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The Second Machine Age: Meet Your Computer Overlords
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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 11:03:47 AM
Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
Tom Claburn opens our eyes to more than a few blind spots in this excellent and thoughtful review of what sounds like an interesting new book.

I'm in the camp who believes the cognitive computing wave will not bring quite the hockey stick change that the industrial revolution brought, but I could be wrong. I remember a fellow editor musing, some 20 years ago, whether the grammar and spellchecking features emerging in word processors would eventually displace editors and proofreaders. Most publishers still have both, even if they've said goodbye to print publications.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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1/16/2014 | 1:42:37 PM
Re: Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
More than I dread the idea of a computer taking my editing job, I dread the idea of being cared for in my old age by a robot nurse. Of course robots won't ever replace nurses, but they are already doing jobs like delivering medicine.What else will they do?

Interestingly, when we write about this topic, the example that comes up repeatedly is truck drivers. What will all the truck drivers do for employment when driverless trucks carry cargo around the country?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 4:47:39 PM
Re: Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
>What will all the truck drivers do for employment when driverless trucks carry cargo around the country?

I think driverless vehicles will take longer than expected because there's no sign of a good way to handle the unexpected. Programming is great for getting vehicles to follow a known path. It's not so great when there's been an accident and three lanes that were supposed to be there no longer are, or when a flag-waving maintenance worker tries to warn drivers away from a chemical spill. So then you have trucks phoning home to ask for remote guidance, and that requires infrastructure and people monitoring, and very soon, on-board human computing looks cost effective again.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/17/2014 | 9:22:08 AM
Re: Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
"on-board human computing"--nice (though a bit unsettling) turn of phrase.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/17/2014 | 12:04:10 PM
Re: Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
>"on-board human computing"--nice (though a bit unsettling) turn of phrase.

When the term "computer" first came into use in the late Renaissance, it was a job description rather than an object: It referred to people who did mathematical computations.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 5:36:43 PM
Re: Silicon Valley's pathological blind spot...
I wouldn't want a robot nurse for acute care, but what if I could have a robot that let me stay living independently in my home for many more years, by helping me get up, collecting a few vital signs so my kids weren't perpetually panicked, and the like? I could see some sort of home healthcare robot in the not so distant future.  
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 11:19:48 AM
Worth worrying about
My common response on this issue is if your job is replaceable by a robot then it probably wasn't a very good job. But I know that takes a lot for granted. While it's nice to be in the careers outlined in this story that are least-penetrable by robots (creative, broad trends, complex communications) nobody is safe. You may not be in a robot-replaceable job now but you could be one demotion, layoff or job change away. We will have to adapt. I don't think it's healthy to spend your days fretting over the coming robot revolution, yet it should be on your mind. As described, this book sounds balanced and thought-provoking. A good education for forward-thinking people. It's on my list.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 12:19:42 PM
Re: Worth worrying about
Science fiction teaches us that super-smart computers and/or robots get lonely. I take comfort in the fact that after computers and robots take over, they'll still want to keep a few of us around for company.
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2014 | 1:44:01 PM
Re: Worth worrying about
"... they'll still want to keep a few of us around for company."

 See: "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" by Harlan Ellison
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2014 | 1:47:55 PM
Re: Worth worrying about
"My common response on this issue is if your job is replaceable by a robot then it probably wasn't a very good job."

See: "Player Piano" by Kurt Vonnegut
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 12:42:39 PM
Computer, Heal Thyself
I've often wondered if a computer could be taught to enhance it's own software. To realize what it can not do and create algorithms and code which add functionality to itself. Science fiction seems to be split on this. The computers of Star Trek (including android Data) don't seem to have that ability but SkyNet in the Terminator series does.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 12:44:10 PM
Re: Computer, Heal Thyself
Self-generating software is one area where computers perform poorly. Human programmers at least will have jobs for the foreseeable future.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 12:46:06 PM
Re: Computer, Heal Thyself
Woo Hoo! Maybe I'll make it to retirement.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 12:47:01 PM
Re: Computer, Heal Thyself
Woo Hoo! Maybe I'll make it to retirement.
jwestbrooks293
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jwestbrooks293,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2014 | 2:16:09 PM
Seems like I remember...
Correct me if I'm worng, but i seem to remember that Ken Jennings said something to the effect that he thought he could win if he wagered enough on the final question, and of course got it right, but decided he didn't want to risk a big chunk of his winnings on maybe not knowing the answer.  Which brings up the question, what if they had been playing for bragging rights as opposed to money?  Would Jennings have used a different startegy?  In a rematch where no money was involved for the human players, I'd bet on Jennings.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
1/17/2014 | 8:46:17 AM
Re: Seems like I remember...
That's a good point. Will robots learn human emotion? And how does that change things?
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/17/2014 | 1:13:35 PM
Re: Seems like I remember...
Wouldn't have mattered, Watson got final question right.

But you bring up an excellent point:  How would Watson do playing Texas Hold'em? I'd love to see that experiment. Anyone who ever watched World Series of Poker knows having the best hand (in probability theory before betting complete or after conclusion of hand) rarely wins.

But what a Poker Face Watson would have, no tells. And no hoodies or sunglasses either...
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 4:29:20 PM
The Needs Side of the Equation
One obvious answer seems to be to require less income. That seems feasible in an age where we can have 3D printers to make basic items, and if we generally work at home and don't need so many suits and dress shoes, and if we have self-driving fleets and perhaps European-style rail so we don't need so many cars. Computer-aided advances in food production could let us do local agriculture and reduce costs.

I recently heard my twenty-something niece use the term "bourgie" in a negative tone about a club where there was a lot of conspicuous consumption. If you don't know it, Google it. Maybe the rise of AI will coincide with human life being simpler and less focused on McMansions, more on community.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 6:29:13 PM
A debate is what's needed
A learned and astute review, Tom Claburn. In the debate between technologists and economists, or technologists and more generally, the humanists, the technologists so far are winning. Even the presumption that there's a debate going on is suspect. Western civilization in its many forms has always been a technology-driven society, possibly a little more so with each passing year. A technology judged to be superior in one part of its culture is swiftly adopted in the other parts, with little debate on its long term effect. Its lead to great advances -- genome codification, space travel, nuclear energy, a well-connected society. And it's not too hard to imagine some of the drawbacks: nuclear bombs, a collapsing distance between domestic life and the next battlefront, communication with more vituperation than understanding. When the advances start taking over -- dominating the body politic with unintended consequences -- that would be a good time for a genuine debate to get underway, and that time may not be far off.
Mohamed S. Ali
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Mohamed S. Ali,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/17/2014 | 12:33:50 PM
Who Owns the Future?
Another good read on the subject is Jaron Lanier's, "Who Own's the Future?". His thoughts are a bit more radical, but less socialist? perhpaps. He cites the example of Insatgram (12 employees when it sold to FB), which represents photography to consumers today, in much the same way that Kodak (150K+ employees at its peak) did a generation ago. The contention he makes is that Instagram is worth a $1B to Facebook, not because of their 12 employees, but the content that is being generated by their millions of users. The same can apply to Facebook's valuation itself, its the users that make Facebook valuable, not the software, and content generators on these platforms are not being compensated for the value that they are provding - effectively the value provided by millions and millions of these users is being taken off the book, and on to the book of "siren servers" (Google, Facebook etc.). If this value is transferred back to the generators of content, then that minimizes the winner take all model that's currently at play. 
ErnieSchell
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ErnieSchell,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2014 | 8:28:13 PM
Even high-level jobs can be automated
I have worked as a systems consultant for multichannel marketers for 25 years, and take pride in my ability to do a "strategic" Needs Analysis and RFP - but I have thought long and hard about how well the lion's share of what I do could be automated and have concluded that it might even improve the process. If you can program a couple of hundred business rules into the bot, and all the RFPs I've done over the years (240+), I'm sure it could do a reasonable job replacing me... in the year 2025 or so, which is not that far away. On the other hand, a human would have to invest the proverbial 10K hours (i.e., five years) to achieve the same thing, probably with less bankable results. Yes, we will all bow soon to our computer overlords, only they will be our hand-maidens instead. But let's make sure they are not like the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia (and drown us all)!


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