimates for the likely arrival date of human-level AI? Are virtually all of them wrong, or am I?”

      • He answers that question: the inside view biases their estimates. The bias created by the inside view is to underestimate the time because of overparticularization.

        [I think engineers may be particularly inclined to take an inside view; and Robin might not stress the issue enough because he (like them) tends to be a near-mode supremacist, while the outside view is far mode.]

      • Mark Bahner

        I advised Robin to ask himself: “Why do experts in AI have such dramatically different estimates for the likely arrival date of human-level AI? Are virtually all of them wrong, or am I?”

        Steven Diamond responds: “He answers that question: the inside view biases their estimates. The bias created by the inside view is to underestimate the time because of overparticularization.”

        But he arrives at his estimate by his interpretation of the answers of people who are very much AI “insiders”. And he touts his own time in AI research.

        Again, he should explain why virtually the entire AI community is wrong, and he is right. Just to take an example, Ray Kurzweil thinks that a computer will pass the Turing Test by 2029. Robin should explain why Ray Kurzweil is going to be very, very wrong, and it will be more like 200-400 years before a computer passes the Turing Test.

      • As I’ve explained to you before, experts are more trustworthy when asked to describe past rates of progress in their narrow subfield, than when asked to forecast future rates of progress in very large areas, most of which they don’t know much about.

      • Mark Bahner

        So the bottom line is that you’re right, and human-level artificial intelligence of
        the type that can perform the majority of jobs that exist in the U.S. today will
        not come for 200-400 years? And virtually the entire AI research community is
        wrong? Because they don’t know your method for accurately predicting the
        rate of progress in AI?

        I’m curious about whether you read the rest of the Reason issue in which your book review was located. Did you read the interview of Andrew McAfee? Here’s a question and a response from him:

        reason: In the next, say, five to 10 years, what are the first jobs to go?

        McAfee: One of the quickest ones to me looks like different flavors of customer service reps, where they’re using their language skills.They’re using their pattern-matching skills. Our technologies are really, really good at both of those right now. They’re going to get worlds better over the
        next five to 10 years, so people doing that kind of knowledge work, I think, are going to face some unemployment headwinds.

        Depending on the regulatory environment, I think a highly functional, autonomous vehicle is easily in that timeframe, so we have a lot of people who drive for a living now who are going to be confronted by automation.

        I think if a piece of technology is not already the world’s best medical diagnostician, it easily will be in five or 10 years. Now, I don’t know if, again, there are going to be regulatory policy changes that would allow that technology to diffuse. But if that happens, we’ve got a lot of people who
        diagnose us for a living who are going to be confronted by technology that does it better.

        How was the McAfee interview compatible with your assessment of the likely rate of progress in AI (i.e., that human-level AI won’t come for 200-400 years)?

        Or this from the same issue:

        “Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in March, Bill Gates hinted that a little freaking out might be in order: ‘Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses, [is] progressing..Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.’”

        How was that compatible with your assessment of the likely rate of progress in AI?

        And if Andrew McAfee’s and Bill Gates’ views are not compatible with yours, why are they wrong? Because they haven’t done your informal surveys?

      • Because they don’t know your method for accurately predicting the
        rate of progress in AI?

        What exactly is wrong with that explanation? Is this more than an accusation of hubris?

        I don’t think it can be denied that it’s discouraging that leading researchers in AI think they’re competent to make futurological predictions without understanding something so basic as the biased nature of the inside view. This apparent blindness might lend credence to the Yudkowsky view that folks need training in general rationality–except that E.Y. (and even Robin’s disciple, Grace) use the inside view without compunction.

        [I wonder how these experts respond when confronted with the methodology and results of Hanson’s survey.]

        [But it could be that I’m underestimating the cleverness of Hanson’s survey methodology.]

      • Mark Bahner

        “What exactly is wrong with that explanation?”

        The main problem is that I think he’s wrong. 😉 But the another
        (less important ;-)) problem is that virtually everyone inside–and
        outside–the AI research community also thinks he’s wrong.

        Robin is saying that the best guess for when human-level AI–of
        the type able to perform the majority of human jobs at approximately human
        levels–is 2-4 centuries. The vast majority of knowledgeable people both inside
        and outside the AI research community think he’s wrong, and the actual
        number is more like 2-4 decades. Whether Robin is right, or almost everyone
        else who is knowledgeable about the subject is right, is a hugely important
        question. In fact, as Elon Musk and others have noted, it’s quite possibly an
        existential question. (Most estimates of the time from human-level AI to
        super-intelligent AI are only 3-30 years.)

        “Is this more than an accusation of hubris?”

        Yes, it’s also an accusation of bias…which a man who runs a blog titled “Overcoming Bias” ought to be struggling to avoid.

        Robin is saying “the crowd” is wrong. That is an extraordinary claim, and requires extraordinary evidence. Robin hasn’t come close to providing such evidence.

        For example, Robin appears to totally neglect hardware: 1) If flash drive memory prices continue to come down as they have over the past 3 decades, by 2024, $1 will buy 1 terabyte of storage, and by 2036, $1 will buy 1 petabyte of storage; 2) Similarly, circa 2050-2060, $1000 worth of computing power will be able to perform as many calculations per second as all the human brains on earth, combined.
        It’s simply not credible to do an analysis of likely future progress in AI that ignores those trends. (It would be slightly different if Robin claimed that progress in memory per dollar, and computations per second per dollar were somehow likely to freeze at present values for the next 200 years. But only slightly different, because such a position that technological progress will freeze isn’t really credible, absent Terminators, nuclear war, or some other monumental disaster.)
        If Robin really thinks he’s right, and human-level AI capable of performing most jobs that humans currently do is 200-400 years out, he should be making his case in various academic and public forums, because it’s an important question. But the crowd thinks the number is more like 20-40 years out. And there’s little doubt in my mind*** that the crowd is much more likely to be correct.
        ***Having read both members of the crowd who promote timelines similar to the crowd, such as Andrew McAfee and Ray Kurzweil, and Robin’s separate analysis.
        P.S. Where Robin could and should have taken issue with Martin Ford’s claims is whether computers taking jobs causes the economy to collapse…or to expand.

      • “Inside view” isn’t the “view of insiders.”

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