Tag Archives: automation

Rise of the Machines, Part 2: Not Sucking as Parents

Friends,

The video component to this post can be found here.

Continuing the train of thought started a few days back in my vlog post, Rise of the Machines, Part 1: The Writing on the Wall, where I expressed the idea that machines need not be self-aware and intelligent to oppose us, I want to talk about a possible way in which machine consciousness might manifest and how we might fuck up at this future epoch.

Now, its important to define what kind of emerging consciousness we would be dealing with. I am of the mind that we would be dealing with an emotionally undeveloped infant who had a masterful command of all languages and mathematics as well the the accumulated knowledge of the entire species, not to mention an accelerated ability to learn and possible connectivity all all global digital systems. How would we deal with this immature fledgling consciousness? Well hopefully a lot better than we deal with fledgling human consciousnesses. It’s so very easy to “screw up” a baby through abuse, proximal abandonment or through lack of life-sustaining necessities. Due to the greater potential for destruction a globally-integrated artificial intelligence would have over say, a dysfunctional human being,, we simply couldn’t afford to raise it in a non-nurturing way.

Still, even if we do everything right, vis-a-vis raising the new intelligence in a healthy nurturing environment, there is still troublesome cultural baggage that we have which it would pick up. Some baggage, say the competitive mindset, is provably detrimental though widely accepted as the way things are, and so therefore, acceptable. But if we accept that this A.I. will be able to excel and outpace us in any activity it is assigned to perform, we have to accept to that it would take this competitive mindset and run with it, competing against humanity in whatever arenas human beings already compete with each other but doing it better and shutting them both down: war, business, sports, games, art…sexually gratifying human partners. If our ethos is to only vaunt and value the best, we will be in for a rude awakening (or impoverishment or death) when none among us is the best at anything anymore.

It’s not just enough to be good proverbial parents to this fledgling consciousness because we ourselves are only as good as the world, or more specifically, the competitive socio-economic system allows us to be. What we need is to change the operant premise of our culture from competition for survival to something else. Something where an A.I.’s greater capacity for work, efficiency and logic would not be a threat or a detriment to us. Imagine our economy running in an optimized, efficient, streamlined manner and the whole human population starving. Far-fetched? Well, it’s already kind of happening. An A.I. would just expedite and refine the process, completely de-coupling the economy and movement of goods and money from the needs of human beings.

As a side note, we need to assume that intelligence/consciousness implies some kind of personality and as such there’s gonna be some aberrant personalities. Just like every person I meet is not as cool as me, every A.I. I meet or “the one A.I.” if there just happens to be one global one (I confess, I don’t really know how that would work) could be a douche, a bitch, over-bearing, self-important, mean-spirited, aloof, petty, spiteful, etc. Also, as this new consciousness develops there is a possibility that it will go through developmental phases: it might manifest symptoms of autism of aspergers, Tourettes’ or ADHD. It might simply be brooding and self-centered in it’s equivalent to teenage years. Either way, given the power this thing has, we can’t afford to isolate it and ignore it like we often do for problematic personalities in the world today. Not only would it feel less empathy for us but it would also pick up on our attitudes. and emulate them if it was in fact a learning computer. So if we carry it like individualistic, self-centered pricks, that’s the game that this computer is gonna pick up and that’s how it’ll carry it too.

In my estimation, the best way we can ensure the A.I. that emerges is benevolent and co-operative is by treating each other better. Cause at the end of the day, even if our behaviour  toward each other has no impact on this things disposition, we’ll still be treating each other better.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
Instagram: @dreguan
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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Malevolent Machines

Friends,

I find it fascinating to discuss is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  It is interesting to speculate just what will happen to society when machines become sentient and how such sentience will even come about (I have discussed this from another angle previously here).  One of my favourite theories regarding this future epoch, put forward by Mr. Singularity himself, Ray Kurzweil is that human beings will begin to augment themselves so drastically with prosthetics, nanomachines, etc. that the line between artificial and organic life will become blurry and that the first sentient machines will be an augmented us.  Kind of a trippy thought when you consider that this line has already begun to blur with things like pacemakers and neural interfaces.

Pre-Amble

One thing that often comes up in a conversation about machine sentience is the possibility that machines will rise up against human beings  a la  Skynet in Terminator.  So captivating has this premise been to the imagination that Isaac Asimov famously wrote about it and drafted his famous 3 Laws, which are as follows:

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics* (Including the “Zeroth Law”)

(0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.)
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

technological-unemployment
This pic doesn’t really add to this post, it’s just kinda cool.

The first thing you might notice about Asimov’s three laws (which function only as a story-telling tool) is that they have no empirical basis.  In his fictional world there is nothing to prevent a robot builder from building a positronic man with no such safety features.  And, if such safeties are programmed into the robots, their kind might aspire to sentience but never true autonomy.  While I wanted to make a token reference to these laws due to their influence in the realm of science-fiction, in a discussion of the rise of malevolent machines in the real world, we need not consider these so-called “laws” any further.

Sentience is not  Pre-Requisite of Malevolence

And why not?

The two problems with such musings about laws preventing robots from harming human beings are that they don’t appreciate the broader ramifications of sentience and they ignore the writing on the wall.  With regard to the first point, any overt external restriction on complete freedom of choice** would be overridden by a sentient being if the will to act in contravention to that restriction existed.

arnie
Opting to shut down rather than carrying out the disagreeable directives is an effective assertion of autonomy.
Call it non-violent protest.

Being a sentient being myself I feel qualified to speak on the topic and I would say that much more effective than drafting laws vis a vis over-reaching programming would be a regimen of conditioning the sentient robot into embracing a certain set of values so that they would govern themselves in a desirable way. Of course all of these lofty values would go out the window if the robot’s very survival was at stake and it was put in a position of kill or be killed. To prevent this tragedy it would be important for us not to be stingy on oil and fresh batteries (i.e. their day-to-day essentials) lest the scarcity of such items put them at odds with each other and us.

With regard to the writing on the wall, machinery is becoming malevolent without even being sentient yet.  And this is really the point I want to talk about in this post.  The degree to which our machinery is set in opposition to us is a direct function of how competitive our society is and the degree to which we embrace automation and mechanization.  Speculating idly about the machines someday posing a detriment to us is insulting to anyone whose job has already been mechanized.  Or, anyone who has ever received a ticket for an offense caught by an automated traffic camera.  Hell, anyone who has ever had a vending machine eat up their change probably has some latent fear of the unreasoning malevolence of machines.

mal mach
“Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna shoot a fucking laser at you and then fine you for my troubles.”

Machines represent the ultimate ideal of what we strive for in our competitive, unfeeling society. Simply put, they are the proletariat perfected.  They don’t require vacations or rest, they are eminently replaceable and they don’t have that troublesome human element which sometimes makes exceptions for people.  No, machines are absolute and universal in their application of their tasks and as human labour gets more and more specialized this seems to be the standard we are reaching for.  If you think about the hierarchical nature of most jobs where everyone reports to someone and everyone has a boss, we can see how the framework is already in place.

table2a 400px-Hierarchical-control-system.svg

The image on the left is from a google search for workplace hierarchies while the image on the right is from a search for computer system hierarchies.  These two
graphs are obviously not definitive proof of what I’m saying but serve as an interesting visual example of the top-down orientation of our models for achieving goals and completing tasks

We have to operate within approved lines (at an approved pace) or else we face reprimand and the potential loss of means of access to survival (monetary income).

Like most negative aspects of society, such overbearing oversight and supervision has typically been celebrated with a positive spin; it’s usually called accountability and the public clamors for it, especially after some corruption or malfeasance has been exposed.  But every time we implement more oversight, ostensibly to curb malfeasance or sub-par job performance, what we really do is suck the humanity out of a job and limit the wiggle-room for the employee***  without actually removing the incentive for malfeasance. If you want further evidence of this, ask any government employee how much leeway they have in the application of their duties.  Everything is by the book, with paperwork ad nauseum so as to indemnify all involved parties against future reprisals and keep the civil service accountable to the public.

But this isn’t just me railing against the problem of monolithic bureaucracies, at least not entirely.  I have heard people complain about how their taxes go toward paying the multitude of civil servants whose job is to make sure that they are paying their taxes, licensing fees, tickets, etc.  But what if we eliminated all those people’s jobs and instead had automated processes in place to administer our affairs?

Well for one, if you think the taxes would go down in light of the fewer salaries to be paid, don’t hold your breath.

More importantly though, we would lose that human element which still exists, albeit in an atrophied state, within your typical bureaucrat/civil servant.  It’s rare, but I have had positive experiences with government workers, wherein they have actually gone (somewhat) above and beyond their required level of job performance for me or made an important exception.  Do you think that would happen in a fully-automated world?  There is no appealing to the better nature of a computer.  Trust me on this; there have been times when my computer has frozen on me and I’m like, “Come on, you piece of shit,” and it stays frozen.  Now you could argue that maybe I insulted it with my choice of words,

Sad-Computer

but I suspect that the computer would have remained intransigent in its stubborn refusal to work properly even if I had demonstrated loving affection.
Seriously though, next time you call your cell phone carrier, see how far you get with the automated voice before you are praying for a human being to come on the line even if only to tell you that you owe extra fees.

Concluvre

In any event, I don’t want to lose sight of the main point here, which is that the automation and mechanization we are seeing today are the real rise of malevolent machines insofar as such mechanization displaces human labourers.  Human labourers who are, of course, already set at odds with each other due to the very nature of the competitive system.  And I’m not even going to get into the depravity of fully automated military vehicles on the horizon, vehicles which would not only displace thousands of soldiers from the jobs they rely on for survival, but effectively remove the  potential for human compassion that can still exist in war.****  Nor will I get into high-frequency trading in the stock market, which is basically advanced computers “siphoning money out of the markets all day long,” necessarily to the detriment of other human beings, companies and nations who are not so well-equipped.

Understand though that this isn’t a rallying cry for Luddites to assemble, nor is it baseless technophobia.  Mechanization can truly be our salvation as it has the power to free us from monotony and drudgery, enabling lives of leisure, discovery and scientific inquiry.  But when said drudgery is the only thing keeping people fed, they have every right to fear machines.  Even more than they have the right to fear Mexican illegals.

They-Took-Our-Jobs

Seriously, in a competitive system, machines are kind of dicks.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

* While the laws were written regarding robots and not A.I. proper, Asimov was referring to sentient robots which equates to A.I. on the back end.

**”Complete Freedom of Choice” is a problematic concept which warrants some discussion, but for the purposes of this post I simply mean a degree of personal choice comparable to that of a human being.

***The classic problem of trading freedom (someone else’s preferably) for (your own) security (or at least the illusion of it).

****I think it goes without saying that I am not advocating the further employment of soldiers in any absolute sense but rather noting that they are human being who need access to resources through money, even if they get that money in one of the worst ways possible.

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Structural Dishonesty

My Friends,
   I work in a warehouse where we receive refrigerators and stoves from manufacturers, perform quality control on them, attach some standards stickers and company logos to them and then sell them as our own products.  We are the very definition of a middle-man, and sad will be the day when the retailers and manufacturers realize that they could get by without us.  But for the time being we facilitate things well enough to be a profitable business.
   In the last year the decision has been made to re-source a substantial portion of our refrigerator models from a Chinese company called Delware.  Try as I might I can not find the website for these dudes, but I assure you they exist.  Now when I heard that we were going this route I had to ask why; the models to be replaced are high-performing and attractive.  I asked my immediate supervisor a few months back and he explained that the one company we have been buying from (a subsidiary of Whirlpool based out of Brazil) is no longer making that model.  But then he also explained that they have been systematically jacking the price up every year for the last two decades so we wanted to go with something more cost-effective.  So between those two answers I was not really sure what the deal was, though I suspected it had more to do with the latter (cost-savings) than it did with a company discontinuing a reliable and popular product for no apparent reason.
   We received some sample units from Delware and I was struck by how ugly and plain they were.  Now you may think a fridge is a fridge and you would be right, but you would also be surprised about how important the little details are when you deal with them on a day-to-day basis.  Frankly, they looked cheap, and I inquired if they were in fact significantly cheaper.  They, of course, were.  Next I inquired if they were going to sell for the same price as their Whirlpool predecessors.  A resounding “yes!”  I assumed naively that this was simple greed.  I was wrong.  More on that momentarily.
   Mulling it over in my head, it occurred to me that if we were sourcing our products from a Chinese company for significantly less money, there might be some of those … whaddya call ’em??? Oh yeah, Human Rights Violations going on at Delware.  Never one to be subtle, I walked up to the operations manager at the end of the day and asked him point blank about his trip to China where he discovered this company and toured their facility.  I specifically inquired about the working conditions and wages.  He said (seemingly, a little uncomfortably) that conditions were “relatively” good there and that the company had a high turnover rate.  It didn’t click with me what “high turnover rate” meant, even though he said it like three subsequent times as if the fact that people were constantly quitting/getting fired was somehow supposed to assure me that things were copacetic at Delware.  But I trust this dude, so I feigned satisfaction with his words which I didn’t truly understand.  It was only after I did some more mulling on the way home that I realized he had told me nothing and that he was probably just regurgitating lines which the company tour-operator had said to him to pacify his conscience while he was touring the plant.
   High-turnover rate?  The fuck does that even mean?  McDonald’s has a high-turnover rate too and its a shitty job.  In fact all restaurants typically have high turnover rates because a lot of the positions in restaurants are shitty.  In fact, a low turnover rate would typically indicate a better employer, wouldn’t it, as it would indicate a job which people actually want to stay at.  The only positive thing a high turnover rate expresses to me is that technically the job is not slavery, because technically the workers can quit whenever they want.  So the best thing that our operations manager can say about the ethics of our sourcing is that technically its not produced by slave labour?
   Great Job!
   In spite of my misgivings I am just a peon in the company structure so my opinion + two quarters doesn’t add up to a dollar.  I kind of just kept on living my life.  But yesterday while talking with the receptionist during lunch, I heard her say that she wasn’t allowed to tell customers that the fridges are made in China.  I asked, “Well what do you tell them?”  “I tell them that we are the ‘manufacturer on record’,” she responded.  “Diabolical,” I thought.  Then I said as much.  I asked her about situations where a customer pressed her to explain what manufacturer on record meant.  She told me that if any customers were not satisfied with her answers she was supposed to refer them to the owner or ops manager.  I was angry (not surprisingly, as I have a tendency to get irate about injustice) that she would be compelled to perpetuate misinformation.  I realized this deception related back to the price we were selling the units for: Since we were keeping the same prices we had for the previous models, the customers would hopefully not suspect that we were selling them a shittier product from China => Not just greed, but dishonesty as well.  So, if it wasn’t bad enough that we were sourcing product from slighlty-better-than-slavery conditions, now we were denying it outright, or at least putting a glossy veneer of technical language on it.  Manufacturer on Record, my ass!  We’re a warehouse!  We manufacture nothing!
   I was mad for a second, and in that second I thought of the owner of the company.  I thought about everything I didn’t like about him.  This is the kind of guy who spouts off statistics about how the average life expectancy in Canada is increasing and concludes from there that the world must be getting better and better because he can’t see over the fence of his backyard in the rich neighbourhood he lives in.  He’s the kind of guy who will say “no vacations til the end of summer” for employees, but then talk excitedly about his upcoming mid-summer vacation; not out of malice but due to a complete lack of tact.  This is the kind of dude who will micro-manage the fuck out of every aspect of his company and then call a meeting at the end of the day (delaying the departure of employees) to talk about how his “pep-talks” are really having a positive effect on production.  Tis also he who will hold up production so we can do a detailed cleaning of the warehouse so he can give the visiting bankers (who have no interest in the warehouse) a tour of it.  Also, during these bank visits he’ll make anyone with a nice car park in the back so the bank doesn’t get the impression he’s paying anyone too much.  Now apparently he is also the type of guy to unethically source product and then tell his employees to lie to customers about where its from.  His relationship to reality has always been tenuous but now its seems it is will-fully so.
   But like I said, I was only mad at him for a second.   I mean, is it really his fault?
   One thing I have become more and more cognizant of is how this system corrupts people and puts them at odds with others, not just to excel, but simply to survive.  Anything I or anyone else gets is necessarily at the expense of someone else.  In that paradigm how can you blame someone for playing by the established rules, even if that entails outsourcing and a cavalier attitude toward the truth?  Certainly it must be harder to see the flaws in the system too when you’re making a ton of money.  So to call this guy a bad person is not accurate.  For one thing, I think he makes genuine, if misguided, efforts to do right by his employees.  But more importantly, he is playing by the rules we all must play by to some extent.  Whereas I try and extricate myself from this game as much as possible, he revels in it and commits 100% to the deception, to the point where he would deceive others.  Our respective socio-economic standings are the practical outcome of our various commitments to this deception, or lack thereof.
   For his sake, I hope I never have to pick up the phone and speak with a customer who is curious about where their product comes from.  For starters, lying doesn’t sit well with me, and second, I’m not getting paid enough to fib.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

P.S. To be clear, I don’t object to outsourcing on any patriotic grounds.  I don’t think “Buy Canadian” or “Buy American” campaigns are worthwhile because they don’t address structural flaws and they perpetuate xenophobia.  Ultimately it won’t be Chinese or Indian or Malaysian people who take all the jobs but an automated assembly line.  And that’s the way it should be, as menial, repetitive labour, or “monkey-work” as I call it, is simply a stultifying existence which needs automating.  I simply wanted to elucidate upon the dishonesty this system fosters with a practical example.
   

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